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Mermaid Merlynn by Maitri Harys
Chapter 42 : Once Upon A December
 
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Once Upon A December (Part 1)

The water’s freezing this winter, the solemn hum informed Maitri, who was too busy staring off into the tiny chunks of grass around the Black Lake.


Herbert the Giant Squid was waving his tentacles in the air above the lake – getting rid of the unwanted sliminess from the lake bed, according to him – and attracted quite a bit of attention from a lot of students who were on their way to Hogsmeade.


“They think you’re waving to them, Herbie,” Maitri told him, not taking her eyes off the poor, frosted plants.


Unless they don’t mind the bits of green slime over them, Herbie grumbled, I don’t mind waving to them, either.


“That’s disturbing,” Maitri commented. She wasn’t covered in any kind of slippery slush, so she supposed she wasn’t going to be, either. “Say, isn’t it kind of boring today?”


Not if you go back to that room with Helga’s painting, Herbie assured her. Now, that’s one witch with an enthusiasm to burn the entire earth with its heaven and hell.


Maitri chuckled. Herbie loved Helga Hufflepuff, and kept referring to the deceased founder as though they had once been sweethearts. Maitri continued to examine the level of frost on the lakeside herbs and grasses when a shadow fell across her line of sight.


“Ms. Harys?” a tentative male voice called out.

 

 

Maitri looked up to the dark silhouette of Prithiv Patil against the diluted sun of December.


“Oh, hello,” she greeted, getting up and brushing the wet mud from the knees of her old school robe. “Aren’t you going to Hogsmeade? I heard it might be the last time ‘til after Christmas break.”

“I was hoping maybe we could go together,” he answered in his deep, rich language. Maitri almost blushed under his unwavering stare. “Do you mind? If you’re going with your friends, I would be happy to oblige…”

“No,” Maitri said immediately. None of her friends were going to Hogsmeade with her; they told her it was because they wanted to get ‘better acquainted’ with their teams, but everyone knew that this trip was a complete opportunity for all the Hogwarts residents to buy their Christmas gifts for their friends and relatives. “I’ll come with you.”

The boy nodded and fell into step beside Maitri, who cleaned up the traces of all the wetness and muddiness from her robes with her wand, and tied up her green scarf tighter around her neck as they walked out of the ground.


“So,” Patil struck up conversation first. “Where are you from?”


“India,” Maitri replied, surprised about the question. “The southern part of it, though.”


He laughed. “I meant, from around here.”


“It’s only Hogwarts for me,” Maitri answered. “I stay at the castle, or at Ab - my friend’s place for the holidays.”


“No – uh, where’s your home?”


“I told you already,” said Maitri. “In India. You know, the seventh largest country in the world with the second largest coastline and in the tropical belt with so many wild animals? That country.”


“So you were serious about living in India! What made you come all the way up to Europe for magical education?”


Maitri took a chance to squint up at the tall boy. “What made you?”


 "My father got transferred here,” he said quietly. “Shortly before my eleventh birthday. He told me I got admission into one of the best schools in India, but it would be a burden for me to study so far away, though.”


 “Oh,” Maitri said, not knowing what else to say.

 “There seemed to be some discussions, too, and the next year, I found myself blinking up at the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall,” he finished.

 Maitri chuckled. “My uncle went to Hogwarts,” she informed him. “So, I guess, Professor Dumbledore tried out if I would, too; Appa wasn’t very glad about it, but he did let me come.”

 They reached the small stile beyond which lay the quaint little village of Hogsmeade. Patil climbed over first and lent a hand to Maitri, who accepted is explanation of the slippery puddle at the other side.

 “I’ve often wondered how it would have been at the other place, in India,” Patil said, with almost a wistful edge to his tone. “My Papa went to this prestigious gurukula called Nalanda University, and his stories of the place always fascinated me, even though he assures Hogwarts is nothing lesser.”

 “I’ve a friend who studies at Nalanda,” Maitri told him, and Patil raised his eyebrows incredulously. “Seriously; he studies the same year as I, is called Dhruvan, and is also my neighbor back home.”

 And then started a whole narration of Maitri’s last summer to which Patil listened attentively, laughing and chuckling at the right places, which only encouraged Maitri into informing the older boy about many more of her daily stories.

“It must be wonderful to have a younger sibling,” Patil mused after quite a while. Both of them were now safely seated inside a packed Three Broomsticks, the inn that was the favorite Hogsmeade spot for most of the Hogwarts clan of students, with the boy sipping a mug of Butterbeer, and Maitri cooling a nearly scalding hot chocolate. “I don’t have any; my childhood’s been almost always lonely.”

 “That’s sad,” Maitri acknowledged, feeling sorry enough for someone who had had to go through so many years without a sibling, and still seem to want one.

 A few minutes later, the inn was all but bursting, with almost all students from third year and above occupying it. The wind outside, Maitri surmised, was too strong. After all, it was one of those December days in and around Hogwarts that foreboded a storm, preferably with gales, and not hail.

 Patil’s head whipped around every now and then while the two of them continued to make conversation (now, about spell theory as it was in Seventh Year). When Maitri peered out once to look at his object of interest, she realized she wasn’t so surprised. If she were any smarter, she would have figured out a clever way to tease the boy about his obvious affection for a girl.

 “That’s Poorna Ratnakar, right?” Maitri asked him, and took a deep swallow of her hot chocolate as he jumped and spluttered. “The Seventh Year Ravenclaw Prefect?”

 “Well, yes, yes,” he said hastily. “You know her?”

 “She’s a friend of Alex Messiers,” she informed her new friend. “We have met once or twice over at the Ravenclaw table over dinners.”

 “I’m thinking of asking her for the Christmas Ball,” Patil admitted softly. “It’s only for the Sixth and Seventh Years, but I’m afraid she might already be asked.”

 Maitri smiled at his obvious discomfort of having to discuss his crush with someone who was a little more than a friendly stranger.

 “I don’t think so,” Maitri offered her point of view. “Alex keeps commenting as to how she holds out on confirming dates until the very last second. In fact, he told me this the other day, she hadn’t fixed on her Halloween Ball date until that very afternoon of the Ball!”

 A hopeful look passed into Prithiv Patil’s eyes as they drew towards Miss Ratnakar again. It was not until moments later that they flicked to Maitri again.

 “Are you sure that Alex Messiers is not your boyfriend?” he asked, almost rhetorically, in Maitri’s opinion. “No offense, but you both are rather chummy, aren’t you?”

 Maitri blushed slightly, out of irritation rather than embarrassment. “Why don’t we get back to your being distraught due to lack of siblings?” she asked sweetly.

Prithiv Patil let out a completely unsophisticated snort that made Butterbeer gush up his wind pipe.


 




“That’s…” insane, stupid, silly, crazy, extremely far-fetched, annoying, idiotic, so funny as hell, downright ostentatious, frilly, eighteenth-century Crusader-style, ancient pharaoh-style, green-fingers-style, eco-conservationist-ic, phenomenally obsequious; Alex had more all the more words in his head, but refrained from any of the negative ones, and settled instead for a positive one. “Fine. You guys must know to name something.”

“Well, it’s infinitely better than naming an owl Nicodemus,” Regulus Black supported Maitri, with an enchanting reference to the Black brothers’ owl, which had been eloquently named by Sirius when he was seven.

The three of them were in an obscure corner of the vast library, under the pretext of doing homework – Maitri was looking through a book of Spell Origins, Regulus was making stick figures on parchment duel with each other and Alex was lounging on his chair, all his essays completed.

“Remind me, squirt,” Alex addressed Reggie, who scowled at him. “How come you’re spending time with us while Snapey and your other friends are onto discussing something bad and big?”


“For your information, Messiers,” Reggie spoke with clenched teeth, a nerve twitching near his throat. “My friends and Severus do not discuss ‘big and bad’ things, and I’m not here to get my quota of quality friendship time with you; I’m here for her, you prat.” For good measure, as though doubting Alex’s ability to connect pronouns with the proper nouns, Reggie pointed at Maitri, who tried her best not to laugh at or interfere between the two of them.


“But, why?” Alex argued. “Dogging her around because she’s one of the targets for your curse practice or what? To keep your friends permanently aware of her position so that-”


“Alex!” Maitri warned her friend, not wanting his contempt of Slytherins to overrule his better judgement.


Regulus’ face had blanched and his eyes had hardened, while his lips became pressed to an impossibly thin line. “I thought Ravenclaws were supposed to be clever, Messiers,” he said drily, eyes locked in a glaring match with the older boy.


“Ha!” Alex exclaimed, as though Reggie’s comment had been preposterous. “In which case, Slytherins are supposed to be noble; haven’t there cometh endless proof against that one notion?”

Gryffindors are supposed to be noble, you dolt,” Regulus chided Alex. “We Slytherins are the honorable ones; we keep the promises we make.”

Alex scowled and looked at Maitri for support, but the girl was engaged in her book, and forced herself not to look up; she couldn’t bring herself to disagree with Reggie, nor could she antagonize this new, very sensitive Alexander Messiers. Both were her best friends; she couldn’t – wouldn’t choose between them.


“Yes, as honorable as snakes are,” Alex muttered under his breath. Reggie shrugged.


“If that’s how you want to see it,” the Black boy said, shrugging. “Snakes are the most unique creatures on this planet – and it’s not a dishonor for us, Slytherins, to be compared to them; in fact, you might want to consider categorizing us under the familial genuses – myself, a Cobra, and Maitri there, a Viper.”


Alex looked struck. So did a couple of other students from the neighboring table who looked at Regulus with incredulous expressions. Maitri had to bite back from laughing or grinning or doing anything that might disturb the perfect moment of astonishment that had captured this corner of the library.


“Viper?” Alex repeated. “Cobra?” He turned his wide, puzzled blue eyes to Maitri. “Why does he sound like Italian Mafia?”


Maitri couldn’t hold her laughter in at this point, and had to duck her head under the table until her laughter spasms ceased, while, the boys, obviously, continued their argument.


“What’s mafia?” Regulus sounded utterly childish.


“Italian families that are so bent on eradicating people who borrow something from them,” Alex explained, though his tone was extrememly condescending.


“Gosh, Messiers, I am a Black!” Regulus didn’t apparently understand the patronizing nature of the comment. “Are you telling me Italians are conning off of our noble lineage?”


Maitri could tell Alex wanted to very much bang his head on the wooden table then and there, but held it wisely lest he be suspended from his beloved library.


But, even he couldn’t hold it off for long, and ducked to join Maitri under the desk, who was shaking uncontrollably with suppressed laughter. A moment later, they were joined by a curious Regulus Black.


“Are we having the next stage of our conference here?” he asked, grey eyes luminous in the dimness.


“C-conference?” Alex spluttered.


“Yeah,” Reggie confirmed. “You know, the discussion on the fact that I’m here to spend my friendship time with Harys, who is incidentally my best friend, and not-”


“-not with me, who is not,” Alex completed for the boy, who nodded after a moment. Alex calmed down slowly, and stealing a glance at Maitri, who had resorted to a grin, he smiled slowly before opening his mouth again.


“Why not?”


There are strange moments that friendships are forged. The Hogwarts library had seen to the bonding of the Marauders, the legendary friendship of Andromeda Black and Ted Tonks, and the academically stellar friendship of Maitri Harys and Alexander Messiers. And, with a tentative smile wrought on the face of the youngest of Black cousins and siblings, it witnessed the start of a friendly bond between Regulus Black and Alex Messiers.


“Why on earth do you guys have to be so embarrassing?” a new voice made the trio jump in surprise. Like a bright beacon, Dorcas Meadowes’ blond head poked under the table between Regulus and Alex. When no one answered her, she looked at Reggie.


“Move over, new kid,” she ordered him. “I need to sit in, too!”


Regulus hastily scrambled to Maitri’s side, and Dorcas slid into the now crammed under-the-table space.


“Alex,” Dorcas addressed the boy beside her. “Mum told me to tell you that you and Alice are invited for Christmas over at the Potters’ place.”

 

“Why wouldn’t James Potter tell me if I’m invited to his place or not?” Alex asked her, confused.


“Well, Mum and Mrs. Potter are planning out a big New Year’s party,” Dorcas said slowly, winking at Maitri at the mention of the party. “I shall be bunking in there, too!”


“Oh,” Alex responded unsurely. “Then it’s great, right? We can have fun pranking the Marauders, then, Dorkie & M!”


Maitri flinched at his sudden excitement, and looked at Reggie, who was equally expressionless as herself.


“I didn’t get invited by the Potters, Al,’ she reminded her friend. “They’ve invited you and Dorcas – not me.”


“So what?” Dorcas demanded. In that second, there seemed to be some shared realization between Alex and Dorcas, for the next moment, both of them acquired an identical gleam in their eyes.


“But I’m sure you can still help in the base work of designing the pranks,” Alex noted out with a wide grin (which was reflected on Dorcas, too, but lost on Maitri’s and Reggie’s faces), thereby making it clear to Maitri the cause of the eye-gleam. “Can’t you?”



“This is insane!” Maitri exclaimed, kicking the inch-thick snow from under her boots.

Severus smirked as he walked alongside her. The day being an early Sunday morning, there was a very high chance that no one at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry even wanted to be awake, as these two were, and take a refreshing stroll around the castle itself.

“I don’t want to plot the downfall of the Marauders!” Maitri admitted as she continued to attack the thin layer of snow with her boots. “I don’t want to be credited the mastermind behind Peter’s Cheese-Face Attack or Sirius’ Flower-Head Day – or Remus’ Bad-Breath Morning!”

“What’s Potter’s thing called?”


“James’ Jelly-Belly Night,” Maitri grumbled, and Severus let out a shriek of laughter that startled a couple of birds out of their nests up in one of the crevices of the castle. Maitri watched, forlorn, as the loose feathers floated down in front of her.


“I bet you helped design that one without any protest,” Severus jeered her. Maitri could not bring herself to disagree – especially not after her recent run in with the arrogant Mr. James Potter.


A few days ago, shortly after the meeting between Maitri, Alex, Dorcas and Reggie under the table in the library, Maitri had had the misfortune of being Potter’s Potions partner for the day. With Peter being absent on account of a rare wizarding influenza, and Narcissa in the Hospital Wing after being bit by a Sting-Bat, from the Care of Magical Creatures class before that, it seemed as though there was no other choice.


To say it was an unpleasant experience was a serious underestimation. James Potter and Alice Messiers (from the neighboring bench) totally wrecked the hour by calling Maitri names – for being a Slytherin; for being Severus’ friend, and for many other things Maitri found trivial to be judged upon.

 

And, in the end, the Shrinking Solution they had been set to work upon was carelessly dumped on Maitri’s cloak (courtesy of James Potter), which started to rapidly reduce in size, effectively strangling her within minutes. Professor Slughorn had to administer at least three drops of the anti-potion to set it right again, while Potter and Messiers subjected to a hearty laugh.


It had been even more embarrassing for Maitri, because no one in the Slytherin house would dare to directly support her, while Severus and Lily, who had tried to help her, had been occupied with their own tampered cauldron-full of potion – something that almost never happened in their case. Maitri had, therefore, suffered a full-face humiliation without any means to fight back that would not have landed her in any detention.


Plotting ‘James’ Jelly-Belly Night’, Maitri had to admit, was refreshingly and extremely therapeutic. Alex had even gone as far as starting a new plot in honor of his twin, but since neither of them had any direct grudge towards Alice Messiers (except being an annoying twin, and an annoying classmate), Maitri firmly told him to stop thinking of one. Alex had, of course, reluctantly agreed.


“Severus?” Maitri called softly, after a few moments of quiet appreciation of the pre-dawn sky.


“Mhmm?”


“Are you really into the Dark Side now?”

It felt like the millionth time she was asking him the question, but it was a bolt from a blue; they had never discussed it between themselves before; it had been a taken-for-granted issue that they both knew was essential for Severus’ Slytherin-ist reputation, and for Maitri’s continued truce with the Pureblood Maniacs. She still was unaware of what reasons he’d given to others in order to be her friend, but wasn’t really eager to know them anyway; there was a high probability that they may not be truthful enough.

Severus’ dark, ebony eyes met Maitri’s deep amber ones in an expressionless stare. Maitri could feel his presence trying to enter her mind, which felt a lot like Dumbledore’s probing of her thoughts, and at the same time, much different. Severus’ presence of mind-reading actually hovered for a moment on the border of her consciousness, as though asking for permission to enter her mind, before Maitri allowed him feel that her thoughts were the same as her words.

But he did not answer. Instead, Maitri tried to reflect his actions – and probed into his mind the moment his search in hers slackened. She did not understand the technical aspects of the process, but it felt a lot like her unintentional listening to others’ thoughts. Severus’ mind felt like it was in a muddle; shadows and daylight danced across it, along with Lily’s face that was interspersed with the faces of the older Slytherins who’d been encouraging him ever since he’d joined Hogwarts, making it almost a second, more lovable home. There was a tension of strong emotions: an obvious battle between loyalty, compassion and passion for rare arts.


“If you feel it’s best for you,” Maitri spoke after a while, still watching Severus’ dark eyes as they flickered with the thoughts. “I suppose you’re inclined to go for it, right?”


Severus dropped his gaze, cutting off Maitri’s access to his thoughts, and opted to stroll forward. Maitri resumed her pace beside his, and waited patiently.

“Have they asked you yet?” he asked quietly, ignoring her question.

Maitri’s breath caught in her throat. Ask her? To conform into Dark Arts? It was a new, strange concept.

“No, Severus, I don’t think the Slytherin or Dark Wizards fighting for Pureblood domination would require the services of a muggleborn witch,” she replied levelly.

“But it can’t far away,” Severus warned. Maitri looked at him curiously.


“They can’t,” she repeated. “I oppose everything they believe.”

“What of the rest of the world, then?”

“What of them?”

“Do they accept you easy enough, just because you’re a muggleborn and a witch?” Severus argued. Maitri fell silent, and remembered James Potter and Alice Messiers.


There were many more Potters, Messierses and other anti-Slytherins at Hogwarts, whose wrath she had seen her friends suffer from. There had been a scary Rozvitz, and many would follow the disgraced ex-seeker of Gryffindor, under the name of vengeance. And there was Aberdeen, the Connors, Honovan and a few other classmates of hers who treated her on various levels of discrimination.


Even Sirius Black, the one who claimed to be her friend, pitied her, which irritated her to no limits. She did not aspire for sympathy; it was friendship that worked for her. But nothing could hide the adversity they faced inside the confines of the castle – she for being what she was, and Severus for being poor and being exceptionally talented. They were a pair distinguished, but not openly accepted in lighter societies, except for the Slug Club.


“The world after Hogwarts will be different,” Maitri said softly, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes as she imagined a whole world that discriminated her, other than her own friends. “Wouldn’t it be, Severus? You don’t have to choose the Dark Side… Lily and I are always here for you. You don’t have to embrace it, Sev, unlike Regulus, who is tied by family – you don’t need to forge a needless tie into this… I believe I can pull you through…”

She stopped, her throat constricted with sudden lumps. Severus refused to look at anywhere but her.


“It’s the best for a number of people, Maitri,” Severus said after long last, his words coming out in a scared whisper. “I don’t know what the future holds for me, you or Lily; but I just want to be in control of it when the crisis occurs.”


“You are so sure of a crisis, Sev,” Maitri noted hoarsely. Sev glanced at her, startled by the change in her voice.

 

 

Both of them were now standing at the bank of the great lake, and staring into the brightening horizon. Maitri dully noted the dulcet tones of a Quidditch captain yelling his team to practice harder, in the Pitch yonder. She was struck by the normality of the rest of the school, when the two Fourth Year Slytherins were discussing the future of Wizarding prejudice, and the place of muggleborns in the magical society.


“It is bound to come soon,” Severus answered, his tone that of a resigned soldier. “With all the changes in the Wizarding World, if a crisis does not make an appearance, we shall be the blessed race in the entire history of humankind.”

Maitri knew that Severus was right – and that his words weighed much. Even though she did not like Reggie or Severus being part of students who were becoming popular supporters of Voldemort, it was not as though she could stop them from doing it.

 

It was way complicated than that; they were well known wizarding students from a well bred stock – pureblood and half-blood, and very much eligible to be the Slytherin elite, with their talents most suitable to be used by or for the tyrant known as Lord Voldemort.

 

 

Lily was as concerned as Maitri was, about Severus grouping with the shady sort – but Lily Evans was not a Slytherin or a pureblood, and therefore, could not be aware of the abundant danger lying around in the Pureblood Society. She was well-protected and cared for in the Gryffindor Tower (and by association of James Potter), where the prejudice was worth much lesser than the Slytherin Dungeons, and where people would recklessly fight for their friends, no matter their blood status.


 

She would never know the fear of a first-year Slytherin who has to stand up against practically every other house-mate to prove his/her mettle – just to live in his/her common room with peace for the rest of the seven years of his/her residence at the school.


But Maitri had the privilege to think she knew much better. She knew that every Slytherin was his/her own island, and had to overcome each and every battle individually. There was, nevertheless, a group aspect in each of their hearts – maybe, due to the fact that all of them may have been inter-related at some point or other in their family trees – which compelled to possess rights to any damage or enhancement of their house-mate.

 

Maitri knew that many older Slytherin Prefects saw to it that she was not attacked by other house members were she ever targeted, but never refrained from hexing her in the shadows of the Slytherin commonroom. It was an unspoken agreement to not neglect a Slytherin to the mercy of an outsider, no matter the person’s impression among the Slytherins themselves.


Who better than Maitri Harys could understand this half-baked invisible rule of the Slytherins? No; she was not going to try and convince Severus Snape that the path he followed was dangerous, dark and boded peril to a majority of the Wizarding World, not when she understood the precarious edge he stood upon in the Slytherin society, especially for continuing to be her friend. There was no denying that the needletip Severus was balancing his weight on was indeed very thin.

“You’ve grown up, Severus,” Maitri spoke after a very long time. The sun was now a distant reddish sphere on their left, behind the trees of the Forbidden Forest. “Sometime in the two years, you’ve grown up from a child to an adult, and have left me behind.”

Severus chuckled heartily, eyes watching the non-existing ripples on the calm lake.


“Considering my current position,” he said lightly. “It is only right that I get the dibs to parent you, Lily, Regulus and Narcissa out of the daily catastrophes you lot get into.”


Both of them shared a knowing grin at that comment, and resumed their slow stroll around the part of the lake that was outside the forest, and permissible to student access. For now, this unsure, volatile, best-for-all settlement contented them. There would be more words, but neither wanted to spoil the magnificent morning with regret and self-pity.


“Want to join me at the Great Hall for breakfast?” Severus offered as they walked back. Maitri shook her head.


“Want to join me at the Headmaster’s office for breakfast?” she asked him, for which he snorted and refused politely, nodding her goodbye as reached the Front Doors.


At the seventh floor, Maitri unexpectedly ran into Alex, who hugged her on spot and conveyed to her news that the pranks were going to be perfectly executed, and that it was a pity she could not see them in person. Maitri felt slightly disturbed at the idea of spending a holiday with James Potter and his verbal abuse of her, and the unconditional support Alice Messiers gave the boy in this matter, and conferred her misgivings to Alex, who agreed after a moment that it would, ideed, be awkward for Maitri to spend her Christmas break with the Potters.


He also stressed the fact that it was a pity, since the older Potters were “really decent, and not a single bit as conceited as James”.

Dumbledore was pouring out tea into the cups when Maitri entered the Headmaster’s Office (minus Alex), with Phyllis the house-elf setting the low table for a breakfast for two. The girl felt herself reel back in a memory involving Twinkles doing the very same chore, and a bubble of strange fear erupted in her middle.

Phyllis looked up and presented Maitri with a big-toothed smile, for which the witch had nothing in reply. It felt as though Phyllis was just taking up her sister’s spot and made herself a bold target for the months and attacks to come – in order to chastise Maitri’s heritage. She nodded to the house-elf shakily as she sat down on her chair opposite to Professor Dumbledore, who winked and nodded at Phyllis. The elf then departed the pair with a graceful bow and a sound that resembled a twig snapping into two.

“You look preoccupied, child,” Dumbledore chided her gently as she poked her breakfast with a fork.

Maitri looked up and shook her head, taking care to wipe off her latest conversation with Severus from the top layer of her active mind. Sure enough, there was a sweeping sensation as Dumbledore’s blue eyes pierced her, which ceased when the old professor realized there was not much to dig out from her. Fawkes flew over from his perch, opted to sit on the armrest of Maitri’s chair, and laid his big, red head on her shoulder as she ate her breakfast.


“Why don’t we discuss about your dueling team friends?” Dumbledore suggested, breaking the silence that seemed to have sprung up.


Maitri, therefore, launched into the introduction of her new three friends, with whom she had, by that day, met with twice to practice and discuss the Dueling Club’s little matches that were going to begin after the Christmas break. Patil had been exceedingly gracious when it came to Maitri’s eagerness to know non-verbal spells. Carli Hathaway had offered to let her have a look at basic theories of spell break-up. Jake Johnson was funny, serious and wise in turns, and generally volatile in general.


A twitch appeared in the middle of Dumbledore’s beard, soon followed by a smile and occasional chuckles of appreciation. Maitri had launched and steam-rollered through the descriptions of her team, Alex’s team, Severus’ team, Lily’s team, Dorcas’ Team and the anticipation among the students about the first scheduled dueling match on the morning of 5th of January, 1975, exactly two days after the Christmas break ended. In fact, she commented on how the Dueling Club took the Quidditch Cup anxiety to a moderate level, since students were equally eager for both. Dumbledore, to Maitri’s great relief, did not find their team’s name amusing, astonishing, commentable or in any way, remarkably ostentatious. He simply nodded, as though in agreement.


"Do you think it’s a good name?” Maitri asked him, biting her lip.

“It certainly is inspirational,” Dumbledore told her seriously. “There have been organizations – specifically, Greek Orders in the past, named after peace, and fight for it.”

“Johnson keeps saying it’s a bit silly to be called Peacemakers, because we’re going to duel others, anyway.”

“The Organosi Irini, founded in 1307, Athens, Greece, were a group of highly professional wizards,” the old headmaster said. “Who were specially trained in magical dueling skills in order to fight revolutionaries and other peace-disrupting people. And the Heddwch Sefydliad – it was a sensational movement in the British Isles back in the Seventeenth Century; they were alleged peace-loving wizards who were almost the vigilantes of that time.”


“So, are Aurors, too, peace… you know, truculent?” Maitri asked, intrigued. She promised herself to try to find out more about peace-loving duelers.

 

 

Albus Dumbledore’s chuckle lost a beat. His eyes’ sparkle dimmed a little, making his wrinkles stand out, clear and numerous.


“Perhaps, deep inside, with their theories,” he answered, his voice lacking the hum of exuberance that had been present earlier. “Aurors are special individuals who have to sacrifice their opinions on worldy transits and philosophies, unlike you or I, for theirs is a job that requires more of brutality, than truculence.”

Maitri took a moment to try to understand what Dumbledore said. Something was odd about the ideology of his statement, but she could not very well argue with him; all she knew about Aurors was that they were the Magical Component of policemen.

“Now, I have Molly Weasley asking me if the Weasleys could have you for Christmas,” Dumbledore announced, clearing the unusual heavy tone out of his voice, and returning to his usual witty cheerfulness.


“Wow! Really? Can I go?”

 

 

The smile re-manifested itself. “I don’t see why not, child.”


“Right, then pack up,” Maitri ordered. “You can go with me.”


Fawkes the phoenix let out a loud squawk, making Maitri turn around and look at the bird. He was shaking all over, red plume shivering in midair. The phoenix was laughing.



“That’s sad, kid,” Molly Weasley sympathized Maitri. “I’m sure he would have loved to take a holiday, but the school must be pretty hectic now, with all the hullaboo around it. There’s always a next time.”


Maitri looked up from Charlie’s gleeful little face and frowned at the red-haired woman. “Hullaboo? What’s happening at Hogwarts without the students knowing about it?”


Arthur Weasley took that opportune moment to enter into the Burrow through the Kitchen entrance. He greeted Maitri heartily, and glanced at his wife nervously, as if to ask, “How did you induce her to think that way?”


“How old are you, Maitri?” He asked after receiving a couple of silent messages from Molly’s eyes, and sat down opposite to Maitri, on the other side of the newly hewn dining table.


“Nearly fourteen,” she replied immediately, wondering what he was getting onto. “Why?”


“I, er, I assume,” he began reluctantly, cutting off eye contact with the girl. “You might have heard of this wizard called… erm, called Lord V-Voldemort.”


Maitri looked at Arthur, and then at Molly Weasley before slowly nodding her head.


 “It’s easy to know about Tom Riddle when you’re a Slytherin,” she said quietly, turning her gaze to Charlie and offering the services of her fingers for him to pull and laugh at. “And I have seen him, once, I think.”

Silence followed her proclamation. When she looked up, she saw both the Weasleyes regarding her with open bewilderment. Maitri blushed at the sight. “Is anything wrong? How is Dumbledore busy with the school because of him?”

Arthur snapped out of the shock first, and leaned back on his chair, rubbing the back of his neck. “Well, kiddo, you know he kinda causes trouble here, right, in the outer world?” He finished, as though it were a cryptical rhetoric question.

“I’ve heard,” Maitri replied, her eyes hinting sarcasm. Molly smiled at her weakly before returning to her tending of the dinner.


“So…” Arthur did not seem to have noticed the irony, and continued. “Albus Dumbledore’s the the Chief Warlock at Wizengamot – the Wizarding Court – and all the criminal cases (most of them brought upon this society by the doings of V-Voldemort and his accomplices) are gobbling up his time. The Aurors are wearing hard on him to hold off trials, but he fears that there may be innocents in the Ministry captives… right now, he’s not a favourite of the Auror Division.”


Maitri felt a sudden glow of realization as it struck her in a very big drove. So, that was the problem about the Aurors and Dumbledore.


“Dinner’s ready,” Molly announced before sticking her head out of the kitchen door and yelling to the group of people playing out in the neighbouring field. “Bill! Gid! Fab! DINNER’S READY!”

“Gideon and Fabian are here, too?” Maitri asked, excited. All she had been told when she arrived about an hour ago was that Bill was out at the field playing with some children from down at the village.


“So is Galahad,” Arthur replied, smiling thankfully that the topic had been changed. “You seem to be a popular Christmas guest choice.”


Maitri returned Arthur’s smile. “What about the Tonks?”


“They’ll be over on Christmas Eve,” Molly told her, and beckoned the girl to help her set the table for everyone, just as four snow-covered figures stepped into the warmth of the kitchen. Bill held a huge, upside-down turkey, and a wide smile, while the three adults had dragged in what looked like the tallest Christmas tree – it wouldn’t fit in the doorway, and the three collapsed at its base, and pulled off their heavy mufflers.


When Galahad Weasley did not seem to breathe as hard as the Prewett twins, Fabian shot him a scowl, panting deeply. “Vam-pire!”


“Oi!”


Subsequently, the dinner was a huge comical success as the Prewetts and Galahad Weasley fought their famous verbal wars. Maitri couldn’t remember a happier December.

 

 



It was past dinnertime at the Potters, and Lily Evans was no closer to sleep as any of her friends were. Lily thought she must have heard somewhere that James Potter was a pureblood, but since she had never been to houses of magical families before, she realized it had not affected her much before.


She was a courtesy guest at the Potter mansion – which looked bigger than her wildest dreams and magical to the core, due to the incessant pleading of Alice Messiers, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew – and the fact that even Severus had been invited to stay over at the Malfoys – had made Lily reluctantly agree to spending her holidays with the Marauders and the Messiers.


Alex Messiers was fine, and Alice, comfortable to be with. Peter and Remus offered her help and smiles, and generaaly were sweet to her as they had always been. Even Sirius had stayed away from her, politely, ever since she had caught him singing in the shower a few hours earlier. If he were embarrassed, he seemed too proud to show it and too shy to face her.


In fact, everyone except for James Potter did splendid in her thoughts. Lily fought an urge to throw a beautiful pillow off the plushy bed in her amazing room (the one she shared with Alice and Dorcas) as his name entered her mind. She didn’t know why, but Potter had acted all gentlemanly in front of his parents – who were nice, and seemed to know of Potter’s affection for Lily – and then flirted unashamedly when they weren’t around.


And there was Dorcas Meadowes. Lily was sure that Meadowes would’ve been a Marauder had the Sorting Hat screamed “Gryffindor!” over her head. She was easily as annoying, thirsty for adventure, and held enough contempt towards to the recluses and shy as the Marauders did. If there was one redeeming quality that Maitri could spot in the girl was that she did not blindly antagonize all Slytherins as the Marauders did; the only topic Alex Messiers had fought with his sister over seemed to be the best one amongst himself and Dorcas Meadowes – the friendship of Maitri Harys.


“You seem preoccupied, Lils,” Alice’s sweet voice wafted through Lily’s ears, making her turn away from the beautiful starry sky she’d been staring at from her seat at the windowsill of their room.


“Do you think Severus would really take up the Dark Side, Alice?” Lily asked, her voice strangely weak from her fear and concern for her best friend. She looked deep into Alice’s hazel eyes, which had indescribable flecks of pale blue in the irises, and tried to find the reassuance and support she wanted in the matter of concern.


Alice sighed prettily as she sat across Lily. The red-haired girl couldn’t notice but how beautiful the Messiers girl could look without even an ounce of effort, the grace of the generations of Purebloods in her blood. She remembered her own freckles, and her hand wanted to go up and feel them again at the ridge of her small, sharp nose, but Lily resisted.


“You must really stop looking out for that boy, Lily,” Alice advised deeply, an aura of patronization emanating from her small frame. “It would seem hopeless to worry over someone who is bound to be a weirdo for the rest of his social life.”


“He’s my friend,” Lily said defensively. “And just because he is interested in things you can’t understand, you cannot brand him so!”


“Lily, Lily,” Alice said, tutting. “Since when has an inordinate amount of interest in Dark Magic been anything but unhealthy?”


Lily Evans could not talk. She knew Severus liked the esoteric nature of what was known to the rest of the society as “dark magic”, and the fact that it came easily to him to understand the nuances helped only to nurture his affections for the thread of magic that others despised. It was true, that the professors up at the school rejected teaching the students much about anything that would affect the laws of nature, but, time and again, Severus had pointed out that magic, by its own self, was a violation of natural ways of life.


But unhealthy? Severus had been only but unhappy with the dark arts. He knew them like no other fourteen-year old could, and it gave him self-confidence. How could that be bad? Just because the majority of the world it was harmful, Lily couldn’t dismiss the whole branch of magic; if Sev had been accused due to his friendship with Mulciber and Avery – now, that was a valid charge.


Alice Messiers, however, had other conclusions out of Lily’s prolonged silence. “Lily, don’t you understand?” the girl asked softly, exasperatedly. “Snape has been the mastermind behind terrorizing all the Muggleborns-,” Lily looked up sharply. “- and you know why you can never deny that? Because Alex has seen him talking to Avery, Yaxley and those other tyrants way many things just before any muggleborn got caught in their trap of torment. Alex and I are not like each other in our Slytherin issues – but I can tell that Alex is reluctant to brand your precious Snape on the better side of this pureblood feud.”


“He’s never harmed me in any way, Alice,” Lily reminded her friend, a little forcefully, her emerald eyes flaring with anger. “I’m a muggleborn, too, if you forgot – and Severus has been my friend for years. If he had indeed been anti-muggle, as you claim him to be, I would’ve been dead or worse long ago.”


“I didn’t say he was anti-muggle, Lils,” Alice said, surprised that Lily would still defend the boy she could never bring herself to consider a normal human being. “I just meant he loves the Dark Arts too much to let go of it, and his practice targets seem to be the muggleborns at Hogwarts. The other muggleborns. And I’m willing to bet that he’s doing all this to get into a spot among you know – those vile wizards – you know, Voldemort’s followers… drat! What are they called?” The girl frowned and turned her face away, looking around the room as if something would trigger her fickle memory.


“The Death Eaters?” Lily whispered quietly. She had had long discussions with her Ravenclaw academic counterpart, Marlene McKinnon, once, about the man who called himself Lord Voldemort and his destruction of the magical and muggle societies. “Are you seriously accusing Severus to be capable of assisting that – that creature – that horrible, mangled beast in his future pursuits of destruction? Have you gone mad, Alice? How can you insinuate such a thing about anybody we know from our year – or from Hogwarts? How could you, Alice, how could you?”

Alice turned pink, and her clear hazel eyes clouded up. “You can never know what one is capable of in the future,” she said cryptically. “Remember this – Lord Voldemort was once a student at Hogwarts himself – who had a trophy in almost every award the school could offer, and more. He was the best student, best Quidditch Captain, best Prefect and probably the most perfect Head Boy the institution had ever beheld.”


As Alice watched Lily’s reaction, she knew she’d hit a nerve; Lily wanted to be the best in all academic aspects, Prefect and, finally, Head Girl. It would just seem too unsettling to think that the best example to be your role model was the one that wanted to see your destruction.


“Remember, Lily,” Alice spoke again, her voice softer and sounding deadlier, in stark comparison the safest atmosphere Lily had ever been in. “That Lord Voldemort had once been just Tom Riddle. Just another Tom, Dick and Harry once upon a time.”


Her icy tone was highlighted by the shouts of glee from the boys and Dorcas Meadowes, who were outside, playing Night Quidditch with a glowing Quaffle and Snitch. Flashes of light occasionally made their way through the thin, gossamer-like curtains and flitted across the girls’ cheeks. Lily Evans stared at Alice Messiers for what seemed like a lifetime.


 Suddenly, Lily wasn’t so sure about Severus’ future anymore.

 





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