The Quidditch excitement rose and waxed. Gryffindor’s knock out at the semi finals saw a subdued house, and a surly James unable to deal with failure of any kind. It was noticed that his friends, especially of the Sirius Black variety, had taken to creating more disturbances than usual during class, a series of stunts that came to a skidding stop after a severe meeting with McGonagall.

However, time for James and the Gryffindors to sulk was cut short by the distraction of the forthcoming exams. With the number of subjects having increased for the Gryffindor third years, they had to study a little harder than usual. It wasn’t odd for Loius Branstone to be seen with his nose buried in a book, but quite a few eyebrows were raised when Clarence Sloan appeared at the common room with his hand full of text books. Jake Wyatt was often seen nodding with his book in hand, often nudged awake by Sloan. Remus’ quill was heard scratching away into the night, with Peter sticking to his side like Glumberg’s All-Stick Magic Glue (Caution: Don’t try on broken bones!).
Mary grew more anxious as the days passed, a striking contrast to the ever calm Dorcas who appeared to have everything in order to nobody’s surprise, and guarded her notes with her life. Marlene resorted to badgering the seniors about the questions most likely to appear in the finals, and then fervently looking up the answers in everyone else’s notes. Lily decided that the best way to beat the stress was to draw up a study plan (complete with colour coding charms, and voice reminders). This took a whole day which eventually ended in her panicking and hyperventilating (much to Adhara’s amusement) that she had wasted a day without studying. Adhara’s careless procrastination lasted till two weeks before the exam, after which she was seen in the late hours of the night crouched beside the fireplace, book in hand and muttering under her breath.

In the midst of all this, James Potter and Sirius Black took it upon themselves to provide everyone with distractions any way they could. Walking around without a care in the world, the duo behaved as if the exams didn’t exist at all. Save for Remus and Peter, none of the other Gryffindors had seen them with a book, and reproachful comments of their impending crash due to overconfidence ran high. Some even wondered if they had forgotten about the exams; mutterings and raised eyebrows followed when they answered all the questions thrown at them during revision. With the common room being occupied by someone or the other round the clock, everybody swore to their absence there. Until one day a cheeky first year ran into James and Sirius tucked away at a corner of the library and prided himself at having made a great discovery.

Said first year was later found sporting an ugly wart the size of a galleon on his forehead.





Lily grinned and picked up the textbook. She was at another study session with Priya and some others. Though she made up with the Gryffindors, she continued to remain friendly with the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff girls who had been kind to her during the rough three weeks. 

“Wait, let me finish W through Z and join you,” interrupted Porcella MacFarlan, the Hufflepuff seeker. Sarah Abbott nodded as well, and Leigha snorted impatiently. Lily shrugged, going back to her list, but not really reading anything. She was the only Gryffindor there, among two Hufflepuffs and three Ravenclaws. At first Lily thought Leigha had invited her friends, but realized that the only ones present were toppers (save for Dorcas who Leigha had bluntly declared was high handed and selfish). Lily tried to stick up for her friend, but Leigha had already started discussing the study plan. She knew that the Slytherins had a study group of their own. Severus had mentioned it once or twice. 

Lily’s eyes started to wander around the library, her book forgotten on her lap. Next to her, Orelia Hoskin, another Ravenclaw, was muttering softly. Lily tipped her chair, rocking it slightly as she deeply inhaled the intoxicating scent of old parchment. Her eyes caught sight of a familiar face looking in her direction. Leroy Sinclair grinned when she caught his eye and she waved brightly. He raised his chin in inquiry and she pointed to her book, screwing up her face. He looked sympathetic before signaling to his own book. 

‘Good luck,’ she mouthed, and turned away.

“I didn’t think you knew Sinclair,” said Leigha, sounding impressed. 

“We’ve met,” Lily shrugged. 

Leigha glanced at Leroy and then back at her. “A lot of blokes have been noticing you ever since you pulled that stint at the match.”

Lily’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “What? But why?”

Porcella looked up from her book, almost critically at Lily. “Well, you managed to convince McGonagall, and you dug up some random fact about Quidditch, and the last minute save just added to the wow factor.”

“And, right now,” Priya leaned in with a giggle, “Sinclair just can’t seem to stop staring.”

Orelia and Porcella turned instinctively to look at Leroy, and then burst out giggling. Sarah shushed them. “He saw that,” she whispered, her eyes round.

“He was definitely staring at you, Lily,” Porcella said excitedly. Lily felt her face grow red, finding herself being oddly pleased at the thought. She hadn’t thought blokes would be interested in her the way they were interested in Marlene, or Aurora Fulton. But it was nice to be noticed. Still, she couldn’t let on. Not to them.

“He was probably looking because you lot were loud,” she replied dryly, hoping she sounded nonchalant. She then bent down to retrieve her bag unnecessarily from under the table with the intent of giving her face some time to cool down. Much to her dismay they were still on the subject when she resurfaced.

“… he’s turned down Fulton last week,” Sarah was saying. The others lifted their eyebrows appreciatively in Leroy’s direction. Lily allowed herself a glance and found that he looked quite uncomfortable. 

“Hear that, Lily?” Priya addressed her. “He’s definitely interested in you.” She nodded brightly. 

“You can’t say that,” dismissed Lily, trying to stop her mouth from turning into a smile. “Besides, I thought we were here to study Ancient Runes, not the one hundred and one facial expressions of Leroy Sinclair,” she added with raised eyebrows.

“Oh well,” shrugged Priya, turning back to her book. “A little distraction never hurt anyone. Especially in the form of really fit Quidditch Beaters.”

Lily shot Leroy a surreptitious look in the pretext of shifting in her seat. Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to be noticed by the likes of Leroy Sinclair. 

Leigha nudged Orelia, giving Lily a knowing look. “You know, this is just like A Sickle Romance.”

Lily was confused. “A what?” 

“It’s a book by Philippa Tulip. You haven’t heard of her?” Orelia gaped at her incredulously as she shook her head. “She writes the best teen witch novels. A Sickle Romance, Kisses on the Broom, Potion for Penny… I thought you said you like reading books?”

“Yes, the likes of Enid Blyton, Jane Austen, L. M. Montgomery…” Lily trailed off at the blank look on their faces. Smiling she added, “I didn’t realize there was wizarding fiction.”

Priya shook her head in mock-horror. “Next time you’re at Diagon Alley, you have got to visit Botham & Higgs.”

“Don’t forget, Philippa Tulip books,” stressed Orelia, before reopening her Ancient Runes textbook. 





 

“How was annoyingly boring geekshire?” Adhara remarked as she drew near.

“You know, the ‘Ravenclaw Nerd’ stereotype is trifle offensive,” Lily retorted as she drew near. “And it wasn’t entirely boring. I got an earful about Philippa Tulip’s books.”

“Ooh!” Marlene sat up excitedly, upsetting her bottle of ink all over the book she had been bending over. “Oh no!” 

“Here,” Remus leaned forward, pointing his wand and siphoning away the mess. 

“Thank you.” Marlene sounded relieved and flashed him a dimpled smile. Remus looked a little uncomfortable as he nodded back. 

Lily dropped her bag with a heavy thud, simultaneously dropping to the warm grass. She leaned on her hands, stretching her legs in front of her, feeling quite content.

“Bugger!” Remus swore, shaking his quill. “Have a spare quill?” he addressed his mates. There was no reply. He threw a book at Sirius, who appeared to be sleeping with his bag drawn across his eyes.

“Bloody fuck, mate!” 

“I need a quill,” he asked, quite pleasantly.

Sirius glared at him. “James is awake!” 

“James is probably using somebody’s lost quill.”

Lily tilted her head towards James who was grinning unapologetically.  “You know,” he started, examining his quill, “I think I borrowed this from Jake last week.”

“That’s mine!” Peter replied indignantly. “You took it from me yesterday,” he frowned. Lily had smothered a giggle at James’ look of sheepish realization. His eyes flicked to her at the sound, meeting hers for a fraction of a second. 

“I still need a quill,” interjected Remus, nudging Sirius with his foot, who had resumed his earlier position.

James sat up a little straighter and ran his hand through his hair. “Wait,” he said, looking around. “Hey,” he called out to a couple of boys walking near them. They halted unsurely and blinked. “Have a quill?”

They looked at him mutely. 

James clicked his tongue impatiently. “You-” he gestured to the one on the right, “yes, you. Come here.” 

The boys exchanged a look, and the thin, small lad took a few steps towards them. 

“Which year?” demanded James, not unkindly. Remus looked at James sharply and glanced at the boy.

“Second,” the boy replied quietly. 

“Not an ickle firstie. Ravenclaw, yeah? You lot keep backup quills for your backup, don’t you?”

“James…” Remus’ protest went unheard. 

“Well,” demanded James. The boy fumbled with his clasp. James clicked his tongue all the while he was searching his bag, stopping only when Lily glared at him.

“You don’t have to,” Remus addressed the boy kindly. 

“Wait, I think I have a quill,” Lily suddenly remembered, reaching for her bag.

“Don’t be silly, he’ll have one,” James dismissed. The boy produced a quill, gingerly moving towards James.

Lily pulled out a bent, crumpled quill from her bag. “Here!” 

“But this is old,” James eyed Lily’s quill.

“Well, at least it’s not bullied off a junior,” Lily countered, anger raising. “Go on ahead,” she added to the boy. 

“Hand over the quill,” James demanded, glaring at her. 

“Don’t,” she countered, raising her chin. “We got this, thanks.”

“Nobody asked you for a quill!” 

“Nobody asked you, either!”

The boy stood there, looking nervously between Lily and James, and finally decided to scurry away with his friend. She raised her eyebrows triumphantly at a pink-faced James, handing over her quill to Remus.

“Thanks,” Remus muttered, bending his head towards his parchment.

For a moment Lily thought James was going to say something to her, but he just threw his book on the grass, and proceeded to noisily search for something in his bag. Despite the annoyance Lily was feeling, she couldn’t help smiling a little at the sight of him sulking. He looked… cute. Her eyes grew wide as she registered her own thoughts. What on Earth possessed her to think that James Potter, of all the people, was cute

Horrified by her own thoughts, she busied herself with distracting Marlene from studying. She saw Sirius, out of the corner of her eye, giving a low whistle, and nudging James. Curiosity overpowered her resolve, and she looked up to see Sirius nodding towards a girl walking past. Remus leaned in and whispered something, and the four boys began to snicker. 

The girl in question glanced at the boys as she walked on. 

“Very discreet,” retorted Adhara.

“That’s Athena Greengrass, isn’t she?” asked Marlene interestedly. 

“Yeah,” Peter replied, nudging James once again, an act that didn’t go unnoticed by Marlene who wanted to know if James fancied her. Sirius snorted knowingly. Lily found herself extremely interested in the answer.

Peter started snickering, and said, “We all know that’s not James’ type.”

Lily looked scornfully as Sirius and Remus joined in the laughs. “Well I can’t imagine James has a type,” Adhara said.

“Why not?” Remus’s eyes twinkled with amusement.

“All it takes to catch James’ attention is boobs,” remarked Adhara dryly. 

Lily laughed, half at Peter’s widening eyes and abashed expression, and half at Adhara’s utter brazenness for saying the word ‘boobs’ out loud.

James looked at Lily. “Amused?” An eyebrow cocked.

Lily grinned. “Very much.”

James raised his chin at her, a cocky grin in place. “Oh, Evans. I’m sure you are.”

Remus cleared his throat while Peter resumed his shrill giggles. Lily suddenly remembered her run-in with Peter and wondered if this had something to do with that. Oh, Merlin! What if they thought she fancied him?





 

Lily tore her gaze away from the stone wall it had been fixated on for the past few minutes. “What?”

He exhaled impatiently. “You  haven’t read a word since you got here, and I can sort of tell.” The corners of his mouth lifted in slight amusement as he glanced pointedly towards her legs.

Lily stilled the foot tapping against the floor unconsciously. “Sorry.” She muttered, lowering her eyes to her lap. 

“Well?” Severus was looking at her expectantly. “You can tell me what it is.”

“Nothing,” she lied. “Just this lesson’s dull as dishwasher.” 

“Okay.” 

He didn’t sound too convinced but Lily was glad he didn’t press on. She didn’t quite fancy telling him what was on her mind. It was odd, not telling Sev. She opened her mouth but didn’t quite know how to word it. What would she say? That stupid Mary had filled her head with thoughts of James fancying her? That she had gone and blurted out stupid questions to Peter? That now the Marauders seemed to think she fancied James?

She cringed at the thought. Why did Mary have to go saying things like that for? She groaned.

“Okay, seriously?” Sev shut his book with a thud, clicking his tongue. “Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?”

“Nothi-”

“I can tell when you’re uneasy you know.” He frowned at her. “Besides,” his tone grew softer, “friends are supposed to trust each other.” Lily found herself relenting under his intent gaze.

“Well…” she started hesitantly. “It’s stupid, really… I did… well, I did something really stupid.”

“What is it?” 

Her face heated up. “Well… Mary said something to me… and then, I said something - Er - dumb, to Peter.”

“Peter?” Lily couldn’t blame the lilt of surprise in his voice.

“Yeah. Stupid, I know,” she moaned. “But it was that time when Marlene wasn’t talking, and Adhara wasn’t… well… I - I think he told his mates about it.” She dropped her face to her hands.

“What did you say that’s so bad?” 

She didn’t really want to say it, because she was sure it would sound a lot worse if said out loud. She just groaned into her hands about how it was all stupid Mary’s and Marlene’s fault.

“Well,” Sev replied with a curl of his lips, “teaches you to listen to the likes of Macdonald.”

She looked up. “Why not?”

“Well, she isn’t exactly… bright.”

“Grades aren’t everything,” Lily’s voice raised in defense.

“I’m not talking about grades,” Severus replied. “She hardly has anything to say, and she’s almost always the last one to have an opinion. And she let you take the fall for the whole McKinnon business, but she has no problem agreeing with you when McKinnon is not around.”

Silence followed his words while Lily processed. Severus had a point, at least about the Marlene issue. Her skin rankled with irritation. 

“You know, she does that quite a bit,” Lily frowned in retrospect. “Do you really think she’s that sort though?”

“I just said that,” Sev sounded irritated. “I wouldn’t base a lot off her words.”

Lily nodded, pondering over Sev’s words. She was impressed by how spot-on his appraisal of Mary was. And he hadn’t even talked to Mary much. This was why he was so good for her, he saw things she didn’t. And he always looked out for her.

 “What was it that Mary told you?” his light conversational tone cutting into her thoughts.

She glanced at him sideways, he was searching for a page in his book. Her lips parted, still undecided about her answer. 

“Oh,” she dismissed airily, “something really silly.”

“Well?” he pressed, the impatience in his voice evident. When she chewed her lip in confusion, he glanced at her sharply. “I thought we didn’t keep secrets from each other,” his tone escalating her guilt.

“It isn’t a secret,” she hurried to add, before Sev began to sulk in misinterpretation. “It’s just really dumb, and - and… I didn’t think you’d be interested,” she rushed. 

“Well, I am.” He frowned, his eyes growing a tad rounder.

“It’s really embarrassing,” she moaned. “I think… I think… Potter and his stupid friends think that - that I… like him.” She slammed her open book on her face, groaning into it. She cringed at the thought, throwing her head back against the stone wall. “Go on. Laugh,” she glared at Severus, removing the book from her face. 

She couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He just blinked wordlessly, his lips a thin line. 

“It can’t get worse, can it,” she wailed, his silence only increasing her panic that this was indeed a tragedy that had befallen her social status. 

“Do you?” Severus’ voice sounded strangely hoarse.

“Do I what?”

He cleared his throat, the serious look on his face alarming her slightly. “Do you like him?”

She stared at him. 

His face blanched. “Do you?” His voice grew slightly shrill.

“No!” she protested indignantly. “Of course I don’t! How could you even ask me such a thing? It’s bad enough he probably thinks I fancy him!” She continued to vehemently deny any possibility of it happening in the present or distant future. 

Severus looked convinced and went back to his worn out copy of 3003 Magical Herbs and Fungi. Lily heaved a sigh before picking up her quill. She held the quill for a moment - her mind flying back to that afternoon - thinking how arrogant James Potter was. And then, a thought crept in like an uninvited visitor - the time when his eyes had met hers briefly, for a fraction of a second, crinkled at the corners with amusement. There was no chance in the entire universe that she would even consider fancying James. 

Despite how nicely his eyes twinkled when he laughed. 





 

Severus held his wand closer to the book, and ran his index finger across the words to make sure he had got it right. He couldn’t afford any mistakes at this point in the potion. He really wanted this, he wanted that special prize, wanted to sweep it from under everyone’s feet. When Lucius set them this task, he knew it was an opportunity to prove himself. It hadn’t been easy, tricking Nott into borrowing this book from the library, and sneaking it out of his dorm. If it all went horribly wrong, he wanted to be sure his name wouldn’t be associated with it. Stupid Travers, he thought, smirking at the memory. Travers had thought he was smart, buttering up Slughorn in attempts to get him to part with his book. For weeks Slughorn had taken all the gifts Travers offered and artfully avoided the topic when it came up. Severus knew he was well ahead of the others. With just a week left for the last Hogsmeade visit of the term, he couldn’t make a mistake now. Time for errors was long gone.

The ticking of the stopwatch echoed in dungeon and Severus didn’t dare to breathe as he counted down the last ten seconds. He had a five second window to add the cut roots. Severus felt unusually warm, sweat breaking out in his forehead as his steady hands dropped the carefully cut pieces into the cauldron. This was it. He waited with bated breath… and the potion turned pale yellow and within seconds bled into bright red. He heaved a sigh of relief, letting his wand slip through his hands, and slumping against the cold wall. The hands that had been steady moments earlier were almost trembling with mixed excitement and anxiety. He couldn’t believe he had done it. He had brewed The Phantosia Potion

He scooped the simmering potion into vials, and slipped them carefully into a pouch. He was grinning widely, imagining the coming week when Lucius would pat him on the back, and would give him that special prize. Though nobody ever used that dungeon, Severus was careful enough to remove all traces of human presence, and had brought with him dried cat feces to scatter around to explain any inconsistencies. He slipped into the warm, bright corridor, keeping his head down and striding noiselessly, hoping to merge with the crowd of students getting to class that morning. He liked working at early hours of the day so as to not arouse suspicion among his dorm mates, and conveniently join breakfast. He weaved through the crowd when suddenly someone stepped out of a room blocking his path. He tried to side step them, but ended up shoving shoulders. 

“Wha-” 

Severus looked up at the truncated exclamation. He automatically took a few steps back. James Potter’s irate frown smoothened into raised eyebrows with hints of an obnoxious smirk twitching at the ends of his mouth. Severus should have known that his happiness was too good to last. A few more turns and he would have reached the Great Hall. His eyes darted to the room Potter, Black and Pettigrew had just emerged from and realized it was the Hospital Wing. What were they doing there? A quick scan told them that they all looked fine. Could it be Lupin? But Lupin had gone home? Severus’ mind was working at ten questions a second, and he only half heard Potter’s snide comment.

“- taught you any manners?”

He felt annoyance turn into anger at the look on Potter’s face. “Funny,” he scoffed, unable to help himself, “that you should be talking about manners.” His feet shook with mixed anger and excitement as he tried to piece things together. He didn’t even hear Potter’s response, and only half registered Black and Pettigrew’s laughter in response. He cut in, “if I go in there, will I find Lupin occupying one of those beds?” He watched closely as Pettigrew’s smile faded into apprehension, Black’s eyes lost their mirth but Potter’s face didn’t flinch in response. Their sudden silence told him he had struck a nerve. He rushed his next words to capitalize on that - “I know you lot are up to something, and I’m going to find it out,” he said in a low, excited voice. He half debated saying he had guessed about Lupin, but decided it was a move he wanted to reserve for later. He wanted sufficient proof.

“Are you now,” Potter drawled, raising his brows mockingly. It wasn’t Potter that Severus was looking at, but Pettigrew, whose eyes seemed to betray fear, mouth slightly open. That was the confirmation he was angling for. His eyes darted to Potter’s hands moving under his robe. Severus tried to reach for his wand but Potter was quicker. His wand was out before Severus had even gripped his, and Potter was about to raise it when -

“Sev! There you are!” 

Lily’s breathless voice sounded from behind as she hurried closer. She seemed to notice Potter only when she was standing next to him, and her eyes grew alert, looking between him and Potter. Potter’s wandarm swished back beneath his cloak so quickly that he doubted Lily even noticed. 

“Evans,” Potter jerked his chin in welcome, giving a half smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. 

“Potter.” her voice wavered on the last syllable. 

Potter’s eyes flicked between them and he said, “see you at breakfast,” and walked past. Black looked baffled for a fraction before stepping along, leading Severus to wonder why Potter had refrained himself. 

“Were you fighting again?” Lily asked, her eyes narrowing at him. 

He was suddenly annoyed. “Why do you say that as if I am to blame?” he demanded. 

Lily clicked her tongue irately. “Don’t be silly. I just meant-”

“Save it,” he snarled, walking away without a look back. He was glad for once, that she didn’t follow him. His earlier elation was long gone and unexplained irritation replaced it. He couldn’t help thinking back to Potter’s unnatural lack of response. His mind flew to an earlier conversation with Lily. Suddenly, something cold seemed to grip his heart. His head was spinning as he struggled not to reach that darned conclusion. It couldn’t be true. He couldn’t let it.





A/n: Looking forward to hearing what you all think XOXO

 

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