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Turning Time: Lily and Snape by Hermionecantsing

Format: Novel
Chapters: 20
Word Count: 168,589
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Romance
Characters: Harry, Lupin, Snape, James, Lily, Sirius, OC
Pairings: Snape/Lily

First Published: 08/09/2011
Last Chapter: 01/01/2018
Last Updated: 01/01/2018

Summary:
 









Every day of his adult life, Severus was forced to ask himself one question: What if?

Now, Harry finds himself struggling for the solution, and along the way he's changing the past, the present, the future... and the lives of those around him. 

Everything is going to change, and it starts with the appearance of a mysterious boy...

Banner credit: Althea...Thanks for the amazing banner!


Chapter 1: Water Lily
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I'm sorry you don't remember your mum and dad in person. They'd be very proud of you. You'll see that you're a spitting image of James, and you've got Lily's smile. You're as bright as they were, too. Anyhow, I hope this helps.

Feel better,

Hagrid.


2 June, 1998.

Harry closed the photo album and sighed, looking around his room. He felt particularly empty today, more so than he had over the past few weeks. It was understandable; he had killed Voldemort a mere two months ago and was still recovering from the shock of the War and the loss of the people he had grown up with.

His life had jolted in a new direction. He was no longer always bent on killing Voldemort and no longer had his home, Hogwarts, which had taken over such a huge portion of his spirit, and his time.

Harry didn't have a problem finding other things to do, however. No, that was not the issue at all—for the first two weeks after the battle he toured locations around the country that had been devastated by the War. He visited those who struggled the most, distributing food and supplies while also giving the wizarding community hope for the future.

Harry managed to avoid the press for the most part, but that didn't stop him from dominating headlines and news articles about every aspect of his life, which became increasingly dramatized. He got hundreds of letters every day: the thanks of people all over the globe. Some were from girls professing their love, others from children who saw him as their idol. He thought the most heartfelt ones were from those orphaned by Voldemort. From parents whose children fought at the final battle at Hogwarts. Those who lost their homes to Death Eater raids. And Muggle-born witches and wizards who lost their jobs, or had to go into hiding.

While Harry did appreciate the thanks he received, he disliked the attention—just another example of his modesty. The letters and newspapers gave him a larger perspective on the huge role he had in the war, but he always redirected praise to the others who had helped. Everyone from Aberforth to the Weasley family were credited for their contributions, as they should be. Still, Harry was considered the hero of the war; the Boy Who Lived had a whole new meaning, one of victory and peace. His name was everywhere. There had even been a broomstick designed in his honor.

This renewed popularity easily earned Harry an apprenticeship as an Auror. He could probably even run for the Minister for Magic in fifteen years or so, and win—but that didn't interest him. For the time being, he had enough money, and wasn't recovered enough to have a job anyway. On days when he wasn't traveling, he was up in his room, poring over letters, newspapers, old photographs. Sometimes he would just sit at his desk or lay in bed, turning a childhood possession over and over again in his hands. Harry knew that he wasn't moving forward, but it was impossible for him to do so. He had been striving for what was normal; a simple life, where every day was not a battle between life and death. Now that he had reached his goal, it seemed as if he was doing nothing fulfilling. The bright side of things should have compensated, if not overcompensated, for the bad side. Harry was still alive. He had saved many people, wizarding and non-wizarding folk alike. He still had a great deal of friends who survived, including Hermione and Ron. This in particular should have been enough for him. Maybe it was the actuality that the three were growing apart that made him more pessimistic than he should be.

For the first month, the trio had remained inseparable, but soon it became clear that it was not the same while Hermione and Ron were together. Harry attempted to bring Ginny into their group, to balance things out, but the dynamics were still different. It was like having a double date, and they would immediately pair off. And just one month after the war, Harry was becoming distant from the new couple. After seven-odd years of being with them constantly, it created a significant gap in Harry's life.

The Weasleys had moved into a new, much larger home with the help of thousands of gifts from the wizarding community to everyone who now lived there—Harry, Hermione, her parents, Luna, her father, and Neville (as well as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, and Ron, of course). It was a temporary home until everyone got back on their feet and provided emotional support to anyone who needed it.

There was a knock on the door, rousing Harry slightly from his thoughts. By now he could recognize who it was just by the simple rhythm. The sound was even more delicate than usual: it was nearly midnight and everyone else was most likely asleep.

She knew, by now, not to enter if Harry didn't answer. Though, currently, he felt like he could use some company.

"Come in," said Harry, absentmindedly rolling the pencil on his desk with an effortless flick of his wand. He used a quill rather than the pencil to write with, but kept the pencil to remind him of his Muggle upbringing. He had received it from his Aunt and Uncle for his birthday and it was probably the nicest gift they had ever given him.

Ginny slowly opened the door, hesitating a moment before she closed it carefully behind her. Harry couldn't tell what she was thinking by her unusually blank expression. If she had come with good news she would have been smiling. What could be so urgent that it couldn't wait until morning?

Ginny remained unreadable as she walked to his bed and sat down. Harry had the instinct that she was an impostor by the way she was acting, but dismissed the thought. He had problems being too wary sometimes, just one of the lasting effects of the war. Even so, he couldn't help tightening the grip on his wand.

He was just about to ask what it was she had come for when she started shaking and buried her face in her hands.

"Ginny—" he began, taken aback. Her crying was stifled in the effort she was making to be quiet.

Harry had rarely seen Ginny cry, even recently with the deaths of her brother and many others she was close to. She was an incredibly strong person. Because of this, Harry felt weak, knowing that if she continued for too long he would also break down with her.

He pulled Ginny into a firm hug as she continued to cry, wishing he could do more to help, wishing he could say something comforting. Nothing came, so he just patted her on the back, trying to express that he was there for her.

They sat like this for a while—Ginny's flowery-smelling hair pressed into the side of his face, her shaking hands tightly gripping his shirt—until she had mostly recovered. She moved gingerly out of his arms, and wiped her wet eyes with her sleeve.

"I know how you can change this," she said seriously through the aftermath of her tears.

Harry froze, chilled by her tone even though he didn't yet understand what she meant. What does "this" mean?

Ginny elaborated before he could ask to explain. "I mean, I know how you can change how you are. I know you more than you realize, Harry. I can see how lost you are. It's in your eyes. The way you talk—and move, even. How you've become separated from everyone, even when they try to reach out to you. And I'm no exception."

Harry was about to comfort her, tell her that wasn't true, but Ginny stopped him by what she said next: "Most of all, though, I know how to make you see how it should be like this."

"How?" Harry surprised himself at his immediate reaction. Did he know what she was talking about? Who's to say he wanted things to be different? Voldemort was dead. Things were getting better. Still, he found himself curious to know what she meant.

"Time travel," Ginny replied, her brown eyes still trained on his green ones. She searched for a reaction in his frozen face.

But he had no idea how he should react, what to think. How would time travel possibly help him? Was it even possible? The Time-Turners he knew only went back in time by the hour. And what would he do in the past? Would he see his parents before they died? If he went to his parent's time, he might never want to leave. Seeing his parents was such an impossible thought, it wasn't quite registering in his mind. Through all these years he wanted nothing more than to have them alive. The proof was there in the Mirror of Erised! He could literally get stuck in the past. But would that be that much worse than being stuck in the past as he is now?

"Except, Harry, I wouldn't be able to come with you," Ginny added quietly.

Harry stared at her numbly. He didn't want to lose her, too. "Why not?"

"Because I'm happy where we're at now. I think it would be better for me not to, and this is something you need to do on your own." She hesitated. Her hand found Harry's chest and she leaned in to kiss him. These were times when he really felt, where he remembered love, and it depressed him terribly.

They broke apart and Ginny looked away. She tried to wipe the tears that were running down her face before he noticed. "It won't be long for me to wait. I'm just worried about you. If you don't come back in a few minutes I'll find a way to stop you from leaving in the past, okay?"

Harry had yet to fully understand the whole time travel thing, and did not make an effort to now. But, if it followed the theory he already knew, he would end up changing nothing. Everything would end up the same, because the past had already happened—he's already been there. The only question is whether or not he would survive the outcome of the future. Then again, it would be easy to prevent his death. Just to go back a few minutes and stop him. And maybe, whatever he changed would actually change this reality. Which would end up being right, Harry didn't know, but he figured he would be okay either way it turned out. And Ginny must know that.

"I'll be fine. I think this is what I need to keep peace with everyone who's passed. I want to say goodbye." Even as he spoke, though, Harry was realizing how much more he wanted to do, to say, than to just goodbye. There was so much he wanted to change. Although he failed to see how he could change anything. Changing one thing could make the world too different to fix something else, upsetting the delicate balance they had achieved here.

Ginny pulled her gaze away from him and reached down into her pocket. She pulled out a Time-Turner and handed it to him. It had been a while since he had seen one. Except—this particular Time-Turner was different. It had six rings around the center instead of two. Harry, after briefly considering the rare object, could guess why: a regular one could just take him back by hours. This was made for traveling more easily by longer periods of time. The next rings could take allow him to travel by days, then maybe months, then years, then decades…

"How did you get this? I thought all of them were destroyed," Harry asked as he continued examining it. The sand in the hourglass was a bright red, like manufactured blood.

"This one's different. You can go back farther, and go forward within the past—so as long as it's not in the future. I'll tell you about it when you get back. Just…" For a moment, she seemed to debate what to say. "You owe me."

It was not the best thing Ginny could have said to him, because Harry misinterpreted what hidden meaning it might have had. He hugged her tightly.

"Don't worry. I'll find a way to pay you back." She didn't want anything in return apart from his happiness. "I'll be back before you can miss me," Harry added softly. She seemed to want to say she already did miss him. He had retreated into the dark recesses of depression and was so unlike his normal self it was similar to ghostliness. Perhaps she hoped within a few seconds or minutes of her time he would be back to his old self.

Ginny gave him a bag that he recognized to be Hermione's. It was the magical one they had used for their supplies in the woods earlier that year. She cleared her throat. "I—I figured you were going to want to go, so I packed some things for you."

Harry wondered how long she had been planning this. As she explained how to work the Time-Turner and gave him tips, he grabbed things from his room that he might need. Robes, trousers, books, gloves—virtually everything he owned. Luckily, he had both a small stack of Muggle money and a modest assortment of Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts. "…and I wrote down the date and time two minutes from now so you can return as close to when you left as possible." Ginny handed him the note and he dropped it into his bag.

"Anything else?" Harry asked, scanning the room to double check.

"Just this." She picked up the Time-Turner and handed it to him.

He gave Ginny one last look and put the chain over his head. Before he could start to turn the device, she flung her arms around him.

"Be careful," she whispered, and released him, blinking rapidly.

"I will," he replied, and began turning. Today was August 2nd, 1998. He wanted to go to August 2nd, 1971…

Harry appeared in the middle of a field. He jumped in surprise; thunder rolled in the distance and he was immediately immersed in pounding rain.

"Impervius," he muttered, and immediately the rain around him was repelled. He had chosen to visit his mother's home so he could see her—and Snape.

One thing that constantly ate up Harry was the relationship between Snape and his mother. How Snape loved Lily more than anything in the world, until the day he died, and was willing to give up everything he had for her. Not only that, but she had never known. Harry wished Snape had not died, or at least that he'd had the opportunity to die happy.

Harry no longer trusted his character judgement. If he had been wrong about Snape, who else could he have misjudged? He wished he had not been so quick to hate Snape. He wished things were different.

Harry Apparated to Lily's front lawn, which was in an orderly, symmetrical neighborhood that reminded him strongly of Little Whinging.

Harry stood in front of the house, considering his options. He cast a spell above him to block the rain as he thought. He needed to find shelter, and soon. The nearest place was, of course, Lily's home. It was pretty close to impossible for anyone to discover him if he was invisible, so he figured it would be safe to stay. Harry pulled out his Invisibility Cloak from Hermione's purse and pulled it over. He walked up the front steps, unlocked the door with an effortless wave of his wand, and went inside. He was in his mother's living room, which seemed pretty conventional. Only the fireplace was familiar to him—and a few of the pictures on the mantle. Harry quietly stepped over to pick one up. Immediately, he identified one as the very same picture that was in his album.

It was a Muggle photo of a girl standing in a field of flowers. She looked about five from what he could tell, with dark red hair that flowed past her shoulders. She was bending down to pick a flower that matched her white dress. Obviously, the bright, gentle girl he saw in the picture was his mother.

Harry dug around in his bag for the album that held the very same picture. Eventually, after overturning everything in the bag, his fingers grazed the plastic cover of the book. He pulled it out and started searching for the picture. It was near the beginning of the album, among others of her laughing and smiling as a toddler. Harry slid it out of the cover and held it up to compare to the photo in the frame. He was not sure if he had expected something strange to happen, but anyway, nothing did. His version remained the same yellowed piece of print it had been before.

Harry tucked the picture back in its slot and dropped the photo album into the bag. He stood, slowly surveying the simple living room. To his left there was a door, most likely a closet, ahead of him was the kitchen, and next to the kitchen, a flight of stairs going up.

He remembered where the basement had been when he visited—just around the other side of the kitchen. Even now there was almost nothing downstairs, save for a couch and a few boxes full of junk. Harry cast a charm that would alert him if anyone came into the room and settled down in the couch. He pulled the cloak over him as a sort of blanket as well as a disguise. He felt his weariness immediately wash over him. Thoughts vied for his attention in his mind; he couldn't concentrate on one long enough to be distracted. But before long, he found sleep overpowering them…

Harry woke up on his own. The summer sun illuminated the basement, rousing him, so he managed to get up and out before anyone else could do the same.

He decided the safest place he could go was the small forest near their house. As he walked under his cloak, he searched for a book he brought that would help him with an important part of his plan. Eventually, he found Deceiving the Eye: Charms and Transfigurations to Disguise Oneself, which changed colors as he looked at the cover. Harry flipped through it, trying to find spells he could use.

For him to safely meet anyone in his past, he would have to appear his parents' age, (eleven years old). On top of that, he could not look like his father.

Changing one's appearance was easier than copying someone else's. Although, it wasn't exactly legal if one went overboard. Changing small things, a few at a time, like hair style or eye color wasn't as deceptive. And since the spells were not permanent, they were easier to perform. But Harry doubted he could pull a disguise off well enough to be able to attend Hogwarts with his parent's generation. He had not quite ruled it out, as the possibility had tugged at him since he saw the Time-Turner, but it seemed unlikely.

Harry knew that when a witch or wizard is born in the United Kingdom, a magical quill at Hogwarts detects their ability and writes their name down so they can later receive a letter inviting them to the school. Harry would not be on the list. As he came upon a river alongside the forest, he toyed with the idea of fixing the issue. He would either have to find a way to cheat the quill, or—well. That is what he would have to do. To see if he could go back in time to eleven years ago and enter his name. He knew little about it, but if he needed to write the address of somebody's home, do what he needed to do to get the letter.

Harry crossed an old, rotting wooden bridge even though there was another, newer one about a hundred meters ahead. The wood creaked threateningly underneath his feet and he walked faster. Harry thought he heard it splinter by the time he made it safely to the other side, but he figured he had just imagined it. His thoughts quickly were redirected when he found a spell he could use.

It was a simple one—he had to tap his wand against the color he wanted his hair, say, "Mutare Colorem," and it would change to be the chosen color.

The book provided different shades for him, so he spent some time debating the various choices. Finally, Harry decided on dirty blond. He wanted something that would not stand out and was not close to his natural color. He reread the spell and practiced muttering the incantation a few times. Then he took out his wand. On the first try, nothing. On the second, he felt a tingle, then a rush of warmth. He pulled out a mirror to see if his hair had transformed. It worked perfectly—it looked completely real, and his eyebrows had changed, too, which saved him some effort.

Harry continued looking through the book, changing his eyes to a flat gray and extending his eyelashes (this was easier than changing his eyes to an entirely different shape). He changed the pitch of his voice to something more realistic for an eleven-year-old boy. He made his lips slightly larger, his nose straighter (which was significantly harder than the other spells to accomplish), and his hair shorter and more controlled. Once he was satisfied with his new appearance, he prepared for the next step.

This was by far the most difficult part. The charm was toward the back of the book, along with the more advanced spells. It basically took age-reversal transfigurations and combined them to alter one's appearance as a whole. It could not extend life, however. Additionally, more difficult, permanent adaptions were as plastic surgery would be to Muggles: frowned upon for wizards to do, and overuse could make it obvious the person had gone through it. Also, the charm was similar to the Polyjuice Potion in the way that it changed only the outside of the person, leaving health issues intact, or in Harry's case, his poor vision.

Harry could still perform spells outside of school because he would still be technically seventeen—the spell would not reinstate the Trace. It also would not make him immature; his maturity could give him away. But he figured if Barty Crouch, Jr. could pass as Mad-Eye for a whole year with no one noticing, he could pretend to be a kid for just as long.

Another risk with de-aging himself was that if he made even the slightest mistake, he could be permanently disfigured. As he glanced at the risks, he saw that even the incorrect emphasis on a syllable could affect the outcome of the spell.

After studying the multiple steps involved, Harry prepared to perform the enchantment. He would need to do it six times, one for each year he intended to de-age himself. Harry dug through his purse and pulled out a mirror, then took a long, steadying breath.

"Aetas recipere," he murmured, making complicated movements with his wand. Instantly, he began to change. His face gained a little more baby fat, and his skin cleared slightly. Harry felt himself lose some muscle, and the ground lurched a bit closer. "Aetas recipere," he repeated, then over and over until he looked like a typical eleven-year-old. He felt sore all over, as his skin had been pinched and bruised. He had a rounded face with a simple expression, smooth skin, and young, sparkling eyes. He felt he must have shrunk about a tenth of a meter, though it was hard to tell.

Finally, he could remove his cloak. He looked down at his now ill-fitting clothes. At least now he seemed more modest, even poor. He wanted to appear as to Snape he could relate to his situation while not warding off those he meant to impress. In that case, Jacob Walker's (the name he decided for his remodeled self) moderately good looks should make up for his clothes.

Harry also decided both of Jacob's parents were Muggles, that he should identify as a Mudblood (after the war, Mudblood became a two-sided term: wholly offensive or inoffensive and more casual. It definitely depended on the person and the context). He didn't have a choice, really; any wizarding family could be easily traced and he wouldn't stand a chance of fooling anyone. He would wait to tell Snape about his bloodline until he was directly asked; otherwise they probably wouldn't be able to form a solid friendship. And if it worked out well enough between them, he would go to Hogwarts.

As the idea began to grow on him, Harry realized he needed to figure out how to deal with Dumbledore, the Sorting Hat, and Apparating. Dumbledore's magic was far more advanced than his; he would likely be able to tell if Harry had been altered by a spell. The Sorting Hat could read his thoughts, so what would prevent it from announcing that he was an impostor? And if something life-threatening happened he wouldn't be able to easily escape.

Harry at least knew it was possible to get to the Hogwarts grounds through Hogsmeade; it was mostly how he could get into the castle itself.

But he would have all the time he needed to plan it—he had to focus what to do about his mother and Snape.

He wanted them to at least die as friends. Not the broken dislike-versus-obsession it became. At the same time, if his mum didn't end up with James, too much would be different. Harry would have never been born, or he would at least look different. He probably would have been born on a different day, so the prophecy might be about someone else, and—it was too complicated. Harry cursed himself for having the desperate hope that it would have been the same if they had been together. Harry could not kill Voldemort, either, especially not before 1980. The only way everything might still work would be to kill Voldemort before his parents were killed. It would be difficult and time-consuming, even knowing about all of the Horcruxes. Too much of time could change, and he knew very little about time travel to assume everything would work out.

Harry decided it would be easiest if he figured it out as he went along, the way he seemed to go through the rest of his exploits.

He reached the small river that would eventually lead to Snape's house on Spinner's End. Harry just wanted to see it; he wasn't going to see him, he would wait until the right time to do that. He walked alongside the water, occasionally glancing at his reflection. It was strange—each time he saw his now unfamiliar face his adrenaline rushed, as if someone else was right behind him. This distraction delayed his realization that he had reached the town.

Harry saw the sign that read Spinner's End from where he stood, across the street. He knew Severus' house was on the end, so he walked quickly down the road until he reached recognized it. It was lucky the he had some significant detail about Snape's house—all of the homes were identical. This part of town was worn-in, obviously lower class, and the smog from the factory hung in the air. On their particular house, the chimney was worn down at the top, and the window at the top level of the house was dark and cracked. The whole house had a dusty, abandoned look. The only signs of occupancy were the barely audible sounds of arguing and the dim light coming through the blinds of the front windows. Maybe he would have been surprised this was the place Snape had grown up before the fateful night of the 2nd, when he thought Snape was as cold and unfeeling as any other Death Eater. Now he understood how this place must have corrupted Snape.

That was the difference between his mother's death and Snape's death. He hadn't known his mum at all. He had fragments of knowledge of her, and had met her spectral form before he sacrificed himself to Voldemort. Whereas Harry had met Snape, and knew him. Or at least he had thought he had. Both deaths shared the question, "What if…?"

Harry was so immersed in his thoughts he almost failed to notice that an eleven-year-old Severus had run out of the house's side door. He just had barely enough time to pull on his cloak before Snape glanced back in his direction. Harry instinctively held his breath, even though he knew Snape couldn't have spotted him. After watching the skinny, poorly dressed boy awkwardly run along down the cracked sidewalk, Harry started after him.

They quickly reached the forested area by the town. Sun filtered in through the trees, illuminating the forest floor in patches of gold. Harry was amazed at the beauty that thrived in such an ugly place. The polluted air dissipated, transitioning from the bad part of town to the good side, of which Harry could just make out past the trees. It was clearly like a second home to Severus because, even at his quick pace, he could dodge every root and run over the uneven ground as though it were perfectly flat.

Just as Harry ran out of breath, Snape appeared to have reached his destination. It didn't appear significant to Harry—it was just a small space between the trees, just barely big enough for two people to lie out in. Nevertheless, it was clearly a special place to him. The place that the best times of his life would happen. Harry's chest constricted as he watched Snape pick up a few pine cones and twigs and carry them out of the space, obviously preparing for Lily's arrival.

Then Harry's mother came. No one had seemed to have accurately described her beauty, and none of the pictures he had seen could capture how she looked now. Her hair was soft in the sunlight, radiating like warm fire.

And her eyes. As tired of a topic it was, they were a perfect copy of Harry's.

It was no wonder the way Snape looked at her, his face flushed, shyly smiling. Harry wished that he could've known either of the small smiles they exchanged. His long-lived desire for a mother seemed to spike in intensity. Harry couldn't decide if his heart was breaking, or if it was repairing itself. He decided it had broken—these two children were destined to die miserable, pointless deaths.

It was not a good idea to come to here, Harry realized.

Harry thought of the expression, "Some things are meant to be." He now completely disagreed. Voldemort was not meant to be. He led to the death of thousands. He killed people, directly and indirectly—people who loved, people who were loved, people who never got the chance to love. He surely paved the way for new evil in the future. Voldemort was going to die. He hardly deserved to live. Why let one person live at the cost of others?

Harry was so absorbed in his anger he it took him a while to notice Severus and Lily were lying in the grass side by side. Lily was laughing, and Snape was watching her, smiling, with his head propped up by one hand.

"Sev, that is not how it happened, at all! It was the dog, I swear." She had a sweet voice that rolled off her tongue smoothly and deliberately, like honey. Lily rolled over closer to Snape, still facing the sky. Snape was frozen, at first, by the proximity between them. Eventually he relaxed and let his head drop to her level. For a while, they said nothing, just lying next to each other, enjoying the light breeze. Lily studied the sky while Snape studied her eyes. Harry watched them, a bit uncomfortable but curious.

Eventually, Lily turned toward Snape so their faces were mere inches apart.

"What if…" began Lily.

"What if…" Snape repeated quietly, then cleared his throat and repeated more strongly, "What if—what if what?" His voice was similar to how it was as an adult; soft and whispery. Harry moved a bit closer to hear, taking care not to step on any twigs.

Lily's eyes turned downcast, as if regretting saying anything, and she turned away from him.

"N-no!" Snape burst out, and she looked at him in surprise. "What is it?" he continued, more gently.

Lily sighed. "What if I'm rubbish at magic? Because I'm—I'm a…" She flipped onto her side, facing him again.

His face darkened as he realized what she was about to say. "Don't say it," he begged quietly, so inaudibly that only Lily could hear it.

"…Mudblood," she finished, choking it out, as if the word was too huge for her to manage. Then she started crying. For the first time, he saw his mother cry. How ironic, though. Snape didn't want Lily to call herself Mudblood when he himself would in a few years and screw everything over. Harry was surprised he had taught her the word.

"You won't—it doesn't mean…" Snape protested weakly. It was clear he was struggling between his opinion of them and his blossoming love for this girl. So instead of saying anything else, he offered his arms. Lily sat up and entered them.

Harry made the mistake of seeing Severus' eyes, which were determined, sad, and desperate. He looked like he wanted nothing more than to hold Lily in his arms and stay that way until day he died. Because that's what Harry realized he knew, deep down, past his ignorance of his own feelings. Snape would not end up with her, and these childhood moments would not last.

"Thank you, Sev," said Lily, hiccuping, and they broke apart. She looked startled to see that tears were silently running down his face.

Snape angrily brushed them away and stood up. "You will be an amazing witch."

Lily stood up, too, and stared at him until he met her eyes. "I can tell you dislike Mudbloods." He flinched at both her use of the word and the accusation.

"That's not—" Snape began, but Lily shook her head and said, "Don't lie. Please. Can you just tell me why?"

Snape, who seemed to have dealt with too many emotions within the brief time Harry had seen him, thought hard. Although Snape could not find the answer to her question, Harry found it obvious. His father was a Muggle, who was unfeeling and made Snape's life miserable. He was probably the deep-rooted source of Snape's prejudice.

Snape knew he had to answer or Lily would be mad at him. "Well?" Her tears were now completely gone as she pressed him for an answer.

"Trust me. I don't dislike Mud—Muggle-borns."

"Yes you do. You're ashamed to be my friend."

"That's not true! I…" He drifted off, uncomfortably trying to explain himself.

"Prove that you don't hate—"

"Muggle-borns," he half corrected, half finished for her.

His opinion was faltering for her sake, Harry could tell. But saying things, doing things for her sake wouldn't be enough until it was far too late.

"Trust me, I don't," was all he said in response.

Lily considered this. "Fine, I trust you. I just want you to think of this. It's not where or who the person came from, it's the person. Right?"

This could not be closer to how Snape felt about Lily and her being a Mudblood.

"Right." He looked like he wanted to say more, but Lily was getting ready to leave, and he had missed his chance. "You're leaving?" he asked, disappointed.

Lily sighed. "Yeah. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Promise?" Snape stood up, too. Lily hesitated.

"Pinkie promise?" Snape held out his pinkie.

"Of course. I promise." She smiled and they shook on it. Then she turned and ran toward home, only looking back once.

Snape watched her go, expressionless. After she had disappeared into the trees, Snape let his face scrunch up in frustration. His fist tightened and he looked around for something to punch. He cocked his hand, preparing to strike the trunk closest to him, when he stopped. His lips pursed and he lowered his hand.

Harry decided that the sooner he could befriend Snape's, the better. He had at least a few weeks to befriend him. He guessed that in order for Snape to like him, he would have to take it slowly and carefully.

Harry still didn't quite know how to orchestrate his plan, so he decided to play it as he went along. As he tried to figure it out, Snape went past where Harry was standing, invisible, to the river. Harry was right by the wooden bridge that he had crossed before, Snape now just a few meters away. He watched as the boy seemed to spot something on the other side of the river. Snape tried to use magic to pull whatever it was toward him, motioning with his arms, but was unsuccessful. Finally, he scrunched up his face in determination and set off to get whatever he had seen.

Snape had only reached the center of the bridge when there was a loud "Snap!" and he fell through the bridge into the water below. Harry stood frozen in place as Snape struggled to swim. There was only a gentle current, but he was already heading downstream. His untrained magic was only keeping his face above the water, keeping him alive, for now. Snape flailed his arms about, but it was no use.

Harry finally got to his senses and quickly decided what to do.

He left everything but his wand by the riverside and jumped in, swimming easily with the gentle current to the drowning boy. He wrapped his arms around Snape's middle and slowly pulled him to a small beach downstream. It was strange; Harry had never helped Snape directly, let alone held him.

Snape stopped thrashing and lay limp as soon as he was safely on the shore. Harry rolled him onto his back, noticing how unusually still he was. Since Severus' eyes were closed and unable to witness it, Harry coaxed the water out of him with his wand. He let him cough out the rest and regain normal breathing as he pocketed his wand.

"Are you okay?" Harry asked as Snape sat up, still breathing raggedly. Snape jumped in surprise and looked wide-eyed at his rescuer.

"Who—why—" he stuttered as Harry stood up.

"My name is Jacob." It felt odd, lying about something so fundamental about himself. Then, realizing that he probably needed to say something else, he added, "That bridge was bound to collapse any day."

Now that he thought about it, had he already altered the past by walking on it earlier? Maybe it had been that Severus was going to walk on it last, and a storm was going to deliver the last blow. Did that mean whatever he changed here could alter the future?

"Well, I guess I'll see you around," Harry/Jacob said, and walked away from the stunned boy. After he had retreated back into the cover of the forest, he looked back to see what it was that Snape had seen.

His heart lurched when he realized the love-struck boy had seen a water lily, which he now was pulling out of the river. He had unintentionally risked his life to pick a flower that shared the same name as the girl he had a crush on. Harry turned away, feeling extremely intrusive for watching this meaningful, personal moment. He got over it, though—he was only going to need his invisibility cloak a few more times.

He came to the spot where he had jumped in, picked up his things, and headed into the sanctuary of the woods. Harry, as he walked, dug around in the pits of his bag for the Time-Turner. Eventually, his hands closed around the cold rings of the device. He pulled it out and, after tinkering with it a bit, jumped ahead to ten in the morning the next day. Instead of the sparse, white clouds from yesterday, the sky was gray and the air was heavy with the imminence of rain. Despite the weather, when Harry went to their meeting spot, Snape had showed up. Hadn't Lily pinkie promised that she would come, too? The fear of being caught in a storm might have forced her to stay inside. Or maybe her mum wouldn't let her leave the house for some other reason.

Harry could tell Snape was starting to wonder if she was coming, too, because he started looking around awkwardly. He shouldn't have worried, though: it only took another minute before Lily showed up. She was well prepared for the weather, comfortably buttoned up in a rain jacket, a hood pulled over her head. Snape, however, had a baggy shirt and pants.

"You came!" Snape couldn't keep the relief and surprise from his voice.

Lily grinned. "Of course I did. We pinkie promised." She paused, and looked up at the sky. "I felt a raindrop. I would've brought an umbrella, if I'd known you'd need one."

Snape shivered, unsuccessful in his attempts to hide his discomfort.

"Are you cold?" Lily asked.

Severus shook his head, silent, but she had already taken her jacket off.

"Here. We'll share." She wrapped it around the both of them, undoubtedly used to helping him.

Harry thought of his father. Was it right for to encourage the relationship between Lily and Snape? He knew there wasn't really a better way to improve Snape' life, if that's what he decided to do. If the two ended up together, would Harry still exist, or just look different? Obviously his father could find someone else (as far as Harry knew, James was popular, charismatic, brave) and there were many places he would be able to find love. Snape was a different story. But Harry knew plenty of people die without ever being loved. Why should Severus be helped over others? Without Harry, would the Dark Lord's reign be stronger, last longer? Still, he could at least make their relationship less rocky, perhaps try and lead Snape down the right path.

Rain started to fall steadily now, so the two retreated under a large tree, where only a few drops got through. Harry went behind a tree across from them, using a simple spell to keep dry. They stood side-by-side against the trunk, watching the rain crescendo into a downpour.

"Sev!" Lily whispered suddenly.

"What? What is it?" Snape looked around wildly.

"Shh, it's a doe…"

He followed her pointed finger and saw it, too—a female deer that looked surreal through the rain, still, ears perked up. After gazing at it for a minute, Snape turned to Lily. "I think it—it's kinda like you," he said quietly, face flushing.

Lily pulled her gaze away from the creature.

"What do you mean?"

"Because…" Snape, embarrassed, looked away from her quizzical green eyes. Harry saw her study him, realize what he meant, and give a small smile.

"You are too, you know."

Snape started and turned back to her. "Really?" He tried to hide his joy that she had returned his compliment.

Harry stared at them in shock. It had taken Harry a while to decipher what Dumbledore meant when he disagreed with Harry at King's Cross when he was in limbo. He now realized how it wasn't peculiar that they had the same Patronus.

At first, Harry had thought the Patronuses were the same because Snape loved Lily, but he could see how much deeper it was than that. Not only was it representative the happiest times of Snape's life—this moment specifically—but his true personality. He was incredibly gentle, cautious, delicate, and protective. Looking past the rough exterior and his nature in adulthood, it was reflected in his relationship with Lily. There were few people who served Voldemort and loved anyone as Snape did, who showed how much emotion he had.

Lily and Snape stood in the rain for a while, slowly soaking through their clothes. The rain washed out any color Snape's face might have held, giving him a ghost-like appearance. His hair looked wet instead of greasy, but still unusually long and unevenly cut. Lily's red hair stuck to her face and her shoes squished when she shifted her stance. Still, the two seemed to be enjoying just standing there in silence together, letting the rain wash over them.

Then the first rumblings of thunder began, and a hard breeze picked up.

Lily raised her voice above the noise. "We should probably go back home. I mean, I don't think…my parents want company. And probably the same for yours…" Even though she didn't say it out loud, it was obvious her parents wouldn't approve of the strange, poor boy she had befriended. And with Snape's family, they probably weren't fit to have company in general.

They said goodbye, and before they parted Lily added, "My parents and my sister are going to the movies tonight, and, well," she paused, as if embarrassed about the next part, "it's a horror movie, and…I still get a bit scared during them, so I told them I wanted to study instead, so of course they agreed…so if it's not raining, do you want to meet by the tree?"

This must be an example of the occasion where they met twice in one day—when Lily's parents were not around to be suspicious about her being outside too much.

"What time?" Snape asked, eyes glinting eagerly.

"I think they leave at seven and come back around nine," she responded, trying to remember.

"Okay. I'll be there early, just in case." Snape flashed a rare smile.

Me too, Harry thought.

At six o' clock, Snape was already waiting by the tree. It was the same one that Harry had seen in the Pensieve on the night of the battle. It was larger than most of the trees in the small forest, and stood alone at the top of a slope overlooking Lily's street, which was a five or ten minute walk away. The base of the tree had a sort of inward dent, like someone had molded it to have a perfect spot to sit. The stream that ran through the forest ended at a large pond that sat in front of their second meeting spot, and only a few other trees separated the big willow from the outside of the forest. The sparseness of the forest across from the pond gave a clear view of the horizon, where the sun was starting to sink. Harry decided to make another appearance.

Snape was currently reading, so he might not notice Harry if he went too far downstream. His plan just might work.

He went to where he determined to be Snape's edge of vision was, and starting walking from there. For good measure, he attempted skipping a few rocks. Harry failed on purpose, letting the pebbles plop into the water. He turned slightly to see if Severus was watching him. When Harry saw he had indeed captured Snape's attention, he continued his performance. Harry continued failing, letting himself seem more and more frustrated.

Finally, in pretend anger, he kicked a rock into the stream. It was simple, wandless magic to make the pebble skip across the water, bouncing in impossible directions. After it had finished skipping, it flew toward Harry, landing effortlessly in his outstretched hand. He rewrote his expression to be surprised and confused.

Continuing along the river toward the pond, he scrutinized the stone, giving himself an excuse not to notice Snape staring at him.

When he reached the pond, Harry tried skipping the stone again, without the results he clearly expected. He continued walking, searching for more rocks he could skip, until he found one pretty much on the shore, thirty feet in front of the tree. He straightened up, sizing up his pick, when out of the corner of his eye he "discovered" Snape. Harry began walking toward him. When he was within earshot, he said, "You're that guy from before," recognizing him as the kid he had saved just yesterday.

"Yes…" said Snape cautiously.

"Are you alright?"

"Fine, thanks. Er, what was…what was that when you skipped the stone?"

Harry tried to look thoughtful, and he came back to where Snape was sitting. "I don't know…I just kicked it and…" He paused, biting his lip. "Can I tell you something? You might think I'm crazy."

Severus shook his head, most likely already suspecting that Harry was an undiscovered wizard.

"Well, recently…strange things have happened to me. Like—like, last week, I was up trying to work on schoolwork that I was assigned over the summer. My parents had wanted me to finish it by the next day, and I told them I had done it the week after school ended. I thought I could save it until last minute without them knowing. But then they said they were going to read it to make sure. So I had to do it that night. Only…I kept falling asleep.

"That's when it got weird. Just when I was about to fall asleep, I would feel something poking me. My pencil would roll down and hit my hand. Or at least that's what it seemed like. So it was thanks to the pencil that I finished my paper." The story was loosely based on a true experience, except he stayed up late because of the chores the Durselys had dumped on him. Harry searched Snape for his opinion.

"Jacob—that's your name, right?" When Harry nodded, Snape continued, "I…I think you might be a wizard."

"…like, from in fairy tales?" Harry was going against the "don't-tell-him-you're-a-Muggle-born" rule, but by not knowing he was a wizard he may as well be saying it straight out.

Sure enough, Snape looked impatient. "No, like in real life, stupid."

Harry was unfazed, since he expected the least. His acting had been a little too exaggerated. "Wait…are you…one too?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Yes, I am. So is my mother."

Harry let himself appear confused. "Hang on…neither of my parents are wizards."

Snape was struggling to keep the fact that Harry was an obvious Muggle-born from affecting the way he acted.

"That doesn't matter," he managed. "Anyway…you should get a letter from Hogwarts soon."

"What's Hogwarts?" Harry asked, aware of the limited time that Severus be patient with him.

"A school for witches and wizards."

"Are you going there?"

"Yes. Of course." Snape crossed his arms and looked away.

This was Harry's cue to leave. He said suddenly, as if remembering something, "What time is it?"

"Uh…seven," Snape lied.

"Oh, I have to go!" Harry started back in the direction he came, and then turned back to the wizard boy.

"What's your name?" Harry asked.

"Severus…Snape." He had hesitated on whether to give his last name, which was either a sign of social awkwardness or that he thought it wasn't necessary to tell him.

"Okay, I'll see you around then, Sna—I mean, Severus," he corrected himself, and ran away from the place where he had discovered his abilities.

He took 45 minutes to search the neighboring town and choose one of the houses. Harry had stayed at a quaint little B&B there when he visited his mum's house, since he had other business the next day in the same area. With the memory and image clearly in his mind, he Apparated there to save an hour of walking. Harry explored the area and eventually settled on a small house surrounded by trees. Upon entering, he saw it had basic furniture and a few paintings, but no food or clothing, leading him to believe it was a summer cottage. Perfect. Now he had privacy, but could keep tabs on his supposed parents in case he ever needed them to pose as his mum and dad. He went outside, and by this time, the sun was starting to set.

Just in case he forgot, he recorded the address 509 Loyola Drive on a small piece of parchment. He made sure his stuff was out of sight, just in case, then apparated back to the tree.

The night was magical. As the sun set, Lily and Snape sat side by side, talking in quiet awe. A gentle orange blended into yellows, illuminating the underbellies of purple clouds. Blue was starting to push closer and closer toward the horizon as street lights blinked awake below.

Harry watched the sky rather than the other two, basking in the peace and stillness of the evening. When Lily and Snape got up and started to walk, Harry followed.

When they reached the open field, they started looking at the stars, which were just coming out. The two friends' eyes lit up as they saw a star shoot across the sky.

"Sev! Make a wish! Make a wish!" Lily whispered excitedly, nudging his arm.

Face illuminated by the moonlight, lifted toward the sky, Snape stopped in place. Lily might not know what he wished for, she might not ever know, but Harry did.

Lily watched Snape until he looked down at the ground and continued alongside her. "What did you wish for? Oh wait, you can't tell me. That was…really cool, wasn't it? I've never seen a shooting star, only in movies, but—"

Snape stopped her in mid-speech, looking at her with a surprising intensity. Then he blushed and looked away. The rest of their walk was in silence.

They reached Lily's house, and, thankfully, the driveway was still empty. "See you tomorrow, Sev…" she said, then walked up the sidewalk leading to the house. When she got to the door, she opened it, gave Snape one last smile, then went inside.

Harry leaned against the lightpost and watched Snape begin to walk slowly home. There was something worth saving in their lives, or at least knowing about their lives, and Harry now knew what he wanted to do.


Chapter 2: The Magic Quill
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Harry decided it was a good time to add Jacob's name to the list. He could go back in time to 1960 and add his name. That would make that day, August 4th, his birthday.

He Apparated to Hogsmeade, which was cloaked in darkness. Lights illuminated the street he was on, and a few of the store windows were lit, but those were the only signs of life. He went ahead to noon earlier that day, so he wouldn't need magic to see. Now a few people were out and about in the town, but that wouldn't be a problem, since he was underneath his invisibility cloak.

Harry pulled out the Marauder's Map and unfolded it. He would need it—obviously—to locate the quill and make sure no one spotted him. After checking the map several times over, he saw only Filch and Hagrid on the Hogwarts grounds, with no signs of a quill. Harry had not expected to see it on the map, but it would have helped.

At least he had some idea of where it could be. He remembered Hermione saying something a while ago like, "…yes, and the Deputy Head of Hogwarts sends out the letters to the students recorded in the book. It's all in Hogwarts, a History; I'm surprised you didn't know…" This meant Professor McGonagall dealt with the quill and the book, so it could possibly be in her office. At least Harry had something to work with.

He could enter the school through the Shrieking Shack—the easiest route, since trying to get in through Honeydukes would most likely set off some sort of alarm. After a short walk, Harry reached the fence that blocked off the area surrounding the broken-down house. It was strange being here at this time of year, when there was no one around. It was peaceful, but kind of eerie. He paused, studying the spot where he had scared away Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle in his third year.

Harry had spent considerable time reflecting on his childish rivalry with Draco. He had been very narrow-minded for hating him—there were worse people, and Draco was just acting as he was raised. In the end, he had helped Harry, a sign he was headed in a better direction. Sadly, just like Snape, there could have been a way to help Draco if Harry had seen the situation differently. And, also like Snape, Harry suspected him for every bad thing that happened at school.

Harry was sure Malfoy had tried removing the Dark Mark, but even with the Mark he would forever be notorious for serving Voldemort. Lucius Malfoy had already been sent to Azkaban, but his son and wife were still due for a trial. Harry did no tell anyone this, but he hoped Draco was declared innocent. He didn't voice this opinion mainly because the whole Weasley family hated the Malfoys. Hermione and Luna may have been a little more sympathetic toward Draco, but they didn't always act like it. As soon as Lucius' sentence was announced in the paper, they all were cheering and discussing the things they hated most about him. This didn't bother Harry so much, but eventually they got to the topic of Draco.

Ron had recalled when they first met him. "I hated him from the time I first laid eyes on him. So he barges into our compartment, acting like he owned the place. He insulted us, our magical abilities, told us we had dirt on our noses…" He smirked at Hermione. "Oh whoops, wrong person, sorry." He laughed as Hermione let out a gasp of defiance and hit him with a pillow. It was one of those throw-an-insult-then-kiss moments they often shared. Neville cleared his throat, and the two seemed to suddenly remember that there were other people around them.

Ron's ears turned red and he edged away from Hermione. "Er…well, as I was saying…Oh! Right, Draco. He always had a problem with us. I can't count how many times I wanted to hurt him. When Hermione hit him…Wow. That was bloody brilliant." He gave Hermione a lopsided smile and she returned it, looking pleased. "And there was this one time, in Care of Magical Creatures…"

Harry chose to zone out for the highly exaggerated retellings of Malfoy's actions. What Ron said after a while made him snap back to attention. "But what I still don't get is why Harry bothered to save his life. All he'd been was trouble, what'd he do to deserve it?"

"Because, Ron, he was going to die," said Harry through gritted teeth. Everyone turned to him in surprise; he had hardly spoken that night. "So many people had already lost their lives. Why would we let that happen to someone when we knew we could prevent it?" Harry's voice rose in anger, causing Ron to flinch.

"Whoa, mate, I got it, thanks."

Harry had then made an excuse about being tired and left the room.

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Harry approached the shack and climbed up the few creaky steps that led to the door. He tried opening it, but it wouldn't budge. Harry guessed that it just didn't work, because when he tried unlocking it, it still didn't yield. He used a spell that busted it open with a loud BANG! He jumped at the sound and his ears started ringing. For a moment, Harry stood still, looking around for anyone coming to see what the noise was. There was no sign of movement from the cabins around him.

Harry entered for the first time since Snape's death. Now he could see it as what it really was—just a broken-down, abandoned house. The inside was dull brown, worn from the elements, and rotting. Nothing frightening there.

Though, even if he had gotten over his fearful emotions toward the Shack, he still felt the bitterness of loss. Sirius, his dad, Lupin, and Snape were all linked to this place. Sirius…the strongest connection he had had to his father. His godfather, the man who could have raised him when James was unable to in death. Would seeing him in only a couple days (of his time) give him peace or just make him mourn over his death? Should he save Sirius, too? Would that just make things worse? Would he even be able to?

Harry buried his memories, his pain. Every time ignored his emotions, it just increased the pressure building inside him. One day, the pressure would be too great to bear. All the sadness he had been feeling would overcome him, all at once.

With the sense of loss the Shack brought back, Harry wondered how it would feel when returned to Hogwarts. He could see where corpses had been lined up, he could hear his friends' cries when they had seen him, supposedly dead…

Harry took a steadying breath and crawled through the tunnel. He emerged below the Whomping Willow, which was noticeably smaller than he remembered. It started, almost drowsily, to move its strong branches toward him. Harry quickly prodded the knot at the base of tree and the swinging ceased.

Only Filch and Hagrid would be at Hogwarts at this time of the summer, even if it were a month before school started. With a quick check of his map, he saw he was right: Hagrid was in his hut and Filch was walking toward the front of the school.

It seemed as if everything was going his way; Harry slipped through the front doors unnoticed as Filch struggled past with a load of cleaning supplies. He avoided interception by anything unusual on his way to McGonagall's room, and there weren't any advanced enchantments protecting her door. Though, why should there be? More important things have been guarded by a simple Colloportus Charm.

Professor McGonagall's room was hardly different from what he was used to, twenty years in the future. The desks were still in neat rows, and much of the equipment was the same.

It didn't take Harry long to spot the quill right on Professor McGonagall's desk. Well, at least he thought it was the quill—it was hard to tell since it was plain white, ordinary. What gave it away was the ancient-looking book beside it.

Harry crossed the room to investigate. The book was about four inches thick, bound in a soft red material. Thick, yellowing pages were sandwiched between the front and cover, unevenly placed. If one was not specifically looking for it, the book would blend in with the others nearby. Harry strode to the desk and opened it, wand at the ready in case there were protection spells. Thankfully, his hand did not burn or erupt with boils as he opened the cover.

The first page was from the 1600s; the system either started then or there were different volumes. Names appeared in rows starting with the person's surname, then first name, their date of birth, and current address.

As Harry was looking through it, the quill suddenly lifted into the air. He doubled back, expecting an attack, but the quill was not activating to harm him. The pages of the book magically flipped to about three-quarters through where the names were dated at 1959 or 1960. The quill floated to one of the addresses, crossed it out, and the words vanished. The quill wrote a new address, returned to its inkwell, and the book flipped shut.

Harry opened to the page the quill had been on, where the last name (Tempah, Lauren) was recorded. Harry levitated the quill out of the inkwell, but hadn't a clue what he should do next. If he took the quill and wrote something, it would be in his own handwriting and would have trouble blending in. Harry tried whispering his information to the quill. Nothing happened. He tried tapping it with his wand, but still nothing. Was there a spell he could use that would activate it? Or maybe…he peered at the page again. Could he somehow…take the handwriting of the book, then copy it over as necessary to form his own name?

If Muggles could use copy machines, why shouldn't he be able to find something similar? He had no knowledge of a copying spell, but it was sure to be in the library. Harry decided it would be best to look, so he closed the book, returned the quill, and left the room. He closed and locked it, making sure he covered all of his tracks.

It was strange how the school was almost exactly the same as when Harry attended. The only difference may be there were fewer portraits and perhaps less dust.

Under his invisibility cloak, the portraits could not see him, but they could hear his footfalls. One of them yelled out, "Who's there?" Harry swore and quickly cast a spell to cover the sound. He was relieved, a minute later, when he reached the library. Much to his luck (which was bound to run out any time now), it was easily accessible like Professor McGonagall's. The library was also set up exactly as he remembered, so he knew where the different sections were. Harry kept the Marauders Map open as he grabbed books off shelves, stacking them on the nearest table. Once he was satisfied with his collection, he sat down and began searching.

He had no success with the first few books—Choosing the right quill: Everything you need to know about quills (Obviously not everything, he thought) and Alohomora: Unlocking the Secrets of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Much to his surprise, he found a book in the Restricted Section that could help him: Forging Fonts: Fool Foes for Fun. There was a part that explained how to imitate a print. He just had to tap his wand on the page he desired, say "Teslerium," then tap his quill with his wand. Then, he could write in the same handwriting that was on the page. Harry wrote the details down on a spare piece of parchment and closed the book.

He quickly glanced at his watch (which he now wore on his wrist at all times) and realized he had spent a good two hours since his arrival at Hogsmeade. It would be only another hour or so, as long as nothing went wrong.

Harry put the books back and returned to Professor McGonagall's room. He performed the new spell perfectly. His name blended in with the others, and it seemed unlikely that anyone would ever suspect it.

Harry's journey back to Hogsmeade was brief; he was filled with a new confidence at his success, and would not let anything stand in his way. He traveled back to 1971, then Apparated away. Harry went to the home where he had recorded his supposed current address. Sure enough, when he went inside, a crisp yellow letter was waiting for him. In emerald green print it read:

Mr. Jacob Walker

509 Loyola Drive

Shropshire, England

Harry opened it, delighted that the spell had worked. It was the standard letter, there was nothing that suggested anyone was suspicious of him. He couldn't help grinning at the good news; it was one less thing he had to worry about. Sure, there were other things he'd have to sort out eventually, but for now he could be satisfied that he had accomplished something. Moreover, he was able to go to Hogwarts.

He was just at the peak of his relief and excitement when he noticed a second envelope, which had been half hidden underneath the doormat. He tried to convince himself that it wasn't what he thought it was, that it was just normal Muggle mail. But he couldn't control the sinking feeling of what it might contain. He picked up the envelope, labeled just as the first was. His suspicions were confirmed as he began reading the neat print:

Dear Parent(s) or Guardian(s) of Mr. Jacob Walker,

Because you have not been home, and your whereabouts are unknown, a witch/wizard could not contact you to discuss your son's future. We will attempt to return on 15th August. If you are still not home, we will leave a book explaining the wizarding world to you. It can only be opened by someone of magical ability to ensure its secrecy. We would dispatch a wizard to find you personally, but we are very backed up with other business.

Harry considered this. What did "other business" mean? Dealing with the rise of Voldemort? Other Muggle-borns? Did they suspect him? It wouldn't surprise him if they did, since they couldn't find him! This must be a first: they could find the Dursleys when they were in the middle of nowhere…so wouldn't they know something wasn't adding up? The good news from the second letter was that he could get away without having to bewitch a couple into thinking they're his parents—he'd simply avoid the house on the 15th, and be done.

Harry skimmed the rest of the letter, which held nothing of importance. He stood, considering the situation. Although being an orphan would ideally be a lot easier than pretending to belong to a family, he would never be able to Apparate ahead in time during the summer without someone noticing he was gone. Harry had already committed to at least an entire school year, maybe more, in order to change the past. He pictured himself spending more time than that, coming to the present as an old man. He at least owed a few years of his life to help people, to repay his debt to all the people he had endangered. But that didn't mean he had to stay longer than necessary.

He had to save time in the summer to make up for the age he'd gain during school. That meant being in a day at three hours tops, or preferably not at all. Hopefully, he could spread himself out for no more than five days in his time over the next month. Harry would only spend time becoming Snape's friend, not stalking him and Lily.

He dug into his bag and pulled out a sandwich, eating it quickly. He wiped his hands and got ready before he set off to eleven in the morning on the next day.

Harry made sure the house showed no sign that anyone had been here, then left.

Over the next few weeks, Harry fell into a rhythm. He met Snape, or rather Severus, as he was now used to calling him, right after hung out with Lily. Each day he use a different way to get a bit closer to knowing the seemingly unreachable boy.

One day, Harry brought the acceptance letter from Hogwarts. He left the envelope at home so Severus wouldn't know where he lived.

As Severus was heading home, he saw Jacob running toward him, madly waving something in his hand. "I got it! I got the acceptance letter!" At first Snape was surprised, both to see Jacob again despite their established friendship and because he was right about Harry being a wizard. As he got closer, Harry could see smugness replace disbelief in his impenetrable black eyes.

Harry handed Severus the pieces of parchment, then bent down, hands on his knees. As he pretended to catch his breath from the run, Severus looked over the letter. He didn't seem to quite know what to say, so he waited awkwardly for Harry to recover. It didn't take much longer before Jacob Walker, the hyper, supposed eleven-year-old, was back to his usual happy self. Harry was sampling many different personalities in his attempt to seem younger, but nothing felt comfortable. At the least, he tried to balance Severus' solemnity.

"I'm excited to go to Diagon Alley! Although…my parents are ending up to not like the whole magic thing," said Harry, his tone suggesting he felt guilty for this.

At least the statement seemed to get a reaction from Severus, who seemed frustrated, clearly proud of having at least one magical parent. "Who do they think they are?" He stuck his chin out in indignation. "I bet you they're just…" he trailed off, searching for the proper word.

"Jealous?" Harry finished. "I don't think so. They think it's odd, to be like I am. Abnormal. I can still go, but I can tell they wish I was the way I used to be."

Harry diverted their conversation from pitying his life to "learning" about Severus. "At least…well, your parents are proud that you're a wizard, right?"

Severus' mouth curled in disgust and he looked away. "My dad isn't. He's a Muggle."

He paused, as if ashamed of this, so Harry asked, "Do you not like Muggles?"

Severus looked at him. "I don't like my father," he replied simply, and didn't explain further.

They started walking in silence as Severus continued home. Harry tried picking up where they left off. "My parents don't want to take me to Diagon Alley." He let the statement hang in the air. Another awkward silence ensued. Severus finally found something to say in response.

"My mum is just giving me money, she's not shopping with me…they don't really, I mean…" Severus trailed off, once again self-conscious of his family.

Harry studied his blank face, then gave a sad smile and looked forward. "It'll get better, you know. Even if you have a rotten family, you have someone who cares about you a lot, right?" That was how he, personally, got through living with the Dursleys.

Without meaning to, Snape replied (even though it was a rhetorical question), "Lily." After he said it, his eyes widened in horror. He had revealed her importance to Jacob Walker, his new acquaintance, as though it was a big secret. In a way, it was, because Lily never knew how much Severus cared for her…or had she?

"You're lucky, then. To have her. Make sure it lasts," said Harry gently. Snape looked away, hiding a smile, the genuine kind that only Lily knew.

"So…she's she a witch, too?"

"Yeah," he answered, lost in thought. They said nothing more until they reached Snape's house.

Again, the shame of his heritage washed over Snape at the appearance of his house. "Well…here it is…" he said uncomfortably, and started toward the house.

"Okay, I'll see you around then." Harry waved goodbye and continued walking. As he disappeared from the view of the house, he pulled out his watch. It had the current date and time on it, plus, in the center, a timer that he now started. When it got to 16 hours, he'd rest.

He jumped twenty-three and a half hours ahead in time. It was like clockwork, Lily and Severus. They always parted around the same time, leaving Harry to meet up with Severus.

They were getting closer, day by day. After 5 hours of Harry's time, he and Severus spent about forty-five minutes each day walking around. And by the 13th of August, as Harry could feel himself wearing down from sleep deprivation, Severus asked:

"Would you want a ride to—to Diagon Alley? I think my mum would be fine with it. I mean, we'd travel by Floo powder, but…" Severus didn't meet Harry's eyes.

Harry was taken aback by his offer. It was the first direct sign of kindness shown from Severus to him, not Lily. He was so surprised that it took him a while to respond. "Oh. Oh! Yes, that would be very…very nice," he managed, clearing his throat. "I don't know how else I would get there, honestly," he lied.

Severus blushed at his sincerity.

Harry smiled. The sky was clear, the sun hot but not pressing, and there was a slight breeze. Two squirrels crossed their path, chasing each other up a tree. It was nice just enjoying the weather.

"I hope we're in the same house," said Harry, and even though he knew that Severus wanted to be in Slytherin, Jacob didn't. It was an innocent wish, but one that could end up being controversial. Severus had told him all about Hogwarts, while Harry pretended to be surprised and asked questions at all the right times. He had described the traits needed to be placed in a different house, subtly biased against Gryffindor. He had failed to mention, however, his desire to be in Slytherin.

"Yeah," Snape agreed half-heartedly.

Harry decided to ignore his unenthusiastic, we-don't-need-to-continue-the-subject tone. "I honestly don't know where I'd get placed. Maybe Hufflepuff. But…I think I'd know where you'd be put. Even though I don't know you well."

If he didn't have Snape's full attention before, he definitely had it now. "What one?" he asked eagerly.

"Gryffindor," Harry replied simply, and immediately disappointment shaded Snape's face.

"What? Why? Do I come off as stupid to you?"

"That's not—Of course not. That's not what Gryffindor is." Harry gathered his opinions, planning out what would be best to convince him. "It's not for…arrogant, thick-headed, big-muscled brutes. It's for the wise, brave, and good-hearted. You don't need to be a hero or a show-off with a high ego to be in it."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "How would you know?"

Harry cleared his throat. "Er, which house did you have in mind?" A familiar superior look crossed Snape's face.

"Slytherin," he replied smugly.

Harry looked on him in shock. "You're joking, right? You don't seem the type for Slytherin."

Snape narrowed his eyes at him. "And why not? You're a Mud—a Muggle—so, er, well, you don't know enough about it to understand."

Oops. He forgot about how much he's supposed to know. "I know enough. Let me just tell you this." Severus sighed and looked away in exasperation. "If you want to lose that kind friend of yours, Lily, I think, then go ahead and be happy with Slytherin. But you're better than that. People go bad in that house. You don't need that to happen to you. You're kind, caring—and you're going to be a great wizard." Harry turned, then added, "Just think about that." And with that, he ran away from the perplexed boy.

Harry had been trying so hard to act childish that he had become intolerant and immature. He did truly believe, however unjustly, in Slytherin's inferiority. And while he felt a little bad for snapping at Severus, he hoped that it gave him something to think about. Maybe he would eventually want to be Gryffindor. He just had to convince him.

Harry's watch read 10 hours so far, and he was getting tired. Since the time he had woken up from Lily's house it had probably been 16 hours, and it was exhausting to be constantly walking and Apparating. He went to his new house, looked through the bedrooms, and chose the more comfortable and spacious of the two. He spun the Time-Turner ahead to nightfall to make it more comfortable, then settled into bed.

Harry dreamt of Quidditch. He hadn't ridden a broom in months, so it was only a matter of time before his mind reminded him of it. The dream was kind of vague. He could remember flying with a few other people who had blurry, random features. Harry immersed himself with the familiar swooping sensation, the lightness that was exaggerated by the dream.

When he awoke, he couldn't remember the dream, but ached with the desire to fly. He was tempted to grab his broom, camouflage himself, take off…But he couldn't waste time doing that sort of thing. There would be a chance for that in his first year of school. Or would there be? He had to blend in. Even being above average at flying, whether or not he was ever got on the Quidditch team, would make him stand out.

Dispirited, Harry dragged himself out of bed and put on his glasses, which he had shaped into rectangles to distinguish himself from his classic circular pair. He gathered all of his things, making sure there was absolutely no sign that he had been there recently. He was going to the 16th of August, the day after his home would be visited.

After fiddling with the device, Harry appeared two days ahead of time. Sure enough, when he went to the front room, there was what appeared to be a book bound in manila paper. He grinned and picked up the package. He ripped it open to reveal a good-sized midnight-blue book that read, Everything You Need to Know about the wizarding world. Harry flipped through it, grinning, then went back to the bedroom to put it away.

He splashed his face with water, dressed, and ate, trying to refresh himself so he could concentrate on apparating. When he was ready, he disappeared under his cloak and was gone with a faint popping noise. Harry reappeared by Lily and Snape's meeting place. Luckily, the sound he made when Apparating was never loud enough to be heard over the sounds of the forest.

He was a bit early to meet Snape, so he took the opportunity to walk a few hundred feet away. This way, he'd look less like he knew about Snape's meetings with Lily. Harry took his cloak and wand and put them behind a tree where they were unlikely to be seen.

Soon enough, Snape was headed in his direction, walking alongside the river. He looked a bit sad, his hair droopier than usual. He seemed to perk up slightly when he saw Harry, however.

When they reached each other, Severus greeted him first. "Hello."

"Hi. Listen, I'm sorry about what I said earlier."

"It's fine. But…I still want to be in Slytherin, you know."

Harry tried to hide his disappointment. Even after what he said to Snape, he wanted to be in Slytherin? Did he want to ruin his life?

"Whatever rumors there are about the house…" Yeah. Rumors. Sure, Harry thought glumly. "…it doesn't mean that it'll affect me. And, I can choose whatever house I want." He didn't make any promises, like, "Don't worry, I won't get into the Dark Arts, and I promise not to screw my life up." What he did say was: "Maybe it won't even matter, maybe I won't get to choose."

Harry decided to tell Snape what he knew about the Sorting ceremony. "I read…in the book Hogwarts gave me…that you can choose. Well, sort of. They take what you want into account."

"So I'm guaranteed to be in Slytherin?" Snape asked eagerly. Harry made a small sound of impatience, which he tried to cover with a cough. The sharp-minded boy noticed, unfortunately.

"I don't get it. Why do you want me to be in Gryffindor so badly?"

Harry sighed. "Because," he replied, exasperated.

"Because why?"

"Can we just talk about something else?" Harry decided to drop it.

Snape frowned. "Fine."

"What day would you be going to Diagon Alley?" It was probably not the best time to ask if Harry could come with him, when they were still kind of tense, but at least it was something other than the House issue.

"August 31st." Snape kicked a dandelion that had turned white. Its seeds flew into the air, floating around like little parachutes.

"Isn't that cutting it a bit close?"

"No, my mum'll leave me and then pick me up later. I think she'll take me to Platform nine-and-three-quarters, too. "

"Hm. I don't know what my parents are going to do. What's that Floo Powder you mentioned before?"

Snape briefly described it for Harry. Then he looked somewhat guilty. "I know before I had asked if you wanted to come with me. Since your parents didn't want to take you…"

Harry's eyes lit up at his indirect offer. "Really? You still would let me come with you?" I really should be an actor, Harry thought.

"Sure. And I'm not sure how well you'd manage on your own, anyway," Snape added. He clearly jumped on any opportunity to act superior, since he probably didn't have the chance often enough. It was weird to see such a boy, who was so poorly taken care of, act this…arrogant.

Then Harry caught himself. He shouldn't judge Snape just because of that. He would have to deal with the Marauders, who could show up in a dictionary under the word arrogant. Or so he assumed.

"Yeah, good point," Harry forced himself to say. Snape took it as an honest compliment. As sharp as he was, he was not adept at reading human emotion, or portraying it, for that matter. Sadly, Lily was probably his only friend before Hogwarts, so he had very little social skills.

After ten minutes, Snape had reverted to what Harry was used to—withdrawn, letting Harry control the conversation. He gave his input when necessary, and very rarely when it wasn't. An example:

"So. Who's this Lily person?"

It was almost like cartoon, the way the heat rose in Snape's face. It was weird to see such a pale boy flush with embarrassment.

"Er…Well…W-what do you mean? Nothing, Nobody." His face reddened even more when he saw Harry was looking at him with his eyebrows raised and a grin on his face, conveying he saw right through Snape's claims.

"She's my friend, okay? Drop it!" Snape snapped.

Harry put up his hands. "Whoa, calm down, I was just asking."

Thankfully, they had just reached Severus' house.

"Tomorrow, same time?" Harry asked, trying not laugh at Snape's ridiculous face.

"Yeah," he replied stiffly, and ran up the path to the front door.

The next days flew by. Of course, they were more like hours leading up to the 31st. In total, it was less than a day in Harry's time. It was strange being with just one person for all that time, and it wore him out pretty quickly. It was not long before Harry became very short with him. Now it was Severus—he grew used to thinking of him as "Severus" rather than "Snape"—who weakly controlled the conversation, not Harry. He was so relieved on the last day before he went to sleep, Harry was much more energetic than usual. Severus interpreted this as excitement for Diagon Alley and Hogwarts.

"Yes, yes, do you know what animal you're going to get?" Harry asked, looking longingly ahead for a sign that they were approaching Severus' house.

"An owl, probably."

"Yeah, me too. I've never seen one in real life."

"I've seen plenty, but I don't know what kind I'd want."

"A white one would be really cool." Harry ignored the stab in stomach as he remembered Hedwig. Really? He still had to be sad over his owl?

"I guess."

"I could see you having a black one, if they exist." Harry glanced at Severus' familiar dark ensemble.

"Yeah. That'd be cool." He had an empty look in his eyes.

"You okay?" Harry knew that expression from when Severus was a teacher.

"It's just—I don't think I can buy an owl." Severus looked at the ground. He obviously meant he couldn't afford one, which was hardly surprising considering the state of his home and wardrobe.

"I could buy you one. When's your birthday?"

Severus was shocked at the offer. "No, why would you do that? My birthday is January 9th, that's too far away…"

"Fine, then an early Christmas gift." This was pretty bold, considering they weren't even good friends yet, and who knew whether they'd still be even acquaintances by then.

Severus glowed with happiness. "You'd do that?"

Harry doubted he'd ever gotten such a nice gift. "Course. Just know, you owe me." He felt a jolt as he remembered what Ginny had said to him a few days ago. Owing. Such a complicated, broken concept. He was in debt of so many people, and it seemed he would never, in his lifetime, be able to pay them back. People died for him. Had helped him so much on his quest. What could he do in return? Just buy them owls? Yeah, right.

Severus grinned, walking with a spring in his step (as much of a spring as he could have, he wasn't really the type for skipping, or anything of the sort) for the rest of the way.

Harry trudged along moodily, longing to be home. Later that evening, he collapsed into bed. Being reuinted with his bed was the best thing to happen to Harry in a while. Sleep was such a beautiful thing, he marveled, pulling the covers over himself. He drifted off to sleep, ignoring the thoughts that always seemed to be pressing him.

 


Chapter 3: Medicine
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Harry awoke feeling fully refreshed. He was to meet Severus at his house at noon, and had plenty of time to get ready. He used a spell that was equivalent to showering to wash, ate the one remaining sandwich he had, and re-dyed his hair magically, which was fading back to its normal hue. Harry emptied the contents of his bag onto the floor of the living room and considered the few things he had to deal with before he would be ready for school.

First, he had to figure out how and where to hide things that Jacob Walker would not be likely to possess. That included his Firebolt, his Invisibility Cloak, and his Time-Turner. He couldn't risk losing it. Not that it would be impossible to replace, but he had to be able to access it easily. Wearing the Time-Turner around his neck, as he was doing now, would be too risky. Harry considered locking it in a box and putting a protective charm on it, but that would make it too hard to get quickly. He settled on transfiguring it, at least for a little while, into a framed photo of him as a baby (or what was supposedly him). No one would have a reason to take it, and it wouldn't be suspicious, but unique enough for him to remember.

He wrapped all other things that fell into the suspicious category in two spare sheets from the master bedroom. He put them at the bottom of Hermione's beaded purse, where they were unlikely to be discovered. It was too bad that the bag would be suspicious, since it was feminine, but that didn't matter much compared to how useful it had proved to be.

Second, Harry had to count his money. He had about twenty pounds in Muggle currency, along with nearly 150 Galleons. This would last him at least the year, maybe two, but he had to visit Gringotts in his own time for more money if he stayed longer. He didn't want Severus to think he was as rich as James, so he had to be careful about what he spent.

Harry already had most of the required supplies for school, he just needed to make sure the publication dates were blacked out and the edition numbers covered. There was only one book he had to buy, plus a new, smaller cauldron and potion supplies. Severus would think it was strange for him to suddenly have everything he needed, so he decided to suggest they split for an hour so he could get their owls. Then he could just say he got his supplies along the way. It would be a bit of a stretch, but Severus would never guess the real way he had acquired them.

When he was ready to go, it was a quarter to twelve. Harry grabbed his purse, along with another larger one he could use to hold his supplies. He left his suitcase where it was and Apparated downriver from Severus' house. It was a bright day outside, crisp and still a bit cool from the previous night. An easy breeze swept over the grass, ruffling Harry's (now blond) hair.

He had to admit, he was a little nervous to meet Eileen Snape, formerly Eileen Prince. However, he was still less anxious that everything would go smoothly over the next couple days. He'd had excellent luck so far, and if it kept up, everything would be okay.

Harry reached the edge of the forest and began down Spinner's End. When he reached the Snape house, he couldn't hear any arguing or fighting, thankfully. He knocked on the door, then waited for someone to answer, shifting from foot to foot to calm his nerves. After a few seconds, he heard a muffled voice, someone calling, "He's here!" then footsteps approaching where he stood.

Severus opened the door. "Come in," he said, voice strained, opening the door wider.

Harry entered, feeling out of place. He was inside Severus' house, about to go shopping with him. As friends. If someone during his years at Hogwarts had told him he would one day be friends with Severus, he would have had them admitted to St. Mungo's.

The living room was unkempt, with various things lying about. The furniture was dusty, and the smell of smoke was strong. It may have been more normal for a Muggle home to be dirty, where it took physical labor and time to clean, but simple household messes were rarer in wizarding homes. It took much less work to clean with magic. The Snape family's priorities—which Harry could have guessed before judging by Severus' greasy hair and shabby wardrobe—did not include cleanliness.

There was the sound of a glass being set down and Eileen Snape walked out of the kitchen. She had messy, medium-length black hair that fell partly over her face, which was long, sullen, and pale. She had a nasty bruise over her left eye, and the way she gingerly moved her arm suggested that it was injured. It must have happened recently or else she would've tried to heal it…Maybe Severus' parents had just been fighting. That would explain his unusually tight voice, the unnatural quiet of the house.

Harry remembered Eileen vaguely from Severus' memories, from the brief scene he had glimpsed her husband shouting at her. Even with his own upbringing, it was hard to imagine what it must be like to hear his father abuse his mother and not be able to do anything about it. For a moment, he imagined Severus curled up and crying in his bedroom, listening to crashes and shouts. He wondered if Tobias Snape was somewhere around here, or if he had retreated somewhere else to lose himself under alcohol's influence.

Mrs. Snape looked him up and down coldly, her judgmental stare bearing a likeness of her son's as an adult. "So you're Jacob Walker?" she asked, and he had trouble interpreting it as a statement or a question.

"Er…" Harry began, but he didn't have to reply. The witch, who clearly could care less about his name, his existence for that matter, strode past him to the fireplace. She started a fire with a wave of her wand and retrieved a plastic cup filled with Floo Powder, using her uninjured arm to do so. Eileen expanded the fireplace so they would fit with another flick of her wand. She threw some Floo Powder in, and the flames turned bright green. Without caring to instruct either of the two boys, she took another handful and stepped into the fire.

"Diagon Alley," she said clearly after throwing the powder at the ground. The flames swallowed her and she disappeared.

There was the sound of heavy footsteps, and Tobias Snape appeared in the kitchen. Holding a large whiskey bottle that was nearly empty, the man swayed into the room. He had a stupid, drunken smirk on his face and a crazed look in his bloodshot eyes. Harry glanced quickly at Severus, who had stiffened, his face was hardened with hatred and disgust. Father and son made eye contact.

"Where's Eileen?" Tobias had a hoarse voice, which cracked as he cackled. He swayed slightly as he walked toward Severus, ignoring Harry, who stepped between them. He lurched suddenly at Severus, who pulled Harry aside with him.

Severus' father stood, shaking with silent laughter, and he slowly turned around. He went back to Severus and grabbed the front of his loose dark gray shirt. Harry snapped out of his horror at the dangerous glint in his expression.

Leaning in to Severus' face, Tobias yelled, "WHERE DID THAT BITCH—"

Harry cut Tobias off before he could finish by punching him hard in the face. Then he stared in disbelief at his fist, as if it would hold an explanation for his impulsive behavior. He…had just hit the father of someone he supposedly just met, even though Tobias had deserved it.

Tobias groaned on the ground. While the man struggled to recover, Harry pointed at the plastic cup above the fireplace and motioned for Severus to hurry. After a fearful look at his father, who was regaining his senses, Severus ran over to the fireplace and grabbed a handful of powder.

"You go next. I told you how to do it before, right?" Severus whispered as loud as he dared, his voice shaking slightly. Harry nodded, and Severus hurriedly repeated the steps his mother had taken.

Now it was just Harry and the drunk, who was coming to his senses, swearing loudly. Before the man could stand, Harry pulled out his wand and did his best to erase Tobias' memory of being punched, then stunned him.

Harry looked grimly at the sprawled figure in front of him. He hoped that, in his intoxicated state, Tobias would not be able to piece together that magic had been used on him. Harry, not wanting to stick around, grabbed his bags and stepped into the fireplace.

How can I help Severus' family? he thought as the flames swallowed him. Maybe it's not something I should get myself involved with. Fireplaces flew by as he rushed closer and closer to Diagon Alley. Suddenly, Harry reappeared in a fireplace of a store he didn't recognize. He stood, coughing, in the dust that had sprung up by his entrance. He vacated the hearth and blinked, eyes watering. Severus was standing nearby, looking relieved that Harry had made it out of the house without being injured. His composed face was now giving way to his feelings; he seemed shaken and maybe even scared.

Eileen handed Severus a small, ratty cloth tied up into a sack, probably containing the meager amount of money for the day's exploits. She lectured him on using the money only for what he needed, because that was all he was getting this year, and he nodded, clutching his supply list tightly.

"Well, Severus, I will pick you up here at…six o' clock," his mum said curtly. She looked at both of them briefly, then Disapparated.

Severus and Harry left the store into the bright sunshine outside. The street was packed with all sorts of people, all bustling down the street and in and out of shops. The two boys walked to an open space underneath the awning of a potion supply store.

"Okay, so if you want, we can split up for an hour. I'll buy your owl while you get your robes and wand. Then we'll meet back here."

Severus nodded and looked down, shoulders sagging. "Listen, about what happened…" He trailed off because his voice began to shake.

"It's okay," said Harry hurriedly. "I just hope that he won't do anything like that again."

Harry could feel anger boiling inside him, that there could be people like Severus' dad, that kids could bully Severus without thinking about what he already experienced at home. Why didn't people realize how much it hurt him to be ridiculed? If they didn't regard mental torture as seriously as physical torture, maybe they would need to see every negative word they said burned onto the skin person they make fun of, so they can see the scars they leave. But…couldn't they already see the pain in Severus' eyes?

"Will you be okay?" Harry forced himself to calm down.

"I'll be—I'll be fine." Severus was not convincing in the least, but he seemed to want to be alone so he could recover.

They set off in different directions. Harry weaved his way in and out of the crowd to the Owl Emporium. He was determined to buy Severus the best owl in the shop. Although he knew possessions wouldn't help lessen the pain Severus had experienced, he hoped his kind gesture would.

The Owl Emporium was small and relatively dark inside. There were about fifteen people crammed inside, all trying to get close-up looks at different owls. As Harry scanned the room, he noticed one particularly strange owl.

It was a barn owl. It had a white, slightly heart shaped face, with unnatural blue eyes that seemed to bleed into the feathers around them. Its body was dark gray flecked with white, and it was fairly large. It was quite beautiful in a deadly, mysterious way. The bird, who had been looking straight ahead before, slowly turned its head unblinkingly toward Harry as he approached it.

"Sir?" Harry turned and called to a man in his forties who had just finished helping a mom and a bouncing young son pick out a simple brown owl.

"Yes, what can I help you with?" The man smiled and looked from Harry to the bird he stood in front of. "Oh, yes, a rare mutated Barn owl. Usually the species is a pale color, or brown…but this one is like soot, with blue eyes…" For a moment, Harry wondered if the man would let him buy the owl. "If you are interested, she is eighteen Galleons." The ridiculous pricing indicated he clearly was not keen on giving her away.

"I'll take her," said Harry, pulling out the coins. Mingled disappointment and surprise crossed the man's face for only a moment before he recovered slightly and took the money. After inspecting the Galleons carefully, the man grunted and got the caged owl for him.

"Oh, and also…can I have that white one in the corner? Yes, yes, that one. Thank you…"

Harry left the shop, weighed down by the two cages. It might have been smarter to have bought them toward the end of the hour, because now he had an extra forty-five minutes to carry them.

He bought a cauldron along with some basic potions ingredients, which meant the only thing left for him to buy was the one Defense Against the Dark Arts book. Flourish and Blotts was not too far away, so he headed there.

The store was very lively, though not too crowded, since it was larger than most stores. There were at least twenty Hogwarts students in the store—he could hear snippets of their conversations—"Mum, I know it's not on the list…please? It'll be my going away present!" "Ooh…look, the new edition of Alohomora: Unlocking the Secrets of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!" and—

"Dad, I don't know how that got in there! I swear!"

Harry froze in place and turned toward the voice.

It was his father.

James Potter stood next to an older man who slightly resembled him, most likely his father—he already had gray hair. James was trying his best to appear innocent as his dad held up a thick school book in one hand and a thin one in the other. Harry casually walked over to the bookshelf behind them and heard his father read in a low voice, "116 Ways to Cheat in Class?" He tried to stifle a smile. "You hid this in a book? Really, James. I would have expected you to put in a little more effort."

"Good job, Dad. I'm impressed," said James, trying to hide his disappointment. But then, when his dad turned around to go to the checkout, James pulled a Galleon out of his pocket and hid it casually in his hand. He grabbed another book that was sitting in wait on a shelf nearby, then went over to the counter with his father.

After his dad paid and was pushing through the crowd, James bought the book, one that blended in with the rest of the other standard school books. But by the mischievous look on James' face, he knew it wasn't on the Hogwarts supply list.

Harry was overcome with a renewed sense of excitement. First he had felt awed, then depressed, then too overwhelmed to think clearly, and now he felt light-headed with disbelief. How had he expected he would react when he saw his father for the first time in person? After first seeing his mum and dad in the Mirror of Erised, he realized he wanted nothing more than to have a family.

And now, the excitement was combined with…disappointment. It was similar to seeing his dad in the Pensieve in his fifth year. After that experience, Harry had been devastated at how much of "an arrogant toerag" his dad was. Already, at age eleven, James managed to flirt with all the girls that looked his age on his way out. One could tell where he had walked in the store because he left a trail of severe giggles. Just before he closed the door, James waved to a pack of three girls who looked to be about twelve. They all waved back, then laughed and started chatting animatedly, peeking outside to catch a last glimpse of the boy. Harry still didn't think this made James out to be a complete monster, though certainly conceited. Still, he resented that he could figure out his father's personality simply by watching him for a couple minutes.

Harry bought the book and went back outside. As he walked, he pulled out a bag he had filled with supplies from what he grabbed from his purse. He now had to carry two owls and two heavy bags, and knew this was going to make the day seem longer.

He surveyed the diverse faces in the swarm of people on the street. His white owl hooted, annoyed, as the cage bumped against the jumbled mass of people. Well, maybe it wasn't that unusual, Harry consoled himself as he watched a sullen girl with curly black hair walk next to a sour-faced, middle-aged woman. By her moody complexion…she looked like a true Slytherin. Maybe some people were just easier to figure out than others.

Harry felt a jolt of guilt. He shouldn't label people based on how they appear to passerby. His dad probably had complicated feelings that he wouldn't understand unless he allowed himself to accept there was more than what met the eye. How many times was he going to have to remind himself of that?

Maybe the boy who was waiting under the awning seemed awkward, depressed and poor; someone one would try to avoid, but Harry didn't see Severus that way, now that they were sort of friends. No, he only saw the smile that lit up Severus' face as he came closer, as he held up the beautiful owl that he bought for him.

"Wow, thank you…"

Harry angled the cage so they could admire the bird, which turned its head to look at each of them in turn. Every time it made eye contact with Harry, he felt the back of his neck prickle. It was as though…the bird could see right through him. Somehow the sharp eyes and wise appearance reminded Harry of Dumbledore.

"I've never seen one like this. How did it get to be black?"

The bird now twisted her head toward Severus, who smiled at it, not noticing anything unusual.

"The guy at the store said that it was mutated. I thought she was the coolest owl in the shop, personally."

Harry's new owl, now named Enoch, hooted in protest. "And this one was okay, too," he added, smirking.

"I got you something, too," said Severus, reaching into one of his bags. He produced a rainbow-spiraled lollipop. Harry forced a smile, feeling guilty because Severus had felt the need to buy him something when he had already little money to spare on himself.

"It change colors and flavors as you eat it. It isn't as good as an owl, obviously, but…"

"Wow, this is so cool, thank you! I wish Muggle candy was like this," said Harry ecstatically, unwrapping the lollipop and popping it in his mouth. Severus beamed.

"So, I already got all my stuff…" Harry began, taking the lollipop out so he could talk.

Severus looked at him in mild surprise. "Really? I've only got my robes and wand. Speaking of wand, what does yours look like? Mine's twelve inches, hawthorn, and dragon heartstring, rigid…What about yours?"

"Eleven inches, holly, phoenix core. It was the first one he pulled out, that's why it didn't take that long."

"Oh. Well, I still have to get the rest of the things on my list, if you don't want to come…"

"No, it's fine. Maybe afterwards we can get ice cream? Did you have lunch already?"

"I've never had ice cream before! From here, I mean…And, er, I'm not hungry, so…" Severus trailed off. Harry wondered if the reason Severus was so thin was because he wasn't fed well at home. Maybe it was that, plus the fact that he had inherited his parent's spidery figures.

"Okay, where do you want to go next? Is Lily going to be here today?"

A pink tinge rose momentarily in his pale cheeks. "Yes. Why do you want to know?"

Harry chewed his lip to keep from smirking. "No reason. Let's start to Potage's, it's closest."

They spent another two hours buying Severus' supplies. They went into shops Harry had never needed to go into: secondhand stores with low prices on beat-up books that seemed overpriced for their quality. Severus was surprised at the amount of money his mum gave him; what he didn't know was that Harry had slipped a few Galleons into his bag. If Harry hadn't done so, there was no way he would have managed to afford everything on the list.

Within the approximate three hours they had been in Diagon Alley, the only person Harry had recognized had been James. It wasn't until they went to Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor that they saw another person they knew.

Harry and Severus had just got their ice creams—cookies and cream and a chocolate sundae, respectively—when Lily entered the store. Her mother, a woman with dark hair and large glasses, waved goodbye through the glass and walked away. "Sev!" Lily exclaimed, and headed toward him, beaming. Severus' face relaxed and he returned her smile. "Hi," he said, warmth flooding his usually cold voice.

"It's wonderful here, isn't it? My mum came with me—she's going to Gringotts to exchange more money." She sighed. "I think Petunia wanted to come, but you know her…"

Severus nodded, and Harry did, too, without realizing it, because he also knew what she was talking about. His aunt had been jealous that her sister was a witch and got to go to Hogwarts, and to cover her feelings up, she made fun of Lily and didn't want anything to do with magic.

Harry's mother seemed to notice him for the first time. "Oh, hi!" She looked between the two, taken aback that Severus was with someone other than her. Lily probably thought she was Severus' only friend. "What's your name? Mine's Lily Evans, sorry if I was rude."

And suddenly, for the first time, Harry came in contact with his mother. They shook hands—she had a very friendly, solid grip—then she looked at him expectantly.

Harry mentally shook himself, still feeling a bit dazed. "Er, nice to meet you, my name's Ha—I mean, Jacob. Jacob Walker."

"Nice to meet you, Jacob." Turning back to Severus, she said, "Listen, Sev, my mum is going to meet me back here in two hours, do you want to hang out until then? All my shopping's done."

"Yeah! We're done, too. My mum is picking me—us—up at six, so we have time." Severus was staring at her, a dreamy sort of smile on his face, so Harry cleared his throat loudly to snap him out of it. "Ah—sorry, er, so—" He fumbled with what to say.

"Where'd you get the owls?" Lily asked, oblivious that anything awkward had just taken place. She got in line and the two boys stood on the other side of the divider, continuing to eat their ice cream. As the line moved forward, they continued talking.

"Actually, Jacob gave it—the dark one—to me. As an, er, early Christmas present."

"How thoughtful!" She now looked at Jacob, with an expression of either approval or annoyance, or a mixture of both. "It really is beautiful. I like the white one, too, though. I think my mum is going to get me one. She wants me to write home every week, I hope I'll have time." Lily turned, as she was next in line, and placed her order for a small mint chocolate chip in a cone. She paid, unnecessarily carefully counting out loud, then rejoined them. They sat at the only table outside, which was magically shaded from the sun.

"So, Jacob, have you been to Diagon Alley before? It's my first time, and I know Sev has been here before."

"My parents are both Muggles, so no, never."

"Me too!" Lily seemed very excited at this, so Harry feigned equal interest, smiling and acting pleasantly surprised.

"I was hoping I wouldn't be the only one," she continued, "Sev says there are loads, but I don't know, I was worried this year would be different…" For the first time, her natural confidence wavered, and she seemed almost insecure.

"Why were you worried? What difference does it make if your parents are both Muggles?" asked Harry, torn between his faux naiveté and frustration that she would care about being the only Muggle-born.

Lily hastily changed the subject. "So, what are you guys most excited for at Hogwarts?"

Severus thought for a moment. "I can't wait to learn in general, I guess."

Yeah, learn the Dark Arts, Harry thought bitterly. He could tell it was going to wear him out, knowing the fates of the people around him. "Well, I can't wait for Quidditch."

Severus was just about to ask how he knew about Quidditch when Harry added, "It was mentioned in that book I got, and it seems really exciting."

"Yeah, sure," said Severus, though he could hardly care less. He was only halfway through his ice cream, and although he had enjoyed it, he seemed unable to eat any more. He went into the store to return the bowl from his sundae, scooping a last mouthful on his way in, leaving Harry and Lily alone.

"So, how long have you known Severus?" he asked, starting to eat the cone part of his ice cream.

"Hmm, it's been maybe two, three years? What about you? I never, knew that he was friends with you." That was about as polite she could say Severus had never had another friend without coming across as jealous.

"I met him recently." Severus was just now within earshot, so he asked, "And, I was wondering, what house do you want to be put in? I'm sure he's told you about them, right?" Severus sat down and shot Harry an annoyed glare, which wasn't that effective since he had some chocolate ice cream on his face.

"Hm, I don't know. Gryffindor, maybe. He hasn't told me much about any of them, so I don't really know."

Harry gave Severus a see-what-did-I-tell-you look, and Severus ignored it stubbornly. He noticed Lily was trying to catch Severus' attention, touching her cheek repeatedly, trying to point out a bit of chocolate on his face. Severus was too busy not meeting Harry's eyes to notice. Lily got up in exasperation.

"Where are you—" Severus began, but she had already gone into the shop.

Lily returned with a napkin and said to him, "Sev, you have some chocolate on your face," and bent down to his level. Severus stiffened as she tilted his face to the side and wiped his cheek carefully. "Almost…there we go!" She straightened up and tossed the napkin into a trash bin. Severus was still frozen in place, and Harry was, yet again, hiding a smile. He might as well enjoy it while it lasted; soon he would no longer think being around eleven-year-olds was amusing, just annoying. After all, there was an age gap of seven years. Perhaps Harry would become less mature over time.

"So, where to next?" Lily asked brightly.

As the two boys stood up, Harry said under his breath, "Do it for her." Severus pretended he hadn't heard. If Harry could only convince him to be in Gryffindor, then he and Lily would spend more time with him, and it would be harder for him to get involved with the Dark Arts.

"How about we just walk around?" Harry suggested, and the other two agreed.

Harry allowed Severus and Lily to chat, only half paying attention to what went on around him. It was relaxing to be around all these people in a place that was familiar to him.

Being in a new house and living with the Weasleys was nice, but it made him, for lack of a better word, homesick. What home of his would he be missing? Certainly not the Dursleys, or Grimmauld Place…could it be Hogwarts? But the last time he had stayed there was his in sixth year. He didn't want to analyze his feelings now, so he decided to take a break from his problems and listen to the conversation between Lily and Severus.

"Ooh, look at these!" Lily stopped at a flower stand. Harry was thankful it at least wasn't one of the brightly colored little kid's shops that were nearby. The flowers resembled ones from the Muggle world, but all had some slight magical property that made them different. One flower in particular caught Lily's eye. The flower was similar to a lily, but seemed to be glowing faintly. The manager, who had been eying them, noticed her interest. She came over to the trio and cleared her throat, as if preparing for a lengthy speech.

"Ah, yes, that is a Moon Lily. Aptly named, the Moon Lily feeds purely off of moonlight, and releases its waste in the form of light during the day."

Lily still looked intrigued, so the lady eagerly continued. "The average life span is 5 years, as long as it gets at least 2 or 3 nights of moonlight every week. Now, if it's a particularly cloudy week, there are alternate ways to feed it so that it doesn't wilt…"

While Lily was distracted, nodding along with the information the pony-tailed woman was reciting, Harry pulled Severus out of earshot.

"Are you going to buy it for her?" he whispered, nodding slightly toward Lily.

"Wha—Why?" Severus genuinely seemed to not know.

Harry sighed in exasperation. "Because, she really wants it." Severus looked back at Lily, who was now examining the petals of the flower. "If you want to show her that you care about her…" Severus' eyes flashed, so Harry, sparing himself from a pointless argument, added, "…as a friend, then you should get it for her. Not that just being here with her isn't enough, but she'll have this flower for a while, so…"

Severus struggled with the idea. After another long look at Lily, he mumbled, "Fine." Then he seemed hesitant and defensive again. "And if I don't have enough money, I'm not getting it." He marched back to where Lily was standing and demanded, "How much is the flower?"

"Of course, let me see…the Moon Lily is one Galleon, 8 Knuts…" she trailed off in surprise as Severus set down his shopping bags and emptied his pockets. Harry knew Severus was going to come up short, so he joined the two, bent down to tie his shoe, and placed a Galleon on the pavement. When he straightened up, he saw Severus' shoulders had sagged. In his hand was four Sickles and 12 Knuts. He turned to Lily, who was oblivious to what his intentions had been. She raised her eyebrows questioningly.

"Well, I just—" He saw something flash in the corner of his eye. A Galleon was lying on the ground next to him. Immediately Severus glanced suspiciously at Harry (who had started to look at the other flowers, whistling), then reluctantly picked it up. He counted up the required amount of money and presented it to the manager. Lily gasped in sudden understanding.

"For me? Sev, you don't have to do that!" The manager handed Lily the flower, winked at Severus, and went off to help a young couple on the other side of the stand.

"I wanted to. I could…I could tell you really wanted it."

"Oh, thank you, thank you!" She hugged him, luckily not damaging the flower.

For a moment, Severus stood in shock with his arms still open, but he recovered and returned the embrace. They broke apart, now both grinning, and Lily began admiring her gift. Harry joined them, trying his best to look innocent even as Severus scrutinized him. He seemed to struggle with whether he should be suspicious of Harry or just happy with the result his suggestion.

The three continued browsing different shops and stalls. They stopped mostly when Lily wanted to, and were usually indifferent going into one store or another. However, Harry did have an exception: in the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies was the Nimbus 1000, released in '67.

They all looked in the store, despite Severus' lack of interest. Harry didn't need or want to buy anything, but he still thought it was interesting to see the older models of broomsticks. He might eventually have to get a broomstick, or do something to alter his Firebolt. No one had yet seen a broomstick like his in the 70s, and even if he made a believable excuse to its origins, he would draw unwanted attention to himself.

In the end, no one bought anything besides the flower, but they had a good time. Harry thought Lily was wonderful. She was more immediately likable than Severus or James, and she got along well with Harry. Although, it would have been nice to not know she was going to die for his sake. Harry knew, by the end of the year, he would want to save her life. But that was another thing that would change too much.

Soon, it was five o' clock, and Lily had to head back to the ice cream parlor. To avoid awkward questions from Lily's mom, they split up before reaching the shop.

"Well, goodbye, then, Sev…and Jacob. Let's try to sit together on the train, okay? And, thank you again for the flower." She smiled at Severus, who mumbled, "No problem."

They watched her go, her multiple shopping bags all bumping against her legs. Mrs. Evans (who, Harry realized, was his grandmother) took some of her things and appeared to ask about the flower. Once Lily had disappeared into the crowd, the boys turned around and started heading in the opposite direction.

"Well, she's nice," said Harry slyly. Severus shot him a "watch it" look.

Harry rolled his eyes, then said, "Well, we still have an hour…I guess we could go to a bookstore and relax. I'd like to know more about Hogwarts. And I'm tired of holding this stuff." Harry lifted up Enoch, who appeared to be sleeping. "If that's all right with you…"

"Yeah, sounds good," Severus agreed, his skinny arms trembling slightly from having to carry so much for so long. Harry knew Severus would want to just relax and read; from what he knew, Severus loved books. Plus, it was good for Severus to rest, as he was likely going to become a lot more disagreeable now that Lily was gone.

They went to a store further down the Alley called Tabitha's Tea and Books. It was a cozy place, with a place cleared for eating and reading on the first level and all the books crammed on the second. Both boys immediately headed toward the book section. Severus seemed more of a reader of the two, taking down a huge stack of books within minutes, while Harry only took down a couple. One of the ones Harry chose were Hogwarts, a History, appropriately enough, and A First Year's Guide to Hogwarts, 14th edition.

They found a spot downstairs to read, but by that time they only had twenty minutes before they had to leave. At least Harry might be giving himself an excuse to know some things about Hogwarts—if he needed to give Severus advice, or revealed something he knew about Hogwarts that he shouldn't, he could just say he read it when they had gone to Diagon Alley.

Before long, they had to leave the bookstore. By now, they had nothing to talk about, so they walked in silence. The only thing that was brought up on the way back was Severus' owl. He wanted Harry to hold onto it until they were on the train the next day. He said this was because he didn't know what his parents would think if he brought it home, and it was safer with Harry than with him. Harry agreed, wishing he could put the owl in the purse so he wouldn't have to juggle it with his other things.

It was almost six o' clock when they arrived back at the store they had started out at called "Standard Wizarding Home Supplies." Mrs. Snape had not arrived yet, so they walked around while they waited, looking at the variety of home supplies the store had just to have something to do. After fifteen minutes of this, Eileen had not made an appearance. The two stood in the back, reading, to pass the time. After an hour, there was still no sign of his mum.

Severus was starting to become panicked. "Why do you think she's late?"

Harry tried to reassure him, hiding the pressing dread that maybe his actions had led to her delay. "I don't know, but she'll be fine. If she's not here in ten minutes, let's borrow some Floo Powder and go back ourselves, okay?" They had seen a small sign at the counter that said Complimentary Floo Powder available—just ask.

Severus nodded, but he was still unusually pale. After each minute they waited, his complexion became worse and worse, until finally his mother appeared in the fireplace. She straightened up, brushed herself off, and made toward the exit. She seemed to not notice the two boys.

"Mother?" Severus called tentatively, his original relief replaced by confusion. Eileen turned around in surprise. "Severus? What are you still doing here?"

"You said you would pick us up at six, so we waited here for you!"

His mother sighed and went over to them. "I never said that. Why would I need to come to pick you up? Couldn't you have just gone home by yourself? You're a big boy now." She sounded impatient and glanced toward the door.

"Well, I…" Severus trailed off, confused.

"I have to go buy your father some medicine…for his back pain." Her euphemism was strained, and Severus seemed to know what she really meant. She turned to leave, then, feeling that she needed to give him some sort of instruction, said, "The store has complimentary Floo Powder. I'll see you when I get home."

When she had left, Severus went up to the counter and asked for Floo Powder. Harry couldn't hear any strong emotion in his voice, but imagined that he was angry and embarrassed. He walked into the fireplace, stated his address, and disappeared. Harry uncomfortably switched all of his things to one hand, grabbed some Floo Powder, thanked the man, and did the same.

Tobias Snape was still in the living room when they arrived, more liquor bottles and potions around him from when they had seen him earlier in the day.

"Eileen?" he said in a wobbly, drunken voice. Snape mouthed "go" to Harry. Harry narrowed his eyes at the man, fists clenching, and Snape shook his head warningly.

"You'll be okay?" Harry whispered. Severus nodded and glanced at his dad, who was still staring straight ahead from his position on the couch.

Tobias mumbled an incomprehensible string of words to himself in a slurred voice. Harry didn't attempt to understand, as nothing that this man said was of any significance.

"I'll see you tomorrow at the station, then. Let's try to be in the same compartment, okay?" This was met with another nod. "Okay, bye, then…" Harry crossed the room to the door and left the house, taking another look at the scrawny boy standing in this broken home. Harry was reminded of earlier, about judging people on how they appear to passerby. Well, if someone saw Severus standing among the mess, they might think it made sense that he was there. That, by his appearance, he belonged.

But the difference was this young boy still held on to the values that make life worthwhile. That was the difference between him and the Tobias, who Harry could hardly call a father, who was sitting, wasted, on a beat-up couch.

Harry returned home, got ready for the next day, and set his magical watch to wake him up after six hours sleep. Everything in his house, except the bed he now entered, was just as he had found it only a couple days ago. He left all of his things in the front room, including Enoch and the other owl, which Severus had named Luna. Harry tried not to imagine the bird watching him somehow, through the wall, and focused on what would happen the tomorrow.

Tomorrow was the day that would officially start his temporary life as Jacob Walker. Tomorrow would determine what house Severus ended up in, and maybe who they would all be friends with. Tomorrow as a new beginning.

 


Chapter 4: A New Beginning
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Harry arrived at King's Cross feeling unusually cheerful, more so than he had in a long time. There were no particularly horrible memories connected to this place, so he was at peace walking through the station. The air was still a little cool from the morning, and a few lazy clouds drifted through the sky. Even the people walking around seemed especially happy. Instead of hurrying with their heads down and looking judgmentally at his two owls, they held their heads high and regarded his birds with pleasant interest.

This time Harry knew exactly where to go and what to do. He pushed his cart along, just passing the ninth platform. He saw only a few Hogwarts students, none he could recognize, but then again it was only half past ten. Harry had wanted to come early to wait for Severus and Lily, to ensure that they would be able to be in the same compartment.

He stopped right next to the brick wall between the ninth and tenth platforms and leaned against it casually. He slid through into Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, where a scarlet train was waiting for passengers. The station wasn't that crowded yet, but there were still a considerable amount of people bustling about. Birds screeched, cats meowed, and luggage carts squeaked noisily. Voices rose above the collection of sounds, happy when reunited with friends, sad when family was left behind.

Harry quickly scanned the crowd but saw no sign of Severus. From what he remembered from Severus' memories, he should arrive around the same time as Lily. He moved away from the entrance and waited. After only another five minutes, the Evans family appeared through the brick wall. Harry wondered vaguely how Muggles could go through the barrier. It must be that they could only go to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters if they knew of its existence, or that only Muggles who were part of a family with a magical person could enter.

Lily spotted Harry and waved, grinning. Petunia looked at Harry with an eyebrow raised, and whispered unsubtly to her sister, no doubt about him. Lily stopped to listen, then waved him over. Harry's grandparents (Mr. and Mrs. Evans) also stopped.

"Jacob, these are my parents, and my big sister, Petunia!" Harry, or Jacob, smiled pleasantly at them. When he met Petunia's eyes, she blushed and looked away looking flustered. Interesting, Harry thought in surprise. Why so flustered? Especially after how she's treated other people with magical abilities, namely me and my mum. It was clear that she must find Jacob attractive.

It was a lot easier to read the emotions of younger kids than those his own age, which was proving to be an advantage.

"Nice to meet you," Harry/Jacob said politely. Petunia was still watching him, but he pretended not notice. Lily's parents were obviously transfixed by him, most likely because they had only had rarely met other wizarding folk.

"Now, how did you two meet?"

Mr. Evans had directed the question to Lily, but Harry was a more experienced liar, so he invented, "We just talked a little bit at Diagon Alley. I saw her at the flower shop." It wasn't too far from the truth, but her parents seemed very protective, and he wanted it to seem like it wasn't a big deal. If they knew Severus, and approved of Lily's friendship with him, then maybe he wouldn't have had to lie, but he was still a stranger. Her spending time with two strange boys was probably not as acceptable as one passerby. But they didn't know about her friendship with the Severus…at least it didn't seem like they did.

Speaking of Severus—Harry glanced over and saw that he had just entered the platform. Lily seemed to notice this, also, but didn't wave. Eileen seemed to have made a better attempt to look presentable than when Harry had last seen her, but compared to those around her she still appeared hastily thrown together. Harry felt his stomach twist as he realized her long sleeves and high collar, despite the summer weather, must be concealing bruises. Severus met Harry's eye and the corner of his mouth twitched up briefly. Harry returned the gesture, hoping the memory charm had worked, that Snape hadn't suffered Tobias' fury because of his actions.

Not wanting to stick around too long, he cleared his throat and said, "Well, it was nice meeting you, Mr. and Mrs. Evans. See you on the train, Lily. Bye, Petunia," He flashed his most dazzling smile at Petunia, who blushed furiously and mumbled something in response. Harry left them to say their goodbyes and hovered nearby. He didn't want to meet up with Snape quite yet, just in case it would damage the way Lily's parents thought of him. And besides that, he was busy watching what was happening between Lily and Petunia.

In Snape's memories, the two sisters had an argument that ended with Lily breaking down and crying. Petunia had called her a sister a freak to cover up her jealous feelings. Now, they simply hugged; it seemed Petunia was deeply distracted by Harry. He had gone along with her interest in him in the hopes that she would be too busy with her own thoughts to yell at Lily, and it had worked.

He realized that this was the first event he had seen and changed directly. Of course, there was the bridge incident, as well as the simple act of meeting the two children. But there had still been the possibility that those events had always happened and Harry had just left '71 for some reason.

Now, he had proof that he could change what had occurred in the past. This newfound fact excited him, but also made him uneasy. He could make things worse by meddling in the past. He had to be careful about what he interfered with.

Lily said a last goodbye to her family, who started heading back to the brick wall, and went over to Jacob. They waited for Severus' mum to bid him a curt farewell before joining up with him.

"Let's go find a compartment," Snape suggested, his face flushed with an excitement that could easily match Lily's.

She and Harry nodded and they found the nearest entrance to the train. Kids were bustling about the hallway, scrambling with luggage and trying to find open cabins. Harry looked into one to see if it was vacant and saw that James and Sirius were sitting there.

Harry froze, paralyzed by a strong feeling of déjà vu. The boys both sat on one end, just like they had originally. Only this time, Lily and Severus were not going to meet them.

"You can sit here if you want," Sirius offered, shrugging. He already had a casual handsomeness at age eleven, which the laughing girls in the compartment across them seemed to notice.

James nodded in agreement, looking indifferent. "Yeah, we don't mind."

"Er, no, I'm with my friends already," Harry replied quickly, voice shaking slightly, and followed Snape and Lily. He managed to control his emotions, pretending they had been complete strangers, not two people who were going to die. It was difficult, especially since they looked so much like how they would when they were older. At least they had both been kind to him. He was dreading the first time he would see his father bully someone. What if they made fun of…him? Harry was old enough to defend himself—it would be like a four-year-old trying to pick on him—but the difference was it would be his dad. For his own father to dislike him…that would be unbearable.

The trio found an empty compartment toward the end of the train. No sooner had they put away their suitcases and sat down than another person appeared in the entryway. Someone who Harry vaguely recognized.

"Oh—sorry, I'll check another—"

She turned to leave but Lily interjected. "It's okay! You can sit with us."

The girl looked uncertain. "Are you sure?"

They all nodded, and the newcomer sat down in the empty spot next to Harry, who still had difficulty remembering where he had seen or met her. He studied her, trying to place his familiarity. She had dark skin, and also was quite small, appearing a couple years younger than the others. Her curly black hair fell past her shoulders, and she pushed it out of her eyes uncomfortably as they all stared at her, waiting for her to speak.

Then, after taking in her appearance, Harry realized she had been the girl who he had seen (and judged) at Diagon Alley. He felt a little guilty, but how she had seemed to him then was the same as she seemed now: gloomy, quiet—both qualities he associated with a Slytherin.

"So what's your name?" Lily asked politely, having always been less judgmental than Harry.

"Raven Faralyn." She looked around at her company for the first time. Her eyes lingered on Jacob a little longer than they did for the others. Returning her gaze to Lily, she said, "And you are…?"

"My name's Lily Evans." Harry noticed for the first time that Lily was holding the flower from the day before.

"I'm Severus Snape."

"And I'm Jacob Walker."

Raven looked from Lily to Jacob. "Are you two Muggle-borns?"

"Er, yeah," Harry answered, slightly taken aback.

"I could tell by your names, that's all," she replied, noticing the look on his face.

"Oh." Harry thought she had a similar appearance to Snape's barn owl Luna when she looked at him, it was as though she saw straight through to his soul. Of course, this did not mean Harry was interested in her. He would not have a crush on anyone in this time; it made him uncomfortable to imagine it. To start, he was much too old for the students at Hogwarts; additionally, he did not plan to stay long; and most importantly, there was Ginny back home. Harry tried not to think about Ginny too much, it just made his chest contract painfully. Even though he felt distanced from her back home, that was different from not being around her at all.

"So, Raven," Lily began, fishing for a topic. "Where are you from?"

"Around London. I live with my parents. Both of them were in Slytherin at Hogwarts…"

So she would be in Slytherin, then, unless she was anything like Sirius. Harry half wished he had not guessed her placement correctly, wanting an example of when stereotypes were not reliable.

"…but I don't know where I'll get placed."

"I want to be in Slytherin," Snape put in eagerly. "You should be proud if that's where you go!"

Lily looked at him, surprised, since he had never shared this desire with her. At the same time, she didn't know the history the house had. Harry was looking at Severus in exasperation, while Raven was considering him with an expression of mild surprise.

"You know the reputation Slytherin House has, right? The bad kind of wizards that have come from that house?" It was Raven, not Harry, who asked this. Harry was surprised that she had this view on Slytherin, let alone that she felt like sharing it with Severus.

Severus remained silent as Lily looked between the two. She seemed interested to hear what Raven had to say, knowing nothing about it herself. Harry wondered if Raven had any hidden opinion that it would make sense for him to be put in Slytherin.

"If power is what you want, to prove yourself, there are other ways to do it. I wanted to be in Slytherin house for a while. When I was young, and my father told me stories of great wizards who came from that House, the things they achieved…back then, I didn't think that it was bad, the things that many did to get what they wanted. But then I changed my mind. I didn't want to be tempted from that sort of thing, and I thought about the great things in the other houses."

She was making quite a long speech for someone they had just met, for someone who seemed too shy to ever talk this long to strangers.

"Hufflepuff, the house of friendship, loyalty, and kindness. Ravenclaw, the house of the intelligent, the sharp-witted. Gryffindor, the house of the brave and strong-minded." She paused. "You know, even though I've just met you, the last house I would put you in would be Slytherin."

"Not you, too!" Severus burst out.

Raven raised her eyebrows and turned to Lily, who shook her head, then looked at Harry, who subtly indicated that the first had been him. Raven turned back to Severus, now looking indifferent.

"Okay, it's your choice, I suppose."

Her final statement made Harry feel a little guilty, but he got over the guilt quickly—it was for Snape's own good. At least Severus appeared to be thinking hard, staring furiously out the window. Raven had pulled out a book, and Lily was looking between them awkwardly.

It touched Harry that Raven was concerned, but he doubted that what she said had impacted him significantly.

"So Lily, did you get to see the flower glow like she said it would?" Harry asked conversationally, leaning back in his seat. The flower, currently, was giving off enough light so that its edges appeared slightly blurred.

"Yeah," Lily replied dreamily. "It's wonderful!"

Severus turned his gaze away from the window to look at her, his hand still propping up his head casually. Although his body language indicated he was relaxed, his hungry eyes sent a very different message.

"I'll have to show it to you all when the moon is at its brightest…well, if you're in the same house."

Raven looked up from her book. "Who gave it to you?" Her eyes flickered momentarily to Severus. Harry glanced at Raven, then back at Severus, wondering how obvious it was that the boy fancied Lily.

"Oh, Severus did," Lily answered, and gave him a quick smile. He returned it faintly.

"Mhm," said Raven, and Harry could have sworn it sounded like she had just decided something. "Well, it's nice. Have you two—I mean three—known each other long?"

"Sev and I have known each other for a while now, and we recently met Jacob. I don't think any of us have known any other wizards, or witches, for that matter. Have you? You know a lot about Hogwarts, it seems."

"Yes, both my parents are wizards. My family are all—or mostly—Purebloods."

And Pureblood, too? She doesn't seem like she would be Slytherin anymore, but her background certainly fits.

"My mother hosts a lot of gatherings, with all Pureblood families, though often I choose not to join them. The Blacks, for example. The first time, they were fine, but after a while…one of the sons, Sirius or something…"

Harry felt a jump in his stomach at the name. He was surprised that she would have met him, but if she was a Pureblood…

"…he's in our year, I believe. I never got along with him. Most of the children of these families are…ah…stuck-up. And nearly all of the families have been in Slytherin house, so that's kinda why I gave up wanting to be sorted there."

Raven looked back down at her book and began reading again. Harry tried to see the page she was on; it was filled with small print and looked too complex for an eleven-year-old. She glanced at him and he looked away.

No one said anything for a while. Everyone managed to preoccupy themselves with different activities, until the candy trolley arrived.

"Anything from the trolley, dears?" The kind witch asked, pushing the cart to a stop at their door. She was the same woman, just younger than Harry remembered.

Raven shook her head, so did Severus, but both Lily and Harry nodded and stood up. Lily put her flower delicately on the luggage rack and got some pocket change from her small purse. Lily was intrigued by everything the cart had to offer and took extra care in choosing the most interesting candies within her budget. Harry, however, bought at least four of everything, all for about two Galleons. He carried the load down and dumped it all on the space between him and Raven.

"Dig in, you guys," he said, and tossed a chocolate frog to each of them. Severus looked like he wouldn't accept it, probably because Harry had already given him an owl and (if Severus' suspicions were correct) a Galleon. More importantly, Harry saved his life, and became his friend despite the things that might have warded many others away.

Raven handed hers back, saying awkwardly that she didn't care for chocolate.

Severus opened his wrapper, and the chocolate frog immediately hopped onto his lap. He tried to catch it, but it wasn't until his third attempt that he snatched it and popped it into his mouth.

Lily was prepared for hers and she caught it immediately. She ate it in one bite, so it didn't suffer, and sighed with satisfaction.

"Mm, it's really good!" she exclaimed, examining the card that came with it. "Hey! How's she moving?"

Harry smiled, remembering his first experience with moving pictures, while Severus explained it to her. Lily was amazed, as he had been, that the people in the pictures were animated. Then she realized something.

"When I drew pictures…as a kid…sometimes they would move. I can't believe I didn't remember until now! They scared me, so that must be why I never really have been an artist. Is that a sketchbook?" Raven had pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil from her rucksack.

"Er, it's nothing, really." She hastily closed it.

"C'mon, I want to see! Please?" Lily begged.

Raven sighed and opened her sketchbook to the page she had been working on before. For an eleven-year-old, it was decent: the illustration featured a drawing of a young girl, halfway shaded, smiling up at them. She blinked periodically, and her eyes moved to survey the compartment.

"It's really good!" said Lily, awed. Snape nodded mutely, but Harry could tell he wanted her praise and attention directed at him, not Raven.

While Raven continued sketching, the others rifled through the cache of candy. Harry was glad that they had something to talk about, since Lily and Severus had never had any of the treats before. Raven didn't eat anything, but the others sampled everything and discussed each treat.

"Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans?" Severus picked up his box, and Lily did the same, looking curious. Harry had to be the only one of the three to have tried them before. Though, he noticed Raven had smirked slightly while drawing, so she had probably knew of them too, but chose not to say anything.

Lily opened her box first and ate a murky green bean. The look of pleasure that lit up her face indicated she had been lucky with a normal-flavored one.

"Mint!" she exclaimed, and ate another just as Severus did. They both coughed in surprise and spat out the candy.

"Eugh! It tastes like rotten tomatoes!"

Harry laughed at her disgusted face, and she flashed him an annoyed, but amused, look. "What about you, Severus?"

"I think it's…" He was steadily turning greener. "…vomit."

Lily moved out of range. "Are you okay?"

Severus nodded, but didn't convince any of them. It was amusing to Harry, but Lily was concerned. Harry ate a bean, which turned out to be cherry, then set aside his box.

They let Severus ride out his nausea as they tried some cauldron cakes.

"I hope the food at Hogwarts is this good," said Lily happily, using the back of her hand to wipe some chocolate off her face.

"Yeah," Harry agreed. He couldn't wait. The cooking wasn't world-class, but it was familiar.

Lily looked thoughtful. "I wonder what wizarding school will be like compared to Muggle school. I haven't looked through my books at all, since I just got them yesterday, but from the titles I can guess some of the subjects." Harry nodded in agreement as she continued. "I wonder what I'll be good at. Maybe I won't be good at anything! But Sev told me Hogwarts is the best school for people like us, so I can't fail at everything, right?"

"You'll be fine. Do you want to try some magic right now?" Harry asked, and pulled out a book he had brought, The Standard Book of Spells (Grade 1), by Miranda Goshawk. Lily looked at it, curiosity lighting in her familiar green eyes.

"Okay! We're allowed to, right?"

"Course. Er, well, I think so," Harry replied, trying to sound like he didn't know more than anyone else would. He flipped through the book and found a familiar incantation. "This one's called the Hover Charm. It seems kind of tricky, but I think we'll manage." Harry remembered someone saying Lily was good at Charms, so this shouldn't be too difficult for her. He passed the book to her, and Severus, too, who had thankfully recovered. He read the directions while eating a cauldron cake to get rid of the taste the bean had had. Raven even tucked away her book and pulled out her wand to participate.

"How about we try it on this?" Harry picked up the least dangerous item in the cabin, the package that had once contained a chocolate frog. He handed it to Lily and she balanced it on her knee.

Lily tried first, pronouncing the incantation exactly right, but her wrist movement was slightly off. "Wingardium Leviosa!" The box shuffled a bit, but didn't rise. She tried again, only to yield the same results. She reread the book, her spirits clearly falling. After several more times, the best reaction she had gotten was tipping the box onto its side.

Harry pretended to consult the book for tips, then said, "It looks like you need to back off on flicking your wrist, otherwise there's nothing else that you're doing wrong."

Lily nodded and concentrated, her face scrunching up in determination. Harry smiled faintly at her expression.

"Wingardium Leviosa!"

The box rose into the air and she laughed excitedly. "I did it!"

They all clapped. Severus beamed and told her he knew she would be a great witch. There was something in his voice like relief; no doubt he wanted her to go against the prejudice that Muggle-borns were not equal to Purebloods, even if he did not fully believe this himself. Not wanting to steal Lily's glory, Harry pretended to struggle with lifting the box, eventually getting it on his tenth try. Snape levitated his on his eighth, the same as Raven. Harry wasn't surprised about Snape's luck; different people had commented on his extraordinary abilities as a wizard. He had expected Raven to do well also, since she seemed unusually smart. Harry was amazed on what the three accomplished, and by seeing how they did on just this one spell realized how intelligent they were.

The four tried some other spells, from transfiguration to more charms, but most of them were too hard, so after a while they gave up. The school books were pushed out of the way, as well as the many candy wrappers. It was only four o' clock, so they still had several hours left before they reached Hogwarts.

Raven had a pack of Exploding Snap, so she taught them how to play. They spent an hour with the game, but eventually got bored. Harry won the majority of the games (he couldn't help himself) and Lily did okay; it was just Raven and Severus who struggled.

"I'm awful at cards," Severus muttered, having been stifling his frustration at failing at the game for the entire time. Harry suspected he didn't have much experience with playing games, that Lily and him had probably only played cards a few times together.

"It's okay, Sev! You'll get the hang of it! I can help you practice at school—" Lily faltered, the thought of being separated because of the Sorting striking her.

Raven studied them. "Even if you're in different houses, you can still be friends."

Snape made a gesture between a shrug and and a sigh. Harry couldn't hold back a disbelieving snort. He tried to cover it up with a cough, but Severus noticed and glared at him threateningly. Harry tried to look unfazed by his reaction and turned to Lily.

"So Lily, tell me about your family. I thought your parents were nice." Partly he wanted to know about what his would-be grandparents had been like, partly he asked just to keep an argument from arising.

"My dad works at a product development company, and my mom stays at home. And then there's Petunia…" she glanced at Severus, "…who's older than me and she's, er, fun."

Fun was a stretch, Harry thought. Although, he respected her loyalty to her sister and nodded in agreement.

"Well, what about you?" Lily asked.

Harry had already planned out his family and was prepared for the question. "My mum and dad work full-time, and I'm an only child. I don't know of any other wizards in my family, but I wouldn't expect my parents to tell me about any, because they don't really like magic."

Harry realized he had probably been a little too open about saying this, but eventually they were going to share the darker parts of their lives, so he might as well do it now. Since Lily and Harry both already knew about his father disliking magic, Severus didn't bring it up. Raven looked like she had something to say, but her opportunity left her and she returned to sketching.

"Hey, Raven, can you draw me?" Lily asked, not being able to help staring at the sketchbook.

Raven shook her head, but halfway through realized that Lily was not going to take no for an answer, so she grudgingly agreed. She had nearly finished the picture she had been working on, so she quickly shaded the last bit and flipped to the next page. Raven smoothed out the paper and drew a very basic circle, then outlined the jaw. She marked the placements of Lily's eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. As she continued—it was a very timely process—Severus watched, trying to act casual. Harry could tell Severus would be critical of the sketch if it failed to represent Lily's beauty. If the drawing did not meet his expectations, he might be inclined to give Raven specific instructions on how to make it better.

While Lily held still for Raven, Harry decided to let his mind wander. He gazed out the window absentmindedly, allowing thoughts he had been ignoring before to present themselves.

Is what he was doing wrong? He changed two huge things all in one day, first by preventing Petunia from yelling at her sister, then not sitting with James and Sirius, and meeting Raven…there was no doubt that the future was different now. What if, for his sake, he was killing people? Harry didn't know if the ripples he made could cause tsunamis, and it made him sick to think that trying to help people would only make things worse.

He must have looked pretty green, because Lily asked him, "Jacob, are you feeling alright?"

Harry nodded and tried to mask his frown with an unconvincing smile. When Lily looked back at Raven's drawing, he let his smile fade. He had the sudden desperate urge to grab his suitcase and find his Time-Turner, to tell his past self not to go back in time. The notion was even more appealing at the thought of seeing Ginny, Ron and Hermione. He had learned his lesson—to appreciate the things he had—so couldn't he leave? But if he stopped himself from going back in time, he would lose the memories.

Unless…he gave all of the memories to his past self so he wouldn't even need to go back in time! The idea was so brilliant any doubt he had was stifled. If something disastrous should happen, he would stop himself from going and give his memories to his future self, so any mistake he could fix later. Although Harry still had reservations, his temporary relief allowed him to move on.

The Sorting Hat. His main concern was not that it would announce he was an impostor—that seemed unlikely—it was whether he was doing the right thing. The Sorting Hat made no mistakes when it places a student in a house. It could see everything in a person's mind, and Severus was no exception. The hat could see that Severus cared deeply for Lily, maybe even anticipated that Severus would always eventually make it to the good side. It had taken all of this into account while placing him.

Still…Harry glanced over at Severus. He was grinning; Raven had finished the basic structure of Lily's face, so her lightly sketched mouth was now smiling up at him. Harry took in the scene, willing it to convince him he was making a good decision. If, even with his guidance, Severus was not placed into Gryffindor, this time Harry would know it wasn't meant to be.

Harry watched the sun move down behind the hills in silence. It was beautiful, in a sad way, and brought a feeling he could not define. Maybe it was a sudden large understanding for the world that was impossible to grasp. It made him desperately sad, but also peaceful. He was content with watching the sun's journey for a while, until Lily's exclamation broke his thoughts.

"Wow, for me? Thank you!" Harry saw that Raven's drawing was a flattering, simplified image of Lily just before she tore out the page and handed it over. Severus tried to seem nonchalant as he peered at Raven's work. Harry could now only see it upside down, but could tell that the penciled version of Lily was laughing.

"Really good job," Severus managed, almost shyly.

Lily nodded in agreement. "Thank you! It's amazing!" She studied it for a little while longer, then set it beside her, on top of all her schoolbooks, which rose above all of the trash. Noting the state of the compartment, she suggested, "Maybe we should clean up. I don't know how soon we'll get to Hogwarts, but we aren't using most of this anymore."

Harry glanced at Severus, then back at her. "How about you two go the bathroom to change while we clean up and get into our robes, too."

Raven and Lily made eye contact and shrugged. They rummaged through their suitcases and each pulled out a set of robes. When they had gone, Severus and Harry started straightening up. The two piled empty wrappers in the corner, pocketing any candies that were left over. Harry put his books back, as well as Raven's sketchbook, and placed the picture of Lily carefully in her bag. Severus had straightened up the rest, so they both changed quickly. Lily and Raven came in just as the two had finished. They were thrilled to be in robes, and that was clear without the excitement being voiced.

By now, the sun was just above the horizon, casting a warm glow in the cabin. The sky was a soft orange color, which made Lily's dark hair seem lighter, and filled Snape's hollow black eyes with light. The four watched the sun dip below the horizon, leaving the sky hot with its dying flames. Witnessing simple things like a sunset made Harry feel small and insignificant, not to mention out of place. When was the last time he had seen a sunset? The ordinary, but spectacular sight of it made him homesick, thought he didn't understand why.

The train was only dark for a moment before the lights inside turned on. The color outside deepened to a dark blue, reducing the outside terrain to a rough black blur. No one talked leading up to when they arrived at the station, but somehow the slowing down of the train snapped them out of their trances.

"Well, this is it," said Harry, once the train had come to a complete stop. Lily smiled and stood up, as did the other three. Far ahead of them, Harry caught a glimpse of his father laughing with Sirius. His heart wrenched at the sight for a number of reasons, but he decided not to dwell on it and concentrated on his new surroundings.

It was dark outside, but with the help of the lanterns, the path was visible through the night. A couple first years gasped at the sight of the school in the distance, and, as always, Harry felt a familiar warmth spread through him, despite the cold of the night. This was his home. And he never had a proper seventh year anyway, right?

A younger version of Hagrid gathered all of the first years and brought them down a narrow path that Harry knew led to the lake. Sure enough, just as he remembered, there were boats docked by the shore. It was truly a magnificent sight: the black, glassy expanse of water cut through the trees and mountains, leading up to the great castle that sat above its edge. Everyone gasped at the stunning view, cutting through the still of the night.

"No more'n four to a boat!" Hagrid called as everyone eagerly headed toward the little boats. Severus, and Lily both clambered into the one closest to them. Harry went to join them, but for some reason, Raven hung back. She looked awkwardly around at the other canoes, but they were filling up fast.

Harry backtracked and asked her quietly, "Aren't you coming with us?"

Raven shook her head. "You don't need to—to be nice to me." She started forwards toward a sullen group of stragglers.

"What? Why would you say that?"

She turned to face him. "Because—because I know I'm going to be put in Slytherin, and you three are all going to be in Gryffindor, or at least not in the same house as me."

"You don't know that!" Harry looked around. "It doesn't matter. The other boats are full. Let's go."

Raven hesitated, looking around to make sure he was telling the truth, then followed him silently to the boat.

He couldn't figure out what she was so concerned about, they had already sat as a group on the train, and it shouldn't be a big deal.

On Hagrid's shouted command, the fleet of boats began sailing forward across the lake. It was perfectly silent, except for the occasional light sound of water lapping against the boats. The air was becoming steadily more chilled, and more and more stars began peeking out of the sky. Everyone looked up in awe at the castle that towered above them, lights gleaming in the windows.

The boats docked and the new students crowded around the rocky shore until all of the first years had gathered. They all wordlessly walked up stony steps to the castle. Hagrid knocked loudly on the huge doors, and immediately Professor McGonagall opened them.

Her stern face was exactly as Harry remembered, minus a few wrinkles. "Thank you, Rubeus. I will lead them the rest of the way." She ushered them in, and as soon as they entered, the silence was broken and excited whispers broke out. The high ceilings, enchanted staircases, and moving portraits overwhelmed them. It truly was a spectacular sight, even to Harry, who had seen the view many times.

I'm home, he thought in disbelief for a second time. Harry couldn't help sharing a grin with Severus. He felt the smile more deeply than he had in a long time.

The buzz of hundreds of voices could be heard from where Harry knew was the Great Hall. McGonagall led them away and explained Hogwarts to them, just as she had done so many years ago. Except, he was with a whole different group of students, and while he appeared to be eleven, he was seven years older.

As soon as the Professor left, the expected apprehensive conversations broke out. As Lily and Severus exchanged guesses about what the Sorting would be like, Harry and Raven hung back.

"Do you know about the Sorting?" he asked her.

"Yes, my father told me about it. Do you, too? I don't want to spoil the surprise."

"Yeah, I know what happens. I read about it somewhere. At least it's not a test, right?"

Raven nodded and looked up in slight surprise as ghosts burst out of the walls, deep in discussion. Harry didn't react, maybe he should have acted at least a little surprised, but no one would notice him over the confusion and screams. He wondered if the ghosts like to do this annually: scaring the daylights out of the little kids, acting as if it were no big deal.

Finally, the ghosts noticed the timid first years.

"Ah, new recruits! I hope you will be in Hufflepuff!" The Fat Friar retained an optimistic smile even after this statement was met with snide mutters from students who had been particularly frightened.

Professor McGonagall came back out and ordered the ghosts to join the other students in the Great Hall. As the spirits floated away, she organized the students into a line and told them to follow her. Harry was behind Severus, eye level with the space right above his neck (or what was his neck beneath his long dark hair) with Raven behind him.

There were more gasps as they entered the Great Hall. It was extravagantly decorated as usual for the first day of term. Heads turned toward the incoming eleven-year-olds as they surveyed the room in awe. However, Harry wasn't looking at the thousands of candles suspended in the air, or the enchanted ceiling like the rest of the. He was scanning the staff table, picking out familiar faces. There was Professor Slughorn, Professor Flitwick, Professor Dumbledore—Harry froze. He had been too preoccupied with the others to consider the Headmaster. He wished he had before, to offset the shock he was in now. Out of everyone else, Dumbledore looked most similar to what he would look like in twenty years, which didn't help Harry's pain.

Harry couldn't believe he was actually tearing up in front of everyone. He forced his gaze away from Dumbledore, the man who had taught him so much, who had protected him even when he didn't know it. The Headmaster was just another person to add to his growing list of people he wanted to save.

While Professor McGonagall organized the new students and briefly explained the sorting process, Harry looked for more familiar faces. There was Hagrid (Harry's spirit lifted), Professor Sprout, and Madam Hooch. The other teachers he didn't recognize, but at least the primary ones were familiar.

His attention was caught again by the Sorting Hat, who was just preparing to sing:

"I am the famous Sorting Hat,

I've been around for centuries

Sorted many just like you.

Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws,

Gryffindors and Slytherins.

I'll do my best to place you,

Don't fret about where I choose—

Be proud of your house, for each is unique:

Maybe you are a Hufflepuff,

Home to the friendliest of folk,

Who never abandon their friends.

Perhaps you are a Ravenclaw,

Where your thoughts are highly prized

And only the cleverest are chosen.

Though, there is of course Gryffindor:

Where the brave and loyal dwell,

Along with the daring and good-hearted.

Or perhaps you belong in Slytherin,

The home of the ambitious and cunning,

Those who can overcome all obstacles.

No house is better than another,

Each are different, yes, but none superior—

So don't be shy! Try me on!

And remember: my choice is always true."

The hat had given him every sign that its choice was final. Through the applause, Harry was struggling with one troubled thought: when the hat had placed Severus in Slytherin, it had seen everything about Severus. Surely it had known about his capacity to love, how he would end up on the good side. Or did it?

The noise died down and Professor McGonagall stepped forward again, holding a roll of parchment. "When I call your name, you will place the hat on your head to be sorted." The hat waited on the stool, which overlooked all of the nervous children.

McGonagall called the first name, one Harry didn't recognize, and the girl went forward to be sorted into Slytherin. Harry knew there weren't going to be many people he would know; his parents had him when they were twenty, younger than the parents of most students he knew. However, he could see the blond head of Lucius Malfoy at the Slytherin table, wearing a prefect badge.

Soon the names reached the E's, and Lily was up. "Evans, Lily," She walked quickly to the stool. Harry glanced at Severus, who was staring at her, pale and frozen. Harry could tell Severus knew that she was not going into Slytherin. The hat hardly skipped a beat for Lily; it sat on her head for only a moment before proclaiming "GRYFFINDOR!"

Harry could almost hear Snape's heart drop to his beat-up shoes. His face fell and the light faded in his eyes. Lily gave him a sad smile, which he tried to return. His face twitched in vain, just making his grief more pronounced on his already solemn features.

Now was Harry's last chance to save him. He took a deep breath and shuffled closer to Severus.

"Listen," he said, voice lowered. Snape sighed and slowly turned toward him. He glanced at Professor McGonagall, who narrowed her eyes at them.

"When you put on the hat, you can ask it to put you in Gryffindor. It will listen to you," Harry continued quickly. The Professor shushed him, so he was forced to stop talking. He would have anyway; "Faralyn, Raven" was called next.

Raven walked steadily up to the stage and put the hat on. Being close to the shortest of the first years, the hat slid well over her eyes. She remained impassive until something the hat had communicated to her made her blink in surprise. Then its mouth opened and it yelled: "GRYFFINDOR!"

Raven's face lit up brilliantly and she went over to the Gryffindor table and sat down next to Lily, still smiling broadly. Harry thought she looked over at the Slytherin table with a look of triumph. Raven must have really not wanted to be placed in Slytherin, perhaps in the way that Sirius had not wanted anything to do with his family.

After what seemed like no time at all, "Snape, Severus," was called. For a moment, Severus was rooted to the spot, but he regained his senses and shakily took a few steps forward. Then he fearfully looked back at Harry.

There was no mistaking what Harry said. He mouthed the words, "Lily," and glanced toward the Gryffindor table where Lily was now seated.

Severus, for the first time, seemed to honestly take Harry's advice into consideration. Maybe it was because he had thought, somehow, Lily would be placed in Slytherin, or that in the end it wouldn't matter because they would stay friends. Or maybe he thought he wouldn't mind terribly to be separated. Now, having felt the actual despair when she was put into the house he had so many prejudices about, he was torn.

Severus walked up to the chair, sat down, and carefully placed the hat upon his head.

[Quick Author's Note: throughout the years various reviewers have left reviews criticizing the fic/me for being biased against Slytherin. And fyi if you are annoyed by this as well: I'm a Slytherin, and I get where you're coming from. Know that Harry's perspective is not my own and his bias against Slytherin is meant to be a character flaw and presenting this aspect of Harry is not an endorsement of this thought process]

 


Chapter 5: Furry Little Problem
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Harry froze, expecting the hat to proclaim "Slytherin!" But the words didn't come. The hat remained silent to everyone except Severus. It seemed to be communicating with Severus—Harry could only tell by the hardly noticeable changes in its mouth; nothing it was saying was audible. Harry wished he could hear what the problem was, but he had to rely on Severus' reactions to tell him.

In the first minute, Severus shut his eyes tight and clenched his fists in his lap. Then, over time, the nervousness Severus appeared to feel transformed into annoyance, as he rolled his eyes and shook his head slightly. After three minutes had passed, murmuring broke out, then died back down as Dumbledore gestured for them to be quiet. Professor McGonagall whispered, just loud enough so the first years could hear, "He may be a Hatstall; someone who takes five minutes or more to sort. They are very rare, and usually occur only once every fifty years. I was one myself."

Harry wondered if he was the one who had caused this. He doubted that Severus had taken this long to sort in the original timeline. Was Severus fighting for a spot in Gryffindor instead of Slytherin, just as he had as a first year? It seemed so; the boy was now voicing his opinions in a frustrated whisper. Harry glanced at Lily, who gazed unblinkingly at Severus from her seat, features taut with anticipation. Harry could see that her fingers were crossed, resting on the edge of the table before her. Nearby, James and Sirius were snickering at him, having apparently found something amusing about Severus' appearance.

Harry remembered Dumbledore saying, "I sometimes think we Sort too soon…" If Dumbledore said it, then it had to have some significance. If it was true, then there was nothing wrong with what Harry had done and there was a good chance Severus would be sorted into Gryffindor.

It all depended on Severus' choice. Five minutes and twenty-one seconds after the Sorting Hat had been placed on Severus' head, the seam across its front opened wide. Harry held his breath. Ages later, the hat called Gryffindor, and warmth spread back into the Hall.

Harry could breathe again, and he beamed at Severus as he passed by and sat next to Lily at the Gryffindor table. Severus still seemed slightly regretful as he nodded at Harry, then his eyes drifted at the Slytherin table. Only when Lily hugged him did he allow himself to move on.

Harry wondered if this now meant there would be six male Gryffindors, as opposed to the five in his first year. Who was he pushing to a different house? There were—he assumed—only four people in Gryffindor house in the original reality. That might explain why the Marauders adopted Peter into their group, because there were so few of them to begin with.

Harry didn't pay attention to the next couple of names. He was happy for Lily, Severus, and Raven, but his mind was still not at ease. His gaze absentmindedly found the Gryffindor table, where his dad sat, eying his mother. Harry looked away, but his thoughts remained on the sight. How his father looked at his mother now was much different from how Severus looked at her. Of course, Snape had the advantage of knowing her for much longer, so maybe Harry shouldn't judge his dad too harshly. Still, the way James studied her made him uncomfortable.

Before he could think about it much longer, "Walker, Jacob," was called, and he went up to the Hat. When Harry put it on, it made a soft sound of surprise.

"Well, well, well…" it murmured, so only he could hear. "I heard the Professor call up Jacob Walker, not a 'Harry Potter.'" It paused, taking in all the information and memories in Harry's mind, which was a significantly larger amount than the kids who were coming up before him. "You are…very strange. Tampering with the past, but not for your own selfish reasons. And somehow, time has not been torn. Most peculiar…"

Don't tell anyone, Harry thought urgently.

"I was not planning to…You see, I am interested to know how this turns out. I believe you are the first to come to this school under your circumstances. But, to get to the point, you were sorted into Gryffindor last time, and I see no reason to place you elsewhere."

Harry felt the relief even before the Sorting Hat exclaimed, "GRYFFINDOR!" He was glad to get away from the hat, whose ability to see into his mind unnerved him. He was grateful that the hat hadn't kept him as long as Severus, as that would have drawn too much attention. Harry hurried to take a seat next to Snape, whose smile was hard to place as genuine or forced. Raven smiled at Harry from her seat next to him, and he returned the gesture. No one appeared to be unhappy with their placement. James and Sirius were nearby, laughing as if they had been friends all of their life.

"Woodcly, Elena," was the last girl to go up, and the Hat quickly placed her in Gryffindor. As soon as she sat down, an expectant hush fell over the Great Hall. Dumbledore rose and opened his arms to the crowd, basking all of them in the warm glow of his smile.

Harry felt a lump rise in his throat and he tried not to think about the fact that Dumbledore was now passed. So many great memories of this kind of moment, of this man, that it was hard to ignore the ones Harry mourned over, like the night when the man had died.

"Welcome, new and old, to another year at Hogwarts," he began, continuing to look kindly over the students. "I think only two words are necessary before the feast—Dig in!"

Everyone cheered. Harry was significantly louder than the first years around him who weren't sure how to respond to such a brief speech. He felt nostalgic, and couldn't help thinking that it was like Dumbledore was alive again.

The empty plates before them filled, and everyone helped themselves as they animatedly discussed their excitement. Severus looked as though he had never seen so much food at once in his life. His eyes widened comically and he slowly picked up a generous piece of chicken. Lily's eyes glittered as she scanned the countless dishes. Raven looked less enthusiastic than the other three, most likely because she was used to an abundance of food, coming from a wealthy wizarding family.

James reached across the table to the dish in front of Lily, which was filled with steaming pork chops. Harry helped himself to the foods nearest him: steak, potatoes, carrots, and roast chicken. Lupin, who was sitting right of across from Harry, piled three steaks on his plate. Sirius, who sat on the other side of him, raised his eyebrows slightly, but didn't say anything, just scooted a bit away. Peter sat across from Raven, oblivious to Harry's steady glare.

Peter already had ratlike features, and even nibbled on his food like a rat. His quick eyes darted to Harry, who looked away. Pretending to be busy with his food, Harry returned his attention to James. His dad was joking about one of the teachers, causing Sirius to laugh hysterically and a few kids around them to smirk.

James chewed a piece of pork, thinking. He swallowed and said, "I think they should let first years try out for the Quidditch Team."

Sirius raised his eyebrows. "Why, you think you'd make it?"

James shrugged. "I've had loads of practice. Who knows. With muscles like these…" He flexed his arm and grinned at Sirius. He half-glanced at Lily, but she was still engrossed in a conversation with Severus. Harry could see James' brow furrow in childish frustration.

"So what's your name?" Harry looked up. James hadn't asked him, he had asked Lily.

"Er…" Lily was caught off-guard; she and Severus had been in the middle of a conversation. She composed herself. "Lily Evans."

Harry could see through James' politeness; there weren't too many new students, and he should have at least remembered her first name. Lily wouldn't guess that he just wanted an excuse to talk to her, but she might think it was strange that she didn't remember, especially if she knew his name.

"And you're James Potter, right?"

"Yeah." His face showed an increased amount of smugness at the fact that she had remembered his name. Sirius nudged him with his elbow.

"And this is Sirius Black."

Sirius gave her his crooked smile, which he seemed to have perfected. Maybe Sirius was a little interested in her, maybe he developed a crush on her, but never told any of them, especially James. It was possible, since Harry didn't know much about his father's year in school.

"Hey," said Sirius casually, and flipped his hair out of his eyes. Severus, who had been watching them, snorted. Sirius threw him a look that read, "Got a problem?"

"Who are you?" James asked, for the sake of acting like he didn't care to remember it before, with a slight air of a challenge.

"Severus Snape." He returned the tone, eyes narrowing.

James was about to say something else, but thought better of it and smiled a little sarcastically. Being a fellow Gryffindor might give Severus some time before James would drop the act and start to bully him.

James didn't ask for Harry or Raven's name, probably because he had no reason to pretend he had forgotten.

Everyone returned to eating as if nothing had happened. Though the conversations between James and Sirius were quieter than before.

Harry noticed Raven was frowning as she picked at her food. "Hey," he said, trying to sound friendly.

"Hm? Oh, hi." She turned toward him and searched his face for an explanation to why he was talking to her. "Yeah?"

"So…" He searched for a topic. "What do you think?" He looked around the room.

Raven raised an eyebrow, taking a couple seconds to process what he was asking.

"Er, it's really cool, yeah. I mean, it's amazing." She paused. "Our headmaster, er, Dumbledore, he's brilliant. And the building is magical, so far." She smiled a little, and gazed at the glowing candles floating above them. She was usually very articulate, what had changed?

"I think so too. It feels like home, right?"

Raven gave Harry a strange look. "I suppose." She set her fork down next to her plate, which was still half full, and took a sip of water.

Harry bit into another roasted potato and listened to the conversation between Lily and Snape.

"…maybe even better than that time when Petunia ran into—" Lily was saying, but didn't finish because they both started laughing. Severus had an awkward sort of laugh, the kind Harry could tell wasn't used often. A few Gryffindors turned their heads, taken aback.

"Yeah, but what about when we got free candy from Terri's? That was fun."

Lily's face lit up at the memory. "I totally forgot about that day! And that was the morning after all the flowers bloomed!" She paused. "I think this is just like that." Severus smiled and continued eating.

Harry noticed Lupin had been listening to them. Sirius and James were too absorbed in themselves to include Lupin, and Lupin seemed to shy to officially introduce himself. Harry decided he would take the first chance he had to talk to him.

Nearly Headless Nick floated to where the first years were sitting. "Greetings, new Gryffindors!" He beamed down upon each of them, trying to act dignified.

"Hello," everyone replied, less enthusiastically than the ghost.

"I am Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington. Pleasure to meet you all." He frowned slightly at the lack of reaction, but recovered. "You must be proud to be Gryffindors. I remember my first day at Hogwarts—"

"Aren't you Nearly Headless Nick?" James asked suddenly.

Sir Nicholas faltered. "Yes," he answered, annoyed as he always was when he was asked that question.

"My dad told me about you. You can take off your head, right?"

Nicholas grunted in agreement, and it was clear that he wished he had not talked to the first years. Before they had to ask, he tugged his head to the side and it came almost all the way off, as if it was on a hinge. James and Sirius clapped, laughing, and the other first years gaped in awe.

Sir Nicholas glided away, annoyed, leaving them back to chat with each other again. Harry finished eating without talking, but kept an open ear for what the others were saying. After another ten or fifteen minutes, everyone in the Great Hall had finished their food and the plates were magically cleared.

Dumbledore rose again and there was an immediate silence.

"Welcome to another year at Hogwarts." His features crinkled into a pleasant expression. "There are just a few rules I want to go over before you go off to your dorms. Number one, keep in mind that the Forbidden Forest is forbidden, and for a good reason. Number two, there is magic allowed between classes in the corridors, as long as it does not harm or bother others. On a brighter note, Quidditch trials are on the second week of term. If you wish to try out, please contact Professor Hooch."

There were excited murmurs at this; Harry saw James nod and smile at Sirius. He must be certain that they'd make an exception for him.

"Before I send you off to your dorms, let us sing the school song! Everyone choose their favorite tune!"

With a flick of his wand, a golden ribbon shot into the air and twisted into the lyrics.

Everyone in the hall sang with an fervor that rivaled Dumbledore's. Harry could only make out the few voices around him: James and Sirius were extremely loud, belting out the song in what sounded like a sea chanty. Severus was quiet, though he was certainly singing, and extremely off-pitch. Lily wasn't bellowing the song, but he could hear her voice rise clearly, pure and sweet, above those around her. Raven had a pleasing voice, as far as he could tell, but she wasn't singing loud enough for him to hear properly.

Once everyone had finished, around the same time, (there were no Weasley twins to lag behind everyone else in this time) Dumbledore congratulated the students on their "wonderfully passionate cacophony of sound," then sent them off to bed.

The prefects led the students out of the Great Hall and down the hallway. All the first years were yawning and their eyes drooped sleepily. Harry didn't feel tired, probably because his mind was used to less sleep than those younger than him. He had been doing a lot more in the past year than these children had, so just riding on a train and eating dinner was not going to make him drowsy.

Harry tried his best to act surprised at the moving staircases and the twists and turns they made. There were a few times, though, when he, out of habit, skipped a step he knew was fake when the older students forgot to warn them. He had to help some of the more unlucky kids get their feet out. After stopping only a few times, the Gryffindors reached the portrait of the Fat Lady. She was in a rare good mood, beaming at all of them. Once one of the prefects said the password, the portrait swung open, and everyone clambered in.

The common room was a welcoming sight. There was an overwhelming feeling of warmth and comfort, brought on largely by the soft look of the furniture and the fire that burned in the fireplace. Of course, to Harry and the older students, it was familiar, safe.

"Boys' dorms to the left, girls' to the right. Your things should be waiting for you," a prefect with glasses instructed. The students headed off in either direction, some chatting, others trudging off in a sleepy daze.

"Well, goodnight, Severus." Lily hugged him and followed Raven to the stairs, waving goodnight.

Luckily, James didn't seem to have noticed the exchange between Severus and Lily. He was now ahead of them, yawning luxuriously in the middle of a conversation with Sirius. Lupin and Peter were behind Severus and Harry, not yet a part of either of the two groups.

The first years' dorm was arranged in a cramped circle of six beds, each with suitcases stacked on the side. The setup worked out; going counterclockwise from the door, the order was James, Sirius, Lupin, Peter, Severus, then Harry. They each started unpacking at their own pace. James pulled his things out of his suitcase carelessly, while Lupin unpacked slowly and deliberately.

"So, in case you didn't know, my name's Jacob Walker," said Harry in an attempt to break the silence. The Marauders nodded and said "Nice to meet you," at different times.

"I'm James Potter," said Harry's dad with a note of pride.

"I'm Sirius Black." Although Sirius had equal confidence, he lacked respect for his family's name, and his voice tapered off at the end.

"Remus Lupin," the third boy said quietly when Harry looked at him. He hadn't thought about it before, but Lupin was actually good-looking, just in a different way than James and Sirius. They had more rugged, boyish handsomeness, whereas Lupin had a pleasant, traditional appearance. His face was more expressive and kind than the slack, egotistical look of the other two.

"My name's Peter Pettigrew," the fourth, chubby boy said quickly, then went back to unpacking. Harry merely nodded, it was all he could manage, knowing who Peter would become.

"My name is Severus Snape."

James and Sirius snickered, and Severus flushed. Remus was polite, however; he said quietly, "Nice to meet you."

Harry couldn't help looking at each of the Marauders again, hoping that the hazy disconnect he had from reality would clear up soon. Lupin gave Harry a small smile when he glanced in his direction, and Harry returned it quickly.

When they were finished unpacking, everyone climbed into bed and blew out the candles. The room was bathed in moonlight, illuminating the sheets where each person lay. Harry rolled over toward Severus, whose head was just visible, facing the window where the moon glowed in the sky. He wondered if Severus was thinking about Lily and the flower he gave her. He rolled back over and closed his eyes, letting his mind wander…

Harry woke up the next morning, earlier than anyone else. He glanced at his watch—it was an hour before breakfast—and got up quietly. He dressed and freshened up, then headed to the common room. He reached the Great Hall before most of the other students had arrived. Of the students at breakfast, there was the highest percentage of Ravenclaws and the lowest percentage of Gryffindors. Harry was the only first year at his table. The rest of the students were older, either exhausted and yawning or catching up with friends.

The dishes on the table were filled with fresh fruits, variously cooked eggs, baked goods, and breakfast meats. Harry helped himself to hash browns and toast and ate quietly until everyone else arrived.

Lily and Severus joined Harry first, eventually followed by Lupin, Raven, Peter, and finally James and Sirius. The three other first year girls came last, right behind the two boys, giggling. Harry knew by looking at them that he doubted the group they had established would get along well with them. However, Lily must have seen something in them if they had been friends; "None of my friends can understand why I even talk to you," she had said in Snape's memories.

Maybe not becoming friends with those girls would help Severus and her stay close. By the way they looked with distaste at Severus and with interest at Sirius and James proved that their opinions must've had an impact on how she'd felt.

Professor McGonagall went around the table, handing out schedules. Harry looked over his; it wasn't much different from the one he had the last time he was a first year. Today they started in Charms with Professor Flitwick.

"It should be easy, since we did pretty well on the train," said Lily as they left the Great Hall.

The other three nodded. Harry let them talk about the schedules as he remained silent, thinking about what lay ahead. How easy would it be to constantly pretend he was struggling with spells just like everyone else? He was more advanced than probably any other student in the school, with an exception of the seventh years. It'd be annoying to act dumb, or even average, at the most basic of spells. And yet, if he became like Hermione, acing nearly everything, knowing the answer to every question, people would develop an opinion of him—whether it was jealousy, annoyance, or whatever. He would be remembered, important, when he needed to be forgotten, significant only to a few.

In Charms class, it was easier for Harry to not raise his hand when he knew the answer than to perform the spell the wrong way. He realized this when they were given a simple charm that was supposed to spin an object. Harry couldn't figure out how to not do it right without saying the complete wrong words or waving his wand completely wrong. In other words, without acting like a complete idiot. The best Harry could manage was to put as much time between his tries as possible so it seemed like he was taking a while to figure it out, just like everyone else.

On his first try, Harry flicked his wand wildly, causing many around him to snicker. Now he definitely was getting unwanted attention. Harry retried the spell, this time perfectly, partly to draw attention away from himself and partly because it was hard to ignore immature ridicule when he could do the spell better than any of them.

Unfortunately, it seemed like either way he decided to go through school would yield the same attention; either be a genius, and have respect from teachers and peers, but draw more attention and possibly suspicion to himself, or be thick, and face teasing and disrespect.

Professor Flitwick, beaming, hurried over to where Harry was sitting.

"Mr. Walker—correct? Yes, Walker, that was brilliant!"

Harry glanced at his friends, who looked frustrated at their lack of results and the ease in which he had succeeded. He shrank in his seat, guilty from his dishonesty. He had to find a middle ground.

"Thank you, Professor…" Harry trailed off and sighed. His mood improved slightly only when the other three cast the spell correctly a mere minute after him. They all seemed intelligent in different ways: Snape could edit the spell slightly so it was more effective; Raven could easily identify what she was doing wrong and fix it accordingly; and while Lily initially relied on the book's instructions, she then depended on how the spell felt. Harry's new friends might be hard to compare to his Ron and Hermione, but he thought Hermione's learning best matched Raven, while Ron's followed Lily's. Severus was on a whole other plane of intelligence.

Lupin finished a couple minutes after the four had finished, followed closely by James, then Sirius and Peter. Frustration was childishly radiating from James, clear by the angry glances he kept throwing the four. Harry was glad to get away from his annoyed stare at the end of class.

"That was amazing!" Lily nearly skipped beside the others on the way to Potions. Out of that day's schedule it was the only class besides Charms that Harry really thought was going to be significant; both Lily and Severus were excellent at Potions, and Harry would get to have another opportunity to study their talent.

The group walked down to the dungeons, all shining with excitement for what lie ahead.

"Potions…I wonder what it'll be like. A newt's eye, nightshade, that sort of thing, right?"

Harry smiled. "Yeah, probably."

"I hope it's as fun as Charms!"

"Me too," said Snape. Raven and Harry nodded.

They passed the large group of first-year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, who eyed the Slytherins and Gryffindors curiously. A couple of the Slytherins snickered at the two houses, probably aimed at the few scrawny, wide-eyed kids who turned toward the source of the laughter. Harry was relieved to see that James was too engrossed in his conversation with Sirius to notice the other students.

Harry realized he had ended up at the head of the group. He was the most confident in the directions, as he had taken this route so many times before. He dropped back as the class filed into Professor Slughorn's room.

"Welcome, first years!" Slughorn shook the students' hands before they took their seats. He seemed considerably more happy and youthful than when Harry had last seen him.

"Please set up, everyone!" Slughorn's gaze swept the room, surveying his new students. There was a collected thud of books and clanging of scales as the class took out their supplies.

"My name is Professor Slughorn! Welcome to Potions class!" The Professor was brimming with excitement. He launched into an introduction of the class, gesturing to a few samples.

"Now, it's a custom of mine, on the first day, to award a special prize to the student who manages to brew the most exceptional potion in class! Now…" He had a few basic potions set up at his desk. In his most dramatic voice, Slughorn explained that whoever brewed the best potion won an Energy Increasing Potion, a relatively easy-to-make solution that would increase the drinker's spirit and diminish weariness.

Harry purposely missed one of the last steps, allowing Severus to win the contest. Raven wasn't close; she messed up many of the instructions. Lily came second only to Severus. Slughorn was at first tempted to split the prize, but when he tested it, Severus' potion yielded slightly better results than Lily's.

The rest of the day rushed by quickly. Nothing life-altering happened, but Harry did get a better sense of his classmates, specifically the Marauders and his new friends. James was already developing a crush on Lily; he kept glancing over at her every time he did something right in class, hoping she would notice. Harry was thoroughly amused at his crumpled look of rejection when he saw that Lily wasn't paying attention.

Sirius spent most of his time talking to James and charming the girls in class, though he preferred James' attention. Sirius was hard to dislike, despite his ego, though Harry knew his opinion would ultimately change once he saw Sirius bullying people.

For the majority of the time, Lupin remained quiet, though he occasionally cracked a smile at one of James' or Sirius' jokes. He looked even more ill than he had Thursday, but not quite at the same level as he was as a teacher the day before he had to take leave. Harry thought it was kind that he had been adopted into the group before they knew him well.

Peter seemed to have been allowed into the group simply to supply a laugh track. He was constantly cracking up, and while this annoyed Harry, it only boosted James and Sirius' confidence.

Raven was only a little less shy than Lupin. She didn't voice any of her thoughts, but it seemed like she had the same opinion about many things as Harry did. She always rolled her eyes after a particularly loud burst of laughter from wherever the Marauders were sitting in that class. As Harry would gain her trust, however, she exchanged her looks with him.

Harry already had a good idea of Lily and Severus' personality, but he was now getting a better idea of their relationship. Lily was completely comfortable around Severus and oblivious to any discomfort and awkwardness he felt at her enthusiasm and touch. Harry noticed that Severus was a lot happier now that he was away from home and spending more time with Lily.

At supper, they discussed the day in detail. The excitement from the morning had dampened only slightly, mostly because everyone was worn out from the long day.

"Hey, are you okay?"

Harry stopped chewing and looked over at Lily. She had asked Lupin, who had heavy rings under his eyes and was ghostly pale. Lily was naturally concerned about others, so it made sense that she would ask. Lupin looked up, startled, surprised that anyone would notice he was off.

"Er, yeah, fine," he managed. He sank down in his seat a bit under the pressure of the stare of the first years around him.

Everyone listening clearly doubted he was okay, but returned to their conversations anyhow. Lupin glanced back at Lily occasionally after that, but Harry couldn't tell what he was thinking by his expression.

Most of the students went directly to their dorms after eating. Severus and Harry headed upstairs, got ready for bed, then settled down for the night.

Harry lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, reflecting on the day's events. This is it, he thought. I am officially part of this.

Classes quickly passed on Friday. Nothing particularly eventful happened, but many students were beginning to discuss the upcoming Quidditch tryouts. Harry also noted that Lupin looked even worse than he had Thursday—so Saturday or Sunday was definitely the day of the full moon. Harry wondered whether or not he was going to anything about Lupin the next night. He considered his options on Friday evening as he ate. Later, as he lay in bed, he decided that whichever day it was he would use his invisibility cloak and go down to the soon-to-be-named Shrieking Shack just to witness what Lupin had to go through.

Saturday was mild, so Severus, Lily, Harry, and Raven went down by the lake to finish their assignments from Friday. It was peaceful down by the water where there weren't many other people and the weather was calm and breezy. The four worked on their remaining homework, then talked.

Lupin was gone that day. No one had seen him, but everyone Harry asked either didn't know him or said they'd heard he was sick.

He was gone the next day, too, and after finding out that the full moon would be that night, Harry donned his invisibility cloak and set out.

The light was fading outside. The moon was not yet visible, and there was a soft, golden light over the grounds. Harry headed toward the Whomping Willow, taking in the beautiful scenery. He turned and looked at the castle, which seemed even more magnificent when basked in the sun's dying rays.

When he was just out of range of the Whomping Willow, he levitated a stick to prod the knot at the base of the trunk, freezing its branches. Harry strode to the opening at the base, bent over, then slid down the tunnel. He reached the stairs that led to the interior of the shack and paused. He could hear soft crying coming from behind the slightly open door above him, and he felt his eyes prickle reflexively.

Harry cast Severus' Muffling Spell on the Shack and climbed the stairs carefully. He tried the handle of the side door, but it was locked. Lupin sounded far enough away from the entrance, so Harry unlocked the door, opening it wide enough so he could see. Lupin was slumped against the wall on the other side of the room, naked, his breath shuddering. The inside was dark, but Harry could make out his expression.

Lupin suddenly stopped crying and froze. He looked upward, as his body felt the full moon's power. Lupin's body shuddered, and he began to change. Harry knew this might be his only safe chance to go inside, so he quickly entered, locking the door behind him. He decided, against his better judgement, to stay and see what pain Lupin was subjected to; not as though he were watching some circus freak, but to understand and connect with him.

Harry slipped inside and headed upstairs. There was bound to be some way he could watch from the second floor where he was in less danger of being discovered. He closed the door at the top of the stairs behind him and cast a quick spell so it couldn't be opened.

A long, sad howl cut through the night. Harry shivered, the sound ringing in his ears, even after it faded away. Harry spotted a significantly sized crack in the floorboards and crouched down next to it. On the floor below, Lupin raced back and forth, claws scratching on the floor. Then he suddenly stopped, panting slightly. Lupin slowly stood up and sniffed the air. He started toward the stairs, as though he was stalking his prey.

Harry had expected Lupin to eventually realize his presence, but he had failed to research what spell he could cast to prevent himself from having a scent. Lupin seemed to detect where the smell was coming from and started slinking in that direction. Soon he was out of view, and Harry had no idea how fast he would reach the second floor. He drew his wand just in case, and pointed it at the entrance. "Protego." Just after he added the extra protection, Lupin slammed into the door. Harry heard him cry out in pain, as he had expected the door to give. Harry knew that Lupin wouldn't be able to get in, but his heart was still beating quickly.

Lupin begged and whined at the door for five minutes before falling silent. Harry looked back down through the crack in the floorboards and saw no sign of him. He reached into his cloak and pulled out a pocketbook and quill. To pass the time, he wrote about his experiences so far, and made notes about possible plans for the future. He was making a Pros and Cons list about the upcoming flying lessons when Lupin started inflicting pain on himself.

The first cry of pain made Harry jump, and he immediately looked down below at what was progressing beneath him.

Lupin furiously bit and scratched himself, screaming and shrieking as his jaws tore his flesh. Harry had the desperate urge to do something, to stop what was happening. Wasn't there a spell that could help him protect Lupin? If there was one, wouldn't have Dumbledore thought of it? Or did he have a reason for not helping Lupin beyond isolating him? But that would be cruel…still, there seemed to be obvious solutions. Couldn't they make him unconscious when the moon was up? Or would his body automatically fight any spell or potion that could do so, the same way it fought sleep?

Harry thought of a better solution that was a bit complicated. He picked up a few pieces of scrap material lying around in the room, and transfigured them into mice. As the creatures scurried about, Harry racked his mind for the spell that would control them in the way he needed. After experimenting for about an hour under the pressure of Lupin's cries of agony, he had produced a dozen mice.

Lupin's head perked up as he noticed the mouse floating down from above. He snarled and stood on his haunches to reach toward it, but somehow it evaded him. Harry's mixture of spells worked; the mouse was quick, allowing Lupin to chase it, but not catch it. After a while, the curse would wear off and the mouse would change back, then another mouse would levitate down.

He levitated the first mouse and brought it slowly down to Lupin, who snarled and began chasing after it. Then, because he felt there was nothing left he could do, Harry cast a cushioning spell on the hard floor and laid down. He cast another spell to plug his ears from the scrabbling down below, but his conscious was still alive with emotion.

Had he not considered, as a thirteen-year-old, or even a fifteen-year-old, how much Lupin had gone through? It took a huge amount of strength for Lupin to keep living as normal of a life as he could manage, to surpass the agony of feeling alone, as Harry often felt, because no one seemed to understand what he was going through.

Lupin needs to be friends with someone like me, Harry decided, eyes closing.

When Harry awoke, it was five in the morning. There were no more artificial mice left in the room. Harry rolled over and peered down the crack in the floorboards. Lupin was back in human form, fast asleep, curled into a fetal position. He had put his clothes back on, which it seemed had still been torn. He had scratches on his arms and face, red marks pronounced against his pale, sickly skin.

Harry considered how to best go through with his motive. He could start to leave without using the Muffling Spell so he would be purposely discovered by Lupin. Then he would just work it out from there…By exposing his knowledge of Lupin's plight, a bond would automatically be created between them. Unfortunately, it was likely Dumbledore could get involved, and that would bring attention to him, and there was a possibility of the Headmaster figuring out that "Jacob" wasn't who he said he was. But Lupin was more important.

Harry walked downstairs quietly, waiting for the right moment. He hadn't reached the creaking step yet when Lupin spotted him, mouth was ajar in shock. Lupin stared upwards at Harry. His bloodshot gold-brown eyes widened and his already pale face whitened. Neither said a word. Harry thought it was interesting that Lupin didn't automatically bolt at the sight of him.

"You're not supposed to—why…" said Lupin finally in a hoarse voice, which started to shake.

Harry, careful to not startle Lupin, stepped down the rest of the stairs, watching Lupin closely for his next move.

They went for their wands, slowly, at the same time. Then, Lupin's hand stopped in mid reach and dropped to his side.

"I don't know any—any memory erasing s-spells…I…" Lupin broke down and his eyes filled with tears. "Please don't tell anyone!"

"I wasn't planning to…" Harry trailed off, not knowing what to say or do.

Lupin's face was splotchy, but the humiliation of crying in front of a near-stranger had stopped his tears.

"Listen," Harry began, and Lupin looked back at him fearfully. "I didn't mean to scare you—"

"Why did you come here? How did you?" interrupted Lupin.

"Why? Er, because…" Harry searched for an explanation. "I followed you here, actually. I wanted to know what was wrong."

Lupin still seemed doubtful, but he had bigger problems than worrying how they ended up in the shack together. His eyes found the floor and his brow furrowed, searching for a solution.

Harry thought for a moment. "Look, if you're worried, we can talk to Dumbledore about erasing my memory. How about we go back to the castle and see him before everyone wakes up?"

Lupin nodded, but his expression told a different story. He must be tempted to have a friend who knew his biggest secret. Once he knew Harry would accept him, then he would have his first close friend with whom he had nothing to hide. There must have been so much pressure between him and James, Sirius, and Peter before they knew his secret; they had been his only friends and he could easily lose them.

The journey back to the castle felt slow, drawn out. At first, neither made any attempt at conversation, but it was hard to ignore each other.

"Does anyone else know?" It was a decent place to start.

Lupin took a while to respond, clearly uncomfortable. "Only Madam Pomfrey, Professor McGonagall, and Headmaster Dumbledore."

"How long have you…"

"Since I was four," replied Lupin. He averted his eyes.

"Oh." Harry considered apologizing, but thought that would imply pity.

"When I said I wouldn't tell anyone, I meant it, you know." Silence. "I have no reason to, really." Still no reaction—time to go back to basics. "Look, there's a reason I was placed in Gryffindor. I'm loyal to a fault. And my friends trust me. They—they tell me things that they couldn't tell each other, and that's saying something because Lily and Severus have known each other for years." Okay, he was stretching the truth, but hopefully it was worth it to reach Lupin somehow. "I could help you, you know? When people ask where you were, at least you'd have me to help redirect their attention. Give you an alibi. Because I know what it's like, feeling like there's no one who understands you. But you won't have a chance of finding someone until you open up. So I guess this is a good start."

Harry gave Lupin time to process what he had said. When they had almost reached the castle, he said carefully, "Thank you. And it's not that I don't believe you, but I still think we should see Dumbledore."

Harry nodded.

The school was gradually filling with light from the rising sun. They didn't see anyone, not even Filch, on the way to Dumbledore's office. Lupin must've known where it was from seeing him previously; he led the way, a few steps ahead of Harry.

When they reached the entrance, Lupin recited the password ("He gave it in case of an emergency," explained Lupin) and the gargoyle moved out of the way. The two continued up the stairs and stopped at the double doors. Harry tried the handle and the door gave way. Dumbledore must've known they were coming.

The Headmaster sat impressively at his desk. He looked at them from over his spectacles with an expression of genuine surprise.

"Remus! And…"

"Jacob Walker, sir." Harry had an unusual feeling of intimidation sitting before Dumbledore. It was silly to think that Dumbledore could figure out he was lying about his identity just by looking at him.

"Remus and Jacob, have a seat." They sat down in the two chairs he had put in front of his desk for them. "Now, I can assume that Jacob here learned something about you tonight…?"

"Yeah. He said he followed me to see what was wrong. I saw him this morning when he was leaving."

The Headmaster nodded and studied Harry. "So you decided you want to have his memory erased?"

Lupin hesitated. "I'm not—we're not sure. He said he wouldn't tell anyone."

"Do you believe him?" Dumbledore was obviously trying to help Lupin make a decision by himself by providing him the different points to consider. A strategy that might work well on an eleven-year-old, but one Harry could now see through.

"I don't know him enough to—to know if he would keep it a secret." Lupin sighed.

"Did he run away when he saw you?"

"Well, no…" replied Lupin, not looking at either of his company.

"Did he do anything that makes you think he would tell anyone?"

Lupin shook his head, sighing again. "No. I just don't want…" He paused, and shut his eyes. When he opened them again, he said, "I think I can trust him."

Harry couldn't help smiling weakly, though he had known Lupin, in the end, would've trusted him.

Dumbledore nodded. "A wise decision. And Jacob, know that there will be consequences if you share his secret." He took a moment to meet each of their gazes, then said, "Now that that is cleared up, Remus?"

"Yes, sir?"

"I can assume you wish to take the day off to recover in the Hospital wing, correct?"

Lupin nodded. Though Harry thought the boy still looked sick and wounded, the mice had clearly helped.

In the time between Monday morning and Thursday, Harry and Remus (he was getting used to calling him by his first name) mostly talked outside of class, because the other Marauders had adopted him into their group. Nobody else was suspicious of Remus; it was the first time he had transformed at school, and they were told he had just been really sick.

Harry's excitement for the flying lessons far exceeded the rest of his group's. Lily was the only other one out of his friends who was looking forward to it, but Harry knew she wasn't going to have any abilities that'd get her on the team in her first year. Severus hadn't flown before, and he definitely wasn't on his way to become Team Captain.

Harry felt a welcome rush of nostalgia as they neared the Quidditch pitch. Not even Severus' displeasure could damper his happy mood.

The Slytherins were also there. Harry didn't recognize any of them, but figured many were going to end up Death Eaters. The majority glared at the Gryffindors as they lined up, each next to a different broom. Harry quickly went to the broom in the least visible disrepair before the others could figure out where they wanted to go.

Harry looked down at his broom, thinking. Now that he was actually here, it was harder to say that he would pretend to be incompetent. The lure of flying made him rethink his plan; maybe he could just fly normally without worrying about an offer to be on the Quidditch team. After all, he could decline.

"Up!" he commanded, and the broom snapped to his hand. As expected, to his left, Severus was having as hard a time as Hermione had. Lily managed to grab her broom on her second try, even though her voice had wavered.

After learning how to mount and sit, they were finally ready to fly.

"All right. On my cue, I want you all to kick off the ground as hard as you can. Ready? Three…two…one!" Harry swiftly kicked off of the ground and soared above all of them, rising fast. His heart sped up with the thrill and he accelerated toward the sky. When he felt he had reached a good height, he stopped and looked down at his classmates, tiny specks below. Fueled by the rush, he sped toward the ground, pulled up just before he would have crashed and landed softly on the grass. A good number of his peers were gawking at him, dumbfounded. James looked positively furious.

Madam Hooch strode over to him.

The excited feeling Harry had was fading away. How could he have been so careless? He had drawn unwanted attention to himself and probably looked like a complete wanker.

"Madam Hooch, I lost control of the broom, but I managed to pull up before I crashed—"

"You're Jacob Walker, am I correct?" she asked, completely ignoring his explanation as she dug for something in her pocket.

"Er, yes. Sorry, but, like I was saying, my broom got out of control—"

"Nonsense. You have a natural talent for Quidditch, Walker. Unlike anyone of your age I've seen, possibly…" Hooch found what she was looking for and held it out before him. "This is called a Golden Snitch. Now, I'm going to let it go, and when I tell you, I want you to try to catch it as quickly as possible, all right?"

Harry glanced at the kids watching him and shook his head. "No, I don't think I should—"

"I insist." She released it before he could protest further. "Give it a minute," she said, watching it disappear.

Harry had to make a decision. Perhaps his spot on the team was sealed and it wouldn't make a difference if he choose to catch the Snitch. Harry glanced at James, who was whispering to Sirius and laughing. He wouldn't necessarily steal his father's glory; James played Chaser, not Seeker, and not in his first year. But he would be delighted to deflate his father's swelled ego.

He didn't have any more time to think it over. Madam Hooch told him to go, so Harry soared back into the sky. He peered down at the ground, and before long spotted a distant flash of gold. He dove for it, and while the broom wasn't nearly as fast as his old one, he soon had the Snitch wriggling in his hand. He flew back over to Madam Hooch, who was beaming. Some of the Gryffindors clapped.

"Excellent! Such talent! How long have you been riding a broom?"

"This is my first time, ma'am. I'm, er, Muggle-born."

Madam Hooch, was, of course, surprised, but she tried to hide it. "Oh, well, you are quite a natural. Here, let me write you a note…" She took out a pocketbook and flipped through it. Once Hooch found what she was looking for, she closed and pocketed the book and pulled out a quill and a scrap of parchment. She quickly scribbled something on and handed it to him. "I believe she will be in Herbology. Be quick!"

Harry set his broom down and walked quickly to the greenhouses. He now realized he must have seemed like a prodigy. He had six years or so of experience of flying on a team, but everyone was under the impression that this was his first time. If his talent had seem extraordinary then, it would be considered supernatural now.

On his way, he scanned the note, which read, "Dear Violetta, I believe I have found a new seeker for the Gryffindor team. If would mind joining our class outside to see him fly, you might be surprised. Madam Hooch."

Harry spotted the class in the first greenhouse and entered, hoping this would be handled quietly. The students—sixth years, he figured out from glancing at one of the students' textbooks—didn't look up from the plants they were struggling to control. Harry walked over to Professor Sprout, who looked at him kindly. "Yes? Can I help you?"

Harry handed her the note. She read it quickly and scanned the room for Violetta. "Oh! Rosquit, for you." She handed the note to a tall girl in the back, whose strong arms and blue eyes were focused on wrestling a huge flower that snapped angrily at her.

"I'll take this for you," Professor Sprout took her place and pinned the flower down against the table with one hand. With the other, she handed Violetta the note.

She scanned it and looked Harry up and down. "Thank you, Professor. Do you want me to make up the work?"

"No, I think you've gotten the hang of it." Professor Sprout rushed over to a help a struggling student.

"So, Jacob Walker, right?" Violetta said, more to herself. "A first-year? Wow, you must've been pretty good. Private coach? Backyard training?"

"Er, actually, I'm a first-time flyer."

"Damn! Are you serious?" She looked at him, hope flaring in her eyes.

Harry nodded, hoping she wouldn't overreact.

"Really? Wow. You must have that—that something, then. You're the kind of person flying just comes naturally to. From the first time you hold that broom," she got a faraway look in her eyes,"you feel this—this energy! No, this desire. This desire to just fly across the world. That you could take off of the ground one day," she looked across the sky, "and never come back."

Violetta looked at Harry, then laughed. "Sorry, sometimes I do that. I'm a bit of a romantic. With Quidditch, anyhow."

"It's okay. I think…I think that's what I feel when—I mean, what I felt."

Violetta smiled at him. "I thought so. Anyone who's a decent flyer should."

Harry nodded, then cleared his throat. "So, I know nothing about how to play Quidditch."

"All right, not a problem! The rules are simple, but there's a load of other stuff you need to know…" She launched in an explanation that was so detailed, by the time they reached the class she hadn't even started the rules. Instead, she had completely backtracked and started with the history of the sport, thinking it was necessary to know before he learned anything else.

Madam Hooch and Violetta spoke briefly before returning to Harry.

"Mr. Walker, do you mind flying around for a little bit?"

Harry nodded and retrieved his broom. Both the Slytherins and the Gryffindors stopped to watch. Harry mounted the broom and soared into the air, trying to forget that anyone was watching him.

Harry flew as high as he dared, then dove straight down, pulling up at the last second. He shot off in one direction, then turned sharply. He climbed into the air and spiraled, clinging onto his handle tightly. He stopped, catching his balance for a moment as he studied the specks below. He swung around and corkscrewed in the air at the students. There were a few screams, but they died off as he once again pulled up just in time and flew over their heads. Suddenly, his eyes caught the Snitch. Harry had not known they had released it, and it must be a test to see if h would realize without them saying anything.

He urged his broom forward, and gained on the little golden ball. A second later, its wings were beating against his hand.

Behind him, there were a few claps and cheers. At this, Harry felt queasy, but not from flying. Fame had not been fun for him as a student at Hogwarts, and while he was not "The Chosen One" in this generation, he didn't want to go back to anything similar.

Violetta hugged him. "That was amazing!" She swore a few times in her excitement, but stopped when she glanced at Madam Hooch. "Well, Jacob, I'll see you at next week's practice!"

Harry smiled weakly and thanked her. He wondered if he would get a Nimbus like he had in his first year. It was likely, but he knew not to get his hopes up.

Madam Hooch nodded at him before wrapping up the day's lesson and dismissing them. Snape hardly acknowledged Harry after he rejoined the group. Lily beamed radiantly at Harry, and he felt a guilty pang from the fact that he had captured her attention over Severus'. Raven gave him a small smile, then frowned at her broom as though wishing it had been the reason she hadn't done well.

"Wow, Jacob, that was awesome!" exclaimed Lily. Harry guessed she hadn't managed to get very far on her broom, which looked like it had seen better days.

"Thank you! Er, I didn't mean to be a showoff, but—"

Lily blinked. "No, I didn't think you were." Her gaze drifted over Harry's shoulder. "Look at him." The four turned to look at James. He seemed to be talking about Harry by the obvious glances he was throwing as he whispered to Sirius.

"I don't care what he says," said Harry casually, though it wasn't completely true. He couldn't help feeling a little bad, even though he was supposed to be a different person. He knew his father would like him under different circumstances.

"He's just mad you did better than him. He nearly fell off his broom earlier when he tried do something you had done," said Raven. She could probably tell, somehow, that Harry did care what James said.

They returned their brooms and headed to their last lesson of the day.

Everyone seemed to already know about Harry's feat in the flying lessons, and how he was the first seeker of his age in 80 years. This news charged the excitement for the Quidditch season, and stories of how good a flyer he was quickly circulated around the school, growing increasingly exaggerated. His friends remained grumpy for the rest of the day, but at least put in effort into pretending to be nonchalant about his newfound fame.

Lily quickly warmed up to him; she could tell he honestly hadn't tried to show off. She sat next to him when they worked on homework that evening. Half an hour in, she started to sing softly as she started her Potions essay. "Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew, when I bit off more than I could chew, but through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way…" Severus didn't look at her, but Harry could tell he was listening because he stopped writing. Remus also paused, but did glance at her before returning to his work, blushing.

Lily realized the others had been listening to her. She lifted her head back up from her work and stopped singing, embarrassed. "I don't know the rest of the words, sorry. It's called 'My Way.' A Muggle song."

"You have a really nice voice," said Raven. Severus managed a smile in agreement, too shy to compliment her directly.

"Thank you!" Lily grinned at all of them. She was unaware of the effect she had on people, especially Severus.

It wasn't for another hour and a half that the five finished their homework. Remus had finished first and went to help the other Marauders with theirs, though they ended up just asking him for help so he could hang out with them.

Later, after staying in the Common Room for a while, everyone went to bed. After the lights went out, Harry thought about "My Way." The tune gradually calmed him, and his breathing slowed until he fell asleep.

 


Chapter 6: Secrets
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Harry missed his friends. He knew he wasn't off to a good start if it was only two weeks into the year and his chest already ached every time he realized it was going to be another day without them. He tried to think of some way he could see Ron, Hermione, or Ginny, but it would be too difficult. He hoped, at some point, the pain would go away, and they would become less and less focused in his thoughts. Because he wasn't leaving them. They weren't suffering, even Ginny would only miss him for a few seconds, so why should he torture himself over it?

Of course, Harry couldn't help but think of possible solutions to his problem. He came up with a new idea each day, but every idea had a drawback: when he saw them again, he would only miss them more between visits. He would want to come back, and abandon everything he had accomplished.

His stress must have been apparent on the night before the first Quidditch practice that Saturday, because Severus noticed.

"Are you feeling all right?" he asked, his discomfort in expressing concern apparent as he rolled up the homework he had just finished.

"Yeah, I'm fine." Harry also closed his books and glanced at Severus, who had already moved on, having believed what Harry had told him.

Harry searched for something to take his mind off of his friends. "Hey, how about we play Wizard's Chess?"

James had received a special edition version of the game the day before, playing nonstop since class ended. His obsession and winning streak weren't the only annoying factors; the game was twice the normal size, the pieces were twice as loud and swore when they were taken out to the opposite side. To top everything off, the whole chess set was plated in gold. Harry knew Severus wouldn't want to take James on, so he thought he'd give him a chance to play without that competition.

Harry went upstairs and dug out his chess set, the same one he had been given at the Christmas Feast his first year. It was a little worn, so he could say he had bought it secondhand at Diagon Alley.

After he was back downstairs and as he set up the board, Lily and Raven sat down to the left of Severus, curious.

"Can Raven and I play after?" Lily hadn't played a magical game yet but loathed the idea of playing against James, who was clearly getting on her nerves.

"Sure." Harry pulled up a stool and sat on the opposite end of the table.

"White or red?" he asked, facing the white side.

"Red's fine." Severus studied the board. "I haven't placed this before."

"Oh! Right." Harry quickly explained how each piece moved, then offered, "You can go first."

Severus hesitated, surveying his options. "Pawn to E5." And the game began.

Harry thought he had a chance at winning, since he was seven years older. However, somehow, just thirty minutes in, Harry's king was dragged off to the side of the board.

"Wow! Sev, you're a natural!" Lily studied him, her eyes wide.

"I let you win," Harry joked, grinning as he rearranged the pieces. "Go ahead," he said to Lily and Raven, and they took their spots as Harry joined Severus and Lily on the couch.

"I bet, if you practiced a bit, you could beat James. Easily."

Severus straightened with pride. "You think so?"

"Of course. Though, he may not like it if you do."

"I don't care." Severus turned half of his attention back on the board. The other half of him was thinking about the possibility of getting James to shut up.

Harry looked over at the Marauders, who were also gathered around a chess board. James was versing Peter, who was close to losing. Remus caught Harry looking over, then motioned for him to join them. Harry said to the others, "I'll be just a tic," and went over Lupin with the others. None of the other first-year girls were down in the common room, but there were a couple second-year girls hanging around, chatting and keeping an eye on the game.

"What is it?" Harry asked. He crossed his arms and peered at the board from behind Peter.

"Nothing. I nearly beat James in chess, but of course he has more experience…" Suddenly, Remus looked uncomfortable. Eyes locked on the floor, he whispered, "You know I trust you, but you—you haven't told anyone, have you?" He seemed ashamed to doubt Harry's promise to keep his problem a secret.

Harry was just about to reassure him when Sirius, who had just needed a way out of talking to the overeager second-year girls, asked, "Told anyone what?"

Remus paled. Harry, buying himself time to think of an excuse, tried to look like he had just been telling an inside joke and said, "It's nothing."

Sirius raised an eyebrow. Harry expected him to back down—after all, Sirius didn't know him well enough to pry.

Sirius put an arm around Remus, who became flustered a little at his touch. "Remus, c'mon, you can tell me."

"Oh, er, well, in Charms this week…Jacob let me cheat off him." He said the last part of the sentence all in a rush. His face was flushed from the lie and he continued to stare at the ground, as if he really had done it.

Sirius looked disappointed. "Oh. Well, that's not a big deal, I cheated off of James just yesterday in Potions, didn't I?"

James looked up and nodded, grinning. "What you don't know is I was copying Peter, so I think we'll all get bad marks."

The two laughed, and Peter joined in, still getting used to being the butt of their jokes.

"Checkmate," said James lazily, his attention back to the board, and Peter's king was carried off to the side.

James yawned and stretched. "I'm pretty tired…and this is getting boring. I'm gonna go upstairs."

"Yeah, me too." Sirius took his arm off Remus and followed James out.

Peter hurriedly packed up the game and went after them. Remus turned to go, but Harry said, "Do you want to hang out with us?"

Remus smiled shyly. "Yeah, sure."

Harry led him over to where Raven and Lily were engaged in their chess match, while Severus sat silently, deep in his own thoughts.

"Hey guys, mind if Remus joins us?" The three shook their heads. Lily smiled warmly at Remus.

Remus smiled back reflexively at her, then blushed again at her enthusiasm. He sat on the couch and adjusted his hair so it fell over his scars.

"So, I'm not sure if you two have really met, but Remus, this is Severus. Severus, this is Remus."

"Hi," they said simultaneously. Severus' eyes flickered to the scars that ran across Remus' face. Remus must have been able to tell what Severus was looking at, because he abruptly turned away.

Severus also looked away, but his mind was clearly still focused on the scars. Lily continued playing as though nothing had happened and started to tell a story to ease the tension. Ten minutes passed, and the first official meeting between Remus and the others was going well, especially between he and Lily.

Until Lily couldn't hold back her curiosity. "How did you get those scars?" The others looked at his face, glad someone else had asked.

"I, er, I don't want to…" Remus struggled to explain his discomfort.

"Oh. Sorry. I didn't mean to—" Lily reached out to him but he drew back.

"It's all right. I'm used to it." Remus flipped his hair to cover his scars, but he could tell it looked funny and the seconds he felt insecure ticked past. He turned to Jacob. "I'm actually kinda tired, you don't mind if I…?"

"No, I don't, er, yeah, go ahead. See you tomorrow."

"See you." Remus stood up and headed to the dorms, taking the books he had brought to the common room on his way.

There was silence for a minute after he left, then Raven and Lily went back to their game. Lily got over her guilt and managed to beat Raven.

"Good game. It was close," said Lily, grinning.

"Yeah, right. I'm awful at Wizard's Chess." Raven sighed. "You're really good, though. Tomorrow," she nodded toward Severus and Lily, "you two should verse each other."

Lily grinned. "It's on."

Severus smiled back, though he seemed unsure of whether or not he would let her win when they played.

"Well…" Lily stood up and stretched. "…I'm off to bed."

"Me too. G'night, Severus. G'night, Jacob," said Raven.

"Goodnight," they replied.

"See you in the morning, Sev! And see you after Quidditch tomorrow, Jacob!" Lily smiled and followed Raven to the girls' dorms.

Jacob and Severus put the chess set back in its box. As Severus handed Harry a pawn, he asked, "Why did Lupin get mad when we asked about his scars?"

Harry looked at him in surprise. "Well, of course he's going to be sensitive about something like that. I doubt he likes being described as 'the boy with the scars.' He's probably just careful when he makes new friends because he figures you're going to judge him. That's all." He realized it was from experience in which he was speaking—Remus and him were similar in that way. He was simplifying the reason, however, as Remus was also protective of his secret.

Severus gave Harry a calculating look. "You're really good at that sort of thing."

"What sort of thing?" Harry asked, trying to seem naive.

"Reading people. Being able to tell what they're feeling, or why they do…what they do."

"Oh. Thanks. I guess so." He hoped that over time Severus wouldn't become suspicious that the reason Harry could more easily tell how his friends felt was that he wasn't as young as he appeared to be.

Back at the dorm, no one was asleep yet; they were all up, talking. Severus and Harry got ready for bed quietly as the others recovered from their laughter.

Sirius leaned against one of his bedposts, grinning.

"Okay, now do me," said James eagerly. Peter, for once, was not laughing along with them; instead he looked annoyed and frowned at Sirius.

Sirius straightened. "Give me your glasses. For effect." He put them on. "Blimey! You're nearly blind! Wonder what could've done that…"

"Sod off!" James stood and pushed him a little, but smirked. From the bed he grabbed a small container that resembled a mint tin and flipped it open. "Which color?"

"Hm…how about green? I think that's Voice."

"Here," said James, handing it to him. Sirius popped it in his mouth.

Suddenly, his body shuddered and he coughed. "Testing. Testing. 1, 2, 3." His voice had taken the likeness of James'.

Sirius leaned back casually, imitating how James stood. He ran a hand through his black hair, making it stand up in all directions. Then he went on a lengthy, serious rant about Quidditch. For every laugh he managed out of his audience, his confidence inflated slightly.

Harry glanced over at Remus, who was reading, and decided to talk to him about what happened.

"Lily didn't mean to offend you."

Remus started, then put his book down. "I know." He rubbed his temple. "I was acting ridiculous…Can you tell her not to worry about it?"

"Of course."

After barely ten minutes, Sirius' voice gradually became rougher and slightly lower until it was his again.

Peter clapped, grinning. Lupin and Harry followed suit reflexively, while Severus glowered. Sirius bowed and thanked them.

James smiled, but he looked a little annoyed. The spotlight had been pulled away from him, and he wanted it back. "Okay, now let me try you." James got up and Sirius extended his hand. He poured several of the mints into Sirius' palm, the first step of the process, then took them back in one fluid motion.

"Wait! James! You know you can't take more than one at a time—"

James cast him a sly smile and popped the mints all at once.

Sirius gaped as he watched James, waiting for something to happen. At first, nothing did. They were just beginning to relax when James' face contorted and bubbled. His head stretched slightly, and one of his hazel eyes became slightly smaller and brown. His eyebrows grew to the thickness of Sirius', then continued to grow. None of them knew whether to laugh or be concerned, and they just watched in astonishment until the transformation was complete. A mash-up between Sirius and James stood before them, looking sick.

"You should take him to Madam Pomfrey as soon as possible," Harry suggested to Sirius before anyone else began to react.

Sirius nodded and guided James out of the dorm. After a moment, there was an awful retching sound, and Sirius swore loudly. Harry grabbed his wand and quickly went out to help them. With quick swish of his wand, he cleaned the sick. They thanked him clumsily, and continued along down the stairs.

Back in the dorm, Peter and Remus were laughing. Severus grinned, relishing the fact that James was now on his way to the Hospital wing, and that he wouldn't have to deal with either of them for the night.

Later that night, James and Sirius returned from the Hospital wing. It had proved relatively easy to remove the effects of the pill. Everyone was already in bed, but they all woke up from the poorly-attempted-at-being-muffled laughter from the two boys. "It was not worth the ten galleons," one of them said. The other replied, "Well, at least we know now what our kid would look like." They laughed, before shushing each other. "Mustn't wake the kiddies!"

Fortunately, they must have been exhausted, because they drifted off into silence, and Harry fell asleep again.

After what seemed like a minute, Harry woke up to his alarm. He changed, then trudged through the school and to the Quidditch Pitch. It was just him and the captain, Violetta, so she could explain Quidditch to him and teach him one-on-one.

Violetta was already at the Quidditch pitch when Harry arrived.

"Jacob! Hi!" She shook his hand, then stood back and looked out across the pitch.

"Isn't it a beauty?" she said dreamily.

Harry nodded and followed her gaze.

"Well. Let's get started. Do you know anything about Quidditch?"

"Oh, yeah, I read a lot about it after I made the team."

"Practical bloke, are you? When we scrimmage I'll have to put you to the test, then. But for now, let's practice some moves. If you want to change into your uniform, you're number seven." She gestured to the Gryffindor locker/meeting room. "Since I'm ready, I'll just warm up." She mounted the broom she was holding, a Cleansweep, and took off.

Harry watched her for a moment (she was quite good) then went to change. The uniform was slightly different from the modern ones: they were striped with the house's colors, collared, more fitted, and the print was smaller. The pants were a dark gray, and the padding was a standard black.

He skimmed over the rack of brooms and was surprised to see an old version of the Nimbus. It looked brand-new; Harry wondered if it was for him. He brought it outside, briefly tasted the crisp autumn air, then took off.

The air whipped past him as he sped forward. Violetta noticed he had joined her and stopped the dive she was practicing.

"You found your new broom! The team all pitched in to get it."

"It's incredible, thank you!" Of course, it wasn't comparable to his Firebolt, but it was likely better than everyone else's.

"Okay, so we have a few routines to warm up. The first is just to race from post to post and back, then to fly from the post to the center field and touch down, then to the next post…" She explained the basic exercises to him and let him complete them as she watched from above. The warm-ups required little effort, but were fun, and better than the ones Harry had done at his training. When he was done, Violetta was anxious to get him onto more advanced moves. She showed him flying moves to confuse opponents, dodge Bludgers, and even to show off.

Most of the techniques he knew by experience, though he had never officially been taught them. He was glad that Violetta didn't act jealous or suspicious that he was brilliant at the sport without, supposedly, any training. He almost expected her to because it was clear Quidditch was her passion, and she worked hard to get to being the captain of the team.

After a couple hours, Violetta motioned him down to the ground. "That was brilliant! We are definitely going to win the Cup this year! We've been in second place the past two years, since I've been captain…" She pushed past the shroud of self-doubt. "But this time, our team is more experienced, and we'll practice more, and…we have you!" She ruffled his hair and grinned. "So training is every Saturday and Sunday afternoon before dinner, and on Tuesday and Wednesday the same time. And, like you, the Beaters, Chasers, and Keeper all have a private practice this week."

"What position are you?"

"Keeper. I was a Chaser my first year, then a Beater, so this is my first year as a Keeper."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I'm kind of nervous about it. My worst position is Seeker, but my second worse is Keeper. I'm not consistent. I guess I was better than the people who tried out, but barely."

"I'm sure you'll be brilliant," Harry assured her. She sort of reminded him of Ron.

"Thanks. We'll see for sure in a month, I suppose."

They changed in the separate locker rooms and walked back together to the castle. Nearly three hours had passed since they started that morning and they were both starving.

"I'm glad I ate some Chocolate Frogs on the way here, or else I would've passed out by now." Her stomach growled loudly. "Ugh. I could probably eat a hippogriff and still be hungry."

Harry laughed. "Right."

Violetta spotted someone beyond Harry and waved. "Hey! Alice!" She said quickly to Harry, "Well, I'll see you for the next practice! Bye!" Then she ran off to join her friend.

Practices went spectacularly. Everyone welcomed him as part of the family, a family whose talents matched the talents of his teams in his time.

And over the next few weeks, everyone fell into a steady rhythm. The Gryffindor first years were, of course, used to the classes, but it was over these times that they really began to settle into routine. The three groups of first-year Gryffindors were, for the most part, pretty defined. There were the Marauders, Harry's group of four, and the remaining three tightly-linked girls.

It was rare for any of them to socialize with the upper years at first, but as time went on, everyone began to know each other. With most students he was able to link to a weak memory from his time, some whose names he vaguely recognized as part of families from the present.

Some of those people he remembered were in the Order of the Phoenix.

"Alice, come here."

Harry looked up from where he was studying. Shock cut through him. He hadn't seen it before when he was with Violetta. The rounded face, slightly awkward posture, kind but surprisingly strong expression; she was Neville's mother. The similarities between mother and son were unmistakable. But the contrast between the her smile that shone now and the disheveled, mad look she had when Harry had seen her at St. Mungo's was dramatic.

"What is it?" She approached a teenager with curly brown hair. Frank Longbottom. He was more like the Neville of now; more confident, and full of life. An image of the couple, mentally disabled after being tortured, flashed across his mind, and his frown deepened.

Harry felt Severus' curious eyes on him, trying to figure out what had caught his attention, but Harry pretended not to notice.

Alice gave Frank a quick kiss and looked at what he had wanted to show her. It appeared to be a letter, one that was only meant for their eyes, judging by the way they bent over it and kept a wary eye out for potential onlookers.

"What are you looking at?" Severus asked, and Harry turned around.

"Nothing," he replied automatically. Severus sensed this change, but apart from studying Harry's face, didn't mention it.

More and more each day, Harry considered how much he was really helping the group. Lily and Severus were in Gryffindor together, and that seemed to help in many ways. James stayed away from Severus, for the most part, who now hung out with "the good guys."

That's how it seemed, for a short while. But Harry should have known better. If something happened once, there's a perfectly reasonable chance history would repeat itself.

He realized this a week before Halloween.

"What are you doing?" Harry asked suspiciously, and Severus jumped, shoving a book underneath his pillow.

"Nothing," he replied, a little too quickly. He avoided Harry's pressing gaze and tried to think of something that would divert his friend's attention. "Just studying."

Right. Harry wasn't an idiot. There was obviously something Severus was trying to hide. He dreaded the possibility of…well, that wasn't likely.

The week leading up to Halloween gave Harry enough reasons to confirm his fears. Severus had involved himself in the Dark Arts.

He realized that the multiple times over the past month Severus had said he needed space, or to study alone, or claimed James was bothering him…it was just so he could go off and meet with Slytherins.

What had Severus done to win the trust of the Slytherins? Did Harry, or the increased time with Lily, have no effect on him? Did nothing that changed matter anymore? Was everything destined to follow the same path? As Harry struggled to answer these questions, he was also dealing with the ache in his chest over his friends, the feelings that brought him here in the first place, and figuring out where he belonged at the school.

His alternate identity, Jacob, had an aura of maturity and strength that kept the Marauders away from bullying Severus directly. "Jacob" wasn't threatening, but the others could tell there was something different about him. Every time one of the kids said something childish (which happened pretty often), he would roll his eyes, or not laugh along with everyone else. His opinions made sense and he was always the voice of reason, so his friends looked to him for advice.

"Severus, can we talk?" Harry asked that Friday.

Severus continued writing on the scrap piece of parchment he had. "Sure, I guess."

"Okay." Harry sat on the bed across from him. "I know what you've been doing recently."

Severus didn't look up, and his face remained concentrated on his work. "I don't know what you're talking about." He was getting better at concealing his emotions.

Harry sighed. "C'mon, Severus. We're friends. You can't hide these things from me." He hardened his tone. "I know you've been involved in the Dark Arts and you've been meeting with the Slytherins."

Severus knew there was no use denying it, so he became defensive. "So what if I have? It's—it's my choice."

"I know, but you don't understand what will happen if you do!" Severus had no idea how his life would turn out.

"I can make my own decisions."

"Right. At age eleven, you know how to make your own decisions." Now Harry was getting frustrated.

"You're eleven too!" Severus' eyes blazed with fury. "You—you act like you know everything all the time! It's so annoying! You act like you're my—my mother."

"I act like I'm your mother? I'm the only one, then." Harry retorted.

Severus' face flushed angrily. "But your parents think you're a freak! At least my mother took me to Diagon Alley!" Severus thought the insult was pretty good, but he merely continued to exasperate Harry, who reverted back to the voice of reason.

"Say whatever you want. I'm just telling you that you're making a mistake." Harry closed his eyes and thought, rubbing his temple, as Severus calmed down. He opened them again when he heard the scribble of a quill on parchment.

"Listen," Harry continued, while Severus continued to write. "I can't tell you what to do. Because then you won't learn anything. But one day…" The image of Lily defending Severus flashed across his mind. Severus' worst memory. "…one day everything will fall apart because of the Dark Arts. And when it does, you'll wish you'd never got involved. But until then…do whatever the hell you want."

Severus was quiet. Just as Harry was about to leave the dorm, he looked up from his parchment. "Wait!" Harry turned around. Severus asked quietly, "We're still friends…aren't we?"

Harry snorted. "Yeah, but I doubt your new Slytherin pals approve of having two Muggle-born friends."

Severus said nothing, he just watched Harry go. A few seconds later, Harry reappeared in the doorway.

"You can't keep it a secret forever. Sooner or later, if Lily hasn't already found out, I'll tell her. She has the right to know. Besides, if being involved in the Dark Arts truly isn't a big deal, she wouldn't care whether or not you are. And you know that's not the case." With that, he left the room.

Severus wiped his eyes quickly and scrutinized his paper.

Downstairs, James sat with Sirius, across the room from Harry and the others, as Peter rushed to do their homework. Remus read, but he seemed to be doing so just to have a distraction from what they were saying. He probably felt guilty because James and Sirius were doing last minute planning for the next day's Halloween pranks.

Wordlessly, Remus closed his book and went over to where Lily and Harry sat together. James and Sirius stopped talking and watched him. Then they glanced at each other and changed the subject.

"Hello," said Remus, joining them on the floor. He looked immensely tired and a bit sick. "Good game," he said to Harry.

"Hi, thanks," he replied. "What are you reading?"

"Oh, I'm reading ahead in…" He held up his Defense Against the Dark Arts schoolbook and smiled, a little embarrassed.

"Cool. Your favorite subject?"

Remus nodded.

"Yeah, mine too. So, do you want to play Exploding Snaps? The winner of each game gets a Chocolate Frog."

Remus nodded and looked up. James and Sirius were standing behind him, looking more relaxed than they were before.

"We want to play, too."

"Sure." Harry glanced at Peter, who was looking at them hopefully, waiting to be invited over.

Harry sighed. "Hey, Peter, do you want to play, too?"

"Okay!" He got up and accidentally knocked over the small pile of books that was around him. Blushing, he picked up the mess and shuffled quickly to them.

"I hope you didn't wet yourself," James snickered, and he and Sirius laughed.

Lily rolled her eyes. James noticed and stopped laughing. He cleared his throat. "I'll deal."

Harry handed him the pack of cards.

"So, where's Snivellus? And the black girl…Sparrow?" Sirius asked, leaning back on his hands instead of cross-legged like most of the others.

Harry gritted his teeth. "You mean Severus and Raven. They're not here, so you don't need to worry about it."

"Ooh…" Sirius and James exchanged a look. "Severus and Raven, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then—"

"Shut up," Lily and Harry snapped at the same time.

James raised his eyebrows and was about to say something else when Remus said, "There they are."

Raven glanced at the group and whispered something quickly to Severus. He crossed the room and went up to the dorms while Raven walked over to them, her face glowing with a rare smile. But it wasn't toward them, it was more a smile of excitement.

"Where were you?" Jacob asked casually.

"I…went to get help in Potions. Severus came too, to help me, and to, er, ask Professor Slughorn about doing more advanced stuff, since he's not being challenged."

Harry didn't want to tip off the other, so he went along with her story. "Oh. Okay then. Want to play?"

Raven hesitated awkwardly. "No, Slughorn, er, recommended I reread some chapters five through eight. I'll see you round."

"See you." said Harry, pretending he believed her. Raven's excuse was good, she was doing poorly in Potions, but still, it was more likely Severus had brought her to a meeting with his new Slytherin friends.

Everyone else had lost interest in their conversation. James had already dealt most of the cards. Harry was the only one lost in thought throughout the game, so he didn't have to try to lose each one like he normally did.

"I'll sit this game out," said Harry, and went to the dorms.

Severus was lying in bed, flipping through his Transfiguration book. He looked at Harry questioningly.

"Look. Just answer this question. Did Raven ask you if she could come with you or did you drag her along?"

"I don't know—"

"Come on," Harry cut in impatiently, "All I'd have to do is ask Slughorn if you were there today."

Severus glared at him. "She wanted to come with me. But she told me not to tell."

"She's my friend, too. I want to tell her the same thing I told you."

Severus opened his mouth to reply, but sighed instead.

That night, Harry sat with Raven, hoping he would be able to at least convince her to give up the Dark Arts. "…I told Severus the same thing. But I know neither of you are going to listen."

Raven just looked at him.

"Well, alright then." Harry didn't know if he got through to her—she had been silent the whole time. "Are you going to say anything?"

"I…don't know why I chose Gryffindor," she said quietly, and with a final glance up at him, she walked away.

Chose Gryffindor? Harry thought. She must mean why she was sorted into Gryffindor.

As Halloween approached, Sirius and James could be seen in the common room, huddled, as Peter and Remus dug through books. Harry was nervous for Severus' sake. The hatred James and Sirius felt for Severus became stronger each day, and it was at the point where the threat of Harry defending him had little effect.

Harry convinced himself the pranks would be good-natured, maybe not intended for Severus specifically.

But on their way to breakfast (after waking up and seeing two empty beds in the common room), Harry was proven wrong.

Severus dropped a piece of parchment and rushed back to pick it up. Before he could rejoin the others, a large pot appeared over his head and dumped its contents over him.

Severus yelped and covered his face with his hands.

"Severus!" Lily ran to him. Harry and Raven followed, scanning for James and Sirius.

Lily drew back in shock as she watched Severus' long black hair lengthen. His nose grew until it stuck out between his fingers. Severus whimpered in embarrassment when Lily put her hand on his shoulder.

"Take him to the Hospital wing, and I'll see if I can find James," said Harry to Lily.

"How do you know it was James?" Was Lily defending James or she just hadn't realized the animosity between them?

"You're right, I don't." Though, to Harry, it was obvious. Who else was pranking people? Besides, he knew because of the lack of evidence; the pot had appeared out of nowhere, and no one around seemed to have been controlling it.

And James had an invisibility cloak.

Harry slowly surveyed the area for any clues that his dad was still there. He wasn't expecting to see anything when he noticed a particularly overweight student suddenly trip and fall flat on his face. Harry ran to help him up, partly as an excuse to see if he could hear James. Sure enough, there was a quiet laughing from nearby. It sounded as if there were two people.

So both James and Sirius were the culprits. Harry casually walked in their direction, and heard one of them hush the other, and there was silence.

He strained to hear footsteps, and sure enough, there was the sound of careful feet that didn't line up with the few kids that walked by.

When Harry was parallel with their direction, he jumped to the side and grabbed for the cloak. He was on target. With one fluid motion the two boys were standing, shocked, with their wide eyes on Harry.

"How did you—?" James took out his wand, unsure of what to do. Sirius did the same.

"Can I ask a favor? Severus is my friend, and I don't want you to mess with him. Or anyone else, for that matter." The boy they had tripped watched them from down the hall.

James and Sirius glanced at each other, eyebrows raised.

"Come on. You can't actually be friends with him," Sirius snickered.

Harry looked at him seriously. "Yeah, I am. I can't make you stop bullying him—"

"He deserves it, you know," cut in James matter-of-factly.

"No one deserves what you want to do to him. If only you understood—"

"Understood what? I don't think we like being talked to like this, do we, Sirius?"

Sirius pulled out his wand. "If you don't give us back the cloak and walk away, we'll make you give it back."

"Fine. But if you do anything to him…you'll have to face me."

"Ooh, I'm so scared." Sirius searched for something witty to say. "You're his knight in shining armor, aren't you? He's the damsel in distress."

Harry normally would have rolled his eyes at such an idiotic remark, but the comment stung. That's not how it seemed, did it?

Sirius looked to James for reassurance of his joke's humor, shoulders straightening with confidence when James smirked.

Harry's fingers grazed his wand. "I know he can defend himself. But what's the point in bullying him in the first place?"

This sailed right over James and Sirius' heads. They looked at him like he was the one missing the point. Before they could say something stupid, Harry continued.

"Never mind. Just remember what I said." Harry turned around and walked in the opposite direction. Suddenly, he felt a shock race through him, and became frozen to the spot.

"Thank you, Sir Knight," said Sirius, and they laughed. Harry had forgotten to give them the cloak, and they had done just as they promised.

The boy he had helped up earlier managed to unfreeze him, looking sympathetic. But he didn't know how painful it actually was for them to treat Harry as they had.

James was Harry's father, and Sirius had been the last family he had. Harry wanted to do what was right, but he also wanted to be friends with them. Somewhere below the surface he knew they were good kids, but it would be ideal if they didn't wait until adulthood to show that.

Harry, back in the empty dorm before class, sat down on his bed. He felt a new weight on his chest. His own father didn't like him. Should he have tried to befriend him instead of acting how he did? A rush of anger overcame Harry and he stood up. He kicked his bed frame and threw the contents of his nightstand on the ground.

Harry's anger abruptly turned to shame. He ran a hand through his hair and surveyed the mess, then sighed. He couldn't give up on his father, or his godfather. They would get along eventually, as long as Harry was patient.

"Yeah, definitely," came Sirius' voice from outside.

Harry heard footsteps approaching the dorm. He threw on his invisibility cloak and moved the mess under his bed, just as Sirius and James appeared in the doorway. James stopped in his tracks, hushed Sirius, and stared at Harry's bed.

"What?" said Sirius, impatiently, breaking James' concentration. "C'mon, we'll be late to class."

"I think this is more important, don't you?"

Sirius grinned, and got to work searching through the pile of junk around his bed.

"So, Jacob…"

Harry flinched in surprise, then realized Sirius was talking to James.

"Yeah? What about him?"

"I don't know. He's…weird." More rummaging, then a pause. "Why is he friends with…them?"

"A better question is, why is Lily friends with him?" This had clearly been bothering James.

"I don't know. But, he's almost…older than he is."

"He's older than he is?" James raised an eyebrow.

"That's not what I meant. It's that he acts all mature, all the time. It's really annoying."

"Yeah, I know. Well, we'll see how mature he is when he pisses himself after dinner," James joked, and they laughed.

"But, er, do you think…" Sirius began, slowly, "…we should be nicer to him?" He was clearly uncomfortable suggesting it.

"To Jacob? Or Snivellus?" James looked at Sirius incredulously.

"Jacob!" Sirius replied impatiently, as if Severus wasn't a real option.

"I dunno." James shifted on his feet, annoyed. Only Sirius had enough influence on him to consider it.

Glad he wasn't dismissed, Sirius continued, "He's good at Quidditch—" James made a face, so Sirius added quickly, "—almost as good as you, and he's in our house…" A thought occurred to him. "And he could help you be friends with Lily."

James mulled this over, and his mouth stretched into a grin. "You're brilliant!" He checked the time. "Shit! Let's talk about it on the way to class."

The two left the room, and Harry sat on the bed, still cloaked. He felt better. He had a shot at becoming friends, even though it may be just so James could get to Lily. At least it was an improvement from being bullied by them.

The problem was, if Harry had planned to give Severus and Lily a chance, how would he deal with James?

The day went by quickly. Severus had managed to avoid being pranked again. A range of students had been pranked as the day went on, mostly Slytherins, but nothing too serious. Filch was alerted of the misdemeanors and, because of his incessant interrogations of innocent students, was also a victim of their pranks. Harry was just waiting for the final event, the one stunt that would keep people talking. James hinted at something happening after dinner.

"What do you think of Sev's new haircut?" Lily asked, looking fondly at him. Severus turned red and smiled back.

"Yeah, it's nice." His hair was now short, free from his face, a definite improvement.

"Madam Pomfrey did it when she reversed the potion. She also gave him this bottle of stuff to, er, help his hair." She could tell the topic of Severus' hygiene was sensitive, but he didn't have a parent to teach him about that sort of thing.

There was silence for a moment, then Raven asked, just realizing something—"Where's Remus? Is he sick again?"

Lily nodded. "Right, we saw him, he was in the Hospital wing. They're testing a new potion on him that's supposed to help with the sickness he keeps getting. He looked pretty bad, but we cheered him up by visiting!"

Harry knew how much Remus would have appreciated a break from the solitude, especially by seeing Lily, who the boy seemed to be growing fond of. While they were on the topic of the Marauders, Harry looked around; none of the other Marauders were at dinner. They were no doubt preparing for their attack.

All of the Gryffindor students headed back, as a group, to the common room. Harry, Lily, Raven and Severus lingered at the back, looking out for signs of James, Sirius, and Peter.

"What's that?" Raven whispered suddenly, her eyes focusing on a spot a bit before them, where a shoe appeared to be hovering over the ground.

"It's one of them!" They're under the cloak again, Harry thought.

"Whoever it is, they're going down that corridor." The four, acting casual, followed the shoe at a distance as it made its way down the hall, up the stairs, past a group of Hufflepuffs, and into a classroom. They hesitated when they reached the doorway, but Severus pushed ahead into the room.

"Something's not right…" muttered Harry, and acting on his instinct, he pointed his wand at the lone shoe at the other end of the unused classroom and said, "Accio shoe!"

The shoe soared through the air and into Harry's outstretched hand. "They're setting us up." He ran to the door, but it closed before he could reach it. He tried the doorknob. Of course, it was locked. "Alohomora!" he commanded, trying the door again. Nothing.

"What happened to Lily?" asked Severus, concern tightening his features.

She was gone. But Harry couldn't worry about that now; he had to focus. He surveyed the room again. It wasn't familiar to him, but he seemed to have a distant memory of the location.

There were a few posters with numbers and strange symbols on them…which would mean they were in the Arithmancy classroom.

Hermione had told Ron and Harry (despite their lack of interest) about the Arithmancy classroom entrance. It was one of the doors in the school that had to be tickled in the right spot before it could be opened. A student would have to solve something before the class could leave, but the spot was always the same.

Harry knelt down and searched for a small chink on the door in the bottom left corner. His fingers brushed it lightly, and, with a muffled giggle, it swung open. Lily was outside, resisting an invisible person who let her go as soon as he saw Harry pointed his wand in his direction.

Lily picked up her wand and thanked him.

"Are you okay?" Severus asked urgently.

"Yeah, I'm fine. That was Peter. He was supposed to guard you and send me to the party. But I wouldn't go."

"The party?" Harry asked.

"That's what he said. I guess he didn't want you to be there." Her green eyes flashed mischievously. "Just imagine the look on James' face when we get there."

They made Peter take them to the party, which was in the Gryffindor Tower.

"Password?" the Fat Lady asked.

"Turpis Collectio," replied Lily, and the portrait hole swung open.

They were met with a burst of sound. Music blared, and the room was dim, lit only by a few (stolen) candles. People danced, chatted, and most held gently steaming drinks. Glowing pumpkins dotted the corners, grinning toothily at the partiers. Desserts were laid out on the table before the fireplace.

Harry scanned the room and spotted James, in the center of it all, talking animatedly to a group of girls, who laughed loudly.

"Oi! What are you doing here?" Sirius stopped in his tracks on his way past them, holding two drinks.

"We escaped," replied Severus smugly, before anyone else could respond.

Sirius frowned, then shrugged. "Oh well."

"That was mean!" exclaimed Lily. "Why would you trap them and take me?"

Sirius looked at her, bewildered. "We thought you'd want to go to the party."

"How thick are you?" Lily shook her head in amazement. "I don't want you to bully my friends, and secondly, I would rather marry Peeves than go to your stupid party!"

Sirius looked offended. "Whatever." He stalked off toward James.

"We could go upstairs," suggested Harry, with a wary look over where Sirius was whispering into James' ear. James' face darkened momentarily, then brightened when he saw Lily. He excused himself from the group of girls and headed in Lily's direction.

Lily held her ground and glared at James as he ruffled his hair, trying to pull his expression into a smolder.

"Hey, Evans." James' gaze drifted over the other three before settling on her narrowed eyes.

"Potter," Lily replied coldly. "If you could excuse us, we were just leaving."

James couldn't hide his disappointment. "No, stay! I mean, you just got here. Do you want something to drink?"

"No," replied Lily brusquely.

"Jeez." Sirius was back. "He was just being nice. C'mon, have a Butterbeer. It'll calm you down."

It was the wrong thing to say. "Calm me down? You locked my friends in a classroom and expect me to be calm?" She made a sound of disbelief and marched off angrily, with Raven, Severus, and Harry following close behind.

"Maybe you should quit while you're behind," said Sirius, smirking at James, who smiled after Lily.

"What are we going to do now?" Raven asked Lily as she made her way through the crowd.

"We could visit Remus," suggested Harry. "It's not too late, and he'd appreciate it."

"Yeah, sure." Lily paused and looked around. "Where's Severus?"

After a moment, Raven spotted him. "Over there, by the drinks."

Severus was examining a glass of butterbeer. He held it up in the light, face scrunched up in concentration. His face darkened and he set the glass down, now examining the room. He rejoined the group, eying the room.

"Someone added a potion to the drinks." He emphasized "someone" with extra contempt; clearly he was sure of who did it.

"What sort of potion?" Lily asked, looking cautiously around the room.

"A philtre. I think it's to cause hallucinations, overconfidence, and can make whoever drinks it really happy." Severus studied the room. "It may take a while for the effects to show."

"Well, we're not sticking around to wait for that to happen. C'mon, maybe Remus could use some cheering up."

The Hospital wing was deserted, albeit five occupied beds, and Madam Pomfrey, who came up to meet the four as soon as they entered.

"Are you here to visit Remus?" When they nodded, she whispered, "He's awake. I gave him a potion to ease his pain, so you have just about ten minutes before he falls asleep."

Harry approached the bed first. Remus was lying under a single sheet, sweat glistening on his forehead. He was curled into a nearly fetal position on his side. He shifted over onto his back when he saw his friends, smiling weakly.

"Hello," Remus looked up at them, eyes bright against his tired, shadowed face.

"How are you feeling?" asked Lily gently.

"Fine." Pink rose beneath Remus; cheeks, then his jaw tightened in pain. In an effort to prove he was okay, he pushed himself into a seated position. He brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes and frowned at their varied looks of concern.

"The potion…that would help me…kind of made things worse. But I'm fine."

Lily put her hand on his. "Who gave it to you?"

Remus stared at her fingers. "Dumbledore made it. Anyway, how is the party going?"

Harry glanced at the others. "You're not missing anything. Someone tampered with the drinks, and I'd bet Professor McGonagall is going to tell them off later."

Remus seemed to cheer up slightly at the news. "It must be pretty awful if you left to visit me."

"We'd visit you anyway! But about the party…" Lily told him how James, Sirius, and Peter had trapped them.

Remus shifted uncomfortably. He didn't want to say anything bad about his other friends, but he managed to nod or murmur agreement with Lily's frustration. "I'm sorry about what happened. When I'm better, I'll…" He yawned. His eyes were nearly shut now. "Well, goodnight."

When the others began to leave, Remus motioned for Harry to talk to him. Harry leaned in so the others wouldn't hear.

"The full moon's the day after tomorrow," whispered Remus to Harry, although he had already known; his watch kept track of it. November 2nd, the Tuesday before his first Quidditch match.

"I'll come after dinner then, okay?"

Remus nodded, his face pale, and drifted off to sleep.

By Tuesday, everyone was a little down; Lily had given up on trying to tell a story to a distracted Severus, who gazed over at the Slytherin table. Though James only had a small crush on Lily so far, he was still a bit sour that she hadn't taken to the party. Sirius was cross with his family, who had refused to send him things he asked for because they were still upset at his placement into Gryffindor instead of Slytherin. James had been buying supplies for their various endeavors, and although he insisted that he didn't mind, Sirius felt guilty.

"Hey, Lily." James sidled closer to Lily when he noticed Severus wasn't listening to her. "You can tell me."

"The story? But…it's about you," she replied, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh?" James faltered and blushed, realizing quickly that it wasn't a kind conversation. "Er, then never mind."

Sirius snickered.

Raven wasn't with them. She never ate much for lunch, and probably took this opportunity to go off to a meet up with some Slytherins.

The day went by as usual. Remus wasn't at dinner, the excuse this time was that he was sick but couldn't have visitors, and no one questioned it. Harry drifted from the group when they were walking back from the Great Hall and, when he was certain no one was around, threw on his invisibility cloak.

The sky through the windows was darkening quickly; he had misjudged when to leave. By the time Harry was outside, it was black. He hurried across the grounds, under the Whomping Willow, through the tunnel and to the Shrieking Shack.

Remus had already transformed; Harry heard him growling through the doorway. By transfiguring a piece of stray wood lying nearby into a mouse, Harry got past him and made it to the second floor. This time, Harry had brought the day's homework and a journal to write in before he fell asleep. He also brought a package of meat to throw down the hole in the floor to feed Remus.

After setting up the transfigured mice and finishing his homework, Harry opened his journal. He decided, in an attempt to fill the void the absence of his friends created, he would write a letter to them, or whenever he had time. He wouldn't send it, but writing out how he felt would help him cope.

He wrote about Remus first, because that was what initially came to mind, then about his friends and their problems, and finally about himself. And what he missed.

By the time Harry finished writing, it was midnight. He made himself a comfortable place to sleep, then tossed the meat down for Remus.

That was the last thing he remembered before he fell asleep. And after what seemed like moments later, he was being lightly shaken awake.

"Jacob?" a soft voice above him said.

"Mm? Remus? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. We don't have to leave yet, but, er, how do you do that spell? To make the ground comfortable?"

"Oh, sure. I'll show you." Harry put on his glasses and Remus came into better focus. His clothing was very tattered, but he looked unharmed.

"Here." Harry taught him what to say and how to motion with his wand. Before he'd finished demonstrating, Remus started to cry.

"What's wrong?" Harry asked, shocked and unsure what to do.

But Remus was unable to speak. He covered his face with his hands as he cried, not wanting Harry to see him in the state he was in.

"I—I'm sorry," he choked.

"What for? It's okay to…cry."

"I d-don't deserve to have a—a friend like you. I'm a freak. Nobody likes me, not really. If James and Sirius…if anyone else found out, they—they wouldn't want to be friends with me. Or…or they'd be too—too scared of me to not be friends with me!" He let out a shuddering gasp.

"That's not true," said Harry firmly.

"How do you know?" demanded Remus sharply. Then he looked down, ashamed. "You don't know what it's like…to be what I am."

Harry was about to reply defiantly, but caught himself. "No, I don't," he agreed. "But James and Sirius aren't the kind of people who would abandon you because you're a werewolf. That wouldn't matter to them. It doesn't matter to me! And they're closer to you than I am."

Remus nodded. Then he abruptly looked sick and stumbled forward. Harry caught him before he hit the ground and gasped. There was a growing spot of blood on his back.

"What the hell…?" Harry bent down and pulled apart the back of Remus' shirt along a large rip. There was gash in his back with a piece of wood poking out. "How did this happen…" he muttered, mind working furiously to think of a spell to use to heal him. He realized he didn't know anything effective enough to fix it and moved quickly out of the shack.

He realized Hogsmeade was closer than the castle. If he could get help from someone there…Aberforth.

Harry levitated Remus and blasted out the front door of the Shack. It was cold in Hogsmeade, colder than around Hogwarts. The sky was still dark; Harry's watch read 5:12.

Harry hurried along the street until he saw the Hog's Head. He knocked first, not knowing what sort of protective spell might be set on the building. He knocked again, painfully aware of little time they had.

"Alohomora," said Harry, pointing at the door, and went inside. Immediately, a few candles flared, and a goat that had been lying across the room bleated.

There was a thump upstairs and a man in gray pajamas shuffled quickly down the stairs, wand at the ready. He spotted Harry and drew his wand, but Harry interjected.

"Wait! Aberforth, I need you to help me! My friend is hurt…" He gestured to Remus, who didn't seem to be breathing. "Can you help me, please?" His voice cracked with desperation. "I can't answer your questions right now, we don't have time."

Aberforth looked from him to the floating boy. The resemblance to his brother struck Harry just as it had the first time they'd met.

The goat that had been scared away earlier clomped over to Harry and stood by him.

Aberforth sighed drowsily and approached Remus, eyes locked on the wound. He passed his wand over the gash, closed his eyes, and murmured a string of words that were incomprehensible. The piece of wood lifted out of Remus with a nasty sliding sound. Harry grimaced and clenched his teeth. Not again. He can't die again, he thought. I wouldn't be able to live with myself, even if I could reverse it.

Wordlessly, Aberforth guided Remus upstairs. Harry stayed where he was and waited. He shook with emotion and clenched his fists to staunch his fear.

"He'll live. I put him in the guest room upstairs and cleaned up his back," Aberforth informed him when he returned, ten minutes later, looking shaken. By then, Harry's lip bled from biting it, and his fingernails had carved grooves in his palms.

"Thank you," said Harry, and sat down wearily on a chair that was next to him.

"Now, explain yourself."

Harry studied the younger version of the man, who appeared less aged and had gray hair instead of white. "I'm Jacob Walker. The boy who you healed is Remus Lupin."

Aberforth noted Harry's uniform. "You're from Hogwarts."

Harry nodded. "Dumbledore knows we're out, but he doesn't know Remus got hurt."

"Why were you away from the school this early, anyhow?"

Harry took a deep breath. "Remus is a werewolf. He is taken out of the school for his safety—well, everyone's safety."

Aberforth was surprised, a strange expression on his solemn face. "He won't…transform, will he?" Aberforth glanced upwards to where Remus lay, in bed.

"No. But, anyway, I go with him on the nights he transforms because if he doesn't have anything to attack…he attacks himself. I don't know how he got that wound, though. I was thinking…I could go to the castle and get Dumbledore to pick Remus up later this morning, when he's well enough to be moved."

"Right. Two boys come out of nowhere early in the morning, one of them seriously injured, and the other wants to bolt, saying he'll get his headmaster? We'll send an owl to Albus, that way I can know for sure if you're telling the truth." Aberforth paused. "How old are you? You couldn't be older than fifth year, right?"

"I'm in my first year," Harry responded, puzzled. Did he really seem mature enough for fifth year?

"Really?" Aberforth squinted at him, but a chime from the clock on the wall across them interrupted his thoughts. It was six o'clock.

"But besides that, wouldn't I have already left when I had the chance? I'll be late for class if I stay behind, and people will ask where I was, they'll realize I'm gone."

Aberforth grunted. "Fine. I'm still sending an owl."

"Thank you. And I'll talk to Dumbledore." He glanced at the painting of Ariana, then left the Hog's Head.

Harry ran as much of the way to the castle as he could. He came up with an excuse in case anyone noticed he wasn't there: He hadn't been able to sleep, so he got up early, or if they'd seen him get up in the middle of the night, he'd gone to the bathroom. But if someone had proof against his excuse? What was he supposed to do? He could ask Dumbledore once he got to his office. He had managed to get away last time without anyone saying anything, but he needed a plan for when they became suspicious, just like with Remus. They couldn't be sick or have family emergencies at the same time.

Harry slowed down just before the front doors. He used a few spells to clean up, then he put on his invisibility cloak. Thankfully, the front doors were now opened (it was just past 6:30), so he had no trouble entering.

He hurried to Dumbledore's office, where he took off his cloak, recited the password Dumbledore had given in case of emergency, and leapt up the stairs, two at a time, until he reached the door.

The door swung open as soon as Harry knocked. Dumbledore was at his desk, writing. A plain brown owl was curiously observing Fawkes, who was asleep.

"Ah, Mr. Walker. How was your journey?"

"Er, good." He'd met the gaze of those blue eyes already this morning.

"I hear you have met my brother. I received his owl to inform me of the incident. I plan on picking up Mr. Lupin shortly."

Harry sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I'm sorry for the trouble. I don't know how it happened. The whole point of me being with him…"

Dumbledore met his eyes, the picture of sympathy. "It is not your fault. You did the right thing by going to my brother, though why you chose the Hog's Head, I do not know. Anyhow, without your quick thinking, well…we should not dwell on that." He smiled kindly. "I will ask Madam Pomfrey to help you with a spell to heal wounds. So you will be prepared, if this should happen again."

Harry nodded solemnly and stood up.

Dumbledore spoke before Harry shut the door behind him. "Oh, and Jacob?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Good luck Saturday."

"Thank you, sir."

When he left the office, Harry realized he forgot to ask what he should say when anyone got suspicious of Remus' absence. He decided he would be able to handle it when the moment came.

He had barely walked a minute when James, Sirius, and Peter spotted him from behind. "Hey, Jacob, where've you been?"

"What do you mean?" Harry swore in his head; he had forgotten to put on the invisibility cloak.

"Well, you were gone all night, weren't you?" There were shadows under their eyes—they knew.

"I didn't realize it was that long…" Harry bought time to think of an excuse.

"You didn't realize what was that long?

"That—ugh, I'm going to be sick again…" Harry clutched his stomach and ran off in the direction of the nearest bathroom.

He hoped they bought it and believed he'd just been ill. For improvising, it wasn't that horrid of a performance. But even so…they weren't that thick; maybe they had guessed that the absence of Remus and Harry was linked.

At breakfast, Harry felt as though he could fall asleep right on his plate of eggs and toast.

Lily arrived at breakfast a half an hour later and greeted him cheerfully. "Hi, Jacob!"

"Hey. Where are Severus and Raven?"

Lily's bright mood faded slightly. "I don't know. Are you feeling okay?"

"Just a little tired," replied Harry, yawning.

"Here, Sev gave this to me." She pulled out a vial filled with a yellow liquid. "He has trouble sleeping, and I've been staying up late with homework, so he brewed a bunch of this stuff. Just add a bit to your drink."

Harry gratefully took the vial and added some of it to his pumpkin juice. He downed the glass and instantly felt better.

"Thanks, Lily." He noticed her fidgeting. "What's wrong?"

"Did you hear what happened yesterday after dinner?"

Harry shook his head, a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. Lily was clearly glad to tell someone the story and began in a hushed, hurried voice.

"One of the Slytherins cursed a Gryffindor because they thought they were working against You-Know-Who. Of course, the teachers think it was just a regular fight. 'Cause, you know, our houses get into fights all the time.

Good. It's not about Remus.

A fourth-year boy with sandy hair overheard Lily telling Harry what had happened and leaned in to add to the story. "But it was planned, you see. She was cornered by a few of them, and they cursed her. But the thing is, the last spell their wands had cast was completely harmless—a repairing spell. And there were no other witnesses, so no one knows what really happened." The boy's friend stood up and nudged him to go. Before following his friend to the Ravenclaw table, he added, "They're both in the hospital, but the Slytherins got off with only a baldness charm."

Lily and Harry were silent for a minute. "What do you think about Slytherin house?" Harry asked Lily, hoping she didn't feel like he was questioning her too much.

Lily frowned. "I don't like what they're doing. I've overheard what Slytherins talk about—You-Know-Who. I had no idea who he was until a month ago when Cassandra, a second year, told me about him. About what he does to people. And that all the Slytherins are planning on joining him."

"And you think all of them will? What about Professor Slughorn?"

"But he's older! Well…I guess not all Slytherins, but I haven't heard any of them say that they aren't going to join You-Know-Who."

"Maybe they're just scared. Because you're saying that you think all—or nearly all—of them join Voldemort—"

Lily gasped.

"…I mean, You-Know-Who…so don't you think they might feel pressured into it?"

Lily thought hard. "I guess…" she said slowly. Something dawned on her. "Jacob, you don't think Raven and Sev—that they might want to be Death Eaters? Do you think they wished they were Slytherins? Because, well, Raven's whole family was in Slytherin, and Sev wanted to be in Slytherin until you told him not to be!"

"You should ask him," suggested Harry.

"I will."

The first class of the day was Defense against the Dark Arts, ironically. As their professor got ready to teach, everyone chatted noisily.

"Sev? Can we talk?" Lily asked him.

Severus blinked and nodded. He was standing by the side of his desk, and his hands, which gripped the edge, tightened.

"I want to know if you've been meeting with Slytherins. Or doing the Dark Arts, or anything like that."

"Did Jacob tell you about it?" Severus glared at Harry.

"Jacob? No…" Harry met her glance, then pretended not to listen. "But it doesn't matter. Sev, can you just tell me? Please?" She looked up at Severus, eyes wide and pleading.

"Okay. Yes, I have," he confessed, wanting desperately to look away, but unable to do so.

"Please take a seat, class," Professor Trabet said, patting her short, neat hair.

"Oh, Severus, why…!" Lily stopped because the sound in the room had died down.

For the rest of class, Severus maintained a furrowed expression, and Lily kept glancing at him in concern.

After class, Lily rushed to meet Severus. "Promise me you won't do anything…bad? I can't make you promise you won't hang out with them, but at least promise you won't do what they're doing."

"Okay," said Severus, as if not saying the exact phrase "I promise" would absolve him of guilt.

As Severus and Lily returned to a more casual conversation, Harry spotted Neville's dad and two friends walking in the hallway.

"C'mon, Frank, you know that it wouldn't do any good to pick a fight with Lucius."

"Yeah, at least the prick got his badge taken away."

"That's not enough for what he did to Alice. He's a rotten little…" their conversation faded out of earshot.

Harry was stunned. "I didn't know Alice was the one who was cursed." And Lucius who cursed her. Alice, Neville's mother, is already a target?

Lily was unfazed by the story—for a first-year, it was outside of her world and deep concern. "Yeah. I heard more about what happened today. He could've been expelled, but he told Professor Slughorn she started it, and she told Professor McGonagall he started it, so they just got a warning. He just has a ton of detention, and he's not a prefect anymore. Someone said…" her voice dropped to a whisper, finally acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, "…someone said he told her they would do much worse to her when she graduated, if they could prove she was part of something against You-Know-Who…but that's just a rumor."

"Yeah, a rumor." Harry shuddered.

In November, everyone attended the first Quidditch game, unfazed by the cold and cloudy weather. Even Severus came. Harry guessed it was not just because Lily was going, but also because Severus wanted to show he wanted to stay friends with Harry.

As the stands filled with people, Violetta gave the Gryffindor team a pep talk.

"This is it, everyone. The first game of the season. We have a great team this year…only one new member, Jacob, and everyone is on top of their game." The second youngest player was in his fifth year, and the rest were in their sixth and seventh years. The third boy was in his seventh year, the other four players were girls. It was apparently only the sixth year in Hogwarts history that a Gryffindor team had more girls than boys on the team.

"Just do your best, and have fun!" Violetta didn't want to put pressure on them to win, but Harry could tell she wanted a victory very badly. The whistle sounded outside and the team marched out, gripping their brooms tightly. The audience swelled with cheers as the Slytherins and Gryffindors took their place on either side of the field.

A young Madam Hooch released the Snitch, which flitted away, out of sight. Harry searched the sky for a flash of gold as the captains shook hands, a little roughly. Hooch gave a brief speech to the teams, then, in a flurry of motion and sound, everyone took flight.

Harry could feel the eyes of most of the students as he rose quickly above the other players. When scanning the field, he noticed Dumbledore was watching him, one hand propped under his chin. The Slytherin Seeker idled far away on the other side of the field; Harry couldn't see who he or she was, but didn't think either of them were having much luck.

And suddenly, there was a small movement down at the edge of the field, almost directly under the Slytherin Seeker. Harry casually moved forward, but to the right so he wouldn't draw attention to the Snitch below. He kept his eyes on both the Snitch and the other Seeker; both were gradually moving toward him. And, just as the boy came into view—Lucius Malfoy, apparently able to play—Harry shot in the opposite direction toward the Snitch. The crowd's cheers escalated as he neared the Snitch.

Lucius was right behind him but still too far to have a chance. Harry's fingers closed around the Snitch.

Furious, Lucius dove straight into Harry and nearly knocked him off his broom.

Harry dangled dangerously in the air, only one hand gripping the Nimbus. There were a few screams and gasps, but they died out as Harry shoved the Snitch in his pocket and managed to pull himself up. Then Harry reached inside his uniform, pulled out the Snitch and thrust his fist into the air.

The audience roared.

Harry touched down on the ground, grinning broadly. His team swarmed around him, cheering, some pumping their fists. The Gryffindor Beaters held Harry up easily as he waved at the crowd. The game had been tied—20 to 20—before he had caught the Snitch.

Lucius scowled at him from the Slytherin side of the field, as he was lectured by Madam Hooch for blatching; flying with the intent to collide. Harry was happy to see the baldness charm Alice set on him had worked; Lucius took off his helmet on the way to the dressing rooms and, after the clouds opened overhead, his bald head glinted.

The whole school was alight with the excitement over the game and the unmatched skill of the previously unknown Jacob Walker. If Severus had been around the rest of the day, he would have been thoroughly annoyed by the attention Harry was getting.

James, after brooding for a while, came up to Harry with Sirius at his side.

"Good game, Jacob," he said, like a boy whose mum had forced him to be nice on the playground.

Sirius gave James a look, then said to Harry, "Malfoy's face was priceless."

"Yeah, he looked like he could curse you," added James, with difficulty.

Harry thought back to Alice. It was a mystery to him that Lucius hadn't been suspended from Quidditch for the year. Lucius' father likely had as much influence as Lucius had when advocating for Draco in Harry's time.

"Well, okay, are we done here?" James turned away impatiently.

"Thank you," blurted Harry.

James looked at him strangely before walking away.

As he could shake off his new admirers and his friends, Harry visited the Hospital wing. There were no other visitors, and only two of the beds were occupied.

Madam Pomfrey intercepted him before he reached either of the beds. "Are you here to visit Remus?"

"Him and Alice."

"Oh, you're Mr. Walker, right? The Headmaster asked me to show you how to heal wounds in case of emergency." She eyed him closely. "How did the piece of wood impale him?"

Harry felt a cold surge rush across him. He had come up with a plausible explanation the night before. The spell he had cast to transform wood to mice must not have worked properly. It seemed as though Remus caught one of the mice and after he had eaten it, it transformed back into wood.

"It was my fault. An accident," he replied, not quite meeting her eyes.

"Hm. Well, when you're done, I'll help you." Madam Pomfrey studied him once more, then left to tend to the other patients.

Remus looked remarkably better, almost impatient. Books were laid out around him and he scribbled furiously on a piece of parchment. His face brightened when he saw Harry.

"Jacob! I'm just working on the Transfiguration essay." He put it aside and his smile faded as he registered Harry's somber expression. "What's wrong?"

"I figured out how this all happened," Harry began, pressing his lips together to hold his composure. "The wood I transfigured to turn into mice…you caught one, and ate it, which wasn't supposed to happen, and it turned back into a piece of wood inside you…"

"It's not your fault," Remus assured him, voice low.

"You could've died!" Everyone was taking it much too lightly. Madam Pomfrey glared at Harry, a finger to her lips.

"But I didn't. And look—" Remus pointed to his arms. "I don't have any new scratches."

"Except the huge gash in your back."

Remus sighed. "Listen—I don't blame you, so you shouldn't blame yourself. You've made the mistake once, and you'll know what to do next time."

Harry nodded to pacify Remus. But he didn't understand how scared Harry hd been. "I'm going to see Alice. Have you talked to her at all?"

"Yes, a bit. She's leaving in a couple days. She's really nice. Oh, and I'm leaving in a few hours, after Madam Pomfrey gives me my last dose of potion. I'll see you in the dorms."

"Yeah, see you then." Harry moved down three beds as James, Sirius, and Peter entered the Hospital wing.

Alice was awake, reading a black book whose title was only visible if seen at a certain angle. There was a significant amount of candy and flowers around her bed. Harry noticed a drawing of Lucius, which showed him losing his hair and crying. He would watch it grow back in a mirror, looking hopeful, only to see it drop off when it got to a certain length.

"Hello," said Alice warmly, putting down her book. "Have we met?"

"No, sorry, I'm Ha—Jacob Walker."

"Nice to meet you." She smiled, perhaps misunderstanding his awkwardness.

"Jacob!" A bright voice piped up behind him. Harry turned and saw Violetta approach holding a bouquet of pink flowers. When she placed them in the sunlight, the flowers appeared to dance.

"How do you know Alice?" Violetta flicked her wand and her long blonde hair went up into a tight ponytail.

"I…we actually just met."

"Oh, cool. I've told her how good—no, extraordinary—you are at Quidditch," said Violetta. "Though, not how you beat Lucius today."

Alice smirked. "I'd love to hear that story."

Violetta told her an exaggerated, more dramatic version of the game, and how Lucius handled the loss. "…He nearly snapped his broom, banging it on the ground like an angry troll when Jacob caught the Snitch. Looked like one, too, with his ugly bald head. I swear, he might blind someone with that glare…"

After a few other stories involving their friends and Lucius, Violetta let Harry speak. "What was it you wanted to say to Alice?"

Harry paused, collecting his thoughts. "I wanted to tell you how, er, brave you were. Facing Lucius and joining…well, you know." He flashed back to seeing Alice and Frank at St. Mungo's. Alice couldn't understand fully where he was coming from, that she would be tortured but remain loyal to the Order.

"Thank you." Alice smiled at him, though concern about what he knew was visible in her eyes.

"It was nice talking to you," said Harry, taking a last look at her strong, familiar face before leaving.

Things had changed significantly in the few months since school started. Harry had so many other people's issues and emotions on his plate that he was beginning to ignore his own. His dreams were the only place for him to dwell on the people he left behind in his own time.

The Marauders didn't question Remus and Harry when they disappeared once more on December 2nd. Severus only asked Harry where Remus had gone a couple days before the full moon, when Remus had been too sick to attend class. They used the excuse of a family emergency instead of Remus being ill.

Severus and Raven were gone that evening, along with Lily (who was up in the girls' dorms) and Remus, on the evening of December 2nd. The full moon had risen in the morning and lasted throughout the day, so Harry missed his classes under the excuse that he wasn't feeling well.

"Hey, Jacob," said Sirius, sitting on a chair next to Harry in the common room.

Harry started. Sirius seemed amazingly casual. What had changed? He looked back down in his journal and continued writing.

James walked in, holding two cups, his hair ruffled in all directions, as always. He sat next to Sirius, ignoring Harry.

"I got you a cup of pumpkin juice," said James, holding it out for Sirius.

"I thought I said I just wanted water."

"Well, you can get it yourself, I you want," James snapped.

"Fine." Sirius left in a huff.

There was an awkward pause.

"Do you want some pumpkin juice?" James asked, after staring into his cup.

"Sure, thanks," Harry replied, taking the cup from him.

James leaned forward slightly, eyes locked on Harry as he drank from his cup. Harry tried not to acknowledge this by looking around the room.

"What have you been going these past few months at the same time as Remus?" James asked as Harry set down his empty cup.

"I help Remus when he transforms into a werewolf," Harry answered automatically. His eyes widened. Truth Serum.


Chapter 7: Revelare Viam
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"I help him when he transforms into a werewolf."

Harry gasped. He looked from the drink to James' stunned face, then bolted out of the portrait hole. With a look to make sure the coast was clear, he pulled his invisibility cloak out of his robes.

Just as he disappeared, James and Sirius came running out from around the corner.

"Who are your best friends?" James shouted, knowing that Harry would be forced to answer if he was within earshot, and they could find him. They didn't expect anything unusual.

"Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley!" Harry shouted in an equally loud voice as he ran in the opposite direction. He tried to cast a Muffling Charm to block out any future responses, but found he was unable to do so. Then, to his relief, he found a hiding place—the one-eyed witch statue. He tapped the statue with his wand, muttered "Dissendium," and got inside before James and Sirius caught up to him.

Harry contemplated waiting out the potion, but figured it would take too long. If only he had mastered Occlumency…he tried saying a lie to himself. "My name is J—J—Harry…" He stopped. What had Severus taught him in the Occlumency lessons? Clear your mind. But he couldn't, not when he'd just given away his friend's secret.

Harry knew he couldn't stand by when James and Sirius had the information. He couldn't modify their memories without risking permanent damage…but he could body-bind the pair until the potion wore off. He left the tunnel, cloak on, wand at the ready.

"I heard something this way!" James called from down the corridor. He sprinted in Harry's direction.

"Are you really…" James paused, Harry hesitated, which gave James just enough time to continue, "…who you say you are?"

Harry had no choice but to answer. "No. Petrificus Totalus!"

"James? Where'd you go?" Sirius appeared, comically shocked when he spotted James frozen on the ground.

"What the—" Sirius limbs snapped together and he fell to the ground before he could finish.

Despite Harry's relief that the information was contained, that James hadn't asked a more revealing question, Harry was nervous. He flipped them over so they wouldn't see him take off his cloak, then waited for the potion to wear off.

"My name is Ha—" he muttered periodically. Ten minutes later, he felt his jaw relax, allowing him to say, "My name is Jacob Walker."

Harry disarmed Sirius and James, pocketed their wands, then released the two boys. They jumped up, staring at Harry, who kept his wand raised.

"It's impressive that you made Veritaserum."

James glared at Harry, eyes narrowed. The expression only lasted a moment, he looked back at the ground, still processing the news.

"I have to take you to Dumbledore. He'll decide what to do, now that you know." The fact hit Harry hard once more…How would Remus react? What if it was too early for them to find out, and they wouldn't accept Remus?

James looked as though he might resist Harry, but knew he wasn't in a position to do so.

The three made their way through the seventh floor corridor and down the staircase. A few students looked at them, trying to assess if they needed help, but James nor Sirius said anything.

When the reached the third floor, James spoke. "I asked you if you were really who you said you were. You said no."

Harry frowned. There had to be a way out of giving the truth. "I said no because…the question was really vague. I said no because I…interpreted it as if you asked if I felt like I acted like my true self, and wasn't putting on an act. And I feel like I am putting on an act. Everyone sees me as really good at Quidditch, and smart, but they don't really know me. That's a guess, I dunno why, exactly."

Was Harry's response too heartfelt? James might have believed him, but it was hard to tell. It was the last thing anyone said until they reached the entrance on the first floor.

The gargoyle gave way to the Headmaster's office.

When they had barely entered the room, Dumbledore spoke. "You may lower your wand, Mr. Walker."

Harry did so and turned to face Dumbledore, this ghost of his past, who studied the odd trio over steepled fingers.

"Sir, they found out about Remus." Harry's voice was solemn, intense.

Dumbledore nodded slowly. "How, may I ask…?"

"Veritaserum, I think."

Dumbledore studied James and Sirius with his piercing blue eyes. "I expected better from you two. The use of Veritaserum is highly restricted in the wizarding world."

"Remus wouldn't tell us! What were we supposed to do?" James caught himself. "Sorry, sir."

"Surely you could have thought of something other than a truth serum."

Finally, the boys looked ashamed.

"Now," Dumbledore continued, standing, "I doubt it will be a problem, but out of respect for your friend, you must not tell anyone."

"What about Peter?"

"Seeing as he is part of your group, it would be hard to keep it from him. However, outside of you four, and Jacob…" The Headmaster paced before them. "People would feel endangered knowing a werewolf is attending Hogwarts. Not everyone would react the same way as you have to Remus' situation."

Harry wondered, how were James and Sirius reacting to this new discovery? They were a bit shaken, but otherwise he would have to wait and see.

"I recommend speaking with Remus. Tonight would be best. This involves him, he can decide what to do. For now, I bid you good night. Thank you, Jacob."

Harry nodded, unable to speak. He held down his feelings so he wouldn't get choked up, or get teary-eyed. Each meeting with Dumbledore was increasingly painful.

The journey to the Hospital wing was dreadfully awkward. Harry only spoke to give them advice. "What Remus feared most was you'd find out and not want to be friends with him. As long as he knows you'll all still be friends, and will help him, even, he won't want your memories erased."

Remus was asleep when they got there. He seemed to be having a nightmare; his face was scrunched up in discomfort and his hands were clenched before him. Harry cast a Muffling Charm so the couple other patients wouldn't hear.

"Remus?" Harry touched his shoulder.

Remus' eyes opened drowsily. "Jacob?" He rubbed his head and looked at his company. "James, Sirius…what's…?"

"Listen, Remus. They gave me this truth serum and I was forced to tell them you were a werewolf. But—"

Remus was brought abruptly out of his post-sleep daze. "What?" He didn't know how to react other than to look worriedly from James and Sirius to Harry.

"We don't mind that you're a werewolf!" said James quickly.

"Yeah, you'd have to be the King of Gits to give a damn if his best friend were a werewolf."

"So you do give a damn, then, Sirius?" James joked. They both laughed.

"Dumbledore said you get to decide how to deal with this," Harry told Remus, who was staring at his hands, face twisting as different emotions struggled to surface.

"Why did you make Jacob tell you about my…problem?" asked Remus, dumbfounded. He had settled on being confused and upset, brown eyes shining up at the three.

James and Sirius glanced at each other. "We knew you weren't telling the truth, you wouldn't tell us what was really going on—"

"There's a reason I kept it a secret! What if people find out?" Remus' voice rose.

James and Sirius were stunned by his outburst. "Well…they won't find out. Your secret's safe with us."

"You don't understand—" began Remus, but Sirius cut him off.

"No, you don't understand. We honestly don't care that you're a werewolf. You could be a—a vampire, secretly a girl for that matter…"

"Now, being a girl is more likely than a vampire. You do have some feminine qualities, Remus," interjected James, grinning.

"Anyway, it's better if we do know because, well, it's sort of hard to keep from us, and we could find a way to help you!"

Remus no longer looked angry, he was just serious. "Fine. I'm sorry. I—I just was worried. If anyone else found out, well…"

"They won't," James promised him firmly.

"Just know—I'll make their lives miserable if they do," Harry assured Remus.

"Well, we won't," repeated James, though his smile held a hint of his annoyance.

"But if you do, just know the consequences." Harry had now turned to James, eyes flaring up.

"Right. I think I already know the consequences." James was more than ready to fight.

"Oh, you do, do you?" Harry pulled out his wand, and James did the same.

"I think you made it very clear when you used that Body-Bind Curse."

"You think Remus should trust you when you forced me to talk?" Harry snapped, his voice rising.

"Oh, shut up, you—" James called Harry something vulgar that was half-masked by a gasp at the other end of the room. Madam Pomfrey shuffled over, took five points from Gryffindor, and made them leave.

"Let him rest, he needs sleep to get better. Shoo." The three trudged back to the Tower, James and Harry arguing, Sirius in tow.

After that night, the Marauders had an unspoken connection to Harry. Unspoken as in, at first, it seemed as though it would not have any effect on the visible relationship between them.

"So, what do you do to help him? Remus, I mean." It was a week later and a few days after the second Quidditch match, which they easily won. It was also the first time one of the Marauders other than Remus himself had talked about his problem.

Harry looked at James. It was like seeing the reflection of his true appearance, his younger self, except for the eyes. He wondered…could they be friends now?

"Er, well, I charm things inside the Shrieking Shack—"

"What's the Shrieking Shack?" James interrupted.

Oh, right. He knew nothing about the process. "It's where Remus goes to transform. There's a tunnel underneath the Whomping Willow that leads to it."

"Why's it called the Shrieking Shack?"

Shit. Harry realized the shack didn't—and probably wouldn't—earn that nickname because of his help. "Er, I don't know why I called it that."

James looked at him strangely, but moved on. "So what do you do?"

"I charm things into mice, or other small animals, so Remus can chase them. But they're also enchanted so he can't catch them." Or at least, he's not supposed to catch them.

James nodded. He seemed to want to leave, but he didn't have a valid excuse.

Remus, Sirius, and Peter joined them.

"We came up with a solution to help Remus," said Sirius, voice low, so the other people who were entering the room wouldn't hear.

"Well, it was Sirius, really, but—"

Peter set down the pile of books he had been carrying with a huff. The top one read Advanced Transfiguration: Long Term Spells, and looked very worn.

"Remus said he doesn't attack animals when he's, you know…so I thought: what if we found a way to become animals? And we read about Animagi."

"I've heard of them before." Harry was surprised they had come up with the solution so fast.

"It's really advanced magic, though." It was Remus who spoke up. "And I thought, well, you're the best in our year, so you could help. I—If you wanted to."

Harry immediately said yes, he'd love to help, but he realized a second too late what the problem was. He did want to help them, make sure nothing went wrong, but his form would be a stag. Like his dad. Would James be suspicious if they had the same form?

Harry couldn't take it back, not when Remus' face lit up how it did.

Sirius glanced upstairs. "Well, we were going to look through the books."

"Right then." James stood up, resenting Remus' compliment to Harry, that he was best in their year. He pushed ahead of Harry and led the other four up the stairs, affirming that he was the leader of the pack.

A week prior to Christmas, Harry had all his gifts figured out. His owl, Enoch, had been gone for a large portion of the year, out on the grounds or in the Owlery. He liked Harry, but hadn't been given anything to do, which Harry could tell frustrated him. Now, Enoch, in his cage, hooted happily at the sight of all the mail.

James received numerous large parcels leading up to the last day before holidays to give to friends, relishing their curiosity. Raven could be seen around the common room with her sketchbook, tucked close to her so no one would see. Sirius' family sent him a mere five galleons, a third of what he asked for. Harry knew this because he spent an entire day muttering and complaining about them all being "…stingy, miserable, and old."

"Are you getting Lily anything for Christmas?" Harry asked Severus, who frowned, annoyed.

His bed was covered in pieces of parchment, various books, and numerous vials. When he was this far into his work, he did not like being bothered. "Yeah, but why do you care? I'm not talking to you about it."

Harry looked back at him just as sourly. "Okay. I'm going to clean up."

"Okay," replied Severus, still invested in the book he was reading. When Harry left, he realized how abrasive he'd been and pounded his head with his fist. "Stupid," he muttered.

Harry washed his face in the sink and studied his reflection. He was now more accustomed to, when he looked in the mirror, seeing the dirty blonde hair, the stark blue eyes, and the place he had decided to put a small, fake birthmark, or sometimes a patch that blended into his skin. His bangs, however, were the easiest way to cover his scar.

Harry ran a hand through his hair and dried off by muttering, "Exaresco." By now, he had memorized the spells to keep his appearance from changing. He waved his wand, acting quickly but carefully, until his no hints of Harry Potter showed through.

James came into the bathroom, looking nervous in the moment before he saw Harry. "Oh. Hi."

"Hello." Harry managed to fit the book into his robes, but James noticed.

"What was that?"

"A book on…dueling." Harry twirled his wand in his fingers in an attempt to intimidate him.

James was not impressed by this explanation. He strode up to Harry and pointed his wand at his chest.

"There is something off about you. And I'm going to figure out what it is." He glared at Harry until he thought he had made enough of an impression, then he lowered his wand and let Harry leave.

Back in the dorm, Harry took his bag out of one of his drawers. I need to make sure he doesn't dig through my stuff. He cast a spell that would only allow access if he said a certain phrase.

"Again?" Harry heard someone behind him say under their breath. James had just entered the dorm.

"I was just leaving," said Harry. His father stared at the drawer, eyes narrowed.

Before James left on the Friday before Christmas, Sirius begged him, "Send an owl, please." Sirius looked back at Harry and Severus and sighed dramatically.

James clapped him on the back. "Of course. See ya, Remus, Peter."

"Bye." The only first years staying behind were Sirius, Severus, and Harry. Raven was invited to stay at Lily's for Christmas. Lily had gotten into an argument with her parents about letting Harry and Severus stay, but her parents said no, with the promise that she could stay at Hogwarts one year and another her other friends could come for the holidays.

Everyone said their farewells, then attended the first holiday dinner. Christmas trees were at every corner of the Hall, bearing an assorted collection of huge ornaments. Dumbledore wore deep green robes and a brilliant smile. The other teachers appeared less stressed and were also getting into a more festive mood.

Sirius was already considerably nicer to Harry, but he ignored Severus, save for the occasional snide remark.

There were a couple fourth years and one sixth year from Gryffindor, with only four additional people from Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, so Sirius was stuck with Severus and Harry as company.

"Why didn't you go to your family's place?" Harry asked Sirius, though he knew the answer.

"Because they're a load of evil gits, that's why." After a moment's hesitation, he asked, "And what about you?"

"My parents are Muggles, and they're scared of me." Even his invented life was depressing.

Sirius smiled, then snorted, and soon they were both laughing at their misfortune. It took a moment for Sirius to catch himself and realize they weren't friends, that they didn't like each other, and he went back to poking at his food.

"Have you heard from your parents, Severus?" asked Harry, after losing himself in thought over his and Sirius' exchange. He looked to his right, where Severus slouched in his seat.

"No." He gave Harry a strange look. Of course he wouldn't have.

"Well, we'll make the best of it. The feasts are excellent. Er, so I've heard."

There was nearly a week of awkward, forced conversations, and increased tension between Sirius and Severus. Comments like "Christ, how long has it been since you've touched a bar of soap, Snivellus!" and, "You were gone a while. Not that I'm complaining. Did you make any potions to make you less of a dirty little—"

"Oh, shut up, Sirius," was Harry's endless refrain.

On Christmas morning, Severus got up first, accidentally waking up Sirius and Harry by tripping over the presents at the foot of his bed. In hindsight, it was understandable because Severus hadn't expected gifts, but at the time Harry was not happy at being woken up at six in the morning.

"Ugh, you dumbass," groaned Sirius when he sat up and rubbed his eyes. With the prospect of presents, they couldn't fall back asleep, so the three laid out the gifts on their beds and began to unwrap them.

Harry noticed Severus delicately set aside Lily's sky blue box, saving it for last. Sirius groaned for the second time after opening the box from his parents. Inside, there was a silver-and-green Slytherin scarf, a new pair of long, white socks, and a few expensive white anti-cheating quills.

A moment later, Sirius said, nonplussed, to no one in particular, "Kreacher gave me something."

Harry almost laughed, but he had to redirect his grin toward the broom-polishing kit Lily gave him. It was the same thing Hermione had gotten him for his birthday.

It turned out Kreacher had given Sirius a neatly folded tissue. "At least he folded—GAH!" A spider fell out of the tissue and onto his lap. When it landed on him, it started to swell. Sirius jumped up and grabbed his wand from his nightstand and half-yelled, "Wingardium Leviosa!"

With a lurch, the spider rose into the air. Unable to resist scaring Severus, he guided the spider toward him.

"Suffosi!" Severus had been ready. The spider dropped onto the ground, started to scuttle away, but it slowed as if moving through tar. Soon, all movement stopped and it crumpled on the ground.

There was a very nasty silence, in which Harry tried to ignore the mad, satisfied glint in Severus' eye.

Sirius finally spoke. "Well…I can always count on Kreacher to make my parents seem like saints."

Harry chuckled, remembering the maggots Kreacher had given him as a gift one Christmas. Sirius smiled slightly at the reaction but said nothing.

Harry looked over at Severus, who had moved on to the gift he'd given him. Severus took what was inside—a silver pocket-watch—from its box, where it had sat on soft, purple lining. Although it was intricate and would be useful, he seemed a bit disappointed after examining it.

"Thank you," said Severus, knowing it had costed more than all his school supplies combined.

"You're welcome. I suppose it's an early birthday present, because of your owl, Luna…Oh—and I almost forgot, this came with the watch…" Harry opened one of his drawers and pulled out a small piece of paper. After Harry handed it to him, Severus read the small print softly to himself: "Revelare Viam."

Harry looked down at what Severus had given him, which had absentmindedly opened. It was a small chocolate broomstick. Severus looked over, a bit anxiously, and said, "I added a Draught of Peace, to help with stress and things…and if you're feeling nervous before matches."

"Thanks, Severus." He wasn't expecting a gift from him. Severus' shoulders dropped with relief that Harry liked the gift.

"Sweet!" exclaimed Sirius, holding the newest Nimbus—the same Harry had. "I need to send James an owl!" His face shone with excitement at the prospect of riding the second best broom in the world, outpaced only by the Firebolt Harry had stowed away in his dresser.

Harry spent the last of his money of gifts, so he would have to go back to his time for more money the next night. To Remus, he had sent a letter detailing the list of supplies they would needed for becoming Animagi and a check by the items he had got…which was almost everything, but they might need more supplies after they spent a few months researching further.

Severus was eying another gift, brow furrowed as he examined the large, black device. Suddenly, he blurted, "Oh!" and stowed it back into its box. At this, Harry gave him an inquiring look, which Severus ignored.

Lily and Raven had sent Harry a thick volume titled An Advanced Player's Guide to Quidditch: How to Make the Journey to Professional Teams. On the inside cover she had scribbled a note to him, saying how she hoped he found it useful and Happy Christmas! Raven had enclosed a sketch of Harry, which gave him a small smile that looked…sad. Is that what I look like to her? Or am I over-thinking it?

As grateful as Harry was to spend Christmas at Hogwarts, he wanted Hermione, Ron, and Ginny to be with him. It wasn't as bad as being on the run, as he had been not to long ago, definitely better than the Dursley's, but there was still something missing.

Sirius' pile of gifts included ones from his admirers, which he tossed aside. He had become, amazingly, annoyed by the girls who fancied him.

"'I hope this is useful,'" Severus read quietly to himself. "'Yours, Lily.'" In his palm rested a small, coin-sized object.

"Can I see it?" Harry held his hand out to Severus. For a moment, Severus looked as though he would say no, gripping it possessively, but after a moment he managed to pass it over.

Harry took the object delicately. It was heavy for its size, translucent, with runes carved on its surface. It was slightly warm, but the heat was coming from within.

"It's a protective charm," said Severus when Harry dropped it back into his outstretched hand. He spent a while after gazing outside the window, the charm clenched in his fist.

Harry put the card he had read from Remus aside and noted Sirius' astounding pile of gifts from friends and admirers. Sirius didn't seem self-conscious or sympathetic next to Harry and Severus' small collection; he acted as if he were the only one in the room.

The Christmas feast was spectacular, as always. The handful of people staying behind sat with the Hogwarts staff at one table. Dumbledore, dressed in lavender robes, welcomed them warmly. Harry thought Dumbledore's eyes lingered a bit longer on his, but he knew he had just imagined it.

There were Wizard Crackers placed along the table, which was new to Severus. He opened one, flinching when a sound like a gunshot went off.

Sirius snickered when Severus got a bar of soap. Severus smirked when Sirius opened a Cracker, yelping as two live mice ran from the Cracker into his lap.

This was background noise to Harry. He sat right across from Albus, and they talked through the whole two hours as if they had known each other for years. He thought of this on the way back Gryffindor Tower, and as he lay in bed that night, unable to stop smiling, or fall asleep. It was as though the Headmaster were alive again, and Harry felt content.

Toward the end of Christmas break, students began to trickle back to Hogwarts. Lily lit up the moment she saw Severus. He expected her from the wrong direction, so she snuck up and flung her arms around him from behind. Severus stumbled forward a bit, his pale face quickly reddening. For a split second, he didn't know who it was, but then recognized the small, gentle hands that rested on his chest.

"Lily." Severus truly relaxed for the first time since she had left.

"I missed you." Lily let go and he turned to face her, meeting her eyes, sincere, but in a different way than she looked at him.

"Evans!" James spotted her as soon as he climbed through the portrait hole. "Did you get what I sent you?"

Lily pretended to think. "Oh…right, that. I thought it would be perfect for my sister. I don't suppose you mind?" Severus' mouth twitched into a smile.

James faltered. "Er, no, but I—"

"Anyway, Severus, I really liked what you sent me." Lily reached into her pocket and pulled out a gray, perfectly round stone. Or what seemed to be—there was writing on it, cursive and small: "Lily."

"Oh—you did like it?" Relief flooded his features. "Er, I think I put it in the note, but every Christmas…a new word is added."

Lily's green eyes met his dark ones. "I love it."

James looked livid. The tension was, thankfully, broken by Sirius, who greeted James, beaming.

"Thank you for the book," said Harry to Raven and Lily, who smiled in return. Harry meant it, though he could only have been sincere since after the end of the Second Wizarding War; now he valued sitting down and quietly reading much more.

Harry nodded when they thanked him, but his attention wandered to the Marauders, who were deep in discussion.

"Jacob?" repeated Lily.

"Huh? Er, right…" He tried to remember what she just said. "Ah! Yeah, I'd love to." She had asked if he wanted to stay at her house next year over the holidays.

"And, you as well, of course," added Lily to Severus. "Raven managed to convince my parents."

"Brilliant, thanks." Harry grinned at Raven, who looked down and said something about it being no big deal.

"Hey, Sirius!" A girl in their year, Aluria Vane, waved to Sirius from the table she was sharing with her two friends. Romilda, from Harry's time, had inherited qualities from her mother in both appearance and personality: same dramatic voice, same confidence, and the same black, curly hair.

Sirius didn't verbally respond, but his curt wave was enough to send the group into a fit of giggles.

"They're really getting on my nerves," muttered Sirius to James. "Oh, no, here they come—"

"Happy New Year's," said Aluria, deliberately sounding out of breath. Cheresse Podmore and Florence Tyler came up on either side of her.

"Hello," said Sirius, not looking up. Aluria was surprised by his lack of enthusiasm, but it did not curb her determination.

"I was wondering if you'd all…" she frowned slightly at Peter, who she was less happy about including, and continued, "…like to join us on a walk after breakfast?"

"No, thank you."

"What he means is, we have a ton of homework that we put off," said James hastily.

"Oh, good, so do we!" Both groups were lying. The Marauders had no choice but to follow them to their table with varying attitudes; Harry smirked at the miserable slouch of James and Sirius.

"When did Remus say he was coming back?" Lily asked Harry, pulling him back to their conversation.

"Late tonight. His family wanted him home for New Year's."

The Marauders and the other four stayed up to wait. By one in the morning, Lily, Raven, and Severus had gone to bed, so it was just Sirius, James, Peter, and Harry. Just when Harry was going to leave Remus' welcoming committee, so he could sleep and spare himself the awkwardness, Remus came in through the portrait hole.

"Hello," said Remus, looking as though he would drop from exhaustion at any second. "You didn't have to stay up for me." He yawned widely, and the others followed suit.

Harry was the first to notice new scratches that crept up on Remus' neck and arms, but James was the first to say something. "What happened to your arm? Did you do that?"

Remus pulled down his sleeve. "Yeah…Madam Pomfrey had to mend everything before I could come up here, that's why I'm so late."

"We need to hurry and figure out this Animagus project," said James, looking meaningfully at everyone but Harry.

"Did Jacob tell you what he got me for Christmas?" Remus dug through his pockets and pulled out the piece of parchment. He showed them the piece of parchment with the list of gifts, all needed ingredients for becoming Animagi.

"We should all read the book on becoming an Ani…you-know-what. I'm guessing it'd take at least until…mid third year," Harry told them, a bit disheartened by Sirius and James' obvious effort to be cold to him.

"Whatever, it's too late to worry about it, let's go to bed…" James yawned. None of them noticed the figure listening in from the top of the staircase of the girls' dormitories.

After Christmas, time started to snowball, rushing more quickly to the end of the year. Severus and Lily's birthdays passed, and soon enough, it was February 14—Valentine's Day.

"…a load of rubbish, really," Severus was saying to Lily, frowning at the pink decorations that had been put up overnight in the common room. He looked at a stuffed, heart-shaped toy that was sitting on the table nearby as if it were a dead animal lying by the road.

"Mm," agreed Lily absentmindedly, pretending to listen. She was observing a couple sitting close to each other at a table, working on homework, who paused to kiss. Suddenly, her attention was caught by something—someone—beyond Severus.

"Oh no, not James, c'mon, let's go to breakfast." The two of them snuck out of the room.

James spotted Harry as he crossed the room after Severus and Lily, who had just slipped through the portrait hole. "Jacob! Have you seen Lily?" He held a piece of parchment in one hand, and his hair was even messier than usual. Peter and Remus were at his side, still yawning.

"No, I haven't, sorry. Is that for her?" Harry's eyes flicked to the parchment.

"Yeah. But it's none of your business!" James seemed to find that snapping at people helped with his nerves. He went off to ask someone else, growing impatient.

Harry made it to the Great Hall without seeing anyone he knew. One thing that was familiar, however, was the extravagantly decorated Hall with pink and red ribbons and a steady sprinkle of little hearts from above.

As Harry neared the Gryffindor table, he saw that some of the professors wore heart pins, the others more along the lines of Severus' thinking, who studied the room with slight disapproval.

There were two diapered, singing dwarves already, on opposite sides of the room. Their voices grew steadily louder as they competed with each other, until everyone close to them pressed their hands over their ears, some yelling at them to give it a rest.

Over the din, Lily shouted, "Jacob! Good morning!" Lily slid one of the rose pins on the table into her dark red hair, the other hand clamped over her ear. Her face suddenly tightened in annoyance—Harry thought for a moment it was because of him, but when he turned around he realized the reason.

James strode up to were Lily sat, still holding on to the piece of parchment. He waited for the noise to die down before he spoke.

"Good Morning, Lily, and Happy Valentine's Day." Lily sighed and looked up at him as he continued, "I wrote a poem for you."

"Get on with it then." Lily rested her head on her hand and sighed.

James cleared his throat and read,

"Lily Evans,

You have put me under a spell

With your hair like embers

Picked up by the summer's wind,

And your eyes like a grassy meadow

Where you dance beneath the clouds.

Your laugh is like the rush of a river,

The bubbling of a brook.

You are brighter than the sun

That lights up my day

With one look.

I cannot imagine life without

My dearest Lily."

Lily lifted her head. "Are you serious? That was the worst poem I've ever heard."

Remus blushed and sunk in his seat as James shot a scathing look at him.

"But it's bad in a good way?" James asked hopefully.

"No. Bad in a bad way." She looked at him in amazement.

Somehow, James appeared to relish this defiance. Perhaps he appreciated Lily's spirit. He grinned widely at her, produced a bouquet of roses from his wand tip, and before she could refuse, he handed them to her.

"Happy Valentine's Day!" called James as he strode away, Sirius beside him. They each grabbed a slice of toast from the table on their way out, laughing.

Lily exhaled in exasperation, holding the flowers away from her as if they were poisoned. "Here, he's your friend, so…" She gave the flowers to Remus, who looked down to hide his reddening face.

"It wasn't a truly horrible poem, just mushy, but I couldn't say it to his face. I bet he paid one of his older friends to write it."

Remus breathed in the bouquet's scent. "Actually, Lily," he began, before freezing in place. His pupils dilated and his face relaxed. He stood up abruptly, fixed on something in the distance.

"Are you okay, Remus?" Harry asked, looking up at him.

"Mm, I'm wonderful," he replied dreamily, and walked away in a daze.

"What's up with him?" Lily blinked, eyebrows turned up in worry.

"A Love Potion." Severus soured at her concern. "They added it to the flowers so if you smelled them…" He shrugged his slight shoulders and looked meaningfully at Remus, who slipped into the corridor outside the Great Hall.

"Ugh! James is such an—an…idiot!"

"…arse?" Severus suggested at the same time.

Lily's frustration broke a bit and she smiled. "Yeah, that. I can't believe he'd try to use a Love Potion on me!"

"I can," said Raven and Severus darkly at the same time.

Harry stood up. "We should help Remus, before he does something embarrassing. Someone should get Slughorn."

"I will," said Lily, and hurried off toward the staff table. Severus' lips briefly tightened in annoyance, but the expression disappeared as they left.

Remus must have ran—not walked—to the common room, because by the time they got there, there was already a small group of people gathered around the scene unfolding between him and James.

"But you must believe me!" Remus took James' shoulders, holding him so it was difficult to avoid his watery, sincere eyes.

"Remus, I gave you a Love Potion, that's why you're acting this way! It was meant for Li—someone else!" James tried to wriggle out of his grip, but Remus held on firmly.

"No, I've always had feelings for you!" declared Remus loudly, very far from his normal self. He took James' hand at held it up so everyone can see. "If anyone has a problem with this, with us, then they don't know what true love is!"

James looked positively mortified.

The roars of laughter were now attracting more people to the scene, and the crowd grew to about twenty. Harry felt bad for Remus, though he knew after this was all over James would never give Lily a Love Potion again…if she was lucky.

"Hey, James, when do the effects wear off?" asked a third-year, trying to hold back his laughter long enough to speak.

"In eleven hours…" James groaned, looking queasy as Remus whispered (sweet nothings, no doubt) into his ear.

"Oi, Remus!" Raven broke through the lopsided ring that had formed around the two lovebirds and put a hand on his shoulder.

Remus turned around, surprised. "Excuse me, I—"

Raven Body-Bound him and he fell forward into her arms. Her tiny frame struggled with the weight, but she managed to place him carefully on the ground, face red with the effort.

There was a moment of silence, then the crowd dispersed, murmuring in disappointment.

"Someone had to do something," said Raven to Harry after a second year muttered loudly to her friend as they passed about her being a spoilsport.

"Thanks, er, Ravenclaw." James rolled his shoulders and there was a few loud cracks. "Never knew he was that strong. Animal-like strength, it seems." He grinned at his own joke. "Oh, Professor Slughorn!" Horace Slughorn, dressed in a familiar green-striped waistcoat and sporting his usual walrus mustache. James cleared his throat. "I know this seems bad—"

"Detention, James, and ten—no, five points from Gryffindor." Slughorn seemed reluctant even with that amount, as he was fond of James. "Where's the boy?"

"Over here." Slughorn strode over to where Remus lay on the ground, though, for him, it was more of a waddle. He produced a corked vial of a clear liquid before lifting the Body-Binding Curse from Remus.

James ducked behind the others before Remus saw him. "Where's James? I still have to give him a Valentine's Day gift. Can someone check my breath?" He smoothed his light hair out of his eyes as he looked around.

"He's getting ready. Here, take this, it will make your breath irresistible." Slughorn uncorked the bottle and handed it to Remus, who downed it in one gulp. "Ah, I feel weird. And it didn't taste very good…oh." His eyes widened in shock as the memory of everything that had just happened hit him and he covered his face with his hands.

"Sorry, my boy. It was all in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I suppose." The Professor patted Remus on the back and just barely squeezed out through the portrait hole.

James popped back up. "You're quite the romantic, Remus," he teased, smirking.

"You idiot, why would you try to give Lily a Love Potion?" Remus rubbed his temple.

James shrugged. "It was an experiment. And the results are promising." He grinned at Lily, whose eyes flared.

"C'mon, guys." With that, Lily stalked off, nose in the air.

The rest of the day was filled with tearful love confessions, happy couples, and more pink. The first years, being the youngest, were least involved in the romantic adventures of the older students. That wasn't to say Sirius didn't get a cauldron-full of Valentines over the course of the day. Harry expected James to be jealous, but he just laughed about it and cruelly rated each girl who had plucked up the courage to give him a gift.

They spent most of the day outside to get away from everything, but gathered in the common room with everyone else after dinner.

"'You have put me under a spell…'" said Lily to herself, her eyes drifting beyond her book. It was nearly eight, and there was only a bit more homework to get done. Raven was sitting across from Lily; Severus and Harry sat beside her, and Remus sat at a chair they pulled up at the side of a table.

Remus looked took a breath and said quietly, "James asked me to write it for him. The poem, I mean."

Lily snapped out of her daze and looked at him in surprise. "What?" She thought she had been quiet when she recited the line.

"Well, he told me what he liked about you, and I, er…" he rubbed his neck and avoided her gaze. "…just put it together for him."

For a moment, Lily processed this, then she realized what she had said and earlier. "Oh, no, Remus, I said it was awful, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it, I thought the poem itself was really sweet, but I couldn't say that to James."

"It's okay," said Remus quickly, and his cheeks turned scarlet.

"I swear, if his fat head gets any bigger, he might explode."

Severus, who had been sulking moments before, clearly jealous over Lily's reaction to the poem, smirked. "In that case, you should've told him how sweet he was."

One morning in March, an deep bellow rang in the first year boys' dorm.

"Happy Birthday!"

Harry thought he felt his skull vibrate. He realized, after checking his watch, that it only seemed that loud because it was three in the morning. And, his watch informed him, about 215 days since he first traveled to this time.

"Not now…sleep." James' words were muffled in the pillow.

"This is the exact time you came out of your mother, when you moved through—"

James cut him off. "Give me my first birthday present: Let me sleep."

"Okay, ickle baby James. Sleep tight." Sirius tried to move his face to give him a goodnight kiss on the forehead, but James buried his face in his pillow.

A brief three hours later, Harry dragged himself out of bed to get ready for the day. He had the faint curiosity of what Sirius, Remus, and Peter would give James for his birthday.

He got part of an answer that morning at breakfast. It was all in whispers, but he managed to get the gist of one of the gifts. Remus had made him some sort of potion, per his request, so James could save it for later use. It seemed that Sirius and Peter didn't get him a wrapped gift. Harry could only guess that what they planned to give had to do with Lily.

It was right before dinner, and Sirius was bent over homework at the table in the far corner of the common room. "Hey, Jacob, Lily, Raven, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"We'll meet you down there," Lily told Severus, who nodded.

"I needed help on this homework. And well, Snivellus hates me, so…" Sirius showed them the assignment he was working on.

Harry looked at the parchment, where Sirius had scribbled with obviously no idea what he was doing.

"I think you need to start over." Lily definitely disliked Sirius, but it seemed she wanted to stall to avoid James.

"Where do I start, exactly?" asked Sirius, scratching the back of neck.

"Have you even read the chapter?"

There were hushed murmurs as everyone headed to dinner.

"I may have skimmed it."

"Read it first, then we'll—" They started to turn around.

"No! Er, I think I remember reading it now. Can you explain how this works?" He flipped through the book and found a part in his potions book that had, in fact, challenged most of the students in their class.

Lily and Raven looked at Harry expectantly. "Oh, okay, I'll help." It took about five minutes because Sirius kept interrupting. He was smart, but he never asked for help, he never studied outside of what he absolutely had to study. At least, that's what Harry thought.

Sirius thanked them for the help, but there was something mischievous in his smile.

"I think he may've been up to something…" Harry led them quickly down to the Great Hall. On their way, they noticed people whispering and laughing. Harry didn't bother stopping to ask them what had happened, he just ran the rest of the way to the Great Hall.

He got there and saw Severus sitting down, to him nothing seemed wrong.

But to everyone else in the hall who had turned to look, Severus had forgotten something very important.

His clothes.

Lily and Raven caught up with Harry, breathing heavily.

"What…what's wrong?" managed Lily.

Harry didn't reply, he was already moving toward Severus. Both of the girls stared at him, dumbstruck; Raven giggled in spite of herself.

It wasn't a lot to be thankful for, but at least Severus was still wearing his pants.

They ran up to him, trying to shield him by standing side-by-side. "Severus, put this on," said Harry, taking off his cloak.

"Why? Is everything okay?"

"Oh, Sev, just do it, please." Lily shrank under the increasing number of stares in their direction, the whispers they could now understand. She laid a hand on his pale, thin shoulder, trying not to look below his waist. If she hadn't been so awkward about seeing him like this, she could have counted his ribs.

"Oh, all right." But his eye twitched and he shook his head vigorously. Harry looked around and saw James, Sirius, and Peter, located strategically around the Hall, wands out. It seemed as though they had cast the Confundus Charm, and that this was James' birthday present from Peter and Sirius.

"Severus, fight the spell. Er, let's see, you're supposed to clear your mind," said Harry, hands up as Severus confusedly pointed his wand to defend himself from their attempts. He twitched again, closed his eyes, and was free.

Severus blinked, then looked down. His eyes widened in horror, and he grabbed Harry's robes, swearing. He ran out of the hall, laughter following him out.

James came up to meet them as they hastened after Severus. He was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes.

"What'd you thi—"

"Come one step closer and I'll hex you before you can say, 'I'm a prat,'" said Raven, not Harry.

"Happy Birthday, James," said Lily, and pushed past him, leaving him staring after them, dumbfounded.

Sirius knew about the charm Lily had given Severus for Christmas, and had nicked it right before they had pranked him. From then on, Severus always patted his pocket before leaving the dorms to make sure it was there.

Severus checked out five books on Occlumency from the library after the incident. He had Harry practice on him and was able to master it in three days. Harry had actually improved as well; he could withstand the Confundus Charm and other basic spells of the like. He wouldn't let Severus perform Legilimency on him, because of the risks involved. However, Severus let Harry try more advanced spells, which he conquered in the end.

After studying Occlumency, Harry could tell a part of Severus had been tucked away, pieces of his expression that could only be brought out by Lily.

Soon enough, the end of the year was upon Harry. Of the Gryffindor first-years, only Raven and Peter were still eleven. Exams were coming up quickly, and the professors were increasing the homework load. Severus and Raven continued to lead half-lives of Slytherin and Gryffindor, which Lily chose to ignore.

Harry had been avoiding various curses and hexes for weeks. The Slytherins, in second place for the Quidditch Cup, were determined to take him out before Gryffindor's final match against Ravenclaw. It was only until their practice rights were threatened that they left him alone.

The Ravenclaws and Gryffindors wore their house colors proudly, so the stands were full of crimson and blue.

Violetta went over a few quick points with the team, but it was clear she was counting primarily on Harry to catch the Snitch. They assembled on the field, and both teams nodded to each other as they got ready to take off.

Once the whistle blew, Harry shot in the other direction, eyes raking the field for the Snitch, when suddenly, he felt his broom lurch beneath him. He hung on, gritting his teeth, hands tightened around the handle. He spun, over and over, the world blurring around him, trying not to vomit or lose his grip.

Then there was a moment of calm, and Harry saw, in his still-spinning vision, that the crowd had stood up, and was looking around for the person who was messing with Harry's broom. Some of the spectators were pointing their wands threateningly at the Slytherin end, shouting and swearing. They all knew about Slytherin's attempts to sabotage the Gryffindor Seeker.

Harry used the distraction to quickly speed away, up and up, hoping that if he moved around enough, he'd avoid the curse.

It turned out there was no need, the Gryffindors had called time-out. Harry was flying down to them when his broom shot out beneath from him when he was nearly a hundred feet in the air. He hardly had time to scream as he plummeted down, the ground rushing to meet him… Just before he landed, he felt a tug around his navel and he stopped, a foot from the grass beneath him, before falling with a dull thump.

"Never in my years of coaching…" Madam Hooch helped Harry to his feet. There were angry cries from the crowd, especially from the Gryffindor end. Harry joined his team, who looked shaken.

"Someone's out to get you, Jacob. I'm not sure if we can do anything about it." Violetta's expression was determined, grim.

"I know. Just try to score as many points as you can…they might come after our team, too, and then the game will be called off. I'll try to catch the Snitch quickly."

The team glanced at each other, hesitant. Ignoring their worry, Violetta told Madam Hooch they were ready, and soon they were in the air again.

Harry thought back to the Quidditch book he had received for Christmas as he rose high above the field, trying to remember anything that might help him. He glanced at the Ravenclaw Seeker, who was across the pitch. She's smart, he thought. She knows she can't outfly me, so the only chance she'll have is if she sees the Snitch far away from where I am.

He moved quickly, darting around in the hopes that it would be more difficult to curse him. And then he saw it. The Snitch, twenty feet away. Harry spun in its direction, and it sped up. The chase was on. Everyone in the stands except the Slytherins were on their feet, cheering him on.

The Snitch flitted straight down, but it couldn't shake Harry off. With a final burst of speed, his fingers closed around it.

Students poured onto the pitch, yelling. The Ravenclaws were in various states of disappointment; the Seeker, crying, was comforted by her teammates. But Harry had no time to take this in. Violetta ran to him, beaming, hair windswept. She bent down and kissed him on the cheek, then the mouth; he was too full of adrenaline to be surprised, and then his team lifted him into the air. They were shouting louder than those who had been watching. Harry, grinning at their enthusiasm, couldn't resist pumping his fists in the air.

The Gryffindors crowded into the common room, which was decorated with gold and crimson, with banners hanging to congratulate the team. Harry tried to get back to his friends for a moment of peace and quiet, but was constantly pulled into the center of attention. It was the first time he'd had anywhere close to the amount of attention he got back home.

When the commotion died down, he escaped to his dorm, which had only one occupant: Severus.

"So the Quidditch hero returns."

Harry looked at him, joy running cold. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Severus didn't look up or reply.

"I didn't ask for everyone to act like that."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Right." He looked Harry over, his frown deepening. "Sometimes you're like him, in that way."

Harry marched to Severus' bed. "I'm not like James. I don't bully people for fun. I don't beg for attention. You know, you shouldn't talk about what's right and wrong. Your Slytherin friends were the ones messing with my broom, and you did nothing." Harry scoffed. "I wouldn't "e surprised if you were one of the ones cursing it."

"Stop," said Severus quietly.

"You have no idea how ironic it would be if it really was you, cursing the broom," said Harry to himself, shaking his head. In his timeline, Severus had cast a counter-curse to protect him.

Severus slammed the book he was reading on the bed. "Shut up, okay? I don't need you to treat me like a—like a child. You say we're friends, but that's not true and you know it!"

Harry took a step back in surprise. "Look, you're the one who hardly talks to me anymore. I've always been there, if you needed me." He glanced looked at the book Severus was reading, confirming what he already knew, that it was on the Dark Arts. "If anyone's lost sight of who they are, who their true friends are…it's you."

With Harry's efforts, Gryffindor won the House Cup. After the celebration of the end of the school year, a somber feeling drifted over Harry's compartment.

Harry gazed out the window. He was still unsure of whether he should attend Hogwarts next year. He had written a pros and cons list over the past couple weeks, but each list had the same number of points. He pulled out the slip of parchment and read it over again.

Pros to staying:

Severus is getting back into the Dark Arts and still needs help. I still need to become friends with James and Sirius. I get to go back to Hogwarts for at least another year.

- I can see people who died, like Dumbledore, and Remus, and Lily.

- I can help with the Animagi project.

Cons to staying:

- Maybe it's better if I let history run its course. (Severus seems destined to study the Dark Arts)

- I may never become friends with James and Sirius.

I miss everyone back home. The longer I stay, the harder it will be to say goodbye.

- Someone might find out who I really am.

He felt the lists were balanced, but in his heart, he wanted to stay. Looking around the compartment, he realized how little time he'd had with these people. He hadn't seen them grow up, they were still kids. He wrote down one more pro.

I'll find out if everything was meant to be. And that means peace.

Or at least acceptance. After making up his mind, Harry fell asleep. Hours later, he was nudged awake by Raven. Everyone exited the train, slouching or smiling, sad to leave their friends or excited to see their families.

"I'll see you two at the end of August."

"I'll miss you, Jacob," Lily whispered, hugging him.

Severus nodded at Harry, and, after debating what to do, held out his hand, which Harry shook. "Goodbye, Jacob."

Harry stood out of the way of the bustling people, soaking in the familiar sounds of the station. He saw James welcomed by this mother and father, who ruffled his hair, expressions bright. Sirius looked moody and bitter as he left James' side and meandered over to his mother. She eyed him and snapped at him to stand up straight. Lily's family welcomed her with wide arms and smiles. Even Petunia's stern expression softened a bit. Severus stood several meters away, watching with something like envy.

"Where's Jacob?" Petunia asked, face pink. She looked around and spotted him, waving. Of course, he felt uncomfortable that his aunt fancied him, but it was tolerable from a distance.

Lily motioned for him to come over. He should have expected that his discomfort would increase.

"Hello, Jacob." Mrs. Evans shook his hand, then put her arm around Lily. The top of Lily's head was already level with her mother's nose.

"Nice to see you again, ma'am." He made eye contact with Petunia briefly, who had been staring at him. She blushed and looked at her shiny black shoes. Harry realized she'd made an effort to look nice, probably for him.

"We would be happy to have you for dinner sometime this summer," said Mr. Evans, businesslike.

Harry hesitated. "I'd love to, but my family is going to be away all this summer."

Petunia's face fell a bit, and she stopped fiddling with her hair.

"Well, you're welcome any time. I understand you're staying over the holidays?" Harry nodded, but Mr. Evans was looking beyond Harry to Severus, who wandered away, looking for his mother. "Seems like they get all kinds at Hogwarts," Mr. Evans said, frowning.

Lily followed his gaze and found who he was looking at. "Oh, Dad, that's Severus! He's the other person you said I could invite to stay with us for Christmas. And what do you mean, all kinds?"

"Sorry, I didn't mean to offend you, honey." Still, Mr. Evans seemed to regret agreeing to having him stay over.

Lily and her family waved goodbye to Harry, who went to look for Severus. He saw Remus' mother pull him into her arms, crying a little. The clothes Mr. and Mrs. Lupin wore were old and a bit dusty, but their eyes were bright and kind as they walked with Remus to the exit.

Severus had found his mother, whose face was cast in shadow from the hat she wore. He looked back and saw Harry. They exchanged a tight smile before their view was blocked by the crowd.

Harry weaved his way through the throng of people and out of the station. His owl was drawing attention to himself, and he wanted to find somewhere deserted. He managed to find an alley a block away. No one was there to see a strange boy with dirty blonde hair disappear on the spot, a mysterious device around his neck.

By early August, Severus and Lily had seen each other often, as they had every summer, and it was as though a bridge had formed over the rift that'd grown between them.

Lily waited until her parents had left for dinner with Petunia and her friends ("She won't go, we can celebrate tomorrow, but she won't ruin it for me!") before venturing outside. Severus saw her from his hiding place and started toward her, hands shaking. His face was frozen with fear and a large bruise colored his left eye. The wounds on his arms still burned, and the smell of alcohol lingered on his clothing. He carried a small bag with everything he had managed to grab before his father had thundered up the stairs, cursing over his mother's crying…One change of clothing and his most prized possessions, mostly gifts that Lily had given him. One was the small present she had given him for Christmas their first year of school, which did nothing to protect himself from non-magical harm.

Lily made him pasta as he took a shower. She felt strong, determined. As she ranted angrily about his "awful, absolutely evil" father, Severus ate the pasta, along with the carrots she'd washed and a candy bar she'd saved for him.

After only ten minutes he was crouched over the toilet in the bathroom, puking until his throat was sore.

Lily made more pasta and ran the water so she wouldn't hear the sound of him vomiting.

She gave him a new toothbrush and let him only eat the small amount of pasta she made, some crackers, and water. Afterwards he fell asleep on the couch, and she let him sleep there for about an hour before lightly shaking him awake.

He had never been in Lily's room before. It was clean and soft-colored, with photos of her family and landscapes pasted into a collage on one wall. She had moved everything out from under her bed and had made it comfortable for him to sleep there. He slipped underneath, murmured, "Goodnight," and fell asleep again.

That night Lily lay awake after everyone else had gone to bed. She couldn't fall asleep; she was deep in thought. "Sev?"

A thud, then a moment's pause. "Ow—yeah?"

"Are you okay?" Lily got out of bed and lifted the sheet that hung over the mattress to see him.

"I'm fine," he replied. "I just hit my head."

"I thought that, you can come up here…if you want. With me."

"Oh." There was a longer pause this time. "Are—are you sure?"

"Of course." She stood up, arms crossed over her chest self-consciously.

Severus slid out from beneath the bed and stood, staring at the ground, uncomfortable by the situation and her thin shirt.

"You can take the side by the wall."

He climbed in, moved as far right as he could so his shoulder brushed the wall. Lily got in after him and pulled the covers over them. They faced the walls opposite each other, heads resting on separate pillows.

Severus couldn't think of anything to say, but his heart raced.

"Sleep tight," murmured Lily.

After a few moments Severus could tell she had fallen asleep. He was unable to do the same, so he turned on his back and stared at the ceiling, too heart-wrenchingly aware of the warmth radiating from her side of the bed.

Minutes passed. Lily rolled over and stretched; she was used to having the bed all to herself. Her hand landed on his chest. Severus winced at her touch and memories of what he ran away from rushed back to him.

Lily stirred. "Sorry," she said in a slightly slurred voice. She moved in closer and rested her head on his chest, right over his heart.

"You okay?" He could feel her lips move against his shirt.

Severus pushed away the thoughts of his father. He was safe now.

"I'm fine."

"'Fine.'" Lily smiled a bit; it was the second time he had said that. "Are you cold?"

"A bit."

She draped her arm over him, her hand resting beside his waist. His heart pounded against his chest as a wave of something heated rushed over him.

"I can hear your heart," she said, slowly drifting back asleep.

Severus took a deep breath and sighed, trying to be calm. He reached behind Lily so his arm held her to closer to him, hand on her middle. The top of Lily's head came to his chin, so he could pick up the faint scent of apple in her hair.

"Lily?" said Severus, voice skimming a whisper.

"Mm?"

"I—I like you."

Her head nuzzled on him, and she exhaled slowly. "Me too."

Severus knew Lily hadn't gotten the message. He realized he didn't want to explain, he didn't want to ruin the moment, their friendship. He could never imagine telling her how much he loved her.

Later that night, Severus awoke, confused, at first, as to what had stirred him. He realized, with a pang, that it had been Lily's soft crying. Her fingers clutched his shirt, trembling.

Lily didn't realize he hadn't been sleeping, otherwise she wouldn't have let herself cry.

Lily had to be strong, for him…

Harry had traveled to the end of the summer. He figured Severus would be fine on his own, without him there, since had Lily. The two needed to bond so they could stay friends.

He went to their usual meeting place, hoping to see them before he went to his temporary house to get his school supplies list. As he neared the clearing, he saw Severus lying down in the shade. At first Severus seemed normal, just resting, but as Harry got closer, he realized something was wrong.

Harry panicked. He's dead, he's dead and I couldn't help him, I just made everything worse…Before dread consumed him, Severus moved his head slowly in Harry's direction, his cheekbones shadowed so he looked like a skeleton. Severus extended a hand toward Harry and seemed unable to speak.

"Severus, what's wrong? What happened?"

Severus couldn't answer. His hollow black eyes stared up at Harry.

Harry quickly reached into his bag and searched for the few packages of candy he had collected from over the last school year. He handed them to Severus, who tried to unwrap them but was too weak, fingers fumbling with the wrapping. Harry took the packages back and opened the first for Severus. His guilt prevented him from speaking.

Severus took a while to eat the Chocolate Frog, eyes closed with satisfaction.

After he had licked his fingers clean, he took one look at Harry's concerned expression and burst into tears.

Harry sat down next to Severus and watched as the boy buried his face in his arms, weeping.

It took a while for Severus to recover. When he did, his face was red and streaked with tears, which he didn't bother to wipe away.

"What happened?" Harry prepared himself for the worst.

Severus looked at Harry, then pulled up his sleeve. Bruises and angry red scrapes lined his arms, harsh against his pale skin.

"Your father. Did Lily help? Where is she?"

Severus' eyes welled up again and he blinked. "Not here. She left last week to go on vacation. I said I'd go back home and face my father, that I'd be fine…" His voice was shaky and raspy.

"Severus…you can tell me anything, right?"

Even though he hadn't told Harry everything, he was hiding his crush on Lily, Severus nodded.

"Then can you tell me everything that happened when I was gone. Everything that has to do with your dad. Okay? I'm your friend, and I need to know."

Severus looked into the distance. "My father…" His breath stopped, then returned in short gasps. He crossed his arms over his stomach and squeezed his eyes shut to hold back his pain.

"Does he…abuse you and your mother?"

Severus managed to nod. "But he doesn't just—just hurt us, he also…"

"He also what?" Harry put his hand urgently on Severus' shoulder, who flinched at his touch.

Severus turned away, eyes squeezed shut.

Harry froze. He realized that the abuse had gone beyond hitting and shouting, and a horrible guilt overcame him. "Oh no…I'm sorry, if I'd have known—"

"I don't want to talk about it anymore," said Severus, and looked away.

Harry didn't say anything for a few minutes so Severus could recover.

"Does Lily know everything that he did?"

"No. I ran away from home last month, and she let me stay in her room, but Petunia found out the day before they left and said she'd tell on me."

"You stayed in her room?"

"Only at night."

"And you couldn't have gotten food from her?"

"I didn't think to…I haven't gone near the house since she found us." Severus said "she" with an intense loathing. "Her sister ruins everything."

It had been cloudy that day. If Lily had heard the forecast, the night's events could have been prevented.

Severus woke up to a crack of thunder. Lily sighed after he stirred. They were now so accustomed to sharing a bed that any movement either of them made woke the other.

"Go back to sleep," said Severus. The thunderstorms bothered him, so saying it to her helped.

Lily adjusted herself so her face was even with Severus'.

Severus looked at her closed eyes, then down to her slightly parted lips. He felt an overwhelming desire to kiss her.

The room flashed with lightening, illuminating her features. Suddenly, there was a burst of thunder and his lips met Lily's forehead. She had moved her head at the sound.

And just as she woke up, not at the sound, but at his touch, there was a loud succession of footsteps out in the hallway.

Severus dove farther under the covers and Lily threw her largest stuffed animal on top of him.

The door opened and a scared-looking Petunia entered, flinching at another rumble of thunder.

Lily leapt out of bed and went to comfort her, but Petunia was staring at Lily's bed. She ran past Lily, pulling back the cover.

Lily clamped a hand over Petunia's mouth.

"MMPH!" Petunia struggled under her hand, eyes wide at her discovery. Severus rolled off the bed, just as shocked as Petunia.

Lily kept her voice low. "Severus, get out of here."

Severus nodded and hurried out, not knowing what he should do, or where he was supposed to go.

The present Severus had left out some details, but enough for Harry to get the gist. "I've seen Lily once since then. She said Petunia would tell their parents if she saw Lily with me again. The only thing thing that kept her quiet was saying that you were my friend, and you wouldn't talk to her again if she told." His face changed from despairing to furious, then back again. "I can't wait to get the hell out of here."

Harry closed his eyes, braced against a wave of grief. "It's just one more day. Tomorrow, we go back to Hogwarts."

 


Chapter 8: Prank Wars
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Harry couldn't let Severus go to school in the state he was in. He offered to buy school supplies for Severus and healed him as he slept. He told Severus to go with Lily to King's Cross, and he would talk to Petunia beforehand to make sure she didn't tell on him.

"Look, they didn't do anything, and he had no choice, he wasn't safe at home."

Petunia pursed her glossed lips. "I suppose I won't tell. But only because he's your friend."

Harry sighed, relieved. "Thank you."

"So, you're still coming for the holidays?" Petunia rocked slightly on her feet.

"Er, yeah." Harry couldn't meet her gaze.

"You'll have a great time. We'll decorate the tree, and mum makes terrific mince pies!" She smiled, head tilted a little.

"Petunia!" Mrs. Evans called.

"Coming!" Petunia looked as though she wanted to say something else, but changed her mind and ran back inside.

Later, in the Hogwarts Express, Lily and Severus searched the compartments for Harry, who had arrived early. "Oh, hello, Jacob!"

"Morning. I saved you a spot." He hadn't seen Lily since the end of school; she must have grown nearly two inches. There was something different in the way she held herself, too. Severus looked much better than he did yesterday; the scrapes had toned down, and his formerly sallow skin was now healthy.

A minute after Lily and Severus joined Harry, Remus walked past. He stopped to say hello, fumbling a bit with the conversation and staring too much at Lily. Harry bet he had only talked to his family all summer.

"Oi! Remus!" James stopped when he spotted the group. "Why are you talking to them?" James' voice was a bit lower, but he hadn't grown much compared to Remus. "Morning, Lily," he said, in a much smoother tone.

"You're looking rather big-headed today, James," said Lily, crossing her arms.

"You're looking radiant today, Lily, as always," replied James, leaning in the doorway, grinning.

"Leave, James."

"Okay, okay." James ran a hand through his hair. "I take it you won't want to join us? Where your beauty will be appreciated?"

"James," repeated Lily, taking out her wand.

"I'm going!" He left, taking Remus (who shot the three an apologetic look), along with him.

"Wait up, James!" Peter, who just got on the train, followed them, panting heavily.

Harry checked his watch. "It's five to, I wonder where Raven is."

As if on cue, Raven slipped through the door and slid it closed. "Sorry I'm late, I—"

"…sit with some Slytherins then, I'm not talking to you if I can help it!" Sirius' voice carried into their compartment.

"SIRIUS BLACK HAS A HUGE STASH OF—" began Regulus at the top of his lungs, before Sirius shushed him.

"Fine. You can sit with us." Their voices faded as they moved down the train.

Raven sat down next to Harry. "That was Sirius' brother, Regulus, if you were wondering. He's actually not as annoying as he sounds. He tells me all of Sirius' secrets."

She looked at Severus in surprise. "Oh no, what happened to your face?" She reached out, as if to touch his cheek, which held the trace of a bruise, but pulled it back.

Had Severus not told her about his home life?

Severus turned away so she couldn't see the mark. Raven looked at Harry, confused.

Harry shook his head, signaling to her to drop it for now.

"How do you know Regulus?" Harry asked Raven, and Severus' shoulders relaxed at the change of subject.

"Oh, well, my family's Pureblood, like his, so…My dad's half-blood, Faralyn, and on my mum's side, the Rowle family…"

Severus looked away with disinterest, but Lily leaned forward. "Hang on—are you related to Lester Rowle?"

Raven nodded. "Yeah, he's my cousin."

Lily's eyes widened. "He's so mean! Do you remember that one time—"

"…he hexed a Hufflepuff to think up was down and down was up, I know." Raven sighed. "We have these huge family dinners over the summer, with Lester's family and the Blacks. We're friends with some of the kids, Severus and I, but they act…differently with different people. I do like Regulus, though. He's not at all like Sirius."

Harry wondered if there was any part of Regulus now that was the person he'd be later in life, someone able to betray the Dark Lord.

"Do you think he'll be sorted into Slytherin?" asked Harry.

"Well, maybe Ravenclaw, or I suppose Slytherin; his whole family is in Slytherin, and he wants to be in it, so…" She paused. "Anyway, what did everyone do this summer?"

The four spent the next couple hours talking about their trips; Harry invented a story of what he did, and Severus just told a story about going to the library with Lily earlier in the summer. There was no mention of what happened to Severus. After the four ran out of things to discuss, they read their new school books.

They had changed an hour before the train pulled into the station. The night was cool; Harry could see his breath. Hagrid gathered the first years, and the other students were left to find carriages.

The four found an empty one close by. Lily dropped one of her things and bent down to pick it up, but she was dangerously close to one of the Thestrals.

"Watch out!" Harry pulled her aside and patted the now uneasy Thestral's neck. The creature cocked her head at him, then licked his hand.

Careful not to disturb the Thestral, Harry bent down and picked up Lily's notebook.

The other three were staring at him as if he'd lost his mind.

"Er, Jacob, what was that?"

Uh oh. "A Thestral."

Lily took her notebook back, looking at him with concern. "I don't see anything."

"You can only see them…if you've seen someone die. They pull the carriages."

He climbed into the carriage after Lily, frustrated with them for staring at him and with himself for not thinking.

No one asked who he had seen die. Harry had been prepared to lie and say his grandmother, but now he felt the full force of the truth stifled inside him.

Harry had never felt as strong of a temptation to reveal himself as he did now. He concentrated on the surroundings, ignoring the presence of his friends. He had to force himself to be normal again, repeating in his head what the consequences would be, were they to know who he really was.

It took the entire ride before he looked at Lily, who sat next to him.

"How do you know what they are?" whispered Lily, when she met Harry's glance.

The carriage was coming to a stop.

"I saw them last year and…looked up what it was."

"What do they—Thestrals—look like?" asked Raven, lurching forward in her seat as the carriage came to a halt.

Harry stepped out of the carriage and stood next to the Thestral. He put his hand on the its neck and motioned for Lily to do the same. Raven and Severus hung back.

"They have wings like a bat, and you can see their bones through their skin, which is black, and slick, as you can probably tell."

Lily ran her hand down the Thestral's side, thoughtful. "Who did you see die?"

"My grandmother." It was wrong to say. Cedric. Sirius. Dumbledore. Dobby. And the war in what would have been his seventh year, he had seen more.

The students were brought into the Great Hall. At the staff table, Harry saw a new face—probably the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He was young, slim, had thick brown hair—looking out of place between Hagrid and Professor Flitwick.

The Great Hall doors opened, shifting Harry's attention. Professor McGonagall entered, leading the huddled group of first years to the front of the room.

Harry craned his neck and spotted Regulus, who was just as tall as Sirius, but not quite as good-looking.

After spotting another familiar face, Harry nearly laughed, though he didn't know what to feel, exactly; it was Gilderoy Lockhart.

Gilderoy had the same light, golden hair, but he was missing the loud confidence from later in life.

"What is it?"asked Lily, trying to see what Harry was looking at, but it was then that the Hall fell silent and the Sorting Hat began to sing.

After the song was finished, Professor McGonagall called the first years up to be sorted.

"Aubrey, Betram." A small, pudgy boy stumbled up to the front and it barely took a moment of wearing the hat before it called, "RAVENCLAW!"

When "Black, Regulus" was called, he glanced back at his brother, shrugged slightly and put on the Sorting Hat. There was no immediate cry of either house, which seemed to confuse Regulus. His face became hard just before the Hat finally cried, "SLYTHERIN!"

Regulus got up and strode to the far table. Sirius muttered something along the lines of, "Good riddance." Raven gave a small wave in his direction, and Regulus grinned widely.

Dirk Cresswell was sorted into Gryffindor and sat down close to Harry.

"Lockhart, Gilderoy." The blond boy bounded up to the stool. The Hat thought for nearly a minute before calling, "RAVENCLAW!"

From then on, Harry only paid attention to the names that were vaguely familiar; Mary MacDonald went to Gryffindor, along with Emmeline Vance, and Dorcas Meadowes went to Hufflepuff.

The rest of the evening wound down until students were led to their common rooms in a sleepy haze.

Harry and Severus went upstairs early to unpack. Harry noticed Severus examine the watch he had been given for Christmas the year before.

"Did you figure it out?" asked Harry, casually tucking Hermione's purse underneath his things.

Severus regarded Harry, jaw tight, before replying.

"Yes, I did; it's another one of your ideas to make me change. It's obviously a trick to make me think I'm on the wrong path. 'Revelare Viam.' It means reveal the way, that wasn't hard to figure out." At the words, the watch whirred softly.

"It's not a trick, it works." Harry gritted his teeth.

"I don't really care. A watch can't tell me what I can and can't do."

"What did it tell you?"

"It doesn't matter."

"It matters to me."

"Of course it does, you're the one who gave it to me."

"If you don't tell me, I'll assume the worst."

Severus passed the watch over in his fingers. "I know you know what it said. It pointed to 'Death,' 'Regret,' and 'Pain,' and whatever other bad ones." He glared off to his right. "I know what you're trying to do."

"Fine, but it's supposed to be accurate. I didn't mess with it." A thought struck Harry. "Hang on…did it help you this summer?"

Severus shifted impatiently. "It was just a coincidence."

"What happened?"

Severus sighed. "I opened it, one night, when my father was out late. I was up in my room, and it kind of…glowed, on my desk. I opened it and all of the arrows were pointing to 'Danger.' But that was just a coincidence."

"What did you do after you saw the arrows?"

Severus seemed to debate whether or not to continue telling the story, as it went against his argument. "I looked out the window and saw him coming up the street. I grabbed my things and told my mum to be careful, and I'd be back. I didn't know where to go, then I looked back at the watch—" He stopped abruptly.

"Wait—the watch changed? What did it change to?"

"The watch didn't change, an arrow just moved." Severus turned his back to Harry and busied himself with his suitcase.

"And what did the arrow move to?"

There was a long pause.

"'Love.'"

A couple weeks later, Quidditch tryouts rolled around. Harry slipped on his uniform and met with his team on the field.

"Good turnout this year," Violetta said, hands on her hips as she surveyed the group of hopeful students.

"Whatever position needs me most, I'll take it. I really hope I don't have to be Keeper again," she added, more to herself than to anyone in particular. "Okay, those who want to be Chasers, please come forward. Everyone else, if you'd like to wait off to the side for a bit…"

Harry realized his father had stepped up with the dozen other students, brimming with confidence, the number 6 attached to his front and back.

"Let's see, your numbers are all visible…Okay! Just fly around and I'll call you back down when I have what I need."

She wrote down the strongest and weakest fliers, sometimes consulting Harry. He felt a little awkward every time she leaned down toward him for his input; he hadn't forgotten the kiss.

Violetta pointed at a few of them. "Numbers 6, 8, and 9 are definitely the best." Some of the other potential players moved through the air awkwardly, sliding around on their brooms.

At Violetta's call, the dozen students touched down on the ground. "Brilliant, everyone. Now I'm going to divide you into two teams. The goal is just to get the Quaffle into the goal. No illegal moves, or you'll get a warning. After the second offense, you're out. Anastasia and I will be the Keepers. You don't get in because you score the most goals, we want to see how you work within a team." To Jacob and a long-time player, she said, "You can mark down notes next to the numbers. Get your brooms, you'll get a better view that way."

James turned out to be a quite skilled Chaser. There was only one other second year, and James was much better.

After taking notes, it was clear there was only two people that he would consider for the position: James and a sixth-year girl.

It was past lunch when tryouts ended. After eating a very rushed lunch, they met back to discuss the competitors.

"I think number six…James Potter, has real potential."

"All the same, Violetta is better."

"Yeah, but she's better than the Keepers that tried out…"

"What do you think, Jacob?"

Harry wanted his father to be on the team, he was good, but would it make him hate Harry more or less?

"I think we should give him a shot."

Violetta nodded, lips pursing a bit. "Alright, if you think so."

James was the last to arrive at practice. He said there was a confusion about time, but Harry would find out later he had just stayed in the common room too late, as he had waited to convince Lily to come watch him after breakfast. Harry knew Lily had slept in late on purpose so she wouldn't see James.

James wore black dragon skin gloves, looking smug as he looked from his Nimbus to Harry's, thinking that Harry had lost his advantage.

"Okay, now that everyone's here…finally," she looked at James, who merely smiled, "we can get started."

She split them into two groups for a warm-up. Harry was on James' team. Harry noticed, as the practice went on, that James was a fairly decent flyer, and was able to catch and pass, but he lacked any team skills. He would try a complicated move that was quite unnecessary and lost him the Quaffle in the end.

When the team had touched down for the final time in early afternoon, James' ego had deflated a bit.

"Let's go eat, everyone! Don't forget we have practice Tuesday, right after class!" Violetta poked James' shoulder as he walked with the rest of them. "Can I talk to you for a moment?"

James straightened, looking smug again. "Sure." He glanced halfway at Harry, before sauntering off beside Violetta.

A couple weeks later, Raven revealed to Harry what she had concealed for months. "I know about the Animagus project."

Harry shushed her, looking around, but no one was listening. "So, what are you going to do?" And how had she found out?

"I want to be a part of it, too. The only thing stopping Severus from telling is knowing you're in on it. And…he doesn't want to become an Animagus, since he doesn't want to have anything to do with James and them." Raven's eyes were determined, scrutinizing his reaction.

Harry knew if he said no, Raven or Severus might give away their plan.

"I suppose so…but they won't be happy, with me or you."

Raven nodded quickly, about to thank him when Harry continued, "You can't tell anyone. And you'll spend at three hours a week researching." That part was an exaggeration, as Remus ended up doing most of the research, but wanted her to change her mind.

"I don't mind at all. Thank you so much!" Raven grinned and hurried to catch up with Severus.

One morning in October, Harry was jolted awake by the water.

It rained, hard, from the ceiling, frigid and…green?

"What the hell?" James was already at the door, trying to escape, but it wouldn't budge. "Alohomora!" Nothing. James pushed back a lock of now bright green hair and gritted his teeth in frustration, only for them to be dyed as well.

Sirius rushed to the window, throwing every spell he knew at it. Nothing would open or break the glass. Lupin threw his schoolbooks in his dresser, and ran to do the same for everyone else.

"Finite Incantatem!" yelled Harry, wand at the ceiling. Nothing happened.

"Impedimenta!"

Harry watched as a raindrop in front of his face slow. It looked like an emerald, or stained glass. Lupin gasped a little in wonder.

"Incendio!" The door burst into flames that shot up, black and menacing. After the wood had burned through, the rain started up again and extinguished the tendrils that had worked their way across the floor.

The six boys ran out of the room, only to meet more rain.

"James, Sirius; get the first Professor you can get to. Professor Darcer, if you can."

Harry was certain that the Slytherins were behind this, but how did they get in? He didn't want to think this was Severus and Raven's doing.

"Jacob!" shouted Remus over the din of shouting, rain, and footfalls. "We have to get everyone out!"

The two of them slowed down the rain (Remus knew the spell as well, though no one else in their grade had learned it) and burned the doors.

The common room was a mess. When Remus and Harry got back downstairs, they saw the Gryffindor girls running toward the portrait hole, levitating tables and chairs as they went to get some cover from the rain.

Professor Darcer ran into the room with what appeared to be the top part of an umbrella suspended over his head. He wore navy pajamas and his thick brown hair was flung about in a way very similar to James.

A few muttered incantations later and the rain started to peter out. Then, everything was silent.

"Follow me, Remus, Jacob." Darcer led them, then the others, out to the Hospital wing.

"Paling Potion, please, Poppy," said Darcer briskly, giving no explanation until every student drank their allotted cup. He discussed, in a whisper, what had happened to Madam Pomfrey until the effects of the potion had settled in.

The Gryffindors stood, completely white, gaping at each other.

"No worries, it'll take a few hours for you to get all your color back. Twelve at the most."

There were a few groans, curses, and angry mutters. Harry heard several mutterings of "Slytherins."

"If there is anyone who can't fall asleep, I'll arrange for an early breakfast. And I'll make sure you're excused from your first class this morning. Also, until we find out who did this, I don't want anyone to make any assumptions."
By their second class of the day, tensions ran high.

"So, which Slytherin wants to confess to this morning?" James asked lazily, leaning on his desk. "It'll save time. I won't make fun of you for coming up with the absolute worst prank I've ever seen." Everyone was quiet now, watching James.

"No one? Snivellus, what about you?" Sirius sidled next to James.

Severus' eyes narrowed. He said nothing.

James nodded, looking away as if to accept this; then his arm shot out and sent a red stream at Mulciber.

The silence was broken, and the two houses were suddenly shooting at each other, even Mulciber, whose face had been transfigured into a pig's.

With an unintelligible squeal, Mulciber sent a curse at Lily, whose back was turned as she tried to stop the fighting.

"Protego!" Harry blocked the spell and shot another between the two groups, forming a barrier against the spells, which sparked uselessly in the air.

"Enough!" Professor McGonagall whisked into the room, eyes blazing.

Harry wished she hadn't seen him cast the spell; it was more advanced magic than any of the others his age knew.

"You should all be ashamed of yourselves."

James got down from the table he had jumped onto. "They started it!"

Professor McGonagall cut him off.

"Detention, Potter. If the rest of you could please take a seat, without blowing up the classroom, I would appreciate it."

The chairs shuffled and scraped as the students sat down. Professor McGonagall looked them over sternly, then opened her mouth to continue when Mulciber snorted loudly.

"Now, really…" McGonagall waved her wand and Mulciber returned to normal. "This morning's events are inexcusable. I expect that you can at least be civil with each other, if you cannot be friends, and that nothing of this sort will happen again."

Only three days passed before the Gryffindors retaliated.

Lucius Malfoy was the first to confront them, because he was one of those who got the worst of the prank.

He stormed up to James in the hallway after first hour, eyes ablaze, furious.

"I heard you arranged this, you little prat."

The second year group had now stopped to watch. James grinned, even though Lucius' wand was pointed at his throat.

"I might have. I at least gave them the idea for the tattoo on your arse."

Lucius turned scarlet and put his wand on James' skin. The lion tattoo on Lucius' face opened its mouth into a roar, but no sound came out. "Oh, I could burn you where you stand. You're just a second year, and I know magic beyond what your tiny brain can imagine."

As he turned to leave, James said, "Well, not enough magic to grow your hair back, right?"

Lucius spun, short hair standing up with static, and shot a spell at James, who was thrown backwards.

A few girls screamed. Aluria Vane ran to his side, but James waved her off.

Lucius was gone, laughter from the Slytherins rippling in his wake. Harry saw they all had Gryffindor tattoos on their faces and hands—and probably other places he couldn't see.

Sirius helped James up, and they left the scene in furious whispers.

The battle of the houses continued. Madam Pomfrey rarely showed up at meals, and the hospital wing was always crowded with visitors and victims of pranks. Teachers piled on more homework in the hopes that they could lessen attacks, but the stress only strengthened the arguments between Slytherin and the other houses. Dumbledore made speeches on the founding of the school and the unity that was intended.

History of Magic turned into debates about the purpose of the houses, with Professor Binns serving as a weak moderator.

Harry first just listened in the arguments that broke out between the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors, but after listening to their childish retorts for three classes, he had to say something.

"The houses are important because they unite Hogwarts, not divide it. The fights are because of individual people, not because of the houses. Besides, some people become friends with people outside their own house, even with Slytherins."

"I disagree." A Ravenclaw, Lauren Tempah, stood up. She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "Hardly anyone has best friends from different houses. And we have fights because we know we are different from the others; the Sorting Hat tells us that. The four-House system prevents us from learning how to deal with people different from us."

Harry couldn't hide his annoyance. They were going against the way the school had been for a thousand years…the way he had lived in the best home he had ever had. "Then why are there different countries? Or even cities?"

The girl glared at him. She was one of the few who paid attention in History class. "That's different. People in different countries speak different languages, and they have different governments, and live in completely different ways. Here, we're all from Britain, we're all witches or wizards, and we're all kids. We're not meant to be put into boxes when we're still trying to figure out who we are."

Professor Binns checked the clock, now ten minutes past the end of class. "Class dismissed."

Harry almost shot something back at Lauren, but she was already moving out the door.

"Do you guys agree with me?" Harry asked Raven, Severus, and Lily.

"Yes."

"Yes."

It was Raven who hadn't replied. She shrugged and tilted her head. "Lauren does have a point."

Harry opened his mouth to try and convince her, but she interrupted. "We gotta go, just…think about what she meant, not about the Houses themselves."

She and Severus left in a hurry, and the Marauders followed. Remus told them to go on without him; he had to ask the Professor something.

He joined Lily and Harry without talking to Binns.

"Hello," he said as we swept his hair aside, looking at Lily, then Harry, and back to Lily.

"Remus, what do you think about the houses? I'm torn."

Harry was surprised; Lily had an opinion about everything.

"I like the idea of the houses, but I think they go too far. Most things we do are with our own house, so we never get to know anyone else. And I see, especially with the Slytherins and Gryffindors, that the label creates the conflict. People think what they do—their destiny—is predetermined by where they're put."

Lily stared at him, amazed, which made him so nervous he couldn't continue. "Okay, I think I decided; I agree with you."

Harry was tired of arguing with twelve-year-olds, who had little idea of what they were saying, and a weaker sense of tradition. Part of him thought Remus was right, but he still felt the houses were what kept the school together.

It had been a miserable two weeks. More drastic measures soon had to be taken.

When Professor McGonagall addressed the students, she had shadows under her eyes. "I will give the Gryffindors and the Slytherins one week. If they cannot resolve their differences by next Friday, November 3rd, the night before the first match, they will not be able to compete for the Cup."

Cries of outrage and frustration rang throughout the hall.

Dumbledore stood and the everyone fell silent. "The events over the past few weeks have astounded me. A new era is approaching, so it is essential that we remain united. Petty differences are no means for a feud."

Some students whispered to each other, oblivious to this "new era." Harry was one of the many that knew what Dumbledore meant; Voldemort was gaining power, and loyalties would be tested.

"This has been a battle over, in the eyes of the Houses involved, right and wrong. But fighting cannot create peace; or at least, not a resolution. I want each of you to consider this before you jeopardize someone's safety."

For a day, it seemed as though the conflict was over, but the last prank had been Gryffindor's work, and some of them couldn't resist rubbing it in.

So it was inevitable that the Slytherins would do something to shut them up.

Literally, shut them up. Five Gryffindors, including James and Sirius, woke up unable to speak. They could open their mouths, but no spell would allow them to make a sound that wasn't a high-pitched squeak.

In Potions, as Slughorn prepared a remedy, Harry caught a glimpse of the writing on a note James passed to Sirius.

Thursday night, corridor by the dungeons.

Word of the plan did not reach the professors. Students were under enough pressure from both sides that there were no attempts—that Harry knew of—to stop the battle.

Severus and Raven virtually disappeared in their small amounts of free time. This would be the true test of allegiance, but it seemed they had already made their decision.

That week, the hallway interactions between the Slytherin and the other houses consisted of either sarcastic respect and kindness or blunt distaste. As the fighting lessened, it seemed, to everyone not in the know, that they would make the deadline.

Harry wondered whether the fight-to-end-all-fights would just jumpstart the problem. And then there was the other factor; none of them wanted to lose Quidditch rights, even if they weren't on a team.

On Thursday, an electric current ran though the Great Hall. The teachers seemed much more rested and less stressed. After dinner, the students clambered to leave, clutching books on spells they had studied to prepare, talking to calm their nerves.

Nearly all of the Gryffindors left the common room at eleven. The percentage of participants rose slightly per year of study. All of the sixth and seventh years went, a couple hanging back to paint the eager, determined faces of their peers.

"Jacob, I decided to go. I don't want anyone to get hurt, and I haven't done anything so far. Have you decided?" Lily had been struggling with the decision because she thought the conflict was unnecessary.

"Yes, I'm going, but I'm not hexing anyone. I need to know you guys'll be safe. Also…I don't want Severus or Raven to do something they'll regret."

The Gryffindors moved through the school in small groups. The seventh years put Disillusionment Charms on all of the students, which was enough to conceal them in the dark hallways.

The fight didn't break out at the first encounter. The Slytherins and the Gryffindors revealed themselves at the appropriate place and time, a bit unsure. Some students cast protection charms around the area.

After a minute of suspense, a Slytherin, face masked like a Death Eater, pushed to the front of his end. He had hardly extended his arm before he was knocked to the ground by one of Frank Longbottom's friends.

Most students teamed up against others. Those who had specific grudges faced off one-on-one, if they could recognize their opponent. Harry was too focused on blocking spells to find Severus and Raven, who he thought he could identify by their height and movements.

A high-pitched noise rang through the air. Harry didn't know what or where the sound was coming from until everyone stopped what they were doing.

The girl was now curled on the ground, stiff with pain. The circle of Slytherins around her dropped as stunning spells collided with their backs.

The Slytherins scattered, taking the unconscious bodies with them, cries of protest and stray spells ringing out among the Gryffindors.

Harry pointed his wand at a few of the now recovered Slytherins who had circled the girl. "Accio masks!"

Unmistakably greasy black hair was revealed on one of the boys as they ran away. Harry glanced back and saw Lily staring at the spot Severus had been, shock frozen on her features.

"Violetta, are you okay?" Harry heard someone ask. He turned and saw she had sat up, but was still crying.

"I—it was the Cruciatus Curse," managed Violetta after two of her friends calmed her down.

Lily had finally been pulled out of her haze and asked Harry, "What's going to happen now?"

The next morning, Raven came to breakfast late, red-eyed, dark skin an unhealthy pallor. Harry couldn't figure out why she was emotional.

Lily refused to speak to Severus and pretended he wasn't there. Halfway through breakfast, however, she couldn't hold back any longer.

"Why did you do it, Severus?"

Severus looked up, clearly dreading her suspicion. He glanced over to the staff table, where Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall were talking. "I…what do you mean?"

"I saw you with those Slytherins. You could go to Azkaban for that! What were you thinking? What did she do to deserve—?"

"I didn't cast the spell."

"Why should I believe you? You can't prove you didn't!"

"You can't prove I did."

"I hate it when you act like this! You've seen the Slytherins do horrible things, but you still hang out with them—"

Lily noticed Raven was holding back tears. "Look, Raven—" She watched in dismay as Raven got up and left, crying inaudibly. She didn't want to take back what she said, it was clear she felt responsible.

After glaring at the two of them, Severus stormed after Raven.

Lily jumped into conversation so she didn't have to worry about them. "Do they—the professors—know what happened?"

"I don't know. We were all supposed to take care of the injured ourselves. After Violetta was tortured, though, I don't know what they're going to do…but they can't take away Quidditch without going against what McGonagall said."

It turned out that Violetta made everyone promise not to say anything. It would only lead to controversy, since the Slytherins would deny it and accuse the Gryffindors of lying. So the first game of the season, Gryffindor vs. Slytherin, was still on.

On the day of the match, the air was humid and cold. The Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had arranged themselves between the Gryffindors and the Slytherins to prevent conflict.

Two chants began as the players took their positions, words mashing into an unintelligible roar.

Harry had a new motivation to catch the Snitch as quickly as possible this time: to prevent anyone from getting hurt.

He took into the air and flew just slightly above the players. A few drops of moisture formed on his glasses and he wiped them away with his glove.

Minutes went by with no sign of the Snitch. Through the mist, Harry could get a vague idea of what was happening. Hardly a play would go by without the shrill sound of a whistle and yells from either end of the stands. Lucius Malfoy glided along so casually that most of the time he wasn't even looking around, just drifting, eyes locked straight ahead.

At first, Harry thought this was because Lucius was counting on him to find the Snitch before trying to get it himself. Then Harry realized something else was going on.

He hadn't seen any flash of gold the entire time on the field, and as he was the best Seeker in Hogwarts, something had to be wrong. Harry had seen the Snitch released, so it wasn't as though it wasn't around somewhere. Maybe the Slytherins had cursed it from the stands, or put some sort of spell beforehand that kept it out of view.

Harry continued to speed along, but gradually decreased his height.

"…And Slytherin ties it up, 90 to 90!"

Harry was low enough now to see blades of grass on the ground. Looking up, Harry saw Lucius descending after him. He gained speed, eying the ground. Then, he saw it resting in the grass by the Slytherin stand. Harry dove toward the ground, Lucius on his tail, and grabbed the Snitch.

"Jacob Walker caught the Snitch! Gryffindor wins!"

It seemed as though the spectators thought the Snitch had been flying low to the ground, when it had been on the ground.

As it turns out, the Slytherins had been trying to stall Harry so they had more time to do illegal plays. A couple members from each team were brought to the hospital wing, but there were no long-term injuries. Nothing was brought up about the pranks or the curse, but nothing was resolved, either. Harry knew the Marauders wouldn't stop pushing the limits of the Slytherins and the teachers.

"Jacob, do you mind, well, we've got plans tonight. Can you handle, er…" James bared his teeth and barked.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Sure. I'll let you prank the Slytherins instead of taking care of your best friend."

"Right. Thanks." James met back up with the other Marauders, leaving Harry to seethe. How could they be so awful?

After dinner, Harry and Remus trekked down to the Whomping Willow.

"I promise, I won't let you get hurt this time."

Remus shook his head. "It was an accident."

He still seemed uneasy, so Harry added, "I have better spells this time."

Remus rubbed the back of his neck. "It's not that…Do you fancy Lily?"

Harry almost tripped. "No. No, I don't. Not at all." If only he knew how ridiculous his question was.

"Oh, good. I mean, not good, but…" He faltered.

"Because you fancy her."

Remus stopped, staring at Harry in shock. "How did you know?"

"It's kind of obvious."

"Oh no…"

"I mean, to me it is, but I don't think anyone else noticed. Especially James."

Remus didn't say anything. He looked up at the sky, then started walking. Finally, he said, "You won't tell anyone?"

"Of course not. I've known for a while, and I haven't told anyone so far." Harry levitated a branch and it hit the knob on the tree. "Does it make you…unhappy to fancy her? Because of James?"

Remus swallowed. "I guess, if I could control it, I wouldn't like her, but I—I can't help it. I know he has a better chance than I do, in the end."

They had reached the shack. Harry went upstairs and crouched by the hole in the floor. He peered down and said to Remus, who looked back up at him, and said, "What about Raven?"

"Raven?" Remus hardly had time to consider it before he shuddered and his head snapped back.

Harry withdrew and pulled out his wand. A howl rose into the air, sending vibrations through the floorboards. Harry summoned the happiest thought he could; the time he first met his mother. A stag bounded forward, bright and pure. It slipped downstairs, which cut off the howl and brought on a long whine. Then, there was silence.

Peering down the hole once more, Harry saw Remus eye the stag, snarling. The Patronus kneeled, still staring serenely at the werewolf before it. After a moment, Remus rested his head on his paws, regarding the Patronus until he fell asleep.

The next morning, Harry saw that Remus had suffered no injuries from transforming.

"Last night, before I transformed, what did you mean?"

"Er, what did I say again?"

"It seemed like you were saying I should give up on Lily and consider Raven."

"Well, you should do whatever is going to make you happy. But I don't think James will stop fancying Lily."

A week later, at Quidditch practice, Violetta pulled Harry aside. "I think James fancies me," she said, trying not to smile.

"You've noticed? He actually fancies someone else; he's trying to make me jealous."

"Jealous?"

"I don't fancy you, he just thinks I do." Harry fidgeted, awkward. "It's probably because, you know, you kissed me."

"That wasn't anything! I'll talk to him and tell him to—"

"No, don't." Harry grinned. "It'll be an inside joke; one more thing we can make fun of."

"Brilliant."

"Violetta, something's wrong with my broom!" called James. "It's pretty hard and a little stiff, can you help me fix it?"

Violetta rolled her eyes, exchanged a grin with Harry, and went to help him. James shot Harry a smug look from down the field.

That night, Violetta stood before the Gryffindors to address them about the Order of the Phoenix. Voldemort was gaining support at a faster rate than the year before, so the upperclassmen who planned on joining the Order held monthly meetings about acting against his forces. "My little brother was killed about three years ago. He was only eight, but he was already showing signs he would be a very powerful wizard. He had such potential.

"I was babysitting him that night. I was upstairs, he was downstairs. I didn't hear them come in, or leave. When I went into his room to check on him, he was dead." She paused a moment to take a breath. "I'll never forget how I could barely recognize him, he was so torn up. We were told one of You-Know-Who's werewolves tried to turn him, but my brother fought back, and was killed. That's why I'm joining the fight against You-Know-Who. To make sure no one has to go through what I did."

A few other Gryffindors spoke before the meeting was over. The younger Gryffindors headed to bed, the speakers stayed behind to talk with the others.

"Violetta, I'm sorry about your brother. I know what that's like." For a moment, Harry wished he could tell her that Voldemort would most certainly pay for what he'd done.

"Thanks, Jacob." She seemed exhausted. "I don't get sad about it much anymore. It took a while before I realized he wouldn't want me to be unhappy. I had allowed myself to be miserable because if I wasn't, I would feel like I was shaming his memory. I realized he was just one person in the world that suffered because of You-Know-Who. Instead of making my life miserable, I had to make the world better." Violetta paused to let him process what she had said. "I think you'd be a good addition to the Order, when you're of age."

The weather grew colder as winter deepened. After finishing their homework, Raven wanted to get outside, and asked Harry to join her. They ended up talking about her involvement in the Dark Arts.

"I have nearly a dozen books that my relatives have given me over the last couple years. 'Happy Christmas, how about cursing someone at school!' and, 'Here, have a book with 183 easy ways to torture!'" Raven shook her head and scoffed.

"So that's why you can't leave? Because of your family?"

"No. Well, partly." She braced herself against the wind.

"Then what're the other reasons?"

"I dunno," she said, and the brief moment she had opened up to him was gone.

Harry thought they had been getting somewhere, so he persisted. "No, tell me."

"I said, I don't know!"

Harry stopped. "What about Sirius? His whole family is in Slytherin! How come he isn't?"

Raven kicked at the snow as she spun to face him. "Because he's arrogant and, I dunno, he doesn't care what his family thinks. Why don't you ask him?"

"That's not the point." Harry took a step closer, lowering his voice. "Everyone has a choice. Some people die because of their choices, some die for their choices. But you're only twelve, you don't have to worry about life or death." He took her shoulders and realized she was trembling. "The direction you're taking…you'll kill before most other people your age would have a real job. It's strange to imagine now, as a kid, you'd be capable of that."

Raven's face was splotchy and streaked with tears. She couldn't bring herself to speak, so she just wrapped her arms around Harry.

It took a few minutes, but after wiping her face and taking some deep breaths, Raven was able to talk. "I know now what I was doing is wrong. I—I thought I was too far in, and I—I thought that Se—Severus would lose himself with the Sly—Slytherins if I wasn't there."

"It's okay." Harry began walking again, slowly, and Raven followed.

"What's Severus gonna say?"

"I don't know, but we'll find out. Look, even if he gets mad at you, and refuses to talk; you made the right decision."

Raven hunched her shoulders against the wind. "I hope so."

The next day, when she told Severus, he nearly snapped his quill in half. "What do you mean?"

Harry was a ways back, trying to seem like he wasn't listening, but he was unable to continue his conversation with Lily.

"What do you mean, 'You're done'?"

Raven avoided his eyes. "Severus, I'm just tired of being a part of this, and…"

Harry's attention flipped back to Lily and he noticed she too was listening in on Raven and Severus.

"…I've always been sort of against it, I think, but I thought we'd both gone too far in to leave."

"You're right. You are too far in." Severus crossed his arms. "They're going to go after you."

"Can't you stop them?" Raven's hands shook and her voice was strained.

Severus struggled for a moment, uncrossed his arms, and replied in a low voice, "I'll try, but I'm not old enough to make much of a difference—"

"Severus, just leave with me!" Raven grabbed his hands. They were almost at eye level, so there was nowhere for him too look other than at her. "Please, before it really is too late! They'll ruin you, and I know you want to say no, but they're honestly evil."

Severus' expression hardened. "You've been talking to Jacob, haven't you?"

"You're missing the point." Raven took her hands away, but held his gaze.

Severus studied her, expression cold, but his eyes darted too much and his face was reddening. "'We're in this together, Severus,'" he whispered, forcing his emotions into anger. "'They don't know what they're missing, Severus. Don't listen to Jacob, Severus.'"

Raven looked as though she'd been slapped. "Stop. I can't help that I've changed, Severus."

Severus raised his voice. "'I wasted so much time before, being against the Dark Arts, Severus. The Dark Lord knows the truth about the world, Severus. Honestly, Severus, this is the best part of school. Thank you so much, Severus.'"

Lily ran to Raven's side. "What the hell is wrong with you?" she demanded, as Raven broke down in her arms.

"What's wrong with me?" Severus repeated, hysterical. "What's wrong with her! We've worked for so long to get to where we are, and now she's—she's throwing it away!"

Raven glared at him through her tears. "You're the one throwing your life away!"

"Severus, it's Raven's decision." Harry stepped between them. "Why does it matter if she leaves? You don't want to, so what difference does it make?"

Severus looked down and turned. "I'm going to bed." He ran upstairs, now more alone than ever.


Chapter 9: The Hate Potion
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"Hey, traitor!"

"Mudblood lover."

"Freak."

"You're not gonna make it long after Hogwarts, you know that, don't you, Faralyn?"

Harry wouldn't let Raven go anywhere without someone else accompanying her. Severus refused to do so, but he was never with the Slytherins when she was targeted.

Raven, Remus, and Harry were walking through the corridor on Saturday when the attacks escalated. A Slytherin hit Harry in the back with a Full Body-Bind Curse and snatched his wand. Remus took the offender out with the same spell and they ran into an empty classroom.

Remus refused to let her out until twenty minutes after, when he thought it would be safe. It took that long for a passerby to unfreeze Harry.

By the last few days before the holidays, seeing Severus outside of class was a rare occasion. Which is why Severus was surprised when Lily asked at breakfast, "Have you guys packed yet?"

"I'm almost ready," replied Harry. Severus nodded in agreement, a harmless lie. He was sure his involvement in the Dark Arts would have exempted him from Christmas at Lily's.

"Cool." Lily turned to Raven, who ran up to them as she tied her long hair into a ponytail. Raven was happier than Harry had ever seen her, especially now that she was more resistant to verbal attacks from the Slytherins. She smiled more, laughed more, and was closer to the Lily, who had a positive effect on her. Still, there were times when Raven fell into a state of listlessness, brought on by seeing one her former Slytherin friends, Regulus especially, or sometimes (in Harry's view) for no reason at all.

The train ride to King's Cross was brief. The train had been decorated with holly, everlasting icicles, and tinsel. In some compartments, tiny snowflakes drifted down from the ceiling, vanishing if they touched the ground without landing on a student.

Sirius and Peter were staying at Hogwarts. The full moon had just passed, so Remus felt comfortable going home for Christmas. Otherwise, he endangered himself and his parents.

When the train pulled up to King's Cross, it was Severus who was by far the most nervous. He smoothed down his wrinkled shirt front, trying to look presentable. Lily fussed at his state and charmed his shirt so it looked freshly ironed.

Mr. and Mrs. Evans met the group at the station, then drove them on a long and awkward car ride home.

Petunia greeted them at the door, wearing a plaid, neatly-ironed dress. Her expression soured as Severus and Raven walked past.

"Well, this is it," said Mrs. Evans, looking over them warmly.

Harry realized both he and Severus had stayed overnight at Lily's house without their parents knowing, and he once more had the feeling that he was intruding.

"So, this is the kitchen." Mrs. Evans walked them through the living room. "Breakfast is at nine, I'll make the rounds if someone's not up."

"We waited to decorate the tree!" Petunia beamed at Harry.

"Right, that'll be before dinner tomorrow." Mrs. Evans guided them downstairs to the basement. There was one mattress in the back of the room, a sleeping bag and blankets set up on the floor next to it.

"This is where you two will sleep," she told the boys. She lead them back to the main floor, then upstairs.

When they entered Lily's bedroom, Harry noticed Severus shift uncomfortably.

"Raven, you'll sleep here, like last time." Mrs. Evans nodded toward the trundle beside Lily's bed. "And we'll be in the room down the hall if there's an emergency."

Petunia appeared in the doorway. "Dad has everyone's things. The girls can shower in the evening, and the boys in the morning."

Downstairs, Mr. Evans helped them with their suitcases. "Girls upstairs by ten, boys downstairs by ten." His gaze fell pointedly on Severus and Harry. Neither of them needed further explanation.

"If you need anything, just ask." Mrs. Evans smiled warmly at them. Mr. Evans was looking curiously at the owls. Severus' owl, Luna, seemed to hold him in a trance for a good twenty seconds before he managed to look away.

Severus and Harry unpacked in silence.

At least, it was silent until Severus caught a glimpse of Harry's borrowed purse.

"Why do you have that?" he asked, peering over at the suitcase Harry had quickly shoved the purse back into.

"It's my mom's. I, er, stole it."

"Why'd you steal it?" Severus had stopped what he was doing, and his black eyes searched Harry. Jacob had proved to be a rule-follower—definitely not a thief.

Harry hoped his discomfort would be taken as guilt. "Because…if I stole the purse…then she wouldn't suspect me. Well, first, I stole it for money; she wouldn't give me anything for supplies. If I had just stolen the wallet, then it'd be more obvious, so I had to take the purse, too. She thinks she just lost it or something."

Severus nodded, but more to himself, as he looked back at his suitcase.

A couple days passed. It was at first strange for the four of them to be together outside of school, but they soon fell into the rhythm of it.

"Biscuit?"

"Thanks."

Petunia paused behind Harry, watching him take a bite.

"Er, is there something on my face?"

"I just wanted to see if you won. You didn't."

"Win what?"

Petunia had become increasingly more annoying to Harry. It was easy, at first, to separate her from her older self. Now, it was hard for Harry to ignore the distasteful looks she cast that reminded him all too clearly of the times she would wrinkle her nose at him, as if he had crawled into the house from the plumbing. As if it was his fault he was a constant reminder of his mother to her.

The sound of glass shattering and Severus cursing stifled Petunia's reply.

"Lily, I'm sorry, it just slipped. What's wrong? It was an accident…"

Petunia was quick on the scene. "That's her ornament, her favorite one, and you broke it, you—"

"Tuney, I—I'm fine." Lily swallowed, blinking to keep her composure. "It's just an ornament."

Green and gold shards littered the ground. The biggest piece, the chipped head of the rabbit, stared at Harry blankly.

Mrs. Evans came into the room with her standard fretful, doting expression. "What happened? What broke?"

"Severus did it!"

Mrs. Evans looked from Petunia to Severus to the ornament on the ground. "He only dropped it, don't be upset, girls, it didn't break. How, I don't know…and what about that smashing sound?"

"Everything's fine, Mrs. Evans," chimed in Harry. "And thank you for the cookies."

"You're welcome, love. Oh, did Petunia tell you? If your biscuit has chocolate in the center, you get to put the star on the tree. Last year, Mr. Evans won." The others seemed to only distantly hear this; they all stared at the gold-and-green bunny, which was back in one piece.

"I'll leave you to it, I suppose." Mrs. Evans went back to her baking.

"Who fixed it?" asked Lily in a low voice.

"I saw Severus do it," said Harry, giving him a small nod as a cue.

"Sev, you didn't have to do that. You could get in serious trouble. What if you were expelled?"

"I…"

"Thank you, though, Sev."

Severus accepted her hug, too distracted to appreciate it.

On his way to use the bathroom, Severus confronted Harry. "Why did you do that? Why didn't the Trace work?"

"I did it because, if you haven't noticed, your relationship with Lily is on the rocks. And I don't know why the Trace didn't work, but I bet most people in Ministry are on holiday, so they wouldn't have time to deal with a small accident involving a Repairing Charm."

That night, the four sat in a circle on the ground around Severus' mattress. Raven and Severus leaned against Harry's bed, with Harry across from Severus, and Lily across from Raven.

"We should play Truth or Dare," said Lily, when their mugs of hot cocoa were empty.

Raven uncrossed her legs. "What's Truth or Dare?"

"Oh, right, it's a Muggle game, you wouldn't know. Well, how 'bout I start. I'll ask someone, 'Truth or Dare?' and they choose one, and I ask them a Truth or a Dare."

The other three nodded. Severus shifted uncomfortably.

"Okay, Raven, Truth or Dare?"

"Er…" Raven's eyes flickered to Severus, then back at Lily. "Dare."

"Hm. I dare you to…talk while holding your tongue for the next two rounds."

"I have to?"

"That's how the game works, yeah."

Severus shifted, nervous. "Do Muggles actually play this game? Jacob, have you ever played this game? No?"

"Just give it a chance! Unless you have something other than Wizard's Chess to play. Okay, Raven, now you ask someone."

Raven eyes skimmed Severus, but then she decided, tongue between her fingers: "Jacop, Tooth o' Dare?"

Harry shrugged. "Truth." This had to be a low point in their maturity, even for twelve-year-olds.

"Er, how about…oh!" Raven grinned as best as she could while holding her tongue. "Ith 'ou 'ad thoo choose anyone in the thcool to date, 'oo would it be?"

Harry frowned. To them, it was a harmless, silly question. For him, the pain over Ginny made it difficult to respond.

"I don't fancy anyone, though."

"It doesn't mather. Chooth thomeone!"

"I suppose Violetta, but…"

Lily and Raven exchanged a glance and smirked.

"I don't fancy her, though!"

"Sure, Jacob." Lily still smiled, convinced.

"Lily, Truth or Dare." Harry agreed with Severus that they should do something else.

"Truth."

"If you had to date someone in the school, who would it be?"

Lily stopped smiling. "But I don't fancy anyone!"

Harry raised his eyebrows, and Lily sighed. Severus stared at her, and Harry noticed his hands were clenched.

"Fine, then—Remus."

Severus couldn't help himself; "Why Remus?"

"Shh!" Lily glanced toward the stairs. "I dunno, he's nice, and not obnoxious, like James. I don't actually fancy him, although, if I had to choose…"

Severus leaned back against the bed. Harry thought he saw his eyes shining, but at the next glance he decided he had just imagined it.

"Raven, you can let go of your tongue now. And, you haven't gone yet, Sev, so Truth or Dare?"

"Dare," replied Severus immediately. He probably saw the game as a binding contract to tell the truth, and couldn't risk the question of the last two Truths.

"Dare…hm. I'm really bad at these. Jacob, Raven, help me."

Raven seemed hopeful.

Noticing Raven's expression, Harry became torn; he sometimes, without meaning to, supported her feelings for Severus. Should he try to push them away, because Severus could never feel the same way about her?

Harry whispered his idea to Lily.

"Hold hands with Raven for five minutes," Lily told Severus.

Harry was the only one who noticed Raven's nervousness as Severus reached across to her, avoiding her gaze. They fumbled for a moment before their fingers were locked.

"Severus. Ask someone Truth or Dare."

"Jacob, Truth or Dare."

"Truth."

Severus met his eyes, serious. "Why do you sometimes look like James?"

Harry froze. Lily and Raven looked between them, confused.

Like James…like James…When did the spells not work? Or had something else happened? "I don't know what you mean."

"Never mind." Severus' fingers tightened around Raven's; she squirmed.

"Here, Sev, I have an idea." Lily leaned in and whispered something to Severus.

Severus huffed. "Fine, what's your favorite thing about each person here?"

"Oh." Harry thought for a moment. He pushed away thoughts about Ron and Hermione. "My favorite thing about Raven is…how she cares for people. She's always there for us." He couldn't have truthfully said that until after she'd left the Slytherins. In Raven's eyes, though, it was clear that after leaving them she still believed she'd abandoned Severus.

"As for Lily, she's incredibly kind, and stands up for people."

Severus' eyes followed on Lily's guilty, downturned ones.

"And my favorite thing about Severus is…" Harry thought of the person who died for love, not out of selfish reasons, but for Harry's own life.

"His determination. How he spends time to get something done, and he doesn't give up…even if, well…" Harry stopped.

Raven's fingers were red from the pressure of Severus'.

Harry thought for a moment. "Raven. Truth or Dare."

"I'll do Truth this time."

Harry paused. "Is there anything you would give up magic for?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Really? What?"

"Well, if someone was dying, and that was the only way…or," she glanced at Severus, then her eyes traveled back around the room, "no, yeah, something like that. All right, Truth or Dare, Severus."

"Truth."

"Oh. Er, if you only had a day to live, what would you do?"

Severus looked down. "I'd tell off everyone I didn't like, because there wouldn't be consequences. I'd go somewhere, too, I suppose."

The group was silent, thoughtful.

Everyone but Lily, Harry realized, had some sort of secret that would affect their final day on Earth: Raven had feelings for Severus, Severus loved Lily, and Harry was from a different time. And, maybe Lily didn't hate James as much as she had before?

Severus unraveled his fingers from Raven's. They both wiped her hands on their pajamas. Raven tried to exchange a glance with Severus, but he had looked away, to Lily.

"Truth or Dare," said Severus quietly.

"Truth."

"What is your least favorite thing about me?"

"Oh, Sev, I don't want to answer that…"

"But I want you to."

"Besides you hanging out with the Slytherins? I mean, sometimes you can be a little intense, and clingy…" Lily frowned, but shrugged as if to say, "You wanted to know." Not wanting to meet Severus' empty eyes, she decided on Harry. "Jacob, Truth or—"

"Truth."

"Hm…Have you ever lied?"

"Yeah." Harry was relieved. It didn't reveal anything about himself; he saw all of his friends lie daily, with little stretches of the truth.

"Wait, no, how about, what's the biggest lie you've told in the past month? No, year?"

"I can't remember anything specific."

And then he felt it. The space in front of him felt cooler, thinner. It was merely a flicker, but it was enough to cause a slight shift in Severus' eyebrows. The appearance-changing spells had weakened again. But why?

"C'mon, it's just us."

"I told my mom I didn't know where her purse was, when I actually stole it."

Harry felt normal again, but Severus still stared.

The next morning, Harry groggily opened his eyes, awakened by Severus' hand on his shoulder. It took him a moment to realize what day it was.

"What's the matter?" Harry sat up.

Severus' mouth was ajar in shock.

"What's wrong? Why are you looking at me like that?"

Severus shook his head, blinked a few times, and sat back down on his mattress. Harry leaned against the wall and looked at Severus, waiting for a reply.

"I couldn't sleep. I keep thinking…Well, what if Lily doesn't like my gift?" Severus' voice cracked slightly.

Harry's eyes had adjusted better to the darkness; he saw Severus pressing his hands together.

"Of course she'll like your gift; it's from you." It seemed as though that wasn't what Severus was really wondering about.

Harry wondered if Severus expected him to know how he felt about Lily, or if he believed he was doing a good job of hiding his feelings and didn't want Harry to know.

"I suppose." Severus lay back down and fixed his gaze on the ceiling.

"Lily still cares about you," said Harry quietly.

Severus' eyes turned to Harry, then back again. "Not for long."

"And why do you think that?"

Severus exhaled. "Because."

Harry raised his eyebrows. Severus saw his expression and sighed again.

"Because she's—we're—too different."

"So?"

"So…I don't know! She's mad at me, all the time—for no good reason—and…" His voice hitched again.

"I would say there's a good reason."

Severus sat up. "Of course you would! You always side with her!"

Harry looked back at Severus in amazement. "How long have I told you the Dark Arts is a bad idea? If anything, she's siding with me." Harry moved to the edge of his bed. "Look, I'm not against you, and, it's Christmas; we don't need to be talking about this right now."

Severus lay back down and sighed. "Fine. But, er, one more thing…"

"Hang on." Harry turned on the lamp on the bedside table. Raven and Lily stood up quickly on the landing, trying to make it seem as though they hadn't been listening.

In the light, Harry could see Severus' panic clearly. "Lily, I didn't mean—"

"It's fine, Severus," said Lily, but it seemed forced.

"We didn't mean to eavesdrop, we were just going to see if you were up…" explained Raven, trailing off.

"Do we wait for your parents, or can we go upstairs?"

"I'll get Tuney. Then we can open presents; my parents always sleep in." Lily tip-toed back up the stairs.

Raven hesitated, torn between sides, then said, "I'm going to make some hot cocoa," on her way after Lily.

Severus groaned and rolled onto on his stomach. Into his pillow, he said, "I'm such an idiot."

The tree glowed warmly in the dark of the living room, illuminating the stockings and gifts. Petunia and Lily's were stuffed full of things, while the other stockings seemed deflated. Raven, Harry, and Severus didn't mind, though.

They only took ten minutes to go through all of their stockings. Mixed in with the presents under the tree were things that had been mailed from family and friends. Remus gave Harry a journal filled with new notes from Animagus-related books and sections gathering everything Harry had found before. He gave Lily a stuffed rabbit, which he had bought after asking her what her favorite animal was at breakfast (in a not-so-subtle way). Raven got three books from family on the Dark Arts. After unwrapping them, she and Harry exchanged a grin.

"I have to get something," said Lily, before unwrapping Severus' gift. She came back downstairs, hand clasped around something. She sat back down and opened her palm. "Let me guess…yeah, 'Evans.'" The stone Severus had given her last year now read "Lily Evans."

His gift this year was a protective stone similar to the one Lily gave him last year. However, this one wasn't a solid color; it had blue detailing.

"Now we both have one." Severus and Lily smiled more sincerely than they had the entire holiday.

"How did you get the money for gifts?" Harry asked Severus, when Mr. Evans was at work and the girls had gone to the market.

"If I tell you, will you not say anything to try and convince me it was wrong?"

"Sure."

"I make potions and sell them."

"What kind of potions? Are they legal? I'm just asking, relax."

"You wouldn't know what kind. And, no, not technically."

"Well, money is money, isn't it? Doesn't matter where it came from, as long as you're using it for good, right?"

Severus hesitated. "Right."

After the holidays, James was quick to work on the Animagus project. "Jacob, we're having a meeting today in the common room. Eleven o' clock sharp. Tell Raven."

They actually stuck to their word. Remus had a stack of books in case they needed resources. Most, if not all of the books appeared to have been nicked from the Restricted Section.

"So," Harry began, flipping through the journal, "I think we have the rest of the year left before we're ready."

"The rest of the year?" James folded his arms and leaned back in his chair.

"It's not easy. You and I have Quidditch, and we all have homework. If we did it before the end of the year, everyone would have the summer to practice transforming. It's better that we go over the procedure—"

"Yeah, I get it."

"If you want a guarantee that we'll be done in time, you could help out. Double-check everything."

James glanced at Sirius. "Okay. For the sake of marauding."

As February 14th approached, most students were preparing gifts, excited to have a break from studies. Harry, however, worried that after last year's events, something awful would happen on Valentine's Day.

He was right to worry.

Lily slammed her drink down on the table. "No." Severus flinched, and a few people turned to look at her.

"Er, what—"

"I'm tired of your excuses about everything! And the lying; you think I don't know when you're not telling the truth."

Severus stared at her, wide-eyed. "Lily, it's not—"

"Just stop!" she screeched. Harry had never seen her so furious with Severus.

She stood up and faced him, fists clenched and shaking.

"You're so timid about everything. You don't know how to stand up for yourself. You complain about James bullying, but you and your gang do the same thing. You say you want to be friends, but you torment every Mudblood that isn't me."

Harry saw Severus' eyes narrowing, dulling as he pushed his emotions inward. Should I help? This is what I meant to prevent, and now it was happening again. Not in the same way, though…would that mean they would still have a change to make up?

"I see no reason in staying friends." Some of the spectators smirked, some felt guilty to be listening. Lily's leaned in close to Severus' face.

"I hate you."

It was barely a whisper, but Harry heard it all too clearly. It echoed in his mind until the words no longer sounded like words, just harsh syllables.

Remus, Raven, and Harry sat in a shocked silence. James, Sirius, and Peter were bent over their food, smirking.

Lily spun around and stormed off.

Severus stared after her, face contorting. He stood and hurried out of the Hall. Harry followed him, ignoring the stares and the whispers.

It didn't happen like this before. Everything had been fine, where did this come from?

He had no more time to contemplate, he could only be there for him. "Hang on, Severus!"

Harry withdrew a bit when he heard the shaking of Severus' breath. They stopped just outside the Great Hall.

"She didn't mean what she said." Harry couldn't see Severus' face.

"But you agree with her." Severus' voice was higher than normal.

Harry did agree, so he replied, evasively, "I'm just saying she doesn't hate you."

Severus started walking again, more quickly this time.

"Stop!" Harry grabbed his Severus' arm, which twisted uselessly beneath his grip.

"WHAT? WHAT DO YOU WANT?" Severus' face contorted in fury. "YOU THINK YOU OWN ME, BUT YOU DON'T! YOU CAN'T FIX THINGS! I DON'T NEED YOUR HELP!" He took off the watch Harry had given him and threw it on the ground. It bounced, but didn't break. At this, tears sprung in Severus' eyes. "Just leave me alone…" Then he blinked, and his dark eyes widened. "Potter?"

Harry felt as though he had fallen into the pond in the Forest of Dean. What did Severus mean, "Potter?" He looked around; there was no one else there.

"What—how…" Severus closed his eyes, shaking his head, and whatever he saw seemed to be gone. Then he remembered what he'd felt and said the minute before. "Goodbye."

Harry quickly looked at his reflection in the face of his watch. It was not his father, nor Harry, who looked back at him. It was definitely—

"Jacob!" Raven ran up to him, a bit out of breath. "Lily said she wouldn't be friends with me if I was friends with him, I don't know what's wrong with her…" She trailed off. "Are you okay?"

Harry looked away, wishing she would do the same. How humiliating it was to cry at something so trivial as a nineteen-year-old, even if only he knew his true age. "Fine."

Raven wasn't convinced. "We need to talk to Lily."

"Right." What had Severus seen? Could he see through my appearance, or had James simply been behind me?

Raven and Harry hurried back to the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, where Lily sat, trembling.

"What was that about?" demanded Raven.

"I just hate him so much." Lily didn't look at them properly. Her eyes were slightly out of focus.

"You mean to say you suddenly—out of nowhere—hate your best friend? When did you become insane?"

Harry noticed the Marauders whispering and laughing. Remus' grin seemed forced, and it disappeared when he met Harry's glare.

"Sounds like Evans has finally come to her senses." James was unable to hide a glow of satisfaction.

"Sounds like you want a mouthful of dragon shit," snapped Raven. Everyone who heard gaped at her in surprise.

James' eyes narrowed. "I don't like your tone, Faralyn. Luckily for you, I happen to know a great spell that could fix it for you: shutus thefuckupeus."

Raven snorted. "And I don't like your ugly face, Potter. Unfortunately for you, the only way you could change it is by magically fixing a bag over your head."

A few people oohed, and James' face flushed. "At least I'm not a traitor. You don't belong in Gryffindor or Slytherin."

Raven shot a spell right at James' chest.

Harry thought he saw Dumbledore look their way. "C'mon, Raven, he's not worth it."

"I know. But he deserved that."

As they walked by, James was huddled in his seat, rubbing his arms, face white.

"What'd you do to him?"

"Freezing Hex. Innocent enough, but it'll be a while before he thaws."

Harry told Raven he would deal with Severus alone. Severus was sitting on his bedside, facing away from the door.

"Severus? Are you okay?" His figure didn't move; Harry thought he had been petrified until he faced him.

Severus' eyes were blank, staring straight ahead. "I'm actually fine."

"Are you—are you sure? What about what Lily said?"

"Fine."

"Fine? Severus, you screamed at me hardly fifteen minutes ago, your best friend told you she hates you, and you're fine?"

"I'm going to sleep."

"James and Sirius did something to Lily. She didn't mean what she said."

"It doesn't matter," said Severus into his pillow.

"Okay. Believe what you want. It's not my problem." Why do I waste my time on him? He has to be the most socially incompetent person in school. Harry left Severus' watch on his bed.

Lily thought, when she recovered, that Severus would be mad at the Marauders, and not upset with her. She was left with a less than vivid memory of what happened. Her guilt about what she had said temporarily prevented her from considering the truth behind her words.

"'Morning, Sev." Lily studied his face, which appeared worn and tempered beyond thirteen years old.

"Good morning."

"I'm sorry about whatever I said. If James shows his face at breakfast, I'll hex him. You know what? We should do something to them. Give 'em a bit of their own medicine. Sev, where are you going?"

"I'm not hungry."

Lily looked to Harry, confusion obvious. Raven sighed. "Lily, what you said really hurt him. Do you remember anything?"

"I…" Lily thought for a moment, brow furrowing. "Yeah, I do. But he knew I had been cursed, or, what did Remus say they used? A hate potion?"

Raven nodded. "They did use a hate potion, but I don't think it's that simple. Hate potions are different from love potions. A love potion blurs reality; it creates a dreamy sort of obsession. Hate potions, if they can, take what the person already feels. They make everything sharper. You know I'm bad at Potions, but I remember Severus telling me because—well, because I wanted to make one."

Lily put her head in her hands. "It was horrible. I felt as though I'd suffer if I didn't tell him off. Like I had waited my whole life to do so. Don't tell him I said this, but I understand what I said. It was awful, I know. But, he is mean to people."

So Lily is already harboring bad feelings for Severus, thought Harry. Maybe, the sooner Severus lost Lily, the sooner he could get her back.

The next day, James approached Harry, perhaps to apologize. Then, his true objective became clear; "If you help me with Lily, I promise to leave Severus alone for the rest of the year."

"This really isn't a good time, James." Unless the day after an incident, with the victim sitting ten feet away, was a good time.

"Okay, all of us will leave him alone. And you can stop helping me if any of us mess up."

"Well, that's a start, because the first thing you could do to get Lily to like you is to not bully people."

"Wait, hang on, was that a yes?"

As much as Harry didn't want to agree, he didn't believe there was another way they could connect. A week later, they met to discuss Lily.

James pulled out a piece of parchment. "Okay, I made a list of the top fifteen—no, sixteen—annoying gits who aren't in Slytherin. There's one or two people not on the list that we've pranked in the past year."

"One or two people?"

"Hey, we have to compromise. I need to keep a couple—"

"A couple, as in two?"

"…a few kids around in case I'm stressed and require a creative outlet."

It was odd, talking to his dad like this. The lure of his father's acceptance was too great to refuse. If Harry made James a better person in the process, what was the harm?

A day later, James returned to Harry with a new request. "I need you to ask Lily what she doesn't like about me."

"Do you really want to know?"

"I'm prepared."

Harry waited until dinner. Things were strained between the friends. Maybe the mutual dislike of James would help unite them.

"Lily, what don't you like about James?"

"Why? You don't like him, do you?"

"No, I was just wondering."

"Well, he's a bully, he's lazy, he's arrogant, he's not as good at Quidditch as he thinks he is…but, honestly, compared You-Know-Who and his followers…"

Severus poked at his food. "So, you're saying, because he tortures without killing, he's better than the Dark Lord."

"Torture? I wouldn't say torture. And since when have you called You-Know-Who the 'Dark Lord?'"

"At least I don't say 'You-Know-Who' in fear."

Time to intervene. "Whoa, who, remember, I only asked about James."

Severus wasn't finished. "I would think, after everything James has done, you could easily say you hate him. It's probably hard to resist someone who fancies you."

Lily flushed. "How should you know, Severus? Your self-esteem is low enough that I can't imagine you saying no to a girl if she asked you out."

Severus' mouth twitched. "That's not true, and besides the point. I can tell you're softening up to James."

"I can tell you're being irrational."

Harry, desperate to leave their bickering, reported to James back in the common room. "Lily thinks you're arrogant, lazy, and a bully."

"That's not too bad. At least she didn't say I wasn't good-looking."

That night, Lily was too annoyed at Severus to ask him for help with homework. "Hey, Remus?"

Remus flinched and spilled his ink on the table.

"Here, let me." Lily charmed the mess with a swish of her wand.

"Thanks, sorry."

"No problem. Could you help me with my DADA homework?"

"Yeah, of course."

"I thought you'd be able to help since you spend extra time with Mr. Darcer after class."

Harry hadn't known about that. "Would you want to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts?"

"I don't know yet. I know I want to be in the Order. Er, what—what about you, Lily?"

"I want to be in the Order, too. Alice said my charm skills could be useful. She even suggested books for me to read that'd help me."

"Good for you. Oh, did that—did that sound sarcastic? Because I meant it. Er, anyway, what was your question?"

"Oh, right. I don't get—"

"Hey, Remus, Sirius needs your help." James slid in next to them. "I can help you, Lily."

"No, thanks, I'll just ask Jacob."

James looked at Harry, eyebrows raised.

Harry got the hint. "Actually, I forgot about something I have to do. I'm sure James knows how to help."

Harry joined Remus upstairs.

"I think I'm ready to start moving on from Lily." Remus didn't seem upset; just tired. "It's not something I can avoid—James constantly talks about her, and it's even more of a problem this year. Well, it's only a problem because I like her. It's better that I give up instead of waiting for James to do something he's never gonna do."

"Listen, Remus, it doesn't have anything to do with your…situation, does it?"

"Yeah, but that's not the biggest reason. I think she's always seen me as a friend."

"Okay. If you ever need to talk…"

"Sure."

Now there were two lovesick people moping in bed: Remus and Severus.

Lily and Severus' relationship was not over because they rarely had to be around each other; it meant that it was easier to tolerate each other. They had been friends too long for them to call it quits, and they had the same best friends, who forced them to be careful about what they said.

The strain on Lily was tighter because of rumors about Severus. Mary McDonald and Lily's third-year friend, Cassandra, filled her in (without her request) on everything they had heard he was doing. Harry didn't want to believe the wildest of the stories; that Voldemort was meeting with the greatest potential Death Eaters, including Severus. It couldn't be true because Dumbledore would know, and if Dumbledore knew, he would stop it.

Regulus became Severus' informal apprentice of the Dark Arts. He was the appropriate replacement for Raven; he was Pureblood, eager to learn, and obedient. Harry noticed both Raven and Regulus casting each other a reproachful look when the other wasn't paying attention.

"Raven, I know you may not, er, want to answer stuff like this anymore, but this book was marked with your handwriting, and I was, well, I was wondering if you could explain it to me?" Regulus had his head bent down as he said this and tilted it up when he finished his request.

Raven turned to face him. "Sorry, I'm not really up to that anymore. If you had questions with your homework, maybe, but…sorry."

"No, no, it's fine, it was a dumb thing to ask."

"You sure you want to use Study Hall time to study Dark Arts instead of, I don't know, Potions?"

Regulus smiled. "I'm doing well in Potions. What about History?"

"You're in luck; I'm the best in my class."

"I could use your help, then. Look, Raven, I'm sorry we never talk anymore."

"No, it's okay. You chose one path, I chose another."

Harry, sitting next to Raven, listened to their conversation until, eyes wandering, he spotted Gilderoy Lockhart.

Lockhart was sitting on one of the tables, blond curls gelled in place, telling an extravagant story that had taken place in Flitwick's class. He already had a small circle of friends who seemed more like followers. None of them were girls, however. Harry noticed, surprised, that the girls nearby were ignoring him and clearly thought he was annoying. Funny how that worked.

Talk of the upcoming match against Hufflepuff seemed quiet compared to what had surrounded the match against Slytherin. Still, practices increased in order to prepare. If the Gryffindors won the Cup, Violetta would earn a spot in the trophy room for her efforts as Captain.

Harry had recently been second in his dorm to leave in the morning. "Out for extra practices with Violetta, again, James?"

"Yeah, Walker. Sorry if I'm taking time away from you."

"Oh, no, of course not. It's better that the players who need the most help get it."

"That's not—you—I don't—whatever."

Although James' sessions with Violetta were meant to make Harry jealous, he did get better at being a Chaser. This may have helped Gryffindor win the game after Hufflepuff had a ninety-point lead. As James stole possession for the third time, the students in the stands began chanting, "Potter! Potter! Potter!"

The Hufflepuff Seeker stayed closer to the ground, probably in case the Snitch repeated its strategy from the last game. The cheers for James were cut short as Harry chased the Snitch straight down, catching it as he was still vertical.

Back in the common room for the post-game party, James approached Harry. "Good game."

"You, too."

James took a sip of butterbeer. "It was cool, did you hear? Everyone chanted my name."

"How many goals did you score?"

"Seven."

"How many assists?"

"One."

"Well, you can work on that."

James nodded, thoughts elsewhere. "I meant to tell you that I don't need help with Lily anymore. I think I have it under control."

"So, the deal's off?"

"Yeah. I'll see you at practice, Jacob. And…thank you." James considered shaking Harry's hand, then decided against it.

The first signs of spring put everyone in a good mood. Lily tolerated James more easily, and Raven didn't become dispirited whenever Severus was around.

Harry wondered if Raven was moving on. He could tell she had never confessed how she felt to anyone, not even to Lily. It seemed she had given up trying to change Severus.

Soon enough, it was May, and Violetta was giving her players a pep talk. "This is it. My last year, and last for some of you, too. I am so proud of everyone's efforts. I want each of you to give it your all. The Ravenclaws will give us a clean game, and we have to do the same. I want to hear 'Gryffindor' on three. One, two, three, GRYFFINDOR! Let's get 'em."

Harry rose up at the whistle, peaceful; Quidditch was the ultimate escape. In the nineties, he relished the sport because he could forget everything that had to do with Voldemort. Now, he could distance himself from the petty drama between his friends, and to fill the gaps left by the people back home.

Harry felt strongly that, as he took in the energetic spectators, the speeding pitch, and the towering castle, he should stay here, at his home, for at least another year.

Hogwarts, where he had the simple responsibilities of a student; where choices were more clearly given to him. Where even the food was familiar. Where he had his real family instead of the one he had made to replace them.

Gryffindor was winning by forty points. Ravenclaw called a time-out and all the players touched down on the pitch.

"Jacob, feel free to catch the Snitch, we have a big enough lead. James, you gotta pass. Anastasia was open four times, so trust her. Okay, let's wrap this up."

Harry spotted the Snitch immediately. It was trapped in the fray of the Chasers, flitting in the crosswind. One of the Ravenclaw Chasers noticed this and tried to point it out without Harry noticing. Distracted from what was going on around him, the Chaser was knocked out of the air.

Both Seekers advanced toward the middle. Harry weaved between players, eyes on the flash of gold. The crowd was on its feet, cheering, even before his fingers even grazed the Snitch. The Gryffindor fans streamed down to the field.

Violetta met the players with tears in her eyes. She kissed everyone (at least) on the cheek, then exchanged a grin with Harry. She went to him, took his face in her hands, and kissed him briefly for a second time. "Thank you, Jacob. What a brilliant job, everyone!"

June 2nd. The day set aside for the transformation. The location: the Shrieking Shack. The Marauders, Raven, and Harry went to bed early the night before and got up at three. James used his invisibility cloak to conceal himself and some of their supplies, the others used Disillusionment charms to sneak out of the castle.

On the lower level of the Shack, the six laid out the materials. There were three cauldrons full of potion, eight books, and five sets of parchment that detailed the procedure, each composed of three double-sided pieces.

First, Remus and Raven prepared the potions. Each participant downed a glass of the concoction, which seemed to be designed solely to ward off anyone too weak for the process. After swallowing, Harry felt as though his entire body was on fire, then ice, then fire once more (for good measure, it seemed).

Next, Sirius, Harry, and James performed a series of complicated spells, hurrying to stay within the three hour time limit.

The second to last step was writing runes on each person's arms and legs. If the procedure leading up to this step had been completed correctly, the runes would melt into the person's skin and disappear.

Raven had been chosen to do the drawing of runes. She used brushes dipped in a mixture of crushed, deactivated Erumpent horn and a small amount of dragon blood. It was the most awkward stage, as it required everyone to pull up their trouser leg and resist flinching as Raven applied the ticklish, cold substance.

When the runes were no longer visible, they all cheered. There was only one remaining step: to drink a small amount of potion.

James held up his cup, the others did the same. Remus held up an empty one. "Well, this is it. Over a year's worth of hard work, and we made it, with ten minutes to spare. Is everyone ready? Okay, one, two, three!"

Harry swallowed his potion, which tasted similar to butterbeer. A tingling spread across his body, then he felt as though he were Apparating.

Harry was the last to collapse.

 


Chapter 10: The Stronger One
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Harry woke first. His vision was normal—somehow, he must've absorbed his glasses—and, as far as he could tell, he could think clearly. Except, he realized as he stood, my thoughts seem to be moving more slowly.

Remus regarded him, confused. Looking over, Harry realized why; James was also a stag. Sirius lay across from him, his black fur reminiscent of his wavy hair. Peter, now a small, furry lump, rested near Raven, who was as large as Sirius. As the others got to their paws or hooves, she padded to an old mirror they had polished up beforehand. Her brown eyes, the feature she had retained, seemed to widen. She was a wolf.

James caught sight of Harry and approached him, head cocked. Then his attention shifted to Peter, who scurried to the corner.

With an upward yank of his antlered head, James turned back into his teenage self. The others followed suit, though they required more effort.

Everyone looked between James and Harry, anticipating their thoughts on having the same Animagus.

James switched from thoughtful to nonchalant in a suspicious instant. "Well, I have to say, I'm surprised. We have two stags, a dog, a wolf, and a werewolf—and then a rat. Or a mouse? No, wow, definitely a rat." James grinned, then chuckled, then bent over with laughter. "I'm sorry, mate. A rat? We're gonna lose you, you're so small. Ah, but chin up, Peter. You'll be bloody useful. Think of all the places you can get into now!"

Peter momentarily had a look of resentment, but got over it and cracked a smile.

Remus glowed with happiness. "We did it! It took forever, but we managed."

"'Course we did. Oi, Jacob, what time is it?"

Harry checked his watch. "Nearly eight."

"I'm starving. Let's get something to eat. Peter, craving cheese?"

Harry later found out Raven was thrilled with her Animagus.

"I expected something smaller. A bird, maybe, but a wolf? Wow. Too bad Sirius' is so like mine. Yours, though. A stag, like James. I suppose that makes sense, you are sorta like James, but quieter, maybe—"

"Like James? How?"

Raven hesitated, realizing she had to tread lightly. She leaned back on the couch. "Well, it's obviously not the bullying part. But you both like Quidditch. And if you have a goal, you become obsessed with it. Oh, and if you think someone's wrong, you aren't afraid to set them right. It's not a bad thing, necessarily, don't look at me like that."

"Sorry. It's just that, my dad—"

"I thought we were talking about James?"

"Ah—yeah, anyway, maybe you're right." Like father, like son.

"And also, though, maybe this isn't the right time to say it, but both of you are prejudiced against Slytherins."

"I'm not prejudiced." Where was this coming from? He could name three Slytherins who were capable of good: Slughorn, Regulus, and Severus. Narcissa Malfoy, even.

"Are you sure you're not? Because, I don't know, first you convince Severus to be in Gryffindor…" That was to keep an eye on him and have him closer to Lily, not because of a prejudice. "…then your opinion about the houses, and just yesterday you laughed when James blamed the amount of homework on the Slytherins!"

"Oh, c'mon, that was a joke. You can't base prejudice on a joke. And the other things…" Harry wished he could explain to Raven that he had years of reasoning. Years of hearing about and seeing people die at the hands of people who, for the vast majority of the time, had been Slytherins.

Raven gave him a look reminiscent of Hermione. "Jacob, hear me out. I've noticed, in History class, that the bad guys usually come from the best fortune—the rich, the powerful; those born into that life—and the worst fortune—the poor, the stepped on. And there are these kinds of people in every house."

Harry realized, despite his stubbornness, that she was right. The stepped on? Peter Pettigrew. Worst fortune? Tom Riddle. Born to a Dark Arts-obsessed, Pureblood family? Bellatrix Lestrange.

"Everyone has the potential to be good. Just like Unguel the Underestimated."

Harry had no idea who Unguel was, but he got her point. "Raven, if you learn anything else in History that's useful, please let me know."

The second and last time the five Animagi got together was for Remus' transformation. After he had changed, Remus backed into a corner, whimpering at the sight of the four (Peter was nowhere near capable of frightening a werewolf). Head bent to show that she wasn't aggressive, Raven stepped forward. Remus growled, but she didn't relent. After a minute of holding still, Remus sniffed, then padded past her. He assessed the others, looked around, then bounded across the room. Sirius glanced sideways at Raven before they took up a playful chase.

James and Harry got down on the boards to rest. After tiring, the others stopped and laid down next to them. Remus sat on his haunches and stared at the door, as if guarding the group. No one but Harry noticed this.

As the school year neared an end, Harry was attacked.

"Protego!"

Harry froze; Severus had his wand raised, pointed in front of Harry. Down the hall, a Slytherin glared between the two. There was a moment of heated silence in which neither Severus nor the other student wanted to walk away.

"Admordeo gravita!" Severus shot a curse at the Slytherin's feet, eyes half daring him to fight back, half threatening him to leave.

The latter seemed much more reasonable to the Slytherin boy, who hurried off before Harry could remember his name.

Severus lowered his wand and eyed Harry. He crossed the hallway to him, expression blank.

Harry had snapped out of his daze. "Thank you, Severus."

"That was Lester Rowle, Mulciber's friend."

"Isn't he Raven's cousin?"

Severus remained unreadable. "Yeah. He acts tough around James and them, but leaves their friends alone. Same with anyone else who has…influence." There was a sneer attached to the word "influence."

Harry wondered when Severus had started talking so similarly to his adult self.

Severus tried to shake off Harry by speeding up his pace. Harry ignored the hint, but grew annoyed and felt the need to give Severus the same feeling.

"Are you happy?" asked Harry. The question was what had led to the weakness in Harry's wariness; he had spent the last few weeks of school wondering if things were worse now, if he was the one responsible for making things worse, and if life for his friends would get better.

Severus rolled his eyes. "How do you manage to turn every conversation into something about me? You're a friend, not a therapist."

"I take that as a no."

The safeguard Severus had developed wavered. "I don't know. No one is ever honestly 'happy.'" His pace slowed.

Harry didn't say anything, so Severus felt the need to continue his argument. "Even if there is a moment when you think everything is okay, perfect even, there are so many other things that just…" He stopped. "Well? Aren't you going to say something?"

"The difference between you and people who are honestly happy is that they go after what they want—and without hurting people. You're in the Dark Arts because you're unhappy, and unhappy because you're in the Dark Arts. Go ahead, I'd prefer you argue than say nothing, but it's true. If you do that sort of thing when you're messed up already, then it makes your life worse."

"You're missing one obvious question: who says what I'm doing is wrong?"

"How about the Ministry of Magic? And—"

"Oh, of course they always do what's right."

"What about everyone who's killed because of Voldemort?"

Severus' eyes widened. "Why did you say his name?"

"Say whose name?" Lily caught up to them, clutching a book to her chest, forcing a bright smile.

"It's nothing," replied Harry. Severus could not bring himself to speak. He had a hard time even looking at Lily.

Harry cleared his throat. "Er, you just missed what happened. Rowle attacked me—well, he tried to."

"Merlin, are you okay?" Lily glanced between Harry and Severus.

"Oh, yeah, I'm fine. Severus was there and he scared him off."

"You did?"

Severus couldn't ignore her any longer now that she was talking directly to him. Harry realized that the only way Severus could hold back his emotions was by avoiding those who brought them on. He merely nodded in response, but his eyes were on hers.

"That's brilliant, Sev!"

Severus started slightly at the sound of his nickname. "Yeah, I guess."

"Won't they be mad at you?"

"Probably, although…I doubt they'll do anything."

Severus was wrong about that. He split paths with the two, then came into the common room a couple hours later, cheek bruised, his robes more frayed than before. Harry would normally be the one to help Severus, to give him advice, but this time it was Lily who rushed to his aid.

In that scene, Harry saw the last remnants of their friendship. Lily invited him to sit next to her on the couch. They talked, smiled a little, and Lily even touched the mark on his cheek.

"Severus has a better chance with Lily than I do," said Remus following Harry's gaze. "Why not tell him he should stay away?"

Harry thought for a moment and met Remus' gold-brown eyes. "Two reasons. One, you and Lily are too similar." He thought of Tonks, who had given him spirit, passion, and youth; less of a mother figure than Lily. "And two, because his heart is already broken. You aren't too late to save."

The days left before summer were few. On one of the last nights, Harry leafed through his journal, getting a sense for how he had changed; how everyone had changed. Lily and Severus' relationship was better than it had been in February, but Harry doubted the improvement would last. Remus still held onto his feelings for Lily, but they were fading. After the success of the Animagus Project, everyone involved was happier. The Marauder's Map couldn't be too far behind.

"What's happened?" wondered Harry aloud as he and Raven entered the Great Hall. There were black drapes on the walls and candles on the staff table.

Even after more people entered for breakfast, there was no explanation other than the assumption that someone had died. The students fell silent as Dumbledore stood, body weighted with fatigue.

"You all have been wondering what has happened. I was informed this morning that our Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Fitzgerald Darcer, passed away last night."

If it had been any other professor, there might have been a respectful, solemn silence. But Darcer was most students' favorite. This meant there were shocked, devastated cries, and a dark, deeply unsettled mood fell over the Hall. Harry looked at Remus instinctively; the boy had revered Darcer.

Lily knew this, too, and put her hand on Remus' shoulder before drawing him into a hug. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.

Dumbledore waited calmly before continuing. "I imagine you all would like to know how this happened. You deserve to know. There have been efforts over the past months against Voldemort's forces, and on last night's mission, he was murdered."

The clamor started up again, this time panicked, frightened.

"Fitzgerald Darcer was among the best of men. He exemplified a kind of goodness that is hard to find in these dark times. He will be remembered as both a great wizard and a brilliant Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. I hope each of you will remember his bravery, wit, and passion for life."

Remus nodded at this, eyes puffy, his brow furrowed in concentration.

Later, Remus told Harry how Darcer had inspired him. "I want to be a professor. I want to teach. I thought, before this year, professors had to be strict and old, that they had to follow convention. But Professor Darcer was different. He made people care, and I want to do the same."

Harry put his hand on Remus' shoulder, briefly. "You'd be good for that. But you should probably teach something other than Defense Against the Dark Arts."

Remus broke from his thoughts. "Why? That's my favorite subject. It's what he taught."

"I know, but the class is cursed."

Remus raised an eyebrow. "You think so?"

"I know so. Vol—You-Know-Who cursed the position when Dumbledore wouldn't give it to him."

"How do you know about this?"

Harry thought of a response. "Dumbledore told me." It was true, actually. "Er, he told me accidentally, but he told me not to tell anyone. You won't tell anyone, will you?"

"So you're saying Professor Darcer was killed because of a stupid curse?"

"Well, I don't think it's powerful enough to have killed him." Though, Harry thought, maybe it is. Crouch, Lupin, Snape, and Quirrell all died eventually. Umbridge and Carrow went to Azkaban, Lockhart lost his memory. Bad luck seemed to follow them past their time at the post. He didn't tell Remus this, however.

Remus ran a hand through his hair. "Bloody hell…why does Dumbledore let people take the job, then?"

"He can't stop it. We need to learn that stuff. I just thought you should know the risk."

"Thank you. I still want to teach, though, even if it's not Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"You'd be just as great as Darcer."

"You think so?"

"Yeah, I do."

Over the last two days of school, the students signed up for next years' classes, the Ravenclaws received the House Cup, and the Hogwarts Express made its journey to King's Cross.

"Jacob, what's your family like?" Raven and Harry stood off to the side, scanning for her mother.

"They're both off a lot for work, so we don't know each other very well. My mum is sometimes kind, but mostly horrible. My dad is louder and never kind."

"Sounds like my parents. Were they late to pick you up last year?"

"I guess." Harry hoped Raven's mother would come soon so he wouldn't have to keep lying.

Raven stopped searching the crowd and considered Harry. "I don't mean to keep prying, but I heard you were with Severus a lot before first year. You saved his life, even. And then, before this year, you were gone?"

"I was on vacation."

Raven studied him and smiled a little to let him know she wasn't trying to be rude. "Okay. I'm sorry, I just wanted to lead into, I guess…are you going to stay friends with Severus?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

"It's just that you two are getting into arguments a lot, and that's how it started with me. And you're getting friendlier with James. I don't think you can be friends with both of them."

"I know where you're coming from, but I want to try. Oh—and before I forget—I'm going to be away again this summer, so do you think you could send letters to Remus every couple weeks? Just to make sure he's okay, I mean."

"Why? You know him better than I do."

"That's why you should instead of me."

Raven regarded him, skeptical. "Sure."

"Jacob!" Violetta jogged over to them, grinning. A piece of parchment was clutched in her hand, and when she reached him, he saw that she had been crying. "I made it—an owl was following the train—I—I just got the acceptance letter—"

"For what?"

"The Wigtown Wanderers! I didn't tell the team I tried out because, well, I didn't think I'd make it but—I wanted to thank you. Without your help with the team, I wouldn't have been able to practice as much. I wouldn't have pushed myself as hard." Violetta hugged him, then pulled back and beamed. "If I can make the team, imagine what you could do." She backed a few feet away, still smiling slightly. "Good-bye, Walker." She Disapparated.

"My mum's here." Raven brought Harry's attention back to her. "I'll see you 'round. Wait a moment—your eyes—do they normally change color?"

"What? No, maybe it's the lighting." Harry blinked and took off his glasses. He submerged the emotions Violetta had somehow stirred up. "Are you sure?"

Raven studied him again. "Oh—er, never mind. Well, see you in September."

"See you." Harry surveyed the station. He touched the patch concealing the scar underneath his dirty-blond bangs, then the slight bump under his shirt where the Time-Turner was hidden.

He Disapparated.

After getting his supplies for third year and sleeping in his temporary home, Harry renewed his disguise charms. He eased up on the age factor so that he seemed about thirteen years old.

Harry was one of the first to board the train, so he passed the time by jotting down notes on his plan for the year. Thirty minutes went by before he spoke to anyone.

"Hey, Jacob." Remus leaned partway into the compartment. His hair was shorter and messier than the year before, and his bangs no longer hid the long scars across his face.

Harry put down his journal and smiled. "Hey, Remus. How was your summer?"

"Good. Yours?"

"Fine. I'm sorry for not sending any mail—I, er, went to Wales for the summer with my family, and I couldn't bring my owl."

"Oh, it's okay, James and Sirius sent me a bunch of stuff, they visited me once, actually, and Raven wrote me."

"She did?"

Remus wasn't embarrassed at mentioning Raven, as he had been with Lily. Harry guessed that meant Remus didn't fancy her. "Yeah, I was surprised, too…anyway, I have my Hogsmeade permission slip—I nearly forgot it, till my mum found it in her things." The parchment was folded in his right hand.

Harry had forgotten. He would have to forge the signature, though he guessed there was some sort of charm on the slip to protect it against forgery.

"Well, see you 'round."

"See you." If he had his dad sign it, would it pass McGonagall's inspection?

The others gradually joined Harry, all sporting some change that was more obvious to Harry since he had seen them barely two days before, according to the hours on his watch.

Raven had swapped her curly, long hair for a cut that grazed her shoulders. She had grown a good two inches and seemed happier, though the excitement around the first day of school created that effect in nearly every Hogwarts student.

Lily was only a bit taller, her hair slightly shorter and now wavier.

Severus had grown as much as Remus; out of the group, they were the tallest. Raven and Sirius were in the middle compared to other third-years, and Peter, Lily, James, and Harry were among the shortest.

Lily and Severus seemed to be getting along a lot better than before. Something, however, was different between them from first year. Lily didn't nudge him playfully, tug at his sleeve, or make eye contact for very long. Their childhood innocence was fading. Still, the two seemed to be on much better terms than the end of second year.

Halfway through the journey, when Severus got up to use the bathroom, Lily filled Harry and Raven in on what had happened over the summer. "Sev's father is sick. Did you notice that he doesn't have any bruises? His dad mostly lies in bed and drinks nowadays. His mum is out working most of the time. Severus doesn't know where she goes for sure, but he thinks it's in a pub in Nocturne Alley."

Raven leaned forward, voiced lowered. "So is that a good thing or bad thing?"

"Depends. His family's never been good, so it's either equally horrible or slightly less horrible. Sev's still the same, if that's what you mean."

If Severus is the same as he'd been when Lily and him weren't getting along, then it must be Lily who's changed.

The students traveled by carriage to the school. After studying Severus, Harry realized the boy could see the Thestrals. His eyes were wide, dark, shocked; but his eyes were the only giveaway. Had he seen someone die? Is so, when and whom?

Harry had only gone about two days without Hogwarts, so euphoria equal to what he had experienced as a kid did not come to him immediately. The Great Hall, decorated grandly, hummed with energy.

"So, you gonna get a girlfriend this year?" James asked Sirius. They were sitting close by Harry, talking to fill the time before the first-years arrived.

Sirius was caught off guard, and replied smoothly, "Why, are you thinking about dating me?"

James winked, then laughed. "No, just wondering. If you never date anyone, they'll all think they have a chance. If you got a girlfriend, maybe fewer ladies would use me as their messenger."

Sirius didn't realize that James was amused, not annoyed. "It's not my fault! I tell them I'm not interested, but that makes them like me more."

"Whoa, hang on, I think it's funny. Not many guys would complain about being the second most handsome male in the school."

Sirius gazed off into the distance, as if struck by a thought. "You know, maybe I will finally say yes to Lily."

James nearly choked on his drink in shock. When he got the joke, he chuckled. "You got me."

Sirius grinned, studying James even after he had turned away. His focus (or lack thereof) broke as everyone turned to see the incoming first-years.

After scanning the group, Harry found only one person among the first years to be familiar: Barty Crouch, Jr. The pasty-skinned, straw-haired boy was placed in Slytherin, which prompted a few glances at the staff table. His father must already be a high-ranking official in the Ministry.

The rest of the evening was calm. Harry felt strange talking to the others, because for them, a summer had passed without communication.

The boys knew to take the same beds as last year. The Marauders clicked immediately, but Severus took a while to even regard Harry.

"On vacation again this summer?" he asked as Harry put his schoolbooks on his nightstand.

"Yeah, my parents wanted to go to Wales."

"Sure."

"What was that?"

"Nothing."

"Severus, I'm sorry I wasn't around, but it wasn't my fault."

"I don't care. It's not like I…" began Severus, before he changed his mind and turned away.

As Harry shuffled through his things, his Hogsmeade permission form fell to the floor. He picked it up and, spotting James, a thought struck him.

"James, could you forge my father's signature?" He held out his form.

James glanced sideways at Sirius before replying. "Why should I do that?"

"I'll do your homework this weekend."

"No, how about for the rest of this week, and the next."

Harry scoffed, but knew he couldn't negotiate. "Deal. Oh, and his signature is kind of like yours…"

Before Astronomy one Wednesday evening, Lily, Severus, Raven, and Harry went up to the Astronomy tower to work on their assignments.

The setting sky bled every color, but their eyes reflected only the deep orange of the sun.

"Divination, right?" Harry asked Lily when she got out a roll of parchment. He and Raven were taking Care of Magical Creatures instead.

"Yep. It's easy, but I don't like it very much."

Severus dipped his quill in his inkwell. "Trelawney is incompetent."

Lily nodded. "Today she told everyone what horrible things would happen to them."

Severus snorted. "Yeah, everyone, but mainly me."

"We have to write an essay about what we observed in the tea leaves and what she said to us."

Severus went over his notes."I had Lightning, which means 'an unexpected attack', Skull, which means 'danger in your path', and Cross, which means 'trials and suffering'."

"But what I read in your cup was different from what she read, right? It was weird. Did you write them down?"

Severus hesitated, then nodded. "Let's see…Sun for 'great happiness', Apple for 'sin', Flower for 'eternal love', whatever the hell that means…"

"Wasn't there another one?"

Severus regarded her, squinting slightly against the fading sun. "Noose, for 'personal sacrifice'."

Lily chuckled a little and shook her head. "Mine are a lot less interesting."

They had no idea how close those readings were to the truth. Harry forced a smile. "Oh?"

"I had one death-related one, which is actually below average, and the rest were about love."

Harry glanced at Severus, who was still gazing at her. "Better luck next time, I suppose."

"Yeah. Maybe my dreams will be more interesting."

Severus might have blushed at this, but it was hard to tell behind the warm light of the sun.

A week later, as they left History of Magic, Raven complained to the group, "I hate History."

"I thought it was one of your favorite classes." Harry regarded her annoyed features.

"It is, but Binns literally doesn't have a brain. Ten people were asleep. Including you, and you, too, Severus, by the way."

"Sorry, it's just dull." Harry shrugged under her glare.

"They should get someone better to teach it, it really is an important class." They waved goodbye to Lily and Severus, who were off to Divination. As they made their way out of the school, Raven told Harry, in detail, why the class was significant.

They reached Care of Magical Creatures just in time. "Would you want to teach it? After graduating?"

"I never thought about it." Raven paused as Professor Kettleburn instructed the class on handling salamanders. She remained thoughtful until they were able to talk again. "I think I would."

"Welcome to Quidditch tryouts. I'm the Gryffindor Quidditch team's captain, Jacob Walker. Could the Chasers come round first, please?"

Turnout was less than stellar; there were half as many people as the previous year. James was the one of the best underclassman, second only to Harry.

By noon, Harry had his team. The players this year weren't familiar with each other, but that would change with time.

By one o' clock, James was flirting with Lily. "Guess who is this year's star player on the Quidditch team?"

"Let me guess—Jacob Walker."

James chuckled and sat down on the armrest of the couch. "I love your sense of humor. Anyway, I was wondering if you wanted to go to Hogsmeade next weekend. We could get some butterbeer, talk about Quidditch, talk about us…"

"No, Potter."

James leaned in closer. "It'll be fun…"

"I said no."

James reluctantly moved back upright. "Well, then, when you change your mind, I'll be around."

"I am very aware of that." Lily didn't regard him, but she did glance up at Severus when he sat down next to her.

"That toerag bothering you?" Severus made sure James could hear him.

James was back in an instant. "What did you call me?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, I accidentally called you toerag. What I meant to say was, 'arrogant, privileged git.'"

James crossed to the couch and pulled Severus to his feet by the front of his shirt. When he spoke, his voice came out in a low, menacing growl. "Snivellus, I swear I will make you suffer. You think you deserve to be friends with Lily? You think you can get away with using Dark Magic? Stop acting like you're the innocent one." James pushed him away, hard, and the room fell silent in anticipation.

Severus drew his wand, but James disarmed him. He took both their wands and pocketed them. "The Muggle way. You and me."

Both Harry and Lily were unsure if they should intervene.

Severus hesitated, but he raised his scrawny arms and straightened, realizing he had a clear advantage in height.

James waited for Severus to make a move, then laughed. "Come on, Snivellus. Are you scared of fighting without magic? Is it because you realize I'm obviously the stronger one? You could at least—"

Severus lunged at James, taking him off-guard. James recovered, wrestled out of Severus' grip, and pinned down on the ground, one hand pulling on his hair, the other pressing his back to the floor.

"Get off him!" Lily pushed James back, making him stumble. "Are you all right?" she asked Severus as he got to his feet.

"I didn't need your help," grumbled Severus, face red with embarrassment and exertion.

Lily backed away in disbelief. "Oh, of course you didn't. One more second and you would've got him."

As they continued to quibble, and unbeknownst to the others, James tucked a few strands of Severus' hair in his pocket.

A few days after the first Quidditch game of the season brought the first snowfall of the school year. Harry, Severus, and Raven were finishing their homework last minute when Lily and James came in through the portrait hole.

"I'm okay, really," insisted Lily as James trailed behind.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah." Lily hesitated. "Thank you."

"My pleasure, Evans. See you 'round." James smiled at her, crossed the room, then went upstairs.

"What was that about?" Severus asked Lily as she passed their group on her way to the girls' dorm.

Lily turned on him. "I should ask you the same thing. Your Slytherin friends attacked me—or they tried to. They said you weren't 'protecting me' anymore."

Severus appeared genuinely confused, then angry. "I don't know why they would say that."

Harry looked between his furious face and Lily's hurt one.

Lily took a shaking breath. "Did they say that because you gave them permission…"

"No, of course—"

"…or because they don't think we're friends anymore?"

"I don't see why they'd assume—I'll make sure they never do it again." Severus glanced toward the stairs. "What does Potter have to do with it?"

"He happened to be nearby and blocked their spells. He stunned a couple of them, a few more got away."

Severus' jaw tightened in anger. "Was Potter bothering you?"

"I know he's annoying, but if he hadn't been there—"

"If I had been there, I would've done the same thing."

"But you weren't." Lily took a deep breath. "I might come downstairs again later, but otherwise…goodnight."

Severus watched her go, fists clenching.

"You should talk to the Slytherins. Now," Harry told Severus as he sat back down.

Severus scowled at Harry and was about to speak when Remus wandered over, trying to appear casual.

"Hi guys." He lowered his voice and looked around. "I know what happened, but I have to be quick. James used Polyjuice Potion to tell the Slytherins not to protect Lily. I made it for him, so I thought it'd be only fair if I gave you some to get him back."

Severus seemed about to go off on Remus, but then his mouth twisted into a malicious smile. Remus took out a flask and handed it to him. "Think of a plan first, and be discreet. Also, please don't tell James what I did." He glanced at Raven, who had looked up and shot him a small smile. Remus bent down and whispered to Harry, "Don't let Severus get carried away."

Christmas holidays approached. Snow dusted the grounds. Students dozed off and chatted in the classes leading up to vacation. A high level of anticipation ran through the school. The last Hogsmeade trip of the term rustled by in a flurry of bright wrapping paper, flashes of gleaming coins, and the tingling warmth of butterbeer.

All of the Gryffindor third-years were staying at school, except Aluria, Florence, and Cheresse, who were not aware of this phenomenon until it was too late to change plans. Harry suspected that James had made sure they wouldn't find out, probably to limit distractions between him and Lily.

The first day of the holidays was guaranteed to be eventful; Severus was going to get revenge. The plan was subtle, but effective. Severus agreed to not seriously injure James, and Harry agreed to not get in the way. They had spent the weeks after James' scheme by tuning Severus' imitation of James, which was now, after some toning down, frighteningly accurate.

"Hey, Walker!" Severus, disguised as James, came into the common room through the portrait hole, addressing Harry, who was playing cards with Lily. "Don't you have somewhere else to be?"

The room was almost empty. The Marauders had snuck out to Hogsmeade even though it wasn't a visitation weekend. No one except Harry knew about these periodical escapades.

"What's your problem?" Lily set down her cards and turned toward "James," as though moved by the instinct to protect Harry.

"There's no problem." "James" ran a hand through his hair. He whisked the cards between them off the couch and sat down, his back to Harry.

"Hey, what the hell?" Harry stood up.

"James" hardly glanced at him. "If you don't go, Jacob, you know what I'll do."

Harry had given Severus that bit to say; if Lily asked about it later, Harry could tell her James had previously used harming Severus as a means to get what he wanted.

Harry went upstairs, then hurried back down, hidden under his Invisibility Cloak.

"…that's why I used Polyjuice Potion. Severus got what he had coming to him."

"But they attacked me! What does that have to do with Severus?"

"It's doesn't matter—I saved you, didn't I?" "James" brushed aside a strand of her hair, then placed his other hand on her cheek. He leaned in, then—SMACK!

Lily shot up from the couch and pointed her wand at him. "If you touch me again, I will hex you." She faltered, tucked the strand of hair behind her ear, then ran up to the girls' dorms.

The upperclassmen girls sitting across the room snickered before continuing with their conversation.

"James" gaped in surprise for a second, then he left through the portrait hole, since that was the way the real James would come back through when he got back from Hogsmeade. "James" used a Disillusionment Charm to conceal himself as he snuck back upstairs.

"Good job, mate," said Harry, stuffing Hermione's purse among his things before Severus could catch sight of it.

Severus smirked. "Thanks." He had used another potion to reverse the effects of the Polyjuice Potion and was almost back to his old self.

"Did it go well after I left?"

"Yeah, she slapped me." Severus grazed his cheek with his fingers. "I hope she gives him hell when he gets back."

Harry nodded in agreement, then paused in thought. "Where's Raven? I haven't seen her."

Severus shrugged. "Me neither. I'm going to go wash up."

"Okay," Harry replied over his shoulder, already moving downstairs. He felt oddly like he was Severus' parent for noticing that the boy had become more active in his hygiene. Harry didn't know if it was from being around him more, being around Lily more, or both.

Raven wasn't in the common room. "Hey, Lily, Raven!" he called up the girls' dorm stairs.

"Lily's washing up. Raven's not back yet," said a fourth year, eyebrow raised, as she walked past.

"Thanks." Harry turned and strode to and out of the portrait hole. He followed the route most Gryffindors took to and from the Tower, hoping to run into Raven. Sure enough, he saw her curly black hair from the staircase below him.

"Raven! Raven?" She stopped at the foot of the stairs and peered up at him, face streaked with tears.

"Jacob." She ran up the stairs and threw her arms around him.

"What happened?"

Raven leaned away from him and wiped her eyes.

Harry flinched in surprise. "Merlin…" Her face was covered with white scrawl that stood out on her dark skin. Traitor. Mudblood-lover. Disgrace. Stupid. Ugly. Dead.

"But you left the Slytherins a year ago. Why would they still—"

"They said I 'no longer had protection.' So whatever James said when he pretended to be Severus—"

"But Severus said he told them off."

"Maybe they don't listen to him anymore." Raven pulled the sleeves of her robe over her hands, which were also covered with white writing.

"We'll figure it out. I'm sorry, I wish I could've done something…"

Back in the dorm, Severus performed the countercurse and returned Raven's skin to normal. He seemed suspiciously familiar with the spell, leading Harry to believe he had cast it on someone before.

"I didn't know that they would do this. I told them to disregard what I said that day—"

"Okay." Raven averted her eyes.

"Did you do anything to them? Did you say something that would've—"

"I didn't do anything, unless you count 'betraying' them. Is that what you mean?"

"Yes, well, I already knew that part. I said they wouldn't let it alone, that they'd make you regret it, didn't I?"

Raven glared at him and stood up. "I'm going to bed. Goodnight."

Lily didn't confront James the following day, but she acted much colder to him. Severus was at first delighted to mouth off about him to Lily, but after realizing she didn't want to talk about it, he sulked for a while. Raven and Lily were getting along best out of their group of four. Both were trying to figure out what James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter were planning. The Marauders (which they had yet to be called) had been nearly caught by Filch on one of their late-night adventures. After that, they could be seen smuggling things under their robes, in too much of a flashy way for it to be secretive.

"Hello, mates," said James that evening in the common room.

"Hello." Harry was the only one to respond.

James breezed right to the point, handing Lily an envelope. "Monday, at nine o' clock, we're having a Christmas Eve party. You…" he surveyed the others as though pained, "…and a few guests can come."

Lily turned her nose up at him. "Well, Filch might invite us to a party, so I have to say no. But maybe in eighth year."

James just stood as the group laughed. Then he almost smiled to himself before leaving to join with the Marauders.

Saturday ended and Sunday quickly wound down to the evening. The Gryffindors left all at once to get to the party, which was in a room apparently nearby. Remus had been delegated to guide the Gryffindors, Peter led the Ravenclaws, Sirius met up with the Hufflepuffs, and James was (with the help of Peeves) in charge of distracting Filch.

"Okay, I have to cast a Blindfolding Charm, just to protect the location of the room." Remus moved along their ranks, wand out. "Take someone's hand, and I'll give directions."

Lily took Harry's right hand, Raven took his left, and then everything turned to a fuzzy, dark gray color.

It took the group about three minutes to get to their destination. Only when they were inside did Remus remove the charm.

It was the Room of Requirement.

Harry knew by the quality of the set-up; the Marauders couldn't have decorated it that well on their own. There were two long tables topped with food that spanned opposite walls, four circular tables in the back of the room, and a dance floor in the center of the room. Music from a radio and snow from the ceiling drifted in the air. Lanterns, glowing white, hung above the guests.

"Welcome, everyone!" James bounded up from behind the small crowd, who were still adjusting to the light after experiencing the Blindfolding Charm. "This is the first annual Christmas Eve Party, hosted by yours truly, James Potter…" He bounded to the back of the room, the other Marauders in his wake, "and by my devilishly handsome friends: Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew!" Each stood before their own large, silvery, throne-like chair.

"Happy Christmas Eve, and let the festivities begin!"

The students, composed of six Ravenclaws, twelve Hufflepuffs, and seven Gryffindors (excluding the Marauders), spread around the room.

Lily, Harry, and Raven lagged behind the others. "I wonder where they found this place." Lily searched for a flaw. "The food seems mediocre," she decided, doing her best to ignore James, who was casting silver sparks from his wand to entertain a group of girls. Not a moment later, James walked in their direction, eyes shifting between Lily and any reflective surfaces he found on the way.

"Hello, Evans." James took a cookie from the table next to him.

"Potter." Lily turned so her back was to him. "Jacob, you were telling me about Quidditch?"

"Hang on—what do you think of the party?" James swept in to face Lily.

"Do you want us to leave your stupid party, James? That's what I hear you asking."

"No, I…" James' eyes turned down. Harry thought he appeared quite pathetic, and that Lily wouldn't fall for that tactic, but to his surprise, she softened ever so slightly.

"The party's fine."

James cheered up instantly. "Really? Well, I'm glad I was able to throw such a brilliant party, Lily. Thank you for your continued support of our marauding."

"That's not what I—"

"Would you like to dance?" James cut in, producing a silver rose from his wand.

"No." An orb nearby glowed in sync with her cheeks.

"Well, can't blame a man for trying. Tell Snivellus I'm sorry he couldn't make it. Cassandra!" He took the girl's hand. "Hi, want to dance? Lovely!" He whisked through the crowd with the fourth year on his arm. The orbs gravitated to the dance floor, spinning over James and Cassandra's heads.

More people joined them, and the music grew in volume.

"Happy Christmas, everyone," Remus greeted the three, smiling. His hair was combed back like James', only it was cooperating much better.

"Hey, Remus. You don't think you could put James on a leash, could you?" Raven smirked, leaning toward him.

"No. Maybe Sirius, though."

They laughed; Lily smiled a bit, confused.

Remus tilted his head, trying to be casual. "I, er, I came over to ask if you wanted to dance?" He was averted toward Jacob and Lily while he said this.

Raven blinked. "Oh, you mean me. Sure, I'd—yeah."

Only Lily and Harry remained. "Want to sit down?" Lily nodded and they went in the back of the room. Harry didn't mind being left out, but Lily seemed to be feeling sorry for herself.

"You don't want to dance with him, do you?"

Lily blinked. "No! Why would I want to…don't be ridiculous."

Harry nodded and peered over at Remus and Raven. She was laughing, he was wearing a goofy sort of half-smile. A fast-paced song began, and they danced more quickly, without any particular pattern or style.

Lily's foot bounced to the beat until she caught James looking at her. She tilted her chin up and turned her head.

"I'm surprised the Slytherins haven't crashed the party yet," said Harry, attempting to bring her out of her thoughts.

"Yeah. Oh, no, no! I just look at him once and he thinks…Now he's coming this way."

James waltzed to their table. "Hello again, Evans. Did you try the trifle? It's amazing. The elves can do so much under such short notice—"

Lily stood up, cutting him off, and walked away, toward the entrance of the room.

"Wait! If you stay, I won't bother Snivellus for a week. Fine—a month. I can do a month."

Harry, as he hurried to keep up with Lily, imagined that she rolled her eyes. "I'm sure the food was delicious," she tossed over her shoulder. And they were out the door.

The corridor was silent, and the door had disappeared behind them.

"You didn't make a deal with James," noted Harry, after a pause. Was he wrong to have done so before?

"Why should I? He's an idiot if he thinks saying things like that will make me like him. Anyway, why did they act all secretive when they brought us here? And I thought we were farther away from the Tower."

Harry replied with a shrug, but he knew why; the students couldn't be allowed to see the door materialize or move location. What he didn't know was why Lily's feelings for James were changing so quickly.

When Harry opened his eyes on Christmas morning, the room was dark, but it was morning. Lately, when he had to get up for school, every muscle in his body would ache to stay in the warmth and comfort of his bed. This, to him, made no sense, as he was where he wanted to be. But he was tired. The bright pieces of his past were weighing him down as the dark load of his past lightened.

Christmas was the exception. He crawled out of bed and started a fire in the common room's fireplace. Just as his eyes began to close with the lull of the flames, two first years crept down the stairs, whispering loudly and shushing each other.

"Happy Christmas," they said automatically, before going off to sort through their gifts.

A minute later, Raven approached the couch with her eyes only half open.

Harry gave her room. "Happy Christmas."

"Yeah, you too," replied Raven—or, at least, Harry figured this is what she said; she had buried her head in a couch pillow.

"Long night?"

Raven lifted her head up and pushed her dark hair out of her face. "Mhm. I went to bed at…two? That means I got five hours."

"Was it fun?"

She squeezed the bridge of her nose, blinked, then yawned. "Actually, yeah. I mostly talked to Remus. By midnight, nobody was dancing, so they just told stories and we all played games. James and them can be annoying, but it was worth it to stay. It's too bad he was being a jerk to Lily."

"No big surprise there. So, did you dance a lot with Remus?"

"Why?" Raven studied him, eyes steady, alert, for the first time.

"I'm just asking."

"I suppose. Well, I danced with a couple other people, too. You know Gilderoy? The short, blond Ravenclaw? Really full of himself?

Harry nodded, wincing a bit.

"He danced with all of the girls…on a bet, apparently. He barely came up to my chin." Raven's eyes wandered. "He annoys the hell out of Remus." She glanced back at Harry. "Anyway! I have your gift." Raven picked up her sketchbook from the table, sifted through it, and produced a sheet of paper. "Here."

Harry examined it while Raven continued talking. "My mom didn't give me any Christmas funds, because she doesn't approve of you all. That's fine, I don't approve of her, so."

"This is fantastic, thank you." It was a sketch of his Quidditch equipment; his goggles, gloves, and the hilt of his broom.

"I didn't have much time, but I'm glad you like it."

Harry smiled. "Thank you, really. Anyhow, here's your gift. I'm terrible at wrapping, by the way; this is what they did at the store."

Raven ripped away the wrapping paper. "Auto-Enchanted Parchment for Motion Portraits and More: Adds Motion While You Create!'This is so cool! Thank you."

Harry smiled, then noticed Remus. He was shuffling over, hair ruffled, mouth agape in a yawn. He carried his gifts in his arms, ignoring the second years who bolted past to the tree in the corner of the room.

"Hello Raven. Jacob. Happy Christmas." He handed them their gifts and sat down. He glanced at Raven, then down at his foot. "My toe still hurts."

They both laughed. Harry nearly asked for one of them to tell the story, but decided against it.

Raven's gift from Remus was a necklace featuring a small pewter charm of a wolf. Harry got an assortment of things from Zonko's Joke Shop. He gave Remus a large bag of candy (mostly chocolate, his favorite) in return.

Raven's drawing to Remus was of Hogwarts, which Harry realized suited him. It was as much of an escape to Harry as it was to Remus. Did Raven draw Hogwarts for that reason?

By then, most students were in the common room.

"Oh, that's right, you two don't know. Apparently Dumbledore found out about the party—probably from the house-elves or a Slytherin or something—"

Raven cut in. "It's not right to assume. Either way, he caught James and Sirius, just them, so they probably got back to the dorms really late."

"Happy Christmas," said Lily, filling the last space on the couch.

"Happy Christmas," they replied. When Severus joined them, they finished exchanging presents. Harry got Severus a box containing an assortment of rare potion supplies and got Lily a book on advanced charms. Lily gave Remus a thick gold scarf, Raven a number of Muggle items (Raven was taking Muggle Studies and thoroughly enjoyed it), Harry the record album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (she assumed that, as a Muggle-born, he had a record player), and gave Severus the book Advanced Potion Making.

Severus didn't have anything to give. He appeared uncomfortable, but he didn't say anything about it. The drawing Raven gave to him was of a black bottle spewing out clouds of dark smoke.

At noon, James and Sirius bounded downstairs, smiles wide, voices rising over the buzz of the others in the common room. They climbed onto one of the tables, gestured Peter and Remus to join them, then James cleared his throat.

"Thank you to everyone who came to the first annual Christmas Eve Party last night. As you know, after clearing up, Dumbledore caught me and Sirius." He paused. "We talked for a couple hours in his office, but not to discuss our punishment. He wants to help us throw an official Christmas Eve Party every year in the Great Hall." Excited murmurs followed his words. "You have to admit, the old man can be pretty cool. So, thanks again for coming and we'll see you next year!"

Everyone returned to what they were doing. For the small moment after James' announcement where there was near silence, Harry could hear a persistent tapping on the window across the room. An owl was scowling at him as it pecked the glass. Harry got up, crossed to the window, and let the owl in. The bird offered the envelope on its leg and took off as soon as it was relieved of the weight.

To Jacob, the front of the envelope read. Inside, there was a letter and four tickets to see the Wigtown Wanderers vs. the Ballycastle Bats.

"What's that?"

"It says, 'Dear Jacob. Happy holidays! Hope school is going well and that the Gryffindor Quidditch team is kicking arse. I am writing to invite you to the last game of my season with the Wigtown Wanderers. Our last game April 13th, the Saturday before Easter. A ton of people go, second most to the World Cup. I figured you could invite three other people (please not James). We will be staying with my parents in a tent up by the field, an area reserved for players and their families. And the super rich. Let me know if you're able to go. It will be loads of fun! Hope to see you soon, Violetta Rosquit.'"

"Sounds exciting!" said Lily. Raven nodded; Severus didn't react.

"Well, then, do you all want to go?"

Severus glanced at Lily, waiting for her to reply. She was lighting up with enthusiasm. "Of course! That would be so fun—I'll write my parents now. C'mon, Raven."

Severus watched them run upstairs, then turned back to Harry. "I don't want to go."

"You don't want to spend time with Lily?"

Severus narrowed his eyes. "I didn't know that was the point."

"Would you rather be here alone with James and them?"

"I wouldn't be alone."

"Not technically, I guess. Look, it'd be good to go."

Severus scoffed and averted his eyes. His sneer fell into a frown. "I suppose…it'd only be a few days." He glowered at Harry. "But I'm not going to enjoy it."

 


Chapter 11: The Love Potion
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The professors and students put in extra hours the week leading up to Thursday so everyone could have Valentine's Day off.

The Gryffindors took advantage of the break and slept in. Aluria Vane, Cheresse Podmore, and Florence Tyler had taken it upon themselves to decorate the common room before everyone woke up.

They grinned when Harry came slowly downstairs, blinking against the bright colors. "You guys really outdid yourselves," he said, frowning.

"Thanks, Jacob," said Cheresse, the blonde-haired, brown-eyed girl to Aluria's right. She seemed to like Harry the most, while Aluria preferred James, and Florence fancied Sirius.

"Uh, no problem." Harry was planning on waiting for everyone else to wake up before going to the Great Hall, but the hearts and the lace and the pink made him feel claustrophobic. "I'll see you guys later, then."

They giggled and waved.

"Jacob, wait up!" Remus stumbled on his way through the portrait hole.

Harry surveyed the boy's nervous features. "Are you okay? You're really pale."

"Huh? No, no, I'm good." Remus ran his hand through his hair to smooth it, then ran through it again to mess it up.

"Okay…so, are you planning on asking anyone out today?"

Remus winced. "Nope. Yes. Well, sort of. Ask out? No, that's not what it is. Enough about me…what are you doing? I mean, are you asking anyone?" Harry had to pull Remus aside to prevent him from falling through a vanishing step in the staircase.

"Er, no, I'm not really interested in anyone."

"Oh, yeah, I understand."

Harry cleared his throat and prepared his best nonchalant act. "Say you were actually going to ask someone, or someone asks you. My advice is to just take it slow. And if you were, hypothetically, friends with this person, you don't have to act different because it's a date. Just act like you always do." A few years ago, Harry would have received a Troll if "The Interpretation and Handling of Girls" were a subject on the O.W.L.s.

"Right, right, that makes sense. Hang on—what if, hypothetically, I asked someone on a date 'as friends,' when actually I meant as more than friends?"

"I'm following…"

"So they wouldn't say no, and I would be relaxed, because she wouldn't think it was an actual date, but it could be exactly like one! Hypothetically."

"Hypothetically," agreed Harry.

The Great Hall decor was modest compared to the Gryffindor common room. A rich red fabric was draped on the walls, and light music was playing from enchanted string instruments beside the staff table.

Severus joined them, more annoyed than usual at the holiday. He wasn't nervous with anticipation to express his feelings to Lily; that seemed to be the last thing on his mind. He jabbed at his food as he scowled around the Hall. "This holiday is just an excuse for cowards to confess their 'love.' It's the last day anyone should do something so ridiculous."

Remus flushed.

"That's not the Valentine's Day spirit, Snivellus. Today's the perfect day to do ridiculous things." James nudged Sirius and, laughing, they sat down.

Severus ignored him. Remus greeted his friends absentmindedly, concentrating on something in the distance. His lips moved a little, as though reciting something.

"Hey, Remus?" Raven studied him, eyebrow raised.

"Yeah?" The trail of words in Remus' mind vanished, which made him even more nervous.

"Do you want to go to the Three Broomsticks with me later on? As friends, I mean."

"You're asking me?"

Raven smiled a little. "I'm pretty sure I'm asking you."

"Right, yeah, that sounds good." Remus finally relaxed, but only momentarily, as someone else's arrival caught his attention.

"Sev!" Lily came running down the aisle toward them.

Severus, on instinct, stood up. "What's wrong?"

Lily didn't say anything at first, she just gazed up at him, chest rising and falling as she caught her breath. She smiled, approached him, then pushed a lock of hair out of his face.

"Will you be my Valentine?" Lily asked, fingers now fixing Severus' collar.

Severus tensed, watching her hands. With a jolt of understanding, his eyes moved back up and he nudged her hands away. "Lily, they did something…" he began, but she put a finger to his lips.

"Shh…" Lily leaned by his ear and whispered, "I've been thinking about you." She leaned back to face him, oblivious of the snickers from James, Sirius, and Peter. Harry didn't know what to do. He glanced at Raven and Remus and saw they shared the same expression: a mixture of horror, jealousy, concern, and mesmerization.

"I dream about your beautiful, dark eyes, how they stare at my eyes, and at, well, other places." This brought on a wave of guffaws that turned a few heads.

Severus averted his eyes, face pained. Lily turned his face back toward her with a gentle placement of her right hand. "Do you think about me?"

"I…" Severus swallowed, eyes darting, and seemed torn between wanting to enjoy her affection and convincing himself that she didn't really feel this way.

Lily moved her left hand to his chest. She traced him with her fingers until her hand reached his neck.

A memory struck Harry. Maybe it was just how the adult Severus generally felt about everything love-related, but Harry vaguely remembered how he reacted (sourly) to Professor Lockhart's suggestion that students ask him how to brew a Love Potion. Had this happened in the other time?

"Lily, you're a—a good friend," managed Severus, as if he was trying to convince her as well as himself.

"You are, too." Lily smiled easily when he studied at her again. She stood on her toes and kissed his neck. Severus' eyes closed, momentarily unable to resist before he snapped back to reality and pushed her lightly back. The laughter had faded somewhat.

Lily pouted. "I'm sorry, Sev. I got a little carried away. But don't you…" Lily dropped her voice. "…wonder about it? What it would be like?" She moved her hand from his cheek to the spot she had kissed. "I know I do."

She moved her right hand back to his cheek. "I think about your lips…how they must be so soft…" Lily angled her head and was about to kiss him when—

"OI!" Remus, Raven, and Harry all stood up at once, causing Lily to start and face them. Raven and Remus were immediately embarrassed, but Harry turned to James. "If you don't get Slughorn right now—"

"What makes you think Severus didn't do this?"

"Right. It makes so much sense that Severus would give her a Love Potion right before breakfast for every bloody person to see!"

"I didn't say he was smart. If you wanted to say he was an ass, however, I'd agree."

"Do it, now," warned Harry, teeth clenched. He realized that amateurs would have given Severus the Love Potion instead of Lily, the most obvious choice. Unfortunately for Severus, the Marauders were not amateurs. They must have realized that Severus would have the perfect excuse to make a move on Lily if he was under the influence and not in control of his actions. So, by slipping the potion to Lily, Severus wouldn't be able to do anything without upsetting her later. He would want to give in with every fiber in his body, but he would risk his friendship.

James held Harry's glare before giving in. "Fine. Slughorn will definitely be surprised that Severus can't fight his own battles."

"I'll do it myself," said Severus, pulling away from Lily, who made a small sound of protest.

James smiled briefly, triumphantly. "Bravo."

"I'm going with you, Severus," said Harry. If the two went alone, Severus may be tempted.

He was right to take the precaution; there was a flash of disappointment across Severus' face, which he quickly hid.

"We're gonna have to break into his office, I'm assuming?" Harry lengthened his stride to keep up with Severus, while Lily, who was holding his hand, had no trouble at all.

"No, I have an antidote prepared."

"Really?"

"Yeah, and one for about half a dozen other things. I knew James and them might try something. I thought it'd be on me, though. Guess they realized that would be too difficult." Severus scoffed. "Stupid pricks. She's gonna hate them even more after this."

"I think they expected you to go along with it." Harry knew there was more to it, but Severus didn't know Harry knew about his feelings for Lily.

"Well, I didn't."

"And Lily will appreciate that."

"It's not much of an accomplishment." They reached the portrait hole. "Okay, Lily, can you stay here with Jacob?"

"I'm not leaving your side." She regarded him seriously and squeezed his hand. Severus let out a long sigh and climbed through before Harry.

Up in the dorm, Severus poured some potion into a glass for Lily. "You're so careful when you work with potions," she observed from the edge of his bed. "You're like a painter. Gentle and precise." She placed her hand just above his knee.

Severus shivered, then flushed and offered the antidote. "Can you drink this?" Lily didn't respond, so he added, "For me?"

Lily grinned mischievously. "If you kiss me."

Severus glanced at Harry, who shook his head.

"No, but, er, you can hug me. Or just…" He had trouble handling the thought and the word—"…kiss me somewhere not on the mouth."

"Mm, compromise is wonderful." Lily stood up. "I'll settle for both. Then I'll drink it. Because I love you." Severus flinched at "love."

Lily wrapped her arms around him, placing her hands on his upper back. Severus' hands wavered in the air, unsure of what to do. They decided to settle around her middle and brought her tighter to him. After several moments, she pulled out of the hug. Lily then took his face in both hands and kissed him on the forehead.

She gazed at his confused face before taking the glass and downing the liquid. Severus had seemed certain of everything about the incident from the very beginning; what was different now?

Lily's face fell as the antidote entered her system. "Oh." Her eyes welled up with tears and she turned away.

"Lily, I…" Severus didn't touch her. Harry gestured for Severus to come over to the other side of the room.

"Why did you look confused?" Harry kept his voice low.

"It's nothing." Severus' face became masked.

"It's not nothing."

Severus shook his head. "I was wrong. She's obviously horrified that she did all that."

"Tell me."

"No more of your questions for a week after this, deal?"

"Sure."

Severus sighed. "The symptoms are usually obsession, not actual love, right?"

"Yeah, so? She seemed obsessed to me."

"But she mentioned pretty specific things. The Love Potion works like the Hate Potion: if you know the person you're supposed to react to well, then how you act will be based off how you feel, at least a little." The end of his thought was punctuated by a sob from Lily, putting out Severus' flicker of hope. "But I already told you it was nothing."

They both considered her. She was kneeling at Severus' bedside, face pressed facedown on the sheets, arms folded in front of her head.

"I'll talk to her," offered Harry. He knelt down next to Lily and put a hand on her shoulder. "Lily, I'm sorry for what happened. But it's not too late to decide how today's gonna go. And the one thing you can do to get James back is to not feel the same way about him. You could hex him, if you want, but it'll be enough that he upset you."

Lily lifted her head off the bed and looked at Harry. She quickly blinked away her tears, as if to catch a thought or image before it faded. "Sorry, you looked different for a moment. Anyhow, I—I think you're right. I can't let it ruin my day. Oh—" Lily noticed the spot on the bed where her face had been and turned to Severus. "I got mascara on your bed." She took a shuddering breath. "Sev, I'm sorry. They aimed this at you." She added, more to herself, "I don't know why they thought it would affect you much."

Severus swallowed, and any remaining evidence of pain disappeared. "No, it's okay. I'm sorry they got you involved."

Lily shook her head and stood. "I'm going to get cleaned up. I'll meet you in the common room in five minutes."

When she was ready, the three went to Hogsmeade. Harry hoped to find an excuse to leave so the two could be alone.

When he spotted Cheresse, Aluria, and Florence, he had an idea. "Oh, I forgot; Cheresse asked me to go to the Three Broomsticks with her."

"Do you know her very well?" Lily peered across the snowy path.

"No, not really. But I didn't want to be rude. I'll see you guys around." Harry jogged over to the trio.

"Hey, Cheresse, do you want to go to the Three Broomsticks with me?"

Cheresse's face lit up and she nodded. "Totally." She turned to Aluria and Florence. "Bye, guys." As the group split into pairs, Cheresse shot a gloating smile in the girls' direction.

Harry shut out her chattering on the walk there, replying with nods, "mhm"s, and "yeah"s. They reached the Three Broomsticks just as the door closed behind Severus and Lily.

"Let's sit here," suggested Harry, after finding the median between Remus and Raven, who were in the back, and Severus and Lily, who were at the counter. "I'll get us some drinks." He ordered two butterbeers from Madam Rosmerta, who appeared to be about his real age, then brought them back to the table.

"Oh, thank you, Jacob."

"No problem."

Cheresse smiled at him for an uncomfortable amount of time. Harry glanced to his left and saw the Marauders come in through the door, bringing in a gust of cold air. Aluria and Florence followed closely behind them, laughing.

Cheresse waved at the girls as they moved to a table nearby. James sat down where he could face the counter where Lily and Severus sat. His figure was relaxed but his eyes kept gravitating toward the two.

Harry was replying to Cheresse's third question about Quidditch when James and Sirius got up. James held a huge bouquet of roses behind his back and Sirius argued with a dwarf over payment for a song.

"Miss Evans?" James' voice sounded significantly more sophisticated than usual.

Lily turned, annoyed. She was just about to tell him off when Sirius plopped the dwarf on the counter between Lily and Severus. The dwarf, oddly polished and toned pink, burped before opening its mouth and singing:

"Lovely Lily,

On this beautiful day in Hogsmeade,

She is the one person I need.

Her eyes are as bright

As stars on a winter night.

Her voice is as sweet

As Fizzing Whizbees,

On this beautiful day in Hogsmeade.

She's all alone…

Oh, what a shame…

If only there was some way

That could change.

I propose, and oh, it shows

She'd make a perfect date…

On this beautiful day in Hogsmeade."

Severus tried to trip the dwarf, but in a sweep of passion, as it realized the size of its audience, it stepped on Severus' fingers.

"So Miss Evans…

Will you be my Valentine?"

It was at this time that James produced the roses and offered them to Lily. The dwarf bowed, jumped down, and waddled off. After the applause faded, the cheery conversations throughout the bar resumed.

Lily gawked at James for a moment before speaking. "You're joking."

James' smile faltered. "No, I…it was the dwarf, wasn't it? That was Sirius' idea, he thought it'd be—"

"James, what did you expect? Can't you tell that I'm not interested?"

Severus' smile grew as James' shrank.

"You keep embarrassing me and my friends. You never leave me alone. You respect no one except yourself. Also—"

"Okay, I get it." James scowled, but didn't meet her eyes. "Do whatever you want with the flowers." James set down the bouquet and slumped off to the back.

Sirius stayed by the counter, scanning the back for something, or someone. "Hey, Lily, you gonna use those?" He gestured toward the bouquet.

Lily scowled at him and rested her head on her hand.

"Thanks." He caught sight of Madam Rosmerta, who came out from the back of the pub carrying a few empty mugs. "Rosmerta? I got you these roses as a sign of my affection. I'm Sirius Black, in case you forgot."

Rosmerta smiled and reached across to ruffle his hair. "Thanks, kiddo, they're lovely." As she went to serve another customer, she added, smirking, "You have a few years to go before you can even dream about it, Sirius."

Harry waited until Sirius left before saying to Cheresse, "I'll be back in a tic, I just have to talk to Lily."

As soon as Harry reached the counter, Severus started to fume. "You saw him, right? That was ridiculous. Everyone was watching, the song was terrible, and he was out of line. He thinks he can make up for embarrassing us with just that…" Severus lost track of what he was saying when he realized Lily hadn't given her input. "Don't you agree?"

Lily sighed, staring through her butterbeer. "I agree that he has a swelled head. I just don't really care anymore. It wasn't the worst thing he could try to do to make up for earlier."

Severus looked as though he'd been slapped. "What?"

Lily lifted her head from her hand and flicked away a rose petal. Catching Severus' expression, she continued, "I don't like him, Sev. I can't imagine ever liking him. It's just that he isn't evil, y'know? He's cruel to certain people, just like yo—" She paused for a heartbeat. "…your Slytherin friends. But he's nice to some people, too."

Both of them raised their eyebrows at Harry with a back-me-up-here expression.

"Let's just forget about it," suggested Harry. "I have to get back to Cheresse, but I'll see you later. Zonko's, at four?"

Severus and Lily nodded. Harry went to Cheresse. "Hey, listen, do you wanna join Aluria and them? I…have something I have to do."

Cheresse frowned. "Alright. I'll see you later, then?"

"Yeah. See you." Harry glanced toward the back of the pub before leaving. In reality, he didn't have anything he had to do. He wandered aimlessly around Hogsmeade until four, when he went to Zonko's.

Harry spotted Lily and Severus browsing the shelves in the joke shop. Both of them seemed miserable. Lily was staring at the Marauders, who were testing the section of Zonko's with a sign overhead reading, "Dangerous Equipment for Highly Skilled Marauders." For a moment, James considered the sign, a thoughtful expression lighting his face. Severus noticed what had caught Lily's attention, which soured his features even further.

"Hey," said Harry, just before a roar of laughter erupted from Sirius and James. Peter's hair was in flames and he ran around before they recovered enough to douse him with water from their wands.

Harry turned back to speak and saw Lily's smile just before she covered it with her hand.

"Oh, hello." Raven came up to them, but mostly looked at Severus. "Having fun?"

"Loads." Harry frowned. "Maybe we should just go back to the school."

That evening, many of the Gryffindors retired to the dorms and the common room. Lily, Severus, Raven, Remus, and Harry claimed the back table. They talked quietly as sleep claimed more and more of the other students. Just before they left for the dorms, James jumped from his spot by the fireplace and hurried over to Lily. "Can I talk to you?"

Lily glanced at Harry, who didn't notice, as he was checking Severus' reaction. "Fine." She stayed in place and crossed her arms.

"Er, in private."

"Why can't you say it here?"

James studied her for a long moment. "Fair enough. I just wanted to say…" He lowered his voice. "I'm sorry for this morning. I know I upset you, so for that—I'm sorry."

Lily almost uncrossed her arms, but at a mutter from Severus—"Oh, come on"—she stood firm. "You don't really mean that. You'd do it over again, wouldn't you?"

"Not now, since I know you'd act like this!"

Lily scoffed. "That's my point." She turned and led Raven upstairs.

Severus smirked at James before following Harry to the dormitory.

On their way to dinner on March 7th, Raven fell into pace with Harry. "Remus asked me to help out with his transformation tonight. Apparently James and them have to work on a project. He wouldn't tell me what it was."

"Okay." Harry angled his body to make room for a group of Ravenclaws.

"Oh—right, I brought it up because I want you to come as well. But, use some sort of spell to conceal yourself. If something happened, and I couldn't help him…"

"Why don't you want him to know I'm there?"

Raven was at once uncomfortable. "He asked me expressly. Also, I don't want him to think I'm avoiding him or anything."

"No, of course." Was it because, despite trying to convince Harry she believed otherwise, Raven thought Remus liked her?

Raven met Remus in the Shack after dinner; he had skipped the meal to help James, Sirius, and Peter with the project they needed to work on.

Harry followed close behind the two, then retreated upstairs. He sat down by the hole in the floorboards and peered down.

Remus crossed to one side of the room. "I have to, you know, make sure none of my clothes rip or anything, so, do you mind…?"

"Oh! Sure, yeah." Flustered, Raven turned around. Harry leaned back so his view was obscured. He could still see Raven transform through the gap. A minute later, Remus walked toward her, form hunched, body gray and thin. Raven, in wolf form, stood her ground and waited for him to recognize her. When he did, he ran in a little excited circle and scampered to the other side of the room. Raven hesitated, paw raised, then trotted after him.

Harry watched them for a moment, then got up, created a space to write and sleep, and settled down for the night.

"Raven?"

Harry awoke at her name, spoken by Remus downstairs, and put on his glasses. He pulled on the Invisibility Cloak, walked to the hole, and peered down. Remus was dressed, mostly; he held his shirt in his hands, one arm reaching through a gaping rip in the fabric.

Raven stirred, then transformed back into her human form. "G'morning." She tucked a spiral of hair behind her ear, stood, then noticed his situation. "Oh, right, you picked your shirt up and sort of tore at it, accidentally. Sorry, I couldn't do much to…"

"It's fine." Remus crossed the room to her. "Do you know any spell that could fix it?"

"Maybe. I have a lot of free time over the summer so I've learned a few things, but I wasn't able to practice…" Raven drifted off, uncomfortable under his gaze and by the fact that he was half-naked. She used getting out her wand as an excuse to step backward.

"Conset confuges."

Remus held up the shirt, which was now sealed along the tear. "Thanks." He shot her a sheepish little half-smile before pulling it over his head.

Harry cast a Muffling Charm to silence his footsteps and moved downstairs. When he reached the doorway on the main floor, he stopped in surprise.

Remus' hand touched Raven's cheek as he kissed her. She was tilted back in shock and had placed a hand on his chest, as though she'd intended to keep him from coming closer. After a moment, Remus pulled back, face hot with embarrassment.

"I'm—I'm sorry," said Remus, eyes wide, searching her face.

Raven hugged him, and when she let go, she kept one hand on his shoulder. "You don't have to…don't apologize. Please."

Remus nodded, his lips pressed together.

Raven dropped her hand to her side. "I really care about you, Remus, it's just—I don't want—I just want to be friends."

Remus nodded, eyes locked on the floor. "Okay. I didn't mean to, you know, do that, it just happened. It wasn't bad, was it? Is that why you…?"

"No! No, not at all, it was nice." Her compliment hung in the air for too long, considering how close they still were to each other. "We should probably go. We both could use a shower." She gave him a light smile. He tried to return the expression, but his mouth wouldn't move properly.

By Easter, the weather had turned from a winter gray to the black-and-white of spring. Harry, Raven, Lily, and Severus traveled with their things by Floo Powder from the school to Violetta's home.

"Welcome, welcome!" Violetta's mother immediately shook their hands and took their things. "It's so nice to have you all. Now, you're the only ones who were able to come, which means more room! We invited Alice and Frank—possibly you know them—but with the rising number of battles and secret missions nowadays, they hardly have any time to spare. Though, you may be a little young to know about all that. Third year, Vi told me. Would you like a cuppa?" She said this all very fast. Like mother like daughter.

"Yes, please."

"You must be Jacob. Vi told me a lot about you." She put everything she was carrying by the stairs and continued talking from the kitchen. "She wants you to do Quidditch for a summer league after fourth year." Mrs. Rosquit gestured for the four to sit down. "Now, what are all of your names?"

After chatting (rather one-sidedly) for about an hour, they showered and went to bed. The boys got the guest room, the girls got Violetta's room.

Harry lay awake that night, staring at the ceiling. He was putting off his decision of whether or not to stay another year. Severus was silent, which probably meant he was thinking, too.

In the morning, at a more reasonable hour than the World Cup with the Weasleys, the group got up, got ready, and traveled to their site. The tent, once set up, was twice as large as the one the Weasleys had borrowed. There was one bathroom, a kitchen, a dining room and living room area, one bedroom, and three bunk beds off to the side.

"This is incredible," said Lily, setting her rucksack on a bottom bunk. Severus and Raven took the top bunks, Harry took the one under Severus.

"I'm glad you like it. It's a little cramped, but it'll do." Mrs. Rosquit smiled at her husband and the two went off to fix up the place.

"Why don't we learn about this kind of magic in school?" Raven sat down next to Harry.

Harry was about to respond when he heard a familiar voice from outside. "Here's our spot!"

Severus cursed. Harry got up and looked through the front entrance. Sure enough, James had passed by, helping his dad carry a large trunk. Behind them were Sirius, Remus, and Peter. Harry went back inside and told the others, "It's James, Remus, Sirius, and Peter."

The others (even Raven, who had reddened at Remus' name) turned toward Lily. "What?" said Lily, raising an eyebrow. "He won't find out we're here. And I'm not the only one doesn't like him. Why is he here, anyway? Isn't this area just for the players' families?"

"And rich people. That's what Violetta said in her letter."

"Oh." Lily paused, then changed the subject from James, and everyone relaxed.

They stayed inside until after lunch, when most would not yet be filling the stadium. The Rosquits and, as it appeared, everyone else on the reserved site had a large luxury suite in the middle level of the stadium. Some stretches of the suite were sealed with glass, others were open. One half was decorated in the Wigtown Wanderers' symbol of a cleaver along with their colors, blood red and silver. The other half was in the Ballycastle Bats' colors, black and scarlet, along with their mascot, Barny the Fruitbat.

There were still three hours before the game started, but most people in the suite appeared to be present—including James. He seemed just about to spot the four when cheering made him turn round.

The Wigtown Wanderers were all visiting the suite. Families received them with hugs and quick conversations. There was also a handful of kids waiting with posters, chatting excitedly.

Violetta, at the front end of the group, crouched down, ruffled several heads of hair, and signed posters. She was tanner, more muscular, and stood straighter than she had the year before.

Violetta rose and approached Harry, ponytail bobbing, eyes bright. "Jacob! Nice to see you." She hugged him, then held him out at arms' length. "You're still short." Her attention shifted to the others. She shook their hands as they introduced themselves. "Thank you all for coming. Well, I have to get ready, but I'll see you in the morning, alright?" Violetta clapped him on the back, smiled, and made her way back through the crowd.

"Good luck!" Raven, Lily, and Harry called. Violetta threw a smile over her shoulder before disappearing.

"I thought I saw you!" said James from beside them, sidling closer to Lily. His face was painted red and silver, and he had a gag meat cleaver lodged in his head.

"Did you know that we were going to this game?" demanded Lily, backing away.

James only skipped a beat before replying. "No, of course not; it was my birthday present."

"We got the tickets for Christmas. Your birthday's in March."

James grinned. "So you memorized my birthday. I'm flattered."

Lily flushed. "Right. Of course memorizing your birthday had nothing to do with you shoving it down my throat. It's not like you have ever asked for a birthday snog, or said something about your birthday suit, or—"

"Okay! Okay. You are a laugh, Evans. So, moving on…I bought you all Omnioculars for the game." He handed Lily four, and she immediately passed them on to Harry.

"How did you know to buy these if you didn't know we were here till just now?"

James ignored her question and continued smiling. "Gotta run, it's been great seeing you."

At the scowl on Lily's face, Harry decided it wasn't a good time to tell her he was the one who told Remus about the game.

"Well, it'd be a waste to not use these," said Raven.

"Maybe we could sell them," suggested Severus as Harry passed them out.

Lily peered at him through the Omnioculars. "Who would buy them? They don't even work."

"Here, turn this." Harry twisted one of dials, and Lily stifled a gasp by clearing her throat. "Er, they're okay. Wait, what does this do—oh! It replays it. This makes it go in slow motion, or speeds it up…" Raven joined her in fiddling with the Omnioculars, while Severus muttered, "What a waste of money."

Harry sighed. "Lighten up. It could've been worse."

Severus snorted and stayed mostly silent for the rest of the time leading up to the game. As the sun set, everyone in the suite headed to the balcony.

Billboards lit up with advertisements, and as the sky darkened, the golden light from the heart of the stadium grew stronger. The signs changed, and neat writing appeared: Get ready for the team mascots!

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Spring Holiday match, brought to you by the Nimbus broom; the fastest, sleekest, and best in the world." The announcer paused to let the crowd cheer, then continued. "First, it is a great honor to introduce…the Wigtown Wanderers team mascot!"

The center of the stadium, which had been kept dark, became illuminated. In the light, there was a silver ring, which contained a large creature. Harry, along with the others, pressed his Omnioculars to his face. After adjusting the view, he saw that it was a Chimaera.

"Aren't Chimaeras Greek, not Scottish?" whispered Raven. A fan next to her, dressed in all silver, glared in their direction.

The Chimaera roared, sending a line of fire that, when passed through the silver ring, turned the same color.

A line of dancers filed onto the field, forming a circle a safe distance around the beast. They began a dance that was so hypnotic, most of the people fell silent.

"How do you think they trained it?" said Raven, adjusting her lens. "Look around its…feet, or whatever you'd call them. You can kind of make out that it was hurt through the red paint…I wonder how they get it to not fight, or fly away. Its wings seem like they're weighed down."

No one said anything about Raven's commentary, but they kept observing the beast. After a few minutes, the dancers cleared and the lights on the field went out.

"Now presenting the Ballycastle Bats team mascots!"

Out of the darkness rose a thousand glowing, flying bats. The bats flew in a long stream around the stadium, whizzing along the suite. They collected in the center of the stadium, hovering in the silhouette of a bat as fireworks boomed overhead.

Someone tapped Lily's arm. She started and spun around. "Potter, I told you—oh, hello, Remus."

"Hello."

"Did you come with a message from James? Does he want his Omnioculars back?"

"Er, no, I'm here 'cause I wanted to say hi…Did something happen?"

"No, not really," replied Harry as Lily said, "He's a toerag."

Remus tried to exchange a smirk with Raven, who was deliberately staring at the floor. When she glanced up to return it, he had already moved on.

"Speaking of James, did you tell him we got tickets to this game for Christmas?" Lily crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow.

"No. Why would you think I did?" After a few moments he caved. "Okay, yes, but I didn't think it was a secret."

"Apparently not." Lily glanced sideways at Harry.

"I know he's…a bit forward, but you could at least acknowledge him."

"Just because he fancies me doesn't mean I owe him anything."

Remus searched for a response. "You're right. Sorry for going off like that." He turned to go, but Harry pulled him aside.

"If you want to join us again, you can. Lily'll get over it, just don't mention James."

Remus nodded, his expression reluctant, heavy, before walking away.

"And now, please welcome the Ballycastle Bats and the Wigtown Wanderers!" The two teams flew out, shooting past the crowd. Harry couldn't hear himself cheer over everyone else.

As the players got into their positions, Harry adjusted his Omnioculars. He studied Violetta, who was glaring at the other end of the field, jaw set. He then turned his lens back to the center of the field.

A whistle pierced the air, and the players he had been able to see a moment before shot into position. There were two wizards and five witches on the Wigtown Wanderers, each with an expression ten times more aggressive than the other team. It was no wonder their uniform featured a meat cleaver.

Harry noted a sign over each teams' area below the action. "Here in spirit," said each, followed by a short list of people he had never heard of.

The Wanderers scored, and there was a bout of shouts from the Marauders, who were close by. That would be the last goal scored between both teams for an hour. The mood in the Wanderers half of the suite changed from celebratory to tense.

The Marauders, within that hour, had slowly drifted closer to the point where the two groups were merged.

"C'MON! WHAT KIND OF BLOODY CALL WAS THAT?" roared James, after Violetta was nearly knocked off her broom by the other teams' Chaser. The referee did nothing.

Before the game could resume, there was a huge boom of thunder that sent vibrations through the pitch. Only…it wasn't thunder. Clouds gathered overhead, barely visible in the night sky. Out of the mass a dozen cloaked figures dropped down, all riding brooms. There was an eerie pause as hundreds of Omnioculars zoomed in on the faces of the people.

The figures were Death Eaters.

Screams rose and bursts of light hit some of the Death Eaters before they could react. The announcer was saying something over the din, perhaps to cease fire, wait for the Ministry to act. The Death Eaters who were met by spells dropped to the ground below. The ones quicker to react drew their wands to block spells but were quickly knocked to the ground. Mediwizards ran across the field, guarded by a few wizards, who aimed their wands at the bodies. Wasting no time in removing masks, the mediwizards set to work at keeping them alive. One, who had landed before being attacked, took off her mask and raised her hands up, struggling to speak.

Something was wrong.

A few players from the Quidditch team rushed the field. A few spotted the female Death Eater, who was crying, and stopped.

Harry tore his eyes away from the scene and considered Severus, whose face was frozen in an emotion, perhaps fear.

"Everyone, please calm down, and cease fire. The situation is under control. Everyone—quiet! QUIET!" When the announcer's voice stopped echoing, a stillness captured the air. The spectators were so quiet that a wail could be heard from the field. Was someone dead?

"The Quidditch players who were captured by the Death Eaters have returned. All are in stable condition."

Fear, which had led the crowd to attack, now became a cold combination of guilt and relief. For the respective players' families in the suite, it brought tears. A tall, gray-haired man beside them had, apparently, shot at his own son.

Harry, Lily, and Raven looked at each other, confused. None of them had heard anything about Quidditch players disappearing. Severus didn't say anything, nor did he break his concentration from the people on the field.

A voice once again filled the stadium, but it wasn't the announcer.

"You now see what happens when you are fearful; you assume. You think you are safe. You think you are strong. You think you can win. By injuring your own people, it shows you can be killed. You have been weak. And you will lose." This was followed by a cold, high-pitched laugh that sent shock through Harry's body. There was no pain in his scar, but it itched with the expectation.

Severus did not seem pleased to hear his Dark Lord; sweat formed on his brow, and his hands tightened around the banister of the balcony. He didn't notice that Lily had grabbed Remus' arm instead of his. However, Raven did.

No wizard came after the voice, but the effects of Voldemort's announcement sent waves of reactions through the spectators, who were no longer spectators; instead, they were witnesses of a landmark demonstration.

"After a word from the Ministry, we will continue this Quidditch game. We cannot be swayed by empty words. Our spirits cannot be broken," boomed a man other than the announcer. Finally, some order was regained as cheers rose up in the stadium.

James, however, burned with rage as he turned to them. "How dare they ruin this game? Snivellus, you had to know this was going to happen. I bet there are Death Eaters in this stadium, in this suite, even! I can't believe their protection spells didn't—What are you doing, mate?"

Remus glanced at Lily, who realized she was still gripping his arm and let go of him. "Sorry, James," he said quickly, rubbing place where her hand had been.

James paused, eyes narrowed, then his attention was caught by the field. "They're coming back on."

The mood lifted. Harry and James both seemed to think, Finally, there might be some Quidditch.

The winners of the game, the Wigtown Wanderers, went to the winners' tent after visiting the players that had been returned. James invited Lily and the other three to hang out, but they were too tired to come up with a retort other than that they wanted to sleep.

Somehow, the weariness wasn't strong enough to put them to sleep. They lay in their bunks, thinking, and eventually talking. None of the others had come so close to Voldemort, unless Severus was lying.

Harry dreamed. In his dreams, he believed the events were real, which caused panic to build inside him. When he awoke and sat up, his breathing was erratic. Explosions and screams echoed in his memory so vividly he though the sounds were coming from outside.

He realized, as he came out of the tent, that there was no attack and that he had dreamt of the Death Eaters' attack at the World Cup. Harry started a fire in the pit in front of the tent, hoping the lull of the flames would calm him.

"James?" Violetta's voice came from beyond the light cast by the fire. She paused when she reached Harry, studying his frozen face. "You're not James." The last remnants of alcohol glowed in her cheeks.

"No," Harry agreed. He looked at his hands, which were larger than normal. Somehow, the charms must've worn off while he was dreaming.

"Okay. Why are you sitting here?"

He angled his face away from her. "I had a nightmare, and I needed some fresh air."

"Oh." Violetta sat down, eyes on him. "I know your voice. Hey, say something. I know you."

Harry had a way out of this, he knew he did, but confessing was much easier. "Yeah, you do."

Violetta laughed and nudged him. "Hey! It's Jacob! See, I'm not that drunk."

"I didn't say you—"

"Actually, I feel fine. Guess what? We won! We won! The Wigtown Wanderers! We won! Oops, people are sleeping." She laughed a little, then studied at him again. "Why do you look different?"

"This is how I actually look."

Violetta didn't notice the 'actually'. "No, no, no, no. You have blond hair, and you're thirteen." Saying this helped her mind register this. "Yeah, I'm right."

"Quiet, Violetta, sh…" Harry put a finger to his lips, she mimicked the movement. "You are right. If I tell you why, you have to promise not to tell anyone." What am I doing? thought Harry. Why am I going to tell her? C'mon, just lie. Stop, stop. You've made it almost three years without telling anyone. Fight the temptation.

"Sure. Not a soul. Cross my heart."

So he told her. At first she listened silently, and he wondered if she thought he was just telling a fairytale, an invention of his. But as Violetta sobered slightly, she asked questions, and an hour later, when he was done, she sat in a stunned silence.

"I know you aren't lying. Not—not just because you showed me the Time-Turner gadget, but because of how you are." She wiped her eyes.

"How I am?"

"Yeah. You're much more mature than everyone else, you're quiet, I wondered why on earth you'd be friends with that Severus kid…And you're excellent at Quidditch."

Harry added some flares to the fire. "I don't know what to do now."

"You've done enough. You fucking killed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The very wizard who terrorized the game tonight. About that, do you know the full story? No? Well, over about two months' time, and this started in January, the Quidditch players vanished. Some when they were on missions, some after games, but always just the players."

"How didn't I hear about it?"

"We were told to not breathe a word because if everyone knew, it would've created the exact effect he wanted. To make people afraid."

"Didn't anyone notice they were gone?"

"The fans were told the players had injuries, or a delay, or something. Did you see those banners in the pitch? The Ministry announced what had happened today, because there was a mission—I think Dumbledore was involved—to rescue them or to make a deal; a few of their prisoners in Azkaban for our players. One of the players said He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named made a deal that was way to good for our side. With this, though, he made up for it."

"Am I supposed to stay here and help the cause, then? I could leave Hogwarts, join the Order…"

"I dunno, I still think you've helped them enough already. And you have people you miss, like Jenny."

"Ginny," corrected Harry listlessly. He felt worse than he had when he had woken up.

"Look, your life sucked. But it was also really, really incredible. Is it too hard to forget the evils that happened and focus on the good?"

"That's not how I feel anymore. I want to remember the good, and I am able to here—well, I was."

"But you have so much peace back home."

Harry felt the need to argue his case, but his points were seeming more and more childish and trivial. "It's going to be just as hard. Everyone expects so much of me. There's always going to be someone to fight. To kill."

Violetta nudged him with her shoulder. "Why don't you live that life and find out? You may be wrong."

"Yeah." He rested his head on her shoulder; it seemed the natural thing to do. "Next month, I'll be nineteen and a half. I've spent so much time here."

"It hasn't been all bad, right? Quidditch was fun."

"It was. You were."

"I was going to ask if you were interested in playing Quidditch for a summer league next summer. Now that I now you're a time traveler, that's probably out of the question."

"You're right, but thanks for thinking of me."

"How could I not? You're a great Quidditch player." Harry could hear the smile in her voice. "Is it tiring to constantly be with people much younger than you?"

"It's exhausting."

"Listen, you may be a little angsty, and whiny—"

"Thanks."

"…but, Harry, you are brilliant."

Harry lifted his head and they studied each other. Their legs touched.

Violetta averted her eyes. "I really shouldn't. You have Ginny."

"I know, I do. And I love her. It—it hurts, actually. Now more than ever because, well, because you remind me of her." His eyes were distant.

"I do?"

"Yeah." Harry gazed into the fire, then faced her. "Do you mind if I—" He leaned in, then paused. "This is purely to thank you. I needed to talk to someone, and you helped me tremendously."

"It was my pleasure," Violetta said, moving her hand to his cheek as their lips touched.

Harry was, at first, surprised by her force, but he recovered and pressed her closer to him. When the fire was reduced to embers, they drew back. Violetta got up to put out the fire, then illuminated her wand.

"Oh. You're Jacob again."

"I suppose that's good." Harry followed her to the tent. Before they went inside, she briefly squeezed his hand.

That night, he thought he could hear her sobs despite her efforts to muffle them.

In the morning, people who hadn't left already hurried off the sites rushed to leave. Violetta's parents insisted Harry, Raven, Lily, and Severus go back to Hogwarts for Easter, since the school was the safest place to be.

Over the next week, the game was the sole topic of conversation. James was happy to treat anyone who would listen to his thrilling account of the events. By the last retelling, he was claiming to have seen Voldemort.

Representatives from the Order held another meeting in the Gryffindor Tower to recruit students. This time, however, only fourth years and older were allowed to attend. When the Marauders didn't show up to the dorm, Harry knew they'd be in the common room under the cloak.

"Did you know?" Harry asked, staring at the ceiling.

"Did I know what?" Severus continued reading.

"Did you know Vol—You-Know-Who—was going to be at the game?"

"Why do you care? Anyway, he wasn't at the game, it was just his voice."

Harry sighed. It took a lot less now for him to give up when talking to Severus. "Good night." He rolled over and closed his eyes.

After a long pause, Severus said, "I didn't know for very long."

"But you did know." To this, there was no reply, and eventually Harry fell asleep.

 


Chapter 12: Snape's Worst Memory
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Classes had finished for the day, so everyone set out toward the lake. Lily and Raven were a few minutes behind; they had gone to drop off their things. Severus was clutching the book Lily got him for Christmas: Advanced Potion Making.

Harry and Severus sat down in front of a tree by the lake to relax. Harry took out his journal and began to write; Severus took his other book to begin the assigned Herbology reading.

After fifteen minutes, Harry peered into the distance. "There's Lily and Raven." He said it matter-of-factly, tying not to sound as though it was a heads up for Severus to be careful of what he said. His friendship with Lily was on the rocks, though no particular event had put it there.

"What the hell?" said Severus, picking up the Potions book from where he'd set it down.

"What is it?" Harry asked, waving at the two girls.

"This isn't mine." Severus took out his wand and stood up. "There." He strode over to the three Marauders, who stood twenty meters away. Peter leaned over James' shoulder as James held up a copy of Advanced Potion Making.

Severus aimed his wand in their direction and began,"Acci—"

He was cut off by James' shout, "Langlock!"

Harry had barely pulled out his wand when Sirius' voice behind him whispered, "Petrificus Totalus." Sirius then draped James' Invisibility Cloak over Harry, who slumped against the tree trunk. Harry still had a view of the scene, but was invisible to everyone and unable to act. Something about this situation was horribly familiar; he may as well have been in the Pensieve.

"We've been reading up on some of your little spells, Snivellus. I hope that, for your sake, none of them are dangerous." James, Sirius, and Peter guffawed; Remus avoided Severus' glare.

"Plenum Temerario!"

Severus stopped, fists raised, and fell to his knees. Harry could tell, even from his position, that Severus' skin color had changed; it was now an inflamed red. The effects of the spell kicked in and Severus began to scratch himself as though his whole body itched.

"Ooh, James, try this one!" Sirius pointed to a spot in the book. "It says, 'Sectumsempra: For enemies.'"

Harry squeezed all of his muscles, willing something to shift, to move, so he could stop them.

"Leave him ALONE!"

James and Sirius turned. Lily stormed down the slope, Raven trailing slightly behind.

"Is there a problem, Evans?" James ruffled his hair and took a step toward Lily. "Look, we're just showing him how horrible his spells are. He made these up." Sirius nodded in agreement.

"His own spells?" Lily's eyes flickered to Severus, who was moaning in pain. His skin was now raw from the areas he scraped with his fingernails. "That doesn't matter. Leave him alone. YOU'RE HURTING HIM, STOP IT!" Severus met her eyes, seeing the pity there, and with a heave of breath resisted the spell. He managed to shoot a weak hex at James.

James' face erupted in boils, but the spell didn't stop him from retaliating.

"Levicorpus!"

Severus was whisked up in the air by his ankle. He struggled as fresh laughter rolled from the sidelines. Rotating slowly, Severus scanned the area as if he was searching for something. Someone. Someone he expected to save him.

Raven caught up. She glanced at Lily, who was frozen, then turned to James. "Stop it, you prick!" By now, a small crowd had formed.

"LEAVE HIM ALONE!" shouted Lily again, shocked out of her daze. Harry's muscles screamed as he tried to budge.

James seized his opportunity. "I will if you go out with me, Evans. If you do, I'll never bother him again."

"Finite Incantatem," a voice behind Harry whispered. Harry sprung forward, leaving the cloak behind, and turned to see Remus, who crouched behind the tree.

"Took you long enough," muttered Harry, then he ran to the scene. "LIBERACORPUS!" Severus fell face-first into the grass.

James sneered and poked Severus with his foot, trying to provoke Harry. "Walker. Isn't Snivellus lucky. Now he has two girls to protect him—"

Severus spat grass out of his mouth. "I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like them!"

Harry blinked. It happened. Two years early. Why had it happened? No, it was too fast. My chance to change things can't be gone. Not like this.

Severus stared at the ground, mouth ajar with horror. Lily took a step back. "Fine. I won't bother in the future. I knew this wouldn't work."

James was dumbfounded, then angry. "Apologize to Evans!" It was all so familiar, the reactions, though more childlike, were so much like what Harry had seen.

Lily turned on James. "It's none of your business, Potter, and you're just as bad as he is."

"What? Those were his spells, I was just—and I would never call you that!"

"Your arrogance amazes me. You think you're so great at Quidditch and that you could make anyone fall for you. You bully anyone who doesn't meet your standards. You're a sick and twisted toerag." Lily turned and ran in the other direction.

With a slightly confused glance at Harry, Raven hurried after her.

"Evans, don't be like that…EVANS!" James' efforts to act tough were breaking down.

Harry extended a hand to Severus, who ignored it and got up shakily on his own. Harry had fit all of their possessions in his bag.

"What have I done…" Severus gasped, staring after Lily.

"Let's go to the common room."

Severus froze when he saw Harry and inhaled sharply. "I see it again. I see James…"

James stormed toward them. "Where do you think you're going, Walker?"

Harry turned to him. "If you speak to any one of us today, I promise I will take you off the Quidditch team."

"You can't do that!"

"Well, you can risk it, if you want." Harry pointed his wand threateningly before striding off.

Hardly a minute later, when the scene of the incident was behind them, Severus broke down. "I can't—we need to stop—"

No one was around, but to be safe, Harry led him to a place off the path, where a passerby's view would be blocked by the trees.

Severus sat down and sobbed as Harry scouted the area, thinking.

My plan to change the course of Severus' life is in shambles. Either I couldn't do anything, no matter what, or I could've done more to stop this. Is this how I repay years of protection? Years of being against someone who gave up his life to help me? I could go back home.

I guess things are meant to be. Not supposed to be fixed. Unchangeable.

Harry touched the chain around his neck, the chain that held one of the only Time-Turners to survive the battle at the Ministry. One of his thoughts stuck out to him.

I could go back home.

Unless…there's one thing I haven't done. If there is any good time to tell Severus who I am, it's now.

"I owe you the truth," said Harry quietly, when Severus' sobs petered out.

"I don't want to hear it…" moaned Severus, revealing his splotchy face as he wiped his eyes.

"But you need to. I don't look like myself, right? Is there a sort of…haze around me? Do I look like James?"

Severus turned his head toward Harry, as if it physically pained him. "Yeah."

"How good are you at Legilimency?"

"What does that have to—"

"I want you to go into my mind." Harry reached under his shirt and pulled out his Time-Turner.

"What's that?"

"You've never seen a Time-Turner? It's how I traveled back in time."

"What? When?" Severus stood up, scared, suspicious.

"Just go in, and start from the beginning, okay? It won't hurt you. I'll concentrate on the memories." Harry closed his eyes.

It took a while for Severus' curiosity to exceed his weariness, but eventually he muttered, "Legilimens."

Harry watched the memories appear behind his lids. He concentrated and found he could direct the flow of information.

It began on the night his parents died. James gave up his life, Lily was hit by Voldemort's curse, and Harry lived.

Severus pulled out of Harry's mind, eyes wide. "What's going on? How did you do that? Why…"

"You saw Voldemort kill Lily."

Severus shook his head. "No, that's impossible—"

"Just watch."

Severus dove in this time. Harry was left on a doorstep, grew up with the Dursleys, found out he was a wizard, and stepped onto the Hogwarts Express. Harry showed his scar to Ron, he was sorted into Gryffindor. He hated his professor, Severus Snape, from the very beginning. In his first year, Harry thought Severus was after the Philosopher's Stone. Quirrell, whom Severus suspected, was found guilty. In his fourth year, Harry suspected that his name had been entered in the Goblet of Fire by Severus, an assumption that was later disproved. In his fifth year, despite Severus' help on numerous occasions, Harry continued to loathe him. In his sixth year, Harry was suspicious of Severus' involvement with Draco and assumed he was solely responsible for the death of Dumbledore.

Through the years, Harry saw the return of Voldemort, was called "The Boy Who Lived" and "The Chosen One," he was ignored and suspected. He watched his friends die in the time leading up to the final battle.

Harry couldn't hold back the other connections to Severus. Snippets of conversation flew by, too fast for the settings to develop, leaving just fragments of voices. "Or he might have been sacked! I mean, everyone hates him." "Snape knew more curses when he arrived at Hogwarts than half the kids in seventh year." "Kill me then, kill me like you killed him, you coward!" "I should have shown the book to Dumbledore. All that time he was showing me how Voldemort was evil even when he was at school, and I had proof Snape was, too." "No! You'll do no more murder at Hogwarts!"

The barrage of voices dissolved to show Severus, dying, saying, "Look…at…me…", then giving his memories to Harry. Harry dipped his face into the Pensieve. Severus took the O.W.L.s and call Lily a Mudblood. The relationship between he and Lily changed.

Severus saw his older self go to Dumbledore and beg for help, saying he relayed the prophecy about the one who would face Voldemort: "He thinks it means her son, he is going to hunt her down—kill them all—" "If she means so much to you, surely Lord Voldemort will spare her? Could you not ask for mercy for the mother, in exchange for the son?" The scene shifted. Dumbledore responded to a distant, echoing question. "She and James put their faith in the wrong person, rather like you, Severus. Weren't you hoping that Lord Voldemort would spare her?…Her son lives. He has her eyes, precisely her eyes. You remember the shape and color of Lily Evan's eyes, I am sure?" The following events accelerated to the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, when Harry revealed to everyone that Severus had been a double agent, all for love: "Severus Snape wasn't yours. Snape was Dumbledore's. Dumbledore's from the moment you starting hunting down my mother. And you never realized it, because of the thing you can't understand…he loved her for nearly all of his life."

The scene faded. Ginny said to an older, sadder Harry, "I know how you can change this." She gave Harry the Time-Turner, kissed him, and watched him vanish. Harry was shown changing his appearance, meeting Severus, introducing himself as Jacob Walker.

Severus gasped and left Harry's mind. His face was red, and tears leaked down his face. Harry could tell the pain was now much more real. Harry realized at once that he'd made a mistake.

"Take it back. I don't want to know. How could you? How could I?" His breathing was rapid, distressed. "Erase it, or kill me." Severus could no longer speak.

Harry shouldn't have shown him. Even the strongest person would break down after seeing the deterioration of their life. Severus was only fourteen; how much could he really change or want to change by knowing his future? Why would Harry have shown Severus how everyone came to hate him? That James got Lily? That even by changing sides, his life remained just as terrible?

"I'm sorry."

Severus muttered unintelligibly under his breath until he managed, "You're their son. Lily…with Potter…" He stood up, and the grass around his feet shriveled.

"Listen, Severus—"

"DON'T TALK TO ME! I—I HATE YOU!"

"Why do you think I came back?"

Severus kept flipping between despair and anger. "I don't know or care, maybe because your own bloody conscience was suffering."

"Well, yeah, I suppose. But I wanted to prevent things like today."

"Oh, right; you knew something like this was going to happen and you let it happen!"

"They petrified me, I couldn't help."

"That's not what I meant."

"Maybe in my first year as 'Jacob,' I would've stopped them. But even if I hold your hand the whole way, you're still going to make the same mistakes."

"Then why did you show me this? Why did you come here? My life is horrible. Meaningless. Everyone ends up dead…you've made everything worse!"

Harry would have been angered at this if he didn't believe what Severus was saying. "Do you know now why I'm always telling you to stay away from the Dark Arts? Because that's what happens. She dies. You die."

Severus rested his forehead against a tree, folded his arms and dug his nails into his skin. "So that's why you came back? To save Lily? So she can live to be your mother?" He couldn't stop himself from sneering.

"Yes and no, it was mainly so you could have a chance with her. To repay you." Severus' guess, however, was closer to the truth.

Severus let out a shuddering breath that turned into a hysterical laugh. "You're a bloody idiot. Firstly, you just showed me that she ends up with James. Secondly, even if she did choose me, you wouldn't exist."

"If that happened, no one would miss me. My reason for being alive has ended. I was only protected so I could kill Voldemort, and I have. If I was never born, someone else would do the job; maybe even the son of you and Lily. C'mon, Severus, it doesn't matter if you understand why."

"I'm going to apologize to her. Then everything'll be fine. But can you please just—leave me alone?"

"No. You gave your life to help me, so I'm going to do the same for you."

Severus shut his eyes. "Stop talking, please."

Harry nodded, then followed Severus out of the trees. He thought, for a moment, that he had heard a twig snap out of place with his footsteps, but decided he'd imagined it.

Severus collapsed into bed as soon as they reached the dorm. Harry let him be and went back downstairs to join Raven.

"How's Lily?"

"She won't talk to me. Or anyone." Raven studied Harry. "I can't tell if you're upset."

"I am. But don't worry about it. Are you?"

"Of course." Her eyes moved to the portrait hole. "But also…while they were doing all that awful stuff, Remus did nothing."

"That's not entirely true; after Sirius Body-Bound me, Remus lifted the spell."

"Still…"

"Listen, Remus is friends with them because they accept him. I know what you're going to say, that we accept him, that should be enough, but it's different. We don't fit in. James and them are a different sort of friend because, I'm guessing, they make him feel good about himself. Just imagine thinking you're a freak for your whole childhood, then people come along who don't think that at all." He realized this probably applied to her, and was about to apologize when she continued.

"They ruined Severus and Lily's friendship."

"What Severus did was wrong, and what they did was wrong. But this was going to happen eventually. You remember being with him and the Slytherins. I'm sure you talked down about Muggle-borns all the time."

"I didn't like to, but yeah." Raven turned her gaze away. "Once again, you're right. Why are you right? And not freaked out—"

The portrait hole opened and the Marauders came through. James was grinning, back straight, eyes bright. Harry had no doubt that he'd been given a long pep talk to see the bright side of the fight with Lily.

Raven stared at Remus, who glanced at her, then away, the skin between his brows creasing. Sirius and Peter smirked at Raven and Harry, while James' gaze settled on Harry for longer than he felt comfortable with.

"What's with them?" Harry asked Raven, unnerved.

"They're idiots. Best not to pay attention." Raven glanced once again at Remus.

Harry noticed this and said, "You should talk to him. Not now—do it when they're not surrounding him."

"Yeah, I will." Raven brought her feet up on the couch. "Can we talk about Severus instead? What are we going to do about him?"

"I don't know yet. See what happens."

"'See what happens'? Don't you usually have a plan?"

"I just don't want to get involved anymore." Because I seem to only make his life more miserable. And I can't change the inevitable.

"Jacob, Severus taught me Legilimency."

"What?" Harry's attention snapped back to her. "Why are you bringing that up?"

"Because…" She dropped her voice to a whisper. "I think that's why you look different sometimes. To me and him. Because it shows what you're really like."

"What I'm—what I'm really like?"

"Your personality is a little like Lily's, a little like James'. You're similar to them."

Harry leaned back, relieved. "That's it?"

"It's just a theory. What do you mean?"

"Nothing. So all you're saying is, Legilimency helps you see who I'm like?"

"Yeah." Raven's certainty faltered.

"Raven, can I talk to you?" Remus had appeared by the side of the couch.

Raven hesitated, then nodded. "Jacob, do you mind…"

"No problem." Harry took out his journal and found a seat on the other side of the room. He pretended to be absorbed in what he was writing when he was actually trying to catch what the two were saying. After a minute of straining to hear, he found they were being careful to keep their voices down.

Harry saw Lily come partway into view at the top of the stairs. As if he had been pulled out of his trance by her presence, Severus materialized on top of the other staircase. The Marauders hadn't noticed either of them yet.

Lily drifted down in her cream nightgown, matching Severus' pace. Her hair was up, except for her bangs, which hid her face from James' angle. She lifted her head just as Severus reached her.

"Oh," said Lily. She folded her arms to brace herself and studied him.

"I'm sorry," said Severus quickly.

"I'm not interested."

Severus reached toward her, eyes pleading. "Please, Lily—"

"Save your breath."

Severus took his hand back and crossed his arms, looking sick. "I didn't mean to call you a—a Mudblood."

"Then why did you say it?"

"Because I was—embarrassed, I suppose, and—"

"Embarrassed? That's great. Of course it's healthy for to be embarrassed of your friend. It definitely shows where your priorities are. Right at the top of your list is 'Dark Arts' and 'creepy Slytherin friends.' And your precious 'Dark Lord.'"

The Marauders were silent, and Raven and Remus had stopped their conversation to listen.

"I want to be friends with you. I'm sorry if I—"

"It doesn't matter if you're sorry, or if you want to stay friends, because I can't stay friends with you. We're just going to keep having these fights. I'm never going to think what you're doing is okay, and it's tiring to ignore it."

"Don't you get it? I'm studying the Dark Arts to protect you—and everyone."

"No, you're studying it to protect yourself." Lily shook her head, biting her lip to hold back tears. "I wish you well, Severus. Goodnight." Her voice cracked at "night," and she hurried back up the stairs.

Severus walked, ghostlike, to the dorm. Harry wanted to go after him, help him feel better about the situation, but he couldn't. Harry pretended to write in his journal, when really, he didn't know what to do. He was stuck in limbo; he messed things up too much to leave, but there was nothing left he could change.

In the first week of May, before dinner, Harry handed Raven his journal. "Raven, can you hang on to this for a few days? Don't let anyone see it."

"Uh, sure. Can I ask why?"

"You'll find out." Harry knew Raven's curiosity would lead her to read his entries, that's why he gave it to her, but he didn't know how long it'd take before she finished it.

As it turns out, it took only a little more than a day. "Jacob. Harry. Wake up."

"Hn?" He sat up, dazed, and she was there, holding his book, standing beside his bed.

"Common room," whispered Raven. There was a sharp snort and inhalation of breath from someone's bed. When the room was silent again, Harry followed Raven downstairs. They both sat on the couch in front of the fireplace.

"So you read it? All of it?"

Raven nodded. "And now I can see you. The real you. Otherwise, I would think what you wrote was just some—some fantastical story, too crazy to be true. But I see it. The eyes like Lily's, and James just about everywhere else. I still can't believe it. How can one person do all of that as just a kid?"

Harry knew she didn't expect an answer, so he continued. "So you read that I told Severus about myself the day he called Lily a Mudblood."

"How did he react? I mean, he's not the only reason you came back—everything about how you felt after the war—but he's in the middle of it. He's not entirely stable, either."

"That's why he's not talking to me. He freaked out. I don't blame him; he thought I was his friend, I lied to him about a lot of things, and I suppose I'm proof he didn't make it with Lily. Anyway, how do you feel about it?"

Raven's gaze pulled away from him and off toward somewhere in the distance. "Kind of overwhelmed. You're sure you weren't at school with your parents in your timeline? You wrote about that theory, how time can change."

"Yeah. In the 90s, I was the first Seeker in a century to be a first year. Since I'm a first year Seeker in the 70s, I would've been the first Seeker in twenty years to be a first year. And I also know Severus'—"

"…memories, right." Raven fixed her on her lap, tearing up. "So I guess he loved her forever, huh?" She nodded to herself and scoffed. "I'm such an idiot. You knew all along how I felt about him, too. How I still feel."

"I didn't want to tell you. I'm only telling you the story now because I need a second plan and it wouldn't make sense if just Severus knew. And I couldn't tell you just part of it. And, look, it's not like there wasn't hope for you and Severus." Harry took her hand in an attempt to comfort her. "There's one weird thing. I don't think you were around him in my time. I'd never heard of you before coming here."

Raven wiped her eyes. "I wonder what my life is like in your time, if it's different. It's probably. You're the one who talked me into going into Gryffindor—"

"I did?"

"What, you didn't know? Well, most importantly, you got me out of the Dark Arts. If Voldemort was defeated in your time, I'm probably…" Her lips tightened.

"It doesn't matter; time can change."

"How can you be sure? It's not like anyone has written about the rules of time travel, Jacob—Harry."

"I know. Never too late for someone to start, though."

"It'll be too late if you don't exist anymore."

"I'll be careful."

Raven sighed. "Well, it may be stupid, what you're doing, but you're pretty brave. I'm assuming it's not the first time you've done something…reckless."

Harry smiled slightly. "You have no idea."

Raven remembered something else, a distraction from her lost hope. "And you wrote about Remus. You think he still fancies me, even after I said I just wanted to be friends."

"It's kind of obvious."

"I guess if it were anyone else, I could tell, but I didn't imagine he would like me. I couldn't imagine."

They were both silent for a minute.

"Have you decided when to go back?"

"I've wanted to go back a few times before, but obviously never did. If nothing changes, this will be my last year."

The next evening, Raven knocked on the door frame to the dorm. room "Severus?"

Severus glanced up from his schoolwork. "What are you doing up here?"

"I just wanted to tell you that I know. Jacob told me. I mean, Harry."

Severus blinked and his face scrunched up. "Oh."

Raven stepped into the room and sat on the edge of Severus' bed.

"So you've come to…what? Offer your pity? Or lecture me?"

"Neither, really. I just want to talk."

"No one ever 'just' wants to talk to me."

Raven took a deep breath. "I know. I should just get straight to the point; you have to make a decision on what to do next."

"Yeah? I have to?"

"You can't be in between like this forever. Harry shows you how it all ends, and you decide you want to lay around and ignore your friends."

"So you did come to lecture me."

"No, no, no." Raven got up and sat on the other edge of the bed, next to Severus. "I wanted to tell you that we care about you. I care about you. And how can any of us help if you won't let us in? Just tell me what's wrong, please."

"'What's wrong?'"

"I mean, obviously it's what Jacob told you. That's not what I mean. Specifically, what is it?"

Severus turned his head to Raven, lips tightened. "I don't…want to talk about it."

"Yes or no questions, then. All you have to do is nod or shake your head."

Severus hesitated, then nodded.

"Okay." Raven pulled her legs up onto the bed and faced him. "Do you think Harry should've come back in time?"

Severus shook his head.

"And do you think this is all his fault?"

Severus shrugged, then shook his head slowly, reluctantly.

"Would you do something to change what may happen in the future if you knew you could?"

Severus began to shake his head, but seemed unable to contain what he had to say; "I can't change anything." He realized he had opened up to her and snapped his mouth shut.

"Wait—yes you can." Raven leaned closer to Severus and placed a hand closer to support herself. "You leave the Dark Arts, or you don't. It's your choice."

"It's not that simple." Severus didn't meet her gaze.

"Well, that may be true, but it certainly doesn't have to be as complicated as you're making it out to be. It's not that you're afraid of what they'll do, is it?"

"Of course not. They don't scare me."

"Then what?"

"I don't want to leave. I'm good at the Dark Arts. The best for my age, better than most older than me."

"It's not a bloody hobby, Severus. I know you've heard this before, but it's torture, and soon it'll be murder. It'll eat you alive. Did you see, in Harry's memories, that there was anyone close to you it didn't kill? Harry wrote that Dumbledore was killed by Dark Magic. You'll die, too. It's suicide."

Severus stood up and glared at Raven. "You don't think I know what it is?"

There was silence. Severus sat back down, this time a little farther away from her.

"Maybe you've realized this, but I know now how you feel about Lily." Raven's voice wavered and she closed her eyes to steady herself. "So maybe it's not a question of leaving the Slytherins or not. You just have to decide what's most important."

Severus rolled over to lie on his stomach. Raven relaxed a little; he could no longer see her expression. "You know what happens. If you stay with the Dark Arts, you'll lose Lily." Raven's throat tightened and her face burned. It was the right thing to do to help Severus, but the pain tried to convince her it was wrong to push him toward Lily.

"If—if you leave the Dark Arts then you—you have a chance with her."

Severus turned over on his back. "I don't even have that. She chooses James, in the end." He glanced at Raven after she didn't respond. Raven was struggling to blink away tears that wouldn't stop. Severus watched her, confused, then looked away when she recovered enough to wipe her eyes.

"Sorry. Where was—oh, right. Well, maybe she chose James, or chooses James, I guess, because you weren't there. At least you know she won't die as early if you don't get involved. Or you could protect her, since you know about what happens. I don't know, I feel like however it turns out after leaving the Dark Arts, it'll be better."

Severus studied the ceiling for a few minutes before responding. "I'll think about what you said." He sat up and met her eyes, black on brown.

"Thank you." Raven hugged him. She pulled away, then touched Severus' cheek. He looked toward her fingers, brow furrowed. "I just want you to be happy." Raven placed her other hand on his left cheek and kissed his forehead, unknowingly where Lily had kissed him before. She studied him, then lowered her hands and stood up. "G'night."

"Night," replied Severus automatically. He already had a lost expression, a frown that showed he was deep in thought.

Raven told Harry about the conversation as soon as she got back downstairs. Harry realized, after being filled in, that this had been Raven's way of saying goodbye. He also thought that, for the first time since the incident, there was hope for Severus.

Over the next two weeks, James, with the Marauders' help, terrorized not only his usual targets, but a few new people. He started a rumor that he had caught Gilderoy Lockhart snogging a boy in a supply closet; he added magical tablets to the Slytherin's drinks so they grew tails or forked tongues; he set various creatures loose in the school corridors.

Harry was at first concerned, then annoyed, then angry at how his father was acting. James never got back to the dorms earlier than midnight each night from detention. He rarely showed up at Quidditch practice, and the last match was only a couple days away.

Harry stayed up, waiting for James to get back to the Gryffindor Tower. His dad came in at one, bleary-eyed and pale. He only noticed Harry when he nearly ran into him.

"Sorry," he mumbled, starting to move past.

"James, wait."

"Oh. It's you."

"Yeah, it's me. James, this needs to stop. You owe it to me and you owe it to your team to make it to practice. You can't do that when you're getting detentions constantly."

"I'll be fine. I don't learn anything at practice anyway."

"That's it. You do one more stunt with the Marauders and you're—"

"How do you know about that?"

"I—what? Know about what?"

"We haven't told anyone that we're called the Marauders. I came up with it yesterday." James was calm, expression cold. Somehow, though, he didn't seem surprised.

"I overheard you talking about it."

"Okay, then where were we when we were talking?"

Harry was at a loss for what to do. He could lie and say Remus told him, but that would fall through eventually. "I don't know." He made toward the stairs.

"Then is it because you already knew?" James' posture was slouched, but he was still with tension. Weariness had left him.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you've known since before meeting us."

"How is that possible?" Harry forced a laugh, sliding his hand into the pocket that contained his wand.

"You're my son." James' hand shot down and grabbed his wand before Harry could pull out his. "Expelliarmus!"

Harry's wand flew to the other side of the room. Defenseless, he gave in."How did you find out?"

"I overheard you talking to Snivellus nearly two months ago." Harry flashed back to that time and remembered the twig that had snapped nearby, which he'd dismissed. "Since then, I could tell, and I overheard you and Raven."

"I was lying to them. Anything I said, it wasn't…"

"It's no use, I know you were telling the truth. It all makes sense; how good you are at Quidditch, your grades, how you talk. You're my—you're my son, aren't you? Snivellus had his little breakdown in the forest because of it."

Harry sighed and rubbed his temple. He hadn't intended James to find out, especially so soon. "Yeah, I am."

Now that James' suspicions were confirmed, he relaxed. "Merlin, I'm sorry for, well, everything." James paused, processing what this meant, what Harry knew. He grinned back at Harry, an idea alight in his eyes. "You should join us, then. Be one of the Marauders."

"No, that's your thing. I appreciate the offer, but I shouldn't."

"But you're my son."

"I know."

James crossed his arms. "Why did you come back here, then? And why have you been so against me?"

"I guess I'd like the adult you more than the teenage you."

"And I'm dead in your time? You didn't get to know me?"

"You died to protect us."

"Us?" It took a moment for him to realize what that meant. "Right, Lily, too."

Harry nodded and, as James was absorbed in thought, casually walked across the room. His wand had rolled under one of the tables. Harry bent down and shot a memory erasing spell at James, who cast a protection spell just in time.

"I learned that from you," said James, wand still raised. "And I wouldn't try that again. What if you screwed up? People would ask questions. I could erase your memories, too."

Harry lowered his wand. "Sorry. I don't want you to know."

"So I can't know, but Snivellus and Raven can."

"I owe Severus, but I don't owe you."

"How could you owe Snivelly? He practically breathes Dark Magic—I wouldn't be surprised if his nose is huge from inhaling it."

"You shouldn't bully Severus. After you died, he spent the rest of his life battling Voldemort. He protected me."

James was taken back. "Why?"

"Because he's not evil, contrary to what you believe."

"I guess I'd hate the adult Severus less than the teenage Severus."

Harry glared at him. "Why shouldn't I erase your memory?"

"If you try again, I'll tell everyone. If you erase my memories, it'll be just like it was before."

"And if you keep your memories?"

"Then we'll be friends."

Harry's eyes flicked between his wand and his dad. At this rate, the whole school will know by the end of the year. And I keep breaking the basic rules of time travel. On the other hand, I just want to get along with James. I've wanted a real family my whole life, so I should be willing to do this. Harry made up his mind, pocketing his wand and crossing the room. He'd known James over the past few years, but now he knew his father. He hugged his dad for the first time.

Later in May, the Gryffindors managed to win the cup by ten points; Harry caught the Snitch thirty minutes in, but the Hufflepuffs had control of the Quaffle for the majority of the game.

James and Harry cleaned up after the match. "So we're working on a project. A map, actually."

Harry nodded. "The Marauder's Map?"

"How do you know about that? Have you seen it?"

"Yeah. But I can't tell you about it."

"Right, sure." James didn't take him seriously. "But really, do we get it to work?"

Harry hesitated. "Yes. That's all I'm telling you, though."

"Okay." James looked around. "You still don't wanna join the Marauders?"

Harry locked up the case with the Quidditch supplies. "You have Remus, Sirius, and Peter. Severus and Raven just have me. And I can guarantee that you would tell the others about me, or they'd find out."

James considered this, then nodded. "Okay."

"It's not just that; I know too much about the future. And you bully Severus. Also—"

James stopped him from continuing. "Why does Lily hate me now if she's going to end up with me?"

Harry felt guilty and mad at himself for knowing this kid, his dad, would die young. "Because you're annoying! To everyone and to her. If you give her space, maybe she'll be less cold. You realize, it's not her, it's you."

"Well, don't sugarcoat it."

They were almost to the school when James stopped. "I'm actually going to head back and work on my flying. See you 'round."

"Hang on."

"What is it?"

"I've been thinking about it, and I really think we shouldn't talk to each other so much."

James faltered, shoulders sagging. "Oh. Why not?"

"I know, you're my dad, and you're part of the reason I came here. But I don't want you to keep affirming what Severus said about you."

"What he said about me? What right does he have to—"

"It doesn't matter. I don't want my opinion of you to be based off of you as a kid. On the other hand, I can't ignore how you're acting right now."

"I thought you wanted to be friends."

"I did, I do, it's just that right now, with everything that's happened, I can't."

"Fine," said James, already walking away.

June arrived. If it hadn't been nearing the end of the year, time would be moving slowly and painfully. An outsider looking in would be surprised to know that Harry and Severus used to be friends. They now seemed so separate. Neither of them spoke to or even acknowledged each other. Lily grew closer to Aluria Vane, even though half of Aluria's conversations revolved around James. At first, Lily changed the subject whenever he was brought up, but eventually she came to tolerate Aluria's dreamy rantings. Harry realized that Aluria and Lily must've been best friends since first year in the original time in which Raven, Harry, and Severus weren't in Gryffindor.

Harry was frustrated with Lily and Severus, so he spent more and more time with Raven. She asked him about the life he left behind, about Ginny and the War and the people he knew who died.

Exactly two weeks before the end of school, she asked, "How did Severus die? You didn't write about it specifically."

Harry put aside his homework. "I probably shouldn't tell you any more than what you read."

"Probably." Raven crossed her arms. "Then what about Remus? How did he die?"

"Why do you want to know? I mean, who said he's not still alive?"

"No one said anything; but you wrote about him like he's a ghost."

Harry sighed. "He died fighting on the final day of the Second War." He paused as the Marauders came down the stairs, carrying black bags, acting as though they wanted to appear suspicious. "He had a son—my godson. I wonder…" Harry watched them leave through the portrait hole. "…if he knew, if they all knew how soon they would die, if they would act differently."

"I don't think they should know. See how Severus took it; I wouldn't want to test their reaction. It's a horrible burden."

Harry nodded. "I know. If James hadn't overheard that part, I wouldn't have told him. So, why ask about Remus?"

Raven shrugged. "I want to know how much time we have. Er, I mean, we all have."

"Not enough." Harry thought for a moment, then asked, voice lowered, "How do you feel about Severus?"

Raven tensed and leaned away from him. "I don't know."

"And Remus?"

"I don't want to fancy him just because he fancies me. Though, I'm almost positive he doesn't anymore."

"Why not?"

"Ever since the Shrieking Shack, he's back to how he used to be. Anyway, even if he did, I don't want things to be any more complicated."

Remus and Sirius stumbled back into the room, laughing, arms around each other. Smoke drifted from Sirius, and he had soot on his face. "I'm gonna wash up. Meet you in a tic."

Remus grinned in reply and joined Raven and Harry on the couch.

"I'm gonna put my books away," said Harry, before they had even exchanged hellos. He took his things and went up after Sirius.

In the dorm, Sirius was fixing his hair. The bathroom upstairs had plenty of mirrors, but he felt it necessary to have one nearby.

Harry had come up not just so Remus and Raven could have a moment alone; he wanted to see if Sirius seemed to know about his true identity.

"Hey," he said casually, before shuffling through his things.

Sirius muttered a response as twisted his slight, tanned hands in frustration. He left the room without another word.

No, he seems clueless.

To stall further, Harry burrowed through the purse he had borrowed from Hermione. He took out the books he may or may not need for next year, depending on his decision to stay or go. He noticed that an off-white corner stuck out from between one book's pages. It was an unopened letter.

Harry's heart raced in anticipation. Maybe Ginny figured he would have second thoughts, so she snuck in a letter to help him decide.

But no, it wasn't from Ginny. After opening the envelope, he scanned to the bottom of the parchment where "Miranda Daniels" was written.

Dear Harry,

I am writing you to thank you. My name is Miranda Daniels. I am almost thirteen years old and am going into my third year at Hogwarts.

My parents' home was destroyed in the war. They are both Muggles and didn't know I was a witch when they adopted me. When they found out, they were shocked, but if they were scared of me, they didn't let on. I hated myself for being different. That is, until I got to Hogwarts. When I learned your story, I began to believe that anything was possible, and anyone can bring change.

In July of 1997, my parents pulled me out of school. We went to America with a couple other families, including my best friend, Sam, whose mom was a Muggle. We didn't know that Death Eaters were following people out of the country. Anyone who got a passport was tracked by them. Out of our group, only my family survived. Not out of skill, or bravery. I thought back to you, how you wouldn't have run away, you would've stayed and fought and helped. Then I realized that I was fighting. I was doing what you would've done. Maybe I wasn't home, but I was where I was needed: with my family.

So thank you not only for saving the world, but for saving me. Every little action helps.

Sincerely,

Miranda Daniels

The letter trembled in his hand. He had read thousands of letters, some of them probably like Miranda's. But somehow, close to three years after killing Voldemort, this one letter had an impact equivalent to a thousand.

Harry held his head between his hands, eyes squeezed tight. Was staying here the right thing to do? Or should he go back home?

Where was he needed most? Severus didn't want him, the Marauders had each other, Lily and Raven would manage. He could do both; stay then go back home. But he was no longer here to fill the void, he was here because of a moral obligation. Though, even that reason was timing out.

So, that's it. It makes the most sense to leave, decided Harry.

Severus glanced at Harry from his bed.

It was too early for Harry to be packing, but he wanted to make sure he had everything. With three people in Hogwarts knowing his true identity, all with access to his dorm, Harry had to be sure nothing had been stolen.

Harry knew Severus had looked his way, but he pretended otherwise. It would be less painful for both of them to part without making amends. That way, Harry could go on thinking Severus didn't want his help and Severus could think that Harry no longer cared.

The strongest proof of their stubbornness was their refusal to say anything to each other until the final day of school. Harry didn't think Severus had any idea that this was the last time they'd see each other until the nineties.

"Are you going?"

Harry tucked the Time-Turner under his shirt and turned around. Severus stood, with his things, by the King's Cross gate.

"Well, I'm not planning on living at the station."

"I have to go soon. Are you leaving or staying?"

Harry sighed. "Leaving."

Severus nodded. "I don't know if I'll see you when I'm older, then. Who knows how things'll work out."

"Probably about the same. Unless you're planning on leaving the Dark Arts…? No? I didn't think so. I wish you luck." Harry turned to leave.

"Er, Harry," began Severus.

Harry raised his eyebrows. "Yes?"

Severus pressed his lips together and looked anywhere but at Harry. "Why did you come here?"

"I told you, I thought I could help you. Now I know I can't."

"I mean," began Severus, lowering his voice almost urgently, "why did you come to fix things if you're going to leave? Why are you leaving when things are still…wrong?"

Harry didn't reply. He turned his gaze to Lily, who saw him and began to wave before she saw who he was talking to. "I tried. I made things worse. And I'm unhappy. No, miserable. And also angry, like how I started. Nobody will care if I leave, at least not for long."

Severus bit his tongue. He couldn't say anything, even as Harry moved through the wall.

After a few seconds, the battle in Severus' mind ended and he pushed his cart through the wall. Harry was moving out of sight; soon he would Apparate and disappear. Severus quickened his pace and pushed through the crowd after his friend. "Wait!" he called, just as Harry turned the corner to an area free of Muggles. There was a loud crack, and then no one was there.

Severus stood rooted to the spot. He pushed his cart back around and had begun to head in the opposite direction when Harry Apparated again in front of him.

"What is it, Severus?"

Severus had to say something to get Harry's help, but he wasn't one for lengthy, emotional speeches. "Stay one more year. Please."


Chapter 13: The List
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Harry awoke to the loud rush of a train coming by on the tracks. At least, he thought that was the cause until he spotted Severus, who had just closed the room door.

"It's raining. I brought food," said Severus, setting a bag down on the table.

"Thanks. Er, you went out? What time is it?"

"Ten." Severus hesitated as he opened the wrapping on a loaf of bread. "Are we still doing the thing tonight?"

Harry put his glasses on and walked over to help Severus set up breakfast. "I promised you, didn't I? But only if you think you can handle whatever we find."

"I can."

For every weekend over the past summer, Harry and Severus had stayed in the Leaky Cauldron Inn. By the time Friday arrived each week, Severus was, in his usual suppressed, subtle way, eager to see Harry. He no longer had Lily to spend time with, and his parents were either absent or angry.

Harry had sold many of his things to pay for room fees, school supplies, and a few luxuries, such as ice cream. He was careful to only sell things that could have been found in the 70s and that were of monetary value but not of importance.

Severus never spoke about Lily, the memories, or even James. He didn't speak much at all, but that didn't mean he cared less about Harry. It meant he cared less about life. He appeared healthier and stronger, but he had only achieved that by detaching himself.

That night, the last night of August, Harry put a few basic disguise charms on Severus. They dressed in all black and the hoods on their robes shadowed their faces.

The air outside was warm, the sun was setting, and Diagon Alley was packed. That was ideal, because the more people in the area, the easier it would be to go unnoticed.

Severus and Harry waited for Eileen to Apparate by the Leaky Cauldron for a pint, as she did every time they had seen her before work. They never saw her face, but she was recognizable by her husky, drawling voice. That evening, as with every evening, she flirted with the bartender before dropping a few sickles on the counter and leaving. Her heels clicked on the cobblestone road, through the archway into Nocturne Alley, and into a two-story brick building.

A stocky, balding man nodded Eileen inside. After another group was allowed in, Harry Confunded the man, despite Severus' whispers against it. They slipped through the door before the man recovered. For a moment, they stood, adjusting to the dim, smoky atmosphere. The only sources of light were from the candles lining the wall and the colored flames at the center of each table in the place. There was a stage in back where women wearing black, knee-length dresses were performing. Men drank, laughed, whistled, and flipped coins at the stage. When the coin reached the stage, it vanished, then illuminated the dress of whichever woman was closest, turning it transparent for a number of seconds that depended on the amount paid. Around the tables, women brought drinks to customers, sometimes joining the groups if they were tipped generously enough.

"Let's go," said Harry, head spinning. He could hardly hear or think over the music.

"Not yet." Severus' gaze passed over the room, moving back and forth for several minutes. He spotted Eileen before Harry, who was only capable of recognizing her by her clothing. Eileen's hood was pulled back to reveal a heavily makeup-ed face. Harry recognized the pride she had shown when he met her, even when she was at a low point in her already low-pointed life. Eileen seemed confident as she guided the drinks she was levitating from head level. She crossed the club floor and set the drinks down at a table with several drunk men all around fifty or sixty years old. The men paid for the drinks, and she appeared to ask something like, "There somethin' else I can get you lot?"

One of the men nodded, greedy eyes enhanced by alcohol, and handed her a stack of galleons.

Eileen smiled in the sort of forced way that even sober people would have trouble recognizing. She gestured toward the back and led him through the crowd.

"Severus, I think we should—Severus?" Harry managed to see him leaving out a side exit. He ran to catch up, but Severus had stopped. The door to the club closed behind Harry and the music became muffled.

Severus' face was tight with anger, and he was gripping his wand like it was the throat of—"That disgusting bastard. How could my mother…sell herself like a slave, like a fucking House-elf?" His voice cracked, so he paused and swallowed. "I wanted to kill him. Back there. I had to leave."

Harry didn't know how to respond. "Well, I'm glad you—"

Severus cut him off, voice raised. "I only didn't because of the Trace. There's no other reason." His breath shook. "I've seen enough, let's go back."

As they lay in their bunks that night, Harry considered talking about what happened. He was about to speak when Severus said from below him, "I don't know if I can live at home anymore. I can't take that money." That was one of the longest statements he had made all summer.

"Do you have a choice?"

"No, but she does!"

A train roared by, shaking the room. Harry waited until it had passed before speaking. "Severus, I'm sorry. Not just for today. But for everything."

"You're offering me your pity? What would that change?"

"Nothing. And I don't pity you. I just, I feel like I don't try enough to help, and when I do try, I only make things worse. So, well, this year I'll be there."

"Yeah."

"I don't want you to give up on me, or with anything."

"Sure." His voice was muffled, but it was still clear he didn't care what Harry had to say.

"Severus, I had an awful life until Hogwarts. Even in school I had times where I lost sight of myself. I let people support me, and I moved on…" He was straying from his point and the truth, as far as "moving on" was concerned. "I guess, what I'm trying to say is, bad things may happen to you, but that doesn't mean they have to change you."

Severus was motionless. "Mhm."

Harry didn't say anything else. He didn't know how he could lessen the pain.

Harry and Severus arrived at King's Cross at half past ten the next morning. Harry chose a spot toward the very front of the train, hoping to avoid Lily and the Marauders.

At five before eleven, Remus poked his head into their compartment. "Oh, hello!" He paused, checking behind him. Voice lowered, he said, "James sent me to search for you two. How're things?"

"Fine," replied Harry. Severus remained silent, gazing out the window.

"Great, you found them," said James, sticking his head out from under Remus' arm, startling him. Harry guessed that James had been hiding under the Invisibility Cloak.

"So, you found us. Now you can leave."

"Coming through." Raven pushed past James, who was now shorter than her, and sat down next to Harry. "Lily's sitting with Aluria and them. I thought I'd sit with you guys instead."

James cleared his throat. "I wanted to make sure you all knew to be careful this year. You stay out of our way, we'll stay out of yours. Cheers!" James ducked back under Remus. "C'mon, Moony."

"Okay. Bye, guys." His eyes were on Raven, who smiled and gave a slight wave.

Harry addressed Raven. "So why don't you like Aluria?"

"She's fine—they're fine. I've been around them enough to know they aren't as fake as people may think. They all have their problems, and they're really close to each other. But it's always about them—'the three girls.' I think they shut even Lily out sometimes. They don't realize it, though."

"Has Lily changed since being with them?"

Raven hesitated, chewing her lip. Severus' attention snapped away from the window. "Her personality, no. But, and this is just how I see it, I don't think she hates James anymore. You must've noticed that. She's still nice, and the others don't talk badly about people if she's around, only, I think she's now indifferent about him."

Harry and Raven looked at Severus, who abruptly feigned disinterest. "I noticed, too," said Severus, annoyed at their attentiveness. "Of course, once she sees him harassing people again this year, things will go back to normal."

"Right." Harry tried not to exchange Raven's glance.

The three watched the fields pass by through the window of the train. They ate, read, and occasionally talked. Severus fell asleep halfway through the ride, mouth slightly open, head leaned to the side.

Raven studied Severus, then chuckled.

"What?" Harry glanced up from his book.

"No, it's nothing—I was going to say Severus looks great, but I realized that sounds a little strange at the moment."

Severus snored a little.

Harry nudged her. "What makes you say that?"

Raven was at once serious. "I don't mean it like that. But you must've helped him a lot, because you can tell there's something different. Was he home at all?"

"We stayed at Diagon Alley on the weekends. He and his mum were out most days, so his dad didn't give him trouble. Since he knows I can use magic, I helped him whenever he needed it."

"That's good." She dropped her voice to a whisper and smiled. "Love his haircut. Just past the ears—very sophisticated."

Harry smirked, then said: "There's another thing you should know." As he told her about what they had seen in Knockturn Alley, her expression gradually fell.

"That's horrible. For his mum, mostly. I mean, imagine having a husband like that, then having to sell yourself to support the family, if you can even call it support…" Her words tapered out as she noticed that Severus had opened his eyes.

Severus got up and opened the door of the compartment.

"Wait, Severus, I didn't—"

"Just going to the bathroom." He raised an eyebrow at her before closing the door.

After a moment, Raven sighed. "Well, he looks healthier. I mean, he's standing straighter, and he's not so ghostly pale anymore. His eyes, though…they're blank. Severus isn't the only one, though; some of the Slytherins were into Occlumency. That kind of magic did the same thing to them, though not as bad. They became paranoid and hardly ever show any emotion. I hope this isn't more than a phase."

A few hours later, after exiting the train, Raven, Harry, and Severus boarded the carriages. Harry and Severus stared at the Thestrals for the majority of the ride. They couldn't help thinking about the people Harry had seen die. The thoughts were shaken away as they entered the bright, cheery Great Hall.

The three sat at the back end of the table, away from the other Gryffindors in their year. Harry didn't recognize any of the incoming first-years. He did notice that, overall, they were more solemn than the previous year. This pattern was reflected in Dumbledore's speech; since Harry's first year as Jacob, Dumbledore's words had become more strained, as if his message for the students to enjoy themselves was urgent, and him telling them to be careful was a plea. The students, many hardened by the war, did not jokingly or seriously protest the few extra restrictions Dumbledore put in place for the year.

When everyone was dismissed to their dorms, Mulciber and Avery pulled Severus to the side. The two Slytherins leaned close to him, chattering enthusiastically. Severus, face unreadable, shook his head, said something, and began to walk away. Avery grabbed Severus' arm and yanked him back. They stared at each other for a moment. Avery spoke, Severus replied, then Avery shoved him forward. For Harry's safety or to maintain his own pride, Severus continued to the dorms alone.

Back in the common room, Severus told Raven and Harry what had happened. "They wanted to meet tonight and tell me about their summer and show me what they'd got. I told them I wasn't doing that sort of thing anymore and that ticked them off. Avery told me that if I didn't come to my senses, he would put me on The List."

Raven nodded, but Harry was lost. "What's 'The List'?"

Severus glanced at Raven, who explained, "There are students who commit to the Dark Arts, whether by their bloodline, by house, or by volunteering. If you get in too far and leave, they put you on a list. The List, as the they call it. I left early on, I was young, and not that important, so they gave me a 'one' ranking. The scale's up to three. Though he's been with them longer, Severus will still get a one. A two is if you turn against them, a three is for everything worse. Rankings higher than that, they don't need a list. There's a different way they deal with people who actually become a Death Eater and quit."

"So what happens with each of those rankings?"

"A 'one' is they will prevent you from getting a job, especially in the Ministry. And if they gain enough power, they'll kill you. A 'two' is bad. You'd have to go into hiding or always be with a lot of people, or else they'll force you to give information and kill you. If you get a 'three', they'll kill you as soon as you leave. You escape and start a family? They'll find you and kill them too. And when the war gets bad enough, they'll just massacre the whole list. A whole lot more than the list, too."

"What about people who have Death Eater parents?"

"Thank Merlin that's not us. You basically can't leave if your parents are his followers, because your family would be targeted with you."

Harry thought of Malfoy, then noticed Severus. "Are you okay? Your face is really green."

Severus' eyes widened and he put a hand over his mouth. "Wait here," he managed through his fingers, before running upstairs. Raven and Harry remained sitting, taken aback.

Thirty minutes later, Severus returned, complexion back to its usual pale. He had changed into his pajamas, and his hair was wet. "Bloody pricks." Severus sat down next to Harry. "They hexed me. I learned the spell in my first year. You don't feel sick before it happens. You turn green and then…you throw up in the same color. Everywhere."

"Good thing I said something, then." Harry glanced at Raven, whose fearful expression seemed dramatic considering the severity of the hex.

Her eyes were on the new, deep green discoloration on his forearm. "How can we help? Severus, they might never stop."

Severus noticed what Raven was staring at and rolled down his sleeve. "You don't have to do anything. You handled them by yourself, didn't you?"

"But they didn't care. They just wanted to scare me. They do care if you leave."

"Do you think I'm not going to fight back?"

"They'll give you a two if you do."

"Do you want me to regret leaving them? Even though I know I had to leave, doing so was harder than you can imagine. And don't congratulate me. Don't think of me as brave or heroic. The courageous thing would've been to become a double agent, like before."

"No," objected Harry automatically, before coming up with a convincing argument. "Well…when you were a double agent, you also had to help Vol—You-Know-Who. So maybe it's better to have you completely on our side."

Severus was already buried in his own thoughts. His features were slightly curved, as though disgusted with himself. The only thing that would convince him his choice was right was for Lily to forgive him, at the very least.

Harry and Severus stayed in the common room for another hour that night after Raven left. Harry had an idea of how to help Severus in case of an emergency.

"If you place an Undetectable Extension Charm on the pocket of your school robes, I'll let you keep the invisibility cloak with you." The Cloak had helped Severus on multiple occasions at home when he had to leave the house undetected or hide at the last second. He had dealt with an unsafe household, but Hogwarts, despite the Marauders' pranks, was supposed to be safer. In Severus' case, that was no longer true.

"I'll get along without it."

Harry squeezed the bridge of his nose. "Don't let your pride get in the way of your safety. I'm not giving it to you, or anything, I'm just letting you use it, with a few conditions. One, and I know it's tempting, but don't use the Cloak to spy on people, unless you tell me why first." Harry knew he was being hypocritical, but he knew how was easy it was to get carried away by having such an ability. "Two, don't let anyone else use it. This is more valuable than you know and dangerous in the wrong hands. Three, don't use it for the wrong reason, like to get revenge on the Slytherins, or on James and them. And four, don't tell anyone about the Cloak or let anyone see you disappear under it."

Severus nodded reluctantly. "And why the charm?"

"In case they get you and search your pockets." The notion seemed likely to both of them.

Harry couldn't tell whether or not Lily believed Severus had given up the Dark Arts. Harry told her he had left them on the second day of school, and everyone had seen him harassed by his former friends. Even Regulus, whom Severus had mentored in the Dark Arts, helped with the pranks (if they could be counted as such).

Over the first weeks of school, Severus ate less, bathed less, and had to be reminded about homework. Twice a week, eventually out of habit, Harry and Raven had a meeting with Severus. They asked about each prank, they asked what he had eaten, they asked if things were getting worse or better. At first, Severus refused to let them baby him, but as the month progressed, he was too tired to object.

The Marauders left him alone, partly because their job had been taken over, but mostly because they were in the final stages of making the Marauder's Map. Harry spoke to James about the chance that his identity could be revealed when they were finished with the Map. The Map wasn't fooled by Polyjuice Potion or Animagi, so it wouldn't be fooled by the simple disguise charms Harry used.

James was reluctant to help Harry, but after a few days' tampering he changed "Harry Potter" to "Jacob Walker."

On the last week of September, Remus stayed up with Raven and Harry to wait for Severus to come back to the Gryffindor Tower. Raven and Remus caught up with each other about their summers, discussed the two classes they were chose to take: Divination and Care of Magical Creatures. Harry didn't interrupt, since listening eased his nerves. He noticed they talked quietly, leaning close to each other, even though no one would be able to hear from upstairs.

Raven, imitating Trelawney, was giving Remus a parody palm reading when Severus came in through the Portrait Hole. His hair was slicked back with sweat, his eyes were red-rimmed, and he looked as though he could collapse at any second.

Harry leapt up and helped Severus to the couch before his legs had the chance to give out.

"What did they do?" asked Raven, a hand on Severus' shoulder.

His eyes fluttered open. "The Cruciatus Curse."

Remus looked to Harry to explain, then noticed Raven's hand on Severus' shoulder.

Harry took a moment to get over his shock. "The Cruciatus Curse is one of three Unforgivable Curses. Remember what happened to Violetta? The Curse tortures whoever is subjected to it. I know someone—someone, er, on the Quidditch team, they've graduated now, whose parents were put under it. The torture drove them insane. They're in St. Mungo's now, but they won't ever recover. Severus, how long did they do this to you?"

Severus' voice was dull, like he was hypnotized. "An hour."

Harry's breath caught in his throat. The only way Severus could have held onto his sanity for that amount of time was by using Occlumency. "Did they do anything else?"

Severus hesitated, or had to gather his thoughts—it was hard to tell. His eyes were still on the lifeless fireplace. "No."

Raven rubbed Severus' back, trying to get him to relax. She had the opposite effect—his body tensed and he squeezed his eyes shut.

Raven took her hand away, confused. "Are you sure they didn't do anything else? You can tell us."

Severus nodded. He opened his eyes again and finally regarded them. "They gave me the choice to end it."

"To kill you?"

"No, no, the pranks. One final show, mostly for the upperclassmen." Some emotion was coming through his voice. He continued with a venomous, spiteful tone, "There were three rules for them, one for me. They told everyone there that I couldn't end up dead, I couldn't end up in St. Mungo's, or in the Hospital Wing. The one rule for me was that I couldn't get any of them in trouble."

"How did you know they weren't lying?"

"Because if they broke their end of the deal, I could have them expelled." Severus struggled to get to his feet. Remus, who was still numb with the information, helped him stand.

Raven followed them to the dorm, moving aside the covers before they laid Severus down on the bed. Raven pushed his bangs out of his face and quickly kissed his forehead before leaving.

After a moment, Harry glanced sideways and said to Remus, "You get to kiss him next." Then he noticed Remus' expression. Before speaking again, Harry made sure that Severus had fallen asleep. "Raven doesn't fancy him."

"How do you know?" Remus lowered his voice. "I thought that's why she doesn't fancy me."

"I'm not the person to go to about this, but in any case, it's best to ask her yourself."

"I can't."

"Then you'll never know." Harry realized hew would have to talk sense into Remus like he did when Remus had left Tonks. "She doesn't care that you're a werewolf. None of us do, so why should she?"

"Go the fuck to sleep," grumbled James from his bed.

"Sorry," whispered Remus. Voice almost inaudible, he added, "I know she doesn't care, but she should."

On the first Friday of October, Harry suggested that it might benefit Severus to write down what happened with the Slytherins. The next day, after the first Quidditch practice of the year, Severus gave Harry what he wrote.

The first lines of Severus' account read, Please don't overreact. Remember what I promised them. And burn this when you're done; I don't want anyone to know what happened.

Harry skimmed through, not wanting to dwell on any one part for too long. He had to read through the letter again to believe the words in front of him. When he finished, he felt sick and his head spun.

Seven Slytherins ran the punishment; five boys and two girls, all in their seventh or sixth year. He wrote that the girls, for the most part, merely watched, and seemed to be there out of an obligation or to prove themselves as tough. The boys, Harry figured, could do a better job at burying their opinions and emotion from what they did.

The Slytherins took away Severus' wand for the entirety of time, of course. They brought him into an old part of the dungeon.

Severus didn't realize that the lifeless Lily he saw in the room was a boggart until one of them tore him away from her side, causing the boggart to change into a tall, balding, stern man with a Dark Mark on his arm.

Harry couldn't reread some parts of the writing, the acts they forced him to do to them. The others had laughed as Severus tried not to cry.

Guilt hit Harry, hard. Even the short, mostly nondescript style of the writing evoked hatred and anger toward himself and the students.

The first instinct Harry had was to show the letter to a Professor. Once he calmed down slightly, he considered having Lily read it. Then she would understand what Severus was going through since he changed sides. That, too, was dismissed when he realized Lily would take pity on Severus, and treat him like how Harry and Raven often couldn't help treating him; like a parent. And Lily would almost certainly want to report what happened.

Harry burned the pages before he could be tempted to hand them into Dumbledore. He sat in the dorm until Severus came up to get his books to study. The boy moved quickly, as though to avoid talking about the incident.

"Severus, wait. I've been thinking, and I decided I should erase your memories."

Severus stopped on his way out the door. "I made an Unbreakable Vow that I wouldn't." He pressed his lips into a tight line and hurried out of the room.

Harry's eyes lost their focus. After staring into space, mind blank, he buried his face in his hands and let the guilt swallow him.

In late October, Harry heard Chris Barry—a Gryffindor—say, "Did ya hear about Sirius Black bein' a fairy and all?"

Harry glanced up from his book. The Gryffindors were in Charms with the Ravenclaws. Chris meant to be whispering, but James had heard him.

"Oi! Shut your hole, mate, please. Some of us are trying to work." There were twenty minutes before class ended and out of the Marauders, only Remus had his book out.

Chris stared at the back of James' head before continuing, voice lowered more, but not enough. "Cassandra said someone caught him snogging on the third floor. With a bloke."

"Why the fuck would you believe that?" James stood up, strode over to Chris, and put his hands on his desk, leaning in, eyes narrowed.

Although Chris was much larger than James, he faltered before replying, "Everybody's been talkin' about it. Don't blame me."

James remained standing for ten seconds, staring, before going back to his seat.

Chris snickered when James had his back turned. Harry felt hot annoyance and anger in the pit of his stomach.

When Harry lived with the Dursleys, Vernon had the tendency to occasionally blame things—disease, new government regulations, child delinquency—on "the queers". When Harry was seven, he heard Vernon calling a politician a "bloody poof" and Dudley later called Harry the same. Harry asked Petunia what "poof" meant, but she avoided the topic. It wasn't until Harry tricked Dudley into telling him that he got a legitimate answer. Since then, he became vaguely supportive of the people his family hated so much. The wizarding world was much less discriminating of race and sexual orientation, as far as Harry could tell. Discrimination was between species and wizards, Purebloods and Mudbloods.

At least, that's what he assumed.

Harry knew Sirius couldn't be gay, so he had to fight the urge to take his wand out against Chris. He noticed Severus, sitting to his left, was trying not to laugh. "What's wrong with you?" demanded Harry.

Severus shook his head, lips pressed together, still grinning.

Then it dawned on Harry. "You said that, didn't you? You started the rumor to get revenge."

Somehow, Sirius seemed to have guessed this, too. He glowered at Severus as he talked to James.

"You shouldn't have done that."

Severus stopped laughing. "Why? They did the same to Lockhart last year, and you think I can't return the favor? Besides, I didn't make it up, so what's the big deal?"

Harry studied his face, waiting for Severus' serious expression to break, or for him to explain. When Severus didn't continue, Harry did. "They're gonna give you hell."

"I can take it. I'll fight back."

"No, Severus, this is going to have to stop. After today, no more pranks. That's what Lily hates, right? Pranks and bullying. You might have left the Slytherins, but she'll still see you as immature."

Severus looked over at Sirius, who used magic to fold a piece of parchment into an the shape of an owl. Sirius tapped it with his wand, waited for Professor Flitwick to turn his back, and threw it at Severus.

The owl hit Severus in the face. He rubbed his cheek, glaring at Sirius, then opened the note. When he was finished reading, Severus set the parchment on the desk and slid it to Harry for him to read. As soon as Severus was no longer touching it, the parchment burned.

Harry didn't notice the note, but Severus figured Harry wouldn't have believed what it had said anyway.

That weekend, Sirius watched the Gryffindor Quidditch practice from the stands. James was more distracted at Sirius' presence than what Harry had seen over the years between couples. However, there seemed to be another reason for him being there; whenever the Beater, Arie Tempah, successfully completed a play, he cheered. Arie's brother, Layton, also a sixth year, asked Harry to kick Sirius out of the stands. When Harry told him to leave, Sirius did so with grace, as if that had been his plan.

After practice, Harry stayed behind a few extra minutes to grab his things. Bertha Jorkins stopped him on his way back up to the castle. She was out of breath and grinning.

"Guess who I caught snogging!" Bertha paused either for effect, or for Harry to ask who.

He remained silent.

"Sirius and Arie!"

"Really?" Harry couldn't help feeling relieved.

"Yeah." Bertha began to run again. "I'll see you, I just gotta tell…" But she was already out of earshot.

Harry slowed to see if Sirius would catch up. Instead, Arie appeared from behind the Quidditch pitch alone. She frowned and surveyed the area as she walked, missing the large black dog who began his run on a loop from behind her.

Afterwards, Harry told Severus what had happened, even though the whole school knew by dinner. He expected Severus to confess to his lie since there was now evidence of Sirius' heterosexuality.

Severus shook his head. "Doesn't that prove I'm right? He hardly talks to Arie. And Bertha happened to be there to catch them? I think he set it up."

"That doesn't make sense. He wouldn't do something like that." Harry tried to sound defiant, but his words were hollow.

On Halloween, after the gay rumors had died down, Severus came into class so happy it rivaled how he'd been during his early summers with Lily. He was suspiciously cryptic about explaining the sudden change to Harry, who assumed Severus'd taken some sort of potion. Had he used Felix Felicis? Normally Severus was the subject of the Marauders' pranks, especially on a holiday like this, but other than making pointed comments about him during Study Hall, the Marauders didn't seem to have anything planned.

Another change that was nearly as surprising as Severus' mood was that he seemed to have made a conscious effort with his appearance.

In the evening, Severus left dinner early, giving them some homework-related reason.

There was a full moon that night, so the Marauders weren't in the common room, leaving Raven and Harry to play Exploding Snap with Lily and the three girls. The card box had recently been written over, probably by James, to say "Exploding Snape". There was also a drawing of a cartoon explosion with Severus' head and limbs flying in opposite directions.

By the time they packed up the game, everyone had won at least once. Lily had won four times, the champion by far. While the other girls went up to the dorms, Raven let Harry borrow her pen to draw over the box. He was just coloring over the "e" in "Exploding Snape" when the clock struck midnight.

Harry capped the pen and handed it back. "I didn't realize it was so late. Where has everyone been?" He frowned. "Hang on—you don't think the Slytherins got Severus, do you?"

"I dunno. Should we look for him?"

Harry had to go against his instinct and habit of acting like the parent Severus never had. "No. I can't always be protecting him."

Raven sat down and gestured for him to do the same. "Didn't he do that for you?"

"That was different. And he didn't protect me from kids in school. Just Voldemort—" Raven flinched, but Harry continued, "…and the people working for him."

The Portrait Hole opened. Severus stormed through, followed by Sirius, James, and Peter. The Marauders went upstairs and Severus went to Harry and Raven, who stood.

"What happened?"

Severus' face was pale, but furious. "You didn't tell me about Remus."

Harry blinked, then thought for a second. "Yes, I did. Yeah, I remember deciding, because you're good enough friends, and since you know who I really am—"

"That's not what I mean! I know what he is, but I didn't know where he was."

Raven and Harry glanced at each other, then back at Severus, who pushed past them and sat down. He positioned his elbow on the arm of the couch and rested the side of his head on his fist.

"Sirius sent me a note in Charms that if I shut up about the poofer thing, he'd try and convince Lily to give me another chance. So then I got a message yesterday morning." He pulled out a note written on a crisp white card, then cleared his throat. He read, imitating a flirtatious girl, voice dripping with sarcasm, "'Dear Sev, I want to talk in private. Meet me at midnight tonight under the school grounds. Touch the knot at the base of the Whomping Willow and follow the tunnel. Don't tell anyone, especially Jacob; he might not understand. I miss you. Love, Lily.'" He took out his wand and burned the note, muttering something under his breath; Harry heard "bloody idiot."

Harry waved away a stray ember. "And you believed that?"

"It was in her handwriting. I don't know, I guess I always hoped that eventually she would want to be friends again."

Raven snorted. "Yeah, like 'I want to talk in private' means 'I want to be friends'."

Harry elbowed her.

She eyed him, annoyed. "What? I'm just saying."

Harry turned back to Severus. "I've used a spell that can copy print. That's probably how they did it. So what happened, exactly?"

Severus sighed and closed his eyes. "I went back to the dorm after dinner, changed clothes. I went to Hogsmeade, got some, er, flowers, and went back to the tree. By then, it was nearly eleven. I went through the tunnel, and opened the door. I saw the werewolf. It came at me—I couldn't move, but Potter came up from out of nowhere and closed the door as it lunged at me."

Each time Severus called Remus "it", Raven opened her mouth to object.

Severus continued, sighing as he remembered. "He locked the door and I ran. Sirius and Peter were outside, waiting. They followed me to the school, arguing with each other. James asked Sirius if he had been trying to get me killed. Sirius didn't answer."

"Bloody hell, Severus, I'm sorry," said Raven. Harry nodded in agreement.

"They told me not to go to Dumbledore; they didn't realize I wasn't planning on it."

"Why wouldn't you?"

"I don't want to be remembered as the sod who got the royalty of Hogwarts expelled."

Severus studied Harry, sneering slightly. "Aren't you going to give me a speech or something?" Severus' eyes widened and he straightened in his seat. Before Harry could reply, he continued, "Did you know this was going to happen?"

"No, I…" Harry scratched the back of his neck. "I didn't know it would happen like this. I promise, if I could've done something…In my timeline, when you were a bit older than now, you didn't know that Remus was a werewolf, you just suspected it. You and Remus weren't friends. Sirius tipped you off of were he was, and almost got you killed, but James saved you."

"Potter didn't 'save' me. He saved his own skin."

"It's not that simple."

"No? We hate each other."

"Would you kill him?" asked Harry, before he realized he already knew the answer.

Severus paused. "I could. If I thought he deserved it. And in your time I did, though I didn't intend to. Why are you asking, anyway?"

Harry regarded Severus' slouch, his colorless face, the way he nervously rubbed his hands. Harry had detached himself from the fact that Severus had nearly died. "Sorry. Why don't we go to the dorm?"

"Fine." Severus didn't object when Raven hugged him.

"Good night," they said, although they knew it wouldn't be.

The second weekend of November was guaranteed to be eventful. On Sunday there was the first trip to Hogsmeade and the first Quidditch match of the year. Harry and Lily had also arranged to go to Hogsmeade together to catch up—they hadn't really talked since Severus called her a Mudblood. Harry didn't tell Severus they were meeting because he didn't want him to listen in. Raven, however, knew and took Severus to the other side of the town.

Harry listened to Lily's stories, which were all of the you-had-to-be-there type. They had less to talk about since they didn't have the same best friends. Harry was careful not to bring up Severus until the right time.

"So, how's everyone doing?" Was she wondering about Severus, or truly everyone?

"Raven's good. I think…she misses having you around. And Severus is, well, he's never really good. But the Slytherins stopped harassing him."

Lily chewed her lip, then took a long drink of her butterbeer. When the mug was nearly empty, she asked, "So you think he's really turned around?"

"It seems that way. Look, I don't want to talk about it if you're not comfortable…"

Lily shook her head. "No, it's not that, I'm fine. Do you think I'm just not talking to him because I'm stubborn? On second thought, don't answer that. Listen, I do care what happens to him. But I don't think we can be friends. He may have left them for now, but there's a reason he was in the Dark Arts. There's a reason he called me a Mudblood. That part will stay with him, no matter how you help him, how much he seems to have changed."

Harry pressed his lips together and shook his head.

Lily sighed. "Oh, that came out harsher than it sounded in my head. The main thing is, something happened even before that day, and we didn't get along, and I don't think things will go back to how they were. Sorry, I don't think I can talk about it anymore."

"That's okay."

"But you know where I'm coming from?"

"Sure."

Lily took another sip of butterbeer, then nearly choked on it. Harry followed her gaze, turning to see. She was staring over his shoulder at the Marauders in the back of the room. Peter spotted her and, despite her hand-motioned threats against it, prodded James, pointing in her direction. James forced Peter's chubby finger down, chastised him, then, after only a brief glance at Lily, returned to the large piece of parchment the four were working on.

Lily sat back in shock. "Wow. That was odd."

"Yeah, it was." When had James decided to change his tactics?

Harry and Lily got up to leave just as the Marauders were on their way out. James lagged behind to hold the door open for them.

They both thanked him.

"See you, Evans," said James, then jogged over to the other Marauders.

"Now that was really odd," murmured Lily, gazing after him.

In late November, the Marauders organized a night ride on the Black Lake for all of the Gryffindors who were in fourth year and up. They organized a fleet of boats, using the ones first years rode each year on their first visit to Hogwarts.

Harry convinced Severus to go along, since he would be the only one not going, and it might make a good impression on Lily if he went.

The Black Lake was flat, a deeper black than the clear sky above them.

The light on each boat turned on when it started moving, so the Marauders put up several protective shields to make the students invisible from the shore.

Each of the groups within the fourth-year Gryffindors had their own boat: the four girls, the Marauders, and Raven, Harry, and Severus.

The stars shone, and the moon was only a few days away from being full. Everyone was silent, taking in the sights. James was watching Lily, whose face was illuminated with awe.

Cutting through the still of the night was the sound of rushing water. Everyone turned to see a ten meter wave rising toward the group.

"FLUITO!" Remus' shout echoed through the night. No one beyond the lake would've heard it. There were more shouts from the Marauders of the same spell, unheard over the roar of the water and the screams of the students, some of whom dove into the water.

Severus took out his wand and pointed toward the heart of the wave. "Lux Fluctus!"

The wave, now curling over their heads, dissolved into snowflakes. Snow fell down over the students, who turned to stare at Severus. The ones who had jumped into the water poked their heads over the surface and were helped back into the boats.

Everyone clapped, impressed but cold, scared, and unsure of whether or not the wave was planned. Lily might have looked at Severus, but the falling snow shrouded her face.

James, balancing carefully, stood up. "Is everyone okay? Please raise a hand if you're missing a person or need help." No one signaled.

Severus scanned the shore in the direction the wave had come from. "The Slytherins did that. They taught me that spell."

Raven followed his gaze. "How did they find out? It's not as if they have an inside source anymore."

Harry realized that Severus had now opposed the Slytherins, which they might consider as fighting back. "Does that mean you're a 'two' now?"

James and Sirius drifted closer, and before Severus could reply Sirius said, "What's that about the Slytherins?"

Severus chilled his tone. "They made that wave."

Sirius narrowed his eyes. "Why are you selling them out?"

"I don't have anything to do with them anymore."

Sirius scoffed. "Really. How do we know that it wasn't just an act? That you didn't set that up so you could play the hero?"

Severus' lip curled. "I don't have to explain myself, Black. And if anyone knows about an act, it's you."

James leaned in and whispered to Sirius. After a tremendous amount of effort, Sirius said, "Thanks then, I suppose." He guided the boat over to Lily and the girls. James then took off the blanket he was wrapped in. Every boat had one, and each was charmed to release heat. Lily and Aluria had let Cheresse and Florence use theirs.

James gripped the rim of their boat, pulling the sides together. The girls thanked James as he handed the blanket to them.

"No problem," he replied, eyes on Lily, who sighed with the rush of warmth from the blanket. Color flushed in her cheeks, unrelated to the temperature change, and she told Aluria to steer the boat away.

"Okay, everyone, we're gonna head back. There's butterbeer waiting in the common room!"

Up in the Gryffindor Tower, Harry approached James. "Are you going to tell them who did the wave thing?"

James regarded him. They never talked outside of Quidditch, and even then it was all about the sport. "I thought I would act like nothing happened to piss the Slytherins off."

"Actually, can you tell the Slytherins you were the one who did the countercurse? Severus said they found it in a book they bought called Untraceable Dark Magic: Avoid Blame and Cause 'Accidents', so tell them you read it, and tell the Gryffindors that now you're the person they saw do the spell."

James raised an eyebrow and took a sip of butterbeer. "Why should I?"

"Because if you don't, they'll kill Severus after he leaves Hogwarts."

"That's a tad harsh."

"Of course it is, they're working for Vol—You-Know-Who, aren't they? Severus was probably the best of them, and he turned against them. I think the wave was a test. To see which side he was on."

James nodded, then pursed his lips. "What will you do for me?"

"I can give you advice with Lily again. I know what she doesn't like, and I have an idea of what she does. I know she'd think it was mature of you if you told everyone what they should think really happened and why."

At first, James looked as though he would continue to haggle. Then, he gave in. "Fine." He stood up on a table and waited for everyone to quiet down. "I know everyone is wondering what happened on the lake. The Slytherins—"

There were angry murmurs, and everyone accepted this right away. Severus met Harry's glance, skeptical.

"The Slytherins made the wave. Sniv—er, Severus knew the countercurse, but if the Slytherins find out it was him, they'll kill him as soon as he's out of school. So if anyone asks, or even if they don't ask, tell them I knew the countercurse and that I got rid of the wave."

The Gryffindors nodded, not very enthusiastic. To them, Severus seemed to have chosen Slytherin House, and they interpreted his return as weak and only temporary. Still, they respected James and were united in the effort against the Dark Arts. Or, as prejudice led them, against the Slytherins.

Before Harry fulfilled his end of the deal, James went to get more butterbeer. Lily, holding her mug, turned around and found herself facing him.

"Oh, hi. What you did back there, I'm surprised. It was very kind." Without returning his grin, she nodded once and walked away.

James watched her make her way through the crowd, then returned to Harry. "Okay, your advice is my command."

The Marauders, Raven, and Harry took turns staying with Remus for the full moon. On the 29th of November, it was Raven's turn. They smuggled food out of the Great Hall to eat on their way to the grounds.

That night, Severus' yell woke up the dorm. James and Harry sat up in their beds, wands out. Peter and Sirius were slow to respond other than by swearing.

With the others watching from their beds, Severus illuminated his wand and pulled back his sleeve. Harry checked the time (it was three in the morning), then got up and crossed to Severus.

The Roman numeral "II" branded gradually into Severus' skin. The Slytherins must not have believed that James had known the countercurse.

"A two." Harry looked to James, who had an unusual expression of worry, then genuine anger.

"I swear I told them about the book."

Harry glanced at Severus, who was too tired to give an opinion. "Okay, I believe you." Harry had barely fallen asleep when he was being shaken awake. Harry checked his watch by instinct; it was ten after three.

"Jacob." It was a girl—Raven.

Harry put on his glasses. "What's wrong?" He could tell that she was shaking.

Raven led him down to the common room. In the light of the candles, Harry could see she was pressing a blood-stained hand towel on her arm. "I left Remus by himself."

Harry drew his attention away from her arm. "Why? What happened? Did he—?"

"No, he just scratched me. Can you heal it?"

Harry checked the pocket of his pajamas. "Hold on, let me get my purse." Raven smiled a bit at that, but she was wiping away tears when Harry came back down. "I don't want to get Dumbledore involved, that's why I didn't go to Madam Pomfrey…"

Harry squeezed her hand briefly. "It's alright." He opened the purse and pointed his wand into it. "Accio Dittany." He caught the bottle as it whizzed toward him. "Okay, take off the towel and roll up your sleeve."

Raven obliged, clenching her teeth as she reopened the wound.

"Vulnera Sanentur." The blood stopped flowing. "Vulnera Sanentur." The wounds closed up. "Vulnera Sanentur." Harry couldn't see if it had healed completely, so he cleaned it. "Tergeo."

"Will they go away?" They studied the remainder of the injury where scars had begun to form.

"This should help." Harry applied the Essence of Dittany to her arm. Nothing happened.

She took a deep breath. "The scars are permanent, aren't they? Otherwise Remus wouldn't have so many."

"Yeah, I think I remember learning that. How did he scratch you, anyway?"

Raven performed a series of spells to make the stain in her sleeve mostly invisible. "I fell asleep. He did the same after me, and he sort of—well, he curled around me and when I realized that, I was mostly stuck. He started to have nightmares in his sleep, and was growling and…I didn't feel safe with him that close. I accidentally transformed while moving away. I suppose I could've transformed back into a wolf, but I—I panicked. He got my arm before I escaped."

She studied her arm, thinking. "I should go back. He's going to hurt himself without someone there. Except—I'm too scared." She blinked rapidly and rolled her eyes. "I shouldn't be scared, he's my friend, and in animal form, we look almost the same."

"It's okay. He'll understand."

"No, he won't. He'll either hate me or himself. So, I suppose I'll wait for him to come in the morning. I won't be able to sleep anyway." She put her black robes aside and curled on the couch, still in her uniform.

"Goodnight," said Harry, now wide awake.

"Goodnight. And…thank you," she replied.

Harry couldn't properly go back to sleep. He woke up at least once every hour before he decided, at seven, to get up. Remus wasn't in the dorm.

After getting dressed and gathering his things, Harry went downstairs. He found Remus and Raven sitting on the couch, both in full school uniform.

Raven was pulling down the sleeve over her injured arm, insisting that it wasn't a big deal.

Harry waited awkwardly at the bottom of the stairs, unsure of when to step in.

"It's not your fault. I transformed back into a human. You would've done it to anyone."

"That doesn't change the fact that I did it to you. First, it was almost Severus, and now…"

"If it has to be somebody's fault, it's mine, because you ended up worse than me." Her eyes were the new scratch across his neck.

"I'm used to having scars. Those—yours won't ever go away."

Raven reached for his hand. "It's not the worst thing in the world."

He pulled away. "I don't think you should help again. James, Sirius, and Peter can handle my transformations."

Raven repositioned herself to sit cross-legged across from him. "Remus, I know you want to keep me safe. But what if I want to keep you safe?"

Harry cleared his throat and came into the common room. They both started.

"Oh, hello, Jacob."

Harry studied Remus. Most of the scars must have been hidden underneath his clothes. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Remus' eyes were slow and weary.

Raven tried to smile. "We're both fine."

Following their conversation that morning, it would be a while before Raven and Remus spoke to each other again.

 


Chapter 14: The Mirror of Erised
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During the first weeks of December, James tried to follow Harry's advice.

The first tip was: No pranks that she might hear about later. If you prank anyone, do it discreetly.

James followed this easily by focusing on the Marauder's Map. James had told Remus that Harry knew about it, so Remus kept him updated on their progress.

The second was: Tone down your ego.

James had trouble with this, as it was a key part of his personality. The best he could do was to talk about himself a little less.

The third was: Give her space.

Lily noticed this the most. She still saw James in almost all of her classes, but he was no longer the part of her day that she dreaded. In class, Harry caught her studying James when she should have been studying the classwork.

The fourth: Be less of a prick to everyone.

James only applied this when Lily was around. His snide comments were suppressed if she was in earshot, so as far as she knew, he was nicer than he had been before.

Harry realized why he wanted to change so suddenly: the Christmas Eve Party.

The upcoming party had garnered enough reputation to convince more than half of the students to stay at Hogwarts for the holidays. Professor Slughorn, who held a Christmas Party on the 20th for the Slug Club, did a poor job of hiding his disdain for the attention the Marauders' party was given. All anyone talked about was who one person asked to the dance and who another person convinced to stay behind at Hogwarts. Aluria, Florence, and Cheresse followed James around, giving suggestions and making sure he had made up his mind about his date.

Lily tolerated the girls' persistence of trying to win over James, but got annoyed when they brought up James in relation to her. Starting two weeks prior to the dance, James began courting Lily more than usual. To prepare himself for Christmas Eve, he practiced dancing in the dorm. Sirius had learned formal dancing at an early age for the Pureblood-only parties his family held. James was more than ready by the time Sirius taught him everything he knew.

After James asked Lily to the dance for a seventh time, she said yes.

Severus was taking the news much better than Harry would have expected; despite his usual pessimism, Severus had convinced himself that Lily had agreed to James for a reason other than because she liked him. Severus believed she either planned to do something to humiliate James or she just wanted him to stop annoying her.

James did back off, though everyone in the school knew about their "date" within the hour. When Lily walked between classes, kids would whistle, congratulate her, and try to high-five her. At least, they did until she hexed one Gryffindor who made an obscene joke after she ignored his shoddy effort at complimenting her.

Remus and Raven weren't going to the party together, or with anyone else. Florence was going with Sirius, Cheresse with Peter, and Aluria with Lockhart.

On Christmas Eve, the Great Hall was decorated at a level of quality between the previous year's dance and the Yule Ball. Strings of glowing silver bulbs were hung on the walls. There were five Christmas trees; one behind the High Table as well as one in each corner of the room. In front of the High Table was the band, which seemed to be influenced by Muggle rock. The floating candles were made up like icicles and the tables had been moved to form a square dance floor. The dance floor was colored silver under a layer of gold powder that drifted up whenever it was stepped on.

Severus, Harry, and Raven sat at the end of the Gryffindor table that was closest to the dance floor. They kept an eye on James for any signs that he was up to something. After a few minutes, James froze, broke into a goofy but nervous grin, and straightened his tie. Severus and Harry turned, following his gaze.

Lily walked down the aisle that led through the dance floor, hair pinned up, eyes on the floor in front of her, watching the gold powder spin, waist-high, where she stepped. She wore pewter earrings, a black dress, and her lips were blood-red. Severus watched her, eyes wide, his body rigid and breath stopped without his realization.

Lily looked up, finally, and smiled at James. He studied her in a way Harry thought only Severus could; as though he realized all of his feelings at once and that, if he had her, he would never need anything else in the world.

Nearly all of the students, though holding back at first, took to the floor. Dumbledore and the other staff participated until the third song, when they sat back down to drink and talk.

By midnight, most of the students had cleared out of the party. Harry tried to get Severus to leave, but there was no way to make him go before Lily did. The music had wound down to a slow, mournful pace. Lily was frowning, staring off into the distance. As the song faded to an end, James surveyed the others in the room. Everyone resembled the living dead, moving slowly, trying to keep their eyes open.

"Oi!" James, still holding Lily's hand, snapped his fingers at the band by the High Table. "Could you lot turn it up a bit? Something with a bit more kick, please."

The lead singer nodded, said something to the other members, then said, voice amplified, "Okay, last one for the night. We're going to play a Muggle song that's been toppin' the charts in the U.K. Here's 'I Love You Love Me Love' by Gary Glitter."

James took Lily's hand and put his other hand at her waist. She looked around at the other partiers, who followed their lead. Severus glowered as James spun her. His scowl deepened as they broke into a sort of freestyle.

As the song ended, they slowed; swaying, smiling at each other. Lily broke the moment by yawning widely.

"Am I boring you?" James was worried.

Lily shook her head, laughing. "I'm sorry, it's been a long night. Oh, that didn't sound better. Eventful, I would say." She averted her eyes and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear.

James seemed to consider something. "I'll let the others help clean up." He motioned Sirius over. "Can you get them to play one last song, then make the closing speech? And…tell Dumbledore we'll talk tomorrow."

Sirius frowned. "Where are you going?"

"Dunno. See you later, mate." James winked at him. He took Lily's hand and led her past the remaining students and out the Great Hall.

Severus stood up and headed in the same direction.

"Hang on!" Harry grabbed his arm. "When we get out, we're using the Cloak."

"We?" Severus furrowed his brow. "Fine." Severus tried to go on, but Harry hadn't finished.

"Just be prepared for whatever might happen. And you can't interfere."

"Alright, I get it."

When they had left the party, Harry pulled the Cloak over them. It barely covered their feet.

Lily and James were at the foot of the stairs. "Clock Tower or Astronomy Tower?" he asked, his energy making Lily a bit breathless.

"Clock Tower." She could only manage a whisper.

Many flights of stairs later, Severus, Harry, Lily, and James were at the top of the Tower, silent among the clicks of gears.

James and Lily leaned on the balcony, his eyes on hers.

"Muffliato. Okay, now let's get closer," said Severus.

"No, you can see them, can't you? We're close enough." They stood at the top step of the winding staircase that led to the Clock Tower balcony.

"Did you have fun tonight?" asked James, following Lily's gaze over the school grounds.

"Surprisingly, yeah. To be honest, I only agreed to go with you to get you off my back."

James smiled. "That didn't really work, did it?"

Lily chuckled and studied her hands, which were clasped over the balcony. "I wasn't expecting it to work."

"I can't help being forward."

Lily shrugged. "Sometimes it's nice. You're very passionate about life, which I think—"

"And you."

"What?"

"I'm very passionate about you, too."

Lily flushed. "I know." She straightened and looked up at him. Her hands lifted slightly with anticipation.

James stepped closer to her. "Can I kiss you?"

Lily nodded, closing her eyes. He leaned in, placed his hand on the side of her face, and kissed her.

Severus stood rooted to the spot as if he expected Lily to slap him, or do something. But her hands were in James' hair, and the kiss was no longer all from his side.

They pulled apart, slowly. "I guess this means you don't hate me?" asked James, lips almost grazing hers as he spoke.

Lily smiled and this time, she kissed him.

Severus nearly toppled Harry over as he turned and ran back down the stairs. The cloak slipped off of Harry, so he had to follow the sound of Severus' footsteps.

What did he think was going to happen? Should I have made him leave?

Then the invisibility cloak slid off Severus and he scrambled to pick it up. Harry grabbed Severus' arm before he could start running again.

Severus' eyes blazed in his rage. He shot a Stunning Spell at Harry, blasting him across the corridor and onto his back. The air in Harry's lungs shot out. When he breathed in again he moaned in pain, wanting badly to lay awhile to recover. But, as he thought to himself, the farther behind Severus he became, the more time the boy had to do something stupid.

The common room was deserted. The only sign of life was the faint remainder of a flame in the fireplace. Harry ran up the stairs to the dorm and flung open the door.

"Lumos!" Only Remus, Sirius, and Peter were in their beds. Harry was running up the stairs again before they could react. Just as he got into the bathroom, he heard someone mutter, "Muffliato."

"Severus! I know you're in here. Please, let me help." He looked in each of the stalls, panicked. There was only a faint buzzing sound.

"It's not the end. You have three…no, three and a half years left. A lot can happen in that time." Then Harry froze. No, he had been Body-Bound.

Severus took off the Cloak and approached Harry, his face flushed, pained. He rolled Harry on his stomach and draped the Cloak over his immobile body.

Harry couldn't tell a minute from ten, and ten minutes from an hour. He couldn't sleep. His world was black and silent. He tried to figure out what Severus was doing, tried not to panic, and tried to focus on what he would do now that Lily and James were together.

Finally, the buzzing stopped and he heard, "Finite Incantatem." Harry sprang up and faced Severus. The boy's hair was slicked back with sweat, but his expression was flat.

Recognizing the look Severus had, Harry drew his wand, preparing himself for the worst. "Prior Incantato!" He was right to do so. A writhing ghost emerged from the tip of his wand. The ghost's mouth opened in a silent scream that dissipated the smoky figure. "Bloody hell…so you did…"

"Did what?"

"The Cruciatus Curse? You tortured yourself? Are you out of your bloody mind?"

Severus wiped his eyes, a motion that seemed out of place with his expressionless face. "No." His mouth curled into a snarl. "I knew you wouldn't understand. That's why I had to—"

"You didn't have to." said Harry, shaking his head. "Merlin…How could you do that to yourself?"

"DO WHAT? What did I do to myself?" Severus' fists were clenched, his voice was high. "As if I snogged the biggest arse in the school. Ignored my best friend. Sold myself to the filthy pigs in Nocturne Alley. Beat my family."

"Severus, if you'd just—"

"Or do you mean how could I serve the Dark Lord? How could I get your parents killed? How could I be so fucking worthless." Severus' eyes watered, he stared at his now open hands.

"LISTEN TO ME!" Harry shook, frustrated that he couldn't get his point across.

"NO!" Severus stepped back. "Stop pretending like you can relate to my life. That we're similar. Did you ever think that maybe I deserved what the Slytherins did to me?"

"Severus, you didn't—"

Severus raised his voice. "It's more than that, though. I liked the torture. I forgot about everything. How much I hate myself…" he wrung his hands, biting his lip before continuing, "…and how I'll never be good enough for her—"

"Listen. No, look at me." Severus' eyes slowly moved up to Harry's, as though they were held down by weights. "She's alive. Right now, Lily is safe. And you're both nearly fifteen. You have so many chances, so much time, to make everything up. To fix things. I'm sorry things are bad today. I'm sorry things have been bad almost your entire life. It's made you who you are, and you're a good person."

Severus shook his head, about to cut in, but Harry continued.

"Every shitty moment matters. You're wiser. You've experienced more life than many wizards will ever live. So you have to realize that bad things don't make you disgusting, they don't make your life meaningless, and they don't make you and her hopeless." Some of Harry's words applied to himself, but he didn't notice.

Severus couldn't hold back his tears. "How do you know? You're rich, you have friends, a girlfriend, and you can get whatever you want because you killed the Dark Lord. I have nothing."

"You have talent. You have the ability to change your life. If I had known some things about my future when I was a kid, maybe fewer people would have died."

"Potter," began Severus, then corrected himself, "Harry, what you showed me didn't change who I am, it changed what I know. Goddammit, I can't suddenly be good! You think it's like a fucking magic switch that you can just flip, but it's not. Every day I had to force myself not to think about what it used to be like, how it felt when I performed Dark Magic. I forced myself to think that she would apologize and we could…" Severus' voice cut out and he swallowed.

Harry had taken a step back. He always assumed that Severus, after leaving the Slytherins, realized how the good side was better. Because Harry had forced it on him, Severus didn't fully believe in his decision.

"Is Lily really the one who has to apologize?"

"I already told her I was sorry. How am I supposed to talk if she won't even look at me? It's her turn."

"That's not how it works."

"So you're saying I should apologize again?"

"I don't know." Harry shook his head, thinking. "I don't know. Maybe you'll know when the time comes."

Severus still looked unconvinced, but he had already used all of his debating energy, and his body was sore. He followed Harry back to the dorm, invisibility cloak stowed in his robes.

They fell asleep gradually, nightmares looming in their minds.

Most students didn't wake up until noon on Christmas morning. Severus and Harry wouldn't have woken up if James hadn't started whistling the song he and Lily had danced to the night before. Harry sat up and put his glasses on as James described to the others, in detail, his kiss with Lily.

"It tasted like…apple tart."

"You're making that up."

"I'm serious! No, not you, Sirius, you can go back to sleep. Anyway, I think she'd wanted it—bad. She was totally accepting of tongue…"

James snickered when Severus stalked out of the room, Harry close behind.

The tree in the common room was lined with gifts. Small groups of students convened around the room, opening presents from each other and their family. Raven, sitting cross-legged with Lily, Aluria, Florence, and Cheresse, glanced at Severus and Harry on their way toward her. She handed each of the girls a small package and excused herself.

"Happy Christmas!" Raven handed the two boys their gifts, then they found a place to sit. Harry's was a tiny painting of a phoenix, Severus' was the same size painting of a tree. Each subject on the paper moved slightly.

"Where do you find time to make all of these?" Harry asked, searching for his gifts for her and Severus.

"Over summer break, my parents don't let me out of the house much, so I do this." Raven shrugged. Her attitude toward them was nonchalant, but she was watchful of Severus, even though she didn't know what had happened after the party.

Severus didn't have anything to give, but that was expected, and Harry's presents were enough to count as two.

James invited Lily to go to the first British Quidditch match of the season in late February. His father had already asked Dumbledore if they could leave for the weekend, and he had given approval.

Lily crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows. "We haven't even been together for a day, why do you assume I'd want to go?"

James blushed. "Oh—I, well, after you agreed to go to the dance, I—"

"Relax, I'm teasing. Yes, that sounds fun, I would love to go."

Sirius came from behind them and clapped James on the back. "Congrats, mate! And Evans."

"Lily," she corrected, smiling a little.

"Wow, you are serious, aren't you?" He exchanged a dejected look with Remus and Peter. "We're gonna have to start our own group."

"Oi, Hang on, I haven't left you lot. I'll just have less time, that's all."

"We're only kidding. And I don't think there'll a big difference, considering how much time you put into trying to win her over." Sirius winked at Lily.

"Alright, I get it. And your gifts are under the tree. I'll meet you there in a tic." They raced over to the tree, Peter telling them to wait up.

James glanced in Sirius' direction, then back to Lily.

She smirked. "Go."

James took her shoulders and kissed her. "Thanks." He kept eye contact with her, grinning and walking backwards, until he bumped into a seventh year, at which point he hurried off, facing forward.

Lily's face was red, and she touched her lips as she thought.

Harry, watching from nearby, turned to his right to say something to Severus, but the boy had gone. Harry explained what had happened to Raven and they went to the dorm and found Severus lying in bed. The previous night had hurt Severus, but the boy might not've considered that it would lead so quickly to a relationship, especially one she seemed happy with.

Harry came in as far as the doorway. "Severus?"

"Go away," came the reply, muffled by his pillow.

Raven, who was oblivious to the previous night's events, stepped in. "You shouldn't give up hope. You should know that I'm—that we're—here for you, and you shouldn't shut us out."

There was no response, no movement from Severus.

Raven sighed. "Okay, well, Happy Christmas."

It was in January that Harry first noticed Severus was often absent from the dorm at night. It was in January that Harry noticed Severus was often absent-minded in every class but Potions, gazing out the window or at Lily, whom he had pretended was nonexistent for the week following the Christmas incident.

One night, Harry pretended to be sleeping, waiting for Severus to get up. Through a squinted eye, he saw Severus take the Invisibility Cloak. Harry would have to cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself. After first disregarding it, Harry realized he heard the slight buzzing sound of the Muffliato Charm. If he couldn't see or hear Severus, how would he track him? Luckily, the moonlight through the windows wasn't bright enough to guide him, so Severus had to use a Wand-Lighting Charm. Harry followed the faint light from the tip of Severus' wand.

Severus had wandered through the seventh floor corridor for barely a minute before a door materialized on the wall.

He knew about the Room of Requirement.

Severus opened the door to the room. Harry slid quickly in and moved aside. The room contained a single object: the Mirror of Erised. Harry's heart and breath clashed with the silence in the room. He remembered Dumbledore's warning that people had wasted away before the Mirror, and remembered the nights he had spent in front of it. He wanted to relay the same message to Severus. Curiosity, however, kept him from revealing himself.

Severus stood before the Mirror. His hands reached up and settled on his shoulder as if trying to touch something. His eyebrows stitched together and he squeezed his eyes shut. After a few minutes, Severus' gaze returned to the mirror, and he walked closer until his face was inches away. He rested his forehead against the glass, his hands pressed on either side of him.

Severus cried for a long time. It wasn't the deep, angry, hopeless weeping from when Jacob became Harry to him. It was the crying one holds back when they know they shouldn't be crying, when something seems trivial but hurts anyway. When Severus was on his knees, clutching his sides, Harry took off the Muffling Charm.

"What do you see?" His voice merely made Severus freeze.

"I—I knew you'd follow me sometime." Severus got to his fee somewhat shakily. Strangely, Severus' face was dry, and Harry wondered if he had suppressed his ability to produce tears. Clearly his skills in Occlumency had strengthened.

"I found this mirror when I was a first year." Harry regarded Severus, whose eyes were locked on the floor. "Dumbledore had discovered, somehow, that I had come to see it often. He told me not to return, because I could lose myself in the fantasy."

"I know what's real and what isn't."

"But it can be real in the Mirror." Harry paused, studying the inscription at the top of the Mirror. "Did you figure out the message?"

"Yeah, it's obvious. 'I show not your face but your heart's desire.'" At "heart's desire" his eyes moved back to the Mirror.

"And what do you see?"

Severus bristled. "You know damn well what I see."

"Sorry. Is she just…standing there?"

"Yeah." Severus stared into the mirror, his voice distant. "It's almost as if…she's trying to talk to me. Her eyes are always so…" He faltered. "She's always wearing a nightgown, I have no idea why."

As Harry's attention shifted, Severus' words disintegrated. He should have expected what he saw, but it overwhelmed him anyway. Everyone he cared about surrounded a small, far-away version of him. The view had to be wide in order to show each person: Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Sirius, Dumbledore, Hagrid, the Weasleys, Remus, his parents, Luna, Neville, Dobby, Hedwig, and even more were shifting around him, vying for space. People who were alive, people who had died and people, like Severus, who were with him now. Anybody he could count as close.

"I see my friends. I guess they're more than that; they're my family." Harry studied Ginny, hot pain churning inside him. She was laughing, shaking her head, as though they were talking and he'd told her a brilliant joke.

With great effort, Harry averted his eyes. "I know how much it hurts."

"How many people do you see?"

"I dunno." Harry used counting as an excuse to study them again. "About thirty."

Severus scoffed, his eyes still on the mirror. "I only see one."

Harry needed people. He needed family and friends, and a part of him died each time he lost one of them. Each relationship had shaped his life, his personality, and he cared for and about each person in different ways. Severus did benefit from people caring for him, but it was too late for him to truly need anyone but Lily. At least, that's how it seemed.

"Look, Severus, it's not a good idea to come back to the Mirror."

"Why not?"

"Because you have to sleep. And it won't do any good to simply want Lily. If you're there for her, eventually she'll come 'round."

"Right. You just don't want me going insane."

"No, I just don't think this makes you feel better about things. Do you?"

Severus didn't answer.

"If I catch you coming back out, I'll take the Cloak."

Severus crossed his arms, finally turning to Harry. "I'll use a Disillusionment Charm."

"What if you need it during the day?"

Harry stared at Severus, eyebrow arched, until the boy broke. "Fine. But let—let me have tonight. Then I won't come back." His voice was strained.

Harry ignored his sense of guilt and left. Back in his bed, the people he'd seen in the Mirror remained on his lids. They waved him away to sleep.

Leading up to the end of January, James hinted to Lily that he was planning something exciting for her birthday. On the morning of the thirtieth, a Thursday, he paced, waiting for Lily to come downstairs.

Remus told Harry and Severus what James' plans were as James took Lily's hand and tugged her through the portrait hole.

"In a couple hours, he's taking her to the lake for breakfast. The house-elves are in charge of the food, I guess all he had to do was ask. Before school, he bought some of these…I dunno, they're pastries that make you puke." Remus didn't know that Harry had given them to James as a birthday gift the year before. "He's not going to tell her until after she eats it, though. So they'll puke in front of McGonagall, then they'll be out of class for the day. Then they're sneaking off to Hogsmeade for lunch and a butterbeer; James already talked to Rosmerta about it."

Severus wrinkled his nose and glowered at Sirius and Peter as they pulled Remus aside to ask about candles. When the three were done, Remus came back and told Harry and Severus the rest. "So, we helped James pitch a tent overlooking the lake. It's on this cliff right above the only sand beach on the water. They'll fly by broom there. We already put a bunch of candles inside, they're lit now, but they're enchanted flames; they won't catch the place on fire. They have food for dinner and breakfast, so they can be back in time for History of Magic tomorrow morning."

Raven approached them, yawning. "G'morning." Remus mumbled a reply and hurried away to join the other Marauders.

Harry raised an eyebrow at Raven. He hadn't realized how much they went our of their way to avoid each other. "Morning. So, Remus was just telling us what James is doing for Lily's birthday."

"Alright." Raven glanced at Severus. It was Harry who explained, noting Severus' instinctive check of his charmed pocket toward the end of the story.

Severus crossed his arms. "Do girls actually like that kind of stuff?"

Harry looked at Raven, who shrugged and said, "Yeah, I mean, would boys not like it if a girl did that for them?"

"It seems a little much."

Severus scoffed. "He obviously has to compensate for his—"

Harry, realizing something, cut Severus off. "Can I talk to you for a second? Raven, hang on a sec, please."

Severus followed Harry over to the side and crossed his arms. "What?"

"I saw you checking your pocket for the cloak. You cannot spy on them."

Severus blushed, then tried to hide his embarrassment with irritation. "What makes you think I would do that?"

"Because I know you. And it must be tempting. So I want the cloak back, only for today.

"Look, I wasn't—it's not like that. I just want to make sure she's safe."

"What would she think if she found out you were watching her, even if it was to help? You would lose the chance of her trusting you again. Why would you want to, anyway? They're just going to eat, snog, and sleep."

"FINE!" A couple walking by flinched. Severus ignored them and handed the Cloak to Harry. "I hope you realize you can't always make me do whatever you would do. You're not the world's most moral person, but you act like you know what's best for everyone, especially me. You treat me like a child when you're barely an adult."

Harry blinked. "I'm sorry. I know I can be…I know I don't always know or do what's right. I forget that, when I was at Hogwarts, people either told me too often what to do, or left me to figure it out by myself." He sighed. "We can go after dinner. You shouldn't go by yourself. But we won't stay longer than twenty minutes."

Lily and James came to class a few minutes into McGonagall's lecture. They were barely in the doorway before they both threw up. Sirius, who was leaning back in his chair, exchanged a smirk with Peter as James and Lily ran back out, saying something about the Hospital Wing.

That night, as soon as they had eaten, Harry and Severus went down to the Quidditch pitch. Harry unlocked the shed and got two of the brooms that were for general use. He wore the cloak and cast a Disillusionment Charm on Severus. It took them fifteen minutes to find and ride to the spot Remus had described. James must've cast a Disillusionment Charm, because there was no sign of the tent. They landed a few minutes' walk from the site (Severus nearly crashed), then both walked under the cloak, which covered them well, since the night was dark and the clouds hid the stars and moon.

When Severus and Harry entered the clearing, they saw the tent.

"Do you think they're there yet?" whispered Harry. His question was answered when James, followed by Lily, touched down on their broomsticks in front of the tent. They rested the brooms against the side of the tent, then joined hands.

"C'mon," said Severus, and they moved forward. They went inside just behind James, moving into the corner.

Candles lined the edge of the room. There was a small dinner table with salad and some kind of meat. The bed was covered in red rose petals.

James shifted, a bit nervous. "So, yeah, we can eat, I know how to heat up the turkey so it tastes—"

Lily kissed him. "Thank you," she whispered, now holding both of his hands. She put her forehead against his.

"Happy Birthday." After a moment, James pulled away. "Now, c'mon, I'm starving." He grinned and they sat down.

Lily unfolded her napkin and laid it on her lap as James reheated their food with his wand. She took a bite of salad, and James followed. "This is incredible. I don't know how I'll be able to top this for your birthday."

James shook his head. "I wasn't expecting you to. I mean, don't feel like you have to. I don't even know how I'll beat this."

They laughed, then ate some more. After putting her salad aside, Lily considered him. "You know, one reason I didn't want to date you was because I thought it would always be about you. That's why I'm surprised whenever you do things like this for me."

"What about all the flowers I gave you over the years?" James realized his mouth was full, so he snapped it shut and continued chewing.

"I saw it as you trying to buy me over."

"Shit. Well, I know now that doesn't work." He gestured around him, smirking.

"Hey. This is different. And you're different. You've…matured since then. Or at least, you seem more sincere."

"I hope so." He took a bite of the second dish and his eyes widened. "This is really good."

Lily nodded. "I may be a little biased from this lovely atmosphere, but it's even better than the school food."

"Really? It's made by the same house-elves."

"This sounds silly, but I was hoping you made this."

James chuckled. "I can't cook. My dad does, sometimes, but I was never taught how."

"Right, you have servants to do all of your chores."

"Not all of them. I clean my own room."

"That must take a long time; I'm sure you have two walk-in closets."

He chuckled. "Just one."

"My god. That's…" She counted on her fingers, "…one more than me."

James frowned. "I would give it up though, for a brother or sister."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. I get bored and, well…lonely, when I'm at home. My parents are out a lot, but even when they're home it's not enough. You have a sister. Petunia, right?"

Lily nodded. "But we don't get along. I love her, of course, but it's not how you would expect. It's not like having a friend. Tuney hates that I'm a witch."

James looked aghast. "Why?"

"Jealousy, mostly. And since coming here, she hardly ever sees me, and I knew her better than any of her friends."

"I'm sorry. Y'know, Sirius and his brother, Regulus, don't get along either."

"I can tell."

"Also, Peter and Remus don't even have siblings." James finished the last of his plate and downed the rest of his pumpkin juice, stalling before speaking again. "Do you want kids?"

Lily raised an eyebrow. "My boyfriend of one month is asking me this on my fifteenth birthday."

"No, no, I don't mean it like that! I—"

Lily leaned forward and put a hand on his arm. "Relax, I'm just teasing. You're surprisingly gullible; it's cute." She stood and put her dishes in the sink. "I dunno, about wanting kids. With this war coming and everything, I don't think it's possible."

"I know what you mean." James stood, leaving his plate on the table. "Have any favorite baby names?"

"Like they won't have the name when they're an adult?" Lily smiled at her own joke. "Hold on, I'm going to change, and I'll think about it." She picked up her bag and brought it into the other room. James reached into his bag, grabbed his toothbrush and toothpaste, and enchanted his toothbrush to do the brushing for him.

"Harry and Molly," Lily called from inside the other bedroom. James abruptly stopped the charm on his toothbrush. "What?"

"Harry for a boy, Molly for a girl."

James spat his toothpaste into the sink. Harry couldn't read James' expression, and nearly shifted with impatience from standing in one place for too long. James tried to sound indifferent. "Oh. Yeah, I like the name Harry, too."

There was silence except for Lily brushing her teeth. The faucet stopped, and there was silence. After a couple minutes, the bathroom door opened. Lily, now in a pale yellow nightgown, came back into the room.

"You look beautiful," said James, crossing to meet her.

"My mum sent the nightgown for my birthday."

"She has great taste." James went in to kiss her, but Lily turned her head.

"Nothing serious tonight, alright, James?"

He nodded, then leaned in again, meeting her lips. She rose up to meet him, hands moving into his hair. Locked in embrace, they moved to the bed. Lily lay down on the bed with James positioned over her, and they continued to kiss.

Harry tugged on Severus' sleeve. The boy gave an almost imperceptible nod, and they both tiptoed out of the tent.

Severus took off the cloak as soon as they were back in the trees. Harry expected a rant, or for Severus to start crying, but he said nothing. Harry renewed the Disillusionment Charm on Severus, they mounted their brooms, and took off toward Hogwarts.

It wasn't curfew inside the castle yet, but they weren't allowed outside after dinner, so they stayed invisible until they went into a bathroom to become visible without anyone seeing.

Raven approached them as soon as they entered the common room. "Where were you?"

Severus opened his mouth to reply with the lie they had decided on, but Harry decided to answer with the truth. "We were checking on Lily."

Raven looked between them. "Why? Is she alright?"

Severus brushed past her. "More than alright."

"What happened?" whispered Raven to Harry.

"I don't know. She seemed fine. Happy, even." Then it dawned on him. "She really did seem happy. I guess that's the problem."

Severus had sat down at one of the desks in the back, so they joined him.

Raven tried to give a smile that was comforting. "At the rate they're going, it won't last that long. And everyone is happy in the beginning."

"Like we were."

Raven chewed her lip in thought. "I'm going to give you my view, as a girl, about James. I think she likes him for the same reason that any girl likes him." Raven blushed and suddenly became very interested in her hands.

Severus regarded her in a mixture of surprise and disgust. "What would you see in James?"

They realized why she had hesitated to explain further; Remus, coming from behind the two boys, sat down next to her. "What about James?"

Raven explained, without looking at Remus, "They were wondering what girls would see in James. But it doesn't mean anything, I don't—"

"I thought you were giving your opinion on James," said Severus.

Raven glared at him. "I was going to say that Lily probably likes him because he makes her feel good about herself. I'm sure it's difficult to not feel good about someone who gives you all that attention. He's kind to her, too. As for James as a person…he's exciting, popular, talented…"

Severus and Remus' faces fell.

"Don't get the wrong idea, that can get dull, after a while. And I've never fancied him, or anything."

Severus dismissed this. "Yeah, but she does."

They met each other's eyes. Raven sighed, gathering her thoughts. "I think…she'll find out that people don't need elaborate displays of affection. It's the little things that matter in the end."

After losing publicity to the Marauders' Christmas Eve Party, Slughorn recruited seven students in their fourth or fifth year to his Slug Club. Among the recruits, for her skill in Potions and traits as a person—her wit and kindness—Lily was chosen. For having been the first 11-year-old Quidditch player in eighty years and decent enough at Potions, Harry was chosen. Severus was also recruited, for being one of the best, if not the best, Potions students in the school. Aluria was the last to be chosen the day after she hexed a Ravenclaw, though several of her famous distant relatives had influenced Slughorn's decision.

The first meeting with the new members was a formal Valentine's Day Party, and everyone could bring a plus one. All of the staff was invited as well.

Severus and Harry jointly counted Raven and Remus as their guests, and of course Lily chose James.

Few people were excited for the party, even those with dates. Most boys could recycle their dress robes from the Christmas Eve Party, some scrambled to have some sent in. Harry had brought most of his wardrobe in Hermione's purse, which included dress robes from his fourth year and a pair he wore to all events he was invited to as The Boy Who Lived.

Most girls, on the other hand, had the same conversation over finding new dress robes as they had for the Christmas Eve Party. Only a few people from each year attended, so Harry and Severus only had to listen to it in passing.

On the night of the event, the boys waited in the common room for their plus ones. Remus pulled at a loose thread in his tattered sleeve and informed them, self-consciously, that the robes had been his father's.

Raven and Lily walked down the steps together. Lily wore a knee-length white dress with shimmery, pink tights. Her hair and make-up were done similarly to Raven's.

"Hi." Raven curtsied to the boys, a little sarcastically. She shifted in her black shoes and looked between Harry and Severus, unable to meet Remus' eyes. "Ready to go?"

"Really nice," managed Remus, as he cleared his throat.

"What?" She turned to him in surprise. It was the first time he had spoken to her in months.

He swallowed. "Er, you look nice."

Raven smiled. "Thank you." To fill the uncomfortable silence, she added, "Cassandra did all the girls' hair and makeup. She would've let me borrow her dress, which is pink, but it was too short on me." Raven glanced at Severus, who was staring at Lily, then back at Remus, who was staring at her.

Harry considered Raven. "I like the black." Honestly, though, Harry couldn't have cared less, especially when there were more important things to worry about. But it mattered to her.

Slughorn's Office was draped with deep ruby, light pink, and silver hangings. Fairies flitted overhead, gravitating toward the chandelier in the middle of the ceiling. House-elves weaved between the staff and students with platters of food lifted high above their heads. Charmed, musician-less instruments played from the corner of the room.

Soon after they arrived, Sirius (brought by Aluria) dragged James, Remus, and Peter (who was brought one of James' fans) away to talk to a man with a rugged, athletic appearance. Lily joined Aluria and the two of them half-talked, half-sulked in the back of the room.

Remus returned twenty minutes later. "He was a Quidditch player they like. I couldn't hear very well."

Raven nodded and asked Remus, "Do you want to get some air?" He shrugged, taken by surprise, and followed her into the corridor.

After a minute or so, Harry and Severus, both bored, decided to join Raven and Remus outside of the party. Remus had spent the past months not talking to her, supposedly to protect her, but Harry knew there was more to it. After shutting the door, Harry spotted them down the hall. They were talking, quite close, and Raven was fidgeting.

Then she kissed him. Remus backed up against the wall, hands resting at her sides. Her hands cradled his face.

Harry and Severus crept back into the party, suddenly very patient for their return. To pass the time, they ate and talked about the people at the party. Severus had a lot to say about the Slytherins, but when Harry pointed out one in particular, he abruptly fell silent. "We should go." Severus had ducked his head.

The Slytherin was tall, bulky, and must have been in his seventh year. "That's one of them?" He couldn't imagine someone of that age being capable of what was done to Severus.

"Hey," said Remus. "Were we gone long?" His shoulder grazed Raven's, and their faces were a bit tense from trying not to smile.

Harry checked his watch. "Only…fifteen minutes."

"Oh. Well, we were just…" Remus searched for an excuse.

"Where've you been?" James put a hand on Remus' shoulder, then threw a smile over his own. "There are some girls interested in meeting you. I've told them some of the classics. They're even flirting with Peter. C'mon."

Remus mouthed "sorry" to the others and let James lead him away.

Raven's gaze moved from Remus to Lily, who was still talking with Aluria. She turned back to Harry. "I'm gonna go over there for a tic."

"Okay." They watched her go, hugging Lily and Aluria before gesturing at the Marauders. It was clear that Lily and Aluria had already been complaining about them.

They watched as James started laughing and put a hand on one of the random girls' shoulders. Lily rolled her eyes, but Aluria and Raven appeared concerned. It went on like this for the rest of the evening; the Marauders drifted from group to group, socializing, as the three girls loitered in the back. Severus and Harry kept to themselves, occasionally speaking to one another, though there wasn't much to talk about.

At eleven, the girls went to the Marauders and seemed to inform them that they were leaving. Remus faked a yawn, saying he would join them. James leaned in for a kiss, and Lily offered him her cheek instead of her lips. Sirius hardly acknowledged Aluria.

Severus and Harry followed the back of the group out of Slughorn's Office.

"What did James want you for?" Raven asked Remus.

"I dunno, he has a thing about all of us being together, especially at events with other people."

Raven nodded and reached for his hand. Remus hesitated, then entwined his fingers in hers. "I thought you just wanted to be friends. Last year, that's what you told me."

The group, now spread apart into pairs, went up the stairs that led to the seventh floor. "I liked you, but I thought you didn't know what you wanted yet." She lowered her voice. "You fancied Lily, then chose me. It was hard for me to get over being your second option."

Remus slowed. "And I wasn't yours?"

Harry tugged Severus back. The boy had been trying to listen in, and had heard the bit about Lily. "He fancied her?"

Harry shushed him. "Yes, but not anymore." He stalled, not wanting Severus to hear what Remus might reveal about Raven.

Severus matched Harry's pace. "Was it like that in your time?"

"I don't know. You don't have to worry about it."

"Who did Raven fancy before him?"

"I don't know. I think Remus got the wrong idea about something." They stopped talking as they passed Raven and Remus.

"…But you weren't," Remus was saying. "You aren't."

"It's okay." Raven paused, and Harry could tell she was waiting for them to be out of earshot. "I know I was hypocritical."

The common room was mostly empty, but there were a few students who asked how the party went. Aluria and Lily both replied, "Fine," and continued up the stairs without stopping to chat.

Raven and Remus stopped at the foot of the girls' dormitory stairs. "Goodnight," said Raven. She checked to see if anyone was looking, then kissed him on the cheek.

"G'night," replied Remus, a bit dazed.

The next day, everyone knew about Raven and Remus, ruining any plans they might have had to keep it quiet.

Also, Harry found out that the feature, or the moral, of the stories James had been telling was what he was calling his group of four. Previous to the Valentine's Day the day before, Harry had been the only one who knew that they called themselves "the Marauders."

James tried to explain to Lily that he hadn't meant to ditch her at the party, that she was overreacting, and that he'd been trying to build his—the Marauders'—reputation. It took a while before he realized Lily wouldn't accept anything he had to say. Eventually, he offered to take her on a date to Hogsmeade.

"Yeah." Lily observed the rowdy students around them. "It'll be good to get out, with just us."

James piled his plate with food. "So, where in Hogsmeade sounds romantic?"

"Well, it doesn't have to be romantic, that's not really the point—"

"Hang on." James stopped chewing and pointed his fork at her. "I thought that was the point." Then he continued eating, as though she couldn't say anything to argue that.

"No, I just want to spend time with you."

"Right, so like a belated Valentine's Day."

"No, James, I don't care about the details, or the specific reason for doing something, I just want to have time for us."

James nodded slowly. "Okay, then how about the Three Broomsticks?"

"Great." When James opened his mouth in frustration, Lily added, "I wasn't being sarcastic! That's great, yes, let's go."

Sirius and Peter peered at Remus and Raven over their breakfast. As James began to walk away, Sirius jumped up and whispered something in his ear. James' face split into a grin. He reached over and clapped Remus on the back, causing the boy to choke on his toast.

"What the hell?" spluttered Remus, turning around.

"Congrats, mate! And to you, too," added James, putting a hand on Raven's shoulder. "We'll talk later," he muttered to Remus, before rejoining Lily.

"I wasn't expecting that reaction," said Raven to Remus.

Remus glanced at Sirius and Peter, who were obviously still discussing the new relationship. "Er, Raven, If they say anything to you, ignore it. They like you, of course they do, but you were involved in the Dark Arts for a while, so they…"

Raven blinked, then nodded. "Okay. I get it. I don't mind, I wasn't planning to get along with them. It's only been a day, let's not worry about it."

After breakfast, Harry and Severus, not wanting to stay cooped up inside Hogwarts, decided to follow the others' lead and go to Hogsmeade. They went to the Three Broomsticks and sat down with their butterbeers.

"There's Potter." Severus nodded toward James and Lily. Harry noticed one of the Marauders' victims, a fifth-year Hufflepuff, was sitting nearby with his back to them, oblivious.

Eventually, when the Hufflepuff got up to leave, he spotted James. The boy froze, then saw that Lily was with James and relaxed a little.

"Hey, Marcus," said James as the boy walked past.

Marcus hesitated. "Oh, hi." He nodded once and continued walking.

Lily smiled, first at James, then to herself.

On occasion throughout the day, Harry and Severus happened upon Lily and James. Harry noticed that none of the students were fearful or cautious around James liked some used to be.

Harry didn't know what would be harder on Severus: if James still acted like a toerag and Lily didn't mind, or if James won Lily over by acting kind to everyone. The latter, to most, seemed to be the reality. But Harry knew his marauding days would continue.

After Hogsmeade, Harry and Severus went up to the dorm to straighten up before starting on their assignments.

Severus stopped sifting through his things and sighed. "Why are you still here?"

"Oh, I can leave, if you want—" Harry started for the door.

"No, I mean, why haven't you gone back home?"

Harry turned toward Severus, surprised. "You asked me to stay."

Severus ignored this. "The longest anyone's gone back in time is five hours. I've read about time travel. There was a witch, Eloise Mintumble, who traveled back 500 years for five days. When the Ministry got her back, her body had aged 500 years, and she died. Not only that, but her five days led to twenty-five people being unborn. The Tuesday after she came back was 60 hours long, the Thursday after was four hours. It screwed up time."

Harry shook his head. "I don't understand—"

Severus stood. "I don't either. You're putting everyone in danger, including yourself—"

"…But why are you worrying about it now? It's been four years."

"Because Lily and Potter are together, and it's going to stay that way. You're at the end of the story. You've been here long enough, and there's nothing left for you to do."

Harry forced himself to believe that Severus was wrong. "Why do you want me to leave? So you can join the Slytherins again without me telling you the Dark Arts are wrong?"

"No, I want you to leave to prevent you from fucking things up anymore than you already have."

They glared at each other, then Harry reached under his shirt and pulled out the Time-Turner.

Severus looked between Harry and the device. "That's not what Time-Turners usually look like. I didn't realize it until reading about time travel—where did you get that?"

"Ginny gave it to me."

Severus sighed. "I know, but who gave it to her?"

Harry shook his head. "I don't know. I never really wondered how she could have got a Time-Turner like this. I assumed she got it from someone who was grateful that I killed Voldemort." He felt suddenly thick for not questioning it. "All the Time-Turners were supposed to be destroyed. It's been years since the day I left, but I think I remember that she avoided answering me when I asked her where she got it."

"Don't say his name!" hissed Severus. Then he turned away, clearing his throat. "What if a Death Eater gave it to her?"

"No. That's not it. Can't be."

"They could have been trying to mess up the future. What if she doesn't know who it's from? How do you know it wasn't a Death Eater?"

"Ginny is smart, and besides, all of his followers went into hiding. If they needed to change something, they would've done it themselves." He lifted the Time-Turner over his head and studied it. "There's something else, though…it's more advanced than what the Ministry had; I'm not dead, or sick, and it let me go back further than five hours, easily. It has six rings instead of two."

"You didn't answer my question about leaving."

"Last June, you asked me to stay. So I'm going to stay through this year."

"What if people are dying in your time just because you wanted to feel better?"

"If that's going on, someone would have come back for me. I feel like I'm here for a reason."

Severus began to pace. "You know your reason; you told me what it was."

"There's something more than that, though." Harry sat down and studied his hands. "And I haven't figured it out." He realized something. "Severus, they've only been together—actually, even been friends—for two months. You're acting like my dad is; like he and Lily are married. So snap out of it." Harry paused, then tried to sound less harsh. "It's not over yet. I still have a chance, and so do you."

 


Chapter 15: One Last Kiss
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Severus had one weekend of peace—the weekend where Lily and James were away. It went by too quickly for him to get used to their absence. When they came back, they were both immensely happy. Lily kissed James before he went to talk to the other Marauders. Then she approached Harry, asking to talk.

"I know you've been worrying about me. I know you don't like James, or at least you're not friends." She waited for him to nod before continuing. "Well, I wanted to let you know that I'm good. We're good. He's different from what I thought before, different even from what his friends might think."

"Really."

"Yes. James is—he's slow to express how he feels, but he has more personality, more depth than how he comes across."

"So, you're happy?"

She smiled. "I am. He's smart, kind, adventurous, brave, and has a big heart. Sometimes he does childish things, but he's learning, just like everyone else."

Harry nodded, trying to hold back what he really wanted to say. "How long do you think you two'll make it?"

"Why?" Lily studied him, then her hands. "I don't know. James always talks about 'our' life after school, and that's a little too far in the future for me to consider…"

"Like, marriage?"

"Not only that; having kids. And he's not even fifteen yet. I know he's liked me since we met, but we haven't been together long and he acts as though we're soul-mates." Lily hesitated. "I shouldn't be telling you this."

"We're friends, aren't we?"

"I know. You're right. And I'm sorry for not being around anymore."

"It's okay. Can I ask one thing?"

Lily shrugged. "Sure."

"Why do you get along so well? Why do you like him? And—a reason more than a list of adjectives."

Lily furrowed her brow at him. "That's more than one thing." She smiled and nudged him with her shoulder. "Stop worrying! He cares about me. He makes me laugh. We know each other really well. We're just…compatible." She hugged Harry, then joined James on the love-seat across the room. He kissed her lightly on the lips, then said something and they laughed.

She is happy, Harry realized, feeling guilty.

By March, James and Lily's relationship had become a part of everyone's lives. If James was becoming king of the school, Lily was queen. The hardest thing for Severus to endure was how romantic people thought James and Lily's story was. Every so often, he complained to Harry about how they saw the story. "They think James deserves her because he tried so hard to win her over. They think she always had feelings for him, even though she always told him to leave her alone, which he ignored."

Outside of his occasional rants, Severus was unexpressive. He went to bed early, slept as late as he could, and said very little. It was different from when the Slytherins had punished him; the pain wasn't as obvious, and his grades weren't suffering. It was as though his soul had been removed and he was just going through the motions.

On Tuesday, in Potions, Harry asked Severus if he could use the tips Severus had written in his book. Severus didn't respond, his eyes were glued to the page. Harry sighed, then craned his neck to see if Severus had an alternate number of stirs for the potion they were making.

Words appeared on the pages before their eyes: "Greetings again, Mr. Snape, you ugly git. We were wondering: how can you even see over that abnormally large nose of yours? You think that people—that she—would like you if you were the least bit handsome. If you were—and I, Prongs, can't imagine it—you'd still be evil, dirty, poor, and—"

Harry slammed the book shut; a few people turned around in surprise. Severus flinched but didn't look up.

"What was that?"

Severus blinked. "I don't know."

"How long has that been happening?"

"It's not a big deal—"

"How long?"

"Since this morning."

"On just this book?"

"No, on any paper or parchment I have."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

Severus shrugged slightly. "I can't let them think they can get to me that easily."

"You think it's the Marauders, right?" Harry remembered when, in his third year, "Professor Snape" had taken the Marauders' Map and it had insulted him.

Severus squinted at Harry, an indication for him to explain how he knew.

Harry thought back. "When I was in my third year, something like this happened. I don't think they control what the spell says." He didn't think Severus should know about the Map. "Do you want me to tell them off?"

"No. Don't."

"Okay, I suppose, disregard it, if you can, but let me know if it happens again. I don't think you should have to take their shit at all, but at the very least you shouldn't take it alone."

Severus nodded, probably because agreeing was easier than arguing.

In the next class, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Severus tapped on Harry's arm. "Can I use your book?"

Harry nodded and they traded. He realized that Severus had only asked for his book when the words from the Marauders' spell had covered the entire text.

Harry could only decipher what was on the margins: "No one cares about you. Your dad is right to beat you. If you can't escape them now, you never will. You will stay poor. Your mom will keep on whoring in Nocturne Alley. You'll be alone for the rest of your life. Jacob will leave, then you'll have no one. Lily will stay with James and she will die without ever saying another word to you. You are unfeeling, selfish, and you should hate every part of yourself. You, Snivellus, do not have any reason to live—"

Harry couldn't continue reading. He suppressed his reaction so as not to upset Severus, surveying the room to distract himself. Lily met his gaze, and the way she sharply turned her head suggested that she had been watching them for longer than Harry had seen.

That evening, Harry waited until Severus was getting ready for bed before he went up to Lily. "Can I talk to you?"

James, who she was studying with, eyed Harry as Lily nodded and stood.

"It'll just be a moment, James."

Harry led her a bit away from James. "They did something to Severus."

Lily blinked. "They?"

"The Marauders."

Lily kept expression out of her features. "What does 'something' mean? And…James must not have known about it." She seemed doubtful of her own words.

"They charmed his school things to insult him. I thought you might want to know, because didn't James promise he wouldn't do that sort of thing anymore?"

Lily frowned and returned to James. She sat down and said something quietly to him.

James blinked, mouth ajar in disbelief. "I was testing a charm for a project! Can't anyone take a joke?" He glared at Harry from across the room.

"James, you told me you stopped bullying people."

"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Lily, why do you care? You told him you wouldn't protect him—help him—anymore. You're not friends."

"It doesn't matter, I'm talking about everyone. God knows what else you did behind my back."

"It isn't like that. Look, can we talk upstairs?" People were staring at them.

"Fine." They gathered their things and didn't come back down before the other members of the dorm came up.

Severus tried, unsuccessfully, to not stare at Lily as she sat on James' bed. They'd been talking for over two hours. A few times, they started to argue, but their annoyance would dissipate after they moved on to something else. Sirius was the one who told the two to finish up and get some sleep. He turned the lights off and put a pillow over his head to make his point.

"Goodnight," Harry heard Lily whisper. He stared at the ceiling, and his eyes adjusted to the dark. He saw Lily move further into the room. She put her hand on the footboard of Severus' bed, standing silently, face shrouded in the dark. Then she walked away.

After the door closed, Severus rolled over in his bed. Harry saw him exhale and close his eyes. Harry could feel the tide beginning to shift.

As James' birthday approached, he insisted that Lily didn't need to do anything as extravagant for him on his birthday as he did for her. They went to Hogsmeade, just the two of them, as an early celebration. Severus and Harry, by now, had grown out of intruding, so they stayed in the dorm that day. On the following Thursday, March 27th, the week before Easter Break, there was a standard party thrown by the Quidditch team, which the other Marauders worked tirelessly to improve. They cleared everyone out at nine, but the closest friends stayed in the middle of the common room, talking.

Harry, Severus, Raven, and Remus went to do homework in the back, along with a dozen others. Actually, Remus was doing James, Sirius, and Peter's homework in addition to his own. He already told James that that would be his birthday present. But Remus didn't seem to mind so much; it was an essay for Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Harry finished his essay before the others. He looked over at the remaining partygoers: Aluria, Sirius, Peter, Lily, and James.

James was telling a story, presents scattered around him, his arms waving around. At the end, they all laughed, then Lily kissed James, and after pulling away his eyes remained on hers. James said something to the others, then took Lily's hand and tugged her up and off the couch. Lily left her wand where she had been sitting, studying him quizzically as he led her upstairs. The other three exchanged a grin.

Harry watched Sirius stand on the couch. His hips swayed as he started to sing, "So here we are alone / We made it on our own/love you love me love…"

What was James doing? Harry remembered what Lily had said about James being forward with their relationship. So that meant in more ways than he previously thought? Harry turned to the others; only Raven had seen. Severus and Remus were buried in their work.

What should we do? Harry mouthed to her. He didn't know how far they had gone on Lily's birthday, but that didn't matter. This felt wrong.

Raven shrugged, as if he shouldn't worry about it, but her eyes were on the stairs.

"Severus, Remus," said Harry. The two looked up. "He took her upstairs. Just so you know." Remus turned red, Severus' expression didn't change.

"What? What do you mean? To the dorm? Why…" The realization dropped. He muttered to himself, "Not again," before raising his voice. "Did he force her?"

Harry shushed him. "It didn't look like it." Severus was about to get up and march up to the dorms, so Harry said, "Hang on, don't go after them. She knows what she's doing."

Severus scowled at Sirius, who, by his hand gestures, appeared to be telling Aluria and Peter a dirty joke. Peter thought it was hilarious, Aluria shook her head in disgust.

Minutes passed. Severus and Remus went back to work, the former to distract himself. Then, from upstairs, they heard Lily yell, "I SAID NO, YOU THICK ARSE!" There was an audible slap, and the common room fell silent. Lily ran down the stairs, James close behind.

"Let's not do this out here, c'mon, Lily…" James grabbed her arm.

"Let go of me!" Lily wrenched her arm away and turned to face him.

"I didn't know you meant it, I'm sorry!"

"So, you didn't think I meant it when I kicked you in the chest."

"I thought—"

Lily cut him off. "Save your breath, Potter. I'm tired of your excuses. I told you before that I wanted to wait."

James stepped toward her. "I thought you loved me."

Lily rolled her eyes. "You're such a fucking child. Yes, I thought there was something between us—"

"There is!" cut in James desperately.

"…but I was wrong. You only wanted to get up my skirt."

"That's not true. Lily…I do love you." James gazed into her eyes for what seemed to be his perfect, pre-determined time, then leaned in and—

"LEVICORPUS!" James had been flung into the air by his ankle. Lily spun to see who had cast the spell. When she saw Severus, his wand raised, her brow furrowed and she turned toward James.

Severus disarmed Sirius and Peter before either could react. The spectators gathered at the front of the writing desks. Aluria tossed Lily her wand. Severus crossed the room, stopping close enough so that he could've reached out and touched the top of James' head.

Severus' voice was low and he spoke through his teeth. "You arrogant toerag. You think everyone will do whatever you say, that you own the school, that you own her."

James glared at Severus. "Oh, shut up, Snivellus. You don't know what you're talking about. This is between me and—"

Severus raised his voice to cut him off. "Isn't this situation familiar to you?" Then he dropped to a whisper. "Now you're the one who gets to think of how sorry you are every day. Because all it takes is one fuck-up, and you fucked up—bad. You just couldn't keep your Billywig-sized dick in your trousers, could you? But I'm not sorry for you. It's not just because now you can understand what it feels like to be humiliated, but because you deserve it more than I did."

James, rotating slowly, scanned the area as if he was searching for something. Someone. Someone he expected to explain why this was happening. He blames me, realized Harry. It was Harry who had given the idea that James and Lily would get married, have a kid, and live happily for the small piece of life they were given. James had taken this idea and tried to turn it into reality much too soon.

"Don't think of this as revenge. I'm just trying to protect the same person you were." Severus glanced at Lily, whose watery eyes were focused on James, wand aimed at his face. "Though, I don't think she needs protecting." Severus forced a smile and backed away.

There were a few claps, but the Gryffindors were not as enthusiastic about James being beaten by Severus as they were Severus being beaten by James.

Lily didn't acknowledge Severus, so he went back to study. The four finished up their homework as Lily and James talked. Their conversation lasted about ten minutes before she let Sirius get him down. James lay on the ground for a while, wallowing in self-pity and pain, before getting up and slouching up to the dorm. Raven and Aluria went to Lily and walked with her up to bed.

For the first half hour after, Severus couldn't write, his hands were shaking so badly. Eventually, however, his anger gave way to self-satisfaction. He had simultaneously made a fool of James and helped Lily. Severus knew Lily would have to at least say something to him, but what she'd say, he didn't know.

The next morning, while the other Gryffindors were going down to breakfast, Harry, Raven, and Severus stayed behind to wait for Lily. When she came downstairs, body tired but eyes brighter than ever, Raven and Harry gave them some space.

Lily didn't notice Severus at first, and when she did, she told him to wait a second and ran back upstairs.

Severus shifted on his feet and wiped his hands on his robes.

Lily returned with a potted flower. It was the Moon Lily Severus had given her before their first year of Hogwarts. "I still have this. And…" Lily pulled out a stone from her pocket, "…this, too." The stone, so far, read, "Severus Snape and Lily." She set both things down on the table, then fidgeted, unable to look him in the eyes. After a moment of silence, she wrapped her arms around him.

Severus hardly hesitated to do the same. Tears ran from Lily's eyes to his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry."

Severus gripped her tightly, not wanting to lose her again. "No, it's my fault."

Lily smiled, though he couldn't see it. "I couldn't have imagined you saying that until now."

"I promise, I've changed."

Lily let go and tucked a strand of his hair behind his ear. "I know. I would've believed it at the beginning of the year, but I didn't know if it would last, I was hurt, and I didn't want to risk going through that again." She took his hands and studied him. "You probably think I'm pathetic. I was protecting myself when I should have been protecting you, too. You're so incredibly strong, and Jacob and Raven are the best friends you could hope for." She studied their entwined fingers.

"I shouldn't have said what I said. I—I didn't mean it then, and I don't mean it now, not about anyone." Severus bit his lip, eyes reddening, but still dry. When he opened his mouth to speak again, his breath shook. "I missed—I missed having you around."

Lily smiled, and this time he could see. "Me too, Severus."

At the sound of his name, he grinned—and it was the most genuine, happy smile Harry had seen on Severus since before the "Mudblood" incident.

Lily remembered something else. "I'm sorry about what the Slytherins did to you."

Severus froze, and Harry, off to the side, also didn't know what to do. How could she have found out?

"Cassandra told me about what they did in between classes. It sounded awful, and so, I'm sorry for not being there."

Severus and Harry relaxed; she didn't know the worst of it.

Lily hurried to add, "I don't want you to think that I want to be friends again because I feel sorry for you, or anything. That's sort of why I couldn't…" She trailed off.

"No, I know. Er, so, what's gonna happen with James?"

Lily's expression soured slightly. "I told him that I didn't fancy him anymore, and that I wouldn't be able to forgive him for what he did."

Severus was alarmed. "What he did…?"

"No, no, I mean, he only tried."

"Oh." Severus scratched the back of his neck, gathering his thoughts, and Harry guessed that he was fighting the urge to ask if that meant she and James hadn't done it at all.

"After that—as in, when he was still hanging upside down—I felt like I had to make him feel better."

"Why?"

"Well, mostly because I don't want him bothering me every day like he used to. So I told him the truth about all there was between us. That he'd only fallen in love with the idea of me. It wasn't really me he loved, it was the whole, 'love at first sight' myth. He had gotten into a habit of chasing after someone he didn't really know, assuming that we'd get along, get married, and live happily ever after, because I was the first person that made him feel like he did."

Harry watched Severus' expression. So much of what she had described applied to Severus.

"And I had fun, for a little while, because he'd gotten me to believe it. But the little things just kept stacking up until I only saw the routine, and I didn't see him."

Severus considered this. "How did he react?"

Lily smirked. "He wanted 'one last kiss'. Hey, don't look like that, I didn't give him one. But I did feel bad, so I told him there were plenty of fish in the sea—that's a Muggle expression—and that was that."

"Is he going to keep bothering you?"

"I don't know. I do know, however, that I'm starving. Let's go get some breakfast."

Just like that, it was the four of them again. Aluria, Florence, and Cheresse realized Lily wouldn't spend much time with them anymore, and they would get over it, but for now they were annoyed and upset. Lily, on the contrary, though a bit uncomfortable at first, was more like herself. She needed friends like Harry, Raven, and Severus.

On the evening of the Saturday before Easter, although the new curfew for Hogsmeade was four o' clock, some students were still out. Before every Hogsmeade weekend, at least one of Lily's professors would invite her and a few others to lunch. That day, it was Lily, Aluria, and a Slytherin who were meeting with Professor Slughorn.

It was five in the evening and they still weren't back.

Harry, Severus, and Raven tried to get as much homework done as possible before dinner. The professors, much to the disdain of the fourth years, had piled on work to help them prepare for the O.W.L.s that still seemed a long time away.

Some of the older students listened to music on the radio as they studied for the N.E.W.T.s. Before heading to dinner, one of them, was about to turn it off when another shouted for them to stop. The room quieted for long enough to hear, "…under attack by dark forces. Stay in your homes." Panicked whispers coursed through the room, followed by shushing. "…This is the Ministry speaking. Various centers in the Muggle and wizarding world are under attack by dark forces. Stay in your homes…" Harry could no longer hear over the rising confusion.

"Lily's still out in Hogsmeade," Severus said to Harry, voice strained.

Professor McGonagall came into the common room. Everyone fell silent. "You are all to stay in the dorms until further instruction. Dinner will be served here in an hour."

"Are we safe?" piped up a second-year, wand in hand.

"Yes, of course. However, we have to keep everyone contained so we can ensure that. Thankfully, everyone is back from Hogsmeade."

Severus glanced at Harry, eyes anxious.

"Prefects, if you could manage the students. The Head Boy and Girl as well as the professors will be with me searching the school for any remaining students."

As soon as she had finished speaking, McGonagall was bombarded with questions. She held up her hands. "You will know what you need to know when you need to know it. I will return after supper." She swept back through the portrait hole.

Severus grabbed Harry's arm. "We have to go find Lily."

A prefect who was walking by stopped. "What's that, Snape? No one leaves this room unless told otherwise."

Severus scowled and reached into his pocket, the one that contained the invisibility cloak.

"No, Severus, it's not worth it."

"So she's not worth it? She's your own mother, and you don't care about her safety?"

"She is safe. She can defend herself well enough. And she's with Slughorn."

"You don't know that."

"You don't know that she's in danger. Listen, last time I decided I'd rather be safe than sorry, someone I cared about died. And it turned out he was never in harm's way."

"Who?"

"Sirius." Harry glanced at the Marauders, who were by the desks, solemn and nervous.

"Like that counts. He was an adult then, perfectly capable of handling things on his own. You shouldn't have worried."

Harry opened his mouth to retort when Severus continued, "How could you have even liked Sirius? He couldn't have been that much different from now, except that now he doesn't like you."

"Sev!" Lily ran toward them and threw her arms around Severus, who stumbled back a little.

"You're safe," said Severus, either surprised or reassuring; Harry couldn't tell. Severus gripped the back of her jacket, one hand in her hair.

After a few moments, Lily said, voice muffled, "I'm okay, really."

Severus let her go, muttering an apology, face red.

A sixth-year student climbed onto a chair. "Attention, everyone. There's a meeting in five minutes about the Order, open to all students in their third year and older."

"We already had one this month," a fifth-year said, confused.

"We're having it again," the student replied. "All first and second years, go up to the dorms." He made way for a girl who stood before all of the desks, waiting for everyone to be seated.

Lily, Severus, Harry, and Raven chose a table; Severus next to Lily, Raven next to Harry.

"Hello everyone. I'm Holly Fenwick, I'm in seventh year, if you didn't already know. I was chosen to speak about the Order of the Phoenix because my brother, Benjy, is a member, and I know enough to talk about it. Some of you have heard me speak before." She smiled, then cleared her throat.

"I know there are some people here who are interested only because they feel obligated. On the other side, some may have had trauma that gave them no other choice—in their opinion. Let me tell you that the first, doing it because you think you have to, is not what they're looking for. Those are the people that betray the Order."

Harry glanced at Peter, whose arms were crossed, expression solemn. Lily had taken Severus' hand—they both still looked shocked about the recent events.

"So anyone who has lost family, or friends, and wants to avenge them is gonna have to bury it. Let that be your motivation, not your motive, or you'll become reckless. You'll become obsessed to the point that you stand outside our ideals. What they stand for. And they stand for bringing down You-Know-Who and his followers together, not through personal missions. And there's no power struggle, either. There are no leaders, unless you count Dumbledore, who founded the Order. They aren't showy or violent, like You-Know-Who and his followers are, and they're feared for the threat they pose to them, not for murder and destruction. The Order's purpose is to unite witches and wizards who are connected by the same cause; to preserve peace. Your commitment, if you choose to accept it, will last for the entirety of the War. It could be over before you leave school, or it may continue to the end of your life. It will probably be to risky to start a family."

Some students, couples in particular, exchanged looks. Severus and Lily stared straight ahead.

"You'll have to make sacrifices, but it would be worth it. Who wants to live in a world where everything, everyone you love is in constant danger? Where you would be forced to think a certain way, without a proper government? Today is just one example of how You-Know-Who will make us live in fear." Holly paused, considering something. "Professor McGonagall told me what happened, and I wasn't supposed to say anything, but I will anyway. Death Eaters attacked Diagon Alley and the Ministry. At least a dozen people were killed."

Harry stood up and asked, though suspecting the answer, "Did the people have anything in common?"

Holly hesitated, regarding Harry, with whom she had never spoken before. "Yeah. Most of them were Muggle-borns."

Silence. Severus and Lily still didn't look at each other, but she squeezed his hand.

"Each of you has a choice. Gryffindor House, like every House in the school, has enormous strength and potential. After Hogwarts, you have the chance to be recruited. They're looking for good people, kind people. Talented people. So think about what I've said, and pay attention to what's going on in the world around you. If there's anyone who's certain they're willing to join, we're taking down names to contact you after you graduate. The ink is invisible until a certain word is said, and only members know what the word is." She unrolled a piece of parchment and put an inkwell and quill on the table nearest to her.

Every student, as far as Harry could tell, signed their name. Harry had thought that the biggest change in the timeline had been at the beginning of the year when Severus left the Dark Arts, or when Lily had forgiven him. He realized it was in this simple act—instead of signing over to Voldemort, Severus was literally signing over to the Order. There was no death that made him turn sides, at least not beyond Harry's memories. Instead of joining the good guys at twenty-one, he was joining at fifteen.

Afterwards, the students stayed, for the most part, at the tables, talking.

Lily's features were drained, and she studied her hands. "What Holly said, about sacrifice for the greater good. I don't think I ever considered that side of it."

Harry brought his attention away from the Marauders and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "What do you mean?"

"How fighting You-Know-Who could be our whole life. No family, being in danger constantly…"

"Holly was just exaggerating so everyone knew what they were getting in to."

Severus and Raven raised an eyebrow.

"I'm not so sure, Jacob," said Raven.

Severus looked directly at Harry and said, "I know someone who had a kid even though they were in the middle of the War."

Harry tried to signal for him to shut up. Lily didn't notice and asked, "Who? Someone here with a brother or sister?"

Severus nodded.

"So it can be done." Lily rested her chin on her hand. "I still want to live, you know? Don't you all want that, too?"

Raven and Harry shrugged. Severus' brow furrowed. "You want kids?"

Lily blushed. "I didn't mean wanting kids, I meant living normally, at least somewhat."

Professor McGonagall and the prefects entered the common room, chilling the atmosphere as everyone quieted in anticipation. A few students went up to the dorms to bring down the younger students.

McGonagall cleared her throat. "I do not have any further news regarding the attacks, but I do have to relay some new rules that were decided on for the entire student body. These are for your safety and will only apply to the holidays, unless the situation worsens. Firstly, no student staying at Hogwarts is allowed outside of the castle unless accompanied by a professor. Secondly, there are no trips to Hogsmeade this week. Thirdly, the new curfew is eight o' clock."

Frustrated murmurs ran through the students, but they understood it could be worse. Someone asked, "Can we send mail?"

McGonagall waited until the Gryffindors were quiet. "Yes, only because we can't possibly ensure that no one does so. Though, any packages that arrive must be pre-screened by Professor Flitwick, Professor Candless, and I."

This was followed by some groaning, but McGonagall left before there were any legitimate objections.

The lack of knowledge about the attacks made everyone anxious and solemn. Several students received letters from family to assure them that they were okay, others remained oblivious.

The overflow from the common room moved to the boys' dormitories where girls were not magically barred from entering.

Harry lay in bed, journaling, tuning in and out of conversations around him. Raven and Remus sat across from Lily and Severus, on the respective boys' beds. The four of them talked before drifting into separate discussions.

Lily and Severus lay side-by-side, pillows stacked to cushion their backs. At first they didn't touch, but when the Marauders left (sans Remus), they became more comfortable. The room was now quieter, darker, and their voices were audible.

"When you to told me about Hogwarts, and even in first year, I didn't expect the wizarding world would be like this." Lily rested her head on Severus' shoulder and drew her legs up.

Severus swallowed and, after a moment of uncertainty, put an arm around her, resting his hand on her shoulder.

Lily gazed toward the back of the room, past Remus and Raven, out the window at the falling rain. "I thought the Muggle world was bad. All the wars and the suffering…and not only that, but it's so ordinary. Boring. But the wizarding world is not much better. It has all these problems, and it hardly ever changes."

Severus was too shaken by their sudden intimacy to sound incredulous. "You're saying it's better in the Muggle world?"

"I think they're even, if the wizarding world isn't slightly better—they're different and the same." Lily traced circles on his stomach, collecting her thoughts. Severus shuddered, making her grin. "Oh, I forgot. You're ticklish, aren't you?"

"No." Severus couldn't look at her.

Lily raised an eyebrow, then sat up and jabbed his sides. Severus flinched, almost laughing as he put up his hands to block future attacks.

"I'm done, sorry," said Lily, and once he was convinced they repositioned themselves. She breathed deeply and nestled her head into his chest. "All this fighting makes sense, in the end. Magic is worth fighting for. But our side has an advantage: love."

Severus' face burned.

Lily sighed. "You've overcome so much. I don't know if there's anyone who could do the same."

Dumbledore did, thought Harry, pausing in his writing.

"It doesn't matter if the wizarding world changes for the better, as long as the people do." Lily's voice was fading with weariness.

"Lily?"

"Mm?" She had her arm wrapped around his torso.

"You're the kindest person I know."

"You're kind too, Sev. Even if it took a while for me to realize…" Lily mumbled the last few words and then fell silent, drifting asleep.

Severus noticed Harry watching, then they both looked away. Harry hoped Severus wasn't jumping ahead, misinterpreting his relationship with Lily. Despite Harry's off-and-on, spotty relationship with Lily, he had been hugged by her over these four years more than he had by anyone else, ever—combined.

Remus and Raven were now the only ones speaking—something about Remus' childhood.

The Marauders opened the dormitory door, the ghosts of smiles lighting their faces. Sirius and Peter froze, spotting Severus and Lily. James kept telling his joke, oblivious.

As Severus nudged Lily to wake her, James noticed them. "What the fuck?" In his shock, he couldn't think of a better question.

Lily lifted her head and yawned.

"Get away from her, Snivellus, you twat!" James pulled out his wand.

Lily realized what was happening and climbed out of bed. "Potter, for God's sake, calm down." She stood before him, glaring.

Raven kissed Remus goodnight, then joined her.

Lily crossed her arms. "People died today and you just continue bullying people you believe to be lesser than you into doing what you want. Remind you of anyone?"

James blinked, then realized she was referring to Voldemort. "I'm nothing like—why would you—"

Lily and Raven went to the door. Before leaving, Lily added, "There's nothing going on between us, so you have no reason to harass him. Good night, everyone."

The door closed.

James rounded on Severus. "Snivellus, you pale-faced, weak—"

Harry put his journal aside. "Oh, sod off, James."

James turned. "Oh, hello, Jacob, can I talk to you?"

Sirius and Peter exchanged a look.

Harry glanced at Severus, then followed James onto the landing.

"Muffliato," said Harry, casting the spell around them.

James squeezed his eyes and the bridge of his nose, then paced as much as the small area would allow. "We were supposed to be together. Lily and I."

"You might still be able to be together—"

"No, Harry, you know she made her choice. Fuck it, I'm just gonna say it: did you want them to be together? Is that why this happened?"

"No, not exactly—"

"Don't fucking lie to me, don't fucking try to bullshit this. You manipulated everyone. You made me believe she'd like me, led me make the wrong choices, and you told Severus to make the right choices."

"I didn't make you do anything. You made your own choices, it wasn't me."

"I know you must've had some idea of what was going to happen. Think about this: if Lily and I don't end up together, then how are you born? How do you go back in time and make that change in the first place?"

"I don't understand how it works any more than you do."

"THEN WHY ARE YOU FUCKING EVERYTHING UP?" James shook with rage.

"IT'S NOT LIKE IT WASN'T FUCKED UP BEFORE!"

James sneered. "Like father like son, right? Both so angry. And here I thought I didn't know you." He paused in mock thought. "What if I stole your Time-Turner and reversed everything? Or told Sirius and Peter?"

Harry took a step back. "You wouldn't."

"Why the hell not? Unless, you want to be unborn—"

"I DON'T CARE! I don't care what happens to me because there will always be another person to defeat Voldemort, or another version of myself. Severus saved my skin more times than I can count, and I gave him nothing in return, until now. And you seem to forget that the reason I came here is greater than that. I wanted to know you and Lily, I wanted to be at Hogwarts again. You don't realize; there's no going back."

James studied Harry, then dropped his voice to a whisper. "You expect me to do nothing as you ruin my chances with Lily?"

Harry sighed. "I expect you to be a decent human being. Lily didn't date you until seventh year in my time, so just wait until then. Leave her alone and try to be less of a dick, or else there really is no hope." He went back into the room. James, scowling, followed.

On the front page of the Daily Prophet on the first day back to school, there was a picture of the Atrium, damaged by the attacks, in the Ministry Headquarters.

Lily flipped through the Prophet to get to the continuation. "It says the whole thing was a distraction. Loads of information was stolen. The Ministry hasn't figured out what else."

Harry read from over her shoulder, shocked that Ministry would allow this to be printed. It made them seem weak, vulnerable, and Voldemort seem powerful, as someone to be feared. This war was completely different from the one he experienced.

That evening, in the common room, Raven pulled Harry aside on his way to the dorms. "What's going on with Lily and Severus?"

Harry regarded her. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, don't you think she's acting pretty cozy all of a sudden? They weren't friends for a year and now? She must've known he'd forgive her easily."

Harry was taken aback. "Did something happen between you and her?"

"No. We're fine. Although I can tell she's still a bit awkward around me, since we were close. It was hard for me, too, and it'll be hard to forgive her. I feel like she's not even trying." Raven leaned against the wall behind them.

"Well, maybe because she knows Severus will accept her and forgive her, but she's afraid of your rejection."

Raven nodded, then paused. "So…do you think they'll be together now? And don't play dumb, you thought about it, too. They were—they were cuddling yesterday, as if they'd been friends this entire time, not just for two weeks."

"Why do you care?"

"I dunno." Raven blinked, as if seeing through a fog. "I dunno."

Severus came up to them, expression hard. "Hello."

"Er, hi." Harry glanced at Raven, who pressed her lips together.

"I suppose we can talk now that we're all here."

"About what?"

"If you're going to stay or not."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "But you wanted me to leave, didn't you?"

Severus flushed. "That was before…well, things are different now."

"So you think I should stay?"

Raven rested a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Of course you should stay. Isn't that what you wanted to do? Stay through seventh year?"

Severus scoffed. "By the end of the year he never knows."

Harry crossed his arms. "It's a bit early to be having this discussion, seeing as it's April."

"So you don't know yet."

Harry wanted to stay. Rather, he didn't want to go back. He was terrified that he would return to a time in which a close friend was now dead, or on the extreme end, where the world as he knew it was altered beyond recognition. He was terrified of the unknown because he hadn't planned everything out and had no idea how everything would work out in the end.

"I didn't say that. I want to stay. And I'm not going to say 'one more year' again, because I'm only fooling myself. It makes sense to see this through."

Raven beamed. Severus' reaction was harder to read; he merely nodded.

Over the rest of the year, the Marauders reestablished themselves as the school's pranksters, or bullies, depending on who was asked. The Hospital Wing developed regulars, as well as the occasional mix-ins. The students might have been half-transfigured into vegetables, or grown whiskers, or had become incontinent. Severus was a victim once, and then, after Harry got revenge, never again. James knew Lily's dislike for him was deepening, but James didn't care. It was obvious to Harry that James was depressed. His mood was often unpredictable, he was irritable, and when he wasn't with his friends, he slept. Maybe he'd always been that way, but Harry hadn't been able to tell before.

The Ravenclaws won the House Cup, despite the Gryffindors winning the Quidditch tournament. Dumbledore gave a warning and a wish for everyone to be safe over the summer. And before anyone properly realized, the school year was over, and they were on the train home.

Countryside clicked past. A partly cloudy sky alternately shaded and brightened the compartment as they got closer, hour by hour, to King's Cross. Lily taught Severus a Muggle clapping game as Harry wrote in his journal.

Goals for next year:

—Become closer to everyone, esp. James & Lily

Severus had needed guidance to leave the Dark Arts, and now it was James who needed guidance. The two boys were equally stubborn, so if Harry could get through to one, he could get through to the other. And he didn't want to improve Severus' life only to ruin James.' As far as becoming closer to Lily, Harry knew he had spent too much time away from her that past year.

—Try not to get Severus' way

Harry studied what had written, then crossed it out and wrote on a new line:

—Try to give Severus space

He'd been too much like a mother (albeit adoptive); too critical of his choices, and less like an actual friend. He had constantly steered Severus in a different direction since convincing him to choose the Gryffindor house—perhaps even earlier.

A prefect told them they were twenty minutes away from the station. The four (Harry, Raven, Severus, and Lily) packed up their things.

King's Cross bustled with people. The atmosphere was more rushed, emotional, as a large portion of students had families that were directly affected by the attacks. Harry hardly had time to say his goodbyes before James, Remus, Peter, and Lily were pulled away by their families. Harry wondered if Lily's family knew about the attacks, or that she and James had been seeing each other.

Sirius, Raven, and Severus did not receive nearly as warm of a greeting. Harry waved goodbye to Severus; they would see each other the following weekend, so there was no need for a more dramatic separation.

Harry surveyed the station once more, then pushed his things around the corner, fit them into his purse, and Disapparated.

 


Chapter 16: Albus Dumbledore
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The Hogwarts Express gleamed scarlet on September 1st, 1975. Harry walked down the train's aisle, looking into the compartments. He found Lily and Severus sitting in a compartment in the middle of the train, and when Harry slid the door open, they were laughing. Or, rather, Severus was at least smiling.

"Oh, Jacob, hi!" Lily stood and hugged him.

"Y'know, I did see you a week ago."

Lily let go, embarrassed. "Yeah, still."

Over the summer, Harry saw Severus and Lily three times a week. He watched their relationship change, sort of like a flip book—each time he saw them, they were an adjusted image on an entirely new page. Even though Severus and Lily were still just friends, Harry felt out of place when he was around the two. He knew they would tell him they wanted him around, but he had to try hard to convince himself to stay, because he felt they would be happier without him there.

"We should probably head over to the prefect's carriage," said Harry to Lily.

Along with their school letters, Harry and Lily received prefect badges. The owl delivering the news went to Lily's house, but it couldn't find Harry's home. It had circled overhead Severus, Lily, and Harry for an hour before Lily happened to say "Jacob," which confirmed Harry's identity. None of the three had given the bird much thought until it swooped down and dropped the letter in front of Harry.

This was a definite change—Harry knew that Remus had been prefect in his timeline, and now Harry had been chosen instead. Oddly enough, this struck a chord in Harry. Dumbledore had chosen Ron and Hermione instead of him in his fifth year, so it was almost like Dumbledore was compensating for his decision.

"Let's wait until Raven gets here," replied Lily.

A few minutes later, Raven arrived. They helped her put her things on the shelf over their heads.

"It's been so long," she said, then hugged each of them.

"Hello, Raven." Remus had appeared in the doorway.

"Remus." Raven wrapped her arms around him, and they stood like that for a moment before she kissed him.

Remus had reached his adult height, like many of the other fifth year students. His hair, grazing the nape of his neck where Raven held him, was as long as Severus'.

Lily and Severus had looked away, both different shades of pink.

"Long time no see," said Raven when they parted.

Remus glanced at the others, noticing their awkwardness. He cleared his throat. "I wish I could stay, but James would want me to be with them." Remus kissed Raven again. "I'll see you round, okay?"

Harry was surprised at the tone in Remus' voice. It was clear that Remus didn't feel any sort of obligation or annoyance at being with Raven; it was genuine desire. Maybe it surprised Harry because of Tonks.

"How were your summers?" asked Raven, sitting next to Lily.

Lily glanced at Severus, smiling a little. "Good, yours?"

Raven looked between the two, as though waiting for them to explain the story behind the look they exchanged. The two didn't get the hint, so Raven replied, "My summer was fine. I got out more, since my parents were away most days."

Harry checked his watch. "We should probably get to the prefect's carriage."

"Oh, okay." Lily got up.

"Oh, so you two are prefects? Congratulations!"

"Thank you!" Lily gathered her things. "See you when we get to the school," she said, and they left the compartment.

The prefects' compartment was filled with vaguely self-righteous, conceited chatter. The only group to be polarized from the others were the Slytherins, who stayed in the corner, backs straight, clearly aware of the divide between themselves and the others. They pretended as though it didn't bother them, but Harry saw through their pride with an amount of empathy that caught himself off-guard.

As the war had progressed, Harry had noticed, the fractures in the school system deepened. He hoped the houses wouldn't fall back into their old fighting habits.

The professors loaded the fifth years with homework right away. Fortunately, the O.W.L.s weren't much of a threat to the Quidditch team, since James and Harry both didn't need to study much and because they were the only fifth years on the team. Still, it was enough to limit the antics of the Marauders and the Slytherins.

It made sense, then, that the chill of December came as a relief to the students, who were anxious to be off school.

Lily invited Raven, Severus, and Harry to her house for the holidays; of course they accepted. Lily had bargained with her parents to let her bring her friends over rather than staying at Hogwarts.

Severus, who hadn't been concerned about gifts the previous year, set to work at making things for the others. Harry felt happier than ever at this time of the year; wholeheartedly appreciating the towering fir trees Hagrid brought from the Forbidden Forest and the new holiday dishes at supper. He even appreciated Peeves' out-of-tune, rude renditions of Christmas songs.

Time was pulled out from beneath them, and soon, Lily, Severus, Raven, and Harry were pulling into King's Cross.

Mr. Evans was waiting for them as they got off the train. The four piled their on a cart and rolled it over. Lily ran and hugged her father before anyone spoke.

Harry noticed Severus was now taller than Mr. Evans, though this was due in part from Severus' improved posture.

"Evening, everyone." Mr. Evans shook their hands, eyes almost narrowed when he made eye contact with the boys. "Your mother had to stay behind to get the dog from the vet," explained Mr. Evans to Lily as they left the station and headed toward the parking lot.

"You have a dog?" asked Severus. He seemed offended that she hadn't told him.

"They got him while I was away, but I got to name him. So I chose Harry."

Severus and Harry glanced at each other. Raven also looked at Harry, but she hadn't been in James' tent when James had asked what Lily wanted to name her kids.

Mr. Evans warmed up to the boys on the car ride, as if in sync to the car's heating. He had, as it turned out, an endless reservoir of questions about life at Hogwarts.

Harry had the sense—perhaps due to aging three years since the last time they'd gone to Lily's—that Mr. Evans was more wary of him. This also seemed to be the case with Severus, but it was still hard to tell.

The Evans had hung a Christmas wreath on their front door. As the group stepped inside, they were overpowered by the scent of sugar cookies.

"Lily!" Mrs. Evans took of her oven mitts and hugged her daughter. She then pulled away and looked over the group. "You all have grown so much!" She hugged each of them in turn. "Though, you're still twigs," she told the boys. "And Severus, you're already taller than Grandpa Ross, who was the tallest person on my side of the family. Not really a hard title to have, though. But Jacob, you fit right in as an Evans. Is your family all short, too? Oh, don't worry, dear, you'll get a growth spurt soon, I bet. Oh! Hang on—the second batch is nearly done."

She peered into the oven. "They need a few more minutes. Oh, hello, girls." Petunia and another girl her age had just ran down the stairs, laughing.
"Hello," said the other girl. Petunia had frozen, staring at Harry. He looked away.

"This is Rebecca," said Lily. "This is Raven, Severus, and Jacob." Lily gestured to them.

"Oh, you're Jacob!" Rebecca turned to Petunia, who went red and pulled her back up the stairs.

After her mother turned away to put on some tea, Lily whispered, "Don't mind them. They'll be up in their room mostly. Just don't try to tick her off. She could blackmail me."

"Why's that?" asked Raven.

"I let Severus stay over a few summers ago when he ran away from home."

"Oh. But surely they'd understand, wouldn't they?"

Lily hesitated, then explained, voice even quieter, "Well, we were sharing the bed, I don't think they'd understand that."

Raven blinked. "Oh." She glanced at Severus, whose cheeks were pink. He was all too aware that Raven knew how he felt about Lily.

Mrs. Evans turned off the water, adjusted the stove, then approached them. "Let me show you where you're staying."

It was the same as second year; boys in the basement, girls upstairs.

"Be in bed by eleven—but you'll be so tired, I don't see that as a problem. And Lily, may I speak with you?"

"Sure."

Mrs. Evans spoke two rooms over, but it was loud enough for the others to get a gist of the conversation. "I don't want any messing around…catch you with…they won't be allowed over again…clear?"

They pretended not to have heard when Lily returned in a huff. "What does she think we'll be doing? We're fifteen, for God's sake. And neither of you are pigs like James."

Severus, though still taken aback by Mrs. Evans' concern, seemed pleased by this.

The oven timer rang.

"That'll be the cookies!" Mrs. Evans ran into the kitchen.

"It's okay, I have it," said Lily, opening the oven.

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure." Lily pushed past her mother with the batch of cookies.

"Well, call if you need anything." Mrs. Evans untied her apron, hung it up, and left, with an uncomfortable silence in her wake. Lily had seemed to get along with her family when they last stayed over.

The four set up Christmas decorations around the house while they waited for the chocolate pecan cookies to cool.

"The cookies are from an American recipe," said Lily, pouring hot chocolate into Christmas mugs. "Here you are…" She handed them their plates and they sat down at the dining table.
Severus ate five cookies, more than any of the others, as though he had suffered from the same starvation as he used to experience over the summer.

"Sev, you've got some chocolate on your face," said Lily after setting their dishes in the sink. Severus tried to study his reflection in the tiny mirror on the fridge.

"Hang on. I got it." Lily wetted a paper towel with hot water and wiped his face.

Harry glanced at them from the edge of the kitchen, flashing back to when they ate ice cream in Diagon Alley several years ago.

Mr. Evans walked in. "Hey, what—?" Then he realized that they weren't doing anything. "Oh, apologies, I thought—"

"What did you think, Dad?" Lily brushed by him and threw away the paper towel. "What is it with you two? I only see you once or twice during the school year and you watch over me like a hawk! I love you, of course I do, but I'm fifteen and I don't need you babying me."

Mr. Evans put up his hands in surrender. "Alright Lily, I understand. I'll talk with your mother." Still, he eyed Severus before leaving.

Lily sighed and turned to the others. "Severus—and Jacob—they'll get more used to this in a couple days. It's just that, after James, they're suspicious of me and boys, especially because I think they worked it out that things ended badly. They wouldn't have let you over if they didn't already know you. But don't worry about it; let's just get settled."

Severus and Harry unpacked their things downstairs.

After a few minutes, Severus stopped what he was doing and said, "Her parents don't like me."

"Sure they do."

"James, stop—" Severus caught himself. "I mean Harry…You don't have to lie." He continued to stow his clothes in the dresser.

"Do you understand why they…well, you know."

"Lily tried to explain, but…" Severus kept his head down, as though bracing himself.

"They think you're replacing James. At least, they think you two fancy each other."

Severus turned toward Harry. "What? I—how could they…" A bigger question hit him. "Why do they think she fancies me?"

"Look, I wouldn't get your hopes up—"

"I know," interrupted Severus through his teeth. "You don't have to tell me she really doesn't."

"…Lily's generally a, well, overtly kind and perhaps flirtatious person."

"Why don't they hate you, then?"

"Maybe Lily doesn't act the same way around—"

"Sure, that's part of it, but maybe it's because you're better-looking. And less…odd."

Harry furrowed his brow. "Better-looking? But I look like James. Oh, you mean my disguise."

"Both. If James looked like I do, she wouldn't have been with him."

"Severus, you're going to be miserable if you keep thinking like that."

"But you don't deny—"

"She wouldn't like James for his looks, just like she wouldn't dislike you for yours."

"So you're saying she doesn't care that I'm ugly."

Harry bristled. "How the hell should I know?"

They both fell silent for a time.

Then Harry said, "Just be respectful to her parents and they'll warm up to you. Don't think about it so much."

The conversation was dropped. Lily called from the top of the stairs, "Are you two decent?"

"You're saying we should we change into our pajamas, then?"

"Yeah, then come upstairs to my bedroom. Oh, and there's tea if you want it."

The two boys changed, facing away from each other. They went to the kitchen upstairs and had the tea that was set out for them. Then Severus and Harry went up another flight to Lily's bedroom.

Before opening the door, they heard, "…it makes sense, I mean, you fancy Severus, don't you?"

Raven had asked this, her voice just loud enough to make out.

"What makes you think that?"

Harry, sensing an opportunity for Severus to be upset, signaled him to go into the room. Severus ignored him. Lily, after a pause, continued, "No, I don't, not at all."

"It's okay, you can tell me."

"I don't! I'd tell you if I did, I promise." Then she was quiet. Harry was about to knock on the door when Lily continued. "He's like a brother to me…no, that's not right, either…he's just a good friend, and I honestly can't imagine being together. At all. I mean, he's not really the sort of person you'd imagine—"

Harry knocked on the door. "Come in," said Lily.

Severus' expression was slightly strained, but otherwise there was no sign that he had overheard.

The two girls sat on Lily's bed, Raven in a white top and fleece pants, Lily in pajama shorts and a button-up top. They had already finished their tea and set the cups down on her dresser.

"So what do you want to do?" asked Lily. The memory of playing Truth or Dare hung between them, but it seemed out of place to suggest.

Severus took a sip of tea. "We could just talk."

"Sure." Lily uncrossed her legs and leaned back, stifling a yawn. She rested her head on Raven's shoulder, even more comfortable with her than she had been before the previous year. "What should we talk about?"

Severus' eyes moved from Lily's legs to her eyes, and he shrugged.

"How about…the delicious cookies you made tonight," suggested Harry.

Lily laughed. "I'm glad you liked them. But we would've had twice as many if you all hadn't eaten so much dough."

"I'm innocent," said Raven, holding up her hands.

"You're right, it was all Jacob." They exchanged a smile, then something caught Harry's eye.

"When's that picture from?" He pointed at the frame on her dresser. The landscape in the picture was familiar, somehow.

Lily lifted her head to look. "Oh, my mum must've put that there while I was away. Well, we used to go on family trips. That's from the Forest of Dean. I was eight."

"Why don't you go on trips anymore?" asked Raven.

"Things are different now. Isn't it like that with your families?"

Raven nodded. "Yeah. My parents let me alone for the most part. And with the War and all, they have less time."

Severus' eyes narrowed slightly. "Whose side are they on?"

They all looked at her.

Raven cleared her throat. "They're more conflicted than they let on. But…You-Know-Who's side is more appealing to them. We never really talk about it, as a family, I mean. And with you all, I didn't—I didn't bring it up before because I'm ashamed of them. And I know they care about me, but only the version of myself that could've been in Slytherin. They don't look at all of me. I don't know how to explain it—maybe you can relate—but they ignore who I am when they're mad; they just look at the choices I've made that they don't like, and when they're nice to me, they ignore my choices. They pretend that nothing has changed about me since first year, when I stopped studying the Dark Arts."

The others processed this.

Finally, Lily said, "I think I understand. In the reverse sense, at least. My parents often complain that they can't tell anyone I'm a witch. Hogwarts, and magic, that's all they care to know about my life when they write." She paused and pulled a piece of lint off of her shorts. "And you saw how they treated you all. My life has become their source of entertainment. Well, something they can focus on to distract themselves from work, and whatever else." Lily fidgeted under everyone's gaze. "What about you, Jacob?"

"Er…" He recalled how it used to be with the Dursleys. "They—my parents—don't like magic. They're afraid of it. They make it clear that I'm not wanted." Harry noticed Lily's expression of concern. "But, yeah, in the end, they cared—I mean, they care about me. I suppose, it's like not appreciating something that's constantly around you, to point that the person's a bother, but when there's a chance for them to be gone, you realize how important they are." Harry rarely talked about his family with Lily. It felt more real than usual, this time.

"Now you'd be wanting me to say something, right?" Severus' tone was blunt, his eyes locked on the rug. "You've already heard all of it." Severus sipped his tea, signaling the end of the discussion.

The other three fell silent. Harry knew that he needn't feel bad for inventing problems, especially when he knew the most about Severus' home life. The two girls, however, seemed to realize their family issues were more trivial than Severus'.

Lily lit up. "Hang on. I thought of something we could do! It's a Muggle game that my sister played at one of her friends' birthday parties. It's called Spin the Bottle."

Harry flashed back to the summer before his fifth year in the original timeline. Dudley was having a belated birthday party; belated because the family (minus Harry) had taken a trip to France for the initial celebration. Vernon and Petunia agreed to leave Dudley alone in the house until midnight after he whined about privacy. Harry stayed upstairs in his room until he realized Vernon had told him to take the trash out. He snuck downstairs, making as little noise as possible, though Dudley and his friends were being loud enough to cover his tracks. The group had moved furniture and sat on the carpet, a bottle spinning between them. The most memorable, albeit frightening, image that arose was of Dudley slobbering on a girl who would later be his girlfriend (for a week).

"No, I don't think there's enough people," said Harry, shuddering.

"Oh. Yeah, that's true. It was just a thought."

"How do you play?" asked Severus.

Before Lily could respond, Harry cut in, "Doesn't matter. But we don't need to play a game, talking's fine."

Suspicious, Severus raised an eyebrow at Harry, but they moved on.

Lily now seemed intent on avoiding serious subjects. "Oo, okay, so if you had to date anyone at school, who would it be?" She looked at Harry.

"I dunno." Harry frowned. "Violetta."

Lily blinked. "Isn't she a little too old for you? And besides, she's doesn't go to Hogwarts anymore."

"Fine. Florence, then."

Lily remained skeptical, but didn't push the subject.

"What about you, Lily?" asked Raven, trying to sound teasing. There was an audible forcefulness in her voice.

Lily glanced at Severus. "God, I dunno. Er, there's this Ravenclaw in Potions—"

"Who?" Severus scowled, more frustrated than upset.

"Jonathan Myrad." Jonathan was different from both James and Severus; soft-spoken, generally kind, and not particularly clever.

"What do you see in him?"

"It's not that I like him, but I had to choose someone. And, well, he's handsome."

Raven, watching her expression, nodded. "He is."

Severus scoffed. "So you only like him for his looks?"

"I already said I don't like him. It's just that if I had to choose, and I don't like anyone, then…"

"But that's what matters to you."

Lily drew herself up. "No, it's not. Leave it alone, will you? It was a silly question. Meaningless, really. And besides, you can only pretend looks don't matter, because it has to, at least a little. Don't act like you're an exception."

Harry knew Severus wanted to continue arguing, but Severus had realized, perhaps, as he stared at Lily, that she was right. His gaze was sharp with a counterargument just out of his grasp.

Severus' intensity made Lily blush, and she averted her eyes. "I'm going to get water from the tap. Anybody want something?"

The three shook their heads.

When Lily's footsteps had faded, Raven spoke up. "It doesn't matter to her anymore, you know."

Severus snorted. "Alright."

"It's true. I can tell."

"Oh, can you?" Severus studied his hands, distancing himself.

"I can tell that she—" Raven stopped herself. Severus, hopeful, met her gaze. "She wouldn't befriend someone she only notices for looks, so obviously it doesn't matter. She talks to you, though—"

"So you're saying I'm—"

"Which means you'll always mean more to her. And look, I don't know why you still believe you're not good-looking—you've got beautiful eyes, you know, and that's not all you have going in your favor—" She fidgeted, but kept looking at him, and continued, "And there's not much to compete against at our school, take Pettigrew, for example—"

"Thanks," said Severus, stopping Raven mid-sentence.

Raven blushed and nodded. He gave her a small smile to tell her he meant it.

Lily came in, shutting the door behind her. "Sorry, I had to let Harry go outside."

Harry? Oh, right, the dog.

Severus fumbled with an apology. "Look, earlier, I didn't mean to—"

"It's okay." Lily sat down. "You know, I just admired Jonathan from afar, I know there's more to him than what I said. But, when I was with James, I don't think he saw much beyond what…he could just look at."

It was clear she had been thinking of what to say, but Harry didn't believe what she had said was true; it was just her way to understand their relationship. He knew there was more to it than that.

"How about you, Severus? Anyone in the school, who would you pick?" asked Lily.

Severus raised his head and studied her. Lily's brow furrowed almost imperceptibly, as though realizing that he might choose her. Then he replied, "Professor McGonagall, most likely."

Raven, still tense, smirked. "You're not serious, I hope?"

Severus hid a grin as the others laughed.

"I didn't know we could choose professors," complained Harry. "In that case, Grubbly-Plank, definitely."

Lily nodded in agreement. "Right, Violetta is too old, but Grubbly-Plank is fair game."

Severus was relieved that the topic of who he fancied was dropped.

On Christmas Eve, Lily padded down the stairs in a dress and tights, holding a stack of records. "Okay, I've got the Jackson 5 Christmas Album, this one's just called A Christmas Album—that's Barbra Streisand, and here's Elvis' Christmas Album."

Severus shrugged, but Lily looked to Harry, the only other (supposed) Muggle-born.

"Jackson 5," suggested Harry.

"Jackson 5 it is." Lily put it on the record player and set the needle on the record.

As soon as it started playing, Lily grinned. She turned and took Severus' hand, and they started to dance.

Harry and Raven, though awkward at first, followed their lead.

"Jacob, have you got a moment?" Mrs. Evans called over the music.

Harry shot Raven an apologetic look before going into the kitchen.

"Can you chop these up for me?" Mrs Evans placed a cutting board, salad bowl, three knives, and vegetables on the counter in front of him.

Harry was used to cooking; he had hours upon hours of experience of simply cutting up food, thanks to the Dursley's. Mrs. Evans didn't seem to notice the skill in his hands; she was frying meat as she observed the others.

"So, what's going on with Lily and Severus?" she asked, turning on the faucet to rinse a pan.

Harry hesitated, then went back to the peppers. "What do you mean?"

"You know, do they fancy each other?" Mrs. Evans forced a gossipy smile.

"No. They would've told me."

"Are you certain? You can tell me. It'd be just between us."

"I'm certain." Harry put the peppers in with the rest of the salad. "Is that all?"

Mrs. Evans soured slightly. "Yes. Thanks."

Harry went back to the living room. He was now aware of Mrs. Evans' eyes pressing on them.

A half hour later, Petunia, Rebecca, and Mr. Evans filed into the room, carrying boxes of ornaments. "Time to decorate the tree!"

"Hang on, I have the biscuits. C'mon, everyone, help yourselves." Mrs. Evans offered one to each person. "Rebecca, this is your first time over, so I'll explain; if you get the biscuit with chocolate in the middle, you get to put the star on the tree. Who was it that had it last year? Oh, Petunia, that's right."

Everyone took a bite of their biscuit, then examined the inside. Severus presented his to the group. "I have it."

"Oh, how exciting!" Lily beamed at him.

"Hang on, is this everything?" Mrs. Evans surveyed the boxes of ornaments.

Mr. Evans sat down in his armchair. "I don't know, it was hard to tell. We couldn't get the light on."

"Then I'll go up with the kids to check." She motioned to the four of them. "C'mon."

The attic was stuffed with bins, and ten degrees colder than downstairs. Mrs. Evans looked for a lightbulb while she spoke. "Severus, your family lives close to us, do they not?"

"Er, yeah." He glanced at Lily.

"Where, exactly?"

"Down on Spinner's End.

Mrs. Evans faltered as she unscrewed the lightbulb. She knew enough about the area to realize that Severus was poor. "Oh, okay, right by the factory." She put the new bulb in, tone lighter than before. "Well, are you going to see your parents? Are they going to meet us?"

Severus squinted and blinked in the light. "Er—no, I wasn't planning on it."

"I don't mean to pry, but…why not? They do know you're staying here, don't they?" Mrs. Evans directed them to the boxes in the back.

Severus hesitated. "No, ma'am."

Lily brushed against Severus' shoulder, letting him know she would handle it. "Mum, they don't get along."

"Oh, come now, I'm sure they would love to see you. Besides, I don't feel comfortable with you staying here and them not knowing…"

Severus frowned and crossed his arms. "My parents are dead."

Mrs. Evans gasped a little, then looked to Lily, who shook her head to signal that he was lying. "Oh. Why on earth would you say something like that?"

Severus gave a little shrug, then reached across her to pick up a box. Mrs. Evans caught sight of a scar on his hand, and fell silent.

They brought the ornaments down and began to decorate. After the lights and ornaments had been hung up, there was one thing left.

Mrs. Evans handed Severus the star. "Be careful with it."

Lily rolled her eyes. "It's alright, it's not a family heirloom or anything. Here, I'll get you something to stand on." Lily carried over a stool that wobbled as Severus stepped up. Lily held it in place as he balanced on the top step. As Severus reached to top the tree, he tensed, as though willing himself not to break anything.

Severus placed the star. Once he had stepped back, everyone except Petunia clapped. Severus seemed proud that for once, he hadn't messed things up.

It was nearly eleven at night on the Sunday before Christmas when Severus said to Harry, "I want to see my mother. I have a couple of potions to give her."

"Okay, but I thought you didn't want to see her." Harry yawned; he was ready to sleep.

"I didn't, but now I do. And…I didn't say anything before because I didn't want Raven and Lily to know, much less Lily's mother. They haven't met her and they don't have to be involved. If we left in an hour, they wouldn't know we were gone."

"I'm assuming your mum's not working?"

"She doesn't work on Sundays."

"Okay, well, wake me up when you're ready."

An hour later, the two creeped upstairs and dressed for the cold weather. Once outside and a ways down the street, Harry offered his arm to Severus and Apparated before Severus' house.

Severus approached and knocked on the door. He was met with silence. Then, after nearly a minute, the door opened.

Eileen stood in the doorway, her hair up in a lopsided, improvised style, eyes tired.

"Severus." She smiled and hugged him.

Harry stepped away in surprise; he hadn't seen her show affection before.

Her long fingernails gripped Severus' back. "You came to stay for New Year's."

Severus pulled away. "Actually, no. I wanted to give you these." He reached into his pocket and produced three vials. "I labeled them, but just in case…this one is for your back." He handed it to her. "If father drinks a few drops of this, he'll go to sleep. Just be careful, or he'll get suspicious. And don't put in too much." Severus handed her the liquor-colored vial. "This last one you've used before. For protection."

Eileen pocketed them, glancing behind her. "Thank you. Your father's asleep, why don't you come inside?" She didn't seem to acknowledge Harry.

"No, we have to be going." Severus squirmed under her stare. "Listen, take care of yourself, okay?" He started to turn.

"Alright. Fine. Go on then. I don't mind, just leave me here with him, won't you!"

Severus kept walking. Harry followed, flinching at her words.

"YOU'RE NO BETTER THAN THE REST OF THEM! YOUR FATHER, THE PIGS AT WORK—YOU'LL BE JUST LIKE THEM!"

A few lights in the surrounding houses turned on. Eileen slammed the door.

Severus had stopped walking, and his eyes were shut. Harry didn't know what to say.

"C'mon," said Severus finally, as though he had been waiting. They Apparated back to Lily's.

When they were beginning to fall asleep again, Harry said, "Your mother seemed a lot different from when I last saw her."

Severus sighed. "She's very…possessive of me. Can we—I want to forget about it, okay?"

"Okay. Goodnight." Harry knew how to work out the reasoning and actions behind kids, but adults were more complicated. He did know that the increased attention Eileen had shown Severus did not mean her love had grown.

Christmas passed. Severus, Raven, and Harry met several members of the Evans family when they visited for dinner. Petunia kept her distance, for the most part, and Mr. and Mrs. Evans gave them room as they warmed up to Severus. The stone Severus had given Lily during their first year at Hogwarts now read, "Lily Evans and Severus Snape." There were two words left.

The last full day before they went to school was quiet, but no one dared to think it was boring. They knew they had to appreciate the precious time they had before school.

Lily got up from the sofa and addressed the other three. "Let's take Harry for a walk."

Raven and Severus had stopped reacting when Lily said the dog's name, but Harry still felt strange. "Alright, where to?"

"Just along the river. There's a pond five or ten minutes away by foot."

"Let's go, then!"

They bundled up and set off alongside the river, which was only partly frozen. Harry noticed the ruins of the wooden bridge that had collapsed when Severus walked across it.

Raven took in the unfamiliar surroundings. She was the only one who hadn't spent time over the summer to bond.

Lily took a careful step onto the ice, hand in hand with Severus. "You don't think it'll break, do you?"

"I don't think you should risk it." Severus hung back, but his arm was stretched all the way. He dropped his hand to his side and watched her start to walk.

Lily turned. "Well, are you coming?"

Severus hesitated, then followed her onto the ice.

Raven and Harry stood by the edge, both prepared for the surface to collapse.

Severus struggled to walk quickly, as though he had never been on ice before. It was likely that this was his first time. Lily, however, was determined to get to the other side. She noticed Severus was falling behind and turned just in time to see his feet give out beneath him. Severus landed hard on his back.

Harry, Raven, and Lily all shuffled toward Severus. Harry could hear heaves of sound from his direction, and thought the boy was crying.

When they reached him, however, they realized he was laughing. Harry couldn't remember the last time Severus had laughed so hard—if he ever had to begin with.

Lily started to giggle, then Raven, and soon they were all laughing, clouds of their breath rushing into the sky.

In early February, Raven was helping Harry with his History of Magic essay on the rights of elves when a first-year approached Harry. "Dumbledore wants to see you in his office."

Harry felt a swoop in his stomach. "Did he say what for?"

"Dunno. Professor McGonagall told me to tell you."

"Okay. Thanks for helping, Raven, I think I can manage now."

"Alright…but I have a lot more to explain about guidelines on house-elf welfare, you know."

Harry paused, realizing the similarity to Hermione. He stood and made his way to leave.

Raven grabbed his arm. "Hang on, you don't think Dumbledore knows, do you?"

Harry tried not to panic. "I hope not." He climbed out through the portrait hole and made his way to Dumbledore's office. He realized, standing before the gargoyle, that he didn't know the password. Just as he was about to guess, the entrance opened. Harry climbed up the spiral staircase, willing his hands not to shake.

Dumbledore sat at his desk, fingers steepled.

Harry cleared his throat. "You called, sir?"

"Ah, yes…Jacob, sit down, please."

Harry did so, glancing at the Sorting Hat that was propped on the stool beside Dumbledore.

"I wanted to meet with you about your prefect duties."

Harry relaxed and nodded, observing the office, trying to distract himself. Not much had changed from when he was a student, though there were some objects missing here and there.

"It would be safe to assume that everything is going smoothly?" Dumbledore studied Harry, brilliant blue eyes twinkling behind his spectacles.

The emotions stirred by talking to Dumbledore were overpowered by Harry's fear that Dumbledore had figured out Jacob Walker was a lie. "Yeah, everything's fine. Er, to be honest, I don't actually do much, sir."

Dumbledore nodded once, slowly. He continued, more casually, "And how is Remus? I have not spoken with him in a while."

"Good. There haven't been any recent incidents with his transformations." Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw a flash of gold. His throat contracted as he stared at the six-ringed Time-Turner on a shelf to the right of Dumbledore.

"I am glad to hear that." Dumbledore raised his eyebrow just enough for Harry to notice.

Harry swallowed and shifted in his chair. He forced himself not to look at the Hat or the Time-Tuner. "Well, I have loads of homework so I should probably go—"

"Of course." Dumbledore smiled. "Have a nice evening. If you ever need to reach me, feel free to stop by."

"Yeah." Harry stood and hurried out of the room. He broke into a sprint as soon as he was in the corridor. There were two—no, three, possible explanations for Dumbledore having the Time-Turner.

Harry ran through the portrait hole, up the stairs to the dorm, and grabbed Hermione's purse. Harry rummaged for a moment before finding the Time-Turner. He sighed with relief. He wasn't trapped here. Harry's first instinct had been that Dumbledore took his Time-Turner.

But maybe it was the other way around.

"What's going on? What did he say?" Raven hurried into the room, closing the door behind her.

Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I think Dumbledore knows. He didn't say anything about it…but I saw—I saw he had a Time-Turner that was like mine."

Raven sat down on Remus' bed. "Does that mean you used his Time-Turner?"

"I don't know. It makes sense—the Time-Turner Ginny gave me could've been modified or invented by Dumbledore…or maybe someone gave it to him?"

Raven shook her head. "If you say they're identical, and it's different from the usual ones, it has to've been from Dumbledore. And you know how you're confused about how the whole time thing is working out? Well, maybe Dumbledore's Time-Turner works differently, and that's why time, as far as we can tell, isn't screwed up."

There was a knock at the door, then Severus entered. "What happened?"

Harry caught him up quickly.

Severus' brow furrowed. "Did the Headmaster give it to her?"

"Would he have had time, though, before he died?"

Severus shrugged, averting his eyes as he remembered that he was the one who'd killed Dumbledore. "She could've stolen it."

Harry considered this. "Maybe, but it was probably magically protected. It could've been moved from Dumbledore's office…or maybe McGonagall went through his things and gave it to her." He knew the shallowness of his theories; there was only one that he actually believed was likely. "If Dumbledore, somehow, gave Ginny the Time-Turner…well, why would he have? And why wouldn't he have given it to me directly? Why didn't Ginny tell me who it was from? And what does Dumbledore expect me to do?"

Raven and Severus glanced at each other. No one had an answer.

Harry didn't want to jump to conclusions, but what if Dumbledore had wanted him to change time? That couldn't be right. Dumbledore would have helped him accept that bad things happen and he shouldn't try to change them.

Raven stood. "I'm gonna go back downstairs. Harry, if you need anything, tell me, alright? And…I wouldn't think about it too much. If you can't ask him in this time, then there's really no way to find out, so you needn't worry about it."

Severus followed Raven out.

Raven's right, thought Harry. I can't ask the Dumbledore of the past, so I won't know until I get back to my time.

Harry didn't want to assume the connection, but he couldn't help wondering if he was following what Dumbledore had intended for him to change.

A week later, Lily sat down next to Harry, beaming. "Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!"

"You too. Er, I mean—" Severus fumbled with what to say.

Lily smirked. "It's okay. I know what you mean." She turned to the others. "So, what are you all planning on doing in Hogsmeade?"

Raven took Remus' hand. "We're going to the bookstore for tea and…there's a few books we want to read. What about you two?"

"Er, us three." Lily glanced at Harry. "I was thinking we'd get a Butterbeer." Severus and Harry nodded.

Raven squeezed Remus' hand, then gave them a small wave. "Okay, well, see you around."

"Hang on, Remus." Lily took his arm and looked him in the eye. "Do James and Sirius have anything planned for today? Any pranks we should watch out for?"

Remus scratched his head and squirmed a bit. "No pranks," he replied carefully.

Lily glanced at Severus, relieved. "Okay, then we'll see you 'round."

The three finished their breakfast before heading to Hogsmeade. They shopped for a few hours before going to the Three Broomsticks. As they finished a second round of butterbeers, Severus' eyes locked on something behind them. "I thought it was a coincidence at first, but Potter has been following us since we left. Wait, don't look!" He grabbed her arm. "Sorry. We shouldn't let on."

"I thought Remus said they wouldn't prank us!"

"Well, technically Potter's just stalking us."

Lily scoffed, then became thoughtful. "I feel bad, Remus being torn between our friend groups—"

"It's his choice to be friends with them."

Harry crossed his arms. "It's his choice to be friends with us."

Severus pursed his lips, holding back from arguing further.

"So what should we do?"

Severus thought for a moment. "How about a Love Potion?"

Lily shook her head. "Not on me, you're not."

"No. No, of course not." Severus pulled a vial out of his cloak.

"You carry Love Potions with you?" Lily raised an eyebrow. "Should I be concerned?"

Severus blinked. "No, I have more potions than just this. They're in case of…emergency."

"Oo, watch out, it's the Potions Master."

Harry raised an eyebrow at Lily.

Severus smiled a little, relieved. "Well, this is a potion for temporary love at first sight. It's a lot easier to induce love for the first person the drinker sees than to induce love for someone specific."

"Who should Potter see, then?"

The three looked around the pub for ideas. Harry's eyes fell upon the shrunken heads guarding the entrance. "How about them?"

Lily looked to Severus. "Would it work?"

Severus' eyes darkened with a sort of deviance that could be matched with his past self, the one on his way to becoming a Death Eater. "I believe so. Does anyone have a chocolate, or something?"

Harry looked to Lily and Severus, then realized he had one. "Here."

Lily raised her eyebrows. "Who's it from, Jacob?"

"I don't remember her name." Harry didn't understand what it was about Jacob Walker that attracted girls; it wasn't as though he were famous, and he hardly spoke to anyone outside his immediate group of friends.

Severus set the chocolate on the table and tipped a few drops of potion onto it. The droplets sank into the chocolate, which was now bright red. "That should do it. Alright, here's how this'll work: Lily, you leave the chocolate here, okay, and write a note that says…here's a quill and parchment…that says, 'Dear James, Happy Valentine's Day. I hope you like the chocolate,' or something along those lines." He waited for her to finish. "And then write, 'Jacob and Severus think I'm writing a note to tell you to bugger off. Really, though, I want to meet you in private. Go to the shrunken heads and…they'll tell you where to meet me.'"

Lily took a few moments to finish writing. "Well, then you and Harry should leave. Meet me across the street." Then she spoke more loudly, making sure Sirius and James heard: "I'll meet you over at Zonko's."

Harry and Severus left the Three Broomsticks and headed across the street to hide. A couple minutes after, Lily came out and hurried across the snowy road.

She shuffled to a stop and grabbed Harry's arm to steady herself. "The heads agreed to relay my message after I told I them I was getting revenge. They were pretty understanding."

Severus put a hand on her shoulder. "But you didn't tell him the real point was for James to fancy them, did you?"

"Should I not have?"

The door of the Three Broomsticks opened and James came out, and although it was hard to tell from their distance, he appeared hopeful.

James carried the chocolate in his hand.

Lily gripped Harry's cloak. "Oh, no, he didn't eat it."

"Well, of course he didn't eat it. The heads didn't want to be licked by such a pri—" He noticed Lily's embarrassment and redirected her attention. "Look, there, he must be going over to Sirius and Peter." As he made his way, James ate the chocolate. His stride faltered momentarily, then he continued with new purpose.

"Who did he see?" Lily craned her neck around the corner.

"Either Black or Pettigrew."

"But which one of them did he see first?"

James said something to Peter, pointing at the parchment in Peter's hand. He seemed to say, "Can Sirius and I have a moment?"

As Peter shuffled over to Zonko's Joke Shop, James confronted Sirius, his dramatic expression evident even from where the three watched down the street. Confusion deepened in Sirius' expression.

Then James kissed Sirius.

Lily put a hand to her mouth. "Oh my." She stifled a giggle.

But none of them expected Sirius to reach into James' hair, pushing his lips back with equal force.

A few students stopped to make sure that what they were seeing was actually happening.

As Sirius and James continued in their embrace, Lily and Harry maintained a shocked silence, whereas Severus started to laugh.

Harry was the first to speak. He turned to Severus. "Did you give Sirius a love potion, too?"

"No," managed Severus between bouts of laughter.

"Do you think Sirius knows that Potter…?" Lily processed their realization differently; she then made a decision and started toward the two boys.

Severus groaned, and his smile faded. "What is she doing?" He and Harry rounded the corner and jogged to catch up.

"Clear out, everyone." Lily put her hands up, dispersing the crowd. "We gave both of them a Love Potion. We were just getting payback for James being a creep. That's all right, you can laugh. Ha ha. Okay, nothing to see here."

Sirius parted from James, still gripping his friend's coat collar. He studied James, realizing the true cause of his dopey expression. Sirius' face cracked in horror and he pushed James away before storming off.

"I'll go after Sirius," offered Lily.

Severus held James back from chasing after Sirius as Harry uncorked the cure. He persuaded James to drink it, then Severus and Harry both sprinted in the opposite direction.

When they were at the outskirts of the town, they slowed to a walk. "There's Lily and Sirius." The two had stopped by the fence that surrounded the Shrieking Shack.

Upon seeing Harry and Severus, Sirius nodded a curt goodbye to Lily and hurried past them.

"Well?"

Lily considered them. "Can I trust you not to tell anyone?"

Severus and Harry nodded.

"Okay. So Sirius wasn't under a spell or a potion. But if anyone asked, he was, and we're responsible. Got it?"

Severus' eyes widened. "So he is a fairy."

Lily crossed her arms. "He said he doesn't know. And, besides that, it's none of your business."

Severus stared at Lily, mouth ajar. "Why are you protecting him?"

"I'm not protecting him. It's a stupid thing to be made fun of, you know. He's a jerk, but people should focus on that instead of something silly like…well, you know."

Harry felt the full force of what it meant to not have known Sirius at all. Sirius had fancied his dad. If he had in this timeline, it was possible it happened before. "We'd better go before James comes after us."

That evening, Sirius and James were awkward around each other, even when doing something as innocent as studying. It was strange; the ease they always expressed in each other's presence was gone. This was heightened by the whispers and stares that followed their every move.

The turn of events satisfied Severus immensely, but it was clear he wished for James to know the truth. His promise to Lily was all that held him back.

The next month, word spread through the school that the Ministry had won a significant battle over the Death Eaters. The excitement was quickly distinguished amongst the students; the Slytherins collectively did not speak for the entire day.

It wasn't a relief to have the Slytherins silent because they simply stared, faces unreadable like the masks of Death Eaters, their expressions dark. At breakfast and lunch, their table was devoid of sound. The other students became queasy with dread and began to doubt the success of the Ministry. The professors took points from Slytherin and gave dozens of detentions instead of sending them to their dorms. The professors kept the Slytherins around only because they valued the students' education. The Marauders spent their time trying to get the Slytherins to react; whispering in their ears, singing to them, dry-humping them, insulting them. The Marauders' failure to make any progress worsened the mood of the students.

Severus was quiet throughout the day, which he explained was because, "…I'm just thinking." Then, two hours before dinner, he left for the library. Harry, Lily, and Raven remained in the Study Hall, squirming uncomfortably under the glares of the silent Slytherins.

Severus reappeared that evening. Halfway through supper, Severus said, "You know what you do to a Boggart when it shows you your worst fear?"

Harry still stared at the Slytherin table. "You turn it into something that you're not afraid of."

"We haven't learned about Boggarts yet. How do you two know?" Lily looked between them.

Severus swallowed, composing a lie. Harry could tell the boy was suffocating the memories of the incident from fourth year. "I…read ahead. Anyway, just wait…" He looked over at the Slytherins.

As the Clock Tower chimed seven thirty, the faces of the Slytherins changed. The pallor of their skin turned white. They gradually began to realize what was happening, rather comically, by pointing at each other's faces. Some turned in their seats, garnering the attention of the students around them. Harry realized what the pale face and black lips and eyes added up to—Severus had turned the Slytherins into mimes.

All at once, the Great Hall was filled with laughter. Even Dumbledore, Harry noted, had trouble hiding a smile. He glanced over to their table. At first Harry thought Dumbledore assumed it was him, but he must have been studying the Marauders, who were in hysterics just beyond Harry.

Raven regarded Severus. "How'd you do it?"

"First, I figured out which curse they used. I realized, as soon as Sirius pretended to do something very graphic to Mulciber—"

Lily couldn't hold back a giggle. "That was in Potions, right? With his wand?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Anyhow, I realized that it'd be impossible for anyone to keep calm through that, and I know none of them are very good as an Occlumens. It was described in one of the first books I bought; the curse ensures that the person is unable to speak or move suddenly. It's almost an Unforgivable, but not completely binding, so even the Ministry uses it, especially when transporting prisoners." Severus noticed their attention was fading. "Well, anyway, I invented a potion to make them look like mimes. I convinced the house-elves to let me put the potion in their drinks—"

"How'd you manage that?" asked Harry.

"It was simple: purebloods treat them the worst."

Raven cut in. "Because purebloods are the only ones who can afford them. Given the opportunity—"

"Hang on—" Lily continued to gape at Severus. "You invented a potion?"

Raven and Severus glanced at each other, both having history in the area. Severus shrugged. "I've done it before."

"Oh." Lily blinked. "Carry on with the story, then."

"So the potion should last for twelve hours. Since I came up with it, that's how long it'll take them to invent an antidote. And because the potion forces them to be quiet; now they can only move their lips slightly."

"Sev, you're brilliant." Lily hugged him.

The four looked back to the Slytherin table; some of the younger students who had been the most afraid came up to the Slytherins and mocked them, or, more appropriately, mimed them. There was nothing the Slytherins could do to retaliate while the staff was right there. Some of the Slytherins got up to go back to their dorms, others tried to seem as though they weren't bothered by their transformation.

James had noticed the hug and approached their table. Many students had come to the Marauders' table to congratulate them, so convinced they had done it that they were oblivious to half-hearted protests by the Marauders that they were innocent.

"Do you know who did this, Snape?" asked James, voice low.

Severus didn't respond at first, surprised at James' calm tone. "I did."

James' eyebrows flickered up, then he extended his hand. "Well done, mate."

Severus stared at the hand before reaching out and shaking it.

James averted his eyes, conflicted and awkward, then rejoined Remus, Sirius, and Peter.

Lily was too shocked to comment, but something else struck her. "Severus, I thought of something. Are they—the Slytherins—gonna know it's you?"

Severus nodded gravely. "I'm expecting them to."

Lily rested her hand on his arm. "Look, you should know that it was worth it. What you did last year when they attacked us—that was certainly not cowardly. But I think, now more than ever, you are truly brave to stand up to them."

"I'm not becoming like Potter, am I?"

"No," Raven replied immediately, before Lily could reply. "I mean, you stand up for what you believe in, but a lot of people do that, not just James." She nudged Harry. Raven had previously made it clear to Harry that he wasn't like his father. He found it odd, then, that so many people in the original timeline been convinced that they were so like each other.

Lily took her hand off Severus' arm and put a slice of toast on her plate. "Severus, we just need to make sure they don't spring anything on you, alright?"

Three days later, Severus left Lily's sight. It was as simple as her venting while looking out beyond one of the Hogwarts courtyards. She didn't notice when Harry and Severus pulled away from either side of her.

Mulciber and Avery took their wands and threw the two boys behind a stone pillar that bordered the courtyard. What about Lily? Where's Lily? thought Harry, head in agony. Perhaps they underestimated her.

"Mulciber." Harry heard Severus say.

"That was very clever, what you pulled the other day. Your only flaw? You forget that house-elf scum have a tendency to provide information to anyone who asks. Or, rather, whoever has the right methods of persuasion."

Severus' words were labored. "Who said…I didn't want you to…know it was me?" This statement was punctuated with a gasp of pain.

Harry saw Avery pull Lily over toward him. Head pounding, Harry tried to get to his feet. He was knocked back by a Body-Binding spell.

Avery held Lily's wand in his other hand. Before Avery realized the carelessness in keeping it so close to her, Lily kicked him in the shin, grabbed her wand, and disarmed them both. Before they could make a go for a wand, she stunned them.

They were flung into the courtyard. Professor Sprout, who was on her way to the greenhouses, started and looked around. When Mulciber and Avery recovered and got to their feet, they ran.

Lily, breathing hard, waited until they were gone before she dropped her arm and went to Severus' side.

"Are you okay?" Lily looked around; there were no other witnesses, except Harry, whom she remembered upon seeing. "Jacob?"

Harry couldn't respond.

"Finite Incantatem!"

Harry, freed, gave a weak thumbs up, then forced himself into a sitting position.

Lily propped Severus' head on her lap and brushed his cheek with her hand. "I'm sorry. Are you badly hurt?"

Severus' voice came out as a whisper, his eyes closing momentarily with pleasure as her fingers brushed his face. "Of course not. I'm fine. I think we should break their wands."

"No, it's not worth it, and you'll get in trouble. This is fine." Though probably unintentionally, "this" seemed to refer to be their intimacy in that moment.

Harry got to his feet, realizing that almost two years ago, when Lily protected Severus, he had rejected her in favor of the Dark Arts. Now, he had accepted her protection.

More than that, they had accepted each other's.

 


Chapter 17: Room of Requirement
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"Good morning, class. My name is Professor Lastoel. Some of you may have heard that Professor Ilen was killed over the holidays…"

The students, especially those who hadn't known, flinched at the bluntness of his tone.

"…So I'll be starting where she left off. If I call on you, please tell me your name." He strode to the chalkboard and wrote "Boggarts." Then he called on a student to explain what a boggart was.

Harry glanced at Remus. It was in Harry's third year that they learned about boggarts in a way that would eventually teach Harry's class to overcome their fears.

"It so happens that I was provided with a boggart to use today for a demonstration. I'll need a volunteer…" Lastoel scanned the room, then gestured at Severus, who hadn't raised his hand.

"Severus Snape, sir."

"Mr. Snape, if you'll come up here…okay, now, I'm going to release a boggart, and you'll follow my instruc—"

"I can't, Professor." Severus' face had turned pale.

"Oh, come now, don't be afraid. It's really quite simple—"

Severus shook his head.

Lastoel, his authority threatened, became cold. "By failing to cooperate you are undermining the hours upon hours Professor Ilen spent educating you. Now please, or I'll be forced to take points from your house."

Severus looked between the Professor and the cabinet that contained the boggart. Then he turned and hurried out of the room.

"Five points from Gryffindor. Honestly, you'd think this is a class of first years—"

Harry cut him off. "Professor, did you consider that he's seen his boggart before? What if it became the thing that killed his mum, or had turned into his father's corpse? How does it make us children to not want to see that?"

It was an extreme example, but effective; Professor Lastoel faltered. "Well, he could've said—"

"Can I go to see if he's alright?"

Lastoel was taken aback. "Right, sure. Of course."

Lily stood. "May I go, too, Professor?"

Lastoel waved them on. "Fine. But that's all." At this, Raven reluctantly lowered her hand. Lastoel checked his pocket watch. "You have five minutes."

"Thank you." Lily glanced at Harry, then the two of them left the room. Before exiting, they heard Lastoel say over the sarcastic cries of concern from James and Sirius, "Now. Who thinks their greatest fear is something trivial? Like spiders, perhaps…"

Lily and Harry found Severus sitting a ways down the corridor, his hands pressed over his head.

Lily quickened her pace and knelt at his side. Harry approached more slowly. Unlike Lily, he knew what was wrong.

Severus shook uncontrollably and his breathing was staggered. His eyes seemed glazed over, fixed on something they couldn't see.

"I'm here for you, Sev. I'm not going anywhere." Lily put her arm around Severus and rested her head on his shoulder.

Severus' head lifted slightly. Still shaking, he reached into his cloak with a stiff hand and pulled out a vial. After he struggled to get it open, Lily uncorked it and handed it back, brow furrowed.

Severus tipped the contents of the vial into his mouth. He swallowed, coughing a bit. After a moment, he wiped his eyes and stood. He began to walk back to class, stumbling at first, then continuing on.

Lily gaped at him. "What was that about?"

Severus stopped, turning halfway toward her. "What?" His eyes were relaxed, but tired.

"You just freaked out, with no explanation, and—and what did you take to calm down?"

Severus blinked slowly. "A calming potion, obviously. Draught of Peace. I took a little too much, I think." He was slouching, his voice high-pitched.

Lily went to him. "Okay. Can you tell me what's wrong?"

Eyes closed, Severus shook his head, smiling, acting almost as though he were intoxicated.

"Wait for us for a minute before going back, then." Lily quickly kissed his temple, then turned to Harry, voice hushed. "I know he didn't see either of his parents, who are still alive, but you seemed to know what his boggart would've been."

Harry lowered his voice. "Lily, I can't tell you. He doesn't want you to know what happened. He told me expressly."

They noticed Severus had drifted back into the classroom. Lily sighed. "We'll talk on the way to lunch."

Toward the end of class, when Lastoel let them get started on their essays, Sirius tapped Severus on the shoulder. Severus turned around drowsily; the potion's effects were still in full force. "Yeah?"

Sirius was taken aback by the absence of annoyance in Severus' expression, but he recovered. "Gryffindor house doesn't take cowards, Snivellus. You may have Jacob to stand up for you—"

"Just drop it, Sirius." James flicked a scrap of paper off of his desk, his other hand propping his head up.

"What?"

"Leave him alone. Look, he's on something. It doesn't matter what you say."

"What's he on?"

Harry turned around, impatient. "He's not, he's just tired. And why do you think he's a coward? Your idea of bravery seems to be harassing someone simply because it's what you've always done."

Sirius turned to James, waiting for him to defend himself. But James simply studied Harry.

After class, Severus told them he was going to go take a nap. Raven decided to walk to lunch with Remus.

Lily and Harry, then, were left on their own. "So why would Severus not want me to know what happened? We're best friends!" Lily realized how that sounded. "I'm not saying that you and him aren't, or anything…"

"He doesn't want you to know because he doesn't want you to pity him."

"Why does he think I'd pity him?"

"When you weren't friends, and he'd left the Dark Arts, and this happened, he didn't want you to befriend him again just because you felt sorry for him."

Lily thought of how to respond, eyebrow raised. "Oh, you mean feel sympathetic."

"No, I mean, and I'm speaking for him here, but he doesn't want to be someone you feel the need to protect, or fix."

Lily stopped walking and pulled Harry to the side.

"You're one to talk, Jacob. Since you met him, you've—"

Her aggression caught him by surprise. "He's my friend. I'm just—"

"Looking out for him? You care about him?" Lily softened her tone, searching Harry. "Well I care about him, too."

Harry sighed. "I know. But still…he told me not to tell you."

Lily mulled this over. "Fine. Tell me what happened, and he won't know that I know."

"If I tell you, you can't treat him differently. And you have to promise not to tell a soul, especially Dumbledore or a professor."

"Deal." Lily offered her hand, and they shook on it.

Harry waited until the pre-lunch rush had made its way through the corridor before telling her what had happened.

"…Then they used a boggart to torture him. It turned into you, only—you were dead. And he didn't know it wasn't real."

Lily was pale. Her shock allowed Harry to slip in the worst details, almost without her noticing.

"Wait…what did you say they did?"

"I don't know all of it, that's just what he told me."

"That's—" She gaped at him. "Why? How does that make sense?"

"I know that it's horrible, but why would they beat him, either? They're cruel."

Lily looked away, then her eyes widened, and she met Harry's gaze. "Did his dad do that to him, too?"

Harry nodded. "I don't know the details, but he told me about his dad the summer he ran away from home."

"I didn't realize—I never would've thought…" Lily, choking back tears, slowed and sat down at a nearby bench. "He doesn't always want to be touched, you know. Sometimes, when I hug him, he sort of shrinks away…If I'd known the reason, I would've asked if it was okay first…" Lily fell silent, lost in thought.

Harry sat down next to her. "They haven't messed with him much since then. With the exception, of course, of last month."

"Has he ever broken down like that before, because of what happened?"

"Not that I've know of. He's better, but he hasn't had to deal with it. Since you two became friends again, it's easier to deal with. He's happier."

Lily nodded, eyes fixed on the floor. "I know. I can tell. He cares about things more. He even smiles like he used to when we were kids. I do get the feeling, though, that he's not holding himself together easily. He's just motivated to try."

Harry studied Lily, surprised. She had never seemed to understand so acutely what Severus was feeling.

"Does Raven know about what happened?"

Harry hesitated. "I had to tell her eventually. She was still friends with him then, and she knew everything that'd happened before—"

"Oh." Lily's voice cracked. "Why is it just me who doesn't know anything? Do you think he ever would have told me?"

Harry motioned for them to start walking again. "I think he would have. And maybe it means he cares about your opinion of him the most."

Something flickered in Lily's eyes. She didn't ask Harry anything more.

That evening, James approached Harry, looking oddly…insecure.

"Can we talk?"

Harry exchanged a look with Raven, then stood and followed James upstairs.

As Harry sat down, James closed the door and began to pace. "The Sirius in your time, was he with anyone?"

Harry squinted at James. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, did he have a girlfriend?" James' fingers twitched. He tried to stop them by putting his hands in this pockets.

"No. I'm sorry, why does this matter?"

James faltered. "I—is he…"

"Is he what?"

"Does he fancy me?"

"Sorry?"

"I don't know, I just sometimes think, well…"

Harry shook his head, baffled. "Why couldn't you ask him yourself?"

James turned abruptly. "Because we're friends!"

Harry put his hands up. "For Merlin's sake, alright, I get it."

James started for the door, voice hollow. "Never mind. I'm sorry I brought it up. I thought you might know something." He left.

Harry stared at the floor. Was James starting to have feelings in return for Sirius? It seemed like a joke fate had pulled. Both of his parents were being fawned over by their respective childhood friend, who was also blamed for killing them in the original timeline. Both friends had to live for over a decade without the only person they loved…

That was how Harry reasoned he shouldn't favor one situation over the over. However, he did have a haunting feeling that the timeline had diverged too far for it to last.

On a Friday night in May, Harry wrote in his journal, the lamp beside him casting a warm glow on the paper. He glanced at Severus' bed. Severus had been gone for over an hour; he'd told Harry it was just to take a bath.

When Severus finally returned, he moved delicately, beelining for his dresser. He bent down, opened the bottom drawer, and pulled out something that was shielded from Harry's view.

Harry heard the muffled turning of pages and realized it had to be a book. He cleared his throat. "Where were you for all this time, then?"

Severus started. He put the book back in his drawer and stood. "Where you said to go; the prefects' bathroom. I used some potions I made—"

"What kind of potions?"

Severus blushed. "Nothing that wasn't, er, cosmetic."

"What, like skin softener, or something?" Harry was joking, but Severus' face reddened and he shrugged sheepishly.

"Oh." Harry put his journal in his lap, his attention focused on the nervous way Severus rubbed his hands. It was as though he'd stopped using Occlumency; his movements were less calculated. "So, what's the occasion?"

Severus blinked. "There's no occasion. I was just stressed. Y'know, the O.W.L.s and everything."

"Well, I hardly go to that bathroom, so at least you're making use of it." Harry thought back to Moaning Myrtle and shuddered.

Severus gestured at Harry's journal. "You're writing? It's been a while, hasn't it?" He rubbed the back of his neck, eyes fixed on something Harry couldn't see.

Harry nodded. "I suppose, yeah. I'm…I'm writing about the differences between this timeline and mine." Harry looked back on his writing. "You know, in less than two weeks you'd have called Lily a Mudblood."

Severus flinched at the word, then adjusted the collar on the black pajamas Harry had given him for his birthday. He turned, hesitant, then sat down across from Harry. He seemed to wait until his breath was in a steady rhythm before he spoke. "I…probably should've said this a long time ago, but thank you. For everything you've done."

"Severus—"

"Without you, I'd've lost her. And myself. Even though they'll be after me when I graduate, it'll be worth it. Doing the right thing, and all. I know I haven't been fair to you, even though you've stayed for so long, with little thought of yourself. So whatever happens, know that you did enough. To help me, that is. Whatever debt you thought you owed me—it's paid."

Harry blinked. Why is he bringing this up now? He didn't know how to respond. "You're welcome. And, er, I don't think anything will happen at this point, unless I went back—too much has changed already, what difference would anything else make? I think the scale's already tipped."

Severus looked away, lifting his tone. "Well, that's just it—it wouldn't be wrong if something did happen. It just would mean that this…" he gestured around him, particularly to the crimson and gold drapes by his bed, "…wasn't meant to be."

Harry furrowed his brow. He didn't feel like arguing, but he didn't agree with Severus. Besides that, though, something was off.

Severus looked in the mirror on his nightstand and ran a hand through his hair.

Harry sighed. "Okay, c'mon, you can tell me what you're doing."

Severus hesitated. He met Harry's eyes. "I'm going on a walk with Lily tonight."

"Oh. Okay."

"It's not what you th—"

"I don't think anything. Go ahead." Harry waited a moment, tapping his foot, before asking, "What time?"

"Midnight. Why? You wouldn't follow us, would you?"

Harry flushed. "No, why would I—no, I won't. So you'll need the cloak, then?"

"Yeah, that would help."

Severus stood, and so did Harry. Then Severus hugged him. And he truly embraced him, not as though he were reluctant or obligated. He gripped the back of Harry's shirt.

"Er, what are you…" Although taken aback, Harry returned the hug, feeling a tingling in his gut.

After a moment, Severus pulled away, lips pressed together. His eyes might've watered, but it was hard to be sure. "I'm sorry. Common room?"

Harry didn't reply, but began to follow him downstairs. Then he stopped. "Actually, you go ahead, I just have to put my journal away." He waited until Severus had gone before he went to Severus' dresser. The bottom drawer was still ajar. Harry assumed that meant any protective spells Severus typically used wouldn't work.

Harry slid the book out from under the potion supplies that partially hid it. He studied the cover of the book quickly as he went to get his purse. The cover was worn, but the lettering was clear; A Collection of Essays on Mysterious Magical Conundrums. Harry put the book in his purse, which he put back before going down to the common room. He wondered if Severus was hiding something from him.

Lily and Severus were already sprawled out by the fireplace with Raven and Remus. Lily dealt cards for Exploding Snap.

"You all know how to play the Classic way, right?"

Remus glanced at the other Marauders, who were still trying to study for the O.W.L.s. "We always play 'Patience.'"

"I find that hard to believe." Severus nodded toward James, who was complaining about Peter's inability to understand the Potions essay.

Remus smirked. "You're right."

They played a few rounds, but when it became clear that Lily was bound to win every time, they stopped.

It felt good to just relax after their time had been consumed by schoolwork. After some second years went up to bed, the group moved to the couch and armchairs in front of the fireplace.

Raven and Remus curled up together on the couch. Harry wondered, watching the pair from the corner of his eye, if anyone had loved Remus before Tonks in the original timeline. Had Remus not believed he deserved Tonks because he fell for Lily, who ended up with his best friend? Had that made him give up on finding love?

Harry tuned back in to what Lily was saying.

"…after the O.W.L.s, we just have the N.E.W.T.s, and before you know it—we'll be graduating."

Severus considered Lily, expression hard. When she looked back at him, he forced himself to smile. "Yeah. Then we'll be fighting in the Order, right?"

Lily smiled. "Yeah. We will." Harry had the feeling that she was no longer talking about all of them, just her and Severus. Lily shook herself from her thoughts and peered over at Remus and Raven. "Are you two joining the Order after Hogwarts, or will you have a job?"

Raven lowered her hand from the the side of Remus' face. "The Order. But that's a long time away, isn't it?"

Lily shrugged. "It seems far away now, but…" her attention was caught by Aluria, Florence, and Cheresse. She smiled at them. The trio glanced at each other before returning the gesture.

Remus took Raven's hand. "I know what you mean. James wants to leave school as soon as he turns seventeen. Sirius would go with him, of course. I'm not sure if I want to; it's only a couple months before we graduate."

Severus couldn't hide the loathing from his voice. "What about Peter?" He glanced at Harry.

Remus shifted, glancing over at Peter. "I'm not sure. I think he'd come, too."

There was a moment of silence. Severus watched Remus as he wrapped his arm around Raven. Harry thought it would be fitting if Severus had a pad of paper to take notes on, judging by the intensity of the boy's gaze. There might've been jealousy in his eyes, but his expression was hard to read.

"Walker!" James called from across the room.

"What?" Over the past years, he'd learned to respond to Jacob Walker more quickly than to Harry Potter.

"C'mere."

Harry glanced at Severus and Lily, then got up and went over to the studying area.

"Right, can you help Peter with Potions? He's trying so hard, but—" James dramatically lowered his voice, "thinking is not his strong suit."

Sirius leaned back in his chair. Harry hadn't noticed how close he was getting to his adult self. Granted, at sixteen, he was more toned, less marked by age, and his facial hair remained out of laziness rather than intention. "Aw, give the bloke a break. Who gives a rat's arse if he can't make a—what? Why are you laughing?" He sat up in his seat, genuinely concerned.

"Mate." James bit his tongue, eyes locked on Sirius'. "Rat's arse?"

Sirius blinked. "Oh. Ohh!" He grinned at Peter.

Harry rolled his eyes. "So do you need my help or not?"

"Oh, yeah. Peter, you tell him what you need help with."

"Alright."

Harry made no effort to be nice to Peter, but was forced to be helpful or else he'd be stuck with Peter for hours.

"Do you get it now?"

"Yeah, thank you." Peter smiled up at Harry, who tried his best to return the expression. Maybe Harry could have made an effort to be friends with Peter, solely for the purpose of preventing Peter from betraying James and Lily. But it wasn't a good idea to consciously prevent someone's death, especially his parents'.

"Hey, Aluria." Sirius had leaned back in his chair again. Aluria, Florence, and Cheresse hardly glanced at the three of them as they went up to the room.

"What gives? They used to love us."

James, noting how Sirius had come to terms with what had happened on Valentine's Day, explained, "It's you, Sirius. They don't think you're into girls."

"I wonder what gave them that idea." Sirius' tone was light, but still shadowed with nervousness.

James smirked. "I have no clue."

"Oh, get a room, you two," Peter muttered as he started his essay.

"I think we've broken their hearts too many times, maybe that's why…" James said as Harry walked away.

"…C'mon, at least give me a hint!" Lily said to Severus as Harry sat down on the chair across from her.

"Er, not now," Severus said quickly, eying Harry.

Harry sat down. "A hint about what?"

"It's nothing," Severus cut in quickly.

Lily tilted her head. What could she know that Harry couldn't?

Harry only pretended to fall asleep that night. The Marauders, who'd stayed up late the day before, had retired early. At five minutes to midnight, Harry heard Severus slip out of bed. He heard the slight whoosh of fabric of the Invisibility Cloak, then careful footfalls as Severus approached his bed. When Severus felt satisfied that Harry was asleep, the feet padded away. The door closed.

After waiting for several minutes, Harry cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself, retrieved Severus' book, then left the dorm. He also cast a Muffling Charm to be certain he wasn't discovered.

The common room was deserted. Harry sat down on the couch and lit the candle next to him. He opened A Collection of Essays to the inside cover. The publishing date was 1948, the author, Zaria Ademola. He flipped to the Table of Contents and traced his finger down the page.

There. "The Complexities of Time Travel" by…

Albus Dumbledore.

Harry's stomach leapt. It couldn't be a coincidence. He turned to page 98 and began to read.

Meanwhile, Severus and Lily shuffled around the seventh floor corridor, concealed by the Invisibility Cloak. A door appeared. Severus reached out, twisted the handle, and pushed the door open. After closing the door, he swept the Invisibility Cloak off of them.

Lily walked further in, tentative. "What is this place?" She seemed to be waiting for something to happen, something to explain how serious Severus had been when he offered to show her.

"It's called the Come and Go Room, or the Room of Requirement. I discovered it in fourth year." Severus hung back, watching her. "It's supposed to give you…what you need. So if you needed the loo—"

"It'd give you the loo." Lily smiled and looked around the room with a new interest. It was empty, except for candles floating overhead, and a partially hidden object in the opposite corner of the room, which was covered in a gray sheet. Lily seemed to disregard the object as her gaze passed over it. "What did you need, then?" Lily turned back toward Severus, eyebrows up.

Severus met Lily's eyes, more earnest than she, and opened his mouth to reply.

Then Lily heard noise from outside and the question was dropped, but not forgotten. "It's raining, I think. Can you hear it?" Lily went to one of the windows and peered through the blackness.

While she was distracted, Severus drew closer to the Mirror. He pulled the covering off and looked into the Mirror for the first time in over a year. Lily stood in the glass, appearing exactly as she had always had appeared in the Mirror; dark red hair in waves around her face, her body slight in a white nightgown.

Severus realized, with a jolt, that it was how she appeared now.

"What's this?" Lily came from behind him.

"It's called the Mirror of Erised."

Lily's puzzled eyes searched the glass. She glanced around, confused that her reflection didn't match her environment. Then she looked to the words for an explanation. "'Erised…stra ehru…oyt ube cafru…oyt on wohsi.' Do you know what that means? It doesn't sound like Latin."

Severus studied her and chewed his lip, his breathing light and fragmented. He breathed in carefully. "It means—Well, if you reverse the letters, it says, 'I show not your face…but your heart's desire.'"

Lily looked back at the inscription, then into the Mirror. She crossed her arms, bracing herself. When she spoke, her voice was quiet and cracked a little. "Heart's desire…what would that mean, more specifically? Your best friend?"

Severus' heart pounded. "No, it's what you want more than anything. Something you'd don't have, and if you did have it, you'd never need anything else." He thought about Harry. "If you miss people you lost to the Dark Lord, you might see them. Or, say you wanted to be Minister of Magic—"

"What do you see?" Lily didn't look at him; she was focused on the Mirror.

"Me?" Severus shut his eyes. "I see—I see you." Then he opened them, preparing himself for her reaction, though he didn't know what to expect.

Lily's eyebrows were furrowed. As though she's panicking, Severus thought. Finally, Lily replied, "But I see you, too. You're standing there…safe." She turned to him. "Why—"

Severus leaned in and kissed her. He was hesitant, his lips hardly grazing hers; their lips parted after only a second. Severus kept his face just an inch from Lily's, their breathing uneven. Lily held her breath in shock, eyes locked on his mouth.

Severus had run through this opportunity hundreds of times in his mind, but in his imagination, he always commanded a mysterious sort of confidence. Now, he averted his eyes and straightened, blushing. How could he have been so foolish? It seemed to make sense at the moment, but now…now Severus wanted to run.

Harry, back in the common room, began to read.

I finished school in 1899, the same year experiments in time travel were brought to a close. I remember the days after Eloise Mintumble traveled back in time five hundred years, when time bended, and years of research were at once slowed. Time travel was banned from being involved in the Second Great Muggle War…

Harry, used to skimming, moved past the history and to the first quotations he found.

Saul Croaker has said that "just as the human mind cannot comprehend time, so it cannot comprehend the damage that will ensue if we presume to tamper with its laws."

If I could amend this quote, I would say, "…if we presume to tamper with its laws, which we also do not understand." The wizarding world knows very little about time travel. Some may think that the Ministry is hiding what they know, but their knowledge is also limited.

I should start with the law introduced by Eloise Mintumble's incident. Twenty-five people were un-born as a result of her existing in the past. A Time-Turner, if one goes back far enough, can cause people to be un-born. Unless, for example, the Time-Turner they use splits their reality. If that were the case, realities could develop on their own and not affect the original reality.

The use for a Time-Turner with this ability could be to test hypotheticals (what would happen if a particular event was different). The alternate realities would be disconnected until any changes between the time of entering the alternate reality and returning to the original were set in place by a spell. Think of it like a bubble on the fabric of time. When it's popped, a soapy circle is left in its place. If, however, time is damaged, the alternate timeline could be rubbed away. Time traveling within an alternate reality causes little divots, but the overall shape is maintained.

The most significant paradox of time travel is: what if the time traveler himself is un-born? This is an unusual instance that can only be possible if the time traveler goes back in time before he was born, which is very risky. The traveler will fade from existence. In the present, being un-born is like a jolt, as sudden as Apparition. In the past, being un-born is like cracking a whip; the paradox rolls closer like a tidal wave until it snaps on the person who could not exist in the new reality.

When the time traveler disappears, the alternate reality stops, waiting to be either destroyed or assimilated. This would be nearly impossible to do, unless the time traveler acts before, or could get the Time-Turner to someone else for them to act. The only way to restore the time traveler's existence is to keep him from traveling in the first place, which would also erase the alternate universe.

Another phenomenon is the Time Traveler's Guilt; even if the time traveler makes improvements to his reality, he would prevent a number of specific people from existing, a number that would grow into the thousands over the course of centuries.

Harry, fearing the power of the words, skipped to the end.

Author's Note: Albus Dumbledore has revealed very little about his research. Other scholars have tried to duplicate his findings, solely using the few publicly released experiments the Ministry of Magic has conducted, but to no avail…

Harry looked through the contents for something more about time travel, but there was nothing. Nothing, that is, until he noticed he'd dislodged a note out of the back cover. He pulled it out.

I, Albus Dumbledore, give Mr. Severus Snape permission to read A Collection of Essays on Mysterious Magical Conundrums, which I also recommended to him.

It was signed with the previous day's date.

In the Room of Requirement, Lily stood very still, face as red as Severus'.

Severus swallowed. "Lily, I'm sorry, I thought…"

Lily opened her mouth to say something, but the right words escaped her. Then, she reached up and touched his cheek. Severus' eyes pulled back to hers. Lily traced her thumb in circles on his skin, making him shiver and close his eyes. She still appeared to be confused, as though her touch was to make sure she wasn't dreaming.

Then she kissed him. Severus' shoulders relaxed. His hands drifted up to meet her, unsure. One weaved into her hair, the other settled on her shoulder. Severus didn't know what to do with his mouth, not at first. He was too aware of his posture, leaning back from Lily's force, of the months of experience on her lips, and her knuckles digging into his chest as she gripped his shirt.

Fortunately, Severus learned quickly, and he pushed back. They were pressed so closely, their foreheads connected. Severus breathed in, filling his lungs with the familiar scent of apples, which was faint in her hair. With every contact, Lily's hands changed position in Severus' hair and on his neck, on the skin he'd hated for most of his childhood, a part of him that he'd felt was dirty, like he believed he deserved to be. Now, he felt as though he were in a bath; her hands were like steaming water rushing over him.

Severus' lips worked their way down, tasting the side of Lily's mouth, her cheek, then the gentle curve of her face. His hands ran down her sides, settling on her waist, where he dug in his palms, pushing to the rhythm of his mouth. Lily inhaled, then exhaled as a soft moan, her breath hot on his neck. His mouth lingered at the back of her neck, at the line of her nightgown.

Lily's leg pressed momentarily against Severus, and shock coursed through him. Severus pulled away, memories shooting up like thorns.

"I'm sorry," Lily said immediately. She pretended not to understand the reason for his reaction.

Once again, Severus didn't dare to meet Lily's eyes, fearing he'd crossed a line. Applying his expertise in Occlumency, Severus forced any harmful memory into the recesses of his mind, trying to separate his past from this moment with her.

"Sev," Lily said. After a deep breath, she corrected herself. "Severus." She wrapped her arms around him.

Throughout the years of knowing each other, Lily had hugged Severus hello, goodbye, good morning, good night—as best friends. She had held him and cried, laughed; held him for her own comfort, or his.

This time, Lily held him differently. But Severus, confused, believed she was hugging him out of pity. He thought she either didn't feel the same way about him and regretted kissing him back, or he'd kissed her poorly, clumsily. He buried his head in the arch of her shoulder, defeated.

Lily titled her head toward his ear. "How long have you fancied me, Severus?"

"'Fancied you?'" Severus pulled away and took a step back, black eyes on her green ones. "James 'fancied' you. But I—since we were kids, since the first day I talked to you, I think, I've—"

"That long? Even in third year, when you called me a Mudblood?"

Severus stepped forward again. "I didn't know what was important then."

Lily took his hands in hers, securing her warm fingers on his cold ones. Severus tried not to tremble.

"Lily, I've always fancied—No, I've always…" Severus searched for the words, but it was hard to string them together. He faced the borrowed memories of the original timeline; permanently destroying their friendship, watching her end up with James, overhearing the prophecy, giving his life to protect Harry, dying with no other thought than—

"I've always loved you, Lily."

Harry's breathing stopped. The world spun. At first, his brain shut down. Then, a loud ringing erupted in his ears.

He looked at the note again. There was something else written at the bottom—"Jelly Slugs."

Harry heard someone yawn and looked up; Raven was walking down the stairs without any particular urgency or purpose.

Harry took off the Disillusionment Charm and stood, causing Raven to start.

"Merlin, you scared me. I couldn't sleep, so…What are you doing up?"

"I haven't got much time." His body was numb, and he had trouble breathing.

Raven looked at him, confused. Harry remembered he'd put the Muffling charm on, and removed it. "I said, I haven't got much time."

"Why? Are you all right? What's going on?"

"I—I have to go back to my own time."

Raven's expression froze. "Why—why now?"

"Because Severus is going to confess his feelings to Lily, and I'm—" Harry looked at his hands. He could move his fingers, but they were losing their feeling. "…being un-born."

Raven took a step toward him. "So all of this will go away? We're going to die?"

"It won't hurt. And you'll still exist, just…not here."

Raven squeezed her eyes shut and breathed deeply. When she opened her eyes, they were steady, serious. "You have to find me in your time. If I'm alive. You have to do something. It can't end like this." She was speaking quickly. "Our lives were so much better with you here. At least two fewer Death Eaters." Raven took his hands, tearing up again. She was desperate, and her hands trembled. "You—you have to try something else."

"I'm sorry." Harry, feeling a numbness spreading through him, hurried to the portrait hole.

"Wait!" Raven caught up and hugged him. "Thank you. You were an incredible friend." She let go.

Harry looked at her one last time, then climbed through the portrait hole. He broke into a run. Dumbledore knew. He wanted Severus to know what would happen. And—and Severus read the book, so if he's going to confess his feelings, like I think he is, and Lily returns them, then it's over. He must know that. If he knows, then why do it?

Harry was face to face with the gargoyle. "Jelly slugs."

It swung open. Harry draped his invisibility cloak over his arm and leapt up the stairs.

Dumbledore stood his with his back to Harry, but didn't start when he heard Harry shut the door behind him. "Please sit, Harry Potter."

Harry's mouth went dry. Dumbledore knew who he was.

"I was not expecting you so soon. Perhaps Mr. Snape wanted to be done with it, to see if what I wrote all those years ago was true. I assume he figured out that there was no escaping fate." Dumbledore turned, smiling. "I have been able to see through your charms for the past year, I am afraid. The Sorting Hat broke its promise to you, Mr. Potter." Dumbledore sat down at his desk across from Harry. "He told me a facet of your goal was to bring Mr. Snape and Ms. Evans together, is that correct?"

"I—yes, but—"

Dumbledore held up his hand. "We do not have adequate time to chat."

"Sir, am I going to disappear?"

Harry's urgency made Dumbledore meet his gaze. "Listen very carefully, and do not interrupt unless I ask you a question.

"You have the Time-Turner I created, which means I am involved in sending you here…which means that you must remember what has happened in order to fulfill the reasons for which I sent you. You need to get off the grounds and return to where you started. Tell your past self not to go back in time by giving him your memories."

Harry nodded, though it brought him pain to do so. He had so many other questions, but he didn't doubt the seriousness of the situation. They both stood.

Harry was overwhelmed with the same regret he'd felt after Dumbledore's death and while reading Rita Skeeter's book. He missed another opportunity to know the Headmaster out of fear; the fear of being discovered and being forced to leave.

He hugged Dumbledore, briefly. It was his last goodbye, the one he never got to have. He let go, then studied the Headmaster's blue eyes for a final time, which were fixed on his forehead. Harry normally hid his scar behind his hair and with a patch that blended into his skin. Harry had the feeling that Dumbledore could see the lightening bolt beneath.

"Love brought you here, did it not?" Dumbledore raised his eyebrow, and with that last look, Harry strode to the door and left the room. He clenched his jaw, hard. Somehow, though, he was incapable of producing tears.

It was true, what Dumbledore said. The Sorting Hat could only have read so much into nearly eighteen years of life when he sorted Harry in five minutes. But Dumbledore, who'd always found it easy to read people, had filled in the gaps. Harry'd wanted so much: an escape, relief, and to have a family—the latter was an irrational desire, as he could never bring back the dead. How stupid it was of him to think he could somehow be with Lily, the Marauders, Severus, and all of them. Why had he tried to make them get along? What was the point? He never would've stayed to see that far into the future. The prophecy would be different, and therefore Voldemort's life would be different, and the whole world. It didn't matter if things had changed for the better or worse, in the end, because the timeline couldn't exist.

He considered Raven's suggestion, that he "should try something else" and come back in time again. Maybe this time he could make Severus' life better while ensuring that he and Lily didn't end up together.

As Harry ran down the final staircase, however, he realized that Severus' childhood could only truly be improved with the kind of affection he couldn't offer, and how hard it would be to keep Severus from the Dark Arts while also apart from love. He could stop Severus and Lily from ever meeting…but that would also be a disservice.

The thing that disturbed Harry greatest was how well Severus and Lily could've worked. Their relationship, which might have seemed obsessive, one-sided, and fueled by Lily's kindness in Harry's timeline, actually turned out to be healthy, mutual, and meaningful.

Lily and Severus remained unaware that anything had changed.

Tears spilled from Lily's eyes. Severus kissed her cheek, tasting the salt against her skin. Lily laughed a little at Severus' concern. "I had no idea, Severus."

"Really?"

She examined his expression, which was the same calculating, intense look he'd always studied her with. "Well, on second thought—you treat me differently than Jacob or Raven. And…it's easy to make you blush."

On cue, Severus' face reddened. "You've never done it on purpose, have you?"

"No, of course not." The corners of her mouth twisted up. "Okay, sometimes, maybe. But only because you're so…closed off. I knew I could make you feel awkward, but you'd always be happier after, and although I didn't realize why that was the case, I liked seeing you open up. I wish I'd known that you felt this way about me. Because, I think—" Lily paused, surprised at what she was about to say, because she was now realizing it, "I think I've always loved you, too. I just didn't expect it to be like how it feels now."

They'd both given up on stopping the tears. Severus smiled, then his expression wavered. "So then the thing with James was…?"

"Was what I thought it was like. I shouldn't've been with him."

Severus studied her. "No, I think it's good you did…" Lily looked at him incredulously. He continued, "…because if you hadn't, you'd always wonder 'what if?,' right? And maybe you would've been with him later and…you would've stayed with him."

Lily shook her head. "I can't imagine that."

But Severus could imagine it. He wished he had a chance to see James' reaction when he found out Lily had chosen "Snivellus" over him.

"Did you love me then, too, when the Slytherins wouldn't leave me alone, and you—"

"Did nothing? I didn't know at the time, but it makes sense now, why what you said hurt me so much."

Severus hadn't thought of it like that. He'd thought that she should forgive him because they were friends, and he loved her, not that she would have trouble forgiving him because they were friends, and she loved him.

Severus glanced at the Mirror.

Lily still stood in the glass, but instead of the tearful, slightly smiling Lily standing before him, the Lily in the mirror was screaming, unheard. Her eyes were wide with panic, and she threw her fists at the glass.

"What is it?"

Severus snapped his attention back to the real Lily, ignoring the fear and pain in his stomach. "Lily, if you died, what would you have me do?"

Lily blinked. "I dunno. Why do you ask?"

"Because we haven't got much time. Something could happen to you."

Lily squeezed his hands. "If I died, I—I wouldn't want it to ruin your life. I'd want you to move on. To live; more than anything, I'd want you to live your life, really live it. Wouldn't you want the same for me?" She looked at him searchingly.

Severus forced himself to nod. He had to make their final minutes count. He had to do what his other self had never had the chance to do. That was the whole point, wasn't it?

Severus put his hands on Lily's shoulders and kissed her. He guided her to the windowed wall where he could no longer see the warning from the Lily in the Mirror. The back of his head pressed against the stone and he could hear the rain hitting the window next to him.

Severus studied the freckles that bridged her cheeks. He studied her striking, expressive eyebrows; and then her eyes. The eyes he'd seen on Harry since third year, the eyes he'd counted on since he first saw them. Lily's eyes, her beautiful eyes, the only shining thought he had when he was tortured, or abused, or bullied. He considered, briefly, that perhaps it'd been silly to put so much time and faith in her shade of green.

Her voice was still more powerful: "You have beautiful eyes, you know." Her voice—Lily Evan's voice—it was like the moon, commanding his tides.

"I do?" He was about to say the same to her.

"Yeah. Has anyone ever told you that?"

Severus hesitated. "No." This was a lie. He'd been told this twice; once by Raven, and earlier, in his third year, when Lily was under the Love Potion. With this memory, knowing that the Love Potion could have a basis in actual feelings, Severus realized that Lily had been telling the truth when she said she'd felt the same way since childhood.

Now, he noticed, Lily was studying him as she cradled his face. She said, voice lowered, "I hate this stupid war. I hate that we'll both be targets. I wish You-Know-Who was dead, so the war could be over. I wish that we…"

Severus' voice was even softer. "You wish that we what?"

"I wish that we had more time." Lily brushed the hair out of Severus' face, put a hand on the wall beside his head, and kissed him. She assumed they had at least a few years of life to spend together, that she would be able to experience this feeling until they died.

For Lily, this marked their beginning. For Severus, this marked their end.

Harry's efforts were for naught. The Marauders, especially James, had started to become better people—much faster, he assumed, than they had in the original timeline. The tiniest changes Harry'd made, even giving advice to his Quidditch team, had made this world better.

Harry was going to die—though not completely—for a second time. He would live on in the memory of his other self. It would be as though these five years had been a dream, a cheap lie that was supposed to rouse him from his depression. If Dumbledore was involved in sending Harry back in time, did he consider that the journey would worsen his emotional state? Because it had. Why should he be happier to know that he couldn't change all the awful things that happened? Why should he be happier to know that once again, his destiny was out of his control?

He felt betrayed.

Harry reached the Whomping Willow. He could feel his body fading, separating from his mind. He levitated a branch to hit the knot of the tree, then slipped into the tunnel.

Severus, the boy he'd saved from drowning, had been weak, close-minded, in desperate need of a friend. James had seemed to be a mere troublemaker when Harry'd snuck a book past his dad. When Harry'd met Lily for the first time, they'd shaken hands, then eaten ice cream. Harry remembered when Severus and Raven were sorted into Gryffindor and the course of their lives turned in a new direction. Harry had expected that he and Lily would be close, but as Severus drifted apart from her, so did Harry.

They had made it through conflicts between the Gryffindor and Slytherin houses. They had made it through the endless pranks of the Marauders, from Love Potions to Hate Potions to hanging Severus by his ankle, bringing him to his worst memory. Harry had revealed himself to Raven and Severus, the former who had given up the Dark Arts, the latter who would become determined to do the same.

There was one thing Harry could say he accomplished, and it was, for the moment, the greatest cause of his distress. He had made a second family, a group of friends he'd known for only a couple years less than Ron and Hermione. His biggest concern about leaving had always been about leaving Severus, or messing up time. Now, as Harry pulled Dumbledore's Time-Turner out from under his pajamas, as he stood on the floorboards of the Shrieking Shack and checked the time, which made his body ache despite the little feeling he had left.

Harry was leaving his friends behind.

Two turns on the sixth ring.

Harry was leaving the Marauders: James, whom he had trouble getting along with; Peter, whom he ignored all those years; Sirius, whose confidence did not extend to his desire for James; and Remus, who had gained a friend, a protector, in Harry.

Two turns on the fifth ring.

Raven. The one who came upon him by chance, who turned away from the Dark Arts, who was loyal to her friends, who loved Severus perhaps until that day. She kept to the sidelines but had enormous potential to change the world. He had to find her.

Twenty-two turns on the third ring.

Lily. She was kind, though she said what she felt and stood up for what she believed in. She had lost her way a few times, but in the end, she returned to her friends. James had not been like a father in the least, even though he knew Harry was his son; but Lily he could believe was his mother. Harry saw himself in her.

Fifty-nine turns on the second ring.

And Severus. It was hard to believe the person who had hugged Harry earlier that day was the same person who seemed to hate him for so long. All it took was to care about him, and they had become best friends. By having someone to guide him, Severus could have gone on to live a life with the one he loved.

He would never see any of them again, not Dumbledore, Severus, Remus, Lily, James, Sirius—probably not even Raven.

Finally, fingers moving like a corpse's, Harry turned the center ring thirty-four times.

"I know how to make you see how it should be like this." Ginny gazed at the Harry from the original timeline with her soulful brown eyes.

Harry from the Marauders' Era Apparated with a loud crack on the floor beside them. Both Ginny and Harry flinched. The appearance charms had faded, so they saw his true form—about four to five years older, wearing pajamas, but definitely Harry. His form was transparent.

Present-time Harry stood, wand drawn, confused.

The other Harry pulled out his own identical wand and drew a long silvery strand from his head. He offered it to them, and as soon as the substance was transferred to present-time Harry's wand, the older Harry disappeared.

The original Harry stared at the tip of his wand. As if by instinct, he put his wand to the side of his head, letting the memories snake through his skull.

Ginny approached Harry and put a hand on his shoulder. "Harry, I know what—" She was cut off as he convulsed.

"Harry!"

He had frozen, bent over. When Ginny touched his shoulder again, he straightened and turned to face her. His mouth was ajar, lips trembling, eyes streaming. He took her in his arms, though they were weak, and sobbed.

Ginny rubbed Harry's back, breathing unsteadily. "Sh, it's okay. Everything's gonna be okay. You're safe." They stood in embrace for a few minutes, then Harry went to his bed, lay down, and gestured for her to join him, unable to speak. She slid her slippers off and curled up beside him.

Harry shivered as he fell asleep. Ginny held him close, frowning in thought. An hour later, Harry stirred and awakened, and she spoke.

"Exactly a year after Dumbledore's death, I received a package from Fawkes. In it was a letter and a Time-Turner."

Harry sat up, Ginny did the same. "So it was definitely from Dumbledore, then?"

"What do you mean?"

"When I took on the memories…they became my own. I don't know how, but it's like I actually lived them. When I went to Dumbledore's office—"

"So you did go to Hogwarts."

"Yeah. Maybe I should start from the beginning…"

He told her the outline of the five school years he lived. When he said "Severus," Ginny blinked in surprise. "What happened to 'Snape?'" Harry decided to start with the cast of characters of the life his other self had lived.

Severus was similar to how he was in adulthood—emotionally suppressed and wrought with problems, yet passionate. Lily, though at times unsure, was smart and headstrong and kind. Raven Faralyn—

"Hang on. Raven Faralyn. I recognize that name." Ginny glanced at a box in the corner of the room. "I know you haven't wanted to look in the things from Grimmauld Place, but Regulus Black's journal is in there. Kreacher had been hiding it. I saw her name is in there, I think. But, continue."

Raven was in a sense needy, but steadfast and impartial. The Marauders were inseparable and, for the most part, childish.

Harry went year by year, focusing on what had changed in the timeline. Even though it wasn't exactly he that did it, Harry felt ashamed to admit that he told Severus his true identity. Ginny let him explain how there was no other option. In a different way, he was forced to tell James. He'd had a choice with Raven, however.

"What about Lily? Practically everyone knew, why shouldn't she?"

"I guess I drew the line and…I didn't think it would've helped in any way. I didn't want her to see James or Severus differently. Severus needed to know to change his path in life, but Lily could eventually make the right decisions on her own…" Harry explained how Lily and Severus made up, how Severus acted before he went to meet Lily; then about Dumbledore's essay and meeting him in his office.

"You really did make it better, didn't you? Just by being there."

"Overall, I suppose I did."

Ginny studied Harry, then reached into her pocket and pulled out a letter. "On the back there are instructions, only as detailed as to explain how to use the Time-Turner and when I should give it to you. Anyway, here's the letter to you:

"'Dear Harry,'

"'You should be reading this one year after my death. Though, for you, it may seem like much longer. Voldemort (I can only hope) is dead, and his followers are dwindling. In this new Era one could assume your life will continue brightly.'"

Harry could tell by the ease in which Ginny read the letter that she had pored over the words many times.

"'I know this cannot be the case. I kept too much from you and understood that when you found out about your destiny and Severus' role in your life you would become confused, angry, and perhaps depressed. You may have found out, somehow, that was my Time-Turner that you used to go back. I wanted to give you an opportunity to find closure, possibly to return to Hogwarts. I assume you wanted to improve Severus' life to repay a debt, much like Severus did for James. And I assume you accomplished that…to an extent that may have threatened your existence. Hopefully you have retained the memories of what happened.

"'The event that most likely sealed your fate was a kiss between Severus and Lily, or another act that consummated their relationship—'"

"And that's what the other Dumbledore predicted would happen."

"How did he know they'd do that?"

"No idea. Maybe he guessed that after they talked, Severus would want to get it over with."

Ginny continued reading, "'At some point over your journey, you must have wondered what normally happened to those who traveled more than a few hours in time. I invented the Time-Turner you used. After my sister's death, I learned all that I could about time travel, which led me to realize the complications of the Ministry's Time-Turners. The Time-Turner creates alternate timelines instead of taking the traveler back in their own timeline, making long-distance travel impossible.

"'This Time-Turner splits reality, and eventually an event something significant enough would undo your birth. A paradox formed; if you were to merge the timelines, you would be un-born, and therefore the changes you made couldn't exist.

"'So the impossibility that led to your fading accounts for the value of every death, mistake, spoken word. Even the tiniest change unravels the fabric of time.

"'Now that you are back and understand the consequences, I trust you see that things are meant to be. This was my reason for sending you back; I wanted you to realize that even painful and horrible events have a purpose in time—'"

"What about sending me and Hermione back to save Sirius?"

Hermione must've told her what happened with the Time-Turner, because Ginny seemed to understand his point. "It's different, I suppose. Let's see, '…a purpose in time so that, in their absence, we'd likely be worse off. I too found, years after my sister's death, after meddling with time to save her life, I could move on—'"

Harry cut in, "That's a lie. He didn't get over that day. To the day he died, he still regretted it."

"There's only a little left, let me finish—'…I could move on, because no matter how I tried to let her live, the alternate reality became warped. Even indirect contact makes a difference in time—leaving a letter for someone in the past, walking in a busy street, kicking a stone out of place.

"'Despite hundreds of hours of effort over the course of decades, the bad effects of the changes outweighed the good. Harry, I advise you not to return. I created a simple self-destruct spell that will destroy the Time-Turner; the Bat-Bogey Hex.

"'Stay with those you love, reflect on those you had a chance to know. Tell Ginny of your travels, and move on.' It's signed, 'Albus Dumbledore.'"

Ginny turned the letter over. "Oh, and one more thing: 'I'm sorry for keeping so much from you. You deserved to know about yourself as well as my past. Cowardice kept me from telling you more than I did.'" Ginny's eyes lingered on the words before she searched Harry's expression.

Harry felt numb. "So he knew how I'd feel because of his sister. How did he know I'd come back? Did he think I would stay as long as I did?"

"No idea. He always knew more than we assumed him to."

Harry rested his head on Ginny's shoulder; she put her arm around him.

Harry retreated into his thoughts. Because the integrity of the timeline depended on him actually existing, couldn't he change something after he was born? But what could he change? And how? An idea blossomed in his head, and he came back to reality. "Ginny, that other version of me missed everyone so much. But I can't see them right now. And…I missed you. But—"

"It's okay." Ginny kissed his forehead, then pulled away and stood. "Get some rest. I'll let you destroy the Time-Turner. It's yours now, anyhow." Before opening the door, she turned and asked, "You are better now, aren't you?"

"I think so. I will be, at least." But Harry didn't think he would get better, and he wasn't planning on resting. He needed an end-all solution. He knew Dumbledore wanted to convince him things were meant to be, but the rebellious spirit in Harry told him he still had control over his destiny.

"Well, good night." Ginny turned to leave once again.

"I love you," Harry blurted. It had been years since he'd last said those words.

Ginny paused to consider him, then she smiled. It was an easygoing smirk, but she somehow made it mean much more. "I love you, too. Welcome back, Harry."

Harry waited until he heard her door close before he went to his desk. He gathered some parchment, a quill, and an inkwell.

He began to write.


Chapter 18: Letter Universe
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Harry waited fifteen minutes until he was sure Ginny wouldn't return. He put on his cloak, then Apparated to Diagon Alley. The crack from his Apparition resounded in the early morning quiet of the street.

The street was deserted. A few months ago, homeless witches and wizards would've shivered in the winter weather, but with the Ministry back on its feet and under new order, many centers were provided for those displaced by the Second Wizarding War.

Harry, under the cover of the invisibility cloak, spun the Time-Turner to September 17th, 1981. The street was dim, and many shops were closed. An old woman sat nearby, holding a sign that read, "Squib. Lost Everything in the War & have no Family. Please Help." Harry reached into his pocket, then stopped. His influence had to be controlled, limited. As much as it clawed at his insides, he could only interfere in the minimal way he planned.

The Leaky Cauldron was dimly lit, outside and in. The bar was empty at the time (four in the morning) except for the bartender, whose head rested on the counter. Harry, expecting something to be wrong, quickly approached, until a snore signaled that the man was alive. Harry set one of the two letters in his pocket down on the counter, then sat down in the back and began to wait.

An hour and twenty-one minutes later, a cloaked figure hurried down the stairs, rousing Harry from his doze. He stood, still invisible. The woman noticed the bartender and like Harry, checked to see if he was all right. Then she noticed the letter, reading the print on the front: "Raven Faralyn."

Harry watched as she looked around, stowed the envelope in her cloak, and hurried out the door. After a couple minutes, Harry left the Leaky Cauldron, then Apparated to the Shrieking Shack. He traveled nearly ten years in the future to the first of September, 1991, at six in the evening.

He went through the tunnel, out beneath the Whomping Willow, across the grounds, and to the front entrance of the school.

The first years had reached the shore, where they gathered before Hagrid. Harry got out of their way, searching the faces for—there he was. A young Harry Potter, nervous and excited.

Hagrid knocked on the towering doors before them. Professor McGonagall opened them, then led the first years inside. Harry slipped in last. He cast the Muffling Charm on himself before hurrying up the stairs to the Gryffindor Common Room. He could only remember the password to the common room because the first day at Hogwarts was so important to him.

"Caput Draconis!"

"Who's there?" The Fat Lady asked, peering around. But she had already swung open.

Harry went up to the boys' first year dorms and left the letter on the proper bed.

Harry's return to Hogsmeade lasted forever, it seemed, as his greatest worries found a way of snaking into his mind. He set his expectations for improvement extremely low, so he wouldn't be disappointed if this new future didn't work out. He Apparated on the edge of the town and spun the Time-Turner to eight at night on 2 July, 1998.

Harry pulled his wand out from his pocket and pointed it so it grazed the invisibility cloak. Hogsmeade looked as it had when he first visited in his third year, but when he peered into the Hog's Head, he saw himself, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, all around his own age, sitting at a table. Ginny was flipping through a journal.

Harry stepped to the side of the Inn and stowed the invisibility cloak in Hermione's purse. "Accio journal!"

The journal crashed through the window and flew at Harry. As soon as he caught it, he Apparated into the Shrieking Shack.

Harry cast a Cushioning Charm on the floorboards and sat down.

"Lumos!" He opened the journal and two letters fell out. He unfolded the first and read,

Dear Raven,

Go to Hogwarts right away. If you don't, you will die within a couple of hours—I can't tell you how. In order to save yourself, go to Dumbledore and ask for the post of History of Magic. You can do good again by replacing Professor Binns and properly teaching Hogwarts students about the past. This way, they can make positive changes, just as you have.

Hogwarts is the only place you will be safe.

Sincerely,

An Old Friend

Harry had found out a little about Raven when he'd read Regulus' journal. For one, she had been sorted into Hufflepuff. That surprised him, at first, but it made sense; he considered her most prominent traits to be loyalty, honesty, and tolerance, her bravery not as outward as Lily's had been. Raven still went into the Dark Arts, only she became friends with Regulus instead of Severus, as Harry would've guessed. She rejected the Dark Arts in her sixth year, after Regulus got his Dark Mark. She was forced to distance herself from Regulus, but they talked in secret whenever possible.

After Voldemort's treatment of Kreacher led Regulus to betray his Dark Lord, he visited Raven, who ran a home for runaway families, students, and adults in Wales. The Brecon Beacons National Park, away from the center of the War, had been her home since Hogwarts, and nearly forty people lived around the property. Raven, aided by those old and well enough to travel, would help Mudbloods and blood traitors escape and move to the refuge.

Raven and Regulus lived together for a couple weeks before he had to leave. Regulus didn't tell her that he was trying to destroy the locket. Instead he left her instructions that, due to a charm, would only make sense if she knew about Voldemort's Horcruxes.

Harry had dug through his boxes of newspaper clippings and letters to find out what happened to Raven after Regulus was killed. The Daily Prophet, in an attempt to reconcile the public, published heroic and heartwarming stories about witches and wizards in the War. Someone who lived in Raven's refuge submitted a story about her. Through this, Harry found out that after Voldemort was presumably killed, Death Eaters went after her. Ever since she left the Slytherins in her sixth year, she must've been on their List.

September 17th, 1981 was the day Raven would've been killed by Death Eaters. Harry needed a a way for her safety to be guaranteed without having to continue to live in hiding, while also living a better life. Harry knew she'd had an interest in History of Magic, and would no doubt teach with a Hermione-esque consideration of how the Wizarding community ought to consider history's connection to the present.

The letter matched what he'd written in content but not form. Harry had charmed the letter to have different handwriting than his own, but the letter was in his own scrawl. It was on the same paper, as far as he could tell, so what'd happened? Had his other self discovered that he had written the letter?

The pace of Harry's heart increased. He unfolded the letter he'd given his first-year self and saw it was once again in his own handwriting.

Dear Harry Potter,

There is something you have to know in order to improve the life of possibly the bravest man I've ever known.

You saw him at supper, sitting at the staff table next to Professor Quirrell. He had a hooked nose, black hair, and you might already know he has a reputation for loving the Dark Arts. His name is Severus Snape. Your scar hurt when your eyes met, and you might misinterpret the look he gave you for hatred. But he doesn't hate you, or at least eventually won't; he actually vowed to protect you.

I should start from the beginning. Professor Snape was born to a witch, Eileen Prince, and a Muggle, Tobias Snape, making him a Half-Blood, like you. Severus' father was an alcoholic, and abused both Severus and Eileen. Severus' parents were very poor and couldn't properly care for him. He didn't have friends. As a result, he started learning the Dark Arts (the kind of magic Voldemort uses). You might wonder why Severus chose this path when you had a similar childhood and turned out fine. There are a few differences: Severus' abuse went to a more severe respect. His parents didn't feel inclined to keep things clean. His mother prostituted herself at one point, his father worked for little pay at factory. While you and Severus were both an only child, you didn't know you were a wizard. Severus always knew he would one day have power over the society that had wronged him.

Amidst this all, when they were both nine years old, he met Lily Evans—your mother. The two became best friends, and although Severus was sorted into Slytherin and Lily into Gryffindor, they remained close. Meanwhile, your father James and Severus grew to hate each other. James was madly in love with Lily, but Lily didn't return his feelings, primarily because James and his friends bullied and pranked many students at the school, especially Severus. They hated each other for their abundance or lack of looks and confidence, respectively. Severus hated that James always harassed Lily and still had a better chance of ending up with her, while James hated that Lily was closer to Severus, despite being on his way to becoming a Death Eater (a follower of Voldemort).

Severus was increasingly miserable because of James' bullying. Later in school, Sirius Black (your father's best friend) almost killed Severus, but James saved him. This only intensified Severus' hatred, because he hated being indebted to his worst enemy.

Severus was also miserable because his efforts to impress Lily with the Dark Arts weren't working. He was in love with Lily. He had fancied her for years, probably since they met.

I understand that's strange to find out, especially from a stranger, but it explains how he will feel about you. He'll dislike you because your dad won in the end. The tension between Severus and Lily culminated, to the point that he called her a Mudblood (an insult meaning dirty blood, since Lily had Muggle parents), and they were no longer friends. Although he regretted it, Severus had made his choice. Lily was seeing James by seventh year. They married, and had you.

Severus no longer had any ties to the good side, and joined Voldemort's forces. He overheard a prophecy that he delivered to Voldemort, concerning Voldemort's one threat—you. Only, he didn't know it was you (and therefore Lily and James) who was the subject of the prophecy, until after relaying the message. He begged Voldemort to spare your mother's life. Then he begged Dumbledore to protect your mother at the cost of his allegiance to Voldemort. In the end, Lily got in the way, and was killed. Severus' allegiance was sealed. He vowed to protect you, the last trace of your mother.

From then on, Severus has been a double agent against Voldemort. Only Dumbledore knows that Severus' loyalty is certain because of his love for your mother, and his resulting realization of the horrible power of the Dark Arts. All of this happened, mind you, well before he was twenty-two.

His purpose in life now is to protect the Wizarding World and in larger part, you, in Lily's name. In a sense, he's alive because you are. And he wants Voldemort dead for what he's done—if there's a chance of him being alive, of course.

I am telling you this so that you don't waste time and hatred by assuming that Severus is working for Voldemort. Dumbledore promised Severus he wouldn't tell you (or anyone) why Severus is good, just that you should trust his word.

Professor Snape has grown to be closed off, cruel, and unfeeling. While you see emotions as an advantage, he sees them as a disadvantage, as they can be exploited by Voldemort and only lead to pain. Expect him to treat you unfairly. He wants to hate you, but before long he won't, not really, even if it seems like he does. And he might seem to hate everyone, but that's because he, in part due to self-hatred and years of abuse, has no motivation to express kindness and compassion.

In short, trust Snape. If you can do that, his life will not end as pointlessly.

You probably want to keep this quiet, but you can trust your best friends. Use the journal I gave you to keep track of your school years, then bring it with you to meet me on August 2nd, 1998, at the Hog's Head.

Signed,

Anonymous. Harry Potter?

"Anonymous" had been crossed out, with "Harry Potter?" written in its place, and in Harry's own handwriting. So he had found out. There was nothing to do except read the journal…

4 September, 1991

I don't know what I should write. I told Ron, and he still thinks Snape is rotten. I don't know what to think, especially after Double Potions. I said nothing to Snape, which confused him, I think—he was trying to start something with me. I want to ask Dumbledore about the prophecy, to make sure it's true, and so he can clarify some things.

And yesterday the Daily Prophet reported that the same vault (number 713) Hagrid had emptied on my birthday had been broken into. What use would anyone have for the grubby little package that had been inside? Hagrid is keeping quiet about it…

8 September, 1991

Harry had written something about Raven:

History of Magic used to be taught by a ghost, Professor Binns, whom nobody liked, as he was incredibly dull. Professor Faralyn is much different; I never considered how long the Wizarding World has existed and how many problems it has. Mainly because of her I think it'll be one of my favorite classes.

Hermione, a sort of know-it-all in my year, has been nearly late to classes on multiple occasions because she stays behind to talk to Faralyn…

Harry stopped at a line about Quirrell. He had briefly described him as "suspicious." In the original timeline, Harry considered Quirrell to be strange, but harmless; certainly not suspicious. There was a definite shift in time now. Still, at first, the events continued to occur as they had before:

1 November, 1991

On Halloween, there was a troll in the dungeons. We heard that Hermione was in the girls' bathroom after we upset her (she'd overheard Ron making fun of how much time she spends with Professor Faralyn). Ron and I came just in time to stop the troll. Snape, Quirrell, and McGonagall showed up, and we would've been in big trouble if Hermione hadn't lied to cover us. I suppose it's natural that we're friends now…

5 November, 1991

I happened upon Snape and Filch; they were trying to fix up Snape's leg. If I hadn't read the letter, maybe I would've assumed that he had tried to get past the three-headed dog. But it couldn't be him, and Hermione agrees (I showed her the letter). She suggested we show Dumbledore (she and Ron then bickered over this for a time) and eventually we did.

You were telling the truth. Dumbledore seemed shocked when I showed it to him, but he confirmed its truth. Dumbledore made us swear to not tell a soul, especially not Snape.

12 November, 1991

First Quidditch game

I lost control of my broom halfway through the game. Hermione saw that Quirrell and Snape were muttering something and staring at me—

Harry's heart thudded. What would spotting Quirrell change?

Hermione was brilliant, she set his cloak on fire; then I was able to catch the Snitch. We told Hagrid, who couldn't think of much of a defense for Quirrell. He let it slip that he got the dog (Fluffy) off an unidentified Greek man, and that the dog is guarding something. Hagrid also mentioned that Nicholas Flamel is involved. Ron's brothers, Fred and George, who are Beaters for the Gryffindor Quidditch team, now have it out for Professor Quirrell…

Without worrying if Snape would catch them, it seemed the trio was more free to search for Flamel. There was another thing—

Hermione asked Professor Faralyn about Nicholas Flamel—apparently all she would say was that he was an alchemist, which reminded Hermione that she'd read a book on alchemy that mentioned him.

Now we know the Sorcerer's Stone is what Quirrell is after.

12 January, 1992

So much has happened since I've last written; I haven't had the time to write it all down.

Here's what happened: After the Quidditch game, I overheard Snape talking to Quirrell, threatening him. After Snape left, I followed Quirrell; he had gone in the other direction. It was hard to see in the dark, but Quirrell took off his turban and spoke to himself. I thought I heard another voice and movement on the back of his head.

I flew back to the castle and told Ron and Hermione. We didn't know where, when, or how to investigate until, for Christmas, I received an invisibility cloak. We fit underneath the cloak and snuck off to Quirrell's quarters. There, he revealed Voldemort, who had been living under his turban. Voldemort/Quirrell tried to kill us, but—and this happened very quickly—when Quirrell touched me, he burned. After he touched me I blacked out and didn't wake up until a week later.

Everything was bound to diverge now. Harry read through the rest of the year, and mentally compiled everything that had changed. Due to his trust in Snape, the trio had dealt with the Stone and Quirrell much sooner. This meant that their relationship was different—less built on working together, solving mysteries, but more on normalcy. Harry did better in school, and was able to help Gryffindor win the House Cup. His relationship with Dumbledore was stronger, brought together by Harry's outing of Quirrell and the letter he'd received.

Harry wondered, as he often had before, whether all this was an improvement. He continued on to his second year.

3 July, 1992

Tomorrow I leave the Dursley's for the rest of the summer. They argued about me going, in private, of course, but ultimately decided if I were gone they could go on tour around Europe and not worry about a babysitter.

15 July, 1992

The Burrow is fantastic, and so are the Weasleys.

Harry skimmed through the pages about his stay at the Burrow. During his stay, he grew close to everyone, especially Fred and George. Ginny, too, spent enough time with Harry to start to lose her nervousness around him.

Harry continued on to read about the initial events of the school year, which seemed familiar—hearing voices in the wall, being suspected by students and annoyed by Lockhart. When Colin Creevey was petrified, Harry wrote about suspecting Malfoy until Hermione brought it up with Professor Faralyn, who told her a little about the Chamber of Secrets and that Malfoy's bloodline did not connect with Salazar Slytherin. She didn't know anyone who'd be an heir.

In the original timeline, Harry only occasionally noticed that Ginny was acting strange, but he regarded the instances as disconnected, and didn't care to find out the reason behind them. Perhaps now that he'd spent the summer with the Weasley's, he cared more:

…also wonder if Ginny is okay. She isn't really approachable, and I don't know if it's my place to ask, but since coming back to school she seems to be acting strange…

Harry's desire to skip to the end grew constantly, but he persevered.

20 December, 1992

Professor Faralyn also received a letter; from the same person, too.

When Hermione was having tea with her, Faralyn sifted through her things to find a particular document. A letter fell out of one of her books.

Hermione saw that the letter was familiar and told her about my letter. Faralyn asked to see me immediately, so Hermione sent me to her office.

The Professor told me some of her story. She came to Hogwarts after receiving a letter that told her she would be killed if she didn't go. The handwriting matched the one in mine.

She told me she knew Snape better than most Professors. She had been sorted into Hufflepuff, but spent more time studying the Dark Arts with the Slytherins. They were mere acquaintances then; she was closest to Regulus Black, who was apparently the brother of my father's best friend, Sirius Black. That made me wonder why I lived with the Dursleys instead of my dad's best friend. Professor Faralyn appeared uncomfortable at this; she told me he was imprisoned, but wouldn't say what for.

She didn't seem to want to talk about my dad, either. All she would say that he was a bully until later in school, when my mum started seeing him.

My letter, overall though, upset the Professor. She expressed more emotion than other professors at Hogwarts, but never weakness. It was awkward seeing someone cry that I don't really know, especially a teacher, because I didn't know what to do. She told me she'd guessed about the abuse, even his infatuation with Lily, but didn't realize how the effects of both had lasted.

When Professor Faralyn recovered, she looked at the letter again and realized something. "Look at the writing. The letters, specifically. They look too similar." No one could write their letters the same way over and over again, she figured.

There was a knock on the door. We noticed then that it was after curfew. The invisibility cloak was in the pocket of my robes. Faralyn answered the door; it was Snape. Behind him was a nervous and uncomfortable Hermione. She'd stayed in the Tower to work on homework, and he'd caught her on her way back to Faralyn's office.

'Did you ask to see Ms. Granger after hours?' Then Snape noticed Professor Faralyn's blotchy face. 'What happened?' And he spotted me. 'What is Potter doing here?'

I went to the door, not knowing whether Professor Faralyn would have a good lie. 'We needed help with our essay.'

Snape raised an eyebrow, then looked at the table where the papers were laid out. He stepped forward, but Faralyn stopped him. This affirmed Snape's suspicion that they were lying and he strode past them.

'Accio letters!' Faralyn said, and before he could pick the papers up, they shot to her.

But Snape had recognized the letter addressed to her. "Isn't that the letter you were sent before you came here? What's the other one? Why are you showing Potter?"

"Sir, the Headmaster didn't want you to read it." I realized too late that what I said would guarantee that Snape would read it.

Snape froze, betrayed. His face red with fury, he approached us and snatched the letter from Professor Faralyn.

Hermione and I began to inch out into the corridor, but Snape ordered us to sit down, so we reluctantly went and sat at Faralyn's desk.

When Snape finished the letter, he looked up at me, then strode out of the room. Professor Faralyn told us to go back to our dorms, leaving in pursuit of Snape.

3 January, 1993

It's been two weeks and I still don't know what happened. I've caught Professor Faralyn and Snape staring at me; it's starting to make me anxious. At the same time, they don't want to talk to me, or look me in the eyes when I talk to them…

6 January, 1993

What's the point in writing anymore? Why bother writing to myself? I don't understand why you, or I, would tell me what you did. Are we the same person, or is this another lie? Either way, I'm going to keep writing, but I'm not going to meet myself at Hog's Head.

Professor Faralyn met with Ron, Hermione, and I. She had a lot to say, but not enough to make sense of what she discovered.

Snape decided to talk to Dumbledore; he didn't want me to know about his past, and was at least mad at Dumbledore for not telling him about the letter. Faralyn showed them what she'd noticed about the handwriting, and with some tinkering, they discovered that beneath the handwriting charm was…me. I wrote the letters. They don't know—or at least Faralyn didn't say—how this is possible. How could I know what happened in the past, and why was I writing as if I knew the future?

I asked if she knew if Snape would keep ignoring me. I felt more comfortable when he acted as though he hated me.

"It was easier for him to assume you're like your dad. Severus uses Occlumency to close himself off. I've used it before; you have to separate yourself from emotion, and part of that is simplifying a situation that favors how you 'need' to feel. This whole letter thing made that harder to do. I don't know when he'll come round, and I don't know everything he's feeling. You might have more luck asking the Headmaster." The professor sounded sort of bitter at this, but she recovered.

I asked what I should do. Professor Faralyn told me to stay out of his way, but "if he doesn't confront you by the end of the year, then you should talk to him."

She had another reason to call us to her office. She was concerned about Ginny. "I don't know if she's always been so reserved, but she doesn't seem to have any friends, and she appears to be sick most days, but if I ask she says she's just tired. She's having trouble completing assignments."

Ron looked at me, and shrugged. "Who knows with girls. She fancies Harry, I think that's why she's so crazy."

Professor Faralyn sighed. "I don't think that's the reason. I'd appreciate it if one of you asked her what's going on."

Hermione offered to help. When we got back to the common room, Ron and I went up to our dorm, leaving Hermione to go up to the girls' form. At the time, we weren't worried about what was wrong with Ginny. When it was time for dinner, we looked for Hermione. A third year girl told us she'd seen them leave together shortly after Hermione went upstairs. We found out later that Ginny had been in the dorm, writing in her diary. She was under Tom Riddle's influence and used some sort of curse to force Hermione to leave with her.

Ron and I didn't know where to look. As we walked by the unused girls' bathroom on our way to dinner, we were about to stop worrying—but we heard noises, so we investigated. Inside, we met Moaning Myrtle, a ghost who saw the two go into the Chamber of Secrets. She also revealed she'd been killed when the Chamber was last open, by a giant snake. I somehow knew how to open the Chamber—I spoke in Parseltongue.

The Chamber was cold, wet, dark, and littered with bones. We found Hermione and Ginny, but they were unconscious. Hermione's head was bleeding.

Harry skimmed quickly through—Riddle went through the same spiel, the Basilisk attacked, Fawkes flew in with the Sorting Hat. Harry killed the snake, stabbed the diary—

Except he stabbed the diary with Godric Gryffindor's sword (which had absorbed the Basilisk venom), and not with the Basilisk fang. Regardless of this change, Riddle vanished.

All this happened and it was only January. Because Harry hadn't wasted time assuming Draco was to blame and because Raven had paid attention to Ginny, time had been spared.

The rest of the year consisted of little dramas, seemingly insignificant compared to fighting a Basilisk. Perhaps because her crush on Harry had made her vulnerable to Voldemort, Ginny gave Harry space, and acted more normal when they were around each other. Harry once again spent more time on his studies and more time with Ron and Hermione.

14 June, 1993

I knocked on Professor Snape's office door. There was no response.

"I'm afraid Severus is not willing to see you, Harry." It was Dumbledore.

"Why not?" I was angry; the least Snape could do was acknowledge me, even if it were to turn me away.

Harry was familiar with how Severus was acting. When problems were complicated, as when Harry revealed his true identity, Severus shut himself down. The only way he could keep his head was to ignore the cause of his emotion, whether it had been Harry, James, Lily…

"Let's take a walk." Dumbledore explained that Snape was cold to me partly for my own protection, that if he were seen being kind to me, word would somehow make its way to 'the wrong people.'

"But isn't Voldemort dead?"

Dumbledore paused. "His diary was proof that he is still a threat." He recommended that I only talk to Snape outside of the classroom when necessary, or in front of those who knew of his true loyalty, to be safe.

7 August, 1993

I was watching the news when I saw a newscast about Sirius Black. It could've been any Black, just a coincidence, but when I asked Aunt Petunia if they'd said what his first name is, she told me it was Sirius.

"I know him," I said.

Everyone stopped to look at me. "You know him?"

"Not personally, no. He's a wizard, like me." I didn't want them to know he had been my dad's best friend. I ignored their uproars at my using of the word "wizard" as I wondered what he'd done.

If he'd made the Muggle news, could he come here?

Aunt Marge (whom I loathe) stayed over and taunted me incessantly, but I was too caught up in my thoughts to pay attention to her.

Harry was too preoccupied to pay attention to Aunt Marge? Before, Harry had become so mad he inflated her and ran away from home. What would change because of this?

9 August, 1993

I was at peace without Aunt Marge around, and by knowing that in a week I'd be staying at the Leaky Cauldron (Dumbledore suggested I go there, I could use some time away).

I snuck food to feed a stray dog that showed up after Aunt Marge left—he was nearly starved, and sort of creepy (black, and one of the biggest dogs I've ever seen, with these almost humanlike eyes)…

16 August, 1993

My first night at the Leaky Cauldron and I can't sleep, because Sirius Black found me.

I was taking out the trash a few nights ago and noticed someone in the backyard. "What are you doing here?"

He started, turning to face me. I recognized him and took a step back.

"So you know who I am, then?"

My hand went to my pocket, and I found I wasn't carrying my wand. "I know you're Sirius Black, and I know you were my dad's best friend, and that you escaped from prison."

Black smiled, and I saw that he was missing some teeth. I wanted to escape, but not enough to stop my curiosity; also, he was a direct connection to my dad. "Why were you in prison?"

He looked around, then gestured for me to come closer. I shook my head.

Black shrugged, then grinned, madly happy that he could finally tell his side of the story."I was framed. On the night your parents died, I discovered that one of James' former friends, Peter Pettigrew, had given their location to Voldemort. I went out to avenge their death, only to have Peter kill twelve people and blame me for them, and for the murder of James and Lily!"

I told him to lower his voice, unless he wanted to get caught. I was still suspicious. "How did you escape? Why did you?"

He stepped closer. "Part of Peter's plan was to fake his death. I saw him in the papers. See, we were sort of a gang; your dad, Peter, Remus Lupin, and I…and very good at magic. We became Animagi."

"What are Animagi?"

"We could turn into animals at will—well, a particular animal for each person. It's a very difficult process. Anyhow, Peter became a rat. Fitting, as it happens. I saw him in the Daily Prophet, he's the pet rat of a boy at Hogwarts…"

My stomach flipped. "Does this boy have red hair? They were in Egypt?"

"Yeah. You saw it?"

"Ron's my best mate. His rat's name is Scabbers."

"Let me ask you this—does Scabbers have a missing toe?"

"How'd you know that?"

"He cut off his finger to make it seem like he exploded. How long has this so-called Scabbers lived with…Ron?"

"They've had him for…twelve years."

"Rats only live for three, and your parents died twelve years ago."

It still seemed far-fetched, but I couldn't see a loophole in his story, except—"How did you escape?"

Black hesitated, then transformed into the same black dog I'd fed the day before. He then transformed back, though it appeared take a toll on his energy. If he was telling the truth about the animal thing, then could he be telling the truth about everything?"You have to register to be an Animagus. The four of us had done it in secret, so the Ministry has no idea. I became thin enough to slip through the bars of the cell in my dog form. The guards can't see real well."

A dog started to bark hysterically a few houses over, so we moved farther in the backyard. Anger coursed through me. "How could Peter have betrayed his friends? People who trusted him?"

"He's a coward, that's why. He wanted to join the winning side."

"Why not run away, why live life as a pet? And why didn't he kill me when he had the chance?"

"To keep an ear out for news, I'd think. He'd only act under Voldemort's orders, and if he knew there was something in it for him…"

"Then what do we do? I'm going to see Scabbers when I see Ron, what then?"

"Bring him to me. I'll make him suffer."

"But then you'll still be suspected for murder!"

"It'll be worth it, knowing he's paid the price. He killed your parents, Harry, surely—"

"No, we can't stoop to his level. The only way for good to come out of this would be your innocence proven."

"How do you suggest doing that?"

We stood in silence, thinking. I knew we'd have to make sure Pettigrew couldn't escape, and that he would be proven guilty for certain. "I have an idea. In the Ministry, is there a law enforcement department?"

"The Department of Magical Law Enforcement, yeah."

"Ron's dad works in the Ministry, and I've never been."

"So, you're saying, you could take him with you to visit, and maybe you pretend to know about Ministry secrets in front of Peter—"

"…And we'll show up there, report that he didn't register as an Animagus—"

"And he'll be exposed and I'll be proven innocent."

Now that I've had a few days to reflect, I don't know if the plan will work. I sent an owl to Ron asking him if we could visit the Ministry, and although I could tell he was surprised, he said his dad wouldn't mind, just that I should be prepared for a lot of questions about the Muggle world.

There was something Sirius hadn't yet told me; he was my godfather. "James would've preferred you to live with me rather than this lot."

"Where are you going to go now?"

"Remus, I imagine, believes I'm guilty. I'm going to find him and set things right."

1 September, 1993

"Black Innocent, Pettigrew Guilty."

I picked up a copy of the Daily Prophet yesterday, and that's what was on the front page. After days in court, the Wizemagot ruled in Sirius' favor. For his services to bring Pettigrew to justice, he got off with only a fine for being an unregistered Animagus. Apparently he's rich (he bought me a Firebolt after he was released!), so it shouldn't matter much.

The evidence against Pettigrew was enough for him to get a life sentence in Azkaban: old witnesses were unsure of what they saw; Sirius doesn't have a Dark Mark, but Pettigrew does; Pettigrew in Animagus form and human form was missing a finger…if he was involved with Voldemort, according to his Dark Mark, then why had he not stepped forward to provide testimony for those in the trial process? What finally did Pettigrew in, however, were other Death Eaters who were angry at his cowardice. Nearly a dozen provided testimony against him.

I met Remus Lupin at one of the trials. He wasn't allowed to testify, for whatever reason…

…Snape told the court the bare minimum, and maybe this is so he keeps the trust of both sides. Snape's quiet anger, I realized, if he needed to twist the story for the bad side, could be seen as anger at Pettrigrew's weakness. I knew the case was really about the past; Peter betrayed Lily and also aided in bullying Severus, which is why he also has it out for Sirius…

Over the course of third year, Harry's life revolved around simple things—his friends, his new relationship with Remus and Sirius; as well as the small dramas that arose from them. At first, the dramas seemed small, until he reached November:

…something between Faralyn and Lupin, Peeves caught them snogging, apparently…

Harry's heart raced. Until then, there hadn't been any changes that negatively affected anyone he cared about. If Raven was with Remus, then what about Tonks? Harry couldn't say that Raven was more or not as fitting for Remus, not when Remus and Tonks had a child together in his time.

In May, Harry had a dream about Voldemort, similar to what he dreamt over the summer before fourth year in the original timeline, except Peter wasn't in it, instead, a man with blond hair.

…"Yes, Albus?" Snape looked at me, but I couldn't read his expression.

"Mr. Potter had a dream about Voldemort. Care to explain, Harry? And please be as descriptive as possible."

I recalled as much of the dream as I could. Snape asked me to describe the man who was helping Voldemort…after I did, he identified the man as Barty Crouch Jr., who was apparently he presumed dead. Dumbledore told me to come directly to his office if I have another dream…

14 June, 1993

Voldemort has returned.

I was in Hogsmeade when I crossed paths with an old woman who was struggling to pick up her bag. Ron and Hermione happened to not be with me. I picked the bag up, not knowing it was a Portkey that would transport me to the graveyard of Tom Riddle Sr.

A man named Barty Crouch Jr. had been helping bring Voldemort back to life. He needed my blood—I still don't fully understand why—and used it to create a new adult form. He then tried to kill me, but I stopped him. The streams of our wands connected, and reacted (because our wand cores are the same?) and I saw my parents, as well as others he killed. They distracted him as I got back to the Portkey.

Nobody believes that Voldemort's back, except Ron and the other Weasleys, Hermione, and the staff. There was really no evidence; just Snape's Dark Mark and the cut on my arm, and my word.

Dumbledore notified the Ministry, but they refused to believe him. "Next year might be…different from what you're used to at Hogwarts," Dumbledore told me.

I asked him last week if I could stay with Sirius over the summer, but he told me I'd be staying with the Dursleys. A load of rubbish, this is…

Over the summer, the dementors attacked, and Harry learned about the Order, like he had before. Harry was as close to Hermione and Ron and he would've been when this all happened before his fifth year. Ron and Hermione, however, seemed closer to each other. They'd had fewer fights over the years, it seemed, and there hadn't been (or wouldn't be) a fight over Viktor Krum or Scabbers. The new Harry was already contemplating their relationship in his journal.

At Hogwarts, Harry had to deal with the Ministry and the distrust of others in a similar way, but without the jealousy of Hermione and Ron being appointed prefects or the haunting memory of Cedric's death. He paid no mind to Cho, who was invested with Cedric, but not to Ginny, either, as she was not yet on the Quidditch team. He started Dumbledore's Army, with spell recommendations from Sirius and Raven.

After dreaming about the attack of Arthur Weasley, Harry began Occlumency lessons with Severus.

I was nervous, for some reason. Or uncomfortable. I couldn't tell, being alone with Snape, if he was pretending I knew nothing about him, or if he was pretending to hate me.

"You must learn to control your emotions. It takes discipline, which you no doubt lack—"

"Why are you doing this?" I knew I'd probably crossed a line, but I didn't care at the time.

"Potter, do not interrupt me when—"

"I understand you have to act as though you hate me in front of others, but why now? How can you expect me to want to learn?"

Snape leaned in, voice a low hiss. "The Dark Lord can still access your mind. He cannot know any of this. Perhaps once you master Occlumency…" He paused, then was back to his old self. "Please address me as 'sir' or 'Professor.'"

Voldemort apparently has a connection with me that I must prevent, even though it's been helpful. If I allow the connection to continue, the Dark Lord may control me.

"Occlumency is extremely difficult to master. It requires a magical ability much, much more advanced than yours. I am going to enter your mind, and you have to force me out. Expel all emotion."

I nodded, and felt the spell hit me. Memories flashed by, of the Dursleys, the Burrow, feeding Sirius' Animagus, talking to Lupin about his relationship with Faralyn…then I forced Snape out.

Two months later, after weeks of training, Harry had nearly perfected Occlumency.

"Once more," Snape said. I felt a tug on my mind, but by now I was able to recognize it and stop it.

"Good. You're ready." Snape crossed his arms. "I will inform the Headmaster."…

At the end of the year, Harry felt a tug on his mind in his sleep, and stopped it. He informed Dumbledore, who, aware of what Voldemort wanted, alerted the Ministry. They found that the Ministry had been broken into, and the Order of the Phoenix Apparated into the Department of Mysteries. Voldemort was sighted, and now the Ministry knew he was back.

And Sirius was still alive.

Harry flipped the page, trying not to get his hopes up, when he saw a chunk of pages was missing. Instead, Hermione had written:

In case you steal the diary, we ripped out the ending. If you want to read the rest, come into the Hog's Head as you promised.

Panic rushed through Harry. His fingers found the Time-Turner, but was hesitant to turn it. Should he seal the universe? He knew for sure that he, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were alive, but no one else. There had to be a way to find out what had happened other than from himself—

The Daily Prophet.

It was late, but Harry was bound to be able to find a copy of the Prophet somewhere in Hogsmeade.

He hurried out of the Shrieking Shack and into Hogsmeade. Under the safety of the invisibility cloak, he walked down the middle of the street, eyes moving quickly to spot a copy of the paper.

There one was, across from the Hog's Head. Harry ducked next to a nearby store and whispered, "Accio Daily Prophet!" The paper landed at his feet, and he bent to pick it up.

"Got you!" Someone pulled off his cloak. It was Raven.

Harry stood and put his hands up, noticing the wand she had pointed at him. They both glanced at the Hog's Head.

"I shouldn't come in contact with the other Harry."

Raven pushed her hood back, eyebrow raised. Wand still raised, she motioned for him to come further out of sight. "How do I know you're Harry Potter? Tell me something you know that he," she gestured into the Hog's Head, "doesn't."

Harry fidgeted, thinking quickly. "Oh! You don't, or at least didn't, think we should have houses at Hogwarts."

Her wand lowered slightly.

"What else?"

"You like to draw, er, your parents were disappointed that you weren't sorted into Slytherin, you knew Regulus and Sirius Black when you were younger…" He stopped listing because she had lowered her wand, covering her mouth with her other hand.

Harry cut through her shock. "I need you to tell me who died in the past two years."

Raven blinked and lowered her hand. "I can't tell you, Harry's supposed to tell you."

"If you don't, I'll Apparate and find out some other way."

She considered him, then gave in. "Alright. Death Eaters, too?"

"I suppose—how about Lucius Malfoy and Peter Pettigrew?"

"Dead. I mean, Peter Pettigrew is. Lucius is alive."

Harry exhaled. "Alright, go on."

"Well, there's Voldemort, he's dead, I don't know if that's a shock for you. And, look, before I continue, at least tell me what's going on."

Harry leaned against the side of the wall behind them. "The short of it is I used Dumbledore's Time-Turner to travel back to 1971, when you were starting school, thinking I could, I dunno, get closure on things. This was after the Second War ended, and Voldemort was killed. I thought I could make Severus' life better. I felt guilty, and that kind of changed over time into us being friends. You and I were best friends, too. I went to school with you, in disguise, for five years, so. It didn't work out, because he and Lily, they…well, if they got together instead of Lily and James, I wouldn't've been born."

He paused. Raven was chewing her lip, but said nothing, so he continued.

"This was me trying again. I left a letter for you and myself, hoping to save you and also make his—Severus'—life better. But I can't make everything permanent until I know that things are better."

Raven leaned up against the wall next to him. "What could've happened to make your War worse than this one was?"

"We destroyed all the Horcruxes and Voldemort died, but a lot of people died that I cared about. Remus, for starters."

Raven turned to Harry. "Remus is alive."

"Tonks, then, do you know her? Is she…?"

Raven smiled. "Yeah, she's alive. They're together, you know."

Harry glanced at her, careful not to appear too elated, in case it was still a sensitive subject. "You don't still…?"

"No. Oh, Merlin, no, we're fine. And how do you know, was that in your journal?" Raven chuckled, then looked at Harry. "He should be with her. I was too conflicted, and didn't want to start something too serious if I wasn't ready. You must know how that would hurt him."

Harry nodded.

Raven cleared her throat. "More casualties. Albus…died. I'm so sorry. He was killed by Voldemort."

Harry swallowed, blinking rapidly. He had expected that to be the case once again, but one of his hopes was put out. "He died in my time, too. Er, how, exactly…?"

"Two summers ago, before you were in sixth year, Albus went to destroy Gaunt's Ring. It was a set up, it turns out. See, by then his diary, diadem, and locket had been destroyed, so he suspected Albus. Who else could it have been? We think Albus couldn't keep up with Voldemort because the Horcrux attacked him, somehow. But he still destroyed it."

"How were the locket and the diadem destroyed?"

"Albus theorized about the Horcruxes, and knew after the diary about their potential. You took it upon yourself to find the diadem, somehow figuring out that it was in the school. When I learned about the Horcruxes, Albus helped to interpret the instructions Regulus left me before he died in that cave."

Harry nodded. "When did Voldemort die?"

"Over a year ago. November 2nd. You were in your sixth year."

Harry was silent for a while. Finally, he asked, "How is that possible?"

Raven crossed her arms; the temperature was dropping. "You were on the run. You destroyed all of the Horcruxes, then battled Voldemort outside of Malfoy Manor. You had let yourself be captured."

"Did I know, then?"

"Know what?"

"That I was a Horcrux."

Raven nodded. Harry noticed her eyes shift to the Hog's Head. "I suppose I should start from your fifth year…You had destroyed the diadem and the locket. At the end of the year, Albus gave you the Elder Wand." She waited for an indication that he knew what she was talking about, then continued, "We think he knew he might be killed while destroying the ring, so it became yours instead of Voldemort's. You had to go into hiding, because he wanted you dead, and he wanted the wand.

"Severus sent Fawkes to find you and deliver a letter to you after you killed Nagini. It tried to kill you, but you had Gryffindor's sword. I believe Hermione beheaded it. Anyhow, the letter was to set up a meeting. Severus felt too pressured to directly meet, so he sent me instead."

"Were you on the run, since you were on the List?"

"Not until I knew the Death Eaters were taking over Hogwarts. When I found out you had to die, I admit I lost faith. Severus had only found out before Dumbledore was killed, and he, I believe—" she stopped to compose herself, "…wanted to die."

"Did he die?" Harry had dreaded the answer to this question since he picked up the journal.

He waited for Raven, who was unresponsive, to reply, and was about to repeat the question when she said,

"Yes. Well, he's…" her voice was quiet. "He's missing."
 


Chapter 19: Hero Again
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"Missing? For how long?"

"Since Voldemort was killed. It's been—it's been a year and a half." Raven's face was hard to make out in the yellow wash of the streetlights, but it seemed splotchy. "So, I mean, he could be alive. I'm sorry, Harry."

"No, don't apologize…" Harry felt his chest tighten as he willed himself to lose hope. He was content with the survival of Remus and Tonks; more and he was asking too much.

"I looked for him, even in the camps. You might know this, but the Death Eaters had camps for Muggles, Muggleborns, blood traitors…anyone who went against complying Purebloods. The vast majority, if not all, of the camps have been found; there were hundreds of people."

Harry nodded. In his time, they hadn't yet come as close to finding everyone.

"Where was I? Oh, yes, so I met up with you in the Forest of Dean. When I told you about the Horcrux you harbored, and what had to be done, you were, of course, upset, to say the least. Ron was furious, while Hermione, it seemed, had suspected there was something Albus'd been keeping from you. They both refused for you to die, and you pretended to agree. We spoke alone, however, and you told me to do it while they slept. As much as I didn't want to, I didn't want your friends to have to do it, or Severus, least of all Voldemort. So I killed you.

"You met Dumbledore in Limbo, and he explained that the Elder Wand, coupled with your and your mother's sacrifice, would be enough to defeat Voldemort. When you came back to life, we had to tell Hermione and Ron. After everything calmed down, I had to leave. I was helping others who were on the run.

"You three decided to purposely trigger the Taboo curse and were brought to Voldemort. By some miracle, Harry, you defeated him. The witnesses fled, and the War was over."

Harry nodded. So there was nothing particularly extraordinary or consequential in the way Voldemort was brought down.

Raven cleared her throat. "Why don't you list off people, and I'll tell you if they're alive."

"Alright…Ginny."

Raven nodded. "Alive."

Harry kept listing, continuing if she nodded. "Fred. George. The Weasleys. Luna, Neville…Hedwig." Harry paused, eyes prickling, before he felt ready to go on. "Er, Hagrid. What about Dobby? Grindelwald—"

"Dead. Grindelwald is, I mean."

"Hogwarts professors?"

"Alive."

"Hogwarts students?"

Raven paused. "There were a couple that left school, I can't remember names, or if they're alive."

"Okay, and…Sirius Black?"

"Yes, he's alive."

Harry blinked, shock so great he couldn't manage a smile. "Thank you." His fingers, weak with relief, trembled as he took out the Time-Turner. Despite the assurance of the number of lives now saved, he could not yet bring himself to perform the spell to seal the universe. "Would you—would you say this time is good? You wouldn't change anything?"

Raven looked away, thinking. Or was she doing something else? Her eyes searched the space five meters in front of them.

"What's wrong?"

"It's just…it's nothing." Raven took a deep breath. "Look, this time is probably better than yours, but it's not perfect. There are things I would change, if I could…" She cleared her throat. "But that doesn't matter. Severus died in your time, too?"

"Yeah. But obviously that's—that's something that can never change. Er, were he and I on good terms, before he d—" Harry caught himself. "…went missing?"

"Well, for your safety, and out of his stubbornness and coldness, not really. But even if he didn't express it, he cared for you."

Harry nodded and closed his eyes. He knew the positives outweighed the negatives. At the very least, in this time, Severus hadn't had to live with Harry hating him. At the most, the world benefitted because of it.

Harry was ready. He had tried—and succeeded—in making a better universe, though more changed then he expected. He never would've guessed that two letters could kill the (second) most powerful wizard in the world long before he had been killed before. The result paralleled the universe with teenage Severus; it was then that Harry's kindness toward, guidance of, and friendship with Raven, Severus, and even Lily improved their lives. In this universe, Harry became closer to Dumbledore, the Weasleys, Raven, Severus, Hermione, and Sirius. From Dumbledore, Raven, and Severus, Harry gained more knowledge and understanding of the Wizarding World and his personal role in it. From the Weasleys, Hermione, and Sirius, he had a stronger sense of belonging and love.

"What would happen if both of you—both Harrys—stayed?"

"This reality would end as soon as time caught up to when I traveled back, which is…" Harry checked his watch, "Two hours from now. If I perform the spell Dumbledore instructed, then this Universe will be final, and I will take the place of the other Harry."

His other self appeared out of nowhere, pulling off his invisibility cloak, after Raven gave the cue. That Harry started to speak, but was cut off by the flash of the Sealing Spell.

Hours later, Harry woke in an unfamiliar bed. Blinking in the bright light of the morning, he realized he must be at an inn.

He had expected to remember at least something from his old self. While he didn't gain any memories, he felt he had retained schoolwork.

He was still dressed from the night before, in his own clothes, and not the other Harry's. He freshened up, his own things mixed with Ginny's. He was about to leave the room when there was a knock at the door.

"It's us," came Ron's voice.

Harry opened the door. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny marched immediately in and sat on his bed.

"Tell us everything."

Harry wasn't phased by their directness; just struck by emotion. He pulled Ron into a hug, tears rushing up despite his best efforts to suppress them. He then hugged Ginny and Hermione, who were also wary of him. "Er, let's get something to eat first, this'll take at least the whole day."

As he first started describing life without the letters and listened to Ron and Hermione's responses, he could tell there was a significant rift between he and his friends. They had been closer to the other Harry than he had ever been to the versions he'd known, and it didn't help that he hadn't seen them in several years.

He finished his story at midnight that night. They had changed into their pyjamas, with Harry, Hermione, and Ginny on the bed, Ron in the chair.

Ron folded his hands, eyes distant, thinking. "So, you're like 23 years old in your head?"

Harry blinked. "Yeah, I suppose I am."

"Why help Snape, though? Why not Sirius, or Lupin?" Ginny asked, studying him.

Hermione nodded. "And why not kill Voldemort as a baby?"

"I helped Snape because his death didn't affect the outcome of the War. And Sirius' childhood was the highlight of his life, whereas Severus became how he was because his childhood sucked. I thought if I made that better, everything else would fall into place from there. And I didn't understand how time worked, so I assumed he could have a chance with Lily."

"I could've talked you out of it, you know," Hermione said. "I would've known what would happen from the start."

"I don't regret going back in time. It might've been hopeless, but it led to this."

Ron spoke gravely. "If 'this' means the Harry we knew has been replaced by a stranger."

"If anything, I might be a bit more serious than that Harry. But now that so many people are alive, I'll be…" Harry trailed off. "Can you tell me what's happened since the War ended?"

Ron and Hermione glanced at each other. Ginny noticed this and said, "I'll do it. You guys should get some rest."

"Alright." They stood, hugging Harry a little awkwardly on their way out. "See you in the morning, Harry."

"Goodnight." Harry sat back down on the bed.

After the door closed, Ginny glanced at Harry, then entwined her fingers in his. "We used to have years of life in common. And now…every word we've exchanged is gone. I don't know if I should consider it like you've died, or just lost your memory."

"The second one is much less intense."

Ginny smirked. "You're right. Oh, and be prepared for me to start every sentence with, 'Did I tell you…' because I'm gonna have to catch you up on a ton of stuff…"

"Y'know, I think I need to take you all to the Pensieve, to see what I experienced. Not soon, exactly, because there's a few things I have to do first, but before the end of the summer. So you…" Harry yawned. "…can understand me better."

Ginny yawned too, then rested her head on his shoulder. "Good idea."

"Okay, before I fall asleep, tell me one thing that happened."

"Lupin and Tonks are getting married next Sunday."

"You're serious?" For the first time, Harry felt as though he hadn't missed that much of the timeline.

"Yeah. It's on the anniversary of the end of Second War, so it's a big deal. Oh, and Tonks already had her baby, Edward—the same name you told us—and Sirius is the godfather. He's also their best man. You're a groomsman, I'm a bridesmaid."

Harry closed his eyes, emotions heightened by his weariness. "Do I have dress robes already?" He stood, pulled back the covers, and gestured for Ginny to join him.

"Close—you have a dress. You wouldn't know this, but your other self was much more fabulous."

"Ginny, one time you're gonna say something like that and I'll believe you, then I'll be going about completely misinformed."

"Don't worry, I'll keep trying. My next idea was to secretly replace your wardrobe with the ugliest patterns I could find, and I'd say you'd have to wear them so you wouldn't raise suspicion."

"D'you want to keep telling me this stuff? Because then I'll know how to protect myself."

"Sure, I've got loads of ideas. Let's see…you and McGonagall had a torrential love affair over the past few months, so make sure to tell her you love her more than anything, but you have to break it off because she's really let herself go…"

The next day, Harry thought of a way to help Severus move on, or at least to gain his trust. To carry out his plan, he met with Raven that evening at the Three Broomsticks. He told her a two-hour version of his story, then that he wanted to see Dumbledore's office one last time, and have a chance to talk to his portrait.

"…and I want to return the Time-Turner."

Raven sat back in her chair. "Shouldn't you destroy it?"

"Dumbledore wants me to, at least in the letter he wrote, but I think that it's too important to destroy. What if England is bombed? Or—"

"Or someone has a rubbish life, so you rewrite time to change it."

Harry crossed his arms. "What are you trying to say?"

"Look, what you did for Severus was noble, and yes, it changed the world for the better, but not everyone is going to be as lucky if they try the same thing."

"Well, that's why it's experimental. You choose to seal the universe if it works out."

"But it's not a power that should be given to people. Not one person, not the government, not anyone. No matter how pure their intentions are. Would you want someone else controlling your fate?"

Harry drank from his bottle to avoid replying right away. "I suppose not."

"And you might be tempted. I might be tempted, even. It's better to deal with life as it happens."

Harry stared at the bubbles fizzing in the butterbeer. "Maybe I was dealing with life as it happened."

"It's a part of growing up, I suppose, to learn to live in the moment. You don't think I want to stop myself from getting involved with the Dark Arts? We make mistakes, then learn to handle them."

"Fine. But your reasoning doesn't apply to me. I didn't go back in time for myself, I did it for you and Severus."

Raven sighed. "Alright."

Harry studied her. "It's strange, how time repeats itself."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, you and Remus were a thing when I knew you. Though, he might have been a way to get over Severus…"

Raven coughed on her drink. "What? I fancied him? Them, I mean? Merlin, that's…"

Harry brought it up to see her reaction. It must be true for both of them.

Raven was solemn now, though still embarrassed, as she avoided Harry's gaze. "I did fancy Severus when I first came to Hogwarts to teach. I was young, and lonely, without any of my old friends, Regulus in particular. Of course, Severus has always secluded himself, so although we got along well, it was impossible to do anything about how I felt, as you might imagine. But when you came with the letter…I truly realized how hopeless it was."

Harry averted his eyes and nodded. In the original timeline, no one wanted to befriend Severus, and now, even when people did, he still pushed them away.

Raven caught on to his knowing expression. "It's odd, sharing this with you, even if you say we were close. Well, anyhow, it's done with now. I just wish…You know, Severus didn't deserve to be miserable. That's the worst of it. The only one who could help him was himself. Oh, and if you don't already know; Severus had an unofficial will, only for those closest to him to see. He said not to reveal where his loyalty truly lay until two years after his death. It was hard for us to do at first, but he must've had a reason, and we have to respect his wishes…" Her voice petered out at the end.

Harry nodded, frowning in thought as he searched for something to say. He was about to spew some sort of consoling comment about life and moving on when Raven changed the subject—"So do you remember anything from this time?"

"Er, no, nothing. I wish I had a better sense of everything that's happened."

"If it helps, it's hard to tell there's any difference between you and the previous Harry."

"It seems that way on the outside, I'd think."

"It's just that you're more guarded than he was. More serious. That'll fade with time." Raven downed the remainder of her tankard. "You haven't seen anyone else yet, have you?"

"Not yet. I'm being filled in on the details of the past year. Then I'll be ready. Otherwise even anyone I'm not close to will know something's up, and I don't want anyone else to know, really. Except, well, I'm going to look for Severus. If I find him, I might tell him."

Raven didn't object, rather gave him a long look that conveyed her understanding.

"Is there anywhere I shouldn't bother checking?"

"His home in Spinner's End. There was a spell on the house that made it look as though it'd burned down. That's why I thought he might be alive. But when I reversed the spell, the inside was dusty and cold. I followed leads, but it's been months now. Really, he could be anywhere, though I don't see why he wouldn't be in England."

Harry nodded, then set down his bottle and stood. They'd both finished their drinks.

Raven smoothed her robes and hugged him. "You're incredible, Harry, you know that?"

Harry dipped his head. "You're allowed into Hogwarts, right?"

"I could always pretend I needed some old papers if we're caught. Wear your Cloak, though, just in case."

Raven and Harry took the Hogsmeade path to get to the school. Apparently there had been some consideration of removing the Anti-Disapparition Jinx that had been cast on Hogwarts. Many people were tired of living in fear, but even more wanted to put higher security measures into place.

"How long will five years worth of memories last? Can you trim it down?"

"I'll do my best. Maybe Dumbledore can help."

They crossed the grounds and the halls of Hogwarts, eventually reaching Dumbledore's office.

"Fizzing Whizbees," Raven said. "Last year Albus gave me advice on searching for Severus. He told me to use this password." They reached the top of the staircase. Dumbledore's office was only slightly different from how Harry remembered.

"Ah, Harry, Raven. How are you?"

Harry turned toward the voice and studied the portrait, which was slightly more vibrant than he remembered from his own time.

"I'm all right, Albus." Raven nudged Harry forward.

"I'm fine, sir. Er, you?"

"Call me Albus. And I'm doing well, thank you."

Harry nodded, contemplating what to say.

"Something troubling you, Harry?" Albus asked, just as Harry took out the Time-Turner. Albus leaned forward in astonishment. "You merged the times. I've been waiting to meet you since we discovered who had written the letters. Please, tell me what happened."

Harry briefly filled Albus in, focusing on the original timeline and why he wanted certain things to change. "Now I'm not sure if the Time-Turner should be destroyed."

Albus steepled his fingers. "What do you think, Raven?"

"I think it's too powerful. Consider the Elder Wand. In Harry's time, it's why Severus was murdered. Generations of people died because of it, and that was enough to hide it. But this, the Time-Turner, could cause immeasurable damage, so more severe action should be taken."

"And Harry, why do you think it should not be destroyed?"

"We might need it, in the future."

Albus nodded. "Why not keep it hidden? That is a reasonable compromise."

"Because I don't want anyone who knows about it now to find it. Especially Severus."

"If you only trust yourself with its power, is it worth keeping?"

Harry considered this. Part of him didn't even trust himself to decide when changing time was absolutely necessary. There was a chance he would spend the rest of his life tweaking little mistakes; every sudden death of a friend, every wrong thing said to Ginny, every broken vase.

Raven rested a hand on Harry's shoulder, removing him from his thoughts. Nearly decided, Harry asked Albus, "Do you remember how to recreate this?"

"I do."

Harry chewed his lip. "If something needs to change, I'll fix it after. I know now that I have the power to change things, but I have to focus on how I can change the future, not the past. And if something happens that cannot be changed without the Time-Turner, and the world suffers because of it, then we can make another one."

Albus nodded. "I am glad I—or rather, my other self—has been able to help you."

"Yeah. I can't thank him, so I'll thank you." Harry looked between Albus and Raven. "I'm not going to destroy it yet. I want to look for Severus, and see the others. Before that, though, Du—I mean, Albus, how should I show my memories to Raven? I have five years of memories…"

"The Pensieve will show her only the strongest memories. Also, time goes faster relative to the length of memories."

"Okay. Raven, are you ready?"

"I am." She crossed to the Pensieve. Harry drew his wand and placed the tip at his temple, then pulled out a long, silvery strand of memories, from leaving Ginny to turning back to the present.

"Before you see this, know that you—that we—can't have this back." Harry swirled the strand in the Pensieve. He exchanged a tight-lipped smile with Raven before she immersed her face in the basin.

Harry went to the Headmaster's desk and sat in the chair. He didn't know how long the memories would take, so he took of his glasses off and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, it was to Raven's voice.

"Harry, it's seven in the morning."

Harry rubbed his eyes and sat up. "I slept for that long?"

Raven's eyes were slightly pink. "I didn't want to wake you up an hour ago, when the memories ended, so I talked to Albus, and reflected on everything."

"Oh." Harry stood to stretch, but Raven pulled him into a hug instead. "Thank you."

After a moment, Harry asked, "What do you think about everything?"

Raven pulled away and held him at arm's length. "First off, I'm so glad you're here." She let him go and leaned against the desk. "At first, I went through what you had, undoubtedly—I was angry at the unfairness of it all. But I realized it wasn't all better in the new timeline, and, in the end, it was impossible for it to work out." Raven smiled a little. "I also realized what made the difference in the timelines."

"What was that?"

"Love," Albus finished, smiling.

Harry raised an eyebrow, a bit annoyed at how well they both seemed to be taking this. Surely it brought regrets to light. "What about you and Severus?"

Raven's composure faltered. "It doesn't matter anymore."

Harry saw her fingers tighten on the edge of the desk and, perhaps rudely, felt himself relax. She wasn't indifferent to or happy about the other timeline. She had to be move on to protect herself.

Harry stepped between Raven and Albus' portrait. "I know how we can find out if Severus is alive. Albus, sir, where is the Resurrection Stone?"

"Ah, I see…" Albus smiled. "Very clever. The Stone is in the cabinet beside my desk. Yes, there…Do you see it?"

Harry picked the Stone up carefully. If Severus was dead, he would be able to summon him. "You do it," he told Raven, passing her the Stone. "Just concentrate on him, and squeeze the Stone in your hand."

Raven closed her eyes and her hand tightened around the Resurrection Stone. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes. "Severus. Is he supposed to be invisible?"

No one was there.

Harry let out a sigh of relief. "So he's alive."

Raven covered her mouth with her hands, laughing out of shock. She embraced Harry, who gladly returned the gesture.

When they recovered from the discovery, Harry motioned as if he returned the Stone, but instead he discreetly pocketed it.

"I'm going to look for him. Raven, if I don't find him by Tuesday, I want you to join me."

Raven nodded. "I'll look on my own for now. If I had to guess, based on his will, we can't tell anyone he's alive. He might not want to come out of hiding."

"What'll we do if he doesn't?"

"I don't know."

Maybe Severus could be anywhere. Although, Voldemort could've put his soul in anything. Following the same line of thought, Severus' location may not be such a mystery.

When they left the grounds, Harry Apparated to Spinner's End. He adjusted the Cloak of Invisibility so it completely covered him, then stood back to study the house. Was there a more discreet way to get inside? Was it safe enough to go through the front door? Harry walked up the steps and—

CRACK! Someone Apparated right over Harry, knocking him to the ground. The pain was to great for him to get to his feet, he felt a wand press on the back of his neck.

A vaguely familiar voice—not Severus'—spoke into his ear. "Ah, Harry Potter. How long we've waited to—" Then there was a flash of light, and he fell to the ground beside Harry.

"Potter? What are you doing here?" But Severus' voice was lost to the ringing in Harry's ears, and his world slowly turned to black…

Harry's eyes opened. His head hurt tremendously for a moment, then the pain vanished. He sat up, realizing he was in Severus' living room. Lester Rowle, who had Apparated onto Harry, rested, frozen, on the floor. His eyes were closed, and his limbs were locked.

"I see you have recovered," Severus said, striding into the room. He checked Rowle, then poured himself a drink.

Harry was at a loss. Heat rose in his cheeks. "I thought you were dead. Everyone did. Why don't you tell me why you're here!"

Severus stared at Harry from his armchair.

Harry, shaking, continued, "You know, Raven came here. She said—she said there was a spell on the house, as though you were trying to protect yourself. What reason—"

"As much as I would like to chat, it would be best if you left," Severus interrupted. The casualness in his tone was forced, straining to seem reasonable.

"If I left? What's going on—"

Severus set his drink down and stood. "Fine. If you won't leave, I will. It is not your place to interfere."

"Interfere with what, Severus?" Harry rose, his face red. He had to clench his fists to keep himself from lashing out. How could Severus have done this to himself? Everyone outside of a select few still thought he was loyal to Voldemort.

Severus narrowed his eyes. "You called me Severus. Who are you?"

Harry faltered. "Who am I? What do you—" And then Severus went into his mind. Harry saw flashes of memory from his childhood to the 70s and to the past few days.

Severus left Harry's mind and immediately rounded on him. "Potter, explain. I saw myself as a child." He pointed his wand at Harry's throat, eyes deadly. "You have thirty seconds to explain yourself."

Harry put his hands up. He had to make the most of his time, and hadn't he had enough practice doing that? "Thirty seconds…Okay, I'm from another time, or timeline, whatever. Well, I took this timeline over. Everything about my life is the same as you know, up until my first year. Er, in my original time, I didn't trust you. A lot of people died, and it took through the May of my seventh year to kill Voldemort. You died, too. He killed you. I felt indebted to you, so I went back to the 70s. Actually, Dumbledore left his personal Time-Turner to me. I became friends—"

"Thirty seconds is up." Still, Severus' eyes were dull with disbelief, and his voice was quiet. He wasn't going anywhere; Harry's story was too crazy to abandon.

"…I became friends with you, and Lily, and Raven, and my father, the Marauders, too…and I made things better. Too much better. You and Lily were going to be together, which meant I wouldn't've been born, so I couldn't merge the times. But I still wanted to help you, and now Raven, too. So I wrote the letters. Then I came to this time to see if things didn't get worse. And things…" He stopped to compose himself. "Yeah, things are better."

Severus noticed his wand had lowered slightly and raised his arm. "How do you expect me to believe you?"

"I can give you more of the story later. Now, though, I can prove it to you with something I'd only know if my story is true; you wouldn't eat toast at Hogwarts; you only liked the kind Lily made over the summer."

Severus froze. "Perhaps she had a diary, and that is how you know—"

"After Petunia read her diary, Lily refused to own one again."

"That may or may not be—"

Harry raised his voice. "I know about the List. That's why it was so hard to leave the Dark Arts."

"Any fool could tell you about—"

"I know you thought Lily would respect you if you were powerful. I know how depressed you were when she got together with James—"

"Mere speculation—"

"You want something more? I know your dad is the reason you don't like people touching you. I know you never told Lily what he did—"

"ENOUGH!" Severus covered his face with his hand. "That is enough, Potter."

"I'm sorry. I didn't—I crossed a line."

Severus closed his eyes. "I have been undercover since the Dark Lord was defeated. I did not want anyone to know my true loyalty because I became a part of the alliance of the Dark Lord's former followers. Despite the Dark Lord's absence, it was easy to prove my loyalty; I did not try to plead forgiveness, or my innocence. During my participation, I anonymously tipped off the Ministry, or set up others so it seemed as though they betrayed the Death Eaters. I gave away the location of their camps, faking my capture on more than one occasion. Rowle is the last I know to have served the Dark Lord and escape punishment, which he has done twice now. I planned to turn him in." He downed the rest of his drink to avoid continuing.

Harry didn't know what to say. He couldn't help but fill with pride and respect for Severus, which was taken over only by pity. "Er, well, I brought this." Harry slowly pulled out the Resurrection stone. He offered it to Severus, whose eyes flicked between the stone and Harry.

Severus didn't take it.

"Alright, I will, then." Harry gripped the stone, concentrating on his mother, and she appeared to him. Harry took a deep breath, then motioned toward Severus. Lily turned her relaxed gaze in his direction.

"Lily?" Severus didn't dare step closer.

"Sev." She smiled and approached him. If the look she gave Severus made Harry's chest tighten, he couldn't imagine the effect it had on Severus. Lily was close enough to tak