An early winter settled on the Hogwarts grounds in November. Owls were blown off course in the high winds, snow began to fall, and the 7th years’ lessons were becoming more physically and mentally demanding. Lily never had enough free time with her friends or James because of the tremendous amount of homework every night. Erica had become very snappish lately as a result of her workload, a drastic change from her usual caring and kind self. Remus was looking very ill, and Lily guessed it must be getting closer to the full moon, although she had remained true to James and had not spoken a word to anyone about his secret. James had kicked the Quidditch team practices into overdrive so they could train for their match against Hufflepuff in December. This meant that they rarely saw James, Sirius, or Crystal outside of class, and when they did see Crystal, she was constantly close to tears and the littlest things set her off bawling because of stress. Tracy went into an almost depressed mood for lack of spending time with Sirius, and her complaining that James was working him too hard and too long and how it was hurting their relationship was all Lily ever heard from her anymore, and it was really starting to get on her nerves. Lily had barely spent anytime alone with James since that day in the rain. At times it felt like he was almost avoiding her, always rushing off to go the Quidditch pitch to practice. She almost felt jealous of the game, wishing that he would spend all that time used for practice with her instead. All in all, the month of November dragged on very slowly, and it was almost painful to see her friends breaking under the pressure. Even the professors seemed irked and frazzled. “Crystal Turner! For the last time, it is a diagonal sweep with the wand, not a diagonal wave!” Professor Mcgonagall cried exasperatedly at Crystal during a particularly difficult transfiguration class. They were working on transfiguring primates into music boxes (what the point of transfiguring a primate into a music box is, they will never know), and the wand motions and incantation were very complex. Crystal, whose strong point had never been transfiguration, and also the fact that she never had the time to do homework or practice the spells anymore, had been completely unsuccessful the entire class period. The only one, in fact, who had not made the slightest change in her primate. Crystal’s eyes began filling with tears, and Lily knew she was on the verge of emotional break down, right there in front of the class. Professor McGonagall sensed this too, and called her aside to speak with her. Lily went back to her own primate, which had acquired a turning handle, an odd boxish shape, a slightly wooden texture, and was now singing a classical ballad. Still, it was unmistaken ably a primate. James was also called over by McGonagall. He looked very confused by this, as e had transfigured his primate successfully on the first go, and wondered why he had been summoned Crystal was now sobbing, and Professor McGonagall was now giving James a very stern talking to. “Wonder what that’s all about…” Erica whispered to Lily, looking concerned. The bell rang and Crystal hurried out of the room, eager to get back to the common room and be alone, it seemed. Tracy, Erica, and Lily hurried after her to console her, and also to find out what happened. McGonagall was still talking to James, and so Sirius, Remus, and Peter waited outside the door for him. He emerged a few minutes later, looking very indignant indeed. “What did she say Prongs?” Peter asked excitedly in the midst of all the action. “Said I have to go easy on the practice schedule, that Crystal and other team members are falling behind on their school work.” He huffed angrily, as the thought of less Quidditch maddened him. “You’ve got to admit, James, that the match is still a couple weeks away, and that Hufflepuff is a pushover… and I wouldn’t mind a little of a break either.” said Sirius carefully, not wanting to invoke James’s anger on him, but altogether happy with the prospect of less Quidditch practices. “Yea, so you and Tracy can go off and snuggle some more?” James replied hotly, walking briskly in front of the group. “I thought you of all people would understand how important it is for us to practice for the games. Do you want to win the cup or not?” he yelled, turning back around to face Sirius, who looked very shocked by his sudden outburst. “James, I’m sorry, but like you said at the beginning of the year, we’ve got this thing in the bag…” Sirius muttered quietly. “Easy for you to say, you’re not the captain, you don’t see all of our many weaknesses, you haven’t seen the Slytherins in training, you don’t have all the pressure on you to win the game!” James was now hollering so loud that his voice was reverberating off of the stone hallway. With that, he spun around on his heel and stormed off n the direction of the owlry. “I think something other than Quidditch is eating Prongs.” Remus replied, looking very grave. “Whatever it is, he needs to get over it. I agree with McGonagall and Crystal, he has become a maniac, and I know we don’t need this much practice. It always seems like he is afraid to be in the common room too long, like he is avoiding someone there.” Sirius pondered to Remus as they headed back for the common room. *** James sat alone in the owlry, feeling very guilty at the way he had yelled at Sirius. Quidditch wasn’t what was bothering him, and he also felt bad about the way he had been avoiding this problem, hurting Crystal and the others on the team. No, what was on his mind was Lily. It had begun to scare him how much he thought about her, obsessed over her. He had had feelings in that mud puddle that he had never had before, and to know that he felt like that about her frightened him very much. He felt that he was way too young to be experiencing such passionate longings for a girl, a girl he had only kissed twice. He had been avoiding the common room, using Quidditch as his excuse, to avoid Lily. He had always thought that he would have to admire Lily from afar for his entire life. Now that Lily wanted to be with him, he was ashamed that he was with her, for it felt like she deserved better than her. He was loopy when he was with her, unable to see straight. But when he was apart, he could barely stand the longing he felt. By concentrating on Quidditch, he was able to numb his mind for awhile. “James, what are you doing here all alone?” came a simpering voice from behind him, startling him so much he jumped. It was Emma. “Oh, hey, just thinking…” “Right. Here’s another thing to think about…” She began, allowing the suspense to mount. Now was her opportunity to find out how much had happened in the shrieking shack, by seeing how uncomfortable he got. “Word’s out that you and Lily were up to something that day in Hogsmeade, you know, in the Shrieking Shack…” True, no word was out yet, but one would be soon! She thought with delight. “What?” James asked, very confused. It had only been a kiss, nothing extreme or anything, he reassured himself. Unless she knew about what had been said in there… “Oh, you know, how things got very ‘animal like’.” She said sweetly, using the animal example in reference to something very dirty, and was very delighted to see James’s reaction at her words. Something definitely had happened. “You know then? You heard what we said and everything?” James said hoarsely, taking the animal reference as hinting that she knew he was an animagus. Heard what they had said? Emma wondered confusedly. If she had been in Lily’s position, she surely wouldn’t have been talking during that. But James was definitely hiding something big, bigger than even she had imagined. Maybe Lily wasn’t the good little girl she had always assumed her to be. “Of course, every word!” she replied slyly, although having no idea of what they had said, and feeling that what they had talked about was the least of their worries. “How? Who told you this?” James knew he was dead meat if anyone found out about Remus being a werewolf, and the rest of them being illegal animagi. “I have my sources.” “Lily, she didn’t tell you, did she?” James asked, hoping that Lily had not betrayed his trust. “Yes, it was Lily.” Emma lied, hoping that James would be angry with Lily for revealing whatever had gone down in the Shrieking Shack. “Just thought you ought to know beforehand of what is going on around the school and your little romp with pleasure!” she said, in ecstasy of what she had just done, and what hopefully James would do to Lily, whatever they had talked about. And with that, Emma turned and left James alone once more in the owlry, alone with his own worried thoughts of what was about to come. But Emma knew she would have to wait for the opportune moment to use her valuable information… and she could hardly wait.
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