Outside the Shrieking Shack
The first Hogsmeade weekend of the year was sunny but bitingly cold. Students left the castle layered in hats and scarves and coats, which seemed to make Filch even more paranoid about illicit objects being snuck into the castle. Lily had been given the unhappy task of helping him ensure that no one without a permission form left the school gates. If she had found him unpleasant before, five minutes in his presence illuminated why James and Sirius hated him so much.
“Smith, is it?” he growled at a third-year girl, who jumped as he spoke to her.
“No, actually, it’s Smythe—”
“Don’t try to change your story now. There’ll be no sneaking into Hogsmeade for anyone.”
“Go ahead,” Lily said to the girl. “It’s Regan Smythe, right?”
The girl nodded and skittered past them to join her friends. Filch looked at Lily indignantly, but she simply rolled her eyes and put a check beside Regan’s name.
“You’ve just let someone off the grounds illegally!”
“I did no such thing,” Lily replied, checking off the names of several fifth years that had just passed.
“That girl was not cleared to visit the village!”
“You know, you might want to pay more attention to the boys that are trying to sneak behind you,” Lily commented. Filch whirled around and spotted the boys, whose faces registered panic. While he was shouting at them to clear off, James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter strolled up to Lily.
“Save me,” Lily said, Filch out of ear-shot as he chased after the three boys.
“Not having a good time?” Remus asked.
“He is by far the grumpiest person I have ever met,” Lily replied.
“Oh, come on, you’re being much too kind,” Sirius said.
“I would just leave, but I don’t want him to turn on me next.”
“I’ll do it for you,” James said, and Lily gave him a disbelieving smile.
“Don’t joke,” she said.
“Who’s joking? Here, give me the list.”
“You’re actually volunteering to spend time with Filch?”
“He turned on me long ago, so I'm not worried,” he said, grinning. “Plus, I think he’s a bit scared of me.”
Lily looked at James hesitantly. She could tell he was being sincere, but she wasn’t sure if she felt right about passing off her job to him.
“What about Hogsmeade?” Peter asked James.
“Peter’s right, you should just go,” Lily said. “I’ll be fine, don’t worry. We’ll probably be done in a half-hour anyway.”
“Lily,” he said, staring her straight in the eyes and pulling the paper from her hand, “go.”
He placed his free hand on her back and applied the slightest bit of pressure, pushing her towards Hogsmeade. She stepped sideways clumsily, her legs feeling slightly wobbly, until she was out of his reach.
“Are you sure?” she asked. Filch was hurrying back over to them, and she wanted to go before he returned.
“Positive,” James said. Lily smiled at him.
“Thank you,” she said, feeling like a bit of a fool for how close to positively gushing she sounded.
“You owe me!” James called as she walked down the lane towards Hogsmeade to join Mary and Anna in the Three Broomsticks. She was quite sure that being in James Potter’s debt was going to cost her a great deal.
She found Anna and Mary in a booth by the window with bottles of Butterbeer in front of them.
“That was fast,” Anna said, eyebrows raised as Lily sat down with them.
“Yeah, James offered to do it for me,” she said. Mary’s face lit up in a smile.
“He did? Oh, Lily, that was so sweet of him!”
“Are you on his payroll?” Lily asked.
“No, she’s just a hopeless romantic,” Anna said. Mary glared at her.
“Well, I think he wanted to torture Filch more than he wanted to do something nice for me,” Lily said.
“Lily, have you thought about—”
“Don’t even ask,” Lily said, interrupting Mary. She knew what Mary had been about to ask, and it got very tiring to have to repeat the same answer over and over again.
“By the way, I saw Slughorn yesterday, and he wants us to come to dinner on Monday,” Anna said to Lily.
“As long as there aren’t any giant pictures of me on the wall,” Lily grumbled.
Anna snorted. “That was honestly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I could have died of laughing.”
“Don’t remind me,” Lily said darkly. “I’m going to get a drink.”
She had to wait quite a long time to order a Butterbeer because Madam Rosmerta was busy arguing with a customer over the price of imported ale; when she returned to the table, Mary and Anna were in discussion about the latest Ministry news.
The previous week had seen alarming destabilization in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement (Lily imagined Anna laughing at her for thinking this, for it was quoted verbatim from her sister’s column). The Head of the Department, Waldemar Merritt, had abruptly retired, leaving behind a power vacuum and tumultuous infighting. Different factions within the Department were advocating their own choices for his successor. While the Daily Prophet had closely followed every slanderous comment and shift of allegiance, Lily had only read enough to know that one faction wanted to change the hierarchy and select a group of leaders, while another wanted to keep things the same and promote the Deputy Head, as procedure required, and the last wanted to change leadership entirely and give the new head of the department more authority. Meanwhile, everyone else was criticizing them for focusing on petty political grudges while people were still being killed and kidnapped.
“...and it’s so wasteful, if they’d just followed protocol, the whole matter would be done with,” Anna was saying as Lily slid back into the booth. It was funny, Lily thought, how Anna could vilify her sister so often but also agree with her on many things; this was the same line that Desdemona had been taking in everything she wrote on the subject.
“Maybe they need new leadership,” Mary suggested. “They haven’t been very successful so far.”
“What makes anyone think that the new leaders wouldn’t do just as badly? Or worse?”
“I don’t know. I just know that I personally don’t have a lot of confidence in them right now.”
“Does it really even matter?” Lily asked. “Wouldn’t the new leader be accountable to the Minister, anyway? And the people who will make things successful are all of the Enforcement Officers and Aurors.”
“Theoretically, yes,” Anna replied, “but some people want to give the new leader so much power that he or she would answer less to the Minister, and the Prophet’s pointed out that a bunch of unhappy employees have already defected since Merritt resigned.”
Lily smiled as Anna took a drink of her butterbeer. “Has anyone ever told you that you sound remarkably like your sister sometimes?”
“Only when they really want to insult me,” Anna said.
“Consider yourself insulted, then.”
Bragging was a habit that James had tried to kick, but there were some occasions where he simply couldn't help himself.
“Did you see the way she smiled at me?”
“Yeah, yeah, why don’t you say it a few dozen more times?” Sirius said. “We get it. Evans is treating you like a normal human being, so she must be in love with you.”
“I never said that,” James said, ignoring Peter’s laughs, "but I’m in her good books now.”
“I think that remains to be seen,” Remus commented.
“Can we please talk about something else?” Sirius asked. “Let’s go to the Hog’s Head and ask the bartender to give us some Firewhiskey.”
“Padfoot, you’ve suggested that every time we’ve come to Hogsmeade, and we always say no,” Remus said. “Give it up.”
“But it’s our last year! When are we going to get another chance?” Sirius said.
“Come off it, when we tried it over the summer at my house, you nearly passed out,” James said.
“I did not!”
“I tried it once,” Peter said. “I didn’t think it was that bad.”
“Sure, Wormtail,” Sirius said sceptically.
“Three Broomsticks?” Remus asked as they came upon the door of the pub, and he was met with nods of assent all around. James led the way in, spotting Lily in a booth with Anna and Mary. He and his friends took a booth across the room from the three girls, and James selected a seat that would not put Lily directly in his eyesight. He thought it might be slightly strange if he were to spend the entire time staring at her.
“I think I need to find a catchphrase to use when I’m commentating,” Sirius said as they waited for their drinks.
“Padfoot, you are going to try to not make a complete mockery of the game, aren’t you?” James asked.
“Yes, Prongs,” Sirius said. “In fact, I’m trying to make it more memorable. I was thinking I might throw Snivelly into the mix. You know, things like, That play was slipperier than Snivellus’ hair. What do you think?”
“I think McGonagall's going to have to throw you off the pitch before the first minute’s over,” Remus said.
“Ah, but will that minute be memorable?” Sirius asked, just as Madam Rosmerta levitated their Butterbeers onto the table.
James stole a glance at Lily as the conversation turned to other subjects. He was considering going over to talk to her when Professor Dearborn sidled up to their table.
“Afternoon, gentlemen,” Dearborn said. “Enjoying your day?”
They all nodded, except for Sirius, who was observing Dearborn with contempt.
“We don’t usually see many of the teachers in Hogsmeade,” James said.
“Well, they are a bunch of stuffy old bores,” Dearborn said, grinning. “I thought you four of all people would know that.”
Sirius snorted with laughter, but no one responded. Though they might have agreed with Dearborn, they were also too smart to badmouth the teachers to one of their own.
“Besides that, I’ve been catching up with some old acquaintances. ” Dearborn said. “Everyone’s making amends now that there’s a new scandal...”
He seemed to be talking to himself more than to the four of them.
“Impressive work on those essays, the four of you,” Dearborn said, sounding much less distracted. “Everyone else seemed like they hadn’t heard a word I’d said about Invisibility Cloaks or Disillusionment Charms.”
James thought it would have been hard for anyone to hear what Professor Dearborn had said, since he hardly ever ended up talking about the subject he intended to; they had simply been lucky to have had hands-on experience with Invisibility Cloaks.
“We’re very committed students,” James said solemnly, causing all of his friends to grin.
“I’d heard you were very committed troublemakers,” Dearborn retorted, “and seen some proof of it, too.”
“So what if we are?” Sirius asked. Dearborn chuckled.
“I’d rather have a group of troublemakers than brown-nosers. I never was one for rules, personally,” he said, grinning wryly again. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I’ve got to go meet a friend at the Hog’s Head. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.”
“I can’t stand him,” Sirius said, once the door had shut behind Dearborn. James was very glad that his nephew had gone with him.
“Just because he put you in your place—”
“No, it’s not that,” Sirius interrupted Remus. “I can’t stand him because he’s a teacher, but he’s actually cool.”
“He said my Disillusionment Charm was good, too,” Peter added.
James saw Lily leaving with Mary and Anna, and felt slightly disappointed that he had not gotten the chance to talk to Lily.
“Want to go to Zonko’s?” Sirius asked lazily.
“Yeah, let’s; I’ve heard they have this suit of armour that trips everyone that passes it,” Peter said.
“You know, we could just enchant a suit of armour to do that, Wormtail,” Sirius replied.
“Maybe you could,” Peter said, but Sirius was not listening.
“Well, would you look at that,” Sirius said, “Snivellus is out in daylight.”
James twisted his head around and caught a glimpse of Snape’s black robes whipping past the window. The unlikely coincidence of Snape swooping down the street after Lily was enough to make his legs start moving automatically.
“Where are you going?” Sirius asked.
“Snivellus,” James said, heading for the door.
“Well, don’t leave us out,” Sirius called, but James had already pushed open the door and headed after Snape like a bloodhound tracing a scent.
“Lily, please, this is a bad idea,” Mary said. The wind was picking up and whipping her golden curls around her anxious face.
Lily, Mary, and Anna had been walking up the High Street, back towards Hogwarts, when Lily had spotted a group of several people gathered near the Shrieking Shack. This would have been an altogether unremarkable sight at any other time, but Lily was sure that one of the people was too old to be a Hogwarts student. That, in addition to the fact that this unknown woman was talking to Mulciber, Avery, and Rosier, made Lily sure that this was not some harmless trip to poke around a haunted building.
“Let’s just go tell one of the teachers, please, Lily,” Mary said, sounding somewhat frantic now.
“They might be gone by the time we get back to the castle, and I want to find out what they’re doing,” Lily said, forging ahead on the pathway to the Shrieking Shack.
“Yeah, well, it’s a great idea,” Anna said sarcastically, “except for the part that I’m thinking ahead to—you know, the part where they pull out their wands and curse us.”
“They’re not going to try anything this close to the school,” Lily said. The Slytherins and their friend seemed to have disappeared behind the decrepit house. “Besides, I’m the Head Girl, which makes it my responsibility to look into these things.”
“Evans!” A voice called from behind them. Lily turned around and saw Snape walking up the pathway towards them. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“The same place you were heading, I suppose,” Lily said coolly. "Though for different reasons."
“You can’t go up there,” Snape said.
“Why not?” Lily asked, folding her arms across her chest. “Is it some sort of You-Know-Who Fan Club meeting?”
Mary made a noise somewhere between a squeak and a hiccough, and even Snape’s face flushed red.
“It wouldn’t be safe—for any of you,” he finally said, glancing up the path behind her. He looked slightly alarmed and said, “You have to go, now.”
Lily turned around to see what he was looking at, and saw the dark-haired woman walking over to them.
“Just go,” Snape said, walking around Lily so he was between her and the approaching woman.
“Not until I get some answers,” Lily said in a low voice.
“Lily, this is so stupid! Please, we have to go,” Mary whimpered, but it was too late.
“Friends of yours, Severus?” The woman asked in a girlish voice.
“Hardly,” Snape replied harshly. Lily felt a rush of anger and humiliation at the tone of his voice, but tried to ignore it. Now that she was face-to-face with the woman, Lily found that she looked familiar—the dark complexion, the hooded eyes. Wasn't this Sirius' older cousin, who had been a seventh-year when Lily had come to Hogwarts? And her name, it was Bella...no, Bellatrix; that was it.
“Are you sure, Snape? I remember this one,” Bellatrix said, flicking her eyes toward Lily. “You used to follow her around all the time...it would have been quite adorable, really, if she weren’t a Mudblood.”
“What are you doing here?” Lily asked Bellatrix, as Snape stared determinedly at the ground. “Why are you meeting with students?”
Bellatrix grinned widely at Lily. “Would you like to come find out?”
“You have to leave now,” Lily said, sounding much braver than she felt. “Make no mistake that the teachers are going to hear about this, and—”
“You’re going to snitch on us, are you, Mudblood?” Bellatrix asked. It could not have been more clear that she was threatening Lily. Snape said nothing, and only continued to look at the ground.
“Oh, look! More friends of yours, Snape!” Bellatrix said. Lily turned in the direction they had arrived: Sirius, James, Remus, and Peter were now coming up the pathway.
“What are you doing here, Bellatrix?” Sirius said harshly, confirming Lily suspicions about her identity. Lily had never seen him look at someone with such deep disgust—not even Snape.
“Nothing that would concern a blood traitor like you,” Bellatrix replied smoothly.
“Get out of here,” Sirius said dismissively, “unless you’d like me to force you out.”
Bellatrix laughed at him. “Oh, you have no idea how dearly I would like to see you try. Unfortunately, there’s no need for force today. I did what I came to.” She swept past the whole group of them, smiling with triumph. "Nice to see you aga
The wind howled over the hillside as Bellatrix walked away. There was a great commotion a few moments later as James lunged at Snape and was restrained just in time by Remus and Peter.
“What the hell are you playing at, Snape?” James spat, still held back by his friends. “Are you trying to get them killed?”
“As a matter of fact, Potter—”
What he had been about to say was lost as he flew ten feet back in the air. Sirius, whom no one had bothered to restrain, had drawn his wand and was pointing it at Snape, who was now clumsily getting up from the ground, wand in hand.
“Obscuro!” Sirius said, before Snape could even move his wand. Snape tripped over the front of his robes and fell to the ground again, his eyes blindfolded. His wand fell from his hand and he scrabbled the ground frantically in search of it. Lily could not help but feel a twinge of pity for him; it wasn't as if he had lured them there or tried to hurt them.
“Stop it!” she said heavily. She drew her own wand, pointed it at Snape, and said, “Finite Incantatem.”
Mary had started walking down the path by herself, apparently having had enough conflict for one day. Remus looked like he might follow her for a moment, but stayed put.
“Go back up to the castle now, Snape, or else I’ll make sure Dumbledore knows you were here,” she said, placing her wand back in her pocket.
“Don’t order me around,” Snape snarled, picking up his wand and heading toward the Shrieking Shack instead. Lily clenched her jaw and turned to Anna.
“Let’s try and catch up with Mary,” she said.
“Evans,” Sirius said, before they could get very far, “don’t go chasing after Bellatrix again.”
“I don’t need advice from you, Black,” Lily said defensively.
“Yeah, well, sorry, but you do. You’re in way over your head,” Sirius snapped.
“Lily, just drop it,” Remus said. He and Peter had only just released James.
Out of respect for Remus, Lily didn’t respond. As she and Anna walked away, however, a few good insults flew through her mind, and she wished she’d had the chance to say them. Who was he, to tell her that she was in over her head? Everything had turned out just fine. No one had gotten hurt. Besides, she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.
Mary seemed to have gotten a very good head start, and Lily and Anna did not catch up to her until they reached Gryffindor Tower. She seemed to be very angry with Lily. Lily could understand why Mary was upset—after all, even she had started to feel very uncomfortable when Bellatrix had come along—but she couldn’t bring herself to apologize outright. She hated herself for thinking it at all, but she was beginning to get fed up with Mary’s skittish behaviour, which so conflicted with her own belief that fear would only serve to make things worse.
James wished that Lily had not gone back to the castle before he had gotten a chance to talk to her. He knew Sirius' advice, however well-meant, had probably offended her, and it always seemed that he was made guilty by association. He wanted to put things right, so he waited outside the Great Hall before dinner, hoping to pull her away from the crowd. He had almost given up when he finally saw her walking down the stairway.
“Have you been waiting for me?” she asked when she spotted him near the doors of the Great Hall.
“Yes,” he said, hoping it didn't make him seem too pathetic. “Do you have a minute?”
They stepped into an empty classroom.
“Sorry about Sirius,” he said, without preamble.
“He was a little out-of-line,” Lily said, clearly not ready to forgive and forget easily, but, after a moment, her expression softened. “I suppose he was sort of right. I probably shouldn’t have followed them.”
“I don’t know many other people who would have,” James said. After his anger at Snape had subsided, he had been fairly impressed by Lily’s courage—as if there hadn't alredy been enough about her that he was attracted to. He had a feeling he was going to go mental if she didn’t agree to go on a date with him soon.
“Yeah, well, there might be a reason for that,” Lily said.
“You were just trying to do the right thing,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said. "Well...shall we go in for dinner?"
They returned to the Entrance Hall together, where they crossed paths with Professor Dearborn, who smiled and waved genially at both of them. After a few moments, Lily spoke, with some hesitation in her voice.
“Do you think there’s something...odd about Professor Dearborn?” she asked.
James shrugged, not admitting that he, too, was curious about their new professor. "He doesn't act much like a teacher, if that's what you mean."
"Well, sort of," Lily replied. "Why would Dumbledore hire someone who’s not good at teaching?”
“Maybe he didn’t have a choice,” James replied. He needed to play Devil’s advocate, just to see how his own suspicions, which Lily seemed to share, held up. “Everyone says the job’s cursed, you know.”
“Still,” Lily said, biting her lip.
“I think my parents know him, or knew him, at least,” James offered.
“Did they say something about him?”
“No, I just overheard them mention him once.”
James felt like he was moving in syrup as he followed her to the door. No one else had even listened to him about Dearborn, but Lily actually agreed with him. Whenever they had conversations like this—real conversations, where they seemed to be one in the same mind—he had to stifle the urge to push her up against the wall and snog her senseless. He reminded himself that however much that scenario appealed to him, she would probably not appreciate it.
“James?” Lily asked, just before they entered the Great Hall. Bloody hell, he thought. Did she really have to say his name in that supplicating, gentle way at this particular moment?
“If Sirius says anything...about what happened earlier, can you tell him that I feel badly about it?”
James was pretty sure that this was the moment he was going to lose it. She must be doing it on purpose: being so brave, sharing his curiosity, and now offering an apology to his best friend. Life was much easier when Lily Evans had just been the pretty, smart redhead who made a habit of ignoring him.
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