Olivia stared at James, running over numerous scenarios in her head faster than her thoughts could keep up. He probably wants me to slip Lily a love potion. Or sneak him up into the dormitory at night so he can sleep under her bed. What if I have to become his personal house elf for the rest of term?! I can barely get my mountain of work done as is without having to do somebody else's too!
While her imagination ran away with her on the staircase, James couldn't help but smirk to himself at the look of terror beginning to show on Olivia's face from behind her thick glasses. He knew that he had caught her totally off guard, but given the state of things, he hadn't any another choice. Recently, his dear Lily flower has been getting far too close to some daft Hufflepuff, Charlie McCallum.
It was a fact that the boy had the IQ of a handful of floo powder, but for some reason, his Lily was giving the bloke both her time and attention. James decided early on that the only explanation for the strange, new, budding friendship was Lily's sincere devotion to help out the less fortunate. It couldn't have been anything else. No hidden feelings, no secret love, no possible romance or chemistry. It wasn't as if she could truly fancy someone so awkward, anyways -- the boy didn't even play quidditch! Let alone possess the ability to tell her the difference between the Whomping Willow and the Giant Squid! No, a girl like Lily Evans needed someone charming, brave, and witty. Someone who would be there for her at a moment's notice. Someone who would do anything under the sun for her, regardless of the consequences. More specifically, a girl like Lily Evans needed a Marauder like James Potter. And Merlin, did he need her back.
Alas, to James' horror, Lily remained by the Hufflepuff's side nearly every afternoon in the library for over a month. Studying, talking, laughing, and doing all the things he wanted her to do with him. It was driving James so unbelievably mad, he could barely eat, let alone focus on his assignments and impending exams. It was all he could do to spend days on end trying to assure himself that she would chuck the git before Christmas time rolled around. That is until he overheard the pair set up a date for the upcoming trip to Hogsmeade and the straw officially broke the wizard's broomstick.
Sitting around in hopes of McCallum would somehow wind up hippogriff food flew out the window at once, and the real planning began. James knew he had to do something drastic enough to prove to Lily that they were soul mates, destined to be with one another for the rest of their lives, and it just so happened that little Olivia Avery, who fell quite literally into is James' path, was the missing piece of the puzzle.
James had seen Olivia around the castle before, sitting next to Lily and their other roommates during a few meals and working as her partner during potions. He even recalled the two sitting up in the common room discussing the wisdom of centaurs late into the evening a handful of times. But since news of Lily and McCallum broke earlier the last week, he began to watch her even closer. So close, actually, that Remus felt it necessary to warn him about the repercussions of stalking on more than one occasion.
It was apparent to James that Olivia was the quiet and relatively shy sort, until she was coaxed her out of her shell by someone she had come to know. She seemed to be a whole different, rather sassy, person whenever around Lily and their small group of friends, compared to the girl who often took to hiding herself away in the back of classrooms and halls when surrounded by strangers; nervously twisting locks of hair, the voice of a small field mouse, and regrettably for inanimate objects nearby, being ridiculously clumsy.
Even still, Olivia was a clever witch who put an honest amount of effort into her work to achieve the marks she earned, and generally seemed to enjoy spending time reading for pleasure. James noticed that like clockwork, her owl, whose name he discovered was Penguin of all things, dropped of a neatly wrapped package containing different books almost every other day. He could only imagine how many she had accumulated over the years at such a rate, what in the world they all were about, and where she managed to have room to put them.
James, needless to say, found out countless new things about Olivia the more time he spent with his eyes meticulously on her. From how she likes to butter her toast for breakfast before sprinkling cinnamon on top, to the way some of the several hundred freckles on her left cheek looked as though they could, if squinting at just the right angle, form the outline of a small turtle – or perhaps a slightly mutated pineapple – it was hard to tell. But there was something else, far more important, that proved James' sneaking suspicion she'd be the ultimate advantage in his master plan: the Slytherin's were relentless on the poor girl.
From day one he could see that they deliberately sought Olivia out with intent to attack. He just couldn’t figure out why so many were targeting her. The glares they gave, the snide remarks, and the hexing clearly weren’t random acts of Gryffindor intolerance. There was a significant motive behind why they felt compelled to go for the jugular whenever she walked into the room, and Olivia was not unaware that they wanted her to suffer.
Although she tried to stay out of the line of fire as much as possible, it was unavoidable that someone from Slytherin house would eventually get to her, sometime, somewhere. Whether it was with a stunning spell or a Jelly-Legs jinx, it was still a lone Olivia against them all and those weren’t very good odds. James figured she had come to the same conclusion, as she never retaliated to their harassment. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t see the wheels turning in her head. He could see her coming up with a clever response that she didn't have the guts to blurt out and devising various ways to exact revenge that she'd never bring herself to follow through with. He’d figured one of these days she would probably snap if things stayed bottled up long enough. But the real question was why.
If it wasn’t for Lucy Ives, a darling second year Ravenclaw that spent her free periods following James around like a lost puppy, he would have never heard about Olivia and Fiona Rigby’s row - as reiterated from older sister, a Slytherin prefect, that is. James knew every detail she described was rubbish to say the least. Anyone with half a brain could tell that Olivia wasn’t that kind of person, and more importantly, that Rigby was a nutcase completely certified for a space at St. Mungo’s. He and the other Marauders found that lesson out the hard way after the stunt she pulled trying to get Sirius in her grasp on his fifteenth birthday with some Bulbadox powder when her blatant advances were rejected. The boys were covered in hideous boils for days.
But getting to the bottom of what made Olivia so appealing to the Slytherins that tormented her was the final factor James needed. It was evident that they could both help each other out. She was the key to his success with Lily, and he was the key to her safety! If they worked together in fulfilling the plan he had formulated, they could both come out on top. It sounded easy enough if he could get her to agree…
As the staircase continued to take its course, James tried to ease Olivia’s worries. Wild and rampant thoughts were clearly taking a toll on her. It seemed as though she half expected him to toss her in front of group of stampeding trolls.
"All I ask is that you gather some information for me," he explained. Olivia came to and cocked an eyebrow, visibly concerned about what that undertaking could mysteriously entail. Yet again, James could practically see her gears going to work on overdrive.
"Information?" her voice seemed to squeak. James watched amused, as Olivia shifted anxiously and attempted to hold her ground. "The way I hear it, you're already quite knowledgable when it comes to all things Lily Evans related. Even in regards to the sizes and colors of her various undergarments." After a moment, her eyes narrowed. "Honestly, this some sort of hazing ritual or something? I saw what you and your Marauders did to that group of first years last week," she cringed. "I'll have you know, I've been going here for six years. That ship has long since sailed."
"I think you're getting a bit ahead of yourself," James laughed. "Besides, that whole stunt was all in good fun! They enjoyed every minute of it!"
"Yes, I do imagine one often revels in having very large dungbombs lobbed at their face by dancing suits of armor."
"To each his own," James grinned. "But truth be told, what I need is a serious look inside Lily's head," he explanied. "And that's not something I can do without some help. Your help in particular." Olivia didn't say a word as the Marauder stood in front of her, waiting for a response.
In a perfect world, James had been hoping, of course, that Olivia would jump at the chance to be able to stroll through Hogwarts without having to worry about getting maimed. Though, that's not to say that he didn't understand the apprehension. Quote-unquote 'spying' on Lily just for her own protection could be construed as being a tad, oh, selfish and inconsiderate. But as James had rationalized to himself previously, it wasn’t really a complete invasion of Lily’s privacy when it came down to it! It was merely an inlet to reach a greater good! He could make her the happiest girl in the world if she’d only give in the chance, while Olivia could have finally have some peace. Surely his dearest wouldn't want to make a fellow student suffer just for her own sake!
"That seems incredibly..."
"Look, I'm trying to go about this right right way here," he continued with a sigh. "I've done everything I can think of to impress this girl, and she wants none of it. I try to make her laugh, I try to compliment her, I try to buy her nice presents, bloody hell, I even try to defend her honor, and she still doesn't want to go out with me! I just need to know what to do to make her happy. To make her like me. At the very least, to give me the time of day." Olivia looked at him with a small frown and opened her mouth slightly as if she wanted to say something, before promptly shutting it tight. "Do this for me and I can protect you from Rigby and any other Slytherin that dares even look at you wrong."
James could scarcely guess what she was thinking, but when she remained silent, he decided to try and make a quick exit before she could refuse his offer entirely. "How about you sleep on it for the evening," he proposed quickly. "Think it over and let me know tomorrow at breakfast?"
"I suppose that's fair," Olivia reluctantly told him with a nod.
"Wonderful! Tomorrow then!" While James left toward the Great Hall, and Olivia headed in the direction of the common room, he called to her once more before she was nearly out of sight. "Oh, and Olives, don't take this the wrong way, but I'd watch your back in the meantime if I were you. I overheard a certain Daphne Tengrove swear up and down she'd turn your hair an obnoxious shade of orange if you came near her or that Beckett fellow again." James watched her let out a small gasp and protectively hold onto the long braid that fell past her shoulders.
"Tengrove and Beckett? I don't even know who they are!" He didn’t doubt it.
"They know you, love," he said with sympathy. "You'd do well to keep an eye out."
Olivia darted through the castle, trying to make it back to the her dorm as quickly as possible without being seen once James was finally gone. Her head was still reeling and she could hardly process what to make of a single thing he had said. It seemed impossible that Potter, of all people, had approached her to begin with, let alone had offered her any sort of help with the nonsense that's been going on. What in the world could be next, she wondered. Perhaps good old Dumbledore taking up a bit of muggle tap dancing or pottery making? Perhaps flesh-eating slugs flying along side Hungarian Horntails? At this rate, anything seemed likely. But as much as she may have wanted to, Olivia couldn't deny that James' proposal held quite a lot of promise. Then again, she couldn't decide if it was worth the risk. There was only one thing that was for sure: if something wasn't done about the students who were harrassing her, this very well may become her last year at Hogwarts. And her first one in the grave.
Upon reaching her dormitory unscathed by any passing Slytherins looking for a laugh, Olivia fell onto her bed, utterly exasperated, and tossed her things to the floor. Sprawed out looking up at the ceiling, decorated in beautiful hues of red and gold, she contemplated what business she had being placed in Gryffindor house. If the last several months had taught her anything, it was only that she was a right coward, nothing more. She had no clue what the was had possessed the Sorting Hat if it really believed there was a brave or daring bone in her body. To think, it actually told her she had 'serious potential!' Perhaps it mistook her for a different Olivia? Perhaps that potential was purely disaster related? No, she clearly was not a Gryffindor. If anything, she was a Hufflepuff: loyal, nice, the spine of a jellyfish. That was her nature, through and through. Everybody knew it. She didn't belong with Lily, or James, or her other classmates far superior in confrontations of any kind and always ready for a challenge. That wasn't her. It never has been. It's certainly wasn't about to be either.
Rubbing both temples, Olivia let out a heavy sigh and tried to bury her thoughts when she heard the bathroom door open. Just the person I wanted to see. Merlin, you've got some sense of humor.
"Liv, I'm glad you're here! I was just going to head down to the Great Hall for dinner," Lily started. "Marlene and Alice decided to head to the library to study for Charms. Care to join me?" Olivia stiffened and felt a pang of guilt as she looked at her friend. I'm a horrible excuse for a witch for even considering this, she began to chastise herself. Lily would feel so betrayed if she found out.
With no response, not even a blink, Lily laughed with a wave. "Hello? Earth to Olivia?"
"Oh.. erm.. I've still got to do some work on this Transfiguration essay or McGonagall is going is going to be furious," Olivia finally confessed halfheartidly. "I was hoping to do some catching up on my reading as well. I haven’t even touched The Veela and the Time-Turner since it arrived." She glanced at her dresser and tried to convince herself that it wasn't a complete lie. The book truly had been sitting in the same spot for ages and she did want to finish it one of these days. Sort of. It had accidently fallen out of her hands at dinner a few weeks back, leaving the pages smelling dreadfully of old gravy and spoiled peas. It actually had become a little nauseating to flip the pages.
"Come on," Lily said with a smile, pulling Olivia toward the doorway. "I won't take no for an answer. Your reading can wait until after you eat. You look a bit peaked anyway, are you feeling alright?" Olivia nodded without a word and weakly followed down the steps she had been hoping to avoid for the rest of the evening. As she watched Lily's bright red hair bounce off her shoulders, Olivia's overwhelming sense of shame continued to rise without fail. She's always been such a good friend - the only one I've really had. Conspiring with the person she despises most seems like a most horrible way to repay that favor, she reasoned to herself. That would be absolutely reprehensible. She'd never speak to me again.
"Fiona isn't bothering you again, is she?" Lily questioned with concern. Olivia grimanced as she trudged along. The mere mention of the demon's name made her frazzle. FEE-Oh-Na. It sounded like a death sentence. A painful, manipulative, slag of a death sentence. She tried to lie and advert the pity party that would ensue, as she had been doing steadily since October. Yet, after three months, the number of plausible excuses for rashes, bruises, and other mishaps has started to run thin. There are only so many times can one actually 'accidently' fall into the lake or backfire a spell.
"Honestly, Lily, I'm fine. Just quite tired today." More guilt continued to multiply down in the very pit of her stomach. More 'I'm-going-to-burn-for-all-these-lies' guilt.
When the pair reached the Great Hall, Olivia's legs nearly carried her back from which she came once she saw James was already there, eyes perfectly focused on the side of her head, as she and Lily took their seats. She glanced back after a moment, putting a spoonful of mashed potatoes on her plate and realized Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Petter Pettigew were following suit. Olivia could feel her cheeks starting to burn. They all know. I'm officially the hopeless case of Hogwarts. This cannot get anymore embarrassing!
"I wish Potter would take the hint already."
"W-what?" Olivia stammered with a cough on her pumpkin juice.
"Potter," Lily repeated with disdain. "He keeps looking over here like I’m a piece of meat," she said rolling her eyes and grabbing a biscuit. "You know after Potions on Monday, he actually tried to convince me that Charlie had a severely contagious case of dragon pox and that I needed to stay away to be assured I wouldn't catch them."
"I take it Charlie's just fine?"
"Right as rain," she huffed. "I don't know what he thinks gives him the right to interfere with every aspect of my existance but it's got to stop."
While Lily continued to rant, Olivia tried to rationally debate her situation further and looked back at James, now throwing food amongst the other Marauders. She saw a heap of corn hit Remus on the cheek, as he tried to read his Astronomy textbook. This is Potter, for goodness sakes! The boy who takes pride in causing the humiliation of others! He'll leave me hanging like a fool as soon as he gets what he wants on Lily. Then what? I'll be right back where I started. If not somewhere worse. No, there has to be another way to survive the rest of the year.
Olivia took the path back to the portriat hole with a group of students, and out of the watchful eyes of James and his friends, as the feast came to an end. And after helping herself to a substantial bowl of butterscotch pudding to calm her nerves, of course. She even managed to complete the grueling task of her Transfiguration essay that had eluded her all day, with a little help from Lily, before crawling into bed and letting the warmth of the blankets relax her into sleep. The more she thought it over, the more confident she was in what needed to be done the next morning. She took no chances and made sure to prepare herself a speech on a spare piece of parchment to guide her through rejecting the absurd proposition. After all, she didn't need anyone's help. She was a big girl! And a Gryffindor, supposedly! She might as well try to start acting like it.