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the lost generation

Chapter Text

November 1959.

Cygnus Black steps out of the Floo and into the main reception room of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. Taking a moment to smooth down the front of his robes, he then turns back to the intricate design of the fireplace, inlaid with the Black family crest and motto, and extends a hand to help his wife and daughters out.

“Cygnus!” booms a voice, and he turns around to see Alphard striding across the room towards him, a grin nearly splitting his face.

Cygnus outstretches a hand to his brother, who pauses to scoff at it before knocking it aside, instead seizing Cygnus in a bear hug that nearly lifts him off his feet. Behind him, Cygnus hears Druella tutting her disapproval, and the giggles of Narcissa and Andromeda.

“Hello, brother,” Cygnus says, once Alphard has released him. “How are you?”

“Splendid!” Alphard says, ducking around him to kiss Druella on the cheek, which she endures with a frozen smile on her pale face.

Cygnus knows his wife dislikes his brother, but he’s a favourite with his younger daughters, who squeal with delight when he hugs them both in turn and produces a Galleon each for them from behind their ears. Bellatrix, however, is regarding her uncle with a look of disdain.

“That’s a stupid trick,” she says plaintively. Andromeda steps on her foot; Bellatrix elbows her in the ribs.

“Now, Bellatrix,” Druella admonishes, but she’s smiling. “That’s not polite.”

“Ah, don’t worry, Dru,” Alphard says, waving a hand dismissively, failing to notice Druella’s lip curl at the nickname. “I’m sure you’ll be top of your year when you start Hogwarts, won’t you, Bellatrix?”

“Mother and Father already let me practice some spells in the house,” Bellatrix says proudly.

“Splendid,” Alphard says again. He ruffles Bellatrix’s dark hair, ignoring her squawk of protest, and turns back to his brother. “So, Cyg, what do you reckon? Boy or girl? Heir or spare? Care for a wager?”

“Certainly not,” Cygnus says stiffly. “Honestly, Alphard, you’re far too careless with your money. And,” he adds, with a glance at his daughters, “I don’t really think talk of gambling is appropriate in front of present company, do you?”

Alphard stares at him for a moment, and then throws his head back with a raucous laugh. Cygnus, not for the first time in his brother’s company, feels stuffy and uptight. As far as he’s concerned, Alphard is far too laid-back about some things. Content to live as a bachelor his whole life he may be, but Cygnus actually takes his family seriously, and he sincerely hopes that upstairs, behind the many Silencing Charms that have been cast, Walburga is delivering a boy. Cygnus adores his daughters, but a male in the Black line would be a thing to really celebrate.

The heavy door to the reception room is pushed open, and Cygnus drops his gaze to where his sisters’ house-elf is walking slowly into the room. “Masters Cygnus and Alphard,” he croaks, bowing low to the carpet. “Mistress is ready for company now. The child has been delivered safe and well.”

“Thank Merlin for that,” Alphard says, with a wink to Cygnus. “Suspense there was killing me. Come on, Cyg. Ten Galleons say it’s another girl.”

::

Bellatrix is pleased, largely in part because stupid Uncle Alphard has to part with ten Galleons, when the baby turns out to be a boy.

“His name is Sirius,” Uncle Orion is saying, as Uncle Alphard and Father shake his hand and even Mother smiles a real smile. “Sirius Orion Phineas Black.”

It’s a large name for such a tiny thing. Bellatrix and her sisters crowd closer to Aunt Walburga on the bed, jostling each other in their eagerness to see their cousin. Bellatrix is the oldest and the tallest, but all she can make out is a tuft of dark hair amidst the blankets Aunt Walburga has him swaddled in.

“I want to see the baby,” Bellatrix demands, but Aunt Walburga doesn’t seem to hear; she’s too busy staring down at her son with an expression on her face Bellatrix is sure she’s never seen there before.

“He’s perfect,” Aunt Walburga whispers.

“I want to see,” Bellatrix says, stamping her foot, accidentally crushing Cissy’s toes, who cries out in pain.

Mother’s hand on her shoulder is firm. “Be patient, Bellatrix. You’ll have all the time in the world with Sirius soon enough. After all, you will have to teach him about being a Black.”

Bellatrix catches Andromeda rolling her eyes, but she doesn’t care. Bellatrix straightens her shoulders, stands up a little taller with this new responsibility. She’s been trying to teach Andromeda about being a Black for years, but Andromeda doesn’t listen to her, even though she should because Bella is the oldest. Cissy is too small for such things, and still too intent on playing with her dolls. But Sirius is a boy, and now the Black heir. Sirius will be different.

Bellatrix smiles, watching her cousin snuffle in his sleep. She’ll take care of him, Bellatrix swears to herself. She’ll look after Sirius.

Chapter Text

1965.

Lyall Lupin hasn’t slept properly in forty-one hours, managing to keep awake on endless amounts of coffee, black and bitter on his tongue, and as many Energy Charms as he can cast when the Healers aren’t looking. Sometimes he’ll drift off into a fitful, frenzied nap, jerking awake whenever a Healer comes to check on Remus. They’ll give him a sad smile, but their words of encouragement and reassurance are long gone. Now they just say things like, “Maybe it’s best you go home and get some rest, Mr Lupin. We’ll alert you if there’s any change.”

Lyall won’t go. He won’t move a muscle from this seat next to his son’s hospital bed. He won’t leave him.

Hope can’t bring herself to stay at St Mungo’s, says she can’t bear to look at Remus like this, but Lyall knows what she means is she can’t bear to look at him. It’s his fault that their son, always small in their eyes but now impossibly tiny and so fragile, is lying near death in this place, in this ward of all places.

The Healers call it a private ward, but Lyall knows it’s the contamination ward. As if lycanthropy can spread from person to person just by breathing, for Merlin’s sake. He half wishes it were true, that he could breathe in his son’s condition, take all his pain away from him and into himself.

It’s not fair. It’s all his fault. Lyall grips his wand tight in his hand, thinking he’ll be ready next time, if ever he sees that monster again; forget Stunning and all the rest, he’ll go straight for an Unforgivable, who cares if they throw him in Azkaban, it’ll be worth it, it’ll be —

“Dad?”

Lyall starts, nearly dropping his wand. Remus is awake, his eyes unfocused, his breathing shallow, but he’s alive, he’s alive. Lyall stumbles forward, gripping his son in a hug, and he still feels like Remus, delicate boy-bones beneath the thin material of his pajama top, tiny shoulders with no definition yet, that tremble under Lyall’s arms. For one glorious second Lyall breathes in the smell of him and allows himself to forget, until a Healer barges over, pushing Remus back down on the bed with far more force than is necessary, shining her wand into Remus’s wide, terrified eyes.

“Hey now,” Lyall says. “Don’t be so rough, he’s only five years old, for Merlin’s sake.”

“Mr Lupin, stand back, please. It’s for your own safety.”

“Now see here.” Lyall bristles, planting his feet. “This is ridiculous. It’s not even a full moon.”

“Dad, what -” Remus’s voice is very small, and very frightened, and all boy.

A boy. He’s a boy. Lyall can see his son’s chest heaving up and down; Lyall clenches his wand, but then thinks better of it. He needs to be here for Remus.

“It’s okay, Remus. Everything is going to be okay.”

The Healer is saying, “Here, drink this, Remus - calm down Mr Lupin, it’s a sleeping draught. Eases nightmares.”

“Dad?”

Lyall glares at the Healer, and then nods tightly. “It’s all right, son. Drink it up.”

Remus is back asleep in seconds, his fair brown hair framing his wan face on the pillow. The Healer’s face is grim; she turns to say something to Lyall, but he storms off out of the room to send Hope an owl. She’s there within an hour, her brown hair escaping from its pins and her eyes terrified. She clutches at Lyall’s arm when she sees him.

“Oh, Lyall. What are we going to do?”

She didn’t think Remus would make it, Lyall realises with a sudden lurching sensation. It’s a horrible thought, but then again, what part of this isn’t horrible? He slides am arm around her shoulders, relieved when she doesn’t push him away, and she sobs into the shoulder of his jacket.

“It’s okay,” he murmurs into her hair. “We’ll think of something. We’ll manage. It’s okay.”

He keeps repeating that - it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay - until some part of him even starts to believe it.

::

Six years later, when a letter arrives from Albus Dumbledore on the Lupin kitchen table in the middle of breakfast, with details of a tree and a shack and full of the reassurances that his son has been so deprived of by everyone else, Lyall’s shoulders slump with relief.

He smiles at Remus, sitting quietly across from him, buttering his toast with a scarred but steady hand.

It might never be okay, but it’s a start at least.

Chapter Text

September 1st, 1971.

Peter Pettigrew wriggles free from his mother’s perfumed embrace, pawing at the lipstick stains now on his cheek.

“Yeuch,” he says, with feeling. “Mu-um! You’re embarrassing me.”

“Nonsense, Petey,” Philomena croons, gesturing at everyone else on the platform around them where scores of other parents are subjecting their children to the very same treatment. “Nothing wrong with saying goodbye to my precious little man!”

Peter ducks away from another kiss so that his mum ends up pecking the air above his head instead. Straightening up, Peter catches the eye of a boy who looks around his age with long, black hair and a rather large nose; Peter smiles at him, thinking he could do with making friends with another First Year before he gets to Hogwarts. The boy sneers at him and turns away. Peter tries not to feel too disappointed. After all, there will be plenty of other chaps to make friends with at school. Maybe even some girls, too.

Cheered at the thought, Peter allows his mum to hug him once more before the train whistle sounds a warning. All along the platform students are boarding, hanging out of windows to wave to their families, shouting goodbyes. Peter hops into the nearest carriage, trying to avoid looking at his mum, who is now crying loudly. Merlin, can’t take her anywhere, Peter thinks, and feels palpable relief when he feels the carriage floor lurch beneath his feet, and Platform 9 and 3/4 gradually slides out of view.

Whistling, he sets about finding a compartment to sit in, first of all shoving his suitcase into the luggage rack. Turning around, he finds himself face to face with the same hook-nosed boy from the platform.

“Hallo,” Peter says cheerfully. “I’m Peter.”

The boy’s dark eyes flick over him carelessly. “How great for you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a friend.”

“Oh, brilliant, you know somebody already, do you?” Peter says, following the boy, who still hasn’t given his name. Bit rude, really, but Peter doesn’t have a lot of other options. “I don’t know anybody, myself,” Peter tells him, as the boy sticks his head into compartment after compartment. “Dad says I’ll make loads of friends, though. It’s all terribly exciting, isn’t it?”

“Thrilling,” the boy mutters, and then, pulling open another set of compartment doors, he smiles - it’s an odd quirk of thin lips, but a smile all the same. “Lily,” the boy says warmly, stepping into the compartment; Peter hesitates a moment, and then thinks, in for a Knut, in for a Galleon, and darts in after him.

A redhead girl is sat by the window - Lily, presumably, because she looks up at the name and smiles too. There are two other people in the compartment, and they’re definitely not Lily’s; one is a boy with extremely messy hair and glasses, and the other a pale-faced boy with light brown hair, huddled into the corner with a book on his lap.

“Sev,” the girl says, getting to her feet and hugging the hook-nosed boy.

He has a name. Peter slides into a seat next to the reading boy, who glances over and offers him a small smile. The boy with glasses isn’t paying any attention to him; he’s too busy watching the other two.

“I waited for you last night, in our spot,” Sev is saying. “You didn’t come.”

“Sorry,” Lily says, pulling a face. “Tuney was upset. She wanted me to stay with her.”

Sev scowls. “I don’t know why you bother so much about her. She’s not very nice.”

“She’s my sister.”

“She’s a Muggle,” Sev mutters.

“Sev -” Lily begins, frowning, but the boy in the corner looks up from his book.

“What’s wrong with Muggles?” he asks; his voice is quiet, but firm.

“I’m not talking to you,” Sev says disdainfully, eyeing, Peter notices, the boy’s patched robes. “It’s rude to interrupt people’s private conversations.”

“You’re having this private conversation in the middle of the compartment,” the boy with glasses points out. “Plus, it’s rude to be nasty about Muggles.”

Sev flushes. He glances quickly at Lily, and says, “I’m not - Muggles are all right, but, you know, they’re not - they’re not -”

“Not what?” the boy with glasses asks, with a vaguely threatening air, standing up.

Peter watches, open-mouthed, wondering if there’s going to a fight. They’ve been on the train less than ten minutes, and this is brilliant.

“Not like us,” Sev finishes lamely, with a desperate glance at Lily.

The boy with glasses is rolling up the sleeves of his robes, reaching for his wand - Peter thinks his jaw might actually unhinge itself from his mouth in a minute - but then Lily whirls around and faces him, jabbing the boy in the chest with her index finger.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks shrilly. “Leave him alone. He didn’t mean it like that - did you, Sev?” Before Sev can reply, Lily says, “Come on, let’s get out of here,” and grabs him by the wrist, pulling him out of the compartment.

The boy with glasses twirls his wand in his fingers before pocketing it. “What a prat,” he says, and then turns to the other two. “Hey, sorry about that, but you heard what he was saying - couldn’t stand for that. I’m James Potter, by the way.”

“Peter Pettigrew,” Peter says, almost breathlessly, shoving out his hand for James to take.

Warily, the boy in the corner says, “Remus Lupin.”

“You Muggle-born?” James says amiably, sitting back down.

“Half-blood,” Remus replies. “My mum’s a Muggle.”

“Not that it matters, of course,” James says with a grin.

“Are you Muggle-born?” Peter asks, desperately curious. He’s never met a Muggle-born his age before. He wonders if this boy has a - what did his dad call it? - a bicycle, or if he owns those things - records. Wow.

James scrunches up his nose as if offended. “I said my name was Potter,” he says, like Peter is thick. “I’m pure-blood.”

“I thought it didn’t matter?” Remus says quietly, eyes on the page in front of him.

For the first time, James seems to falter. “Er, yeah. Right. It doesn’t. Was just - clarifying,” he says, swiping a hand through his already messy hair. He coughs, then asks, “What are you reading?”

Remus angles the book so they can see the front cover of Hogwarts: A History. Privately, Peter thinks there’s such a thing as being too keen, and reading books before term has even started is definitely on that list, but surprisingly, James perks up, starts babbling on about how his dad told him Hogwarts has loads of secret passageways and how he can’t wait to find them all, and Remus starts to look a bit more at ease the more James rambles on. Eventually, they’re having a full blown conversation about floor plans, of all things, and Peter starts to feel decidedly put out, and stares out of the window at the countryside flashing past.

The door to the compartment slides open again as the sky outside becomes darker, and Peter looks up, hoping to see the trolley - he’s starving - but instead it’s a tall girl with the blondest hair Peter has ever seen and narrowed ice-blue eyes; they sweep the compartment and then land on each of them in turn. On the front of her robes, a silver P gleams. Her tie, just about visible, is silver and green.

“Have either of you seen a boy skulking about? First Year like you, probably in a snit somewhere trying to enchant the toilets.”

“Sounds like my kind of bloke,” James says.

The girl gives him a withering look. “If you run across a boy called Sirius, tell him Narcissa is looking for him. That’s an order, by the way - I’m a Prefect.” She pauses to give them all a look that says she will know if they harbor this boy, this apparent fugitive, and she will make them pay. Then, she stalks off, slamming the door behind her.

“Charming,” James comments, and then rummages about in his pockets, producing a pack of cards. “Exploding Snap, anyone?”

::

Narcissa Black rarely allows herself to get stressed - it causes far too many worry line - but today is a special case. Sirius’s first day at Hogwarts was always going to eventful, she’s been prepared for this for years, yet she didn’t think it would start so soon.

She certainly didn’t think her own cousin would end up punching Lucius Malfoy in the face.

Why she even bothered inviting the little hoodlum to sit with them all is now beyond her. She’d been trying to do Sirius a favour, to introduce him to some respectable people, and this is how he repaid her, by giving the Head Boy a black eye before term had even started. Brilliant. That’s gratitude.

Now, all Narcissa has to do is find Sirius before Lucius does, because Sirius may be handy with his fists, but there’s no way he’d come off better in a duel, and Narcissa really is quite fond of Sirius for all his faults, and she really, really does not want to have to explain all this to Mother and Father. Imagine the Howlers. Imagine the scandal: Black heir killed by Hogwarts Head Boy on train - Malfoy-Black nuptials called off due to family death caused by fiancé.

Narcissa quickens her step, yanking open another compartment door. The laughter inside abruptly stops as they all swivel their heads to look at her. Not only is Sirius there, in the middle of it all, lapping up the attention, but there’s also Andromeda and her usual rag-tag entourage of fellow Seventh Years.

“Cissy,” Andromeda begins, rising from her chair.

“Don’t you Cissy me!” Narcissa says, wand already out and pointing at Sirius. “Do you have any idea what he’s done this time?”

“Given Malfoy a right shiner by the sounds of things,” laughs Ted Tonks from beside Andromeda.

Narcissa scowls at him. “Quiet, Tonks, or I’ll take points from Hufflepuff.”

“For thinking Malfoy deserved it? You’d have to take points from the whole bloody school,” Tonks drawls.

Laughter erupts in the carriage again. Narcissa feels her face flush. She hates being laughed at. Andromeda kicks Tonks in the shin, shushing him, and stands in front of her sister, blocking their cousin from view.

“Cissy, it’s not that bad. Lucius will just have a bit of a wounded ego, that’s all.”

“He needs to apologise,” Narcissa says, reaching around her sister and pointing a finger at Sirius. “He’s spoiling everything!”

“Like hell I do!” Sirius pipes up indignantly. “Cis, he was being a right c - idiot. The way he was talking about you, saying that one day you’d be his property, it’s - it’s not right.”

Narcissa sighs. Sirius is so easy to get to, and he always rises to the bait. If not for those cheekbones, one would have cause to wonder if her cousin really was a Black after all.

“He was just joking around. Testing your mettle, Sirius. That’s his way. And anyway, it is true. We are to be married, once I leave Hogwarts.”

Sirius shudders, loudly and with great exaggeration. “He didn’t need to be such a creep about it.” He scowls darkly. “I don’t see why all my cousins have to marry such weirdos.”

“Maybe not all of them will,” Tonks suggests, and Andromeda kicks him again.

“Now Sirius,” Andromeda says quickly. “Rodolphus just takes a bit of getting used to. He’s family now, as Lucius will be, so maybe it’s best you do go apologise.”

Sirius turns red, and then practically purple with anger. Narcissa smiles smugly, pleased that Andromeda sided with her for once. Both the Black sisters escort Sirius, swearing and sulking, back up the train to where Lucius is.

“Sirius has something to say,” Narcissa announces, propelling her cousin forward.

Sirius scowls at her, at Andromeda, at the walls, at the world at large, and then manages, “Sorry I punched you,” from between gritted teeth.

Lucius’s pale eyes gleam momentarily, and then he laughs, shakes Sirius by the hand. “Apology accepted. Strong little thing, aren’t you? Next year, try out for the Quidditch team, won’t you? Slytherin could use a decent Beater.”

“Slytherin?” Sirius repeats insolently.

Lucius frowns, opens his mouth to say something, but Andromeda already has her hands on Sirius’s shoulders, leading him away from them. “Right, well, best leave you two to it - I’m sure you have centerpieces to pick out and all sorts. Glad this was all sorted out. See you at the Feast!” and she practically drags Sirius out of the door.

“Interesting boy, your cousin,” Lucius says slowly, when they’re alone in the compartment.

“He’s quite a dear when you get to know him, really. He’s just at a sensitive age. He comes out with some of the drollest things, and he’s bright for his age.”

“Bella speaks very highly of him. We’ll just have to teach him to reign that temper in.”

“Well of course he’ll come round, especially with you as Head Boy,” Narcissa says, pleased that no long-lasting damage appears to have happened.

All she ever really wants is everyone to get along. After all, they are family. No matter how strong Bella comes on, how infuriating Drom can be, how shy little Reggie is and how explosive Sirius is, one thing has always been clear to Narcissa. Blood is blood, and blood is important, in every sense of the word.

Family is all that matters.

::

That evening, when the Hat touches Sirius’s head, when it takes longer than usual - she can see his pale, slender fingers gripping the edge of the stool, can practically hear the Great Hall holding its breath - when it finally screams “GRYFFINDOR!” and Sirius stumbles away looking dazed and confused to sit at a table at the other end of the room from the rest of his family, Narcissa can’t bring herself to look at Lucius; instead she looks down at her hands, at the diamond ring on her finger, and concentrates very hard on not crying.

Chapter Text

Early September 1971.

Marlene McKinnon hums jauntily to herself, arms full of food from the kitchens, maneuvering expertly through the portrait hole and into Gryffindor Tower without dropping anything. She’s in high spirits - back at Hogwarts, laden with goodies bestowed upon her by the ever eager house-elves, Quidditch try-outs tomorrow - but her mood is dampened somewhat when she sees the glum faces of Peter Pettigrew and Remus Lupin huddled together on the sofa.

Merlin, these firsties are a miserable bunch. What do eleven-year-olds have to be so sombre about? It’s only the third day of term - have they even had homework yet?

“What ho, chaps,” she says, dumping her stash on the nearest table. “Oh, and Evans,” she adds, noticing the redhead in the corner, who looks equally as moody. “Who spiked your pumpkin juice?”

“It’s Sirius,” Pettigrew says, casting a nervous glance at the boys’ staircase. “He’s locked himself in the dormitory again.”

“James went up there ten minutes ago,” Lupin tells her, and then, very seriously, “We think Sirius may have killed him.”

“Good grief. Pull yourself together, men,” Marlene commands. “You’re Gryffindors now. Tell Auntie Marlene the problem.”

“The problem,” Evans says, striding over, all indignation and fury and the blotchiness that comes with it, “is that Black is getting insufferable. He’s acting like a child, flinging curses at the walls and trying to get detention all the time. Then Potter has to go and act the hero, only now he’s probably made it worse; Black has probably blown the place up by now, hopefully taking Potter with him. At least then we could get some peace.”

Marlene cocks her head to the side, studying the younger girl. She’s a hard one to peg, this Lily Evans. First night here, Marlene had stumbled down into the common room in the early hours, intending to write her mum a letter, and found Lily in tears in front of the fireplace. When asked what was wrong, Lily had said she didn’t want to be a Gryffindor - apparently some First Year Slytherin she knew had told her all Gryffindors were arrogant, attention-seeking idiots with less common sense than a trowel. Marlene had tried to be consoling, telling Lily Slytherin’s were all the same and couldn’t be trusted, but oddly, it didn’t seem to help.

There’s a loud bang from the First Year dormitory. Then again, Marlene thinks, maybe this Slytherin had a point.

“Right, hold tight,” Marlene says, heading for the boys’ staircase and taking the steps two at a time, flinging the door open just as Sirius Black is slamming James Potter against the wall by his throat. “Woah - woah!” Marlene says, stepping in between the two and ripping Black away.

Black’s eyes are flashing; Potter massages his throat, croaking out a weak ‘thanks’ in Marlene’s direction. Satisfied Potter isn’t about to die on her, she rounds on Black.

“You’re lucky I’m not a Prefect, Black.”

“Oh, go to hell, McKinnon; you’re only in Third Year anyway.”

“I still outrank you, bucko,” Marlene says, taking a step closer. She towers above him - helped, in part, by the thick biker boots she’d picked up in the summer at a Muggle market. “What’s all this about?”

Neither boy says a word.

“What is this about?” Marlene repeats patiently. “Or do I have to go and wake Kingsley?”

Potter twitches and glances quickly at Black. Black’s shoulders are squared, his jaw set, but then he flicks his hair out of his eyes in one fluid, irritable movement, and says, “Potter had a go at my family, if you must know.”

Marlene blinks. “Your - your family?”

“Yeah, the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. You may have heard of them,” he says sarcastically.

Everyone in the wizarding world knows of the Black’s, of course. Marlene’s seen the sisters in the hallways, pale and untouchable, but she’s never spoken to a Black before - not until Sirius here. And hadn’t that been a surprise, she thinks, when the Sorting Hat put him in Gryffindor instead of Slytherin. The poor lad looked like he was going to be sick, all shaky and pale (paler than usual Black standards, even), and he’s been a right unbearable little shit ever since.

The morning after the Sorting, a Howler had found it’s way to young Sirius. Marlene had watched - the whole school had, it was hard not to - as Sirius was ripped into, the Howler screeching Walburga Black’s voice, ranting about SHAME! and RUIN OF THE FAMILY! and NO SON OF MINE! It had gone on forever, until Sirius was shaking and red in the face with rage, and Dumbledore himself had come down from the staff table to put a Silencing Charm on the damn thing.

“All I said,” Potter is saying now, a bit of his usual swagger returning now that he’s not being choked to death, “is that they sound a right bunch of nutters and I wouldn’t care what they thought if I were you.”

“You’re not me!” Black growls.

“I’m just trying to make you feel better,” Potter says, holding his hands up.

“Don’t bother.”

Potter takes off his glasses and wipes them on the sleeve of his robes, pushes them back up the bridge of his nose, and looks squarely at Black. “You’re better than the whole lot of them,” he says evenly. “I just thought someone should tell you that, before you burnt down the dormitory and got yourself killed.”

Marlene smiles to herself, enjoying the spasm flitting across Black’s face as he struggles between scowling and smiling. Finally he says, gruffly, “Well. Right. Sorry about - about trying to choke you.”

“You couldn’t have taken me anyway,” Potter says affably, and Black grins back at him, hesitantly at first, until they both start to laugh.

Unnoticed, Marlene slips from the room and back down into the common room.

Lupin is the first to reach her. “Is Sirius all right?”

“They’re both fine,” Marlene says. “I’d wager you two can go back up without fearing for your lives now.”

Lupin’s smile is grateful as he and Pettigrew shuffle past and up the stairs. Marlene shakes her head. Gryffindor boys.

She slumps on to the sofa next to Evans. “So,” she says. “Still bothered about being one of us? I have to say, I feel quite protective of my House lately; I don’t think it’s ever had two students want to leave it so badly.”

“I don’t want to leave,” Evans says, staring into the fire, the flames illuminating the freckles on her nose. “I just don’t want to lose my friend.”

“If he’s any type of friend at all, you won’t,” Marlene says, hoping she sounds reassuring.

Marlene hasn’t ever seen a Gryffindor-Slytherin friendship, but then again, three days ago, she never thought she’d see a Black wearing red and gold either. She closes her eyes, smiling, enjoying the warmth of the fire on her cheeks. It’s going to be a fun few years, she can feel it.

Chapter Text

February 1972.

Andromeda is nearly out of the dungeon door when she hears a familiar cough from behind her. Letting out a small sigh, Andromeda turns around to see her younger sister stood in the middle of the common room, wearing a green nightgown and an extremely disapproving expression.

“Where are you going?” Narcissa asks, her lips pursing tightly together as her ice-blue eyes take in the thick cloak around Andromeda’s shoulders.

“Just out for a walk,” Andromeda says lightly. “Nothing for you to worry about; go back to bed.”

“It’s not ladylike to be prowling about the school at all hours of the night. I will take points from you if I have to.”

Andromeda nearly laughs, but stops herself just in time. She knows how much her sister loathes being laughed at, but honestly. Sometimes Narcissa is so naive. As if Andromeda cares about a little thing like points.

“Go back to bed, Cis,” she repeats, and takes another step closer to the common room door.

“Stop it,” Narcissa says shrilly. “If you won’t listen to your own sister, then, I’ll - I’ll get Lucius!”

Andromeda rolls her eyes. Since going out with Lucius Malfoy, Narcissa has become increasingly annoying, using his status within the school and out as if it’s a shield to protect herself with. Andromeda thinks, cruelly, not for the first time, about bursting her little sister’s bubble by telling her that Mother and Father originally planned to wed her to Malfoy. But then Andromeda looks at her sister’s defiant, haughty expression - the expression that makes Andromeda think back to their childhood, when she and Bella would tease Narcissa something awful to get a reaction (Narcissa was always dramatic) - and can’t bring herself to tell her sister that she was the second choice, after Andromeda had firmly told her parents there was a better chance of her marrying Slughorn.

“I’m not afraid of Lucius, Cissy. I think I’m a little bit too old for you to threaten me with tattling to your boyfriend.”

“My boyfriend or not, he’s still Head Boy,” Narcissa says stubbornly. “Rules are rules. I’m not letting you leave this room.”

Andromeda sighs sadly, withdrawing her wand from up the sleeve of her jumper. “Please, Cis, I’d hate to have to jinx a member of my own family.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Narcissa says with uncharacteristic forcefulness, going for her own wand. “I’m not a child anymore.”

Andromeda blinks coolly. “Nor am I, and where I go in the middle of the night is none of your concern.”

“I know where you go in the middle of the night,” Narcissa hisses. “You’re not as clever as you think you are, sister. I know all about that Muggle you’ve been seeing.”

Andromeda’s grip on her wand lessens for a fraction of a second as she falters, caught off-guard; Narcissa, lightning quick, yells, “Expelliarmus!” and catches Andromeda’s wand as it flies effortlessly out of her hand.

“Narcissa, don’t be a fool,” Andromeda says quietly.

“I don’t think I’m the foolish one here. You’re risking everything for - for him?”

Andromeda thinks of Ted, of his sandy-coloured hair that turns gold when the light touches it just so; his lazy smiles and the easy warmth that radiates from him like a perpetual sun. That’s Ted’s manner, a naturally cheery person; he doesn’t expect anything from her. He doesn’t expect her to be a Black, or a Slytherin, or judge her on her blood or which table she sits at in the Great Hall, just because a stupid hat said so. Ted just lets her be, and she loves him for it, she really does.

“Cissy, just listen -”

“No,” Narcissa says, sounding like she’s on the verge of tears. “I can’t believe you. What will Mother and Father say?”

“They’re not going to know,” Andromeda says sharply. “Not yet, anyway, and certainly not from you.”

Narcissa gives a short, cruel laugh. “They’ll be furious when they find out you’ve been sleeping with a Mudblood -”

Andromeda’s slap catches Narcissa right across the cheek, turning one half of her face a brilliant red, a sharp contrast to her pale complexion. Narcissa brings one well-manicured hand up to touch the spot her sister struck her, and she lets out a low hiss like a cat.

“Don’t you ever use that word in front of me again,” Andromeda says calmly, although her hands are shaking. She’s never hit her sister before.

Narcissa looks up at her, pale eyes narrowed and accusatory, but Andromeda refuses to feel sorry for her. She takes a step closer to Narcissa, pulls her wand from her sister’s grasp, and exits the common room at last without a second glance.

::

Ted’s brown eyes are full of concern when she finally meets him at their spot, behind the greenhouses.

“You’re late,” he says as she approaches him. “I was getting worried, I thought that -”

“Cissy knows,” Andromeda says without preamble.

“Ah.” Ted runs a hand through his hair, gives her a sideways look. “Well, that’s - bugger. She might not say anything, right? She is your sister.”

Such an optimist, Andromeda thinks fondly. Such a Hufflepuff.

She shrugs her shoulders, fumbles in her robes until she finds a packet of cigarettes and lights one hastily with the yellow lighter Ted gave her in Fifth Year, when they’d started dating. She’d thought it a weird trinket at first, a lot of fumbling and hassle when one could simply use magic to light the damn thing, but now she’s never without it. Even if she stopped smoking - something Andromeda tells herself she’ll do every year - she thinks she’d still keep the lighter; Ted said he found it in a Muggle shop one day and had to buy it because it had the Hufflepuff colours. It makes Andromeda smile to think she’s giving a silent fuck you to her parents, to their anti-Muggle and Slytherin supremacy bullshit, every time she lights up.

“I don’t know what she’ll say,” Andromeda says truthfully. “She’s my sister, yes - sadly, that also means she’s a Black.”

“And we all know how unpredictable you Black women are,” Ted says seriously, moving to stand behind her, locking his arms around her waist.

He bends his head to her neck, nuzzling her cloak away so that he can kiss her on the shoulder. Andromeda murmurs a vague protest, but she arches back into him anyway.

“This is a very serious matter,” she says faintly, as his lips move against the sensitive skin on her neck; he bites down briefly on her pulse-point, making her gasp. Her eyes flutter closed, but she can feel him smiling.

“Very serious,” he agrees. “You know, you could just make this terribly simple for yourself.”

“What do you suggest,” Andromeda murmurs; she’s finding it hard to concentrate on the conversation, what with the way one of Ted’s hands is currently working it’s way up her thigh, “that I just run away with you?”

She means it as a joke, but Ted’s hand stills; she opens her eyes and he turns her around in his arms so that they’re face to face, looks at her unflinchingly. In the moonlight, his eyes are very dark, and deadly serious. He hasn’t said anything, but Andromeda realises his silence is a question.

She doesn’t have to think about it for very long: “Yes. Yes, all right then.”

Chapter Text

July 1972.

Even from his bedroom on the third floor, Sirius can hear his mother screaming. Every now and then she shouts a curse and an object will explode, shaking the walls of Grimmauld Place, but mostly it’s just the usual floods and wailing and histrionics of Mummy Dearest.

It’s been an hour since Uncle Cygnus came, with Bellatrix and that dolt of a husband of hers, to tell them the news. They’d got an owl from Andromeda that morning; she’s not coming home, ever.

Sirius feels sick every time he thinks of it. He’d tried not to show much emotion as Uncle Cygnus used words like “blood-traitor” and “Muggle-lover” to describe his own daughter, the coldness of his eyes and the detached way he’d said it, as if it wasn’t his own flesh and blood he was talking about. Bellatrix’s eyes were dark and hollow-looking; she hadn’t even glanced at Sirius, or any of them, or shown any sign she was even listening at all. Rodolphus had just stood there, gormless and very tall, nodding along to everything Uncle Cygnus said, confirming details. Andromeda had run away with Ted Tonks, a Muggle-born boy Sirius remembers from school. Sirius had liked him. Sirius had just never imagined his favourite cousin running away with him.

Sirius had inquired after Narcissa - it was the only thing he could think to say - and Uncle Cygnus said she was at home tending to Aunt Druella. Sirius imagined Cissy making endless cups of tea whilst Aunt Druella sat in her room with the curtains closed.

Mother has taken the news pretty badly too. The floor shakes as another blast sounds through the house. There goes the chandelier.

The door opens and Regulus pokes his head in. His eyes are wide, his expression terrified; he glances wordlessly at Sirius, who nods and gestures for Reg to join him on the bed. Regulus clambers up, smiling shakily.

“Thanks,” he whispers. “That last spell nearly came through my wall.”

“She’ll calm down soon,” Sirius says. “You know she always does.”

It’s true; in perhaps half an hour Mother will grow bored with making things explode and collapse on the floor, and Kreacher will take her to bed, and hopefully that will be the last they see of her for a day or so. This is usually how Mother’s hysterics go.

“Where’s Father?” Sirius asks, aiming for casual conversation.

Regulus is chewing at his bottom lip. He shrugs his skinny shoulders. “Gone out on urgent business, he said. With Rodolphus and Bella.” Regulus hesitates, and then asks, “Do you think they’ve gone to get Dromeda back?”

Sirius feels a chill run through him. He hopes, for Andromeda’s sake, they haven’t. Bella isn’t one to take insults lightly, and this - leaving them all, and for a Muggle-born - she’ll view as the biggest slight of them all. Bella is very possessive of her family. Sirius glances up at the ceiling, wishing he knew what Dromeda’s plan was. I hope you know what you’re doing, cousin.

“Don’t worry about it, Reggie,” Sirius says, with more confidence than he feels. “Things will turn out all right.”

“But why did she do it?” Regulus asks. He sounds so confused, so - so abandoned. Sirius fights the sudden urge to give him a hug. “We’re her family.”

“Sometimes, people have to choose their own family,” Sirius says slowly, thinking of James’s lazy grins, Pete’s cackling laugh, Remus’s furrowed brow.

“That’s stupid,” Regulus declares. “You’ll always be the family I choose.”

Sirius grins, ruffling his little brother’s hair. “Well, of course. I’m the best.”

“Even if you are a Gryffindor,” Regulus adds, and Sirius feels his heart clench.

“Hey, you haven’t even been Sorted yet.”

“I won’t be a Gryffindor,” Regulus says hotly.

Sirius regards his brother closely, marvelling, not for the first time, at how alike they look. The same thick dark hair, eyes the same shade of grey, the prominent Black cheekbones. It’s like looking in a mirror at his slightly younger self.

Sirius thinks of the Howler he received when he was Sorted, of his Mother’s cold expression when he came home for summer holidays two weeks ago, of Father’s curt nod. He thinks of how neither of his parents have asked about his friends, or offered to host them for the holidays. Sirius hopes, fervently, that his little brother is right, that this will be where they differ, that Regulus will be the perfect son they crave.

“Maybe a Hufflepuff,” he says teasingly, and Regulus scowls and throws a pillow at him.

::

Two weeks later, a letter arrives addressed to Sirius from an owl he doesn’t recognise; he’s just reaching for it when Walburga aims her wand at the poor bird, shooting red sparks at it. It flaps away in indignation, its tail feathers slightly singed, and Walburga grabs the letter from the floor before Sirius can get there in time.

His mother reads the letter, her lip curling. Then, abruptly, she throws it in the fire.

“Hey!” Sirius shouts. “That was mine!”

Orion shoots him a warning look. “Don’t raise your voice to your mother, Sirius.”

Sirius, slouching low in his seat, watches as the parchment is swallowed by the flames.

The next day, his aunt, uncle and cousins visit. While Druella and Walburga have tea and Orion and Cygnus retreat into the drawing room with Regulus tagging along, playing rapt attention to every word spoken, Bellatrix grabs Sirius by the sleeve and Narcissa murmurs, “Can we have a word, cousin?”

They walk through the gardens, Narcissa’s hair tousling gently in the wind, Bellatrix’s streaming out behind her as she strides along. Narcissa turns towards him, a sad expression on her face, and says, “I assume you got one too?”

“One what?”

“A letter. From Andromeda.”

“That was from Andromeda?” Sirius yelps. “I never read it - Mother threw it in the fire.”

“Father did the same with ours.” Narcissa sighs, looking very tired and old beyond her seventeen years. “It was a wedding invitation, Sirius. Andromeda is to marry Ted Tonks today.”

“Today?” Sirius glances back up at the house, and then back to his cousins. “Well, do you have the address - they’re all busy - we could use the fireplace in my room -”

“Don’t be idiotic, Sirius,” Bella snaps. “We’re not going. If Andromeda wants to disgrace the family, then on her own head be it. We, however, must remain sensible.”

“Think of our family,” Narcissa says, although Sirius notices she looks torn. “Our duty.”

“If you’re not going to go, then why tell me?” Sirius asks, scowling.

“You have a right to know,” Bella says. “I don’t believe in secrets. You should know what Andromeda is.”

“And what’s that?” Sirius asks, voice low and angry.

“A blood-traitor,” Bella says simply. “She has betrayed us all, Sirius; you shouldn’t feel for her. The time is coming, dear cousin, to choose a side, and I pray you won’t choose the wrong one.”

“Well, hey, I’m a Gryffindor, remember,” Sirius says with a ragged laugh. “Think I’m already on the wrong side, don’t you?”

“This is more than a silly school rivalry,” Bella says, her eyes shining. Sirius glances at Narcissa, who has clasped her hands together and is squeezing tight; she looks like she’s praying. “Your tie may be red and gold, but your heart, your blood - you’re a Black, Sirius. Remember that.”

::

Sirius brings up the wedding that evening, when he’s feeling irritable and volatile, the days events and the conversation in the garden flashing through his mind. He tells his mother he might have wanted to go; “you know, I might have met some charming Muggle girl, you know how people meet at weddings.”

Walburga slaps him with such force that he staggers back into the wall, hitting the family tapestry that hangs there. His mother doesn’t say another word, merely sweeps up the staircase, her dress rustling behind her. Sirius can feel a drop of blood running down his cheek where she’d caught him with her ring, right below his eye; he wipes it away roughly, scowling at the tapestry, and then halts, looks closer.

Positioned in between Bellatrix and Narcissa is a small, round hole, scorched around the edges, where Andromeda’s name used to be.

Sirius clenches his fist until it hurts, and then heads up to bed.

Chapter Text

September 1972.

Regulus Black feels as if he’s about to throw up.

He’s hardly slept and couldn’t eat a thing at breakfast even though Kreacher prepared his favourite in honour of his coming to Hogwarts; his stomach keeps squirming unpleasantly every time he thinks about the Sorting that awaits him.

Now he’s stood on the platform, Mother and Father in their best robes and Sirius lounging against the wall with his hair in his eyes and looking like some sort of filthy Muggle vagabond. He keeps glancing over at a group of three other boys, and then back at Regulus impatiently, as if silently imploring he’d hurry up, but Regulus doesn’t know what his brother expects him to do. Mother has gripped Regulus firmly by the shoulders and is giving him a speech about upholding the family honour, that they don’t need any more embarrassment (at this, Sirius yawns loudly and obviously), and Regulus can’t think of how to get away.

Finally Sirius intervenes, looping an arm around Regulus’s neck and dragging him away from Mother towards the train. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure your littlest Black does not follow me down the road of dishonour and disrepute. Goodness me, look at the time. Must dash. Farewell, Mother, Father. Thank you for hosting me this summer. It’s been a blast.”

Mother makes as if to move forward, but Father’s hand on her shoulder restrains her and she merely stands, glaring at Sirius as he holds the carriage door open for Regulus and then climbs on after him.

“Just look after Regulus,” Father calls firmly. “And do try to be behave yourself.”

Sirius holds a hand up, either a goodbye or a dismissal, Regulus isn’t sure. Before the train has even started to move, Mother and Father have disapparated.

“I do wish you wouldn’t wind her up like that,” Regulus says miserably, as Sirius stores their cases away.

Sirius just grins at him, and opens his mouth to say something, but then sees something over Regulus’s shoulder. His smile, if possible, gets wider. Sirius shouts, “Oi, over here!” and Regulus turns in time to see a boy with glasses descend on his brother with a whoop of delight.

“All right, Black!” the boy says, ruffling Sirius’s hair, and Regulus realises that this has to be James Potter. “Is it the high society fashion to not cut ones hair?”

“Sod off,” Sirius says affectionately, and then, as two other boys come forward, “Wotcher, Pete - hey, Remus! How was your summer?”

“Considerably better than yours, I’d say,” the boy Sirius had called Remus says with a wry smile, and then he catches sight of Regulus standing slightly behind Sirius. “Oh, terribly sorry - you must be Sirius’s brother.”

Regulus’s manners, under normal circumstances immaculate, haven’t yet kicked in; he stares at Remus’s proffered hand as if it’s a foreign artifact. He’s heard Sirius talk about his friends, of course, but seeing them in the flesh is oddly uncomfortable in ways eleven-year-old Regulus cannot fathom. Remus withdraws his hand with a small cough when Regulus fails to take it; he shoots Sirius a questioning look.

“This is Reggie all right,” Sirius says, still grinning. “Reg, this is James Potter, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew.”

His brother’s loud voice jolts Regulus out of his reverie.

“Terribly pleased to meet you all,” he says automatically. And then, before he can stop himself, “Are you all Gryffindors then?”

Sirius laughs easily. “Forgive him, boys. Hasn’t ever met another lion besides me. Probably thinks we all bite, bless ‘im.”

“You do bite, you nutter,” Potter says, nudging Sirius with his elbow.

Regulus doesn’t like this: the way Sirius has puffed up like a peacock, the way he’d called himself a lion without an ounce of shame, the way Lupin is looking at Regulus as though he’s touched in the head, the way Pettigrew is shooting him curious looks like he’s on display, and the way James Potter is touching Sirius in a way that’s almost brotherly -

Regulus wants to hit something.

“Come on, Reg, you can come sit with us,” Sirius offers.

Regulus stays where he is as the other boys move off down the carriage to find a compartment.

“No, thank you,” he says. Sirius frowns, and he continues, “I don’t belong with them, Sirius.” He swallows the urge to say and neither do you. “They’re - they’re your friends. I’ll find somewhere else to sit.”

Sirius hesitates, but only for a second.

“If you’re sure, then. See you later tonight!”

He runs up the carriage to join his friends. Regulus watches as he squeezes in between them, brushing shoulders with Lupin. Potter says something, and they all laugh. Sirius’s laugh is the loudest of the four; as Regulus turns and walks in the opposite direction, it seems to follow him all the way.

::

My dear Regulus,

Congratulations on making Slytherin. Dolph and I went to Grimmauld for lunch yesterday, and your parents were simply bursting with pride when they told us. Not that we ever had reason to doubt you, but these are troubling times, so the news was a relief for me and of course your dear mother. Poor thing, she’s had so much to deal with, you are a comfort to her.

I hear the Wilkes and Rosier boys are in your year. Be sure to make friends with them Reg, they’re a good sort. I hope that Cissy looks after you, and that our Sirius isn’t being too Gryffindor.

Do owl me often. I long to hear your Slytherin exploits - oh, to be young again!

Your cousin,
Bella

Chapter Text

October 1972.

“Do you think Remus is all right?” Sirius asks one night, when it’s just him and James in the dormitory.

Peter had gone and got detention because McGonagall caught him checking James’s homework for answers, and Remus is - well. That’s the issue. They don’t know where Remus is, only that he’d said he wasn’t feeling well at breakfast, and had continued to look progressively worse throughout the day, until finally he’d just disappeared after dinner.

James and Sirius had, first of all, gone to the Hospital Wing. A harassed looking Madam Pomfrey had barred the way, said that Remus was in no state to receive visitors, he really wasn’t well. James had been content to leave it at that - the poor bloke must be in a bad way if they don’t even let them in to see him, and James has Quidditch try-outs soon, he can’t afford to catch anything - but Sirius has been restless ever since, and simply will not let it go.

“I’m sure he’s fine, Sirius,” James says again, not bothering to pull back the curtains of his bed to look at his best friend; he knows without looking that Sirius will have that intense moping expression on his face. “He’s always ill, isn’t he, Remus. Maybe it’s to do with being half-blood,” he says thoughtfully. “I mean, you and I never get as ill as he does, maybe they have a weak immune system. I’ve not been around many to know.”

“Peter’s not a Pureblood, and he’s never as ill as Remus, or so often.”

“Well, his whole family seems a bit sickly to me! He’s always having to go and visit his mum.”

“Hm,” Sirius says.

He sounds like he’s giving this some serious thought, which is rarely a good thing unless it involves dumgbombs and pranking old Snivellus. James sits up suddenly, flings back the curtain to find Sirius lying stomach-down on his own bed, scowling fiercely at the dormitory door as though he’s about to do it serious damage if it does not produce one Remus Lupin immediately.

“What are you saying then?” James says irritably, not sure where Sirius is going with this. He’d much rather be doing something else, like devising plans for pranking or nicking some food from the kitchens, but with Sirius in this sort of mood it’s hard to get him to do anything.

“I’m not sure. I just don’t like it.”

“Well, why don’t you just ask him what’s wrong?” James asks with great exasperation.

Sirius flicks him a withering look, and James has to concede he has a valid (if unspoken) point. Remus is a quiet sort, and doesn’t seem to like questions.

Sometimes, James Potter thinks his best friends are truly maddening. He longs suddenly for Peter. Simple, uncomplicated Peter.

“I’m going to the kitchens,” he says, jumping up from the bed and hunting for his dressing gown. “You can either come along, and rearrange your face into something a bit more pleasant, or you can sulk alone up here because Remus is feeling poorly. Choice is yours.”

James starts towards the door, and seconds later hears Sirius scramble and clatter about in his haste to come with him. James grins to himself; he knew Sirius would come. Sulky sod he may be, but Sirius Black rarely refuses the offer of food. In fact, he’s perked up considerably, talking happily about bacon sandwiches, when they arrive at the entrance to the kitchens and stop dead, seeing something that wipes the smiles off both their faces.

Lily Evans and Severus Snape are coming out of the kitchens, their pockets overflowing and both laughing, until they see Sirius and James.

There is a moment that follows that James would have thought comical had he not been in it, in which all four students stand stupidly and look at one another, James and Sirius on one side, Lily and Snape on the other.

“What are you doing here?” James blurts out finally.

He knows that Lily and Snape are acquaintances, sort of - well, he knows that Snape helps her out in Potions sometimes, and apparently they live in the same Muggle town, and Lily is kind to him - but then Lily is kind of everyone, and anyway, it’s not the sort of thing James likes to see, especially when it’s sprung upon him all of a sudden. All of a sudden James doesn't feel very hungry.

“Same thing you’re doing, I should think,” Lily mutters, looking distinctly put-out at being caught flouting school rules, especially by James and Sirius. Beneath his disgust at having to look at Lily so close to Snape, James is actually impressed that Lily is out of bed at this hour and wandering the castle.

“Don’t look so shocked, Potter,” Snape says lazily. “What, you thought you and Black were the only ones clever enough to figure out where the kitchens were? Please, I found it on my second day.”

“Yeah, you’d need to, wouldn’t you, considering you probably don’t even get fed at home,” Sirius says viciously.

“And we’re more shocked at the fact that a respectable young Gryffindor is hanging around with a slithering little snake like you, Snape. Enchantment, is it, so that she can’t see the grease?”

“Don’t be silly, James; she obviously just feels sorry for him.”

Snape whips out his wand with a cry of, “Stupe -!” but Lily yanks his arm down.

“Severus, don’t!”

Sirius grins cockily. “Yeah, be a good boy, Snivelly. Listen to Evans. Good thing she’s here to keep you out of trouble.”

His cheeks an unattractive, mottled reddish colour, Snape jerks his arm away from Lily’s grasp and glares death at Sirius and James. “I’m not afraid of the likes of you, Black.”

“Then why don’t you show us what you’re made of?” Sirius says, sauntering closer to Snape, twirling his wand casually in his hand. “I challenge you to a duel, Snape. Tomorrow night, 9pm - shall we say on top of the Astronomy Tower?”

“Oh, for goodness sake,” Lily says. “You think you’re so big, don’t you, Black - and you, Potter - both of you are nothing but giant bullies! Come on, Sev, let’s go.”

Lily pushes in between them both, and after a moments hesitation Snape follows behind her, until Sirius calls after him.

“Yeah, go on Sev. Better do what Evans says, after all.”

“Sirius,” James mutters to him, because Lily has whipped around and turned an amazing scarlet colour, her green eyes narrowed dangerously, and James has a feeling this isn’t going to end well for either of them. He doesn’t give a damn about Snivelly, but Lily is all right, and the way she’s looking at him like he’s a toad makes James feel weird all over.

Sirius’s eyes are glinting though, and James knows that look, knows that Sirius won’t listen to him when James tries to talk sense and reason to him.

Snape turns around, straightening his spindly shoulders. It does absolutely nothing to make him look in any way intimidating. “All right, Black, have it your way,” he snarls.

“Severus, you can’t be serious!” Lily says. “Don’t let them talk you into something so stupid.” Snape doesn’t say anything in reply, and after a moment Lily throws her hands up and stalks off down the hallway, muttering about boys.

Snape doesn’t even blink, just focuses his dark eyes on Sirius. “I take it Potter is your second?”

“Of course,” Sirius says. “Who’s yours?”

Snape curls his lip. “Regulus Black,” he says smoothly, and James has a split-second in which to throw his arm out and catch his best friend around the middle before Sirius launches himself at Snape.

Snape takes a few steps back, but that smarmy, thin-lipped smile stays put. “What’s the matter, Black?” he asks, his pupils dilated; James realises this is probably one of the only times he’s seen Severus Snape look happy - the sight makes him feel ill. “Changed your mind?”

“You - slimy - bloody - wanker,” Sirius pants, struggling against James to get to Snape.

James gathers all his strength and heaves Sirius backwards a few steps, and quickly stands in front of him, arms out. “Sirius, mate - he’s not worth it. He’s pathetic. Just leave it, yeah?”

“You stay the hell away from my brother!” Sirius shouts.

James Potter is tired. All he wanted was some food, and somehow even that has gone wrong; his best friend is an idiot who is far too easy to get to, his other best friends aren’t here to help keep him under control, Lily Evans thinks he’s a bully and Severus Snape is possibly the most disgusting creature James has met. James knows that all of this, all of his problems, are somehow Snape’s fault. He has half a mind to let Sirius hex the git until he can’t walk, but then he knows Sirius will get detention into next year, and James would miss him. No, the best thing to do here - the Gryffindor thing to do - would be to be the bigger person, and walk away.

Then, Snape laughs.

James wheels around and punches him, right on his stupid overlarge nose.

Snape falls to the floor with an over-dramatic howl, his hands covering his face, but James can still see a satisfying amount of blood from between the gaps in his fingers.

“You hit him!” Sirius says, sounding delighted. He laughs, and then grabs James by the shoulder, moving him backwards. “Come on, let’s get out of here before Filch finds us. I can’t believe you hit him!” He beams at James, an odd mixture of pride and jealousy on his face, and then begins to sprint back to Gryffindor Tower.

When they both get back to the common room, ignoring the Fat Lady’s raised eyebrows, and up into their dormitory, Peter is back, sat cross-legged on his bed.

“Where have you two been?” he asks immediately.

“Oh, Potter here has just been involved in a common brawl,” Sirius says happily, launching himself on to his bed and bouncing on the mattress twice before settling down. “Who would have guessed such an honourable Gryffindor fought dirty?”

Peter’s blue eyes are round. “Oh,” he whines. “I miss everything!”

::

The sun has not yet risen when James is woken up by Sirius sitting on top of him.

“Ah!” James yelps, struggling to sit upright with the weight of the other boy crushing his legs. “Get off - Sirius, what are you doing?

“Do you think they’re really friends?” Sirius asks as James fumbles for his glasses. He hastily shoves them on and Sirius comes into view, shadowy in the dark of the room, but with a definite slouch to his shoulders. “Snape and my brother,” he clarifies, when James fails to say anything. “You don’t reckon they’re really mates, do you?”

“I think,” James says slowly, “that Snape is an evil little weed who would say anything to piss you off.”

“Yeah,” Sirius says, but he sounds unconvinced.

“Only idiots would be friends with Snivellus,” James insists, and thinks for a moment, guiltily, of Lily. “Come on, Sirius, you’re not really bothered by this, are you?”

“Yes. No. I mean - I said I’d look out for him. He’s my little brother, and I haven’t even really seen him since school started.”

“Well, it’s difficult, you being in different Houses,” James says.

Sirius nods. “Yeah, that must be it.”

Something about his tone still sounds off, so James asks, “So, you still planning on dueling tomorrow?” hoping that the thought of jinxing Snape will cheer Sirius up.

“’Course I am,” Sirius says. “Hopefully when I beat him, that’ll show Reg that Snape’s not worth his time. Plus,” he adds, “I plan on fighting him with actual magic and skill, and not just brute strength.” He grins down at James, looking a bit more perky, and pinches his cheeks. “Barbarian,” he says fondly.

James rolls his eyes. “You’re just jealous you didn’t get the first punch. You looked like you were about to wet yourself with excitement when you saw the blood.”

“Oh, the blood,” Sirius says, closing his eyes blissfully. “I wish we’d thought to take a camera, to capture the beauty of the moment.”

James laughs. “You’re welcome, by the way. Where would you be without me defending your honour?”

“My knight in shining armour.”

“You prat. Now get off me; I can’t feel my legs.”

“Anything for my hero.”

“Idiot.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, Sirius is halfway through his porridge when Remus appears at the Gryffindor table. He takes the seat opposite Sirius, next to Peter, and engrosses himself in his choice of jam selection, carefully avoiding the looks his three friends are giving him.

Finally, Sirius kicks him under the table until Remus looks up with the threat of a glare on his face. Sirius, ignoring the warning signs on his friend’s expression, demands, “Where the hell have you been?”

“Hospital Wing,” Remus says quietly, dropping his gaze back to his toast.

Sirius opens his mouth to press for more information, to demand that Remus explain exactly what was wrong with him because this is weird, but James nudges him sharply in the ribs and gives him a look that clearly says, let it go. Sirius huffs, annoyed, and digs his spoon into his porridge with more force than is entirely necessary.

Sirius hates not knowing stuff, and he knows that there’s something going on. There’s a definite slump to Remus’ shoulders this morning; he looks peaky, his face drawn and tight, dark circles under his eyes. Remus looks up again, meeting Sirius’ gaze for a fraction of a second before hurriedly looking away again, and Sirius feels his irritation grow. Sirius dislikes secrets, especially between friends, and beneath this annoyance is another feeling, strange and protective; he feels it nudging him in the stomach every time he looks at Remus’ tired eyes.

To distract himself from the temptation of upending his porridge over Remus’ head, Sirius glances around the Great Hall until he spots Snape at the Slytherin table. The greasy git has his nose (now sadly fixed) buried in the Prophet. Sirius is pleased to note that Regulus is sat nowhere near him, at the other end of the table near Narcissa. He watches his brother for a time: Reg is in between two other boys Sirius recognises from his parents’ annual Pureblood functions that they used to drag their sons along to in the hopes of them forging “respectable friendships”. Rosier and Wilkes, Sirius remembers suddenly. Nasty little buggers.

“You’re not worried about Snape, are you, Sirius?” Peter asks loudly, noticing Sirius’ glaring in the direction of the Slytherin table. “You can take him, you know.”

Peter is at too difficult an angle to kick, so Sirius settles for aiming his scowl at him instead. Peter recoils, face dropping, but Remus says, “Snape? What about him?”

“It’s nothing,” Sirius mutters.

“What did Peter mean by ‘you can take him’? Sirius, please tell me you haven’t done anything stupid.” Remus’ tone is despairing, as though he has already long ago accepted that of course Sirius has done something stupid.

“James was the one that punched him!” Sirius says, determined that if he goes down, his best friend is going with him.

“Cheers for that,” James says grimly. Then, to Remus, “It’s nothing to worry about, Remus. Sirius challenged Snape to a duel. That’s all.”

“That’s all?” Remus repeats. “Oh, well, thank goodness for that, for a minute I thought you’d done agreed to something dangerous and against school rules. You’re not seriously going to do it, are you, Sirius?”

“Of course he is,” James says at once, and Sirius gives him a grateful look. “Remus, you weren’t there. Snape was being a prat. It’s not that dangerous, really - what’s Snape going to do? He’s just a Second Year.”

“Sirius is a Second Year too,” Remus says, looking at him, “and I’m guessing you know a thing or two not covered in The Standard Book of Spells?”

“Well, yeah. Part and parcel of being in my family, to be honest, but come on, Remus - you’re overreacting.”

“It could just be a trap,” Peter says, shoving another slice of toast in his mouth. “I bet Snape would love to get you and James into trouble, especially after last night.”

“Exactly!” Remus says. “Thank you, Peter.” He looks at Sirius as if this settles the matter.

Sirius stands up from the table with a dark look on his face. “Well, you don’t have to have anything to do with it if you don’t want. If you care so much about Snape’s feelings.”

“Sirius, that’s not fair,” Remus tries.

“It’s fine. Pretend you don’t know anything about it if it makes it easier on your conscience; do whatever. I’ll see you in Charms.”

Sirius looks expectantly at James, who gets the hint that he’s being summoned and hastily finishes the last of his bacon before getting to his feet, throwing an apologetic look at Peter and Remus. Together, James and Sirius walk through the Great Hall, Sirius trying to ignore the apprehensive looks James keeps giving him.

“Are you all right, mate?” James asks. “You seem a bit…tense.”

“I’m fine,” Sirius snaps.

He glances back at the crowd of seated students; at Regulus, nodding along to something Narcissa is saying, a bored look on his face; and then to Remus, who is staring at his plate with an expression that Sirius recognises as the look Remus gets whenever a teacher has asked a particularly hard question. Even from this distance, Sirius can make out his puzzled frown, his mouth a quavery line.

Sirius really can’t wait to hex Snape tonight.

::

Sirius’ day does not improve. In Charms he misses his aim completely while tyring to levitate his kettle; James’ glasses fly off his nose with incredible speed and smack into the opposite wall, pinging Professor Flitwick on the ear on the way by for good measure. Before Sirius can defend himself and insist that this was not a prank, thank you very much, both Flitwick and James are glaring at him, the former docking him three points and the latter kicking him in the shin. The injustice of it all stings: why do people always think he’s guilty?

Remus and James, the traitors, won’t speak to him in Herbology, leaving him to pair up with Peter, who is arse with plants at the best of times but they’re studying mandrakes, and Peter is doubly arse at plants with teeth. He cowers behind Sirius, offering suggestions from a safe distance. Sirius looks up, catches Remus’ gaze, and Remus gives him one of his pointed I’m-not-talking-to-you-because-you’ve-hurt-my-feelings looks. It is not a look Sirius cares for. His annoyance renewed, Sirius forgets what he’s supposed to be doing, and his mandrake takes the opportunity to sink its fangs into his wrist.

The upside is that James finds it hilarious, especially when Sirius tries to free himself by whacking the mandrake repeatedly on the bench, and talks to him afterwards. Remus, however, remains stony-faced all throughout the day and disappears after dinner, not even staying for pudding.

“Who twisted his knickers?” Sirius demands, watching Remus’ retreating back and helping himself to some trifle.

“You know how to gets about Rules,” Peter says wisely.

James nods. “He gets all conflicted, you can see it in his eyes. Poor thing. Sometimes I wonder about him.”

Remus is either asleep, or pretending to be, when Sirius and James get ready for their meeting with Snape. Peter whispers “good luck” as they leave, but Sirius thinks the snores coming from Remus’ bed sound decidedly fake. They creep down the staircase; the common room appears surprisingly empty, but Sirius thinks little of it, thinking that he’s due a bit of good luck after the days events.

“Good evening, gentlemen.”

Sirius feels James freeze beside him. They turn in perfect unison to see Minerva McGonagall sat in the comfiest armchair, her hands folded neatly together in her lap, eyes boring into them both over the rims of her spectacles.

Oh, bugger.

“Professor,” James says in his most pleasant voice, recovering quickly. “My, what a surprise. I didn’t think to see you here.”

“We are together in that thought, Potter, although I regret to say I am not completely surprised. Do you care to tell me where you and Mr Black are going at this hour?”

She knows, Sirius thinks. Somehow, McGonagall always seems to know. He twitches, shooting James a sideways look. Beside him, James is looking equally as shifty. They’re both familiar with McGonagall and her all-seeing eyes by now, and Sirius knows when he’s in a trap. Lie, and risk more trouble, or tell the truth and suffer the inevitable weeks’ worth of detentions? The choices aren’t great.

Sirius opts for avoiding the question altogether. “Who told you? I bet it was Remus, wasn’t it?”

McGonagall gets to her feet at a leisurely pace, like a cat uncurling itself. “I assure you, Mr Black, my spies are legion, but you’re wrong to blame Mr Lupin. Who told me is not relevent.” She stares down unflinchingly at the both of them. Sirius tries to hold her gaze; James is already looking at his feet. “Now, I think fifteen points each from Gryffindor for your actions. Dueling, as you know, is not tolerated at Hogwarts, nor is being out after curfew.” Sirius opens his mouth to protest, but MGonagall says, “Be thankful it is not more, Mr Black, and that I got here in time. I would like to win the House Cup this year, you know. Now, Mr Potter, if you could return to your bed, please. I would like a private word with Mr Black.”

James hesitates, giving Sirius a wide-eyed look. Under McGonagall’s gaze though he has no choice but to return to the dormitory, leaving Sirius alone with McGonagall. Silence descends as McGonagall gives him an appraising look, and Sirius tries not to squirm too much. Remember, show her no weakness.

“Why don’t you take a seat?” McGonagall asks.

“Er. What?”

“A seat, Mr Black,” McGonagall says briskly. “Or would you rather stand and twitch nervously?”

Suspicious, Sirius perches on the arm of the nearest chair. McGonagall returns to her previous chair and aims her wand at the empty fireplace; immediately, light and warmth flood the common room as the fire lights.

“That’s better,” she says. “Now. Mr Black -”

“I know, I know,” he says with a dramatic sigh. “Detention, is it? You’ll have to pencil me in for Saturday I’m afraid, Professor; I’m already busy until then for making some glasses attack Professor Flitwick and for giving a mandrake concussion.”

McGonagall raises her eyebrows. “I will pretend I did not hear that, Mr Black. I do not wish to, ah - add to your extra-curricular engagements.”

“You - you don’t? Er, right then - better forget what I said about the glasses and mandrake, then.”

“Gladly,” McGonagall says, sounding suddenly tired and like she wishes she were in bed. She takes her glasses off and pinches the bridge of her nose, taking a steadying breath before continuing. “I wish to talk to you about your performance here at Hogwarts. You’re very bright, Mr Black, no doubt about that - I just feel you could accomplish so much more if you focused your ability on more…academic pursuits, and less on…well, less on situations such as you have just described, which of course I have forgotten.”

Sirius shifts on the arm of the chair. McGonagall pushes her glasses back on with her index finger and gives him a piercing look.

“What I’m trying to say, Mr Black, is that I would advise you not to let people goad you into petty dramas, especially ones with potentially disastrous consequences. Inter-house rivalry and healthy competition is all well and good, but not when taken to extremes. Have you ever thought about taking up Quidditch?”

Wordlessly, Sirius shakes his head. He knows that James practically foams at the mouth whenever a match is near and spends all his spare time on the pitch practicing for their next game; Peter supports a team and even Remus has been to matches, but Sirius was never allowed to play when he was younger. Riding around after balls is not for Blacks, he was often told when he saw local children playing in the park, on the rare occasions when his governess did take him to the park. Horse-riding was encouraged, fencing expected, but Quidditch was considered by Walburga Black to be a bit too fun for her children.

Sirius thinks, then, of Mother’s reaction if he made it on to the team.

“I’ll consider it,” he tells McGonagall seriously.

“Excellent,” she says briskly. “And remember, Mr Black, sometimes it is possible to even be friends with students from other Houses, as strange as that notion may seem. After all, your family are in Slytherin - your younger brother was just sorted there at the start of this year, was he not?”

“Yeah,” Sirius says. “Reggie. He’s all right, you know.”

“For a Slytherin?” Professor McGonagall says archly.

Sirius grins. “For a little brother.” He wonders suddenly if Regulus has got in trouble for tonight, and asks, “Who told you about tonight, anyway?”

McGonagall’s expression is unreadable. “You know very well I’m not going to tell you, Mr Black.” She stands up, smoothing down the front of her robes and then extinguishing the fire. “It is late. You should be in bed. I’ll tell Vane to expect you at Quidditch try-outs this weekend. Goodnight, Mr Black.”

::

Sirius is waiting at the bottom of the stairs to the girl’s dormitories the next morning, ignoring the terrified looks he gets from the first years as they scuttle by. He then sees the familiar shade of red hair he’s been waiting for, grabs his prey by the arm and says, “Morning, Evans. Can I have a word?”

Evans pulls her arm free. “What on earth do you want, Black?” she asks, giving him a disgusted look.

“Just wanted to know if you slept well, after your evening of ratting James and I out to McGonagall,” Sirius explains.

“Do you want me to hex him, Lils?" Mary MacDonald asks, coming down the staircase after her and fixing Sirius with a glare.

Evans is frowning at him like he’s grown an extra head. “It’s all right, Mary; he’s just jabbering on about nonsense as usual.” To Sirius, she says, with infuriating calm, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, so can you let me by so I can get to breakfast -”

“You told McGonagall that James and I were planning on dueling with your precious Snivellus!” Sirius says.

“I did no such thing, you berk. Why would I want to get my best friend in detention? If you find out who it was though, give them my thanks for putting a stop to something so childish.”

With that, Evans sidesteps neatly around him, linking arms with MacDonald and joining the throng of Gryffindors climbing out out of the portrait hole.

::

Next on Sirius’ hit-list is Regulus, who he corners on the way into the Great Hall.

“Happy, are you?” Sirius demands, barring his little brother’s way. “I suppose you thought it was a right lark, getting points taken from Gryffindor; although I’m curious, how many points did your little stunt cost you? I notice poor Slytherin’s hourglass isn’t looking so full these days. I bet your pal isn’t too happy with you, no matter how much trouble you got me in.”

“I didn’t do it to get you in trouble,” Regulus protests, wrinkling up his nose in indignation. “And if you mean Severus, he isn’t my pal. I don’t even like him that much. He’s a half-blood, you know, and he’s always hanging out with that Mudblood from your House.”

“Don’t say that word!”

“Mother and Father say it,” Regulus says, standing up a bit taller and looking defiantly at Sirius.

“Yes, well, Mother and Father aren’t here, are they, and it’s not a very nice word, Reg. Just say Muggle-born, will you?” Regulus just shrugs, and Sirius sighs, knowing its a losing battle with his brother. Regulus lives for the quiet life; he always goes along with their parents. “Why did you do it then? Tell on me? If you’re not friendly with Snape, I would’ve thought you’d like to see me give him a good cursing, considering your - ah - opinion of him.”

Regulus frowns, is silent for a long time. Just when it looks like he’s about to answer, a voice shouts, “Regulus, hurry up!” and Regulus jumps guiltily, as if he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t. He mutters a hurried “see you” to Sirius and pushes past him, joining his friends at the Slytherin table.

::

“What did he want?” Evan Rosier asks, giving Sirius a suspicious look before sitting down next to Regulus.

Regulus shakes his head and pours himself some pumpkin juice. Next to him, Aegir Wilkes is talking about Severus.

“Have you seen the look on his face? He’s absolutely furious, I’m telling you. He’s got detention for a week, I heard. I wouldn’t like to be the person who told on him when Severus gets hold of them.”

“Slughorn didn’t say who told him then?” Evan asks.

Aegir shrugs. “Was probably a Gryffindor; you know what they’re like. They call themselves brave. Pah! I’ve seen braver puffskeins. Bet it was Potter, or that Lupin fellow; he always seems a bit shifty to me.”

“Bit of a shame, if you ask me. I hear Severus was planning on testing out a new spell that he says he invented!”

“Invented? A Second Year?” Aegir looks sceptical. “Well, I doubt it could have been that powerful. What do you think, Regulus?”

Regulus, who has seen the scribblings on spare bits of parchment Severus carries around with him and knows a nasty spell when he sees one, merely shrugs. Over the top of the paper he’s pretending to read, he watches his brother and his friends at the Gryffindor table where he knows Sirius is probably moaning about how Regulus has gone running to a teacher and spoiled all his fun. Then he thinks of the way Severus looks at his brother, remembers the scrawled incantations and mechanics of something Severus dubbed sectumsempra, and tells himself he's done the right thing.

Chapter Text

Boxing Day, 1972.

A chilly mist swirls around Lily’s ankles as she makes her way to Spinner’s End. The cobbled streets are slippery with ice, so she walks on the verge instead, her boots crunching the frost-coated grass. She turns left down a narrow ginnel squeezed between two identical red-bricked houses and comes out the other end facing the patch of scrubby land dubbed “the old rec” by Cokeworth children and adults alike.

A small playing field surrounded sparsely by bare trees and usually inhabited by scowling, smoking teenagers, the old rec doesn’t have much to boast about. A dilapidated-looking slide, just one functional swing, and a long-rusted roundabout set the scene, but as she gets closer Lily begins to smile - despite the location, despite the wind whipping at her face, despite the fact she can’t feel her toes - as the lone figure of Severus comes into view, stood next to the slide with his hands in the pockets of his black overcoat.

She hasn’t seen him since the last day of school before breaking up for the Christmas holidays, and they hadn’t exactly had the best goodbye. That insufferable idiot Black had been in a foul temper on the Hogsmeade platform, and had stuck his leg out to trip Sev up as he walked towards Lily. Sev had gone flying, his ink and quills spilling out of his bag, and he’d landed awkwardly at Lily’s feet. As laughter rang out along the platform, and Lily attempted to help Sev to his feet, Sev himself had turned bright red with fury and pushed her away from him, muttering he didn’t need her help. Black was already being admonished by Professor Flitwick, who was seeing the students back on to the train, and Sev didn’t retaliate. He just moved away from Lily, to go and stand with his Slytherin friends, and didn’t seek her out on the train.

He’s spotted her now though, and raises a hand in greeting, looking happier than Lily has seen him in weeks. Lily wishes he could always be like this, like he is when it’s just the two of them. Like it was before Hogwarts, before they were sorted. Then again, she thinks, here at Cokeworth Severus doesn’t have Black and Potter constantly goading him.

(At the end of first year, the Fat Lady had seen her crying on the way back to the common room, after an argument with Severus in which he’d accused her of being “one of them” when she’d defended Gryffindor after Sev had said they were all a bunch of idiots. True, that very morning Potter had spelled bars of soap to follow Severus around, batting him on the head, but then that had only been because Sev had apparently said something about Black’s mother, to hear Alice Thorne tell it.

“I don’t understand why he has to be so mean,” Lily had said.

“Male pride, dear,” the Fat Lady said knowledgeably. “He won’t grow out of it.”

Lily was afraid of that.)

“Aren’t you freezing?” Lily asks now, stopping in front of her best friend, taking in the thin material of his coat, the trousers that are showing a bit too much bare ankle. Lily herself is wrapped in a brand new coat given to her by her mother for Christmas, thick gloves, and her Gryffindor scarf, and she can still feel the cold. “Why don’t you wear your robes? They must be warmer than that.”

“My dad doesn’t like me wearing wizard clothing. Says I have to blend in,” Severus says, although in Lily’s opinion the mismatched clothing doesn’t help, even in the shabbier part of town. She knows what Sev’s dad is like though, and so she just nods, pulling a sympathetic face. “I’m all right,” Sev says hastily. “It’s not that cold.”

Male pride indeed, Lily thinks.

They go for a walk along the riverside. Bits of ice and litter float on top of the murky water; as always, the top of the old mill dominates the skyline, and not for the first time Lily feels a twang of sympathy for Sev that she knows better than to voice. They’re only in their second year, but Lily finds herself thinking about life after Hogwarts, and where he’ll end up. Surely he won’t stay here, in gloomy Spinner’s End. Lily’s never been to Sev’s house, only seen it from the end of the road - the furthest he insists she ever goes. An end terrace with dingy net curtains in the grubby windows, Lily can’t imagine it as a place Sev dreams of returning to.

She’s seen his mum just twice, on the platform at King’s Cross putting Severus on the train; Lily gets the impression she doesn’t leave the house very much. As for Mr Snape, if it weren’t for Sev’s constant complaining about him, Lily would think he didn’t even exist. She knows Sev’s dad has a rotten reputation around Cokeworth; Lily’s own parents had exchanged worried looks the first time Lily had ever mentioned the name ‘Snape’ in the house, and now she knows better than to tell her parents who she meets up with during the school holidays.

With all this in mind, Lily doesn’t ask Sev how his Christmas has been. Christmas in Spinner’s End doesn’t seem very merry at all.

He asks about hers though, and she shrugs. “It was all right. Books mostly, and Tuney got me some make-up.”

“That stuff all the Muggle girls wear?” Sev says disdainfully. “You don’t need that rot.”

They pause to sit down on a graffiti-sprayed bench overlooking the river. Sev sits hunched forward, staring out at the water, his hands once again hidden in his pockets. Lily thinks about offering him her scarf, but knows he’d refuse it out of pure stubbornness, never mind the fact that it’s a Gryffindor one.

“I have an idea,” Lily says brightly, sitting next to him and kicking her legs out in front of her. “How about next year we stay at Hogwarts for Christmas?”

She expects him to be pleased at the idea. Instead he wrinkles his nose, and says, “Stay at school for the holidays? Isn’t that what all the hopeless cases do, the ones who have nowhere else to go?”

“I thought it could be fun. We’d get a feast, and we could spend the whole day together, not just an hour or so -”

“We could spend the whole day together anyway,” he says, looking at her pointedly. “If you didn’t always have to rush back to that family of yours.”

“Sev, don’t,” she says, flushing. “Don’t spoil it.”

“Sorry,” he says gruffly. “I just can’t stay at Hogwarts for Christmas, or any holidays. My mother likes me to be close. I wouldn’t like the thought of leaving her with - well, leaving her alone for so long. Besides,” he adds, looking away from her, “I like seeing you outside of school.”

“Why?” she says with a small laugh. “I think I’d rather be in a warm castle than out here -”

“Well, I wouldn’t,” he says shortly, a scowl appearing on his face. “It’s different in Hogwarts. You’re different.”

Lily knows what’s coming, and she can feel herself growing defensive already. She fiddles with the Gryffindor scarf around her neck. “Sev, we’ve been through this…just because we’re in different Houses doesn’t mean we can’t be friends at school! You shouldn’t listen to what all those idiots say. I don’t pay any attention to what dolts like Black and Potter may say, do I?”

“It’s different in Slytherin,” Sev mutters.

“Why?” Lily asks, bristling. “Because I’m Muggle-born?”

“Lily…”

“No! I’m getting a bit sick and tired of this, Severus. Either I’m your friend or I’m not; you can’t want me to spend all my holiday time with you - time which is supposed to be me catching up with my family - and then try to blank me as soon as we get to school! Do you think I don’t know what all those creeps in your House say about people like me? It’s disgusting; they’re disgusting.”

“They’re not all bad,” Sev protests.

Lily raises her eyebrows. “Mulciber is horrible! I can’t believe you hang around with him. And Narcissa Black - Sev, she barely has two brain cells to rub together!”

Sev’s lips twitch as if he’s about to smile, but then he sets his mouth firmly in a determined line. “You are my friend,” he says.

“Act like it then,” Lily says with a tired sigh. “I mean, you’re half-blood. Your dad’s a Muggle -”

“I’m not proud of it!” Sev snarls suddenly, and then he goes even paler than normal as he registers what he’s just said and sees the look on Lily’s face. “Of him,” he blusters, “I’m not - I’m not proud of him, I meant, Lily - Lily, don’t go!”

But Lily’s already up and walking away as fast as she can on the icy ground; she slips and nearly falls once, her ankle twisting painfully - tears spring to her eyes, sharp and hot, but she doesn’t stop until she’s away from Spinner’s End. Sev hasn’t followed her. Not surprising, she thinks sadly, stopping to lean against a wall, reaching down to rub her ankle.

She’s a few minutes away from home, can see her street and the merrily twinkling Christmas lights on all the houses. She thinks of the cake her mum had been baking that morning when Lily had left, the sweet smell of cinnamon wafting through the house. Her grandparents are visiting from Leeds tonight. She doesn’t think of what Sev will be returning to, pushes him to the back of her mind.

She starts walking towards home when she sees her sister striding towards her down their road. “There you are!” Petunia says, grabbing Lily’s arm. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Where have you been? You haven’t been - you haven’t been with him, have you?” Petunia gives Lily a suspicious look.

“I just went for a walk.”

Petunia rolls her eyes. “Trust you to go for a walk in weather like this. It’s going to snow, you know. Come on, grandpa and grandma should be here soon!”

Lily smiles, and the two sisters link arms, walking back home just as the first few snowflakes begin to fall.

Chapter Text

January 1973.

Remus feels the moon long before it makes its appearance. There are three days to go, and already he can feel the pull in his bones, muscles tensed like wire pulled too tight.

There are days when Remus can (nearly) forget what he is, days when he doesn’t ache all over and he doesn’t suffer from painful spasms, headaches and shakes; days he can laugh with his friends and pretend that he’s normal, when he doesn’t have to lie and cover his tracks. Remus is good at secrets, having been taught them from an early age, and he’s good at making people believe that he’s all right, that he’s coping. It’s better at Hogwarts, where he doesn’t have to put on his act for his parents, although at Hogwarts he has to lie to his friends, something that’s been getting harder and harder to do recently.

Today is not one of the days Remus can forget. His legs feel like lead as he walks up the stone staircase to the Owlery, and he’s exhausted and craving his bed by the time he makes it to the large circular room at the top of the tower. Still, he has to send a letter to his parents, or else they worry, and they do enough of that anyway.

Remus reaches for a tawny school owl, and attaches the parchment to its leg - it takes a while, as the bird doesn’t stop flapping and trying to fly away. Remus has long suspected the owls know what he is, and indeed as he looks up into the rafters he can make out a hundred amber eyes staring mistrustfully down at him, or as mistrustfully as owls can manage.

Get it together, Lupin, he tells himself crossly, forcing the bird to be still at last and managing to tie the letter to it; it takes off out the window as soon as he lets it go. Remus leans his elbows on the stone window, carefully avoiding the fresh owl droppings, and cups his face in his hand as he stares out. From up here he can see the tops of the trees of the forest swaying in the wind and a steady plume of smoke coming from the chimney of Hagrid’s hut. Remus closes his eyes, enjoying the early morning fresh air on his face and listening to the gentle hoots and rustling of wings from behind him.

“Deep in thought?”

Remus jerks, eyes snapping open as he whirls around to see Sirius at the top of the steps, leaning in the doorway, a wide smile on his face.

“Didn’t mean to startle you,” he says, strolling into the room. He has a scroll of parchment in his hand, and as he selects a school owl, he continues over his shoulder, “You’re up early.”

“So are you,” Remus says. “Didn’t think you usually stirred before midday at the weekend.”

Sirius throws him another grin. Having secured his letter on to the owl, he carries it to the window on his arm and then lets it take flight. “Letter to Andromeda,” Sirius explains, noticing Remus’ frown. “She’s expecting a baby, and I like to keep in touch.”

Remus has heard Sirius talk about his cousin Andromeda before, always with a mixture of pride and envy in his voice. Remus knows the story. The Black that got away. Remus has the suspicion that Sirius might quite like to do the same sometimes - he’s been resolutely silent on the subject of his Christmas holidays, and always seems to go and return from his family home in a terrible temper - but Remus doesn’t have the guts to question him about this. He knows better than most not to pry into other people’s lives.

“That’s nice,” Remus says, although he’s a bit clueless about babies besides the basics. Still, it seems the standard thing to say.

“Yeah, hopefully when it’s born I can visit. She’s already invited me to go and stay with her and Ted whenever I want. It’s just, you know.” Sirius trails off, shrugs. “Bit difficult, things being what they are.” He coughs, and then fixes Remus with a questioning look, grey eyes curious. “So, Mr Lupin, you never said - what are you doing up here at this time in the morning?”

“Sending a letter to my parents. You know they like to be kept up to date with what’s going on.”

Sirius laughs. “What do your parents think you do here at Hogwarts, go around bouncing off the walls and nearly falling out of windows? They do seem to worry an awful lot about you.”

“They’re just protective,” Remus says awkwardly, not wanting to point out that it’s a natural paternal instinct to worry. “My mum especially; you know, she’s Muggle, she doesn’t - she doesn’t always quite understand how safe things are here.”

“How is your mum?” Sirius asks, not taking his eyes off of Remus once. It’s a bit unnerving, really. “Is she feeling better?”

“Oh,” Remus says faintly, feeling the usual warmth spread under his collar. Good at it he may be, but Remus hates lying to people. “Her illness, it - it comes and goes.”

“Bit like the moon, then,” Sirius says casually, and Remus can’t help but jerk upright, his right hand curling into a fist of its own accord, and for an agonising moment he can’t actually think of anything at all to say. Sirius is watching him just as intently as before, but then he takes two steps towards Remus, his lips curving upwards into a smile. “Remus - Remus, it’s okay. I know. I know you’re a werewolf.”

Remus opens his mouth, then closes it again. He knows, rationally, that Sirius has lowered his tone, but the word still seems very loud out in the open. He briefly considers feigning ignorance, but then a wonderful thought comes to him: Sirius knows, and he said it’s okay.

He gropes for the right words, eventually managing, “I - how?”

“I know you have to nag me to do my homework, Remus, but I’m not thick. I worked out all your disappearances happen on a full moon. Your mother’s not really sick, is she?”

Remus glances inadvertently at the wide open stone doorway, and Sirius’ expression turns unexpectedly kind. It’s not a look Remus has seen there a lot before, a softening around the eyes and mouth.

“I get it,” Sirius says. “Come on, let’s go back to the dorm. James and Pete should be at breakfast now. We can talk about it there, if you’d prefer.”

Remus nods, still a bit dazed, and lets Sirius lead the way back to Gryffindor Tower.

::

An hour later and a giant slab of Honeydukes chocolate finished off between them, Sirius is staring at Remus with an odd expression on his face. Remus has finally finished his tale - it took a while, with lots of prodding and prompting whenever Remus trailed off - and now he’s bracing himself for the reality to sink in for Sirius, for him to show his disgust, but all Sirius does is run a hand through his hair and let out a low whistle.

“Remus, mate - I can’t believe you kept all this a secret from us for over a year.”

He doesn’t sound hurt, just stunned, and Remus shrugs. “I didn’t want to lie to anyone. Dumbledore said it would be safer, this way. I wanted to tell you, all of you, I just - I couldn’t stand the thought of what you’d all say if you knew you’d been sharing a room with a monster all this time.”

Sirius looks up sharply. “Don’t say that. I know monsters, and you are definitely not one.”

“Sirius, that’s very kind of you to say, but really -”

“I mean it, Remus. Don’t ever call yourself that.”

Remus shifts on the bed, staring down at the red and gold covers. “Do James and Peter know, then?”

“Maybe,” Sirius says. “I’m not sure if they figured it out too. I didn’t want to discuss it with them until I’d spoken to you about it. Why, you’re not worried, are you?” Remus stays silent, and Sirius laughs slightly. “Remus, they won’t care. We’re your friends. So you get furry once a month - we all have our off days.”

“Sirius, please,” Remus says quietly. “This isn’t a joke.”

“Sorry, it’s just - I think you’re too hard on yourself. What happened was not your fault; it’s shit, but it was beyond your control. You shouldn’t punish yourself for it.” He leans forward, puts a hand on Remus’ shoulder. Remus jumps at the touch, but Sirius keeps his hand there, squeezing just once before dropping his arm. “I wish you’d told me before, but I can understand why you didn’t. Do you want to talk to James and Peter together?”

Remus nods, not trusting himself to speak. He knew he had friends here at Hogwarts; he just never knew how powerful friendship could be until now, that it could be more than sneaking out to the kitchens together and swapping notes in lessons and supporting each other on the Quidditch pitch. He never quite knew how it felt, before, but he feels it now, looking at Sirius, and Remus gives him a shaky smile.

“Thank you, Sirius.”

Sirius grins. “Not a problem. Hey, what’s the betting old Petey’s head explodes?”

::

Peter’s head does not explode. He does, however, go very pale, and Remus doesn’t miss the way he bundles his fist into his bedspread, clutching at the sheets, his mouth a comical little o of surprise. James just goes quiet, looking evenly from Sirius to Remus and back again as if he’s trying to work out if this is a prank.

Remus is grateful for Sirius beside him, staring the two of them down. Remus himself doesn’t feel quite brave enough for this on his own. I’m not a Gryffindor, he thinks. I should have argued more for Ravenclaw.

“You’re serious,” James says finally, gaze settling on Remus. “You’re actually serious.”

There’s a moment of silence. All three of them are staring at him, and Remus knows this is something he can’t be rescued from, that he has to do on his own. He stands up a bit straighter. Now or never, Lupin.

“Actually, he’s Sirius,” Remus says. “I’m a werewolf.”

Sirius throws his head back and laughs so hard he has to steady himself against the nearest bedpost. Even Peter starts to chuckle, and after a moment James smiles ruefully, shaking his head.

“All right, I walked into that one. I just can’t - I mean, out of all of us - Remus Lupin, a werewolf!”

“They say it’s always the quiet ones,” Peter says in a stage whisper, more colour in his cheeks now.

“Too bloody right!”

James and Peter are both smiling at him now, and Sirius is wiping actual tears of laughter from the corners of his eyes, the bedpost still supporting him.

Remus never imagined telling people to be quite like this (to be completely truthful, he never imagined telling anyone full stop). More incredible than the fact his friends are taking his secret so well as to actually laugh about it is how quickly things return to normal afterwards. The four of them head down to the common room. It’s quite full, it being a chilly weekend and not a match day, but they manage to find themselves a spot near the fire. Peter gets out his chess board to play James while Remus and Sirius sit on the sofa next to Marlene McKinnon.

“All right, lads?” she says, looking up from her book. “Where have you four been? Making mischief already?”

“Don’t know what you mean,” James says innocently, looking up and batting his eyelids at Marlene before swiftly taking one of Peter’s pawns.

“Don’t give me that act, James Potter. I’m immune to it.” She puts her book down, leaning towards them. “Come on, you lot look like you’ve been up to something. Spill, or I’ll get Alice on to you,” she says, indicating the nearby fifth-year prefect.

Sirius snorts. “Yeah, just you try and tear her away from Frank. We could set off a dungbomb over here and she’d be oblivious when talking to him.”

“I’m not deaf, Black,” Alice shouts across the room, flipping him the finger without pausing in her conversation with her boyfriend.

Peter is frowning in concentration at the chess board, his hand hovering over one of his knights. He shoots Remus a look, who shakes his head, and Peter withdraws his hand, chewing on his bottom lip. James leaves him to it, turning to face Marlene.

“Sorry to disappoint you, but we’ve all been rather uncharacteristically innocent today. Well, except for Remus here, of course,” he says, throwing Remus an exaggerated wink.

“Come off it,” scoffs Marlene. “The little lamb?”

“Excuse me,” Remus says mildly.

“You are a bit, you know, lamb-like,” Marlene says, and to Remus’ mortification she actually leans across to pinch his cheek.

“Fluffy,” Peter murmurs absently, still studying the board.

James and Sirius laugh loudly, even more so at Marlene’s slightly confused expression. Remus knows his ego should be somewhat damaged by this exchange, but for the first time today his body seems at ease, the worries of the coming moon forgotten, and he realises how good it feels to finally share a secret.

Chapter Text

February 1973.

My dearest Cissy,

First of all, let me say I hope this letter finds you in good health and spirits. I know NEWTs are soon; I remember it as a beastly time, just keep your chin up and remember, this too shall pass!

You never replied to my last owl, but I just wanted to keep you up to date. We’ve found out the baby is to be a girl; we’re absolutely thrilled but Ted doesn’t seem keen on any of my choice of names, so any suggestions are welcome. She’s due mid-May, and my offer still stands: I would dearly love to see you, Ciss, and I would very much like for my daughter to know her aunt. You’d be more than welcome in our home any time you want.

How are the wedding plans coming along? How strange it seems that my baby sister is soon to be married!

I think of you often and hope you are, above all things, happy.

Please write.

Love,
A.

Narcissa has kept the letter from her sister in the pocket of her robes all day, the words seeming to burn a hole right through the material and searing themselves into her skin. Tucked away in the furthest corner of the library, well away from the prying eyes of Madam Pince, she takes the letter out again and stares at it, although she’s already memorised the words by now.

How infuriatingly like Andromeda, to write to her as if nothing has changed. Her sister is as stubborn as they come. Narcissa burnt the first two letters she received without even opening them as soon as she recognised the handwriting, and she hasn’t replied to any of the others even after her curiosity got the better of her and she read them. Her silence has done nothing to deter Andromeda at all, and she continues to write to her at least once a month, updating Narcissa on her life, as if a few words on parchment can heal the wounds she’s caused. Every time she learns something new about her elder sister’s life, Narcissa feels as if Andromeda is twisting the knife in just a little bit more, shoving her disgrace into Narcissa’s face, not caring about the discomfort she’s causing. Andromeda to the bone, Narcissa thinks bitterly, unable to see how her actions effect anyone else.

When they were younger, especially after Bella had left for Hogwarts, Andromeda and Narcissa were very close. They bickered and squabbled as any sisters so close in age are expected to do, but Andromeda would let Narcissa into her bed at night and tell the stories Narcissa loved best; the one about the girl locked away in a tower whose golden hair grew no matter how many times the evil Muggle woman tried to hack it off, and how eventually the girl threw her hair down to a handsome wizard who had come to rescue her. Andromeda’s stories were always better than Bella’s, and always had happy endings, whereas Bella preferred the scary stories that left a young Narcissa with a fear that Muggle children were going to break into the house and try to lock her in the oven and roast her.

Narcissa looked up to and admired Bellatrix greatly, but it was Andromeda who Narcissa cried for the most when the time came for her to go to Hogwarts, leaving Narcissa home all alone with only the occasional company of Sirius and Regulus, which was all very well and good, but they weren’t sisters, and they certainly never wanted to listen to her stories.

They wrote to each other a great deal that first year they were apart; Andromeda told her all about life at Hogwarts and how amazing it was, and Narcissa told Andromeda about all the parties that Mother took her to and all the dreadful drippy boys she was made to talk to. (When you come to Hogwarts next year, Andromeda wrote, you shall be able to learn how to turn them all into frogs. Then you can kiss one and make him into your prince!)

Writing to her sister had always comforted Narcissa. Even now her fingers itch to pick up a quill and reply, but she knows she can’t.

She doesn’t understand why Andromeda has abandoned them. Mother and Father would have made her a suitable match with someone worthy of a Black, and then Narcissa and Bella would have been her bridesmaids, just as they had always planned when they were little and would play pretend.

Narcissa thinks of her own wedding, thinks of the empty space there will be now, much like the empty hole on the family tapestry at Grimmauld Place. And when Narcissa and Lucius have children, what then? Ever since being betrothed to Lucius, she’s had a very clear image of her blonde-haired children playing with Andromeda and Bellatrix’s sons and daughters in the gardens of Malfoy Manor while the sisters relaxed and gossiped like little girls again. She expected her children to be as close to their cousins as they were to Sirius and Regulus, and her heart aches now to think of her future children alone and without the sort of childhood Narcissa herself experienced, all due to her sister’s selfishness.

As for Bellatrix, Narcissa isn’t sure when (if ever) her and Rodolphus intend on having children: they both seem far too involved in their new cause, and thinking about Bella’s bedtime stories, Narcissa thinks maybe she’s not quite cut out for motherhood. She’d always been sure about Andromeda, though, had imagined them as pregnant ladies together, laughing and complaining about backache and odd cravings.

Andromeda will be a good mother, she thinks, and then hastily pushes the thought away, glancing around the library furtively as though she expects Mother or Father to appear and scold her for such a notion. It’s no concern of hers now what sort of mother her sister will be, now that she’s decided to breed half-bloods and filth into the family.

Narcissa sighs quietly and points her wand at the letter laid out before her. “Lacero,” she says, and the parchment shreds itself to bits before her eyes. She vanishes them with another tap of her wand, and pulls the heavy book she’s supposed to be reading towards her.

It does no good; no matter how much she tries to force herself to concentrate, she just can’t. She rubs her eyes, a headache starting in her temples. I can always study tomorrow, she tells herself, and decides to head back to the Slytherin dungeon. Perhaps she’ll write to Lucius; that normally cheers her up. Or perhaps she’ll just crawl into bed and forget today ever happed.

It turns out, she does neither. She’s two steps inside the common room when she spots a familiar head of dark hair bent intently over a scroll of parchment.

“Good evening, cousin,” she says, and Regulus jumps. “You shouldn’t let people sneak up on you like that,” she adds, walking around the dark green sofa and sitting beside him, peering at his paper. “Homework, is it?”

“Transfiguration essay,” Regulus says, pulling a face. “Three rolls of parchment. McGonagall is evil.”

Narcissa smiles. “I have long had my suspicions. Do you want any help?”

“I, ah, that’s all right - it’s not very good.”

“I’m your cousin, Reggie,” Narcissa says, pulling the paper from him and scanning over it. “I’m sure it’s - oh. Well, no, this isn’t very good.”

Regulus groans. “I just don’t understand half of what she’s on about! She’s threatening me with extra tuition from Gryffindors.

He looks up at Narcissa pitifully, and she pats his knee absently whilst still looking over his essay.

“What bits don’t you understand?”

“The bit where the thimble suddenly has to become a bottle top,” Regulus says irritably. “If it’s happy as a thimble, why make it change? Maybe it doesn’t want to be a bottle top.”

“You should start a campaign,” Narcissa says, smiling at his petulance. “A one man crusade on the rights of inanimate objects.” He scowls at her, red patches appearing on his cheekbones, and she says, “Well, there’s your first problem: your approach to the whole thing. You can’t think of what the object is; only what it is to become. Think of it as…transcending, achieving it’s true purpose, if you like. If you’re having trouble understanding the theory, maybe a bit of extra tuition won’t be a bad thing.”

Regulus looks doubtful. “From Gryffindors? Can’t you do it? I’ll understand better if it’s you.”

“I wish I could, darling, but I’m swamped at the moment. Wait until you’re a Seventh Year, then the real work starts. Put it this way: I long for the days of a mere three rolls of parchment.”

“That’s encouraging,” Regulus mutters.

“Stick at it,” Narcissa says. “You’re a Black, naturally you’re brilliant at everything, and if you’re not - well. Just have a go and pretend until you become brilliant at it, and never let anyone know you had any doubts.”

“Is that what you do? Pretend?” Regulus asks, taking his parchment back and rolling it up, looking at Narcissa curiously.

She tosses her hair back. “That would be telling, little cousin.”

She settles against the back of the sofa, crossing one leg over the other, and looks at Regulus as he busies himself with stowing his essay away in his bag. She thinks, briefly, of asking him if he’s heard from Andromeda too - she’s fairly certain she’s been writing to Sirius, and definitely certain she hasn’t been in touch with Bella, but she knows that bringing it up with either one of them will only end in explosives.

Regulus is different, a lot more like her in many ways. They’re both the quieter ones, the younger ones, the ones overshadowed by their older siblings. They’re the ones that will have to shoulder the responsibility of family while everyone else gives themselves to politics and rebellion. As much as Narcissa tries to tell herself that all of Sirius’ ways are just adolescent bluster he’ll soon grow out of, she knows he doesn’t take his family seriously. In her heart she fears Sirius is a lost cause; he will be Regulus’ Andromeda. Regulus will be the one that’s left, just as she is.

They’ve got to stick together.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Regulus asks cautiously, self-consciously running a hand through his hair in a way that is so Sirius it makes Narcissa’s stomach clench.

Siblings shouldn’t be apart; it’s just not intended for two halves of a whole to be separated.

“It’s nothing, darling. Nothing at all.”

She reaches across the sofa and takes her cousin’s hand in hers, squeezing tight. Regulus looks at her, confused, but doesn’t question it. She won’t ask him about Andromeda; he has no need to be weighed down by such things. For now, let the most troublesome thing in his life be an essay. Outside the walls of this castle are far worse things, and the years pass too quickly. Narcissa Black makes up her mind now to protect Regulus from it for as long as she can.

She won’t lose him as well.

Chapter Text

Spring 1973.

Sirius has always hated the night sky.

It isn’t so bad in London, where the air is thick with smog, but at Hogwarts the sky is vast and inescapable, home to a thousand stars, each one twinkling down at him and reminding him of home.

Some people associate the stars with a feeling of freedom, of limitlessness; when Sirius looks up, he feels the weight of expectation closing in on him, trapping him. The stars become the eyes of his ancestors looking down upon him, balls of burning anger. Long dead, but they still leave an impression.

He was taught the constellations from an early age. On the clearer nights Walburga would take him and Regulus outside and they’d have to recite the names to her (the proper names, naturally, none of that silly Muggle ‘Big Dipper’ nonsense), until both boys were shivering in their robes from the cold night air.

Sirius has been top of the class in Astronomy from his very first lesson - which, he argues, is all the more reason why he doesn’t feel guilty about skipping it so often.

The Black brothers were named for two of the brightest stars in the sky; Sirius the brightest, a fact he used to lord over Reggie when they were younger and he thought these things mattered. James thinks the Black naming convention is hysterical (”what, do you have a Great Uncle Uranus?” he’d laughed in first year, and wouldn’t listen when Remus tried to point out that Uranus was a planet). But Sirius knows his name choice was more than just Pureblood pomp: his parents had plans for him, plans befitting of the Black heir.

The best and brightest in their cluster, that’s what Sirius was supposed to be.

::

He never really thought about the moon much. Stars were magnificent, awe-inducing. The moon was just…there. He’d never stopped to wonder or think on its power or noticed its changes.

And then Remus says he’s a werewolf, and the moon can go hang just like everything else in the sky. Sirius starts paying attention in Astronomy, tracking the moons course, waiting for each new change.

The first full moon after Remus tells them all is the worst. Sirius doesn’t have much experience with being concerned for other people, and he’s sure he’s never felt this gut-wrenching, panic-filled worry before in his whole life. He stays awake with James and Peter, not one of them voicing their thoughts but they don’t have to; Sirius can see it in the frown-lines on Peter’s forehead, in the tightness around James’ mouth.

The morning after, when they visit Remus in the Hospital Wing, Remus looks fairly amused at the state they’re all in - as amused as one can look while being stark white and vomiting.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time without you all,” he says faintly, before drifting off to sleep, and Sirius promises he’ll never go through it without them again.

::

It becomes a ritual. They all cope in their own ways. Peter obsessively chews on his fingernails, James rumples his hair so much he looks set to tear it out, and Sirius paces the dormitory until James weakly jokes that he’s going to leave footprints engraved on the floor.

“I just hate feeling so helpless,” Sirius confides to James one morning, after they’ve taken their customary places next to Remus’ bedside.

Remus is asleep, and Peter is too, head on Remus’ covers and drooling slightly. Madam Pomfrey is nearby, keeping an eye on the clock; she hasn’t tried to stop their visits, not since the first time, but she does make them go to their lessons when the time comes.

“There’s nothing we can do,” James says miserably.

“It’s shit,” Sirius says, keeping his voice low so as not to wake Remus. “What he has to go through, James - have you ever read a book about werewolf transformation?”

“You shouldn’t torture yourself with that stuff, Sirius. Remus himself said most of it is made up by nutters who want them all exterminated, not written by actual victims.”

Sirius has paled at the word “exterminated”, his worried eyes on Remus. He feels very small in the face of a problem he doesn’t know how to fix.

“I just wish we could help.”

“It’s help enough that we’re here for him,” James says, laying a hand bracingly on Sirius’ back.

The bell goes, sounding a million miles away. Peter starts awake, but Remus, thankfully, sleeps on.

“Time for lessons now, boys,” Madam Pomfrey says gently.

“Tell him we were here?”

“He always knows, Mr Black.”

::

That evening, Remus still isn’t feeling well and has to spend another night in the Hospital Wing, and when Sirius tries to visit, Madam Pomfrey is sterner than she’s been in a long time.

“I’m sorry, Mr Black, but he really needs his rest - don’t look at me that way, he’ll be right as rain tomorrow but tonight you must leave him to sleep. Good night.”

In the common room, Sirius stares out of the window at the moon, a dark look on his face. James and Peter watch him warily from the sofa.

“Scowling at it won’t make it go away,” James says, and Sirius resists the urge to throw a book at his head.

“I know that. I’m just thinking. There must be something, something someone’s missed…”

“Sirius.” James sounds tired, and rightly so. Having a werewolf for a friend wreaks havoc on one’s sleep schedule. “If fully trained mediwizards and potion masters and astronomers and whoever else haven’t found a cure, a Second Year rifling around the school library won’t do much good.”

“Shut up, Potter.”

“You’re just angry because you know I’m right.”

“No, I’m angry because my friend is a werewolf and my other friend doesn’t actually seem to give a toss -”

“Of course I care, you great berk, I’ve just accepted the situation -”

“Well excuse me if we’re not all willing to just accept that our friend needs someone to do something -”

“It’s a shame, isn’t it, we can’t actually be with him,” Peter says, mostly to himself, used to zoning out when they argue. “Like, I don’t know, spend the night with him, calm him down maybe.”

James rolls his eyes theatrically. “Yes, Peter, let’s all go get our head’s bitten off by the sodding great werewolf, what a fantastic idea!”

“Leave him alone, at least he’s trying to think, unlike some -”

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, untwist your underpants, Black -”

“Shame we’re not all wolves, then, really - he wouldn’t want to rip our heads off then. Or would he?” Peter looks thoughtful. “Do werewolves care about other werewolves, does anyone know?”

“I don’t really care, to be honest - I’ve enough stress dealing with one werewolf, let alone a pack,” James mutters, but Sirius whips around with such force he nearly stumbles over his robes in an attempt to face Peter.

“Shut up, James. Just shut up. Peter, what did you just say?”

Sirius has shoved his face very close to Peter’s, who recoils nervously into the sofa. “Er. That I don’t know about werewolf relationships?”

“No, no, you great big amazing idiot, not that - the other bit,” Sirius says, a smile starting to creep on to his face that makes Peter, if possible, look even more petrified.

“About us being wolves? I didn’t mean it,” Peter babbles, alarmed. “I like Remus and everything, but I’m not going to become a werewolf just so he has someone to cosy up to once a month -”

Sirius holds up a hand to silence Peter mid-babble, a twinkle now definitely in his eye.

James narrows his eyes at his best friend. “Sirius, what are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking I could kiss you, Peter Pettigrew.”

Peter squeaks and dodges as Sirius attempts to do just that, flinging himself on to the sofa on top of the blonde boy. There’s a scramble of limbs and cushions and finally a wet smacking sound and Sirius jumps upright, hair a wild mess and grinning like a madman, before bolting to the portrait hole yelling that he’s off to the library.

Peter manages to sit up, pink in the face and saliva on his cheek. “What the heck was that?” he demands. “He can’t sneak into the library now, he’ll get caught!”

James just shakes his head. He’s not sure what Sirius is up to, but he’s fairly sure it’s probably against the rules, and once Sirius gets one of his Ideas, a little thing like getting caught wont stop him.

Chapter Text

June 1973.

Remus is fuller than he has ever been in his life. He feels part boy, part pudding; it’s the end of year feast, and he thinks he’s only slightly overdone it, knowing it will be nearly three whole months before he gets food this good again. His mother tries, bless her, although some of her culinary attempts are a bit on the dubious side, and Remus thinks that if left to it, his dad would live on a steady diet of tea and crumpets.

“Stop eyeing up my pudding, Lupin,” James says, sitting across from him.

“I wasn’t,” Remus says, knowing full well he was.

James shoots him a distrustful look, one hand curling protectively around his bowl, muttering about unnatural metabolisms.

“Save some room, Moony,” Sirius says cheerfully, and Remus manages to not cringe at the nickname. It’s not that he doesn’t like having a nickname (he actually really does; no one has ever bothered to give him one before), he just thinks it’s all a bit obvious - but then that, of course, is part of the appeal for Sirius. “Remember, party in the common room afterwards!”

“Oh, Sirius, I’m too full. If you pricked me with your fork, I’d probably leak custard everywhere.”

“That’s because you can’t control yourself,” Sirius says knowledgeably. “Anyway, you have no choice in the matter. We’re celebrating.”

“Celebrating what, exactly?” Peter asks, gesturing with his fork at the blue and bronze hangings in the Hall. “Ravenclaw won the Cup. We came last.”

“Thanks to some people,” Remus says, trying to give them all a stern look, but he’s too full and knows he probably just ends up looking like he has toothache.

“You’re both party-poopers,” Sirius declares, taking a giant swig of pumpkin juice. “I’ve got half a mind to de-invite you, but that would be cruel.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Remus says hopefully.

“Oh, Moony, you and your little jokes. Too funny. Anyway, we lost those points for good reason, so I’ll here no more on the subject, ta very much.”

“Good reason? You’ve been sneaking in to the restricted section of the library to look at the old books with the illustrations of the naked women.”

Peter frowns at Sirius. “What’s he on about? We haven’t been in there for that, we - ouch!”

Sirius smiles at Peter, showing a bit too much teeth, and James says, loudly, “Oh, Peter, the game is up, no point denying it. We can’t control our hormones. Best to say no more.

Peter, who has gone pink around the ears, nods. “Ah. Hormones. Right-o.”

Remus begins to say, “What on -” but then there’s a clinking sound from the high table, and everyone in the Great Hall turns to look as Dumbledore gets to his feet, outstretching his arms towards the sea of students.

“And so we come again to this time of sweet sorrow, where we must say our goodbyes. For some, this marks the end of your last year with us at Hogwarts -”

“Thank Merlin for that,” Sirius mutters, glancing over at the Slytherin table where Narcissa’s blonde hair is visible.

“- and I wish you all the best as you go and begin the next chapters in your lives. You have all worked hard this year, and long may it continue! For those of you returning to us, please try not to let your brains melt in the coming months. Now, I shan’t keep you from your beds and parties I know nothing about for long. Before we part, however, I will wish you all a happy - and, above all, a safe - summer. Now, off with you all! Adieu!”

Dumbledore claps his hands, just once, and Sirius, James and Peter stand up along with virtually everyone else in the Hall.

“Coming, Remus?” Peter says, frowning down at him as the rest of the Gryffindor table make their way out of the Great Hall.

“Yeah, just - what do you think Dumbledore meant by have a safe summer? He looked pretty serious, and he never said that last year.”

“No idea,” Peter says with a shrug. “Probably means we should try to steer clear of whatever madness James and Sirius will try to talk us into when we all go stay at the Potter’s.”

“Ha, just you try and steer clear of it, Pettigrew,” Sirius says with a laugh, coming up behind Peter and slinging an arm over his shoulder. He smiles down at Remus. “Come on, pudding-boy. Up with you. Don’t worry about old Dumbles; it’s part of his job to try to keep us safe. He’s like our twinkling guardian or something. Come onnn.” He tugs on Remus’ arm, who gets to his feet reluctantly. Sirius beams at him. “That’s better. Now, boys, on to the party!”

::

Lily, in the far corner of the Gryffindor common room, sighs in irritation as she hears the sound of something being broken again. “Do I even want to know?” she asks.

Mary and Dorcas, facing the action, shake their heads in unison.

“Just a chair,” Mary says, as someone in the background roars with laughter and someone else shouts a hasty reparo.

“I’ll almost be glad to be home tomorrow,” Lily says, staring determinedly at the wall. She refuses to look behind her, where the party is in full swing and she knows, just knows, which two idiots will be in the middle of it.

“No James Potter’s dancing on chairs,” Dorcas says with a small grin.

Lily rolls her eyes. “He’s a moron.”

“Oh, Lils, he’s always been kind to you.”

“Kind?” Lily says incredulously. “Mary, he hexes Severus at any given opportunity. If he can’t at least be civil to my friends, then why should I bother with him?”

“Severus’ friends aren’t exactly civil to us. At least James Potter isn’t, you know - like that.

“Let’s not fight,” Dorcas says hastily, as Lily begins to open her mouth. “It’s the end of our second year, we should be celebrating.”

Against her better judgement, Lily turns to face the chaos. Even the prefects have gotten into the spirit; Alice is on Frank Longbottom’s lap, both of them curled on to the same armchair by the fire. No chance of anyone instilling any order tonight then, Lily thinks.

The only other person who looks as disapproving of this party is Remus, who is sat on the sofa pretending to read a book, but Lily notices how his gaze keeps on flicking up to Sirius and James who are indeed still dancing on a chair together, waving Gryffindor scarves above their heads and bellowing the school song.

“I’ll never understand that friendship,” Dorcas muses, following Lily’s line of sight. “You know, he seems so different to them.”

“We don’t all have to be the same, do we?” Lily says, thinking of Sev.

“No,” Mary says, giving her a sideways look, “but in most cases it helps.

::

Sirius Black is on a mission. He is the self-proclaimed party saver, after all. When he left the party was starting to dwindle a bit, students from other Houses leaving and Remus looking set to fall asleep on Pete’s lap, but Sirius knows something that’ll perk everyone, especially Remus, right up.

Food. No matter how much Moony protests, he always has room for more food. Must be a werewolf thing, because he never seems to put any weight on, and man, can he put food away.

Sirius careens down the staircase and around the corner leading to the kitchens, thinking of the warm welcome he’ll receive when he gets back to the common room with more supplies, when he stops short at the sight of someone else coming out of the door.

“Reggie,” he says, before he can stop himself.

Regulus’ head snaps up, an almost guilty expression on his face that quickly transforms itself into a scowl when he sees who it is.

“What are you doing here?” they say together.

Sirius grins slightly. “Party. Need some more food.”

“You were just going to steal it?” Regulus asks, wrinkling his nose.

“It’s not stealing, the house-elves love feeding people!”

“Maybe because they’re afraid to tell a human no, ever thought of that?”

“Oh, come off it Reg - like you’re not doing the exact same thing!” Sirius says, although one quick glance over his brother shows that Regulus is surprisingly devoid of food. Sirius frowns. “Hang on - what are you doing down here then?”

“Just out for a walk,” Regulus says stiffly.

“I saw you just come out of the kitchens, you ninny. What were you doing if not nicking food, chatting up the house-elves?”

Regulus flushes, looking down at his feet, and Sirius crows with laughter, comprehension dawning.

“Oh, wow - you were, weren’t you! Having a nice little chat with them! That’s hilarious, Reg - you miss Kreacher that much?”

“Shut up!”

“Did you have tea and biscuits with them too?”

Petrificus To -!

“Ah ah ah!” Sirius says, deflecting the spell with a lazy flick of his wand. “Careful, Reg, anyone would think you were trying to hex your own brother.”

Regulus glares at him. “I hate you.”

“No, you don’t,” Sirius says easily. “Look, calm down. I won’t tell anyone, if that’s what you’re so jumpy about. Merlin forbid anyone should know you care about house-elves, right?”

I don’t care about house-elves,” Regulus says through gritted teeth, gripping his wand tightly.

Sirius sighs. “All right, all right. You were down here for a walk, yeah?” There’s a long beat of silence, and then Sirius says, “Weird. I just realised we’ll be back home together again tomorrow.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Regulus mutters, and Sirius wonders if he’s being deliberately difficult, or if this is how it is now.

“Oh, Reg, get that chip off your shoulder,” Sirius says brusquely. In the back of his mind he’s aware that this is one of the longest interactions he’s had with his brother all year at school, and already a wand has been drawn. Time for a different tactic. “How were your exams, anyway? I heard you had trouble with Transfiguration.”

Regulus blinks at him. For a moment Sirius thinks he isn’t going to answer, and then, “Who told you that? Was it that idiot Longbottom, because -”

“Hey, Frank’s all right,” Sirius says, swinging his arms. “And anyway, it was Narcissa, actually.”

“Cissy told you?” Regulus says, sounding horrified.

Sirius shrugs. “She’s my cousin too, Reg. She might annoy me sometimes, but we do actually talk to each other at times, it may surprise you to know.”

“It does a bit. Thought you’d forgotten all about family.”

If only. Sirius thinks of the letters from Andromeda he’s been receiving all year, stashed at the bottom of his trunk, and of the most recent one. The baby arrived three weeks ago. A girl. Nymphadora. A metamorphmagus. He wonders if family-orientated Reggie knows all this.

Aloud, he just says, “Don’t be an idiot.”

“It’s true. I know you’re planning to go stay with James Potter this summer.”

Sirius doesn’t bother denying it. “After Narcissa’s wedding, yes.”

Regulus’ eyes gleam. “As if Mother and Father will let you.”

“They will,” Sirius says with cool certainty. “Hints in the surname, Reggie. Potter is acceptable, if you remember.”

“I know what’s acceptable,” Regulus says, scowling.

Sirius has a fond mental image of cuffing his brother around the ear, but he resists, takes a deep breath. Then, with forced cheeriness, he says, “Well, lovely that we had this little chat. Must go now, I have actual friends to get back to. Guess I’ll see you tomorrow at home.”

He brushes past his brother, half-expecting Regulus to call after him.

He’s a bit disappointed when he doesn’t.

::

“Nice haul,” James says appreciatively, as Sirius unloads his pockets, and produces a box of goodies from behind his back. “You must’ve really sweet-talked those elves.”

Sirius thinks of the dozen or so eager round eyes that had looked up to him, the squeaky voices insisting that the brother of Mr Regulus can have whatever he likes, Mr Sirius sir!

“You know house-elves. Always eager to serve. Come on, let’s go wrap up second year. I can’t wait to see Remus’ expression when he sees this chocolate cake.”

James laughs. “There’ll probably be drool, you know.”

Sirius grins, pushing Reggie to the back of his mind. Forget his family and the fact his brother is too stubborn for his own good; forget that in a week he has a wedding full of all of them and an extended host of Pureblood idiots to attend. It’s the end of year, summer stretching out before him, most of which will be spent with his three best friends. What more could a thirteen-year-old boy wish for?

“Yeah,” he says happily, leading the way back down to the common room, levitating the cake in front of him. “I expect there will be.”

Chapter Text

Late June, 1973.

Regulus tries not to stagger too much as the Portkey slams him down outside the tall wrought-iron gates.

Beside him, Father and Sirius are stood tall and straight, distinctly unruffled. Mother smoothes down the front of her dark green dress robes, adjusts the onyx broach she’s wearing as if she’s merely been caught in a slight breeze.

“Feeling all right there, Reg?” Sirius says with a lazy, mocking grin.

Regulus plants his feet firmly, back straight, head up. “Absolutely fine,” he replies crisply.

Orion’s sharp grey eyes flick over his family; he nods approvingly, and together, all four Black’s walk into the grounds of Malfoy Manor.

::

Held outside in the great expanse of garden, complete with fountains, peacocks, and a self-playing string quartet, the ceremony is - of course - lavish to the highest degree.

Regulus isn’t sure who preens the most, his cousin or her groom, but he can’t help but smile when Narcissa sweeps past in her dress. She sets a demure pace on the arm of Uncle Cygnus, who is looking more solemn than ever as he walks his youngest daughter down the aisle.

Regulus hears the appreciative murmurs of the guests around him; he can see Great Aunt Cassiopeia weeping into her lace handkerchief a few rows ahead of him. Underneath the flower-decked archway, Lucius Malfoy’s eyes gleam as Narcissa takes her place beside him; Regulus even thinks he sees the hint of a smile in Lucius’ mouth.

They get married in the Old Way, wands crossed and tied with a white ribbon, their eyes locked on each other as they say their vows.

Halfway through the ceremony, Sirius yawns loudly; a couple of Malfoy cousins aim a disapproving look his way but of course Sirius doesn’t notice. No respect, Regulus thinks; his brother is hopeless.

It gets harder to ignore him when Sirius begins fidgeting, pulling at the collar of his robes and and jigging his leg, only stopping when Grandfather Pollux, sitting on Sirius’ other side, lays a firm hand on his shoulder.

“Enough,” Grandfather says, his gravelly voice low but firm, and Sirius stills his leg instantly.

As Narcissa and Lucius walk back down the aisle as husband and wife, all the guests rise and aim their wands skyward, sending out a shower of silver sparks to rain down on the couple. Raising his wand, Regulus’ sparks shoot a feeble five centimeters, more grey than silver, and he blushes furiously as his brother laughs.

Turning away from his brother, Reg focuses on the retreating back of his cousin. Lucius has his hand placed on the small of Narcissa’s back, guiding her, and Regulus watches them both until they disappear back into the Manor, a strange sad feeling in his chest.

He knows he should feel happy that his cousin is getting what she’s always dreamed of, but Regulus can’t help but think: another Black gone.

::

To his relief, Regulus is seated for the most part with people he knows at the wedding feast. He had worried he’d be made to sit with a horde of Malfoy’s, but he’s pleased to see that’s not the case and takes his place at the table with Evan Rosier and Aegir Wilkes. He recognises Jarvis Avery from school, in Fourth Year, and he’s met Walden Macnair, a broad-shouldered boy of eighteen, at a few functions before; there’s just one person he doesn’t know, a dark-skinned boy who introduces himself as Jeremiah Shacklebolt. Recognising the surname if not the person, Regulus inclines his head in the way he’s seen Father do when meeting new people, and shakes his hand.

Uncle Cygnus and Aunt Druella are at the top table with Lucius and Narcissa; on the other side of the newlyweds is Lucius’ mother, Marquise Malfoy, and a man with a pointed chin and the tell-tale Malfoy hair who Regulus supposes must be Lucius’ uncle Sardonius; Regulus has learnt enough of the Malfoy family history to know that Lucius’ father died a few years back.

Regulus cranes his neck to look for his brother, but the banquet hall is so large and the guests so many that it’s hopeless. Privately, Regulus hopes that Sirius is sat with all the screeching Malfoy cousins, but knowing Sirius’ annoying habit of always coming out on top no matter the situation, he’s probably rubbing shoulders with the Minister of Magic herself.

Their plates are cleared by house-elves wearing gleaming white towels. “Thank you,” Regulus says as one tops up his goblet, and then notices Avery and Macnair both looking at him funny, while Shacklebolt’s lips twitch slightly. “What?” Regulus says. He always thanks Kreacher, no matter how much Sirius teases him for it; Regulus merely reminds him that Black’s, after all, have manners.

“You don’t need to thank them,” Macnair says in a loud, carrying voice. “They’re servants; it’s their job.”

“I know that,” Regulus snaps defensively. “I was just being polite.”

“How novel,” Macnair says, eyebrows raised; just then, the house-elf’s arm wobbles and the jug tips, deep red liquid spilling on to the white tablecloth. “Clean that up, elf! What good are you if you can’t even pour some wine?” He jerks his head, a clear dismissal, not even looking at the quaking elf. “You may as well go stick your head in an oven.”

“Yes, sir,” the elf squeaks, eyes down as he makes the wine stain disappear with a snap of his fingers. “Right away, sir.”

Regulus realises with a sick feeling that the elves must be commanded to obey all the guests. His knuckles turn white as he clenches his fist around the fork he’s holding. “You don’t have to do that,” he says, trying to sound as authorative as Macnair, but out of the corner of his eye he can see the people at the nearby tables turning to see what all the commotion is, Father among them; his voice quavers a fraction, and the elf pauses, looking between him and Macnair, obviously unsure which command to follow.

“Leave it Regulus, for Merlin’s sake,” Aegir mutters next to him.

Evan is taking a long drink from his goblet, avoiding looking at anyone; the Shacklebolt boy is looking thoroughly amused by the unfolding events. Avery’s small dark eyes are darting quickly from boy to boy as though he’s searching frantically for a Snitch.

“Is there a problem?” a voice directly behind Regulus’ chair asks, and Regulus can feel his face flush all over again at the idea of Sirius coming to his rescue.

“No problem,” Regulus says, not looking around, but he knows Sirius is still there, can feel him leaning on the back of the chair. Of course Sirius won’t just go; probably thinks he’s playing the hero, and that Regulus should be grateful.

“You’re sure?”

“I said so didn’t I,” Regulus hisses, painfully aware that Father is staring directly at them.

“Suit yourself,” Sirius says, and out of the corner of his eye Regulus sees him reach out, seizing the elf by the back of the towel. “Elf, come fill my goblet. I’d hate to tell my cousin - the bride, by the way - that you disobeyed the order of a member of the Black family.”

“Yes, sir, Razzy is coming,” the elf says, trotting after Sirius as he strides back to his own table.

Macnair snorts and shakes his head, taking a sip of his wine. Avery turns and engages Shacklebolt in conversation, and a beat later Aegir and Evan start talking about Quidditch season, and the festivities continue as if nothing happened.

::

Weddings are a special kind of torture, Sirius has come to realise.

He’s sure Narcissa’s seating plan is a way of getting him back for the time with the salamander eyes in her bag. He’s listened for what surely must be a hundred years as Prunella Parkinson goes on and on (and on and on) about how amazing Narcissa looked, and wasn’t the dress to die for, and wasn’t the ceremony simply divine?

He doesn’t know what’s worse: Parkinson’s sycophantic ramblings, or Lucetta Malfoy’s high-pitched, shrieking laughter at every bloody word he says. Now, Sirius knows he’s quite charming (all right, very charming) and he’s the first to admit he has an amazing sense of humour, but Lucetta’s habit of going into peals of hysterics over the slightest thing he says is wearing very thin, very fast.

His other table-mates are not much better. Two distant cousins, Mira and Rubidea Black, sisters who keep nudging each other, whispering and giggling, and Cressida Carrow, a girl whose general face and personality put Sirius in mind of a potato.

Sirius looks murderously at the top table, but Narcissa is too busy eating cake from Lucius’ fingers to notice him or his plight.

The sight of his cousin practically licking Malfoy’s hand makes him come over all queasy. He pushes back his chair, makes his excuses to the girls, and tries not to think too much about their crestfallen expressions and what it all means as he strides from the hall and out into the gardens.

Ten minutes later, he’s feeling much better, sat on the side of one of the fountains, levitating pebbles and dropping them into the water. The only good thing about this wedding so far has been the sheer number of guests, and therefore no way of any underage magic being detected.

“Stupid wedding,” he mutters, as each pebble falls into the water with a splash. “Stupid table plan. Stupid family.”

“I hope you’re not including me in that,” a voice says, and Sirius looks up to see Uncle Alphard in front of him, eyes crinkled at the sides as he smiles down at Sirius through his beard. “What’s the matter, lad, not enjoying the celebrations? It’s the ‘event of the year’, according to Rita Skeeter.”

“Well, she’s welcome to come and swap places with me if she wants an invite.”

“Oh, she’s probably here somewhere,” Alphard says jovially, sitting next to Sirius. “The Minister herself is here, after all. We’re rubbing shoulders with the important people now, my boy.”

“Well, I know I’m thrilled,” Sirius says, and his uncle laughs.

“Load of rot, isn’t it?” he says ruefully, glancing around. “All this - you’d think Cissa had snared Merlin himself from the way Cygnus was going on about this Malfoy boy. What’s he like, anyway, my new nephew-in-law?”

Sirius shrugs. “Bit of a pompous arse, to be honest; I think Narcissa’s main rival for his affections will be his own reflection.”

Alphard laughs again. “Well, lucky old Cissa.”

“She’s pleased as anything,” Sirius says moodily. “Marrying into a family like the Malfoy’s - it’s what she’s always wanted, innit. ‘S’what’s expected.”

Alphard nods slowly. “Yes, well - for some.”

Sirius looks at him curiously. Alphard is, as far as he knows, the only relative of age not married; Sirius knows he travels a lot, and supposes that’s why he hasn’t got himself a wife yet. It strikes him then just how long it’s been since he’s seen his uncle, and just how much he’s missed him. It’s been a long time since he’s been able to talk to someone openly, to really say how he feels about things, not since - well, not since -

“Have you heard from Andromeda?” Sirius blurts out before he can stop himself.

Alphard looks at him sharply. “Shut up, boy, do you want to cause trouble here of all places?”

“Sorry, it’s just - she used to mention how much she enjoyed it when you’d take her to Diagon instead of Aunt Druella and Uncle Cygnus, and I thought -”

“This isn’t the place,” Alphard says firmly. “We will talk, Sirius, but not here. You’ve got to be careful, you know.”

“Careful of what?” Sirius demands, thinking that weddings aren’t dangerous, only boring, but his uncle just shakes his head.

“Ignore an old man who’s probably had too much wine, Sirius. I think it’s time I said my goodbyes anyway.” Alphard gets to his feet, claps his nephew on the shoulder. “Keep an eye on Regulus, won’t you?”

“I always do,” Sirius says. “Not that he appreciates it.”

Alphard smiles wryly. “Family, eh?”

There’s the sound of footsteps, quick and determined, coming up the path in their direction. It’s too dark to make out who it is, and Alphard’s hand on Sirius’ shoulder squeezes hard for a second before Bellatrix comes striding out of the darkness towards them, and Alphard’s grip loosens.

“There you are, Sirius. Your mother was wondering where you’d got to.” Bella looks to Alphard, her expression changing into cool indifference. “Uncle,” she says, inclining her head briefly.

For as long as Sirius can remember there has been a strange sort of tension between his eldest cousin and favourite uncle. There was a dinner once, many years ago, when Bella had ended up shouting and Father had been very quiet and Andromeda and Narcissa had cried when Uncle Alphard left Grimmauld Place. Sirius had been young, and didn’t understand what the argument had been about; even now, he doesn’t remember the details, just that Bella and Alphard’s conversations now are always clipped and short. He’d asked his father about it all once, and Father had mentioned something about political differences and upheaval of tradition, and Alphard always being a bit radical, and Sirius had lost interest.

Alphard doesn’t let any of this bother him; he smiles, leaning forward to peck Bella on the cheek. “Aren’t you a vision, Bellatrix,” he says courteously. “You did your sister proud today.”

Bella does look good today, in a dress of deep crimson, although Sirius wonders how she’s managing in the late June heat with long sleeves. He’d thought a similar thing about Lucius, who had been wearing his robe sleeves down, not rolled up to the elbow like most of the men in this weather. They must just be warm-blooded.

“You know me,” Bella says sweetly. “I do what I can for the family. If you’ll forgive me, uncle, I had actually hoped to catch Sirius on his own.”

“Of course, of course. I was just leaving. Give your mother my regards, Bella, and tell Cyg I’ll owl him soon.” Alphard grins, winks at Sirius, and walks away up the path, Disapparating before he’s out of sight.

“That man,” Bella says, shaking her head.

Sirius stays silent, hoping Bella will say what she’s got to say and get on with it quickly. She sits next to him on the edge of the fountain and looks at him closely.

“So, why are you hiding out here instead of back at the party? Your female companions are missing you, and Aunt Walburga had to nag Cissy endlessly about that seating plan. If you don’t go back soon, her head will surely explode in a fit.”

“Er. What do you mean?” Sirius asks, although he has a horrible idea that he knows exactly what Bella means.

She laughs. “Oh, Sirius, can’t you see what she’s up to? Your mother, bless her heart, intends to find you a bride tonight.”

“A bride?” Sirius explodes, his hand tightening around his wand. “What - who does she think - I’m thirteen!” he splutters finally, helplessly.

Bella’s grin is devilish. “Sweet cousin, as if that matters. At least she’s waited a few months. Father had promised me to Rodolphus on my thirteenth birthday, can you imagine?”

“Well, yeah, but - you like Rodolphus, don’t you?” Sirius asks, although he doesn’t know how anyone could.

“Rodolphus is fine,” Bella says carelessly. “He’s never mistreated me, and our families have known each other a long time. It’s a good match. But how I feel - or felt, for that matter - about him is irrelevant.” Sirius frowns at her, and she sighs as if he’s missing an important point. “I’m the oldest, Sirius. Before you came along, as the oldest child of the House of Black, do you think I really had a choice in the matter? I did what I was told, as anyone who understands anything about these things should do.”

“These things?”

“Family matters, Sirius. Blood matters. I understood this; Cissy understands this. Andromeda,” she says, her mouth twisting into a grimace as though she can barely stand to spit the name out, “never understood. She was selfish. She didn’t think about the family, only about herself - and look where it got her. Alone with a Mudblood and half-breed freak of a child, while the rest of us are still together.”

Sirius feels cold despite the weather. So Bella does know about Nymphadora. He wonders how she found out; if someone told her, or if she has other ways of finding out about Dromeda’s life. Perhaps it’s best he doesn’t know how Bella gets her information. He shifts on the ledge of the fountain, the hard marble surface suddenly uncomfortable.

“So that’s it, is it?” he says bitterly. “I have to just go back up there and let Mother choose a wife for me?”

He has an image of himself on the arm of Prunella Parkinson, and feels like throwing himself into the fountain.

“You do have a better deal of things,” Bellatrix says. “You’re the heir; they won’t just force anyone on you. Your parents will probably just arrange a few meetings - chaperoned, naturally - between you and a few girls of respectable name and repute, and they’ll see how you get on with them. Ultimately, the choice will be yours.”

“But I have to choose from a bunch of girls approved by them.”

It doesn’t seem like much of a choice at all.

“Approved by everyone, cousin. By our society. Your parents aren’t just going to let you run off and marry a Weasley, for example. Imagine.” Bella shudders delicately. “Anyway, don’t look so woebegone. You won’t have to marry until you’re of age, so that’s plenty of time to find someone you like, or at least get used to someone you don’t.”

Sirius feels as though he’s in a tunnel that’s closing in on him, squeezing out all the light, trapping him inside. “I suppose it would be stupid to ask, what if I don’t want to get married?”

Bellatrix looks at him with a sudden intensity that makes Sirius want to scoot away from her, but then he tells himself he’s being ridiculous.

“There are - certain circumstances, shall we say, where a different path for you would be acceptable. For instance, you know I have no desire for children, even though it is expected of me. If Rodolphus and I ever do want children, we don’t want to bring them into a world such as this. We have our sights set in a more - political direction. Trying to change the world a bit. I explained it all to Father, and the family understand and support my decision completely.”

“You want to join the Ministry?” Sirius says, frowning.

Bellatrix laughs, and Sirius feels a shiver run up his spine. He shakes the feeling off, annoyed at himself. Stop being stupid; it’s only Bella, for goodness sake.

“Oh, my sweet Sirius,” she says. “I am fond of you, despite some of your wayward ways. If you want, I can try to deter Aunt Walburga somewhat. After all, like you say, you are only thirteen. You should keep your options…open. A bride, or bride-to-be, would tie you down considerably.”

“Yes,” Sirius says eagerly. “Yes, tell her that, tell her whatever. Just - no brides.”

Bella smiles. “It would be my pleasure, darling. We’ve got to look out for one another, have we not?”

She brushes the ghost of a kiss to his cheek, and Sirius tries very hard to feel relieved.

::

As the final glasses of champagne sorbet are cleared away and the guests ushered to the large white marquee in the grounds, Regulus breathes a sigh of relief that the wedding meal is over and he can escape his table-mates. They either don’t notice or don’t care about his departure as he slips away, squeezing through the crowds until he spots Mother and Father off to one side, deep in conversation with Aunt Lucretia.

“Regulus,” Father says in some surprise. “Whatever are you doing over here?”

“I just wanted to come and say hello,” he mutters, realising too late how drippy and un-Black that sounds.

Mother raises one eyebrow. “We had hoped you’d find some people your own age to associate with here,” she says, the meaning not lost on Regulus at all.

“Oh, leave him be, Wally,” Aunt Lucretia says, clearly already more than a bit tipsy. She’s swaying slightly back and forth, the glittering bracelets on her arms clinking together. “As long as he isn’t conversing with the help.” She laughs in a very unladylike way, and Regulus feels about five-years-old.

Mother and Father exchange a look. Father coughs. “Regulus,” he says sternly. “Go and circulate.”

“Look over there,” Aunt Lucretia says suddenly, lurching forward, the contents of her goblet sloshing dangerously as she points with the glass to a stooped old man. “I see old Caspar made it in the end - how he’s still alive I’ll never know; fancy him outliving Charis. I was sure that old battleaxe would live forever.”

Mother says, primly, “I don’t think it’s proper to talk so glibly about the so recently deceased.”

Paying this absolutely no mind whatsoever, Aunt Lucretia continues, “My uncle Regulus always used to say that was a funny match. A Crouch and a Black. I suppose those are his children?”

“Lyra and Lucida,” Mother says at once; her knowledge of the Black family tree never fails. “And that’s Bartemius, and his son, Bartemius Junior.”

Aunt Lucretia snorts. “I do hope Narcissa and Lucius are a bit more inventive with names when they have children. Having all these family members with the same name is so confusing, especially in my advancing age. Hard to tell one Sirius or Phineas from the other.” She turns one bleary eye on Regulus. “I suppose you get tired of being one of a thousand Regulus Black’s, do you, boy?”

“N-no Aunt Lucretia,” Regulus stammers. “It’s an honour to carry such a fine family name.”

Father nods approvingly, and even Mother smiles thinly. “I hear they call him Barty,” she says, still looking over at the Crouch family.

Aunt Lucretia sniffs. “How common.”

“He’s about your age, now I think on it, Regulus,” Mother says, her eyes lighting up. “Maybe a year younger or thereabouts. He should be at Hogwarts with you come September.”

Regulus turns to have a look. Barty Crouch is wiry-thin, his face sullen. His father doesn’t look too happy either; in fact the whole lot of them seem extremely out of place amid the dancing, celebrating crowd; they’re all sticking tightly together, unsmiling. Then again, Regulus thinks, if they’ve recently had a bereavement, a wedding is probably the last place they want to be.

“Go and say hello to them,” Mother says, and Regulus feels her hand on his back, fingernails digging in like claws.

He knows when he’s being dismissed. He thinks of when he was younger, all the times he used to wander into the reception room at Grimmauld Place only to be shooed away by his father. Go to bed, son, the adults are talking.

But Regulus is the dutiful son, and Regulus always does as he’s told.

::

When Narcissa was ten, she had a dollhouse that her father had bought her, custom made, from a toy-maker in Paris. The dollhouse came up to Narcissa’s shoulders when standing, and when she crouched down to play in the numerous little rooms it had, the arched roof came up over her head. It had working clocks in real time, staircases that moved, and hidden rooms, some that only revealed themselves six months after Narcissa had been playing with it.

Andromeda and Bellatrix had laughed at her as she collected different furnishings in ivory, bronze and gold; crystal chandeliers and miniature carpets and plush velvet curtains; but Narcissa didn’t care. Even as a young girl, she loved being mistress of the manor.

Now, it’s as if all her childhood dreams have become a reality as she leads Clara Yaxley and Delphine Burke on a tour of Malfoy Manor. She used to share a dorm with Clara in Hogwarts, the two girls swapping secrets and Clara always boasting about her engagement to Henry Rowle; Delphine is a distant cousin of some kind and somewhere in line to inherit Borgin and Burkes, a fact she used to talk endlessly about, as if she built the business herself.

It’s with all this in mind - the boasts, the bragging - that Narcissa leads them through the entranceway, its wood-paneled walls covered in portraits of Malfoy ancestors; past the grand staircase with its gleaming oak bannister and deep red carpet. At the back of her mind she thinks she’s probably enjoying their envious, awestruck expressions a bit too much to be entirely proper, but then finds she doesn’t have it in her to care all that much.

“I am simply bursting with jealousy,” Clara exclaims; Narcissa tries to hide her smirk as the door to the orangery opens, revealing her favourite room in the whole Manor, with its glass walls and ceilings and its views of the grounds.

The cool air in here is welcome. Narcissa sprawls out on the chaise longue in as ladylike a way as she can manage in her dress; Clara and Delphine seat themselves on the cushioned wicker chairs, looking around appreciatively. Clara’s gaze pauses for a moment over the miniature potted Venemous Tentacula in the corner as it tries to playfully snap at her ankles.

“Oh, pay that no mind, darling,” Narcissa says, quite enjoying the way Clara and Delphine hastily draw their legs away from it. “It’s only a baby. Couldn’t kill you; at best you’d lose all sensation in your legs for half a day or so. It was a present from Bella and Dolph.”

“How…lovely.”

Delphine gives a small, polite cough, still keeping a wary eye on the snapping plant. “So, how many bedrooms did you say this was?”

“Ten,” Narcissa says proudly. “And of course I intend to fill them as soon as possible.”

“You’ll be such spectacular parents,” Clara gushes, seizing Narcissa’s hand dramatically.

“I know,” Narcissa says. “Lucius is so very visionary. I think it’s terribly important to bring children up in the proper way; instill in them the right beliefs and you can’t go wrong.”

“You’ll be getting a governess though, of course?”

“Oh no,” Narcissa says. Clara and Delphine’s eyebrows shoot up in synchronised surprise. “Lucius and I think it’s very important to be hands-on with a child; how else are you to be sure they’re learning what is acceptable?” Narcissa thinks of her own governess, a stout, hard-faced woman who used to ignore her cries when Bella hexed her dolls’ heads to fall off when she picked them up. “Lucius says that Hogwarts has got very lax lately - I mean, Dumbledore is a sly old codger; Lucius never did trust him. He was at the forefront of opposing that bill last month about Muggle Studies being taught. He just promotes inter-breeding, it’s a disgrace; and so it’s up to us as parents of the next generation to teach our children what is correct. Lucius is very passionate about it all.”

Clara and Delphine swap looks, and then Delphine shifts in her chair, leaning closer.

“Is it true,” she says, dropping her voice conspiratorially, “that Lucius has joined - Him?”

Clara looks as if she’s holding her breath and might pass out from excitement. Clearly they’ve gotten to the meat of the conversation; Narcissa suspects they’ve been waiting to ask this question all day long.

She sits up straight, staring down her nose at the both of them. It strikes her then how young they seem to her; they’re just silly little girls waiting for her to feed them scraps of information. Narcissa savours the feeling of power for a moment before obliging.

“My husband,” she says, relishing the word, “is one of our Lord’s most avid followers.”

“Have you met Him?” Clara half-whispers.

Narcissa thinks of the rallies and meetings in Knockturn that Lucius has dragged her along to. Narcissa finds them all a bit of a bore, but Bella and Lucius are extremely passionate about it all, and when they told her that Voldemort himself had requested to meet her after one of his speeches, they’d both gone on about it as if it was the greatest honour in the world. Perhaps it was, to them; Narcissa doesn’t know much of politics, but she supposes that Lucius and Bella know what they’re talking about, and if this one man could stir a whole crowd of people into such a frenzy and command a room with such confidence, then a private audience with him must be rather a good thing.

“We have been acquainted, yes,” Narcissa says, smiling, although at the time she couldn’t find it in her to smile at all.

She’d felt like a little girl again, nervously dipping a curtsy before this tall, thin-faced man with piercing eyes. He’d laughed softly at the curtsy, apparently amused; he’d kissed her on the hand with oddly cold lips and said it was a pleasure to meet her at long last. Beside her, Bella had looked set to die on the spot, and Lucius was strangely rigid and he’d called this man ‘my Lord’, something that had seemed strange to Narcissa at first but now she’s picked it up as well like an annoying habit.

She doesn’t say anything else on the subject - not about the fact that Lucius has one of those awful tattoos, or that she thinks the masks are a bit much, or that she worries whenever Lucius slips out to one of those rallies in the evening and won’t return until the next day, eyes fever-bright. Best to keep an air of mystery, she thinks, as she summons an elf to fetch them some champagne.

::

“Welcome to the wedded world!” Uncle Sardonius roars, knocking his goblet into Lucius’, nearly sloshing firewhiskey all over his nephew. “Remember my motto: happy wife, happy life!”

They’ve retired to the study, away from all the noise and crowding of the wedding party, and it’s just now, away from it all, that it’s sinking in for Lucius. He’s married. Married to one of the oldest wizarding families in Britain. Lucius’ gaze travels up to the portrait of his father Abaraxas hanging above the fireplace, and Lucius feels a twang in his chest thinking of how proud Father would be, knowing the Malfoy bloodline is secured so admirably.

Edmund Nott, Lucius’ best man, raises his goblet. “I’ll drink to that!”

“Where is your wife, Lucius?” Rodolphus asks idly, swirling his firewhiskey before knocking it back in one. “Tired of your company already, dear boy?”

Lucius endures the ribbing with grace. “I don’t have a Tracking Charm put on her, Rodolphus; perhaps that’s where you falter with the fairer sex.”

Rabastan snorts into his drink. “Pay him no mind, Lucius; he’s just sore you got the beauty of the Black’s.”

“Now, gentlemen,” Augustus Rookwood says lazily, opening one eye from where he’s sat in an armchair by the fire, as Rodolphus flushes red and goes for his wand. “Bad luck to draw wands on a wedding night.”

“It was in jest, Roddy,” Rabastan says with a smirk, holding his hands up. “You know how much I admire my dear sister-in-law.”

“Indeed, Bella is a credit to the cause,” Edmund says heartily, and there’s a general murmur of assent and Rodolphus lowers his wand, starting to smile.

“What about Narcissa, Lu?” he asks, pouring himself and Sardonius another drink. “Is she going to join?”

All eyes on him, Lucius falters slightly. “Narcissa agrees whole-heartedly with our views. However, I fear she lacks her sister’s…enthusiasm for action,” he says, inclining his head to Rodolphus, who grins. “Narcissa has a gentle heart.”

“Well, she’d have to be soft, to have agreed to marry you,” Sardonius says, and the room echoes with laughter once more.

“Come on,” Edmund says, summoning a fresh bottle of firewhiskey and pressing another goblet into Lucius’ hand. “Enough talk of politics, just for tonight. There’s time enough for all that. The night is still young, and Lucius is not nearly as cock-eyed as a new groom should be!”

“Hear, hear!”

::

It’s nearly midnight when the high-pitched screams of a Caterwauling Charm jerks Regulus awake from where he’d fallen asleep on one of the tables. He sits up groggily, bits of confetti stuck to his face as he looks around wildly. They’re in the marquee, him and Sirius and Barty, but they seem to be the only ones. He dimly remembers most of the guests leaving some time before tiredness overtook him.

Abruptly, the Caterwauling Charm stops. Barty starts to say something but Sirius holds up a hand to silence him.

“Quiet, both of you - shut up,” Sirius commands, which Regulus thinks is a bit unfair as he hadn’t said anything. “Something’s going on.”

“Well, obviously,” Barty says, and then there’s a thud and a cry of pain that tells Regulus that Sirius has kicked him under the table.

“What is it?” Regulus asks quietly.

Sirius shakes his head slightly. “Dunno. Feels like - a barriers been broken.”

“Huh?” Barty demands, but Regulus knows his brother, knows that Sirius can sense magic, can sense things Regulus can’t even begin to recognise.

It’s dark where they are, the lanterns extinguished, and the sound of shouts fill the air. Regulus doesn’t know where Mother and Father are, or Bella or Cissy, and he wishes his legs weren’t shaking, but something doesn’t feel right about this at all.

“I’ll go check it out,” Sirius says, wand held in front of him.

“No don’t,” Regulus says quickly. “The adults will sort it.”

Sirius gives him a funny look, but before he says anything there’s a familiar voice shouting, “Hullo, gatecrashers!” and they see Rabastan and Rodolphus, each holding a struggling man in a tight grip. The men have red hair, their long limbs thrashing as they try to free themselves, but they’re wandless. Rabastan and Rodolphus are grinning, even though Rodolphus appears to have a bloody nose.

Regulus feels a hand on the back of his robes, yanking him down under the table where they’re hidden from view as the struggling foursome come closer.

“Sh,” Sirius breathes in his ear; Regulus doesn’t need telling twice.

“See anything you like, blood-traitor?” Rabastan says in a voice like a snarl. “Sore you didn’t get an invite?”

“Must have been lost in the post,” one of the men wheezes; there’s a dull thudding sound, and the other man yells, “Gid!”

Regulus feels his stomach drop; he doesn’t remember making a sound, but he must do, because Sirius pushes a hand over his mouth. They’re pressed very close together; he can feel Sirius’ heart hammering, hear Barty’s ragged breathing, and all he can smell is Sirius’ sweaty hand, and he wants to go home.

“Shut up, you, or you’ll get the same. Don’t you know it’s impolite to turn up uninvited to other people’s homes?”

“Bet you thought you were clever, skulking about, hoping to hear something interesting? Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but having a wedding is not a crime, last time I checked.”

“For Merlin’s sake you two.” A different voice this time; Regulus can’t make it out. Male, and bored sounding. “Send them on their way before they do have something to report. Stop messing about.”

“What, just - let them go?” This Rodolphus, uncertain.

“Precisely,” the third voice says crisply. “We don’t want any mess, not here.”

“It’s your lucky day, blood-traitors,” Rabastan says. “Come on, we’ll show you the back door.”

The three of them stay crouched under the table, hidden by the lace tablecloth, until the shouts of the men fade away, and even then Regulus can’t seem to uncurl himself from his position until Sirius stands and holds out a hand to help him up.

Barty has a strange expression on his face, his eyes wide. “That was cool.”

“That was not cool,” Sirius says, looking at Barty in disgust.

“What - what was that?” Regulus asks, looking at his older brother.

“No idea,” Sirius says. He grabs Regulus by the arm, looking over his shoulder, his wand still in his hand. “Let’s go find Mother and Father. Dunno about you, but I want to get home.”

That tells Regulus all he needs to know about the importance of what he’s just seen, and he can't help but shiver as he follows his brother's lead back to the looming silhouette of the Manor.

He can’t remember a time when Sirius expressed a desire to go home before.

Chapter Text

Sirius Black to Remus Lupin
July 10th 1973

Remus,

The Potter’s house is INSANE. Mrs P makes the most delicious blackberry pie I’ve ever tasted - yesterday we went blackberry picking and she’s even offered to teach me how to make my own jam, how wild is that? She’s aces, Moony, and James’ dad is great too; James had an incident with the toilet the other day (don’t ask) and flooded the bathroom and he had to be rescued via the bathroom window, and his dad was just SO COOL about it all, like it happens all the time, and I think it probably does.

It’s so different from home, I don’t think I ever want to go back. Do you think the Potter’s would mind if I just camped in their back garden for ever? I could set up a little tent and live on blackberries for the rest of my life. And people would visit and say “hello, I do believe there’s someone in your garden Althea,” and Mrs P would just smile fondly and say “that’s Sirius; he keeps the gnomes at bay.”

That’s my vision for the future anyway.

As great as it is here, we do miss you! Peter’s arriving tomorrow from the train station (apparently his mother won’t allow Floo travel, thinks it’s dirty - she sounds barmy) but it’s turned out all right as we get to go pick him up! I’ve never seen a Muggle train station before, so we have to all be incognito; we’ve been round the local shops to buy some Muggle clothing so as not to alarm the Muggles. CAN YOU IMAGINE MOONY, THINK OF MY MOTHER’S FACE IF SHE KNEW.

Anyway the point is, Peter’s coming so then that will be all three of us but sadly not four, and we need four. Sorry to hear that the last moon was rough for you, do you want to talk about it? I know you’re probably frowning and tsk-ing and will insist with a stiff upper lip that you’re fine and don’t need to be mollycoddled, but you know seriously if you want to talk I’m here.

When do you think you’ll be able to come? I think the Potter’s think we’ve made you up.

Hope you feel well enough to travel soon.

S.

Remus Lupin to Sirius Black
July 11th 1973

Sirius,

I have the most amusing mental picture in my head of you covered in jam, living in the wilderness of the Potter’s garden like some feral being. In the future you will become an urban legend for the children of Maidstone to fear.

And you are daft; you know very well the Potter’s wouldn’t have you roughing it in the garden - all you’d need to do is bat those ridiculously long eyelashes of yours and they’d probably kick James out and give you his bedroom.

I won’t ask about the exploding toilet. I am too familiar with James’ habit of exploding toilets already. What is this, his sixth one now? Psychologists would probably have something to say about that particular pattern of behaviour.

I hope the three of you are behaving yourselves as best you can; it really is awfully good of the Potter’s to have invited us all this summer, and I’m as disappointed as anyone that I’m not there and am missing out on all the jam and toilet-y exploits. How was the train station experience? I don’t want to spoil your excitement, but really they’re not that different from the Hogwarts Express, only a lot grubbier and prone to delays - well, that’s how it is here anyway.

Thanks for the picture of you in those Muggle clothes, by the way - I nearly choked on my tea in a fit of laughter. You and James alarmingly suit those bell-bottoms. Mr Potter looks quite attached to his bright red flares - how ever did he manage to find a matching blazer? At least Peter couldn’t have missed you in a crowd.

I will insist, frowning and with my upper lip extremely stiff, that I am all right. Got a new scar to add to the bunch, but what’s another one right? You know my mum though, and she says I have to stay at home for another two days at least, and now I know YOU’RE frowning and tsk-ing, but I have to listen to my parents on this and then I PROMISE I will come join you all. I shudder to think what you’re all getting up to without me.

Save me a piece of pie.

Remus.

__

 

Narcissa Malfoy to Bellatrix Lestrange
July 13th 1973

Bella,

I leave you the Manor and all my worldly possessions back home - I am never returning to London! I wish. Why can’t honeymoons last forever?

The chateau we’re staying in is amazing; the view is to die for, we’re right by the sea and it never seems to drop below 25 degrees! I’ll say it again: a-ma-zing. Next stop: Florence! A girl could get used to this.

How are your travels going? You and Rab and Dolph are terribly cultured, visiting Nurmengard! Lucius hasn’t said anything but I do believe he’s jealous that he’s missing out. Poor thing, he is sometimes too dedicated for his own good.

He is a dear though; he took me to the opera the other day and pretended to enjoy it for my sake.

I must thank you again for the house-elf you gave us, Bells; it was a brilliant idea, it is a comfort to know that home is being looked after and will be all ready for us when we return (only one week left - sob!)

We simply must meet up when we both get back home, and please dear NOT a rally. I know they’re your ‘thing’ now but everyone gets so over-excited and they make such a racket with their shouting. I want a proper, peaceful catch-up with my sister, thank you. I feel I didn’t get to see you much even a tt the wedding as I was forced to talk to everyone and thank them for coming (and Esther Mulciber can talk the hind legs off a hippogriff, did I tell you she had me talking to her for nearly an hour? What a fright), and then of course there was all that fuss at the end. Fancy gatecrashers at my wedding! Lucius still goes into a rage when he thinks about it; lucky for the foolish dolts that they weren’t caught by him! Jolly good that Rab and Dolph got rid of them so efficently. Did they ever say who it was? Lucius wouldn’t tell me the details; said he didn’t want to spoil my day, bless his heart.

Have you heard anything from Grimmauld lately? Sirius has gone to stay at Maidstone with the Potter’s - frightfully Gryff of course, but no traces of mud there at least. I imagine Reg mopes about without him, getting in Aunt Walburga’s hair. Perhaps you could take Reg to a rally when he’s old enough; it would keep him busy and get him a hobby. Now there’s an idea!

Love,
Cissy.

Bellatrix Lestrange to Narcissa Malfoy
July 15th 1973

Darling Cissy,

Thrilled that you’re having a good time but missing you terribly of course. We’ve had the most wonderful time.

You may not remember Antonin Dolohov from school - he was in Seventh Year when you were in Second - but he’s quite a good friend of Rab and Dolph’s and has graciously agreed to host us in his grandparents dacha and show us around Russia while we’re here. His grandparents are dears - both Durmstrang educated, and so very wise! Dolly is in his element, strutting around and showing off with Russian spells and the like. Of course the rest of us simply stick to Translation Charms to get by, but it is so fascinating to listen to them talk - it seems their government isn’t nearly so stifling despite the Statute of Secrecy and his babushka practically teared up when I told her about our Lord’s plans. Says it seems like He’s got the right idea at last and it’s about time someone came and stirred things up in stuffy old Britain!

Now, you asked about Nurmengard - oh Cissy it was so interesting I don’t even think I can put it into words.Very educational indeed even though sadly most areas are cordoned off - no fun. I feel I have learned more here about history than I ever did in any of old Binn’s dusty classrooms. Here are the real lessons!

At one point Dolph and I wandered off - I wanted to look again at the Eastern Tower, where they say Grindlewald is imprisoned (the officials won’t let anyone know his real location, but this is the rumour) - and Rab and Dolly said they’d stay put and wait for us. Anyway just as we were nearly there this Mud approached us, quite brazen and proud about it, and told us she was lost. She went on about how fascinating all this was and she’s never seen anything like it and she wanted to learn as much as she could - I imagined old Grindy nearby would be throwing himself at the bars of his cell at the sheer nerve of it. As she was explaining how she’d gotten lost Dolph had that look on his face - you know the one, if looks could Stupefy - and inwardly I was roaring with laughter but she had no idea and kept prattling on. Anyway in the end we directed her to where we knew the boys were waiting, I thought they were probably bored and would appreciate the distraction.

Oh it was a riot, I wish you had been there. How you would have laughed.

The last full moon we went to a werewolf fighting match. Rab lost 200 Galleons because his beast had its throat ripped out in the second round so you can imagine poor Rab was miffed, but my purse is significantly heavier!

Yes we have to meet up! How about we drop by Grimmauld for tea when we’re all back on home soil? Would be lovely to catch up with them all as well, and it would cheer Reggie up no doubt, if he’s in one of his moods. I laughed for an age at the thought of him at a rally - sometimes you are too much!

Love from your devoted sister,
Bella.

Lily Evans to Dorcas Meadowes
July 18th 1973

Dear Dorcas,

Thank you again for that basket of sweets! Got my parents to try some Bertie Bott’s - Dad got cauliflower and Mum was made up that she got fish, chips and mushy peas; she said it was her favourite meal without the hassle of popping to the chippy! Hilarious. Petunia refused to try any. Honestly I do love her but she’s so snobby when it comes to anything fun at all - she’d skin me if she knew but I let a Chocolate Frog loose in her room yesterday; all was quiet until about 10pm and then the house was just filled with the most hysterical shrieks you’ve ever heard; of course Mum and Dad just looked at her as if she were mad when she said a chocolate-looking frog had been in her bed, which just made it all the more funny. I shouldn’t tease her I know, but sometimes she deserves it.

The other morning she had a screaming fit because an owl delivered The Daily Prophet - I wish she’d get used to things like this, Mum and Dad barely bat an eye now. I think it’s important to keep up to date with what’s going on because sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on so much over the summer; although the news has been a bit gloomy recently what with those fires in Brixton and that missing couple in Shropshire! Obviously my sister doesn’t care about any of this, and she’s been going around shutting all the windows so that the poor owls can’t get in, so then of course they just drop them down the chimney so that the post swoops out at her and makes her screech even more. As you can tell, life is a bit of a battle at the moment!

Anyway as a thank-you for the goodies I’m going to send you some rock from Blackpool - don’t worry it’s not actually a rock, it’s just what we call it. It’s very nice, so let me know what you think!

Hope you’re having a good summer.

Lily xx

 

Severus Snape to Lily Evans
July 20th 1973

Lily,

I hope this letter reaches you all right. I’ve never been sure about the Muggle post, so I hope I’ve put the stamps on right. My father hates using owls, that’s all.

You’re not missing much here at home. I can only hope you’re having a much nicer time in Blackpool. I’m already counting down the days until school starts, my father is being his usual delightful self and he and mum have already had seven fights and counting. Yesterday mum drew her wand and my father flew into a rage but of course didn’t dare raise a hand to her after that, the big coward, so he stormed out and didn’t come home for two days. It was bliss.

I’m rather looking forward to Third Year. I can’t wait to get started on my elective lessons and visiting Hogsmeade will be lots of fun. Perhaps we can go to the first one together?

Also do you want to meet up at Diagon Alley to get our new school books? If you could reply the Muggle way, that would probably be best.

It’s been strange not seeing you so hope you can make it!

Yours,
Severus.

Regulus Black to Sirius Black
July 27th 1973

Dear Sirius,

Home is very quiet without you. I’m not sure I like it.

The Wilkes’ came over yesterday and Mrs Wilkes started harping on about you being a Gryffindor and wasn’t it a shame, and Father went practically white with anger and I thought Mother was going to hex her through the wall. Then Mother said “actually Sirius is top of his class in Transfiguration” in the most controlled voice I have ever heard managed on her, and Mrs Wilkes looked boggled. After she had gone Mother was fuming about how dare anyone insult a Black and what would SHE know, she’s just a Wilkes and everyone knows Elizabeth Wilkes has got a Muggle great-grandfather etc etc. It went on for hours. I don’t think they’ll be able to come over for tea anymore.

I do wish you’d been here to see it, then you’d see they do pay attention to you. Even Kreacher doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself if he’s not cleaning up your dirty footprints from the halls.

Bella is holidaying with Rabastan and Rodolphus, taking a tour of Nurmengard and then staying in Russia, and Cissy is in Florence right now, so it’s quite lonely here.

- Never sent; crumpled up and thrown into a corner of the bedroom; later found and kept by Kreacher.

Chapter Text

August 1973.

Ted pauses in the middle of turning the page of the book he’s trying to read, giving a small sigh of irritation as his wife paces in front of him for the fourth time in two minutes, casting her shadow across the page.

“Darling, love of my life,” he says with forced patience, a muscle working in his jaw. “You keep blocking my light.”

Andromeda glares at him and snaps, “Well, perhaps now you can get up and actually be of use!” She readjusts a sleeping Nymphadora in her arms, giving another furtive glance out of the window and on to the quiet street. “I can’t believe you’re being so calm.”

Ted doesn’t budge from the sofa. Just to annoy her, he turns the page with deliberate forcefulness, the crisp of the paper slicing through the air and causing Andromeda to glower at him all the more. Ted smiles sweetly at her. God, but she’s beautiful when she’s angry.

Andromeda checks the clock on the wall. “He’s late,” she mutters, fussing with Nymphadora’s blankets. “Something must have happened.”

“Nothing has happened,” Ted says, not looking up from his book, leaning slightly to the left to be near the light. “He’s probably just been held up by something.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Andromeda says darkly.

She turns her back on him to resume her vigil at the window. Ted, glancing up and noting her rigid posture, puts his book down on the coffee table and goes to stand behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders. Andromeda jumps slightly at the touch - another reminder of how twitchy she is lately, how tightly wound - but then she relaxes, a long sigh escaping from her lips as though she’s been holding her breath for an age. Ted begins to massage her shoulders, and Andromeda murmurs, “Oh, that’s good.”

It’s nice, actually, the moment. With his wife leaning into him and their daughter asleep in her arms, Ted imagines this must be what being a normal bloke with a normal family is like. Just another family, looking out on to the sleepy street as dusk settles over the houses. It’s a good moment, a reminder that they’re better than the sleepless nights and constant bickering of late would have them believe. Between a young baby and the strain of practically living in hiding, the endless cycle of protection-wards-up-baby-fed-doors-locked-baby-changed, good moments are hard to come by lately, and Ted takes them where he can.

He’s just tilting Andromeda’s head back, two fingers on her jaw, when there’s a bang from outside; Andromeda’s wand is suddenly in her hand so quickly that Ted wonders dazedly if she’d hidden it in Nymphadora’s blankets. Andromeda shoves the baby at him, who starts bawling at the rude awakening, and then his wife is gone and reappeared again in the blink of an eye, Apparating back with one Sirius Black on her arm, bowled over and retching on their cream carpet.

“Wotcher, Sirius,” Ted says with a broad grin, clapping him on the back. “Sorry there’s no red carpet welcome.”

Sirius straightens up, scowling at his cousin. “A bit more warning before Side-Along Apparation wouldn’t go amiss.”

Andromeda doesn’t appear to be listening; she’s moving around the room quickly, wand drawn and moving in intricate spirals and swirls as she mutters the protection charms. Ted, used to it all, jiggles Nymphadora up and down, shushing her until she starts to close her eyes again. Sirius is staring at Andromeda as though she’s gone mad, and Ted supposes that to someone who doesn’t know what it’s been like, it probably appears that way. Once finished, Andromeda checks out of the window again, eyes unblinking as she scans the darkening street for any sign of movement.

“You can’t be too careful,” she says over her shoulder. “That damn Knight Bus is so loud, I just had to get you inside as quick as possible.” Finally appearing satisfied that no great danger is about to engulf them all, she finally turns to look at her cousin. “Are you all right?”

“I think I left a few vital organs back there on the pavement,” Sirius says, his expression still somewhat ruffled, “but yeah, I’ll live.” He’s eyeing Andromeda warily. “Are you all right?” he asks, sounding genuinely concerned.

“All the better for seeing you.”

A smile blooms on her face, and for one beautiful moment she looks how a woman of just twenty should look; young, and happy. Her dark eyes lose the slightly hunted look that usually lingers there, and Ted is ridiculously, deliriously grateful that Sirius is here.

Things weren’t perfect when it was just the two of them, and they realised they’d have to lay low for a while, but at least then they could laugh and joke and make the situation seem not as bad as it was. When Andromeda told him she was pregnant, though, that’s when everything became a lot more serious, and Andromeda quicker to snap whenever he tried to ease the tension. He’d once joked that they should ask Bellatrix to be godmother, and Andromeda had left that very night; she never told him where she went, but Ted awoke in the middle of the night to find Alphard Black with his wand pressed to his throat, snarling that he sincerely hoped his niece had not thrown away her life for someone who wasn’t going to take it seriously.

Since then, and since Nymphadora has been with them, Andromeda hardly ever laughs. Ted has watched her send owl after owl to Narcissa, and knows she gets no reply in return, and can see how much it’s crumbling his wife from the inside. She’s more Black than she ever lets on though, and won’t talk about it with him. Instead she wanders around the house as though she’s lost something irreplaceable, and a part of Ted can’t help but hate himself because he knows that he’s the reason his wife is living in fear, why she doesn’t play that much with Nymphadora or will often shove their daughter into his arms and leave the room. Ted thinks of his daughter growing up in a house with no laughter and parents who are afraid to touch each other anymore, and sometimes he wonders if it was all worth it.

Sirius grabs Andromeda in a hug, and she presses her face into his shoulder. Ted, looking on, thinks he sees the hint of a tear in his wife’s eyes, but when she straightens up she’s composed herself, although she still can’t seem to stop smiling. She catches Ted’s gaze over Sirius’ shoulder, and her eyes soften.

“Ted, come here,” she says. “I want Sirius to meet his cousin.”

Ted maneuvers Nymphadora into Andromeda’s arms, hesitantly at first, but Andromeda cradles her gently, rocking her back and forth.

Nymphadora sighs contentedly in her sleep as Sirius tickles her under the chin. “She’s a cute one,” he says. “Well done, you two. Guess it all worked out in the end, eh?”

Andromeda makes a noise that’s almost a laugh. Ted watches her closely, wondering what she’s thinking, if she’ll rebuke her cousin for his rose-tinted way of looking at things. She just shakes her head slightly, still smiling. Between them, their daughter gurgles.

“We get by,” Andromeda says softly, resting her head on Ted’s shoulder, and he thinks, it’s good enough.

::

That night in bed, Andromeda doesn’t shirk away from him for the first time in months. She meets him kiss for kiss and touch for touch, and it’s a better end to the day than Ted could have dared to hope for. It feels like he’s got his wife back, and not the cold, hardened woman who has been wearing her face all this time.

They lay in comfortable silence afterwards, only speaking when Andromeda casts a quick Contraceptive Charm.

“Thought you said that ruined the moment?” he teases, kissing her on top of the head.

“Well, you know,” she says, and even in the dark he knows she’s blushing. “I don’t want Nymphadora to be a big sister just yet, thank you very much.”

“Oh, not yet?” Ted says, hoping for an airy tone. “But not…not ever?”

“No, not ever. Just let’s wait a while. Can you do that?”

“I’m a Hufflepuff,” he says, pretending to be offended. “Patience is part of the parcel, darling.”

She brings her knees up to his stomach, pressing her cold toes into his skin, and he shrieks in a way that is distinctly unmanly and scoots away from her.

“Slytherins are evil,” he says, and her answering cackle does nothing to dissuade him of this opinion.

::

Sirius stays with them for a week, and after the first two days Ted gets used to coming down in the morning to find Sirius already up. He’s usually raiding their fridge with a look like he’s never been fed a day in his life. Once or twice Ted’s caught him poking suspiciously at the battered black-and-white television that sits in a corner of the living room and that they hardly ever use.

“Put it on, if you like,” Ted offers the first time. “Big button there, just press it.”

“Nah, my mate Remus has told me about these things,” Sirius says, drawing away from the set with a distrustful look. “They sound weird.”

Ted laughs. “’Meda doesn’t like it much, but I suppose it’s just one of those Muggle comforts I couldn’t part with. Sometimes the white noise soothes Nymphadora.”

Sirius just stares at him uncomprehendingly. Ted supposes he’s never heard the words ‘Muggle’ and ‘comfort’ next to each other in a sentence before. He makes a mental note to show Sirius his old cassette deck later, just for a laugh.

::

The third day, Ted walks into the living room to find Sirius sprawled out on their hideously floral armchair that his Aunt Helen gave them as a moving in present that they were too hard-up to refuse. One leg on the floor, one draped over the arm of the chair, Sirius is cradling Nymphadora in his arms and feeding her a bottle, apparently quite content.

Ted blinks at the sight for a moment, rubs at his sleep-heavy eyes, and then starts forward. “Sirius, mate, you don’t have to do that. Sorry if she woke you.”

He holds his arms out for his daughter, but Sirius just grins, shifting Nymphadora further into the crook of his arm.

“I was up anyway; I didn’t want to disturb you. You’ve both been great, letting me stay, so it’s the least I can do. Besides, Drom showed me how to prepare her bottles last night. Think she was hinting.”

“About time you paid your way,” Andromeda says, coming into the room still in her dressing gown, dark hair ruffled at the back and and grinning through her yawn. “She likes you, anyway,” she adds, as Nymphadora’s few strands of wispy hair start to turn luminous yellow.

::

On the fourth day, it rains incessantly.

Sirius, face right up to the windowpane, eyes a bead of rain as it trickles down the glass. “I’m bo-red,” he says.

“Go start on your reading for school,” Andromeda says reflexively, not looking at him.

Sirius glares at her, throws himself on the armchair with dramatic force, and exhales so hard that a strand of dark hair swishes away from his forehead in one sulky movement. Andromeda, not impressed, continues to ignore him.

“I’m going to go play with Nym,” Sirius announces.

“Don’t you dare,” Ted and Andromeda chorus together. Andromeda continues, “She’s only been asleep for twenty minutes. If you wake her, I will kill you. Also, her name is Nymphadora.”

Ted smirks to himself. Privately, he thinks the nickname that Sirius has bestowed upon his daughter is quite sweet, but he’d never admit it in front of his wife.

“Well, can I take her for a walk later on?” Sirius asks, and Ted realises he’s looking at him for an answer, not at Andromeda.

It’s Andromeda that answers though. “No.”

“Just to the park! I won’t lose her or anything, for Merlin’s sake! She must be bored too, stuck in this house all the bloody time.”

Ted can see from his expression that Sirius realises he’s gone too far; he seems to shrink back into the armchair, but his eyes still flash. Andromeda puts her book down and stares at him silently for a full minute in which even Ted starts to feel uncomfortable. He wonders if this is discipline in the Black household, stony silences and impressive glares and unspoken layers of guilt, and thinks it’s no wonder these two are wound so tight.

Sirius seems to be bracing himself for a telling off, but Andromeda merely says, quite calmly but no less chillingly, “Please go upstairs, Sirius,” and he skulks out of the room with his head bowed.

“You’re going to be bloody terrifying when Nymphadora is older,” Ted tells her.

She gives him a look that lets him know she’s in no mood for games. “Yesterday I was the favourite cousin, the great Drom.” She sighs heavily. “Now I’m terrifying and pushing the only member of my family who still speaks to me away.”

“Hey, not the only family member,” Ted says gently. “And don’t beat yourself up - you’re quite right, he can’t just waltz off whenever he wants.”

“Yes, but he doesn’t know why. It’s hardly fair on him, keeping him locked up in this house.”

“You could…tell him?”

Andromeda frowns. “He’s thirteen, Ted.”

“He’s an angry, bored, cooped-up Black. I know from experience that’s not a good combination.”

Andromeda sighs again. “Why are you always right?”

::

Sirius’ trunk is halfway packed, clothes and schoolbooks strewn over the bed, when he looks up to see Andromeda in the doorway, watching him closely.

“Running away, are we?” she asks, eyebrows raised.

“You don’t want me here,” Sirius mutters, shoving some robes into the trunk.

Andromeda sits on the bed, closing the trunk lid. “Don’t be so dramatic. Of course I want you here. There’s just - some things I need you to understand.” Sirius stills in the act of searching under the bed for something, and looks up at her warily, getting to his feet. He doesn’t say anything, and Andromeda pauses for a moment before continuing. “You know how angry everyone was when I married Ted and left home. It’s made things a bit difficult.”

“Because he’s Muggle-born,” Sirius says bluntly.

“Yes,” Andromeda says. “Which is absolute rot, because Ted’s an amazing wizard, and it doesn’t matter one bit about who ones parents are, or where we came from. Do you understand that?”

Sirius holds his hands up; Andromeda’s look is piercing. “Hey, don’t need to convince me,” he says with a shaky laugh. “I already know our family’s view of the world is a bit twisted, Drom.”

A smile blooms, sudden and unexpected, on his cousin’s face, and she sighs . “Good,” she says. “That’s very good. But - some people are still angry, Sirius, about what I did. That’s why we don’t go out very much, Ted and I. Why we keep Nymphadora inside a lot.”

“So you’re just hiding here?” Sirius asks.

“Not hiding. Just - laying low. We don’t want to exactly advertise our new address, if you see what I mean. And having a daughter who can turn her hair fluorescent colours sort of makes it hard to slip under the radar when we’re out and about.”

“That doesn’t seem very brave to me,” Sirius says, wrinkling his nose.

Something flickers in Andromeda’s eyes, something dark and mercurial; for a moment it’s easy to remember why people used to mistake her for Bella. Andromeda lifts her chin, stares him down.

“And are you the expert on bravery, just because you Sorted different to us all?”

Sirius frowns. “No. No, Drom, I didn’t mean to offend you -”

Andromeda seems as if she’s re-emerging from a deep pool; she gives herself a little shake. “No need to apologise. I’m afraid I’ve not been myself lately. Ted says it’s the stress, and I suppose he must be right. Things are quite tense as of late.”

“But it’s over,” Sirius says; as he says it, he realises it comes out more as a question than a statement. Andromeda is looking at him in a way that makes him feel infinitely younger than her, and he hates it, hates that obviously something is going on and yet no one thinks to tell him exactly what that something is. “You’re out, you left,” he continues stubbornly. “You have the husband, the baby, a whole new life!”

“Not entirely of my choosing,” she shoots back at once. “Do you think I relished leaving my younger sister, you, Reggie - Merlin, even Bella! I know very well what has become of my name on that tapestry your mother loves so much, Sirius. Gone, as if I never was. I married the man I love, I told my parents their views are sick, and now I can’t even take my daughter for a walk without fearing that my own family might be waiting to harm us. You have no idea how it feels, Sirius. So do not presume to sit there and lecture me about bravery.”

Sirius feels the heat on his face as he glares at the bed cover. He used to wind Narcissa up something awful until she snapped, and he and Bella repeatedly clashed when younger, but Andromeda has never once raised her voice to him.

“Surely you don’t think that our family would cause you any harm,” he says quietly.

He thinks of the night when the news that Andromeda had left reached them at Grimmauld Place; of Mother’s raging, Uncle Cygnus’ cold indifference, Bella’s frightening silences and the cold, dead look in her eyes, and suddenly he’s not so sure himself.

Andromeda is silent for a moment, and then, “I don’t know what they’re capable of anymore, Sirius. My sister is not the person I used to know,” and Sirius knows instantly that she’s not referring to Narcissa.

“I saw her, last month,” Sirius offers after an uncomfortable pause. “At - at the wedding.” He has avoided the topic of Narcissa and Lucius’ wedding over the past few days, not wanting to hurt Andromeda’s feelings by bringing it up. He knows now he was right to, as Andromeda winces as though he struck her, but he carries on, a nagging feeling in his gut telling him he needs to confide in someone. “She told me Mother plans to betroth me to someone, and then started saying that there were other options, if I wanted them. She said she wanted to go in a more political direction, and something about wanting to change the world. She wasn’t talking about being in the Ministry, was she?”

Andromeda looks at him sharply, and there’s something else there too, something that might be fear, and Sirius feels as if there’s a knot in his chest tightening until he can’t breathe.

“No, I don’t believe she was,” Andromeda replies stiffly, sounding as if every word is an effort. She stands up, cups Sirius’ cheek in one hand. “I’m sorry I snapped at you, Sirius. It does no good to fall out with one another. We have to stick together.”

“The Black black sheep?” Sirius jokes half-heartedly.

“Quite right,” Andromeda says, and manages a smile, although it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.

::

That night, Sirius lays in his narrow bed, watching the sliver of the moon he can see high in the sky from the window, and wonders how Remus is. He misses his friends, and misses them even more knowing that they’re now all together at the Potter’s. They’d had precisely three days together, all four of them, before Andromeda’s owl arrived inviting him to stay with them.

Two more days left with Andromeda, and he’ll be back with his mates again. He can’t wait - Mrs Potter even said they’d see them on to the train back to school on September 1st; he feels a sudden rush of giddiness knowing he’ll have managed to successfully avoid going home all summer.

He hears muffled voices from next door, steadily rising in volume, and knows he’s not the only one who can’t sleep. He gets out of bed carefully, moving closer to the wall that separates his room from Andromeda and Ted’s.

“ - it doesn’t mean that, ‘Meda, not necessarily -”

“Be realistic, it doesn’t very well mean she’s running for Minister, does it.” Andromeda’s voice sounds bitter, angry. “My own sister! I knew - knew she agreed with it, but to actually join. Ted, it’s sick!”

Ted’s voice quietens; Sirius strains to hear him properly, but can’t quite make it out. Something about - something about Dumbledore, it sounds like, but what the Headmaster has to do with his cousins Sirius can’t imagine.

“I’ll have to, won’t I? It’s not hard evidence, one conversation with a thirteen year old that doesn’t know anything, but - he has to know what I suspect. I can’t -”

What Andromeda can’t Sirius never finds out; a cry arises from the direction of Nymphadora’s nursery, and Ted and Andromeda quieten abruptly. Their bedroom door opens with a creak; Sirius sees the light from the hallway flooding underneath his own door, and listens to the quick footsteps heading in the direction of the nursery - Andromeda’s, he guesses.

Suddenly cold, Sirius returns to bed. His head hurts from trying to process everything he’s heard today, a mine of information he can’t quite piece together. By now he’s certain that Andromeda is holding back from telling him everything, and he can’t help but feel disgruntled at being left in the dark. A thirteen year old that doesn’t know anything.

He frowns at the insult, turning on to his side, away from the moon and the stars. He’ll talk it over with Mr and Mrs Potter when he gets back to Maidstone, he decides. He’s seen the way they answer all of James’ questions without hesitation, never once thinking he’s too young for the truth. That’s a real family, he thinks sulkily, a family that includes everyone, not like his own, far flung into different corners of the country, shrouded in secrets.

He finally falls into a fitful sleep, and wakes early the next morning feeling as if he hasn’t slept at all. He heads downstairs still in his pyjamas, and halts suddenly on the second to last step.

Andromeda is already up, dressed in a dress of deep purple; her hair is up in a bun, her wand stuck through it for safe-keeping. Her expression means business.

“We’re going to Diagon Alley,” she tells him. “Hurry along and get dressed; we need to leave in five minutes.”

“I - I thought I was getting the Knight Bus to Diagon tomorrow,” he says, frowning.

“Change of plans. I’ve packed your trunk, and sent the Potter’s an owl to meet you at ten o’ clock.”

“You’re kicking me out?” Sirius asks in disbelief, and Andromeda’s expression softens a bit.

“Of course not, sweetling,” she says. “It’s just important we go to Diagon as soon as possible, and it makes sense for you to leave now, with us, rather than having to make two trips - besides, I thought you’d prefer to travel by Floo, rather than that awful bus.”

“You did say you wanted a trip out somewhere,” Ted says, appearing from the kitchen with a slice of toast in one hand, holding Nymphadora in his free arm. He winks at Sirius, and then something clicks in Sirius’ brain; he’s seeing the Potter’s today. He’s seeing James and Remus and Peter.

“Right you are,” he says with a grin, and scrambles back up the stairs at once.

It takes him no time at all to throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt he picked up in a Maidstone Muggle shop with James, and to have a quick double-check of the room, but Andromeda has indeed already packed all his things away. He’s back downstairs just as Andromeda is throwing a handful of powder into the fireplace, and then she steps into the emerald green flames with Nymphadora tightly clutched to her.

“The Leaky Cauldron,” Andromeda says firmly, and disappears into the flames.

“Isn’t it - dangerous, to travel with a baby?” Sirius asks with a nervous glance at Ted.

Ted grins. “She’s a Tonks; we’re pretty indestructible.” He holds out a pot of Floo powder and shakes it encouragingly. “Your turn.”

Sirius chucks the powder into the fireplace, and the flames leap up instantly, tickling him gently as he walks into them. He says, loudly, “The Leaky Cauldron,” and has a brief glimpse of Ted’s grinning face, of the lurid floral armchair, before the living room is gone from sight, replaced by the whizzing of numerous other fireplaces, until he finally arrives at his destination.

Coughing slightly, closing his eyes against the soot - The Leaky Cauldron fireplace isn’t the cleanliest - Sirius feels a hand clutch his. “Thanks, Drom,” he says, and then hears an amused chuckle that is definitely not Andromeda.

“My pleasure,” says the voice, deep and rich, and Sirius realises he’s being helped out of the fireplace by Albus Dumbledore.

“What are you doing here?” Sirius asks before he can stop himself. There’s something decidedly weird and not right at all about seeing your headmaster out of school, and in a pub of all places.

“Sirius, manners,” Andromeda says from behind Dumbledore, clucking in disapproval.

Dumbledore doesn’t seem to take offense. “I find as the years go on I am unable to resist a mid-week tipple every now and then. We all have our weaknesses, do we not, and Tom serves the most irresistible gin and lemon tonic that I am particularly fond of.”

Tom, the balding barman, smiles in a long suffering sort of way whilst pointing his wand at a crate of glasses, cleaning them all. Sirius glances around, and can’t help but notice that the rest of the pub is entirely empty. He’s never been here before personally, but knows that Peter has accompanied his father here numerous times, and knows that it’s not normally empty, especially this close to school starting again.

There’s a whooshing noise from the fireplace and Ted appears. He doesn’t seem surprised to see Dumbledore at all, and shakes his hand warmly, a smile on his face.

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Ted,” Dumbledore says. “It’s good that you’re both doing well.”

“It’s not been easy, Dumbledore,” Andromeda says archly. “This is the first time we’ve been somewhere so open in a long time.”

“We’re grateful you agreed to see us on such short notice though,” Ted jumps in quickly, with a glance at his wife, but again Dumbledore doesn’t appear to have been offended by Andromeda’s snippy tone. “And Tom - we appreciate it’s not exactly great for business, so, um, thank you.”

“Not at all, lad. Can I get you anything?” he asks hopefully.

Dumbledore looks set to open his mouth to order, but Andromeda cuts across him. “Actually, we’re going to make this as quick as possible. Ted, why don’t you take Sirius to get his books, and I’ll stay here with Nymphadora and we -” she glances pointedly at Dumbledore, who has closed his mouth and seems to be mourning the loss of his gin and lemon tonic, “- can discuss what we came here for.”

“Righty-o,” Ted says cheerfully, but Sirius is frowning.

“Wait, wait - that’s it? I can’t stay and find out what all this is about? I know something is going on,” he says hotly, and then looks at Dumbledore, frustration making him bold. “Professor, you know I can keep a secret.”

Dumbledore fixes him with a clear blue stare. “I know very well you can be trusted with information of a delicate nature, Mr Black,” he says seriously. “However, there is a difference between working out some secrets by yourself, and being told outright about other confidential information, and I trust you would not question my judgement about when I deem it appropriate to share such information with not-yet Third Year students.”

Sirius looks at his shoelaces, knowing he’s gone too far, and mumbles, “Of course. Sorry, Sir.”

“Not at all. Oh, and by the way, I thought it would be easier to hand-deliver this to you today, given that I knew I would be seeing you.” Dumbledore passes him a letter, and says, eyes twinkling, “Your book list for the coming year. I confess a surprised delight about your decision to take Muggle Studies.”

Andromeda gapes at him. “You’re taking Muggle Studies?” she asks in disbelief, and Ted laughs loudly.

“A fascinating subject,” Dumbledore says brightly. “Professor Laughton will be delighted to have you as a student.”

Sirius grins. “Thanks, Professor.” He looks across at Andromeda, who is still looking as if she doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Well, is this is it, then?”

“We’ll see each other again soon,” she says, stepping forward to hug him. Her grip is tight, her perfume almost overwhelming. “Hopefully sooner, rather than later. When Nymphadora is a bit older, perhaps you can take her on that walk you mentioned.”

Sirius smiles down at Nym - her hair now the colour of raspberries, her eyes the same shade of grey as his - and she giggles, waving a pudgy fist in the air. Dumbledore waves cheerily, and Sirius follows Ted, a bit reluctantly, out of the door and into the courtyard to a large brick wall. He glances at his watch - a Muggle one gifted to him by Ted, who’d seemed amused at how intrigued Sirius had been about all the dials and cogs - and sees it’s almost ten. The Potter’s will be waiting for him, and James will be there. He’s had a strange sense of lingering unease ever since yesterday, but now he shakes it off, starts feeling excited that soon he’ll be back with his friends, and then back at Hogwarts. He fidgets restlessly, watches as Ted taps the wall with his wand, and together they step through the entrance to Diagon Alley.

Chapter Text

August 1973.

Diagon Alley materialises in front of them, and Sirius finds himself dazzled by a sudden onslaught of colourful shops; some with vibrant posters and banners in their windows that shout out their newest deals; others with the shop-owners stood in the entranceway, calling to potential customers as shoppers hurry by on the cobbled streets.

The emptiness of The Leaky Cauldron had been deceiving: Diagon Alley is packed. There’s a queue winding out of the door for Flourish and Blotts, and there’s a crowd of young witches and wizards with their faces pressed close to the window display of Quality Quidditch Supplies, all talking in loud, excited voices about the new Cleansweep model. Sirius spares a glance as he and Ted walk by, but doesn’t bother to stop - he and James have both got the newest edition in the Nimbus series, easily the best brooms on the Gryffindor team, and probably the reason why their team won so many matches last year.

“Did you play Quidditch, Ted?” Sirius asks as they make their way up the street, past the squawking and screeching coming from Eeylops.

“Wasn’t for me, I’m afraid,” Ted answers with a small shrug. “Never saw the fuss. Give me a good old game of footy any day.”

Sirius is just trying to recall what little information he has learnt from Remus over the last two years about the mind-boggling game when he hears his name being shouted. Looking up quickly, ignoring the protests of his painfully cricking neck, he sees James at the front of Gringott’s, waving madly, sandwiched in between his parents; Mrs Potter is waving almost as eagerly as her son, standing on tiptoes to see over the sea of shoppers, and Mr Potter, tall and therefore easily able to see across the crowds, raises a hand in greeting, smiling gently.

“Sirius, m’boy,” Mr Potter says when Sirius reaches them, grasping his hand. “Glad to have you back.”

Mrs Potter hugs him, and Sirius returns it somewhat stiffly, patting her on the back. His own mother has never been very free-flowing with her embraces, and the first time James’ mum ever hugged him he hadn’t known what to do, had just kept his hands firmly at his sides, but he thinks he’s getting a bit better now.

With James it’s easier - it’s always easy with James - and Sirius returns his stupid, ear-splitting grin and claps him on the back. He hears a slight cough from behind him, and remembers Ted, quickly introducing him to the Potter’s.

“I remember you,” Ted says as he shakes James’ hand. “Your first year, I came out of the Hufflepuff common room and caught you trying to figure out how to get into the kitchens.”

“Oh, yeah,” James says with a sheepish grin, glancing at his parents. Mrs Potter tuts without any real feeling behind it; Mr Potter is pointedly looking away, still smiling. “Yeah, you docked me five points. I worked out the way to get in eventually, though.”

“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t,” Ted replies affably. “Anyway, Sirius. Guess this is it, mate.”

“See you in a minute,” James says in Sirius’ ear, before he and his parents draw away, leaving Sirius and Ted alone.

“Thanks for everything, Ted,” Sirius says. “I mean it. And sorry about - you know, if I upset Drom at all.”

Ted waves his apology away. “Are you kidding me? Mate, you made her month. We loved having you. You’re a hit with Nym at any rate.”

“Nym?” Sirius tries not to laugh, imagining Andromeda’s expression if she could hear her husband now.

Ted winks. “Take that to your grave, Sirius Black. Seriously, you’re welcome anytime, yeah? Well,” he amends after a beat, “when things have died down a bit, you know.”

Sirius resists the urge to point out that no, he doesn’t know, that no one has actually told him what these things are. It hardly seems the time to be pedantic and snippy though, not when he’s unsure about when the next time they’ll see each other will be, so instead he smiles, shaking Ted’s hand.

Ted grins, says, “Have a good Third Year, Sirius,” and then is gone with a crack.

::

After a quick trip to Gringotts, James and Sirius meet up with Peter and Remus where they’d left them earlier. Through the clamour of students all swarming the book-piled tables in Flourish and Blotts, James spots Remus, leaning against a bookshelf and casually flipping through a copy of Numerology and Grammatica whilst Peter lingers next to him, rolling his eyes at Remus’ obliviousness to his crushed surroundings.

“Hey, look what I found,” James says over the noise of everyone else in the shop, tugging Sirius by the arm.

Peter waves with the one arm that isn’t laden with a basket of books. “Don’t expect an answer from him,” he says as Sirius and James come to stand before them, indicating Remus. “I think his plan is to finish the whole reading list before we get to school.”

“Before I even get on the Hogwarts Express, if I can manage,” Remus says wryly, a smile spreading on his face even though he still appears engrossed in his book. After a few more seconds reading, he carefully inserts a red and gold bookmark into the pages and closes the book, finally looking up at Sirius and James. “Hullo, Sirius. How was your stay?”

He doesn’t mention Andromeda or Ted, or the exact location, and Sirius is grateful, knowing that anyone might be listening here in this crush. “It was good, thanks.” He won’t go into the finer details here; better to wait until they’re safely back at the Potter’s. “So. You finally decided on Arithmancy, then?” he asks, pointing to the book; Remus had spent the last few weeks of last year after exams picking apart the pros and cons of each elective subject.

“You’re a nutter,” James says fondly, shaking his head.

“You’re the ones that were foaming at the mouths about owning the biting books,” Remus counters, nodding in the direction of where the shopkeepers have caged the copies of The Monster Book Of Monsters.

Sirius laughs, and on impulse throws an arm around Remus, knocking their heads gently together. It feels good to be back with them all. “It’s all so we can learn how to better care for you, darling,” he purrs.

Remus disentangles himself, pink patches appearing on his cheeks as he shoves lightly at the other boy, muttering “shush,”, although he’s smiling.

“Boys,” Mrs Potter is calling, and all four of them turn to find her. She’s stood by the cage of growling books, beckoning them closer. “Boys, time to get your copies!”

The grim-faced shopkeeper mops sweat from his brow and seems to ready himself for the task of procuring four books; he’s holding a long pointed staff in one hand, and his wand in the other.

Sirius swaps an excited look with James, who is grinning hugely, and Sirius knows they’re thinking the same thing.

Brilliant.”

::

The evening before they all go back to Hogwarts, they all cram themselves in James’ room. Peter and Remus have been staying in the spare room while Sirius shares a room with James, but tonight they’ve bundled all their duvets and sleeping bags and pillows together on the floor. The rain is beating a steady pattern against the window, and it’s nice and familiar, all being together, like being back in their dormitory in Gryffindor Tower a day early.

Sirius has once again managed to spread himself over most of the bed, leaving James sat with his knees up to his chest, back against the headboard. Remus has taken the chair by James’ desk, nose in a book again, and Peter is cross-legged on a cushion the floor, folding socks and chucking them into his trunk.

“The pictures don’t move,” Sirius says indignantly, after a good ten minutes is spent prodding and poking his copy of An Introduction To Muggle History. He rifles in his bag, producing Explaining Electricity and Muggles: How Do They Do It? and gives them a similar inspection. He holds the books by their spines and gives them a good shake, ruffling the pages; from his place on the chair, a nerve twitches involuntarily in Remus’ eye.

“What did you expect, Sirius, they’re about Muggles,” James says, catching Peter’s eye and smirking.

He can’t help but nearly laugh; he supposes after the excitement of their Care Of Magical Creatures books, the unmoving Muggle Studies books do seem a bit bland in comparison. Trust Sirius to leave it to the night before school starts to even look at his textbooks.

“Pff.” Sirius shoves the books to one side, looking distinctly put out. “I wanted diagrams. Like, there’s a section on their modes of transport, and this thing called a motorbike looks ace. I wanted to see it move.”

“Getting into this Muggle lark, aren’t you?” Peter observes, balling up his last pair of socks.

“Only because it’ll drive my mother bonkers when she finds out,” Sirius says with a shrug. “I imagine I’ll just ask you and Moony for revision. Or maybe Evans,” he adds thoughtfully.

“Lily hates you.”

“Hey now,” Sirius says, frowning. “Hate is a bit harsh. I mean, what did she call me last year -”

“Insufferable?” Remus puts in, speaking for the first time since they arrived home, before he was lost to the books. “Annoying, aggravating, conceited - oh, whoops, sorry, that last one was James -” He lifts the book up to shield his face, reflexes lighting quick, as James launches a shoe at his head.

“I am not conceited,” James says with a sulky glare, slumping back against the headboard.

Sirius leans forward to pat him on the head, giving Remus a stern look. “Oh, Moony, look how he wilts. He’s fragile.”

“My apologies,” Remus says, completely without remorse. “Although, now you mention it, maybe Lily would give the both of you more thought if you stopped dangling Snape from the chandeliers every once in a while, or hexing the suits of armour to make retching noises whenever he walks by.”

A misty-eyed, nostalgic look appears on Peter’s face. “That was a good one,” he says with a dreamy sigh.

Sirius grins. “Anyway, we don’t care what Evans thinks. Right, James?”

James shrugs noncommittally, running a hand through the back of his hair. He avoids looking anywhere near Remus, who he just knows has his disbelieving expression on.

“Yeah,” James says lazily. “Whatever.”

A comfortable silence falls over the room, the only sound coming from the occasional rustle of a page being turned, the rain from outside or Sirius’ leg twitching restlessly, until there’s a firm knock on the door and the sound of James’ dad’s voice.

“James? Can I have a word, son?” Jasper Potter sticks his head around the door, looking serious.

Sirius looks at James as if asking “what have you done now?” and James shrugs in return, mystified. Still he gets up off the bed and follows his dad across the landing and into his study.

The room is full wall-to-wall with shelves containing books, Muggle and magical alike; James spent many hours in here when he was a small boy, fingers brushing over the strange titles. The Three Musketeers. Lord of The Flies. A Tale of Two Cities. These and many more all jumbled in with The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Quidditch Through the Ages, and all of the countless books on spells, Wizarding history and genealogy.

Once, James asked his dad why they had Muggle books, and what the point was - Jasper Potter had smiled, told his son to pick a book and give it a go; he’d left the room and left James to it, and had returned four hours later to find his son cross-legged on his desk, a sizeable chunk of the way through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. James had spent the rest of that month trying to build his own raft across the river near their house and nearly drowning a fair few times, and not long after his discovery of the adventure books in his dad’s study and the hours spent pouring over the tiny print and funny, unmoving illustrations, he’d had to have his first eye-test.

Jasper sits down at his large wooden desk, indicating the seat across from it, which James perches on, eyeing his dad expectantly. For a long time his dad says nothing, just continues to look at James with that strange, unreadable smile; James is just starting to fidget, to wonder if maybe he has done something wrong and can’t remember it. He’s glancing down at his hands, ready to apologise in advance over whatever it is he’s done, when his dad clears his throat. When James looks up, his dad’s smile has grown, and James thinks he can’t be in trouble because his dad doesn’t look stern at all; in fact, he looks excited, eyes shining behind his round glasses.

“Would you like to know a secret?”

::

“You lucky bugger,” Sirius breathes, punching his arm. “Do you have any idea how rare these things are?”

James grins in response, running the feather-light, transparent fabric of the cloak through his hands.

“It’s amazing,” Peter says squeakily. “Put it on again, James!”

James obliges readily, whipping the cloak around his shoulders and laughing with delight as everything from his neck down disappears from view. Sirius and Peter whoop in excitement, but Remus is staring at James’ floating head with his lips pursed.

“Sirius is right,” he says. “Invisibility Cloaks are invaluable. Where’d your dad even get one of these?”

James takes the cloak off, handing it to Sirius who eagerly pulls it on. “Family heirloom,” he says. “Been in the Potter family for generations. I can’t believe he never told me about it before!”

From the corner of the room Sirius’ voice comes, booming and deep. “I am the ghost of Potter House. Muhahaha!”

Peter jumps as suddenly as if someone has struck him - which, of course, they have. “Leave off, Sirius,” he says, rubbing the side of his face. “Let me have a turn, stop hogging it!”

“Chill out,” Sirius says, reappearing very close to Remus, who takes a hasty step back from his sudden close proximity. He throws the cloak at Peter, and there’s a brief glimpse of something shimmering in the air, before the cloak lands on Peter’s head and all they can see is his torso and legs.

“This is wild,” Peter’s voice says, as his feet turn so that they’re pointed in the direction of James’ mirror hanging on the wall.

“Did he say why he gave it to you now?” Remus questions, giving Peter’s body parts a dubious look before sitting on the bed and staring at James.

James shrugs. “Nah. Just said he thought it was about time I had it. Said to make use of it. You know what that means, right boys?”

“I have a feeling you’re not about to say ‘to store in safe-keeping until it becomes apparent you really need it’.”

“Merlin’s trousers, Moony, are you actually a teenage boy at all?” Sirius demands roughly. “Use your head. This is amazing. We’ll be the only people at school with anything like this. It means we get to wander around school after curfew without worrying old Filch will find us.”

Remus is biting down on his bottom lip, a frown-line appearing between his eyebrows. Peter hands the cloak back to James, who folds it and clamps it tightly under one arm. His dad did mention a fair few things along the lines of responsibility, and of not being careless with the cloak, but at this moment in time James has Sirius next to him, his eyes glazed with excitement, and Peter who looks flushed and awestruck, and it’s hard not to get caught up in all the possibilities.

“We can set off all the dungbombs we want and no one would ever know it was us.”

“We can follow a Slytherin to their common room and learn their password!”

“We can sneak into other teams Quidditch practices and find out their strategies!”

“We can get into the girl’s dormitory!”

Remus tsks, rather pointedly picking up his book and staring at the pages as though determined to block out his friends’ words. Sirius nudges James with his elbow, lowering his voice.

“Hey, James, you know what else will be easier now?” he says, his grey eyes trained on Remus. He’s grown suddenly serious, all business.

James is thankful that he and Sirius are so alike, that he doesn’t need Sirius to explain himself further because he knows exactly what his best friend is getting at. And Sirius is right: having the Invisibility Cloak will make it a lot simpler to gain access to the Restricted Section of the library, to find the books on Animagi. He grins at Sirius, and Sirius nods, knowing they’re both on the same page now.

“Wicked,” James whispers, as excitement explodes in the pit of his stomach.

Chapter Text

September 1st 1973.

Peter wakes up in darkness and unable to breathe, his face obscured by something heavy and a rumbling noise all around him. It’s a bit disorientating at first, but then he remembers where he is, and realises that the rumbling noise is James’ snoring and that the something heavy is James Potter himself. Peter sits up, disentangling himself from where he had been wedged into the crook of James’ armpit, something that he should probably be disturbed by but actually has an odd sense of familiarity about it, and looks around at the mass of boy-bodies sleeping around him.

The ability to fall asleep absolutely anywhere regardless of logic and comfort must be a requirement to being in their group, much like being able to devise great pranks and a hatred of all things greasy and large-nosed. Undisturbed by Peter freeing himself, James sleeps soundly on, mouth open. As the tallest of the four of them, his long legs are stretched out, his feet precariously close to Sirius’ nose, and Sirius himself has one arm flung out over Remus’ stomach.

James and Sirius are the only two people Peter knows who manage to make sleeping in a tangled crush on the floor look as comfortable as being on a featherbed. They manage to fall asleep just about anywhere, anytime - after Quidditch matches, still in their kit; after exams, often not even making it as far as the dormitory, just crashing out on the sofa in the common room; in lessons, particularly after the full moon, the only time the Professors are more lenient and wont to turn a blind eye to the prone bodies slumped at their desks at the back of the room. Indeed right now they look perfectly relaxed and at peace with the world. Remus is more guarded, curled up into a foetal, protective position, keeping to his own space whilst James and Sirius simply sprawl where they will, although Peter knows Remus is probably the best of them at roughing it when it comes to sleeping arrangements, and he’s probably woken up in places and situations the other boys can’t imagine.

From downstairs he can smell breakfast cooking, and his stomach gives an approving rumble in anticipation. Someone - most likely Mrs Potter - has put all four of their trunks by the door, ready to go. Clambering to his feet, Peter tries not to step on any of his mates as he makes his way to the window; he accidentally treads on Sirius’ leg and nearly stumbles, but Sirius just rolls over, mumbling something about bludgers.

Out of the window Peter can see down into the green of the garden, still sparkly with dew. The Potter’s cat Hecuba is sat on the stone wall, watching intently as a gnome vaults over a rose bush and disappears into the hedge. Just out of view at the bottom of the garden is where Peter knows the stream is, and beyond that the expanse of fields they’ve been exploring for weeks. Of all four of them, Peter thinks he’s probably looking forward to returning to Hogwarts today the least, and a lot of that has to do with just how much he’s enjoyed being at the Potter’s this summer.

James and Sirius, of course, shine at school - top of their classes, Quidditch players, unfailingly charming and somehow able to get away with a lot more than Peter would ever dare attempt when it came to testing the limits of their Professor’s patience - and Remus is the sort of boy that school is surely designed for. It’s not a struggle for them like it is for Peter. He’d be perfectly happy to stay here for a few more weeks, making jam and catching tadpoles in the stream for Mrs Potter’s potion brewing. If it wasn’t for his mates, making school bearable, Peter doubts he’d be looking forward to returning to the castle at all.

Hopefully he’ll be able to visit again soon; the Potter’s has a certain easiness and warmth about it that Peter’s own house lacks. Especially since his dad left last year to live in Ipswich which Maureen. Maureen the Muggle, Peter thinks glumly. Although he doesn’t have anything against Muggles - the whole of his dad’s family are non-magical - he still can’t quite wrap his head around why any wizard would abandon a witch for a life of the ordinary. But leave is what he did, and now Peter’s mum is even more unbearably controlling and all Peter gets from his dad now is the occasional letter and half-arsed invite to visit them sometime. Not bloody likely. Peter’s seen Maureen the Muggle in a photograph his dad sent, a photo of her and her daughter - Sharon or Stacy or something - and they both look more boring than toast.

Peter makes a mental note to wrangle another summer invitation here before he leaves, and then with one last fond, wicked look at his peacefully sleeping friends, he yanks the curtains fully apart and lets the sunlight stream in.

“Agh!” yelps Sirius, trying to squirm away underneath Remus, who has thrown a hand over his eyes and is swearing under his breath. “The light - it burns, it burns!”

“You’re an evil man, Peter Pettigrew,” James says, his hair all on end and his eyes unfocused without his glasses and in the sudden glare of the morning sun.

Peter grins. “Morning all! Time to get ready for school.”

::

Mr and Mrs Potter go first through the barrier at King’s Cross, and James and Sirius follow afterwards, both of them laughing, jostling and trying to race each other.

“Not very discreet, are they,” Peter says.

Next to him, Remus smiles, stretching the thin scar over his top lip - one of his newest additions. “Not sure they know the meaning of the word. Shall we?”

Peter glances around quickly, then nods. Remus strides forward, disappearing into the barrier, and Peter goes through at a bit of a jog. Once on the platform, he pushes his luggage cart towards where Mrs Potter is trying to flatten James’ hair, who tries ineffectually to swat her away before she pulls him forward into what looks like an extremely bone-crushing hug.

“Come on,” Remus murmurs. “Let’s put our cases on the train before she grabs us too.”

They pass Lily Evans on their way, standing with her parents who are gazing around in apparent delighted interest, and a blonde girl who looks decidedly uninterested to Peter.

“Wonder who that is?” Peter says, nudging Remus, who gives the family a cursory glance before replying, “Petunia. Lily’s older sister. What? Don’t look so surprised; I do talk to Lily, you know.”

“She doesn’t seem very chirpy,” Peter observes. The sisters appear to be having some sort of whispered argument; Evans is getting redder and redder in the face while her sister gets whiter and more tight-lipped.

“Families,” Remus says with a shrug. “Come on, don’t gawp at them.”

They hop on the the train and store away their trunks in the luggage rack; when they return to the platform the Evans sisters have stopped arguing, but there’s something new that’s hard not to gawp at.

The Black’s have arrived.

Peter has never seen Sirius’ parents before, but he recognises Regulus, straight-backed and a little rigid looking, walking in between a tall stern looking man with thick dark hair and a woman who would be pretty - no, beautiful - if not for her too sunken cheeks and the way her lip is curled in ill-disguised contempt for nearly everything she looks at. The crowd of people part for the family, some scuttling away nervously as they sweep almost majestically down the pathway made for them.

“Uh-oh,” Remus says, and Peter sees he’s not looking at the Black’s - well, he’s looking at just one. “Sirius has spotted them.”

Sirius’ complexion has lost all colour; he makes an apparently involuntary jerking movement as if unsure whether or not to go to them. James has his hand on Sirius’ arm, and Mr Potter has a hand firmly on his shoulder.

Peter groans, his stomach dropping, as she realises that the Black’s have spotted him too. He feels rooted in place, until Remus grabs him by the arm and pulls him in the direction of Sirius and the Potter’s. When they reach them, James is just letting go of Mr Black’s hand which, judging from the way he looks like he’s trying not to wipe his own hand on his jeans, he’s just been made to shake.

“It seems I must thank you for the hospitality you have shown my son this summer,” Mrs Black is saying to James’ parents, a smile on her face that doesn’t reach her eyes.

“Oh, really, it was no trouble at all,” Mrs Potter says, looking a bit uncertain and flustered that she’s having this conversation at all, and well she might. From what Sirius does say about his family, Peter’s gathered they’re not the types for idle chit-chat.

Next to Mrs Potter in her bright turquoise robes, her greying hair up in a messy bun, and Mr Potter in his Muggle bell-bottoms and jumper and his glasses a bit lopsided, the Black’s look ridiculously formal and misplaced.

Mr Black raises his eyebrows. “Sirius, no trouble?” he says. “That is a surprise.”

Between his parents, Regulus smirks. Peter isn’t prone to - or even very good at - violence as a general rule, but right now he wants to kick Regulus Black very hard in the shin and see if the little git is still smiling then. He guesses Remus and James are probably thinking along similar lines, as when he glances at them, they’re both glaring at Regulus too, but Regulus, guarded safely between his parents, looks perfectly unfazed.

“No, really,” Mrs Potter says firmly, her voice getting more of an edge. “It was our pleasure. We’d love to have him any time.”

“Indeed.” Mrs Black’s cold eyes sweep over Sirius, who has thrown Mrs Potter a grateful look, and then her gaze falls upon Remus and Peter standing to the side of the group. “Ah. These must be more of your…friends, Sirius.”

“Yes,” Sirius grinds out. “They are. And before you ask,” he says, lifting his head and staring at his mother defiantly, “no, you wouldn’t know their parents.”

“I see,” Mrs Black says, and Peter finally feels his internal organs unfreeze as she looks away from them both, clearly uninterested. “Jasper,” she says, addressing James’ dad. “Do you see much of your cousin Magnus? His father married my aunt Dorea, you know. Small world, isn’t it?”

“In certain circles, yes,” Mr Potter says, expression neutral. “And no - Magnus is more like a second cousin, and we’ve never been close to that side of the family.”

“A pity,” Mrs Black says softly.

Mr Potter cocks his head to one side, and Peter is amazed to see he’s smiling amiably, as if they’re having a simple chat. “It’s funny, I’ve never actually thought so.”

Mrs Black narrows her eyes. “I’m afraid Sirius won’t be able to visit next summer. He needs to spend time with his family.”

“You can’t -” Sirius begins furiously, but Mr Potter cuts across him, “Of course. You must have missed him terribly,” although Peter doesn’t miss the way Mr Potter’s hand tightens on Sirius’ shoulder, or the way his eyes have gone steely behind his glasses, all traces of friendliness, pretend or otherwise, gone.

A warning whistle sounds, making Peter jump; he’d nearly forgotten where he was. Mrs Potter pulls Sirius into one last hug, and whispers something in his ear although Peter hasn’t a hope of hearing what it is with all the commotion on the platform. Sirius nods, and then heads towards the train, shoving past Regulus on his way past.

“A shame that a summer away has robbed him of all manners,” Mrs Black is saying in a disdainful voice as her and her husband guide Regulus towards the doors; even as they move away, her voice carries her disapproval for all to hear. “Just shows that clearly having a good name isn’t quite everything…”

James, white in the face with anger, makes as if to go after her, but Peter grabs him by the jacket. “Don’t be an idiot,” he says desperately; James shirks him off, scowling, but doesn’t have time to argue. His parents are ushering them on to the train as well, saying their goodbyes, instructing them to look after each other - above the slamming of doors Peter hears Remus promising that they always do, but James manages only a half-hearted wave once he’s on the train and then he’s striding into the next carriage, out of sight before the train has even moved out of the station.

“Bugger,” Remus says once he’s turned around and seen James isn’t there. “Where’d he go?”

Peter shrugs helplessly. “Gone to do Sirius-related control damage, I reckon.” He brings his thumb nail up to his mouth, a nervous habit he’s never been able to break no matter how many times his mum berates him for it. “They’re both really mad, aren’t they?”

Remus’ face is grim. “Let’s just hope we find them before the Prefects do, or we’ll be in negative points before we’ve got to Stevenage.”

It doesn’t take long at all; three carriages down, Peter spots a crush of people, and he knows as soon as he hears the mingled shouts and cheers that his friends will be there. Making use of being one of the shortest in their year, and employing Remus’ bony elbows, they fight their way to the front of the jostling, watching crowd to see Regulus Black on the floor, cradling his right hand in his left, a pained expression on his face. Sirius is standing over him, James by his side. For one moment Peter thinks that Sirius and James must have hit Regulus, but there’s no blood, and then Peter sees the state of Regulus’ hand - covered in large, extremely sore looking boils, and more erupting every second until they’re creeping up his wrist and disappearing into the sleeve of his robes.

Remus starts to say, “Sirius, what —” but then the gaping crowd is pushed apart, and there’s a loud, commanding voice shouting, “All right, everyone back to your compartments! Go on, move! I said, move!

A tall girl with her brown hair in a long plait over one shoulder appears, barking orders at the last reluctant stragglers. To Peter’s surprise, Frank Longbottom and Alice Thorne are right behind her, along with a blonde girl Peter doesn’t know. Alice and the blonde girl go to Regulus and kneel down beside him. Alice points her wand at his hand, muttering a spell; it must help, as Regulus hisses in relief, and the smell of burning flesh instantly lessens, to Peter’s immense relief. Frank rounds on Sirius and James; James, adopting his usual ‘who, me?’ expression, and Sirius clenching his jaw, clearly not going to back down. Peter starts forward, to go to his mates, but finds his way blocked by the first girl; she’s looming over Remus and Peter, eyebrows raised, and Peter realises that she’s waiting for them to move as well.

“Show’s over, you two. Back to your compartment.”

“Ah, Emmeline, these four come as a unit,” Frank says apologetically.

“So do they want to share in their detention?” the blonde girl snaps, helping Regulus to his feet and glaring at Sirius and James.

Alice holds her hands up, placating the girl. “We’ll deal with them. They’re in our House; we’ll see to their punishment. Just make sure he’s all right,” she says, nodding at Regulus.

“Of course he’ll be all right,” Sirius sneers, his hands curled into fists.

“Don’t push it, Black. Follow us, all four of you.” She leads them into an empty compartment, Frank following, and once the door is closed she wheels on them, looking angrier than Peter has ever seen her. She’s normally fairly easy-going, letting them get off with a light scolding most of the time, but now she has a look that would make McGonagall proud. “Are you all completely mad? Sirius, what were you thinking?”

“It was a family matter. Didn’t need you all to get involved.”

“You had your little dispute right by the Prefect’s carriage! What were we supposed to do, stand by while you turned your brother into a big pile of pus?”

“Who was that?” James asks, straightening his glasses. “The bossy bint, I mean.”

Frank says, frowning, “Enough of that, Potter. Emmeline Vance is Head Girl this year. She’s a Ravenclaw. She’ll be running a tight ship, and you’re already in her bad books.”

Sirius snorts, indicating how much that bothers him.

“And the other girl? A Slytherin, right?” Peter guesses.

“Hester Greengrass. Yep, Slytherin Prefect.” Alice sighs, slumping down on to the seat and staring out of the window. “Emmeline had just started on a talk about upping the number of patrols the Prefects go on, and about how important keeping the peace between the Houses is, when we heard your little stunt. Now she’s going to have us patrolling through the night.”

Sirius shrugs, still looking murderous. Remus, however, asks, “Why are you upping the number of patrols?”

“Oh, you know. Just a precaution,” Frank says airily.

James frowns. “Precaution for what?”

“Look. You just need to stop hexing everyone who annoys you, all right? Bloody well, I don’t know, talk matters over or something before diving for your wand. Dumbledore won’t be standing for any nonsense this year, and neither will Emmeline. Hastings is Head Boy - a Hufflepuff, you’ll know him from Quidditch I expect - and he’s a stickler for rules too, so just watch your step.”

“Yes, Prefect Thorne,” James says, saluting.

“Get out,” Frank says, amiably enough, holding the door open for them. “Oh, and before I forget, boys - that’ll be ten points. Ta.”

“Term hasn’t even started!”

Alice is massaging her temples. “I know, Lupin. I know.

::

They sit in a carriage with Marlene and a small, round-cheeked boy who glances up nervously when they enter. Sirius throws himself down, still in a mood, and lifts his legs up on to the opposite seat so that his bootlaces are tickling the boys’ elbow. The boy blinks rapidly and scoots nearer the window. Peter tries to give the boy a reassuring smile, but it doesn’t seem to comfort him any.

“Oi, manners, Black,” Marlene says, swatting at Sirius’ shoes with a rolled up copy of The Daily Prophet. “I’ll not have you corrupting my little brother with your uncouth ways. Lads, this is my brother Alfie. Alfie,” she drops her voice conspiratorially, exaggerating a wink, “these are the ones I was telling you about.”

Alfie’s eyebrows shoot up. He looks an odd mixture of impressed and nervousness. Peter can relate; he’d felt a similar thing when first confronted with Sirius and James.

“First year?” Remus asks kindly.

Alfie nods.

“What House do you want?” says James.

“G-Gryffindor,” Alfie says squeakily.

James grins. “Good man,” he says, and even Sirius manages a rough smile in Alfie’s direction.

Alfie visibly relaxes, his shoulders slumping in his brand new, slightly too-big robes. He becomes slightly emboldened after that, asking questions about Hogwarts and the Sorting. Behind her newspaper, Marlene smirks and shakes her head at James’ description of the Sorting being an obstacle course in which you have to ride a broom, catch a nest of pixies and turn Dumbledore’s beard the exact right shade of purple.

“Carry on and his eyes are going to pop out,” Marlene says. “I’ve already told you, Alf; it’s just a hat.”

“I thought that sounded too simple,” Alfie says dubiously; he glances at James again, who mouths, “Obstacle course,” whilst nodding knowledgeably.

Sirius juts his chin at Marlene’s newspaper, frowning. “Can I have a read after, Marls?” he says nonchalantly, but Peter notices how he suddenly sits up, leaning forward, eyes boring not into the headline, but at a side-article. Peter squints to read it, but can only make out the title of the article: Is Our Future Safe?

“Sure. Same old rubbish as ever. This Skeeter woman is a piece of work. Your cousin’s wedding had a whole three-page spread, did you read it?”

“Not likely. The experience in itself was enough.”

Marlene hands the paper over, and Sirius turns to the right page. Peter cranes his neck to see, but can only read snatches of it as Sirius’ hands begin to shake.

Only 1 in 5 children born in Wizarding Britain last year were fully Pureblood…rapidly diluting magical genes…facing the end of our society as we know it…risk to exposing our world…

“Who wrote this?” James asks in disgust.

“A. Rookwood,” Remus says, pointing. “Whoever he is. Sounds delightful.”

Sirius’ hands have stilled, an odd look on his face. He shoves the paper at Peter and glares out of the window.

“Sirius, no one believes this rubbish,” he says. He’s aware that Alfie is watching the whole thing, wide-eyed.

“You don’t know anything, do you, Peter? People do believe it. That’s the whole point. Merlin, you’re an idiot sometimes.”

“Hey,” James says, a little sharply. “There’s no need to take it out on him. Just because another Pureblood basket case has his wand up his -”

“Alfie,” Marlene says quickly, digging in her pockets and dropping a few coins into her brothers’ hand. “Be a dear, go get some sweets. I think I heard the trolley a bit ago.”

“But I’m not —”

“Go,” Marlene says, more forcefully, and Alfie takes the money and jumps up, nearly tripping out of the compartment door. “All right, what’s going on? Sirius, you look set to murder someone, and if it’s going to be Pettigrew here I’d rather you do it away from my little brother, got it?”

Oh, cheers, Peter thinks, a bit resentfully, because he gets the feeling that Marlene McKinnon has never particularly liked him, and it bothers him because he doesn’t know what he’s ever done to annoy her. But then sometimes he thinks he must annoy people just by being there, like now with Sirius, he’s gone and said the wrong thing and it’s ended up with one of his best mates looking at him like he has less brains than the Giant Squid.

Sirius has a bit of a point though; Peter doesn’t know much about this sort of thing. Politics and all that. He doesn’t even read The Prophet, only the comic strips and sometimes the sports pages, just to keep up to date when James starts raving about the latest match. He knows, from his friends talking about it, that there have been a few odd happenings over the summer, fires in London and an unexplained disappearance. He knows that some people dislike Muggle-borns - obviously he knows, from the way Snivellus and his stupid mates goad him in lessons, saying he’s useless because his dad has Muggle parents, and the way they whisper nasty things about other Muggle-borns - but then James says that’s all bollocks anyway, and he doesn’t care what stupid Slytherins have to say. James and Sirius are Pureblood, and they like him and Remus and they hate the people that say those things - so Peter doesn’t get why Sirius looks so angry, or Remus and James so worried. What’s the big deal? Like James says, it’s all a load of bollocks.

“Something’s going on,” Sirius says darkly. “At my cousin’s wedding, there were some gatecrashers. There was a fight, and something about ‘blood-traitors’. I don’t know who they were. And then when I went to stay with Andromeda and Ted, they met up with Dumbledore. Had some sort of secret meeting.”

“So?” Marlene asks.

“So,” Sirius says. “It’s all connected.”

“Is it?” James says, and Peter’s glad James said it and not him, because Sirius would probably hit him, but he just gapes open-mouthed at James. “I just mean, Sirius - a fight at a wedding and your cousin meeting up with Dumbledore. How is that connected, mate?”

“No - I know it sounds stupid - but it feels wrong, all of it. And stupid articles like this cropping up. I think something is going on, and Dumbledore knows, that’s why he’s being so safety conscious.”

James and Remus exchange doubtful looks. Personally, Peter just thinks Sirius is wound up after the confrontation with his parents and brother; he thinks Sirius sees danger in every shadow after years of being around that crazy family of his; he thinks Sirius is just itching for a reason to fight, but of course he doesn’t say any of this. And anyway, he reasons, if anything dodgy is going on in the outside world, they’re going to Hogwarts; they’re safe as anything.

“I know it’s all a bit nasty,” James begins, “but —”

“Oh, whatever. Don’t patronise me, James. Fine. It’s all in my head, right?”

“Sirius —” Remus says gently, but Sirius turns his head to the window again, and doesn’t speak another word for the rest of the train ride.

::

They’re waiting for the horseless carriages to arrive when Peter hears footsteps behind them. He whips around, but it’s too late to give warning, and there’s already four wands pointing at them. In the twilight gloom he recognises Rosier and Wilkes from Slytherin, stood in front of Regulus Black, and a larger, older looking boy with a twisted smile.

“So, is four on one the Gryffindor definition of bravery?” the older boy asks; his dark eyes are focused on Sirius. “We thought we’d even the odds.”

“Oh, go jump in the lake, Avery,” James says indifferently, although Peter notices he’s got his own wand out.

“You hired bodyguards now?” Sirius says to Regulus, lip curled. “Mother would be so proud to see you now, hiding behind these two.”

“I’m not hiding,” Regulus hisses, although he doesn’t bother to move closer to his brother.

“Better than you, hexing Regulus on the train when his back was turned,” Rosier says. “You’re nothing but a coward, Black.”

Peter glances around, but the pathway is deserted, everyone else in the carriages on their way to the castle. Sirius takes a step froward towards the other boys, but Remus places a hand on his arm.

“Sirius, think about this,” he mutters. “Ignore them. They’re not worth it.”

The Slytherins crow with laughter. “How sweet. The blood-traitor and the Mud!”

There’s a blast of bright light, and Avery lands on the floor with a shout. Peter turns, but Sirius hasn’t moved - James is stood, chest heaving, anger on his face. Rosier and Wilkes raise their wands, but before they can react there’s a cry of “Levicorpus!” from behind them and James is hoisted into the air, twisting and swearing.

“Very fetching boxers, Potter,” Snape drawls, appearing with a smarmy grin just as another two carriages draw up in front of the scene.

“Was that one of yours, Snape? Nice one,” Wilkes says approvingly, holding Remus at bay with his wand.

Sirius is occupied with other things; he aims the counter-curse at James who falls to the floor in a heap, and he and Remus hurry to help him up. Avery is on his feet as well, and he gives Peter a look of pure disgust, like he’s not even worth cursing, before the Slytherins all get on to the carriage. Peter listens to their laughter until Sirius’ shouts startle him back to attention.

“Peter, why didn’t you hex them!”

“It’s not his fault,” James says wearily. “Well, I guess Snivelly finally found a group to take him in. Good on them if they can cope with the smell.” He manages a small laugh, but then winces, feeling his ribs where he landed.

“Let’s get you to the castle,” Sirius says, eyeing him nervously.

Peter feels as if he’s had a Body-Binding Jinx put on him. He shakes himself out of it, hating himself for being such a coward. He just froze, just stood there while his best friend was attacked. He clambers on to the carriage, avoiding looking at Sirius, and sits down next to James, who is still frowning in pain, his hand on his ribs.

“Sorry, James,” he mumbles. “Sorry I didn’t —”

“Hey, it’s all right,” James says. “I understand. I know you couldn’t have taken them.”

Peter knows James doesn’t mean it as a dig, that in his own way he’s trying to be reassuring, and somehow that makes it all the more unbearable.

::

At the Sorting, when Bartemius Crouch Junior is placed in Slytherin, Sirius doesn’t even look up from his plate of food.

“What a surprise.”

Peter watches as the skinny boy takes his place next to Regulus. Mulciber and Wilkes clap him on the back, and he leans across to shake Snape’s hand, who, it appears, has well and truly been accepted into their little gang. Guess there’s nothing like hexing James Potter in public to act as an initiation. Their own table feels oddly empty without James, who Madame Pomfrey is keeping in the Hospital Wing with badly bruised ribs, although Peter has a suspicion that it’s more to stop James seeking revenge, at least for tonight.

When “McKinnon, Alfred,” is called, Marlene grips her knife tight and doesn’t seem to breathe until Gryffindor has been called.

“Never doubted you one bit, Alf,” she says to him, as Alfie is welcomed to the table.

Peter congratulates him, but Alfie doesn’t notice. He’s too busy looking up and down the rows of Gryffindors, searching for someone. Peter can probably guess who.

“Where’s James?”

“Oh, brilliant, just what Potter needs. A fan-club to inflate his ego,” Marlene says, rolling her eyes. “Never you mind about James, squirt. Sit down and have some cake.”

“I don’t know,” Sirius says, smiling at last. “Having a little minion will perk James right up when he gets out of the Hospital Wing.”

“My brother is not a minion, Black.”

Alfie beams delightedly, and Lily Evans leans across Remus, frowning.

“Potter, in the Hospital Wing, already? What on earth has he done now?”

Peter braces himself as Sirius’ smile drops. Just focus on your dessert, Pettigrew. You like dessert. Look, custard!

“Ah, Lily,” Remus says, but Sirius cuts across him loudly, “Oh, nothing for you to worry your little freckled head about Evans - just your beloved Severus attacking him for no good reason, being a nasty peice of work as per usual.”

Lily blinks, surprise flickering across her face, but she holds Sirius’ gaze. “That, I highly doubt.”

Sirius shrugs. “You believe what you want. Either way James is in the Hospital Wing because of your mate, while he gets away with it, sucking up to my brother over there.”

Lily looks to Remus, who gives an awkward half-shrug, and then she looks at Peter. Peter nervously drops his gaze back to the table. Do not get involved. Custard. Pudding. Concentrate on the pudding.

“Funny that, come to think of it,” Sirius says in mock-thoughtfulness, as Peter chants pudding pudding pudding over and over in his head, because he can tell what’s coming, and there’s no James here to stop it. “Snape and Regulus looking so friendly over there. Don’t know if you’ve ever spent time with my brother, but he’s a bit of a brat.”

“Must be genetic,” Lily says through gritted teeth, cheeks red.

Au contraire! I’m nice as pie, next to old Reggie. I’m delightful. Well, all depends on who you ask, of course, but my brother, your best friend’s new buddy over there? Breaks my heart to say it, Evans, but he’s not a fan of Muggle-borns. No, not at all. Now, I wonder what ever they could be discussing over there. Good thing your friendship is so secure, yeah?”

Lily stands up, emptying her goblet over Sirius’ head. There’s a gasp from around them as Lily storms off, ignoring McGonagall’s shout of “Miss Evans!”

Remus shakes his head, sighing, but Sirius looks rather content with himself. He shakes his hair like a dog, pumpkin juice spraying everyone in the vicinity, and grins roughly.

“Wonder what her problem is. Pass the custard, will you, Pete? Good lad.”

Chapter Text

September 1973.

James Potter had a very clear vision for his Third Year at Hogwarts.

Armed with his dad’s Invisibility Cloak and a Hogsmeade permission slip, James felt invincible. They were going to explore the castle and even the village like never before; they were going to work on refining their pranks a bit to make them more discreet, so that Gryffindor had a shot at winning the House Cup; they were going to flatten Slytherin on the Quidditch pitch; they were going to raid the library for books on Animagi and gather all the knowledge they could possibly absorb. James had imagined sunny Saturdays spent in Hogsmeade with his mates, filling their pockets with every possible treat from Honeydukes and finally getting to visit Zonko’s, something he’d been yearning for since starting school. As far as James had been concerned, Third Year was going to be his best year at Hogwarts yet.

Waking up on September 2nd to find himself in the Hospital Wing, James Potter has to admit to himself that his plan has not gotten off to exactly the best start.

“Morning, beautiful,” croons a voice in his ear, and James turns with a start to see Sirius very close to his face, grinning insanely.

“Agh!” James yelps. “Have you ever even heard of personal space?”

“Heard of it,” Sirius replies indifferently. “Not a fan of the concept. Now, someone is a grumpy-poo this morning,” he says, as James continues to scowl as he reaches for his glasses and pulls them on.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t exactly imagine I’d be spending my first night back at school here, did I?”

Sirius holds up a napkin full of toast. “Brought you breakfast.”

“Thanks,” James says grudgingly. “Where are the others?” he asks, after he’s stuffed a whole piece of toast into his mouth and swallowed it with some difficulty. He’s starving; the reminder that he missed the feast last night only makes him grumpier.

“Getting our timetables. Pete said he’d get your books all ready and everything, so don’t worry.”

“I’m not crippled,” James says irritably. “I’ve had worse on the Quidditch pitch! It was only a little fall. They only kept me in overnight to make sure I didn’t hex Snivelly’s unmentionables off, I reckon.”

Sirius shudders. “Please no talk of Snivelly’s unmentionables before 9am. Or, actually, ever.”

James isn’t listening; Madam Pomfrey has just bustled in, and he’s stuck up a hand to hail her over. “Can I go?” he asks as soon as she’s within earshot. “I feel fine. Fantastic, even.”

Madam Pomfrey smiles wearily. “Yes, Mr Potter, you may go.”

Before she’s even finished talking James has jumped up and is pulling on his school robes with one hand, attempting to carry on eating his breakfast with the other. The castle is quiet as both boys make their way towards the Great Hall; no doubt everyone else is still having their breakfast. As they walk, Sirius fills him in on last night. James can’t help but laugh at the thought of Evans upending her pumpkin juice over his best mate’s head.

“You had a point though,” James says as they jump over a trick step on the staircase. “She needs to realise her precious Sevvy is a slimeball, and him hanging out with your brother can only mean trouble - no offense.”

Sirius just shrugs. “Well, I told her as much. When it all goes tits up, she can’t come crying to us. All we’ve done is try to warn her.”

A buzz of chatter grows louder as they reach the Great Hall, but they don’t go in. James is secretly glad - the thought of having to walk past a table of Slytherins all pointing and jeering at him doesn’t sound great to him, but he doesn’t mention this to Sirius. They wait for a few minutes outside the door until Remus and Peter arrive.

“How are you feeling?” Remus asks.

“McGonagall is still inside,” Peter says, jerking his thumb at the door. “You can go tell her what Snape did.”

“No,” James says forcefully. He didn’t mention to Madam Pomfrey what happened last night, despite her questioning and raised eyebrows; he doesn’t want to give the Slytherins the satisfaction of thinking they’d got to him. He’s definitely not going running to McGonagall. He straightens up, flashes his brightest grin. “I’m never better. Let’s just forget it, yeah? So. Timetables?”

“Here,” Remus says, handing Sirius and James theirs.

It isn’t a bad first day at all, really, James thinks as he quickly scans his. Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology in the morning, and then Divination, followed by double Charms in the afternoon.

“Could be worse,” James says, peering at his friends’ schedules. Sirius has Muggle Studies where he has Divination, and Remus has Arithmancy; Peter’s timetable is identical to James’. “No History of Magic, at least.”

“Outside most of the morning, too,” Sirius comments cheerfully, hitching his bag over his shoulder and leading the way to their first class. “I wonder what types of creatures we’ll be dealing with, eh, boys? Hatching dragons, subduing chimaeras and all that. Can’t wait.”

“Did you even read the Care of Magical Creatures syllabus?” Remus asks, the hint of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Peter’s eyes go round; he’s so busy gawping at Sirius that he nearly walks straight into a stone pillar. Sirius just grins in response, and James’ spirits lift considerably, now that he’s back with his mates. He can feel the shame of last night bouncing off him like an Impervius Charm has been placed on him. As they stroll across the grounds, the sun is breaking through the clouds, and James finally feels ready to tackle the year.

::

For their first two years at Hogwarts, Professor Kettleburn had been a source of awe and speculation for James and Sirius. They’d see him at breakfast sometimes, his mousy-brown hair singed at the tips, a few fingers bandaged and blistered, limping on crutches and a few times with an eye-patch or balaclava concealing his face. And so, reasonably enough, James had supposed that they’d be doing something exciting in their first ever Care of Magical Creatures lesson. Something death-defying, even; he’d let his imagination wander, spurred on by Sirius’ like-mindedness, and envisioned himself tackling the most dangerous creatures. His fellows would cheer. A few girls would swoon, naturally. Snivellus would get eaten by a manticore.

Considering how his year was panning out so far, then, he should have seen it coming when Professor Kettleburn handed out dragon-hide gloves and large goggles, and announced they would be searching the edges of the forest for bundimun.

“This is stupid,” James grumbles after twenty minutes of overturning logs and rocks, which is neither exciting nor death-defying in the slightest. “Since when is fungus a creature?”

“Well, technically,” Peter begins, but is silenced with a look.

“Think I’ve found some,” Remus calls. He’s crouched by a moss-covered log, the tip of his wand illuminating what is most certainly bundimun. The fungus wobbles ominously and blinks its eyes at them all as they crowd around.

“Nice one, Moony,” Sirius says, squatting next to Remus and drawing his own wand out of his robes. “Kettleburn said it spits out acid - shall we aim some at Snivellus?”

He shoots a dark look at where Snape is stood a few feet away, partially obscured by the trees, with Mulciber. His large nose is buried in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, and Mulciber is gazing around at the forest, boredom writ large across his features, as though he considers the whole process of school beneath him.

“I wouldn’t,” Remus says quietly. He adjusts his goggles over his eyes and gives Sirius a stern look. “You need your goggles on.”

Sirius laughs, his own goggles around his neck. “You look like a bug.”

“Well, thanks for that helpful input. Let’s just get it in the tube. Here, move out the way -”

“Quit shoving me, I’m only having a look -”

“You’re being stupid, stop poking at it like that -”

“AGHH!”

Sirius reels back, his hands flying up to cover his face. Professor Kettleburn hurries over, surprisingly quick for a man leaning on a cane for support, and tuts disapprovingly over the laughter of the Slytherins.

“Mr Black, I did say goggles on! Let me have a look - ah, it’s not so bad. You’ll keep the eye. Potter, take him to the Hospital Wing, if you please.”

“Serves him right, stupid prat,” James hears a Slytherin say as they walk past, and he clenches his hand to keep himself from going for his wand. Thankfully Sirius ignores them too. He’s taken his hand down from his eye now, and James sees the skin around his eye has gone a nasty purple colour and has started to peel already, the whites of his eyes now red.

Madam Pomfrey’s eyes go wide when she sees who exactly has just walked through the door. “Mr Potter, what now!”

“Not me,” James says shortly. “Sirius annoyed some bundimun.”

Madam Pomfrey sighs in a world-weary sort of way. “Of course he did. Take your usual seat, boys.”

::

In the end they’re ten minutes late for Herbology, earning them a reproving look from Professor Sprout, but she doesn’t take away points, either because of the state of Sirius’ eye or because the paste Madam Pomfrey applied to it smells so strongly of rotting fish that she doesn’t want to get close enough to them to tell them off.

Remus gives Sirius a worried look as they’re trimming the leaves of their dittany, and flicks a scrap of parchment over to their bench when Professor Sprout’s back is turned.

Does it hurt?

Sirius gives him an incredulous look, and scribbles back: I got acid in my eye, Moony. Of course it hurts.

Are you mad at me?

Sirius hesitates, meeting Remus’ gaze across the greenhouse. He’s got what Sirius calls his ‘wibble face’ on, when his mouth goes all quivery and he looks like he’s thinking too much about consequences and repercussions and feelings. Big pansy.

Eventually, he writes: Nah. You were right. I should have had my goggles on.

Remus reads it, his lips quirking upwards, and then turns back to what he was doing. Sirius picks up his pruning shears, about to tackle his own plant, when another note lands in front of him, bearing Peter’s tell-tale handwriting, like his quill vomited ink all over the parchment and then rolled around in it.

You really stink!

Thanks, Pete.

Got a surprise for you though.

I hope it’s not a kiss, because I really feel much better.

You wish, fish-face. Look!!

Sirius glances at Professor Sprout, who is now walking around checking up on everyone, and then whirls around to look at Peter two benches behind him. Peter holds up a tube containing something green and - unless Sirius is much mistaken - that appears to be glaring its many eyes in his direction. A grin splits Peter’s face; he mouths, “Payback!”, and the tube of bundimun disappears into his robes once more as Professor Sprout approaches.

Sirius bites back a laugh. Sometimes, Peter can be unexpectedly sneaky, and he thinks it’s nothing short of brilliant.

::

“What are you even going to do with it?” Remus asks at dinner, the topic at hand the bundimun currently stowed away in Sirius’ trunk in their dormitory. “Slip it into Snape’s breakfast?”

“Now there’s a thought,” Sirius says, considering. “Although it lacks finesse. Keep the ideas flowing though.”

“Finesse? You’re talking about squirting someone with acid from a fungus. I hardly think finesse comes into it.”

“And that kind of attitude is exactly why we -” Sirius waves a lazy hand between himself and James, “- are the masterminds of these operations.”

“Hey!” Peter says indignantly. “I’m the one that stole the thing!”

Sirius leans across the table, patting Peter on the cheek. “Of course, dear. And job well done too. Now we just need to think what to do with it. Think, men! This can’t be like the prank with the exploding cauldrons.”

“I liked the exploding cauldrons,” James says, looking up from his mashed potato in some surprise. “I thought you did too.”

“Well, yeah, but it was over too quickly. We’ve become far too used to instant gratification -”

Peter sniggers. “Is that what you call it?”

Sirius carries on, loftily, as though he hadn’t heard. “Now is the time for thinking of the long term implications. Explosions and Slytherins burning their eyebrows off is very well and good for a quick fix, but we’re in our third year now. Seasoned pranksters. We need to be the ones to whom future generations look up to. We need to strive to be better, for their sakes.”

“You are mental,” Remus murmurs. “Absolutely deranged.”

“Remus, it will pain me to remove you from the group, but for the good of all that is holy and pranking, I will do it. Honestly I have to wonder about your commitment to the cause at times.”

“I’m committed!” Peter says, his forehead wrinkled in concentration. “Er. How about we put it in his pants? Could burn his todger right off.”

Sirius sets his knife and fork down, his face pale. “Peter,” he says seriously. “This is the second time today I have had that horrifying image put into my head. The next time it happens, I will not be held accountable for my actions. Now, can we all please stop contemplating Snape’s bits and think of a what to do with this bloody fungus, or are you all as hopeless as Lupin here?”

“Hey,” Remus says irritably. “I don’t see you coming up with any great ideas.”

“I’m trying to motivate you all.”

“Doing a pretty piss-poor job, mate,” James points out.

“It’s hard work,” Sirius mutters, glaring. “Especially when my comrades-in-arms are being so utterly hopeless.”

“For goodness sake, just put the bloody thing in the Slytherin common room and wait for it to multiply,” Remus says exasperatedly. “That’ll take time, lull them into a false sense of security, and pretty soon they won’t be able to sit down without getting acid burns somewhere unpleasant.” There’s a beat of silence in which Sirius, James and Peter all blink at him. Remus shifts uncomfortably. “What?” he asks, somewhat defensive under their stares. “You asked for long-term.”

Sirius grins. “I love that you get strategic when you’re angry.”

“Oh, piss off,” Remus mumbles, reaching for his goblet, but Sirius is pretty sure he catches the hint of a smile before Remus takes a drink.

::

Remus makes them wait nearly three whole weeks, because Remus is surprisingly dedicated at times about these things, and can plan a prank as well as he can plan his homework schedule. Sirius admires the dedication, the craftsmanship of waiting for the perfect moment, even though as a rule Sirius and James aren’t used to waiting at all. Every morning Sirius sees the tube of bundimun as he’s rifling around for a pair of socks, a quill, a chocolate frog - and he’ll look up at Remus hopefully, but before he can open his mouth, Remus will shake his head, and Sirius will huff and James will sigh and Peter will frown.

“I don’t see why we have to wait for Remus’ say-so,” Peter grumbles one morning when Remus is in the bathroom. “After all, I’m the one who -”

“Yes, Peter, you’re the one who took it,” James cuts across him. “We know you’re the one who took it, all right? If you could just shut up about it for five seconds, maybe you’d see that Remus is obviously waiting for a reason.”

Peter’s ears turn pink at the tips, and he busies himself with tying his shoelaces.

It’s a soggy sort of morning three days later when Remus says, casually over their breakfasts, “I think tonight is the night.”

“The night?” Sirius says, trying to keep his voice calm, although he swaps an excited look with James. “The night?”

Remus nods. “I’ve heard Slughorn is holding some sort of dinner party, so a lot of the older years will be out. They’ve also booked the Quidditch pitch for practice, so that’s the team gone. Plus, frankly, I could do with the distraction myself.”

His gaze drops down to his fried egg, and Sirius remembers its four days before the full moon, and almost instantly feels like a shit friend. It’s the first one since being back at school, and during the summer he’d forgotten to keep track. He glances again at James, who is wearing a similarly uncomfortably expression that tells Sirius that he forgot too.

“Remus,” James says. “We can wait -”

“No,” Remus says, voice unexpectedly rough. He seems to give himself a shake, clears his throat. “Tonight is the best chance we have of their common room being reasonably quiet. Ready to get your cloak out, James?”

James perks up a bit, his shoulders straightening. Sirius can see he’s gone into business-mode, his eyes gleaming behind his glasses. “You know me, Moony. Born ready.”

James is as good as his word, and spends most of lunch hanging around the dungeons under the cloak, waiting for a Slytherin to follow. Sirius is beginning to think he’s been unsuccessful - or even worse, found out - when James finally appears at their table, sliding into the space next to Remus and whispering, disdain dripping from every word, “Purity, can you believe it? What sort of password is that? I wonder if Dumbledore knows about this.”

Sirius looks across the Great Hall to the Slytherin table, his lip curling in disgust. He feels his resolve for what they’re planning to do strengthen considerably.

They employ the use of Peter and his surprisingly light fingers again in Herbology. Sirius knocks a mandrake pot off of one of the shelves on his way by, and in the midst of all the screaming and yelling (”Sorry, Professor, didn’t see it there!”) Peter scrambles to Professor Sprout’s bench, securing a packet of Magi-Gro plant feeder.

“Will it work on bundimun?” Peter asks curiously, as they’re killing time that evening in the common room. “I mean, it’s not a plant plant is it - what if it doesn’t work?”

“Pete, focus less on what if it doesn’t,” Sirius advises, grinning hugely. “And imagine what if it does.”

It’s nearing ten o’clock when Remus nods; James packs away his gobstones set, taking out his Invisibility Cloak from his pocket, and Sirius heads upstairs to retrieve the bundimun from his drawer. It glares at him as usual, its many eyes indignant, and he feels a small pang of regret. He’s grown oddly attached to the fungus - he’s sure it recognises him from when it spat acid at him. “Good times,” Sirius murmurs, patting the tube absently, and then stows it into the depths of his pockets.

They get down to the dungeons without encountering Filch or Mrs Norris - who, Sirius is sure, can sense them even when they’re under the clock.

“This way,” James whispers, and they shuffle forward along the darkened hallway, past the Potions classroom. The walls down here are stone, cold and unfriendly, and they stop abruptly just after an extinguished lantern. “Lumos,” James mutters, lifting his wand slightly to cast light upon the stone wall. It looks much like the rest of the wall, but James is frowning in concentration, obviously searching for something familiar.

How odd, Sirius thinks suddenly, that this is where his family have been calling home for generations, and here he is, a stranger, struggling to find the right entrance.

“This is it,” James says then. “Right, who’s going in?”

Peter blinks at him. "What do you mean?"

“We can’t all go,” James says reasonably. “We need two of us to keep look-out; the other two go in. Remus, this is your baby, I think you should do the honours.”

Remus smiles, his eyes dark in the half-light. Before anyone else can say anything, Sirius blurts out, “Me! I want to go too. I mean, I just - I want to see what’s in there.”

James nods in understanding; Peter looks like he’s about to object, but then James has whipped the cloak off of the two of them, leaving Sirius and Remus underneath.

“The signal to get the hell out will be one of us dropping a Blaster Pellet, all right? I’ll - I don’t know - I’ll tell any Slytherins we see that we’re trying to gatecrash Slughorn’s party and got lost or something. Then we’ll run for it and meet you back at Gryffindor Tower.”

Sirius stands in front of the stone wall, unsure exactly where he should be looking, or if the wall can even tell where he is anyway. He takes a breath, and says, “Purity!” with as much conviction as he can. There’s a rumbling sound as the wall slides sideways, revealing a passageway. Remus lights his own wand, and then they’re in.

“Don’t think much of the decor,” Sirius mumbles as they walk along, elbows knocking into each other because even though it’s roomier with just the two of them under the cloak, Sirius can’t help but find himself keeping close to Remus as they walk along the dark, deserted passageway.

“Obviously wasn’t Salazar’s strong point,” Remus says dryly.

The passageway opens up to a room decorated largely in green. Among the half-melted candles heavily dripping wax, there are what are unmistakably skulls dotted here and there on the various shelves, and Sirius snorts in derision, unable to keep himself from rolling his eyes.

Obviously,” he says. “Someone should tell them skulls aren’t in this year.”

“At least it’s empty,” Remus whispers.

“Poor ickle Slytherins, unable to stay up past bedtime. Must be tiring, being gits all day long.”

His eyes adjusting to the gloom, Sirius glances around. There’s a tapestry along half of the back wall, not unlike the one at Grimmauld Place, but instead of a family tree, it depicts a gory battle of some kind. There’s definitely some poor bloke getting beheaded, again and again - Sirius finds it oddly fascinating, and tears his gaze away at last from the endless loop of decapitiation to take in the dark wooden furniture; the coffee table with an intricately carved legs in the shape of serpents; the heavy-looking cabinets full of dusty books and vials of various liquids. There’s a poster up advertising Quidditch practise sessions, and the fact the team need a new Seeker, and above the fireplace hangs a portrait of Salazar Slytherin himself, dressed in dark green robes with a high collar buttoned up to his throat, an imperious look on his face.

“Maybe it looks more cheerful in the day,” Remus says, reading Sirius’ mind. “You know, with people. And a fire.”

“To ward off the evil spirits?” Sirius mutters; his eyes find another passageway to the back of the room. “Hey, reckon they’re the dormitories?”

Remus shrugs. “Dunno, could be. I’m not keen to go snooping to be honest.”

“No, course not,” Sirius says, but he can’t help but wonder. Is that where his brother is right now, sleeping peacefully? Did he read the sign for a new Seeker, and try out? Sirius looks at the leather sofas, wondering which seat Regulus favours, where he goes to relax after a long day —

“Sirius? I said, do you have the bundimun?”

Sirius turns, with some difficulty under the cloak, and sees Remus looking at him in concern.

“You all right?”

“Yeah, of course.” Sirius takes out the tube. “Right - er - where are we putting it?”

Remus takes a cursory look around. “Coffee table?” he suggests. “It’s quite central; it’ll get a lot of people near it. If we put it underneath, maybe with a Sticking Charm, they won’t even see it unless they’re lying on the floor looking for it.”

“Good idea,” Sirius says fervently, glad to have an idea to latch on to.

“Quite good conditions in here, really. Bundimun like dank places; under logs and rocks and so on, you know. It’ll thrive quite nicely in here even without the Magi-Gro.”

Sirius shakes his head. “You even make a prank into an opportunity for education. It’s a talent you have there, Moony, honestly.”

“I will come when you least expect it, Sirius Black, and I will make you learn things,” Remus says solemnly.

He crouches down to the coffee table, peering underneath. The cloak slips a bit off Sirius’ head; he hastily bends down as well, pointing the tip of his wand into the tube, right at the bundimun.

Immobulus,” he whispers, and tips the frozen fungus safely into the palm of his hand. Remus applies the Sticking Charm, Sirius sprinkles on the Magi-Gro, and it’s Remus’ idea to suddenly cast engorgio on it as well, making it swell to twice its size, although not big enough to be seen when standing up.

“Brilliant,” Sirius says after they’ve finished, and the bundimun is wobbling dangerously back and forth underneath the table, its mobility restored. “They’ll be infested within the fortnight.”

“More like a week,” Remus says, looking surprisingly devious.

Sirius ruffles his hair and grins. “I’m thinking of downgrading James,” he says, an arm around Remus’ neck, a hand brushing his shoulder. “You can be my second-in-command. Think we make a pretty good team, Moony.”

An unreadable expression flickers in Remus’ eyes, although maybe it’s just the light. He smiles; a true, full smile that stretches his scars slightly but is no less wonderful - or maybe its more so - because of its rarity. It occurs to Sirius how little he sees that smile, and what a shame that is.

“Do you know what,” Remus says. “I reckon we do.”

::

It happens in stages, and it’s wonderful to behold.

The morning after, nothing, and James and Peter swap sceptical looks as if they’re sure that Remus and Sirius must be mistaken as to how well the prank was executed.

“Trust us,” is all Remus says, and the next day as they’re lining up for Potions a fourth year Slytherin walks past, grumbling to a friend, “- holes in the bottom of my brand new robes, and I’ve no idea how they got there - ten galleons they cost me, tailor made; I was going to wear them to the first Hogsmeade weekend, and now they’re ruined!”

Sirius peeks into the Hospital Wing that evening; a fair few of the beds are taken up by Slytherins, and Madam Pomfrey is bustling around, muttering, “I don’t know, I know you lot like your potion experiments, but you should really know better than to mix ingredients - what have you all been playing at; you’ll all set yourselves on fire at this rate!” and she doesn’t listen one bit to their insisting that they haven’t been messing about with potions, that they don’t know how they’ve been getting burnt.

It gets better the next day, as more and more Slytherins appear in the Great Hall with varying burns and some covered in the same foul-smelling paste that Sirius had. James nearly coughs up a lung trying not to laugh when Snape approaches Lily Evans at dinner, half his face and down his arm lathered in the stuff, and Evans says, apologetically but still holding her nose, “I’m sorry Sev but can we study another night, maybe when you’ve washed that stuff off?” and Dorcas Meadowes nearly gags over her roast chicken until Snape stomps off, red-faced and causing students to practically run away from him.

It lasts four days in total, until Sirius hears from somebody that Slughorn had finally decided to go and investigate what exactly was causing his students to erupt in boils and peel horribly, and had found the largest infestation of bundimun he’d ever seen.

“They reckon a group of Fourth Years were mucking about, trying to use its acid for potion ingredients or something; you know they’re into some pretty dangerous stuff,” a Ravenclaw says, in line for Charms; people are still talking about it a day later. Sirius exchanges gleeful looks with Peter and James (it’s the day after the full moon, and Remus is still in the Hospital Wing) at the news that the Slytherins actually had points docked, because, as the Ravenclaw said, “it had to be a Slytherin who got it in, who else can get in the common room?”

Sirius skips lunch, and races to the Hospital Wing after Charms, walking jauntily past some disgusting-smelling Slytherins (one which, Sirius is sure, is Walden Macnair underneath all the paste and burns) and to Remus’ curtained-off bed at the end.

“Hey,” he says, seeing Remus is awake. “How are you feeling?”

“Not too bad this time,” Remus says, although his voice is weak. “I heard Madam Pomfrey lecturing those lot -” he jerks his chin lightly in the direction of the Slytherins, “- for being idiots earlier, and that made me feel a whole lot better.”

Sirius sits on the end of the bed, by Remus’ legs. True enough, Remus doesn’t look as bad as he has done this time - a few scratches on his arms, a bandaged ear, but no new scars at least, and that’s something. He knows Remus won’t talk about the night, so instead Sirius recounts the entire conversation he heard, how many more Slytherin’s he’d seen with burnt robes, how long it had taken Slughorn to get rid of the infestation, how one rumour had it that the bundimun had even been found in the showers.

“Your idea was amazing,” Sirius says earnestly. “Couldn’t have planned it better myself. Moony, they got points taken off! For being burnt and made to smell like fish!”

Remus closes his eyes, smiling faintly. “Well, I think that’s mischief most definitely managed, wouldn’t you?”

Sirius laughs. "Yeah. Yeah, I reckon so."

Chapter Text

November 1973.

Over the noise of fourteen cauldrons bubbling, hissing and boiling, Professor Slughorn’s voice booms out, “Time’s up, ladies and gentlemen! Please bring your Vigilance Draughts to me for marking!”

Lily pushes her hair back from where it has plastered itself to her forehead. Waving her other hand through the cloudy vapour over her own cauldron, she sees with relief that her potion has turned the desired shade of orange Slughorn had shown them in his demonstration at the start of the double lesson. It’s been a long old day; she’s sweaty, hot, and already thinking longingly of perhaps skipping dinner and going back to Gryffindor Tower for a shower and an early night.

There’s a flurry of movement as her classmates all hurry to bottle their potions and leave. As the Gryffindors and Slytherins Vanish the contents of their cauldrons, lifting the fog, the dungeons come into focus and Lily sees that although the majority of her peers are hurriedly shoving their vials at Slughorn and making hasty exits, there is one person at the back who hasn’t moved an inch.

Severus is bent low over his Potions textbook, scribbling furiously with his quill, his cauldron still simmering away beside him. Unlike Lily’s own work surface, which is littered with excess crushed beetles and an overturned bottle of castor oil, Severus’ table is completely clean and tidy. He’s immersed in whatever it is he’s writing, and doesn’t look up until she’s right beside him, her shadow falling across the notes he’s making in the margins of his book.

“No prizes for guessing how easy you found that one, then,” she says, nodding to his cauldron which is full of a potion the exact colour and consistency they have been aiming for.

He straightens up, dark eyes sweeping down to her own bottle of Vigilance Draught which is clutched in her hand. “I could say the same for you.”

“Yeah, but then I didn’t have the luxury of time to stop and make notes,” she says with a laugh, trying to get a peek at his textbook. “What’s this, Handy Potion Hints from Severus Snape?”

“Something like that,” he says, shutting the book and shoving it in his bag.

They join the dwindling line to Slughorn’s desk, where Mulciber is handing over his potion and, unless Lily is seeing things, a box covered in silver wrapping.

“Joseph,” Slughorn says, wagging his finger admonishingly, although the effect is ruined somewhat by the pleased smile on his face. “Not trying to bribe the teacher, I hope!”

“Of course not, sir,” Mulciber says easily. “I just remembered my father saying you had a fondness for caramels.”

“Oh, as if,” Lily murmurs in Severus’ ear, eyeing Mulciber with great dislike. “Trying to bribe Slughorn is exactly what he’s trying to do. Look at his potion - it’s not even orange, that’s practically pink! And I bet Mulciber still walks away with an E, at least.”

“Well,” Severus says, a bit snappishly, “maybe the old Slug shouldn’t let himself be so easily bought.”

They move forward, and Slughorn beams at Lily as she sets her vial down in front of him. “Ah, Miss Evans! Looks like another perfect potion - and Mr Snape too, of course! I should stop being surprised at this point. You two never fail to impress an old man.”

“Perhaps you ought to test the potion before we collapse under the weight of your praise, Professor,” Severus says dryly. “After all, looks can be deceiving.”

“Sev,” Lily says, but Slughorn laughs.

“Quite right, m’boy, quite right indeed! Modest and talented - the pair of you. Both of you are so similar, Miss Evans, does it ever make you wonder if perhaps you’d have been better placed in Slytherin, hm?”

“No, sir,” Lily replies sweetly. “Mostly it just makes me wonder if perhaps Severus should have been a Gryffindor.”

Severus flushes and scowls at her. Slughorn laughs again, clapping Severus on one bony shoulder so that he nearly falls into the desk. “I’d be careful if I were you, Severus! Don’t let her steal my best potion-maker away from me now!”

Slughorn is still laughing as they pack away their things and leave the classroom. They’re barely three steps away from the door when Mulciber appears from around the corner, making Lily jump and grip Severus at the elbow. He has a habit of appearing silently, does Mulciber, and it does nothing to put Lily at ease around him, no matter how much Sev protests he’s ‘all right really’. He would be handsome, Lily supposes, with his dark blonde hair and straight nose and full lips, but for the way his blue eyes are a bit too cold, and Lily has the uncomfortable feeling that he’s always watching her.

“There you are,” Mulciber says to Severus, although his gaze is lingering on Lily’s hand. “Are you coming to dinner, or what?”

“I’ll be along in a bit,” Severus says indifferently.

Mulciber’s lip curls. He looks Lily dead in the eye, and Lily thinks, suddenly, an icy feeling in her stomach, he hates you.

“Suit yourself,” Mulciber says, and stalks off down the gloomy corridor.

Lily can feel the tightness in Severus arm under her fingers, as though he’s bracing himself for her commentary, but she holds her tongue. All of their arguments lately seem to stem from their friends, about who hangs around with whom, and she’s sick and tired of it all. Instead of letting go of Severus, she links her arm more securely in his, and feels him relax.

They walk to the Great Hall together, Lily relishing the feel of her best friend solid and there beside her, without any hurt looks from him or her on the defensive. It’s easy this way, just the two of them, without bringing anyone else into it. Lily wishes it could be like this always, but with every step closer to the Great Hall Lily knows that soon they’ll go their separate ways, him to his friends and her to hers, and she hates that it’s like this, that she has to spend her time with him in the hallways between lessons or before lunch, and the only time he’s truly her Sev is over the summer.

Sometimes she wishes they were nine-years-old again.

In the entrance hall they break apart. Severus looks oddly fidgety, pulling on the tattered sleeve of his robe. “It’s the first Hogsmeade weekend tomorrow,” he says hesitantly. “So. I know I asked in a letter over summer, but you never replied, so I wasn’t sure if - well, if -”

“If we’re going together?” Lily asks. “Of course we’re going together, Sev!”

Severus smiles then, and stands a bit taller. “Great. I’ll meet you here then. We can walk down together.”

“You sure you don’t just want to meet in the village somewhere?”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Severus says. “I’ll be waiting here for you.”

Lily thinks of what her friends will say, that she’s spending the first weekend out of school without them; she imagines the look on Sev’s friends faces when they realise who he’s waiting for. She’s made jokes before, about them being a bit like Romeo and Juliet, from enemy houses and all that, but Severus had just blinked at her and Lily remembered that his home had probably not been very full of Shakespeare. Plus, she’d thought later, Romeo and Juliet was perhaps not the most cheerful analogy of their friendship. She, at least, is aiming for something with a bit more of a happy ending.

She pushes the thoughts of Mary and Dorcas and stupid bloody Mulciber to the back of her mind. Tomorrow is going to be a proper day of just her and Sev, and she’ll be damned if she’s going to let anyone ruin it for her.

::

Severus is stood in the exact same spot as yesterday when Lily arrives in the entrance hall, ready for their Hogsmeade visit. Dressed in his school robes and a dull grey scarf hung loosely around his neck, he waves Lily over to him.

“Are you sure you’re wearing enough layers?” he asks with a smirk.

Lily looks down at herself; she’s wearing a coat that is concealing her vest, t-shirt and jumper her grandma knitted for her last year, her Gryffindor scarf, jeans and thick hiking boots.

“It’s cold outside!” she says defensively, and he rolls his eyes as she begins fussing with his scarf, wrapping it around his neck so that it actually might to its job of protecting him from the elements, instead of just hanging there like a limp noose. “Honestly, sometimes I wonder what would happen to you if I weren’t around to take care of you.”

Professor McGonagall is at the gates, checking permission slips; Lily catches a glimpse of Sev’s as he hands it over, his mother’s jerky scrawl not even keeping on the intended dotted line, as if she’d rushed the whole thing.

A slight snow flurry begins as they enter the village, and Lily is glad of her choice of clothing, no matter what Severus says. Despite the chill, the snow is welcome in Lily’s book: Hogsmeade looks beautiful, almost stereotypically picturesque with its white tipped roofs and warm looking, glow filled windows.

They pass by Zonko’s easily enough, but are both drawn to Honeydukes, where Lily spends probably more than she should on ice mice and mint cremes. In Scrivenshaft’s, where it is considerably less crowded, Severus stares longingly at an Augurey quill, brushing his fingertips over the greenish black feather tip, before noting the price tag and hastily turning his attention to something else.

Severus’ nose is turning pink and Lily can’t feel her cheeks by the time they arrive in The Three Broomsticks. Lily marches over to a spot by the fire, narrowly beating a Hufflepuff to the spot, who slinks away with a scowl.

“You should try out for Quidditch with speed like that,” Severus comments, approaching at a far more leisurely pace.

Lily grins and replies, “No thanks. Quidditch is a waste of time, if you ask me, and most of the players are idiots,” which makes a small smile appear on Severus’ face as he seats himself opposite her at the small table.

“Don’t let Potter hear you say that; you’d break his heart and no doubt bruise that ego of his.”

“James Potter’s heart is none of my concern, and his ego is certainly big enough to survive a few dents,” Lily says, wrinkling her nose, and Severus’ smile twitches upwards again. “Anyway,” Lily continues, glancing at a menu. “I think I’ll try the Butterbeer - I’ve heard it’s good stuff.”

She starts to rise from her chair, but Severus stands up first, holding a hand out to indicate she stay sitting. “I’ll get this.”

“Sev, there’s no need -”

“I can buy you a drink, Lily,” Severus insists, and Lily swallows her objections. She knows Sev can be touchy with money, so she just nods and watches as he approaches the bar.

He’s been gone less than a minute when the door to the pub opens, bringing with it an icy gust of wind and - even less welcome - Joseph Mulciber and Jarvis Avery. Lily audibly groans as they spot Severus by the bar almost instantly, making a bee-line for him. Mulciber slaps him on the back, Avery grips his hand and Sev suddenly looks, ridiculously, like a rabbit caught in headlights. His shoulders are up again, as if he’s trying to disappear in on himself, and when the woman behind the bar hands over two drinks, Mulciber must put two and two together. He scans the busy pub and finds what he’s looking for at once; after all, Lily is not exactly inconspicuous with her Muggle clothes and vivid hair.

Mulciber’s eyes narrow; he says something to Severus that causes a frown to appear on his face. Sev says something back, his mouth not opening much and the fingers clutched around the mugs of Butterbeer white at the knuckles, but Mulciber laughs and, to Lily’s horror, he and Avery accompany Severus back to their table.

“Good afternoon,” Avery says. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m -”

“Avery, yeah, I know who you are,” Lily says, practically snatching the mug from Severus without looking at him. She places both her hands around it just to stop them shaking; she’s so angry, that he’s let them come over, that he can’t just consider her for once. Lily can tell he’s looking at her, has probably got on his stupid apologetic face, but she can’t look at him now, so that leaves her with staring up at Avery’s smug little expression instead.

“And you’re Lily Evans,” he says, eyes gleaming.

“I know I am.”

Avery merely laughs. “Feisty. Calm down, love, I’m only trying to be pleasant. You’re quite famous in Slytherin, you see. Slughorn’s pet Gryffindor and a pal of Severus’ here. It is a curiosity.”

“I didn’t think the concept of friendship was a difficult one to grasp,” Lily says coolly.

“She’s got fire, Severus, I’ll give you that,” Avery says softly. “I thought your choice of associations would be a bit more - savoury, but then I can see why you’d keep this one around.”

Severus mutters, “Leave it out, Jarvis,” his voice jerky, staring at the table.

“I don’t know, she’s a bit stuck-up for my tastes,” Mulciber puts in, ignoring Sev and looking Lily up and down with disdain. “Thinks she’s better than us just because she’s got Slughorn eating out of the palm of her hand, the little tart.”

“What?” Lily says, dazed, everything suddenly off-kilter. The noise in the pub seems to fade into a meaningless drone, buzzing in her ear, and she feels her face flush as Avery laughs, showing his teeth. She looks at Severus then, and sees his lips have gone very thin. He still doesn’t look at her, but turns his head slowly to look at his friends. His friends. Lily feels sick.

“That’s unacceptable,” Severus says, sounding very far away to Lily. “Lily’s as good as the next person at Potions. Slughorn’s an old lech, everyone knows it.”

“Quite right,” Avery says, still smiling pleasantly. “Joseph gets carried away. My apologies, Miss Evans. I merely wanted to make your acquaintance at long last. Come on, Joseph. I somehow don’t think our presence is welcome here.”

“Lily,” Severus starts, as soon as they’re out of earshot.

He reaches for her hand under the table but she snatches it away.

“They’re vile,” she whispers, her voice croaky, her throat dry. “Absolutely - disgusting - I can’t believe they’re your friends, Sev!”

“They were out of order,” Severus says. “I know. They’re just twats. They were just testing you.”

“Testing me?” Lily laughs, a little hysterical laugh bubbling out of her and causing several people nearby to look. “Sev, they called me a tart, and you did nothing!”

“I said they were out of order,” Severus says stiffly. “What did you want me to do, fight them?”

“I want you to respect me! If you let them walk all over me, and you’re supposed to be my friend -”

“I am your friend! Lily, I do respect you. They’re just jealous; it’s because you’re so good at Potions, better than Avery and he’s a Fifth Year now, and especially with you being -”

“Don’t even say it,” Lily says, voice dangerously quiet. “I swear to God I will tip this drink all over you.”

“Becoming quite a habit,” Severus says sullenly, slouching back in his chair and scowling at the ceiling.

“It’s not funny, Sev.”

“Never said it was.”

“It’s not right, what they said.”

“I know that! I didn’t say it, did I? I didn’t agree, or egg them on, or anything! I actually defended you. I am not a bully.”

Lily sighs. “I know you’re not. All right. I - I know it wasn’t you. I’m just a bit shaken, that’s all. We’re three hours out of school and already I’m being called names, and - I just - God, is this how it is, on the outside?”

Lily can’t pretend she hasn’t seen the articles in the paper, hasn’t worked out that the random disappearances are perhaps not quite so random. She looks over at Sev, who is shifting uncomfortably in his chair, and Lily knows he’s utter rubbish with stuff like this.

“You’d be useless in a fight, anyway,” Lily says briskly. “Look at those arms. Noodles, the pair of them.”

Severus looks up at her, and smiles hesitantly. This time, it’s Lily who reaches for his hand, needing something to hold, something reassuring.

He doesn’t answer her question, but Lily doesn’t think she’s quite ready for the answer anyway.

Chapter Text

November 1973.

It’s just after 6am in their dormitory on a drizzly Sunday, the day after their first Hogsmeade visit when Remus decides his friends are inconsiderate gits. It starts with James and Sirius arguing, two days before the full moon, a time when Remus is normally prone to fits of irritability anyway, and it isn’t helped at all by being woken up by James Potter’s brisk, commanding voice so early in the morning.

“Sirius,” James says, his broom over one shoulder, already dressed and in his Quidditch gear. “Wake up! We have a match in two days, we need to train!”

“’M sleeping. Go ‘way.”

“You’re on this team too, you know! The extra practice won’t kill you.”

“Might,” Sirius says, rolling over to face the wall, away from James. “Who wants the risk?”

James glowers, and slams the dormitory door shut on his way out, shaking the room. Sirius yawns and shifts more comfortably on his bed. Peter, Remus suspects, is merely pretending to be asleep, but Remus is wide awake now and so he hauls himself up out of bed. He can feel the tension in his muscles, the rattling in his bones that lets him know that the full moon is never too far away, and he too pauses to throw a glare at Sirius’ sleeping form, annoyed that he can sleep so soundly, so unperturbed by everything, so unaffected.

Irritated by his friends - for waking him, for being able to have Quidditch be one of their primary concerns at this moment in time, for having their stupid little quarrels at such an ungodly hour - Remus wraps himself in his dressing gown and heads down to the common room. He hopes it’ll be empty so early in the morning, but as he settles himself into his favourite, squishiest armchair, a voice says, “Oh. Morning, Remus.”

Lily Evans, in turquoise and white pinstriped pyjamas, her dark red hair sleep-tousled and a book tucked under one arm, clearly had the same idea he did. Remus bites the inside of his cheek to keep from sighing in irritation. After all, it’s not Lily’s fault that it’s nearly the full moon, that it’s a grey, miserable day and his friends have had a fight. In fact, Remus rather likes Lily, although his opportunities to strike up a friendship with her are limited due to her zero tolerance for all things named Black and Potter.

“Do you mind?” Lily asks, gesturing at the empty sofa opposite Remus.

“Of course not,” Remus lies politely.

Lily smiles in thanks, tucking her legs underneath herself as she sits down. She starts to read, and as Remus sits there, it strikes him how painfully awkward he is. If he were James, or Sirius, he wouldn’t be sat wondering what kind of silence this is, or planning how to take his leave without it seeming rude. James and Sirius have no trouble talking to people, even if that person doesn’t particularly want to be spoken to, and even Peter has a habit of just randomly blurting out whatever is in his head at that moment of time, which lacks the charm and finesse of James and Sirius, but at least it’s conversation.

You think too much, a voice in his head says, a voice that sounds remarkably like Sirius.

When he was younger, in primary school, before his mother started teaching him at home, he never had many friends. Before the bite, Remus used to visit his grandmother Howell in Gwent. His grandmother fed Remus the tales of King Arthur and Bran the Blessed before she tucked him into bed at night. She told him to be mindful the coblynau whenever he ventured by the quarries and mines, and warned him never to wander too far from the main roads, in case the gwyllgi found him. In spite of this, or maybe because of her suspicious nature, Eilian Howell never found out that her daughter had married a wizard, that her grandson could, from an early age, make his toys dance across his room and make his brussel sprouts disappear from his plate without having to eat them.

“She wouldn’t understand,” Hope said one day, when Remus asked why his father was never allowed his wand out at grandmother’s house. And so Remus had his first secret to keep.

It wasn’t so bad. Remus was content to be a perfectly normal little boy as his grandmother hung washing out in the back garden, talking in her singsong accent to Mrs Next Door over the low brick wall separating the gardens. Sometimes, Remus would play with Mrs Next Door’s daughter, a pigtailed girl called Agatha who laughed at his attempts to speak Welsh and built dens with him in the woods, and Remus had his first friend.

But that was before the bite.

After, after the event that changed everything, that tore through Remus’ childhood like the teeth of a monster at his skin, the truth about Lyall had come out, and the terrible truth about what had happened to Remus followed after, and the visits to Gwent stopped, and he never saw Agatha again.

“It’s not your fault,” Lyall would say, over and over. It became the refrain of Remus’ small life.

It’s not your fault, at the first Christmas he failed to get even a card from his grandmother. It’s not your fault, when he overheard his parents arguing and his mum found him crouched on the top of the stairs. It’s not your fault, when his eighth birthday party consisted of just the three of them, because Remus was never any good at keeping friends; he was always wary, mindful of the fact he had to get his lies in order, had to be quick with excuses and reasons, had to always be one step ahead of the inevitable questions and sometimes he wasn’t quick enough and it was tiring.

It was never Remus’ fault, but it didn’t make it any better.

Remus sighs loudly at the flood of memories, more loudly than he had intended, and feels heat on his neck as Lily looks up at him curiously.

“Are you okay?”

“Oh. Um. Yes, sorry. Sorry - just tired, that’s all. James and Sirius were having a bit of a - a tiff, this morning. Woke me up,” he explains.

“Lover’s quarrel?” Lily asks, eyebrows raised, and Remus laughs hesitantly.

“Something like that, I suppose. James went to train early for the match - against Ravenclaw, you know. On Tuesday. Sirius didn’t want to go.”

Lily snorts, her eyes flicking back down to her book. “Doesn’t surprise me. Black strikes me as the type not to have to try very much anyway.”

“Yeah,” Remus says, wondering vaguely if this is breaking some sort of rule of friendship he’s unfamiliar with, talking about his mates with someone who so strongly dislikes them. “That’s kind of accurate, actually.”

“So they had this tiff, and yet you’re the one out here before the sun has even risen, looking impossibly moody. Doesn’t sound right to me. Want to talk about it?” Lily offers, sliding a bookmark between the pages and setting her book to one side.

“Not much to talk about,” Remus says, shifting uncomfortably under her sharp green gaze. She’s got one hand cupped under her chin, her head tilted to one side, and Remus wishes for a second that they were friends, that he could talk to her about why he’s in such a mood. “Erm. Just in a grump.”

“What do you do when you’re in a grump?” Lily asks, smiling faintly.

Remus considers. Go into the Shrieking Shack, transform into a horrible monster and take it out on the walls doesn’t seem an appropriate answer here.

“Read, mostly. Go somewhere quiet. Try to avoid my friends.”

Lily laughs outright at this, and Remus feels a twinge that might be guilt. He’s fairly sure this is breaking the friendship rule, that Sirius would have something to say about this, but then, as Sirius is fond of reminding him, he over-thinks things.

“That, I can relate to,” Lily tells him, almost ruefully.

Remus wants to ask, against his better judgement, what she means, but before he can gather the courage the door to the boys’ dormitories bangs open and Sirius clatters down the staircase, stopping abruptly at the sight of Lily and Remus.

“Oho, don’t we look cosy!”

Remus rolls his eyes so hard he thinks his eyeballs might pop out of their sockets, because sometimes Sirius has the worst timing in the world. Lily curls her lip and abruptly goes back to her book. Undeterred, Sirius saunters closer and perches himself on the arm of Remus’ chair.

“Wondered where you’d got to,” he says conversationally. “I’m going down to the pitch to find James. Probably should train a bit. Wanna come?”

“No thanks,” Remus says.

Sirius frowns. “Oh, come on. I’ve already got James mad at me - what’s wrong with you?”

“James will be over it by now, you know he will,” Remus replies. “And I’m fine. I just want to be alone.”

“Alone with Evans?” Sirius says, waggling his eyebrows ridiculously, ignoring the noise of contempt from Lily.

“Sirius,” Remus says, in forced calm.

“Remus,” Sirius says innocently, and then sighs at the look on Remus’ face. “All right, it was just a joke. Calm down. Boy, you can tell it’s your time of the month.”

Remus stills, his heart thumping in his chest. He doesn’t dare look up at Lily to see her reaction, until he sees her get to her feet out of the corner of his eye. She approaches Sirius, who actually leans back from her, closer to Remus.

“You are such an insensitive pig!” she says, and Sirius blinks in genuine surprise. “Remus is the only decent one out of the lot of you. He’s the only one who seems to have actual feelings. Time of the month. You’re ridiculous, do you know that?”

“Er,” is all Sirius says, clearly flummoxed. He glances at Remus for help, but Remus isn’t in the mood to be nice.

“I’ll see you another time, Remus,” Lily says to him, sweeping imperiously up the girl’s stairs.

Once she’s gone, Sirius exhales slowly. “Wow. I actually saw my life flash before my eyes. Moony, I thought she was going to kill me!” When Remus doesn’t laugh, Sirius moves off the arm of the chair and stands in front of him, frowning. “Come on, you’re not really mad, are you? I make jokes about your time of the month all the time.”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t,” Remus says irritably. “What if she figures it out, Sirius?”

“She won’t,” Sirius says, unconcerned. “Anyway. Quidditch?”

Remus sighs, wondering if it’s the wolf rearing inside him, or if it’s normal to want to bash your best friend’s head against the wall as often as he does.

::

“All right. Where’s my History of Magic essay?”

Remus tries to keep his voice calm, but it’s the night before the full moon, and he can feel his skin prickling, feel the heat and anger in his veins, and this is the last straw.

Peter, from his bed, looks across at Remus and shrugs. “Dunno, mate. Think Sirius might have borrowed it.”

Remus lets out a long breath, squeezing his eyes shut. Slowly, he counts to five, and then opens them again. Then, quietly, “Where is Sirius?”

Peter looks shifty. “Er -”

“Don’t try and cover for him, Peter. I’m not in the mood.”

“Downstairs with McKinnon, last I saw,” Peter says guiltily.

In the common room, Marlene is playing chess with Frank Longbottom whilst Alice Thorne looks on, offering advice every so often, usually to Marlene.

”Is this a female conspiracy?” Frank grumbles as his bishop gets dragged away by a ruthless pawn. Alice smiles and kisses his ear; he looks a bit happier after that, despite Marlene’s retching noises.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Remus says, edging closer.

“Hullo, Lupin,” Marlene says without looking up. “Have you lost something? You seem to be missing your three appendages.”

“Oh, them,” Remus says darkly. “It’s not them I’ve lost. I think Sirius might have my - erm, that is - I was told Sirius was with you.”

“Sirius?” Marlene says distractedly, still focused on the game. “No, haven’t seen him tonight I’m afraid. Recent history would lead me to suggest you try the Hospital Wing.”

“He was with your brother, Marls,” Alice says, and then, suddenly, “Oh, quick, mind your queen!”

“This is cheating!” Frank scowls. “Remus, want to help me out here?”

But Remus has already tuned out. With McKinnon. What would Sirius - and James, probably, seeing as there’s no sign of him either - want with a First Year? He pauses at the portrait hole, and then it hits him.

“Those idiots,” he all but growls, and clambers through the portrait hole with such force that the Fat Lady tuts disapprovingly behind him.

A few weeks ago, on a midnight wander through the castle while under James’ cloak, the boys had discovered a hidden passageway - or what seemed to be a hidden passageway once, but had now mostly been blocked off, and was too small for any of them to clamber in and explore. James and Sirius had been relentlessly curious about what could be behind there, and Remus thinks he knows exactly what they’d want with a small, skinny, eager-to-please First Year.

He finds them, sure enough, on one of the fourth floor corridors, trying to shove Alfred McKinnon into a hole in the wall behind a tapestry.

“I don’t think he fits, Sirius,” James is saying reasonably.

“Of course he fits. Look how little he is! You’re all right, aren’t you Alfie?”

It is clear to Remus that Alfie is not all right. He looks like he is being eaten by the wall. Still smiling cheerfully though, he gives the thumbs up sign.

“There’s a good lad,” Sirius says, ruffling his hair absently while he considers the situation. “Now, if we just push on his head -”

“ - you’ll probably get him stuck in there forever,” Remus finishes, now stood directly behind them.

James yelps and Sirius jumps about a foot in the air. Alfie, still obscured mostly by wall, is still smiling.

“Hiya, Remus!”

“Why is Alfie in the wall?” Remus asks, wishing he had friends where these sorts of questions were not the norm.

“Where did you come from?” Sirius asks with a scowl. “It’s not on, sneaking up on people like that.”

“And sticking First Years into the walls is perfectly acceptable, is it?” Remus mutters. “Look, don’t mind me, I’m not here to spoil your - your whatever this is. I just want my essay back.”

“Essay?”

“Yes, Sirius. My History of Magic essay. Peter says you borrowed it.”

“That little snitch. Oh, all right, I borrowed it to have a look over - you know I can’t stay awake through Binns’ lessons! Er. I think it’s in my bag. Not sure.”

“Not sure?” Remus can feel a vein in his temple pulsing. “Sirius, I need that essay!”

“We don’t have History of Magic until the day after tomorrow, what are you so uptight about?” Sirius asks.

James coughs rather pointedly, and bends down to Alfie’s level, quickly engaging in a loud conversation. Sirius, however, is oblivious.

Remus narrows his eyes. “Because, I won’t be in that lesson, if you recall. I need to hand it to Binns tomorrow.”

“Oh - oh, right. Er. Look, it’s almost definitely in my bag, and almost definitely not covered in chocolate from Honeydukes.”

“You’re an arse,” Remus says.

Sirius covers his mouth with one hand dramatically, his eyes wide in mock horror. “Moony, there is a child present!”

“The only child I see here is you,” Remus snaps. “From now on, just keep your chocolatey paws off my homework, and find some other mug to copy from.”

Remus turns to storm off, blood thumping in his ears. The desire to just haul off and punch Sirius right in the face is so tempting it’s frightening, and he tenses when he feels a hand on his shoulder. He keeps his own arms clamped down at his sides, afraid of what he might do.

“Get off me, Sirius,” he mutters.

“Remus - I -”

Whatever Sirius is about to say is interrupted by a loud miaowing sound from near their feet. Remus glances down to see Mrs Norris, a rather smug expression on her face for a cat.

“Shit,” Sirius breathes, as Mrs Norris races away before they can grab her.

James is already trying to pull Alfie free from the wall when Sirius runs over and tries to lend a hand. Remus watches them in exasperation, half-tempted to just leave them to it and get caught, but against his better judgement he moves closer to them and elbows Sirius roughly out of the way.

“Hey!” Sirius says indignantly, just managing not to fall over. “Remus - what -?”

“Stand back,” Remus says, oddly calm now that he has a task to focus on. James scrambles out of the way as Remus aims his wand carefully at the wall above Alfie’s head. “Alfie, close your eyes. Reducto!

Alfie grins enormously as he falls forward, bits of wall and debris in his hair. “This is amazing!” he says, half-laughing and half-coughing from all dust cloud swirling around him.

James and Sirius swap looks, seeming to make a plan without words. Abruptly, James flings the Invisibility Cloak over himself and Alfie, just as Sirius grabs Remus by the arm and begins running in the opposite direction. After a few steps, Remus tries to break free of Sirius’ grip, but Sirius is annoyingly and insistently strong.

“Gerroff - me - Sirius, let go!”

“Stop being such a prat!” Sirius hisses, not breaking his stride and not releasing Remus at all. “I’m not getting detention and missing tomorrow over this!”

Of course, Remus thinks, his anger renewed. Quidditch.

Still, Remus has one thing Sirius doesn’t, and Beater strength or no, Remus is still stronger than Sirius at certain times. With all the energy he can muster while still running, Remus shoves Sirius off him and manages to get a few paces ahead. He doesn’t bother to check if Sirius is still behind him, and doesn’t stop at all until he gets back to Gryffindor Tower.

“Relaxing moonlit stroll?” the Fat Lady says tartly.

“Don’t go there,” Remus growls. “Porcupine Quill.”

The portrait hole has just swung open when Sirius careens around the corner, practically falling on Remus and shoving him through the hole. Once safely inside, Sirius swears under his breath, massaging his side as they both slump down on the floor.

“Who knew - you can run - so fast,” he pants. “That stupid cat nearly tripped me up coming down a staircase. I thought I was going to get caught for sure.”

“Glad I cut you loose, then,” Remus says briskly, getting to his feet.

Sirius gives him a wounded look, and then glances around the common room. “No James?”

“He’ll be all right,” Remus says. “He has the Cloak.”

“He better be all right, or Marlene will skin him alive.”

“What were you even doing with Alfie?” Remus asks, sinking into an armchair and covering his eyes with the back of his hand.

“Trying to get into that passageway,” Sirius says, as predicted. “James says his dad found eight secret passageways when he was here; James wants to at least treble it. Of course, now we know we should have just invited you along and had you blast a great big hole in the wall. Problem solved.”

“I was trying to get Alfie out,” Remus says shortly. “Seeing as you and James apparently forget at times you can perform magic. Honestly, you’re so irresponsible - what if he got into that hole and never got out again? What if there was something, I don’t know, something dangerous there? You nearly got him caught, and you could have got him killed.”

“Bit dramatic,” Sirius says. “I doubt Hogwarts has any dirty great monsters roaming behind its walls.”

Remus looks out of the window; behind the scurrying clouds, the moon is just about visible, nearly swollen. He feels the anger leaking out of him, like a punctured balloon. He misses it almost instantly. Without the anger, there’s just the restless waiting. He sighs, sagging against the pillows, feeling the tell-tale throb of the dull, hollow ache in his bones.

He doesn’t look at Sirius, but mumbles, just about audibly, “You never know, do you?”

::

The next day is torture for Remus. He hates transforming midweek; he misses twice as many lessons, and can never concentrate. He also hates that it’s winter, when the nights come even sooner and last longer. The one good thing is that today is also the evening of the first Quidditch match of the year, and so a lot of the students are distracted, less likely to notice his peaky complexion, less likely to comment on his absence in the morning. Hopefully they’ll all be too busy talking about the outcome of the match to notice one less person at breakfast, or in the mornings lessons.

By his last lesson of the day - Transfiguration - he’s given up completely trying to pay attention, and when he raises his hand to ask to be excused, McGonagall gives him an almost invisible nod and lets him gather his stuff together. No one so much as glances up from their note-taking, apart from Sirius, whose eyes Remus feels on him all the way out of the classroom.

Madam Pomfrey greets him at the Hospital Wing with her usual brisk and cheery manner, as if there’s nothing sinister or unusual about their monthly meetings. She keeps up a steady stream of chatter as she runs her wand over him, doing her usual tests. She hands Remus a large plateful of dinner, which he forces himself to eat, mechanically, mouthful after mouthful until the plate is clear; he’s never very hungry, before, but he knows the wolf will be - the wolf always is - and so it’s better this way, to fill up beforehand.

In the corridor outside Remus can hear the footsteps of every student. Dinner must be over, he thinks dully. From the open window he catches snippets of their laughter. He can practically smell the excitement in the air as everyone looks forward to the upcoming Quidditch game. Restless, he winds the white bed-sheet in his hands, making a fist around the material.

All too soon, as always, Madam Pomfrey says, “I think everyone is down at the pitch now, Remus. It’s time, dear.”

::

“It’s time!” Adric Vane, Gryffindor Captain, says eagerly as his teammates huddle around him. James edges closer, the familiar excitable sensation in his stomach. From just outside he can hear the roar from the stands. “Right, now listen. Ravenclaw are good, yes, but we’re better. We’ve got this. Just remember what I’ve been saying at practice - hang on.” Adric straightens up, blinks around at the group. “Where the hell is Black?”

::

Remus is halfway to the Willow when Sirius reaches him. Remus stops, staring at Sirius in confusion, taking in his Quidditch gear, his Beaters bat slung over his shoulder.

“What are you doing here?” he asks.

“Mr Black,” Madam Pomfrey says reprovingly, with an anxious glance at the sky. “Really, your timing is not great -”

“I’ll just be a moment,” Sirius says, sidestepping her to get to Remus. For one moment the wolf is roaring in Remus’ ears again, anger boiling in his chest as he looks at Sirius, but then Sirius smiles at him, and says, “I told you I wouldn’t miss tonight.”

“What? Sirius - the match -”

“Sod ‘em, they’ll wait for me,” Sirius says indifferently. “Or, well, maybe they won’t, I’m not sure, but whatever. I just wanted to say I’m sorry, for the essay and nearly getting you in trouble with Filch and being a general wanker lately.”

“Mr Black.” Madam Pomfrey’s voice is warning. Her grip on Remus’ arm tightens as she begins to move again. “We have to go. Now is not the time.”

She propels Remus forward, and he cranes his neck to look at Sirius as he is led away. Sirius raises his bat in the air and waves to him with it, and for the first time in days Remus smiles.

“You better win tonight!” Remus calls, and even as they approach the Willow, over the thrashing of its limbs and creak of the branches, he can hear Sirius’ answering laugh behind him.

::

James whizzes past Rachel, his fellow Chaser, deftly dodging one of Ravenclaw’s Bludgers and hovers for a moment by the side of the pitch, scanning around for any sign of Sirius.

Stupid idiot, he thinks furiously. Where is he?

“And it’s Lightfoot of Gryffindor with the Quaffle now - ooh, nicely intercepted by Ravenclaw Chaser Fenwick. He’s got a clear path; Vane better be prepared - and yes, Ravenclaw score the first goal of the year! 10-0 to Ravenclaw!”

Gritting his teeth, James abandons his look-out and flies into the middle of the action once more as the cry of “Ra-ven-claw, Ra-ven-claw!” floats up from the stands. Stupid bloody Sirius. He’s their best Beater, and their best line of defence, and playing one man down is clearly showing, especially when Ravenclaw manage to score once more in the next few minutes.

Something whooshes past his ear, nearly toppling him off his broom, quickly followed by the other Gryffindor Beater, Meredith Oliphant. “James, concentrate!” she screeches at him as she flies past in pursuit of the Bludger that has their Seeker, Cassie Wilson, in its line of attack.

Rachel passes him the Quaffle and, tucking it securely under his right arm, he speeds off towards the other end of the pitch. From the corner of his eye he can make out the blue-clad blurs of Fenwick and Boot, two of Ravenclaw’s Chasers, just behind him, trying to close him in, but with another burst of speed from his Nimbus James breaks free from their advances and is into the scoring area.

::

The thunk of the heavy wooden plank on the other side of the door sliding into place echoes throughout the room. Remus listens as Madam Pomfrey recites the usual enchantments; he hears the creak of the trapdoor, counts the descending footsteps until he can hear nothing but his own ragged breathing.

::

An explosion of cheers from the stands greets James as he scores Gryffindor’s first goal. He allows himself a small smile, starting to feel a bit more confident. Ravenclaw’s Keeper, a gangly Fifth Year called Midgen, has a habit of neglecting his left goal hoop, something that James is gearing up to take advantage of again, easily taking possesion of the Quaffle once more, when another roar from the crowd stops him momentarily.

The Gryffindor supporters are all shouting and cheering, and James wonders if Cassie has seen the Snitch, but -

“- and Beater Black is joining the game at last! What a welcome sight for the Gryffindor team!”

James seizes his chance as Midgen gapes, open-mouthed, as Sirius soars upwards with an inane grin on his face and a cheeky wave to Madam Hooch. The Quaffle sails effortlessly through the goal, and over the stamping and cheering from the stands, Sirius yells, “Nice one, James!” and despite himself James can’t even find it in him to be mad anymore, because Sirius is here now, and that’s all that matters.

::

Remus takes off his school robes, shirt and trousers, folding them neatly across the back of a rickety old chair, and puts his shoes carefully next to each other underneath.

He takes a deep breath, and waits.

::

As night descends properly now, the stands and pitch are illuminated by lanterns, and James thinks he can just about make out Peter, stood with the McKinnons, cheering him on. By his side, Sirius casually deflects a Bludger, sending it spinning off towards the Ravenclaw Seeker who just manages not to fall off his broom, and James laughs into the cool night breeze as the chants of “Gryffindor, Gryffindor!” fill the air.

::

The moon rises, and Remus breaks.

::

In those horrible first few moments of waking, when the taste of his own blood mingles with bile at the back of his throat, Remus dares not move from his position on the hard wooden floor of the shack, savouring the feeling of his own body. His chest, pressed against the dusty floorboards, rising and falling as he breathes in the thick, dank air; the pounding in his head; the ache in his torso and arms, and the thumping of his heart reverberating throughout, tapping out a frantic rhythm, but a rhythm that sings I’m human. Human human human.

He stretches out a hand, looking at the blue-green veins that are visible through his pale skin. He flexes his fingers, muscles screaming in protest, and draws a line in the dust with one shaky index finger.

Sighing, Remus closes his eyes, white spots popping behind his eyelids, and tries to guess the time. Madam Pomfrey never comes right away - fragments of the wolf linger, snarling and unbidden at the back of his mind on the mornings after, and so Remus is usually left on his own for a good hour or so after sun up.

Lurching to his feet, his stomach roiling, Remus makes his way unsteadily to the mirror hanging on the wall. Through the crack down its centre, Remus stares at his distorted reflection, and winces at the sight of the large purple bruise blooming from hip to collar bone. The whole of his right side feels as if he spent all night throwing himself at the walls. He’s bleeding from a cut beneath his left eye, and his neck has a tender looking cut on it in the distinct shape of three claw marks.

Remus lowers himself carefully on to the large king-size bed and stares up at the ceiling, counting spiders. He wishes the shack had windows, or that he was allowed to bring his wand with him, but both are luxuries too dangerous to afford.

After a second, or an hour, Remus hears footsteps, and not the patient, careful footsteps of Madam Pomfrey, but quick, hurried steps that stop outside the door. “Alohamora!” a voice says, and Remus thinks, groggily, I know that voice, and then, a bit more urgently, I’m not wearing any trousers, and then Sirius bursts through the door and Remus promptly rolls over and throws up over the side of the bed.

::

He wakes up in the Hospital Wing, Sirius by his bedside. Sirius leans closer as Remus stirs into wakefulness, his grey eyes worried.

“Feeling any better?”

“I feel like I’ve been beaten by trolls,” Remus rasps.

Sirius hands him a glass of water. “You look like it, to be fair.” He’s silent as Remus gulps down the water, watching Remus closely. “You’re heavier than you look, you know,” he says, once Remus is done.

Remus groans. He does not want to know how Sirius knows this, but Sirius, being Sirius, gives him a blow-by-blow account of how he had to carry Remus back to school after Remus passed out. Remus stares at his empty water glass, feeling heat on the back of his neck, especially when he realises he’s still not wearing any trousers.

“You shouldn’t come to see me, after,” Remus mumbles. “It’s not safe, you know that.”

“Oh, shush,” Sirius says commandingly. “Good thing I did, eh? Who would have carried you - starkers, might I add - back here if I hadn’t?”

“That would be me,” Madam Pomfrey says briskly, sweeping over when she sees Remus is awake. “Although, I may have taken the time to dress him, Mr Black, but your heroics are admirable.” She hands Remus another glass of water, tinged yellow with a healing potion, and gives Sirius a stern look. “Next time, I suggest you leave him to my care - or are you after my job, Mr Black?”

Sirius grins at her, tipping back on his chair. “I wouldn’t look half as good in the uniform, Madam Pomfrey.”

Madam Pomfrey busies herself with fluffing Remus’ pillow, but when she straightens up Remus notices a definite glow in her cheeks. She coughs, and says, “Right, well, Mr Lupin needs his rest. Now that you have seen him safely back on school grounds, perhaps we can leave him to get dressed?”

“Yes, please,” Remus says weakly, thinking longingly of clothes.

Sirius gets to his feet, swinging his arms. “Right you are, Madam Pomfrey. Remus, mate - I’ll see you later, yeah?”

Remus nods, looking forward to getting some sleep on an actual bed, even if most of it is medically induced. Sirius disappears around the curtain for a second, and then pops his head back round, still grinning.

“Oh, yeah, forgot to mention - we won,” he says, ducking out again before Madam Pomfrey can reach him.

Remus smiles slowly, settling back against the pillows and closing his eyes. Good, he thinks, and finally lets sleep take him.

Chapter Text

1973.

Christmas Eve.

As his mother finishes putting the last of the presents under the tree, Remus has to admire the effect. The Lupin Christmas tree does look good this year. His parents have replaced a few of the more battered ornaments, and the tree is a delightful mix of the magical and Muggle. There is a bauble with a moving picture of a snowy Hogsmeade scene that Remus recently bought, alongside a bauble that Remus remembers decorating himself when he was four-years-old, depicting a very wonky and lopsided star. Their fairy lights are of the standard electrical variety, and the angel on the very top of the tree bursts loudly into song and the occasional catcall whenever someone walks by.

“Perfect,” Hope says, standing back and smiling at the scene. “Don’t you think, Remus?”

“Very nice,” Remus agrees from over the rim of his mug of hot chocolate. “Isn’t it, Dad?” he adds, as his father wanders into the living room, nose buried in the Evening Prophet.

“What’s that?” Lyall looks up distractedly. He stares at his wife and son for a long moment, a blank expression on his lined face. His heavy brows contract as Remus nods in the direction of the tree, and Lyall says, “Oh, yes! Quite. Yes, it’s lovely, dear.” He leans across to give Hope a kiss on the cheek, and she smiles wearily.

“I am trying to make Christmas special,” she says. “You could be a bit more interested.”

Lyall’s head jerks up from the paper again. “Hm? Oh, I am! Very interested. It’s a lovely tree, I said.”

“What’s that you’re reading?” Hope demands, trying to look at the paper, but Lyall snatches it away hurriedly.

“Oh, nothing important, dear,” Lyall says unconvincingly, with a look at Remus that Remus doesn’t miss. Still, he pretends to be immensely interested in staring at the tree until his vision blurs and he has to blink. “Just a bit of, ah, an article I’m interested in...”

Hope’s eyes narrow, and she seizes the paper from her husband. Her eyes scan the paper quickly, and then she puts a hand to her mouth and lets out a small murmur of, “Oh, no.”

“It won’t get passed,” Lyall says quietly, rubbing his wife’s shoulder. Remus notices he’s pointedly not looking anywhere near his son. “It’s just a bunch of radicals trying to win votes with the extremists, that’s all.”

“It’s about werewolves, then?” Remus asks, and both of his parents look at him at last. His dad runs a hand through his thinning hair, looking shifty, and his mother’s eyes are watery. Remus takes a breath. “Can I read it?”

Abruptly, his father pulls his wand out of his pocket and, with a neat tap, vanishes the paper entirely. “It’s nothing to worry about, son. Just a stupid side article. Nasty business. Best not to be thought of.”

“But if it involves me -”

Remus is interrupted by his mother speaking suddenly, her voice wobbling. “Do you want another hot chocolate, Remus?”

She walks over to stand beside his chair, brushing his hair away from his forehead with trembling fingers.

Remus sighs. He hates seeing his parents like this, especially his mum. When his mother was a child, werewolves were the things from her nightmares. He doubts very much she ever imagined having to deal with any of this.

“That’d be great, Mum.”

“And then off to bed!” Lyall says, smiling genially as Hope whisks herself off to the kitchen. “Bet you can’t wait to open your presents, eh, son?”

Remus glances under the tree, to the two boxes with labels that bear his name; one is a neat rectangle, the other lumpy. A box of chocolates and a new jumper would be nice, he thinks, even if his parents gifts never quite caption the imagination. Still, his favourite blue jumper is fraying a bit at the cuffs and has gone a bit baggy around the hem, and he does like chocolate, so he supposes he can’t complain too much.

“Absolutely,” Remus says, straight-faced. He wonders, briefly, what his friends will get him this year (last year, a leather-bound notebook from Sirius, and James and Peter had seemingly clubbed together to buy half of Zonko’s, most of which is still stored under his bed upstairs) and then pushes the thought aside, guilt squirming in his stomach.

His dad claps him on the shoulder, looking grateful. “You’re a good boy, Remus,” he says.

Remus nods. He knows he is.

::

Christmas morning.

Peter chews on his fingernails when he’s nervous, and sometimes just when he’s bored or unsure what to do with his hands. A habit his mother despairs of - when he was younger she tried putting doxycide on his fingers to get him to stop - and he glances over his shoulder now, in case his mum is lurking about somewhere, ready to pounce and lecture him again.

He’s stood on the front porch of his mother’s house, the early morning sun dazzlingly bright amongst the stark white of the surrounding snow. Peter strains his ears for any sound disturbing the sleepy hush of their street, and he can’t help but worry at a hangnail on his thumb as he squints down the road for any sign of his dad.

“I hope he’s apparating,” his mother says sharply from behind him, making Peter jump; he accidentally tears at the fragile skin on his thumb, a speck of red immediately pooling up. “Disgusting habit,” Philomena Pettigrew says, as Peter jams his thumb into his mouth. She yanks his arm down, aims her wand at her son’s hands. “Episkey!

“Thanks,” Peter says, curling his thumb into his palm and shooting another look down the road. “And I dunno how he’s getting here. He didn’t say.”

“Typical,” Philomena says, checking her watch. “And he’s late. Why don’t you just come back inside, Petey, and we’ll have Christmas just us two?”

“I had Christmas here last year,” Peter says uncomfortably, fiddling with the straps on his rucksack. “You said you were okay with this.”

“Okay!” Philomena says shrilly. “Of course I’m okay, Peter. It’s you I’m worried about - it’s not right, him getting your hopes up only to disappoint you. On Christmas day, of all - what in Merlin’s name is that?” she says suddenly, as a strange chugging and clunking sort of noise approaches, disrupting the peace of their road. The racket is closely followed by a dusty looking car trundling round the corner, and Peter’s stomach lurches excitedly.

“He’s come in a car!”

Philomena stares at the car in horror; she outstretches an arm, most likely to grab him and pull him back to assumed safety, but before she can manage Peter has slung his rucksack over one shoulder and bolted down the porch steps.

“See you in two days, Mum!” he calls over his shoulder, and then slides eagerly into the passenger seat.

He hasn’t seen his dad in nearly a year. Richard Pettigrew’s face is fuller, with more colour to his cheeks than Peter thinks he’s ever seen before. In fact, his dad looks generally a lot healthier, although Peter’s not too keen on the new mustache.

“Wow, Dad, I can’t believe you drove all the way here!” Peter says excitedly, gazing around at the car interior.

He’s been in his Grandpa’s car before when he was a lot younger, and Sirius has diagrams in his Muggle Studies books, but none of that really compares with the prospect of a long journey with his dad. Peter thinks of the drive ahead of them: a father-son road trip, just enough time to catch up on each other’s lives over the past year. Peter can fill his dad in on everything he’s missed; he can tell him all about Hogsmeade, and what he and his mates have been getting up to, and how he got a pretty decent mark in his last Transfiguration essay even if he did have to stay up all night to finish it.

Richard chuckles. “I didn’t. Just wanted to see the look on her face,” he says, jerking his chin at Philomena who still stands, eyes round, on the porch. “I Transfigured a wheelbarrow. Mind you don’t touch anything; don’t want you messing up the spellwork.”

“Oh - er - then how are we getting to your house?”

“Portkey,” Richard says, as they drive around the corner. Visions of the road trip dissolve as they move about two metres and then stop, safely out of view from Peter’s house, and out they get. Journey over. “Hope that’s all right. I remembered Side-Along Apparaition makes you sick.”

“It was just that one time,” Peter mumbles, but Richard isn’t paying any attention, instead glancing around for the portkey.

His dad points to a dog-chewed tennis ball lying by the drain, and checks his watch. “Here we are. Right, you ready?” Peter nods glumly, putting a finger on the ball and trying to brace himself for the inevitable sensation. He just hopes he doesn’t throw up this time, too. “Three…two…one.”

Peter is jerked forward, his vision blurring unpleasantly, and just when he’s getting scared he really might lose his breakfast, they slam down on to blessed earth in an alleyway. Shakily, Peter gets to his feet, brushing himself down.

His dad grins at him. “All right there, lad? Come on, we’re just around the corner. If Maz asks, we came by train, got it? She hates the idea of portkeys, bless her.”

As they make their way out of the alley and around the corner into a neat little cul-de-sac dotted with houses all of the same shape and size, Peter doesn’t find it hard to imagine the people living here hating the idea of any kind of magic at all. It all seems so normal. His dad leads the way up a pebble-stone path to a house with a blue door and bronze knocker. There are net curtains in all four of the windows visible at the front of the house, a gnome (not a real one, but the scary painted kind) standing guard on the front lawn and a hanging basket full of sickly smelling flowers.

Richard leads the way inside, stamping the snow off of his boots on the welcome mat and shouting out a cheerful, “We’re here!”

Peter hangs back a bit, feeling himself shrinking closer to his dad as two people come out into the hallway. Before he can get a good look at the second, the first woman has seized him in a hug, and Peter nearly chokes on her perfume.

“Oh my goodness, don’t you look adorable! Peter, I am so pleased to meet you.”

Once released, Peter eyes her warily, trying to conjure a smile. So this is Maureen the Muggle, he thinks. Maz. With big, flicked out hair, large glasses, and very red lipstick, Peter’s first impression is that she smiles a lot more than is necessary, and seems to have more teeth than the average person as well.

“Thank heavens you came in normal clothes, I was beginning to wonder what you might turn up in!” she says with a tinkling laugh that goes through Peter like nails on a chalkboard. “But goodness, don’t you look like Dickie!”

Dickie? Peter glances at his dad, who is smiling affably. His mother never called him Dickie, or indeed any other nickname. It was always Richard. Maz and Dickie. He sincerely hopes he won’t have to have a nickname. His mum and friends call him Pete, Petey, Petey-boy, but that’s different. He imagines this woman calling him any of them, in that voice of hers, and wrinkles his nose. Here in this house, he thinks plain old Peter will do.

“Oh, and how silly of me - Peter, this is my daughter Sharon.”

Maureen gestures with a bangled arm at the girl behind her, and Peter fights the odd urge to laugh. Maureen’s daughter looks about as opposite to her mother as can be. Peter takes in her mini-skirt, the choker around her neck, and general expression of disdain, and feels like he’s eleven-years-old all over again, being introduced to Marlene McKinnon. Although, Marlene does smile quite often - not at him, but still - and this Sharon seems incapable.

He wishes Sirius were here. Sirius knows how to deal with people like this. He has a way, a certain way of tilting his head and looking at a person, or laughing in a manner that makes the person think he’s got them all figured out, a way of letting people know that he sees them and he isn’t standing for any crap.

Peter just shrivels and chews on his fingernails, until his dad places a large hand on his shoulder and moves him a step forward.

“Go on, you two kids. Get to know each other. Sharon, show Peter where the guest room is.”

Sharon doesn’t even bother to hide her eye roll. “Whatever,” she drawls, walking off without a backwards glance.

Well, Merry Christmas indeed, Peter thinks miserably, left with no choice but to trail after.

::

Christmas evening

Lily is on her back on her bed, legs up against the wall, when the dinging of the doorbell interrupts her new David Bowie record. She ignores it, grimacing at the thought of carol singers (years of Cokeworth carolers have made her wary) but whoever is outside is not giving up.

“Oh, all right,” Lily says, swinging her legs down and padding barefoot into the hallway. “I’m coming.”

Her mum gets there first, and from the top step Lily sees Severus Snape standing in her doorway. He’s wearing his usual overcoat that is looking progressively more tattered each year, and his thin face seems even paler against the dark backdrop of their street.

“Hello, Severus, dear,” Angela Evans says in a tone of surprise, and Lily can’t blame her. The last time Sev came to her house Lily was in primary school.

“Hello, Mrs Evans. Is Lily in?” he asks, trying to peek past into the house. The question is just a formality, and a rusty one at that. Lily knows he would never come over without knowing for certain she was in, and wonders how long he’d been hanging around outside for, watching the light from her bedroom window and steeling himself to ring the doorbell.

After a moment Angela seems to remember herself, and says, “Oh! Yes, come in,” and steps aside, opening the door wider.

Sev edges into the house. He looks unsure of himself, his hands clenched together in front of him, and looks immensely relieved when Lily walks down two steps and says, “I’m here. Hi, Sev.”

“Would you like anything to eat, love?” Angela asks him, and Lily recognises the concerned, maternal tone in her voice even if it’s foreign to Sev. “You look cold. Kettle’s just boiled if you want a brew.”

“No, thank you, Mrs Evans,” he says, still in that same stiff formal voice. He’s focusing solely on Lily, and doesn’t waste any time when she beckons him up the stairs with a wave of her hand.

Angela frowns after them. “All right. Well, Lily, your father and I are off out to the club soon. Petunia should be home at around 10. The fridge is full if you want to help yourselves,” she adds in a louder voice.

“Thanks, Mum,” Lily says with a smile, leading Sev to her room.

Lily and Petunia had shared a room when they were younger. They used to stay up late sharing jokes and Lily would listen with rapt attention as Petunia would tell her all about the local older children’s gossip. Lily remembers before she got her Hogwarts letter, when she was expected to join her sister at Cokeworth Secondary Modern School, and how Petunia said she would look after her and show her around and how great it would be. And then Lily had come home from her first year at Hogwarts to find her stuff had been moved into the spare room. It was the smaller room of the two, but Lily had done her best with it.

Her parents had tried to smooth over Petunia’s behaviour by saying how, Petunia being the eldest, she really needed her own space now she was ‘maturing into a woman’ and wouldn’t it be lovely for Lily to have her own room to do what she wanted with, but Lily knew the truth. Lily knew it was because Petunia couldn’t stand the frogspawn and tube of fish eyes in the top drawer, and the robes taking up space alongside her jeans in the wardrobe, and the pictures of Mary and Dorcas waving cheerfully from their frames.

There’s a picture of Lily and Sev too, stuck to a corkboard on the wall along with her red and gold banner and old Brownie badges. This picture doesn’t move, taken with Lily’s dad’s camera two years ago, so the Sev in it is permanently looking a bit shifty and awkward and the Lily doesn’t move from her position at his side, one arm over his hunched shoulders.

Sev stares at this picture for a long time, and then says, “It’s my dad. He hasn’t been home for three days.”

Lily doesn’t know what to say to this. David Bowie is still singing playing in the background, and she thinks about getting up and stopping it, that maybe it’s inappropriate to be listening to The Jean Genie when your friend has just come out with a statement like that.

“Oh, Sev, I’m sure he’ll be okay,” she offers tentatively, still sat on the edge of her bed.

Sev laughs derisively. “Of course he’ll be okay. I don’t give a damn about him. He’s probably pissed up in some ditch somewhere, having a right good Christmas.”

Lily blinks, startled. “Sev -”

“Mum’s in a state,” he says, still facing the corkboard, although Lily doubts he’s really looking anymore. “The factory closed down. Laid him off. He’s been unbearable since, Mum says. I came home and asked him why he wasn’t at work the other day. I got a clip ‘round the ear for it, but how was I to know? It’s not like they wrote and told me.” He turns then and looks at her at last, glaring darkly. “I just don’t understand why he has to take it all out on us. He’s such a prick.”

“I’m sorry,” she says, not knowing what else to say. “Your mum’ll be okay though, with you there for her.”

Sev’s gaze softens a bit. “She’s sleeping at the moment, so I thought I’d come - come see you. Brought you this.” From underneath his coat he produces a battered, well-used looking book, and he thrusts it out awkwardly to her. She glances down at it in surprise, and reads Brewing In Your Own Back Garden - Common Potion Ingredients Found in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

“It was my mum’s,” Sev says, after a moments silence in which Lily leafs through the pages. “Sorry it’s not new or anything, but I thought -”

“It’s brilliant,” Lily says truthfully. “Thank you.” He smiles slightly, shrugging. She grins, and jumps off her bed, rummaging around in her school trunk in the corner of the room. “I got you a present too. Here you go,” she says, passing him a package wrapped in tissue paper.

Once opened, Sev looks down at the Augurey quill, a flush on his pale cheeks. “Lily, you shouldn’t have - it costs too much,” he mutters.

“Don’t be stupid. I saw you looking at it when we went to Hogsmeade.”

“Yeah, but - just because I was looking -”

“Shut up,” she says brightly. “Come on, don’t tell me you’re not pleased. Think how fancy the scribblings in all your schoolbooks will be now!”

He stares at the quill for a moment longer, a strange frown on his face, and Lily hopes this isn’t going to cause an argument. To her relief though, he smiles finally, mumbling an embarrassed thanks and the mood of the room lifts.

“Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat?” Lily asks, and when he looks set to protest again, she adds, “I’m getting something for myself anyway.”

They eat leftover turkey and stuffing sandwiches, both lying side by side on Lily’s bed and poring over Lily’s book. Lily looks over all the illustrations and diagrams in interest as Sev explains the best places to go to gather ingredients, all the places his mum used to take him. He’s just describing this patch of woodland not far from here where they can go for a specific type of tree root when the porch light outside turns on, and Sev glances up, looking over at the window.

“It’ll be Petunia and Boring Arnold,” Lily says, not taking her eyes off the book.

Sev sniggers. “Boring Arnold?”

“Yeah, her new boyfriend. God, he’s dull. I hope Tuney ends up with someone a bit more exciting.”

She can sense rather than see his gaze on her as he asks, “Is that what you want then? Exciting?”

Lily pulls a face. “Um. Dunno, really. Not really thought about it.”

“What, never? I find that hard to believe.”

She chances a sideways glance at him and sees he’s propped himself up on his elbows, staring at her intently.

“Why?” she shoots back, suddenly self-consciously defensive. “What kind of type do you want?”

She blushes nearly as soon as she’s said it, aware that they’re really quite close on the bed, but then Sev laughs and shakes his head. “I don’t have time to think of that stuff. I think I’m probably too picky anyway.”

“God forbid a girl doesn’t live up to your standards, Severus,” Lily says, rolling her eyes, and he smiles.

From outside Lily can hear the muffled voices of Petunia and Boring Arnold, and she gets off the bed to go look. “It’s a good job Mum and Dad are out,” she murmurs, as it looks like Petunia is trying to eat him alive. Gross.

Sev comes to stand next to her. “If only I had my wand on me. I’d have such a good aim from up here. I could charm their lips together forever.”

“Sev!” Lily says, but giggles. “Statute of Secrecy, remember?”

Sev sighs. “Boring.”

They go back to the book, and after a while Petunia and Boring Arnold must have detached themselves because the front door opens and closes, and someone is running up the stairs. Petunia appears in the doorway, looking flushed and happy, but then stops suddenly at the sight of Severus.

“What is he doing here?”

“Hello to you too,” Lily says mildly. “Had a good evening?”

Sev smirks, and Petunia must notice because she scowls suddenly, crossing her arms and adopting her bossiest voice. “It’s getting late, Lily. I think it’s time he left, don’t you?”

“Sev is my guest,” Lily says. “I’ll decide when he has to leave, thanks.”

“Lily,” Petunia insists, in a carrying voice. “I really don’t think it’s appropriate for you to have a boy in your bedroom at this time of the night!”

“Yeah?” Sev interjects. “Well, l I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to spend half an hour attached to your boyfriend’s face where anybody could walk by and see, but there you are.”

“You were spying on me?” Petunia shrieks. “You little pervert!”

Sev rolls his eyes but says no more. Lily, however, can feel her temper rising. Why does her sister always have to be such a cow?

“Sev was right, we should have hexed your faces together. Bet you’d have loved it.”

The effect is instantaneous. Petunia takes a step back as if they’d actually drawn their wands on her, her eyes wide and fearful. “Are you threatening me?” she says, trying and failing to maintain her authoritative tone. “Your freak boyfriend better get out of here right now, Lily, or I swear -”

“Not my boyfriend,” Lily sing-songs, quite enjoying the effect. She knows she shouldn’t wind Petunia up like this, but sometimes her sister makes her so angry.

“Fine,” Petunia snarls. “Whatever he is. Your freaky little pet, then.”

The light bulb in the middle of the room smashes, and Petunia’s scream fills the sudden darkness. Lily feels Sev tense beside her, and he doesn’t relax even when Petunia’s shadowy figure leaves the room with a wounded cry of, “I’m telling Mum and Dad!”

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Lily says quietly, switching on her bedside table lamp.

“I didn’t mean to,” Sev snaps. “No wand, remember? Anyway, you were the one who said you were going to use magic against her.”

“You said it first!”

“Not to her face,” Sev says, as if Lily’s an idiot, and that nettles her even more. Probably sensing the warning signs, Sev gets to his feet with a weary look. “I better get going; your parents aren’t going to be too happy when they get back.”

Lily doesn’t argue, just mumbles a goodbye as he steps over the glass on the carpet and lets himself out.

Lily glares at the wall separating her room from her sisters’. She hopes she gets to her parents before Petunia does. Knowing her sister, she’ll probably make it sound as if they attacked her or something, and then Sev will probably be banned completely from the house.

With a resigned sigh, Lily gets the dustpan and brush from downstairs, and sets about clearing up the mess on her floor.

::

Boxing Day morning

Christmas seems to go on for days at Grimmauld Place. Sirius isn’t sure if it’s tradition, or just because his parents are pompous show-offs, but the best silverware has been out since Christmas Eve, the Floo has been full of people coming and going, and Father has taken on another house-elf temporarily because Kreacher looked set to collapse and Regulus wouldn’t shut up about it not being fair he had to do all the work.

Christmas had been just the four of them, seated ridiculously far apart in the grand dining table so that Sirius actually had to raise his voice to answer his father’s questions. It had gone as well as these occasions ever go. He’d deflected any personal questions away as easily as if they were Bludgers, sticking to safe topics, and tried not to antagonise anyone. He’d received a letter from James’ parents before leaving Hogwarts telling him to keep his head down, and though at first he’d scoffed at it, he had to admit following their advice at least led to a quiet life.

His parents were in their best robes, and Sirius and Regulus had a new set each with a special secret pocket on the inside for concealing a wand. They weren’t the most comfortable garments in the world; the collars too stiff and the hems out to trip them both up. On Boxing Day Sirius is looking forward to wearing something a tad more casual, but his Mother has different ideas.

“Sirius, do put on your new dress robes; you look so smart in them,” Walburga says, pausing in Sirius’ doorway.

Sirius hesitates. He dislikes his mother being in such a nice mood - the rarity of it by itself is unsettling, but more often than not it means she’s probably up to something. He wishes she’d just pick a mood and stick with it; all the changes and ups and downs make it hard to keep track of what she’s going to do next.

“Bit fancy for Bella and Cissy, isn’t it?” he asks.

Walburga smiles thinly. “A few other guests are coming. Remember, Sirius, you are the heir to the House of Black, and you will receive our guests dressed accordingly.”

Aunt Druella and Uncle Cygnus arrive in the afternoon, and not long after, his cousins and their husbands. Narcissa looks withdrawn and pale beside Malfoy who has his usual self-satisfied smirk on his face, and Bellatrix apologies that Rabastan couldn’t make it as he’s working very hard at the moment and can’t get away. Sirius never knew Rabastan Lestrange even had a job, but Lucius and Rodolphus seem to find this hilarious, giving Sirius the impression there’s something he’s missing out on here.

Sirius assumes that this is it, but then Kreacher walks into the room and bows. “Miss Carrow is here, Mistress,” he says, and Sirius feels his stomach drop as Cressida Carrow appears in a hideous pink dress and smiles revoltingly at him.

“Ah, delightful!” Walburga says. “My dear, come in, come in. So good of you to join us. Now, Sirius, you remember Cressida, from the wedding, yes? Why don’t you give her a tour of the house while we all wait for supper?”

Regulus sniggers into his hand, and Sirius kicks him behind the knee. His last conversation with Bella ringing in his ears, Sirius nods stiffly and extends an arm to Cressida. He represses the ungentlemanly urge to shove her away as she takes it.

“You look very handsome,” she says, batting her eyelashes at him.

Sirius can feel his mother’s gaze on him. “Thanks,” he mumbles, ignoring the turning of his stomach, and yanks her from the room.

He’s determined to make the tour as quick as possible, hating his mother all the more with every room he shows. Cressida asks endless questions, gasping over the supposed grandeur of the house, and prattles off information about herself that Sirius can’t bring himself to care about. By the time he’s shown her nearly all the rooms the only thing he can remember is she’s a Slytherin, a Fifth Year, and apparently came to watch his last Quidditch match.

“You fly extremely well,” she tells him, as they pass the rows of stuffed elves heads coming down the stairs.

“Yeah, I know,” he says unenthusiastically. “Anyway, this is the study -” he goes to open it, but finds it locked. Leaning closer, Sirius hears voices and wonders why everyone has gone into the study rather than one of the large reception rooms, but after a while realises it’s not everyone in there, just a few. He holds up a hand to silence Cressida, and puts his ear to the door.

“…Lucius, you should have been there,” Bella says. “Rab and Dolph were superb. I’ve never seen such an ingenious use of a Stinging Hex.”

“That filthy Mudblood-lover won’t be campaigning anymore,” Rodolphus says with a harsh laugh.

“Any more luck with Vaynor?” Lucius’ lazy drawl asks.

Again, its unmistakably Bella that speaks. “Oh, it will only be a matter of time. She’s weak, easily susceptible. Her days as Minister are numbered.”

“Good. And there was no trouble, with the raid?”

“We were able to get away before the Aurors started swarming. Of course they’ll keep the press of the scent for a while, which is good -”

“Good!” Bella shrieks. “People should know! They should know the price for their idiotic ideology. We need to spread our Lord’s message.”

“A few more articles like Gus’, and the message should spread by itself,” Lucius says. “It’s better that way, Bella; make the masses think it was their idea in the first place.”

“I must say, for an Unspeakable, Augustus does have a way with words. Perhaps he should consider a side career.”

The room is full of laughter, but Sirius, on the other side, feels as if he’s about to throw up. He’s forgotten all about Cressida, until she suddenly speaks.

“It’s all terribly exciting, isn’t it?” she says rapturously. “I can’t wait to join. My uncle's already in."

Sirius’ mouth has gone dry. He runs his tongue over his parched lips, and asks, “Join? Join what?”

For the first time that evening, Cressida looks at him as if he’s less than perfect. “Join them, of course! The -”

The door opens, and Sirius nearly falls over into the room. Rodolphus is on his feet, wand drawn; Lucius, in a chair, looks merely mildly intrigued. It’s Bella, looming over him, smiling, that scares him.

“Sirius. How lovely. Hear anything interesting?” she asks casually.

Before he can think up a suitable answer, Bella jerks her head dismissively and Lucius and Rodolphus vacate the room, Rodolphus stopping to offer to escort Cressida to supper.

“Now we can talk,” Bella says. “Cousin to cousin. I assume you have questions about what you have heard tonight, and I assure you I am not going to lie to you, Sirius. You’re too old and too smart for that, and you know I detest lies.”

“You were talking about hurting people,” Sirius says. It comes out mumbled and childish, and he hates himself for it. Bella doesn’t flinch, doesn’t even look remotely ruffled by any of this. “Bella, what - you've hurt people, haven’t you?”

“There will always be those who seek to oppose a new way of life, who fight the changes in this world. My job, Sirius, is to fight for this world and the changes that need to come about. It is my job to eradicate the enemy.”

“The enemy?” Sirius echoes.

He already knows what’s going to come out of her mouth before it does, so it probably shouldn’t sting as much as it does. “The Mudbloods, Sirius. The Mudblood filth and Muggle-lovers and deserters. All the half-breeds and vermin. Anyone not of pure birth, anyone who tarnishes our good name or tries to oppress the wizarding race.”

People like Andromeda, Sirius thinks. People like Ted, and the Potter’s. And Remus.

“I told you the time is coming to pick a side. A storm is coming, Sirius, the likes of which you have never seen. It will be beautiful to behold.”

“You mean there’s going to be a war?” Sirius asks quickly, his heart hammering painfully in his chest.

Bella smiles slowly. “A revolution. You’ll see, Sirius, when you meet Him - when you meet our Lord. As soon as you’re done with Hogwarts, you’ll be accepted straight away, how could you not be? You’ll be one of His finest soldiers.”

Later, Sirius won’t remember how long he stood facing his cousin; him in the darkened hallway and her in the doorway to the study, the lamps illuminating her features, her eyes gleaming with excitement. He won’t remember all the thoughts zooming through his mind, and he won’t admit to the fear coursing through him. Later, he’ll also try to forget that, for the briefest of moments, he was, just a bit - tempted.

“What do you say, Sirius?” Bella breathes. “Will we stand together?”

He thinks of Ted first, surprisingly, of his warm hospitality and firm handshake; then of Andromeda and her unrelenting defence of her love, of what they’ve been through to be together. He thinks of little Nymphadora, her hair a hundred different colours, and he thinks of Jasper and Althea Potter sticking up for him on the platform. He thinks of James, and Peter, and of Remus battling the monster inside him every month and still being one of the most decent human beings Sirius has ever known.

Sirius straightens up, looks his cousin in the eye. “Fuck off, Bella.”

For the first time ever, Bella looks taken aback, but only for a second until she frowns. “What did you say?” she asks softly.

“You’re a loony,” he says with a laugh he can’t keep in. “If you really believe all that. You’re mad.”

“You’re making a big mistake.”

Sirius shakes his head. “I’ll risk it, thanks. Now, if you’ll pass my apologies on to Mother, I’m not really feeling hungry anymore.”

He waits until he knows he’s definitely out of sight before breaking out of his casual stroll into a full blown sprint, pelting up the stairs until he gets to his room. Once inside he heads immediately to his chest of drawers and pulls open the top drawer with such force he almost rips it clear away. There, buried among his socks, is a mirror. His Christmas present from James.

“James,” he whispers into it, eyes frantically searching the glass and swearing when he only sees his own worried expression staring back at him. He gives it a shake. “James Potter. Come on. James James James.”

The thin face of James appears, frowning, shoving on his glasses hastily. “Sirius, what’s up? I was asleep.”

“James, this is important,” Sirius says, and it all comes tumbling out, all of it; Sirius talks until his voice starts to rasp, but still he carries on. Finally, breathlessly, he says, “I told you there was something going on. I told you.”

James is still frowning. “Well,” he says slowly. “Forgive me if I don’t congratulate you, mate.”

“What are we going to do?” Sirius demands.

“Tell Dumbledore,” James says at once. “This sounds pretty huge. I mean, if it is all connected, all the disappearances and the recent killings - I mean, have you heard about the Muggles in Swansea? Their whatsits, the please-people, their stumped, Dad says. Has to be wizards behind it.”

Sirius gnaws on his bottom lip. “Dumbledore already knows. Remember over the summer, when he met up with Ted and Drom? I knew there was something going on!”

“Yes, well done you. If Dumbledore already knows, and the Aurors know, then - well, there’s not a lot that can be done, is there? Sounds like it’s all already going on.”

“I want to help. I want to fight.”

“Sirius, we’re thirteen.”

“I’m fourteen,” Sirius says quickly.

James runs a hand through his hair in one irritable movement. “Well, grab your wand and sally forth, then! Sorry. I don’t mean to be - unhelpful, or whatever, but I don’t see what we can do.”

“I hate them, all of them,” Sirius says viciously. “I can’t wait to leave this place. I knew they were bigots, but my own cousin - I used to let her braid my hair!”

“Really?” James looks momentarily amused.

“Tell no one,” Sirius mutters. He sighs, flopping back on to his bed, holding the mirror above him. “Merlin, this is so messed up. I’m going to have to sleep with one eye open or something.”

“For what it’s worth, I think you can take her,” James says encouragingly.

Sirius cracks a smile. A sudden creaking sound on the landing outside makes him turn his head. “Gotta go,” he mouths to James, who waves briefly before vanishing from view. Sirius listens hard, wondering if it’s Bella or Cressida creeping around. He’s not sure which is worse, a crazy cousin or a clingy wannabe future bride. After a while he decides it must just be Kreacher, looking for old heirlooms to lick or whatever he does. Probably sent to spy on him.

“Kreacher,” he says loudly, and true enough, the elf edges in from outside the door.

“Yes, Master Sirius?”

“Fetch me a sandwich, would you? I’m starving.”

“As Master commands,” Kreacher says, throwing him a look of deep dislike before disappearing with a crack, and reappearing moments later with a plate piled high with sandwiches.

“Leave now, and stop hanging about outside my room,” Sirius orders.

Kreacher mutters under his breath as he goes. From downstairs Sirius can hear the festivities continuing. He knows he’ll be in trouble tomorrow, for abandoning Cressida, for skipping supper, for refusing to become a homicidal maniac probably, but suddenly he’s too tired to care. He finishes his food, leaving the plate on the side for Kreacher to take care of, and before he can even change out of his hideous dress robes, he’s overcome with sleep.

::

Boxing Day evening

“Dad?”

Jasper Potter looks up from the parchment he’s writing on to see his son in the doorway to his study. Setting aside his quill, Jasper indicates James come in, and gestures at the chair opposite.

James sits down, relieved his dad is still awake at this late hour. He’s just finished talking to Sirius, and now his brain won’t shut off and let him get back to sleep.

“What’s the matter, son?” Jasper takes off his glasses, wiping them with a handkerchief. The initials JP are formed in gold lettering along one side, and James stares at this for a long time thinking of what to say.

“I - I think Sirius is in trouble,” James says, not sure where to start. “I mean, he told me about - he had a bit of a run in with his cousin today. Bellatrix Lestrange.” His dad nods, a frown line appearing on his forehead, and James hesitates for just a moment before blurting out, “Is there some sort of Dark wizard trying to kill all the Muggle-borns?”

Jasper stares at his son for a very long time, his hands steepled together under his chin. Then, he conjures up a pot of freshly brewed tea and two china mugs, handing one over to James.

“Brown or white sugar?”

“Er - brown.”

“Biscuits?”

“What? No, Dad - look, what’s going on?”

Jasper sighs. “James. You are my son, and there are things in this world that I still want to protect you from. Do you understand that?”

“Yes,” James says impatiently. “Yes, of course I do, but -”

“Your mother and I met in the height of the war, you know. It was a terrible time. Fighting non-stop, and then of course the Muggles started doing some fighting of their own. I went to London a few times during those days, and it was awful. You can’t imagine the damage everyone did to each other. All the buildings that were ruined, the lives lost - all for what? One man’s stupid dreams, and the idiots foolish enough or scared enough to follow. So many young people died, James. So many wasted lives. Of course I wasn’t sprightly, even back then, but I did what I could to help our side. Your mother was the one ray of light I had, and we married not long before Grindlewald was defeated.”

James doesn’t say anything; he knows all this, but he’s sure his father is going somewhere.

“I wasn’t a child when the war began, James. I remember what it felt like. The build up, the tension - you can feel it, you know. You can sense the fear on the streets, the whispers, the rumours. It feels a lot like it does now.”

“So - you think there’s going to be a war too?” James asks.

Jasper stares down at his stacks of parchment. “I think history is doomed to repeat itself. I think people never learn. But,” he adds softly, “I also believe, and have seen first hand, the integrity and downright kindness people can show each other even in the darkest of times. I don’t want to scare you, James, but I don’t want to coddle you - I think the wind is rising; I think a lot of people have gotten stirred up into a frenzy over another Dark agenda spun by someone charismatic enough to make it all sound terribly noble and deserved. Just remember, when the time comes, be true to yourself. Follow your heart, and do good by others, and you too can find your light. It is, after all, the light that banishes the dark from this world.”

James reaches for a cup and takes a sip of tea. After a moment he takes a biscuit too. He wishes Sirius were here, to hear this. His dad has the ability to be calm and unflappable even when James is freaking out about things.

“Have I frightened you?” Jasper asks, eyebrows drawn tightly together.

“No,” James says truthfully. “No. After all, if history repeats itself, we’ll be okay, won’t we? We’ll make it through. You moved on after the war. You found Mum, and had me, and your lives were instantly a million times better -”

Jasper laughs. “I got a million times greyer, if that’s what you mean. It’s genetic, so I look forward to when your own son starts putting a few greys on that mop of yours with his antics, and I can have a good old laugh.”

“I’m never getting grey,” James says with a grin, his spirits lifted.

After all, he has his parents, and his friends, and they’ll be back at Hogwarts soon enough. Whatever is out there, waiting for them, they’ll face it together.

Chapter Text

January 1974.

The Slytherin common room is silent apart from the sound of Regulus writing his thank-you notes to his relatives for all the Christmas presents he received. He didn’t do too badly this year: a walnut school trunk from Narcissa, with dragonbone handles and inlay, the Black family crest in gold on the front; a sizeable portion of money from both sets of grandparents to add to his Gringott’s savings vault; a book of ancient spells and how to cast them from Bellatrix from her most recent trip to Albania; a dragonhide journal from Aunt Lucretia, complete with a security spell that caused the journal to shriek horrendously if anyone other than the owner tried to read its contents; a chess set of carved onyx goblins and intricate ivory centaurs from Uncle Cygnus and Aunt Druella. There had been a present from Uncle Alphard as well, a portable potions set, although Uncle Alphard himself had been absent this holiday period, which was unlike him. Father had simply said he was still travelling when Regulus asked, although he didn’t say where, and Regulus isn’t sure what address to send his thank-you owl to.

He pauses, flexing the fingers in his right hand to stop them from cramping, and decides to leave his owl to Uncle Alphard until another day. It’s late anyway, nearing midnight, and the embers in the fireplace are dying. The candles and murky green hue from the tall windows offer little light or warmth, and Regulus resigns himself to going to bed.

He stacks his letters in a neat pile on the middle of the coffee table, and is just about to extinguish the last of the fire when the dungeon door rumbles open and Barty Crouch walks into the common room, yawning and pulling off his cloak.

“What’re you doing?” he asks when he sees Regulus, at the same time that Regulus says, “Why’re you out so late?”

Barty answers first. “I’ve been scrubbing all the suits of armour on the second floor for Filch. By hand - no magic.” He grimaces, taking a seat next to Regulus on the dark green sofa and yawning again. “How he manages that kind of thing all day is beyond me.”

“Used to it, I suppose,” Regulus says with a shrug, not given to thinking very much about how Squibs cope on a daily basis. As a general rule, he tries not to think about Squibs at all. Mother says they’re dangerous, sly; they’ll steal your wand if given half the chance, the lot of them mad with envy. He’d grown up with the stories about her own Uncle Marius, his singed hole on the tapestry a constant reminder of The Dangers of The Squib. She’d nearly gone apoplectic with fury when Regulus had told her about the school caretaker. “So, what did you do to get a detention?”

“Answered back to McGonagall yesterday,” Barty says, seemingly unperturbed. He’s braver than Regulus; McGonagall scares him. He’s fairly sure she dislikes him, probably because he’s not that great at Transfiguration. “I was having an argument with a Gryffindor Prefect, and she came and stuck her nose in and ordered I apologise! I refused, of course. I think it’s terrible how biased she is, always siding with her own students. Gryffindors always get away with everything.”

Regulus nods fervently. “I know. Sirius -” he breaks off suddenly, unsure of how much to say. After all, Mother always says no one can judge a Black, apart from another Black, and Barty may be family but not in the way that Sirius is. Barty is just an off-shoot of the family tree, just a Crouch.

Barty doesn’t seem to notice any hesitation in the conversation at all. “Your brother gets away with a lot,” he says, nodding agreeably. “It’s a wonder your family don’t just make you the heir.”

Regulus laughs nervously. “Don’t be stupid.”

“I’m being deadly serious,” Barty says, sitting up. “I mean, he seems very ungrateful to me, trampling the family name through the mud with those friends of his.”

Regulus frowns, thinking of how it had been over Christmas. Sirius hadn’t even bothered to hide the fact that he wanted to be somewhere else, not giving a thought to Mother’s feelings or how much effort she’d gone to, inviting the Carrow girl over and everything. Then he’d gone and ruined everything by having some sort of fight with Bella.

None of the adults would say much about it, but dinner had been a strained and awkward affair with Sirius skulking in his room by himself and Bella practically radiating anger. Regulus had asked what was wrong, what had happened, but before Bella could reply Mother had set her knife and fork down very firmly and said, “I don’t think my son needs to know quite everything just yet, Bellatrix. This is my house and I’d thank you to keep your meetings elsewhere, away from mine.” Bella had gone red and said how it wasn’t her fault, that Sirius shouldn’t be lurking outside doorways and listening to conversations, but then Father had coughed pointedly and Aunt Druella had said how nice the goose was, and Kreacher had been summoned to pour everyone more wine. Regulus still doesn’t know what in Merlin’s name had happened, but he’s fairly sure it’s all Sirius’ fault.

It’s definitely Sirius’ fault that he now has to deal with Cressida Carrow seeking him out in the common room in the evenings, asking if he’s heard from Sirius about her. Regulus doesn’t have the heart to tell her that, a few days after Christmas, Sirius had told Father and Mother in no uncertain terms that he’d rather marry a flobberworm.

Maybe Barty has a point. Sirius can be terribly ungrateful at times.

Still, it’s not for a Crouch to cast judgement on a Black, so Regulus just says, “Potter’s a Pureblood.”

Barty shakes his head. “A blood-traitor is worse than a Mudblood, if you ask me. Mudblood’s can’t exactly help themselves, can they, being born wrong? Some of them can be all right. The half-bloods, anyway. But people who turn their backs on their own kind, that’s disgusting.”

Regulus doesn’t want to think of his brother like this. One fight with Bella doesn’t make Sirius a blood-traitor, after all. He turns his best Black sneer on Barty, and asks, with as much disdain as possible, “And what Mudbloods have you been getting friendly with?”

Barty smiles, patting around in his robes until he produces an apple from a pocket.

“Snape is a half-blood, and he’s all right at times. Can’t stand his Muggle father. He hexed James Potter at the start of the year and saved you and your lot.”

“Shut up.”

Barty shrugs, shining the apple on the hem of his robes. “Just repeating what I hear. After all, is the enemy of your enemy not your friend?”

Regulus’ head hurts. He knows Snape is friendly with Jarvis Avery and Joseph Mulciber, and the Black’s have known the Avery’s and the Mulciber’s for generations, but from a very early age Regulus’ whole social life has been pretty much planned out for him with a list of acceptable names, and nowhere on that list has the name Snape ever appeared. He wonders if he should ask Cissy about it all.

As if reading his mind, Barty continues, “If you’re only going to associate with Purebloods only, your choices are limited. Got to broaden your horizons at some point, Regulus.”

“Does your father know how terribly liberal you are?” Regulus mutters.

Barty grins, taking a bite out of his apple. “My father doesn’t know much. Anyway, it’s fitting I suppose. I was almost a Hufflepuff.”

Regulus blinks in surprise. He can’t recall any of his friends ever owning up to nearly being Sorted elsewhere before.

“A Hufflepuff?”

“The Hat said I was very loyal,” Barty says. “Which is true. Did it not consider anywhere else for you?”

Regulus nearly laughs. After the debacle with Sirius, going anywhere other than Slytherin had not been an option, Black or not. He’d practically begged for the green and silver. A part of him had been sad, that he wouldn’t be with his brother like he had always assumed when they were younger, but then he reminded himself that this was Sirius’ doing, that he should have tried harder for Slytherin. It’s Sirius’ fault they’re on opposite sides.

::

Regulus doesn’t think about Snape again until a week later. Slughorn had let slip that he’d be testing them on Anti-Itching Potions in their next lesson, and the night before Regulus is in the common room with his new portable potions set, crouched in front of the scales and diligently measuring out spitweed, when Snape calls, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

“I didn’t ask you, Snape.”

“I know,” Snape says lazily, eyeing Regulus from over the brim of his book. “But I don’t fancy scraping bits of you from the ceiling so soon after we’ve gotten rid of the bundimun problem. So if you want to remain intact, I’d add a little less eye of frog.”

Regulus pauses, swapping looks with Evan, who shrugs. Looking up, Regulus meets Barty’s eye from where he’s sat across the room. Barty’s expression is expectant, encouraging. Sighing, Regulus finally faces Snape, and asks, cautiously, “How much less?”

Snape helps him to brew the rest of the potion, and the next day Slughorn gives Regulus his highest ever mark in Potions.

Regulus finds Snape in the common room that evening, mumbling a rushed ‘thanks’ in his direction. This is why he prefers to do his thanking in the form if writing, he thinks, uncomfortable under Snape’s indifferent expression.

“It was no trouble,” Snape drawls. “I just hate to see the art of potion making being butchered, that’s all.”

“How did you, er - how did you get so good at it?” Regulus asks. “I mean, if your father is a - a Muggle.”

“Because my mother is a witch,” Snape says slowly, frowning at Regulus. “Witches have a tendency to be able to brew potions.”

“I know that,” Regulus says, curling his hands into fists. He does not appreciate being spoken to like this by Severus Snape of all people. “I just thought maybe your father wouldn’t like it, that maybe you didn’t get a chance to practice or whatever. For all I know you might not even own a cauldron.”

“Who told you that?” Snape asks, red patches appearing in the hollows of his pallid cheeks. “I can assure you, Black, that my mother is an excellent witch, from the Prince family, and that her being married to my father doesn’t make her any less capable. She taught me from a very young age, and obviously it has paid off enough that you so clearly need my help.”

This hasn’t gone at all how Regulus imagined. This is probably why Mother warned him away from people unless they’d met at a Pureblood function. Clearly, being part Muggle made one extremely volatile. Not to mention rude. Must be the mixed blood, Regulus thinks, scowling as Snape turns his back on him and storms out of the dungeons.

Barty finds it hilarious when Regulus tells him about the encounter. “Well, you probably did come off sounding a bit pompous. Assuming he didn’t have a cauldron and all that.”

“How was I to know?” Regulus demands. “I’ve never properly spoken to a half-blood before. He lives in a Muggle town, doesn’t he? I don’t know what goes on in such places.”

“You are a snob,” Barty says, but he’s still laughing.

::

The next time Regulus runs into Snape there’s nothing funny about it. It’s a blustery Thursday afternoon and Regulus is battling his way through the wind, his scarf whipping him in the face as he walks, head bowed, across the courtyard towards his Charms lesson.

Coming around a pillar, Regulus nearly walks into Snape, who is stood with his back against the stone wall, wand gripped tightly in his hand as he faces off against James Potter and - Regulus blanches - Sirius.

Sirius’ head swivels almost comically as he looks at his brother. “Reg,” is all he says.

Snape, taking advantage of Sirius’ momentary distraction, aims his wand and sends a jet of red light soaring at Sirius’ face. Regulus feels the heat from the spell even from where he’s stood, and he’s thankful for Potter probably for the first and last time in his life as the older boy pulls Sirius out of harms way.

“That wasn’t very nice, Snivellus,” Potter says, shoving Snape back against the wall with one hand, his other drawing his wand out and pushing it precariously close to Snape’s head. “We just wanted a chat, that’s all.”

“Heard that Mary Macdonald got hit with a levitation spell yesterday. Got sent upside down in the air in front of a whole crowd of people. Wouldn’t have anything to do with you, would you?” Sirius asks, regaining his composure quickly.

Regulus knows he should just leave well enough alone. He should just carry on his way to Charms, just walk away. What’s it to him if Potter and Snape and his brother all hex each other into oblivion? If they kill each other, they would all be one less problem for him to worry about anyway. Still, Regulus recognises the twist of his brother’s smile, sees the glint in Potter’s eyes, and knows that this - two on one, and Potter and Sirius are both bigger than Snape - this isn’t right.

“Leave him alone,” Regulus says.

“Get lost, Regulus,” Sirius snaps, not looking at him.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Snape says. “So what if the Mudblood showed her knickers to a bunch of people? What are you, her knights in shining armour?”

“You’re disgusting,” Potter snarls, pushing harder against Snape’s shoulder. “Do you kiss Evans with that mouth?”

Despite the position he’s in, Snape manages a smirk. “Why? Jealous, Potter?”

“Of being a slimy, unwashed git?” Potter says coldly. “I think not. I was just wondering how Evans would feel knowing that you’re the reason one of her mates ended up hoisted in the air in the first place. Or are you still pretending to be her harmless misunderstood friend?”

“You know nothing about Lily and I,” Snape says, looking angrier than he has done so far.

He tries to push back against Potter, but Potter is stronger and easily sends him back into the hard brick of the wall. Snape’s head hits the brick with a thud, and Sirius laughs.

It’s his brother’s laugh, echoing off the walls, that sends Regulus into action. Without thinking he lurches forward and pushes James Potter as hard as he can. Caught off guard, Potter staggers sideways, releasing his hold on Snape.

“Oi!” Potter shouts, glaring at Regulus, but Regulus whips out his own wand and holds it in front of him. He wishes his hands weren’t shaking.

Potter blinks down at the wand, and then glances uncertainly at Sirius. Sirius is staring at Regulus with a narrow expression.

“Put the wand down, Reg,” he says wearily.

“Why, so you can both hex me?”

“I’m not going to hex you,” Potter says, and Regulus notices his own wand is held limply at his side. He lifts his other hand, and Regulus instictively draws back, but Potter merely adjusts his glasses, and then smiles slowly at Regulus’ reaction. “Jumpy,” he observes.

“Shut your mouth.”

Potter shrugs, and then says, casually, “Your mate’s gone.”

Regulus, confused, at last relaxes enough to look around and sees that Snape has indeed done a runner.

Sirius snorts. “Not one for heroics, eh? For all he knows he’s left you to be cursed into a billion biddy bits.” Regulus tenses, for a moment thinking that Sirius will turn his wand on him, but Sirius just looks bored and faces Potter instead. “C’mon, James. We better get to History of Magic, or even Binns might notice we’re late.”

Potter nods agreeably, pocketing his wand and wiping his hands on his robes. He pauses before turning to go, giving Regulus a smarmy smile and mocking salute, and Regulus clenches and unclenches his fists, wishing he had the guts to send a curse at him, right between the shoulder blades. Sirius would, a voice whispers in his ear.

“Shut up,” Regulus says to no one, his words swiftly carried away by the wind.

::

He doesn’t speak to Snape for nearly three days after. Regulus will see glimpses of him in the hallways between lessons, obscured by other students; he catches sight of Snape’s black cloak always fluttering just out of sight around corners, or else Snape will uncannily have always just stepped out whenever Regulus enters the common room.

It isn’t until Regulus determinedly tracks him down on Sunday evening, ferreting him out at last in the library, that they finally come face to face. Or, not exactly face to face, as Snape refuses to look at him, staring instead at the book opened up on the table in front of him.

“Are you stalking me?” Snape mutters, as Regulus pulls up a chair beside him. “Because I tell you now, it’s not flattering.”

“I’m not stalking you. I just - wanted to talk. About the other day -”

“Save it. I don’t need your pity. I didn’t need you butting in.”

Regulus bristles. “Looked like you needed it from where I was. Or did I misinterpret, and was Potter really massaging your shoulder?”

“Potter,” Snape says, scowling at the book, “is an ingrate.”

“Not disagreeing with you there.”

Snape looks up, his face sullen. “Your brother is worse, you know. I think Potter actually believes he’s on some sort of self-righteous crusade against everybody less than him. Of course, Potter thinks that’s everybody, but then again he is clearly delusional and believes his own fantasies. Your brother though - I think he actually enjoys being a bully. I think he does it for fun.”

Regulus stares at the hanging oil lamp, at the bookcases staggering under the weight of hundreds of years of ink, at the wooden table scratched and scarred over the years of frantic studying students. He thinks of his brother, five-years-old and flying Regulus’ toy broom out of reach, laughing as he zooms around the garden of Grimmauld Place as a tearful Regulus runs after him on the ground. He thinks of when Sirius was eight-years-old, spilling an inkwell over the carpet in the drawing room and blaming Kreacher, kicking Regulus in the shin when he tried to protest. He thinks of Sirius after he came home from his first year at school, sullen and temperamental, picking fights and spouting off pro-Muggle rubbish and sounding not at all like the brother Regulus remembered. He thinks of Sirius, four months ago, stood over him in a carriage on the Hogwarts Express, his expression blank and remorseless as boils erupt up Regulus’ arm.

Eventually, he says, “I think you’re right.”

::

Dear Cissy,

Mother said in her last owl that you’re still not quite yourself, and hope by the time this reaches you that you are feeling better. You certainly didn’t seem yourself at Christmas. Mother wouldn’t say what the matter was, but whatever it is, I hope it goes soon!

School is much the same as ever. The trunk comes in very handy (thanks again!). I am still hopeless at Transfiguration but I think it’s mostly that McGonagall puts me off with her soul destroying eyes, but you’ll be pleased to know I’m getting better at Potions. I have something of a tutor - a student in the year above, Severus Snape. I’m not sure if you will remember him from your time here. Anyway he helps me out a great deal, he’s really rather clever and has even invented some of his own spells. His mother is Eileen Prince, does the name sound familiar to you at all? He is good friends with Joseph Mulciber - younger brother of Esther, I believe you know her?

Give my best to Lucius, and the peacocks!

Regulus.

Darling Reg,

You are too sweet. I am fine, recovering well thank you. Let’s just say ‘women trouble’ and leave it at that - there, that’s got you wishing you never asked!

From the way you listed all the Pureblood names you could, I’m guessing you are asking for my approval on said Severus Snape? Yes, I remember him somewhat. If I recall, he hung around with a carroty Gryffindor, but maybe his taste in associations have improved over the years. One must assume so, if he has made it into your good books!

Relax, cousin. The Prince’s were a good line - not 28 material, of course, but good still. I assure you, you shall not be blasted from the tapestry for being his friend! I shouldn’t joke about such things I suppose, but when one is stuck here with no one but elves and peacocks for company, one must try to see the light in situations. Lucius is terribly busy all the time, you see; the next time he is free we should all meet up in Hogsmeade. Perhaps Lucius can owl the school and make up some important reason why we have to see you. We’ll think of something: you’re quite right, it wasn’t the same at Christmas, what with one thing and another, and it would be lovely to see you. Bring your new little chum along as well!

All my love,
Cissy xxx

::

It’s nearly February when Severus sits next to Regulus without any amount of hesitation at the Slytherin table.

“Are you done with the bacon, Regulus?” he asks.

Regulus nearly spills pumpkin juice over the table. “You called me Regulus,” he says stupidly.

“That is your name.”

“What happened to 'Black'?” Regulus asks, handing him the platter of bacon.

Severus shrugs. “Black is your brother,” he says matter-of-factly. “You’re nothing like your brother.”

No, Regulus thinks, resisting the urge to glance over to the Gryffindor table like he does, reflexively, every morning. No, I’m not.

Chapter Text

February 1974.

Valentines Day envelopes the school like a giant marshmallow, sickly sweet and unbearably soft, and Remus thinks it nothing short of horrifying. James and Sirius throw themselves into the spirit, composing ridiculous sonnets - to each other, to random passers-by, even to McGonagall, who spends the first ten minutes of Transfiguration with a vein in her temple twitching dangerously as Sirius tries to rhyme “feline” and “be mine” with each other.

Remus wakes up on the fourteenth to find the canopy above his bed strewn with pink crepe paper. Not only that, but his bedsheets are now pink and his pillow is in the shape of a heart. Despite himself, Remus pauses to admire the spellwork and the effort they’ve gone to, before he yanks his curtains open, releasing a shower of confetti on to his head, and groans aloud at the sight in front of him.

James and Sirius have spared no detail. The whole dormitory is covered in tiny heart-shaped confetti, the walls are a garish pink and paper hearts flutter at the ceiling. After a moment in which Remus is certain he has lost the ability to form words, Peter emerges from his own bed holding a teddy bear and giving Remus a resigned look.

“What can you do, eh?”

Indeed, Remus thinks, and prepares himself for the day ahead.

::

“There was a cherub in my sock drawer, Sirius,” says Remus, sitting down at the table where Sirius and James are already halfway through breakfast. “What have you got to say about that?”

Sirius looks genuinely offended. “I hope you weren’t rude to Cecil.”

“He flew at my head. Nearly took my eye out. I suppose it was your idea to arm him with a miniature weapon?”

“That was a bow,” Sirius says condescendingly, pouring himself a large mug of coffee and dropping in a sugar cube from the bowl. “You’ve been struck by a love arrow, Moony.”

“You’d think he’d be happier about it,” James says, grinning slyly.

“I was nearly blinded,” Remus mutters. James and Sirius ignore this. Peter gives him another sympathetic look, and passes him the marmalade.

“Come on, Remus,” Sirius says, jiggling Remus’ leg with his foot under the table. “Don’t be grumpy. This is my favourite holiday!”

“You say that about every holiday.”

“It’s not my fault I can’t choose,” Sirius says briskly. “I had a deprived childhood.”

Peter frowns. “Didn’t your parents get you a sword for your tenth birthday?”

James snorts into his pumpkin juice. Sirius scowls deeply, and says, with great dignity, “It was a foil, if you must know. Doesn’t mean I wasn’t deprived -”

“Didn’t it have emeralds on the handle?” Peter enquires innocently.

“Shut up, Peter.”

“Speaking of presents,” James says, speaking loudly to interrupt them both, because Peter has adopted that devilish look he can sometimes get when he’s winding them up. “Look.”

The morning post arrives with the usual flapping and screeching of the owls. Sirius turns his head upwards to watch the birds arrive, his eyes shining excitedly. James looks equally gleeful, and Remus sets down his toast cautiously, looking between his two friends. Peter too is looking suspicious.

Remus thinks back to three days ago, when they were all in the common room together. Remus had been working on his essay for Defence Against The Dark Arts with Peter, and James and Sirius had been huddled in a corner, their heads bent close together, both focused on something. Remus had asked what they were up to; Sirius had just grinned cryptically and said, “You’ll see soon enough.”

Remus knows, can feel it in his gut and see it in his friends’ expressions, that soon enough is now.

The first pink-wrapped parcel is dropped on to a Ravenclaw Fifth Year’s lap. The girl’s friends giggle and whisper exaggeratedly; the girl looks surprised, and then flushed, and then altogether horrified as she opens up the present and gets a face full of pink powder. James and Sirius grin in unison as the girl wails and tries to wipe her face, but whatever the substance is, it’s sticking fast.

There’s a shriek from the Hufflepuff table, and Remus swivels his head in time to see a box explode in the face of another girl. It’s not just the female population, though. Sirius and James have doled out their prank equally, and soon enough males and females, Hufflepuff’s, Slytherin’s, Ravenclaw’s and even their fellow Gryffindor’s are covered in pink, looking like grotesque human marshmallows.

Aguamenti,” Alice Thorne says commandingly, causing water to spray on to Frank Longbottom’s newly magenta face, but it does no good.

“What did you use to get it to stick?” Remus asks curiously, as James and Sirius collapse into identical peals of laughter, leaning on each other for support.

Sirius recovers first, sitting up and tapping the side of his nose. “Secret ingredient. Brewed it ourselves.”

“Should wear off in an hour, tops,” James says.

“If you two put half as much effort into Potions -”

“We’d still be top of the class,” Sirius answers, grinning.

“Top of the class?” Lily Evans, sitting next to Frank, who has shrugged off the fact he’s now pink and is carrying on eating bacon with gusto, wrinkles her nose in their direction. “Have I dropped out and not been told?”

James smiles in her direction. “Morning, Evans. Sad you didn’t get a Valentine?”

Lily raises her eyebrows. “Who says I didn’t, Potter?”

Further up the table, Dorcas Meadowes and Mary MacDonald giggle and swap that secretive, all-knowing look girls are so good at that makes Remus feel as if there are things in this world he will never know, and probably will never want to know.

“Oh, yeah? Who from?” James asks promptly.

“As if I’d tell you.”

“That just means you didn’t get one.”

Lily shrugs. “If that’s what you want to believe,” she says.

“If it’s from Snivellus, it doesn’t count,” Sirius says. “Leftovers from the rubbish dump hardly count as gifts, Evans. It’s not what a real man would give.”

“I wouldn’t have thought you’d know anything about that,” Lily replies.

Mary and Dorcas laugh again. Even Remus hides his smile in his goblet. James, however, leans closer to Lily.

“Who is it then?” James asks again, and through the bravado and banter Remus thinks he’s actually wanting an answer. “Your mystery date. I’m just curious to know, Evans.”

“Why, so you can explode powder into his face on the first opportunity?”

James’ laugh is a bit too deep, a bit too brash. “Oh, Evans. As if I care that much.”

“Yeah,” Peter pipes up. “We’d just want to meet him. Shake his hand, maybe get him checked over by St Mungo’s. He’s either extremely brave, or definitely stupid, to take you on.”

Sirius roars with laugher, banging his fist on the table so that his coffee mug wobbles dangerously. After a beat James grins too, patting Peter on the back. Peter, nearly as pink as Frank, looks extremely pleased with himself. Remus just focuses on his toast, and from the corner of his eye sees Lily get up and leave the table, closely followed by Mary and Dorcas, the latter who definitely mutters ‘tossers’ in their direction before leaving.

“Good one, Pete,” Sirius says, wiping his eyes. “Honestly, who does she think she is, sticking her nose in in the first place? ‘Have I dropped out’, she says! Pah. As if we couldn’t out-do her and her precious Snivelly at Potions any day of the week with our eyes closed. It’s just we, you know - we’ve got far more important things on.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Remus murmurs, as another parcel explodes with a pop in the background, shooting pink everywhere.

::

“Do you recognise the handwriting?” Mary asks, leaning closer to look at the Valentine’s Day card Lily is holding underneath the desk.

At the front of the room Professor Binns is lecturing about the troll uprisings in Scandinavia in 1597 and how this paved the way for the goblin rebellions years later. Lily had managed to write the date and the title on her parchment before Binns’ monotonous drone made her zone out entirely, and has since spent the rest of the lesson inspecting her mystery card for clues about who could have sent it.

Sighing, she shakes her head, and Mary says, “Well, that rules out anyone in our year then. You’d recognise it otherwise.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“Unless they disguised it,” Dorcas says, looking up from the doodle she’s been scrawling in the corner of her parchment.

“Who would do that?”

“I can think of someone.” Mary glances to the back of the classroom where James Potter is sat, elbow propped up on the desk and his face cupped in his hand, looking like he’s sleeping with his eyes open. “Someone interested enough in Lily’s life, but arrogant enough to want to hide it.”

“Don’t be stupid!” Lily protests, whipping her head back around, looking away from Potter to glare at her friend.

“Well, even if he didn’t send it,” Mary says briskly, “he seems awfully interested in who did.”

“He’s just a nosy git, that’s all.”

“Maybe it was Lupin,” Dorcas says thoughtfully.

Lily wrinkles her nose. Remus is sat next to Black, looking just as tired as Potter - if not more so - but diligently taking notes anyway. She looks from him, to the simple ‘be my Valentine?’ written in the card, and shakes her head.

“I know Remus’ handwriting,” she says. “And it’s not his. No, I don’t think it’s a Gryffindor. Not our year, anyway.”

Mary giggles. “Ooh, the plot thickens.”

::

After History of Magic, Lily senses someone getting closer to her in the crowd of students, and then feels a hand on her shoulder.

“Lily. Hi.”

Lily turns at the familiar voice, and smiles. “Oh. Hi, Benjy.”

Benjy Fenwick is in the year above. Tall, with dark hair and eyes and a wide smile, Lily had first met him in First Year in the Muggle-Born Society. He’d helped her settle in a lot, had even been one of the students who helped set up the society in the first place. Lily hasn’t been in months, and it’s been a while since she’s seen Benjy, but now he’s smiling at her - expectantly, she thinks, or almost nervously - and then all at once she realises.

“Oh,” she says.

Benjy’s laugh is hesitant. “Yeah. Oh. I guess you got the card then?” Lily nods, not quite sure what to say now that the mystery is staring her right in the face. “Sorry it’s a bit cheesy,” Benjy says quickly. “So, uh, would you like to? Go to Hogsmeade with me at the weekend?”

Out of the corner of her eye Lily sees Dorcas dragging a grinning Mary away further up the hallway. Forcing herself to look back at Benjy, she says, “That would be nice.”

“Brill,” Benjy says enthusiastically. “Is Madam Puddifoot’s okay, or…?”

Behind him, Mary and Dorcas are eagerly nodding, staring at her with wide eyes. Lily bites her lip to hold in a laugh and manages, “Yes, that’s fine.”

“Excuse me,” Sirius Black’s voice calls from somewhere behind her. “Your public display of disgusting is blocking the hallway!”

A few students laugh and Lily feels herself begin to blush, but Benjy just smiles. “See you Saturday, Lily,” he says.

Once he’s gone, Mary and Dorcas both descend on her, demanding details, but before Lily can answer Black barges past them all, dragging a sullen looking Potter by the arm.

“Idiots!” Mary shouts after them, and then eagerly turns back to Lily. “I can’t believe you’ve got a date with Benjy Fenwick!”

“Is it that big a deal?” Lily mutters, uncomfortably aware that a lot of other students are still staring at her. Personally, she’d have preferred not to have been asked in such a public way, but she supposes Benjy is nice; he’s always been kind to her. “Come on, let’s get to dinner, I’m starving.”

::

The next day, Lily wishes she’d never been asked out by Benjy at all, and the reason for that comes in the shape of a very disgruntled looking Sev.

He asks her to go with him to Hogsmeade - “not as a date, obviously,” he says quickly, probably noticing her conflicted expression - and she sighs, anticipating the reaction that is about to unfold before she’s even spoken.

“I’m really sorry, Sev,” she says, and his eyes narrow immediately. “I’ve already said I’d go with someone else.”

“Who?” he demands, and Lily is forcibly reminded of Potter the other day at breakfast, and she frowns.

“I don’t think it’s your business,” she says, an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach.

“A date, then,” he says, his lip curling in an ill-disguised sneer.

“We could meet up afterwards,” Lily offers, but she knows it’s no good.

Sev is already looking away from her and doesn’t meet her eyes. “Don’t bother. I’m seeing Regulus at The Hog’s Head at 1, anyway.”

“Regulus Black?” Lily asks. She doesn’t know much about the youngest Black, just that he always seems so quiet and reserved, so different from his brother.

Sev shrugs. “Yeah. We’re friends now,” he says, and Lily smiles, trying to be the bigger person and be pleased for her friend because at least it’s not Mulciber, but she can’t quite shake the uneasy feeling or forget Sirius’ warning about his brother.

::

Hogsmeade weekend comes around, and it begins with James throwing himself dramatically on Remus’ bed.

“I can’t believe we don’t have dates!” he moans.

Remus carefully moves his Transfiguration notes. “I thought this holiday was all about pranking?”

“Well - well, yeah, but come on! We’re the best male specimens this school has to offer!”

“So modest.”

“I mean it!” James says, sitting up. “I have the Potter charm, you have your air of mystery, Sirius here is the heir to one of the oldest wizarding families in Britain. Peter’s, er - Peter’s kind.”

From his own bed, Sirius snorts. “Is this because of Evans and Fenwick?”

“Of course not!”

“He’s quite a good Seeker, isn’t he?” Remus asks, acutely aware that any mention of Benjy Fenwick’ Quidditch skills will surely drive James even further up the wall.

“Bet he wants to seek her, haha -”

“Sirius, you are depraved.”

“He’s not that good,” James insists. “We trounced Ravenclaw last match.”

“Trounced?” Remus says, smiling deviously. “Or narrowly beat?”

“Are you my friend or not?” James demands, scowling. “We still beat them!”

At that moment, Peter walks in to the dormitory, and Remus will later think the timing could not have been more perfect.

“I have a date,” he tells them all, wonderment and a rare trace of pride in his voice. He’s holding himself differently, Remus thinks, and he smiles genuinely whilst Sirius and James merely stare, goggle-eyed. “I just asked Moira O’Shea, and she said yes!”

James throws himself face-first into Remus’ pillow and lets out a muffled howl. “The word is ending.”

::

As arranged, Lily meets Benjy at Madam Puddifoot’s at midday. Entering the teashop to the sound of the tinkling bell, she spots him in a corner of the shop by the window. He’s dressed in jeans and a jumper, his blue and bronze scarf hanging on the back of his chair. He stands up when he sees her, looking relieved.

“Hello,” he says, and it’s only a little bit awkward when he pulls out her chair for her and waits for her to sit down before returning to his own seat across from her. “You look nice,” he tells her, grinning at her from behind his menu.

“Oh, erm, thanks,” Lily says, although she’s just dressed in a simple pleated skirt and cream blouse.

“It’s nice to see people in clothes other than robes, I think,” Benjy continues. “My mum works in the fashion industry, you see, for a Muggle magazine. She hates the robes. I did try telling her that they come in colours other than black, and some students wear trousers and shirts underneath them, but she still hates them.”

Lily laughs. “They are a bit of a bother at times, I suppose.”

They order a pot of tea to share, and by the time Madam Puddifoot sets down two china cups in front of them, Lily is starting to relax a bit more.

“What does your dad do?” she asks.

“He works for a bank,” Benjy says. “Of course he’s absolutely fascinated about wizarding currency. Tries to talk to me about the exchange rate every time I go home.”

“Your parents sound really supportive,” Lily says, stirring sugar into her tea.

“Oh, they are,” he says, nodding. “What about your family? I remember in first year you said your sister didn’t take it very well.”

Lily is partly surprised Benjy remembers about Petunia at all. “Still the same as ever. Things can be okay between us as long as we don’t mention the fact I’m a witch.”

“Yeah, I have an uncle like that,” Benjy says, something in his voice changing. “Whenever he comes around we can’t mention it. It’s rough. We get crap from family for being magical, and crap from the wizarding community for coming from a Muggle family. It’s like, a lose-lose situation, isn’t it?”

Lily stares down at the frilly tablecloth. “Well, I guess -”

“Sorry,” Benjy says suddenly, and when she glances back up the easy smile is there again. “My friends say I get a bit intense sometimes. Muggle-born rights and all that. It just makes my blood boil, you know? Guess that’s why I started the Muggle-born society, but I’ll stop talking now. Promise.”

“It’s good that you care so much,” Lily says honestly.

Benjy grins. “So, does that mean you’ll start coming back to the club? Haven’t seen you there for ages.”

Lily feels momentarily guilty, but then Benjy’s smile is encouraging, not accusing. She nods. “Yeah, I’ll come.”

“Tuesday evenings,” Benjy says. “Muggle Studies classroom.”

Lily picks up her teacup, smiling. “Tuesday evenings it is.”

::

The Hog’s Head is practically empty when Severus arrives, shrugging off his cloak and hanging it over his arm. It’s easy to spot Regulus, sat in a shadowy booth with Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy. Regulus hails him over, and Severus shakes his hand, and then Lucius’, and nods politely to Narcissa, trying not to show his nerves.

He remembers Lucius as intimidating, not someone to cross. On Severus’ first night at Hogwarts, he’d been having a perfectly good conversation with Lucius about N.E.W.T level Potions, until he let it slip that his father was a Muggle, and then Lucius had become cold and detached, ignoring him whenever Severus tried to engage him in conversation. Narcissa had always been kinder, and Severus knows that she is Regulus’ favourite cousin. Severus takes the seat next to her.

“Good to see you again, Snape,” Lucius says, and Severus suspects that Lucius has either been instructed by his wife to be on his best behaviour, or that he doesn’t remember Severus at all. “How have you been keeping?”

“Well, thank you,” Severus replies.

“You’re in Third now, aren’t you?” Lucius asks, his grey eyes travelling over Severus’ threadbare robes. Severus fights the impulse to put his cloak back on.

“Y-yes.”

“It only gets worse from here on,” Lucius says.

Hesitantly, Severus smiles. Lucius does not.

“Oh, don’t be rotten, Lu,” Narcissa says, and Regulus grins at Severus at the mention of the nickname. “I’m sure Severus is perfectly capable.” She turns her piercing blue eyes on Severus. “Reggie tells me you’re very good at Potions.”

“Well, yes,” Severus says, thinking there’s no point in being modest when he’s sat with the Black’s and Malfoy’s.

“Can we not talk about school?” Regulus asks in a bored voice. “I’ve just managed to get away from the place, let’s not harp on about it.”

“How did you manage to come to the village?” Severus asks curiously.

Regulus shrugs. “Aunt Lycoris died.”

“Oh.” Severus blinks. “I - I’m terribly sorry.”

Regulus laughs. “Oh, don’t be. She died in 1965. She was never a particularly remarkable woman; probably the reason why Slughorn didn’t think twice or think it odd before giving me special permission to attend the wake today.”

“What if he finds out that you lied?”

Regulus looks completely nonplussed by this possibility. “I suspect I’ll get in a bit of trouble.”

“Do you want a drink, Severus?” Narcissa asks. Severus shakes his head, trying to think of something to say to distract them all from the fact his wallet is embarrassingly empty. Before he can, however, Narcissa says, “Lucius, get Severus a drink for Merlin’s sake!”

Lucius disappears to the bar. Once he’s gone, Narcissa continues. “Sorry about him. He’s in something of a grump today. There’s a - well, a meeting of sorts he’s been invited to today, and he’s in a bit of a sulk that he’s missing out, but I told him, I haven’t seen my cousin properly in an age, and family is more important than silly meetings, is it not?”

Severus has never had any similar sentiments about his own family, but he nods anyway.

“What sort of meeting?” Regulus asks.

“Oh, nothing, darling. Forget it.”

“Like the ones Bella talks about?” Regulus presses.

Narcissa’s cheeks go slightly pinched. “Bella has told you about them, has she?”

“Well, not exactly. Just overheard her and Rodolphus talking at Christmas.”

“It’s nothing for you to concern yourself with,” Narcissa says, with a note of finality, as Lucius returns with a bottle of butterbeer for Severus. Regulus looks like he’s about to open his mouth and say more about these meetings, and Narcissa says, “So, Severus, you’re in the same year as my cousin Sirius, are you not?”

“Oh. Yes, I am,” Severus says stiffly.

“Not friends, then?” Lucius asks, smirking.

Severus shifts awkwardly. “Not as such.”

“I told you he’s awful now,” Regulus mutters. “Told you it’s not just me who thinks so.”

Lucius sniffs. “Shame. He had such promise.” Narcissa looks unhappy, and Lucius slides an arm around her shoulder. “Well, he might still come around,” he says bracingly, but Severus is not sure he entirely means it. “Even the best families have their rough parts,” Lucius continues, inclining his head towards Severus. “I mean, your mother is Eileen Prince, correct?”

Severus nods cautiously, taking a sip of butterbeer.

“My point exactly. A respectable enough woman, who made a wrong choice - no offense, of course, Snape.”

“My father is wrong all right,” Severus mutters, and Lucius laughs.

“I bet it’s frightful, having to return to that place every summer. Having to live like a Muggle.”

Severus thinks of Lily, of sitting together in the old rec and taking walks by the river. “It - it can be okay, at times.”

“Oh, no need to defend it here!” Lucius cries. “Not among us.”

“Lucius,” Narcissa murmurs.

“What?” Lucius says, blinking at his wife. “I’m sure Severus doesn’t need to be convinced, darling. Being forced to live where he does, with what his father is -”

“Lucius,” Narcissa says, louder. “Not here, for goodness sake.”

Lucius looks put out, but quietens, allowing his wife to talk about their upcoming holiday to Lithuania, about the simply hideous dress robes she received from her friend at Christmas and had to pretend to like, about how she thinks the house elf has lost her favourite diamond necklace. Severus lets himself be immersed in this world, the world of servants and expensive holidays and jewels; Regulus may look bored as anything, but Severus drinks it all in.

Narcissa is halfway through a story of when Regulus was younger and had gotten locked in the attic with a haunted cabinet - Regulus insisting that it was in no way funny, that Bellatrix is awful for leaving him there, and Severus laughing so hard he gets butterbeer foam up his nose - when Lucius suddenly sits up, his hand clamped around his left arm.

The mirth from Narcissa’s face disappears instantly. She looks at her husband, frowning, and he gazes back at her silently. It’s like they’re having a conversation without words, Severus thinks, and it must be one that Narcissa disagrees with, because she purses her lips and stands up abruptly.

“Ever so sorry, boys,” she says in a strange clipped voice. “We have to be going now.”

“Afraid Narcissa isn’t feeling well,” Lucius says, getting up as well and swirling his cloak around his shoulders, fastening it with an expensive looking clasp.

“You were fine a moment ago,” Regulus says. “Must you go?”

Narcissa sighs, kissing him on both cheeks. “I am sorry, darling,” she says, and she sounds as if she means it. “I’ll see you at Easter.”

“Snape,” Lucius says, shaking Severus’ hand. “I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll see of each other.”

“I hope not,” Severus says boldly, not wanting to lose this connection to the sparkling elite anytime soon.

The Malfoy’s disappear with a crack, disapparating hand-in-hand.

Regulus downs the rest of his butterbeer in one go, looking miserable.

“Your cousin is very nice,” Severus says.

He nods. “Yeah. She’s the best of the lot. Bellatrix was always a bit scary, and never much wanted anything to do with me. I hardly see her now. She’s always busy. And as for Andromeda - well. You know that story.”

Severus nods, wondering not for the first time how anyone could want to lose their status in a family such as the Black’s. He looks at his robes, more grey than black, and his cloak - last years, and starting to be a bit tight at the shoulders. He tries not to compare himself with Regulus, with his tailored robes and fur-lined cloak, but it’s hard.

“We best get back to school,” Regulus says heavily. “I don’t want Slughorn on my back.”

As they’re walking back through the village, Regulus points suddenly to a shop that Severus has never noticed before. “Isn’t that your friend?” Regulus asks.

Severus doesn’t think any of his friends would be seen dead in somewhere so tacky, but as he looks closer he sees Regulus is right. Lily is sat at a table next to the window, opposite a boy Severus recognises from somewhere he can't quite place. Lily is laughing at something the boy is saying, tucking a stand of red hair behind her ear.

“Oh. Yeah, I know her,” Severus mutters. Regulus raises his eyebrows at his tone - everyone knows he’s friends with Lily Evans, after all. It had been the reason he was bullied so much in his first year, more so than his shabby clothes or Muggle father even - but thankfully he doesn’t say any more about her.

Instead, Regulus says, “That’s Benjy Fenwick. Ravenclaw Seeker.”

“Didn’t have you pegged as a Quidditch fan,” Severus comments, hoping to draw the conversation away from Lily.

“You’d be surprised, then,” Regulus says. “I’m going to ask Mother if I can try-out for the team next year. She’s not overly fond of the idea of Quidditch but I’m sure I’ll be able to talk her round.” To Severus’ dismay, Regulus glances over his shoulder, back to the teashop. “Fenwick’s a Mudblood, too. I wonder if he’s her boyfriend.”

“She doesn’t have a boyfriend,” Severus says at once.

Regulus smirks. “Well, that you know about. Evidence seems to the contrary, after all.” He must not notice the scowl on Severus’ face, as he keeps looking at the pair in the shop window. Severus, meanwhile, is determinedly looking anywhere but at Lily and Fenwick. “Look at them both, in those ridiculous clothes. I mean, here they are, in the only completely wizarding village in Britain, and they’re dressed like that. Do you own an outfit like that?”

“Er, sort of,” Severus admits. “I prefer robes by far.”

Regulus nods, looking satisfied. “Good. At least you’re dressed sensibly.”

For the first time, Severus feels more comfortable in his second-hand robes and too-small cloak. He smiles, and then suddenly realises where he knows Fenwick from. “He runs a school club for Muggle-borns, if I recall.”

He doesn’t mention the fact that Lily took him along to it a couple of times, until he’d told her he came to Hogwarts to learn about magic, not to keep up to date on all the boring Muggle world news (”I have a telly at home for that,” he’d said, and Lily had looked at him like he was missing the point entirely).

Regulus crows with laughter. “Dear Merlin, does he? I didn’t even think such a thing existed. Shall we go ask for a membership?”

For a horrible moment Severus thinks Regulus really intends to go and speak to Lily and Fenwick. Quickly, he says, “Best not to. I mean, you’re supposed to be at a wake, remember?”

Regulus stares at him for a moment, and then nods. “Good thinking. Of course they’d tell on me to McGonagall or someone.”

Still chuckling at the idea of a school society for Muggle-borns, Regulus leads the way back to school. Severus spares one last look at the teashop. A cherub is hovering over the table, chucking confetti on to Lily’s head, and Fenwick leans over to brush it off - Severus looks away, jaw clenched, and follows Regulus back up to the castle.

Chapter Text

Late March 1974.

Sirius, feeling a headache forming and at once identifying the source, slams the book he’d been attempting to get through closed. A plume of dust shoots out from the ancient covers and gets him full in the face. Beside him, Peter sneezes. James doesn’t even look up from his own book, a nasty looking monstrosity titled Most Advanced Transfiguration. Its many pages are yellowing, crumbling, dust-coated horrors; it’s the kind of book Sirius thinks Moony would read for fun, or that would be in the library at Grimmauld Place, and here they are, nearing the Easter holidays and on a fine sunny day, in the library, reading such a book for their own satisfaction. Except, Sirius doesn’t feel very satisfied. He feels impatient.

“James, I don’t think I can look at another book. My eyes have gone all wrong.”

“You haven’t even tried,” James says calmly.

“I have!” Sirius protests, gesturing at History of the Animagus, which lies on the table in front of him. “It’s just, you know.” He trails off, craning his neck to look hopefully out of the nearest window. “It’s such a nice day, and I’ve only got a few more days before I have to go back to London. We’ve been reading forever, and it doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.”

James sighs. “Mate, it’s not going to happen in a few months. This is seriously advanced stuff.” He lowers his voice, glancing around for any sign of Madam Pince. “It’s going to take time. We knew that when we started. And look, we’re getting somewhere.” James nods towards the stack of notes Peter has been keeping. “We need to read up on all the theory and everything before we start, I dunno, trying to turn into lions or whatever.”

“What d’you think you’ll be?” Peter asks, not for the first time, a dreamy expression appearing on his face.

“No idea,” James says with a shrug. “McGonagall said it’s an expression of your innermost self, so…not a clue. I don’t know what my innermost self is.”

Sirius grins. “A lion sounds about right. You’re such a Gryffindor.”

“A lion would be needed, I reckon,” James says grimly. “Considering we’ve got to keep Moony under control.”

“Imagine if one of us is a butterfly,” Peter says, chewing on a fingernail. “That couldn’t happen - could it?”

“If that’s how you feel on the inside, Petey, that’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Sirius says with a bark of laughter. “You can float around and Remus can chase you all night.”

“Would be amazing if one of us could fly,” James says, going all misty-eyed behind his glasses, the expression he usually adopts when talking about flying.

Sirius taps the front cover of History of the Animagus. “There’s a bloke in here who could turn into an eagle.”

“Thought you said reading was boring?”

“Yeah, well - some of the accounts are pretty cool. I’d still rather be outside. Plus, I hate leaving Remus when he’s not feeling well.”

“Has to be done,” James says briskly. “Otherwise he’d want to come with us, wouldn’t he? I don’t like lying to him either, but near the full moon is probably the only time we can sneak off without him wondering where we are.”

“We could always tell him,” Peter suggests.

“No,” James and Sirius snap in unison, and Peter winces. James, gentler, says, “He’d freak out, Pete. You know how he is; he’d hate to think what we were risking, for him. It’s better this way.”

Peter nods glumly, and makes another note on the parchment in front of him. James turns back to his book, and Sirius, knowing he is outnumbered, reluctantly tugs History of the Animagus back towards him, opening it on a random page.

The text is handwritten, and he has to squint to read most of it properly. From what he can gather, it’s about a witch in the 16th century who evaded being burnt at the stake by hiding as her Animagus form. She had to live the rest of her life in the woods near her home, as a badger. Sirius grimaces. Turning into an animal for one night a month to keep your mate safe is one thing, but he doesn’t fancy the idea of having to live as an animal indefinitely. There are other accounts, of transformations going wrong, and wizards and witches not being able to turn back to a human, or else being left with tails or claws. One poor wizard turned into a newt and was killed by his own wife for potion ingredients.

There’s so much at stake, so much to lose. Expulsion and a hefty sentence in Azkaban if they’re caught. Sirius glances up at Peter, frowning heavily and mouthing the words he’s reading, and James, eyes narrowed in concentration, one hand idly ruffling the back of his hair, the other curled around a book. He thinks of Remus, up in their room puking into a bowl the last Sirius saw, thinking they’re off at Quidditch practice or extra Charms tutoring. He thinks of his angry expression when he finds out what they’ve been doing, and then imagines his smile when he finds out why.

Some things are worth the risk.

::

Remus pulls his knees up to his chest, exhaling a shaky breath. His stomach makes a loud gurgling noise and he leans forward, closer to the bowl by the side of his bed, but thankfully he’s not sick again. He sits back gingerly against his pillows, trying to quell the nauseated feeling, and closes his eyes. The moon is two days away, and because the universe apparently hates him, of course it falls on the day he’s supposed to be going back home for the Easter holidays. Dumbledore insisted he stay at Hogwarts for it, and catch the train home a day later, and surprisingly his parents agreed.

It’s not fair, the childish part of Remus thinks. Not fair that he has to miss riding the train with his friends, and instead has to take it by himself when he’ll probably be in a bad state from the night before. His mother will fuss, his father will go very white and very quiet, but no one will say anything in case Remus gets upset.

His stomach clenches painfully again. Hospital Wing, Remus decides. Madam Pomfrey. Anti-Sickness Potion, for the love of Merlin. He glances at his friends’ beds, and wonders what’s taking them so long. Peter has Charms tutoring, and James and Sirius went for Quidditch practice hours ago, but surely that must be over now. They’re probably out in the sunshine, a voice whispers in his ear. Without you hindering them, slowing them down.

Remus grits his teeth, pushing that particular thought roughly aside, and starts what surely must be the longest ever excursion from the dormitory to the Gryffindor common room. It takes an age to get down the stairs, and when he’s at the bottom, he finds a very concerned looking Lily Evans sitting on the sofa, facing him, a newspaper held limply in her hands.

“Remus,” she says, her voice a million miles away. “Are you okay? You don’t look well.”

And you sound like you’re talking from under the lake, Remus says, or thinks he does. How funny.

When he wakes up, he’s on the sofa, and Lily is leaning over him, her hair tickling his nose. There’s a few other upside-down face looming down at him as well, and slowly Remus recognises Marlene McKinnon and Alice Thorne.

“Oh, Remus, thank God you’re all right!” Lily says.

“Um,” he says, piecing together what must have happened and feeling himself flush all over. “Sorry.”

“Well, he must be feeling himself again,” Marlene says, shaking her head. “Trust Lupin to wake up after fainting and apologise for the inconvenience.”

He tries to sit up, but Marlene places a surprisingly strong hand on his chest and pushes him back down.

“Don’t move,” Alice says in a much more comforting voice. “Frank’s gone to Madam Pomfrey.”

“No,” Remus says, struggling upright. “Really, I’m fine. Just - haven’t had much to eat, that’s all. Been a bit sick. I’m fine.”

Four pairs of eyes stare at him, none of them convinced. Girls are terrifying, Remus realises. He’s relieved when the portrait swings open and Frank clambers through the hole, carrying what looks like most of Madam Pomfrey’s potion supplies. He approaches them at a jog, his face splitting into a grin when he sees Remus sat up.

“Good to see you awake. Gave us all a fright. Now, Pomfrey said to give you this, this, and whatever the hell this nasty looking potion is. She said she’d like to see you, but also that you’d probably refuse and would prefer to just do it yourself.”

Remus manages a smile. “She knows me so well.”

He uncorks the vial Anti-Sickness Potion and downs it in one, quickly followed the potion for headaches and the violet-coloured liquid meant for keeping his blood pressure under control near the full moon.

“Mate,” Frank says, awe in his voice. “You take a lot of medicine.”

“Used to it,” Remus says uncomfortably.

“Oh, nearly forgot,” Frank continues, rooting around in his pockets and digging out a slab of chocolate. “She also sent this.”

Two chunks of chocolate later, and Remus really is feeling better. Lily, looking a bit shaken, points out he has colour back in his cheeks, and mercifully his stomach has stopped trying to turn itself inside out. Frank and Alice, after going into Prefect mode and double and triple checking that he’s okay and wouldn’t like to go to the Hospital Wing, retire to the corner of the room to play chess. Marlene heads up to the girls’ Fifth Year dormitory, but not before fixing him with a stern look and ordering him not to die.

“You don’t need to stay with me,” Remus tells Lily, who has sat herself next to him on the sofa. “Really, I’m okay now. Must just have a touch of the flu, or something.”

Lily shrugs. “I’m just after your chocolate.”

Remus grins and breaks her off a piece. They sit for a while in companionable silence; Lily picks up her newspaper again, and Remus, curiosity getting the better of him, glances over and realises the photographs aren’t moving.

“Why are you reading a Muggle newspaper?” he asks. Lily looks at him, eyebrows raised, and he says, quickly, “Sorry, that was stupid. Obviously you want to keep up to date. Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Lily says. “It’s the local one from Cokeworth, although I get The Times delivered as well for a more broad coverage of what’s going on, and the Muggle-Born Society keeps a lot of other ones archived for people to look through.”

“Muggle-Born Society?”

“Yeah,” Lily says with a grin. “I started going again. Well, Benjy made me promise to, but it’s actually really good. I think it helps a lot of the younger students, you know the ones that had no idea they were magical until they got their letter. Helps quite a bit with homesickness as well.”

Remus pops another piece of chocolate into his mouth, and then holds the bar out to Lily. “That sounds great. I had no idea we had one.”

“Well, it’s sort of a quiet thing. We don’t really want to attract any unwanted attention.”

“I might have to borrow The Times from you at breakfast. See what’s going on.”

The Daily Prophet has stopped reporting on the Muggle disappearances, have you noticed?” Lily asks suddenly. Remus has to admit that he hasn’t; it’s not really something he’s been following. “They ran that article about six months ago about it possibly being linked to a group of wizards targeting Muggles for fun, and then nothing since. I had to read the Muggle paper to find out what happened to that young family from Shropshire.”

“What did happen?” Remus asks tentatively.

Lily’s voice never wavers. “They died.”

“Died?”

“They were killed. Of course the Muggles don’t know it was murder - the article said natural causes - but can you name anything natural that can kill two perfectly healthy twenty-somethings and their two-year-old?” Lily’s eyes bore into him, unflinching.

Remus swallows, his tongue unusually heavy. “I - that’s awful. I had no idea.”

“You won’t, if you only read The Prophet. Benjy says it won’t be long until they come out in the open, whoever they are. And hopefully then the wizarding world will have to acknowledge that something is going on, and do something about it.”

Remus will later think on the fact that Lily’s hands, still holding the paper, never shake; her voice stays matter-of-fact, as if she isn’t describing a group of wizards killing people like her own parents. He’s not stupid; he’s heard James and Sirius talking to each other, whispering in the dormitory late at night, about restlessness and a war building outside the safety of Hogwarts’ walls. He’s seen the prejudice that can happen within the confines of the castle; images of Mary MacDonald being hoisted into the air and Sirius being called a blood-traitor flash through his mind. He knows something is coming, something big, he’s just never heard someone speak so calmly about it before.

Remus doesn’t think he’s ever seen something quite so brave.

Lily folds the newspaper in half and tosses it casually on to a side table. “Nothing bad happening in Cokeworth, so at least that’s something. Well, nothing unusual anyway. I’ve been trying to ask Mum and Dad about things, but it’s hard when I don’t want to scare them. They still think the wizarding world is - well, magical. I don’t really want to burst their bubble, does that make sense?”

Remus thinks of his own mother, her enchantment with the wizarding world shattered when he got bitten. “I understand,” he says. “My parents worry enough about me. I’d hate for them to have even more to stress about.”

“We should make a pact,” Lily says, grinning and stealing another bit of chocolate. “That we’ll never be the worrying sort of parents.”

Remus has never thought about being any sort of parent, ever. His exposure to small children has been limited, and that’s perfectly fine by him. Whenever his parents talk to him about life after graduating Hogwarts, they always talk about him moving back home with them as if they’ve never considered he would have found anyone to live with, and now he thinks on it, neither has he. He’s never factored having a child anywhere in his plans for the future.

Still, Lily is smiling at him and so he decides to indulge her, reaching out to take her already outstretched hand in his own. Lily’s hand is small in his and warm as they shake on it.

“All right,” he says, breaking the last piece of chocolate in two for them to share. “It’s a deal.”

::

“Moony. Are you asleep?”

Remus, who in fact had been asleep until two seconds ago, grunts incoherently in reply. There’s silence for a fraction of a second, and then the bed dips and Remus feels a warm body clambering around before settling down beside his own. He cracks open one eye to see Sirius next to him, apparently having taken Remus’ sleepy mumbling to mean why yes Sirius please do come in.

“What are you doing, you berk?” Remus asks, tugging the blankets further over himself. “What time is it?”

“Eleven,” Sirius replies. “You’ve been asleep ages. Frank said you came up to bed without dinner.”

Remus rolls over to face the wall, away from Sirius. Sirius doesn’t take the hint and stays put.

“McKinnon told us what happened earlier. Are you okay?”

Remus sighs. “I’ve had worse.”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“Not being here,” Sirius says quietly. “If we had, we could have -”

“What, Sirius?” Remus doesn’t mean to, but it comes out like a snap. “What could you have done? I was fine. You’ve probably heard the story from everyone already by the sounds of it.” Sirius stays silent, which Remus takes to mean yes. “Anyway, you had Quidditch practice. You can’t babysit me all the time.”

“Still sorry,” Sirius mumbles. He puts a hand on Remus’ shoulder. “If you’re hungry, I can go down to the kitchens.”

“I had a lot of chocolate.”

“You can’t live on chocolate.”

“Never thought I’d hear you say that,” Remus says, aiming for a joke, but Sirius just huffs and Remus realises this is one of those times where Sirius is, well, serious.

Slowly, Remus rolls over on to his back, staring up at the shadowy canopy. Sirius shuffles around a bit, readjusting himself until he’s in a matching position, their shoulders touching.

“Stop fidgeting,” Remus tells him.

“I need to be comfortable.”

“You have your own bed,” Remus points out.

He feels Sirius shrug next to him. “Yours is nicer.”

“It’s exactly the same!”

“It’s nearly midnight, is what it is,” James shouts from behind the curtains of his own four-poster. “Some people are trying to get some shut-eye!”

“Sod off, Potter. You’re just jealous,” Sirius calls back loftily. He lowers his voice, saying to Remus, “He can’t have me every night though. It’s just not on.”

“Of course not,” Remus murmurs. “You have to share yourself out to the masses.”

“Precisely!” Sirius sounds pleased. “Now shove up, your arms are all gangly. Have you had a growth spurt when we weren’t looking?”

Remus ends up far closer to the wall than he’s entirely comfortable with, but Sirius is warm enough, even if his hair does tickle Remus’ nose every time he dares turn his head. For a while the room is full of the sounds of James mumbling from his bed and Peter snuffling softly, and after a bit Sirius’ breathing evens out and slows down. Remus nudges him experimentally in the ribs, and gets no response. Typical. Remus can’t turn left without having his head practically resting on Sirius’ chest, and can’t turn right lest they end up spooning. He’s not sure which would be more embarrassing to wake up to, which would break some sort of hidden boys’ friendship code the most. He’d probably leave drool on Sirius’ pyjama top and everything.

Briefly, Remus debates clambering over Sirius and sleeping in his bed, but Sirius is like some sort of immovable boulder once asleep; he’s lying on top of the covers, effectively trapping Remus underneath them.

Remus pokes Sirius again with his index finger. Nothing. Remus sighs, knowing its pointless trying to wake him now, and is thankful that Sirius at least doesn't snore.

Chapter Text

Easter Sunday 1974.

Lily’s getting ready for church when she hears the news on the radio about the train crash. Pausing in the middle of brushing her hair, the arm holding the brush dropping limply to her side, she strains to hear the rest of the news report through the wall separating her and Petunia’s room.

“…Death toll estimated to be nearing 35…a signaling failure is believed to be to blame…explosion and fire on collision…Keith Harding is live in Edinburgh with the latest.”

Without being aware that she’s moving her feet, Lily finds herself in the doorway of her sister’s room. Petunia is in her high-collared grey dress, her blonde hair tied back in a severe ponytail. Sat at her vanity table, Petunia catches sight of Lily behind her in the mirror, and her eyes narrow suspiciously.

“What are you hanging around for?”

“Could you turn that up?” Lily asks, pointing at the radio.

Petunia fiddles with the dial, turning it to the music station instead. “Why do you care?” she asks, her gaze sliding away from her sister, busying herself with applying a coat of lipstick far too red for her complexion. “Didn’t think you were bothered about the news unless it came by bird.”

Lily’s mind is too filled with the news report to even think up a retort. She gives Petunia her best contemptuous look before racing downstairs to the living room; rushing in, she nearly collides with her dad, who is stood ramrod straight in the middle of the room, staring at the television where a news reporter is stood outside Edinburgh train station. Her mum is on the sofa, her hand over her heart, shaking her head sadly.

“How dreadful. And look at the state of him - you’d think they would have more compassion than this, sending a reporter who quite clearly has a drinking problem!”

But the more Lily watches the man speak, the more she recognises his slack jaw, slurred speech and unfocused eyes as the signs of someone who has had their memory heavily and most likely repeatedly modified. She makes a small noise in the back of her throat, and jumps when there's a familiar tap-tap-tap at the window.

She already knows what’s coming when she lets the owl in. The Daily Prophet lands on her lap and unfurls, revealing a hastily scribbled note in Benjy’s writing. It reads, simply:

It’s happening.

::

EXTREMIST GROUP CAUSES TERROR AND TRAGEDY ON MUGGLE TRANSPORTATION.

Nearly 40 people have been killed and more than 60 injured in Edinburgh in what Minister for Magic Elspeth Vaynor has described as “a cowardly, inexcusable attack on Muggles”. The attack, which happened yesterday evening, is believed to have been carried out by an organisation calling themselves ‘Death Eaters’. The Daily Prophet can reveal that Head Auror Simeon Gloshwick admitted that the Auror Department has had tip offs about such an extremist organisation before, but FAILED TO ACT before now.

“There wasn’t enough proof before now,” Gloshwick blustered, when daring reporter RITA SKEETER apparated closer to the scene of the crime to get the truth the government has been hiding from the public.

It is sadly time to ask how many bodies is proof?

The Muggle authorities believe a train crash is to blame for the tragedy, although Gloshwick has confirmed that a large percentage of the victims were already dead by the time the high-speed train, on its way to Liverpool, apparently came off the rails and collided with a stationary train at Edinburgh rail station.

Minister Vaynor has described the perpetrators as “extremely dangerous” and warn that they will probably be operating as part of a larger organisation. The Daily Prophet can exclusively reveal images of a SYMBOL SHOT INTO THE SKY shortly after the attack (below), depicting a snake protruding from a skull.

Minister Vaynor, who has been steadily losing votes in recent popularity polls and strongly supports links with Muggle society, issued this statement: “Aurors will be working around the clock to ensure the safety of society and that of the Muggle population as well. I implore everyone to remain calm and reasonable during this time, and to carry on your business as usual.”

Remus folds the paper and sets it aside, his tea sitting uncomfortably in his stomach. The familiar sound of bacon sizzling and popping comes from the kitchen, mingling with his mum’s voice, singing along to Celestina Warbeck on the wireless. His dad isn’t in the house, having gone for a morning walk along the canal without saying a word to anyone. Neither of them have mentioned the train crash, the attack on Muggles. Business as usual.

He knows his mum has seen it. First on the small black and white television they own, where she’d sat and watched the whole report and commented on how awful it was and those poor people; and then, when the Prophet arrived, blurring the lines between those poor people and us. Hope’s hands had shook as she held the paper, and then she’d busied herself with making enough breakfast to feed the whole village.

When she calls Remus to the table and sets a large plate in front of him, he notices the redness of her eyes, and wants to tell her it will be okay. She’s a Muggle and his dad fell in love with her and there are people who will never understand that, but it will be okay. She sits across from him, giving him a dazzling, courageous smile, and he can’t find the words. He opens his mouth tentatively, and Hope must guess what it is on his mind, because she starts asking about the upcoming term, his exams, his friends, even Quidditch which Remus knows she hates the very idea of.

A very large part of Remus wants his parents to talk to him about things like this, to accept that he’s not some sort of child that needs shielding from everything; that he hasn’t, in fact, been a child for a very long time now. His wrists are still sore from the shackles on his wrists and ankles from the day before yesterday, the marks clearly visible, but his parents don’t think he can handle talking about people killing other people.

But his mother has that sad, desperate look in her eyes, and so he eats his breakfast and answers her questions. Business as usual.

::

It’s supposed to be a whole family meal, but when Sirius enters the dining room he can’t help but notice guests missing. He stands staring for a while, the collar of his robes feeling tight against his throat, until Grandfather Arcuturus barks at him to take a seat. Sirius takes his place to the right of Father, and meets Regulus’ eye briefly across the center piece, before his brother drops his gaze hastily back down to his plate.

The conversation revolves around the food, the upcoming Avery ball and Aunt Lucretia’s plans to take a tour of Italy this summer. Lucretia, in her usual manner, turns an appraising eye on Narcissa, and says she supposes Narcissa is very welcome to join her if she still hasn’t gotten herself with child by then and managed to keep it. Narcissa’s lips purse and even Sirius has to admire his cousin’s composure as she nods and actually thanks Lucretia for the offer.

Regulus, breaking the silence that follows, surprises everyone by asking to try-out for Seeker next year, and even more surprising Mother agrees to it, and then everyone talks about Quidditch for a while. Sirius sits, clenching his fist around his knife and thinking of all the times his parents refused to acknowledge him whenever he tried to tell them about games he’s played. The memory of losing to Slytherin in their second match still smarts, and Sirius thinks that at least now he can aim bludgers at Regulus with an extremely valid reason. It helps, a bit.

No one mentions the news, the front page with the picture of the skull and snakes and fire. Really, no one needs to. The silence and the three empty chairs tell Sirius all he needs to know.

Chapter Text

April-May 1974.

On the train back to school, the four boys find each other like magnets being drawn back together. It’s a different sort of reunion this time, Peter thinks. Even though they’ve only been seperated for a week, Sirius embraces each of them for just a bit too long, a bit too hard, as though scared they’ll slip away.

When they find an empty compartment and take their seats, no one asks anyone else about how their holiday had been. It’s already clear on Sirius’ brooding expression, the way James laughs a bit too often and too forced, trying to make things all right, and the worried looks Remus keeps shooting at Sirius. Peter’s Easter had been spent with his dad, and Sharon had nearly driven him up the wall. They’d all seen the Muggle version of the news, and James had sent him an owl detailing what had really happened; he’d tried to talk about it with his dad over dinner, but Maureen had said, in surprisingly clipped tones, that she didn’t want to hear about that sort of thing in her house. Back at his mother’s, things were no better. Philomena was a bag of nerves, jumping at the slightest noise, and had clung to him very tightly on the platform before he boarded the train.

At Hogwarts, its evident things have changed. Filch and Hagrid meet them all from the platform, sign each student in on a piece of parchment, and any shoulder bags or rucksacks they’re carrying get searched. At the feast Peter sees Alice, Frank and the other Gryffindor Prefects sat amongst the white-faced younger years as Dumbledore delivers a sombre speech about what had happened at Easter. Head Girl Emmeline Vance is nodding vigorously to everything Dumbledore says, about safety and the importance of sticking together through this difficult time. For the first time he can remember, Peter has no appetite for pudding.

“They’ll find them, won’t they?” Peter asks after clambering into bed that night, speaking openly about the Death Eaters for the first time. “They’ll find them and throw them all in Azkaban, right?”

“Sure, Peter,” Sirius says with a humourless laugh. “Because it’s that easy.”

::

Their first Defence Against the Dark Arts class, it becomes clear just how much things have changed. Peter takes his seat next to James, a table behind Sirius and Remus, and when he glances up at the front of the classroom, he has to blink a few times to make sure he’s not seeing double.

Professor Mayhew is an elderly wizard with long grey hair and stooped back; at the theoretical side of Defence, Mayhew is pretty good, but Peter’s hand does have a tendency to cramp from all the note-taking they have to do in his class. Looking at the sight in front of him though, Peter guesses he won’t be needing his quill today.

“Morning, students,” a tall, red-haired man is saying to them all, a broad grin on his face. “My name is Fabian Prewett, and this -” he indicates the man next to him, who is so identical they could be mirror images, “- is my brother, Gideon.”

“We’re here on the request of Professor Dumbledore,” Gideon tells them. “We’re here to help you in the practical element of defensive spells, and Professor Mayhew here has kindly let us use his lesson time.”

Mayhew, sat in his chair behind his desk, nods. His eyelids are drooping; he looks set to fall asleep any minute, but the Prewetts are the very definition of alert. Their eyes meet and they nod at each other, drawing their wands at the same time. There’s a shuffle of movement from the watching students as everyone sits up a bit straighter in their chairs.

“Now, who here can tell me what they’d do if I were to suddenly attempt to hit you with a nasty curse?” Gideon asks.

Dorcas Meadowes’ hand rises into the air. When Gideon nods at her, she says, “Disarm you?”

“Are you asking me, or telling me?” Gideon asks, tilting his head to one side.

“Er - telling you. I’d disarm you.”

“Good,” Fabian says approvingly. “Disarming is very useful indeed, but sometimes it’s necessary to attack back, and not just defend. Any other ideas?”

“Stupefy,” Remus suggests.

Fabian smiles kindly. “Spot on. Stunning’s always a good one. Care to try?”

“Pardon?”

“I’m about to hit you with a curse,” Fabian says, his smile suddenly gone. “You don’t have a lot of time to react, and you’d be out of it because one, you paused to ask questions and two, you don’t even have your wand out. You, my friend, would probably be dead.”

“You need quick reflexes,” Gideon carries on, as students dive into their bags or rummage in pockets to retrieve their wands. “If someone is looking to attack you, they aren’t going to wait around until you’re ready.”

James’ hand shoots into the air. “Are you Aurors?” he asks.

“No, not Aurors,” answers Gideon - is it Gideon? Peter can’t tell anymore, because the Prewetts have moved, swapped sides. “Now, I want everyone to leave their seats, and come stand at the front.”

There’s a clamour as everyone is quick to do as their told, and with an identical flick of their wands the twins move every desk and chair to the side of the room, leaving a big open clearing in the middle. They seem so in tune with each other, neither one having to even glance at the other before they know what to do. James is staring in awe, his mouth actually hanging open, and Sirius has a peculiar expression on his face as he frowns at Gideon and Fabian as if trying to work something out.

The Prewetts instruct them all to curse them, and the students step forward one by one, tentatively, slowly, and try to get a shot in. Gideon and Fabian take turns being the target while the other one lounges on the teacher’s desk, shouting encouragement. Most students attempt to Stun them, and each spell is thrown away with a simple protego. Mary MacDonald surprises everyone by attempting a Jelly-Legs Jinx which Gideon deflects into the leg of Mayhew’s chair, but the Professor sleeps on.

Sirius steps forward, his sleeves rolled up, and faces the twin with the earring in. Peter is pretty sure it’s Fabian. Sirius’ eyes never leave Fabian, but when he casts his spell - a Bat-Bogey Hex at that - it’s Gideon he’s aiming for. Gideon has a split second to react, leaping to one side over the desk to avoid it. Sirius doesn’t pause, turning in one graceful movement to turn his wand on Fabian, and easily disarms him in the confusion.

In the hushed silence that follows, Peter thinks that this must be it, that Sirius is going to be in big trouble, but the twins just grin.

“Well done,” Gideon says, dusting himself down. “You listened. You pulled a dirty trick, but Death Eaters aren’t concerned with being fair, and will hex you just as easily when your back is turned. I think that deserves ten points to Gryffindor, don’t you, Professor Mayhew?”

Mayhew’s head jerks upwards, his eyelids flutter open briefly. “What? Oh, yes, yes. Take ten points, Mr Black.”

At the word ‘Black’ Gideon’s expression falters for a second so brief that Peter is sure he must have imagined it. Sirius gives Fabian back his wand, and then the Prewetts are busy, dividing everyone up into pairs, instructing them to practice hexing each other, mainly Stunning. When the bell goes, every single student is talking excitedly about the lesson. The buzz surrounding the appearance of the Prewetts carries on even after afternoon lessons and after supper, and it seems to be the main topic of conversation in the Gryffindor common room that evening.

“I wonder if they’ll be taking over from old Mayhew next year,” James says, taking their customary seats near to the fire. “I mean, he is retiring at the end of this year; he said so in September he’s only here for a year.”

“That would be so cool,” Peter says, glad for the distraction from the alarming amount of homework he has. Exams aren’t too far away, and none of the teachers have gone particularly easy on them.

“They don’t like me,” Sirius says grumpily, lying on the sofa, his legs over Remus’ lap. Remus seems to have accepted this position well enough, and is engrossed is going over his Arithmancy essay as though he doesn’t have the distraction of Sirius’ knees digging into him.

James shakes his head, poking Sirius’ foot with the tip of his quill. “Don’t be daft, Mr Ten-Points-To-Gryffindor.”

“That was before they found out my name.”

“You’re imagining things,” James says easily. “I like them. They seem to really know their stuff. They said they weren’t Aurors though - maybe they’re training to be.”

Frank laughs from a nearby chair, his eyebrows raised behind the book he’s reading.

“What’s so funny?” James asks.

Frank sets his book down, smiling. “The thought of Gideon and Fabian Prewett being Aurors, that’s what,” Frank says. “That’s far too regimented for them.”

Peter and James swap looks.

“You know them?” Peter asks eagerly.

“Sure I do,” Frank says, shrugging. “They were Sixth Years by the time I started, so they never much bothered with me, but I remember some of the stuff they got up to. They were Gryffindors too. I think they gave McGonagall a few grey hairs in their time.”

James grins. “That is so cool.”

“Doesn’t sound like they’re the type to be teachers, then,” Peter points out, and James wilts a little.

“Probably a good thing,” Remus says, eyeing James warily. “He doesn’t need any more encouragement.”

Sirius huffs. “He’s got me for encouragement, hasn’t he?”

James flutters his eyelashes in his direction. “You’ll always be my favourite bad influence, Sirius.”

“Better be,” Sirius grumbles, still looking put out by the reaction he’d gotten earlier. “Now, can we please talk about something other than the ruddy Prewetts?”

“Quidditch tactics?” James asks brightly. “We’ve got that match against Hufflepuff coming up soon.”

Sirius rolls his eyes. “If we must. Although my tactics never change much. I just aim the bludgers for anything not in red and hope for the best.”

James blows him a kiss. “And you do it so well.”

::

It’s been a soggy sort of April, full of drizzles and grey clouds, but at the weekend the springtime sunshine makes an appearance at last. Peter, sat in the Quidditch stands next to Remus, is pleased. They have a clear view of Sirius, James and the rest of the team as they practice. Once they’re all in the air, Peter borrows Remus’ charmed binoculars and peers closer.

“Who’s that girl?” he asks, pointing at a blonde playing Chaser. “Hang on. Where’s Rachel?”

“Her parents were on the train at Edinburgh,” Remus says quietly. “Marlene shares a dorm with her; she told me.”

Peter’s gut twists. It’s one thing hearing about things on the news, and having guest Defence instructors to teach you just in case, but he knows Rachel, and it’s different. He sees her nearly every day, shares a common room with her, cheers her on every Quidditch game.

Rachel comes back to school a week later. She doesn’t say much, and seems to have a permanent guard of friends around her. Peter had never even known she was Muggle-born, had never even thought to ask because it doesn’t - shouldn’t - matter. Peter finds himself glancing around the common room in the evenings, looking at people like Rachel, Lily, Mary. The Prewett’s voices ring in his ears: They don’t care who you are, what you mean to someone. If you’re someones brother, wife, child, lover. It doesn’t mater to them.

The next Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson is the first time Peter successfully manages to Stupefy James, and he’s never been happier about it, even if James does grumble the whole time after because Peter was so shocked he forgot to break his fall with a cushioning charm.

::

James has the idea to release the puffskeins into the school.

“I think it would cheer everyone up,” he declares, after a thoroughly miserable week in which Gryffindor are beaten by Hufflepuff at Quidditch, losing their chance of winning the Cup. Morale was down, and playing with a reserve Chaser made things no better. Plus they’d all been worked to the bone by the Prewett’s in Defence, and usually left the lessons with a few aches and bruises or funny side-effects of spells gone wrong. “I mean, everyone likes puffskeins, am I right?”

“It’s irrelevant if you agree or disagree,” Sirius chimes in, before Remus or Peter can object. “We’ve already nicked the lot from Kettleburn’s office.”

“I think they’re for the exam, Sirius,” Remus says.

Sirius silences him with a look. “Well, Kettleburn can just round them all up afterwards, can’t he? The exercise will be good for him.”

“He’s got one leg,” Peter says dubiously.

As far as James and Sirius’ pranks go, this one is fairly tame, and at least has somewhat good intentions behind it. Puffseins aren’t liable to bite anyone or leave scars and questionable burns. Remus must acknowledge this, because he doesn’t argue anymore, and just returns to practicing turning his candle into a bookend.

Sirius and James head out that evening, the Invisibility Cloak safely covering both them and the crate of puffskeins that keeps humming and vibrating at regular intervals.

“Where do you reckon?” Sirius asks quietly, pausing outside the Great Hall.

James’ face is full of concentration. “Dumbledore’s office,” he says at last. “Or at least, outside of it. I mean, it’s fairly central, right? Then they can just hop or - or whatever it is they do, and find their own way from there.”

Sirius grins, imagining Dumbledore coming out of his office and finding an army of puffskeins in the morning. He’d love it, most likely. Probably adopt one and call it Lemondrop or something.

“Dumbledore’s office,” he agrees, and the crate hums louder in response. Sirius takes this as a good sign.

They both know their way to the Headmaster’s office so well that they don’t even bother casting lumos as they go. Sirius is thankful for this later, as they round the coridoor to the stone gargoyle entrance, and find it open. James flings an arm out to stop Sirius in his tracks, and Sirius mutters a hasty silencing charm on the crate of puffskeins. The two boys wait by the corner, Sirius expecting Dumbledore to appear any minute, but it’s not the Headmaster who descends the stone steps.

“Absolutely knackered, I am,” Gideon Prewett says, running a hand through his thick red hair and then bringing it down to cover his mouth as he yawns. “Kids are tiring. No wonder Molly is cranky all the time.”

“I think it’s Dumbledore who’s the tiring one. I feel like I haven’t slept in days,” Fabian says.

“You haven’t.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Don’t be getting soft on me,” Gideon says, and then adopts a harsh, deep voice. “Constant vigilance!

“Please do shut up,” Fabian moans. “I hear ‘constant vigilance’ in my head when I sleep. Or at least I would, if I slept…”

Gideon puts his arm around his brother’s neck as they walk. “Come on. One quick sweep around the village, and then I’ve got the cure to what ails you.”

“Firewhiskey?” Fabian says hopefully, and Gideon’s laugh echoes off the walls until it’s all that Sirius can hear, and then the twins are gone.

Sirius lets out a breath. “What were they up to?”

“Visiting Dumbledore,” James says, as if it’s obvious.

“Yeah, but at this time?”

James shrugs, already fiddling with the crate. “The man keeps odd hours. I don’t know, Sirius. Maybe they were getting their teaching schedule or something. It’s not important. Come on, help me with these things. I think they’re losing their patience.”

::

Dear Dromeda,

How are you, Ted and sproglet? Things here are a bit strange, everyone is on high-alert because of the Death Eaters (what a RIDICULOUS name I might add) and we have new Defence teachers although not officially, really I think they’re here for Dumbledore. They’re the Prewetts, you must have gone to school with them, and aren’t we related? Just they seem very familiar and I can't put my finger on why.

In other news we lost the Quidditch Cup again. Hufflepuff won, Ted will be pleased to know. At least Slytherin didn’t get it (sorry).

James and I livened things up a bit with setting free a nest of puffskeins. For days they’d pop up in the most unlikely places, including on McGonagall’s hat in the middle of Transfiguration. She didn’t notice and kept on teaching and I think I bruised a rib from trying not to laugh.

Exams are nearly here, woe & despair etc. I’ve got Transfiguration under the belt easy, and Care of Magical Creatures will be fine. Feeling pretty confident about DADA and of course Astronomy, and oh who am I kidding, I’m going to ace them all.

Give Nym(phadora) a great big squeeze from me!!

Lots of love,
Your favourite Gryffindor.

Sirius,

By default you are my favourite Gryffindor, really I was not too enamoured with them at school. The Prewetts were a fine example of this. They were the year below me and oh they used to make me mad! They’d always be doing stupid things, Ted and I were forever catching them in the middle of some idiotic stunt. You should tell them about your puffskein escapades, no doubt they’d think you were brilliant.

Yes we are related. Darling haven’t you learnt yet we are related to everyone? Their father Cyprian is Aunt Lucretia’s brother-in-law but Lucretia was never keen on him. Ignatius was very easily moulded into being a Black but Cyprian always had a bit more backbone, his children are all Prewetts to the core, apart from him his oldest, a girl called Molly or Martha or something. Anyway she married the youngest Weasley, so really that’s all there is to know about that. They’ve got two sons, I think the youngest is Nymphadora’s age.

Anyway no matter what I think of the Prewetts, Dumbledore probably has them there for a very good cause. The man is mad but he has his reasons for things, so don’t question it. Don’t lose heart, either. I know the recent news has been terrible but really darling it’s been terrible for a long time, it’s just that now it’s being reported on. I don’t know if that makes things better or worse for you, but my advice is just to keep your head down and don’t do anything too brash, you silly brave Gryffindor.

Ted is reading over my shoulder, how irritating. He is pleased about the Cup and is now insufferable.

Nymphadora has grown so big, she can now say a few things and she totters about here and there. We keep showing her a picture of you and are encouraging her to say ‘Sirius’; so far it’s not successful, but the other day she did change her hair black, but we’re not sure if that’s a fluke or not. We get out a lot more now. I refuse to be a prisoner in my own home, after all, and it’s important that Nymphadora has a normal upbringing.

Good luck in your exams, and hopefully we’ll see each other this summer.

Love,
Andromeda.

Chapter Text

June 1974.

The summer air wraps itself around Lily like a blanket and for the first time in a long time, she starts to feel relaxed. She closes her eyes as she leans back against the beech tree, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face. Nearby she can hear the sounds of the Giant Squid splashing languorously in the lake, Mary and Dorcas rustling pages of their books, and the laughter of the other students who are taking advantage of the summer weather rather than being cooped up in the library.

It could be rather easy, she thinks, to forget just for a moment that exams are upon them, that she has a three hour Potions practical tomorrow. To forget that the Daily Prophet reported an attack on Muggles in Doncaster recently, and that the Muggle-Born Society has been full of frightened younger years asking why students have been tripping them up in the hallways or stealing their things. All the Muggle-Born first years look downright cheated, and Lily can hardly blame them. She doubts this is what they had in mind when they received their letter at all.

“Are you falling asleep?” Mary’s voice demands, and Lily feels the tip of a quill prodding her in the leg.

“No,” Lily says, refusing to open her eyes. “Just thinking.”

“Brooding, more like,” Dorcas says with a snort. “Here, come on. You know I’m useless at Potions. Test me.”

Something heavy lands on Lily’s lap, and she doesn’t need to look to know it’s a Potions textbook. She swats it away on to the grass.

“I’m enjoying the sunshine. Go away.”

“Charming,” Dorcas remarks. “When I fail and have to take a job working the Knight Bus, I’ll remember this.”

“I’m meeting Sev later on tonight and having a last minute study session if you want to come along.”

Silence greets her offer, and Lily can just imagine her friends swapping incredulous looks. When she does open her eyes, blinking against the sunlight, Mary is staring at the grass and Dorcas looks pained.

“Lily…”

Lily sighs. “Oh, forget it. Honestly, you’d think I’d said I was taking tea with a vampire the way you two go on.”

“No one’s going on,” Mary says quietly. “You know that lot make me uncomfortable, that’s all.”

“There is no that lot,” Lily insists. “Severus is my oldest friend. He’d never hurt me.”

“Not you, no.”

Lily takes a steadying breath, trying not to lose her temper. “Are we really going to have this conversation again?”

“Is there any point?” Dorcas mutters.

“No,” Lily says, the heat on her face now nothing to do with the sunshine. She stands up, gathering her books into her arms and swinging her bag on to her shoulder. “I’ll see you later. I’m going to go to the library after all.”

The library is as uninviting as Lily had imagined it would be on a summer’s day. The sunlight streaming through the high windows only serves to enhance the dust further, swirling in the air and launching an assault on Lily’s nose as soon as she arrives. It’s deathly quiet and mostly empty, and she earns a few glares from the frantic looking upper years and a hiss from Madam Pince as she storms in, banging the door behind her. Lily ignores them, stalking between the aisles of towering bookcases, heading towards the back where she hopes she can get some peace.

Sat at a table, one arm curled around his copy of Magical Drafts and Potions, is Remus. Lily stops in her tracks, looking around for his friends, but Remus is apparently alone, and completely oblivious that he’s just been stumbled upon. He’s frowning as his eyes move over the tiny text and diagrams, his lips mouthing whatever it is he’s reading. Lily moves quietly so that she’s stood behind him, peeking over his shoulder.

“Shrinking Solutions,” she reads aloud, and Remus makes a sound like a Niffler being stepped on. He whirls around to face her, nearly toppling off his chair, and she grins as he splutters incoherently at her. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“I find that hard to believe,” he says with a slight grumble to his voice, but he moves his satchel off the chair beside him so that she can sit herself down. “Do you have a habit of creeping up on people in the library?”

“Only the special ones,” Lily says seriously.

Remus’ lips twitch. “Well, thanks for the mini heart attack. It’s almost like having Sirius around.”

“Where are they?” Lily asks, glancing around again as if she expects Black and Potter to suddenly appear from the stacks. With them, you never really knew.

“It’s the day before a very important three-hour examination,” Remus says, eyebrows raised. “They’re playing Quidditch, of course.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Lily murmurs. “They don’t have to revise like us lesser beings. Being so brilliant at Potions and everything else.” She rolls her eyes, and Remus smiles ruefully. “Where’s Pettigrew then? Is he too good for revision too?”

“Not really,” Remus admits. “But James still managed to talk him into flying instead.”

Lily thinks Peter needs to grow a backbone, personally, but she doesn’t say this. Instead, she asks, “So, how come the Magnificent Potter didn’t manage to convince you to play?”

Remus pulls a face. “Because apparently I’m a glutton for punishment. They’ll track me down later and take the piss mercilessly, that I spent my afternoon inhaling dust in the library.”

Lily knocks her elbow into his. “If they do take the piss, then they’re not very good friends, are they?”

“No, they are,” Remus says with surprising forcefulness. “I think they just worry sometimes. It’s not in their nature, being bookish and dusty and whatnot. I think I just confuse them.” He coughs a little. “Anyway. Why are you in the library by yourself? Where are Mary and Dorcas?”

“Oh, well…we had a bit of a fight. Well, not really a fight - but they were saying things about Sev -”

“Not nice, is it, when people judge your friendships?” Remus says mildly.

Lily shoots him a sideways look, and sighs. “All right. Point taken.”

And then, because there’s something about Remus’ quiet nature that makes Lily feel like she can open up to him, or maybe just because she can’t stand the thought of revising Shrinking Solutions anymore, she starts telling him everything that’s been keeping her up at night recently. That sometimes she worries her friends are right about Sev, that he has been a bit distant lately and they haven’t been spending as much time together, that she’s afraid of what he’ll get mixed up in and if he can handle it, if their friendship will survive it.

Remus, as expected, just listens. He nods intermittently, brow slightly creased, but doesn’t say anything until Lily is finally finished. Her face flushed, she ducks her head down and stares at the desk, well aware she’s just blabbed her whole metaphorical Boggart to someone she really doesn’t even know that well yet.

Remus clears his throat. “Do you remember what Sirius was like in First Year?”

“As annoying as he is now, but smaller?”

Remus cocks his head to one side, looking thoughtful. “He used to spout all this Pureblood nonsense. Nothing directed at anyone in particular, just little things he’d say here and there. I thought James was going to knock his head off, the first time. He didn’t mean to be cruel, it’s just - how he was brought up. He was raised to believe all that rubbish. Now, you’d never know it. He knows better. What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that people emanate what they see and what they’re taught. But I don’t think it’s ever too late to change things.”

Lily really, really hopes Remus is right.

::

The Potions exam doesn’t go too badly at all. Slughorn, as expected, tests them on Shrinking Solutions, and Lily catches Remus’ eye over her cauldron and gives him an encouraging wink as they begin chopping their ingredients. Her knife blunts halfway through and Severus, one table over, wordlessly passes her his instead when Slughorn’s back is turned, and she thinks she sees the barest trace of a smile on his lips as she mouths a thank you in his direction.

They have Charms in the afternoon, and Lily is pretty confident she managed the perfect Freezing Charm. Tuesday brings three exams in one day. The Defence Against the Dark Arts exam is split in two sections: the first, an obstacle course style exam, where they have to Stun and Disarm animated moving dummies that has the Prewett twins written all over it, and then a written exam definitely penned by Professor Mayhew. There’s no time to compare answers afterwards as they have Herbology, and after a lunch time in which Lily hardly has any appetite at all it’s time for the Gryffindors to make their way gloomily to their History of Magic exam, which seems to drag on for hours. Lily’s head is pounding afterwards, her mind a jumble of names and dates. She ignores the temptation to crawl into bed, instead looking over her Transfiguration notes for the next day’s exam, until she glances up at the clock and sees it’s nearly seven.

Stifling a yawn, Lily resolutely makes her way to the Muggle Studies classroom. Really, she’d like to sack the Muggle-Born Society meeting off for tonight, but then she thinks of Benjy, waiting for her, and quickens her step.

Pushing the door to the classroom open, at first Lily thinks that Benjy’s beaten her to it and arrived first, but then she realises it’s not Benjy sat at a table with his head bent over a book. It’s Black.

“What are you doing here?” she asks, pausing in the doorway.

Black glances up and grins. “Revising, Evans,” he says, tapping his index finger on the page opened in front of him. Despite herself, Lily steps closer, curious, and sees the page is covered in diagrams of Muggle transport, all labelled and captioned. She's noticed it's by far one of his favourite topics in their shared class, but the story still doesn't quite ring true to her.

She glances about at the empty classroom. “Is Potter lurking about?”

“Why, do you miss him? Better not let your boyfriend hear you say that.”

“I think you said that, Black, not me,” Lily says lightly, and decides she can’t very well just stand there like an idiot. She walks to the front desk and begins unpacking her bag, uncomfortably aware that Black is watching her. “Don’t you have somewhere else you can revise?” she snaps at last. “What about the common room?”

Black snorts. “Not bloody likely. Thorne nearly took Peter’s head off earlier for breathing too loudly.”

“The library, then?” Lily suggests, although she’s expecting Black’s derisive laugh before it even happens. “Look,” she says, trying to remain calm, although Black has now leaned back in his chair, his feet up on the desk, and she longs to push him backwards. “You can’t stay here. We’re about to have a meeting, and -”

“What’s that?” he interrupts, his eyes fixed on the Biro Lily has just taken out of her bag.

“What, this?” Lily asks, nonplussed. “Er - it’s a pen. Haven’t you, uh, covered these in class?”

“That’s wicked,” Black breathes, clattering both feet back down to the floor and leaping out of his seat. He’s leaning over Lily in a matter of seconds, watching the pen interestedly. “Professor Laughton mentioned them, and said we’ll get to write with one next year, but we’ve not actually got to use one yet. I can’t believe you have one!”

“Are you taking the mickey?” Lily asks suspiciously.

“No,” Black says, looking genuinely affronted. “How does it work?”

“Same as a quill,” Lily says, still not entirely sure she’s not being made the butt of some joke, that Potter won’t burst out of the cupboard in a fit of laughter any moment. “Just no ink. Well, there’s ink, but it’s inside, see, so you don’t need to refill it.”

“Does it refill itself?” he asks, bending down to get a better look.

“Um, no. They just…run out, eventually. I mean, you can get pens that you can refill, like fountain pens, but they’re a lot more expensive than just plain old Biros. That’s why you get these in a pack usually.”

“You have more than one?”

Lily tries to repress a laugh; she has a feeling it might be rude. Now she knows what she probably looked like, the first time she saw magic. “Do you want one?” she asks, amused, and Black practically snatches it out of her hand when she digs another out of her bag. “Well, now you have hours of entertainment, why don’t you go?”

“I was here first,” Black says, sitting himself back down at the table, doodling on his hand with the pen. “I think you should go back to the common room.”

Lily looks up at the Muggle clock on the wall. Ten past seven. People will be arriving soon.

“Look, you can’t stay,” she says bluntly. “It’s a Muggle-Born Society, and you’re, well -”

“Not,” Black finishes for her, looking her dead in the eye. “It’s all right, Evans, Pureblood isn’t a dirty word, you know. You can say it.”

“I just don’t want you making anyone uncomfortable, that’s all.”

“Why would I make people uncomfortable?”

Lily sighs. “You really are being a bit of an entitled idiot, do you know that?”

“Well, I think you’re being a bit of a -”

“Do you want to finish that sentence, Black?” Benjy asks, strolling into the room with a bunch of newspapers wedged under his arm. He stops to give Lily a kiss on the cheek, and then smiles amiably at Black, who rolls his eyes at the ceiling. “Just, you know, young ears and all that,” Benjy continues, as the first few students start to file in.

They give Black nervous looks, edging around the desk he’s sat at. Lily smiles encouragingly at them, but then frowns when she sees a few missing faces.

“Where’s Guy?” she asks. “And - er - sorry, the blondey one? Hufflepuff?”

There’s a few beats of silence, and then Watkins, a small Ravenclaw First Year, speaks up. “Guy and Jenny don’t want to come anymore.”

Lily swaps a look with Benjy. She’s on the verge of saying something, asking why, when Benjy shakes his head at her, clears his throat. “Well, I’m sorry to hear that,” he says briskly. “Anyway. If you all want to sit down, Black here was just leaving, tonight we’ll be -”

The door to the classroom bursts open, and James Potter all but falls in. Black rises instantaneously, and Lily feels her hands clench at her sides.

“Potter,” she says through gritted teeth. “What do you think you’re -”

“Er, evening folks,” Potter says, his eyes trained steadily on Black. “Right, so - everyone needs to leave.”

“What?” Benjy asks, frowning.

“Oh, yeah,” Potter says, nodding. Black has moved to his side. “We, we set off some dungbombs, so really it would be best if everyone just went back to their common rooms.”

“I don’t smell dungbombs,” Watkins says, sniffing the air.

“Potter, what is going on?” Lily asks, because Potter isn’t looking like his usual I’ve-Just-Pulled-A-Prank smarmy self at all; he’s looking, if anything, nervous. He keeps glancing over his shoulder, and Black is staring out of the doorway like a sniffer dog on the trail of something, and -

The classroom is plunged into darkness, and a few of the younger students scream. Lily can’t see a bloody thing, and she pulls out her wand, about to cast lumos or perhaps hex James Potter into a turnip, but then a blast of light shoots into the room, narrowly missing her face, and someone is yanking on her arm so that she’s pulled into a crouching position. At first she thinks it’s Benjy, but the body close to hers doesn’t smell like Benjy; it smells earthy, sort of damp, like someone who’s been flying in the rain like a complete idiot, and then another jet of light illuminates his glasses, and she wrenches her arm away from him.

“Potter, what in the hell -?”

“Evans, I’m ever so sorry, but shut up,” he says. Then, louder, “Sirius, get the First Years out!”

“Right-o!” Black calls through the darkness. “Kids, if you will, after me!”

The jets of light - curses, Lily realises with a sinking feeling, curses aimed at them - come thick and fast after that, and Lily finds herself pulled sideways behind Professor Laughton’s desk. She can hear shouting, spells and swearing mingling together, and squints against the onslaught of light to see three or four shadowy figures in the doorway, and that’s where the curses are coming from, and then a figure near them rises up, arm outstretched with a wand clutched in his hand. Benjy, Lily thinks, and tries to move towards him, but Potter has her shoved up against the side of the desk.

“Fenwick, to your left!” Potter shouts, but it’s no use. A jet of red light hits Benjy in the chest, and one of the figures laughs.

“I think that’s ten points to me!” a voice jeers as Benjy staggers into a chair and collapses to the ground.

“Benjy!” Lily cries, shoving Potter away from her and crawling towards her boyfriend.

“Evans - Lily - Evans, get back here!” Potter is shouting behind her, but she ignores him.

She sends a Trip Jinx behind her, and she thinks it reaches her target. Someone definitely falls, and a voice growls, “Mudblood bitch!”

Good, Lily thinks, scrambling to Benjy. She puts a hand on his chest, where the spell hit, and he’s breathing at least. Then, as suddenly as it all started, the eerie darkness lifts, the lanterns burst back into life, and Lily hears other voices shouting. She looks over her shoulder to see the Prewetts in the doorway to the Muggle Studies classroom, wands drawn, and the sound of running footsteps echoing off the walls of the corridor outside.

One of the Prewett brother’s kneels down beside Lily and Benjy, and up close Lily can see he has a deep scar across his nose, making a harsh trail right through his freckles. “He’s just been Stunned,” he says quietly, and then points his wand at Benjy’s chest. “Rennervate!

Benjy’s eyelids slowly flicker open. He looks confusedly between Lily and the Prewett looming over him. “Er. What the hell happened?”

“Someone Stunned you,” Lily says anxiously. “Are you all right?”

Wincing, Benjy sits up, rubbing the back of his head. “I think so. Who was it?”

Lily shakes her head, but from behind her Potter speaks up. “Avery was one. I recognised his voice.”

“Are you sure?” the other Prewett asks. Fabian, Lily realises, noticing the earring.

“Positive,” says a different voice, and Lily turns to see Black leaning against the wall as if he’d been there the whole time. “I’d know Avery anywhere.”

Gideon pulls Benjy to his feet and guides him into a chair, conjuring a pack of ice for his head. Lily, meanwhile, is staring at Black.

“Where did you come from?” she asks. “You - you disappeared. Potter told you to get the kids out, and you can’t have gone through the doorway because that’s where they all were. How did you get out?”

Black grins, and taps a wooden panel on the wall with his wand five times. Lily’s mouth falls open as it slides outwards to reveal a passageway, but the Prewetts actually laugh.

“Hey, we never found that one until our Seventh Year!”

“Ah, bet you never took Muggle Studies,” Black says with a wink.

“Good job you found it,” Gideon says. “Did the other students get back all right?”

Black waves a hand. “I made sure they went back to their Houses before I came to get you. Think I managed to convince them it was a prank. No need to tell them otherwise, right? They have enough to be worried about without thinking they’re going to be attacked in school.”

“But that’s exactly what happened!” Lily cries, feeling sick. Her head aches all over again. She takes a seat next to Benjy; he slides an arm around her and she leans into him. “I can’t believe this,” she murmurs. “I mean, how did they even find out where we meet?”

“Well, it is a bit obvious, Evans,” Potter says apologetically.

“Sorry, but - what is?” Fabian asks. “This is where who meets?”

“The Muggle-Born Society,” Benjy says darkly. “We led those nutters right bloody to to us. He’s right,” Benjy says with a sigh, nodding at Potter. “It was too obvious.”

“It’s not your fault,” Potter says. “You weren’t to know.”

Benjy shakes his head, glaring at the floor. “Of course we should have known.”

“Don’t beat yourself up,” Fabian says bracingly. “Look, we’ll tell Dumbledore, get him to investigate this. Strictly speaking, we’re not teachers, so we can’t. He’ll find out who it was.”

“It was the Slytherins!” Black says. “I told you! It was Avery!”

Gideon sighs. “You might have recognised one voice, but can you prove the others were Slytherins?” There’s a moment where Black and Potter glare murderously at the Prewetts, but they don’t say anything, and Lily knows that none of them can prove anything, not really. Gideon claps his hands together loudly. “Right, in my not-really-a-teacher capacity, I’m telling you all to go to bed and get some rest. Don’t you all have exams in the morning?”

It doesn’t make Lily feel better in the slightest. Gideon and Fabian insist on taking Benjy to Madam Pomfrey on their way to Dumbledore’s office, to get his head checked out, despite Benjy insisting he’s fine. Left alone with Black and Potter, Lily doesn’t quite know what to say. She should thank them, she supposes, although there’s something niggling in the back of her mind -

“How did you know?” she asks, stopping abruptly on their way back to Gryffindor Tower. Potter nearly walks into her, and Black stares at her, frowning.

“Know what?”

“Don’t play dumb,” she snaps. “You knew they’d be there. You knew they’d try something. You were hanging around that classroom for a reason, Sirius Black, and don’t you dare tell me you were revising.”

“Revising, really?” Potter asks, his eyebrows raised so much they’ve disappeared into that mess of a haircut of his. “That was your cover story?”

Black shrugs. “I panicked, all right?”

“How did you know?” Lily demands, taking a step closer to him.

Black scurries back, hands in the air. “James, help!”

“We just - overheard, that’s all,” Potter says, striding ahead again.

“Overheard?” Lily repeats, jogging a bit to catch up. “What, you just stumbled across a casual conversation about how a group of morons were going to attack the Muggle-Born Society, and they just carried on talking about it while you were in earshot?”

“Er - something like that, yeah.”

“Black, I will hex you!”

“Hex him all you like,” Potter says, his face set determinedly. “Look, I can’t tell you how we found out, but can’t you just be grateful we did? We saved you, Evans.”

“Saved me?” Lily splutters. “As if!”

“I tried to get you out,” Black argues. “I told you you should leave, or I at least thought you’d bugger off if I hung around long enough.”

“That was your rescue tactic? Annoying me into leaving?”

“It normally works,” Black says sulkily. “Galanthus Nivalis,” he adds as they reach the Fat Lady.

The portrait swings forward to let them into the common room, which is oddly empty for this time on an evening. It’s been the same way for the last few days, everyone trying to get lots of sleep in preparation for the exams ahead. As if reading her thoughts, Black stretches his arms up to the ceiling and then swings them back down by his sides.

“Well, I’m off to bed after all that excitement. Night, Evans.”

He strolls off casually, Lily glaring at his retreating back.

“Excitement?” she repeats icily.

Beside her, Potter sighs. “Oh, he didn’t mean it like that…”

“He did,” Lily says. “He thinks it’s all a big joke, a game. As if he was ever in any real danger. Or you, for that matter.”

“Now that’s not fair!” Potter says, his voice suddenly squeaky.

“Well, they weren’t after you, were they?”

“We were trying to help you!” Potter says angrily. “Guess that’s how you show gratitude, is it?”

Of course he just wants to play the bloody hero. She moves closer to him, smiling, and he looks down at her uncertainly.

“Oh, James,” Lily breathes, batting her eyelashes exaggeratedly, and Potter blinks at her. It’s probably the first time she’s used his name, she realises. “Thank you so much for rescuing me,” she says sarcastically, and then storms off to the girl’s dormitory.

::

The rest of the week passes in a bit of a blur.

Benjy is back to normal the very next day, already up and about by the time Lily visits him in the Hospital Wing after her Divination exam. At dinner on Thursday Lily notices an absentee in the middle of the Slytherin table where they usually all hold court, and later learns from Alice and Frank that Avery has been expelled. It should make her feel better, she knows, but there were at least three others with him that night in the Muggle Studies classroom, and as far as she’s aware no one else has been caught or punished. She’s upset but not really at all surprised when Benjy suggests disbanding the Muggle-Born Society next year. It’s exactly what they want, and it feels an awful lot like giving in, but then she remembers the frightened faces of the eleven-year-olds and what nearly happened to them, and she knows it’s for the best, at least while things are like this.

Their last exam is Care of Magical Creatures, and it’s quite a nice way to round off the exam week as Professor Kettleburn has set them a practical exam spent outside in the sun. They’re tested on bundimun again, and this time thankfully no one gets acid anywhere or suffers any burns, and even Black wears his protective goggles when he’s supposed to. Kettleburn also tests them on identifying different types of water creatures, and they get to spend a nice hour down by the shallows of the lake. Pettigrew ends up falling in, and Remus has to fish him out with his net, and even Lily manages to see the funny side when the end of exams are so close and the sun is warm on her shoulders.

All in all she’s feeling a lot better about things, and when Dorcas tells her that there’s going to be a party in the common room, Lily says of course she’ll be there. Lily never exactly stopped speaking to Mary and Dorcas, but things have been a bit more strained between them lately. As Potter and his friends return from the kitchens laden with food, and Marlene produces a bottle of Firewhisky from who-knows-where, Lily sits herself down next to her two best friends.

“About Tuesday -” she begins.

Mary cuts across her. “Have you tried a pork pie? I think the house-elves have put some spices into them this time. They’re lovely.”

“I’m trying to apologise to you, not talk about pork pies,” Lily says.

Mary grins crookedly. “Yeah, I realised that. I hate apologies. We’re mates, yeah, and I’m sorry if I can’t sometimes understand why you hang around with some people. But it’s your choice. So - pie?”

Dorcas wipes away a pretend tear. “My babies,” she says, and Lily shoves at her half-heartedly, accepts the pork pie as a truce, and allows Marlene to fill her glass with some of Ogden’s finest.

“Check out Evans, all grown up,” Marlene says with a laugh, patting her on the head, before Frank takes the whole bottle for himself and the rest of the Sixth Years.

Lily is feeling sleepy and full when James Potter flops down into a chair next to her. He’d been dancing animatedly with Pettigrew, swinging the smaller boy around in ridiculous pirouettes and bends, and he wiggles his nose to push his glasses further up where they’d fallen down with sweat. What is it with Potter and being as sweaty as possible? Remus is a teenage boy, and so is Severus, and they’re not as sweaty as this. Sweaty or no, Potter grins at her, unperturbed by how their last meeting ended.

“So, Evans, enjoying yourself? Want another refill?” he asks, indicating her empty glass.

“No, thanks,” she answers. “I’m going to stick to butterbeer from now.”

“Ah, of course, can’t have saintly Lily Evans consuming too much alcohol.”

Lily narrows her eyes. “And how much have you consumed?”

“I can handle it,” he insists.

“Hm. If ever you’re up near Cokeworth, remind me to take you to my dad’s local, and we’ll have this conversation again.”

Potter’s grin widens. “It’s a date.”

“It’s not,” she corrects him, and he laughs loudly.

“So, how’d you find the exams?”

Lily shrugs. “Okay, I guess. I mean, History of Magic was -”

“Dismal?” he puts in, nodding sagely. “I think we should get marks just for staying awake, personally. I knew all the answers though. Transfiguration was a breeze, obviously, and I knew I’d never have any problems with Care of Magical Creatures or Divs. I just made up a lot of stuff about death and gloom, they love that stuff, those star-gazery people, don’t they? And Potions, well, you’ve got to be an idiot to balls up Potions - all you have to do is follow the book and do all the steps and you can’t really go wrong.”

“Do you realise you’re still talking?” Lily asks him.

He frowns. “What?”

“You’re so arrogant,” she says, shaking her head. “Look, I have better things to do right now. If you want someone to talk to who is really interested in the life of James Potter, then there’s a mirror in the bathroom.”

For the second time in less than three days, Lily gets up and leaves Potter behind her. She hopes this isn’t going to be a recurring theme.

::

“What is her problem?”

Five minutes after Lily left the common room, and James is still asking the same question. Remus contemplates patting him on the shoulder, but settles instead for handing him another butterbeer, which he waves off. Sirius is involved in some sort of dancing competition with Marlene in the middle of the common room, and that leaves Remus and Peter with brooding James. Brooding James is Remus’ least favourite kind of James.

“I’m not arrogant,” he continues, scowling at the wall. “I was just being friendly. We’ve lived together for three years, and we’ve never really had a proper conversation. You’d think that saving her from some wannabe Death Eaters would fix that, but no, not good enough for Lily bloody Evans.”

“James, you don’t know they were -”

“Of course I do, Moony. Where do you think Avery’s gone, now he’s been chucked out? I doubt this Voldemort cares about N.E.W.T scores.”

Peter flinches at the name, and Remus tries not to snap at him. Lately, the media has started dodging his actual name, something no doubt intended to ramp up the publics fear and, annoyingly, it’s working.

“You could go to Dumbledore then, and tell him who else you saw planning it,” Peter suggests.

James rolls his eyes. “What, and say I heard it all when I was hiding under my Invisibility Cloak? Yeah, that’d be a sure way to get it confiscated, so no thanks. At least it got rid of one of them, I suppose.”

“That’s the spirit,” Remus says encouragingly.

Marlene screams in the background as Sirius throws her over his shoulder and begins spinning her around. Remus watches for a moment, before turning back to James.

“It’s the end of year, can we please stop moping about over girls?”

“I’m not moping about girls,” Peter says, looking horrified at the very thought.

“Nor am I,” James says. “Just - commenting on how weird they are. I mean, it’s not like I care,” he adds hastily.

“Right,” Remus says slowly, as Marlene and Sirius go crashing into a crowd of Second Years. “Of course.”

Chapter Text

July 14th 1974

Up to his waist in the Tenby sea, Remus breathes in the salty air and squints at the horizon. There are a few fishing boats further out. Nearer, near him, there are children jumping about in the water, screeching every time a wave hits. Remus stands still as the tide comes in, feeling the surge wash over him but planting his feet, refusing to move backwards. He digs his toes into the grainy sand below the water, feeling small pebbles and bits of shell colliding with his feet.

“Enjoying yourself out here?” Sirius asks, wading out to meet him. “Didn’t think you were much of a sun-worshiper.”

Remus glances down at his pale chest, at the even paler scars criss-crossing his torso. Beneath the water, his legs look positively luminescent. Of the four of them, Sirius and James have probably come off the best in the quest to get a suntan. James, already darker than the rest of them, browns even more; Sirius achieves that natural, healthy-looking glow. Peter manages to look like an overripe tomato, and Remus - well, Remus doesn’t really change at all.

“I’m not,” he admits. “Good thing the sun seems to just bounce off me.”

“If anyone asks from now on, I’m going to say that’s why we call you Moony,” Sirius says with a grin.

He kicks his leg out in front of him, sending a shower of foamy water and sand raining down on unsuspecting children. A small boy clutching a bright inflatible dolphin glares at him as he doggy-paddles by.

“I think he’s going to pee in the water in retaliation,” Remus notes. “Be wary of the warm patches.”

Sirius pulls a disgusted face. “Bleurgh. Is that what the youth of Wales get up to? Is this what you get up to, on your holidays?”

Remus just smiles. Nothing can ruin his mood right now. Not only did his parents allow his mates over for the summer holidays, but they also let them get the train to Tenby for the day. Sirius, strictly speaking, is staying with his Uncle Alphard for the summer, but his uncle hadn’t been the least bit bothered when Sirius said he wanted to go see his friends, and now here all four of them are.

They’ve got ages until they have to get the train home, the whole day stretching gloriously in front of them.

When they head back to the beach, Peter is lying down on the beach, even redder than before, and James is enthusiastically digging a hole with a plastic spade.

“Planning on burying Petey when he eventually bursts into flame and dies?” Sirius asks casually, flopping down on the towel next to Peter, sending a flurry of sand his way.

“Piss off,” Peter grumbles, his eyes closed. “I’m wearing factor 50, what more can I do?”

“Go in the shade?” Sirius suggests reasonably, rummaging around in the picnic basket Remus had brought with them and producing a sandwich.

“That would require movement,” Peter says. “Don’t think I’m quite ready for that sort of commitment. I’ll just lie here and burn.”

“Not even for a sandwich?” Sirius asks, waving his ham and cheese above Peter’s face.

Peter’s nose twitches, and he opens one eye.

“Ah, now you all appreciate the fact I brought a picnic,” Remus says. They’d all laughed at him when he had appeared in the kitchen that morning, basket in hand, but as Sirius tears hungrily into his sandwich, Remus can’t help but feel a bit smug. “Good job I thought ahead, eh?”

“Your thinking ahead is still a bit womanly.”

“I’ll have my womanly sandwich back then,” Remus says coolly, holding out his hand. “And I won't bother with the butterbeer and cakes.”

“There’s butterbeer and cakes?” James asks, popping up suddenly from his hole.

Sirius shoves the rest of the sandwich in his mouth at once, as if afraid Remus is going to wrestle it from him. As if Remus has the energy.

“Dad Extended the basket,” Remus says with a shrug. “There’s all sorts in there. I even have books and newspapers too, if we get bored.”

“If we get bored!” Sirius exclaims. “Have you heard this, boys? Here we have a whole beach to explore, a sea to swim in, holes to dig, sandwiches to eat, and Lupin here thinks we need books and newspapers!”

Peter manages a half-hearted grunt in response, which might be agreement, or might just be the noise he makes when he’s wilting. James has gone back to his hole.

“I’ll not bother saving you the crosswords either, then, shall I?” Remus asks, one eyebrow raised.

Sirius looks at him, a bit shifty. “Well, let’s not be hasty. Who knows, the hole-digging and beach-exploring and sea-swimming and sandwich-eating might get a bit dull after a bit. And then what would we do?”

“Find a crab and put it in Peter’s trousers,” James calls from the depths of the hole. Remus leans across Peter’s sun-scorched body to have a look at James' progress. It really is quite impressive.

“Yes, but after that,” Sirius says, as Peter groans in an accepting-his-fate sort of way.

“I’ll save you the crosswords, don’t worry,” Remus assures him, and Sirius smiles at him like the sun dazzling off of the sea.

Chapter Text

July 30th 1974.

Over lukewarm tea and a soggy fry-up in the local dingy café, Lily tells Sev about Benjy coming to visit, and it goes down about as well as the breakfast. That is, he nearly chokes on it.

“Fenwick?” he says, spluttering slightly; Lily pushes the cup of tea towards him, but he waves it off. He bangs his fist into his chest, trying to dislodge the bit of bacon that has apparently rammed itself into his esophagus, and says, “He’s coming to visit you - here?”

“This is where I can usually be found in the summer,” Lily says, arching an eyebrow at his reaction.

Sev scowls down at his plate. It was unappetising at best in the first place, and this blow of news has done absolutely zero in the way of making him feel any better. He tries to picture Benjy Fenwick here in Cokeworth - in the old rec, in this café, at Lily’s house - and his lip curls at the idea. Cokeworth may not be the greatest place on earth, but it’s theirs. It’s the one place where, usually, Lily is his for six whole weeks of summer, where they can spend time together and do normal things like having breakfast together without any incredulous looks or snide comments. All Sev can imagine now is Fenwick accompanying them everywhere - or even worse, he, Sev, will be shunted out entirely.

Truth be told, Severus hasn’t had much to do with Benjy Fenwick at all in the whole three years he’s been at Hogwarts. Fenwick is a year above him, and in Ravenclaw; Sev can’t even think of a time they’ve even so much as glanced at each other, let alone spoken. Still, all it takes is the memory of him and Lily in that ridiculous café on Valentines Day, and Sev feels as if his breakfast is going to make a reappearance all over the tatty tablecloth.

Apart from Fenwick’s horrible choice in date locations, all Severus really knows about him is that he’s a Quidditch player (which really tells Sev everything he needs to know) and that he’s the founder of that Muggle-Born Society. Was the founder, until -

Until Sev had mentioned it to Regulus, and Regulus had roared about it in the common room, blurting it out to all and sundry. But, Sev tells himself firmly, that’s not his fault. It’s not his fault that Regulus told everyone, that Avery took it as a dare, that some people in his House are far too easily stirred up. After that whole debacle which landed Fenwick in the Hospital Wing and Avery with expulsion, Sev had spent his last term at school actively trying to avoid any situation where he would possibly have to look Fenwick in the eye.

Severus tries to push these thoughts aside, to ignore the voice hissing accusingly in his mind: It could have been Lily.

But it wasn’t, he tells himself firmly. Stop thinking like that. You haven’t done anything wrong.

“When is he getting here?” he asks, staring down at his breakfast, his stomach clenching slightly.

“One o’clock,” Lily answers, and Severus does look up at that; he had expected her to say “tomorrow” or “two weeks from now” or, even better, “he’s not, I’m only pulling your leg.”

“He’s coming today?”

Sev hates himself for it, but he really can’t help the whiny tone that creeps into his voice. He’d been hoping they’d have the day together, at the very least.

“Well, yeah,” Lily says, and now she’s not looking at him. He gets the distinct impression that she’s feigning nonchalance; she picks up a slice of grease-dripped toast, takes a bite, and her casual demeanour is immediately ruined when she spits it out into her napkin with a disgusted noise.

“You are a charmer, do you know that?” Severus murmurs.

Lily scowls at him. “Shut it. Anyway, yes, he’s coming today. One o’clock. My dad is taking me to the train station if you want to come?”

“Er - no thanks. I suppose you’ll want to be alone.”

Lily is raising her eyebrows again, but her cheeks have taken on a pinkish tinge. “We won’t be very alone with my dad there, you berk.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“He’s staying in my room, you know. Alone, I mean,” Lily says hastily, and the pinkish tinge turns to a full on scarlet. “I’m not there. I’m sharing with Petunia.”

“Poor you,” Severus says, tone unsympathetic. He takes a stab at his sausages. He’s not the least bit hungry, but imagining that they have Fenwick’s face makes him feel marginally better, at least.

::

Lily’s dad asks all sorts of questions in the car ride to Cokeworth train station, quizzing her about Benjy and what he’s like. Lily is extremely grateful that Benjy is Muggle-born; at least explaining to her dad that his parents work in a bank and for a magazine is a lot easier than trying to explain magical careers to someone who looks like he’s already struggling with the concept of driving to pick up his youngest daughter’s boyfriend.

Petunia had refused the offer of coming along for the ride with a sneer and a nasty comment. Perhaps she’d thought that Benjy would turn up in full wizarding regalia, toting his broomstick and owl (Tuney’s worst nightmare, Lily knows) but as they pull up outside the train station, Lily thinks that even Petunia would struggle to find anything offensive about Benjy’s appearance.

He’s wearing a simple white t-shirt and jeans, no robes or pointed hat in sight, and a brown rucksack slung over one shoulder. Staring around the deserted Cokeworth street with a mildly puzzled expression on his face, Benjy looks as if he’s wondering if he’s got off at the right stop. Lily leans across her dad to toot the horn. Benjy startles but then his face relaxes into a grin when he sees her waving through the window.

“Hello,” he says brightly as he gets in the back of the car. “Nice to meet you, Mr Evans. I’m Benjamin.”

“Benjy,” Lily corrects, laughing. “I’ve never heard anyone call you Benjamin.”

Benjy meets her gaze in the rear-view mirror and pulls a face. “You’ve never heard my mum shout at me to clean my room.”

Lily notices her dad’s grip on the steering wheel relax slightly. This is someone he can relate to: a boy like any other, a boy who gets bossed around by his parents to do his chores.

“Pleased to meet you, lad,” her dad says gruffly, and Lily bounces slightly in her seat.

So far, so good.

When they arrive home, it’s to find that Petunia is suspiciously absent. At first Lily assumes she must be out at a friend’s house, but when she’s showing Benjy around upstairs, there’s the sound of music coming from behind Petunia’s closed door. Lily stops deliberately outside her sister’s room, raising her voice.

“And this is my sister’s room, Benjy, so sorry she’s not coming out to say hello, she’s not too great with company.”

Benjy grins knowingly and, as they turn to go back downstairs, Lily hears the music being turned down and - if she’s not mistaken - a disapproving sniff.

::

Petunia doesn’t come down for dinner that night, much to Lily’s annoyance. Their mum disappears upstairs to talk to her, to try to coax her down, and comes down five minutes later, shaking her head and claiming that Petunia isn’t feeling well.

“Likely,” Lily mutters, and both her parents shoot her reproachful looks from over the table.

It’s not even as if Lily particularly wants Petunia to meet Benjy - it’s not like she cares about her sister’s opinion, especially when it comes to boys. One look at Petunia’s track record is enough anyone needs to know about her taste in men. But still, that’s not the point, and it rankles Lily. After all, she’s had to suffer through plenty of dinners pretending to listen as Arnold or Kevin or whoever prattle on about their ambitions to join their da’s companies, boxing toothpicks or something else equally as thrilling. Benjy’s more interesting than the whole bunch of them.

Petunia’s being downright rude, and the more Lily thinks about it the more it riles her up. It must show on her face, because after dinner, when her and Benjy are washing the plates, he says, “You shouldn’t let her wind you up so much.”

That’s all it takes, and suddenly Lily can’t hold it in anymore. “She’s just - she’s awful, Benjy! I can’t believe her. It’s bad manners. You’re here for two days, what does she expect to do? Hide in her room the whole time?”

She sets the plate she’s holding aside for fear she might break it, but Benjy just shrugs. “From what you’ve told me, sounds like that would be the best thing. I’m really not bothered.”

“Well, you might not be. I, however, am going to put frogspawn in her shampoo the first chance I get.”

Benjy grins and leans forward quickly, kissing her on the lips. Lily blushes and busies herself with wiping a glass dry, just as her dad comes into the kitchen to get the pudding.

::

The bedroom is dark when Lily goes up to bed. She can just make out the shadow of her sister curled up in bed, but Lily doesn’t bother to be quiet as she walks in.

“I know you’re faking it,” she says. “You’re not asleep, and you’re not ill.”

“For your information, I have a cold,” Petunia says.

Lily snorts. “Well, that explains all the sniffing you’ve been doing lately,” she says, taking off her jeans and t-shirt and pulling on a long nightdress. “For a while I had begun to think it was your way of letting me know you were unhappy about something.”

“You think far too much of yourself,” Petunia says haughtily. “Not everything is about you.”

“No, but today was sort of about introducing my friend to my family.”

Lily makes her way to the bed, stepping over the bundle of blankets her sister has set out on the floor.

“Your boyfriend, you mean - ahh, your feet are freezing! Get away! Why can’t you sleep on the floor?”

“The bed is comfier, thanks. Budge over.”

“We’re a bit old for this, aren’t we?” Petunia says, sounding weary. Lily can’t see her, but she imagines she’s rolling her eyes. “You’ll catch my cold.”

Lily snuggles down further. “I’ll risk it, ta.”

A heavy silence engulfs the room, broken only by the rustle of fabric as the sisters have a brief but determined fight over the duvet. Lily likes sleeping with one leg out of the covers; Petunia wraps herself up like she’s trying to mummify herself. When Lily tugs the bed covers more over her side, Petunia makes a noise like an irritated horse, and Lily bursts out, “Fine, if I’m bothering you so much I can go back to my room!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Petunia hisses. “You will have some decorum, thank you!”

“I’m only kidding,” Lily says, smirking. There’s a part of her that will never tire of winding her sister up. “Didn’t know you cared so much about my honour, Tuney.”

“Yes, well. You are my little sister, aggravating as you are.”

Petunia’s tone is despairing, but Lily’s heart does a little somersault. Petunia puts most of her efforts into pretending she doesn’t have a sister; the acknowledgment, however reluctant, is more than Lily’s had in months. She relinquishes her hold on the blankets a bit.

“He’s a really nice boy, Petunia. You should give him a chance -”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Petunia says shortly.

“Fine. Fine. So - how’s Arnold then?”

“We broke up.”

Lily tries to sound as if she cares. “Oh, no. What happened?”

“I found out he was seeing Rebecca Sutcliffe behind my back. I don’t really want to talk about this either, Lily. Besides anything else, it was two months ago.”

Petunia’s tone lets Lily know that the chance for further conversation is closed. Lily feels the brief fluttering of discomfort at the fact she didn’t know - hadn’t bothered to ask, really - much about her sister’s life in any detail over the last few months, but then dismisses it quickly, reminding herself of Petunia’s behaviour today.

Lily sighs into the dark of the room, and doesn’t try to speak again.

::

Lily gets up and dressed early the next morning, careful not to disturb Petunia. She suspects that Petunia, normally an early-riser herself, is only pretending to be asleep, but either way it suits Lily fine. She has a plan for today: something that will get both her and Benjy out of the house and away from her sister for the majority of the day.

They go to Friar’s Wood, one of the best places for locally sourced potion ingredients in the area. Severus had originally told her about it, and so they make a detour to Spinner’s End first. Waiting outside his house, Benjy looks up and down the cobbled street, his brow furrowed.

“Cheerful place, this,” he comments.

“Shush,” Lily says, just as the front door opens.

Tobias Snape is a tall, broad-shouldered man with a mess of dark hair, beady eyes and a cruel twist to his mouth. Lily blinks, somewhat surprised to see Sev’s dad there at all, but tries to compose herself.

“Hello. Is Severus in?”

Tobias takes a long drag on his cigarette, his eyes travelling up and down Lily and then flicking sideways to Benjy. His lip curls, smoke billowing out of his nose, and then he turns back into the gloom of the house. “Severus!” he shouts. “Door for you! Some girl and a darky.”

Lily feels Benjy stiffen beside her and she places a hand on his arm. Tobias glowers, frowning so much his eyebrows practically touch, but before anyone can say anything there’s the sound of someone running down the stairs and Severus appears.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, frowning too; for one horrible moment Lily can see the resemblance to his dad. “I didn’t - expect you so early.”

“I thought we could go out,” Lily says in a voice of forced calm, trying not to look at Tobias. “Friar’s Wood, you know, for -”

“Yeah, yeah,” Sev says quickly, cutting her off before she can say ‘potions ingredients’. He glances at his dad. “I’ll be back before tea,” he mutters, edging past, grabbing a coat from the back of the door on his way by.

Tobias merely grunts. “Bloody better be.”

The door slams behind him and there’s an awkward moment in which Benjy and Sev stare at each other with ill-disguised dislike.

“Benjy, you know Severus, don’t you?” Lily says, stepping in between the two as they walk along Spinner’s End.

“I’ve heard of you,” Benjy says. “Friends with Jarvis Avery, aren’t you?”

“I knew him,” Sev says coolly. “As would be expected, being in the same House. Thought he was a bit of a prat, to be honest.”

“That’s one word for it,” Benjy says slowly.

Lily keeps up a steady stream of chatter as they walk along the canal-side to the wood. Now that it’s actually happening, she can see the flaw in her plans to invite Severus along. She doesn’t want to exclude him, but then again the point of today had been that she wanted a conflict-free day with Benjy, and now that had already gone down like a lead balloon.

They reach the thick of the wood in less than an hour, and Severus glances around. “This’ll do,” he says, slinging his coat off and dumping it on the dusty ground. “There’ll be all sorts you can find here - did you bring the book?”

Lily pulls Brewing In Your Own Back Garden - Common Potion Ingredients Found in Lancashire and Yorkshire out of her bag and Severus smiles approvingly. Benjy takes the book from her, turning it over in his hands.

“Bit of a relic, this, isn’t it?” he laughs, running his thumb over the already crumbling spine of the book.

Severus scowls and Lily tugs the book away from Benjy. “Severus got it me for Christmas,” she explains.

“Oh, right. Well, no offense meant, mate.”

“None taken,” Severus says, but the bitter edge to his voice is not lost on Lily.

She clears her throat. “It’s a really useful book, actually,” she says, looking over at Sev, but he’s busy pulling a bottle of water out of his coat pocket.

“You’re the Potions expert,” Benjy says, shrugging. “So - what are we looking for?”

Benjy actually turns out to do as minimal looking as possible. As Sev and Lily hunt for specific types of tree roots, berries and nettles, Benjy settles himself against the trunk of the biggest tree and seems content to just watch them.

“Hope he’s not straining himself over there,” Severus mutters as he and Lily are bent down over a patch of reddish-purple berries, examining them against an illustration in the book.

“Be nice,” Lily says quietly. “He’s told me before, he’s not that into Potions.”

“Bit of a shit date you’ve gone on then, isn’t it?” Sev asks, his lips quirking.

“It’s not a date, Sev,” Lily says exasperatedly. “I just wanted to get out of the house, and honestly what else would we have all done together? Gone to the pictures?”

Sev shrugs. “So how are things at your house?”

“Oh, as expected really. Petunia refuses to even meet him properly, but mum and dad seem to like him all right.” She can feel Sev staring at her again, and avoids looking him in the eye as she grabs a few berries and puts them into a tub. “You know, I might take a few of these to Slughorn and see what he thinks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this type in his supplies.”

“You’ll be the favourite before term has even started.”

Lily flashes him a grin. “I’ll always be the favourite, let’s be realistic.”

Ten more minutes in, and Lily hears Severus’ stomach growl. She grins at him.

“Good thing we brought lunch.”

They both go back to sit near Benjy, who perks up at the mention of food. Lily hands out sandwiches and Severus passes round the bottles of water, both of them talking animatedly about the unusual spiny-looking leaf they had found growing on a bush nearby.

“Looks a bit like brambleweed,” Severus says, tearing into a cheese and tomato sandwich. “If brewed under a full moon, it’s quite useful in a lot of remedies for joint pain and such.”

“Very knowledgeable, you, aren’t you?” Benjy says, taking a swig of water. Severus’ eyes flash, and Lily thinks, please don’t argue. “I mean, that’s advanced Potions stuff you’re talking about.”

“I like reading ahead,” Sev says quietly. “Not a problem, is it?”

“’Course not,” Benjy says. “But it’s the same with the Dark Arts too, or so I’m told. You know a lot.”

“Benjy!” Lily cries.

Sev’s voice, however, is calm. “Yeah? Told by who?”

“Well, kinda common knowledge. I mean, the people you hang about with, for a start -”

“If you mean Avery,” Lily says, bristling, “Sev has already told you -”

“Not just Avery,” Benjy carries on, taking another drink. “There’s Mulciber, now he’s as dodgy as they come, and Regulus Black? Come on, his family is as Dark as anything. I remember when his cousins were at Hogwarts. I bet you anything he was in on the attack on the Muggle-borns.”

Sev, to Lily’s surprise, is smiling. “If you think so, why haven’t you gone to Dumbledore?”

“Need proof, don’t I? Dumbledore would never kick anyone out of Hogwarts without proof. He’s very trusting, Dumbledore.”

“But you think he’s wrong?”

“About some people, yeah,” Benjy says harshly.

“Right, that’s enough!” Lily says shrilly, standing up. “Benjy - what the hell has gotten into you? Severus is my friend, you can’t just go about - accusing him of all sorts!”

Benjy shakes his head. “I can’t believe he’s managed to fool you, Lily. I thought you had more sense.”

“Excuse me?” Lily says coldly, staring down at him.

He doesn’t look at her, just takes another sip of water.

“I just think you’re being a bit naive,” Benjy says. “You’re seeing what you want to see, and it’s getting old fast. I knew you knew Snape and were friendly with him, but protecting him like this? You’re mad.”

Lily barely registers Severus’ intake of breath. She forces her own breathing to even out, and is thankful she’s left her wand at home for fear of what she might do.

“I really think you ought to get an early train home, Benjy,” she says, and there’s a part of her that can’t believe she’s saying this: this is Benjy Fenwick, one of the most laid-back people she knows. Yeah, so he gets a bit stubborn and hard-headed about causes that are important to him, but right now he’s just being rude. He’s not even giving Severus a chance. He’s being - well, he’s being exactly like Petunia. “I had thought you’d be a bit more understanding.”

“I’m not going to be nice to him, just because he’s from a crappy home and I feel sorry for him,” Benjy bursts out. “His dad’s a racist, just like him. The apple never falls far from the tree, Lily.”

“I am nothing like my father!” Severus growls, getting to his feet as well, his temper finally lost.

Lily gets in between the two and places a hand on Severus’ chest. She glares at Benjy.

“When we get back home, you’re packing your bag and you’re gone,” she tells him firmly.

Behind her, she just misses the flicker of a triumphant smile on her best friend’s face.

::

Severus insists on hanging around until Fenwick has gotten on his train and leaves. He even wants to stay with Lily afterwards, but she shakes her head and says she wants to be alone. Sev hopes she doesn’t spend the rest of the day crying over Fenwick - after all, he’s proven what he really thinks. Lily is better off without him; it’ll just take her a while to see.

He lets himself in through the back door of his house, creeping past the living room where his dad is slumped in an armchair in front of the television, and heads straight up to his room. His school trunk is under the window, covered in a thick blanket, and he rips this away and looks for his Potions textbook. Flipping to the back, there’s what was once a blank page, but has now been taken up with Severus’ own handwritten notes. Finding a free space at the bottom, he takes the quill that Lily had given to him, and writes:

One drop of Babbling Beverage combined with fluxweed and snake’s tongue, causes interesting effects not unlike Veritaserum. Causes the victim to blurt out innermost, mostly inappropriate to the moment, thoughts and feelings. Can be commonly disguised as water; apparently no obvious taste.

Test subject successful.

Chapter Text

August 12th 1974.

Apart from the occasional bird call and the tinkling of the ice in the lemonade, the garden of Malfoy Manor is eerily silent. Regulus glances over the rim of his book, and finds not much has changed from when he last looked ten minutes ago. Narcissa, laid on a sun-lounger to his left, is still quietly perusing a pamphlet she’d received that morning; the house-elf is stood to rigid attention, balancing their drinks on a tray (more than once Regulus has checked to see if the thing has been petrified, but no, he can see the steady rise and fall of its chest beneath its tea-towel); even the peacocks down on the lower lawn haven’t moved much, strutting around lazily, occasionally finding the effort to peck at the grass.

“Are you quite all right, cousin?” Cissy drawls from beside him, still looking at the pamphlet. “Only, you keep gazing around like some sort of frightened rabbit. It’s distracting.”

“I - I’m fine,” Regulus says, flushing. “It’s just - don’t you find it’s all rather quiet here?”

Narcissa pushes her sunglasses up to rest on top of her head and looks over at him at last, setting the pamphlet to one side. Regulus catches sight of the title: Struggles of the Pure. It must be a thoroughly engrossing read; Cissy’s not put it down all day, although surely she must have read the whole thing front to back by now.

“You are a city boy, aren’t you?” Cissy says, amused. “Of course it’s quiet, Regulus. It’s peaceful. Isn’t this what you wanted, a break?”

Regulus thinks back to the first few days of his holiday. There had been the usual rowing match between Mother and Sirius, naturally; and then Sirius had decided to finally send the old girl loopy by leaving odd Muggle objects all around the house. On top of the piano, on Mother’s place mat on the dining table, even in their parents’ bedroom. Sirius had told him through his laughter that they were called pens - something Muggles used to write with, apparently - and had insisted they were harmless. Still, Mother had not reacted too kindly, had shrieked at her eldest for hours about bringing tainted Muggle propaganda and filth into her home. She’d ordered Kreacher to clean the house from top to bottom to remove the stain of the impure from her home, and hadn’t bothered in the slightest when Uncle Alphard had Floo-called in one day and offered to take Sirius off her hands. Usually Mother likes to keep Sirius under her watch, but Regulus thinks she may have been sent to an early grave if she’d had to put up with any more of Sirius’ so-called jokes any longer.

Alphard had offered Regulus the chance to come along, but he declined. He’d been meaning to visit Cissy in Wiltshire for an age anyhow.

Grimmauld Place is different without his brother - the halls seem darker, the rooms smaller - and even though it’s quieter with Sirius gone, the silence is somewhat stifling. Wiltshire is different than being at Hogwarts too, where there’s always someone to talk to, always one of his friends nearby.

He had hoped, really, that Malfoy Manor would be a bit more - well, a bit more lively. He’d imagined a whirl of society functions, parties and people Floo-ing in and out full of the latest gossip. Really, it’s not the case. Lucius is out a lot - business calls, Cissy says - and often times it’s at night; he’ll return home at odd hours and sleeps quite late after. He’s recognised a few people that have come to call, but it’s never for Cissy, always Lucius, and they’ll shut themselves into the study until it’s time to leave.

Really the whole trip has been a bit of a bore, although Regulus would rather die than admit this to his cousin.

“I suppose it just takes a bit of adjustment,” he says. “All this country air and whatnot.”

“It’s good for you,” Narcissa says decisively. “Honestly I cannot abide the city now. How Bella copes in Knockturn I will never know. All those people traipsing by day and night, all the shopkeepers screeching; I think it would drive me mad.”

Regulus nods, although he’s not sure he agrees. He likes busy places, places where there’s so much going on you can’t be locked up in your own head for too long.

“Good afternoon!” a cheery voice calls, startling the peacocks, and Regulus too. He looks up to see a young wizard striding up the lawn towards them, Lucius at his side. When the man gets near enough, he bends down to place a kiss on Cissy’s hand.

“Ed,” she says, smiling gracefully at the stranger. “I had no idea you were coming.”

“Surprised me, too,” Lucius says, sitting next to his wife and smiling as well. “A welcome one, though, of course.”

“I should think so!” the man says genially. “I shudder to think what the two of you would do, cooped up here all by yourself with your birds, without me. Although I see you have company,” he continues, his eyes turning to Regulus. He has funny coloured eyes, Regulus thinks; hazel, almost yellow. Like a cat.

“Oh, Ed, this is my youngest cousin. Regulus Black.”

“A Black! A pleasure, I’m sure. In that case, we’re probably fourth-great-cousins-twice-removed, but I shall introduce myself anyway. Edmund Nott, at your service.”

Regulus’ lessons kick in automatically. Nott. Sacred Twenty-Eight. He relaxes into a smile, shaking the man’s hand. He remembers something else, too: “You were best man at their wedding.”

“I was indeed,” Nott says, smile widening to reveal straight white teeth. “An honour still.”

“Oh, get away with your flattery,” Cissy says, but she’s laughing. “Do tell me, what brings you here?”

“Well, truthfully I must say I am pleased your young companion is here,” Nott says, inclining his head at Regulus. Regulus frowns. What on earth could this man be pleased about regarding him? “You attend Hogwarts, I assume?”

“I’ll be entering Third Year in September.”

“I have heard - ah - some rumours, about the state of Hogwarts.”

Lucius snorts contemptuously. “Surely it can’t get much worse.”

“Hmm,” Nott says, and then fixes Regulus with a piercing stare. “Tell me, my boy, who has been conducting your Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons?”

“Er,” Regulus says, suddenly nervous. “Well, it was Professor Mayhew, although he retired in June. I don’t know who will be the next teacher -”

“Yes, but who actually carries the lessons out?” Nott prods. “I mean to say, your practical lessons? Did Mayhew conduct them?”

“Oh - no - we had guest teachers last year for that sort of thing. Two brothers. Twins, by the name of Prewett.”

“So it’s true,” Nott says quietly, as Lucius swears and Narcissa’s eyes widen. Business-like, Nott turns to Lucius abruptly. “It’s what I’ve been telling you, Lucius; the old man isn’t as daft as we’d all like to think. The evidence is right there.”

“Regulus,” Lucius barks. “You’re not to talk to those Prewetts, if ever you see them again, am I clear?”

“Nasty little imps,” Cissy adds with a delicate shudder.

“Why would they ever try to talk to me?” Regulus asks, bemused.

“They’re blood-traitors, the worst sort of wizard, besides a Mudblood,” Nott says. Of course Regulus knows all about blood-traitors; Bella and Mother have told him all there is to know. He thinks of the Prewett twins, so lively in their lessons, so - helpful, almost. Regulus had thought them kind. “They prey on the weak-minded, the young and the vulnerable.”

“I am not vulnerable,” Regulus says heatedly.

Nott ignores him and looks at Lucius. “He’s up to something. They’re fighting back. Gus has his spies in the Ministry, as you know, and apparently Barty Crouch is tipped as the next Head of the DMLE. Promotion within the next few weeks, Gus reckons. He’s a stickler for the rules if ever there was one; probably strong-minded too. Harder to break, I’d say.”

“I know him!” Regulus says, and all heads swivel to look at him. He swallows, stammers, “That is - well, we’re related. Barty Crouch Jr is my friend.”

Nott laughs at this. “Is he now? Well, keep that friendship up. If we can sway the boy on to our side, imagine how that would look to Mr Perfect -”

“Ed, they’re just children,” Cissy says, looking uneasy. “Must we involve them?”

“It’s for the children we’re doing this, Narcissa,” Nott says sternly. “They are the future. Think of your own children - surely you want them to grow up in a world where they know their worth, and it isn’t questioned by fools such as Albus Dumbledore? He plays the game just as well. Getting idiots like the Prewetts to impress his students; as if we can’t tell what he’s up to!”

“But still,” Cissy says, with a glance at Lucius. “Regulus is only thirteen, and I’m not sure Aunt Walburga would approve -”

Fuck Walburga,” Lucius says suddenly, and both Regulus and Narcissa stare at him, open-mouthed. “She’s lost her touch. She’s already frightened Sirius off; keeps pushing him away every time she sees him. He’s refused us. I mean, where is he now, off with that addled Uncle of yours? Visiting your sister?”

“I beg your pardon, Lucius Malfoy!” Narcissa screeches. “This is my family you are talking about!”

“With all due respect, my dear,” Lucius grinds out, “it seems quite apparent your family is losing touch with the old ways. Save for Bella, of course. Who else is willing to do something about it all? To put their Galleons where their mouth is? They are content to sit in their grand townhouses while the world outside them burns with Muggle filth. I bet you it’s probably already too late for Regulus here.”

“It’s not,” Regulus says, without a clue what Lucius is talking about - only, only he knows he is not like the rest of his family. He is not like his Mother and Father, cold and unfeeling; he is not like Sirius, wasting his life away; he is not like addled Uncle Alphard and flighty Andromeda.

“Regulus, hush,” Narcissa snaps.

Edmund Nott, however, regards him thoughtfully. “The boy may have promise, Narcissa. And he won’t be thirteen forever.”

“I have promise,” Regulus says eagerly.

“Regulus, go to your room,” Narcissa says quietly.

“No - I shan’t! It’s Lucius’ house, anyway, and -”

“Regulus Arcturus Black, get to your room now before I put you there!” Narcissa shouts. The house-elf trembles, and a peacock pauses to look, its feathers ruffled.

Lucius and Nott swap glances, and neither of them say anything. They don’t speak up in his defense, and so, furious, Regulus storms back into the Manor and up to his room. He throws himself on to his bed, blinking hard as he stares up at the canopy. He’s never really fought with Cissy before.

What does she know, he thinks angrily, punching his pillow into a better shape. I’ll show her I’m not some stupid baby. She’ll see.

He must fall asleep, because he jerks back into consciousness some time later and sees that its dark outside. He sits up, stretching, intending to take his robes off and find some bed clothes - and spots something on the floor by the door. As if someone had pushed it underneath the gap.

Regulus snatches it up, eyes scanning it eagerly.

Struggles of the Pure.

He smiles slowly as he turns the first page. At least someone can see he has potential.

Chapter Text

August 22nd 1974.

In a field near the Lupin family home, James Potter is trying to light a fire the Muggle way; Peter is supposed to be helping, but is laughing too much at James’ incompetence to be of much use. Remus leans back against the tree trunk he’s sharing with Sirius, a smile on his face as he watches James drop yet another match, yelping and inspecting his scorched fingers.

“It almost makes you feel sorry for him, doesn’t it?” Sirius says. “Until you remember his huge family fortune, massive house, doting parents, and his, erm -”

“-toned Quidditch muscles?” Remus supplies dryly.

Sirius gives him a shrewd look. “Keep your fantasies to yourself, you old dog.”

“Should I go over and help?” Remus sighs, as James gives a short-lived cry of joy as the match lights, promptly blowing it out with his own breath.

“Oh, but it would ruin the fun.”

“It would speed up dinner.”

Sirius straightens his shoulders, suddenly alert. “I would like my sausages before two in the morning. Well volunteered, Moony. It’s all right, Potter, help is on the way!”

“I’d like to see you try this!” James yells back, chucking the box of matches down on the ground near their fire and sitting down, cross-legged, staring moodily at the logs and singed matches.

“All right, I will,” Sirius says, getting to his feet with a swagger and making his way over to the campfire.

“Er - Sirius - have you ever lit a match before?” Remus asks, as Sirius squats down to pick up the box, inspecting it curiously.

“Have I ever lit a match!” Sirius roars, looking round at them all. “Have I - well. No, the answer is no, but if Peter can do it, how hard can it be?”

Peter throws him a dirty look. “I hope you burn your eyelashes off,” he says, sitting next to James on the grass.

“Hear, hear,” James mutters, clapping Peter on the back.

“Moony’s on my side, aren’t you?” Sirius says, fluttering his eyelashes.

One of the things about Sirius, Remus thinks, is that he really does have long eyelashes for a boy. It’s almost obscene. Makes it hard to concentrate. He tries to make a noncommittal noise, but it dies in the back of his throat. It comes out like: weerp.

Sirius pulls a match from the box, holds it between his thumb and forefinger, and eyes it closely. He rolls it between his fingers, and then strikes it, quickly, on the side of the box. It sparks, ignites, and Sirius lets out a crow of triumphant laughter as he holds a leaf next to it. Remus is impressed despite telling himself he shouldn’t give Sirius the encouragement - Sirius is already far too good at far too many things - and even James mutters a grudging “all right, bully for you,” as, moments later, they have the beginnings of a very small fire crackling away.

“Sorry, Pete,” Sirius says, stretching his legs out next to him and running his index finger over one eyebrow. “Still intact, I’m afraid.”

“You’re so smug,” Remus says, shaking his head despairingly as he looks in his bag for a tin of baked beans. “Do you know your lips go all lopsided when you're trying not to do that smirk thing?”

“You spend far too much time worried about my lips, Moony,” Sirius says, and Remus feels his stomach drop a few inches lower. “The real important issue is - when’s dinner?”

“Well, it will take a while,” Remus mutters, pretending to still look for the beans despite the fact his hand is clasped around the tin. “It’s not just, you know, hey presto!”

Hey presto?” James repeats, exchanging a gleeful look with Sirius. “What a fabulous wizard you are. You’ll have to teach me that one.”

“Arse,” Remus says, chucking a tin at him; James catches it easily, of course, and grins at him.

The fire roars into life, illuminating their faces as the night draws in. It had been James’ idea to go camping. Remus hadn’t really been too keen on the idea - memories of damp camping holidays squashed into a tent with his parents sprang to mind - but the other three talked him into it. The weather is decent enough, and the place they’ve chosen is close enough to Remus’ house in case anyone set fire to the tent or any other disaster struck.

As they eat their dinner of blackened sausages and beans, huddled around the fire in a semi-circle, Peter tells everyone a Muggle ghost story his step-sister told him. Sirius is sat next to Remus, spread out as usual, taking up more space than is probably necessary. His knuckles graze Remus’ knee, tickle over a small tear in Remus’ jeans; Sirius is moving his hands and arms, gesticulating as he one-ups Peter’s story with one his Uncle Alphard told him involving a hag, a creepy child, and a cursed necklace that choked the wearer.

“Was that one of your bedroom stories as a kid, Sirius?” James asks when it’s over, as Peter looks slightly green.

“If you’re scared, you can snuggle up to me tonight,” Sirius says with a lavish wink.

“I’ll be doing that anyway,” James says casually. “It’s getting a bit chilly.”

It’s true; there’s nothing to shield them from the wind in this field, and their tent is only a Muggle one, not the wizarding sort that Remus knows Sirius and James may have been expecting. They all manage to squeeze in, something that Remus had been dubious about, and it’s a bit of a tight fit, but they’re all in in any case. The other three don’t seem to mind the squash, the closeness, and have no problem stripping off and getting into their pyjamas and sleeping bags. It had been the same when they went to Tenby at the start of the summer, Remus remembers; James and Sirius had strutted about in their trunks, and even Peter hadn’t been put off by the thought of changing behind a poorly held up towel.

Remus, however, is painfully conscious of his own body; it seems to always be in the way, everything sticking out at jutting angles, his elbows permanently banging into something. He feels like a puppet at the best of times, not in control of his own body, being jerked haphazardly this way and that. Utterly no control. His dad had sat him down at Easter and given him a mumbled, quiet talk about hormones and change and perfectly normal; Lyall had given him a razor and instructions on how to use it, although really all that Remus ever managed even after nearly a week was a wispy bit of stubble that he’d hastily gotten rid of because it looked so sodding stupid. More pressingly, his voice likes to surprise him throughout the day; while Peter’s remains a youthful boyish tone, and James and Sirius seem to be able to control their vocal chords more, Remus’ voice pitches up and down embarrassingly at any given moment.

There are other things, too. Things like the copy of a certain magazine Remus found in James’ case when he came to stay. Sirius, Remus is sure, wouldn’t get embarrassed about things like that. Sirius would probably think it was brilliant, even funny. He’d probably show it to everyone and quote bits from it, for Merlin’s sake. Remus had merely stared at it for an agonising thirty seconds while his brain sped up to twice its normally speed, feeling like some sort of prudish ancient grandmother, until he’d slammed the case lid shut and refused to meet James’ eye for a whole day.

Now, Remus sits tucked into a corner of the tent while James and Sirius wrestle with each other over the biggest pillow, egged on by Peter. He tries to imagine himself in James’ place, easily shoving his hands down Sirius’ top without the slightest hesitation, and feels the heat rush to his face. He glances instead over at Peter, and wonders if Peter has begun to notice the opposite sex the same way James clearly has - they’re all fourteen, Sirius nearly fifteen - and Peter did have that one date with Moira O’Shea last year. He’d said they’d kissed, once, and had just shrugged and said it was “all right,” when questioned by the other two. Remus hadn’t questioned. Remus hadn’t cared.

“You all right, Moony?” Sirius asks, pausing mid-wrestle with one bare foot placed on James’ head.

From his position beneath Sirius’ foot, James’ glasses are dangling off his nose. Peter, doubled over his own pillow, is pink in the face with laughter.

“I’m fine,” Remus says, and curses his body yet again, because why does his voice have to go squeaky now? He coughs. “Just - just tired, I guess.”

“Well, let’s go to bed,” Sirius says. “I think Potter’s had enough.”

He releases James, who scowls at him. “You’re a madman, you know that?” he says grouchily, rubbing his neck.

Sirius grins. “I won the pillow, though. Beater strength will outwit your Chaser reflexes any day, my friend. Moony, mind if I kip down next to you?”

Remus blinks. “Uh - ‘course not.”

The tent is soon full of the sounds of Peter’s snores, which Remus finds oddly comforting. Familiar. He assumes that James and Sirius are asleep too, and nearly screams aloud when he rolls over to find Sirius staring at him, grey eyes open and reflecting the sliver of visible moonlight.

“Jesus - Merlin - you terrified me, you wanker!”

“Did you think I was the old hag?” Sirius asks, laugher in his throat. He makes a gurgling noise. “Ree-muss. I’ve come for my neeck-laaace.

“Shut up,” Remus mutters, his heart still pounding. “Why aren’t you asleep?”

“Well, Peter snoring isn’t the most relaxing melody.”

“I think it’s sort of homely,” Remus admits. “Funny, isn’t it, what reminds people of home?”

“Well, broken glass and nasty spells remind me of home, and yet I don’t think that would put me to sleep.”

“I didn’t - well, I didn’t mean home home. I meant Hogwarts home.”

“Ah. Hogwarts home. I suppose to me, Hogwarts home is the sound of James shouting at me early on Saturday mornings for Quidditch practice, and you sneezing over some dusty book, and McGonagall taking points from Gryffindor.”

“What lovely memories you have,” Remus murmurs.

“Better than Peter’s snores.”

“Touché.”

“Hey, Remus?”

“Hmm?”

There’s a hitch to Sirius’ breath, as though he’s waiting for something, and then, “I wanted to say - well, thanks. For having us all over. It’s been brilliant. I mean,” Sirius lowers his voice even more, “the Potters are amazing and everything, but you know how it’s always so busy there. James blowing stuff up and getting stuck in anything wider than a needle. You know. It’s been - it’s been super here, like a real holiday. On the beach and now camping, and watching that Doctor What with your mum -”

Doctor Who.”

“Yeah, that. It’s been ace. So just wanted to say - thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Remus says quietly, the tent suddenly a lot warmer. “You should thank your uncle, too. He gave you a good alibi.”

“He’s the good sort,” Sirius says proudly. “I don’t need to speak to my mum if I can help it until Christmas now. I’m thinking of getting her a pen, what do you reckon?”

“I’ve got a collection of felt tips back at the house from when I was younger. Remind me to show you them.”

“What’s a felt tip?” Sirius asks, propping himself up on one elbow.

“Oh, Sirius,” Remus chuckles. “There’s so much you can learn.”

Chapter Text

Late August - Early September 1974.

Dear Uncle,

Are you missing me yet??

It is v. peaceful here at the Lupin’s except the strange thing is the Lupins themselves seem often scarce. Remus’ dad holes himself up in his study for most of the time - I see now where Remus gets it - and his mum is often out visiting people in the village. As far as I can tell she belongs to some sort of woman’s society, I asked Remus about it and he gave me a startled look and stammered that he didn’t have a clue. I haven’t asked Mrs Lupin herself yet, do you know I think she thinks we’re delinquent! I’ve managed to get a few conversations out of Mr Lupin about all the creatures he’s encountered, I suspect if you got him going he’d have a great deal of stories to tell, and a few times they’ve let us watch that strange telulvision thing, but mostly Mr and Mrs Lupin just leave us to our own devices which is fine by me but also nothing like Grimmauld Place where there’s always someone snooping about ready to tell on you to Mother.

It’s also nothing like the Potter’s where Jasper and Althea (they said I can call them that, can you believe? I’ve never managed to do it to their face of course) actually seem to care and take an interest. Lyall and Hope (they haven’t said I can call them that) are jolly nice but nearly impossible to hold a relatable conversation with. Peter said what with Remus being positively middle-aged himself, they’ve probably no idea how to deal with teenagers. Funny but also quite sad if you think about it.

Thanks for forwarding that owl to me from Mother, it took all of my self control not to tell her where I REALLY am, but I would like to see daylight again so I refrained.

I got a letter from Drom too, she says she’ll be at yours in two days time so if you could pick me up then that would be brilliant. Can’t believe they’re not connected to the Floo network here, honestly! Just write back and let me know what time you’ll be arriving and I’ll tell the Lupins to expect you.

Are Nym and Ted going to be at yours too? I hope so.

Anyway got to go Uncle - I can hear James hollering from upstairs, I suppose I should go and see where he’s gotten stuck this time.

See you soon!

Sirius.

::

The crackling of the fire in the Lupin’s front room is intermingled with the sound of Peter scratching his quill on a roll of parchment as he writes a letter to his mum, his tongue poking out of his mouth in concentration. Sirius grins as he imagines the things he’s telling her - yes Mum I’m keeping safe, no I have definitely not been poking about in the neighbours gardens to find Mandrake leaves to illegally harbour in my mouth for a month, yes I’m keeping up with my homework.

“Why don’t you do what I do, Pete?” Sirius asks loudly, making the other boy jump.

“Sirius,” Peter groans. “You just made me smudge my writing.”

“Didn’t know it would make a difference,” Sirius says. It’s a fair point; Peter’s handwriting is notoriously illegible.

Peter scowls but asks, “All right, Mr I-Lie-To-My-Mother-So-Easily. What do you do?”

Sirius saunters over to squint down at Peter’s letter, his hands on the back of Peter’s chair as he leans over his shoulder to read.

“You’re telling her too much,” he says simply. “You know she’ll worry, and then you’ll never be allowed out for the summer again.”

“I’m not telling her anything!” Peter protests. “I’m not telling about when you threw me in the sea and nearly had me drowned, or when I got stuck up that tree for half a day before you wankers decided to let me down. I’m not telling her about -” here he lowers his voice, his eyes darting to where Remus is engaged in a game of chess with James at the table, “-about the Animagus thing.”

Absently, Sirius cuffs him on the back of the head and then ruffles his hair. “Oh, Peter. Just read this as if you are your mother. Getting a train to Tenby. Being at the seaside surrounded by Muggles. Camping. Innocent enough, but you know your mum will just see a hundred different ways her precious ickle baby boy could have been murdered.”

Peter blinks down at the letter. After a moment, he says, “You’re right. Can’t believe I didn’t see it,” and crumples the letter up, throwing it in the fire. “Reckon I should just do the standard ‘weather is lovely, can’t wait for school’?”

“Throw in that you’re missing her cooking,” Sirius says thoughtfully. “Bet she’ll love that.”

“You’re a genius,” Peter says, pulling a fresh sheet of parchment towards him.

“Crazy mother’s are my forte,” Sirius says with a shrug.

Peter laughs and Sirius throws him an easy grin, but there’s a nagging feeling in his stomach. It’s been reappearing for days now, every time he thinks about seeing his parents again.

Really, he thinks, slouching back down on the sofa, what does Peter know about the hardships of family?

As quickly as he thinks it, he answers himself: You’re not being fair.

This knowledge doesn’t stop the stab of annoyance as he watches Peter roll up his finished letter and ask James if he can borrow Scout, James’ new owl. The owl his parents bought him two days ago in Diagon Alley. The owl he didn’t even have to ask for, his parents just gave it to him.

Stop it. You’re being pathetic.

Out of the corner of his eye Sirius can see Remus watching him, and he looks up defiantly. Remus doesn’t break eye contact, doesn’t even blink. Sirius is the first to look away in the end, scowling down at his shoes.

He can feel a familiar itching in his veins, anger boiling just below the surface. More than anything he wants to be back at Hogwarts. The castle gives Sirius a sense of calm, something he doesn’t often have. Hogwarts is home, somewhere he belongs; staying with his mates is great, but Sirius can’t help the nagging sensation that they’re not his to have, to lay claim to; he’s an outsider, a house-guest, a suitcase perpetually half-full at the bottom of a spare bed. He’s sick of feeling like he’s imposing himself on James’ mum and dad, and Mr and Mrs Lupin are nice enough but they fuss too much. Sirius has noticed the way that Lyall hides the morning paper, as if the front page will upset Remus, and they’re always watching Remus with these nervous, cautious expressions that make Sirius want to bang their heads together.

(“Do they think you might break?” Sirius had asked Remus one evening. “I mean, do they not realise that you are, by design, pretty indestructible?”

Remus had half-smiled, shrugged. “They’ve always been this way.”)

Sirius isn’t used to it, the way that Peter’s mum constantly worries he’s not eating enough or that he’s been kidnapped every day she doesn’t hear from him; the way that James’ parents spoil him, not because they feel it’s their place to show outsiders that they have enough money, but because they actually want to treat him; the way that Remus’ parents want to protect him, to make sure he doesn’t have any more pain in life than he already has.

“You all right, Sirius?” James asks suddenly, looking up as one of Remus’ knights surges forward.

Sirius jerks his head up, and bites back a snappy reply. After all, it’s not their fault he’s feeling this way, and he won’t feel any better by taking his bad mood out on them.

“I’m fine,” he says, convincingly enough. “Mind your king, by the way.”

::

Things get a bit better when Uncle Alphard comes to collect him, and he gets to see Andromeda and Ted. Nymphadora has grown bigger, her hair alternating between blue and bright pink. He quickly learns that her favourite word is ‘no’ and she calls him ‘Suss’, grasping bits of his hair between her pudgy fingers.

Despite the tiredness in their eyes, Sirius can tell that Ted and Andromeda are happier now. Nymphadora toddles around Uncle Alphard’s flat, Ted flicking Shield Charms up against the more expensive, more dangerous looking objects.

“Honestly, Sirius,” Andromeda sighs after chasing Nymphadora away from a glittering sword displayed on the wall. “She’s so clumsy on her feet; she’d probably break the most expensive thing and cost us a fortune.”

He feels more relaxed around Andromeda because he knows she gets it. She understands. Alphard is great, but he’s not been blasted off the family tapestry.

Alphard laughs into his glass of Firewhiskey. “Probably would be if anyone got wind you were here,” he says, inclining his head at Andromeda, who smiles ruefully. “Good thing that my other nieces don’t tend to drop in for social calls.”

“Anyway, you haven’t been taken off the tapestry,” Andromeda says briskly, looking at Sirius over Nymphadora’s head. “You’re only fourteen.”

"Fifteen in a couple of months. Probably about the right age for disowning. Anyway, what were you doing at my age?”

Ted chuckles and Andromeda busies herself with shaking a rattle to distract Nymphadora’s attention, but she’s grinning when she answers.

“Thinking of ways to tell my parents that I wouldn’t marry Lucius Malfoy.”

“I told mine that I won’t marry Cressida Carrow,” Sirius says gloomily, “and they haven’t really spoken to me since.”

Ted winks at him. “Well, in that case, if you do end up like your disgraced cousin here, you’ll be blissfully happy, eh?”

“Maybe,” Sirius mutters. “Sometimes I think -” Of Regulus, he finishes silently, but doesn’t voice this. Instead, he says, “Oh, forget it. I’m just being stupid. Remus tells me I have a tendency for dramatics.”

“Stop worrying,” Andromeda says sternly. “I know it’s hard but you’re so young yet, Sirius. Look, you’ll see your parents tomorrow on the platform and the world will not end, I promise. Let’s enjoy our time together. I’ve been dying to see you and hear about your year. Now,” she says, tickling Nymphadora under the chin and making her giggle. “Tell me more about this Remus. He seems sensible. I think I’d like to meet him one day.”

::

It’s raining when they get to King’s Cross the following day, Sirius pushing his trolley laden with his school trunk and broomstick, ignoring the bemused looks of passing Muggles. He had wanted Ted and Andromeda to see him off, but as he knows his family will be there on the platform, he knows it’s for the best that they said goodbye to him at Uncle Alphard’s flat.

Alphard grins broadly when he sees the barrier between platforms 9 and 10. “Ah, this brings back memories.”

“You know, you don’t have to see me on to the platform,” Sirius tells him. “I’ll be all right from here.”

“I told your mother I’d deliver you to her,” his uncle says, shaking his head apologetically. “She made me promise.”

“I’ll bet she did,” Sirius grumbles.

They go through the barrier at a steady jog, and it doesn’t take long for Sirius to spot his parents and brother through the steam of the Hogwarts Express. Regulus has a broomstick slung over his shoulder, the bristles of which are nearly poking him in the eye as he’s bent down, fiddling with the straps of his schoolbag. As Sirius approaches, Regulus sees Sirius’ shoes first, the Muggle trainers Sirius brought in a shop over the summer, and Regulus looks up slowly until he meets his brother’s gaze.

Sirius does his best to grin, avoiding looking at his parents. “Hey, Reg. Good summer?”

Regulus straightens up, nods once. “Yes, thank you,” he says, his voice clipped and curt.

“Sirius,” his mother says, offering her cheek to Sirius to kiss, which he does dutifully and quickly before turning to shake his father’s hand. “I trust your own summer was - educational?” she asks, her gaze flicking briefly over to Alphard, one eyebrow raised mockingly.

“Oh, yes,” Sirius answers enthusiastically. “Uncle Alphard was a simply marvelous host.”

Uncle Alphard’s lips quirk behind his beard. Walburga clearly can’t decide whether she’s being made fun of or not, so she settles on making a dismissive noise in the back of her throat disguised as a cough. The train whistle sounds a piercing warning and he smiles as genuinely as he can at his mother, all the while resisting the urge to imagine her falling under the train.

“Well, see you soon, Mother. Father. Thank you again for this summer, Uncle Alphard.”

Alphard’s eyes are twinkling. “Any time, lad.”

“Perhaps we’ll see you over the Christmas holidays?” his mother says as they haul their luggage on first.

“Maybe,” Sirius says airily, turning with one hand on the train door. “I mean, I’ll be pretty busy - last year before O.W.Ls and all that. I imagine I’ll be far too busy studying to tear myself away.”

Regulus snorts and says, “I’ll be back, Mother.”

“Only because you miss that stinking elf too much to be away for long,” Sirius mutters in his brother’s ear, jumping on to the train just in time to avoid Regulus’ elbow coming his way.

He stores his trunk away as Regulus says goodbye to their parents on the platform and by the time Sirius has finished, the train is starting to pull steadily away from Platform 9 and 3/4. Regulus turns away from the window where he’d been waving to Mother and Father and for a moment the two brothers stare at each other.

Sirius wants to ask Regulus how his summer had been, how it was staying at Narcissa’s and if it’s true that Lucius allows those ridiculous peacocks inside the house. He wants to ask what model broom his brother got, what electives he’s taken this year now he’s in Third. Before he can think of the words, a compartment door opens and Barty Crouch appears. He’s grown a bit over the summer, but his face has gotten thinner, and he still has a sickly, weedy look about him.

Barty nods at him. “Sirius,” he says cordially. And then, turning his full attention to Regulus, “Good to see you, Regulus. Aegir, Evan and I have saved you a seat.”

Regulus half looks back at Sirius, but doesn’t meet his eye. “Well, see you,” he mumbles, and then follows Barty into the next carriage, leaving Sirius standing by himself on the Hogwarts Express for the first time ever.

Sirius finds a seat in a carriage with two Second Years who shoot him worried looks as he settles himself down. They scoot themselves away from him and Sirius resists the urge to shout ‘boo.’ The grey mass of London has disappeared by the time the compartment door slides open and James sticks his head in, frowning.

“What do you think you’re doing, skulking about in here?” he demands incredulously. Behind him, Sirius can see Remus and Peter swapping bemused looks. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you. Come on, you daft prat, stop scaring the children and come sit with us.”

“Why’d you not come find us?” Peter asks, back in their own compartment. He chucks Sirius a Chocolate Frog. “You missed the gossip. Frank got Head Boy.”

“Alice Head Girl then?” Sirius guesses, shoving the chocolate in his mouth. He’d not realised how hungry he was until now.

“Nah,” James says, grinning. “Frank says it’s best not to mention it to her. She’s a bit sensitive about it.”

“They gave it to Winifred Quirke,” Remus tells him.

“A Slytherin?”

“Yeah,” James says, nodding. “I think it’s a sort of - experiment, on Dumbledore’s part. You know, trying to improve Slytherin-Gryffindor relations a bit. Frank says Winifred is all right, but Alice is a bit put out by all accounts.”

Sirius laughs, flicking his Chocolate Frog card to Peter, who collects them and probably has enough of Merlin’s face to wallpaper both his parents houses by now. He’s feeling better now, as if a massive weight has been lifted from his shoulders. He faced his parents, and the world didn’t end - exactly as Andromeda said.

After they’ve finished off all the chocolate and sweets, Remus gets up and excuses himself to the toilet. He’s barely out of the door before James leans forward eagerly.

“So, Pete and I were talking yesterday about, y’know, the mandrake leaves. Sprout will be doing them with her Second Years, won’t she? Pete reckons he can swipe some.”

“Sprout likes me,” Peter says. “It’s easy enough to pretend to be hanging about for some extra help, and when she’s not looking…” he trails off with a grin.

“She wouldn’t like you half as much if she knew how much of her supplies you nicked,” Sirius says, but he laughs. “This is brilliant. We’re actually doing it!”

“It’s still going to take a while,” James tells him seriously. “I reckon we’ll be extremely lucky if we get it done this year. I’m thinking we’ll have it cracked by Fifth.”

Sirius groans. That’s another whole year that Remus is suffering, twelve nights where he’s all on his own -

“I know it’s a long time,” Peter says, his round face sympathetic, “but it’ll be worth it all in the end, right?”

“There’s no point rushing it and cocking it up,” James says sternly. “If we make any mistakes and all kill ourselves, we’ll be no help to Moony at all.”

“Okay, fine. So - the mandrake leaves. When are you thinking?”

James turns to look at the door, but the corridor outside looks deserted. He says, speaking quickly now, “Over the Christmas holidays. The leaves will have just started to bud properly, apparently that’s when they’re the most potent. So if Remus goes home for Christmas, we’ll have two whole weeks by ourselves, and hopefully he won’t notice for the other two.”

Sirius raises an eyebrow. “Won’t notice? James, we’ll be stinking of mandrake leaves.”

“We’ll think of something,” James says, waving a hand.

Sirius isn’t convinced, but Remus comes back at that moment, stopping any further conversation. He sits down next to Sirius, who smiles at him and flings an arm around his shoulders.

Remus frowns. “I only went to the toilet.”

“Whatever,” Sirius says happily, squeezing Remus’ skinny shoulders affectionately. “Missed you.”

“Okay,” Remus says slowly. “No more Chocolate Frogs for you.”

Sirius laughs, the sound filling the carriage, all worries about his parents and brother forgotten now. He’s back with his friends, going back to Hogwarts, and now he’s safe in the knowledge that he’s definitely not going back to Grimmauld Place for Christmas, no matter what his mother says.

::

The rain hasn’t stopped the whole time they’ve been on the train. Lily looks at the window, at the water droplets smearing the view of the fields outside, and she pulls a face imagining what it must be like at Hogwarts. She thinks of the rain pounding the surface of the lake, of the boat ride the First Years will have to take, and fervently thanks whatever deity is available that she’s not doing the journey herself. The fires will be lit in the Gryffindor common room, her bed will be ridiculously comfortable and snug as always, and soon she’ll be getting into it after eating a mountain of treacle tart. Perfect.

She smiles, a happy hum escaping from her lips. Beside her, Mary shoots her a puzzled look.

“You’re happy about this, are you?” she demands.

Lily blinks. “What?”

“Were you even listening?”

“Er - no.”

Mary sighs. “We were talking about the new Head Girl. Winifred Quirke.”

“Oh, right,” Lily says, nonplussed. “Er…what about her?”

“She’s a Slytherin!” Mary says meaningfully, but whatever the meaning is, it’s lost on Lily.

“Mary is a bit put out,” Dorcas offers helpfully from behind her book.

“Put out! Of course I’m put out, Dor, they’re awful!”

“Hey,” Lily says reflexively. “Not all of them.”

Mary rolls her eyes. “Fine, fine, not all of them, true. But Winifred Quirke helped out in the library last year, and she gave me such a telling off for bending the spine of one of the books, and she took ten points!”

“I would have probably done the same,” Dorcas admits, one hand stroking the back of her own book.

“Ten points,” Mary stresses, the unfairness still clearly troubling her, “for a book.” When she sees her friends are not convinced, she sighs. “I’m not saying it should have been a Gryffindor - I mean, Hestia Jones would have been a better choice, you know, from Hufflepuff?”

“You don’t know, Winifred might be all right,” Lily says. “Emmeline ran a tight ship, and from what you’re saying, this Winifred is made from the same stuff.”

“And hopefully Potter and his lot will listen to Frank,” Dorcas says. “Who knows, we might even have a quiet year!”

Lily snorts. “Hardly likely.”

Confirming Lily’s fears, the rain seems to speed up the further north they travel. The countryside outside is barely visible through all the rain slapping itself against the windows and Lily finds she has to raise her voice to be heard over the cacophony of raindrops hammering down on the train. It’s getting colder too, and Lily changes into her school robes early, keeping her jumper on underneath for extra warmth. Dorcas goes to get them all a hot drink from the trolley, and returns ten minutes later looking extremely disgruntled.

“What’s up?” Lily asks, reaching for her tea eagerly.

“I saw Amber McCroy when I was getting these, and she just blanked me completely! I asked her how her summer was, and she acted like I wasn’t even there.”

“That’s rude,” Mary says. “I always thought Amber was all right.”

Dorcas sits back down, and hands pumpkin pasties around, still frowning. Lily cups both hands around her tea, savouring the warmth, and shoots her friend an apologetic look.

“It’s probably because of Benjy and me,” she says. “She’s from Ravenclaw, isn’t she, she probably thinks I’m some sort of evil Gryffindor ex-girlfriend and me and all my friends should be shunned.”

“She should be pleased you ditched him!” Mary says fervently. “I mean, what a creep, saying those things about Severus in front of you when he knows you’re friends.”

Lily raises her eyebrows. “Mary, you tell me Sev isn’t worth my time about a hundred times a week.”

“Well, I’m your best friend and have your best interests at heart,” Mary says. “Benjy was probably just jealous. Bit pathetic, really.”

“Either way,” Dorcas interrupts, before Lily can retort (she’s dying to say something about the luxuries of being able to choose her own friends), “at least now you’ll have more time to focus on your school work!”

“Hurray,” Lily says flatly.

“It’s last year before O.W.Ls,” Dorcas says, giving Lily a stern look over her tea. “My cousin says it’s hard work. Plus, you’ll need no distractions for when you become Prefect next year.”

“Then on to the best Head Girl this century.” Mary grins. “Better than bloody Winifred Quirke.”

Lily chucks a pumpkin pasty at her head, feeling suddenly warm. “Oh, shut up.”

::

Severus turns a page of Dark Arts Through the Dark Ages, a second-hand book he’d picked up in a dusty looking shop halfway down Knockturn Alley. It had been his first time in the Alley, his mother having sent him shopping for school supplies by himself, and he’d not wanted to leave without a souvenir, something to show everyone back at school. The book is a bit hard going, the author far too long-winded, but the spells are interesting enough.

Joseph turns away from the drizzle-soaked window and eyes the book with a slight sneer. “Still reading that?” he says. “Do the spells even work, Severus?”

“They might do,” Severus says quietly. “If someone had the patience to re-work them.”

“You, you mean?” Joseph asks, and laughs. “You have far too much time on your hands, my friend. You need a girl.”

Severus ignores the jibe, bookmarks a page on the Confodereturus Curse, complete with crudely drawn images of men and women in various stages of impalement, and slides the book into his bag.

“I have no time for girls,” he says.

“Gotten shot of Evans, have you?” Joseph asks, leaning forward with a pleased smirk on his face. “Finally!”

“We’re - not really talking, no,” Severus mutters.

It’s the first year that Lily hasn’t sat with him on the train to school for at least a part of the journey. At first he had thought it might be because of the business with Fenwick, but Severus knows that Lily wouldn’t let him get away with that if she knew - she’d sooner string him up by his bootlaces than ignore him, after all. Well, Severus isn’t going to go looking for her. She’s probably with those screeching, idiotic friends of hers anyway.

The door to their compartment slides open, and Barty Crouch stands in the doorway. “Hullo, Severus, Joseph. Good summer?” Without waiting for a reply (which is a good thing, Severus thinks, because he really hadn’t had a good summer), Barty continues, “Come and sit with us. Wait until you hear about Regulus’ holiday!”

::

Ten minutes later, in a compartment with Joseph, Regulus, Barty, Aegir Wilkes and Evan Rosier, four of the boys are staring at Regulus, open-mouthed in awe after he’s finished telling his tale.

Severus, however, wrinkles his nose and says, “The Death Eaters is a bit of a stupid name, don’t you think?”

Regulus’ cheeks, already flushed as he had been telling them all about the leaflet and Edmund Nott, go a deeper scarlet. “It is not!” he says hotly. “It’s symbolic.

Aegir and Evan nod fervently. Barty shoots Severus a disgusted look, and Joseph rolls his eyes.

Severus merely raises his eyebrows. “And you think they’d take you - a thirteen year old?”

“A thirteen year old Black, Snape, remember that!” Evan snarls, as Regulus splutters indignantly.

Severus sighs. Gods, but Purebloods are touchy about second names.

“Gentlemen,” Aegir chides lazily. “Let’s not be divided on this, for Merlin’s sake. They’d probably have all of us, once we’re of age. Probably even you, Severus, despite everything.”

“Despite what?” Severus demands.

“Well,” Aegir says slowly, deliberately. “Let’s see. Leaving the half-blood thing aside, there is the matter of that Mudblood you hang out with -”

“Don’t call -” Severus starts, but Joseph elbows him.

“Oh, Severus doesn’t have anything to do with her anymore,” he says. “Anyway, let’s not even think on that business. Carry on, Regulus - you really think they’d take us all on?”

Now that everyone is back to being focused on him, Regulus regains some of his composure. He nods importantly.

“Of course.”

“It would be cool, wouldn’t it,” Barty says wistfully. “A real chance to prove ourselves.”

“Your cousin - you say she’s seen Him?” Aegir asks Regulus eagerly.

“Bellatrix and Narcissa have,” Regulus says proudly. “I’m sure they’ll introduce me when the time is right.”

Barty laughs, punches Regulus on the shoulder jovially. “Hey, won’t that show your brother!”

Severus looks out of the window, half-wishing he could go back to his book. It would be more interesting than talking about Sirius sodding Black.

“Especially if you get on the Quidditch team,” Evan says.

“Of course he will!” Barty says excitedly. “I’m telling you, this year is Slytherin’s year, boys - it’s going to be amazing!”

Chapter Text

September 1974.

The rain doesn’t stop for weeks, or so it seems to James. If the sun does exist, it hides behind a dense fog of cloud most times; James is beginning to suspect it’s just a myth, something his brain made up long ago. It’s not so bad in Gryffindor Tower, when lounging by the fire in the common room or laying in his four-poster and listening to the wind howl outside is sort of comforting. Lessons, however, are something different entirely.

They stand as close together as possible in Herbology, the rain lashing against the glass of the greenhouses and making Peter drop his shears in fright the first time thunder rumbles ominously in the distance. Potions is awful, too, down in the cold and dank of the dungeons. Slughorn has them brewing Warming Draughts; designed, he tells them, by wizards and witches who live high in the mountains in horrible conditions. To everyone’s immense relief, Care of Magical Creatures is relocated to indoor, theoretical lessons; and James is having to cast the Impervius Charm on his glasses every time he has to go outside.

The thought of Quidditch practice in these conditions doesn’t fill him with enthusiasm, but they’ve got try-outs the second week back. Their Seeker, Cassie, graduated last year, and personally James thinks they’re going to have a hard time finding a better replacement. Maybe it’s the rain, but the bunch that turn up hopefully clutching their brooms look a soggy lot.

“What do you reckon?” James murmurs to Sirius, as Adric Vane, their Captain, circles the bunch of newbies like a hawk.

“I think the only thing this lot will catch is a cold,” Sirius replies.

As if on cue, one of the boys in line sneezes, and James sighs, visions of Gryffindor winning the Quidditch Cup this year vanishing.

Splashing noises sound from behind them all as someone runs up the muddy pitch to join them. It’s a small boy, leaning on a battered looking school broom, bent over as he struggles to catch his breath. James rolls his eyes impatiently. In his opinion, if you can’t be bothered to show up on time for Quidditch, you shouldn’t bother to show up at all.

“Sorry’m late,” the boy says, raising his head, and James blinks in surprise.

It’s Alfie McKinnon.

“Oh, Merlin,” Sirius mutters, and James knows he’s thinking back to last year, when they’d shoved Alfie into that hole in the wall.

Adric starts barking orders, telling everyone to spread out. Sirius and James move back, still close enough to each other to be heard over the roaring of the wind.

James smirks, catching Sirius’ eye. “Well, at least he’s got the small build.”

Sirius scoffs. “Small build? Looks like a strong breeze would blow him off his broom. And what is that thing?” he asks, eyeing the broom Alfie is holding with great disdain.

“One of the older Comet models,” James says. “Looks like it’s got a broken tail end.”

“Black - Potter - if you’re quite finished, we’ve got work to do!”

“Sorry, Adric,” they chorus.

James swings one leg over his broom and kicks off from the ground with a squelching sound. The rain blurs his vision immediately, and the wind is bitingly cold as it whips through his hair. On the pitch he can see Adric releasing the balls from their box, and he feels more than sees a bludger whistle by his ear. He squints through the rain, trying to find Alfie. Marlene will be furious if her little brother gets murdered by a bludger, he thinks mournfully. He can’t see the younger boy anywhere, though, and James pauses for a moment mid-air, frowning, until something gold flashes by his line of vision, followed by an equally blurry, just as fast figure on a broom.

“Hiya, James!” the voice calls excitedly, before they carry on their frenzied pursuit of the Snitch.

“Close your mouth, Potter, and play,” Adric growls as he flies past. “That McKinnon lad is doing better than you.”

Yes, James thinks, clamping his lips together and leaning forward on his broom, zooming closer to the action as Alfie outstretches a hand towards the Snitch, a look of grim determination on his face. He really is.

The try-outs only last for half an hour; Adric calls it off early when Rachel nearly falls off her broom following a flash of lightening overhead. The team and five hopefuls land with a splatter of mud back down on the pitch, and Alfie McKinnon beams through the dirt caked on his face as Adric announces he’s made Seeker. James claps him on the back as Rachel and Meredith hug him.

The rest of the team remains the same. Rachel, James and Richie Dennison as Chasers, Sirius and Meredith as Beaters and Adric as Keeper. Alfie looks tiny in comparison to them all, and the Quidditch jersey that Adric bestows on Alfie has to be rolled up three times at the sleeves before it doesn’t drown him. Still, James can’t help but feel a lot more hopeful about their chances of winning the Cup with the addition of Alfie on the team and he joins the rest of them on the way to the changing rooms with a renewed spring in his step.

James and Sirius are just rounding the corner, the changing rooms ahead of them looking warm and inviting compared to the current downpour, when James finds himself with a broomstick suddenly in his face, the bristles thwacking him in the glasses, and he staggers backwards.

“Oi,” he says loudly, rubbing a hand over his face to check the damage and glaring at whoever has just bumped into him.

“Watch it, you clumsy -” Sirius begins, and then falters, trails off.

Regulus is in front of them, holding his broom protectively and scowling right back up at them.

“Maybe you two should watch where you’re going,” he snaps.

He’s wearing a spare set of Slytherin Quidditch robes, his black hair flattened on his head with the rain. James casts a curious look at the broom he’s holding; it’s clearly brand new, the handle gleaming even in this rubbish light, and the bristles, despite the encounter with his face, are perfectly formed and trimmed. James fights back the urge to ask to hold it.

“You’re on the Quidditch team?” James asks.

“I’m trying out,” Regulus says. “Did my brother not mention?”

“I have better things to talk about,” Sirius says nonchalantly. “Let’s go, James. We’ve got to celebrate our new Seeker, after all.”

A few steps away from Regulus, James cranes his neck to see him hurrying down on to the pitch. Sirius is marching determinedly towards the changing rooms, and doesn’t bother to turn around.

“Don’t you want to watch him?” James asks.

“No.”

“Yeah, but - I mean…tactics…see what the competition is. Is he any good?”

“I have no idea,” Sirius says shortly. “Mother never let us play much as children. Come on, I’m bloody freezing out here.”

James knows better than to push it. He changes the subject, and instead starts talking about the speed at which Alfie had managed to catch the Snitch. At last Sirius grins, and by the time they’re changed and ready to head back to the castle, he’s lost the hunch to his shoulders and looks a lot more like his usual self.

The rest of the team leave the changing rooms first, Alfie sandwiched happily between Richie and Meredith. Adric pauses at the door, looks back at James and Sirius. James is running a towel through his sopping hair, and Sirius is tying his shoelaces.

“Hurry up, you two. I’m relying on you to get some celebratory food from the kitchens.”

“You go ahead,” Sirius says to James. “I just need to pack up the rest of my stuff.”

“I’ll wait for you,” James says, shrugging off his bag full of his Quidditch gear and sitting down on the bench.

“I think I’ve lost my bat somewhere,” Sirius says vaguely, glancing around.

“You better not have,” Adric warns.

James looks around the changing room. “We’ll find it quicker with both of us.”

Sirius shoos him away with his hand. “Go on, I’ll catch up. I may have left it on the pitch actually.”

“Oh, Sirius,” James groans. “It’s pissing it down!”

“I’ll be as quick as I can,” Sirius promises. “Get some butterbeer as well, yeah?”

James sighs, hitching his bag on his shoulder again and shooting Sirius a weary look. “Fine. But don’t be too long, or you’ll miss Marlene’s speech about how we’re a bad influence on her brother.”

::

Marlene throws her head right back as she laughs at James’ recount of the Quidditch try-outs.

“Yeah,” she says, grinning. “I might have forgot to mention that Alfie is pretty good.”

Wedged between them on the sofa, clutching a bottle of butterbeer in one hand and a slice of cake in another, Alfie grins.

“He’s more than pretty good,” James says, whose mood has only improved now that he’s in the warm and the dry and has a belly full of food. “I reckon we can win the Cup with the team we have now.”

“Well, let’s hope so,” Frank says from his place in the armchair. “I lost three Galleons to Caradoc Dearborn last year after we lost to Hufflepuff. I’d like to get it back at some point.”

“Ah, just threaten him with detention and get your money back,” James says with a grin.

“I think that might be a slight abuse of power.”

“So honourable, Frank,” James says. “Or do we call you Your Headship now?”

“I’d really rather you didn’t,” Frank mutters, his ears turning pink. He glances at Alice, who is sat nearby, but she leans closer to the parchment she’s writing on and doesn’t look up.

“Well, I think it’s brilliant, you being Head Boy,” Rachel insists.

“Yeah, don’t listen to James,” says Peter. “Hey - does this mean you’ll let us get away with pranks?”

“Don’t count on it,” Frank says, his hand going automatically to his badge and touching it, once, as if to assure himself it’s still there. “If you lot are anything to go by, it just means a lot of bloody hard work. I haven’t forgotten the flooded Charms classroom.”

“Ah, Frank,” James says earnestly. “Would we put you through hardship?”

Behind him, James hears a disbelieving scoff, and he turns his head slightly in time to see an unmistakable shade of red hair, and doesn’t have to look properly to know who made that noise.

“You all right over there, Evans?” he asks loudly. “Do you need a sip of butterbeer to help you clear your throat?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Evans replies. “I don’t know what you put in it.”

“Oh, Evans, your mistrust kills me,” James says, laying a hand across his chest as if wounded.

Remus whacks him on the arm. “Leave her alone,” he says quietly.

“What? She started it, implying that I’d give my buddy Frank a hard time. As if I would! I am shocked at the insinuation. Shocked and hurt. Shockingly hurt.”

Remus rolls his eyes and goes back to reading the Evening Prophet, but every so often his gaze flicks up to the portrait hole, and James knows what he’s looking for. Sirius still hasn’t come back, and it’s been ages now. The wind and rain outside has picked up, and James will be surprised if a full-blown storm doesn’t roll in overnight.

He’s just thinking that perhaps he better go and fetch him, when the portrait hole swings open and a very wet, very grumpy looking Sirius enters the common room.

For a moment everyone stares at Sirius as he stands, dripping on the floor, and then Peter, voicing what they’re all most likely thinking, demands, “What the bloody hell happened to you?”

Sirius grunts an incoherent reply and shakes his head like a dog, sending water droplets in every direction. James is pleased to note that Sirius’ aim is perfect, spraying Evans and her friends.

“Bad news,” Sirius announces, “is that my brother got Seeker.” Remus lowers the paper, watching Sirius intently. Sirius’ gaze finds Alfie, and James is relieved when a small smile appears on his face as he continues, “Good news is that he’s nowhere near as good as you, Alfie.”

“See,” James says, nudging Alfie in the side. “We’ve got this in the bag!”

::

Sirius doesn’t stay long in the common room, despite James trying to force a drink on him and demand more details of what he saw at the Slytherin try-outs. Sirius shrugs him off, saying he’s going to get an early night, and Remus waits until Peter has finished his game of Gobstones against Richie Dennison (something he knows won’t take very long, with Peter’s track record) before yawning loudly and obviously and heading up the the dormitory himself.

He opens the door just as Sirius is pulling off his soaked robes, dropping them in a sodden pile on the floor at the foot of his bed. He’s wearing a red t-shirt underneath, and it’s stuck in places to his chest, and for a moment Remus just stares stupidly before finding his voice.

“The house-elves must hate you,” he says.

Sirius turns, startled, and then relaxes when he sees it’s just Remus. “Oh, they love a bit of laundry,” he says. “What are you doing up here?”

“Celebrating Quidditch isn’t really me,” Remus says with a small shrug.

He hands Sirius a towel that’s hung up on the back of the door. It’s Peter’s, but Remus is uncomfortably aware that Sirius is still dripping on the carpet, and he can’t have that. Sirius takes it without question and bends down, vigorously rubbing his hair. He’s still in just his boxers and his t-shirt, and Remus wonders vaguely if he should get him a dressing gown as well.

“I thought it was you, though,” Remus continues, still stood at the door. He looks up at the ceiling. “Celebrating Quidditch, I mean. You’re on the team, after all, and the rest of them are all down there without you, so I thought I’d come up here and see if you were okay, because it’s quite a big deal, isn’t it, new Seeker and all that, big news, and your brother as well, if you wanted to talk about it -”

Sirius pulls the towel off his head and blinks at Remus. “I didn’t hear a word you just said.”

“Probably a good thing,” Remus mutters. Then, louder, he says, “I just wondered if you were okay, that’s all.”

“I’m fine,” Sirius says, throwing the towel down in the pile of robes. Remus unconsciously clenches his hand into a fist. “You don’t need to check up on me.”

Thankfully, Sirius rummages about in his trunk and pulls out a pair of pyjamas. He pulls on the bottoms and then sits on the bed, staring at Remus. Dimly, Remus realises that that was his dismissal, his cue to leave Sirius up here to brood.

Remus thinks he must be stupid, because he stays. “Do you want to talk about - about Regulus, or -?”

“Why would I want to talk about Regulus?” Sirius asks.

“Well, you said it was bad news, him being on the team. But is it? I mean, now you’ve got this in common, and I thought -”

“Thought what?” Sirius interrupts. His eyes are stormy, and Remus realises too late he should have taken his cue. “Thought that we could, I dunno, bond over Quidditch tactics? Fuck off, Moony. It’s not that simple.”

“You stayed to watch him fly,” Remus says quietly, because now he’s come this far he may as well go all-out.

Sirius’ laugh is harsh, hardly a laugh at all. “Do you know, my mother never let me try out for the team. She nearly broke my broom in half when she found out I bought it. 'Ungentlemanly,' she called it. 'A ridiculous waste of time and energy.' She made me study the constellations, learn the histories of the Sacred 28 off by heart, learn French and Latin, learn how to fucking ballroom dance, and yet she thinks that Quidditch is a waste of time. So - so maybe I am a bit pissed off, all right, that as soon as Regulus wants to do it, it’s suddenly okay.”

“Maybe it means she’s mellowing out,” Remus suggests.

Sirius glares up at him, and Remus registers in the back of his mind that he’s backed up so that his back is pressing uncomfortably into the door handle, but he doesn’t move.

“I don’t even care,” Sirius says. “She’s made it pretty clear she doesn’t. It’s obvious what’s happening, innit? And that’s fine - if she wants to make Regulus the heir, she can. I’ll be pleased. It will give me a chance to get out of that fucking house once and for all.”

“You don’t mean that,” Remus says helplessly.

He’s floundering, and he knows it. What does he know of heirs and families like Sirius’? You’re an idiot, he berates himself. You shouldn’t have followed him, you should have left him to it, or left him for James. James always knows what to do.

“I do,” Sirius says, clambering into bed. “And do you know something else? Regulus isn’t even that fucking good. He nearly flew into a fucking tree.”

He flicks his wand at the curtains of his bed, and they draw themselves tightly together, shutting off Remus’ view of Sirius. Remus sags against the door, exhaling a breath he didn’t realise he’d been holding.

“Well, Lupin,” he mutters to himself, turning around and opening the door. A cacophony of noise greets him from down in the common room where the celebrations are still in full swing. “That went fantastically well.”

Chapter Text

September 1974.

The storm does come and in a way it’s a relief when it does break and finally blows itself out. The same cannot be said, however, for Sirius’ mood, which persists like a gloomy cloud for another week.

Even the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher - something that usually leads to Sirius placing loud and obnoxious bets on how long they’ll last, and how they’ll leave - doesn’t lift his spirit. Professor Graves is a short, smartly-dressed black woman, her deeply lined face and weary looking eyes hinting that she’s more than qualified for the job. Remus likes her instantly, especially as she tells them about her time spent teaching at the Jamaican School of Sorcery. It’s fascinating, hearing about wizarding life in other countries and cultures, but when Remus glances at Sirius, he hardly seems to be listening.

James and Sirius are practicing Quidditch relentlessly now that they have their dream team; James, buoyed up by their new Seeker, but all Sirius goes on about is beating Slytherin.

“Don’t you have to beat the other two teams as well, Sirius?” Peter says to him one night, after Sirius returns to the common room windswept and muddy, boasting loudly about how he’s going to knock the Slytherin’s off their brooms.

Sirius glowers, and doesn’t speak to any of them for the whole of the following day.

In a way, Remus does admire their commitment, even if Sirius’ does seem to be coming from the wrong side of competitive spirit. They’re training in all weathers (”it’s not madness, Moony, it’s to get used to all conditions,” James tells him cheerfully, after they come back from one practice with the hoods of their robes full of hailstones) and to Remus’ surprise, more Gryffindors than ever before turn up to watch them practice.

“I think everyone thinks Alfie is a cute little mascot,” Marlene says, her voice rich with amusement.

It’s early on Saturday morning, and she’s joined Remus and Peter in the stands to watch Gryffindor train, but she’s not the only one. Two rows above them are Lily, Mary and Dorcas; Lily and Dorcas seem more intent on doing their homework in the struggling September sun, but Mary is decked out in full Gryffindor regalia and is even waving a small red and gold flag.

“She fancies Richie Dennison,” Peter supplies, when Remus turns to him with a puzzled look. “Moira told me last year.”

It doesn’t take long for Remus to see it for himself. James passes the Quaffle to Richie, who throws it easily into the middle hoop. Down in the stands, Remus thinks his ears might be bleeding when Mary starts screaming excitedly.

“Good grief,” Remus mutters, massaging his ears.

The team, however, seem pleased at the attention. Noticing them, Richie blushes so that he’s matching his robes but sits up straighter on his broom, his head held high, and does a celebratory lap of the pitch. James is acting very odd, too; it’s not a particularly windy day, but his hair seems messier than ever, and it’s only when Remus catches him in the act that he realises that James is taking any opportunity that he’s not holding the Quaffle to muss his hair up. Rachel passes him the Quaffle, and James goes into some sort of dive to try and retrieve it, even though it looked a pretty easy pass from where Remus is sat.

“Does Potter think he’s being subtle?” Marlene asks. “Evans isn’t even looking at him.”

“What?” Peter says, whipping his head so fast to look at her, Remus is surprised he doesn’t do himself injury. “James doesn’t like Evans. Does he, Remus?”

Remus thinks of all the teasing, the complaining that James does about Lily. But then, there’s also the fact that his friend has been getting a lot louder, a lot more stupid in her presence lately, and there’s no denying his growing interest in girls. He looks at Lily as surreptitiously as possible; her parchment is on one of the seats and she’s leaning forward to write on it, a sheet of dark red hair falling across the side of her face, blocking her mostly from view. It’s true that she’s not paying much attention to what is happening in the air, but then Remus notices how that doesn’t deter James at all, and he does a roll mid-air for absolutely no reason at all and, quick as a flash, his gaze darts to Lily.

Aha, Remus thinks. Gotcha.

He stares at James, a knowing smirk pulling at his lips, and James, realising he’s been caught, flies off to the other end of the pitch rather hurriedly.

“Is this Quidditch practice,” Remus grumbles, “or some sort of mating ritual?”

“I think it’s called being fifteen, bucko,” Marlene says, patting him on the head. Then, her grin turning sly, “Although, I must say, Meredith Oliphant is looking good in this light.”

“Marlene!” Remus says, and Marlene cackles.

“Just an observation.”

“Good grief,” Remus says again.

::

“Lily. Lily, he’s doing it again.”

Lily concentrates on finishing her paragraph on the properties of salamander scales and their usefulness in brewing Warming Draughts, even though it’s becoming increasingly difficult with Mary waving her hand impatiently in her face, trying to get her attention. Lily determinedly finishes what she’s writing, makes sure her punctation is correct, and by the time she does look up, Mary looks set to fall off her seat in excitement.

“Is this about how Richie scored another goal?” Lily asks in a bored voice. “Because he’s a Chaser, and - although my knowledge is limited - isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?”

“I’m not talking about Richie,” Mary says. “Although, for your information, yes he did. I mean Potter. He keeps looking at you.”

“Oh God, why? Do I have something on my head? He put something there, didn’t he?”

“No, you idiot. He likes you,” Mary says matter-of-factly.

Lily looks from Dorcas’ nonplussed expression, to Mary’s smug one, and then bursts out laughing. The sound makes Pettigrew, seated in front of them, jump and shoot them a nervy look. Lily shakes her head, still chucking.

“Mary, you are way off with that one.”

“Am I? Then why does he keep showing off?”

“Because he’s James Potter! That’s what he does!”

“Showing off and looking at you,” Mary adds, raising her eyebrows.

“You’re ridiculous,” Lily says. She looks at Dorcas. “Dor, back me up on this.”

Dorcas, however, just shrugs and pushes her glasses up her nose with one finger. “I suppose,” she says, glancing up at the sky to where Potter is racing Meredith for the Quaffle, “it is a possibility.”

Lily feels her smile falter and the beginnings of irritation. “Well, you could say that about anything,” she argues. “It’s a possibility that the whole universe will implode in the next thirty seconds, but I’d still take my chances.”

Mary doesn’t say anything else. She gives Lily an almost pitying look and rummages in her pockets, pulling out a packet of Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum. She offers a stick to Dorcas, who takes one, and Lily, who doesn’t, and then resumes her steadfast watching of Richie Dennison.

Irked by the whole conversation, and determined to look anywhere but at where the Gryffindor team are, Lily re-reads her essay for the second time, staring at it until the words blur together. Finally, she hears Mary’s disappointed sigh that lets her know that Quidditch practice is over.

“Let’s get some lunch,” Dorcas is saying. “And then can we go to the library? I still have my Arithmancy homework to finish, and I swear I have no clue what Professor Hailey is talking about half the time.”

In front of them, Remus turns around to face them. “I have some notes, if you want to borrow them,” he offers.

“He has hearing like a bat,” Mary whispers to Lily, who rolls her eyes.

Dorcas beams. “That’d be really nice of you, Remus. Thanks.”

They end up leaving the stands together, joining up with Remus, Peter and Marlene. Lily groans to herself as she realises the other three are slowing down, heading in the direction of the pitch, presumably to meet up with Black, Potter and Alfie. Mary’s smile is nearly ear-to-ear; Lily can’t help but feel vaguely sorry for Richie, who is currently helping Adric Vane wrestle the balls back into the box, and has no idea of the fate that is coming his way.

Lily tries to get Dorcas or Mary’s attention, to signal to them that she wants to go another way (she really, really does not want to face Potter at the moment) but Dorcas is engaged in conversation with Remus, and Mary wouldn’t turn back from Richie Dennison unless the pitch was on fire.

Potter is stood to one side with Black, laughing at something the other boy is saying to him. He’s leaning on his broomstick, and raises his hand in greeting when he sees the group approaching. He spots Lily in the middle, and he starts to grin, slowly, and Lily can just imagine the stupid remark that he’s about to come out with, when he never gets a chance. There’s a commotion of noise nearby and Lily turns to see a mass of blue and bronze descending on to the pitch.

Oh, God, she thinks, quickly clocking Benjy in the centre of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, his Captain badge looking especially polished.

“Hold on, Fenwick,” Adric says bossily, getting to his feet and striding out to meet Benjy. “You could at least get your team to wait until mine are off the pitch.”

Liam Boot grins. “Why, Vane? Scared we’re going to steal your tactics - how to put the balls away in an orderly fashion?”

“They don’t have anything we’d want to see anyway,” pipes up another of their Chasers, a curly-haired Third Year that Lily doesn’t know. “Nothing worth stealing, in any case.”

Black detaches himself from Potter, looming over the Ravenclaw. “You weren’t so cocky when we handed your arses to you at the last match, Cresswell,” he says, cracking his knuckles.

“Sirius,” Remus mutters, stepping forward.

Brilliant, Lily thinks despairingly. Sport-driven testosterone. She glances at her friends, but Mary looks to be loving it all.

“Keep your team under control, Vane,” Benjy says idly. “We’re only having a laugh. Bit serious, aren’t you, Black?”

The Ravenclaws laugh, but Potter yawns loudly. “Wow. Yeah, because he’s never heard that one before. If your Captain skills are as good as your witticisms, Fenwick, I think we’ll do just fine this season too. Come on, Sirius, let’s leave them to get all the practice they can.”

Black storms off, pushing past Remus on his way and striding through the Ravenclaws. The others follow, and Lily is starting to feel that she’s managed to escape without Benjy noticing her, until -

“Guess you sure like your Quidditch players, eh, Evans? A whole team, though - isn’t it a bit much, even for you?”

Lily freezes, and then slowly turns to face the girl who spoke. She hadn’t even noticed Amber McCroy in the midst of all the other, all male players. She smirks at her own comment, looking tremendously pleased with herself, but Benjy looks stricken. Lily can tell from his face that he hadn’t noticed her there until now.

“Amber -” he begins awkwardly.

“What did you just say?” Potter demands, glaring.

Amber shrugs. “She thinks she’s so high and mighty. She ditched Benjy, and now look at her, sniffing around you lot -”

“Amber!” Benjy shouts, at the same time that Potter yells, “Oi, you’re bang out of order!”

“I’d think about controlling your team, if I were you, Fenwick,” Adric says coolly.

“Don’t listen to her,” Mary mutters in Lily’s ear, pulling on her arm. “Come on, let’s go.”

“I could jinx her for you, if you like, Evans. Reckon I could get her from this range with a good Bat-Bogey,” Marlene says conversationally, falling into step with them as they make their way back to the castle, Lily quickly leading the way. Alfie has to jog to keep up.

“Oh, she’s not worth it,” Lily says, although she can feel anger coursing through her. “Let her say what she likes. She’s pathetic.”

“Potter was ready to jump to your defence,” Mary points out.

“Mary, please drop it,” Lily says, stopping as they reach the castle doors and wheeling to face her friend, who finally has the good grace to look contrite.

Alfie’s eyes are wide with excitement. “Is Quidditch always like this?” he asks wonderingly.

::

Remus skips lunch that afternoon and embarks upon a Sirius-hunt. Sirius-hunts are tricky, because Sirius is remarkably good at remaining hidden if he doesn’t want to be found. In the past, Remus has seriously considered making a map that keeps track of him, but for now all he’s got to go on are his instincts.

He checks the dormitory first, but it’s empty, and there’s only a few younger years in the common room. It takes Remus the best part of thirty minutes before he has a burst of inspiration and heads towards the second floor corridor. He’s only ever been to the Muggle Studies classroom once before, meeting Sirius after class last year, but it looks the same as it did back then. There are large displays on the walls depicting televisions, telephones, typewriters, cameras, all manner of Muggle technology, all with labels and captions. There’s a pot full of pencils and pens on each desk with standard writing paper in neat stacks, and a large overhead projector at the front of the room. It looks like what Remus remembers of his old Muggle primary schools, and he stands in the doorway, admiring and nostalgic for a moment, before he raps softly with his knuckles on the doorframe.

“Can I come in?” he asks.

Sirius, sat on Professor Laughton’s desk, kicks his legs out moodily and shrugs. “Thought you were a werewolf, not a vampire.”

Remus knits his eyebrows together in confusion. “Pardon?”

“I mean, you don’t need an invite,” Sirius says to his shoes.

“Ah. Well, actually, that’s a common misconception and it’s actually from Muggle media, that bit about being invited, that’s somehow found it’s way into wizarding soci -” Remus stops abruptly at the look on Sirius’ face. “Right. Sorry.”

Sirius sighs. “What are you doing here?”

Remus edges into the room. “Thing’s are a bit weird between us, aren’t they? Since we rowed, I mean.”

“You sound like a girl,” Sirius snorts.

“I suppose I do. Want to hit me, or - or put me in a headlock like you do to James when he’s annoying you?”

Sirius looks up, seems to consider him for a while, his head cocked to one side. “Nah,” he says finally. “You’re not like James. I can’t just -” he mimes hitting something, “- with you, y’know?”

“No,” Remus says apologetically. “Haven’t the foggiest, I’m afraid.”

“Maybe you are a girl,” Sirius says, still staring unnervingly at Remus. “Maybe this is why I can’t figure you out.”

“Well, I can assure you, I’m not a girl,” Remus says churlishly. “Want me to prove it?”

As soon as he thinks he, he thinks Oh God shut up, stop talking, Lupin, but Sirius smiles slowly.

“Calm down, Moony. I’ve seen the credentials before, anyway, remember? You, passed out in the Shack. Me, heroic rescuer.”

“How could I forget?” Remus mutters. “Anyway, does this mean - are we okay now?”

“Oh, Merlin, stop worrying.” Sirius swings himself down off the table. “It’s not you, all right? It’s this whole family situation, yeah, and you just - got in the way. And today, with Cresswell and Fenwick, maybe I wanted to let off a bit of steam, and you were there acting like you’re my bloody keeper or something.”

“Technically, that’s Adric,” Remus says quietly.

Sirius raises an eyebrow. “Is now the time for puns?”

“You love puns,” Remus says, smiling slyly. “You -”

“Don’t do it -” Sirius warns.

“-seriously love them.”

“Right, I changed my mind. I do want to hit you. Close your eyes and stand still.”

Remus does so, clenching his eyes shut and his hands down by his side. He feels Sirius getting closer, and tenses, but then he just feels the huff of Sirius’ breath on his face as he laughs. Remus opens one eye. Sirius is grinning wonkily at him, shaking his head.

“I can’t hit you. You’re not as fun as James. A moving target is better, and he flails about like the Giant Squid.”

Remus relaxes. Not just his body, but everything, now that he can see Sirius is back to being his happier self again. He doesn’t ask Sirius if this means things are fine between them now - Sirius won’t hit him, but he’d probably put something unpleasant in his porridge in the morning or jinx the portraits to call him girls names - and he decides against asking Sirius how he’s feeling about everything.

After all, when Sirius is ready, Remus is confident that he’ll let him in. With most things Sirius, it’s just going to take a bit of time.

“Why the Muggle Studies classroom?” Remus asks when they’re on their way back to Gryffindor Tower.

“It relaxes me,” Sirius replies. “It’s just - simple, you know? I like it.”

Remus nods.

“We’re going on a trip at Easter,” Sirius says, his tone even. Remus glances at him, but Sirius is looking straight ahead. “Well, I mean, we need parental permission, but - Professor Laughton is going to take us to Muggle Edinburgh. We get to spend a weekend there. Have to use Muggle money and transport and everything.”

“That sounds pretty cool,” Remus says.

“Yeah.” Sirius sighs. “But - you know my mum -”

“I thought you said your cousin Andromeda was good with a quill,” Remus interrupts, before Sirius can look too downcast.

“Yeah…”

“Well, then,” Remus says briskly. “Just get her to forge your mum’s signature. Or I could do it.”

They stop outside the portrait of the Fat Lady, Sirius staring at Remus in amazement.

“Are you actually encouraging me to lie to the teachers?”

“You need to go on this trip,” Remus says firmly. “You can’t miss out.”

Sirius grins. “Maybe I could partner up with Evans,” he says with a laugh. “Imagine that.”

“You can take lots of pictures of her horrified face,” Remus says, nodding. Dimly, he thinks, poor Lily, but then, looking at Sirius’ gleeful expression as he gives the Fat Lady the password, Remus thinks he’s got more important things to care about.

::

The next day, Lily walks out of her Charms classroom and very nearly into Benjy, who has evidently been waiting for her. Mary and Dorcas motion that they’ll catch up with her later, and speed up off the corridor, leaving Lily alone.

“Thanks, friends,” Lily mutters, and then smiles as best she can up at Benjy, trying to forget their last encounter. “Hi. How are you?”

“Ah, I’m all right,” Benjy says, although he looks somewhat pained. “Look, Lily, I just wanted to apologise for yesterday - what Amber said -”

“- was not what you said,” Lily says gently.

“I know, but even so…”

“It’s fine,” Lily says. She’d only fallen asleep last night after exhausting herself by ranting to Mary and Dorcas about Amber McCroy, but she doubts that Benjy needs to hear that. “You don’t need to apologise.”

“And all that macho-talk,” Benjy says awkwardly. “You understand that was just - Quidditch talk.”

Lily raises an eyebrow. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand your Quidditch etiquette, Benjy. I think I’d prefer to be in the dark.”

“Right.” Benjy laughs, running a hand over his head. “Uh - so, there’s no hard feelings between us, right? Because I know I was out of order, about Snape, and he’s your friend, and I shouldn’t judge. I don’t - I don’t get it, exactly, but it’s your choice, so - I’m sorry.”

Lily blinks, taken aback. “Thanks, Benjy. That means a lot.”

“We’ll be friends, yeah?” Benjy says firmly.

Lily nods. “I’d like that.”

After, Lily heads to Gryffindor Tower feeling better than she has in days. She hasn’t seen much of Sev since being back at school, and whenever she has glimpsed him in the hallways he’s been surrounded by a gang of friends and she hasn’t wanted to approach. Really, it’s been quite lonely, even with Mary and Dorcas, and the offer of Benjy’s friendship really does mean a lot.

Lily enters the girl’s dormitory with a spring in her step. Dorcas and Mary aren’t there; Moira O’Shea is laying stomach-down on her bed, flicking through a back issue of Witch Weekly. She looks up when Lily comes in, nods politely, and then goes back to her reading. Lily flings her bag on her bed, and immediately realises she’s crushed something in the process, something that makes a crinkling, crunching sound.

Lily retrieves it, and sees that it’s an envelope with an address written on in familiar handwriting.

Miss Lily A. Evans
The Bed On The Left Side Near The Door
The Fourth Year Girls Dormitory
Gryffindor Tower

“Did you get…?” Lily waves the envelope at Moira, who blinks at her and then shakes her head.

Bewildered, Lily undoes the wax seal and pulls out what looks like an invitation. Lily reads it quickly through, and then once more, before voicing aloud her thoughts to Moira, who is looking intrigued by the unfolding events.

“What the hell is the Slug Club?”

Chapter Text

October 1974.

“You’re missing out, you know,” Joseph says from his position in front of the mirror, catching Severus’ eye in the reflection.

Joseph adjusts the collar of his robes and runs a comb through his blonde hair, checking his appearance for what surely must be the tenth time in as many minutes. Sat on his bed, hunched over a 4 rolls of parchment essay on vampires, Severus pauses in his diligent writing to shake his head.

“On a cosy little get together with Slughorn? I’ll live, I’m sure.”

“Suit yourself,” Joseph says, now examining his teeth. “Although it’s slightly more than that. Think of who’s going. Myself, Evan, Barty. Regulus. The Head Boy and Girl. People with potential, with prospects. Slughorn has picked the best of the students - the ones with promise. Merlin knows why he invited you, then, but if you’re so determined not to go then it’s a moot point anyway.”

Joseph looks at Severus again, smirking slightly. Severus has gone very still, thinking on what Joseph has just said. It’s quiet in the dorm, and the sounds of water lapping against the windows can be heard. It’s a soothing sound; Severus has always thought so. He doesn’t know what the dormitories are like in other Houses, but he’s sure they can’t be as comfortable as the Slytherin ones.

Severus hasn’t thought much about the invitation he got to attend a dinner party with Slughorn. He had initially assumed it would be boring. But then, if what Joseph is saying is true - the students with promise -

“Hang on,” Severus says, throwing his essay down on his pillow and getting to his feet. “Let me just get my cloak.”

::

The dinner party is held in Slughorn’s office, around a highly polished round table, and Severus finds himself sat next to Frank Longbottom and Slughorn himself. Regulus is seated on Slughorn’s other side, looking thoroughly bored, but Slughorn seems delighted with his little turn-out.

There’s ten of them altogether, and Severus is pleased to note the majority are Slytherins. Longbottom is the only Gryffindor. There’s a plump, pink-faced girl from Hufflepuff and two boys from Ravenclaw; an angular featured, dark-skinned boy from Ravenclaw in Regulus’ year whom Severus is fairly certain is called Dirk Cresswell, and - Severus can’t help but scowl when he sees him - Benjy Fenwick. When they first arrived, there had been two other chairs as well, but after ten minutes Slughorn had waved them away with his wand, looking disappointed.

“So, Longbottom,” he says now, smiling widely, “what are your plans after this year? It sets a person up high, you know, being Head Boy!”

Longbottom stares down at his leg of lamb for a long time before answering. “I had, ah, thought of joining the Auror Training Program, sir,” he says.

“Splendid!” Slughorn roars. “Well, Barty here - Barty, have you ever met Frank? - is the person to talk to! Your father has just been promoted to the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, hasn’t he?”

Barty nods stiffly, and Slughorn beams wider still, his moustache rippling.

“Well, you never know, boys! We might just be looking at the future Head Auror and Head of the DMLE!”

Longbottom smiles weakly, but Barty looks unimpressed.

“I don’t have any desire to follow in my father’s footsteps, sir,” Barty says.

Slughorn’s moustache droops for a moment, and then his eyes crinkle as he wags a finger across the table at Barty.

“Ah! Have your sights set on higher things, eh? Well, I don’t blame you, Crouch; there’s nothing wrong with wanting to carve a name out for yourself in a different field. Now, Winifred, my dear,” he says, abruptly turning to address the Head Girl so suddenly that she nearly drops her forkful of potato, “how is your aunt Gladwyn? She must have mentioned me, I’m sure…”

Severus lets the tide of idle chatter wash over him as he eats his dinner. Slughorn has served them a good three-course meal at least, probably to make up for the fact that this party is clashing with the school’s Halloween Feast. Severus has just cleared his plate when the door opens. He glances up reflexively and is immediately glad that he doesn’t have any food left in his mouth, or he may have just choked on it.

Lily is inching into the room, smiling nervously. “Sorry, Professor,” she’s saying, as Slughorn has just spotted her and gotten to his feet to greet her. “I promised my friends that I’d stay with them for some of the Feast…”

“Oh, not to worry, my dear girl, not to worry! Here, let me just get you a chair - you don’t mind budging over, do you, Snape? Good lad - There we are!”

Slughorn settles himself down and busies himself with offering Lily a drink. Severus catches Joseph rolling his eyes theatrically, and Evan leans over to mutter something in Regulus’ ear. Longbottom shoots Lily a grin, and Fenwick waves.

“I had thought you weren’t coming, you know,” Slughorn is saying to Lily. “There was only you and one other who didn’t turn up - I don’t suppose you know if Sirius Black will be in attendance tonight?”

“I, ah, I wouldn’t have thought so, sir,” Lily says apologetically, taking a sip of pumpkin juice. “He was at the Feast and he - didn’t really seem like he was in a hurry to leave anytime soon.”

Slughorn is visibly crestfallen, although he tries to hide it. “Ah, well. It can’t be helped, I suppose. Perhaps hosting it on the same evening of the Feast was a bit - but never mind. Bit of a wild card, your brother, eh, Regulus?”

“I wouldn’t say you’re missing out terribly on his company, sir,” Regulus drawls, and his friends all laugh.

“Oho - a bit of sibling rivalry!” Slughorn says jovially. “I bet you drive your mother mad.”

“One of us more so than the other,” Regulus says, smiling charmingly.

“It can be settled on the Quidditch pitch, can’t it, Reg?” Evan says. “It’s Slytherin vs Gryffindor soon.”

Slughorn smiles around at them all. “How good to see so many of you so keenly invested in sport. Now, Fenwick, you made Captain this year - Professor Flitwick was telling me you aspire to play professionally after school, if you can - what team would you go for? I personally know a few contacts in the industry, you see…”

As the talk doesn’t seem to be veering off the subject of Quidditch anytime soon, Severus gives up paying any sort of attention. Lily hasn’t so much as glanced in his direction since she arrived, and he fights down the impulse to wave a hand in front of her face. All in all, the whole evening has been a colossal waste of his time, and Severus wishes that he’d ignored Joseph’s wheedling and stayed in his dorm, finishing off Graves’ essay. Slughorn hasn’t bothered to talk to him, and Severus had assumed it was because he didn’t have the right sort of surname; it’s doubtful that Slughorn knows any Snapes to quiz him on, to ask if he’s still in touch with; but then Evans and Fenwick aren’t wizarding names, and they’re getting plenty of attention -

“Are you going to ignore me for the rest of our time at Hogwarts?” Lily asks him suddenly, and Severus turns to see bright green eyes staring at him over the dessert.

“Wh - what?”

“Oh, don’t play dumb. You’ve been avoiding me.”

“I haven’t!” he insists, throwing a hasty look around the table. Slughorn is now deep in conversation with Evan and Joseph, and Barty and Regulus are talking together. No one is paying them the slightest bit of attention. Severus lowers his voice, looks at Lily imploringly. “Lily, it’s not like that. I’ve just been really busy, and after - after Fenwick came to visit, you never came to call for me again.”

“You could have called for me, Sev,” Lily says impatiently. “But you didn’t think of that, did you?”

“I thought you were angry at me or something.”

“Why would I be angry at you?” Lily asks. “You didn’t do anything, did you?”

“Well - no,” Severus says quickly. “But, I dunno…”

He can feel himself getting increasingly flustered under Lily’s impassive stare. He knows it’s no use; ever since they were children, Lily always wins arguments, and Severus is always left wanting to crawl into the nearest body of water. He swallows nervously, and Lily finally smiles.

“You’re an idiot,” she tells him.

He nods in agreement.

“Sorry,” he says quickly.

“I know you are,” she says, sounding half exasperated, but her eyes are twinkling. “Anyway, what do you make of all this?”

Severus shrugs. “I think Slughorn wouldn’t mind collecting half these people here and displaying them in a shiny cabinet.”

Lily laughs. “He is a bit much, isn’t he?” she says, looking over her shoulder, but Slughorn is still engrossed in conversation and doesn’t hear them. “It’s a bit awful, really, the way he’s probably invited half these people just because of who their family members are -”

“Not you, though,” Severus points out.

“Or you,” Lily says, smiling. She nudges him with her shoulder; her hair swings close to his face, and he inhales the scent of peppermint. “I guess we’re doing all right for ourselves.”

Slughorn continues quizzing them all throughout the rest of dessert and as he serves them all coffee and biscuits. He probes them all about their ambitions after Hogwarts, and Severus is pleased he isn’t the only one who doesn’t really have a clue what he wants to do with his life. He thinks about the subjects he enjoys most at school - Defence, Potions - and yet can’t imagine applying them to a career. He can’t imagine being a Ministry man, and yet he knows that he doesn’t have the advantages of Regulus, Evan, Barty and even Joseph - being the sons of well connected families, they are unlikely to be turned away from whatever jobs they set their sights on. Longbottom, Quirke, Fenwick and the Hufflepuff girl - Jones - seem to have plans, but then they’ve had their career counselling and are more likely to have some sort of direction. Cresswell just looks blank when Slughorn asks him, and even Lily admits she doesn’t really know yet, although she mumbles something about maybe being a Healer or a teacher, “something that’ll help people.” Severus thinks she’d be good at that sort of job, although he catches sight of Joseph miming being sick as Lily is talking.

At the end of the evening, Slughorn invites them all to a party over the Christmas holidays.

“A bit more lavish than this,” he tells them, chortling, and Lily exchanges eye-rolls with Severus. “Feel free to bring someone along! Dates welcome! The more the merrier!”

Severus hangs back as Slughorn bids everyone good evening, and waits until the rest of his friends have gone before leaving Slughorn’s office with Lily.

“Reckon you’ll be going?” he asks her as they walk together. The dungeon passageways are silent, and he knows that his friends have gone back to the Slytherin common room by now. He heads in the opposite direction with Lily, up the stone staircase, intending to walk her to Gryffindor Tower. Longbottom is some way behind them, talking to Jones, and the Ravenclaws behind them.

“Why not?” Lily says. “I was planning on staying over Christmas this year anyway. Mum and Dad are off on holiday - it’s their anniversary, and he’s treating her - and I don’t fancy staying at home with Petunia. I’ll probably bring Mary or Dorcas along; it’ll be a laugh.”

Severus nods absently. They emerge at the top of the steps into the Entrance Hall; Jones waves goodbye to Longbottom and turns to go down a different set of steps, down towards the Hufflepuff common room. The Halloween decorations are all still up, giant floating pumpkins hovering over the main staircase and the suits of armour enchanted to groan ominously whenever somebody walks by.

“You don’t need to walk me,” Lily says. “Honestly, it’s fine, I’ve got Frank -”

“I don’t mind,” Severus says, marching determinedly forward before Lily can protest any more. He reaches the staircase at the same time as Fenwick, and he just has time to hear a grotesque sort of squelching sound before he is completely, utterly, covered in a vile-smelling substance.

He hears Fenwick yell from beside him; at least, Severus assumes it’s Fenwick. He can’t see properly as the thick, gooey whatever it is has wasted no time in forming a sticky veil over his eyes. Severus wipes at his face, his eyeballs stinging, and squints though the goo to see that Fenwick is similarly covered and stinks to high heaven as well.

“Sev, are you okay?” Lily asks, rushing forward. Severus notes that her shoulders and tips of her hair are slightly splattered, and the hem of Longbottom’s robes are splashed too. Cresswell, lingering at the back, appears to have escaped unscathed, and seems fearful of approaching any closer.

Severus is about to ask what the hell happened, but he doesn’t need to wait for an answer. Lily has spotted something that he, covered in slime, is unable to see, and he watches as she strides over to a suit of armour and yanks Peter Pettigrew out by the collar of his robes.

“Do you think that’s funny, Pettigrew?” she snarls.

“Pretty funny, yeah,” he says, full of bravado, which means that surely his stupid mates are around here somewhere.

Sure enough, Sirius Black and James Potter stroll casually out from behind a statue, grinning.

“Evening, Evans,” Potter says. “Care to let Pete go?”

Lily, red in the face with fury, releases Pettigrew, who scampers off to stand by Potter and Black, massaging his neck and snickering. A second later, Lupin emerges from the Great Hall, apparently unaware of the scene in front of him.

“It’s okay, McGonagall went the other way, so I think we’re pretty sa - oh. Hi, Lily.”

Lily’s eyes widen. She stares at Remus for a moment, and then whirls back to face Potter. “You - are - such - a - child!” she says. “I can’t believe you! What do you hope to achieve, acting like this?”

“Well,” Black says, resting his chin in his hand as if seriously considering the question. “We did hope to get Fenwick here covered in slime, and we achieved that.”

“Plus we got Snivelly into the bargain!” Pettigrew adds gleefully.

“Yeah, what are you doing coming this way, Snivellus?” Potter asks. “Isn’t your cave down that way?”

“Just lucky timing for us, I suppose, James,” Black says. “Two for one. Sorry you got in the firing line, Evans, and you, Frank.”

“You will be, you idiots,” Lily growls. “You just slimed the Head Boy.”

“Ah, Frank, you wouldn’t take points off of Gryffindor for a bit of Halloween fun, would you?” Potter asks earnestly.

Longbottom sighs heavily. “Twenty points from Gryffindor, you four,” he says in a resigned voice, ignoring the howls of protest. “Ten each for targeting Fenwick and Snape here. Now, all of you, back to your common rooms.” He storms up the staircase, not looking at any of them.

Potter stares after him, disbelief on his face. “I thought he was all right,” he says sadly.

“You can’t smooth-talk everyone, Potter,” Severus says, rubbing at his face, which is beginning to itch.

“Oh, shut up, Snivelly,” Potter says, not even looking at him. “Go take your annual bath, you stink more than usual.”

“Yeah, that nice smelling thing in the bathrooms? That’s soap. So-ap. I’d use it, if I were you,” Black adds.

Fenwick clears himself up with a wave of his wand, and, after a moments deliberation, he does the same for Severus. Lily smiles gratefully at him, and Severus mutters a grudging ‘thanks’. Fenwick shrugs, says goodbye to Lily, and he too heads up the stairs, Cresswell trotting after him.

“That was a disappointing reaction,” Black observes, staring after him.

“It’s called being mature,” Lily says scathingly, although Severus thinks that, if Lily were not here, Fenwick’s reaction may have been less mature. “What, do you want people to get mad at you, Black? Is this how you get your kicks, looking for fights?”

“Careful, Evans,” Black says. “You might be on James’ no-prank list, but you’re not on mine.”

“Oh, I’m quivering in fear,” Lily says, rolling her eyes. She glances at Lupin, who is staring mildly down at the floor, and shakes her head. “Honestly, Remus. I expected better of you, at any rate.”

A small crease appears between Lupin’s eyebrows as he frowns but stays silent. How a coward like that ever got into the House of the supposed brave is beyond Severus. Can’t even stand up to his friends, Severus thinks. There’s always been something strange about him.

“I’m going to bed, before one of the teachers comes along and sees this mess. I’d actually like Gryffindor to win the House Cup, you know,” Lily says. “’Night, Sev.”

Severus departs at the same time as Lily, not wanting to be left with an irate looking Black, who is now mimicking Lily’s lofty tone to a laughing Pettigrew. Lupin isn’t laughing, though, and neither is Potter. Glancing back at the top of the stairs to the dungeons, Severus notices Potter still staring after Lily, an unreadable expression on his face.

::

“Honestly, Evans could give Moaning Myrtle a run for her money,” Sirius says, stretching out on one of the blankets they’ve brought to the Shrieking Shack.

They’ve made a nest for themselves in the least dusty corner, and in the middle have piled a bundle of sweets and bottles of butterbeer. Lanterns flicker from the top of the piano and in the dark, creaking corners, throwing shadows up on the walls. Sirius can hear the wind howling outside and can glimpse through a crack in the walls the moon, just visible, a scythe-like shape in the dark sky, occasionally hidden by the scurrying clouds.

“You sound like Moaning Myrtle,” Peter says, opening a pack of Every Flavour Beans and inspecting a dark brown one between his thumb and forefinger before popping it into his mouth. “The way you’re carrying on about Evans.”

“Well, she completely ruined the prank!” Sirius exclaims. “It would have been hilarious, had she not been there giving Moony a moral dressing down and making James here all mopey.”

“I’m not mopey,” James says quickly, trying to swig nonchalantly on his butterbeer and ending up with foam up his nose.

Sirius eyes him appraisingly as Peter bangs him on the back. “Hmm,” Sirius says. “I hope not, Potter. I worry for you sometimes. And you,” he says sharply, turning to Remus, who has been even quieter than normal since the slime incident. “Honestly, you two. Buck up. It’s Halloween. Shall we tell ghost stories?”

Peter nods enthusiastically, but Remus and James don’t look convinced. Sirius snorts.

“For Merlin’s sake, men. Do you honestly care what Evans thinks?”

Remus and James don’t reply. James has a shifty look on his face which Sirius doesn’t like one bit. He stands up abruptly, grabbing the Cloak.

“Right, well, you two can sit here and, and, I don’t know - think of flower arrangements to send her to say you’re sorry. I’m off out for a bit of fun. Coming, Pete?”

Peter glances at James, but then scrambles to his feet. Sirius pats him on the back.

“See,” he says, pointing between James and Remus, wilting on the floor, and Peter. “This is what a true friend looks like. Ready for action at all times. Up for a laugh. Not feeling guilty about girls. Pah. Come on, Peter!”

He leads the way back out of the Shack, pausing only to swipe a couple of Fizzing Whizzbees that James had just been about to eat.

“Where are we going?” Peter asks, slightly breathlessly, once they’ve been walking for a while.

They’re underneath the Willow, and truth be told, Sirius hasn’t really thought about where he’s heading, only that he wants to do something. He thinks about going back to the castle, storming into the Slytherin common room and shoving Snivellus’ head down a toilet, but then thinks that might be a bit too much like hard work, especially if Peter is his only back-up.

Then, he has a brilliant idea.

::

Sirius is a lot taller than Peter is, and so he has to crouch down as the two of them huddle under the Invisibility Cloak together. The streets of Hogsmeade are mostly deserted, but the windows of The Three Broomsticks are full of light, warm and inviting, and the two boys make their way towards the pub, keen to get out of the cold.

The warmth of the fire hits them as soon as they open the door. The pub has the right amount of people for sneaking around under the Cloak in; not too many that it becomes hard to navigate through the crowds, but enough so that no one notices the door open by itself, and Peter doubts anyone will notice if a pint or two of Goblin’s Ale goes missing from a table.

Peter nods towards an empty table near the back of the room and leads the way. On their way by, Sirius grabs a half-finished glass from a surly looking witches table. They sit down, and Sirius offers Peter the glass to sniff, which he does, and nearly chokes. Whatever it is, it smells stronger than Firewhiskey.

“Well,” Sirius murmurs, grinning wildly and downing the whole thing in one go. “Cheers, Pete.”

::

Between them, Sirius and Peter have nicked the equivalent of four butterbeers, two glasses of Firewhiskey, a pint of Goblin’s Ale, and a tankard of something dark brown and foamy before they start getting the giggles and decide they should probably leave. Getting out of the pub unnoticed under the Cloak is a bit more tricky than it was coming in, and they nearly don’t manage it when Sirius, distracted by Madam Rosmerta, very nearly walks into an elderly wizard sat at the bar. Peter manages to yank him back by his sleeve and get him out of The Three Broomsticks, and back into the fresh air of outside.

“Where to now?” Peter asks, leaning against the wall of the pub.

“The Hog’s Head,” Sirius says decisively.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Sirius says, nodding. “We’ll walk up a bit, and then I reckon we can come out from under the Cloak. That barman doesn’t care.”

The Hog’s Head is a lot emptier than The Three Broomsticks, and the barman watches them beadily from behind his spectacles as Peter and Sirius order two more butterbeers, trying not to slur their words. The fire isn’t as warm here either, and both boys sit as near to it as possible.

Sirius leans forward, clinking his bottle against Peter’s.

“I wonder what Remus and James are doing?” Peter asks, taking a sip.

Sirius shrugs. “Writing Evans an apology letter,” he says darkly.

“Mary Macdonald reckons James fancies Evans,” Peter says, nodding sagely. “I heard them talking about it at Quidditch practice.”

Sirius laughs contemptuously. “Well, that’s - I mean, that’s ridiculous. We’d know, wouldn’t we? I’d know. Evans is an all right looking girl, sure, but that - that’s silly.”

He stares at Peter unblinkingly, and after a moment Peter realises he’s being silently asked for confirmation. He nods quickly, nearly sloshing butterbeer down himself.

“Oh, yeah. Absolutely. You’d know.”

Sirius continues to stare at him for a few more seconds and then, apparently satisfied, nods. Peter sags a little into his chair in relief. Privately, he thinks that James would be off his nut to let it slip to Sirius if he fancied Evans, but obviously he doesn’t voice this. He concentrates on drinking the rest of his butterbeer as Sirius stares moodily into the dying embers of the fire. It reminds him of Lily Evans’ hair; it’s a nice colour, Evans’ hair -

“I like blondes,” Peter says, suddenly, wanting to break the silence.

Sirius raises an eyebrow. “Moira O’Shea wasn’t blonde.”

“No, but there’s that girl, the Hufflepuff - oh, what’s her name - sits behind Remus in Herbology.”

“Michelle Warburton?”

“Yeah!” Peter says, snapping his fingers. “Michelle Warburton. Tha’s it. She’s cute. Helped me last year when I got cornered by that teething Snapping Rhododendron.”

“Ask her to Hogsmeade,” Sirius says, downing the rest of his drink. “You do all right with girls, weirdly.”

Peter ignores that last bit, biting down on his reply. I’m nice to them, Sirius. Sirius probably can be nice to girls, if he tried; he’s probably been classically trained in the art of Being A Gentleman, but he’s too preoccupied with being a general wanker most of the time. Peter smiles fondly at him.

“Want another?” he asks, pointing to the bar.

Sirius nods. “Yeah, why not? Let’s get trashed, and then go find Michelle Whatsit for you.”

The bar gradually empties around them, until it’s just the two of them and two red-nosed wizards propped up at the bar. Peter isn’t sure of the time, but he’s certain it’s probably time to head back now. He thinks of the long walk back through the tunnels and passageways, of having to try to hit the knot in the Willow while they’re in this state, and groans. The fire is nearly out, and Peter is about to stand up, to try to cajole Sirius into joining him, when Sirius speaks.

“I was invited to that dinner party, y’know,” he says gruffly, fiddling with the neck of his butterbeer bottle. “That Slug Club thingymajig.”

“Yeah, James mentioned something about you getting a letter,” Peter says.

“My cousins mentioned it, once. Quite the exclusive club apparently. He likes to ‘collect’ people. And now Sluggy’s got my brother. Bet he nearly piddled himself at the thought of getting me too.”

“Suppose so,” Peter mutters. “But he didn’t, did he? Sounds like a load of bollocks, if you ask me.”

Sirius barks a laugh. “Eloquent as ever.”

“True though,” Peter carries on. “I mean - Evans was invited. Your brother. Snivellus. Must be a club where being a boring tosser is the entry requirement. You’re well shot, Sirius.”

Sirius grins. “Cheers, mate. You always know what to say.”

“I try,” Peter says with a shrug, because it’s true enough.

He feels like he’s always trying; trying to make his mates laugh with some comment or other, trying to listen to their problems, trying not to bore them too much with his own, trying not to let them see how hard he tries, trying to keep up with the others as they leap from one brilliant idea to the next, trying to get girls attention, because no matter how nice he is to girls, Sirius and James always seem to get their attention more.

Well, apart from Evans, he thinks, and giggles to himself.

“What’s funny?” Sirius asks, squinting.

“Imagining Remus and James’ faces when we turn up,” Peter says.

Sirius grins. “Reckon we should take them some drink, to say sorry?”

Peter arranges his face into his best saint-like expression. “Be rude not to.”

::

“Are you drunk?” Remus demands, when they eventually return to the Shack.

Peter is leaning on Sirius for support, who is leaning on the wall. Remus looks from the both of them, to James. James frowns, running both his hands through his hair.

“Are you drunk - without us?” James says incredulously.

Peter giggles. Remus and James boggle. Sirius moves his hand from the wall, and he and Peter both go down in a heap. A cloud of dust puffs up around them, and in between coughs and snickers Peter manages to extract the nearly full bottle of Firewhiskey they managed to smuggle away under the Cloak as they left The Hog’s Head. Peter’s pretty sure that they caused an all-out duel by taking it from the two inebriated wizards at the bar, both of them blaming the other for it’s sudden disappearance, but at the moment he’s drunk with one of his best friends, and his other two best friends are staring at him with expressions so disbelieving that the whole situation is just funny.

“We got this for you,” he says, waving the bottle in what he thinks is a tantalising way, a bit too close to Sirius’ head.

“Well, thanks very much,” James mutters, looking affronted. “We get your leftovers.”

“You’ll always be getting my cast-offs, James, mate,” Sirius says, struggling into a sitting position and wincing when James’ foot collides with his knee.

“Wanker,” James says, almost affectionately. He pulls the bottle from Peter’s grasp and takes a swig before settling himself down next to Sirius. Remus tuts once, a half-hearted display of disapproval, before joining them.

From his position on the floor, Peter closes his eyes. He knows he’ll probably regret it in the morning, when he wakes up with various articles of clothing stolen and crude drawings on his face thanks to Sirius’ unhealthy obsession with Muggle pens, but for now the Firewhiskey is keeping him warm, and the floor of the Shrieking Shack isn’t all too bad, really.

Somewhere above him, he hears Remus. “They’ll take your trousers, you know,” he says, a gentle warning to his voice.

Peter hums sleepily to himself and nods into the floor. They do it about once a year, anyway. Someone - Remus, most likely - pats him consolingly on the head as James and Sirius roar with laughter about something or other. At least they’re not arguing about Evans anymore, is Peter’s last, contended thought, before the lull of the Firewhiskey pulls him under.

::

He wakes up in the early hours, minus his t-shirt and with “I love McGonagall” scrawled across his bare chest in James’ handwriting. There’s a smiley face as well, in what is probably Sirius’, with Peter’s belly-button serving as a nose. Peter squints down at it, and then looks blearily across at his friends. James is passed out still sat up, his glasses dangling off the end of his nose, and Remus and Sirius are curled around each other, Remus holding the empty Firewhiskey bottle like a teddy bear.

Through the pounding of his head, Peter manages to Summon the rest of the blankets and throw them over his mates to ward off the chill. He finds his t-shirt and rolls it into a ball to serve as a pillow, before cocooning himself up in the last blanket. His spine creaks in protest as he settles back down on the floor, but Peter ignores it. The blanket is warm enough, the sound of his friends’ breathing is comforting, and really, Peter thinks drowsily, smiling into the dust, there are worse ways to start the day.

Chapter Text

November 1974.

On the morning of the match between Gryffindor and Slytherin, the mood at the breakfast table is a tense one.

James keeps on picking up his knife and fork only to immediately set them back down again, and even though Marlene is loading up his plate, Alfie hasn’t touched his food either. Glancing down the table, Remus sees that most of the team look in a similar state. Adric in particular looks like he might be sick over his porridge and Rachel, Richie and Meredith haven’t uttered a word all morning.

The exception - of course, thinks Remus wryly - is Sirius, who is simultaneously keeping up a loud stream of chatter to Peter and shovelling his breakfast into his mouth with so much gusto that Lily is eyeing him with open disgust and, after a moment, moves places to sit at the other end of the table.

“Quite good weather for a match day,” Sirius says cheerily. With a mouth full of kippers, it comes out more like: Qu-goo-whar-or-madday.

Remus frowns slightly. Sirius was raised to know all the different types of cutlery with his eyes closed and has, in actual fact, impeccable table manners. Remus suspects that all of this might be for show. And he has a pretty good idea of who it’s intended for.

At the Slytherin table, Regulus is just about visible, sat in front of a large glass of something green and healthy looking. The Captain, Nathaniel Bulstrode, appears to be giving the rest of the team a pre-match pep-talk, but it doesn’t seem as if Regulus is even hearing it. As Sirius’ laugh travels across the room, Regulus visibly jumps, his shoulders hunched and defensive. At last Bulstrode finishes his speech, claps Regulus so hard on the back that the smaller boy nearly lands in his cereal, and the Slytherin team troop out of the Great Hall, followed by many eager stares and excited chatter.

“Well, everyone,” Adric says, his gaze snapping from the door where the Slytherins have just exited and falling on his own team. “This is it. Best head down to the pitch.”

“You’ll be great, Alf,” Marlene says bracingly. “Just fly like you did at practice.”

Alfie opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. In the end he settles on a nod. Sirius throws an arm over the smaller boy’s shoulder and pulls Alfie towards him. It’s this gesture, rather than his sister’s words of comfort, that finally elicits the smallest of smiles.

“Look after him, Black,” Marlene mutters as the rest of the team stand up and start making their way out of the Great Hall.

Peter downs the rest of his pumpkin juice in one, wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, and stands up as well. His blue eyes are shining with excitement, but Remus can’t help the worry nestled in the pit of his stomach.

“Come on, let’s go,” Peter says. “We want to get good seats.”

“Ooh, save some for us, Peter!” Mary calls down to him. “We’ll be along in a little bit.”

Lily rolls her eyes at that, and Remus thinks back to all the times in Second Year when James and Sirius forced him to come to matches that he had zero interest in. Now look at me, he thinks, as he and Peter join the throng of people heading to the match. They’ve got me worrying and everything.

::

Huddled together, two minutes before the match, James realises he should probably be annoyed at how utterly shite Adric is at inspirational speeches. As it is, he’s mostly just concerned with the fact that, since getting into the changing rooms, Sirius has turned suddenly and eerily silent.

“Okay. Right. Er - so, their team may be bigger than we are. But that doesn’t matter -”

“It does when you’re trying to fend off one of Bulstrode’s Bludgers,” Meredith mutters darkly.

“Well, that’s not - I mean, we’ve got a disadvantage of having had our Seeker for less than a month. That’s - unfortunate, but still -”

A muscle clenches in Sirius’ jaw.

“And - okay, so we know that Reece has freakish long arms and legs, and obviously James, Richie, Rachel - that’s a bit of a problem - but as long as you remember the weaving tactics we covered -”

James sighs impatiently, pushing his hands up into his hair. “Look. We’ve got this one,” he says abruptly. “They’ve had their Seeker on the team for as long as we’ve had Alfie, so we’re on equal footing with that. In fact I’d say we have the advantage because Alfie is brilliant. Chasers, we know the formations. Reece is gangling and has no coordination. The Beaters are strong, but thick as dragon dung. And we don’t have to worry about their Chasers because, well, Adric - we’ve got you, all right? So everyone, let’s just stop worrying and go out there and do what we do best.”

After a moments silence, Adric coughs. “Well said, Potter. Everyone - er - let’s go.”

Sirius nudges him with the handle of his broomstick as they wait to walk out. “Nice speech.”

James glances at him, and sees a slight smirk on his best friend’s face. James grins as the roar of the crowd washes over him, feeling some of the ease return to his shoulder blades. He’s ready for this.

“Yeah, I know.”

::

“And it’s the beginning of a very interesting match, ladies and gentleman, a very good game to start off the year with. Gryffindor and Slytherin both have new Seekers on their team: Alfred McKinnon for Gryffindor and Regulus Black for Slytherin. Black, of course, is brother to one of the Gryffindor Beaters - no prizes for guessing which one, haha - so it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out, and if family drama will get in the way!”

“This is a Quidditch match, Dearborn, not a soap opera, if you please.”

“Of course, Professor, just adding some extras - er - what’s a soap opera?”

“The match, Dearborn!”

“Okay, okay! Lightfoot of Gryffindor has the Quaffle securely in possession, she easily evades Greengrass and Everard, she’s streaking towards the goal, Reece better watch out - OOH, that was CLOSE! Lightfoot is put off course by a Bludger from Bulstrode, the Slytherin Captain, and Everard has the Quaffle - she shoots - blocked by the Gryffindor Captain, Vane - I see we have a fierce competition going on here - wait a moment, Black - er - Slytherin Black - seems to have seen something - HE’S SEEN THE SNITCH - wow, that’s a fast broom - OH, OUCH! I think that will be a penalty!”

In the stands, Remus groans but no one hears it as the Slytherin supporters erupt in angry boos. Sirius had collided - deliberately, by the looks of it - with Regulus, whacking the Slytherin Seeker on the head with his Beaters bat in the process. Even from this distance Remus can see Sirius gesturing angrily, apparently trying to defend himself, but Madam Hooch is having none of it. She blows her whistle at Sirius and he flies away to the other end of the pitch, watching murderously as the Slytherin Chaser Hartington takes the penalty.

“This is a tense moment - Black of Slytherin still looks a bit dazed, that’s not going to help Slytherin any - oh but that will! Slytherin score! 0-10 to Slytherin!”

“Bugger,” Remus mutters.

Beside him, Peter is chewing on his bottom lip. “Sirius needs to be careful,” he says. “He can’t just spend the whole game trying to knock Regulus off his broom.”

“It’s all right,” Marlene says, her voice slightly muffled behind the huge Gryffindor scarf she’s wearing. “We’ve still got Alfie. And James, remember - he doesn’t look too happy.”

Marlene is right. As Remus watches, James flies over to Sirius and is apparently shouting at him. Remus can’t exactly blame him, but Sirius just twitches as if trying to shrug James off, and then puts on a burst of speed into the middle of the pitch, hitting a Bludger in the direction of Greengrass, who has to roll over mid-air to avoid it, dropping the Quaffle neatly into Richie’s possession.

“That’s more like it,” Dearborn is saying. “We need to see a bit more teamwork like that from Gryffindor and less violent outbursts if they hope to win this match! The Gryffindor Seeker hasn’t had much to do as of yet, but here’s hoping we see a bit more action from young McKinnon soon.”

Thirty feet above them, Alfie is flying around the perimeter of the pitch, and at the mention of his name his hands give a wobble and he nearly loses his grip on his broom. The Slytherin crowd jeer, laughing, and Marlene stands up and bellows a few choice obscenities at them that are, luckily, lost in the noise.

“That was - creative,” Remus says, rubbing his ears.

“Sorry, Remus,” Marlene says, sitting back down. “Just - Alfie gets nervous, that’s all. It puts him off.”

In the twenty minutes that follow, Slytherin manage to score two more goals and Gryffindor three, making them equal at 30-30. Sirius is still hammering Bludgers furiously at anything wearing green, although thankfully he seems to be avoiding deliberately fouling anyone. James has scored two of the three goals, and even as Remus watches he dodges past two Slytherin Chasers and scores another.

“40-30 to Gryffindor!”

“He’s pretty good, James, isn’t he?” Marlene says.

Peter nods furiously, too busy shouting his support to answer properly. Even Remus has to admit that James has upped his game for this match, and as he sees the look of grim determination on his friend’s face as James races for the Quaffle again, he suddenly realises why. James wants to make sure they win. And not just for the team - but for Sirius. Whenever James isn’t trying to get possession of the Quaffle, he’s looking around for Sirius, to see where he is, checking up on him. He knows what a loss to Slytherin - to Regulus - will mean to Sirius, and he’s doing everything he can to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Remus feels a swelling in his chest, not unlike what he felt in Second Year, when he realised his brave idiot friends didn’t care he was a werewolf.

Suddenly, he’s on his feet. “COME ON GRYFFINDOR!” he shouts.

Peter blinks at him. “Wow, Moony. Didn’t know you had it in you.”

Remus stays upright, scanning around for any sign of gold. Come on, Alfie, he thinks, because as great as James is playing, he knows that Alfie will have to catch the Snitch soon. Regulus has lost his dazed look, and is swerving in and out of players in his hunt for the tiny ball; on his way, he manages to block a few Gryffindor passes, and as he flies close to Sirius, Remus sees Sirius grip the handle of his broom tightly, but thankfully, he doesn’t do anything, just watches tight-lipped as his brother brushes past him.

Suddenly, Regulus goes into a dive. The crowd gasp, and Dearborn is shouting something into his microphone but Remus isn’t paying attention to the words. He can hear Mary MacDonald screaming behind him, and Peter’s mantra of “oh no oh no oh no” beside him, and then Marlene yells, “Go on Alfie!” and Remus realises that a streak of gold and red has pulled up alongside Regulus.

The two Seekers are neck and neck; Regulus is taller than Alfie is, and outstretches a hand towards the Snitch. It looks like Alfie is trying to push Regulus out of the way, but Regulus is sturdier too, and not budging. Regulus leans forward -

A Bludger, aimed from Sirius, comes spiralling towards them both. For one sickening moment Remus thinks that Sirius has done it again, that he’s going to break Regulus’ arm or worse, but the Bludger just goes whizzing over Regulus’ head, ruffling his dark hair wildly. It does the trick, though, and Remus realises that Sirius hadn’t meant to hit him, just startle him, and it works: Regulus rears up on his broom, his concentration broken, and in that split second Alfie pushes forward and grasps the Snitch in his hand.

“Alfie McKinnon has caught the Snitch! GRYFFINDOR WIN, 190-30!”

Remus can barely hear the commentary above the cheering and stamping of feet erupting all around him. Marlene seizes him in a hug, her voice hoarse from shouting. Peter is pulling on his arm, and Remus untangles himself from Marlene and follows Peter over the barriers and on to the pitch where the Gryffindor team have just landed. Alfie’s hair is nearly as messy as James’ from so many people ruffling it, and he’s grinning so wide Remus is sure it must hurt, the Snitch’s wings still visible through his fingers.

Marlene reaches Alfie first, knocking Rachel aside, and grabs her little brother around the neck.

“You did it, Alf, you won! I knew you’d do it! Wait ‘til we tell Mum and Dad!”

Sirius still has his Beater’s bat over one shoulder, and he’s watching the Slytherin team, who have landed looking the exact opposite of the Gryffindor’s - that is, utterly miserable. Bulstrode spits on the pitch, an ugly snarl on his face, and stalks off to the changing rooms. The rest of the team follow, shooting the Gryffindor’s dirty looks as they go, all apart from Regulus, who keeps his eyes down, dragging his broom dejectedly behind him.

“Well done,” Remus says to him. Sirius looks around and smiles finally. “That was a well-timed Bludger there.”

“Look at you, with your Quidditch jargon,” Sirius says teasingly. He puts on what must be an impression of Remus’ voice. “Well-timed Bludger. Am I rubbing off on you?”

“I sound nothing like that,” Remus says, sincerely hoping that’s true. “Anyway, I assume that standard post-Quidditch protocol is in order?”

“Party in the common room?” James says, grinning. “But of course, Moony. Lead the way!”

::

The Slytherin common room is silent when Regulus eventually comes out of the showers and returns to the dungeons. He half-expects Bulstrode to be waiting for him when he comes through the wall, but Bulstrode is nowhere to be seen. The rest of the team are there, though, and they all look up briefly to glare at him as he enters the room, before going back to their muttered conversation. Regulus can only guess what they’re talking about.

Sighing, Regulus lifts his chin up as he walks across to where his friends are sat around the table near the large windows. The murky green light from the lake is just visible through the frosted glass, and every so often a darker shape will pass by, some creature or other from the water, casting a shadow over his friend’s faces, but he sees their expressions clear enough to know that they’re not that impressed with him either.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Regulus says, sitting down on the leather-upholstered chair. “Was it?”

Aegir looks up from his Charms essay. “Er. Well, you did nearly get knocked out ten minutes in.”

“Because my brother is a psychopath!” Regulus hisses, feeling his cheeks redden and immediately hating his pale complexion. “He was deliberately aiming those Bludgers at me, that last one -”

“If you’re scared of Bludgers,” Evan says lazily, “then perhaps you’re in the wrong sport, Reg.”

“I am not scared!”

“I hear the Gobstones club are looking for new members,” Aegir says with a laugh. “Maybe you could try that instead.”

“Be careful though. I hear those things can spit pretty far -”

“I hate you both,” Regulus mutters.

“Oh, Reg, look. You lost your first game. You’re going to have to put up with some ribbing, all right? Who are you playing next - Hufflepuff? You’ll beat them for sure.”

“Hopefully,” Evan says in an undertone. Then, louder, “Have you finished your essay for Flitwick? I’ve only got half a roll of parchment.”

Regulus glares. “Cheering Charms are easy. I’m not helping you. Do it yourself.”

“I think you should cast one on yourself, in that case,” Evan says, looking affronted.

Regulus stands up. He can feel the other members of the team watching him. “I’m going for a walk,” he announces.

“Suit yourself,” Aegir says with a shrug, not looking up.

Regulus storms out of the common room, thinking that perhaps he’ll go back to the pitch and get some practice in. They’ve got a while until their next match against Hufflepuff, but still - can’t hurt to get a bit of practice in early, he thinks, quickening his pace, and has to come to a halt abruptly to stop himself from walking into Severus, who was just rounded the corner with a stack of books in his arms.

“In a hurry?” Severus asks dryly, just about visible through the pile of books.

“I was - er - going to get a bit of flying practice in,” Regulus says.

“Wasn’t there a match today?”

Regulus nearly laughs - Severus really has no clue - but then he frowns. “You mean you didn’t come and watch?”

“Oh, forgive me,” Severus says flatly. “I didn’t think you needed another cheerleader. From what I’ve heard, I didn’t miss much.”

Regulus can feel his face flushing again, and thanks Merlin it’s dark in the dungeon corridor. “You know I lost, then.”

“I know Slytherin lost. It is my understanding that there are six other players on the team.”

“Well, yes,” Regulus mutters, scuffing at the stone floor with his shoe. “But the Seeker is the most important one -”

“I will never understand a sport that places such importance on one player, and still calls itself a team game,” Severus says, sniffing. “You’re not upset about it, are you?”

“I - no. Of course not. I’m not upset.”

“Right,” Severus drawls. “Just checking. Well, if you’re going to the pitch, I’d avoid going through the Entrance Hall. Gryffindors are about, no doubt stealing food from the kitchens, and I just tipped off Quirke, so you might want to go a different way. Or not - it may give you a laugh, I suppose.”

Regulus smiles, imagining his brother getting busted by the Head Girl. “Right. Well - see you later, Severus. Have fun with your - books.”

“And you with your…flying,” Severus says, distaste practically dripping from the word.

Regulus nods, and carries on up the stone stairs that lead out from the dungeons, his step suddenly lighter than it had been before.

Chapter Text

December 1974.

If the Fourth Years had hoped that the Professors might go easy on them in the run up to the Christmas holidays, Lily quickly realises that they were dead wrong. Professor Graves in particular lets them all know that she doesn’t hold with any sort of Christmas spirit nonsense, and if anything, their Defence Against the Dark Arts workload seems to double over the festive period.

“She could give McGonagall a run for her money,” Dorcas mutters, after a particularly difficult class in which Graves had made them all practice hex-deflection for nearly an hour straight.

Lily nods in agreement, her right arm still throbbing with the effort of holding her wand for so long. Beside them, Mary hiccups for the sixteenth time in a row, her whole body jerking violently with the force of it; she had been partnered up with Remus, and had been unsuccessful in deflecting his Hiccuping Jinx which, Professor Graves assured her, would wear off in an hour or two.

McGonagall herself sets her class two essays to complete over Christmas, and her face remains impassive at the general outcry. Even Slughorn is working them all to the bone, having them slaving away over their steaming hot cauldrons and making Lily long for the cool December air and the flurries of snow that have started to descend over the castle.

The saving grace is Charms, which Lily has always found enjoyable. Flitwick has started teaching them Summoning Charms and Lily is the only one who, by the last lesson of term, has managed it perfectly. She takes great satisfaction at watching her cushion zoom over from the other side of the room, landing neatly in front of her, whilst James Potter’s manages to get mid-way across the room and then falls down.

She’s less pleased when Flitwick announces, ten minutes before the end of the lesson, that Lily should partner up with Potter and show him the precise wand movements.

“It’s easy,” Lily says, ignoring the sour look on Potter’s face. “You’re just not focusing on the cushion enough.”

“I am focusing,” Potter says, his teeth gritted. At the back of the room, his friends are watching, nudging each other and sniggering. Idiots, Lily thinks. “Accio cushion!

The cushion stays where it is. Potter drops his wand arm to his side, groaning.

“You’re not used to having things you’re not good at, are you?” Lily asks, amused.

Potter glares and raises his wand again. “Accio cushion!” he says, louder.

The cushion levitates, starts forward, and then flops. Potter lets out a frustrated noise.

“Oh, don’t be a baby,” Lily says. “You can’t be perfect at everything.”

Potter gives her a sideways look. “You think I’m perfect, eh, Evans?” he asks, that maddening smirk threatening to make an appearance.

“Shut up. I just meant - this is no different than when you managed to turn your lizard into a champagne glass, and mine still had scales. But you didn’t see me getting all grumpy, did you?”

“I thought it looked charming with the scales. Very Art Nouveau.”

Lily nearly smiles, but then stops herself, not wanting to give him the satisfaction. Remember the exploding pumpkins, she tells herself. True, Potter and his lot haven’t pulled any stupid stunts since Halloween - and Lily suspects that Remus may have something to do with it - but still, this is James Potter. He probably has something up his sleeve for Christmas.

Flitwick calls an end to the lesson, and as Lily packs her bags away, she notices that Potter hasn’t moved and is still lingering by her side.

“Are you lost?” she asks him, whirling around. “Because your mates are over there.”

“No. Not - not lost. I was just wondering - are you going home over Christmas?”

“Um. No, I’m not this year. Why?” she asks.

“Well, I’m not either,” Potter says, running a hand over the back of his neck and through his hair. “So, Flitwick is bound to test us on this after we come back after the break, so I was wondering if you’re free some time, could you help me? Practice, that is. I don’t want to look like a prat who can’t do it next year as well.”

Lily stares at him for a moment, considering.

“I’ll help you with your Transfiguration essays,” he says, smiling slightly. “Show you how to rid your glass of those pesky scales.”

Mary and Dorcas have come over, signalling for her to hurry up. Lily glances at them, and then back at Potter, who has an oddly hopeful look on his face.

“Ah - oh, fine. Yes. I’ll help you.”

“Ace,” Potter says, grinning. “Thanks a bunch, Evans.”

He returns to his friends, and Lily turns to see Mary and Dorcas staring at her, wide-eyed.

“Was that what it looked like?” Mary asks excitedly, linking arms with Lily as they leave the Charms classroom.

“What, one student who is brilliant at Charms helping another student who is absolutely pants? Yes, Mary, yes it was.”

Not missing Mary’s disbelieving expression, Lily can’t help but regret her decision already.

::

With all the work that they’ve been set, staying at Hogwarts for Christmas is not as magical as Lily always envisioned it would be. Still, with all the essays and revision she needs to get through, Lily knows that going back to Cokeworth would not have been very helpful. She needs to be where the library is, and somewhere where she can practice spells.

Her parents had seemed understanding when she wrote to them to tell them she’d be staying over the holidays, although Petunia hadn’t replied to the separate letter that Lily had sent to her. Lily tries not to feel too bad about not going home; after all, she’s not the only one by a long-shot. In their year, only Dorcas, Moira and Remus are going home from Gryffindor, Dorcas complaining loudly that her parents are forcing her to go back, and Remus looking even more wan and exhausted than usual as his mates wave him off. Privately, Lily thinks that Remus could do with longer than two weeks off, judging by how ill he looks.

She has no idea that Severus has also stayed at Hogwarts until Christmas morning where she sees him at breakfast in the Great Hall. There’s only two smaller tables today, and Lily sits on the one that Severus is not on. He’s sat with Regulus Black, Joseph Mulciber and Evan Rosier and Lily gets the feeling her Christmas wishes won’t be appreciated at the moment.

“I didn’t know your brother was staying over Christmas, Sirius,” Pettigrew says, reaching across Lily to grab some toast.

“No, nor did I,” Black says quietly, his gaze flickering over to his brother briefly. “He told Mother he’d be back home. Oh, well. It’ll be a relief not to be the disappointing son for a change.”

Potter and Pettigrew both laugh, but Lily frowns. She doesn’t know much about Black’s home life, but from what she’s gathered over the years she knows it’s not fantastic, and as for his relationship with his younger brother - well. Lily was at the Quidditch match between them both. That told her pretty much everything she’d needed to know.

Richie Dennison joins them for breakfast and immediately sits next to Mary once he’s spotted her. Lily has to pretend to be interested in the paper to avoid getting an eyeful of the snogging session that starts up beside her. Mary had finally gotten her wish after the Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch match, when her anvil-sized hints had finally dawned on Richie, and he’d asked her out. Really, Lily is pleased for her friend, but she just wishes that Mary and Richie weren’t quite so - public - with their affections.

“All right over there, Evans?” Potter asks suddenly, as Lily nearly puts her elbow in the jam jar as she leans away from Mary and Richie’s overenthusiastic display.

“It’s like watching mating season at the zoo,” Lily says, pulling a disgusted face.

Potter laughs. “I’ve already told Richie, if having a relationship interferes with his Quidditch, that’s it. We can’t be dealing with distracted Chasers.”

“Oh, yeah? Because you’re never distracted, eh, James?” Pettigrew says, waggling his eyebrows ridiculously.

Potter holds his hand up in Pettigrew’s face. “I am above the carnal interferences of mere mortals,” he says solemnly.

Black snorts. “Only because you can’t get any carnal interferences.”

“Tough luck, mate,” Pettigrew says, laughing.

“Oi,” Potter says, his solemn air dropped as he whirls on Pettigrew. “Like you can talk! What, one snog from O’Shea a billion years ago and you’re an expert?”

“At least I got one snog,” Pettigrew sing-songs. “Which, I will remind you, is one more than you - ARGH!”

Lily drops her head into her hands as Potter seizes the butter and shoves it down the back of Pettigrew’s Christmas jumper.

It’s going to be a long two weeks.

::

On Boxing Day, Mary apologetically tells Lily that she’d promised Richie that she’d spend the afternoon with him.

“Doing what?” Lily demands. “Having a romantic stroll around the castle?”

Mary stares at her and, after a moment, Lily realises that’s exactly it.

“You’ve lived here for nearly four years!” Lily exclaims. “Surely you’ve seen everything this castle has to offer?”

“Well, it’s different when you have a boyfriend,” Mary says, and Lily wants to empty her inkwell over her.

“What, the suits of armour are suddenly more romantic?” she asks sarcastically.

Mary shrugs. “Kinda, yeah. I mean, I’ll be back this evening - that is, if you still want me to come to Slughorn’s party with you?”

Lily groans. She’d nearly forgotten all about that stupid party. “Depends if you can bear to be away from Richie for that long,” she mutters.

Mary swoops down on Lily and gives her a hug. “I’ll see you later!” she trills, and with that, practically runs out of the portrait hole.

Lily stares around. Apart from a few Second Years and a frazzled looking Seventh Year, she’s the only one in the common room. She sighs, deciding whether she should send out her thank-you letters for her Christmas presents now, or if she should start on one of McGonagall’s essays, when the portrait door swings open again. Lily glares, thinking it’s Mary again, but it’s not.

Potter, covered from head to toe in snow, helps a laughing Black and red-faced Pettigrew through the hole. Black shakes himself like a dog and Potter swipes both hands through his hair, sending icy droplets everywhere, before the three of them troop over to the seats by the fire. That is, where Lily is currently curled up in the squashiest armchair.

“Drip on me and I will kill you all,” she says darkly.

Potter whips around. “Evans!” he says pleasantly, when he spots her. “You look cosy.”

“I was, until a few seconds ago, when some idiots came in and brought the cold with them. What did you do, bury each other in snow?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Pettigrew says simply, stretching his hands out to the flames.

Black flings himself down on the sofa, closing his eyes. “Don’t mind me, all. I think I’m just going to lie here until I thaw out.”

“Have any of you started any of your homework?” Lily asks, rattled at their ability to just not care about anything.

Potter smirks. “Finished my Transfiguration essay this morning, as a matter of fact.”

“Which one?”

“The Theoretical Aspects of Cross-Species Switches,” Potter says casually, slumping down in a chair and reaching for a Chocolate Frog that lay on the coffee table in front of him. “You seem surprised, Evans.”

Lily forces her mouth closed. “I - I didn’t expect you to finish it so soon.”

Potter shrugs. “Well, luckily for you that means I have the whole day free. Plenty of time to help you with yours. If you want, that is.”

“Let me guess,” Lily says with a sigh. “I have to teach you the Summoning Charm in return, right?”

“What?” Potter asks, frowning slightly, and then his eyes widen a fraction behind his glasses, and he nods. “Oh, right. Yeah. Fair exchange and all that. So, do we have a deal?”

Lily bites her lip. She really does need to get a start on that essay, and really, she knows her own notes are lacking -

She sighs. “We have a deal, Potter.”

::

Potter, as it turns out, has a lot of books on Transfiguration theory. He never really struck her as the note-taking type, either, but he has pages upon pages of Transfiguration notes. Lily can’t help but notice that his handwriting is really quite neat as he sifts through a stack of pages, eventually stopping at a particular sheet of paper and pulling it free from the rest of them.

“Here’s my notes on the lesson McGonagall gave at the beginning of the year. She covered pretty much all the basics of Cross-Species Switches in that first lesson, so if you read through these, really you can’t go wrong. If you think of your simple Transforming Spell, right, it’s all about the modifier. Obviously it’s easier when the species are similar - rats into hamsters, swans into geese, that sort of thing - but if you focus hard enough, it’s the same general principle as turning a rabbit into a horse.”

He says all of this so casually, leaning back in his chair in the library, and Lily, for the first time in a long time, feels like a complete dunce. She blinks at him, and then stares down at his meticulously taken notes.

“Evans? Are you all right? D’you - d’you want me to go over any of it?” he asks, gesturing at the page.

“Oh, no, it’s fine,” Lily says, her throat strangely constricted. “Thanks. These notes should be great. Do you mind if I borrow them, actually, for later? I’ve got a headache and I don’t really feel in the mood for writing this essay at all now.”

Potter shrugs. “Keep ‘em. They’re yours.”

“I’ll give them back,” Lily insists, but Potter just waves a carefree hand.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Potter asks, looking closely at her. “You look a bit -”

“I’m fine,” Lily snaps.

“Okay, okay,” Potter says. “Sorry.”

She feels instantly bad for snapping at him. Really, this is the nicest he’s ever been to her, and it’s a little - unsettling. Plus, she hates not knowing how to do things, and she’s tried so hard in Transfiguration this year and yet she’s still predicted E’s - Potter, she knows (because he never shuts up about it) has the highest marks in their year and is destined for an O for sure, and yet - he never seems to pay attention in class! He never answers the questions - before today Lily would have bet her life he’d never even taken a single note in class.

“I do a lot of work in my own free time,” Potter says quietly, and Lily jumps. It’s as if he read her mind. “It doesn’t just - happen, for me, you know. Not like you and Charms. So don’t worry about it.”

Lily stares determinedly at the nearest bookcase. She hears the scraping of a chair, and when she looks again, Potter has stood up. “Well, I’m going to head back to Gryffindor Tower then. If you like, I can give you my essay to look at - I’m not saying you’ll copy,” he adds quickly, when she narrows her eyes at him. “I just mean, sometimes it helps, y’know, knowing where to start and stuff? The offer is there if you want.”

After a long silence in which Lily battles internally with herself, she finds herself nodding. Potter grins.

“Great. Now, you’ve got a party to get ready for, if I’m not mistaken, so shall we?”

They walk back to Gryffindor Tower together, and after two staircases of silence, Lily finds herself asking, “How come you’re not going to Slughorn’s party? I mean - you’re obviously good at Transfiguration, and I know some would call you good on the Quidditch pitch -” She ignores the little smirk playing at his lips as she says this, and carries on, “- So how come you didn’t get an invite? Do you not wonder?”

“I don’t really care,” Potter says, shrugging. “Maybe I’m too much of a trouble-maker. You know, surprisingly enough, Evans, not everyone loves a rebel.”

“Shocking,” Lily murmurs.

Potter grins. “Anyway, Sirius will never go, so that’s me out anyway.”

“Yeah - Slughorn is really disappointed about that.”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” Potter says, a bit darkly, as they wait for a staircase to finish moving before they get on. “Slughorn was a favourite of Sirius’ cousins. I bet it really winds him up that Sirius couldn’t care less. Anyway, from what I hear, he’s invited some right arseholes this year - oh, whoops, sorry Evans. Not you, obviously, but Mulciber? And Snape too, really, talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

“You just can’t help yourself, can you?” Lily asks despairingly.

Potter just shrugs, but thankfully doesn’t say any more on the subject of Severus. They arrive back in the Gryffindor common room to find both Pettigrew and Black passed out in front of the fire, Pettigrew snoring loudly. Potter glances at them, looking almost fond, before heading towards the boy’s staircase and beckoning Lily to follow him.

“You want me to - come up to your dorm?” Lily asks uncertainly.

“Unless you want to stay here and listen to the soothing sounds of Peter,” Potter says, pausing at the bottom of the staircase.

“Right,” Lily says, and hurries after him.

The boy’s dorm isn’t like what Lily had imagined it would be. She had thought that there would be Zonko’s products piled high in a corner somewhere, a cupboard overflowing with dungbombs, butterbeer glasses on the floor. In fact, the dormitory looks remarkably - normal. Nothing incriminating in the slightest. There’s one neatly made bed, which Lily assumes is Remus’, and three unmade ones. There are Quidditch posters on the walls and photos of all four boys together, and one bed that Lily guesses to be Sirius’ has pictures of motorbikes which look as if they’ve been torn out of their Muggle Studies books.

Lily hangs back by the door as Potter bends down in front of a trunk at the foot of his bed. Lily glances curiously at his bedside cabinet, and sees a handsome eagle feather quill that looks like it must have cost a fortune. His Quidditch uniform is hung up nearby. There’s a Honeydukes bag just about visible in the half-open drawer of the cabinet and a Broomstick-Serving Kit open on his bed. The broomstick itself is leaning by the trunk, its handle gleaming. Potter’s trunk, too, looks like it probably cost more than Lily’s parent’s car - it’s even got his initials on it, for crying out loud, in what looks like gold - and it strikes Lily now that she’s never asked about Potter’s family, or where he lives. He’s Pureblood, Lily knows that much, and yet she never hears anyone talk about the Potter’s in the same way people talk about the Black’s. They must have an outrageous amount of money too, though -

“Evans? Earth to Evans?”

Potter is waving something in Lily’s face, and she snaps to attention. The essay. Right.

She takes it, giving Potter a small smile. “Well, thanks again for this, Potter.”

“No problem,” he says easily. “I guess I’ll see you later, Evans. Have fun at your party.”

::

As annoyed as she was earlier at Mary, Lily can’t help but feel grateful for her best friend’s presence as they make their way to Slughorn’s office together. She even manages to make Mary shut up about Richie, as soon as Lily tells her who she spent her afternoon with. Mary gapes at her, and Lily smirks to herself, knowing that will send her gossip-prone friend’s mind into overdrive.

Before Mary can question her, however, they enter the door to Slughorn’s office and are set upon by the man himself within seconds.

“Lily! My dear girl, how wonderful to see you!”

Slughorn, very red in the face and holding a glass of sherry in one hand, grabs a glass from a silver platter that’s zooming by - it takes Lily a moment to realise that there is a house-elf underneath it, and it’s not just a tray on legs - and pushes it into Lily’s hand. Lily sniffs the contents of the glass warily, and Slughorn booms with laughter.

“Oh, my dear, come now, it’s Christmas! We should all be celebrating!”

“Everyone except me, apparently,” Mary grumbles, looking for her own drink and snatching one rather angrily from a passing house-elf.

Lily laughs, clinking their glasses together. Slughorn’s attention has been grabbed by a witch in a bright red and green hat with a sprig of mistletoe dangling on the end. Lily takes Mary by the elbow, steering her to the side of the room where they can better look at all of the other guests. Slughorn has a rather eclectic group of friends, she quickly sees: there’s a group of smartly-dressed dwarves, all huddled closely together; a well-muscled man in baby blue and white striped Quidditch robes who keeps smiling at everyone, showing dazzling teeth; a stunningly beautiful witch with dark hair nearly down to the floor. Dotted between these vibrant individuals Lily recognises her fellow students, and she quickly spots Severus, wearing black dress robes that, in her opinion, don’t look too different from his school ones. Severus has a bottle of butterbeer in one hand and is in deep conversation with - Lily’s heart sinks a bit - Regulus Black, who is wearing dress robes of deep cobalt blue.

“Odd friendship, that,” Mary comments, following Lily’s gaze.

“You think most friendships are odd,” Lily says.

“Yeah, but I mean, really,” Mary says, wrinkling her nose. “Still, maybe it’s not so odd. Sirius says his brother is awful.”

“Sirius is awful, Mary.”

“Yeah but - there’s different types of awful, Lily,” Mary says thoughtfully, taking a sip of her drink and eyeing both Regulus and Severus with great dislike over the rim of her glass. “Richie says that James and Sirius are actually all right most of the time, and, well, Remus wouldn’t hang around with them if they were so bad, would he?”

Lily thinks that Remus lets them get away with too much, but doesn’t say any of this.

“Why are you so determined to make me like Black and Potter?” she asks with a sigh.

“I just think you should give them a chance. James especially. I mean, after today -”

“Oh not this again, Mary,” Lily says impatiently, but doesn’t get to finish because Slughorn approaches again. He’s managed to shake off the mistletoe-witch, and he’s smiling cheerily at them both, his bow tie a little askew. He turns his - somewhat bleary, Lily notices - attention to Mary.

“Hello, there! And are you a friend of Lily’s?” he asks, as if Mary hasn’t been in his class for the last few years. For one awkward moment Lily actually thinks she’s going to have to introduce Slughorn to his own student, but then he peers closer and it seems to click into place. “Ah, MacDonald, isn’t it?” Mary nods, and Slughorn beams. “MacDonald, MacDonald…hmm, now let me think…”

“She’s not from a family you’d know, Professor,” says a smarmy voice, as Mulciber suddenly appears at Lily’s side. Lily can’t help the shudder that runs over her.

“Oh, a Muggle-Born too, eh?” Slughorn says, looking delighted, as though he’s stumbled across another exotic and rare creature. “Do you know, I was ever so surprised to find out Lily was.”

The polite smile Lily had been forcing herself to wear freezes on her face. She knows Slughorn doesn’t mean it to sound like it did, he’s just an old fool, but still, it stings. Mulciber smiles slowly, eyeing Mary in a way she really doesn’t like.

“I suppose it goes to show, sir, that they’re not all like Evans here. She’s just a fluke.”

“Excuse me?” Lily asks coldly.

“Joseph, now, steady!” Slughorn booms, giving an uncertain laugh and laying a hand on Mulciber’s shoulder.

“Oh, I meant no disrespect, sir,” Mulciber says, a gleam in his eyes. Lily glances around, aware that a few people are watching them. Severus is among them. “I was just working out the odds. You have Evans, a Muggle-Born. You admit she’s quite talented at Potions. Must be a fluke. Because then we have MacDonald here, also a Muggle-Born - no talent. Which must be the norm. I mean to say, it’s quite rare for Muggle-Borns to be overly talented, you must agree, they’re just not born for it…”

“And we have Mulciber, Pureblood - no talent and no brains,” Lily snarls.

“Watch it, Evans,” Mulciber says quietly. “That smart little mouth of yours is going to get you into trouble one day.”

“You’re disgusting, do you know that?” Lily says, not caring that half the room is watching her now, that Slughorn has started to wheeze uncomfortably, that Severus has averted his gaze to the floor.

“Now, Lily - Joseph - that’s enough!” Slughorn puffs, adjusting his bow tie. “If we can’t all get along - well, it’s Christmas - I’d hate to have to kick anyone out of the party.”

“It’s fine, sir, I was just leaving anyway,” Mulciber says. “Suddenly the tone of the party has lowered considerably.”

He gives Lily and Mary one last look that makes Lily’s skin crawl, and then he leaves, jerking his head at the group of Slytherin’s on his way by. Evan Rosier and Regulus Black join him, but Severus is nowhere to be seen. Probably already left, Lily thinks bitterly. Certainly he wasn’t anywhere when I needed defending.

Slughorn watches them leave, looking dejected. “Oh, well - that was - oh dear.”

“Sorry, Professor,” Lily says, even though she’s not, not in the slightest. “I didn’t mean to ruin your party.”

“Oh, nonsense,” Slughorn says, patting her hand clumsily. “Perhaps it was the mead, you know, sometimes it goes to young boy’s heads. Yes, yes, that must be it…ah, a pity…”

Still, Slughorn suddenly hails the Quidditch man with the shining teeth, and promptly takes his leave of Lily, bustling away through the crowds of people.

“Never a dull moment with you, is there?” Mary mutters, but she’s smiling. A little sadly, but still, she’s smiling.

“I am sorry,” Lily says, and this time she means it. “I didn’t want to drag you here - for that.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Mary says. “Free alcohol, right?”

“Yeah,” Lily says, grabbing another glass. “I have a feeling we’ll need it.”

Frank approaches them not long after, looking very tall above the crowd, and he places a hand on Lily’s shoulder, peering concernedly into her face.

“Winifred just told me what happened. I was in the bathroom, otherwise - are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Frank, honestly. Mulciber doesn’t bother me.”

“He’s a jumped up little shit, is what he is,” Frank growls.

Mary nods, raising her glass. “Hear, hear.”

“Is Alice here?” Lily asks, glancing around.

“Oh, yeah, she’s around somewhere. Slughorn loves her. Found out that she wants to be an Auror, like me, and now he can’t stop raving about her. I feel a bit sorry, leaving her with him, but I just wanted to see if you were all right.”

“Thanks, Frank,” Lily says, touched. “I’m okay. Hey, when you manage to extract Alice from Slughorn’s grip - tell her to come see me. I haven’t seen her in ages.”

“That’s girl-talk for ‘an hour or so’, but sure,” Frank says, grinning. “I better go save her. See you.”

He heads back into the crowd, head and shoulders above the rest. Lily is just wondering how long they have to stay - she’s really not in the party mood; McGonagall’s essay is looking more tempting by the minute - when a hand seizes her around the wrist. Lily whips around, her other hand going instinctively for her wand, but then she finds herself looking directly at Severus.

“Hi,” he says, dropping her hand.

She blinks at him. “Aren’t you with your mates?”

“You tell me,” he says, raising an eyebrow.

“This isn’t a time for riddles, Sev!” Lily says impatiently.

Mary, who had been absentmindedly people-watching, glances over and sees who Lily is talking to. She gives Lily a reproachful look, sighs, and then heads in the direction of the bathrooms. Lily understands that she’s been given two minutes.

“Okay, calm down,” Severus says lowly. “I just - are you okay?”

“Wow, everyone is so concerned!” Lily says with a strangled laugh. “I can take care of myself, you know.”

“I know,” Severus says. “It’s only - Joseph isn’t to be taken lightly, Lily. You need to be careful.”

“I need to be careful?” Lily repeats. “Have you ever thought that maybe Mulciber needs to stop being such a scumbag?”

Severus’ lips twitch. “Well, yes, there is that.” He pauses, his dark eyes flickering over her. “You look nice,” he says.

“Thanks,” she mutters, running a hand self-consciously over her bare arms. “You look…formal.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“You know what I mean. You look smart.”

Severus nods. “Look, I need to be going soon,” he says quickly, ignoring the roll of Lily’s eyes. “I just wondered - you still want to do something for my birthday? Or yours? We could do something in between, if you like. I think there’s a Hogsmeade weekend somewhere between them both.”

“I - that’s actually a really good idea.”

“You sound so shocked,” Severus grumbles. He glances to his left, and Lily copies, seeing Mary weaving her way back towards them. “Right, well. I’ll see you in class, then.”

Lily waves slightly as he nods stiffly to Mary and then leaves. Without even looking at her, Lily knows that Mary has opened her mouth.

“Please, before you say anything,” Lily begs, “just - don’t, for once.”

Mary closes her mouth, looking annoyed. The crowd parts and, in the middle of the office, Lily sees that a makeshift dance floor has been made, with Frank and Alice in the center of it. A band have been assembled at the front of the room, and they strike up a jaunty tune. Lily glances at Mary, starting to grin.

Mary stares at her. “You’re kidding, right? I thought you wanted to leave.”

“Yeah, well…” Lily trails off, shrugs. “If you can’t beat ‘em, you may as well dance, right?”

“I don’t think that’s a saying,” Mary tells her, but she’s started to smile too.

“What, are you too good to dance with me now you’ve got Richie?” Lily asks, starting to shimmy on the spot.

Mary rolls her eyes. “Oh, fine. Come on, Evans, you can be my date for the night,” she says, grasping Lily by the hand and pulling her on to the dance floor.

Chapter Text

Late December 1974 - early January 1975.

“What in the name of Merlin’s left tit is taking so long?” Sirius hisses impatiently, rubbing his hands together before digging them into the pockets of his robes. It’s bloody cold outside the greenhouses, and Peter is taking an absolute age.

James shakes his head, possibly too cold to formulate a proper answer. The tip of his nose has turned red, like that ridiculous fantasy reindeer that Muggles like to plaster on Christmas cards.

“I hope he hasn’t been grabbed by the Venomous Tentacular,” Sirius mutters, jiggling on the spot. “I’m too frozen to perform a rescue operation.”

“Wrong greenhouse, dolt,” James says, his breath billowing in front of him in icy puffs. “Although knowing Pete, the mandrakes are probably giving him a run for his money.”

“I haven’t heard them screaming,” Sirius says, cocking his head to one side, listening. There’s no sound of angry plant babies or of Peter being attacked coming from inside the greenhouse, so Sirius can only assume that Peter is taking his sweet time just to wind them up.

They’re supposed to be on look-out duty, a post they’re not usually assigned to, and something that Sirius is planning on never doing again if he can help it. He hates the waiting, the not knowing; he’d prefer to be the one carrying things out, rather than stood outside in the cold like a ninny.

At last they hear the sound of the greenhouse door rattling open and Peter emerges, trudging through the snow, pink-cheeked, his fluffy purple earmuffs askew, but smiling. In his gloved hand he has, unmistakably, a fistful of mandrake leaves, which he waves cheerily at them as he approaches.

“Stop waving the stolen goods around, you idiot,” Sirius says, yanking Peter’s arm down. “You were ages. What happened?”

“Sprout was lurking about when I got there,” Peter explains, pulling a face. “I had to pretend to be worried about how my Singing Calycanthus was developing. Obviously I was in the wrong greenhouse to begin with, so I think she thinks I’m a bit thick -”

“Imagine,” Sirius mutters.

“- But I got them!” Peter says triumphantly. “I hope I got enough; I didn’t want to take too many or she’d get suspicious if suddenly one mandrake was bald.”

“You did well,” James says, thumping Peter on the back. “Now, let’s get these back to the dorm. I’m freezing. Reckon these go well with a cup of tea?”

::

Mandrake leaves, they soon learn, do not go well with anything.

They’re all piled on to James’ bed, the leaves in a bundle in front of them. All three boys eye them warily, until Peter nudges James with his elbow. James sighs, grabs a leaf, and shoves it into his mouth.

His first reaction is to spit it straight back out again, the acrid taste on his tongue unlike anything he’s had before. He gags, coughs, and tries to position the leaf so that it’s resting between his gums and isn’t launching such an assault on his taste buds. He leans back against the headboard, trying to look casual, but - judging from his friend’s expressions - failing spectacularly.

“Is it that bad?” Peter asks.

“Imagine,” James says, “your worst ever Bertie Bott. Then times it by a thousand trillion.”

“You look like you’re chewing dragon dung,” Sirius says. “Big baby.”

Without hesitation, he plucks a leaf from the pile and pops it into his mouth. James smirks at the disgusted expression that registers Sirius’ face.

“Baby, am I?”

“My tongue’s gone fuzzy,” Sirius says thickly.

They both look at Peter. Peter looks at the mandrake leaves. Then, slowly, so slowly, he picks the nearest one and gingerly pokes his tongue out to test it. James snorts - no way is he going to let Peter get away with that - and leans forward, shoving the whole thing in Peter’s mouth, clamping his hand tightly around the other boy’s lips to prevent him from spitting it out.

“Sorry, mate,” James says cheerily - or, as cheerily as he can manage with the leaf pressed against the inside of his cheek. “It’s like ripping off a plaster, you know, better to do it quickly.”

Peter mumbles something against James’ palm. James releases his hand.

“What was that?”

“I said, you’re a wanker,” Peter says, scowling. “Eurgh. It feels like it’s trying to dissolve my tongue.”

“I think it’s best if you sort of - try to get it away from your tongue, rest it kind of - at the top. Look, when I’m talking, can you see it?”

“No,” Peter says, wrinkling his nose, “but you can smell it.”

“People are either going to find out in two seconds of being near us, or think we’ve got a terrible dental hygiene problem,” Sirius says. “This is disgusting.”

“Good thing none of us have anyone to snog on New Year’s Eve,” Peter says with a half-hearted laugh that sounds strangely strangled.

“There’s a spell to mask the smell,” James says, flipping through the pages of one of his Transfiguration textbooks. “We just have to keep casting it throughout the day and we should be fine.”

“Oh, sure,” Sirius says sarcastically, “as long as we don’t accidentally eat it with our meals, or swallow it in our sleep, or Merlin forbid get too close to McGonagall.”

“Look,” James says, snapping the book closed in exasperation. “I don’t exactly think this is pleasant, all right? But it’s the only way. So we’re doing this, and complaning about it won’t make it any easier. It’s one month out of the rest of our lives. Can you handle that?”

His authoritative tone is somewhat ruined by the mandrake leaf muffling his speech, but Sirius gets the gist, his shoulders slouching.

“I never said I wasn’t going to do it.”

“Good,” James says darkly. “Because this is it now. Pete, you with me? Pete - what’s up?”

Peter is pulling a rare look of extreme concentration, his tongue poking around inside his plump cheeks.

“I swallowed it!” he says mournfully.

James sighs and holds out another leaf, sincerely hoping this month goes quickly.

::

Peter isn’t the only one that messes up.

In fact, all three of them learn very quickly that keeping a leaf in ones mouth for an entire month is actually rather bloody difficult.

Sirius, on the second day - on the morning of the second day, not even a whole 24 hours, James notes in aggravation - ends up spitting his leaf out after brushing his teeth. James rushes into the bathroom, wand brandished after hearing Sirius’ howls, but instead of finding Sirius being attacked or facing an intruder, he just sees Sirius staring morosely into the sink where the mandrake leaf, mushed together with some toothpaste, swirls down the plug hole and away forever.

Meal times become a minefield. James rapidly gives up hope of ever enjoying bacon, or eggs, or steak and kidney pudding - dear Merlin he’d kill for a pudding - ever again. Instead Peter, Sirius and James pick carefully at their food, taking laboriously slow mouthfuls of safe, nothing-ever-mixed-together meals.

Peter swallows his again, with his morning tea, and James bans them all from drinking anything without straws. Of course this attracts a few concerned stares, and so they take to drinking only in the dorm, and James thinks longingly of pumpkin juice and butterbeer, all other tastes apart from the horrible leaf forgotten.

James is feeling rather proud of himself - he’s the only one still on his original leaf - when Lily Evans approaches him in the common room two days before lessons start again, and hands him back his essay.

“Thanks again,” she says, and there’s something about her smile that makes James nearly choke on his tongue.

He says, “Ggurk,” and promptly swallows his leaf.

Evans looks at him like he’s touched in the head, and Sirius and Peter pelt him with dungbombs when they find out.

::

“We’re never going to manage this,” Peter says, laying on the floor of the dormitory in defeat, his eyes closed and a look of disgust on his face that James has come to know as the look one gets after being subjected to evil leaves. “Remus comes back today. Lessons start tomorrow. We’ll be a hundred and ten by the time we crack this.”

“We can’t give up,” James says, but even his supportive nature is waning.

There are only six mandrake leaves left. Two attempts each. They’ve wasted one whole week already, a dozen leaves, the chance to get most of it out of the way before lessons start again and anyone gets any more suspicious than they already are.

They wait for Remus at Hogsmeade station, and he’s one of the last ones off the train. It was a full moon while he was away, and so James is ready for him to be tired, a bit worn down, but what he’s not expecting is Remus to turn up limping, with a great awful gash down one cheek.

“Mum says it’ll heal,” Remus mutters when he sees them. James forces himself not to stare too much at it, and steps on Pete’s foot to get him to stop gawping. Sirius’ eyes have gone stormy, his jaw clenched. “It’s not as bad as it looks, really. I - I got out of the shackles, nearly out of the cellar, but - Dad stopped me.”

He doesn’t look at any of them, and doesn’t speak all the way up to the castle. Back in the dorm, he mumbles a sleepy “see you at dinner” and closes himself behind his curtains.

Peter, James and Sirius scramble for the leaves, and this time James barely even winces at the taste.

::

The first few days back seem to go off without a hitch. If Remus seems to think it odd that his friends are being so quiet, that they’re being a bit cautious with their breakfast, a bit lazier than usual answering questions in class - well, he’s got his mind on other things, and he doesn’t pry. James is, in a way, grateful that he’s so distracted.

Evans offers to practice the Summoning Spell with him again, and James, remembering the last time Evans spoke to him, keeps his tongue firmly pressed down on his leaf and shakes his head.

Evans frowns, looking wrong-footed. “Are you - are you okay, Potter?” she asks, concern creeping in around the edges of her voice.

Any other time, James would savour this moment. Lily Evans, asking after his well-being, offering to help him. As it is, he just curses the sodding leaf in his mouth and grunts an incoherent reply, turning his back on Evans and pretending to be interested in his star-chart for Divination.

He hears Evans mutter an affronted, “Suit yourself then!” and, not long after, the door to the girl’s dormitory slam closed.

It gets harder in lessons, especially in Transfiguration, when he’s actually expected to speak.

McGonagall, as predicted, quizzes them about Cross-Species Switches and asks him a question when he’s busy doodling on a spare bit of parchment. James knows the answer, but he shrugs anyway, mumbling something to his desk. McGonagall’s lips thin dangerously; he can feel Evans staring at him, can almost imagine her disbelieving expression - James Potter, not wanting to show off his fancy Transfiguration knowledge? - but he’s saved by Dorcas Meadowes raising her hand and reeling off the answer.

McGonagall pauses, her gaze lingering suspiciously on James, before she nods briskly, giving Meadowes five points.

The following day, Peter, Sirius and James take their seats in Transfiguration at the back of the class. Remus follows, staring at them all with a slight frown on his face. James ignores him, turning his attention to the blackboard, and has to be careful not to immediately swallow his leaf in surprise at what he sees written there.

He glances quickly at Peter and Sirius, and sees they too are looking stunned. A few other students are frowning, and Moira O’Shea raises her hand.

“Uh, Professor? Excuse me, but - we’ve already covered Animagi.”

“Are you suggesting I don’t know my own syllabus, Miss O’Shea?” McGongagall asks, surveying the class severely over her spectacles.

“N-no, of course not, Professor…”

“Well then,” McGonagall carries on briskly, “in that case please get out your quills and copy down the following. Animagi will definitely come up in your O.W.Ls, so this is very important.”

::

James, on his way to swap his Transfiguration books for his Divination stuff after lunch, is barely a foot inside the dorm when he’s yanked inside by the collar of his robes.

“What the he - hello, Remus,” James says, and then clamps his mouth firmly shut. It’s been a few hours since he cast the smell concealing spell, and Remus is standing very close to him.

Eyes darting around the room, James sees that Sirius and Peter are sat on their beds; Peter, his eyes wide and panicked; Sirius with a defiant expression on his face and, looking back up at Remus, James doesn’t think he’s ever seen him this angry.

“I had a funny thought today,” Remus says, his voice unnervingly calm. It’s at odds with the dangerous look in his eye, and James doesn’t like it one bit. “I thought to myself - wow, my friends have been very quiet lately. Not like them at all, I thought. No shouting in the early hours of the morning, no suggestions of any pranks. At first I thought perhaps you were all trying to play a prank on me. Until - until another funny thought occurred to me. In Transfiguration, actually. Imagine that. Ridiculous, really, because I told myself you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t be so stupid. You wouldn’t do something so utterly irresponsible and downright dangerous. Would you?”

“Would I what?” James asks, nonchalant, but in that split second Remus darts forward and sniffs.

Horrified, James shuts his mouth. Remus’ eyes gleam.

“You idiots!” he bursts out. “Please, tell me I am having some sort of dream, that you are not seriously undertaking one of the steps to become a fucking Animagus.

“Moony -” Sirius begins, rising off the bed.

“Don’t!” Remus snaps, lashing out with one arm as if to keep Sirius at bay, not looking at him. “Did you think I wouldn’t figure it out? Do you think I’m stupid? It’s ridiculous, because surely even you three know I wouldn’t seriously let you go through with this!”

“Why not?” James demands, all pretence dropped now.

“It’s not your decision,” Sirius says.

“Like hell it isn’t!” Remus shouts. James doesn’t think he’s ever heard Remus raise his voice before, not like this. It’s quite daunting; Peter looks like he’s about to wet his pants, and it would be sort of funny except it really, really isn’t. “Do you think it’s a laugh - turning into some other animal? Do you think it’s fun? Because I can tell you now, it’s no bloody walk in the park, and if you’re doing this as just some sort of - experiment - then you can all, you can just -”

“Remus, no,” Peter says hurriedly, swapping a terrified look with James. “It’s not like that. We’re doing it - it’s for you.”

Remus glares at them all and practically throws himself down on his bed. He sits for a moment with his head in his hands, and then stares blankly up at them all.

“What are you talking about?” he asks tiredly.

“It’s, y’know,” James says, fumbling for words and coming up with nothing remotely helpful.

He hadn’t imagined it would go down like this; in all his dreamings, they’d actually accomplished it by the time Remus found out. They’d show him, bursting into their animal forms, and he’d be happy, thankful - he hadn’t expected this.

He glances desperately at Sirius for help.

“It’s so that we can be with you,” Sirius says shortly. “On full moon nights.”

“It’s safe,” Peter says, after several long moments in which Remus gapes open-mouthed at Sirius. “Werewolf bites can’t effect animals. We - we researched and everything.”

“Moony, so much research,” Sirius says earnestly. “You would have been proud, I think.”

“Don’t,” Remus says. “Please don’t joke. I don’t think I - I need a moment to get my head around this. What - since when?”

“Second Year,” James says, sitting next to Remus and touching his arm. “Since not long after we found out.”

Remus blinks. He stares at the carpet for a long time. “Second Year,” he repeats. He looks around at them all, ashen-faced. “I - you -”

“We’re not going to give up now,” Sirius says, plonking himself down casually on Remus’ other side. “So, you’re just going to have to live with it, I’m afraid. Do us a favour and don’t turn us in? There’s a good Moony.”

He ruffles Remus’ hair, and for once Remus doesn’t have the energy to even attempt to bat him away.

“McGonagall must know,” Peter says, looking anxious. “I mean - surely it’s not a coincidence, today’s lesson?”

“I don’t care,” James says with an abrupt laugh. “Maybe she knows. Maybe she thinks we’re just doing it for a dare, seeing how long we can keep the rancid things in our mouths. All I care about is getting that book she mentioned about disguising the taste. That would have come in handy before; can’t believe we missed it.”

Remus is still looking a bit shocked, although some of the colour is returning to his cheeks. James knocks his shoulder into his, giving him a smile. After a moment, Remus returns it, if a bit hollowly. He’ll get used to it, James thinks determinedly.

“Can I ask a question?” Remus asks, his voice slightly croaky.

“Anything,” Sirius says.

“How long do you have to keep those leaves in? Because, no offence, but you all stink.

Chapter Text

Mid to late January 1975.

Severus trudges down the sludge-lined path towards the pub, nearly slipping where the snow has frozen in places, a miserable looking mixture of dirt and ice all packed together. The grey backdrop and sleeting rain does not dampen his mood, however. There’s a bag of gillyweed, given to him for a well-saved Galleon by Bobby Grant behind a statue of Uther the Unsuspecting, rustling in his pocket, and a rare thrum of excitement stirring up inside him. He enters The Hog’s Head feeling almost jaunty.

Lily is sat by the pitiful fire, strands of hair slicked to her neck from the dismal weather. Severus takes in the sight of her - scowling, drowned-rat looking Lily, her cheeks red and her brow furrowed - and nearly laughs.

“Lovely weather we’re having,” he says, pulling up a chair and taking a seat at the small round table with her.

Lily looks at him witheringly. There is melting sleet in her hair, tiny beads of water shining amongst the red, reflecting either the fire or her hair; or both, Severus isn’t sure.

“I let Dorcas borrow my best cloak,” she mutters. She gestures at the sodden material draped uselessly on the chair back. “This one is rubbish.”

“This’ll cheer you up,” Severus says, dropping the gillyweed on to the table decisively. He doesn’t bother with being secretive about it; this is, after all, The Hog’s Head.

Lily peers at the gillyweed, and then up at Severus. She crinkles her nose, disrupting the bridge of freckles there.

“Is that what I think it is?” she asks.

Severus’ confidence dips. He’d thought it would be a laugh, just the two of them, a birthday treat; he’s rarely rebellious in any form, and just this once, he’d thought, why not? He’s seen people his age and younger in the old rec back in Cokeworth, lighting up on the swing sets, and last year had stumbled across some Ravenclaws doing it behind Greenhouse Two.

Jerkily, he nods.

Lily smiles then, her green eyes flickering in the firelight, and Severus feels bold again. He smiles back.

::

“I didn’t get you anything,” Lily says, waving the joint around as she moves her hands for emphasis. The room they’re in is dimly lit, so all Severus mostly sees is the red-tipped end moving about in the gloom.

It’s the fourth time she’s mentioned this, but Severus doesn’t point this out. Instead he shrugs, his shoulders lighter than they’ve been for a year or so.

“Don’t want anything.”

“But it’s your birthday.”

“Not until tomorrow.”

“You’re older than me,” Lily says seriously, as if the fate of the universe hinges on this very fact. “You are my elder.”

Severus laughs, plucking the joint from her unprotesting grasp. “A whole three weeks. So old.”

“S’like - what’s it -” Lily giggles, stretches back against the cushions, “ - corruption.”

“Pff. Hardly. Not my fault you’re gone on half a joint, even if I did pick it up.”

“Such a rebel,” she says, her tone teasing, and Severus can’t help but feel pretty pleased with himself.

The whole day has turned out remarkably well, shitty weather aside. It had been Severus’ idea to head back to the castle, half worried that Regulus or someone would turn up and make things awkward, but they’d managed to avoid running into anyone they knew the whole way back, and now they’re - here.

Severus glances around the room they’re in, not for the first time, trying through the pleasant haze in his mind to place where here is. Severus doesn’t think he’s ever been in this room before; it’s not at all like a classroom, no desks or blackboards to be seen, just cushions and squishy, low-down armchairs, perfect for sprawling out with some gillyweed. It’s warm and comfortable and secluded, and just what Severus needed, so he doesn’t worry too much about where it seemed to suddenly spring from.

He squints, slightly fuzzy-eyed, at the rolled up gillyweed between his thumb and forefinger, and then lazily passes it back to Lily. Perhaps that’s enough, he muses, if he’s started imagining that rooms are springing up from nowhere. He focuses his attention on Lily, who is trying to blow smoke rings (and failing), and hums contentedly.

He’s always known that Lily is more than just the model student Hogwarts sees. He thinks fondly of when they were ten years old, and some older Cokeworth lads had been picking on him as he walked home with Lily. They’d laughed at his clothes, called his dad names (which he didn’t mind) and called his mum worse (which he did) until Lily had grabbed a clod of dirt and threw it at them, hitting the biggest and stupidest one right on the forehead. Running away as fast as his spindly legs could carry him, Lily’s laughter ringing in his ears and the shouts of angry boys just behind them, Severus had been scared; after, skidding to a halt in an alleyway just off Ashby Lane, his heart hammering against his chest, Severus had felt like he could take on the world if Lily was there with him.

It’s times like these, when she’s breaking the rules, doing what she knows she shouldn’t (flying off the swings; picking fights with boys; getting tears in her dresses after climbing her neighbours wall to pick the apples off their trees; smoking gillyweed in a mysterious room) that Severus thinks he misses her most. The real Lily. The adventurous, up-for-anything Lily. His Lily.

“D’you ever miss being ten?” he asks into the silence.

Lily is concentrating so much on her smoke rings that she doesn’t answer for a while. In the end she gives up, sighing. “What’s that? Oh. Nah, not really. What’s there to miss?”

“Oh - well, there’s - “ Us, he thinks. “Don’t know, really. Simpler, wasn’t it?”

Lily looks thoughtful, a little cross-eyed. “No magic, though.”

“Well -” Severus hesitates. Decides, after a moment, that he’s not stoned enough. “No, suppose there wasn’t.”

::

On the morning of Severus Snape’s fifteenth birthday, he debates with himself about skipping breakfast altogether. On everyone else’s birthday, he’s been present at the table when owls jostle for space, all trying to deliver their cards and presents first. It usually causes a great scene, everyone craning their necks to see who has been given what this year. Jacob Yaxley received about thirty different cards from various family members, so much that they’d ended up in the milk jugs and knocking over the toast rack; Evan had been given a top of the range broomstick, landing smack-bang in the middle of the table for all to see, and he didn’t even play Quidditch (Evan had shrugged like it was no big deal, said that it was just for something to do when he’s bored); and on his birthday just gone, Barty had what looked like a year’s supply of Honeydukes chocolate sent to him, at least fifty different types, in a box that looked like it cost more than Severus would even like to guess. All of this is not even mentioning Regulus, whose presents are probably so numerous and so grand that it would be obscene to even deliver them in the Great Hall.

As the delivery owls swoop in, Severus concentrates intently on his porridge, and thinks that perhaps no one will send him anything this year, that he can just not mention anything and no one will need to know that it’s his birthday at all. Really he wants to get breakfast over and done with and get on with the day; his timetable is quite good today: double Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts, and Ancient Runes and Care of Magical Creatures in the afternoon.

A small grey owl lands in front of him. Severus glances around quickly before snatching the envelope from its beak, shooing the thing away.

“What’s that?” Regulus asks at once, peering over in interest. It’s not often that Severus gets anything in the post.

“From my mother,” Severus says vaguely, opening it.

It’s a simple card reading “with best wishes on your birthday” in his mother’s shaky handwriting. Severus doesn’t even bother to check the envelope to see if there’s anything else she sent him, just shoves the card in his bag, but he’s not fast enough.

“You never said it was your birthday!” Regulus says.

Barty and Joseph look up from their breakfasts. Severus, uncomfortable under their stares, shrugs.

“Surely it can’t have escaped your attention that I get older every year.”

“Yes, but I didn’t know the date,” Regulus says impatiently. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“It’s nothing to be concerned about,” Severus says. “Anyway. Have you done Slughorn’s essay, Joseph?”

Regulus won’t be ignored, however. Before Joseph can answer, Regulus says, “Well, what did your mother send you? What about your father? What did you get?”

“You saw what I got,” Severus says, his voice low.

“I saw that card, yes, but what about your presents?”

“Ah, Regulus,” Barty says, loudly, and Severus feels a stab of gratitude that Barty has an iota more tact than Regulus does, “pass the marmalade, would you?”

Regulus frowns, looking between Barty and Severus, until it clicks into place. His cheeks take on a pink tinge; Severus would feel sorry for him, if he wasn’t such an entitled Pureblood idiot the vast majority of the time.

“Sorry,” Regulus says, coughing slightly. “I didn’t mean -”

“It’s fine,” Severus says quickly.

He hates times like this, when the differences between him and his friends are laid out before them all, the stark contrasts of their lives apparent for all to see. He eats the rest of his porridge in silence and is just thinking of heading to Potions early when something happens that makes everything ten times worse.

“Happy birthday, Sev!”

It’s Lily, standing behind him, an envelope and a present in her grasp. Severus thinks of all the times she’s been stupidly brave, and thinks that this - standing at the Slytherin table, a grin on her face and holding out a brightly wrapped package to him while his friends all glare - is probably right up there with hitting that boy with mud when they were ten.

“What are you doing here?” he asks.

“Well, it is someones birthday,” Lily says, laughing. “Did you forget?”

He stands up, pulling her away from the table. “Lily, I’ve told you before - Joseph and the others -”

“Are prats,” Lily says, unconcerned. “What the hell is the matter with you? It’s just a present. You treated me for my birthday -”

“With gillyweed,” Severus says, lowering his voice even more, barely moving his lips. “I never got you a real present. It wasn't even on your birthday. You shouldn’t have, I can’t - I can’t return the gesture -”

“Sev, you don’t need to. Honestly - I just enjoyed us hanging out that night. I wanted to get you a present. There’s no need to freak out like this.”

Severus shoots a look over her shoulder. Joseph, Barty and Regulus are getting to their feet, making their way towards them. Lily turns to see what he’s looking at and then narrows her eyes at him.

“Fine,” she says, shoving the parcel and card into his hands. Caught off-guard, Severus steps back with the force of it. “Happy birthday.”

Severus doesn’t call after her; it’s too late anyway, as the others have reached him. Joseph looks at the present with a sneer.

“What did the Mudblood get you?” he asks. “I hope it’s been suitably sanitised.”

Regulus and Barty laugh. Severus doesn’t. The present feels heavy in his hands, but before he can start to think of what it is he stuffs it into his bag along with his mother’s card.

“Some rubbish or other,” he says indifferently. “It’s no matter.”

“She really should stop embarrassing herself with the way she pesters you,” Joseph carries on, shooting a general look of loathing over to the Gryffindor table. “I don’t know why you put up with it. There’s a time and a place for being a gentleman, and being continuously hounded by her sort would drive me to extremes.”

“Come on,” Severus mutters, choosing to ignore his comments. “I don’t want to be late for Slughorn.”

::

Lily ignores him upon entering the Potions classroom, sweeping past him to go and sit with Meadowes and MacDonald, although she makes her feelings very clear regardless. They’re working on Anti-Fatigue Potions, and from his bench Severus can hear Lily chopping her salamander scales with force. Her shoulders are squared, her face set with determination as she flings her ingredients into her cauldron with a heavy splash.

“Careful, Severus,” Slughorn’s voice says suddenly, and Severus flinches; he hadn’t heard the teacher approach. Slughorn is peering at his potion. “I think you’ve added a few too many drops of toad secretion there. Concentrate, now! Can’t have Miss Evans overtake you as head of the class, can we?”

Slughorn gives a hearty laugh, not noticing how hard Severus is gripping his pestle, and then walks away to inspect the other student’s attempts, still chuckling to himself. Teeth gritted, Severus glances up to see Lily stirring her cauldron with a look of pure concentration on her face, although Severus is sure he saw a flicker of a triumphant smile on her face at Slughorn’s comment.

“Well done everyone!” Slughorn calls as he makes his way to stand at the front of the classroom once more. “I can see some very good effort going on here. How about we make it a bit more interesting, hm? Twenty five points to the brewer of the best Anti-Fatigue Potion!” He claps his hands together, bouncing on the balls of his feet, as most of the class groan - but not Lily. For the briefest of seconds, she glances towards Severus, and he recognises the glint in her eye, the challenging expression.

Slytherin and Gryffindor are practically level with each other in terms of House points; this extra twenty five will certainly tip the scales one way or another. Most of the class are aware of this fact, and there’s a distinct increase in movement all around the dungeon as people speed up their chopping, slicing and stirring.

“Look at the smug bastard,” Joseph murmurs, nodding at Slughorn, who definitely has a pleased smirk on his face as he resumes prowling between benches. “You can’t let Gryffindor win, Severus. We need those points.”

Severus nods, although he’s not worried much about the competition. A few rows in front, Pettigrew’s potion is spitting blue sparks as he desperately attempts to fan it with his hands. Lupin is frowning into his cauldron, a sag to his shoulders, and even Black and Potter are being uncharacteristically quiet as they tend to their own potions. Severus can’t help but smile; Black and Potter may be quicker with their wands, but they lack the patience and finesse of potion-brewing.

The rest of the double lesson passes without much incident. Everyone is too intent on their Anti-Fatigue Potions to talk, and after forty minutes, Severus is exhausted. He’s pleased that his potion has turned the correct bright blue colour, the consistency smooth with just a few bubbles on the top. Joseph’s is blue too, but darker, and he keeps shooting envious looks at Severus’ cauldron. Pretending to need more supplies from the cupboard, Severus crosses the room and manages to sneak a peek at everybody else’s efforts. Black, he is pleased to note, has abandoned his own cauldron and is now murmuring instructions into Lupin’s ear; Pettigrew’s has turned the colour and consistency of mud. Even the Slytherin’s aren’t faring any better: Laura Macmillan’s hair is a frizzy, frantic mess as she stirs her potion (the wrong way, Severus notes) and Matilda Rowle isn’t even bothering, instead sending notes to Jacob Yaxley when Slughorn’s back is turned.

As Severus comes out of the supply cupboard, he deliberately heads back to his bench so that he has to pass Lily’s table. She’s talking to her friends, nodding at something Meadowes is saying, absentmindedly stirring her potion, looking completely in control and at ease - hers has turned the correct colour, Severus sees, and he feels a strange combination of pride and jealousy as he goes back to his cauldron.

“All right class, that’s it! Time is up!” Slughorn calls. “Put your wands down please and everyone step in front of their cauldrons so that I can examine your potions!”

Slughorn makes a show of it as usual, a lot of tut-tutting if he’s displeased and great gasps of surprise if he does see one that looks half decent. He proclaims Pettigrew and Lupin’s a disaster, gives Joseph a sympathetic pat on the back that makes Joseph’s eye twitch, and - to Severus’ delight - passes over Potter’s with a brief, disinterested “passable”. Slughorn smiles broadly when he reaches Severus and gives him a wink on his way by.

Good, Severus thinks, relaxing. We could do with those points.

Slughorn gets to Lily’s table last and gives a crow of delight, actually clapping his hands together in glee. Severus freezes in the act of putting his slightly wonky scales back in his bag and turns to watch as Slughorn takes a tiny ladle out of the pocket of his waistcoat and takes a sip of Lily’s potion.

“Well, I think any more than a sip of that, Miss Evans, and I’ll be ready to run five marathons! Really, really well done. Take twenty five points for Gryffindor!”

Severus’ hands ball into fists as Lily’s friends beam at her and Potter shouts, “Nice one, Evans!” across the classroom. Severus wants to throw something.

“Biased git,” Joseph says in his ear, glowering at Slughorn.

Severus nods, unable to look away as Lily starts packing her things away, her face flushed but still smiling. He waves Joseph off and waits until everyone has left the classroom before he approaches Slughorn’s desk.

“Ah, Severus, still here? Did you want something, my boy?”

“Yes, sir,” Severus says, trying to keep his tone polite. “I was just wondering - that is, I wanted some feedback, sir. About my Anti-Fatigue Potion. You see, I’m struggling to see where I went wrong, and -”

Slughorn smiles gently. “Of course, Severus. It was just a slight issue of your measurements. Too much toad secretion and a few too many hairs of hare, and well, you know how tricky potions are, and how precise they must be! Have you got your own scales, or do you use school ones?”

Severus feels heat rush to his face. “I have my own,” he says stiffly, addressing Slughorn’s desk. He doesn’t mention that he’s had the same set since his first year at Hogwarts, and even that was his mother’s hand-me-down.

He’s so angry that he skips lunch and heads down to the Slytherin dungeon, bursting into his dormitory and flinging his bag down. It hits the stone floor with a loud clang and Severus blinks for a moment at it before remembering Lily’s present is in there. He fishes it out and contemplates throwing it away before his curiosity gets the better of him. Sitting himself on his bed, Severus rips open the paper it’s wrapped in and then pulls off the box packaging.

For a long while he simply stares at the present, wishing he had thrown it out. Or better, that Lily had never bothered in the first place. Severus gets up and walks swiftly over to his school trunk. His hands slightly shaking, he lifts the lid and throws the brand new, gleaming set of silver scales in to the bottom of the trunk before slamming it closed.

::

On Lily’s fifteenth birthday, Severus doesn’t approach her at breakfast. He doesn’t even speak to her in any of their classes, even though they’re with each other for most of the morning. Professor Kettleburn shows then unicorns in Care of Magical Creatures and Severus lingers at the back with the rest of the boys as one of the unicorns nuzzles into Lily’s hair, her laugh reverberating in Severus’ mind.

He hasn’t spoken to her about the scales; hasn’t known what to say. They’re still hidden guiltily at the bottom of his trunk in his dormitory.

At dinner Potter and his friends levitate a giant treacle tart - Lily’s favourite - in front of her and all of Gryffindor burst into a round of “Happy Birthday”. Severus expects Lily to tell Potter to shove off, that she hates this sort of attention, but as he watches Severus sees Lily smiling at Potter, and suddenly finds he has no apetite.

He waits for Lily outside the Great Hall and is extremely thankful when she comes out minus her friends and minus Potter. She stops short at the sight of him, frowning.

“What are you lurking about for?”

“You,” he answers. “I wanted to say - happy birthday.”

“Is that all you have to say?” she asks, crossing her arms and looking appraisingly at him.

He sighs. “No. Also - sorry. Sorry about the other week. I was out of order. And thank you for the scales.”

“Well, seems like you need them,” she says coolly.

Severus blinks, looks down at his feet, and hears Lily sigh heavily.

“I didn’t mean that,” she says. “I’m just so tired of all this, Sev. I don’t know if I can carry on like how we are. Our lives are totally different now. Your friends are horrible, and mine -”

“-are James Potter,” he mutters.

Lily raises an eyebrow. “We’re not friends as such. He’s just - not so bad all the time. We’re in the same House, it’s nice that we can actually have a conversation that doesn’t end in arguments. I’d forgotten what that’s like.”

Severus gropes around for a comeback, but finds he doesn’t have one. He nearly jumps when Lily reaches out and places her hand on his arm. When he looks up at her, her eyes are gentle, and understanding, and for a moment Severus hates her.

“I have to go. Dorcas and Mary are throwing me a surprise party, and I have to pretend not to know about it. So - I’ll see you around at some point. Bye, Sev.”

He nods mutely, going back to staring angrily at the floor, and doesn’t move until the sounds of her footsteps die away.

Chapter Text

February 1975.

The Gryffindor common room is strangely quiet for a Saturday morning.

Remus, settling himself into his favourite armchair, carefully positions his Arithmancy book on his lap whilst also cradling a warm cup of tea to his chest, but he keeps glancing around the room. Frank and Alice are nearby on a table to themselves, strewn with books and papers, but their eyes are glazed and Frank seems in danger of nodding off. Alfie is playing a game of chess with his friends, lethargically prodding his knight along. Richie Dennison is asleep on a sofa at the back of the room, The Standard Book of Spells Grade 5 over his face, and the whole common room has a lazy feel to it.

It’s been a blustery sort of week, leaving the students to battle their way through the courtyards and across the castle grounds with their heads bowed against the winds, and even as Remus looks out of the window he can see the first drops of rain beginning to blur the glass. It only adds to the sleepy atmosphere, the steady beat of the rain drumming a soothing melody against the windowpane.

Remus stretches, his muscles feeling tight - the full moon is three days away - and tries to focus on his Arithmancy work, but the words aren’t penetrating his sleepy mind and he’s read the same sentence four times over before he gives it up as a bad job. Not for the first time, he wonders where his friends are. He’d seen them at breakfast, and while Peter had been happy to chat away as normal, Sirius and James had been strangely subdued over their bacon and eggs. Remus can’t even blame the mandrake leaves - they’d all finished with that a week ago, and now the soggy remains of the leaves are in vials wrapped up in three pairs of Remus’ socks; every time Remus opens his trunk and sees them his stomach squirms in equal parts nervousness, guilt and pure exhilaration at the thought of what his friends are doing for him.

Their silence hadn’t gone unnoticed by the school populous though; many thought it had been a prank of some sort, a foreboding build-up to something, the unnatural calm before the almighty storm. Of course, James, Sirius and Peter had been only too happy to go along with this consensus, and whenever anyone asked them why they were taking a vow of silence, they’d only adopt an expression of great mystery and shake their heads solemnly, as if speaking of their reasons would bring about the downfall of mankind itself.

Remus had even gotten in on the action. “Ah, they could tell you,” he’d say. “But then of course, they’d have to kill you,” and whichever poor sod had asked would skitter away, wide-eyed and mouth hanging open in awe.

“We should keep it up, even after we’re done with these sodding leaves,” Sirius laughed. “Keep people on their toes.”

“Sh, enough talking,” James had ordered, and that had been that, although now Remus is starting to suspect that his friends are actually carrying on with the ruse just to unsettle people.

Suddenly, the portrait hole opens again and Peter enters the common room, his hair and robes damp from rain. He stares at Remus in surprise.

“What are you doing here?” Peter asks, looking oddly shifty. “Aren’t you helping James and Sirius?”

“No, I - wait, what? Helping them do what?”

Peter’s eyes go wide. “Oh. Uh, they’re down in the laundry room. A prank or something. They wanted me to go along, but I’m - I’m busy.”

Remus frowns. “Busy? What are you doing?”

Under Remus’ stare, Peter twists his hands together nervously, and then says, all in a rush, “I - well, don’t laugh, all right? But - I was going to find Michelle Warburton and ask her if she wants to go to Hogsmeade with me for the Valentines Day weekend.”

Remus blinks, and then, pushing the fact that his mates are off devising a prank without him, he smiles. “I think that’s great, Peter. Why would I laugh?”

“James and Sirius might,” Peter mutters. “Thought I’d do it, you know, quick like, while they’re not around to watch me balls it up or watch her laugh in my face.”

“Michelle is really nice. She wouldn’t do that.”

Peter smiles, smoothing his damp hair back against his forehead, making a bit of it stick up. “Thanks. I’m just gonna go - freshen up. Change into something dry, you know, she might appreciate that, haha. I think she’s in the library; she normally studies this time on a Saturday.”

Remus opens his mouth to ask just how Peter has become so familiar with Michelle Warburton’s weekly routine, and then decides he probably doesn’t want to know. Instead he gives Peter his best encouraging expression, who grins back at him before hurrying up to the boy’s dormitory.

::

“We should have invited Moony,” James says, pulling a disgusted face as he digs through the pile of Slytherin laundry. “He has a strong stomach for this sort of stuff.”

Sirius flicks his hair out of his eyes impatiently, intent on the job at hand. “Just try not to imagine the fact that any moment you might come into contact with Snivelly’s pants, and you’ll be fine.”

James looks like he might be sick. “Oh, gross. Why didn’t we invite Remus again?”

“Because, he’s probably still sore about the telling off he got from Evans from the prank at Halloween. Anyone who cares more about the feelings of a girl than the noble sport of pranking does not get invited to put Itching Dust in the Slytherin laundry.”

Here he gives James a shrewd look, who hastily drops his gaze and continues rummaging about in the pile of robes.

“I don’t care what Evans thinks,” he says defensively.

“Good,” Sirius says darkly, and then, “Ah - here we go.”

From the laundry, Sirius unearths a set of robes and shows James the carefully monogrammed letters stitched on to the inside: R.A.B.

“What are you going to do with them?” James asks. “I thought the plan was to just to douse the whole lot and watch the Slytherin’s itch themselves raw in the morning?”

“You’ll see,” Sirius says, eyes sparkling. “Pass the Dust, would you?”

“Where’s Peter?” James asks, after they’ve given the Slytherin school robes a thorough coating of Itching Dust and are now looking for the Quidditch kits. James peers around like he’s startled that Peter isn’t behind him, as if he’s just realised the other boy is absent.

“Oh, I invited him along, but he said something about Charms homework. He went bright red though, and I know for a fact he finished Flitwick’s essay the other day, so my bet is he’s off stalking Michelle Warburton.”

Sirius says all this with an air of great casualness, but James pauses with a handful of powder over the mound of dark green Quidditch robes below him, looking at Sirius as if he’s sure he’s misheard.

“Wait - what? Peter - Michelle Warburton?

Sirius shrugs. “He likes her. Told me a while ago. Honestly, it’s like the whole school has gone mad these days.” He shoots James another significant look, and James pretends to have to tie his shoelace to avoid his accusing stare.

“Well, good for Pete. If he gets a date, that is,” James says after straightening up.

Sirius has his wand held over what James recognises as Regulus’ Quidditch robes, muttering something. He smirks to himself after, flinging the robes back in the pile and then chucking in a handful of Itching Dust just for good measure. For a long while he doesn’t reply, and then when he looks up and sees James staring at him expectantly, he says, “I suppose. It’s - whatever. Come on, we better get going before the elves turn up for this lot.” He jerks his thumb at the pile of innocuous looking clothes, and leads the way from the laundry room.

James follows at a bit of a jog, and then asks, curiously, “I take it you don’t want a date for Valentine’s Day then?”

Sirius stops so suddenly that James slams into his back. “Why?” Sirius asks in a low voice, once James has regained his balance and readjusted his glasses. “Are you offering to take me out?”

“I couldn’t cheat on Remus like that; think of what it could do to Peter’s upbringing,” James answers swiftly, but when he wheels around, Sirius doesn’t look amused.

“Why is everyone bloody obsessed with girls and dating recently?” Sirius looks over James imperiously. “Don’t tell me I’ve lost you to it as well.”

James shifts his weight from one foot to the other. They’ve made it as far as the Entrance Hall, and a gaggle of girl Ravenclaws pass by. James watches them go out of the corner of his eye; he doesn’t really want an audience for this conversation.

“Well, you may as well know,” he says, regaining some confidence once the girls have gone, and deciding he may as well get this over with, because it’s Sirius and Sirius finds out everything anyway. “I was planning on asking Lily to Hogsmeade.”

“Evans?” Sirius demands, looking at James as if he’s grown tentacles, which James thinks is a bit unfair, really. It’s not the stupidest idea he’s ever had.

“Yeah,” James says, raking a hand through his hair and staring at one of the lanterns flickering nearby. “I mean, sometimes - we get on all right. Like when I helped her with Transfiguration, and she’s ace at Charms, and I thought -”

“What, that she’d forgive you for all the stupid stuff you pull with Snape?” Sirius asks bluntly.

“Snape’s got nothing to do with this!”

“Oh, James,” Sirius says, almost condescending; James twitches at the tone, feels the desire to punch him. “Of course Snape has something to do with it. He’s her best mate, isn’t he? I wouldn’t go out with someone who put Itching Dust in your underwear.”

“Well - thanks, but - that’s not really - they had a row recently, and she’s been upset. Remus mentioned.”

“And a date with you is the cure?” Sirius asks with a harsh laugh.

James glares at him, and Sirius holds his hands up mockingly.

“Don’t get shirty with me. I just don’t get it. You have nothing in common. Earlier you said you didn’t care what she thinks.”

“I don’t - I don’t care, I just - I think she’s nice, and it’s Valentine’s Day -”

Sirius shakes his head. “Well, let me know how it goes,” he says, and then abruptly turns and starts walking away again.

James stares after him for a moment, an unpleasant squirming in his stomach, until a flock of Second Years pass, shooting him curious looks. He starts into action, catching Sirius on the stairs.

“You don’t think I should do it?” he asks, aiming to keep his tone cool.

“Whatever,” Sirius says carelessly. “Your funeral, innit?”

::

The dormitory door bangs open and Remus, lying on his bed and staring up at his canopy, turns his head slightly to see Sirius stride in.

“Oh,” Sirius says, stopping in the middle of the room and blinking at Remus. “Didn’t know you’d be here.”

“I live here, more often than not,” Remus says slowly, sitting up and taking in Sirius’ appearance; he looks annoyed by something, and Remus scoots over so that there’s room next to him for Sirius to sit down.

Sirius does, putting his elbows on his knees and dropping his head into his hands.

Remus had been planning on giving Sirius a hard time for not inviting him along to the prank they were planning, but thinks now may not be the time.

“Where’s James?” he says instead.

Sirius’ responding grunt is enough to let Remus know he’s said the wrong thing.

“He’s - you haven’t got him stuck somewhere again, have you? Like the time in the fourth floor bathroom?”

“No,” Sirius mutters at last. “Although he probably is in a bathroom somewhere, hopefully trying to flush himself down the toilet in shame.” Remus continues to stare at him questioningly, until Sirius says, “We had a fight. Kind of. There wasn’t any hitting, so I’m not too sure, but I think it was a - a disagreement, maybe.”

“Hmm. A disagreement, maybe. What about?”

“About Evans. Well, it started off about Peter and Michelle Warburton - which, did you know, he’s asking her out, can you believe? - and then James got all sappy, and said it was great, and I said that everyone is obsessed with dating, and James said he was going to ask Evans out, and then we got into it about Snape a bit, and then James asked my opinion and then just sulked the whole way back to Gryffindor Tower.”

Remus nods, digesting all this. Sirius is looking at him in indignation, clearly waiting for Remus to take his side and proclaim how awful James is being. Remus, however, just manages a half-shrug.

“Oh,” he says.

Oh?” Sirius repeats incredulously. “Our friends are going mad, and all you’ve got is oh?”

“Mad?” Remus says, trying not to smile. “It’s just - being a teenager, isn’t it? My mum got me leaflets over the summer; I can lend them to you, if you like.”

“No, thanks,” Sirius says with a shudder. “And it’s not all teenagers. I’m not like it. You’re not like it - are you?”

“What?” Remus says, caught off-guard. Sirius is staring at him far more intensely than he was before, and Remus fights the urge to jump to his feet to put some distance between them. “I - I don’t know, I think some people are quite - all right, I suppose - er -”

Sirius is boggling at him. Remus can feel himself flushing, and gropes around for a change of subject, but he has a feeling that there’s going to be no getting away from this.

“Do you fancy Evans too?” Sirius asks abruptly.

Remus can’t help the laugh that ripples out of him. “Lily? No!”

“Oh.” Sirius stops staring at him at last, to Remus’ relief, and instead scowls at the wall. “I thought, because you’re quite friendly - anyway. Who, then? Who do you you think is all right?”

“God, Sirius, I don’t know,” Remus says, hoping the constriction in his throat can be passed off as irritation. “Just - people, you know, generally.” He waves his hands in the air, not even sure what point he’s supposed to be articulating, but Sirius seems satisfied, and nods.

“Right, okay. People. Gotcha.”

He still looks a bit troubled, and Remus sighs internally. It’s three days to the full moon, and he really can’t be dealing with this kind of conversation right now.

“It’s not - unusual, you know,” he says softly. “If you don’t - feel it, or whatever, yet - or, or ever I suppose.” Remus is well aware he’s rambling now, but Sirius looks genuinely worried, and Remus wants to fix that. “I mean, you’re fifteen, and so what if Peter and James want to ask people out, it doesn’t matter, really, does it?”

“James and I normally share everything,” Sirius says at length.

Remus quirks one eyebrow. “I don’t think that extends to girls, Sirius.”

Sirius whacks him on the arm. “Pervert. I didn’t mean that. Anyway - Evans will say no to him, so there’s not much point worrying.”

“You didn’t tell him this, did you?” Remus asks anxiously. It’s probably true, but James doesn’t need to hear it right before plucking up the courage to ask a girl out. Sirius looks at him shiftily, and Remus sighs aloud. “Go find him and apologise,” he says. “It’ll make you feel better. He probably is trying to flush himself down a toilet somewhere, so he needs you to be there for him.”

Sirius squares his shoulders, nods. “Yeah. I can do that. Best mate and all that.” He claps Remus heartily on the shoulder as he gets to his feet. “Thanks, Moony. You’re a pal.”

“I know,” Remus says, smiling weakly.

::

Peter pauses to check his reflection in the glass of a nearby book cabinet, gives his hair a quick comb through with his fingers, and then steps out from behind the Ancient Runes section of the library, hoping his legs don’t look as wobbly as they feel.

Michelle is sat with a friend, some Ravenclaw Peter probably should know the name of by now. Peter opens his mouth, and then promptly shuts it when he realises he has no idea what to say. In his preparations for this moment, Peter hadn’t thought about the possibility of Michelle having a friend with her, someone else to witness his embarrassment.

Bugger all.

“Um,” he says. In the dusty silence of the library, it comes out very loud, and he wants to slither away as soon as Michelle and her friend look up at him.

“Peter,” Michelle says, surprised. “What are you doing here?”

The Ravenclaw arches an eyebrow, looking at Peter as if to say she knows exactly what he’s up to. It’s not encouraging in the slightest.

Peter wipes his hands nervously on his robes and decides the best tactic here is to ignore her completely. Instead he focuses on Michelle, and then immediately wishes he hadn’t as they lock eyes and he feels heat rush up under his collar.

“Studying,” he says. “You know how it is.”

“You don’t take Runes,” the Ravenclaw says, narrowing her eyes at him.

Who are you? Peter wants to yell in frustration. Were you put here to make my life difficult?

“Haha, yeah, I mean - no, I don’t - fascinating though, isn’t it, Runes…”

“Can we help you with something?” Michelle asks.

Peter wants to yank his hair out of his scalp; surely it won’t be as painful as this is. It wasn’t this hard asking Moira out, although he’s shared a common room with Moira for years and knows a bit more about her. All he really knows about Michelle is that she’s got nice looking blonde hair, she’s good at Herbology, and apparently takes Ancient Runes. It’s a start, he supposes, and she’s smiling at him at least.

“It’s Valentine’s Day soon,” he says. Pretending not to hear the Ravenclaw’s disdainful tcheh, he carries on, “I wondered if you’d, ah, like to go to Hogsmeade with me?”

“Just you?” the Ravenclaw demands, before Michelle can even open her mouth. “Not going to bring along your three stooges?”

“Olivia,” Michelle says, nudging her friend.

Peter blinks. “Er - you mean James, Remus and Sirius? They don’t come everywhere with me, you know. The toilet is a pretty good example…”

To his surprise, Michelle laughs. He grins back at her, feeling his confidence rise. Olivia just scowls at him and tugs her textbook closer towards her, muttering something under her breath to the pages. James would probably make some witty comment to make her feel foolish; Remus would adopt an unnaturally polite expression and say something like, “I’m sorry, didn’t quite catch that, could you speak up a bit?” and then say something sarcastic in reply; Sirius would probably knock the book out of her hands and laugh at her. Peter, however, thinks that while he’s got Michelle laughing at him - in a good way, he hopes - he may as well seal the deal when it looks like it’s going his way.

“So, what do you reckon?” he asks. “I promise I won’t take you to Puddifoot’s. That place is awful. I went there once and wanted to blind myself with a fork within two minutes.”

“I thought I was the only one who thought that,” Michelle says, with another giggle that makes Peter stand a bit taller. “All right, you’ve convinced me. Yes, I’ll go on a date with you.”

“Ace,” Peter says happily, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet.

Michelle tucks a stray bit of hair behind her ear, and unless Peter’s very much mistaken, she’s actually blushing. “I’ll see you in Herbology then.”

Olivia rolls her eyes so hard that Peter is surprised they don’t fall out of her head, but he doesn’t care. He gives Michelle a cheery wave, resists the temptation to give Olivia the finger, and makes his way out of the library, whistling a tune.

::

Peter doesn’t get to tell his friends about Michelle that day; they all seem a bit subdued, none of them really talking to anyone, and so Peter decides just to leave them to it and spends the evening playing Exploding Snap with Frank Longbottom instead.

He’s going to announce it at breakfast the following day, but there’s a diversion in the form of half of Slytherin entering the Great Hall itching themselves like a band of monkeys.

“You guys should really wash more,” James calls over to them. “I mean - personal hygiene, it’s not a difficult concept, am I right?” he asks, looking around the table to general approving laughs from the Gryffindors.

Joseph Mulciber advances towards him, one hand still uncontrollably scratching his arm and looking murderous. “You little -” he begins, but never gets to finish, as just then Regulus’ robes turn a bright, shocking pink, causing a slight distraction.

The Great Hall erupts into laughter and Regulus blushes nearly the same colour as his robes. His lips clamped furiously together, he scowls over at Sirius, who is holding his sides from laughing so hard, and then he storms out of the Hall. The rest of the Slytherins follow suit not long after, still itching, and James leans over the jug of pumpkin juice to high-five Sirius. A few seats down, Meadowes, MacDonald and Evans are looking over at them, Evans in particular seeming distinctly unimpressed, but neither James nor Sirius appear to notice.

“Mr Potter,” McGonagall says crisply, suddenly at their table. “Mr Black. You seem to find this very amusing. I don’t suppose you know anything about why most of Slytherin House are suddenly incurably itchy?”

“No, Professor,” James says, his eyes going wide behind his glasses.

“Not a crime to find it funny, though, is it?” Sirius asks lazily. “I always thought pink was my brother’s colour.”

“Mr Lupin?” McGonagall asks, her gaze shifting to Remus.

Remus looks up from his toast. Two days before the full moon, he makes a sorry sight; there are bags under his eyes, he’s paler than usual. “No, Professor,” he says. “I don’t know anything about it. Maybe the elves are trying a new washing technique. It doesn’t seem to agree with the Slytherin’s delicate skin.”

Perhaps it’s because Remus looks too worn-down to lie, or because McGonagall doesn’t have any concrete proof, but she merely narrows her eyes at the lot of them and then heads back to the top table.

“Nice one, Moony,” Sirius says approvingly.

James is moving his wand slowly over a piece of toast. Peter watches him curiously as he levitates it down the Gryffindor table where it eventually comes to a floating rest in front of Evans, who frowns at it before snatching it out of the air. Her eyes widen as she looks at the toast and then, without even glancing at James, she drops it into the nearest jug of milk and continues eating her breakfast.

“Damn,” James breathes.

“What was that?” Peter asks.

“I asked her to go to Hogsmeade with me,” James says, shoulders hunching defensively.

Remus stares at him. “On a piece of toast?”

Sirius laughs. “Well, points for effort, mate.”

“I thought it was quirky!” James protests, his gaze lingering mournfully on Evans. He gives himself a small shake, and then reaches for some more kippers. “Ah well. Her loss if she can’t appreciate my humour, right?”

“Oh, yeah,” Peter says quickly, as Remus hums in half-hearted agreement and Sirius nods briskly.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sirius says. “You’ll get a date for Hogsmeade, no fear.”

James grins. “’Course I will,” he says confidently. “In fact, I saw Edie March eyeing me up the other day, I’ll probably ask her.”

“Isn’t she with Andrew Baines?” Remus asks.

James shrugs, unconcerned. “Pete, want me to see if she’s got a friend?”

“What?” Peter looks up in surprise, nearly putting his elbow in his toast. “I - uh -”

“You can’t still be hung up on Warburton,” James continues airily. “We’ll find other girls who appreciate our talents.”

Peter’s ears are buzzing; the noise of the Great Hall, all the chattering and scrape of cutlery, seems to die down, except for James’ voice, which is impossibly loud. Peter pulls his top lip into his mouth, jiggling his leg under the table.

“Actually,” he says, meeting James’ gaze. “Michelle said yes when I asked her.”

James looks around at Remus and Sirius, almost wonderingly, and Peter wants to kick him.

That’s right. A girl said yes to me and you got refused.

A second later he feels bad, as James grins at him awkwardly.

“Oh, cool. Sorry, mate, didn’t mean to - well, you never said anything! I just - assumed - anyway, er, that’s great!”

Remus smiles at him; Sirius rolls his eyes and picks up The Daily Prophet, looking bored by the whole conversation.

“Anything interesting?” James ask, leaning closer to read over Sirius’ shoulder, looking a bit relieved by the chance to change the subject.

“No deaths,” Sirius says briskly.

He’s scanning the paper with a bravado that Peter knows is mostly forced. It’s become a daily ritual, checking the news for any signs of Death Eater activity. There has been no major reports of anything happening since last year and the train crash, something that Peter had originally thought was good, but then Remus had said that just because they’re not reporting it, doesn’t mean that things aren’t happening. Now they look for disappearances, strange happenings. Things are happening, even Peter can see that; he’s noticed that there are some days when Dumbledore’s chair on the top table is empty, days when the teacher’s faces are tightly drawn and grim in a way that Peter is sure has nothing to do with teaching.

“Well, no deaths is something,” he says.

Sirius folds the paper back up and tosses it on to the table as everyone starts to get up and head to their first lesson of the day. They all get to their feet as well, Sirius chugging the last of his coffee and Remus rising from his chair, wincing, but before Peter can ask if he’s all right, Remus rearranges his face and merely looks exhausted again. The four of them join the throng of Gryffindors making their way from the Great Hall and they stroll out of the castle and into the grounds, where at least the wind has eased off a bit and the sun is making an effort to put in an appearance.

“If it stays like this, I reckon we should ask Adric for a practice this evening,” James says as they make their way to the greenhouses, shooting a look at Sirius. “We’ve got our match against Ravenclaw soon, and after they beat Hufflepuff, I kind of want to wipe the smirk off of Fenwick’s face, don’t you?”

“He has been looking a bit too sure of himself lately,” Sirius says agreeably. “Maybe he needs another pumpkin exploding over him; reckon Hagrid would let me have one?”

Peter laughs, but the smiles soon disappear from his friend’s faces as a voice behind them snaps, “God, you are all so childish! Don’t you ever get bored of hearing your own voices with the drivel you spout?”

Lily Evans and her friends are walking behind them. As they all come to a halt outside their greenhouse, waiting for Professor Sprout, James turns to face Evans, a smirk quickly springing back on his face.

“Evans, I thought we were friends!”

“If you were my friend, Potter, you’d stop thinking of ways to embarrass the people I care about,” Evans says. “I know it was you who pulled that stupid prank on the Slytherins this morning. Proud of yourself, are you?”

The rest of the class are trudging over the grass towards them, all stopping and staring interestedly at the row that is quickly transpiring. Peter hears Remus sigh beside him. Michelle is one of the Hufflepuffs that join them, and Peter waves at her, taking a step away from James, who has folded his arms across his chest in indignation.

“The people you care about?” he echoes mockingly. “Well, I’m glad not to count myself amongst that group, then, if the people you care about include Fenwick and a bunch of stinking Slytherins! Honestly, Evans, you want to get your priorities checked -”

Peter edges closer to Michelle, hoping to put as much distance between himself and James - who has started to turn a funny shade of red in the neck - as possible.

“You want to get your head checked!” Evans says, just as Professor Sprout arrives on the scene, whistling loudly.

“All right, calm down folks, in we go,” she says, unlocking the greenhouse door and waving them all inside. “Miss Evans, I don’t want to hear that kind of language again, thank you! We’re working on our Calycanthuses again today, and we all need to be in a calm disposition, or else they sense it and don’t want to sing. Now, you’ll need to partner up…”

Evans storms in ahead of them all, nearly as red as her hair, and all but throws her things down next to Dorcas Meadowes. Remus and Sirius are already stood together, and Peter turns hopefully to Michelle.

“Want to be my partner?”

“Sure,” she says with a smile.

“Oh, come on,” James says loudly, just behind him, and Peter looks at him apologetically for the briefest of seconds before getting out his gloves and shears and joining Michelle at a bench.

James looks mutinous for a moment, stood alone by his Singing Calycanthus which, Peter has to admit, is very quiet and droopy-looking compared to everyone else's, occasionally emitting a croaky warble. As though a switch has been flipped on, James straightens his shoulders and puts a smile on his face as his eyes sweep the greenhouse.

“Hey, Edie,” he calls, and a petite Hufflepuff with glasses looks his way, already smiling slightly. “Fancy teaching my Calycanthus to sing?”

“Go on then,” Edie says, giggling, and moves her things from the table she is sharing with Andrew Baines to James’ with no second thought.

In no time at all the whole school is swept up in the excitement of the upcoming Hogsmeade weekend. Particularly amongst the Fourth Years and above, it seems that every other conversation is dominated by who is taking who. Marlene McKinnon storms through the portrait hole that evening, complaining to anyone who will listen that she had to wait nearly ten minutes to get to the toilet on the second floor because it was so full of gossiping girls speculating on the love lives of everyone in the castle. Alice Thorne gives her a sympathetic, knowing look, and says she had to confiscate a love potion from a Second Year Ravenclaw just that afternoon.

“Home-brewed, by the looks of it. Meant for a Fifth Year, apparently,” Alice says, and Peter is left to wonder at the thought of tiny, terrifying twelve-year-olds.

Edie March tags along to the next Gryffindor training session, eager for the Gryffindor team to beat Ravenclaw after Hufflepuff’s defeat by them the last game, and James offers to walk her back to her common room after with an exaggerated wink back at the others. It comes as no surprise to any of them when James returns to the common room an hour later, grinning unabashedly and saying he’s got a date for Valentine’s Day.

“You not going to ask anyone, Moony?” Peter asks when it’s just the four of them in the dormitory.

Remus pauses in the process of pulling on his pyjama top and gives Peter a weary look. “The Hogsmeade trip is the day after the full moon. The only date I’ll be having is with my bed and a healing potion.”

“I’ll keep you company,” Sirius calls from his bed. “I don’t fancy being in town surrounded by a bunch of lovesick morons - no offence of course, you two,” he adds, looking at James and Peter.

“Ah, the sweet sound of jealousy,” James says, grinning.

Peter smiles too. Personally he’s sure that Sirius isn’t at all jealous, that he could have any girl he wanted if he actually did want to, but he’s enjoying having something like this in common with James, something that Sirius or Remus are not a part of. He joins in with James, teasing Sirius about his lack of a love life, until Sirius grows bored and throws himself at James, nearly sticking his wand up James’ nostril.

When Peter starts to cheer them on, that’s when Remus interrupts. “Children,” he chides sleepily, his eyes half-closed. “Some werewolves need their rest, you know.”

Sirius scrambles back to his own four-poster; James retrieves his glasses from where they had been thrown across the room; and Peter settles down to sleep, his dreams full of bizarre scenarios where he serenades Michelle with a backing group of plants and gives her a werewolf puppy as a Valentine’s present that promptly starts eating James’ broom.

::

Sunlight streams through the high windows of the Hospital Wing, falling offensively across Remus’ face. He groans, turning his head to the side in an attempt to burrow away from the glare, but his head starts screaming in protest at the movement. He screws his eyes shut instead, pulling one arm free from the heavy blankets on top of him to fumble for his wand. He intends to draw the curtains around his bed, but then a thought stops him. If the curtains aren’t already closed around him, shielding him away from the other inhabitants of the Hospital Wing, then that must mean that his injuries are minor to non-existent.

Remus gropes in his still-bleary mind for the slightest memory of the night before. As always, it just leaves a poiunding in his head and a roiling in his stomach as the transformation flashes through his mind, jagged as a shard of glass, never a complete picture. It’s probably best he can never remember turning into the wolf, or what the wolf does. The pain the following day is enough to go on, but apart from his throbbing temple and queasiness, Remus feels a lot better than he usually does. Certainly he must look all right, if Madam Pomfrey decided to leave the curtains around him open, and for that he’s grateful. A curtained-off bed arouses more suspicion than not, after all.

Another half an hour or so passes until Remus feels able to move into a sitting-up position, enjoying the rarity of watching the students in the other beds. Madam Pomfrey bustles over to give him his usual bar of chocolate and cup of tea to get his strength up again, and hurries to another bed at the other side of the room, muttering about “this day”. Remus, so used to her fussing over him, is taken aback at her lack of interest, until he sees that the other student does seem to need her attention more, as he’s just sprouted wings from out of the back of his robes.

“Tried to turn himself into Cupid on a dare,” a girl in the bed opposite Remus says. “He won the bet, but now can’t get the wings to stop growing.”

“Unfortunate,” Remus murmurs, savouring both his slab of Honeydukes finest and the fact that he’s not the most interesting person in the room. A cursory glance over at the girl shows her skin to be an alarming shade of orange.

“I gave my best friend’s boyfriend a card,” she says ruefully, and then grins, unpeturbed. “She found out.”

“Ah,” Remus says, unsure of what else there is to be said.

“And what about you? Did you come off worse in a Valentine’s Day mishap too? You’ve got some nasty scars on you.”

“Oh,” Remus says, and suddenly longs for the curtains to be closed again. “Well -”

“It’s a thrilling tale!” Sirius’ voice says, and Remus nearly melts into his pillows in relief at the sight of him striding into the room. He pulls up a chair by the side of Remus and gives the girl in the opposite bed a dazzling smile. “Aren’t you charming! Lovely colour. You’ll have to give me the name of the person who jinxed you. Anyway, where were we - oh, yes, my companions sorry state!”

“Hey,” Remus says, a bit resentfully, because all in all, he’s in quite a good state as post-transformations go. “These scars are old.”

“Which one were you wondering about?” Sirius asks the girl pleasantly, who is looking dumbstruck at his sudden arrival. Remus can relate. “The one he got when he single handedly fended off an irate hippogriff? The one he earned saving McGonagall from the Giant Squid in his second year? The ones he got taking out a dozen Death Eaters?”

“Mr Black, that’s quite enough,” Madam Pomfrey says, as the girl’s eyes widen and, if possible, she seems to turn an even brighter orange. “My patients need rest, thank you, or else I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

Sirius grins lazily and gets to his feet, tugging the curtains closed. Settling himself back down, he looks Remus over, and then says, “You look all right, actually. Do you think they’re getting any better?”

“No,” Remus says, wishing he had a different answer. “I think I just got lucky last night.”

“James thinks he’s found the key ingredient to the potion,” Sirius says. “After that’s brewed and taken, then it’s just the spell, which James reckons he’s cracked already. Another couple of months and it will get better.”

Remus opens his mouth, realises he doesn’t know what to say. He’s sure he must have used every variation of “thank you” and “you really don’t have to do this for me” and “you’ll never know how amazed I am at you all” that the English language has to offer, and every time his friend’s just grin or punch him on the arm and say it’s no bother. Remus takes another bite of chocolate instead.

“Where are James and Peter?”

Sirius’ eye roll is impressive. “Oh, getting ready for their dates. Peter was hogging the shower and James was wrestling with his hair last I looked, so I decided to get the hell out of there and come keep you company.”

“You could still go to Hogsmeade,” Remus says. “The sun’s out. It’ll be a nice day.”

Sirius looks at him for so long that Remus drops his gaze to the blanket, sure he must have said something wrong. When Sirius speaks, however, Remus can hear the smile in his voice.

“I’m not interested in going to Hogsmeade. I’m staying with you.”

“Are you being my date?” Remus asks.

He’s aiming for a sarcastic tone but it gets stuck somewhere in his throat and, to his horror, comes out sounding oddly sincere. He can feel the blush in his cheeks, and he snaps his eyes up to study Sirius’ expression, and finds his friend grinning.

“Yeah, if you like,” Sirius says. “Better you than some bird I’m not interested in.”

He says it so easily that Remus wants to hug him and hit him at the same time. Like with everything else Sirius Black, joking about going on a date with one of his best, and very male, friends is effortless. Not at all something to get worked up about, which - if Remus is honest with himself (and he tries to be, on the whole, even if being honest with himself just makes him more confused) - is precisely what Remus has been doing lately. Getting worked up and over thinking things and generally loathing being stuck with his own mind for company, because his mind seems to spend an awful lot of time on Sirius Black and the effortless, easy way he does things, and how those things contribute to making Remus feel like his stomach has dropped to his ankles.

The thing is, Remus thinks, as Sirius unearths The Daily Prophet from up the sleeve of his robes and flicks to the crossword, the thing is this: Remus’ mum had given Remus leaflets over the summer. Leaflets that left Remus with mostly more questions, because all of the strangely expressionless drawings were of girls and boys being together and nowhere did it mention about boys being with boys. Remus had wondered if maybe he could ask his dad, but he’d never been able to get his words out and the whole thing was so awkwardly painful and painfully awkward that Remus had just shoved it all to the back of his mind.

Sirius brings it all tumbling to the forefront, even now, doing something as mundane as the sodding crossword puzzle in the paper. He’s got one leg crossed over the other, an ankle resting on a knee and his foot jiggling on the floor, a quill in one hand as his eyes scan the pages, a frown on his face as his lips mouth the clues to himself.

“I think I’m going to take a nap,” Remus tells him.

Sirius doesn’t look up. “Fine by me. I’ll stay here. I’m stuck on 18-across anyway. Eleven letter word for ‘madness’, what do you reckon?”

Sirius Black, Remus thinks, closing his eyes tight and sucking in a breath. When he releases it, he says, “Foolishness,” the word ending on a hiss, like the air deflating from a balloon.

::

Edie March, on the whole, is a pretty girl. She’s got slim wrists and a small build, and her glasses reflect the sun whenever she tilts her head up to laugh at one of James’ jokes, which she does often. James is feeling quite pleased with himself as they walk around Hogsmeade, and by the time they’re in Zonko’s looking at the offer on Exploding Quills, James hasn’t spared much thought for Lily Evans.

Except this: It’s her loss. She could be wandering around a sunny Hogsmeade now, her hand in James’ (even though Edie is small, and James has to drop his shoulder slightly to make it work). Instead she’s probably doing - whatever it is that Evans does for fun. Her Charms homework, probably. James smirks to himself, and Edie squeezes his hand to get his attention. He looks down at her and sees she’s frowning.

“Are you listening?” she asks.

“Of course,” he replies. “Ah - what was that last bit?”

Edie sighs. “Puddifoot’s or The Three Broomsticks?”

James wrinkles his nose upon hearing the first option. He’s sure there is a rule among him and his friends that they are all forbidden from setting foot in that teashop, and if there isn’t a rule, there should be.

“The Three Broomsticks,” he says decisively, and misses the dejected look on Edie’s face as he drags her in the direction of the pub.

The Three Broomsticks is packed with students as they squeeze in through the door. The nice weather means that there’s no fire lit, but the amount of bodies in the place means that it’s just as warm without, and James nearly loses Edie twice in an effort to get the bar. He grips her hand in his, not wanting her to get trampled underfoot or anything else that would signify a Very Bad Date, and she clutches his tightly in return. A bit too tight, James thinks, and is rather pleased when he elbows someone out of the way and finally gets seen by Madam Rosmerta, detaching his hand from his date’s and signalling for two butterbeers.

“Oh, I don’t really like this stuff,” Edie tells him when he passes her a bottle, and James realises too late that perhaps he should have asked her what she wanted.

Whenever the Potter family go for meals out together, his dad always orders for his mum, but then again, they have known each other long enough to know each other’s drinking preferences.

“Er, sorry,” James says gruffly. “I’ll drink it. Uh - what do you want?”

His place at the front of the bar has gone but he tries not to let his smile slip.

“Just a gillywater and lime,” Edie says, looking around distractedly. “I’ll go find a table.”

She disappears into the crush and James is left to line up to be served again. Glancing around, he can’t see Edie anywhere, and he sighs. If this is to be a regular thing, he may have to put a Tracking Charm on her. She really is rather small. He looks to his left and instead sees Peter next to him, wearing a crisp white shirt that belongs to Remus and smelling powerfully of cologne.

“Pete,” James says, and Peter looks at him in relief.

“James! Bit mad in here, isn’t it? Where’s your date? Did she chuck you?”

“No,” James says, and then realises Peter looks red-faced. “Why - has Michelle chucked you?”

He feels oddly envious at the thought.

“No,” Peter says glumly. “But I don’t really know what to talk to her about. We both like Herbology, but after all the talking of plants is out of the way, it’s mostly silence.”

“Wow,” James says. “Er - I’m sure it can’t be going that bad. Hey, how about if Edie and I join you? Then there won’t be any silences, because at least you and I can talk to each other!”

Peter’s face brightens immediately. James thinks it’s a brilliant idea, although Edie - judging from her face when be emerges from the crowd with Michelle and Peter trailing behind him - does not. James clinks his bottle into Peter’s glass after they’ve all squeezed in around a small table that Edie has managed to find.

“This is cosy, isn’t it!” he says, his knees knocking in to Peter’s under the table.

Michelle and Edie swap unreadable looks.

::

“- And then Peter comes falling out from behind the tapestry, right, screaming at us all to run because Filch is on the way -”

“- Only Sirius still has the bucket stuck on his head, and Remus is trying to scatter the doxy eggs -”

“- And Mrs Norris turns up, haha, and Remus grabs her and stuffs her in this coat of armour -”

“I’d forgotten that bit!”

“-So then we all run, Sirius still with the bucket on - d’you remember how red his face was after, Pete?”

“Haha, God, thought he’d be that colour forever -”

“As fascinating as this is,” Michelle says in a bored voice, cutting across James before he can launch into the rest of his story. “I’m just going to pop to the toilet.”

“I’ll come too,” Edie says, jumping to her feet and hurrying after the other girl.

“I wonder why they always go in packs?” Peter asks, taking a thoughtful swig of his drink.

Generally, he thinks the mood of the date has picked up, even if the girls are being a bit quiet. And then, something happens to make it even better. James sits bolt upright in his chair, his eyes narrowing and then widening behind his glasses.

“Pete, look, it’s Regulus - with a girl!”

Peter swivels his head to look at the thinning crowd near the bar, and sure enough there is Sirius’ brother on what must be a date. Looking closer, Peter sees that the girl he is with is that Slytherin girl that Sirius pointed out to them once.

“Hey, that’s that - what’s her name - the one Sirius was going to be forced to marry!”

“The Carrow girl?” James pulls a disgusted face. “Ugh, what are they doing on a date? I wonder how Regulus feels getting his brother’s cast-offs.”

“I think we should go find out,” Peter says, starting to grin as the possibilities enter into his mind, all thoughts of his own date forgotten.

“I have a better idea,” James says, eyes glinting. “Follow me.”

He strides over to Regulus, a pleasant smile on his face, and in one quick movement has seized Regulus by the hand and pulled him into a one-armed hug as if they were best mates. Regulus stiffens at the contact and his expression goes oddly lopsided when he sees who it is. Peter, following James’ lead, darts forward and gives Regulus a hearty clap in the shoulder.

“Potter,” Regulus says in a cold voice. “What -”

“Afternoon, Reg!” Peter interrupts in his most cheerful voice. “How wonderful to see you!”

Regulus’ eye twitches at the nickname. Behind him, Cressida Carrow is gazing contemptuously at them both, although she does look suspiciously at Regulus for the briefest of seconds.

“Hey, listen, mate,” James says, leaning forward conspiratorially, although his voice is still loud enough to carry. “I just wanted to say - about that problem you mentioned the other day - I know it makes sitting on a broomstick a right pain, but Madam Pomfrey has some sort of cream for it, clears it right up, even the boils in the hard-to-reach places.”

James straightens up, winking good-naturedly at Regulus, whose mouth is opening and closing wordlessly. James gives Regulus a friendly pat on the shoulder, waves cheerily at Cressida, who is looking horror-stricken at Regulus, and then returns to his table. Peter follows, his face hurting from trying not to laugh.

“That was brilliant,” Peter says when they’re back at the table. “I reckon that scuppered his plans for a date!”

James leans back in his chair, grinning. For a while they simply sit in silence, basking in their own brilliance, until a thought occurs to Peter, and he nudges James with his foot.

“Hey, James? Um - I don’t think the girls are coming back.”

::

It takes Sirius nearly a full five minutes to catch his breath from laughing after Peter and James fill him in on what happened in Hogsmeade. Far from being bothered about his brother’s choice of date, Sirius had merely looked disdainful when Peter told him and said Regulus and Cressida are welcome to each other.

“Doubt she’ll want him now,” James says with a grin, which sets Sirius off again.

Sirius is leaning into Remus on the sofa, one hand pressed to his ribs from the laughter. Neither Sirius nor Remus had seemed too surprised when Peter told them how their own dates went. Really, Peter thinks, looking around at his mates - Sirius, trying to suppress his giggles in Remus’ shoulder while Alice Thorne shouts at him to shut the hell up; Remus, seeming more alert than usual the day after a full moon, looking at Sirius with a mixture of affection and exhaustion; James, still puffed up and proud looking despite the fact his date had walked out and left him in the middle of the pub - really, Peter reckons that there are worse ways to spend a Valentine’s Day.

Chapter Text

March 1975.

All in all, not that many students take Muggle Studies. So few, in fact, that it’s the only subject that Sirius is aware of that takes students from all four houses. There’s even a Slytherin in Sirius’ class, a bloke called Flint who Sirius, despite knowing of him for years and sharing lessons with him, can’t recall a time he’s ever heard Flint utter a single word. From the looks of him, Sirius doubts he’d have much of importance to say anyway, although Sirius is curious what his housemates make of his choosing to take Muggle Studies.

Glancing around at his fellows where they are all stood in Professor Laughton’s office, Sirius wonders, not for the first time, how many of them opted for Muggle Studies believing it’s a soft option, an easy pass, and how many are actually interested in learning about the differences between the two worlds. Sirius originally took it for neither reason, instead thinking of the small aneurysm his mother must have surely suffered when she found out what her son and heir was studying. Now though, Sirius finds that Muggle Studies is fast becoming one of his favourite subjects at school.

Plus, they get to go on a school trip.

He’d woken up early this morning, the first day of the Easter holidays, excited to think that he’s escaping going back to Grimmauld Place again. Instead, he gets to spend time exploring a Muggle city, having a laugh and a well-earned break.

“If any of you think this is an excuse to muck about and take a back seat, you’re mistaken,” Professor Laughton tells them all, pacing in front of the nine students stood in a line in his office. “It’s not a holiday. It’s educational. No doubt some of you will find it extremely hard work, living like a Muggle for two days. If there’s any rule-breaking, any nonsense -” here Sirius is sure that Laughton catches his eye, and he frowns right back, affronted, “- I will not hesitate to flag down the Knight Bus and send you back to school, pronto. Am I clear?”

There’s a general muttering of assent. Sirius clenches and unclenches his hands behind his back, impatient to get going. Really, the company could be better; Evans and Meadowes from his house, Liam Boot and Amber McCroy from Ravenclaw, three Hufflepuffs - one of which is Edie March, who has refused to look at him since she spotted him - and Flint. But Sirius isn’t going to let any of that ruin his fun.

“You’ll be in groups of three,” Laughton says, unfurling a bit of parchment and scanning it. “You’re to stick with your partners at all times. I’ve tried to make it fair, and there’s no room for argument here. McCroy, Flint and Lyons in one group.”

The Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff eye Flint warily, and Laughton has to clear his throat before they shuffle closer to the Slytherin, who doesn’t show any sign of emotion at all.

“The next group - Meadowes, Tinton, Boot.”

Sirius hears Evans whisper “damn it” from beside him, and he turns to grin broadly at her.

“Hello, partner,” he says, as Professor Laughton reels off the final group - Black, Evans and March.

Edie March doesn’t seem thrilled at the prospect either. Sirius cackles. This is going to be better than he thought.

::

Lily has never hated being a Muggle-born more.

Professor Laughton’s idea of fair is to pair those with experience of the Muggle world with those that do not, so of course she gets lumbered with Black. Of bloody course. She had, before being partnered up with him and Edie, entertained vague fantasies of him stumbling off in Edinburgh and getting mowed down by one of those motorcycles he’s so obsessed with in class, but now it’s her responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen.

They’re being shipped off through the Floo before she can think of a valid argument to present for herself and her sanity. Professor Laughton goes first, and it’s left to Filch to oversee the students through to meet him. Filch is smiling thinly, making jibes about how they won’t last a day without their wands, and if they do mess up, then they’ll be carted off to Azkaban for flouting the Statute of Secrecy.

Vanessa Tinton gulps audibly as Filch prattles on, his eyes bulging with manic delight at the obvious nervousness he’s causing, and Lily decides that’s quite enough of that.

“We live in a castle haunted with ghosts and ghouls and who-knows-what-else; there’s a forest full of dangers on our doorstep. Do you really think we’re scared of whatever you have to say?” she asks, tilting her head to regard the caretaker coolly.

Vanessa Tinton smiles shakily before stepping into the fireplace, giving Lily a grateful look before she’s swept away in a whoosh of emerald. Black whistles appreciatively.

“Glad I’ve got you on my side, Evans. Are you going to hold my hand through this ordeal?”

“Oh, honestly,” Lily mutters, fed up already of the Muggle world being treated like some side-show attraction at a theme park.

She feels an odd boost of power though, as Filch goes purple in the face and the remaining students, those that did seem a bit nervous, now stand more confidently, laughing his comments off. It’s one of the rare occasions in her time at Hogwarts where she has the upper hand, knowledge that most of this lot do not. Black, for all of his enthusiasm in Muggle Studies, probably hasn’t the foggiest idea of the differences between a lightbulb and a tin opener.

Mary hadn’t been able to understand why Lily had opted to take the class in the first place, being Muggle-born herself and having to juggle it with Divination and Care of Magical Creatures. It would have been easier and less time consuming to take only two electives, Lily knows, but what with everything that’s happening in the outside world, with how Muggle-borns are being treated, Lily feels she owes it to herself to know exactly how uneducated her Pure-blooded peers are, no matter how many uncomfortable questions it raises.

“Are you ready?” she asks when the other students have gone and it’s just her, Black and Edie alone with a scowling Filch.

“Born ready, Evans,” Black drawls, while Edie rolls her eyes behind him.

Black goes through the Floo first, chucking the powder in and speaking clearly as though he’s done it a hundred times in his life. Which of course he probably has. Lily’s only travelled by Floo a couple of times before when visiting Dorcas and it’s not her favourite method of transportation in the world. Still, she lets Black have his moment in his comfort zone, knowing it will soon be over.

It’s Lily’s turn last, and Filch saves his worst look for her as she climbs into the fireplace.

“The White Hart,” she says, trying not to inhale any soot; the last thing she needs is to end up in some old Scottish biddy’s living room by mistake.

Tucking her elbows against her sides, Lily squeezes her eyes shut as she begins to move, preferring not to see the many fireplaces flashing by. She lands in an ungraceful kneeling position, but at least she’s managed not to fall over as she did last time, ending up sprawled on the floor of Dorcas’ cousins’ kitchen floor.

“No need to bow before me, Evans,” Black says above her, smirking, but he holds out a hand to help her up and Lily, still a bit shaky, takes it.

As she gets to her feet, Lily takes in her surroundings. They’re in a pub, and a clearly magical one at that. There’s exposed brickwork on the walls, beams overhead like in the Cokeworth local, The Copper Kettle. An animated buzz is all around them; the pub is busy. The barman is leaned across the bar, engaged in a game of wizarding chess with a customer, and the beer taps are pouring themselves. Two wizards in kilts are conversing over two large tankards in broad Scottish accents; a woman sat at a table nearby is idly stirring a cup of tea with her wand, and no one seems at all bothered by the fact that nine teenagers just dropped out of the fireplace.

“Right! Everyone here? Good job. I want you all to hand your wands to me - yes, Mr Flint, don’t look like that, Muggles don’t have wands - and you’re all to have a read of the paper I give to you.”

Professor Laughton hands out paper - actual, honest-to-goodness lined paper; Lily grins at the sight of it - with a ticklist on it, detailing things that they can do while out and about in the city. Lily scans it with glee. Buy a souvenir. Travel using 3 methods of transportation. Order a meal.

“Now, it’s not a competition. You don’t have to do all of these things, they’re just suggestions. You’ll each have a guidebook, and the name of the hotel we’re booked in at is written at the top of your paper.”

“Sir?” Amber McCroy’s hand shoots into the air, shaking slightly. “Sir, aren’t we staying here?”

“Oh no, Miss McCroy. We’re staying in a Muggle hotel. As I said, the name is on the paper. How you get there is up to you, although I must ask you all to be back by eight in the evening.”

“Are you - are you not coming with us, sir?” Oliver Lyons asks.

“And how do you propose I split myself into three, Mr Lyons?”

“But - but we don’t have our wands!” Liam Boot protests. “What if something happens to us?”

Professor Laughton smiles. “I have my methods of keeping track of you all, Mr Boot. If there’s anybody who feels they are not up to the excursion, they can of course go back to school.”

Lily glances around quickly; no one moves, although she’s sure that Amber McCroy’s hand twitches.

“Very good!” Professor Laughton says, clapping his hands together with finality. “Well, the city awaits you, ladies and gentlemen. Off you go!”

There’s a pause in which the students all look at each other uncertainly. Professor Laughton doesn’t linger and instead heads to the bar with, unless Lily is very much mistaken, a spring in his step. Dorcas gives Lily a ‘what-do-you-reckon?’ sort of look, and Lily shrugs in reply. Dorcas grins and then turns to the other two in her group, apparently making a plan. The other group have sat themselves at a table, studying the paper intently, Flint looking as surly as ever.

Lily turns to Edie and Black who, she realises with a jolt, are looking at her expectantly.

“Well?” Edie prompts.

“Well what?”

“What do you think we should do first?” Edie asks, flapping the bit of paper in Lily’s face.

Black grins at her. “Looks like you’re in charge, Evans.”

::

Being in charge of Sirius Black is tiring work, Lily soon realises, and she feels a sort of pang of empathy for Potter.

They’ve been on the streets of Edinburgh for half an hour and already Black has nearly been knocked over by a car three times due to not looking when crossing the road. On the fourth time, Lily lets out a strangled curse of exasperation as she yanks him back on to the pavement by his arm.

“Don’t you live in London?” she asks him testily, punching the button on the pelican crossing and indicating the illuminated ‘wait’ sign. “Surely you’ve crossed a road before in your life.”

Black, far from being disheartened at his flirtations with death, looks delighted. “Mother never let us go out really,” he says, jabbing the button again and again with his index finger with such obvious enthusiasm that people nearby stare. “It’s mostly Floo and Side-Along Apparation if we have to go anywhere. We don’t exactly go out and mingle with the Muggles.”

“Sh,” Edie says, looking around nervously, and Lily notices too that the other pedestrians waiting to cross are now frowning at Sirius and the words coming out of his mouth.

Thankfully, the traffic stops then and Black jumps at the beeping noise. “The green man means go, remember,” Lily hisses in his ear. Hopefully he’ll just pass for someone out on day release or something, she thinks desperately. She has to drag him across the road, because Black is showing every intention of wanting to stop and watch the lights change again.

“There’s a cafe there,” Edie says, pointing, and Lily could kiss her in relief. She already needs a sit-down, time to regroup, and definitely caffeine in her system to handle a whole two days of this.

They take a seat around a table at the back of the room. Black immediately picks up the menu in interest and Lily digs out some money from the pocket of her jeans.

“Do you want me to order?” she offers.

Edie shakes her head. “I’ll get it. My nan’s a Muggle; I’ve handled Muggle money before and I could do with the practice.”

“Pumpkin juice for me!” Black says.

“Er -” Lily catches Edie’s eye, smiling. “I don’t think they’ll serve that, Black. It’s not actually a common juice drink.”

“Really?” Black frowns down at the menu in his hands. “What, and pomegranate is acceptable?”

Lily shrugs. “Sorry. Way of the Muggle world.”

“Just a coffee then,” Black mutters, replacing the menu in its stand with a sulky look.

As Edie joins the queue of customers waiting to be served, Lily smoothes out the tick-list on to the table. Black peers over too, and taps his finger down on the first suggestion.

“I want to do that.”

“The transport one? I could have guessed. I warn you, I’m not getting on a motorbike.”

Black tilts back on his chair. “I can live with that. I want to try one of those Muggle buses. Remus says they’re better than the Knight Bus.”

“Remus is right,” Lily says, although her own experiences with the buses in Cokeworth leave much to be desired. Black is gazing thoughtfully around the cafe, and Lily finds herself genuinely curious when she asks, “So, you don’t get out much at home?”

“Hm?” Black brings his attention back to her with what seems like a great deal of effort. Lily tries not to feel offended that he apparently finds the specials board more interesting than her. “Oh. Yeah, well, Mother doesn’t trust many people and she doesn’t much like Muggles, so it’s not like she took us to the local park or anything.”

“But - how do you get things? How do you shop, for example?”

Black frowns. He considers the question for a long time. “We go to wizarding places when we need to shop. Diagon and Knockturn, you know. We have people who come to the house with some things, tailors and such, if we need robes or whatever. And we have Kreacher too, he does a bit.”

“Kreacher?”

“Our house-elf,” Black explains.

Lily isn’t even surprised. Of course he has a house-elf.

“But - what about school? Friends? Before you came to Hogwarts, I mean. Dorcas says some wizards and witches are taught at home.”

“They are,” Black says. “We had a governess and Mother taught us our history.”

“Like History of Magic?”

“No, I meant - our history. The Black history.”

“You had history lessons on your own family?” Lily asks, eyebrows raised.

The Evans family have a cupboard full of shoeboxes stacked on top of one another and overflowing, full of things like black-and-white photos of dead relatives, Lily’s first tooth, a lock of Petunia’s hair from her first cut, Grandpa Evans’ war medal, Grandma Dixon’s wedding ring.

“Has this turned into Pure-blood Studies?” Black says, practically snatching the coffee from Edie’s hand when she returns to the table and glaring into the contents of the mug. “Shouldn’t I be quizzing you on how you live?”

Edie lowers herself into the chair beside Lily, keeping the table between her and Black. His demeanour has changed throughout Lily’s questioning; he’s guarded now, one hand around his mug, holding it close, the other arm across his stomach, his shoulders up. His dark hair is falling into his eyes and he swipes at it, pushing it back; it’s such a Potter gesture that Lily nearly smiles.

It’s probably one of the few times she’s seen Black on his own, properly on his own, without any of the other three nearby or likely to spring up at any given moment. Lily realises with some shock that this is Sirius Black on the defensive. She’s used to seeing Potter raking his hands through his hair and across his neck whenever he’s stressed out by something; she knows the way Remus’ eyes go sideways and a blush creeps on to his cheeks; she’s accustomed to Pettigrew’s high-pitched, nervous laughter when he’s unsure of something in class. She hasn’t, however, ever seen Sirius Black look quite so out of place as he does now in this Muggle cafe, answering questions about his home-life.

She blows on her tea to cool it down and catches his gaze across the table, holds it. “Okay,” she says agreeably. “Fire away. Any questions you want.”

Black blinks for a moment. He scratches just below his left ear.

“All right,” he says, his voice deeper and more certain now the ball is back in his court. “So, you went to one of those what’s it’s - a primary school?”

They’ve just started to cover the Muggle educational system in lessons. Lily smiles.

“Well remembered. Yeah, I did. I went to Moulder’s Green Primary School in Cokeworth. That’s where I live,” she adds. “Before I got my letter I was going to go to the secondary modern school where Tu - where my older sister goes.”

Edie frowns. “I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“You never asked.”

“So she’s a Muggle? I mean, you’re the only magical person in your family?”

“I am,” Lily says, fiddling with the sugar sachets on the table.

She doesn’t really want to go into detail about her relationship with her sister with Edie March and Sirius Black, and perhaps Black senses it, because he quickly asks another question.

“How did you get to school? Bus?”

Lily shakes her head. “Oh, no. I walked. It wasn’t far away, really.”

“But you have been on a bus before?” Black presses, like it’s the most interesting thing in the world.

“Of course I have,” Lily says. “To Muggles and Muggle-borns, that’s a bit like asking if they’ve travelled by Floo. I mean, we have a car but we don’t use it much unless we’re going on holiday to the seaside or to visit my grandparents in Halifax. Dad gets the train to work and my mum can walk to the shops. We’re mostly keeping the car because my dad has promised to teach my sister to learn to drive in it.”

“A car?” Black asks, a grin spreading on his face. “Is she learning now? Can you drive?”

“You have to be seventeen to drive,” Edie says, looking quickly at Lily as if to confirm that’s correct.

Lily nods.

“I expect I won’t bother,” Lily says, shrugging. “Dad says it costs more than it’s worth and when I’m seventeen I’ll just learn to Apparate, won’t I?”

“I’m going to get a motorbike,” Black says; he’s been saying the same thing since their first lesson on Muggle transportation, when Professor Laughton had told them all about motorbikes and showed them pictures and Black had stared at it like it was the most glorious thing in the world.

Edie grimaces. “My uncle had one of those. He’s a Muggle. He ended up breaking his leg.”

“Wizards are harder to break,” Black says with all the confidence of someone who considers himself indestructible.

He finishes the rest of his coffee and bounces in his chair slightly, looking a lot more like his usual self. He eyes Lily and Edie expectantly.

“Are you ready? I think we should tick off the transport thing, and then we can check out some shops. I’m quite good with Muggle money,” he adds, at Lily’s raised eyebrows. “I bought these myself, I’ll have you know.” He gestures down at his Muggle clothes, a simple grey t-shirt and faded jeans. “The Potters took me shopping when I stayed with them once and we went to some Muggle shops. I’m not a complete Pure-blood idiot.”

“Not a complete one, no,” Lily murmurs, but she can’t help but smile at him and the reappearance of his energy, and that’s more than she expected would ever happen when she woke up this morning.

::

It’s a veritable case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ when Sirius does finally get to go on a bus. It’s an all-round horrible experience, Sirius soon realises, culminating in being squashed very close to a group of chattering, excitable tourists, Evans awkwardly trying to read the guidebook and March who-knows-where, lost in the crush of people all piled on, and the floor lurching beneath him every time the bus rumbles to a halt.

“How is this worse than the Knight Bus, exactly?” he asks Evans, after having to grab on to a man’s rucksack to keep him from falling over when the bus stops suddenly in the Edinburgh traffic. “At least they have beds. And it’s fast.”

“And you end up losing half your breakfast,” Evans replies, managing to regain her balance and her dignity a lot more than Sirius. “We’re going to one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city; it’s bound to be busy.”

Sirius makes a noise of contempt. He’s already decided they’re going to get one of those taxi cars back, which hopefully won’t be as crammed full of people as this bus is. Who knew that a city could be so busy? They’re also in what Evans described as ‘rush hour’, whatever that means; apparently it has something to do with all the Muggles in the world on the roads at the same time, lots of swearing and blaring of horns.

Despite himself, Sirius can kind of see Walburga’s logic in keeping her children away from all the noise and clamour of Muggle London. As of this moment he’s uncomfortably close to another man’s armpit, and it’s not an experience he’s keen to repeat any time soon. He certainly can’t envision his parents in this kind of scenario; even during family meals, the Black’s seat themselves an appropriate distance away from other people.

At last they get to leave the bus, with lots of shoving and elbowing people out of the way. March appears again, looking rumpled and agitated. Evans is the only one still smiling, and she points with the guidebook at a large steeple visible over the surrounding buildings.

“That’s it over there,” she says brightly. “St Giles’ Cathedral.”

Sirius has never been in to a church before, although he’s heard about them from Professor Laughton and Remus. Professor Laughton had been all facts; Remus had painted a picture of duty, of Sunday’s and Christmases spent in a quiet, dusty building. He’d said they could be beautiful buildings, but Remus says that about libraries, and so Sirius isn’t prepared to be impressed when he rounds the corner and takes in the full sight of St Giles’ Cathedral.

“Pretty cool, isn’t it?” Evans says, grinning by his side.

March nods, although Sirius isn’t sure if ‘cool’ is exactly the right word. It certainly is impressive, with its turrets and large windows and crowned steeple. It reminds him a bit of Hogwarts, in a way, years of history right in front of him. He doesn’t want to be a Remus and start waxing poetic about an old building, though, so he just grunts in response. Evans gives him a sideways, knowing look, and tugs him inside.

It’s hushed inside despite the fact that they are by no means the only tourists there. All the footsteps seem quietened, the voices lowered as people wander up and down aisles, taking in the stained-glass windows, the ceiling, the archways, the monuments to those buried long before Sirius’ great-great-great grandfather had even drawn breath.

“They have a shop,” Evans says after a while, finding him staring at the images on one of the windows, an impressive looking man with a crown. “We can buy a souvenir, if you like.”

Sirius isn’t sure how long they’ve spent in the church. He spots March nearby, lighting a candle and depositing some Muggle coins in to a box.

“What’s that for?” he asks.

Evans looks where he’s looking, and smiles, a bit sadly. “Oh, sometimes people light candles for people who have died. A way to remember them. Churches often accept donations to keep things running.”

Sirius nods. “Right. Well - I don’t think I want a souvenir,” he says; when he had thought ‘souvenir’, he had thought of something obnoxiously Scottish like a teddy bear with bagpipes in a kilt, something he could display in the dormitory to boast about his trip to Peter, James and Remus. He doesn’t think anything from St Giles’ Cathedral will have quite the same effect. “I’ll give some money, though.”

With Evans’ help he selects what he thinks is an appropriate amount to leave in one of the donation boxes before leaving. March rejoins them moments later, her eyes slightly watery; Sirius wants to ask who it is she’s lost, but doubts he’d get an answer. Evans touches her briefly on the arm, March smiles at her, and the sun seems to shine brighter. Evans is good at things like this, Sirius realises. He finds he wants to ask her more about her life, but doesn’t think he’d get an answer there either, and he’s quite enjoying her looking at him without disdain for once.

They visit other places suggested in the guidebook, all within walking distance so they manage to avoid getting on a bus again. Sirius spends a while in a small souvenir shop, trying not to knock over shot glasses and globes with Edinburgh monuments inside and eventually selecting the most garish teddy bear he can find. He also gets a postcard with St Giles’ Cathedral on the front and writes a scrawled message to James, using the Muggle post for the first time in his life. He’s feeling oddly proud of himself, if a little dubious of the method, as he slips the postcard into the red box. His tongue feels fuzzy from where he licked the stamp.

“I don’t think it was quite necessary to use as much saliva as you did,” Evans says conversationally as they walk through the Old Town towards Edinburgh castle.

Sirius shoots her a wounded, sideways look. “Why does everybody tell me that?”

Evans snorts, but Sirius thinks she’s rather coming round to liking him.

::

They get to the hotel with five minutes to spare. They’re the last ones back, and there’s obvious relief on Professor Laughton’s face when they do arrive in the hotel foyer.

“Thank Merlin,” Dorcas mutters, striding over to meet Lily. “We were beginning to think Black had got you all killed.”

“Hey. I’m not deaf, Meadowes.”

Lily grins. “Minimal damage sustained, all things considered. How was your day?”

Dorcas shoots a dark look over her shoulder to where Vanessa Tinton and Liam Boot are stood.

“Let’s just say it’s lucky I didn’t have my wand,” she says. “Boot would have definitely been on the receiving end of a Bat-Bogey Hex. Idiot nearly got us lost seven times, once on a train. I thought Tinton would never stop crying.”

Lily pulls a sympathetic face, just as Professor Laughton claps his hands to get their attention and waves the students over. They all stand in a semi-circle, facing him.

“Glad you all made it!” he says, his gaze lingering on Lily, Edie and Black. “I trust you all had an - educational day out. Now, you’ll be sharing rooms, but not in your groups. Boys, you’re in rooms 205 and 206; girls, rooms 208 and 209. Tomorrow we’ll meet for breakfast before going to explore Arthur’s Seat - those of you who have read the guidebook will know what I’m talking about.”

There’s a pause as a few students shuffle their feet and exchange guilty looks. Lily, who had skimmed through the guidebook, grins excitedly - she’s been looking forward to visiting Arthur’s Seat. She tries to catch Sirius’ eye, but he’s looking at Professor Laughton with an expression of polite confusion and Lily knows he’s envisioning some chair belonging to a bloke called Arthur.

Lily’s only ever stayed in a hotel once before, after her Aunt Theresa and Uncle Nigel’s wedding when Lily was 10. She and Petunia had been flower girl’s in floaty pastel pink dresses that had clashed horribly with Lily’s hair.

She remembers her great-aunt Rita getting drunk on the free bar before the speeches and deciding to make her own; Lily swinging off of her father’s arm on the dancefloor, his jacket discarded and his smart bowtie coming loose; in the end all the Evans family, even Petunia, even Grandma Iris with her bad hip, had been dragged on to the floor to do the Twist.

Lily doesn’t remember getting in to her hotel room and only assumes that her dad must have carried her up, but she woke up in soft white sheets with Petunia’s hair in her face, both of them sharing a small single bed. Lily had stayed where she was, not wanting to wake anyone up, listening to her parents snore-sprinkled breathing from the next bed over and trying to dislodge Petunia’s elbow from her ribcage without waking her and breaking the spell of the whole trip.

Now, Lily smiles fondly at the two twin beds in this hotel in Edinburgh, their white sheets so familiar, and then jumps on to the one nearest the door.

“I’ll take this one, yeah?”

“Suits me,” Dorcas says easily. “If we’re attacked in the night, you’ll be the first to go.”

“It would probably only be Sirius,” Lily muses.

Dorcas quirks an eyebrow at her. “Sirius, is he now?”

Lily throws a pillow at her.

She’d only been joking about the thought of Sirius coming into their room, but in less than half an hour, when both Lily and Dorcas have changed into their pyjamas and are lying top-to-toe on one bed, talking about the day, there’s a knock on their door. Well, it’s less of a knock and more of a thumping, and Lily rolls off the bed, opens the door, and before she can say or do anything, Sirius Black has moved past her into the room.

“Hey, your room is nicer than ours!” Sirius exclaims, looking around. “You get flowers on the nightstand. That’s not on that I don’t; I like a nice floral arrangement as well as the next person. Is that a pen and notepad on that desk? Posh, Evans.”

Lily snatches the pen up and chucks it at him; he catches it reflexively. “For your pen collection,” she explains, and a grin spreads on his face.

“How touching you remembered.”

“We didn’t order room service, Black,” Dorcas says, spinning around from where she had been laying on her back to on her front, propping her elbows up on a pillow. “What are you doing here?”

“Flint snores like a hippogriff,” Sirius says, looking at them imploringly. This close to him, Lily marvels at the fact that he really does have extraordinarily long eyelashes. As if reading her mind, he flutters them in her direction. “Can I hang around here for a bit?”

Lily thinks of Professor Laughton, and of the trouble they could be in if they’re caught. Sirius, for being out of his room, and them, for harbouring him. The hesitation must show on her face, because before she can finish her first word, Sirius has interrupted.

“Laughton’s down at the bar,” Sirius tells them. “He’s not interested in what’s going on. Boot and McCroy are already snogging. Please, Meadowes? Evans? Please?”

Dorcas gives Lily a look. It’s a look that says, quite clearly, that this decision is up to Lily and Lily alone. She wonders, fleetingly, when Sirius Black became her responsibility, and then wonders when she got to the point where she doesn’t exactly mind.

“Oh, all right,” she says, and Sirius’ grin gets wider. The effect on his face is slightly deranged, but more tolerably so than Lily has ever seen it. “But take those boots off if you’re thinking of getting on the bed.”

::

“The salamanders in the Hufflepuff common room, in third year?”

“Yes. Although I have to give credit to Peter for knowing how to keep the salamanders alive for long enough before the plan was executed. Poor things wouldn’t have lasted in my school bag.”

“Yuck. All right, that one was obvious; you three looked far too smug at breakfast the next morning. The leaping toadstools in the Charms corridor?”

“Not guilty. Although we’d love to find out who that was. That was hilarious.”

“Hmm. The puffskeins that ended up on McGonagall’s hat?”

“James. All James.”

Sirius’ look is one of pure nostalgia, a fond smile on his face. Lily rolls her eyes, although she finds she’s smiling too. Weaning the truth about Sirius Black’s pranking history is surprisingly easy - he’d looked eager at the chance to show off his creativity, truth be told.

She’s surprised about the leaping toadstools, though. She and Mary had a bet on that, and Lily had been positive that Sirius and the other three were the ones behind it.

“The bundimun secretion in the Slytherin dungeon?” she asks now, sitting up in interest.

Sirius pauses. Lily arches an eyebrow.

“Remus,” Sirius says finally, looking furtive as he says it.

“Remus!”

“Well, all of us,” Sirius says. “But the initial idea? Remus John Lupin, thank you very much. Ha! What do you make of your precious little noodle now, eh?”

He sits back against the headboard, a triumphant grin on his face. At the opposite end of the bed, Lily can’t help but laugh. Dorcas had fallen asleep on the other bed hours ago and is still gently snoring now.

“I think you, Potter and Pettigrew corrupted him,” Lily says, but there’s no malice behind her words.

“Oh, Evans. Remus likes a good prank as much as the next person - well, apart from you, obviously, who would never dream of pranking anyone. Especially not putting frogspawn in your sister’s teacup over the summer holidays.”

“How did you hear about that!” Lily cries.

Sirius dissolves into laughter, making Dorcas murmur in her sleep and roll over. Lily glances at her quickly, batting Sirius on the arm to make him be quiet.

“Alice told Frank, and Frank told us,” Sirius says. “Honestly, Evans, we thought it was brilliant.”

He’s looking at her with something akin to admiration, still chuckling.

“Well, sometimes Petunia - that’s my sister - she deserves it. She’s so uptight about things, especially anything to do with magic, and -”

Lily breaks off as she realises that Sirius has stopped laughing, and is instead looking at her intently as she talks.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asks.

“I don’t know many people with brothers or sisters,” Sirius says with a small shrug. “James, Remus and Peter are all only children. Well, Pete has some sort of weird step-sister but they hardly ever see each other, and Marlene has Alfie, but they get on so well - it’s different, isn’t it?”

“Petunia and I used to get on,” Lily says, some odd instinct to protect Petunia’s character stirring feebly inside her. “She’s not all bad.”

Sirius nods, looking thoughtful. “Yeah, Reggie and I did. He’s not terrible, I suppose - just a bit soft. Hangs around with the wrong crowd, you know?”

Lily’s thoughts snap to Severus, and coughs pointedly, glancing over at the clock on the wall. They’ve been talking for hours.

“It’s late,” she says. “Liam and Amber must have stopped snogging by now.”

Sirius slides off the bed at once, landing on both feet with a firm thump.

“Right you are, Evans,” he says, saluting. “Thanks for tonight.”

“It’s been educational,” she says wryly.

Sirius pauses at the door, looking at her from over his shoulder. “Don’t go telling all our secrets now, Evans, or we’d have to kill you.” He taps the side of his nose, giving her a conspiratorial wink. “Either that or make you one of us.”

::

“What time did he leave last night?” Dorcas demands over breakfast the next morning, leaning so far across the table that her hair nearly falls into her porridge.

Lily takes a bite of her bacon and eggs, feeling oddly cagey.

“It’s not my fault that you fell asleep,” she says. “If you were so bothered about Sirius and I being chaperoned, for goodness sake -”

“Sirius Black stayed in your room last night?” Edie March says, nearly sploshing orange juice down her front as she whirls around to face Lily.

“He didn’t stay,” Lily says, a flush creeping up on her face. “He just - visited, that’s all. He left not long after this one -” and here Lily pauses to jab her fork accusingly in Dorcas’ direction, “- passed out.”

“What did you talk about?” Edie asks, curiosity writ large on her features. She glances over to the other table where Sirius is sat, deep in conversation with Liam Boot and Amber McCroy. “I’ve always thought he’s so interesting.”

“I thought Potter was more your type,” Lily says mildly.

Edie scoffs. “Oh, Potter is good looking enough, I suppose -”

“You suppose? You agreed to go on that Hogsmeade date with him!”

“Yes, and that didn’t turn out as I hoped. He spent half the time skulking about with Pettigrew! I wouldn’t be surprised if he needed his friends on all his dates, to hold his hand for him. Potter’s probably too immature for me anyway.”

“And you think Sirius is the font of maturity, do you?” Lily asks. Out of the corner of her eye she can see Sirius attempting to balance his fork on his nose.

Edie, however, seems blissfully unaware of this, or perhaps she just doesn’t care, because she fixes Lily with a hungry look and demands to know again what exactly they spoke about last night.

“Oh, um, not much,” Lily says, flustered now under their stares. Even Dorcas is looking curiously at her. “I mean, for a bit we spoke about our families -” Lily hesitates, not wanting to go in to too much detail in that regard; besides wanting to discuss her own turbulent relationship with her sister with Edie March, there’s also the fact that Sirius had spoken to her for the first time about Regulus. Lily had seen something in his expression that she’d never seen before. He’d seemed - sad, almost, and it didn’t seem fair on him to be sat gossiping about it over the breakfast table. “Um, a bit about that, and I asked him about some of the more infamous pranks -”

“Ooh,” Edie says excitedly. “Tell me, was It really them who glued Toby Johnson’s tongue to the roof of his mouth last year, because -”

Because what exactly Lily never gets to find out, because then Professor Laughton gets to his feet, calling for the attention of the students. Lily is glad of the excuse to fall silent, and turns her back on Edie to focus on her teacher.

“Right, good morning everyone, I hope that you’ve had enough breakfast. It is now time for us to visit Arthur’s Seat. The same rules as yesterday apply. No magic, no wands, just your maps and your wits! Follow me.”

::

“Come on, Lily, keep up!” Dorcas urges from a few feet ahead, pausing on the grassy slope to look back at where Lily is trudging up the worn-down pathway made by thousands of people visiting Arthur’s Seat over the years.

Lily grumbles something in response, but luckily her retort is lost on the wind. Her rude hand gesture, however, is seen perfectly from Dorcas’ vantage point.

“Lily Angela Evans!” Dorcas says loudly, her eyebrows shooting up on her forehead as she tsks and shakes her head. “Someone should have gone to bed earlier than the wee hours of the morning, I think!”

“Ah, Meadowes, don’t give her a hard time. Everyone knows I’m irresistible.”

Lily nearly jumps out of her skin as Sirius appears suddenly at her side. A grin is just about visible through the wind whipping his dark hair across his face; Lily feels the temptation to push him down the slope mounting, but breathes deeply, inhaling the crisp air, and feels the notion pass. They manage to make the climb to the peak of Arthur’s Seat without anybody being seriously injured by the other, and the whole thing feels a lot like progress.

Once at the top, Sirius slings his bag down on the grass and quickly follows suit, sprawling himself out on the ground. Propped up on his elbows, legs stretched out in front of him, he tilts his face to where the sun is trying to battle its way through the cloud cover.

Lily stays standing, side by side with Dorcas, and takes in the view of Edinburgh splayed out before them.

Edinburgh Castle is visible in the midst of the city laid out beneath them. Lily feels a tingle down her spine. She loves the outdoors, the freshness of the air, the wind on her face, the open ground beneath her boots and all around her green hills and the vastness of the sky. It reminds her of summers spent in the woods, her childhood spent camping with her parents.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” she murmurs.

Dorcas, stood so close to Lily that Lily can feel her shivering, gives an incredulous look. She looks as if she’s struggling to see the beauty.

“Yeah, bloody fantastic,” Dorcas mutters.

“Here you go,” Sirius says, getting to his feet and shrugging off his coat. He holds it out towards Dorcas, who eyes it for a moment; Sirius shakes the coat in her direction. “I’m naturally warm-blooded, Meadowes. Take the coat. You’re making me a bit nippy just looking at you.”

She does so, muttering a quiet ‘thanks’. Sirius half-shrugs like it’s no big deal, and turns back to look at the view. The coat is ridiculously large on Dorcas, but she looks instantly happier.

“You’re not quite so terrible, are you?” Lily says to him after, when Dorcas has wandered off to take photos with a Muggle camera.

He cocks his head to one side, his left hand cupped around his ear as if he’s hard of hearing. “I’m sorry, was that a compliment there? It didn’t particularly sound like one, but even so -”

“I’d take it, if I were you,” she says, her eyes fixed on Edinburgh Castle below them.

“My parents would love it here,” she says, breaking the comfortable silence that falls between them. “They’re very outdoorsy, especially my dad. He used to take me camping all the time when I was little. Petunia hated it, said that it was too cold and too wet and too muddy.”

“Petunia sounds like a right boring bint, if you don’t mind me saying so, Evans. If you like, I can point you in the right direction at Zonko’s to a particularly vicious set of nose-biting teacups that would go lovely with a couple of servings of frogspawn tea.”

Lily can feel herself beginning to grin despite herself. She wants to ask more about Regulus, about his family, but can’t think of how to subtly work it into the conversation. It’ll probably be something of a moment ruiner, she thinks, and it’s not as if they’re exactly friends now. Friendlier, maybe, but not friends -

“Say cheese!” Dorcas’ voice bellows out of nowhere as she suddenly pops up in front of them, holding the camera out. “C’mon, Black, scoot a little closer -”

Lily is pulled into Sirius’ side, one of his arms clamped firmly around her shoulders. He’s so forceful that Lily nearly falls over a mound in the grass, but Sirius steadies her.

“Don’t go falling for me, Evans,” he says, his voice ridiculously low and put on.

The flash goes off before she really comprehends what is happening, and the resulting Polaroid is this: Sirius, grinning wildly, his hair flying everywhere; and Lily caught mid-laugh, squeezed under Sirius’ arm.

“Can I keep this, Meadowes?” he asks after. “I’m starting a sort of collage on my bedroom wall to please Mother and Father; I reckon a Muggle photo will be just the ticket. You don’t mind, do you, Evans? I think it’s wild that they don’t move!”

“Be my guest,” she says, laughing.

Sirius tucks the photo into the front pocket of his bag, looking delighted, and Lily realises that this, surprisingly - bitingly cold winds, no magic, and Sirius Black for company - is one of the best holidays away from Hogwarts she’s had in a long, long time.

Chapter Text

Late April 1975

Peter,

Hoping this letter finds you well, son.

Maureen and I are abroad at the moment, enjoying some well deserved sun and relaxation. England never really was for me, I think, and the climate change seems to be doing Sharon a world of good. Sorry we missed you at Easter - had to go up to Manchester to visit Maz’s mum and dad. You know these things can’t be helped.

I hope you had a good time at your mum's. Not sure when I'll be able to write next. Things as they are, probably best that we don’t see each other for a bit. I know you understand.

Keep well.

Dad.

Peter stares at the letter, not even half a sheet of paper long. Paper, not parchment, Peter notes dully, and written in what looks to be one of those pen thingymajigs that Sirius is so keen on. He even turns the letter over in his hand, checking the back, just in case there’s something he’s missed. There’s not.

Nothing.

He looks up, but the owl that delivered it has already taken flight. It takes Peter a moment to realise that the blasted bird has taken his slice of toast right from his hand as well. He didn’t recognise it anyway, the bird, and suddenly he’s not so hungry. He glances down at the letter again; it doesn’t take him more than twenty seconds to re-read it. It looks sloppily written, careless; there’s a tea stain on the upper corner by his name, and Peter stares at this for several long seconds before balling the whole thing up in his fist.

Abroad - abroad where? And since when was his dad a travelling man; since when was England not for him? Peter doesn’t understand - and he didn’t have a good time with his mum watching over him like a hawk the whole week; he’d missed James, on holiday visiting relatives in India; he’d missed writing to Sirius, who had been on a Muggle Studies trip and forbidden from receiving owls; he’d missed Remus, shut away doing whatever he did during the hols when he wasn’t with his mates - it certainly hadn’t been writing to Peter, that’s for sure. None of them had checked in on him, actually.

They’re not here now, either. It’s rare for them to miss breakfast, but a cursory glance along the Gryffindor table reveals not a single one of his mates. Maybe they’re checking on the potion, Peter thinks. The next stage in their plan to become Animagi has been coming along quite well, according to James; he’s the best of the lot of them at potion-brewing, and it’s James that’s been checking on it dutifully every day from where they’d been secretly making it in an underground passageway beneath the school.

Maybe I’ll go check to see if that’s where they are, Peter thinks. He gets to his feet, still holding the crumpled letter in his fist. He shoves it into the pocket of his robes. He contemplates just throwing it away, but then he wants to show James, to see what he makes of it.

Probably best that we don’t see each other for a bit. What in the name of Merlin was his dad talking about? All right, so things were getting a bit serious now, if one read the papers. The disappearances. The nutters in masks. But since when was Peter’s dad afraid of things like that? What was he going to do, stay out of the country forever with Maureen and Sharon? Never see Peter again? Just hide away like a - like a Muggle?

He can hear his mother’s voice in his ear. I told you, he’s a good-for-nothing waste of space, Petey. He’ll let you down like did me, mark my words, my boy.

Peter walks without really paying much attention to where he’s going, his mind on other things, and before he knows it he’s outside the statue of a humpbacked witch. They found this passageway a couple of months ago. It leads straight to Honeydukes, but more importantly it’s been where they’ve been brewing the potion to help them become Animagi. Peter taps the witch’s hump with his wand, glancing around beforehand to make sure he’s not being watched, and then heaves himself up and into the passage that opens up before him.

“James?” he calls, into the darkness. There’s no reply, just his own voice echoing back at him. “Sirius? Remus? Hello-oo?”

He waits for a few more moments, deliberating whether or not to go down and check on the potion himself, but then decides against it. Last time, he tripped over Sirius’ foot and would have knocked the cauldron over had James not grabbed him by the neck and pulled him back (“Honestly, Pete, you’ve got to be more careful,” James had sighed, while Sirius looked murderous, which hadn’t really been fair really, considering it had been his foot that had tripped him up in the first place). No, best to leave the potion alone while he’s on his own.

He clambers out of the passageway, and the witch’s hump has only just settled back into place when Peter hears footsteps. He lifts his head expectantly, but it’s not any of his friends. It’s Joseph Mulciber.

Peter shoves his hands into his pockets, keeping his gaze lowered, and goes to walk past him. One of Mulciber’s meaty hands reaches out, clasping Peter by the shoulder. Peter shakes him off, his hand gripping his wand in his pocket.

“Steady, Pettigrew. Someone’s jumpy. I was just going to say - did you drop something?”

Mulciber is looking at something on the floor behind Peter; when he turns his head, he sees the crumpled up letter at the base of the statue. It must have fallen out when Peter was climbing out of the passage. He bends down to pick it up, but Mulciber darts forward, grabbing it before he can.

“Hey!” Peter shouts.

“What’s the matter, Pettigrew? Is it important? Why are you down here by yourself, anyway? Got no Potter to protect you?”

“I don’t need James to protect me,” Peter says, although he wishes his voice sounded even halfway convincing.

Mulciber snorts. “Right. What’s this then? Got anything to do with where you lot sneak off to all the time?”

Peter’s hands turn cold. He knows that Snape - and consequently, Mulciber - haven’t failed to notice that once a month, Remus disappears, and more often than not one of the other’s will stay up late to wait for him, or slip down to the Hospital Wing in the early hours after sunrise so that Remus has a friendly face to wake up to.

Personally Peter thinks that they’re idiots not to have worked it out - it’s not hard to, really, once you work out the pattern - but still, the thought of what would happen to Remus if the likes of the Slytherins found out what he was makes him feel as if his stomach has turned to lead.

“Piss off, Mulciber,” he says, his voice finding it’s conviction at last. “It’s just a letter from home.”

“We’ll see,” Mulciber says, and Peter hates him, hates him, hates him. Mulciber unfurls the paper, his eyes scanning over the letter, and a truly ugly smirk appears on his face. “Aww, how sweet. You carry this around with you, Pettigrew? How touching. Although - I don’t know why, to be honest. It seems as if daddy dearest doesn’t have much time for you, does he?”

“You shut your mouth.”

“You mind how you talk to your betters, Pettigrew, or I’ll sew yours shut for you.” Mulciber’s wand is out, pointing directly at Peter’s face as he continues looking at the letter. “My, my. Is your dad a Muggle?”

“My dad’s a wizard!”

“A wizard who writes on this?” Mulciber says, sneering, holding the paper as if it’s something diseased. “Who’s Maureen?”

“None of your business!”

“Ah, so he’s run off with a Muggle, then?” Mulciber says, and his face lights up in a way that makes Peter’s stomach clench when he realises he’s guessed correctly. “Oh I’ve heard about your father. Richard Pettigrew, isn’t that right? It’s all over the Ministry that he’s been sacked - couldn’t do his job properly - my father told me about it. And now he’s left the country in disgrace. Well, no wonder. He’s right, it is for the best. Best for all the filthy Muggle-lovers to get out, to go elsewhere. It’s where embarrassments like your father belong, Pettigrew.”

Peter’s never been in a proper fight before. He’s held James and Sirius back before now, he’s even cheered them on a couple of times, although he’s never felt any desire to join the fray himself. He feels it now though, what they must feel when they get like that, the roaring of blood in his ears. He’s never before thrown a punch, but when his fist lands on the side of Joseph Mulciber’s face, on his cheekbone, Peter feels, for the briefest of seconds, pure and total joy. That is, until the pain sets in, and it feels as though he’s broken his hand.

“Ow - bloody - agh!”

Mulciber doesn’t go down, not like when Sirius punches somebody; he looks dazed for a moment, and then he hisses a spell, spitting out words that Peter doesn’t recognise like venom. Something hits Peter, right in the gut, doubling him over. He falls to the floor, hitting his knees hard, and just about manages to not fall over.

“That,” Mulciber says darkly, “was a very stupid move, Pettigrew.”

Peter gasps as another jet of light hits him in the stomach. The floor rushes up to meet him, he feels his head connect with the stone flags with a crunch. It feels as though he can’t take enough air in, and he rolls over, trying to reach his wand, retching, but as he’s reaching out his hand, Mulciber kicks his wand further away from him. Peter hears it clattering along the stone floor.

“Your father picked the Muggle side and look where it’s got him. You think he’ll be safe, because he’s taken the cowards way out? I doubt it very much. Just like you - you think you’re safe because you hide behind the likes of Black and Potter? Well, look at that, they’re not here to save you now.”

“Mulciber,” Peter manages, his throat rasping; behind Mulciber, he can make out the dim shapes of three people. Three boys. Peter smiles. “You talk too much.”

Mulciber raises his wand again, but before he manages to get the spell out, someone shouts “Levicorpus!” at the same time as someone else yells “Expelliarmus!

Mulciber is whipped into the air, his wand flying out of his hand and hitting the wall.

Peter has the briefest of glimpses of Remus rushing to his side, saying something, before Peter is sick all over the stone floor and mercifully passes out.

::

“Well, I must say, this is a turn up for the books. I’m used to one of you three being in one of my beds,” Madam Pomfrey says, eyeing Remus, James and Sirius disapprovingly. “But Mr Pettigrew? What on earth happened?”

“Mulciber got him with a nasty jinx. We think he hit his head,” James says.

“And where is Mr Mulciber, Mr Potter? Hmm?”

“Dangling by his ankles by that statue of the hag with the humpback,” Sirius says, not an ounce of contriteness in his voice.

“Mr Black!”

“I’m sorry, Madam Pomfrey, but I don’t care. He attacked my mate, all right? So yeah, we left him hanging upside down for a bit to think about what he did. It won’t kill him. Sadly,” Sirius adds in an undertone.

“Look at what he did to Peter!” Remus interjects, a hand on Sirius’ arm.

Sirius, nearly humming with anger, stills slightly at the touch. It’s only for a fraction of a second, but James sees; he stares at Remus’ hand on Sirius’ arm, and then flicks his gaze back up to the Hogwarts matron.

“Will Pete be okay?” he asks.

On the bed, Peter looks pale; there’s a bruise blossoming on his forehead where he’d hit the floor, and Madam Pomfrey said his knuckles were scrapped too, like he’d hit someone. James thinks of the small cut he’d seen on Mulciber’s cheekbone, and nearly swells with pride.

“He’ll be fine, Mr Potter. As soon as he comes round, he’ll be perfectly all right to return to Gryffindor Tower after those ribs heal. And I suggest that’s where you all stay, do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Madam Pomfrey,” Remus answers for them, ushering Sirius into a chair by the bedside as Madam Pomfrey leaves them to it. “For God’s sake, Sirius, sit down. You look like you’re about to kill someone.”

“Yeah, Mulciber,” Sirius growls. “I mean, who does he think he is? Attacking Pete? He knows he’s the weakest of the lot of us -”

“Sirius,” Remus says, shooting a look at Peter’s prone body on the bed. “He’s right there.”

“He’s unconscious,” Sirius says. “And I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s not his fault, is it? It’s just - Mulciber’s scum, that’s all, going after him the way he did.”

“Mulciber’s always been scum,” James says, pulling up another chair and sitting down on it with a heaved sigh. “Good thing we were going to check on the potion when we did.”

“Do you think that’s what Pete was doing?” Remus asks.

“Oh, Merlin, I hope he hasn’t touched it,” Sirius says with a groan. “I’ll end up knocking him out myself if he’s ballsed it up!”

“Sirius, that’s enough,” Remus snaps. “God, just, go for a walk or something, would you? Calm down, snap out of this mood.”

“Oh, excuse me if I’m not exactly cheery, Moony, but one of my friends has just been attacked -”

“Then decide if you’re angry at him or concerned, for all our sanity -”

“Both of you, stop it,” James says, his voice quiet but firm. Remus and Sirius fall silent at once, Sirius still scowling. On the bed, Peter mumbles something incoherent, his eyes flickering open. James leans forward at once, a slow grin spreading on his face. “Hey, look who’s awake. The Hogwarts fighting champion.”

Peter’s eyes are dazed, unfocused. “Wha’?” he mumbles. “James?”

His voice rasps like sandpaper being scratched. Remus hands him a glass of water while James explains what happened.

“Mulciber could have done some serious damage, mate. What were you thinking?” James tries to sound stern, but Peter’s pitiful state is making it hard.

“He was having a go at - at my dad,” Peter says, after he’s gulped down the entirety of the water in one and is now signaling for more.

Remus reaches for the glass, but before he can reach it Sirius knocks his hand to one side and snatches the glass out of Peter’s hand, storming down to the other end of the Hospital Wing.

Peter watches him go, his blue eyes watery and a crease between his brow.

“Is Sirius mad at me?” he asks softly.

“He’s always mad at something,” Remus says.

James sighs. “Don’t worry about it, Pete. He’s livid at Mulciber. We all are. Probably best Sirius has something to do. Anyway. You were saying, about your dad?”

Peter swallows, his head bobbing up and down nervously. “Right, yeah. So - I got this letter, right, from my dad, saying he’s moving away, abroad.”

James feels his eyes widen at this, but he holds back from commenting; Pete looks stressed enough as it is without James adding in his opinion on what a tosser Richard Pettigrew is.

Peter must notice the look on his face though, because he manages a small, wry smile, and says, “Yeah, exactly. With Maureen and Sharon. He says it’s safer there, things being what they are. And anyway, I was upset and looking for you all but I couldn’t find you -”

James’ gut twinges at this: they’d been in Moaning Mrytle’s bathroom, the only place James knows for a fact that Peter won’t set foot in without one of them there with him - (”It’s not that she’s a ghost, James, it’s that it’s a girls toilet.”) - and had been busy planning what to get for Peter’s 15th birthday in a couple of weeks.

“ - I couldn’t find you, so I thought I’d check the potion, in case you were all brewing it without me. On the way out I ran into Mulciber, who saw the letter. He started having a go at my dad, saying he was a filthy Muggle-lover and deserved to be out of the country…”

Peter trails off, and there’s a rare angry look on his face, a tightness around the mouth that James hardly ever sees. Peter is usually the most placid of the lot of them, the slowest fuse to burn. Not that James can blame him, really; if Mulciber had said that tripe in front of him, the Slytherin would have a lot more than a half-hearted punch to deal with.

“Mulciber doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” James says briskly, as Sirius returns with the water. Peter takes it gratefully, drinking half of it in one go before putting the glass back on the bedside table with slightly shaky hands. “It’s madness, all of this anti-Muggle talk lately. Mulciber’s just acting the big man.”

“I’d love to see how cocky they all are out in the real world,” Sirius says, glowering. “I bet they can’t put their wands where their mouths are.”

James thinks of Peter, doubled over on the floor, spluttering for breath; he thinks of Mary MacDonald, hoisted into the air for Mulciber’s amusement; he thinks of the word Mudblood being hissed in the corridors between lessons; and he thinks, sadly, that Sirius is probably wrong.

::

The Gryffindor common room is impossibly loud when Peter is discharged from the Hospital Wing and escorted back to Gryffindor Tower supported by James, Remus and Sirius. It’s a Saturday night and the end of April has brought with it a series of rainy spells in which rain beats relentlessly against the windows; this, coupled with the fact that it’s a Saturday night and the common room is more full of students than usual, it makes Peter’s return to the common room hard to be missed.

Frank Longbottom looks up from the table he’s at, covered in Herbology books and complicated diagrams of plants. “All right, you four?” he says, his thick eyebrows creasing together as he takes in the state of Peter.

“Never better, Frank,” James says, brushing determinedly past him and to their usual spot by the fire. There’s a couple of scrawny looking First Years sat in their place, and Sirius looms over them, looking imposing, and the younger students are just gathering their bags and things together hurriedly to move out of the way when Lily Evans appears, her arms folded across her chest.

“Leave them be, you lot. They were here first.”

“I don’t care,” Sirius says petulantly. “Peter needs to sit down before he falls down.”

“I’m all right,” Peter protests, although it’s a weak one, and he has to grip tighter to James’ arm even as he’s speaking.

Evans’ sharp green gaze flicks over him appraisingly and then softens into something else.

“What happened?” she asks.

“Mulciber got him,” Sirius says darkly. Evans’ mouth twists into a grimace at the name.

“Come sit over here,” she says finally, leading the way to where her friends are. Meadowes is sat with her legs over MacDonald's lap on a sofa, reading a book, and she glances up in surprise as Evans leads the foursome over.

“Mulciber,” Evans says, by way of explanation; MacDonald gives Peter a look of empathy and taps Meadowes’ knees sharply, indicating she move so that Peter can sit down in between them.

“Ta, Evans,” Sirius says gruffly, perching on the arm of the chair she’s sat on, and she smiles briefly at him.

In the weeks that they’ve been back at school following the Easter holidays, something has changed between Sirius and Evans. Peter’s seen it in the way she’ll ask him to pass the marmalade at breakfast in a perfectly cordial way, and he’ll do so without making a comment that’ll cause her to upend the whole thing over his head. Remus has commented on it, the first time, and Sirius shrugged; said that Evans was all right, really, and Remus had hidden his smirk behind a book and James had nearly fallen off his bed in shock.

“I hope you got him back,” Evans is saying now, to the fervent nods of MacDonald.

“Am I hearing correctly?” Sirius says, the ghost of a grin on his face.

Evans flicks her hair over her shoulder, a nonchalant gesture. “He’s a right prick,” she says with a small shrug. “If you prank anyone, make sure it’s him.”

James is looking at Evans as if all his Christmases have come at once. Sirius laughs, clapping Evans on the back; she smiles, a pinkish flush creeping across her freckled cheeks.

Meadowes puts her book down; Peter sees the cover and sees it’s a schoolbook, on Transfiguration, and groans. Exams are less than two months away and he’s got homework to do, but his ribs still ache - whatever Mulciber hit him with, he thinks he’ll probably be feeling the after effects for a while; even the potion Madame Pomfrey gave him hasn’t entirely cured the pain, even though he’d lied and said he felt fine to return to Gryffindor Tower. He knows he should be doing some form of work, but he can’t bring himself to muster any sort of motivation in the slightest.

Thankfully, though, the girls seem to have better plans anyway. Meadowes only put her book down to retrieve a chess set. “Anyone for a match?” she asks brightly. “Boys vs girls?”

James grins. “All right, but I warn you girls now. Pete here’s a chess master.”

“Prepare to lose,” Remus says solemnly.

“Up for it, Pete, mate?” Sirius asks, looking at him closely.

Peter nods, struggling into a more upright position from where he’d been sinking into the comfort of the cushions on the sofa. “You’re on,” he says quietly, taking the board and deftly arranging the pieces into the correct formations. He ignores the groaning protests of his ribs, pushes thoughts of the letter, and Mulciber, and his father to one side.

::

Peter manages to forget about the letter for a little while, if only because of circumstance. Besides the fact that the whole of Fourth Year seems to have been overrun with exams frenzy, there’s also the Animagus potion, bubbling away illegally in the secret passageway; maintaining that and ensuring that no one discovers their secret is enough to keep anyone busy.

There’s another distraction as well, in the form of girls. Not in the romantic sense - the reminder of his date with Michelle Warburton is enough to make Peter grimace, and he thinks he’s had quite enough of that for a while, thank you very much - no, it’s this: Lily Evans and her friends have started to inch their way into their lives. They’ve always been there, of course, but it’s different now. Peter doesn’t know if it’s because of the Muggle Studies trip, or maybe because they finally see that there are worse people in this castle than them, but it’s not unusual in the following weeks to walk into the common room and find Remus and Dorcas comparing Arithmancy notes, or, more surprisingly, Lily to be quizzing Sirius for the upcoming Muggle Studies exam. James and Lily don’t fight as much; if anything, it’s turned more into playful bickering, and the whole of Gryffindor seem to welcome the fact that the Fourth Year can now all hang out together in each other’s company without a blazing row and someone ending up dangling out of the window.

Peter’s injuries eventually heal. If anything, it’s his pride that’s wounded more than anything, no matter how many times that James claps him on the back and says it’s no big deal, that it could have happened to any of them had Mulciber got them on their own. It probably wouldn’t happen to you, Peter can’t help but think, looking at James. It’s hard to imagine James having to be rescued from anything, ever. He’s just that kind of indestructible boy.

It’s not until one wet and dreary Thursday evening, a couple of days before Pete’s fifteenth birthday, when he even thinks of the actual contents of the letter again. Sirius and James are at Quidditch practice, and Remus had been feeling lethargic and under the weather all day and had gone to bed early. On his own in the common room, Peter declines Frank’s offer of a game of chess and thinks he probably should use his free time to get some work done. He’s got an essay for Professor Graves due in on Monday that he hasn’t even started. He knows for a fact that James hasn’t started it either, but knowing James, he’ll probably write something amazing on Sunday evening all in one go.

The library is relatively busy when Peter arrives, making a beeline for the Defence Against the Dark Arts section. He passes a worried looking Seventh Year who is muttering compulsively to herself, and a few of his fellow Fourth Years who barely even acknowledge him as he walks by. He scans the bookshelves for the text he needs, swearing under his breath when it’s not there amongst the other books.

“Looking for something, Pettigrew?” a voice asks behind him.

Peter turns. In a gloomy corner, so dark that Peter’s surprised he can even read in it, is Snape. And, sure enough, he’s holding up the exact book that Peter needs.

“Has someone not started their essay for Graves?” Snape asks, his lips curling unpleasantly.

“Well, clearly you haven’t either,” Peter retorts.

“Oh, I have,” Snape says lightly. “I’m merely reading this for a bit more background information on the subject.”

Freak, Peter thinks, but he doesn’t voice it aloud. He really does need that book.

“So, can I have it?” he asks, forcing himself to sound at least halfway polite.

“Not with your friends?” Snape asks.

Peter waves a hand impatiently. “Of course I’m not with them, Snape, can you see them?”

“I always rather thought that seeing them didn’t make a different to whether or not they were lurking about,” Snape says smoothly.

Peter blinks, his tongue suddenly feeling heavy. Surely Snape doesn’t know about the Cloak? Peter tries to laugh the comment off, like Sirius would, only it comes out high-pitched. Snape’s eyes narrow as if he’s trying to work something out, his expression calculating.

Don’t rise to it. Don’t say anything.

“Look, can I have that bloody book?”

“Say please.”

Snape’s smile is truly disgusting. Greasy, just like the rest of him.

“Get bent,” Peter mutters, turning to go.

“I’m surprised you’re out and about without them, that’s all, after your little run-in with Joseph the other week.”

Peter stops in his tracks. He can feel his hands, sweaty and clammy when he curls them into fists at his sides. Snape’s laugh is soft behind him. Peter knows he’s just trying to goad him, probably hoping that Peter will react in the same way he did with Mulciber, right here in the library under Madam Pince’s watchful stare. Snape would love it if Gryffindor got docked a few points. That’s all he’s after, just leave it —

“Although, I do feel I have to apologise on his behalf,” Snape says next, and Peter is so surprised that he actually turns around to look at Snape again.

“You what?”

“I know what it’s like to be attacked,” Snape says lowly. “Not pleasant, to feel like you can’t walk the halls of this castle without being on your guard, is it, Pettigrew?”

“Oh, so I deserved it, did I?” Peter asks.

“Not at all,” Snape says softly. “Joseph forgets himself sometimes. He told me what happened -”

“- I bet he did,” Peter mutters, his ears burning at the thought of the Slytherins having a good old laugh at him, useless Peter Pettigrew.

“Joseph doesn’t know what it’s like, to be like us.”

“We’re not alike!” Peter says, disgusted.

Snape’s eyes never waver from him. He doesn’t seem to blink a lot.

“Oh, but aren’t we? My father would probably love to abandon me, as well, you know.”

“My father did not abandon me!” Peter yells.

Madam Pince looks up sharply.

“Of course not. He’s gone on holiday, yes? With his new wife? A Muggle, am I correct? It must disappoint you, to know your father chose the Muggle life over you. My own father abhors the magical world, but he’s a Muggle himself. Interesting, isn’t it, how prejudiced they can be. This Maureen certainly seems to have great influence over your father.”

“You have no idea what you’re on about,” Peter says. “And I’m leaving now.”

Snape slides the book across the table towards him. “Here you go.”

The book sits between them like an ugly peace offering.

Peter eyes him for a second, and then the book. Sod it, Remus can help me, he thinks, and with one last repulsed look at Snape, Peter leaves the book and Snape behind.

::

Later in the common room, Peter can’t concentrate. Remus, once roused from his nap, had given him his Defence essay to look over, but try as he might, Peter just can’t shake off the memory of his encounter with Snape, and focus on anything resembling productivity. James and Sirius don’t help matters, bursting in through the portrait hole in a shower of mud and rain, shouting to anyone and everyone about how Alfie McKinnon had nearly nose-dived off his broom and had to be saved by Richie Dennison. The anecdote charms Mary, who gives Richie a sickening look and calls him her hero; but Lily, who has just been covered in a splattering of muddy rainwater from Sirius shaking his hair out, threatens to jinx the both of them.

“Are you okay?” Remus asks Peter, watching him intently.

The rest of the common room are watching the jovial bantering back-and-forth between James, Sirius and Lily, but Peter is just staring miserably at his blank piece of parchment. He looks up hastily, realising his moping hasn’t gone unnoticed by Remus, and forces himself to smile.

“I’m fine. Just a bit tired, that’s all. Might call it an early night and give this essay another bash tomorrow.”

“I’ll come with you to the library, if you like, after lessons,” Remus offers.

Peter shakes his head. “No, you’re all right, Moony. I mean, the full moon isn’t far away; you don’t want to be stuck in the library with me when you could be resting.”

Remus frowns, but doesn’t push it any further, and lets Peter go without another word.

Up in the quiet of the dorm, Peter lies on his four-poster and stares up at the canopy, Snape’s slimy voice in his ear. Your father chose the Muggle life over you…interesting, isn’t it, how prejudiced they can be…

Peter thinks of Sharon and her ill-disguised contempt when he’d tried to talk to her last about his schoolwork, of Maureen’s almost patronising look, like she didn’t believe him when he said that Floo travel was quicker and safer than a car. He thinks also of Lily, and about what Sirius told him about her sister, some stuck up snob who apparently bullied Lily just because she’s a witch. All of them Muggles; all with completely ridiculous views about magic.

“What do they know,” Peter says grumpily. “They’re just stupid Muggles.”

He inhales sharply, suddenly acutely grateful that he’s alone in the room. If James heard what he just said…

Peter scrubs a hand over his face, squeezing his eyes shut. He’s tired, that’s all, and cranky, and being in the general vicinity of Snape for longer than two seconds is enough to stress anyone out.

There’s the sound of shouting and thumping from nearby, the usual indicator that James and Sirius are on their way up to the dormitory, probably racing each other. Not in the mood to talk to them, and still with the uneasy cloying sense of guilt lingering on him, Peter closes the curtains around his bed and pretends to be asleep as the door to the room bangs open and his friends tumble inside.

He tries to block out the sounds of his mates as they laugh and joke with each other, only half-heartedly shushing each other when one of them gets too loud. Eventually Peter falls into a restless sleep, permeated with dreams of Snape’s oily smile, Maureen’s smug, superior expression, and the look of disappointment on James’ face if he could see into some of his thoughts.

Chapter Text

Early May 1975.

It’s a brilliantly sunny day; Regulus can see the rays of light piercing the lake even this far down, illuminating the craggy rocks that the younger merpeople like to play hide-and-seek in. Any other time, and he would probably be out taking advantage of these conditions and getting some much needed Quidditch practice - their match against Hufflepuff is looming, and if they lose, they’re out of the running for the Cup. But, as it is, he’s in the common room, trying not to be distracted by the occasional dazzle of light as a fin or tail from some creature flicks past the windows.

His Charms book lay on the table before him, open on a page detailing the correct wrist action for a successful Cheering Charm. It’s funny, in a way, because if he could get the wand movement right, then he’d dearly love to cast one on himself, and the fact that he’s struggling with it is only making his mood worse.

There’s hardly anyone in the common room today, so the sound of footsteps on the stone floor makes him look up in curiosity. Severus is appearing from the hall that leads from the boys’ dorms, carrying a stack of books in front of him so that all Regulus has to recognise him by is his robes, more grey than black, and several inches too short at the ankle.

“Not enjoying this fine weather we’re having?” Regulus calls, and can’t help but laugh when Severus jumps and the topmost book slides from the pile.

“Oh, it’s you,” Severus says, slightly disapproving. “I could say the same thing. Not out on your broomstick?”

He bends down to retrieve the book from the floor, his lank hair falling in his face. Regulus watches him in interest. Severus has always been a point of curiosity in his life; Regulus never seems to know what to make of him. Brusque, most of the time; sardonic at best; and yet, sometimes, unexpectedly kind in his own sort of way. He never seems bothered with normal interests of everyone else at school, such as Quidditch or even Gobstones or, Merlin forbid, girls. Regulus would wonder about that last part, if not for the fact that it’s common gossip that Severus used to quite fancy that Evans girl. Then that’s another mystery unto itself - Severus is a half-blood, but it’s known throughout the House that he detests his Muggle lineage, and yet he scoffed at the Death Eater’s at the beginning of term…

“I need to practice Cheering Charms. I’m dreadfully behind, you see; I’m half afraid that Flitwick will write to my mother if I can’t grasp it.”

“Cheering Charms are easy,” Severus says, displaying his tendency to either not care or not notice when he’s being rude.

Regulus shrugs, too used to Severus by now to take offence. “And what are you doing with those books? You’ll have the back of an eighty year old if you’re not careful. You’ll be in an early grave, what with the way you carry so many around.”

“I’ll probably still outlive you, what with the way you fly.”

Regulus blinks, and then, to his astonishment, sees that Severus is smiling. Joking with him. As Regulus is processing this - Severus Snape, making a joke - Severus hauls the books on to the table, covering Regulus’ page on Cheering Charms. Regulus picks up the first one, frowning at the title.

A Brief History of the Persecution of Wizarding Kind. Brief? Goodness me, Severus, there’s about a thousand pages.”

As Regulus looks, he sees that all the books are of a similar kind. Books on wizarding history, mostly about how they’ve adapted to live with Muggles and been forced into hiding, and a hefty tome dedicated to the Salem witch trials.

“Is this for your History of Magic class?” Regulus asks.

Severus shakes his head. “No, just for my own reading.”

“Goodness, Severus,” Regulus says again. “Do you ever get any fresh air?” He glances up at Severus’ sallow complexion, his expression disdainful, and says, quickly, “Never mind. So, really, what’s this for - surely it can’t be fun, reading about how Muggles used to burn our kind at the stake?”

“Not fun, no,” Severus says softly. “But useful, don’t you agree, to know our history and it’s pitfalls? I’ve been reading a particularly interesting chapter about the Statute of Secrecy, and all the fuss it kicked up when it first became approved. I believe your own family was mentioned a few times as being firmly in the opposition for it.”

Regulus can’t remember all of the lessons that Mother tried to teach him when he was a boy; mostly all he remembers is sitting at a desk in a dusty room, kicking his little legs out in front of him and laughing when Sirius said rude things to the governess.

“That sounds about right,” he says. “My family are definitely very…passionate.”

He thinks then, suddenly, of the problem that has been bothering him since last year, when his parents - his mother, to be precise - made it perfectly clear that, since Sirius was out of the question for the match, they expected him to court Cressida Carrow. Personally, Regulus didn’t think much of Cressida either. She talked too much, and was ignorant of politics; when Regulus had tried to talk to her about the rising tensions in certain circles, about how Head Auror Simeon Gloshwick was probably due to get the sack any day now, and how Minister for Magic Vaynor was losing popularity, Cressida had merely stared at him for a full five seconds before ignoring the topic completely, and instead asking him how he was finding Care of Magical Creatures. But still, attracted to her or no, his parents had made a deal with the Carrow family, apparently, and it would make the Blacks look bad if they did not honour the agreement.

“Blacks do not back out of agreements,” his mother had said.

Regulus had wanted to argue, had pointed out that he wasn’t even the right Black son, not the one the Carrows were initially promised, so what did it matter? Surely the Carrows would rather their daughter be married to the heir? Mother had gotten impatient with him then, and didn’t reply to his owl on the subject, leaving Regulus to miserable little dates in Hogsmeade where he has to hold Cressida’s hand and listen to her talk about how hard she's finding Herbology.

“My parents want me to marry,” Regulus says, before he can think better about confiding in Severus.

Severus looks up from his book, fixes Regulus with that inky stare.

“Aren’t you a bit young?”

“Not now, obviously,” Regulus says impatiently. “They’re trying to shove me together with that Carrow girl in my year.”

“Cressida?” Severus surprises Regulus by saying. Regulus didn’t know that Severus knew of any girls save Lily Evans. “She’s not all that bad. I tutored her in Potions a while back. Quick learner.”

“Well, she can’t be that bright if she’s struggling with Herbology,” Regulus mutters.

“It could be a worse match, could it not? As I understand it, it’s the norm for Pure-blood families to do this sort of thing. Weren’t your cousins arranged marriages too? I remember Narcissa telling me that time we met them in Hogsmeade.”

“That’s different,” Regulus says. “Narcissa is crazy for Lucius, always had been. And Bellatrix gets along all right with Rodolphus. I mean, they argue a bit, but they have similar interests, I suppose.”

“I’m sure you’ll grow to be fond enough of Cressida,” Severus says, unmoved by Regulus’ plight.

Regulus doesn’t get a chance to argue as Severus begins gathering his books up, the conversation clearly over. He says something about the library that Regulus barely registers, his own thoughts overcome with dread about his - for lack of a better word - relationship troubles.

Not to mention the Quidditch match that’s coming up. Regulus still remembers the burning humiliation of losing his first ever game, and although they won their match against Ravenclaw, Bulstrode has been keeping everyone on edge by reminding them that they need to win against Hufflepuff. He has a particular habit of glaring at Regulus whenever he says this, and practices have become almost unbearable. It’s not helped by the fact that Cressida often turns up in the stands to watch him, waving and cooing and generally being a distraction, so much so that once the Snitch had been fluttering right by Regulus’ ear and he hadn’t noticed. Bulstrode had been so mad that spittle had flown from his mouth as he shouted at Regulus in the changing rooms after, and the team had ignored him for two subsequent practices, leaving him to fly on his broom above the rest, sullen and alone.

::

Regulus’ nerves only increase over the next couple of days, so much so that on the Friday before the game, Regulus completely botches up his Transfiguration practical. They’re working on textures and form, and the rock that Regulus is meant to be transfiguring into a feather remains stony and solid. He bends low over his desk, eye-to-eye with the rock, trying to concentrate.

Cressida chooses that moment to appear at his shoulder, giggling.

“Not nervous for the game tomorrow, are you?” she asks, and Regulus is so flustered that he sends the rock zooming across the classroom, nearly clouting McGonagall around the head.

“I hope you don’t let the Snitch get away from you as easily,” Artie Travers calls from across the room as Regulus, red-faced and furious, marches across the room to retrieve his rock from a reproachful looking McGonagall.

He can’t find it in himself to eat anything for breakfast the next morning. He’s not sure if it’s nerves or the fact that Cressida has sat next to him, trying to feed him bits of scrambled egg off of her fork. The rest of the team keep looking his way, smirking. In the end Regulus snaps at Cressida to leave him alone and she flounces off with an indignant huff to go and sit with Laura Macmillan and Matilda Rowle at the other end of the table.

The sun is still shining when the Slytherin team make their way from the changing rooms, out on to the Quidditch pitch. Squinting against the bright light, Regulus feels his heart sink. How is he supposed to see the Snitch in these conditions?

Most of the crowd are donning black and yellow in support of Hufflepuff; it doesn’t exactly boost Regulus’ spirits any. He shoulders his broom, and gets into position as Bulstrode is gripping hands with the Hufflepuff Captain.

Madam Hooch’s whistle pierces through the cacophony of cheers as the balls are released into the air. Regulus sees the Snitch for a fraction of a second before it’s gone from view, lost in the dazzling sun, and Regulus kicks off, feeling as though he’s leaving all his confidence on the ground behind him.

::

They lose the game.

The only consolation Regulus can think of is that at least it didn’t go on for very long, and so he’s put out of his misery fairly quickly.

He lands back on the ground with a dejected thump, the roars and cheers from the stands echoing hollowly in his ears. A few feet away the Hufflepuff team are a tangle of black and yellow, their Seeker thrust above them all on their shoulders.

Bulstrode dismounts his own broom nearby, and spares Regulus a look full of such disdain that Regulus flinches. The Captain doesn’t say anything to him though, just walks away towards the changing rooms with a slouch to his shoulders. Regulus releases the breath he’s been holding, thinking that maybe he’ll just head straight back to the common room, avoid the team -

“Nice going, Black,” sneers George Reece, their Keeper, looming suddenly over Regulus.

“We’re out of the running for the Cup now,” says William Greengrass, the other Beater.

“I didn’t need the reminder, thank you,” Regulus says stiffly.

Greengrass is only a Second Year, but he’s gripping his club tightly, and the rest of the team are glaring at Regulus as though this is all entirely his fault. Severus’ words play over in his mind. There are six other players on the team, he wants to shout at them, but he doesn’t. Instead he walks away, or starts to anyway, until he hears Reece’s jeering voice again.

“Trust us to land a Seeker that can’t seek.”

“And a Keeper that can’t keep anything out of the hoops, as well, that’s really rotten luck,” says a new voice, and Regulus turns his head a fraction, although he knows who it is all too well. His feeling of dread intensifies.

“Honestly, Reece, with gorilla arms like yours, you’d think that you’d be able to manage a bit more than uncoordinated flailing, but I suppose it takes all your brain power to not fall off your broom, am I right?”

Regulus doesn’t know why Sirius is on the pitch at all, and when he looks over he barely suppresses a groan when he sees that Potter is there as well, and, inexplicably, Lily Evans. Since when were they friendly?

“What are you doing here, Black?” Reece asks.

“Need your brother to fight your battles, Regulus?” Greengrass snickers.

Madam Hooch has noticed the pitch invasion as well, and has hurried over. “Mr Black, Mr Potter, this is not your match -”

“Come on, Sirius,” Evans says, placing her hand on his arm.

This gesture doesn’t go unnoticed by the team.

“Well, well, well,” Reece says. “For all of your idiotic choices in life, Black, I wouldn’t have pegged you for a Mudblood lover. Always thought you were a bit bent, actually -”

Sirius cocks his arm back, but doesn’t get a chance to throw his punch; Potter gets there first, sinking his fist into Reece’s stomach. Evans blinks, her face ghostly white, athough she makes no move to restrain either boy.

Greengrass raises his wand, aims it in the direction of Sirius and Potter. Regulus doesn’t know who he’s going for, but doesn’t wait to find out. He points his own wand at his teammate’s smirking face and shouts, “Impedimenta!” and feels a rush of satisfaction as Greengrass is lifted off his feet, flying a few feet backwards, his Beaters bat and wand both thrown from his hands.

“ENOUGH!” Madam Hooch bellows, brandishing her own wand. “That’s it - Potter, Misters Black, Greengrass and Reece - detention -”

“He attacked me!” Reece shouts indignantly.

“I’d do it again if you ever use that word in front of me, you f -”

“Mr Potter!”

“Fine, whatever. But Sirius didn’t even do anything!” Potter says.

“You instigated this, Mr Black,” Madam Hooch says, looking at Sirius. He just shrugs, uncaring.. “You had no business being on this pitch. Now, all of you, report to your Heads of House before I decide I’m being too lenient!”

The three Gryffindors take their leave of the pitch first. Sirius catches Regulus’ eye on his way past, and Regulus feels his stomach give a strange twist as his brother gives him a curious once-over and the smallest, almost indiscernible nod.

::

Regulus’s detention sees him clearing out the school Quidditch sheds with Reece and Greengrass the following weekend. The other two boys don’t speak to him, which suits him fine, and at least neither of them make any more jabs at his Seeking abilities. They finish in the evening as dusk is drawing in, and Regulus takes a different way back to the castle, wanting a walk in the fresh air after hours crammed in a shed sweeping broom bristles from the floor and rearranging Quaffles.

Regulus takes a detour via Hagrid’s hut. The chimney is smoking merrily and he can hear what sounds like pots and pans being clanged together inside as he walks past the front door. He keeps a wary eye on that blasted tree that looms up ahead; in the summer evening gloam, Regulus can just see the Willow’s branches twisting and turning ever so slightly, but it’s common knowledge that Simon Forster got a black-eye after trying to touch the trunk on a dare, and so Regulus keeps a wide berth.

The entrance hall is completely deserted when Regulus finally pushes open the large oak doors and makes his way back inside the castle. Heading in the direction of the dungeons, Regulus suddenly becomes aware of at least one other set of footsteps echoing across the stone floor. He hangs back at the top of the stairs to see who it is, and sees first a mop of messy black hair, and then the top of someone else’s head not unlike his own -

“Potter,” Regulus says, more to get his attention than to actually greet him, because James Potter apparently feels that he doesn’t need to look where he’s going when walking up the stairs.

Potter stops on the last step, and Sirius nearly walks into him. Looking up and seeing Regulus, Sirius gets another strange expression on his face. Potter coughs, looks back at Sirius, and there seems to be some sort of unspoken communication going on between the two friends - Regulus feels a squirm of something that he refuses to label jealousy - and then Sirius nods, and Potter continues up the steps to the hall and upwards towards the main staircase, leaving the brothers alone.

“What are you doing in the dungeons?” Regulus asks, eyeing Sirius suspiciously and wondering if he’s going to go back to his common room to find it flooded or blown to bits or worse.

“McGonagall made us help Slughorn for our detention. Cleaning cauldrons, polishing vials - you know, nothing too bad.”

“Oh, I forget that detentions are old hat to you,” Regulus says.

Sirius looks like he nearly grins, but doesn’t. “What about yours? Your first one ever, I suppose?”

“It is not,” Regulus lies, and a second later wonders why he has to prove himself to Sirius of all people, as if landing oneself in detention all the time is something to be proud of at all. “I had to clean out the Quidditch sheds with Greengrass and Reece.”

“That just sounds like fun!” Sirius says.

“I’m assuming that’s why they didn’t do the same for you and Potter,” Regulus says dryly.

Sirius walks up the last two steps; now on even footing with Regulus, Sirius is suddenly taller. Reflexively, Regulus takes a step backwards, and Sirius cocks his head to one side, frowning at him.

“And I wish you’d stop looking at me like that!” Regulus says.

“Like what?”

“Like - I don’t know,” Regulus says helplessly. “I just keep seeing you giving me funny looks.”

“Maybe I’m giving you funny looks because you keep on staring at me,” Sirius suggests. Regulus gives him a narrow look, and Sirius sighs. “Oh, Reg. You’re so uptight all the time. You’re not still wound up about the game, are you?”

The sudden change in subject makes Regulus pause a moment to work out what they’re even talking about. Conversations with Sirius often leave him feeling this way, out of sorts and bombarded; Regulus had nearly forgotten what it’s like to be in the conversational boxing ring with his brother.

“Your team aren’t giving you a hard time about losing?” Sirius presses, when Regulus doesn’t answer.

“What? No, no. They’re not - they’re not really talking much to me at all, really,” Regulus says, which is true enough and fine by him anyway.

“Bunch of sore losers,” Sirius says. “What kind of Captain skulks off while the rest of the team gang up on the Seeker? You’re one player, Reg. You didn’t lose them the game, you know.”

Regulus breathes deeply. He’s had enough of discussing Quidditch and people trying to make him feel better. He thinks longingly of his bed; he really just wants to sleep.

“How lovely it sounds, being on the Gryffindor team,” he mutters.

“Better than yours, if that’s how they treat you! If I hadn’t have come down to see what was going on -”

“I don’t need your protection, Sirius! It had absolutely nothing to do with you!”

“You need to learn to stick up for yourself,” Sirius says gruffly. “That’s all I’m saying.”

“Well, don’t. I’m going to bed. Excuse me.”

For a moment Regulus thinks that Sirius isn’t going to get out of his way. His expression gets that tight, defensive look that Regulus sees on his face most often around Mother, tensed for a reaction. Regulus feels his brother’s body stiffen as he walks by, sees his shoulders draw back, his mouth open as if he’s going to say something. Regulus pauses, shoulder to shoulder with his brother, each looking the other way.

Merlin, he wants to say something.

“Are you coming home for summer?”

It’s not really what meant to come out at all. He wants to say something about how unbearable Mother is being, because Sirius always used to make him feel better about it when Walburga Black was on one of her tirades. He wants to tell Sirius about Cressida, because he knows that Sirius will probably have a joke on hand about it, or he’ll make Regulus see that there is a way out.

Regulus knows Sirius probably thinks him whiny, repeating the same question he gets asked by their parents.

Sirius nods shortly. “Yeah. I’ll come back to Grimmauld for a bit, I think.”

“But then you’ll go back to the Potter’s,” Regulus says, and it’s not a question, and so it doesn’t really matter that Sirius doesn’t answer.

He carries on down the steps to the common room without another word.

Chapter Text

Late May 1975.

The end of May is upon them before anyone is ready. Swamped in homework and revision for exams, James thinks longingly of First and Second, and even Third Year, when the summer months had meant lounging in the shade of the trees near the lake, occasionally glancing at his notes or cracking open a textbook to lazily quiz Sirius, Remus and Peter on whatever was most likely to be in the end of year tests, but without any real worry or concern. There’s a lot more on this year, and - as Dorcas Meadowes had informed them all the week before, to a chorus of boos and heckles from the Gryffindor Fourth Years - it’s only going to get worse as they progress to O.W.L’s.

Confident though he is in Transfiguration, and as uncaring as he is towards Divination and History of Magic, James still can’t hide the flutter of worry he feels at the end of his lessons when the teachers load on an extra roll of parchment to a particularly tricky essay, or hint at what may be coming in the exams, with a sadistic sort of twinkle in their eyes.

School work aside, the last match of the Quidditch season is soon. Between lessons James and Sirius keep finding their pathway blocked by Adric, who insists on bothering them about formation and techniques, until Sirius threatens to practice his Beating on Adric’s head if he doesn’t shut up.

“We know, Adric!” Sirius shouts, whilst their on their way to Potions and the Captain has appeared, as if Summoned, from behind a suit of armour. “We need to beat Ravenclaw, we need to do it by at least 230 points to get the Cup, you’ll drown yourself in the lake if we lose. We know.”

There’s still the matter of the Animagus potion as well, bubbling merrily away beneath the statue of the humpbacked witch. When James isn’t studying, practicing Quidditch, or sleeping, he seems to spend all his time in that passageway, struggling in the gloom to read instructions from the advanced Transfiguration book they keep swiping from the library with the help of the Invisibility Cloak. They didn’t want to arouse Madam Pince’s suspicion by continually checking it out, or, Merlin forbid, get her on their case by taking it and never returning it, so every fortnight one of the boys will take the Cloak and sneak the book away from the shelves in the library, and replace it again a few days later.

The potion may be nearly brewed, due to be ready on the night of the next full moon - “What a shame I won’t be here to watch you all down this thing,” Remus had said grimly - but there’s still a long way to go. James has never seen a magical process with so many different and difficult elements. Potion work, spell work, not to mention learning to cast the incantation wordlessly, wandlessly, and then retain enough sense of self to be able to transform back to human. No wonder most people just don’t bother.

The night before the final Quidditch match, Adric has grouped most of the team together in one of the far corners and, from what James can tell, is going over - again - tactics that will help them secure the Cup. James, sat by the fire with Sirius, Peter, and Remus, is trying his best to block out Adric’s voice and instead concentrate on labeling his Herbology diagrams.

“Watch out,” Peter whispers suddenly. “Captain approaching.”

James groans, but there’s no time to run. Adric looms over the back of the sofa James and Sirius are sat on.

“Boys. Didn’t fancy coming to the team meeting?”

“Doesn’t look like much of a meeting,” Sirius says, with a significant look over at where Alfie, Rachel and the others are all looking like they’ve been hit in the stomach with Bludgers. “Did you give them another one of your rousing pep-talks?”

“Watch it, Black,” Adric says warningly.

James sighs, and turns his body so that he can look at his Captain dead on, rather than upside down.

“Adric. Look. We know all the tactics. We’ve been on this team for two years. We’ve been training in all weathers, three times a week and every Saturday so far. If we’re not ready to beat Ravenclaw tomorrow by now, there’s not much else that lecturing the rest of the team is going to solve.”

Adric stares at him for a long while. For a moment James thinks he’s pushed it, that Adric is going to lose it with him, but then the Sixth Year’s shoulders slump. “You’re right,” he says. “We’re ready, I suppose.”

He doesn’t sound too convincing. James reaches up to give him an encouraging pat on the shoulder.

“Don’t say it like that. We are ready! We’ve got this. 230 points, right? Easy.”

“Go Gryffindor,” Remus murmurs, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth as Adric walks away, noticeably cheered. “You’ll make a great leader one day, Captain Potter. Very motivating.”

“Oh, shut it,” James says, although he’s smiling, and Captain Potter does have a nice ring to it.

He glances over at the rest of the team again, but his attention is caught by a particular shade of dark red hair just whipping out of sight up the stairs to the girl’s dormitories. He wonders if Lily heard his talk with Adric, or if she’ll be at the game tomorrow -

“Staring like that won’t make her suddenly appear, James, old boy,” Sirius says loudly.

James pulls his piece of parchment closer to him, studying the diagram on it intently. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Evans, mate,” Sirius says, putting one hand over the illustration of the Snarfalump that James is trying to label, obscuring his view and forcing James to look up into that wide, know-it-all grin. “You really fancy her.”

It feels distinctly hot in the common room all of a sudden, even though the fire is out. Peter and Remus have both stopped pretending to study, and are looking at him curiously to see what his reaction will be.

“I, well, yeah.” James coughs and runs a hand through his hair, resiting the urge to loosen his tie. “She’s pretty. I mean, I have eyes -”

“It’s more than that,” Sirius insists. “I’ve been watching you lately. It’s more than how you were with Edie March, or Pete with his blondes, or Remus and his - Remus and his tea,” Sirius says after a thoughtful pause. Remus snorts, going back to his book. “You like Lily Evans.”

“That watching me thing? Bit creepy, to be honest,” James mutters, but Sirius will not be distracted.

“I admit, I had Evans pegged as a boring old busybody,” he says, steamrollering on before James can get another word out. “But since we’ve been hanging out, more harmonious, like, I say - go for it.”

“You what?” James says warily.

“Go for it,” Sirius repeats. He looks almost - sincere; earnest. It’s a bit jarring. “That’s my advice. If you want it, that is.”

It hasn’t been Sirius’ advice that James has wanted so much as his approval, and now, now that he has it, James isn’t quite sure what to say. He can’t help the little flutters that he’s been getting every time he talks to Lily, how much he’s been enjoying their hanging out together without anybody hexing anyone else. He’s laid off of Snape a bit - although, he thinks, that may be more because he’s had so little time to invest in pranks of any kind, what with everything going on - and he feels fairly confident that he and Lily are friends. They’re friendly, at any rate, and now Sirius is saying it’s all right.

“I’ll still mercilessly take the piss out of you and your hopeless infatuation, of course,” Sirius continues. “But have at it, my friend.”

“I’m not hopelessly infatuated,” James argues, his thoughts already on how best to ask Lily out on a date.

As if reading his mind, Peter says, not unkindly, “No messages written on toast this time, eh?”

Remus and Sirius nod their agreement. James drops his head into his hands, feeling the urge to yank his hair out.

As if he didn’t have enough to worry about.

::

The next morning, James walks into breakfast to see that half of the Great Hall has turned into a sea of blue. The Slytherins have donned the Ravenclaw colours for the upcoming match, and as he takes his seat with the rest of the Gryffindors, he hears Mulciber’s voice shouting, “You’re going down, losers!”

“You’d think it was their match, the way they’re carrying on,” Marlene says, shooting a disdainful look at the Slytherin table whilst reaching across to help herself to some toast. “Slimy gits. Hey, Alf, you’re not worried, are you?”

Alfie shakes his head, but it doesn’t escape James’ notice that he’s barely made a dent in his poached eggs.

James is starting on his own breakfast when he senses someone standing behind him. He whips around, half expecting it to be a Slytherin up to something, but it’s not. It’s Benjy Fenwick.

“I just came over to say, I don’t approve of all that,” Fenwick says, addressing the Gryffindor team. He jerks his head in the direction of the Slytherins. “I for one don’t want their support, and I want you to know that it’s not come from us.”

Lily has heard what Fenwick is saying, and is beaming a him. James feels the simultaneous urge to shake Fenwick’s hand and to kick him in the shin.

Adric nods at the Ravenclaw Captain. “No worries, Fenwick. See you on the pitch.”

"That was decent of him," Remus says, pouring milk into his tea.

"Bit of a suck-up, if you ask me," Sirius says, watching Fenwick return to the Ravenclaw table. "Probably some sort of nice guy act to throw us off."

Even as the Seeker crosses the room, a few Slytherins decked in blue stand up to herald his return over to their side of the Hall, clapping and mock-bowing.

James, who hasn't forgotten the confrontation between his team and the Ravenclaws at the beginning of the year, tears into his toast and shrugs.

Peter says, suddenly, "Your brother isn't wearing blue, Sirius."

He waves his knife in the direction of the Slytherin table but Sirius doesn't even bother turning around to look. James does, though. Craning his neck to see past the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables, James spots Regulus sat between Aegir Wilkes and Evan Rosier. They are both sporting blue rosettes on the front of their robes, but the youngest Black is in his school robes and nothing more. Regulus is reading The Daily Prophet, flicking through the pages with one hand, whilst idly stirring a spoon around in the cup in front of him with his other. He seems to be paying zero attention to the Quidditch related fuss going on around him.

“Maybe he’s not watching the game,” Remus suggests.

James doesn’t even need to look at Sirius to know he’ll be frowning at his mug of coffee right about now.

“He will be,” Sirius says shortly.

James piles his plate with more kippers, for the protein, and keeps his watch on the youngest Black brother across the room until he is distracted by Severus Snape swooping in to the seat next to Regulus. They make an odd pair, James thinks: Regulus, with his air of indifference, casual about his central position at the table, his place secure even after the ruckus of his previous Quidditch game; and then Snape, his dark eyes darting swiftly along the rows of students as though he’s not entirely sure of his place there amongst the Slytherin elite. The others made room for him though, James notices, and when Snape leans forward to engage Regulus in conversation, Regulus smiles - it’s in this aspect that the Black brothers differ the most, as Sirius is always generous and dazzling with his smiles, and Regulus seems as though he’s trying not to let his get too loose. Still, there’s no denying it is a smile, and that Snape caused it.

James knows enough of the Black family to know that it is a decidedly odd match. If Sirius befriending a blood traitor and two half-bloods is a big deal in the Black household, he can only assume that Regulus keeps quiet about his friendship with Severus Snape, or else that Snape is just Dark enough to have wormed his way in to Walburga and Orion’s good graces.

Suddenly, Snape looks up and locks eyes with James. He doesn’t seem surprised to find himself being scrutinised. After a second he lazily raises his hand to give James the finger, and then continues in his conversation with Regulus.

James wants to retaliate but Lily is still sat nearby, and hexing Snape won’t do him any favours in that department. He finishes the rest of his breakfast, claps Sirius on the shoulder, catches Adric’s eye, who nods, and as one the Gryffindor team rise from the table. There’s a series of boos from the Slytherin table, but by now this is almost soothing pre-game noise to James.

Mary stands on tiptoes to throw her arms around Richie and kiss him full on the mouth. Sirius demands why no one wants to kiss him, and although Peter offers, laughing, it’s Remus that Sirius looks at for a moment just too long, Remus who stares down at his plate with a blush rising on his face. James doesn’t have time to dwell on this, as Lily is rolling her eyes at Mary and Richie’s display, and she catches James’ eye with a look of despairing solidarity, and James tries to banish the thought of her leaning up to kiss him.

To take his mind of it all, he aims a quiet Shoelace-Tying Jinx at Snape on the way past the Slytherin table, and feels instantly better.

::

In the changing rooms, Adric appears to have finally exhausted all words of advice and motivation, and the Gryffindor team pull on their scarlet robes in a heavy, blanketed silence. James wants to say something encouraging, but then he sees the determined set of Alfie’s mouth, and Sirius looks across and throws him a wink, and James feels the tension in his shoulders lessen.

When they make their way on to the pitch, James is relieved by the layer of cloud cover above them. Alfie should be able to find the Snitch quickly in these conditions. James scans the crowd as Adric and Benjy Fenwick shake hands; he catches sight of a large banner bearing a drawing of a lion and Peter’s handwriting: GRYFFINDOR FOR THE CUP. James grins, and when he kicks off from the ground at the blast of the whistle, the sounds of boos from the Slytherin stands slip away against the roaring of the wind in his ears.

Before he’s even gained his balance properly, Richie has thrown the Quaffle at him. James, seeing Boot closing in, drops it down to Rachel, who streaks off towards the Ravenclaw goal hoops.

The Ravenclaw team are on form this match, all their training evidently having paid off. Fenwick, Boot and Cresswell aren’t giving the Gryffindor Chasers much room to manoeuvre, and after Rachel has scored the first goal, they tighten it up even more. James doesn’t get to hold the Quaffle for longer than a few seconds before he’s forced to throw it to Rachel or Richie, or has to swerve to avoid either a Ravenclaw Chaser or a Bludger.

“Get him, Sirius!” James yells in exasperation, as yet another Bludger from Owain Pugh spins his way. He drops the Quaffle, which is seized by a smirking Fenwick.

Sirius shouts, “On it!” as he swings his bat at the other Bludger, hurtling it towards the Ravenclaw Captain.

Fenwick’s smirk doesn’t last long; the Bludger from Sirius means that he doesn’t even make it to the Gryffindor goal. The Quaffle is instead grabbed by Richie, who manages to score Gryffindor’s second goal and give the team a bit of breathing room. Ravenclaw’s defence may be playing well, James thinks, but if Gryffindor can at least stop them from scoring, and if Alfie finds the Snitch soon - the Cup will be theirs.

He glances at Adric over by the goal hoops. He’s flying zig-zaggedly across all the hoops, his posture tense, trying to guard every goal at once. His eyes never leave the Quaffle.

Poor bloke. Maybe being Captain isn’t worth the stress.

Ravenclaw’s Seeker this year is Amber McCroy. She’s currently circling above the rest of the players, and James notices that Alfie isn’t far behind her, tailing her every move. Amber puts on a burst of speed, trying to shake Alfie off, but he’s not deterred in the slightest. James gives him an encouraging wink as he flies by. If anything, at least this method should annoy Amber to the point of distracting her from the Snitch.

The tension in the game doesn’t relent any. For every goal that Ravenclaw score, Gryffindor manage to score two, but their lead is still only by a hundred and twenty points at around half an hour into the match. Adric is blue in the face from shouting instructions down the pitch, and Sirius and Meredith are hammering Bludgers at anything not in scarlet robes. The Quaffle is just a red blur on the pitch from how furiously it’s being passed around, and there’s still not been any sign of the Snitch. James doesn’t need Caradoc Dearborn’s commentary to know that with the scores this tight, every goal is precious.

The sudden intake of breath from the crowd makes him turn around for a split second. Alfie is zooming towards the ground, and James feels his heart sink. No, Alfie, not yet, not yet, we need another hundred points. Gritting his teeth, James takes advantage of the Ravenclaw teams distraction; he seizes the Quaffle and sails it easily past Midgen, the Keeper. James retrieves the Quaffle quickly, chucking it to Rachel, who scores again.

James cranes his neck in time to see Alfie pulling out of his dive, a look of utter concentration on his face, and James realises. He hadn’t seem the Snitch, but Amber certainly thought he had - she nearly crashes into the ground and has to veer up at the last minute, disorientated.

“Keep going!” James shouts, throwing Richie the Quaffle.

Fenwick and Cresswell aren’t quick enough to intercept, and Gryffindor score their third goal in as many minutes. James laughs as he sees Fenwick shouting at Midgen, and Midgen responds with a few choice words of his own.

“And the Ravenclaw Captain and Keeper seem to be having a bit of a disagreement, folks,” Caradoc Dearborn says into the microphone. “But at least it’s providing Gryffindor with the opportunity to take a sizeable lead - Potter shoots again - and scores!”

60 points to go. James keeps up the score in his head as he blocks Boot’s way to the goals, forcing him to drop lower. Amber spurts forward on her broom, expression determined, but Sirius whizzes a Bludger directly into her path and she changes direction so fast she nearly crashes into Cresswell. Ravenclaw are losing their confidence, and getting more and more annoyed with the Gryffindor team. At one point, James does a spectacular reach for the Quaffle mid-air between Fenwick and Cresswell, both hands leaving his broom, a move that makes the Gryffindor supporters stamp their feet in appreciation but makes Fenwick call James something he’s certain would make Lily blush.

“Not as gentlemanly now, is he?” Sirius cackles, as Richie scores again.

Finally, it’s time. They’re 230 points in the lead. Adric is flying so erratically around the goals, turning so fast, James fears he might give himself whiplash. He doesn’t know if Ravenclaw have worked out that Gryffindor are now in a position to win, but judging from the way Fenwick starts bellowing instuctions at his Beaters to “hit them, just hit them!” he thinks they may have twigged on.

James has to grab his Nimbus for support when Alfie suddenly streaks past him. Amber is at the other end of the pitch, but she’s fast, and once she realises that this isn’t a feint, that Alfie’s seen the real thing, she practically flattens herself against her broom in order to gain more speed. The Quaffle is still moving, Richie and Meredith working seamlessly to score another goal, but James knows this is it - if Alfie gets the Snitch -

“AND GRYFFINDOR HAVE DONE IT! ALFIE MCKINNON HAS CAUGHT THE SNITCH AND GRYFFINDOR WIN THE CUP!”

James lets that last sentence ring through his brain for one glorious, unspoilt moment, before the rest of Dearborn’s commentary is drowned out by the cheers from the Gryffindor stands. Before he knows what’s what, James is pulled into a hug with Rachel and Richie, and then Sirius slams into the three of them, banging James on the back and nearly making them all fall off their brooms. They make it down to the ground, and Alfie runs towards them, his broom discarded, waving his fist that still has the Snitch in it in the air excitedly.

“C’mere, you,” Rachel laughs, kissing his cheek. Meredith follows suit, leaving Alfie extremely pink in the face, and then Adric barrels in, grabbing Alfie in a bear hug that looks set to rip his head from his neck, and kissing him soundly on the forehead.

The team make their way to the stands where a smiling Dumbledore is stood with the Quidditch Cup. Beside him, Professor McGonagall looks suspiciously misty-eyed; she’s taken off her glasses and is dabbing underneath her eyes with a tartan handkerchief. Dumbledore passes the Cup to Adric, who gapes at it wordlessly, looking at it with such wonderment as it it’s his first born child. Except, he probably wouldn’t hoist his first born child so ferociously into the air and then start waving it around, James reckons.

The Gryffindor supporters flood down. Remus, Peter and Marlene are at the front. Marlene grabs Alfie in a hug; Sirius jumps on top of Peter and Remus, and James yet again gets yanked into another many-armed embrace. Untangling himself, his glasses hanging from one ear, James spots Mary and Richie kissing passionately beside him, and then - he hastily pushes his glasses back on his nose correctly - then, Lily is there, grinning just as much as any of them.

“Well done,” she says.

“Thanks,” James says, and then does something he’s been wanting to do for a very long time: he hugs Lily Evans. Her hair is very soft, and she smells good, and not just in a perfumed way. Lily Evans just smells really really good, he thinks, slightly giddy with winning the Cup and being this close to Lily. And then, before Peter can clap him on the back again, before Adric sobs into his shoulder, or before Sirius starts shouting about the party in the common room, James pulls back slightly so that he’s facing her, and leans in to kiss Lily.

Lily whips her head back. “James. Woah. I didn’t mean - we’re friends, right?”

James’ shoulders stiffen. He drops his hands from Lily’s waist as if burnt, and coughs into his hand. “Right,” he says gruffly. “Yeah. Whatever.”

“I’m sorry,” Evans says, looking pained.

James shrugs. He turns his back on her abruptly, and rejoins his friends and teammates. “So,” he shouts over the noise. “There’s going to be a party, am I right?”

They all erupt into cheers again, and James allows himself, and the rest of the team, to be hoisted up on to the Gryffindor’s shoulders and be carried back to the castle, the sun glinting off of the Quidditch Cup all the way there.

Chapter Text

Late June 1975.

 

Our darling James

Congratulations on winning the House Cup! Your father and I are so proud. The Quidditch Cup as well - really, well done son. We are sorry we couldn’t make it down to watch, but your father had a bout of a sudden illness that he just couldn’t shake for a couple of days. Nothing to worry about - he’s fine now, I assure you. Your old folks just aren’t as robust as we once were!

Your letter was very much appreciated, though. I read it aloud to your dad when he was resting, and it did make him smile! A well deserved win, by the sounds of it, but I do wish you’d be careful on that broomstick of yours. Surely it would be safer to keep both hands on the handle at the same time? I suppose I never played Quidditch so I don’t really know these things, but honestly, dear, all this diving about - I know, I know, I’m nagging. There, I’ve stopped. You can stop rolling your eyes at the parchment and mimicking your poor old mother’s voice now.

We are both very much looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. The house is so quiet without you, and the boys of course! Are they coming to stay over the summer? I must admit I do miss you all marauding about the place.

How is Sirius? I do hope he can come and stay, at least. I don’t like the thought of him in that house in London for all those weeks. I’ve sent some food parcels for all four of you for the train journey. Call me old fashioned, but a ton of pumpkin pasties and some Chocolate Frogs does not constitute a well rounded meal.

Give Sirius, Remus, and Peter our love. I do hope we’ll be seeing them shortly!

We’ll see you tomorrow at King’s Cross.

All our love,

Mum and Dad.

::

Settling in to the window seat on the train, James reads through the letter from his mum once more. Marauding about the place. Marauders - he likes the sound of that. Grinning, he folds the letter up and slips it into his pocket, and from his bag fishes out the food parcels his mum had sent him and his mates. Peter excitedly tears into his - he’d admitted to James once, in a hushed whisper as though Mrs Pettigrew could hear him, that Althea’s cooking was better than his own mother’s - and Remus takes his with a small, polite smile that James knows is concealing his inner conflict at taking charity from anyone. Sirius reaches easily for his, and whistles appreciatively.

“She’s a diamond, your mum,” he says.

There’s general nodding and murmuring of agreement as the boys tuck in. James likes this, the feeling of looking after them all. Or rather, his mum did, but still. He could have been a greedy bastard and eaten the whole lot himself, so he thinks he deserves points for sharing it all out.

“So, are you all coming to Chez Potter this summer?” he asks, rolling up the sleeves on his robes and leaning back against his seat.

The sun is streaming in through the windows, and it’ll only get hotter the further south they travel. Pretty soon James will change into his Muggle clothes - shorts and t-shirts are so much more practical, especially in the summer months, he thinks. He feels a bit sorry for Sirius, who he knows will have to stay in his black school robes all the way to King’s Cross, and then when he gets home will probably have to change into something just as stifling. Mrs Pettigrew most likely views Muggle clothing with quiet suspicion, but James doubts that Peter’s clothes are as stuffy as the ones Sirius owns. And as for Remus, well - Mr and and Mrs Lupin would probably let him wear a leotard and tutu if it made him smile.

“Yeah, I reckon so,” Peter says. “I mean, I’m not going to be seeing my dad at all, right? May as well hang out somewhere I’m wanted.”

“Well, you’re always welcome, mate, you know that. Stay as long as you like,” James says. He looks at the other two. “Moony? Sirius?”

Remus seems to shrink in on himself, as he does every time the topic of holidays and visiting people comes around.

“I don’t know -”

“Your parents were totally cool with you hanging out with us all last summer!” Peter points out.

“Yeah, where they were nearby and could keep an eye on me. Going away to Tenby for a couple of days isn’t the same as disappearing off to Maidstone,” Remus says quietly. “I’ll ask, okay, James? I’m sure they’ll let me come for a few days at least.”

Sirius snorts. “Just you see if mine could stop me,” he says.

He probably sounds a lot more confident than he feels, but none of the other boys mention anything about this. If James had it his way, he’d take Sirius in straight away, straight from King’s Cross, and he knows his parents feel the same.

“Maybe you can visit your cousin and uncle again,” Peter says hopefully.

“Yeah,” Sirius says, looking out of the window at the rugged Scottish landscape whizzing by. “It would be nice. Nymphadora is getting to be a right handful, by the sounds of it. Turns herself into random children at the park and drives Andromeda and Ted mad. Ted said he nearly took the wrong kid home the other day, and had some mother start beating him with her umbrella.”

“We should all look after her,” James says. “That’d be a laugh, right? The four of us and a little kid?”

“That sounds horrific,” Remus says, shaking his head.

“Spoilsport.”

Of course, Remus’ complete and utter refusal to do any such thing, only encourages Sirius. James can tell by the expression on his face that Sirius had already planned Idea Number One on the Summer of 1975 itinerary, and it involves one Metamorphmagus child and one despairing Remus Lupin. James catches his eye and grins to let Sirius know that he thinks it’s a bloody brilliant idea, and Sirius smirks right back. Settled.

“I don’t like it when you two look at each other like that,” Remus mutters. “It normally means you’re plotting something.”

“Moony, my love,” Sirius croons. “Don’t be jealous just because I look at other people.”

“Sod off,” Remus says, and disappears behind a book, his ears noticeably pink.

James stares at him for some time. Or rather, he stares at the book that Remus is reading. No, that’s not right either - he stares at the book that Remus is pretending to read, because Sirius said something mildly flirty and Remus gets embarrased about those sorts of things.

It’s funny, James thinks, because Sirius is just That Person, and they’re all used to it by now. He’s the boy that will crawl into your bed at 2am because he’s cold and you’re warm; he’s the boy that won’t think twice about sitting on your lap if all the seats are taken, or about licking your neck during a drunken game of dares, or about shoving his hand down your trousers to put something unpleasant down there, or singing filthy limericks in your ear.

Remus is not That Person. Remus likes personal space, and he’s sparing with his confidences and his trust and his affection. Nudity, for Remus, is something James imagines him only doing in the shower, whereas he fully expects that Sirius is the sort of person who will cook completely starkers when he has his own place. Remus normally, however, is very much capable of holding his own. He knows more dirty jokes than Sirius and James put together, who both grew up in quite repressed houses for very different reasons and who were shocked the first time that Remus swore in First Year, a word that James hadn’t even ever heard of, but Remus is quite fond of whenever he stubs his toe.

So, it’s not as if Remus is shy. And usually not at all around his mates. Yet - and yet - over the last year, James has noticed it, whenever Sirius bats his eyelashes in his direction, or makes a flirty comment, Remus gets very flustered and distracted and usually does just this: hides behind a book, hoping no one will notice. But James has noticed, and he’s not quite sure how to ask one of his mates if he fancies his other mate. James mulls that phrase over in his head. It doesn’t seem as weird as he thinks it probably should. It makes a sort of sense - Sirius is bright, and dazzling, and James would probably have a bit of a crush on him too if he wasn’t so preoccupied with Lily sodding Evans.

“You all right?” Peter asks suddenly, and James realises he’s being watched. “You’re making a really funny face. Are you thinking?”

“Er - just about Evans,” James says, because it’s not a complete lie.

“Oh, bollocks to her,” Sirius says.

“I thought you were a member of the Lily Evans fan club,” Remus says, lowering his book now that the attention is on someone else, his complexion restored to ‘sickly’ - the full moon hadn’t been long ago.

“I was before she threw poor Potter’s heart away as if it was yesterday’s Prophet!

“That’s a bit dramatic,” James mutters.

“Tch,” Sirius says, the universal sound for distaste. “All right, so she’s not all bad. But still - saying no to that cute little face? Who could?”

“She said she wanted to be friends, right?” Remus says reasonably. “Hope is not lost, then. Sometimes, friendship is the best we can hope for.”

James stares at him, wondering if he feels about Sirius how he feels about Lily. For a moment James wants to grab him, ask him how he manages to live with it, but then he composes himself.

“It’s fine. It’s - nothing. Being her friend is hard, anyway. I have to leave Snape alone and really, with a nose like that, he’s just a walking target.”

“Well said.” Sirius claps. “No, I’ve nothing against Evans, really, but you can do better, mate. Speaking of Snivelly, shall we go find him later? Say our goodbyes?”

Remus sighs. “I really don’t think -”

“Have you checked on the potion?” Peter says suddenly, interrupting before a row can start.

James looks at him fondly. Good old Peter. He pats his inside pocket. “It’s here, don’t worry. All safe. I’m not letting it out of my sight.”

They’d finally bottled the Animagus potion two days ago, under the full moon. It now sat, split into three vials, that James will keep safe at his house for the summer. He didn’t fancy leaving it at Hogwarts over the holidays, in case one of the teachers or Peeves stumbled across it. James has given Peter and Sirius firm instructions to practice the incantation needed to get the animal brain, and he’s sure that six weeks is enough time to crack it for them. He’s quite glad really, that Peter will be with him for the majority of the holidays, as Pete struggles quite a bit with Transfiguration, and at least this way James will be able to help.

“If we’re all together at yours, I think we should try it then,” Sirius suggests.

James pulls a face. “And explain to my mum why one of us is stuck with a tail? No thanks. Let’s wait until we’re back at Hogwarts. We’ve waited years - another few weeks won’t make much difference.”

“It’s not like you’ll be around me for my transformations over the summer anyway, even if you did crack it before,” Remus says.

Sirius looks at him, eyes bright. “We’ll be with you for the majority of the ones after though, Moony. If we can help it.”

“Can we talk about something else?” Remus says quietly.

Peter produces a chess set and shakes it. Remus smiles faintly, nods, and the board and pieces are quickly assembled. James settles in to watch the game, a very interesting one that Remus very nearly wins with a daring knight, but Peter check-mates him in the end.

The train is rumbling through the East of England when Frank Longbottom pays them a visit in their compartment. He’s still in his school robes, his Head Boy badge pinned to his front.

“All right, Frank?” Sirius greets him, taking his legs off of the seat in front that he’s sprawled across. “Here, sit down -”

“No, you’re fine,” Frank says, shaking his head. “I’m just popping by. Wanted to say my goodbyes, that’s all. You know it’s always madness at the station.”

It strikes James then that when he returns to Hogwarts in September, Frank won’t be there. Nor will Alice. It will be strange, being in the common room and not seeing the couple wrapped up in each other; or not having their gentle reprimands whenever they get a bit too rowdy; not having Alice to help them out with their Herbology homework. They’ve always been there, both of them a sort of model of the Good Student, firm and fair and yet never too strict with their punishments as Prefects and later, as Head Boy for Frank. Obviously James has known that Frank and Alice would graduate, but it hits home now - he’ll miss them.

He’s not seen much of Frank or Alice over recent weeks, now that he comes to think of it. They’ve been absent from the common room quite a bit, and the last time James saw them, he’d been passing by the entrance to Dumbledore’s staircase and had seen Frank, Alice, and fellow Seventh Year’s Hestia Jones, Winifred Quirke, and Caradoc Dearborn all stood in a close huddle together, talking in whispers. They’d shut up when they saw James, and James had thought he’d done something wrong, and so he’s glad now that Frank has sought them out to say goodbye.

“You’re joining the Aurors still, yeah?” Peter asks, looking admiringly up at the older boy.

Frank’s nod is solemn. “Hopefully. Alice and I have both applied; we’re just waiting on our N.E.W.T results. Fingers crossed we get top marks and we can join the Academy as soon as. So, lads, as much as I’d love to say I’ll keep in touch - I reckon I’m going to be a fair bit busy from the moment I get that owl with my results in.”

“Who knows,” James says suddenly, before he’s even aware that it’s a thought he’s ever considered before, “maybe one day we’ll be colleagues!”

Frank’s eyebrows go up, but he smiles. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we end up working alongside each other in the future, James.”

They all shake Frank’s hand, and wish him well, James still thinking idly of what it would be like to be an Auror. He’ll have to get Frank’s address, and owl him to ask for details. The training is vigorous, his father has told him that much, but James knows it’s a job worth doing, especially with the way things are going in the world at the moment. Probably more worthwhile than being a professional Quidditch player. Maybe he could do both, he muses. Quidditch player by day, Dark wizard catcher by night -

“Frank, oh thank goodness, there you are!”

Hestia Jones is in the doorway of the compartment, her black hair mussed and her cheeks red.

“What’s wrong?” Frank asks, moving towards her and taking hold of her arm.

“There’s a group of boys towards the front of the train - they’ve Transfigured a bunch of students ties into snakes - Alice and Winifred are there, but -”

“Idiots,” Frank growls. “And we’re nearly in London, too -”

He breaks off, his expression thunderous, and gestures at Hestia to lead the way.

“I guess being Head Boy doesn’t stop even when school does,” Peter says, looking at the place that Frank had just been with an awestruck look on his face.

“Should we go help?” Remus asks.

Sirius shakes his head. “Leave it. Probably just a bunch of Slytherins thinking it’s a real funny end of year prank to try to strangle a few students before the train journey is over.”

“Frank and the rest of them will sort it,” Peter says confidently.

“Yeah, and I don’t fancy getting in to a fight with my brother just yet,” Sirius mutters.

“As much as you saying that sentence is personal growth, mate, you don’t know your brother is one of -”

Sirius cuts across James with a scoff. “Please. He’d probably think it’s hysterical.”

No one argues with this and silence falls over the compartment. Outside the fields and farmland have turned to the grey buildings and busy streets that mean they’re approaching King’s Cross.

The four boys stand in the middle of the bustle of students and parents, an array of people in both wizarding and Muggle attire, a confusion of noise - parents calling to their children, children shouting their goodbyes to their friends, owls screeching, cats yowling, the clack of the luggage trolley wheels along the platform, and above all, the hissing and clanking of the Hogwarts Express finally coming to rest.

James spots Mr and Mrs Lupin first. Lyall in a faded green button-down cardigan and corduroy trousers, one hand on the small of his wife’s back, steering Hope towards the foursome. Her smile, James notices, is exactly the same as Remus’, almost unsure and a bit lopsided, but her eyes are sparkling as she reaches for her son and pulls him into a hug.

“Hi, Mum,” Remus says.

He’s gotten a lot taller than his mother now, so he ends up speaking into her shoulder, his voice muffled in the fabric of her patterned dress. Hope holds him out at arms length, her keen brown eyes taking in his pale complexion, checking him over. The worry about the previous full moon and his transformation being so recent is evident, and James waves Sirius and Peter away to give the Lupins some privacy.

“We’ll make sure we say goodbye,” James says to Sirius, who is craning his neck to look back at Remus and his parents.

Sirius shoves his hands into the pockets of his robes and grunts an incoherent reply. When he looks up, out across the sea of people, his grey eyes go steely. James follows his gaze and sees Regulus walking swiftly towards them, and, trotting in front of him, a wizened and wrinkled looking house-elf.

“Sirius,” Regulus says formally, when the odd-looking pair come to a halt in front of them. He doesn’t spare a glance for either Peter or James, although Kreacher - for even though James has never met him, this must surely be the ancient and slightly senile elf from his best friend’s stories - is shooting disgusted looks at the pair of them.

“Reg. And Kreacher, hello!” Sirius raises his voice suddenly, stooping so that he’s right by the elf’s large ears. The shout makes Kreacher jump and clutch one gnarled, almost claw-like hand over his heart. Peter laughs, but James and Regulus don’t. “What?” Sirius says defensively, straightening up. “He’s old. Got to make sure he can hear me, right? Anyway. Where are dear old Ma and Pa?”

“Mistress instructed Kreacher to collect Masters Regulus and Sirius from King’s Cross himself,” Kreacher says.

“I don’t need collecting,” Sirius says.

Kreacher is attracting a lot of curious looks from the other students going by, and James imagines how he’d feel if he had a house-elf come for him in such a public place. It’s not exactly the coolest welcoming committee.

“Mother disagrees,” Regulus says wryly. By comparison, he seems completely unfazed by his house-elf being there. “Perhaps she had some notion that you might not come home at all if left unattended. Imagine that. But, anyway, as sure as you to run away to your friend’s this summer, there’s no immediate need - your friends are all invited to ours.”

“Pardon?” James says, when in the silence that follows this all Sirius and Peter do is blink confusedly.

“Kreacher, you tell them,” Regulus prompts.

“Master Regulus tells no lies,” Kreacher says. “Mistress Walburga has extended a gracious invitation for a Mr James Potter, a Mr Peter Pettigrew and a Mr Remus Lupin to attend their house, number 12 Grimmauld Place, this coming Saturday.” Then, in a completely different voice, “Kreacher has heard of the Potters, but not the Lupins or Pettigrews, and he wonders if they are half-bloods or worse - Mistress Walburga must not let them touch the family silver, probably all dirty thieves -”

Regulus clears his throat, cutting the elf off mid-rant. He smiles. “So there’s that. No need to run off the Maidstone quite as soon as you’ve landed!”

Sirius is frowning. “I don’t get it. She’s never invited my friends over. What’s she playing at?”

“Oh, Sirius, you’re so suspicious. Maybe she just wants to get to know the people you associate with. I thought you’d be pleased.”

Sirius does not look pleased. James has spotted his own parents weaving their way through the crowd to get to him, and his sense of confusion and dread at the invitation to the Black’s lifts as he waves at his mum and dad.

“We can owl you the details,” Regulus says, and it takes James a moment to realise that Regulus speaking to him and Peter. “But next Saturday. Come on, Sirius, I’m getting bored stood here -”

“I’ll mirror you tonight,” James says lowly to Sirius. “I won’t come if you don’t want -”

“Wait,” Sirius says, his voice oddly blank. He shakes his arm free of Kreacher’s hand. “I haven’t said goodbye to Remus. Get off, Kreacher, I haven’t even said hello to Mr and Mrs Potter -”

“You’ll be seeing your friends soon,” Regulus says impatiently. “Kreacher, just grab him and let’s go home, please.”

It’s obvious which Black brother Kreacher responds to the most. Before Jasper and Althea can reach them, there’s a crack and suddenly, Kreacher, Regulus, and Sirius are all gone. The noise is loud enough to attract the attention of most people nearby, and James sees Remus looking around, the smile dropping from his face when he sees that Sirius is no longer with them.

“Hello, boys,” Jasper says. “What in Merlin’s name was that about?”

“Is Sirius all right?” Althea asks.

James hugs each of his parents in turn. It’s Peter that answers their questions.

“Sirius’ house-elf came to get him. We’ve been invited to his house next Saturday.”

Althea and Jasper both turn to look at their son questioningly. James shrugs.

“Well, we can talk about all that later on,” Althea says slowly. “Anyway - Peter, dear, so good to see you!”

“You too, Mrs Potter!” Peter grins at her. “And thank you for the food for the train journey! It was really - oh, there’s my mum. MUM!”

Althea winces slightly at the volume of his voice as Peter waves his whole arm in windmilling motions to get his mother’s attention.

“Who’s that bloke with her?” James asks Peter, because Mrs Pettigrew is not alone.

In fact, she’s not even noticed her son, because she’s busy standing on tiptoes to whisper into the ear of a thickset man in deep purple robes. Peter shakes his head, looking put-out that his mother hasn’t seen him.

“No idea. I better go see what that’s about. I guess I’ll see you soon, James. Imagine us at the Black’s house. Ha!”

“Yeah, I better go tell Remus. He’ll have a fit…”

Peter claps James on the shoulder, waves cheerily at Jasper and Althea, and shouts a goodbye to Remus before trundling off to see his mum and the mystery stranger.

Remus’ reaction to being told that they have an invitation to Grimmauld Place is exactly as James expected. His eyebrows shoot up, one side of his mouth quirks down. James knows this look well enough to know that Remus is thinking, Well, shit.

“I’m right there with you,” James mutters.

Both of their parents are nearby. James’ mum is talking animatedly to Mrs Lupin, and James thinks that she’s probably attempting to butter Hope up into letting Remus come and stay at their house for a week or so.

“Well, we have to go,” Remus says, surprising James. “I mean. How would it look if we didn’t turn up? It would be like saying, Hey, Mr and Mrs Black, we don’t actually care about your son - No, whatever game they’re playing, let’s play it. We need to be there for Sirius, right? You think Pete would be up for it?”

“Pete would be up for anything if I told him to be,” James says thoughtlessly.

Remus shoots him a Look, but it’s a true enough statement and both of them know it.

“Your parents will let you?” James asks.

Remus shrugs one shoulder. “I think your mum is charming them enough for me to get away with saying I’ll be at yours. I’ll leave aside the bit about me going for dinner with a family that despises everything from my name to my blood to my furry little problem. We’ll go to Grimmauld Place and then stay over at yours after to recover - if that’s all right?”

“Of course it is,” James says, relieved that Remus has gone into planning mode and sorted everything out for him. Out of the corner of his eye he sees his mum cheek kissing Hope and Lyall, and he pulls Remus into a hug. “So - next Saturday then! Brace yourself.”

Remus’ smile is a flicker of grim determination. “I always feel braced these days. See you soon, James.”

The Lupins make their way to the barrier, and Jasper grasps James by the arm; they’ll be Apparating home. Through the throng of people leaving Platform 9 and 3/4, James’ attention is seized by a glimpse of red hair. Lily is arm in arm with a woman who must be Mrs Evans. Lily is talking animatedly, her mother smiling indulgently, and James watches them for as long as he can before his stomach twists, the station dissolves around him, and he’s suddenly staggering to stay upright in the Potter kitchen.

The smell of home hits him instantly. There’s a kettle on the stove, chiming merrily to let everyone know that the water is boiled, and a large cauldron simmering away on top of the kitchen table. It smells strongly of cloves, but before James can ask his father what it is he’s brewing up this time, James feels a gentle nudge on his kneecaps and looks down to see a house-elf wearing a towel-smock peering keenly up at him.

“Ah, yes,” Jasper says briskly, as James blinks down at the elf. “James, this is Gigi. Gigi, this is James, our son.”

The elf bows low, large ears falling forwards over its head and practically grazing the kitchen floor. It’s a female, James guesses from the smock, and it - she - has bright blue eyes and a small, pointed nose. Her skin is a bit leathery looking, suggesting age, and when she looks up at James again she smiles hugely, showing a gap in between her front two teeth.

“A pleasure to meet you, Master James! Gigi lives to serve House Potter.”

James glances uncertainly at his parents, who are both smiling as though this is completely normal, and then he lowers his voice to ask, “Er - why do we have a house-elf?”

He’s not sure why he’s whispering, except that he doesn’t want to hurt the old elf’s feelings - he knows from the Hogwarts kind that they can be a bit overdramatic if they feel that their work is being slighted or their ability called into question. There’s also an unpleasant prickling sensation about the whole thing. House-elves are usually associated with old money, old lineages, and older views. The Potter name may be a respected one, but Jasper and Althea have always done their own thing, eschewing the majority of Pureblood convention, something that James has always been fiercely proud of. The Potter home is large, yes, and true enough James has never wanted for anything in his life, but they’ve always managed to get along perfectly fine by themselves. And yet here they are now, with a servant.

“We’re not as young as we once were, James,” Althea says, echoing her letters. Another unpleasant feeling trickles over James like someone has slid something slimy over his shoulders. “Gigi has been a wonderful addition to the family these last few months. When your father was taken ill -”

“Months?” James repeats. “You never said anything!”

“Well, darling, you can get quite - impassioned,” his mother says, raising one eyebrow at his tone. James looks down at his shoelaces.

“We thought it best you meet Gigi first before making a snap judgement,” Jasper says.

“You said that you were feeling better,” James mumbles to his father, feeling waylaid and out of sorts.

“And I am!” Jasper says quickly. “But the fact remains, son, that I’m an old man and this is a large house with a lot to do. Gigi helps. She’s been excellent.”

The elf looks set to burst into tears, but whether from the compliment or James’ clear reluctance James isn’t sure. Althea touches her on the shoulder and whispers an instruction, and the elf scurries from the room with another bow.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Althea says, looking directly at James. “And not every family treats their elves like the Blacks do. She loves it here, really she does, and she’s such a sweet old thing.”

Jasper laughs. “She makes an excellent cup of tea, that’s for sure.”

“And I’ve never seen the silverware so clean!”

Both of his parents are looking at him imploringly. He shrugs finally, a muted acceptance, because what else can he do? He doesn’t doubt for one minute that his parents will treat Gigi with respect and kindness. It’s more the fact that they hadn’t told him sooner, that they’ve clearly been struggling.

His parents have always seemed far younger than they actually are; his dad always in a frenzy to whip up some new exciting potion, his mum always laughing at him, mirth and energy stripping the years from both of them. But looking at them now, James thinks he sees the passage of times creeping in at the edges. His dad is leaning one hand on the back of a chair - to hold himself up? For the extra support? His mother’s wrinkles, once seen as laughter lines, now mark her for what she is - a lady very much in her later years.

James snaps out of that train of thought, blinking rapidly. “Right. Well, a bit of extra help can’t go amiss. And I’m here now. I can help too. I don’t need to go to Sirius’, I can stay and -”

“You hush right now,” Althea says sharply. “You’ll not waste your summer away helping two oldies! That’s why we took on Gigi. Sirius needs you. You’ll go to Grimmauld Place on Saturday and you’ll do your best to bring that boy back here for the rest of the summer, do I make myself clear?”

“Yes,” James says, smiling despite himself.

Whatever her age, Althea Potter does not stand for any nonsense.

She leans in to kiss James on the forehead, trying unsuccessfully to smooth down his hair at the same time.

“Now, off to bed you go. It’s been a long day.”

James bids his parents goodnight, and begins to trundle his suitcase towards the stairs, but his father calling to him makes him stop.

“Just leave that there, son, we’ll have Gigi deal with it. Don’t look like that - if you give her work to do, she’ll think you accept her. It’s your way of making amends.”

“Shall I throw some dirty socks and underwear about my room as well?”

“There’d be no difference there, then,” his mother says dryly, and then smiles. “Yes, that would be a wonderful idea.”

James takes only the mirror with him up the stairs to his bedroom. He’s intent on talking to Sirius, to confirm that of course he’ll be there for him on Saturday, that they all will.

As he passes the cupboard where his dad stores his old brooms and cauldrons that he’s yet to sort through and throw away, James sees the door is ajar slightly and someone has made a comfortable little nest in there. He can hear someone breathing, small hiccupy breaths. He thinks fleetingly of Kreacher at the station earlier that day, and how he’d looked at Sirius with such blatant disdain.

James stops outside the cupboard and clears his throat. “Uh - Gigi? Just to let you know…my suitcase is downstairs and it’s full of dirty clothes that need washing. If you could, uh, sort that out for me. Please. That’d be great. They’re - really dirty. In need of a good clean. Thanks.”

He reaches his bedroom door, but before he can push it open Gigi has flung herself out of the cupboard behind him. He can hear her scampering down the stairs, chattering excitedly to herself about work to be done.

James shakes his head as he pushes the door open, pulling the mirror from his back pocket before he’s even fully in the room. He and Sirius have a lot to talk about, and they’ve only been away from each other for a couple of hours.

James feels it’s not going to be a dull summer, by any means.