Secrets May As Well Be Lies - ScarlettCrimson - Harry Potter (2024)

Chapter 1: Introduction, Disclaimer, & Epigraphs

Chapter Text

Introduction & Trigger Warning:

TLDR; f*cking f*ck, it’s been a long time coming. I put a lot of effort into this, but I’m only human—and I wrote this for me and no one else. Now that I’m working on my own publishable piece, I’m ready to share the work that has helped me practice for the real thing. I hope you stick around to the end. sh*t’s about to get real weird. Guilty-pleasure-CW-show style.

I never thought I’d do this. Never thought I’d actually muster the courage to sit behind this screen and hand over this story for strangers to read. But here I am: cracking open my sternum and hoping you will be kind.

This writing is the rawest form I have ever been in. And even as I type this, I am trembling because this is a vulnerability like no other for me. I have been writing this for twelve years now, and it all started as a coping mechanism. Maladaptive Daydreaming stole over twenty years of my life. I wasted precious time, enduring debilitating hours of nothingness that was also somehow everything. Twenty plus years and counting, turning to the world in my head every time something horrible or overwhelming occurred in my life. I coped using MaDD during my mother’s domestic abuse, my self-harming, my suicidal ideation, and attempts. Through the undeniable absurdity of puberty that turned me from a little gremlin child into a body-dysmorphic woman. Through discrimination and prejudice and imposter syndrome. Through sexual assaults and fall outs with friends who I thought would never betray me. Through taking that pain and turning it into power. Through sexual discovery and queer identity. Through heartbreaks and triumphs—in which I spent over a year hiding a romantic relationship from my friends and family because we feared they would separate us. Love is complicated, but so is growing up too fast. Growing up too fast is the mark of an early death.

These characters, both original and cherished by all, are emotionally valuable to me. They are written to grow with time. They are not perfect. They f*ck up, constantly. They make rash decisions, fail, succeed, nearly die, actually die, cry when they need to, and betray others. They have fears that drive them to procrastinate and take what isn’t theirs. They deny the obvious and explode with rage. They love fully and grieve harder. They are magical, but they are human and will act as such. They also follow the Marauders as near-canon as possible which means characters will die. No matter how much you don’t wish them to. The pacing is slow to start, but trust the process. What begins as petty teenage drama and exaggerations becomes a fight for the survival of muggleborns and their allies as the first Wizarding War encroaches on their personal safety and agency. Like many who ignore the news and foreign affairs in the real world, no one really cares about war until it affects them personally. Be patient with them. The silliness of their relationships will mature as they do.

This is the only trigger warning I will give before the story begins:

The plot ahead is an accumulation of the emotions that stirred in me while growing up and morphed into a canon-centric retelling of the Marauders. It features sexual content and tasteful smut, graphic language, violence, torture, panic-attacks, self-harm, body dysmorphia, and death. While this story does include the aftereffects of rape and sexual assault, this story will never describe an active assault. Anything sexually violent will always be in the past-tense. (If this remotely distresses you, avoid the chapter titled “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” where a brave character confronts their memory of being taken advantage of by a stranger while intoxicated). And like many of the strong women in my life (including myself), their assaults do not prevent them from being sexual or romantic with others.

This story also features strong suicidal ideation (but never suicide). I am nearly 30 years old and can tell you with complete certainty that life gets better. f*ck whatever resentments you carry for the cliché phrase, I will scream it till I’m hoarse: it gets better, it gets better, it gets better! Listen to me right now. You have a purpose for being here. Your job is to find out what that is, but it is out there, even if it isn’t what you expected. Keep going. f*ck what anyone thinks, seize your happiness by whatever means you need—whatever nourishes your soul. Cling to it. It’s okay if you're still on your journey, be kind to others and remember that Vienna waits for you. You’ll get there eventually, you’ll get there when it’s time to arrive—do not give up hope that this world has something wonderful in store for you.

After twelve years of casual writing, I did my waiting (ba dum tsk!) and I am ready to begin sharing this work. It’s almost unfathomable to believe I began writing this twelve years ago when Google Docs was just beginning to become a powerhouse. 2012 was the year I finally decided to get my Maladaptive Daydreaming under control even when I didn’t have a word for the condition yet. I began to put the chaos in my head on paper. This mess, this journey, became the most therapeutic way for me to face the challenges of adulthood. Fanfiction of all things. How f*cking silly.

Your time reading and commenting is invaluable to me. I have spent so long hiding this that I don’t know how to accept commentary just yet, but half the battle is hearing what others have to say, so I suppose I’ll have to be brave on that front. That said, this story has no beta. Everything presented was only ever criticized by myself, so if there are mistakes, I apologize, but also… I’m not an award-winning author, I am but a mere poet.

Disclaimer:

The world of Harry Potter and its characters are not mine. They belong to J.K. Rowling and will remain that way. All characters featured were influenced by her work and are hers by legal right in addition to Scholastic Inc and Bloomsbury Publishing. This work does not claim anything other than what a gift it has been to get to know these wonderful characters and breathe a bit of life into them.

Epigraphs:

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”

~ Jane Austen

“Deception is a sort of seduction. In love and war, adultery and espionage, deceit can only succeed if the deceived party is willing, in some way, to be deceived.”

~ Ben Macintyre

“We can’t stop living. Which means we have to live, which means we are alive, which means we are humans and we are human: some of us are unkind and some of us are confused and some of us sleep with the wrong people and some of us make bad decisions and some of us are murderers. And it sounds terrible but it is, in fact, freeing: the idea that queer does not equal good or pure or right. It is simply a state of being—one subject to politics, to its own social forces, to larger narratives, to moral complexities of every kind. So bring on the queer villains, the queer heroes, the queer sidekicks and secondary characters and protagonists and extras. They can be a complete cast unto themselves. Let them have agency, and then let them go.”

~Carmen Maria Machado

“People say teenagers think they're immortal, and I agree with that. But I think there's a difference between thinking you're immortal and knowing you can survive. Thinking you're immortal leads to arrogance, thinking you deserve the best. Surviving means having the worst thrown at you and being able to continue on despite that. It means striving for what you want most, even when it seems out of your reach, even when everything is working against you.”

~ Francesca Zappia

Chapter 2: Prelude I

Chapter Text

Prelude I

May 14th, 1967

Mother said it was okay to play on the swings, but only if Regulus came with.

Sirius loves the park back home, but he doesn’t get to play there often. Mother says that too much fun inhibits proper learning, but today they happen to be in the countryside paying a visit to a few acquaintances of the Malfoys to begin arrangements for Cissy’s marriage when she comes of age. The ladies of the house were busy, so with some sly sleeve-tugging, Mother said a quick trip to the playground would be okay provided his brother was allowed to join.

When he arrived, he noticed the park here was larger than the one in London. Double the swingsets and much quieter. Perhaps, there are less children in this neighborhood.

He looked up and found the sky grey, much like his eyes. The air felt dry, but the grass that brushed his swinging feet was lush and green. Daisies sprouted in patches where the metal poles of the swingset plunged deep into the dirt.

Regulus ran up and down the slides, while Sirius swung higher. Taller than the slides. High enough to float into space. High enough to become a star—just like his name.

He inched forward on the wooden seating, preparing to do a flip, when he saw her.

Dark brown hair hanging wildly in loose curls, cropped short above her shoulders. Kind eyes, the colour of tree bark in the scorching light of day. And a smile, brighter than the sun. More brilliant than any galleon.

She was trying to balance herself on the teeter-totter by standing in the middle. Her arms were extended outwards like The Vitruvian Man.

He forgot he was hanging on the edge of the swing until the chains buckled. He lurched forward and fell with a hard smack into the grass. He screamed as he collapsed, rolling roughly into the sharp mulch. Landing face down.

His knee hurt more than anything, but the bashfulness of looking foolish in front of that girl made him freeze rather right himself.

Sirius could hear his brother shouting for Mother, the voice growing distant as he likely ran to retrieve her from the Malfoy estate.

A brief moment passed, and Sirius wondered if he had died, when soft hands caressed his side and neck as they gently flipped him over onto his back. The spring sun blinded him as he reopened his stinging eyes.

He was wrong. They hadn’t been the colour of tree bark; her eyes were as golden and mesmerizing as watching honey drip from a brass spoon.

“Are you okay, mister?” her silky voice inquired as she bent down at his side.

He blinked.

Smooth, tanned skin. Long eyelashes. The hint of freckles.

“Mister, can you hear me?”

He didn’t answer. He was too busy drinking her in like freshly squeezed juice. Why did this moment feel so important?

She reached forward and knocked on his head as if he were nothing more than the door to someone’s home. “Hello? Anybody in there?”

“Hi,” he breathed, but his voice came out raspy and he coughed. Sirius covered his mouth with the crook of his elbow.

“Are you alright?”

Sirius watched a smile creep slowly across her face. “Yeah. I think so. It just hurt an awful lot.”

“I fell from those swings one time. Almost broke my wrist. How do your hands feel?”

Sirius lifted his back off the ground to sit forward. He examined his muddied palms. “They sort of look okay. My knee hurts though.”

She repositioned herself to sit cross-legged by his waist. “Alright, come on now, lift your trousers. Let’s have a look.”

Sirius scrambled to pull the pant leg up, exposing a red spot above his shin. He smirked at her squinty-eyed exam. “How’s it look, healer?”

“It’s gonna bruise probably, but now we match,” she exclaimed. “I’ve got one on my knee, too!” With her leg extended, she showed him the purple bump above her right knee. “Fell off a broomstick!”

“You know how to fly?!” His admiration was short-lived. Recoiling sheepishly, he added, “Mother says I’m not allowed to really fly until they can teach me at school.”

“Where are you going to school?”

“Mother says I’m not supposed to talk about it with strangers.”

“Are you a wizard?” she asked with a radiant grin.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Then, you’re going to Hogwarts.” Not a question. A confirmation.

“Yes, yes I am,” he stuttered.

“Aha! I knew it! I’m a pretty good guesser, huh?” Her smile was wide and genuine. “I wish to be in Ravenclaw, just like my Mum!”

Sirius noticed her missing front tooth was just starting to come in. “Mother says I will be in Slytherin.”

“How do you know? I thought only the Hat is supposed to know.”

“Mother says I have to be Slytherin, so I will be.”

Marlene furrowed her brows, “Why?”

“Because that’s the one Father and her were in.”

“Why?” she pouted.

Sirius shrugged and turned away from her to hide his flushed face. His frustration bubbled into his speech as he spat, “Because that’s where the Hat put her, I guess. And Father, too. Everyone in my family is a Slytherin. That’s just where you go when you’re one of them. They told me I have to be in Slytherin, so I have to be in Slytherin. I don’t have a choice. There are no other Houses for me. I am a Slytherin, or I will be.”

Her palms pressed sweetly to his cheeks. She guided his face back to the direction of hers, bringing his nose close.

With determined eyes, she whispered, “I think you should pick where you want to go. You won’t be happy if you don’t, and you should be where you’re most happy. If you don’t wanna be in Slytherin, then don’t. There are more Houses than that one. It’s okay to be different. Mum says that if everyone did what everyone else does, then no one would be special. So, you can be special if you wanna.”

Her kind honey-eyes held his gaze. Her irises were swirling with life. The deep black of her pupils accompanied by honey and caramel.

Suddenly, the sky seemed brighter, less gloomy. This innocent girl could never understand what expectations Mother and Father held for him.

And yet…

Here she is making it all seem so simple. So attainable. He wants to keep her. Place her in his pocket and take her out when he needs to feel happiness. He’s never had a real friend before. And certainly never anyone in his life close to being as lovely as her.

“Sirius Orion Black!”

He froze, his scrawny fingers squeezing at the ground as he heard her shrill call to him, dirt filling underneath his nails as he waited for her second call.

“Sirius!”

The voice was growing closer. The unmistakable shriek of his mother’s blazing temper hurling towards their spot in the grass. He instinctively leaped to his feet and hurriedly wiped at his soiled trousers.

“I have to be going now. It was lovely to meet you.” His heart quickened its pace as her concerned eyebrows furrowed below her tangled bangs. He waved goodbye and turned to meet Mother the remaining distance. The image of her frown displayed across the forefront of his mind when he realized that he’d never asked his mystery girl for her name.

He pivoted around to call out to her, but she was gone. Disappeared. Erased.

Had he simply been daydreaming?

Sirius was staring out at the swings, still slightly swaying from his untimely fall, when his mother grasped his forearm and spun him to face her.

Her greying hair matched Madame Black’s eyes, rage-filled and disgusted. Her scowl was as hardened as the grip on his arm.

“You ungrateful, little beast,” she hissed. “You allowed your younger brother to run down the street by himself to fetch me? Anything could have happened to him. I had to miss important news of the Malfoy’s to come bring you home. And over what? You appear perfectly fine to me.”

Sirius recoiled as her voice grew louder into his ear.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” he pleaded.

“You do not know the meaning of sorry. You are responsible for him, Sirius. What if something had happened to him? How could you live with yourself? Do you think I could ever forgive you? Do you think I could ever stand the sight of you again?”

“No.” His lip began to tremble as he prepared for what always comes next.

“No, what?"

“No… Mother.”

She released him, only to raise her free hand. She reached high above her head and came down on him hard at the cheek and ear.

His forehead smacked the grass as he crumbled. The blades scratching his temple as a deafening ring echoed in his ear.

He struggled to stand back up. And when he finally gave up and remained on the sod, he pried open his right eye—the eye that wasn’t disoriented and probably swelling shut. He watched Regulus distract himself from the reality of his punishment by pulling at the daisies that lay trampled by his shiny, black shoes, unfazed by his brother having been struck. His fingers toyed with a collection of crushed flower petals and pollen. Mother crouched before Regulus, scowling as she wiped muck from his cheek.

Sirius peered up, back to the sky, shades darker now than when his new friend was here only moments ago.

He wished that he had succeeded in floating away, far off into the stars by the magic of his swing set. He wished for a way to leave this place. This home. He wished he could run away. He’d give anything to run away. And, perhaps, even bring his honey-eyed guardian angel with him—if only one day they were to meet again.

Chapter 3: You Can't Hurry Love

Chapter Text

You Can’t Hurry Love

September 1st, 1976

Every stroke of Lily’s wet, red hair through her brush fell perfectly in sync with the atrociously loud banging on the door of her bathroom.

Boom! Boom! Boom!

With a defiant smirk, she turned her radio up to its maximum volume as the blaring sound of The Rolling Stones, “Not Fade Away,” dared to drown out the obnoxious protests of her sister from the other side of the washroom threshold.

She woke up late that morning but chose not to rush. And just like every other sunrise on September 1st over the last five years, her trunk was already neatly packed with her sixth-year texts, belongings, and school robes.

Marlene wasn’t set to arrive for another half an hour, so as far as she was concerned, Lily was right on schedule. Despite knowing her hair wasn’t going to be perfectly dry by the time she needed to leave for King’s Cross, the familiar pang of excitement bubbled in her chest knowing she’d be returning to her home away from home today: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Summers away from Scotland left a void in her heart.

Not being able to perform magic outside of Hogwarts’s walls, Lily was eager to continue her education (as most muggleborns in her position are). It didn’t help that she lacked friends at home.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true.

She had new muggle friends—sort of— and the last three weeks with Marlene coming to stay were spectacular.

A gentle smile touched her lips.

They are all going to go mad when they see what Lily’s done to the boyish witch.

Having Marlene around was a godsend. It’s amazing how quickly they morphed from average acquaintances to close companions. Best friends, even. Marlene in her world made her happier than she ever thought possible.

But even still, she missed being surrounded by similar people. Individuals who practise magic. Fellow witches and wizards.

Every so often, she imagined what it would be like if one day she simply woke up from a five-year-long coma, only to learn that she dreamt the Wizarding World up in her mind as she lay in bed unconscious. An irrational fear that never truly left as the years pass.

She often wondered if her parents would have preferred to raise a muggle child like her sister was brought up. Not that she really has evidence to back up that idea. They’re supportive parents and have been ever since she first received that visit from Professor McGonagall.

But, nonetheless, the thoughts still intrude.

Late at night, when she stumbled home from the nightclub she often visited, Lily occasionally found herself succumbing to the urge to splay out on a grassy front lawn and stare up into the glassy black sky. The stars peppering around the face of the lonely moon, leaving her trapped in her tipsy thoughts. Embedded on the itchy turf, she would question if her parents secretly harbour bitterness towards her unorthodox methods of study.

Would life be simpler if she had never been told she was a witch? Would her mother and father feel more fulfilled in their lives if their youngest daughter were home year-round?

Lily stared into the mirror’s reflection and inhaled shakily.

It’s all real, she reminded herself sadly. It’s real and worth living for. There is more yet to come.

With a throat clear, she got back to work on her tangles.

It always pained Lily to say goodbye to her parents at the start of the school year, but Hogwarts was more than just a school; it was a completely new society. In the shadows of the muggle world, a diverse way of life flourished. She still remembered the sheer wonderment when Lily first arrived in Diagon Alley at only eleven years old.

And now she’s sixteen, and a far cry more experienced than her first trip to the platform all those years ago. So much more accustomed to a life with magic. She has loyal friends whom she misses profoundly. Her beloved professors elected to make her a prefect in her fourth year and are always open to showing her new, remarkable ways to enhance her capabilities with a wand. And the coursework fascinates her to the bone—primarily Charms and Potions, in which she’s nearly the top student in her year in both subjects. Every day is like setting off on an enigmatic adventure.

Hogwarts, and the life she lives away from co*keworth, are enough to keep her on this Earthly plain. Being alive matters. She is choosing to stay.

She is happy—again.

She is going to the place she loves most today.

She is not going to let the agony of the summer engulf her—again.

Even the pain of seeing a certain ex-friend of hers today wouldn’t be enough to ruin the warmth she felt knowing she’d be returning to her second home in only a few hours train ride.

The horrible memory of Sev’s outburst at the end of last year’s O.W.Ls would not enough to deter her excitement if she didn’t let it, and the same can be said of her sister’s impatient fists—which were not going to ruin her last morning home till Christmas break if she didn’t let them.

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Lily slammed her brush into the sink and opened the door, scowling up at the lanky, infuriated blonde standing in its frame.

“Five minutes, Petunia! All I need is five more minutes!” Lily shouted over the radio.

Petunia forced her way past Lily, roughly knocking into her shoulder as she passed, and unplugged the radio. The room fizzled into an uncomfortable silence. With a disdainful glance back to Lily, the eldest Evans daughter tucked the radio under her arm and motioned to leave as quickly as she came.

“I’ve told you not to touch my things,” Petunia snapped as Lily impeded her exit.

Lily crossed her arms. “Dad bought that radio for the both of us, Tuney. You can’t just claim it as yours. I was in the middle of using it!”

The blonde straightened her back, chin high in the air, and slipped past the redhead with the radio in tow. “It was in my bedroom when you stole it, so that makes it mine.”

“Tuney, you haven’t used it once since I’ve been home all summer,” Lily retaliated. “At least, I’m actually making use of it!”

“You took it without my permission with those filthy hands of yours, so I’m taking it back. Stay out of my room. And while you’re at it, stay away from me.

Petunia turned on her heels with her knobby chin pointed high.

Lily stuck her head out of the door frame and watched as her sister made a hasty retreat down the hall towards her bedroom. She swallowed hard before asking, “Is that really all you have to say to me on the day I leave for school?”

Petunia stilled, her hand clenched on the door handle to her bedroom. She arched her head slightly in the direction of Lily, being sure to not make eye contact. “Enjoy your time away from home, freak.”

And with that said, she opened the door and slammed it shut behind her.

Lily returned to the brush in the sink within the now hauntingly quiet room and softly took care of the remaining knots in her damp hair. And even though she could feel the tears slipping down her cheeks, she was determined to not look at her reflection in the mirror.

If she couldn’t see them, then she supposed she could pretend they weren’t really there at all.

On the morning of his return to school, James Potter wished he was dead.

Clang!

With each loud shriek of the gong that his favourite house elf, Puckly, mercilessly banged, he truly considered that the sweet release of death would be better than the hell on Earth he currently endured within the confines of his decadent bedroom.

Technically, this was his own fault—but James wasn’t the type to take much responsibility for his rowdy outings with the lads.

The other Marauders easily convinced him to go down to the quarry behind the Potter Estate late into the evening and get rip-roaring drunk to celebrate the end of yet another wildly chaotic summer. Why wouldn’t they? Have a ball and f*ck it all. This summer was the best he’s ever had.

However, at that exact moment, he was re-learning why Sirius always complained of hangovers after a night of indulgent drinking.

They’re bloody f*cking miserable.

After the first resounding clang! of the gong, James sat upright with the fury of an Inferi. By the second clang! he was about ready to take a letter from the Ministry for underage magic use, and by the third… he wasn’t going to take murder off the table.

“PUCKLY! For the love of Merlin, f*ck off with that banging!”

The house elf blushed, sheepishly hiding the drumstick behind her back.

“Puckly is sorry for waking young Master James from his dreams, but Puckly does what her mistress asks of her. Yes, she does!” Her elvin foot dug soft circles into the carpet as she looked up at James beneath her long lashes. “Mistress says that the young master needs to be punished for stealing from the liquor quarters again.”

James groaned loudly as he turned back towards his pillow. With a dramatic, exasperated sigh, he buried his face into its silky surface.

Of course, his mother discovered they stole the firewhisky. It really should have been expected. James was skilled in many subjects, but fooling his mother had certainly never been one of them. The woman taught him everything he knew about being stealthy. Hell, she was the primary reason the Marauders hadn't been expelled from Hogwarts with all the mischief they get on with.

Well, that was probably a slight fib.

It was his father who was truly the mastermind. After all, it was he who told James of all the secret passageways he discovered when he, himself, was a student. And it was also Fleamont Potter who bestowed the Invisibility Cloak to a young James on the platform before he embarked on his first year of schooling at Hogwarts. He placed the folded, shimmering sheet in his clutches and told him that true Gryffindor bravery deserves a tool for the trade.

With the wonder-filled wide eyes of an eleven-year-old child, James stepped onto the train with the key to nearly every successful prank the Marauders have ever pulled off in their five years as Hogwarts’s premiere troublemakers. It wasn’t until the beginning of their fourth year that Moony figured out the charm work to complete the Marauder’s Map and, since then, they’ve been practically invincible.

And James was sure that this wasn’t just his ego talking. It’s simply a fact. After all, he became Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team at the end of his third year—earning him the label of being the youngest to achieve the title in Hogwarts history.

He is exceptional—and he knows it. Skilled at nearly everything he does… except, well, stealing from his mother.

“Puckly’s mistress has asked Puckly to make loud noises until the young Master has gotten up from his bed,” the house elf squeaked with a sly smile.

James lifted his head to the small creature with an anguished frown of desperation. “Puck, you wouldn’t do that to me, right?” he said, laughing nervously. “Not to your old pal, James.”

Puckly smirked and raised the drumstick high above her, ready to strike. “Puckly must listen to her Mistress, Master James! Puckly does not want to disappoint!”

The ruthless clanging felt louder this time and only lasted three seconds before James sprung from his bed with clumsy steps—his temple throbbing with an unignorable ache.

He waved his arms in surrender. “Okay, okay! You got me up, just please don’t hit that thing again. I truly cannot take anymore until I take a headache potion.”

The elf opened a palm to reveal the potion James so desperately craved. But as he reached for it, Puckly swiped it back and tauntingly hid it behind her.

“Puckly… You best hand that over before this gets ugly…” he warned her, but his smirk gave him away. He’s always enjoyed her spritely mirth.

The house elf erupted in shrill giggles. “Mistress has requested that the young Master must agree to help Puckly with a task before he may have the headache potion.”

“And what task does she have in mind?” James inquired, leaning towards the elf with his hands on his knees—eye-level with the snickering creature.

“Young Master James must help Puckly wake up Master Sirius in the same manner,” she teased, twirling the drumstick between her fingers.

James's devilish grin spread slowly across his face. “I accept your task. Now, fork over the potion.”

Satisfied, Puckly pleasantly dropped the vial into his hands.

James uncorked the tube and downed the entire potion in one swig before crushing the glass in his hands. He opened his palm, the vial now wandlessly vanished. He carefully rose from his crouched position, taking the drumstick and metal saucer from Puckly’s eager grip.

“Well, then…” he said wickedly. “Sooner is better than later for these sorts of situations, I suppose.” He dashed through the open door frame and sprinted down the hall towards his best mate’s room, clanging the gong and laughing as he ran.

Lily loved that her mother always made the loveliest breakfast before she returns to school. It was a tradition, of sorts.

Piles of boiled eggs, bacon, and oatcakes awaited her at the oak dining table as she bound down the stairs. Her nose lifted towards the heavenly smell of her mother brewing tea on the kettle.

“Good morning!” Lily chimed, giving her father a quick peck on his stubble-covered cheek. “Daddy, you’re overdue for a shave,” she snarked as she settled into the chair across from him.

“Well, lucky for me, none of my colleagues kiss me quite like my girls do,” he said with a cheeky smirk, flipping the crumpled newspaper in his palms to the next page.

Roger Evans, a tall forty-two-year-old man with reddish-brown hair touched by subtle hints of grey, had always been especially sweet to Lily. A good father would never choose favourites, but Lily invariably knew that she was his darling princess who could do no wrong in his eyes.

Not that she had ever exploited this to her own advantage—the pair simply spent the majority of her childhood at the park or reading by the fire together with her perched on his lap or helping her practise for her ice skating competitions—an extracurricular she hadn’t involved herself with since she was eleven.

When her letter was delivered along with her inevitable visit by Professor McGonagall, it was Roger Evans who shared the same level of excitement that Lily had. When the word “witch” slipped from the Transfiguration professor’s lips, the Evans patriarch erupted from his seat and shouted, “I knew it! I always knew my Lily was special! This proves it!”

However, his explosive enthusiasm for her gifts was not shared amongst the whole family. Petunia’s intolerance towards her abilities worsened as the years ticked on, and Lily found it drastically difficult to resist Petunia’s instigating arguments. And while her mother chooses to ignore the manifesting tension between her daughters (in the hope that one day they will lay down their arms without her interference), it's Roger Evans who demands Petunia behave better to her sister on Lily’s behalf.

Though Lily would never admit it out loud, she somewhat believed that her father loved her more than her mother does.

Now, Rose Evans was not an unkind woman to Lily.

No, not at all.

Her mother adored Lily’s creative nature. The two spent nearly as much time together during her youth as she did with her father growing up.

Rose Evans—still a beauty with golden blonde hair like Petunia—clapped during all of Lily’s skating competitions with beaming smiles. She baked Lily sugar cookies on Tuesdays after primary school lessons and called them ‘Tuesday Tasties’. She often encouraged Lily to help in the garden and knitted her a pair of socks every Christmas. Her mother admired Lily’s clever wit, and the two loved to play disco records and dance until they were both left rolling with laughter on the carpet. On Fridays during each summer holiday, the two had a special date night where they watched Doctor Who with tubs of strawberry ice cream and joked about the actors' silly ensembles. No doubt about it—Rose Evans loved Lily.

But the Evans matriarch responded to the news of her daughter's magical gifts much differently than that of her father. While encouraging to one of the highest degrees, she regarded Lily’s magic as a talent that should remain private, even to those that reside within the Evans household. In the matter of Petunia deciding to eject Lily from her life completely, their mother had always remained neutral amidst the fights that break out between the sisters (even when they certainly required a voice of reason).

Lily was aware of the position this left the family in. With Lily gone for nine months out of the year, her obvious absence sparked a lot of questions amongst their nosy co*keworth neighbours. The women from Mum’s church stop her in the grocery and gush about how terribly excited they are to see what University Lily will attend with her remarkable grades from that ‘fancy boarding school in Scotland.’

Lily’s future prospects—amongst other questions of her life outside of co*keworth—were usually met with the same responses.

Lies.

Her mother would lie and say, “She’s thinking of Oxford or Cambridge or, perhaps, somewhere in the Colonies.” She told them all that Lily was still unsure of her major. She told them Lily was destined for great things outside of co*keworth. But, through all the compliments, Lily could see the tinge of sadness in those baby-blue eyes—eyes that know her white lies would never be coloured with the truth.

Lily would never give up her life in the Wizarding World and, while her mother accepted this ideal, her father reveled in it. He had never been ashamed of his youngest daughter’s calling to the magical world. He embraced it. Asked all the right questions, even when he couldn’t entirely envision it. Safe to say, her mother didn't understand her quite like her father did.

But even their love and support was not enough to entirely lift the thoughts that whisper darkness into her mind. Words that purr intrusively that she is a burden. That her life is an albatross they are too proud to let go of. Secretly, on occasion, Lily agreed with Petunia—that everyone would be much happier if she simply disappeared.

The petrifying loneliness nearly seized her this summer.

She was nearly a goner.

If not for Marlene’s extended visit, Lily does not believe she would have been able to remain strong enough to grin through the strangulation of misery. With the absence of Sev, Marlene filled the strain coiled in her heart. An agonisingly tiresome nag in her mind that ceaselessly berated her—telling her that she is worthless, replaceable, a liability. Her new best friend masks the shadows in her head that claim Lily would be better off dead. And while the feeling of being ostracized in her own house does not entice her to stay longer than the summer holiday, she certainly will no longer allow the loneliness to spoil the memories she cherishes about her double life around muggles and wizards.

She is happy—again.

She is going to the place she loves most today.

She is not going to let the agony of the summer engulf her—again.

She has reasons to keep living.

She is important.

She is not a fraud.

Lily shook herself as Mum set a plate of steaming oatcakes down in front of her, placing a soft kiss on her forehead.

“Eat up, sweetie. I’ve made your favourite. What with it… being your last day and all...” Her mother cleared her throat and walked swiftly to her place at the table, blinking away tears that threatened to well.

With a meaningful thank you, Lily devoured her plate with the appetite of a man who’s been stranded on an island and given their first real meal in years. Lily was usually proper in all regards, and when out in public or at school, she bore exceptional manners. But Lily is at home, and she doesn’t care in the slightest how she’s viewed by her family.

“Lilybug! For goodness sake! At least, try to eat like a proper lady,” her father chastised with a smile behind his newspaper.

She swallowed her mouth full of eggs. “Sorry!” She was just about to take another bite when she caught her father’s smirk. “What?” she asked innocently.

Her father shook his head. “You’re never gonna get a boyfriend who is a proper gentleman with atrocious manners like those.”

“If a boy doesn’t like me for who I am, then I don’t want him anyhow. I’ll just live here forever with you and Mum.”

“Fat chance! Once you’re finished with school, you’re getting the boot before the end of June,” he said with a wink.

Lily covered her heart with her hand, gasping. “Liar! You would never!”

“Of course, I would. It’s not like you help out around the house anyhow.”

Lily crossed her arms and pretended to scowl—but, not one for a convincing poker face, her lips twitched at one corner. “Oh, is that so? You didn’t seem to think I was useless when Marlene and I cleaned out the garage for you.”

“Marlene is the only reason you cleaned out the garage. That girl was just trying to help you fool your parents into thinking they raised a lady of grace and not a foul little piggy. Marlene is an absolute angel. In fact, your mother and I have considered adopting her into the Evans clan as a permanent member—or,” he waggled his brows, “as a replacement for you.”

The redhead had to admit Marlene would make a brilliant sister—but regardless! Lily is his baby. His own flesh and blood! And there he sat, sipping green jasmine tea, with the nerve to say he’d throw her out on the street if she didn't find a fit boy to settle down with? Or maybe even replace her entirely?!

Rubbish.

Utter madness.

Lily chucked her cloth napkin at him and laughed as it landed atop his face. He pulled it off quickly, falling further into laughter when he found Lily and Mum in hysterics.

Moments later, Petunia stepped into the dining room dressed in a tight, pink sweater and pleated white skirt. Lily quieted her cheer to marvel at her sister’s beauty. How she managed to learn the ability to wear makeup like the models do in department stores, Lily will never know.

“Good morning,” she greeted flatly, settling down in her normal spot at the table with her body angled conspicuously away from Lily. “Mum, may I please have a cup of tea?”

“Of course, dear. I’ll fix you a plate as well.”

“Oh, Mum, no! I simply cannot! I have to keep my figure for this weekend, you know that.”

Father scoffed, straightening his morning paper in an effort to hide his reaction from Petunia.

“What’s happening this weekend?” Lily chirped, taking a bite of her bacon.

Petunia said nothing as she waited for their mother to reemerge from the kitchen and pour the tea she requested. She thanked their mother politely and watched as she made a hasty retreat.

“What’s happening this weekend?” Lily repeated.

The blonde remained silent, taking a long leisurely sip of her lemon tea.

Their father closed his paper and folded it onto the table. His brows furrowed. “Petunia?” he asked.

“Yes, Father?” she replied, too sweetly.

“Answer Lily’s question.”

“What question?”

“Do not play coy, Petunia. Answer your sister when she is speaking to you.”

The blonde shrugged and slowly raised the cup to her lips with faux innocence in her baby-blue eyes. “I don’t believe I know what question you’re referring to.”

That’s it!” He stood abruptly, knocking the table with legs and spilling Lily’s tea.

Roger—!” Mum exclaimed from the kitchen.

“No, Rosie! I won’t allow it any longer! She’s been incorrigible this entire summer, and now Lily is about to leave again, and Petunia is not going to be allowed any more excuses for her ghastly attitude.” He pointed an accusatory finger at the blonde who sat seemingly unfazed beside him. “I’ve had it, Petunia. I am not allowing you to bully your younger sister anymore.”

“I don’t see why I should care.”

“She is family and deserves your respect.”

“She is no family to me.”

“She is! And you’ll be kind or I’ll see to it that your weekend plans end now.”

Petunia lost her composure then, rising furiously. “I can’t see any reason why I should bother! She only comes home for the summer months, leaving us with the housework year-round, and expects us to welcome her back like this is where she belongs.”

“This is her home, Petunia! This is where she belongs!”

“No, it’s not!” Petunia shrieked. She pointed a disgusted finger at Lily who sat gobsmacked at the commotion unfolding before her. “That thing belongs with the other lunatics she spends all her time with! When are you going to see her for what she truly is?” At this, Petunia glared at Lily with all the hatred she could muster.

The redhead shrank in her chair.

“She’s an annoying, buggering freak, and one day she’ll finally be out of my life for good. And I am counting the days until that finally happens.”

“Petunia, enough! Apologize to Lily this instant! You have absolutely no right to speak to her that way! She’s done nothing to deserve your wretched behaviour! Now, apologize—!”

“I absolutely will not!” With another nasty glower at her younger sister, the blonde sneered, “Have fun playing pretend with the other disturbed ingrates you call friends at that insane asylum you call a school.

Lily said nothing back.

Petunia’s sight turned from Lily’s frightened eyes back to their father. The blonde’s rage vanished as she met his livid scowl. With a deep breath, she gestured to Lily and quietly said, “She’s not a part of my life, Daddy. I do not have to share the intimate details of that life with her if I choose not to. No, I will not be telling her about my weekend. And, no, I will not be apologizing. She’s nothing to me. When will you all accept that?”

And with the finality of her words taut in the air, she scurried from the table and out the front door with a slam.

Mum timidly peeked her head into the silent room. With a solemn smile at Lily, she said, “Vernon is taking Tuney to the ballet on Saturday. She thinks he may finally propose to her… I-isn’t that wonderful, darling?”

Lily forced a watery smile onto her face. “Y-yes, Mum. That’s, uh, that’s fantastic. I’m really…” She cleared her throat. “I’m really happy for her.”

The redhead tried to return to her breakfast but found she no longer had an appetite.

Her father licked his lips. “Lily, I want—”

“Don’t,” Lily interrupted sharply. “Please don’t make this any worse than it already is.”

He nodded, unfolding his paper—now soiled with tea.

Lily, not wanting to leave her father alone at the table, resigned to pushing the scraps of her oatcakes around her plate. She fixed her stare on the table, trying to ignore the melancholy glances her father gave her as she finished their last breakfast at home together in delicate silence.

Sirius didn’t take being woken up by the gong particularly well.

In fact, James speculated that he’s seen his best mate that wildly furious only a handful of times. They didn’t necessarily fight over it (in truth, they’ve never fought over anything at all), but—this time—Sirius had every right to be upset.

Hell, James was ready to jump right off his fifth-floor bedroom balcony to escape Puckly’s incessant racket. But once the potion was drunk, Sirius resigned himself to a hearty chuckle. He agreed with James that the plan to make their own house elf torture them over some stolen Firewhisky is actually rather brilliant. Euphemia Potter is (and will always be) a force to be reckoned with.

However, James wasn’t given the chance to praise his mother for her wicked plot of vengeance. She left a lovely note for him next to the breakfast Puckly prepared, alerting him that the boys were alone in the mansion.

Dear James and Sirius,

Your father and I have some unexpected business that requires our immediate attention at Sleekeazy Headquarters. We love you both very much and have every intention of seeing you on the platform before you depart for school if we are able. It deeply pains us to imagine last night being the last we see each other before you head off to school. Finish packing your trunks straight after breakfastand don’t you dare try taking the motorbike to King’s Cross. I swear to Merlin, waking up to Puckly’s torture will only be the beginning of your punishment when you return home for Christmas!

With all my love, Mum.

P.S. Give Remus and Peter a hug for me when they arrive to accompany you to London!

Staring out the window towards the garage where the motorbike rested, James’s lips tugged into a smirk. Such a tempting threat. The bike, after being built all summer long, taunted him with fantastic ideas of forgoing his mother’s warning.

Although, the last thing he needs is to ignite her fury before he says goodbye for four months. He’d feel guilty knowing she was at home, wishing she hadn’t been angry when they last saw each other. For once, James will do as he’s told and wait for the other two Marauders to saunter over when they’re done packing trunks of their own.

With Sirius washing the stench of the evening’s escapades off in the shower up in the North Wing, James was left to his thoughts. Being alone in the banquet hall of the Potter Estate, he could do nothing but stare at the walls as he chewed.

The dining room (if it could even be called merely a room with the height of its illustrious ceiling) was laid out in a long, rectangular fashion adorned with golden floral painted walls that slowly change its base colour from blue to pink to black depending on the colour of the sky above the home. It was a charm of Euphemia’s own design after being inspired by the starry ceiling that looms over the Great Hall at Hogwarts. The magnificent dark table takes up most of the available space in the dining room. Each seat bore an intricate place setting of cascading peonies, black pearls, lavender, and eucalyptus that smelled as fragrant as it looks. The table was fashioned to give the guests of the house ample room between one another but still hold twenty-one empty seats in addition to the billowing white velvet wingback James sat in to eat breakfast that morning.

Despite his friends being constantly around, James has always felt lonely during moments like these. The Potter Estate is perched on land just shy of forty acres. He’s obviously extremely lucky growing up in a home as extravagant as this one, but a large home with no people in it is certainly a quiet one.

To all who saw it with fresh eyes, the home had the look of a fairytale castle, painted white with enormous golden statues lining the road up to the front stone staircase, and charmed to be ignored by passing muggles. The grounds contained a full-size Quidditch pitch on the Northwest sector of the property, a grand lake (inhabited with grindylows), a few ballrooms large enough to host the entirety of the Wizengamot along with their families, and a two-story jungle-like conservatory connected at the back-end of the home for his mother’s extensive magical plant collection. The community surrounding them was somewhat magical, so it wasn’t unusual for his parents to have guests over for tea. After all, those daily pleasantries were the reason he spent so much of his childhood with Marlene—

James groaned loudly, leaning his head back against the chair.

Thinking of Marlene McKinnon is only going to bring him down.

It’s finally September 1st—so he knows that he’ll face her today—but James is unsure if he wants to hug her or yell obscenities at her.

He spent the last week re-examining his every move that could have set off Marlene’s temper. He must have said something particularly arrogant to earn her ire—even for someone like him.

Or maybe she simply became fed up with the lack of attention she was given by the new resident living down the hall from him. It’s the only explanation he could come up with for her inexplicable absence lately. But, even still, wouldn’t she… yell at him first? Wouldn’t she attempt to voice her frustration with him?

She did none of that. She vanished from his sight completely.

With Padfoot now living in the Potter Mansion full-time since late June, James obviously let a rift in their friendship rise to dangerous levels—a rift he wasn’t even aware was blooming.

Marlene must have been feeling excluded with Sirius constantly around. It didn’t seem to bother her at first. If memory serves, she spent quite a few days of the holiday around him and Sirius. She was there while they fixed up the motorbike and during their Quidditch match. Sirius even took his ticket for that concert James got too sick to attend with her.

And while James knows she cares for Sirius in a friendly-enough manner, James is wise enough to know that only a select few can handle being around Sirius’s wild, loose spirit for so long. They never liked each other all that much. They rarely take up a conversation without James around, but he never thought her irritation for Sirius would cause her to disappear altogether.

She hasn’t come over to visit James in thirty-one days—an entire month—which by their time as mates must be some sort of sad record.

Marlene is a sister to him. He grew up without siblings of his own, but her mother, Olivia, was Euphemia’s best friend (and also happens to live in the Manor across the street). Marlene was born only twelve days after James. The two were raised together side-by-side, damn near in constant proximity.

His mother always said that his first steps were achieved by helping Marlene take hers. They spent their toddler years running around the grounds of the Potter Mansion playing Hopping Hippogriff until he was given his first broom. Marlene got hers the day after—effectively shifting her position from best friend to best Quidditch partner. When they received their Hogwarts letters, Marlene cried and worried they’d be sorted into separate houses. But to their shared delight, she was placed in Gryffindor alongside him.

Sirius adopted into their lives within moments of meeting on the Hogwarts Express on that first trip to Scotland. The trio sat together, dangling their feet off the back of the train, reveling in the way the wind whipped their hair into a frenzy of tangles. It was on that exact trip that James learned he liked his hair most when it was a tousled mess.

By their second month at Hogwarts, an eleven-year-old James (with two missing front teeth) held the hands of his two best friends on each side and drug them through the halls happily shouting that they would be his best mates for the rest of their lives.

The addition of Peter and Remus into their merry gang of miscreants definitely shifted their dynamic, but all four of the boys openly agree that if the Marauder bi-laws (that state only those sworn to protect Moony’s furry little problem are allowed to become a member) granted a female the right to be inducted—Marlene would surely be their fifth.

He loves that Marlene is not like most girls that stroll through Hogwarts—all obsessed with vanity and high on their own perfumes.

Marlene is tough. She handles her own much like a bloke. She spits at the ground, rolls her eyes often, laughs loudly, sits with her legs open, curses in every other sentence, and exists on a plain that James can understand perfectly as a bloke himself. Nothing about Marlene is a mystery. She’s curt and uninterested in what most girls chat about.

She never cared much for the opinion of boys (which is good because James doesn’t think he will allow a lad near her if the bloke doesn’t go through him first). Her tenacity for appearing brutish, accompanied by her bold demeanour, leaves her somewhat of a domineering presence to boys. She could probably get a bloke if she wanted to. She never wears makeup, but she’s certainly still good-looking.

In a sisterly sort of way.

Her looks are not Marlene’s defining attribute like they are for Sirius. Or Evans, for that matter.

Marlene may be a tad abrasive, but she has a soft-heart for others—provided no one takes the mickey about her lack of feminine charms. She didn’t get the nickname Mascu-lene for nothing.

Marlene is the kind of bird who regularly sports oversized rock-n-roll t-shirts with a scruffy pair of wide-legged blue jeans, rarely concerning herself with what others think of her lackadaisical appearance. She’s never been out on a Hogsmeade date, but Marlene never seemed upset by not being asked—always stating that she preferred to spend trips to Hogsmeade with the Marauders anyhow.

Marlene’s assets are really in her personality. She’s a bloody riot with a few drinks in her—able to hold her liquor as well as Sirius. She possesses one of those exceptionally loud laughs that makes everyone in the vicinity join in. She’s loud but can help complete a prank with stealth and poise. She’s clumsy but also a dream on the piano. She’s extremely sensitive but a bloody spitfire when her temper flares.

And in all sixteen years spent by her side, James realised right then that he’s never seen the bird in a skirt (long robes for special occasions, sure, but never skirts). With a firm fight against the school board in their first year, she managed to receive special permission to forgo the typical uniform—wearing the men’s set instead.

Marlene is one of those girls who is basically one of the lads. He loves these things about her. He loves her as dearly as any brother should.

It was a little past the two-week mark in August that he noticed her absence. He was in the garage with Sirius, enchanting the motorbike to fly, when it suddenly occurred to James that too much time had passed since Marlene came waltzing through the front door, with her arms open and tightly braided brunette pigtails flopping right before she jumped onto his back. Her bright, gold-coloured eyes would light up when James suggested they play Quidditch together, practise their handstands in the garden, or help Sirius tweak the motorbike to ride faster. One rainy day, she assisted with an oil painting by posing alongside Sirius—who looked dashing in their father’s pristine velvet cloaks—as they collaboratively modelled for James’s portrait.

The realisation that Marlene wasn’t going to make the first move to mend the distance between them occurred at the end of week number two without her.

When James tried to go over to McKinnon Manor and confront the spunky brunette himself, the youngest McKinnon, Liam, gruffly informed him she was out visiting a friend, and probably wouldn’t be returning anytime soon.

Over a week later, in the midst of his morning run, he saw that Amelia unexpectedly returned home from Spain. The oldest of the McKinnon children was outside tending to the blackberry patch—the one Marlene planted the summer after their third year—as if she was always supposed to be there. James thought for sure Marlene would be home to catch up with her sister. They're as close as any two sisters can be.

When he approached Amelia, he did the typical greeting. A cordial string of ‘Hello’s and ‘Yes, I’ve been well, thank you for asking’s later, James asked if Marlene would mind if he popped inside for a visit. Amelia bit her lip and glanced up to the ivy-coated balcony that led to Marlene’s third-floor bedroom. After some thought, she apprehensively told him Marlene is not allowing guests to visit her.

Now, ‘no’ isn’t a word that James is familiar with hearing being an only child, so he took it upon himself to sidestep the eldest McKinnon daughter and sprint towards the front door—full f*cking speed. However, he foolishly forgot that Amelia is of the legal age to perform magic, and she quickly subdued him with a tickling jinx before he made it even halfway up the front steps.

After his laughter subsided, Amelia pointed a fierce finger in James’s face and said, “Marlene is going through some changes right now with her self-confidence and doesn’t want you or your arrogant behaviour to interfere. She’ll let you know when she’s ready to see you again, so right now just leave her be, Potter. She doesn’t want to see you.”

Outraged, Amelia retreated inside, while James sourly stared up at her balcony, willing Marlene to peek through the glass panes of her French doors. When it became clear she would not show herself, he left shortly thereafter, furious with how he was being treated by his childhood mate.

Anger aside, Marlene consumed his thoughts from then on.

She’s going through some changes.

He asked about her to passing wizarding families on his morning runs around the neighbourhood, but none had seen her.

She’ll let you know when she’s ready to see you again.

He spied on her house until all hours of the night.

She doesn’t want to see you.

He even tried looking for her as he bought his school texts and supplies for the year, but he hadn’t been able to spot her in the masses of people coating Diagon Alley.

For f*ck’s sake! What’s the damned problem, anyhow?

It’s completely out of her character to keep away from him for any extended period of time without extenuating circ*mstances—or without her at least personally telling him to piss off. That fact, along with Amelia’s outburst, brought James to the conclusion that she is choosing to avoid him entirely because he is the problem (even if he isn’t sure what he’s done). And stubborn as he is, he demands to know why!

However, if Amelia is right, then he’ll be forced to wait until they see each other on the train platform; and he isn’t sure how he’s supposed to react when he finally sees her again.

James isn’t the kind of man to allow his mates’ problems to go on without his assistance (his animagi abilities being a prime example), but Marlene didn't come to him when she was clearly struggling with something major. She just… disappeared.

He will always have a soft spot for her. All he’s ever wanted is to protect her, and she’s stepping on his feelings with her holiday from his life.

He wants her back.

He misses his baby sister.

But he doesn’t know how to get to her.

Marlene tugged at her blouse again and scratched her head.

She still isn’t used to wearing her hair down all the time. It gets in the way so often, always fanning over her shoulders when she’s trying to take notes or sticking to her lashes as it catches the wind. Not to mention the shedding. Is she a girl or a bloody lion?

Her instincts screamed at her to tie up the locks like usual—two braided twins from the crown above her brows to the base of her neck and beyond. She once loved having her hair up, tied back, and manageable. Short hair is just as unforgiving, but damn it all, long hair is a f*cking hassle. Why bother keeping it down when she could pull it back?

Oh, right.

Because she wanted to change.

Still does, of course.

The decision to become more… ladylike… was an easy choice. She may not be used to girly customs and rituals, but Marlene admires the models she sees in Witch Weekly. She finds them flattering and elegant and poise. Up until her sister and Lily’s makeover training, Marlene was none of those things. But now? Everything is different.

Marlene flattened the hem of her skirt before pulling her stockings higher on her thighs.

She looks like one of those groupies she always sees hanging around the backstages of the concerts she goes to.

With her hair dolled up as her sister taught her, Marlene started the project of applying her makeup.

f*cking hell. This is so tedious. How do girls find the time to do this every single morning? Marlene will never sleep in ever again. Tragic.

Marlene rolled her eyes at her reflection and got to work.

As ridiculous as she feels slathering on this goop, she wants to look… pretty.

Jamie is going to think she’s insane. She’s never been this girl. She’s usually so… apathetic to girl things. But that’s in the past. She wants to feel good about herself. She wants to like what she sees in the mirror. And there’s nothing wrong with that. She is doing this for herself and herself alone. It doesn’t matter that… she’ll be seeing her former boyfriend today—if she can even call him that.

And even as she told herself that, she decided on red lipstick—because she knew he liked it.

Marlene scowled at herself.

No, not because he likes it, but rather, she wants him to feel regret—not lust. Although in retrospect that could be worse. But she wants him to be affected by her. The things he said to her were… cruel and belittling, and he boxed her into a corner by requesting she tell no one about their freshly-written history. She’s been solitary and steadfast with her promise to keep his identity a secret. She claimed she would “do anything for him,” and then he demanded she prove it. How ruthlessly cunning. Perhaps he is a Slytherin at heart.

And now, she wants him to see her and find himself f*cking jaw-dropped. She wants him to rue the moment he broke her heart.

But even if she is victorious, she still can’t tell anyone about it.

Such a contrasting way to live her life—circling the idea of revenge like a shark by pretending to feel apathetic. She wants him to be as devastated with longing as she is by his loss.

He stole her confidence—but then again, she gave it to him.

All because she was stupid enough to fall in

Marlene snapped the compact shut and hugged herself, her nails sinking into the skin of her arms.

He didn’t recognize her in Diagon Alley. It was insulting, really. Is she really so different looking without all of this?

f*ck, she wants to hit them both for the sheer disrespect of it all. It’s not that big of a difference, is it?

Marlene co*cked her head at her own reflection and played Spot the Difference.

Her figure is on display for once. She’s never been one to wear fitted clothing. Even her old uniform was loose and baggy, draping over her like a cloak and swallowing every curve.

McGonagall is going to think she is deranged for spending her first year revolting against the uniform skirts… only to eventually purchase some to be worn from here on out.

They do fit her well. She likes how she looks in them; she just doesn’t quite know how to wear them. She can’t keep her legs open as she usually sits with skirts on. Nor can she crawl under a desk to retrieve a quill. And heaven help whoever watches her trip for the first time. They’ll get a full show.

Nothing he hasn’t seen before though.

Marlene pressed the base of her palms into her eyes.

Do not cry.

No more f*cking crying.

He’s just a boy, for f*ck’s sake!

Marlene inhaled sharply and returned to applying powders and rouges to her cheeks.

She’s going to look f*cking gorgeous today, and she hopes the sight of her chokes him.

How pitiful.

Marlene McKinnon fell in love with… with Sirius Black.

Then, he broke her f*cking heart because she wasn’t good enough. Not pretty enough. Not worthy enough to be on his arm. Not a girl but Mascu-lene.

And then he asked her to keep their affair quiet from Jamie forever.

Marlene smirked bitterly at her reflection.

Not good enough for him, huh? No problem. She’s about to be good enough for everyone else.

Sirius Black is admired by almost everyone.

He knows he’s attractive. Everyone knows it, but he doesn’t care about all of their opinions. He wants one person—one girl. A girl he can’t have.

The former heir to the Noble House of Black puffed on his smoke and let the gust of grey waft around him.

September 1st, at last. Today is the day he’ll finally see her again. And good f*cking god, he misses looking at her so much. How pitiful.

He placed his elbows against the railing and eyed the house across the way from beneath his lashes.

She’s in there. She has to be. How long can she live with Evanses, really?

Sirius sighed heavily and took another lingering drag.

It isn’t his place to care anymore. He made his choice. He let her go in order to save his relationship with Prongs. He has to accept that. He has to. He can’t be sent back to Grimmauld Place. He just can’t. He won’t survive another one of their punishments.

Sirius covered his eyes and laboured his breathing before another panic attack could settle. He’s had one almost every night since he ended things with Marlene. The panic attacks are ceaseless. All consuming.

Of course, he’s a mess. He always has been. More so now than ever. Even if she doesn’t hate him after all he’s done, he doesn’t deserve her.

Someday Marlene is going to meet someone so much better than him—and their ephemeral time as lovers will fade into memory. But at the same time, if he sees her with someone else, he may lose all control and beg for her back on the spot. Their imprudent encounters back in fifth year taught Sirius how desperately insane he can be when faced with an opponent for her affection.

He doesn’t deserve her.

Sirius brushed his lower lip with his thumb.

But he craves her.

His soul seeks her out in every tangle of brown hair he sees alone in the streets. He searches for those sultry honey-coloured eyes at every glance. He stops dead when he hears a song they used to dance to from the raspy record player in her bedroom.

For thirty consecutive nights, he sneaked across the street until near dawn to be with her. To touch her. To savour her. To worship her. To devour her at his selfish leisure. All surreptitiously past James’s sight or knowledge.

James is the reason he ended their romantic entanglement, even if the lad will never know it. Sirius wishes he could forget it all, but he can’t—his mind is polluted by the mental souvenirs of her. The memory of her skin on his, the soft texture of a safe haven for his body to cling to.

He tried to move on. He tried to f*ck someone else, someone different—but it was wrong. So wrong for him to even try to replace her with meaningless sex, and now he can’t escape through fleeting eroticism anymore. One-night stands aren’t gratifying like they once were. Slagging around isn’t the same.

His choice to end his affair with Marlene is proving to be much more difficult than he feared. He finally slept with the girl of his dreams, and now he can’t find that same warmth in anyone else.

For a while, he could pretend it was her beneath him. Whatever girl he coaxed into bed with him occurred similarly following the New Year. He’d close his eyes and imagine he was f*cking Marlene while he f*cked someone else—all of fifth year, demolished by fantasy. But now he knows her smell, the crisp scent of parchments and cinnamon and wisteria as he buries his face in her hair at the same time he buries himself inside her.

Sirius groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose as memories of her naked body flickered across his thoughts.

He hates himself for what he’s done.

He hates himself for leaving her.

He hates himself for not realising sooner that he was falling in—

Sirius shuddered and took another drag. He smoked another and another as he stared longingly out at McKinnon Manor.

Even from here, he can see her light is on.

She’s home. She’s in there—that bedroom he knows so well now.

How is he supposed to meet someone who measures up to her? He knows who his heart belongs to, but James would never allow it. He made an oath to never touch her—and he broke that promise—again and again and again.

He’ll be exiled from the Marauders if they find out he broke the oath. Moony and Wormtail took the oath, too. They all know the significance of their vow, but Sirius knew Marlene couldn’t be avoided forever. Not after he realised what she truly means to him—his descent from grace was inevitable, doomed with chaos from their very first kiss. Even with a time turner, he wouldn’t change the past. He would merely savour the experiences all the more while he still had her.

He misses her for everything she is—he’s never expected her to be anyone she’s not. He’s been infatuated since the start.

Sirius sighed.

The clerk at Flourish & Blott’s warned him of her… transformation. Whatever it may entail. The words of the bookshop associate revolved around his skull in a near-constant cycle.

‘She was flawless, I’m telling you. No doubt, the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen walk into this shop.’

‘It was like her eyes were trying to hypnotise me.’

‘Gorgeous! Like she stepped right out of Witch Weekly, or maybe even heaven itself!’

He is sure that he’ll be damned upon one look, but Hell is much too slow in its descent upon Sirius’s soul. He’d let his eyes burn with the coals of perdition if it meant she would be within his view.

With the pack drained of smokes, the former heir slipped back into his bedroom and sauntered down the steps to face his nightmares.

James was engulfing his beans on toast and read The Daily Prophet when Sirius slid down the marble staircase railing, feet dangling dangerously over the edge. The Quidditch Captain barely spared a glance from the obituaries section when Sirius barrel-rolled into the dining quarters and swiped the paper from his grasp.

Opening the newspaper for himself with gusto, Sirius roughly planted himself in the chair beside his best mate.

“Anything of interest?” Sirius asked, winking and shooting a dazzling smile.

James ran through his black hair, further dismantling his already chaotic hairstyle. “Well, a muggleborn family was found dead in their home the day before last. I suppose you might consider that interesting.”

Sirius scanned the paper, seeking the article in question. “Oh f*ck, was it anyone we knew?”

“I don’t recall ever meeting them. Does the name Donahue ring any bells to you?”

Sirius set the paper down between them and rubbed a finger against his temple. “Damn… Yeah, I think I knew them. One, anyhow. Wasn’t there a Shirley Donahue in Hufflepuff?” Reaching over to the plate Puckly set for him, he picked up a shiny red apple—courtesy of the McKinnon orchard across the street—blankly staring at it before engulfing a large bite. “I think she left after our second or third year.”

James shrugged. He could swear he met someone named Shirley before. A curvy, blue-eyed Hufflepuff with perky features by that name appeared in his memories, but he wasn’t sure he could trust those thoughts.

If he’s being honest, there aren’t a whole lot of women he looked at when Lily Evans began taking over his every waking thought. During his third year, just as puberty began to hit him, Lily Evans pounded into his brain with the force of a swinging troll’s club.

Not that he thinks that way anymore, of course. He is completely over that prudish, stuck-up prig.

Sort of.

Mostly.

Probably.

Sirius cleared his throat, removing him from the image of a certain undesirable ginger witch.

“So,” Padfoot began carefully, suddenly interested in the cleanliness of his nail beds, “have you thought about what you’re going to say to Marlene when you see her today?”

James grumbled and lay his head on the table. His forehead banged on the wood, echoing across the massive room. “No,” he whined. “I haven’t the f*cking foggiest idea what I’ve done to her, so how could I possibly know what to say?!”

Sirius seemed to understand his plight and dropped the subject. He continued his breakfast in silence, meanwhile James invested his thoughts on the rushing flutter of his heart, and how the bloody organ so desperately wished to run to her and yell at her—all at once.

Chapter 4: Oh, Pretty Woman

Chapter Text

Oh, Pretty Woman

August 1st, 1976

Lily settled into bed earlier than usual. A night at her favourite dance club usually ended roughly around three in the morning. Tonight, she decided to get some much needed sleep.

She started to nod off beneath the safety of her sheets, trying to calm the drunken waves rolling through her body. The numbing that accompanied intoxication warmed Lily from the inside out. A sensation both pleasant and miserable, but at least it meant she could still feel something. Anything at all would do.

If she kept up this charade for much longer, Lily was certain she’d be gone before the train left for Hogwarts.

But who would really care if she never went back?

Not Severus.

Not her dormmates.

Maybe her parents, but they’d be fine after a while.

Petunia would probably dance on her grave.

The loneliness crept into her knackered head—just as it did every night before she closed her eyes.

Another day gone by, alive but not living.

Alone.

A witch in a muggle’s world.

The flower print of her wallpaper was just becoming hazy when at half-ten, the tipsy prefect startled to near-death by the sound of pounding on her bedroom window.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

The glass panged so loudly, Lily yelped, clutching her sheets to her breast like a child.

Before she could even remove her pink quilt from her jammie sheltered legs to investigate the commotion, the gangly body of Marlene McKinnon pried open the glass. She struggled to shimmy inside with her baggy clothing and ended up falling face first onto her rug covered floorboards.

McKinnon?! Is that really you? Do you have any idea what time it is? What the hell are you—?”

Marlene chose that exact moment to flip onto her back, revealing her puffy eyes and tear streaked cheeks.

Lily leapt from her bed and hovered her hands above the brunette. Unsure of whether she should touch the girl. “Oh, love, what’s happened?”

Marlene didn’t answer. She merely covered her face and cried. Lily made her choice and gripped her tightly. She cradled her dormmate in her arms—the same dormmate whom Lily had not seen nor heard from since their haphazard farewell in London—while she sobbed.

The redhead gently stroked her hair as Marlene mumbled a garbled mess of “It’s over… It’s over, Lily... I’m such an idiot. I’m a bloody fool… It was all a lie… Oh, god, I’m so stupid… How could I be so stupid?” again and again until both Gryffindors fell unconscious as the sun rose upon the smog-filled town of co*keworth.

Lily woke only a few hours later.

The birds chirped at her window as the sun’s streams finally made their way onto Lily’s weary eyes. She puckered her face and rolled away from the light, groaning from the ache in her temple.

When she managed to open her eyes, the wall clock read 9:38 in the morning.

She rose from her place on the floor, her cheek tingly from being pressed into the itchy rug. She scanned the room, but Marlene was nowhere in sight. The window was shut and her bed was left unmade, but the room was entirely bare of any other individuals.

No, Marlene wasn’t here.

For a moment, the redhead assured herself that she must have dreamed up her dormmate tumbling into her little bedroom window at all hours of the night.

None of it made any sense.

Why would Marlene choose to come… here?

To a muggle town of all places.

Let alone to see her.

They weren’t close by any means. Dormmates, sure, but calling themselves friends was a bit of an exaggeration. They lived together, but it was cohabitation, not friendship, that bonded them.

It was a dream.

It must have been.

She picked herself off the floor and stretched, cracking the bones in her neck after the position she’d slept in last night. While cracking the small of her back, loud laughter came suddenly from downstairs in the kitchen.

“Marlene, darling! You are such a delight!” her mother squealed.

Holy bloody hell.

Throwing open her door and sprinting down the stairs, Lily ran until she was face-to-face with the swinging door that led to the dining room. Trying to control her heavy breathing, (Merlin, she was out of shape! And after all that jogging she’d been doing around town! Pathetic.) she pressed her ear to the wooden door. Her father couldn’t be heard, so he must be already on his way to work, but her mother muttered something about getting more tea.

This was her chance.

Lily opened the door slowly, staring at Marlene with both fascination and bewilderment.

It wasn’t a ridiculously odd reaction to one’s semi-mate showing up out of the blue when that particular mate had:

1) never been to her home before (or really hung out with her seriously outside of their dormitory)

2) had been crying hysterically for nearly half of the night.

Now, her very pureblood friend (of sorts) was sitting at her dining room table in her very muggle house, smiling brightly at her muggle mother who was giggling as she departed through the kitchen door.

“Marlene?” Lily asked timidly.

“Oh! f*ck, Red, you nearly gave me a heart attack. You just missed your dad. He just left for the—oh, bugger, what was it called again? A Uni? Whatever you call one of those schools one would go to after they finish Hogwarts. Marvellous job for a muggle, if you ask me. And he’s such a wonderful chap, by the way. I can see where you get your charm.”

When Lily said nothing, Marlene continued speaking as if there was no silence at all.

“Anyway, I was just telling your mum about the time, we nearly got pneumonia after Mary dared me to jump into the Black Lake and I grabbed at your hand at the last second. I said, ‘Lily claimed she was furious, but she was laughing, so how upset could she have really been?’ I can’t believe you’ve never told her about that! It was hysterical! I thought Pomfrey was surely going to club us to death, what with us walking into her Hospital Wing dripping muck around the place.”

Lily walked cautiously to the seat beside Marlene’s, descending onto the lace cushion at a slow pace.

Marlene looked exhausted. Her citrine eyes were still puffy and bloodshot, fixed above dark, purple circles. Her cheeks carried the evidence of salty tear streaks despite her welcoming smile. She seemed both delighted and miserable all at once.

Marlene waited patiently for Lily to remark, but Lily couldn’t bear the small talk.

“Marlene, what are you doing here?”

“Well, good morning to you, sunshine,” the brunette replied dryly, rolling her eyes. She deliberately sipped her tea.

“Don’t take this to mean I’m not happy you’re here—because you’re always welcome to visit—but you’ve also never come to see me before. And forgive me, but I would imagine most visits occur during reasonable hours of the day—or at least with a letter ahead of time. You just… turned up… out of the blue. And you were so upset last night, you must have come here with a reason.”

Marlene bit her lip and frowned shamefully, nervously tapping her sharp nails onto her now empty tea cup. “You’re right. This—this was such a rude intrusion. I want you to know how sorry I am. I didn’t mean to—what I’m trying to say is—I didn’t know what else to do. I needed… I needed to get away… for a little while… I don’t really want to talk about it. It’s just he was mine—a-and then, suddenly, he wasn’t. And he said such terrible—”

Her voice cracked and she threw her hand over her eyes to shield Lily from seeing her cry again.

Lily frantically reached across the table and removed Marlene’s hand from her face, “No, no, no, Mar! I’m so sorry! Please, don’t cry! If you’re not ready to tell me, I completely understand! You’re safe here. I’m so thrilled to see you. Honestly, I am.”

Marlene gazed up toward the ceiling, blinking back any tears that may have formed. With a deep breath, she looked back at Lily.

And with a defeated voice that Lily had never heard before from the talkative witch, Marlene quietly asked, “Do you think I could stay here for a day or two? I promise not to be a bother.”

Rose strolled back into the room with fresh tea and answered before Lily had the chance, “Of course, dear. Lily never has friends over anymore and it would be lovely to have you. How could a sweet girl like you ever be a bother to us?”

Lily squeezed Marlene’s hand in a fierce grip. “Couldn’t agree more. Stay as long as you need.”

Marlene sipped her tea again and listened as Mum raved about the new sewing machine she’d purchased in town the evening before. Lily chatted away with her mother about patterns and fabric swatches.

August 23rd, 1976

“That film was complete bullsh*t if you ask me. I mean, wouldn’t she just become an obscurius if her powers had been suppressed like that? And what was with that psychotic mother? I’m telling you, Lils, muggle religion can make people bloody bonkers.”

Marlene massaged her neck, trying her best to relieve the stiffness from the cinema seats as they sauntered down the street towards Petunia’s canary yellow Mini Cooper.

Lily swung her arms like a pendulum, still tipsy from the bottle of merlot they drank after sneaking it into the theatre to drink while they watched Carrie. Lily told her brunette companion it was about a muggleborn witch whose mum keeps her trapped in a closet, and the pureblood was sold on the premises. She read the novel earlier in the year in anticipation for the film and was truly grateful she found someone willing to accompany her. Lily would have normally asked Sev to go, but… well, that wasn’t an option anymore.

And, apparently, neither was asking Marlene if she was ready to tell Lily why she was afraid to go home.

It's been over three weeks since Marlene began to stay at the Evans home and Lily won’t lie: life with Marlene around is utterly marvellous. Each day they wake up and find something new to explore and do.

The first few days of her visit, they explored co*keworth with Lily as her guide, teaching the pureblood about the muggle lifestyle that Muggle Studies just never quite got right. Marlene would listen with admiration in her eyes as Lily explained how muggle scientists launched men onto the moon and how telephones are merely quicker owls.

Some days, they’d go out into the garden and pick flowers—creating beautiful bouquets that were displayed proudly on the Evans dining table in a pretty quartz vase Mum picked up at a garage sale.

A few times over the weeks, they walked into town to check out a record shop and left with a new album each time. It was there that Lily learned of Marlene's advanced interests in music.

On other days, Marlene would do things like front flips off the swing set by the ice cream parlour or learn to drive from her father with Lily panicking in the backseat.

And one day, they spent the entire afternoon eating crisps and watching terrible sketch shows on the telly.

But above all things, Marlene adored attending musical rock shows. In that short period of time, they already saw Queen and Led Zeppelin and a few other bands Lily couldn’t remember the names of (having been piss drunk for all of them and described by Marlene as niche artists).

Regardless of the day of the week, the pair attended the dance club that Lily frequents every night. Marlene was instantly accepted by Lily’s new muggle friends. And if by some miracle, Marlene’s acclimation to her daily life was beginning to fill the familial void that Petunia and Sev created. For the first time since she received her letter, Lily felt like she had a sister again—and a best friend.

While Marlene swore the McKinnons were okay with her miniature vacation from magic, Lily initially worried that her own parents may find the sudden extra guest intrusive. But despite her early fears, her parents adore Mar to pieces and have assured them both that they are much happier with Marlene around than without. However, ensuring her parents were okay with their unusual living situation was only the peak of Lily’s concerns.

In actuality, the prefect was more perturbed by how Marlene seemed to be avoiding a much bigger problem that she is still unwilling to share. The chatty witch had always been a rather boisterous, carefree girl, but something about her demeanour changed since the summer holiday started. It was almost as if Marlene’s confidence depleted itself in the span of two months.

Lily first noticed the change when Marlene was getting ready in her bathroom and refused to look at herself in the mirror. She buttoned up her pants and anxiously threw on her Bowie t-shirt making a conscious point to never look up at her reflection before exiting the bathroom with haste.

The second time Lily noticed her odd behaviour was when they were eating ice cream at the parlour and a pair of muggle boys approached Lily to ask if they may sit at her table. When she kindly responded that she was with a friend, they barely gave Marlene a glance when they apologised and asked if they could have her telephone number to perchance meet up with her some other time. Mar, in return, suddenly found herself no longer hungry and threw away her chocolate milkshake before she devoured her extra cherries. Lily observed how stiff and quiet she became for the remainder of their time in the shoppe.

The third piece of evidence she acquired hadn’t been drawn from a single moment, but rather, a string of them.

Marlene McKinnon, who has been best friends with that revolting James Potter for as long as she’s known her, now refuses to talk about the Marauders. Any chance Lily found to organically inquire how they were getting on was immediately deflected and an alternative topic was initiated.

Odd.

Undoubtedly the most peculiar behaviour of them all.

So strange, in fact, that it begged the question of whether Potter did something to perhaps—

CLANG!

Marlene smacked Petunia’s car with the palm of her hand, rousing Lily from her drunken thoughts.

Hello? Lily? Are you even listening to me?”

“Uh, no, sorry. I haven’t been for a few minutes now.” Lily giggled and shrugged, leaning against the car. She closed her eyes dreamily and mused over how warm her bed likely was right about now.

When she opened her eyes again, Marlene was laying on top of the car’s hood, looking up into the black blanket of stars. Lily stumbled over and crawled onto the empty metal space next to her friend.

Marlene carried this unreadable expression. It was almost wistful. As if all she wanted in the world was to climb up an infinite ladder and live on the moon above them forevermore. Yet, somehow nostalgic, like she already knew what the moon held for her—but out of reach forevermore.

They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes before Marlene finally spoke up. “Do you ever fancy being someone else?”

“Like a celebrity or something?”

“Yes and no, I guess. I mean, do you ever think that if you were a different person that things would be better? Like maybe you’d be happier being someone else?”

Lily sighed softly. “Yeah, actually I do. Sometimes, I wish I was born a pureblood. Then words like mudblood could never hurt me.”

Marlene looked over at her with regret. “You’re a witch no matter what they say, Lily. No one should ever call you that foul word.”

“Yeah, but that’s the thing. Sometimes, I also wish I’d never become a witch at all.”

“You truly feel that way?”

“Yes.”

“How come?”

Lily frowned miserably. “Petunia.”

Marlene redirected her attention back to the stars. “Ah, yes. How could I forget? The most hospitable and friendly member of the Evans clan.” She laughed to herself.

Lily shrugged. “She wasn’t always so dreadful to me. We actually used to be quite close. We were best friends up until Sev told me I was a witch. She watched me conjure a daisy from a seed I found on the ground and, at first, she thought it was amazing. I spent an entire summer trying to teach her how to perform magic. And when I got my letter, she wrote to Dumbledore asking if she could come to Hogwarts as well. He wrote back as kindly as he could, but I think the rejection was too much for her. She’s been repulsed by me ever since.”

“Huh, I would have never guessed she’d try to earn a spot at Hogwarts herself. I assumed she’s always been the despondent hag with no respect for anyone that I’ve seen the past few weeks. I don’t think I can imagine a single person less suited for magic, except that bloated oaf she calls a boyfriend.”

"Yeah, Vernon is truly a boring troll, isn’t he?”

Marlene cackled so loudly that Lily started up laughing as well.

When the giggles quelled, Lily sat up, sitting cross-legged on the car, facing Marlene. With her hand resting under her chin, she asked, “Why did you ask me if I’d rather be someone else?”

“I thought we were talking about you.”

“Well, now we’re not.”

“Since when?”

“Since now.”

“And?”

“And I want you to answer the question now.”

“Oh.” Marlene put both hands behind her head and thought calmly about how she wanted to respond. “Well,” she started, “I suppose I’ve come to the realisation that I don’t like myself.”

“How could you possibly not like yourself? You’re sensational, Mar.”

“But I’m not exactly pretty, am I?”

Wait, what?

Lily sat gobsmacked by the bizarre remark as Marlene stared her directly in the eyes.

Marlene wasn’t vain. Atleast, Lily never pegged her for superficial thoughts such as those. In truth, Lily assumed Marlene’s ‘go with the flow’ tomboy attitude was something she felt proud of.

And it wasn't that Marlene wasn’t beautiful. She was very beautiful. Perhaps not by today's societal standards—being that she dressed like a bloke and never cared for feminine anything—but she had magnetic charisma. Her smile could light up the sky. And being of mixed race, she had a natural complexion that never seemed to need makeup to brighten her skin tone. Honestly, she was probably what other girls wish they could be some days. What they thought they were, but never quite hit the mark by bragging about it. She was just… being herself. And she couldn't even see how attractive that was.

“What would ever give you that kind of idea?! Of course, you’re pretty! You’re perfect just the way you are, Marlene.”

“Your shock is enough of an answer for me. It’s okay, everyone already knows it. I’m just trying to accept it.” With that said, she removed her piercing eyes from Lily’s and shifted them back to the sky. She clutched her fingers to her arms, the nails pressing into her skin.

Lily blanched. “I’m confused. Are you trying to ask me if I think you’re ugly? Because you are most certainly not.”

“It’s not that I’m ugly. I’m just plain. Average. Ordinary. Forgettable.” Marlene sighed. “I’m the opposite of special.”

“That’s preposterous. You’re incredible.”

“It’s fine, Lily. I’m working through it. It’s not like it’s something I can change. I am who I am.”

“Mar, is this why you were crying in my room that night? Because you don’t think you’re… pretty?”

“Partially.”

“What else were you crying over?”

Marlene laughed psychotically until she was almost in tears. Lily cringed away from her with apprehension—staring madly at the girl who resembled a bomb set to go off.

“Because!” she wailed. “I fell in love with a boy, but he’s embarrassed to be seen with me!”

Marlene’s psychotic break turned into full sobs, and Lily was helpless to assist her.

But the shock of her words settled for the redhead after Marlene had calmed herself enough to speak coherently.

“You’re in love with someone?” Lily marvelled.

Marlene scoffed between shaky breaths. “Unfortunately.”

“Did you tell him?”

Her chin quivered. “I did.”

“Who is it?”

“It doesn’t matter, Lil!” She wiped her eyes harshly with her fingers. “It’s over now and I can’t change who I am. I’ll forever be the girl that isn’t treated as a girl. They all think I’m fun to be around, but no one will ever want to love me back. I’m un-f*cking-loveable.

“Marlene-whatever-your-middle-name-is-McKinnon—”

“It’s Elaine.”

“—you are beautiful! How can you let some dodgy bloke tell you that you’re not good enough for him? Have you ever thought that he isn’t good enough for you?”

Marlene held up a halting palm. “How can you say that? I mean, just look at me, Lily!” She gestured wildly down to her body and face. “Look at me! Is this what pretty girls usually look like? No. Of course not. Because they don’t see a girl at all.” Hatred flickered in her eyes. “They see Mascu-lene.”

Lily scowled and put her hands on her hips. “Wearing those clothes does not make you a boy! And pretty does not mean feminine, you know. Women do not need to fall into common customs in order to be viewed as beautiful.”

“Sure, but it f*cking helps.”

“Well, if that’s what you mean, then the problem is not you being treated as a boy but your self-confidence levels. Models in magazines don’t represent real people, Mar. They’re an idea. Illustrating impossible expectations for women to meet. It’s one big mirage.”

“Sometimes, I wish I looked like them… but I could never.”

“You know, if you really wanted to, all you’d need to do is just—” Lily froze, placing her knuckles to her lips in thought.

After a beat, Marlene sat up and waved her hand in front of Lily’s face like she was being hypnotized and needed to be snapped out of it.

“Uh, Lil? Are you there?”

Lily said nothing. Staring deeply out at the cobblestone street.

Plotting.

Scheming, perhaps.

It could work. She’d need reinforcements, but it was definitely possible. Not much time left with the start of school so near, but with enough determination—

Marlene pinched Lily’s arm.

“Blimey, Marlene, give me a second! I’m planning.”

“Planning what exactly?” The brunette rubbed her weary eyes again. “Seriously, though, you’re acting strange. Why are you being so… weird?”

Suddenly, Lily slid off the hood and began to pace. Marlene watched Lily walk back and forth like a fiery-haired pendulum until she abruptly stopped and pivoted towards the confused figure still planted on the hood of the car.

“Marlene Elaine McKinnon,” Lily stated firmly, “I think I have an idea.”

“Brill. What is it?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Oh, fantastic.”

“We need to drive home immediately.”

“I suppose it’s getting late anyhow.” Marlene slid off the hood as Lily had just done and climbed into the passenger seat of the automobile. Leaning her head back against the cushions, Marlene sighed. “Whatever it is that you’re planning, will I like it?”

Lily sat down in the driver’s seat and started up the car, roaring it to life. “Depends on whether or not you trust me. Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Trust me.” Lily smiled and held out her hand for Marlene to take.

The brunette smiled warmly and placed her palm onto Lily’s, interlocking their fingers.

“With my life, ginger.”

August 25th, 1976

“Absolutely-f*cking-not, Lily. I’m not going.”

“Mar, you said you trusted me.”

“And you said that I could stay here for as long as I needed to.”

Lily groaned in frustration. After running her hands through her hair, the prefect tried explaining again. “Listen to me very carefully: I am not forcing you to go home. I am simply trying to take you there temporarily.”

Marlene wasn’t convinced. She scowled in her seat, arms stubbornly crossed, on the Evans’ beige sofa.

She was most certainly not going home if she could help it.

If she goes home, Jamie will see her from his bedroom balcony (probably).

Then, Jamie will try and talk to her (definitely).

And where Jamie goes, that grey-eyed, lying, deceitful bastard and the rest of the tosspot Marauders go.

So, no.

There was no way in hell Marlene was going to take one step onto the McKinnon property without proper bribery.

“You’re going to have to give me more than that. Why does your plan have to happen at my house?”

“Because there is someone there that wants to talk to you.”

Marlene paled. “Is it… Jamie?”

Lily laughed so hard she nearly keeled over. “Good god, no! Like I’d ever speak to him willingly. Honestly, Mar! I haven’t gone completely mad!”

“Then, who is it?”

Lily smiled impishly. “Come on, Mar. Don’t take away my fun. Where’s that Gryffindor bravery gone, eh?”

Marlene groaned and rolled off the sofa dramatically. “Fine! You got me.”

“Excellent. Now, uh, how do we get to your house?”

“Same way I got here,” Marlene responded pragmatically. “With a Portkey, of course.”

The Portkey Marlene set up three weeks prior was about a ten minutes walk from the Evanses townhome. Taking a right into the alley before the record shop they bought their new collection from had certainly been a shock to Lily.

“You left a Portkey down here?” The ginger witch asked, perplexed. “This just seems so public for magical transportation.”

“I put a disillusionment charm on it so no one would touch it. The spell earned me a letter from the Ministry, but it’s the only offence on my record this year, so they’ll probably let it be. It’s just this way, only a little bit further.”

The alleyway was filthy, coated with coal ashes from the factory up the hill, and it reeked of gunpowder and sewage. The ground was covered in puddles of shiny oil and garbage; and Lily wondered how grime like this hadn’t been taken care of by the community.

Are the habitants of her neighbourhood complacent with living like this?

She should bring this up to Mum when she—

“OOF!”

She crashed into Marlene’s back.

“Sorry, Mar. Is it here?”

“Yeah, it’s right underneath that newspaper.”

“You placed a newspaper on top of a Portkey?”

“Uh, yeah? Look at this place, Lily. It’s disgusting. The newspaper is the cleanest thing in this hell hole.” Marlene removed the newspaper carefully, revealing a tiny, beat-up tin can. “Okay, are you ready? Have you ever travelled by Portkey before?”

“No, actually. I haven’t. Does it hurt?”

Marlene winked and offered her hand to Lily. “Only if you don’t know how to land.” And with those reassuring words, Lily gripped her companion’s hand and braced herself for impact.

Lily was going to vomit.

She landed upright with the help of Marlene, but her stomach was not doing as well. Lily hunched over with her head between her knees, groaning like she'd been punched in the gut.

“Oh, come on, Lil. You’re being more dramatic than a niffler losing a knut. It wasn’t that bad.”

With a deep breath, Lily stood up slowly, careful not to upset her weak stomach. “Ugh, maybe for you. For me it was like one too many trips around a carousel.”

Marlene squinted. “What’s a carousel again?”

“Nevermind. Doesn’t matter. Where did we land anyhow?” Lily took an inquisitive glance at her surroundings.

They were sitting beneath an apple tree within what appeared to be a vast orchard. Up the hill lay a lofty three-story Victorian manor that must belong to the McKinnon family. The house was darkly brick-built with wooden accents asymmetrical between two identical, palatial towers. The landscape was flush with ivy greenery and ripening fruit gardens between a maze of overgrown hedges. The house looked cosy and well-loved. Refined while retaining its whimsical charm.

“Holy hell, McKinnon. This is where you live?”

Marlene beamed at the house with pride. “Yeah, it’s the only house I’ve ever lived in. My father inherited it after my granddad passed. He died before I was born sadly, but Nana Maeve loved to tell stories of her time growing up here. Amelia doesn’t care to inherit the Manor, and supposedly neither does Liam, so it’ll likely be passed down to me.”

“Is that what you want?”

“It is.” Marlene’s lips pinched together. “It’s my dream to raise a family here.”

Lily squeezed Marlene’s shoulder and began guiding her towards the lovely home. “Well, we better move along, darling. We have a busy day ahead of us.”

A family.

How pathetic. And to think, only a month ago she was imagining what a family with him would look like. What sort of couple they could be if she ever broke away from being his secret.

What a joke.

Marlene lazily listened to Lily blather on about Charm Theory as they trekked up to McKinnon Manor.

And then she heard it.

She heard the familiar sound of an engine distantly roaring up the street.

Oh no.

She whipped her head to the left and witnessed the growing shape of Sirius Black on his motorbike along with Jamie in the sidecar.

Oh f*ck, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck…

Without thinking, Marlene grabbed Lily by the crook of her elbow and pulled her into a nearby bush growing from the base of an apple tree.

“Marlene! What the hell are you—?!”

“Shhh! We’re hiding.” Marlene peeked her head around the trunk.

“From bloody what?!” Lily asked, peeking around the other side.

Marlene pointed out to the road where the two Marauders rode towards the Potter Estate at an obscene speed. “Them.”

Marlene couldn’t breathe looking at him. She could only stare.

Because here he was.

So close.

The memories flooded her mind.

Identifying nebulas from her terrace.

Attending the concert together.

Dancing in her bedroom again and again, night after night.

Singing together at the piano in her library.

Lying in bed after—

Marlene swallowed the memories, burying them down far enough to relinquish rage and wrath.

And yet…

Sirius wasn’t wearing his helmet again. She had tried to lecture him on multiple occasions about how the injury to his skull would not be worth the aesthetic riding without it gives off. Despite her attempts, every time she finished her chastising, he’d merely co*ck his head and smugly tell her that the rush of the wind in his hair was the only reason to drive a motorbike at all.

Marlene inhaled the sight of him now silently agreeing. He does look rather handsome when his hair whips chaotically in the wind. Nearly shoulder-length black locks shining like spilled ink in the sun. He looked thin, and perhaps more fatigued than when she last saw him.

When he was ripping her heart to shreds.

The two Gryffindors girls waited anxiously until the boys pulled up to and entered the iron gate of the most colossal mansion on the street. Marlene didn’t realise she was still holding her breath until Lily spoke up.

“f*ck me, is that Potter’s house?”

“Yeah.”

“I knew he had money, but Merlin, that’s just ridiculous. He’s an only child, isn’t he? Why the hell does he need a house that large?”

“Old pureblood money has its advantages, I suppose.” Once Marlene was sure the boys were gone, she rose from the bush. She began to pick leaves and twigs from her clothes and braided pigtails. “I’m sorry that I grabbed you like that. I just truly did not want to be seen by them.”

Lily brushed the dirt from her ruby, corduroy skirt and chuckled. “It’s perfectly fine. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly fond of seeing Potter either. He and I are on especially terrible terms after he…” She trailed off, frowning. “Let’s keep moving.”

They continued their journey up the hill to the Manor with haste now—both fearing being discovered by the residents across the street.

About halfway to the back door, Lily glimpsed up to see a stone-faced Marlene from the corner of her eyes. Lily wondered whether it was her place to ask this particular question for weeks now. If there were ever an opportunity to ask it, this was the time.

“Forgive me if I’m stepping into boundaries that are not mine to approach, but there’s something that’s been bothering me lately.” Marlene turned to the redhead and knit her brows. Lily cleared her throat and continued, “You and I have always been friends to an extent, and now we’re close, so I hope I’ve earned your trust enough to ask this. And I hope you don’t find this to be a particularly rude question because I understand that you’ve been avoiding this type of conversation… Which is, of course, within your right—”

“Spit it out, Red.”

“Well, it’s just…” Lily huffed in frustration. “...for as long as I’ve known you, Potter’s always been your best friend. So, I suppose, I’ve been wondering… Why did you choose to come to me and not him if you were having problems being home?”

Marlene was quiet for a moment, the soft squish of grass beneath their feet clipping the silence until the brunette gave the quiet courtyard her answer. “I love Jamie so much, but he can’t possibly understand what I’m going through. I mean, you’ve met the boy. He’s sweet and, certainly, means well, but he doesn’t know the first thing about not liking oneself. He’s obnoxiously confident. He’s a wonderful problem solver, but I worry that this is a problem that would do him more harm than good—if that makes any sort of sense. And to be clear, I didn’t run to you because I was having problems being home. I love my family—and I miss them terribly. It’s this magical neighbourhood I’m sick of.”

“So you came to me because I’m a muggleborn?”

“Not exactly.” Marlene smiled lightly. “I came to you because you’re the best friend I’ve got who happens to live far away from this wretched neighbourhood full of stuck up tossers who want nothing more than to hurt the people they claim to care about. I was upset and I found the letters you wrote at the start of summer, and I thought, ‘There. That’s where I’ll go.’ So, that’s where I went. I didn’t even tell Jamie goodbye. I just… ran.”

“Are you in love with him?”

Marlene looked at Lily sharply. “With who?”

“Potter.”

Marlene snorted. “If only it were that easy. No, no, Jamie is a brother to me. I mean, yeah, our parents would love for us to fall in love and get married, but he’ll never breach more than familial love. He and I are friends and, luckily, we’re both longing for it to remain that way. And besides, becoming a couple would be impossible. We’d be miserable with each other.”

The redhead unclenched her fists and bit her lip.

“Is it one of the other Marauders then?”

Marlene ran her hand over her face in exasperation, speaking slowly, she said, “Listen, this neighbourhood is actually rather large—though it may not look like it. There are a lot more boys from our school that live here other than those four across the street, and one of them happens to be the worst of the worst. We got together at one of those pureblood dance classes that all noble-named witches and wizards are supposed to attend before they’re seventeen. He asked me to be his partner. We shared an earth-shattering kiss when the instructor left us to our own devices, and then we… didn’t stop. I wish I could tell you that I felt something was wrong at that moment, but I didn’t. It was like I finally found my soulmate. We spent the summer together in secret. Well, the whole summer up until the end of July.”

“Oh, Mar. I’m so sorry. What happened in July?”

“He ended things.”

“That’s terrible. Did he say why?”

“That we had our fun, but it was time to part ways. He said that we couldn’t ever be a couple for real and that he can’t be seen with me because I’m…” Her composure slipped for the slightest of seconds as she finished with, “Mascu-lene.”

She gestured to her face and clothes, then shrugged. “I’m not the type that qualifies for the honour of being his girlfriend, I guess.”

“Marlene, what an awful boy. Forget about him. After today, you’re going to find someone incredible. Trust me.”

The girls examined the massive double doors as they finally approached McKinnon Manor.

Marlene gripped the door handle and glanced at Lily. “I really hope you’re right about that.”

And with that said, Marlene creaked open the door revealing a gorgeously quaint conservatory-style sunroom.

Stepping inside carefully, Lily marvelled at how the home was like stepping inside a zoo. Magical creatures in generous-sized cages were stacked all over the walls, some roaming free within the spacious den. Dragon eggs and bleached claws lined the olive-green walls with ivory moulding. The floors appeared to possess original wooden boards, lacquered in a deep walnut brown.

As they walked past the kitchen, a house elf cried tears of joy to see Marlene return and promised to make all of her favourite snacks. With a bright grin, she gave the little creature a hug and sent her on her way.

“That’s Spigget,” Marlene loudly whispered. “She’s my favourite—but don’t tell the others.”

Lily wasn’t sure where she was going, having never been in the McKinnon residence before, and as they approached a grand spiral staircase, Lily asked Marlene where the main sitting room was.

“Oh, it’s towards the front. I’ll show you.”

She took her leave, advancing deeper into the home’s first level with Lily at her heels. The vast walls are littered with paintings of deceased ancestors of the McKinnons, moving photographs of Marlene and her siblings as children, and awards from the Society for the Protection of Magical Beings to both Olivia and Maddox McKinnon for their work in magical creature conservation. Further down the foyer, Lily spied a long corridor leading to a set of ornate double doors.

The house was even more extravagant inside.

“Marlene? What do your parents do for a living?”

“Oh, have I never told you about their work?”

Lily shook her head.

“They’re magizoologists.”

Lily’s eyebrows raised.

Marlene smiled. “I suppose, I should start by telling you that Euphemia is my Mum’s best friend—that’s Jamie’s mother. The two were sorted into Ravenclaw together, and from that first night in their dorms, the pair were inseparable. Still are, really.

“ Jamie and I’s parents are surprisingly old for having children our age. Aunt Mimi struggled a lot in conceiving children until Jamie was born. But Mum chose to wait. She loved the idea of being a mother, but she wanted to be a good one, and she couldn’t do that during her early career in creature rehabilitation.

“She met my father, Maddox, at Hogwarts, too. He was a Hufflepuff and a year above her, so he spent her seventh year taking photographs around the world and advocating for magical animal rites until she could join him. As a couple, they travelled the world together from the early 1920s into the late 1940s studying magical creatures. They even briefly partnered with the author of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them for some work on eradicating illegal dragon trade in the States. I think they were credited in his book, too.”

Lily remembered the text from Care of Magical Creatures. During her N.E.W.T. scheduling decisions, she opted to forgo the class post-O.W.L.—but now she wondered if she still had a copy. It would be interesting to see the McKinnons’ names in print.

“Mum and Dad promised each other they’d only have children when they were finally ready to settle down and leave their adventures behind them. When they finally moved into this home, it wasn’t long before she got pregnant with Amelia. As you know, my sister and I didn’t get to go to Hogwarts together. She was a Ravenclaw, and now she lives in Madrid with some distant cousins writing nonfiction works about the magical history of the Navarre witches. She began as an apprentice of literature and quickly moved her way up the chain of command. She even met a nice bloke named Felipe who she’s positively barmy about. After Mum had me, she had my little brother a year later. You obviously know Liam. A precious little Hufflepuff going into his fourth year with curly, chocolate hair and eyes too big for his face.”

Lily giggled.

Yes, she knew Liam well.

He’s a snarky sweetheart—and soon to be a prefect like her. He’d been selected from the nominations at the final prefect meeting last term. Lily voted in his favour.

As for little Hufflepuff though, the boy had surged in height last year, mirroring even the tallest boys in school, like Black for instance.

“They’ve been published loads of times and still travel constantly to receive awards and fight for creatures, but they’re honestly some of the best people in the world. They don’t take as many pictures nowadays but use their knowledge as full-time creature rehabilitators, which is why you saw so many in cages when we first walked in. Most of the rooms are filled with different habitats, so no guest rooms, but it is what it is.” She sighed. “I feel bad leaving Liam alone all this time to stay with you, but when he saw how upset I was, he agreed getting away was necessary.”

“And Amelia?” Lily asked with a conspiratorial smirk.

The brunette shrugged. “We’ve written to each other a bunch. I mostly told her what happened, leaving out names. But, while she’s my favourite witch to ever exist, she’s too busy right now with her studies to do more than send words of encouragement, and that I can understand.”

As she finished those words, Marlene opened the door to the living room to find a willowy-shaped witch with the same hair-colour and face shape as Marlene, leaning against the sofa.

The eldest McKinnon daughter barely glanced up as she examined her nails with a smug smile. “Well, you certainly know how to keep a girl waiting. Don’t you, Mar?”

“Millie?!”

Marlene’s scream was likely heard by every wizard in the country as she dove towards Amelia McKinnon like a lion attacking a gazelle. They rolled around on the floor laughing and hollering while Lily watched with wishful eyes.

Petunia used to play with her like this. This is how sisters are supposed to say hello to each other. Not that she knows of such things anymore.

Marlene frantically quizzed her older sister rapidly with questions like, “What are you doing here?” and “How did you know I needed you?” and “I’m so happy to see you! How long are you here for?” before Lily finally stepped up to calmly explain.

“I wrote to Amelia once we got home from the cinema and told her I needed her help. After I explained my plan, she scheduled the first available Portkey home to help me.”

Marlene, a tangled mess on the floor with her feet on the sofa cushion and her head resting on Amelia’s stomach looked at her sister with adoration. “You came all this way just to help Lily?”

“No, love, I came to help you. I didn’t realise you were struggling like this. When you told me that you were upset and were staying at Lily’s, you never told me it was because you’d lost your self-confidence. If you told me how badly you needed me, I would have come home straight away.” Amelia lifted Marlene’s head from her abdomen and stood up abruptly, standing before them with poise and grace. “So, let’s get started. There is a lot to do and only a short amount of time to do it. We have one week until you both return to Hogwarts, and I was only granted a four-day leave from my fellowship. Marlene, sit on the sofa.”

The younger McKinnon did as she was told. With her legs open and her elbows on her knees, Marlene hunched, waiting to be told what to do next.

“Lily, come join me. This adorable little friend of yours has a plan. A plan that not only I agree with, but I got Mum to agree to as well. So, with your explicit permission, the two of us would like to give you... a makeover.”

Marlene raised an eyebrow skeptically. “You’re kidding, right? That’s it? Your big secret all along was to give me some shoddy makeover? That’s the ingenious plan you two have schemed up?”

“Oh, Marlene, you silly little Gryffindor.” Amelia paced as she spoke. “This is not just any makeover. This is a personality decimation. Death to your old ways of behaviour. We are starting with your closet, sending you to the Siren Spa, styling your hair, teaching you how to apply makeup, and running some courses with you on how to flirt and act like a proper lady. Show this boy who's upset you why he shouldn’t have left you behind.”

“Are you two for real?”

“Completely,” they replied simultaneously.

“How exactly are we going to be paying for all this?”

Amelia reached into her purse that rested on the darkly stained coffee table and threw a substantial bag of galleons onto her younger sister's lap. “I told you… Mum is on board.”

Marlene set the bag of galleons to the side and leaned back in the cushion, thinking through everything that this would mean to and for her.

Lily wished she knew what was ricocheting around in her mind as the witch tapped her foot on the coffee table.

With a deep breath, Marlene finally sat up and addressed her two favourite witches with a smile. “Okay. I’m in. Let’s do this.”

Lily clapped her hands together and bounced in place. “Oh my! This is so exciting! I knew you’d go for it!”

Just then, Amelia held out her hand at a stop. “Wait, I have to say something first. Marlene, darling, I love you just the way you are. I love how you have always been true to your soul. You have such a beautiful spirit, and I love how fearless you are. You’re beautiful to me without all this extra work—and if you truly don’t want to change, I would never force you. So, are you absolutely sure you want to do this?”

Marlene inhaled shakily and hugged herself. “I suppose I had to grow up at some point. I’m ready to stop acting like a little girl and look more like a lady, so yes. This is what I want. You said that I’m always myself, but that hasn’t been true all summer. I’ve been feeling so… so trapped, and I wasn’t sure what to do until you came home. I want to change. I really, really do. I just don’t know how to.”

“Well, little sister, we don’t have any time to waste.” Amelia ushered the girls to Marlene’s library. “Let’s get on with it. We’re going to London.”

It was nearly midnight and the argument that broke out amongst the McKinnon sisters was nowhere close to being resolved. And, truthfully, Lily was growing weary of the useless bickering.

“The shirts are the problem, Marlene! They completely hide your figure!”

“Not if I wear them with skirts!”

“What was the point of going out and buying yourself an entirely new wardrobe if you were just going to hoard the one you already have? The plan is to get rid of all these unflattering garments! You can’t keep them in a dresser drawer for use on the days you don’t feel like dressing up. It’s a slippery slope, Marlene! One day, you don’t feel like looking nice, then it’s ‘I don’t need to wear makeup,’ followed closely by ‘Who cares if I don’t do my hair today?!’ Next thing you know, you’re back to wearing these hideous band shirts and looking like a frumpy old spinster! Is that what you want?!”

Marlene hugged a heaping pile of tattered t-shirts close to her. “You’re being ridiculous! I’ve let you throw out everything else I own! These are my prized possessions!”

“Marlene, they need to go! They’re rubbish!”

“I thought you said you didn’t care if I changed!”

“You agreed to my terms! You said that I could throw away your closet. You promised!”

And that was when Lily finally had enough.

“OH, WILL YOU BOTH PLEASE SHUT UP ALREADY?!”

The sisters stared at her with gaping mouths.

Lily, reigning in her temper, stood quickly from her seated position on Marlene’s bed and straightened her skirt. “Okay, now that I have your attention, here’s what’s going to happen: Marlene, take those black go-go boots we bought, tights, and that KISS shirt. Go put those all on in the bathroom.”

Marlene hurriedly did as she was told and, within a few minutes, walked out of the bathroom looking positively ravishing in her t-shirt-turned-dress.

“Holy hell, Marlene! You look so fit! But wait—we need to get you accessorised!” The girls set to work applying rings to her fingers and earrings to complete the look. Her hair was still freshly styled in loose curls from the blowout she had done. Her thick hair cascaded across her shoulders in luscious waves. They hadn’t done her makeup yet, so the look isn’t quite finished, but with a pair of sunglasses and the right shade of lipstick, Marlene could unquestionably be a model on her way to a fashion shoot for Witch Weekly.

The shopping went well enough despite this minor setback and, almost immediately, Marlene’s bright spirit returned to her with the excitement of her makeover in full swing.

Amelia held up her hands in surrender. “Okay, you got me, Lil. Wearing the shirt as a dress is not just okay, it’s encouraged. I mean, look at those legs! Marlene, darling, give us a twirl!”

The young McKinnon spun around and leaned forward, shaking her bum at the mirror. She blew a kiss to Lily before the heel of her boot buckled at the ankle. She fell forward onto her face, laughing into the carpet.

Muffled by the floor, Marlene said, “Eat your hearts out, Hogwarts boys.”

“Wait!” Lily shouted, before roughly lifting the shirt off of Marlene’s body. Casually leaving the girl in her brassiere and knickers, Lily reached into her handbag and withdrew a pair of scissors.

“Oh, hell no, Evans! This is going to be a collectible some day!”

“Hush. I’m making it look better. Cut-up shirts are in style. Sit back and let me work in peace!”

The job was moderate and symmetrical, just as Lily promised. The ginger cut a triangle out of the front of the shirt leaving the bundled crew border at the base of her neck. Enough fabric was removed to reveal a modest amount of Marlene’s cleavage as the shirt was placed back onto her body. With a quick fold of the sleeves to show off her slender arms and her long new peacoat placed gently across her shoulders, Lily turned Marlene back around towards the mirror to catch sight of her final look.

Marlene muffled her gasp with her hand as she nearly squealed from excitement. And she looked like a rock band groupie—and older somehow. More refined but still apprehensive.

“You were right, Lil.”

“I usually am.” Lily approached Marlene and laid her head atop her shoulder. “Why this time?”

“I look pretty.”

Lily beamed with her heart leaping at the victory. Marlene was very pretty. She just didn’t know it after caging herself in for so long—afraid of being seen.

“That’s because you are.”

Marlene stared deeply at the mirror for the first time in weeks by Lily’s estimate. She eyed her outfit, eyed her hair, and then met her reflection’s eyes.

With a nod, she looked back to her sister and friend with a newfound glow. “I was worried that I wouldn’t feel like myself anymore, but this… This is me. It’s me,” Marlene turned to the mirror once more, “moving on from the past.”

August 26th, 1976

Marlene was in the middle of a facial, thick paste across her face with slices of cucumber on her eyes, when Amelia stormed into the room and slammed the door.

“Honestly! That boy is such a buggering little idiot!”

Lily ran to her and gripped her forearms in her hands. “Whoa, Amelia, calm yourself. What boy are you talking about?”

“James-bloody-Potter, that’s who!”

Marlene lifted the slices away from her eyes and stared at her sister in shock. “Jamie was here? What did he do?”

“That tosser tried to break into our home to see you!”

Marlene erupted in laughter. “Aww! He actually misses me. That’s adorable.”

Amelia wasn’t as amused. Lily on the other hand sat shell-shocked, imagining what she would do if Potter ever broke into her home like he just attempted to do with her friend.

“This isn’t funny, Marls! He could have seen you!”

Marlene rolled her eyes. “What? With my face looking like a party favor? He probably would have tried eating some off me with a crisp.”

“Marlene, you told me that you didn’t want him seeing you.”

“And I stand by that. But… It's nice to know that he still wants me in his life. I’m sure you can understand why that might feel nice to a girl in my position.”

Amelia frowned and ran her fingers through her sister's hair. “You know I need you in my life, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do.” Marlene gazed up at the ceiling. “But Jamie… Jamie is supposed to be my best friend, and most days, I don’t feel like I’m his in return. Ever since he became a Marauder, he’s been distant. Barely out of reach most days.” Marlene hugged herself. “He abandoned me in Hogsmeade—on the final trip of the term. He and the others… just left me. And ever since—I don’t know—I just… really hate him sometimes. I used to wonder if I disappeared, how long it would take him to notice I was missing. And now I know. Liam told me it took him nearly three weeks to finally show up here and ask where I was. Three weeks, Amelia! And no, that doesn’t make me feel particularly good, but you know what does? Hearing that he tried to break into my home to see me. That—” Marlene clenched her eyes shut. “—makes me feel really special, as pathetic as it sounds.”

Lily reached for Marlene’s hand and squeezed tightly. This mystery man did a real number on her, and Lily was grateful to witness Marlene’s happiness return.

“Okay, girls. Enough of this depressing bollocks. We still have a lot of work to do! Next up is the makeup lesson and teeth enhancing and following that, we need to work on your flirting tactics and how to regularly rest your body. Make your comfortable position also one that is alluring and poised. So wash that mask off you. It’s my last day here, and we don’t have time to putter about.”

August 27th, 1976

Marlene clenched and unclenched her fists.

She shouldn’t be this nervous, and yet… there is always a chance she did this wrong. She’s used to being wrong. Wrong girl, for the wrong boy, with the wrong clothes, and the wrong interests making her an outcast by all the other girls in school.

As her last decree as makeover coordinator, Amelia instructed Marlene to get ready alone to prove she could handle getting ready by herself every day.

When she finished, rather than head straight to the den, she strode down the long hallway leading to her library. The last time she’d been inside, she’d had a meltdown—hours after he left her cold and alone on July 31st.

That was almost a month ago now. And as she approached her favourite room in the house, there was that same sinking twist in the depths of her stomach. A nauseous wave of grief, of embarrassment, of shame.

Remaining brave, she opened the double doors and stepped inside.

Pain lodged itself in her throat when she first caught sight of her piano. The instrument that has been her passion since she was a girl. The ivory keys she uses to compose music.

She stepped closer and ran her fingers along the top. They skimmed the polished black until she met a pamphlet of sheet music that made her head spin.

Their music.

This was the room where she brought him after he asked to hear her play, which turned into nights making love on the piano bench, which turned into teaching him how to play, which turned into making songs with his personal writing and her musical proficiency. This music was theirs. A marriage of their talents.

This room was her safe haven—a place for her to release her frustrations through melody—but now? This place was a dungeon for memory.

She promised herself she wouldn’t cry. And she won’t. Not when she spent so much time making her eyeshadow even. Besides, crying over a Black? Why waste anymore tears on someone so incapable of integrity?

The longer her hand lingered on the piano, the angrier she became.

That f*cking bastard had the nerve to sing with his lips trailing along the line of her jaw and f*ck her on this bench—knowing his affection was a ruse—knowing he was going to leave when he was finished with her.

And she had begged him to stay.

And he still left.

He humiliated her.

It didn’t matter that no one knew. She’d keep it that way. Promise or not, she didn’t want a single soul to know that she’d become another name on the scroll Sirius uses to count his conquests. She may not be allowed to tell anyone she was in love with him, but she’ll make damn sure everyone knows how much she loathes him.

With her silent vow, she shuffled the sheet music into a lazy stack, opened the storage bench, threw the papers inside, and slammed it shut before heading back down the hall to introduce the new Marlene to her family.

“Drum roll, please!” Marlene hollered as she left the library, her head high.

The patter of hands belonging to Lily, Amelia, Liam, her father, and mother echoed from around the corner as they all beat on their legs. Their feet pounding on the floor as they waited to see the new and improved Marlene McKinnon.

With one more inhale of courage, Marlene stepped out from the hallway with a flourish, strutting through the centre of the sitting room.

She sent everyone into a frenzy of clapping and praise for the revamped witch before them. The more they spoke the more Marlene’s confidence swelled.

Hell, she hasn’t felt this good in a long time.

Not since… Not since before he left her sobbing in her bedroom.

She winced under the painful memory but remembered herself quickly, keeping her chin despite the ache in her chest.

And as they cooed over her, she stole purposeful glances of herself from the corner accent mirror. The girl looking back at her was a beautiful stranger.

Her long, brunette hair was tamed and void of frizz (tucked neatly into a fit bandana). Her lips were ruby-coloured to match her nails. Her outfit consisted of a tight leather skirt, black go-go boots, and her favourite Queen t-shirt—cut short and tied in a knot resting below her breasts leaving a fair amount of midriff to be seen. She stole the style from a spread she found in a muggle magazine featuring the rise of the London punk scene.

The evening prior, Amelia charmed Marlene’s naturally tan skin to deepen, giving her a glow. And in addition to whitening her teeth, Marlene’s few residual acne marks were polished with a potion leaving smooth, lightly freckled skin in its wake. Her eyebrows were trimmed, her legs were shaved, and her feet were pedicured. The old Marlene was surely and thoroughly dead and gone.

Liam approached his sister and swiftly picked her up by the waist, spinning her around. “How am I supposed to keep blokes away from you now, Mar? You were doing such a good job of it on your own.”

“Not anymore!” Marlene cackled, her laughter spreading across the room to everyone watching the siblings celebrate.

She kicked her legs as they spun, laughing as he grumbled his complaints about needing to defend her honour. Placing her back onto her feet, he grabbed a hold of her waist and danced with her, twirling her in place.

As they waltzed around, she caught Amelia grinning.

“I don’t suppose I could cut in?” a baritone voice inquired.

Her father, Maddox, bowed with a smirk at his daughter who mockingly curtsied in return.

“Of course, Daddy,” Marlene drolled. Her father twirled and dipped her. His deep laugh rumbled at her shock when she nearly bumped her head on the ground. His hearty chuckle caused her mother to smile as well, the spectator sighing dreamily to herself.

Marlene wondered if her new life would always feel this grand—like she was a princess in her own muggle fairytale.

Lily, too, was trying to keep it together, witnessing the family celebrate the happiness of their youngest daughter. Marlene grinned back.

When they formed a group hug, Lily stood off to the side, visibly uncertain if she should give the McKinnons some privacy.

As she nearly made her exit, Marlene called out to the redhead from the mob in the centre of the room. “Where do you think you’re going? Get over here, Red!”

The fellow McKinnons cheered for Lily to join in on the hug.

And despite looking sheepish, Lily walked over and joined their embrace, clasping onto Marlene’s grateful hand.

“You’re one of us now,” Marlene whispered to Lily from the middle of the chaos.

And though the ginger didn’t say anything back, Marlene knew it was exactly what she needed to hear.

August 31st, 1976

Marlene took a calm, reassuring breath, but her body was ceaselessly shaking.

She’s in Diagon Alley.

She’s about to step into Flourish & Blotts to get her school texts.

She’s almost certain that Jamie and the other Marauders will be in there.

And she is f*cking freaking out.

She decided to wait until the last minute to get her supplies (like she knew she shouldn’t have), but gaining the courage to leave her house and return to magical life in her new look was turning out to be more difficult than she expected.

Marlene’s first day out of the house was to muggle London along with Lily where they wandered into a pub to listen to a punk band play till two in the morning. She danced all night and had a few men approach her, offering to buy her drinks. The sudden attention made her uncomfortable at first, but following Lily’s advice, she was practically a professional at turning men down before the night ended.

She practiced her resting normal positions in the mirror the night after she reviewed her letter listing her sixth-year school texts. When the reality of returning to school again set in, she spent the next two days refusing to leave her bed.

Gryffindor bravery obviously doesn’t apply to facing an ex-boyfriend.

Or is he an ex-f*ck?

Shag mates, he had called her.

An ex-whatever-the-hell-they-were.

Regardless, convincing her Mum to go buy her books for her didn’t work and neither had bribing Liam to get them in her place. So, here she stood. Paused in the busy commonplace, watching classmates of hers walk past in a hurry to get their books, and not a single one of them recognising her.

They probably assume she’s some muggleborn first year, though she’s hardly an eleven-year-old by the size of her chest. Puberty gifted Marlene well in that respect.

Marlene slapped her cheeks, puffed up her chest, and strolled proudly into the shop. The tune of Roy Orbison's ‘Pretty Woman’ played softly in her head as she walked gracefully to ensure her posture exuded confidence and self-assurance.

She stood in line for almost ten minutes before someone recognized her.

She was handing the clerk her letter so he may obtain her books when he saw the name listed at the top. He snapped his head back to Marlene, devouring her with his stare from head to toe.

Marlene McKinnon? Wow, you look— um, I mean—What I’m trying to say is… Merlin, you’re gorgeous.” He nearly drooled as his hungry eyes absorbed her features.

The brunette raised a playful eyebrow and smirked as the clerk rambled on and on about how he always thought she was pretty, but her new look was certainly flattering to her physique.

Marlene wasn’t sure how to respond, so she did as Amelia taught her—she bit her lip and looked up from beneath her lashes at the nervous boy from across the counter. “Well,” she breathed. “That’s terribly kind of you to say. Thank you very much.” Her finger twirled around her a lock of her hair while she blinked rapidly.

The boy was entranced and quickly got her books, offering them to her with shaking hands. “Uh, Marlene, do you think I could write to you sometime?”

The brunette looked up to the ceiling, pretending to mull it over. With her books in hand, she purred, “You can always try. I’m a busy witch, but I could… perhaps… make some time to write back… for you.”

The boy melted as Marlene pivoted towards the door, her long hair swinging with her steps as she trekked to the exit.

Poise and grace, she repeated as she tried not to fall in her heels.

Marlene was on cloud nine after being flirted with by the counter boy (which, come to think of it, she never got his name) and reached to grasp the handle of the door when it flew wide open.

The wooden entrance smacked Marlene square in the chest, knocking her over, and scattering her belongings across the dusty floor. Her hair covered her eyes in a tangled mess and she felt her left shoe slipping from her heel.

“Sorry about that, Miss.”

Marlene stared wide-eyed at the floor, hand frozen on her Potions text, refusing to glance up.

She knew that voice.

She grew up with that voice.

When she finally got the courage to remove her eyes from the floor, she watched the retreating figures of James Potter and Sirius Black walk briskly towards the other two Marauders, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew.

She stumbled from her crouched position, watching them greet each other with handshakes and hugs as if they didn’t just rudely knock a woman over!

That woman being his childhood best friend, no less!

No to mention the obsidian-haired horror show at his side!

She couldn’t breathe.

He knocked her over. He and Jamie collided into her and he couldn’t even bother to… to eye her a little? Her skirts were basically up her thighs, and he didn’t even—

But, why should she care anyhow?

f*ck him.

She hurried to collect her belongings, shoving them under her arms. Marlene was so infuriated, she hissed, “Are you f*cking kidding me?!” as she slammed the door to the shop behind her.

The Marauders winced at the loud sound and snapped their heads to the door that was shut so rudely.

“I didn’t hit the bird that hard. What’s with all these girls and their moods these days anyhow?” James joked with an eye roll.

Sirius scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Interesting query, mate. Moony, care to shed some insight on the feminine conundrum that Prongs here has proposed?”

Remus smirked. “Hmm, I don’t suppose I have any. Wormtail, care to share your opinion on the perplexities of the female subconscious?”

Peter scoffed. “But of course, I am—as you all know—such an expert in the art of seducing women.”

The four boys shared a hearty laugh and got in line together to buy their books.

“So,” James began, “you two wouldn’t have happened to see Marlene in here while you were waiting, would ya?”

Remus shook his head solemnly. “No, sorry, Prongs. I did keep an eye out like you asked though. She might as well be a ghost. I did, however, see Lily Evans at Florean Fortescue's yesterday after she bought her texts, and she told me something rather peculiar about McKinnon’s disappearance. If you can believe it, Marlene spent most of the month with Lily at her home in co*keworth.”

“co*keworth?!” Sirius shouted at the time James bellowed, “With Evans?!”

Peter chuckled. “Marlene staying with muggles? That’s rich.”

Remus nodded. “It certainly proposes an array of questions. I mean, did any of you know she was that close to Evans? I knew they were well-acquainted—they’re dormmates, after all—but I didn’t realise they were such great companions. And has she ever even been to co*keworth to visit over the holidays before? And to stay nearly three weeks on one’s first visit seems awfully ridiculous if you ask me.”

James tousled his hair, either frustrated by his lack of knowledge in his friend’s whereabouts or unnerved learning she’d been stuck up with Evans the whole time.

Sirius could tell which.

Groaning loudly enough to invoke several stares from other customers, James released a moan. “I don’t understand! Why won’t she talk to me? How am I supposed to fix a problem if I don’t know what I’ve done to cause it?!”

“Well, Lily did say one other rather vague remark about Marlene that perhaps you could decipher for me.”

“What’d Evans say, Moony?” Peter chimed in, eager to hear the gossip of the mysteriously missing Marlene McKinnon.

“Well,” Remus said, “Lily told me that we are in for a surprise when we do finally see her. One that Evans herself said, ‘Will be a shock to our faces she’d pay a hundred galleons to see.’”

James co*cked his head to the side, narrowing his eyes on his werewolf companion. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Not sure, but I suppose we’ll see tomorrow. In other news,” Remus redirected, “have you three checked out the new Sabbath record? It’s supposed to be brilliant.”

Sirius, uncharacteristically quiet, listened to his friends' musings carefully. He tapped his foot and chewed on his nail beds as they slowly made their way to the front of the line. Everytime James remarked that he wanted to know what he did to break Marlene’s heart, he became silent.

He knows exactly what’s wrong with Marlene, and he knows that it wasn’t Prongs’s fault—not directly anyhow.

Sirius was distantly listening to Peter describe the new Pink Floyd album, trying not to think about how he and Marlene listened to the album from the floor of her bedroom.

Everything reminded him of her these days. He can’t escape the dread of his decision to end things.

He didn’t want to do it.

He had to do it.

He made an oath to Prongs, and while he can’t unbreak the sacred oath he made, he can at least try and be the friend that James deserves in the aftermath. Their friendship is too important.

And he can’t be thrown from the Potters. He can’t go back to Grimmauld Place.

The clerk at the front announced he was going on break. The skittish man finished Prongs’s transaction and stepped to the side. The Quidditch Captain walked back towards the front of the shop to join Wormtail and Remus who waited with their purchases.

The fit blonde who replaced the clerk apologised for the moment's delay, and hurriedly tied her apron around her thin waist while she listened to her male co-worker blather on about some girl he met earlier in the shift.

“She was flawless, I’m telling you. No doubt, one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen walk into this shop. And she said that I could write to her. I swear, I nearly died of happiness right here behind the counter!”

“Is that so?” The blonde teased with an eye roll.

“Hey now, you’re fit too, don’t get me wrong. But this girl, blimey, you should have seen her. It was like her eyes were trying to hypnotise me. And you know her, too! That’s the funny thing. We went to Hogwarts with her. She’s only a few years below us.”

“Well, who is she?” The blonde asked enthusiastically.

“Marlene McKinnon!”

The air rushed from Sirius’s lungs. His chest tightened like he was being crushed by a limb off the Whomping Willow.

Did this bloke just say that Marlene McKinnon is the most beautiful girl he’s ever met? And that she was right where he stood earlier that afternoon?

“What the hell did you just say?”

The clerk looked at the stormy-eyed boy, confusion plastered on his face. “Uh—that I used to go to school with this girl named McKinnon.”

“No, you nitwit, the other part. You said Marlene was here. When?”

“Not more than ten minutes ago, I’d gather,” the clerk replied, looking thoroughly terrified at the boy before him, dressed in thick rings, a chained necklace, and a faded leather jacket. His near shoulder-length black hair nearly pulsed with raging electricity.

“What did she look like?”

“Gorgeous! Like she had stepped right out of Witch Weekly, or maybe even heaven itself!”

Sirius’s heart beat furiously.

Marlene was here.

Marlene was here, and he f*cking missed her.

How is that possible?

He spent the entire afternoon combing through every part of Diagon Alley without arousing suspicion from Prongs whilst searching for his honey-eyed angel. Even if she did have some sort of a makeover.

Wouldn’t he still know it was her?

How different could she look, honestly?

The clerk seemed to register the perplexion across his face. “It's a shame you missed her, but she left in a rather sour mood. From the looks of it, some gits must have knocked her over with the door because she looked positively murderous before she left. Still lovely though!”

Sirius paled.

Merlin’s f*cking beard… He is the git.

Well, Prongs is the git, but he certainly didn’t try to help the bird right herself. Or at the very least, pick up her books. So much for those etiquette courses he was forced to attend as a young boy.

He really f*cked up this time.

If she was hurt before, she must be wrathful now.

Sirius quietly paid for his texts and returned to the Marauders feeling nauseous. He saw her, but wasn’t paying attention. All he saw was some fit bird out of the corner of his eye. There’s no way he could have known it was her. His sweet Marly changed and he was too blind to see that it was her that he bumped into.

It isn’t his fault entirely. He isn’t interested in meeting random women like he used to be. How can he? He finally snagged Marlene in his grasp and, selfishly, he let her go.

Did she change because of him?

What has she done to herself?

She was already gorgeous in his eyes, not that he can let her know that now.

Everything became so complicated far too fast, and Sirius was backed into a corner. She’s already hard to resist. Each day since he last saw her felt like a year’s time. His eyes ached to lay their vision upon her once again. To watch her laugh with her head tilted back. To see her pout when she concentrates. To glimpse her eyes shutting as she plays the piano. Even if he can’t be with her in the way he desires, being near her almost might be enough—if only barely.

The chatter was still muggy around him. He breezed in and out of their conversation—still quiet and reeling. The lads wanted to check out the new Cleansweep at Dervish & Banges and get some pumpkin ice cream. Sirius remained agreeable, but he didn't feel hungry.

He couldn’t feel anything at all.

He was numb.

He ruined any chance of ever being on Marly’s again, and now here she was, out there getting back at him for the awful lies he spoke. Telling men working behind counters that she’ll write to them.

He didn’t deserve ice cream.

He deserved to be Avada’ed.

Sirius followed his friends, trying to remain calm and normal. But internally, he’s acknowledging that if no one hit him with a killing curse soon, Marlene’s new persona would certainly finish him off for good.

Chapter 5: Prelude II

Chapter Text

Prelude II

August 31st, 1975

Spinning, spinning, spinning.

He wasn’t sure if it’s the room that swirled around him or if Paisley Greengrass just spun the empty bottle of firewhiskey that lay in the middle of their deformed circle.

He is absolutely sure he’s to be starting his fifth year tomorrow. He is absolutely sure that his three best mates are sitting next to him on either side. And he is absolutely sure that he’s at a party.

Everything else though… is rather hazy now that the firewhiskey has settled in his belly.

Sirius scanned the room.

He’s never been inside McKinnon’s bedroom before. The room is comforting in a way he can’t quite explain, darkly contrasting the rest of the boys in the room.

Every single bloke is on edge.

All two dozen or so Hogwarts students locked inside Marlene’s bedroom—while their parents party the night away downstairs—anxiously wait to see what unlucky bastard the bottle will land on.

The lads invading the confines of McKinnon’s room all held their breath as she let the bottle go. Each randy teenager feeling the spark of dread as the tip of the bottle passed their seat on the shag carpet.

Paisley isn’t exactly everyone’s type.

If he’s being truly honest, she isn’t anyone’s type.

A Slytherin, for starters—the only one at the party. Her gappy teeth are stained yellow and her acne rivals the spots on Olivia McKinnon’s rehabilitated snowy owls. Her hair is frizzy like she was electrocuted at birth and, to top it all off, her obvious attraction to Prongs is simply embarrassing to bear witness.

The game is Seven Minutes in Heaven, but whoever Paisley’s spin lands on will most certainly be living in hell if they’re stuck in McKinnon’s closet with her for that ungodly amount of time.

The rules were established at the beginning of the game:

1. Whomever goes in the closet together may do anything they want, provided they both agree to it.

2. The players of this game may not speak about who goes into the closet together outside these bedroom walls once they are all back on the Hogwarts Express tomorrow morning.

Sirius took another sip of his drink. The chilled whiskey collected warmly in his stomach as he licked the watery condensation from his lips.

He likes the feeling of being drunk. It takes the edge off of knowing he hasn’t been landed on yet.

And Sirius is just itching to kiss a girl tonight. His appreciation for the female form all started in the beginning of fourth year when Rosemary Hargrove kissed (or rather snogged) him inside an empty classroom after they were partners in Defence.

He likes girls.

He likes kissing.

He likes the euphoria of being desired.

Sirius is about to enter his fifth year and he desperately wants to lose his virginity before the term is up. His father gave him what could be considered the “talk” if it wasn’t so disturbingly uninformative. He considers himself lucky to have Fleamont around to clear some of the gaps his father left out. A woman’s basic anatomy and the right to consent being among the topics addressed that his father chose to omit.

Sirius isn’t sure why he’s surprised. His father is a characteristically brutal man, and Sirius’s own conception certainly can’t have been with his mother willingly. Throughout his whole life, he’s never seen the two kiss.

But James’s parents kiss all the time. They also say, “I love you,” which are words he isn’t sure he’s ever heard his parents say to each other—let alone to their own two children.

Sirius shook himself.

No.

He isn’t going to ruin the high of being drunk over the thought of his parents' dysfunctional relationship.

Truthfully, Sirius is just happy to be out of the house. He convinced them both that this party is an excellent opportunity to network a secure career once Hogwarts finished. He even managed to persuade them that Regulus is simply too young to accompany him.

Now, here he is, trying to forget about the mundane world his summer surrounded him with, but thinking about it nonetheless.

How pitifully unfair.

Sirius’s holiday was spent mostly locked inside Grimmauld Place. On the weekends, provided he kept his mouth shut and eyes down, he’d be allowed to visit the other Marauders at the Potter Mansion.

And he loves being a guest in their home. Fleamont and Euphemia are kind. They feed him foods that are among his favorites, hug him, pat him on the back, and make him laugh. They never hit him, or set him on fire, or kick him down the stairs, or curse him...

He rubbed his wrist thoughtfully.

It healed rather nicely after having been broken only a week ago.

It was his own fault, of course.

Regulus was too close by when he befriended that cute muggle girl. He wasn’t trying to get himself into trouble.

Sirius was merely walking her down the street to grab some ice cream. He saw a pretty girl at the shop, so he bought her a scoop with sprinkles and kissed her in the alleyway until he could no longer taste the mint chocolate cream on her tongue.

Sirius should have known that bribery and begging were useless acts when dealing with his younger brother. Sirius should not have been surprised when Regulus ran straight to Mummy Dearest after he caught the two of them with his hand in the muggle girl’s knickers. Regulus is incapable of keeping secrets from Mother.

Regulus swore he hadn’t snitched, but then how does Mother always know? She isn’t exactly a skilled legilimens.

He never did see that girl again—no matter how often he checked out of the corner of his eye. Sirius hopes that she wasn’t hurt. She was an innocent player in his mother’s quest to control him. Perhaps, she was obliviated. She was a lovely girl, and he didn’t mean to drag her into his mess.

Sirius thought about her when Mother screeched at him to hold his arm out and steady. He pictured himself going back in time, never having gone to the shop at all—letting the girl walk by without another thought. He watched his mother retrieve her wand, but refused to look as she muttered a curse that caused the most sickening crack he’s ever heard.

Would a real Gryffindor have looked?

Was keeping his eyes firmly shut considered cowardice?

Sirius shook himself when the circle of teenagers all audibly inhaled, the bottle faltering in speed.

The bottle achingly slowed until it pointed to the figure on his left… a squirrely-looking Prongs.

He yelped lightly and leaned back on his palms. The whole group started to clap and cheer as Paisley leaned forward. She began to crawl towards him, her eyes dangerously seductive.

Prongs looked to him for help, but Sirius simply smirked. He can’t control destiny. The bottle chose him. James has to abide by the rules of the universe. Although, Sirius does have a sneaking suspicion that Paisley somehow jinxed the bottle to land on him specifically.

Cheating is always fair until one is caught, Mother always says. That, my son, is the Slytherin way. It is how we always finish victorious.

Paisley almost managed to cross the entire circle of teenagers when Prongs stood suddenly and bolted out the bedroom door, stumbling drunkenly as he escaped.

The whole group laughed as Paisley followed him out the door, shouting his name as she chased him through the halls.

“James Potter! You get back here this instant!”

Paisley slammed the door leaving the remainder of the group giggling in their absence.

Once everyone calmed, Remus readdressed the group with a drunken half-grin. “So, do you think they’re coming back?”

Bertram Aubrey shrugged and said, “Who cares! I can’t see how Paisley could possibly catch up to him. But if they come back, they can both be next in line for the closet.”

“So… Who’s next?” Richard Stanson asked the circle.

Emmeline Fitzgerald, who was nearly falling asleep on Mary Macdonald’s shoulder mumbled, “It should just go to the person next to James, like the rules state for the next two people in the closet.”

Sirius and Remus glanced down at James’s empty spot beside them and both swallowed hard.

“Uh, s’all you, mate,” Remus stammered, waving Sirius towards the bottle.

“No, no, Moony. You spin the bottle, I insist.”

“Padfoot, please, s’fine. You should go,” he hiccuped, words slurring.

“I don’t want to steal your turn.”

“I’m sure I’ll have my turn later. Go on and give it a spin.”

“But Moony, it’s only right that you should—”

“Enough!” A voice shouted from across the circle. All heads turned to see McKinnon reaching on her hands and knees for the bottle. “If you both are going to be such cowards about this damned game, then I’ll spin it, alright?”

Her lithe fingers flicked the bottle and there it went again…

Spinning, spinning, spinning.

Marlene looked perfectly calm with her hair pulled tight into a sleek ponytail. Her parents certainly forced her to dress up for the occasion, but she managed to convince them to keep her hair pulled back. Their choice in her outfit left her looking uncomfortable in baggy, black velvet dress robes that swallow her entire figure—much like the rest of her wardrobe does. She watched the bottle rotate determinedly. Her cold poise remained still as the bottle slowed, stopping its point across the circle… on none other than Sirius Black himself.

All the teenagers in the group cheered and whistled while Sirius raised his surprised eyebrows at her from his seat.

So much for kissing anyone…

Marlene is Prongs’s sister, and Prongs is his brother. So, by that logic, that would essentially make her family, too.

Right?

Certainly.

Marlene stood, touched her hair, and walked towards the closet without so much as a blink. Her stone face gave no indication of apprehension or fear. She must feel the same way as him. Nothing is going to happen.

And besides, nothing can happen.

Prongs would never allow it.

All three of his Marauders agreed in their third year that Marlene is strictly forbidden. They all agreed on the premise that if anyone dares to break that rule, they will be excommunicated from the Marauders forever. And while the Marauders are known by the masses as flippant jokers, this oath is serious to them. For f*ck’s sake, they drew blood over it and shook hands.

Sirius directed his attention to Remus with fearful eyes, but the werewolf merely shrugged.

“It’s only seven minutes. Just sit there and talk or something,” Remus advised.

Peter leaned forward at Moony’s left and winked. “Or don’t. What happens in the closet, stays in the closet.”

“As if I’d ever be interested in a girl like Mascu-lene McKinnon.”

“Don’t let Prongs hear you call her that.”

Sirius rolled his eyes and flexed as he stood. Winking at all the girls who glared daggers at Marlene for being the lucky one to join Sirius in the closet. He swaggered his way to the door where she stood waiting.

With a dull look, she opened the door and said, “Someone start the bloody clock already!” Her hand gripped Sirius by the shoulder and pulled him inside before shutting the door.

It’s dark.

Unnervingly dark.

The small crack beneath the door gave a hint of light to the walk-in closet, but not enough to see more than shadows.

Sirius flinched as Marlene’s robes grazed his wrist as she walked past him, deeper into the closet.

“Lumos minima,” she whispered.

Her wand lit up like the spark of a match, casting a gentle glow at the tip of her wand that wouldn’t alert the others outside.

Sirius chuckled. “Isn't that against the rules?”

Marlene smiled back. “f*ck those rules.”

“You’re going to get a letter.”

She snorted. “If I’m expelled for using a Lumos charm, I’ll happily homeschool.”

She settled herself cross-legged on the ground, laying her wand beside her on the floor. Looking up at his standing form, she patted the spot on the carpet in front of her. “Are you just going to stand there the whole time or are you going to join me down here?”

He plopped down roughly in front of her and stretched his back.

This is going to be an excruciatingly long seven minutes.

“Honestly, Marly, I’m not really sure what to do. I wasn’t expecting this at all.”

“Let me guess… You were hoping you’d end up with one of the slags out there who drool over you, so you could use this time to slobber all over some poor girl,” she dropped her chin to look at him below her lashes, “and maybe skim a sliver of tit beneath the shirt?”

His cheeks warmed as he narrowed his eyes. “Maybe… But, oh, lucky me! I get to be stuck here with Marlene McKinnon! Prude extraordinaire!”

The brunette witch appeared genuinely affronted by the accusation. “I’m not some prig, Black! I’ll have you know that I’ve kissed blokes before. If it was anyone other than a Marauder, I would have definitely snogged him until the time was up. Maybe even let him have a go at my tit*, too. Guess I’ll never know!”

He ignored the skip of his heart as she stated that she kissed other boys before. And try as he might to not, he glanced down at her chest, though the dress was too baggy, too formless.

“And what’s wrong with snogging a Marauder, huh?” Although he knew very well Marlene was off limits on his end, Sirius wanted to hear more about her personal distaste for the idea.

“Well, Jamie considers you family. You can’t tell me it wouldn’t be weird. It’s not like I could just kiss you and go about my merry way. I’m stuck with you prats. Besides, we have a long history together. No need to complicate it.”

Sirius slumped his back against the door and rolled his eyes. “Trust me, pet, kissing you and feeling weird after would be the least of my worries. And as for kissing anyone, if James ever found out, he’d probably have the head of whoever you ended up with in this closet that wasn’t me.”

Marlene crossed her arms. “Jamie doesn’t get to control who I kiss.”

“You’re right, but unfortunately for you—”

“Unfortunately?” Marlene gagged.

“—I met him first. So, he at least gets a say in who I kiss.”

She rolled her eyes. “Uh, no. You met me first, knobhea*d. Remember?”

“Have you been kicked by a hippogriff, McKinnon? Of course, I met him first. I think I would remember meeting you before him on the Hogwarts Express.”

The smirk she wore slid off her face. He studied him closely as if searching for a joke that wasn’t there. Her nails dug into her crossed arms before exhaling in a frustrated huff.

“Look, I swore to myself I would never ever bring this up unless you did first but… the park, Sirius.”

He waited for her to elaborate. When she didn’t, he sardonically asked, “Am I supposed to know what that means?”

“You’re telling me you don’t remember meeting me in the park? We were only about eight or nine years old then.”

How was he supposed to remember something that happened seven years ago? Sirius hardly remembers what he ate for breakfast with all the firewhiskey he consumed in the last hour.

“No, Marly. I promise I don’t remember this park encounter you’re referring to.”

She bit her lip, and moved a few centimetres closer, looking behind him like she feared someone may be eavesdropping.

“No one can hear us in here, Marly. They’re nothing but background noise. Talk to me. What park?”

Her voice dropped to a gentle whisper as she said, “When we were younger, I asked Mum if I could go to the park. And I wasn’t supposed to go to this particular park—it’s the one farthest away, but I loved it because it had the tallest slide in town. I went over to Jamie’s to fetch him to come with, but he wasn’t feeling very well, so I decided to go alone. Took me all day to get there. And when I did arrive, the slide was taken, but that’s when I saw a boy about my age with shiny black hair on the swings.”

Sirius struggled to recall the memory.

He loves the swings. He usually plays on the ones in London though. Scarcely, he saw hazy shapes as he dipped into his deepest memories.

An array of daisies on lush grass.

A tall aluminium slide.

A petite girl with messy brown hair.

“I tried playing with other toys at the park and that’s when the boy fell from the swings. His little brother ran to get help, but I stayed and made sure he was alright.”

And then she was there.

Right at the forefront of his mind.

The girl with the honey-colored eyes that he wished to keep. The guardian angel he thought he made up to protect him from feeling so lonely.

She’s real and sitting in front of him, trapped with him behind the closed door of a closet.

“It was you…” Sirius breathed. “You were the girl who helped me.”

Marlene hugged her knees to her chest and said, “Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t stay. I should have… I don’t know, stopped her or something.”

“Stopped who?”

“Your mother.”

Their shared silence thickened, even as the gentle laughter and chatter of their friends crept through the crack in the door.

“Oh.”

“I’m sorry I never told you, but you didn’t recognize me when Jamie introduced us on the train… And telling you would also mean—”

“—admitting to me that you saw what happened next. I get it. You don’t need to apologize for running away. She’s an intimidating woman. I’m scared of her, too.” Remembering himself, he added, “Sometimes.”

“Violent and intimidating are not the same. She should never have touched you like that. You’re her child. Mothers aren’t supposed to hurt their children.”

“That's all I’ve ever known.”

She scowled. “You’re smarter than that, Sirius. You know that doesn’t happen to most families. You’ve been to Jamie’s home. And mine, too, for that matter.”

“It’s not that bad. You get used to their outbursts.”

Marlene released her legs and let them fall back into a cross-legged position. “Why do you keep doing that?” She gestured lazily to him.

“Keep doing what?”

“That.” She pointed at his hand. The accused appendage firmly gripped the forearm that was broken last week. “You keep touching yourself like you’re afraid it’s going to fall off. I’ve watched you do it all night.”

“I haven’t been…” he trailed off, defeated. Lying suddenly felt so infinitely pointless. She noticed. Even Prongs hadn’t noticed. What’s the use in lying when she already knows of his mother’s violence?

“It was broken recently. And, even though it’s healed, I can still feel the break sometimes. Like some kind of painful, phantom memory. It’s really nothing.” He shrugged, not meeting her eyes.

“Jamie didn’t tell me that you broke your wrist.”

“He doesn't know it was ever broken.”

The silence was palpable.

There are no secrets between the Marauders. Even Marlene knows that.

But it didn’t exactly feel like lying. If James asks, he’ll tell him the truth—but Sirius doesn’t want to talk about it, and he’s not going to bring it up himself.

How is he supposed to bring up how awful he’s treated without ruining everyone’s mood? He’s always too grateful to be out of the house to mention what goes on back home. How could his mates ever look at him the same way?

Sirius doesn’t want to be pitied, and there is no solution to his plight. After all, he allowed it. His mother demanded to see his arm, and he gave it over willingly.

“How did you break it?” she asked softly.

Sirius swallowed hard. “I didn’t break it. Someone else did.”

She covered her mouth, but her eyes couldn’t hide her utter revulsion. Her muffled voice was difficult to hear properly, but he thought he made out the words, “That twisted bitch.” Although, he isn’t entirely sure.

Suddenly, Marlene dove forward.

His legs pried open as she nestled herself between them and wrapped her arms around his neck. Her warm cheek rested tenderly against the side of his throat, soft breath tickled hairs at the top of his shirt.

Sirius wasn’t sure how to act in this new under, so he simply held his hands up like he was being arrest.

Receiving attention like this doesn’t make sense to him. He doesn’t have platonic female friends. He has women who wish to domesticate him—make him their bloody boyfriend.

And, in truth, he doesn’t think the two of them have ever hugged in all of their years of sharing a best mate.

The act was odd.

And Sirius was also hyper aware of her thigh resting on his prick.

He bit his lip.

Damn teenage hormones.

“You know, this is only going to work if you hug me back.”

“I don’t hug,” he deadpanned.

“Just try it. You don’t have to pretend to be okay when you’re with me.”

“We’re not even friends. You’re just James’s sister.”

“No, I’m the girl who helped an innocent boy brush himself off after he fell from the swings.”

Her words left his heart pounding. He hasn’t thought of her in years.

And yet…

Sirius is as discouraged as he is enlightened by the revealed identity of his honey-eyed guardian angel. In the months following their meeting, he thought of her often. Drew pictures of her when he was confined to his room for misbehaving. He dreamed of meeting her again one day when he was older. They’d casually meet in some nondescript public setting. He would see her and know instinctively she was the girl from the park—a girl worth waiting for. In his mind, she was roaming the world looking for him too.

But the angel was directly in front of him this whole time, and he didn’t recognize her. The girl mentioned becoming a Hogwarts student in their brief encounter all those years ago. Yet, he remained blind.

How could he not have realized?

Not have seen?

His angel had been with him all along.

And, at the same time, knowing it’s only Marlene kills the dream.

His childhood fantasy, romanticising reuniting with the love of his life, is severed forever. All those books he once read about the prince meeting again with his princess are tainted now. His idea of the perfect woman, tailor-made for him, came to a screeching stop.

It’s just Marlene.

His mystery girl is only Marlene.

One hug wouldn’t hurt, would it?

He slowly brought his hands down and placed them on her waist.

She sighed dreamily. “See? That wasn’t so hard. Now, close your eyes and take a deep breath.”

Sirius let his eyes close like two sinking ships before taking a deep breath.

Cinnamon. Springtime. Library books.

She smelled like the fresh air of her family’s orchard and peonies after rainfall and parchment paper from a fresh journal.

As she relaxed against his chest, he swore he heard her humming a song softly. The vibrations tingled his chin.

Her warm body was pressed so perfectly to the curves of his own.

Holding him.

So softly.

When was the last time he was just… held?

Certainly not by anyone in his family.

Obviously not his friends.

The minute he finished kissing a girl, he left. He never let them touch him so intimately.

So warm…

His hands slithered further across her body and pulled her in tight. All his strength pulsed into his biceps to keep her close. To draw her near. To keep her within his grasp.

She released a sensuous gasp as he tightened his arms around her, and for a moment, Sirius thought her lips caressed his neck.

When she sighed once more, Sirius shuddered.

They are. Her lips are grazing the skin. Barely scraping the flesh, but they’re there. She is nearly kissing the sensitive skin in the crook where his shoulder begins.

And, for a moment, just a second—really the briefest of thoughts, honestly—Sirius wanted her to kiss his neck. He wanted her to place her lips across his skin. He ached to feel the burning warmth of her tongue on his greedy flesh.

But that can’t be right.

This is Marlene.

She isn’t his type.

She’s just Marlene.

Mascu-lene McKinnon.

And yet…

A strange queasiness enveloped his stomach within the vortex of their embrace.

Churning.

Fluttering.

Nausea.

No, not nausea.

Butterflies.

This is more than a hug.

This is intimacy.

This is not enough.

This is not how he should be handling James’s baby sister.

This is—

The door abruptly opened wide, and Sirius forgot he was leaning against the wooden slab until the two came barreling out.

Marlene landed on top of him—still nestled between his thighs whilst Sirius’s unconscious grip around her waist refused to loosen.

Sirius stared upside-down at their audience. Every onlooker dropped their jaw, making the hugging teenagers blush. A few of the boys hollered their praise while the girls in Sirius’s fan club scowled.

Marlene scrambled to stand and extended her hand to lift him as well.

The duo stared at each other before offering shy smiles.

Marlene flinched like she was debating whether or not to embrace him once more, but Sirius stuck out his hand and said, “Sorry, love. It’ll have to be a one time thing. I’m sure you understand.”

The honey-eyed brunette smiled smugly and lightly smacked his hand away. “Yeah, probably for the best. Let me know if you ever need someone to hold you while you cry again.”

Every bloke in the room laughed and asked Marlene if it was true. She shrugged them off with a simple ‘Obviously not!’ and returned to her spot in the circle.

“I know what this looks like,” Sirius started as he sat between Remus and Peter, “but I promise nothing happened.”

“Oh, we know you’d never break the oath, Padfoot,” Remus assured him with a rough smack to the back. He smiled lazily at Sirius as he added, “And even if you did kiss, s’just a game. Doesn’t mean anything, right?”

Peter elbowed him roughly and winked. “Yeah, Prongs doesn’t need to know. We’re just sorry you couldn’t have more time in there if you know what I mean.”

Sirius gagged. “Gross. As if I’d ever want another minute alone with her.”

He flicked his eyes back to Marlene. She smoothed her hair and watched the bottle spin round and round with complete disinterest on her face.

He flexed his fingers as they ached to wrap his hands around her once more.

From the safety of his thoughts, he agreed with Peter. Seven minutes was not enough time.

Chapter 6: Ticket to Ride

Chapter Text

Ticket to Ride

September 1st, 1976

Lily finished setting her trunk into the boot of her father’s Ford Cortina when she heard her mother exclaim with joy from the top of the steps by the front door.

“Oh, Marlene! Look at you! You’re an absolute vision, my dear!”

Her mother was certainly not lying. Marlene looked positively fetching. The newly improved brunette approached Lily’s townhome from half a block away, wearing kitten heels, a thigh-height skirt that hugged her waistline, and a fitted white blouse. Pairing the ensemble with her knee-length peacoat, unquestionably Marlene looked fit as hell.

Without those boxy t-shirts and oversized trousers hiding her body, Marlene’s physique was on display for all of England to see. She even bought new uniforms that fit her better. Madam Malkin was shocked, seeing as this would be the first time in six years Marlene wouldn’t be wearing the boy’s uniform trousers.

Her gold-coloured eyes sparkled along with her shimmering makeup and dark eye framing that would leave evenTwiggy envious.

She was grinning, her red lipstick causing her teeth to look particularly bright, as she waved to Mrs Evans with one hand and dragged her trunk behind her with the other.

Lily couldn’t help revelling in the feeling of warmth that filled her heart seeing sweet Mar thriving in her new appearance. With the help of Amelia, they ripped apart Mar’s entire morning routine and decimated her closet—most of the excursion left Lily wondering if they were taking this too far—but seeing the glow on Marlene’s bright face quickly melted away the memory of the girl sobbing when she appeared suddenly at Lily’s bedroom window.

“Not as lovely as you look this morning, Rose! Are you sure you don’t want to accompany us to King’s Cross?”

Mrs Evans beamed at the compliment and waved her hand. “Oh no, dear. I have far too much to do today, but I wish I could. I hope you have a lovely time at school though! You’ll be visiting us over the Christmas holiday, won’t you, darling?”

“Of course!” Marlene set down her trunk by the Cortina and reached over the small picket fence to unhook the latch leading to the front porch of the townhome. “By that time, I’ll be positively starved for your cooking! As long as you’ll have me, I’ll be here.”

The two finally reached each other and embraced.

Lily smiled. Her mother has always been a nurturing woman. Kind to Marlene during those horrible first weeks in August. A kindness that Marlene believes she didn’t earn but Rose Evans gave to her regardless.

Marlene held Lily’s mother tight in her arms and whispered, “Rose, gratitude doesn’t even begin to cover what I feel for you and Roger. You took me in when I needed it most, and I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”

Rose pulled back and gently pinched Marlene’s blushing cheek. “You are always welcome in this home, Marlene. From here and onwards, you have a home with us.”

The booming voice of Lily’s father caused Marlene to flinch. “You’re a catch, Marlene. Any boy who doesn’t see beyond all this wasn’t meant for you to begin with.” She turned around to see his welcoming smile, face-to-face. “You look beautiful now, but you were beautiful before. Don’t forget that, Marmalade.”

“Thank you, Roger.”

With a meaningful hug, she strolled back to her trunk and placed it beside Lily’s in the boot. Lily gave her best friend a shoulder squeeze. “Are you ready?”

Marlene glanced up, saving face as she practised for the moment she saw him again.

“Yeah, let’s do this.”

“—She’s got a ticket to ride! And she don’t care!” Lily belted the last notes of her favourite Beatles back-to-school song and laughed loudly as she watched Marlene swing her hair as she danced in the backseat of the car.

“Okay, but honestly!” Lily gushed, leaning over the shoulder of her seat. “What are the chances that this is the last song we hear before we pull up to King’s Cross?!”

“I know! It was meant to be, Evans! Meant. To. Be,” Marlene said, enunciating every word.

“My baby don’t care!”

“My baby don’t care!”

“My baby don’t care!”

Roger parked the car and began the ceremonious emptying of the boot, handing Marlene her trunk, and then repeating the motion for Lily.

Their voyage to Platform 9¾ was shorter than they expected. The drive took no time at all, and with their bags in hand, they started their walk to the train station entrance. Marlene was chatting away to Lily about her other favourite Beatles songs when Lily noticed her father was not walking with them into the station. He stopped a few paces back, wringing his hands together.

“Hey, Mar, I think I’m gonna wait to cross the platform for a moment. Give Dad a proper goodbye from this side. Will you be okay heading over without me?”

“Yeah, no problem, love.” Marlene looked back at the man who drove the two Gryffindors all this way and ran to him, squeezing him tight in one final hug.

“Roger, you’re a spectacular bloke. Thank you for the ride to the platform. I’ll see you at Christmas, yeah?”

“You’d better! I don’t want to have to come drag you all the way back to co*keworth from the Cotswolds. I don’t have one of those brooms of yours, so I’ll be right crossed by the time I get there!”

Marlene nodded. “Well, I suppose I’ll need to have supper waiting for you when you finally arrive!”

With a salute and a sincere smile, Marlene gripped the handle of her trunk and briskly entered the station until she strolled through the brick wall that lay between platforms nine and ten.

The moment Marlene crossed over, she regretted it.

Surely, she could have just waited for Lily off to the side, right?

Logically, she knew that Lily was asking for privacy, but she invaded her entire home for three whole weeks.

What was five more minutes, really?

Obviously, she wasn't in the right headspace when she said her quick goodbye because here she is, on the platform, on full display to every student at Hogwarts.

Frozen in place, Marlene tightened her trembling grasp on the handle of her trunk as if it was trying to fly away. Her knuckles white and her chest pounding, she made her way towards the front of the train to give the conductor her trunk, one step at a time. She didn’t dare make eye contact with anyone around her, but she certainly felt the stares. Her heart-shaped sunglasses were still firmly in their place (despite being very much indoors). As she strode closer and closer to the train, an unwavering sense of uncomfortability in her outfit choice slowly set in.

Muggle clothing, Marlene?

She might as well have been asking for attention with a great big sign that shouted, ‘Look at me, please! I’m a complete nutter for thinking this was a good idea!’

Her heart threatened to stop altogether when she began to recognize people as she stepped into the line for the baggage quarters.

With her arms crossed, Marlene chewed on the inside of her cheek wondering how long it would be until a certain obsidian-haired boy spotted her through the crowd. He didn’t recognize her in Flourish & Blotts, and she’d be lying if she said the act didn’t spit on her ego.

She truly wanted the makeover at the time, but a part of her wished the change wasn't necessary. She wished that Sirius could feel the same way she did and save her from having to alter everything about her appearance. If that was the case, she would be with him right now on her way to King’s Cross via Floo from the Potter Mansion, instead of dreading the idea of laying eyes on him.

Being with him those nights in July was so… natural—like two halves meeting at last—but now she isn’t quite sure how to behave.

Is she really supposed to pretend to be his friend again like he all but demanded? How is she supposed to feign normality?

She can’t possibly. She hates him now.

Mostly.

A soft tapping on her shoulder drew her out of her thoughts. She looked over her shoulder and absorbed the awestruck face of Bertram Aubrey.

“McKinnon, is that you?”

Here we go… It had to happen sooner or later.

Marlene pushed her glasses to the top of her head and beamed at the fellow sixth-year.

In all honesty, Aubrey is fit (sort of). He’s decently attractive, sure, but he never bothered giving Marlene a second glance before this moment. His icy-blond hair has been cropped shorter on the sides since the end of last term but it’s still longer and curlier on the top. His round babyish cheeks have remained the same, but he’s a Beater for the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, so she knows he must be somewhat muscular underneath his long-sleeved Chudley Cannons shirt.

His stare, however, made Marlene uneasy. His brown eyes shamelessly undressed her with a lick of his thin, chapped lips.

Despite her immediate discomfort, she listened to the voice of Amelia in her ear, whispering to try and be nice even when boys are being slimy.

Wait until they say something disgusting, from then on you can’t be held accountable for the hexes you throw.

She smiled sweetly at the blond boy in front of her and giggled, her nerves causing her face to explode with heat. “Uh, yeah. Hello. Surprised to see me, are you?”

“Well, of course. I mean, McKinnon, you look incredible.”

“Thank you.”

“Why the sudden change though?”

“Just wanted to mature a little for my sixth year. Since we no longer have to worry about O.W.Ls, I figured there’s no harm in sprucing up my wardrobe a little.”

“Yeah, those big shirts you always wore were not doing you any favours. But now? I mean, bloody hell, you’re a neck-breaker, McKinnon.”

Marlene’s smile fell, insulted.

She loves those shirts. They are a part of her personality—her f*cking soul. Who the hell is he to suddenly be interested in her because her clothes are more form-fitting?

And as quickly as he began talking to her, she no longer desired to speak to him in return.

“Well, this has been a lovely—uh—chat, Bertram, but I don’t really have the time to—”

“Wait! Let me get your trunk for you!” he yelped. Scrambling, Aubrey reached over and hoisted the heavy trunk above his head. Despite how he struggled, he carried the damned thing to the conductor, cutting all the students in line politely waiting their turn.

Marlene’s jaw lay ajar as the boy practically threw the trunk at the flustered man and returned to her as fast as he could.

“So, McKinnon, would you fancy sitting with me on the train?” He beamed at her with delighted anticipation.

Wide-eyed, the brunette stammered, “Well, it’s just that I… I don’t know. Uh, you see, I haven’t really caught up with my mates yet… and… and I’m sure they’ll want to talk about the holiday. So, I guess, no… Not right now… anyhow.”

His smile slipped but then returned with sudden fervour. “Oh, right! Of course. I completely understand. Later, then.”

Marlene was sure he was about to walk away when he suddenly took her hand in his and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. The archaic act was so out of his typically brutish behaviour that Marlene actually laughed.

With a quick wink, he turned and made his way back to his mates who were all clapping like he won The Daily Prophet’s Million Galleon Lottery.

Marlene sighed.

So, this was what girls like Purloin and Macnair experience all the time. The warm sentiment of knowing you’re wanted by the opposite sex. The flutter of acknowledging that she was a prize left Marlene with a giddy sensation. Someone who—perhaps—other girls covet.

She wondered for the hundredth time what the Marauders would say to her. More so, what he would say to her when they finally spoke to each other again.

She was no longer nervous after her encounter with Aubrey. She’d branched in the category of downright-f*cking-euphoric, drunk on being appreciated.

Marlene must have come off so silly looking, smiling at nothing, when she saw the cheerful image of Lily standing hand in hand with Mary Macdonald. The two spoke rapidly, Mary bouncing in place.

Marlene took confident steps in their direction, smiling sweetly and waving at a few Slytherin seventh-years that complimented her new ensemble.

She only just began to call out Lily’s name, when a hand gripped her by the elbow, twirling her around to face them.

“Marlene, I’ve been looking for you all day!”

The brunette followed the figure's hand on her arm until she was facing a grinning Leo Welch.

“Blimey, Welch! You can’t just sneak up on a girl like that!” She pretended to sound upset, but Leo saw right through it and pulled her forward into a playful hug, lifting her briefly off her feet.

He still smelled like sugared pears and teakwood, the same cologne he wore all throughout their fifth-year Divination class as partners. Marlene breathed it in and smiled. Memories of their time as avid study allies during O.W.Ls eclipsed her thoughts. Studying took over their lives by the spring term and the pair became fast friends through shared misery.

Plus, he was always so gentle, so sweet—and bloody fit, too.

Before the holiday started, she spent nearly all of fifth year dreamily ogling him across their crystal ball and wondering if his light brown hair would feel soft running her fingers through it. His thick lips and warm espresso-coloured eyes would occasionally occupy her daydreams as the months wore on.

Before a certain grey-eyed wanker began the process of ruining her life, Leo Welch—now a sixth-year Hufflepuff—was generously the figure of Marlene’s affections.

And, f*cking hell, he got taller over the holiday.

Marlene kept her hands around his neck as he set her on the ground. His hands slid on her waist as he pulled back from their hug.

“You said you’d write to me, McKinnon. You’re a bloody liar,” he teased.

Marlene flushed at the accusation but composed herself. “Well, maybe I was busy,” she replied easily, feigning cool innocence.

“Too busy for your old Divination pal? I’m hurt, Marlene.” Dropping his hands from around her waist and dramatically holding them over his heart.

Marlene rested her palms on her hips and tapped her foot. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve got loads of responsibilities. And, last time I checked, an owl flies both ways. Where was my letter from you, hmm?”

He let his hands fall to his sides and smirked. “Okay, fine. You got me. But in my defence, I was working in my father’s shop, and I spent every break hoping you’d come ‘round for a visit.”

“If that’s true, then it sounds like you should have spent your breaks with a quill and ink, telling me the address of your shop in the form of a letter.” Marlene winked as she crossed her arms across her chest.

Is this flirting? Is Leo bloody Welch flirting with her?

Their playful banter in the spring was filled with laughter, but this seemed different. Perhaps, he’s finally seeing through her baggy uniform and recognizes her for what she is: a real f*cking girl, dammit. And a fit one whom he enjoys talking to, for that matter.

“Ah, see you are making some excellent points, McKinnon. I see that I’ve co*cked up my chance to catch up with you over the summer, but I’d love to make it up to you… perhaps I could by catching up with you... on the train?”

Marlene’s heart fluttered, and her face flushed. He is flirting! Leo Welch is chatting her up and wants to sit with her on the ride to the castle.

Good god, someone f*cking pinch her.

“Yeah, that sounds lovely,” she replied shyly.

She watched in awe as he, too, flushed as he grinned down at her. “Fantastic! I’ll save a compartment for you, yeah?”

“Well, I need to chat with my mates for a while, so maybe we can grab a bite from the trolley together. Say two o’clock?”

“Perfect, see you then!” She watched as he turned his back to her, shaking his fist victoriously.

What an amazing bloke.

She spent the whole summer so caught up in the hurricane of another boy that she completely forgot about Leo. He’s a handsome enough chap, and also a sincere one. He didn’t mention her makeover once, and she isn’t sure if that’s because he believes it requires no commentary, or because he simply doesn’t care how she looks now compared to how she looked before.

Unable to contain herself, she covered her mouth in disbelief and did a little twirl in place.

She nicked a date with Leo Welch. How could life get any better?

When the brunette glanced up, she saw the figures of Mary and Lily smiling and clapping, having probably watched the whole interaction that just took place. Marlene beamed and strutted towards her Gryffindor companions once more.

She made it halfway across the platform to meet them when her peripheral vision caught something—the aghast figures of the Marauders.

Jamie appeared ready to faint. His jaw lying agape, he had dropped to both knees as if gravity became too heavy for him.

Peter smiled with an open mouth, perhaps impressed and shocked at the same time—she wasn’t entirely sure.

Remus seemed proud, almost like she’d finally fulfilled her potential. He placed a soft hand to his heart in admiration of her overdue change in appearance.

Finally, even after she silently begged herself not to, her eyes locked onto the piercing stare… of Sirius Black.

His expression was tight and his eyes ripe with confusion, disbelief, and rage.

She couldn’t look away. Her eyes were trapped and there was no escaping his glare. His penetrating scowl ripped her apart in a single glance.

And like the flip of a switch, the excitement for her first date vanished and the longing for the boy who broke her heart seemed to crawl right back into its haunted home.

“Have you seen her yet?”

“No, Prongs. Obviously not.”

“Well, we have to find her before everyone starts to board.”

“You need to get it together, mate. You’re acting like a bloody loon.”

James scowled at Sirius, frustrated. “You know, you’re not exactly being helpful! I could use a bit of support right about now!”

Peter sidestepped Sirius and placed his hands on either side of James’s shoulders. He spoke slowly as if speaking to a child. “Prongs, we’re going to find her. Let’s just take a deep breath and consider all of our options.”

James knew he was right. Damn it all, why does Wormtail always have to be right about this nonsense?

Marlene is here.

She has to be.

Unless she transferred schools, which seemed highly unlikely. But on the off chance that she has, James is prepared to pack up his things and move to wherever she’s gone. Even if that means, moving to America and enrolling at Ilvermorny, for Merlin’s sake.

And while this option is entirely ludicrous to even consider, James is still fairly certain that he could use his excellent persuasion tactics to convince the other Marauders to join him if need be.

Remus, who has not bothered to fuel James’s ridiculous fire, looked up from his book at his shorter, chubbier companion. “What do you propose, Wormtail?”

His eyes lit up mischievously. “Why, I’m simply suggesting a ‘two birds-one stone’ approach.” He spun James around so that he faced Lily Evans, who stood with Mary Macdonald across the platform. The two spoke animatedly to one another, clasping hands and bouncing up and down.

James paled. “Absoluetly-f*cking-not.”

Sirius laid a reassuring arm around his neck. “Oh, come off it, mate. You heard Moony at Blotts. That ginger prig has been spending time together with Marly for nearly an entire month. If anyone knows where she is, Evans does. Just go talk to her.”

James stood in place, terrified of the petite redhead witch who was only a mere ten metres away. “I-I don’t think I can.”

The other Marauders stood before James with a mixed representation of astonishment. After a moment to stew the sentence, it was Remus who spoke first.

“What the f*ck do you mean, you don’t think you can?”

And it wasn’t an absurd question to ask.

James spent all of fifth year concocting new methods and schemes of getting Evans’s attention. Schemes that, while undeniably insane, were conducted with them as his aids.

He once convinced the house elves to bring the bird a five-course meal to her room on a Sunday morning with cutlery charmed to give her compliments after every bite.

On another occasion, he enchanted her textbooks to serenade her every time she opened them to study.

Before Christmas, he sent a letter to his mum asking her to buy the most extravagant emerald necklace to match her eyes. He only just gave it to her before he watched as Evans horrifyingly chucked it into the Black Lake without a second thought.

On her birthday, he set off enough fireworks to engulf the Forbidden Forest in flames.

He used to pay off other students to switch seats with him in classes to be closer to her and spent that time asking her out multiple times per lesson.

During the Quidditch semi-finals, he acted as if he were ready to cost Gryffindor the match after he flew into the announcer’s booth and declared that he would walk clear off his broom and fall to his death if she didn’t kiss him right then and there. When she told the entire school that she’d rather kiss a dragon, he’d actually done it. Luckily for him, Sirius flew down as planned and caught him before he broke every bone in his body. Obviously, his stunt was a hoax. He’d never risk a Quidditch match so heedlessly, but he thought the gesture would at the very least earn him a peck on the cheek.

Despite her constant insults, she occupied most of his dreams (and most of his wanks, for that matter), and she never so much as gave him a single shred of hope that she would ever agree to a single measly date.

After the O.W.Ls incident last spring, James was desperate to apologise because, for once, he realised that his joke on ol’ Snivellus had (maybe, possibly, sort of) gone too far. But he certainly wasn’t going to admit his errors in front of the lads, so he waited until he could find her alone.

He found her by the fireplace in the common room with the help of the Marauder’s Map at around two in the morning. By the look of her reddened eyes and blotchy pink nose, Evans had obviously been crying (not that she ever cried in front of people, but the evidence was certainly there) as she sat on the sofa, clutching her knees and sniffling.

He approached her slowly. “Alright, Evans?”

She looked radiant. Her hair glowed in the light of the fire and her watery eyes sparkled as they stared intently into the flames.

She wiped her runny nose, turning to face him with a scowl. “No, you git! Of course, I’m not okay.”

James could see she was hurting and, even though he knew it was Snivellus who said that despicable word, he still felt guilty knowing she cried over it.

“I came down here to—well, I guess I just—” He sighed uncomfortably. “I want to say that I’m sorry, Evans.”

Her humourless scoff echoed in the empty room. “Oh, that’s rich. Tell me, Potter, what exactly are you sorry for?”

He blinked.

Was she really going to make him say it out loud?

“I’m waiting, Potter.”

“For… asking you out in front of everyone, I guess.”

“That’s it?”

“What else is there?”

She stood from the couch and threw her hands in the air. “Unbelievable! You can’t even admit what you did. Typical, egotistical, arrogant Potter can never see when he’s hurt people.”

His feelings of regret rapidly receded as a bitter need to bite back set in.

Surprise, surprise.

Evans wasn’t going to just accept his apology and move on.

“Like you’re so holy, Evans. This whole thing is mostly your fault.”

The ginger prefect gasped in horror. “You think I deserved this because it’s my fault that I’m muggleborn?”

No! No, Evans, of course not! I’ve never cared whether or not you're a muggleborn. What I don’t understand is how you could ever be mates with that slimy, disgusting creep when he doesn’t deserve your friendship! Or even your kindness, for that matter. It was always going to boil down to Snivelly having to choose between you and his Slytherin meathead mates, but you’re too damned proud to admit that your entire friendship with him is a f*cking joke.”

“You don’t know the first thing about my friendship with Severus, Potter. He didn’t have to choose them! You provoked him!”

“I didn’t provoke him into calling you a… a You-Know-What.”

She advanced on him, poking a finger roughly into his chest. “You held him up by his ankles and told him that you wouldn’t let him down until you got to go on a date with me.”

James smirked and rolled his eyes. “And?”

“And is that really how you’d want our kids to hear that’s how you got your first date with their mother? That you bullied and berated and degraded her best friend until she agreed to date you?”

His heart beat furiously at the mere thought of them having children together. “Well, uh, that depends on—”

“You used misogyny to manipulate him into thinking my help made him less of a man. You exploited this, knowing it would rile him up and send him spiralling. What self-respecting witch would ever say yes to that dehumanising display of cowardice wrapped up in that insulting ultimatum you gave me?”

“It was not cowardly!” James countered, growing indignant. He despised being called a coward. “I was just trying to speed along the process, Evans. I like you! I really, really like you, and you won’t even give me a chance! You spend all your time with that greasy git, and look where it’s got you? Don’t you get it? He was never going to choose you! He didn’t today by the lake—and he certainly won’t when there is chaos in the real world outside our dormitory windows! I know you read The Daily Prophet, Evans.”

“Because you’re a disturbed stalker—”

“Because everyone knows what’s going on out there. People are starting to divide and the opinions are becoming violent. Snivellus isn’t going to take your side in the end, Evans, and you know it.”

She took a dangerous step forward, stopping inches from his face. Their height difference meant she was looking up at him, but he was still startled by the sudden proximity. James reckoned she’s never been this close to him for as long as he’s known her. He tried to calm his pounding heart, but he could see the reflection of the fireplace in her emerald eyes. Her stare glowed with fiery sparks as her scowl deepened into rage.

She spoke quietly, but her voice was thick with venom in every word. “I’m only going to say this once, so you’d better listen well, Potter. I know you like me. All my mates know you like me. Every student in this bloody school knows you like me. Even the professors know you like me—but let me make something perfectly clear... I hate you. I don’t simply dislike you. I hate you. I hate you to my very core. I hate you with my soul. I hate that you can’t see how much I hate you. I hate how you strut around here with your friends, mocking me and mine. I hate how you pull pranks on undeserving people. I hate how you style your hair and how you think you’re clever because you know how to manoeuvre a broom well enough to win us the Cup. I hate that you think that makes you better than other people.

“But most of all, I hate that you can’t see that the reason Severus hurt me was because you hurt him first. Not over the course of a single moment by the lake, but all of them. Five years of you and your disgusting friends targeting him and belittling him. And why? Because of his hair? His clothes? His house? You don’t know him. He is the reason I am here, Potter. Did you even know that? He was not just my first friend in the Wizarding World. He’s been my friend since primary school. What if I had spent the last five years attacking McKinnon with jinxes and hexes? Would you still like me? What if I tortured Pettigrew with spells and insults? Would you still want to date me? What if I taunted Lupin about his scars? Would you be able to stand the sight of me?”

James drank up her every word, ingraining them into his mind forever. His answer was obvious, but he lost the ability to answer. He felt like he was going to be sick.

This is what she thinks of him. She isn’t playing hard to get. She was never able to be won over.

In her eyes, he wasn’t even playing the game.

“Well, I—”

“No, don’t you dare say a word. You would never look at me again if I hung Sirius by his ankles while he gasped for air, struggling to breathe, in front of the entire school and then asked you out for the millionth time on a date.”

It was actually the three-hundred-twenty-sixth time he asked her, but he didn’t feel that fact very important to mention given the circ*mstances.

“There should have never been a choice, Potter. How do you live with yourself knowing you cause everyone in this school to fear you? Do you think they respect you and your little gang of bullies? You scare more people around here than any magical terrorist does. People laugh along with your awful pranks because they are too frightened to be on your bad side. But you don’t scare me, Potter. I’m not afraid of your childish retaliation when you don’t get what you want.

“And what’s most disappointing of all is that you could really make a difference in this place if you just gave a f*ck. If you spent a fraction of the energy you use being insufferable to people without cause, you’d probably be a decent bloke. Students in this school listen to you. If you became a positive example for everyone, then maybe life for muggleborns, like me, would be more tolerable, but instead, you publicly humiliate me—time and time again. Setting the precedent for your audiences that I’m just some pretty bird you want to shag, instead of a human who's being thrown into the middle of a political crisis for simply existing.

“I didn’t ask to be born with magic, Potter. I don’t have an influence on people who look at me with loathing for simply being alive. But you do, and you choose to sit back and watch, waving your money and your tricks around like you own people, instead of helping eliminate the problem. It’s revolting, and you disgust me. Let this be the moment when you really let it sink in that I don’t tolerate you, Potter. I don’t like you, Potter. I truly and deeply hate you.”

With that, she took a step back and waited for James to respond. Or really do anything, probably. But he could not. He was struck by the formidable weight of finally understanding that Lily Evans would never return the affection he feels for her. He will probably spend the rest of his life wishing to make her proud. Wishing he could be the one to make her smile, but he never will.

He can hear her now though.

He is listening loud and clear.

She hates him.

James faltered. f*ck, he’s about to be sick. He’s dizzy. Surely, Lily hadn’t meant to be cruel—but then again, maybe it needed to be said.

She waited for his comeback, but a reprisal never came. He just stood there in a blank stupor while Evans co*cked a brow. Her eyes screaming, “Why isn’t he saying anything? Have I broken him?”

When she took a step back, his eyes didn’t follow her. The spacey stare lingered in the spot where she just stood. His silence was probably making her uncomfortable.

“Hey, Evans?” His eerily, distant voice appeared to unsettle her.

“Yes, Potter?”

“I-I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I won’t bother you again.”

And without looking her in the eyes again, James turned on his heel and retreated back up the stairs to the fifth-year’s dormitory.

He scanned the room to make sure his mates were still asleep and reached for the notebook by his bedside table. An entire year's worth of love notes to Lily Evans and their names drawn together with small hearts.

He flipped to the page listed “Reasons I’m in Love with Lily Evans.”

Number twelve on that list read, ‘She tells people what she thinks and holds nothing back.’

He pondered the irony of that statement. She certainly did just that moments prior, but it somehow felt wrong now. Liking her felt dirty… and inappropriate.

He ripped out the page and stormed back down the stairs. Evans disappeared, but the fire was still roaring within its brick walls. He placed the list into the fire watching as it disintegrated before his eyes. The last thing he read before it engulfed in flames was reason number five: ‘She stands up for people even when she doesn’t have to.’

Lily Evans is definitely right about one thing. He never stands up for those who aren’t his friends.

But maybe, next year could be different.

Maybe next year, he could change.

Lily Evans is a good person and, as far as he’s now concerned, he never stood a chance.

James spent the entire remaining week of the term avoiding her like she contracted dragon pox. The other Marauders questioned what changed in his sudden aversion to the girl he previously stalked, but he wasn’t sure how to explain this.

How do you tell your mates that you think you might be wrong when you’ve convinced them that you’re always right?

These newfound thoughts disoriented him, and it was all Evans’s fault. That stuck-up prig filled him with uncertainty, and now he’s apprehensive of every decision he makes.

He spent the summer wishing he could set things right. Not just with her, but with everyone he wronged.

Could it be possible that Evans is right about him not using his influence correctly? Would he really make a difference if he simply tried to be constructive rather than apathetic? He wants to change, but would anyone even believe him if he tried?

Like really, really tried.

He thought of this all while his mates were demanding an answer from him sometime before the train needed to leave King's Cross.

“Well?” Remus demanded.

The Quidditch Captain gulped before addressing his fellow Marauders. “I mean,” James began, “I think I finally get it. Last year, after the Lake Incident, she told me she hates me. And I don’t think she was lying or exaggerating. I’ve spent years wishing she’d just glance at me, yell at me—spit on me, for f*ck’s sake—and for what? She hates me. I mean, she really hates me, lads. I don’t know how to talk to her without sounding like an arrogant git. She’s… She’s so above me, and since I can’t be around her without acting insane, I think it’s best if I just stay away from her.”

The three boys shared an awkward silence before they each began shouting in unison as if the platform wasn’t filled with bystanders who could hear.

“You’re James Potter, for f*ck’s sake!” Sirius barked. “What the hell do you mean you’d sound like a poncy git! Evans would be lucky if a chap like you were to speak to her!”

“You’re a Gryffindor, James!” Peter yelled. “And she’s just a ginger with an attitude the size of a giant! You’re the bravest man I know! Just show her how great you are and she’ll come ‘round eventually!”

“I understand that you have reservations about speaking to Lily after the last time you two spoke, Remus reasoned, “but this is much bigger than you! She is the key to finding Marlene! Just waltz over there, ask her where McKinnon is, and then leave! It’s that simple!”

Their overlapping cries cranked his adrenaline, shooting a spike into his posture. He puffed out his chest. “You know what, lads? You’re absolutely right. She’s just some bird. I can do this.” He pushed them out of the way with his arms. “Here I come, Evans. This is for Marlene.”

James took one exhilaratingly daring step forward. As his foot connected with the concrete floor, his entire leg crumbled as if the ground collapsed beneath him. He fell to his knees and hid his face in his hands.

“What the f*ck is wrong with me? I can’t do this,” he lamented.

Sirius bent down in front of James and shook him roughly. “Prongs, what the hell is happening right now? How can I help you?! Tell me what to do!”

When James did nothing but stare helplessly at the ground, Sirius looked desperately at Remus and Peter. “What do we do?!”

Remus paced, mentally calculating their choices on the matter.

Peter looked around like he was seeking a medical professional when his eyes landed on a brunette by the trunk drop-off. He gasped, nearly shrieking at the sight of her.

“P-Prongs…” Peter stuttered. “You don’t need to talk to Evans. I-I think I found Marlene…”

The other Marauders snapped their heads to Peter, following his shaking finger as it pointed in the direction of a beautiful girl speaking to Bertram Aubrey.

James winced like he had been slapped.

It’s her, but it isn’t her.

How is that even possible?

Her hair was down, held out of her face by a bandana, and curled loosely rather than tied up in her pigtail braids. Her clothes were tight and revealing. She was… wearing heels?

And makeup?

AND A SKIRT?

Who the f*ck is that girl?

She had Marlene’s same eyes, but her face was brighter. Like she was happier now than ever before. She smiled weakly at Bertram, but her eyes were alive and boldly aware of the attention he gave her.

She co*cked her head to the side, obviously ready to leave the conversation, but he held her back and kissed her knuckles. He listened to the incredible sound of her loud laugh from their spot halfway across the platform. That wide smile and infectious laughter that he nearly forgot with their time apart. She looked fantastic, but her appearance saddened him.

Why wouldn’t she tell him?

He may not be the best shopping partner, and he couldn’t tell makeup from a potion’s ingredient, but he surely would have tried for her sake.

“Holy hell, Marlene looks… magnificent,” Remus breathed as she walked to Evans and Macdonald. She waved slightly at a few catcalling Slytherins, but she didn’t seem to mind. She welcomed their praise.

Marlene was someone he no longer recognized.

Oh, Mar, what the hell have you done?

The lewd stares at her figure caused a strange fire to burst in his brain. He never needed to worry about some dodgy bloke trying to take advantage of his baby sister before, but now?

James’s eye twitched.

He can’t allow it. His baby sister deserves the best, even if he doesn't know who that is quite yet. The list is going to be long. Surely, the boys of this school are going to go barmy over her. A pretty new face for them to circle around like the vultures they are.

The urge to protect her swelled in his heart.

Or perhaps that was just the sudden need to puke.

James wasn’t entirely sure.

Sirius was hypnotised.

He’s been dreaming of this moment—the day he finally sees her again—but she’s so different from what he envisioned. He knew that she changed. The clerk at Blotts made that abundantly clear, but she looked positively ravishing—not that she didn’t before. In every thought of what she’d look like, he never pictured someone so utterly breathtaking. But maybe it’s simply the thrill of seeing her at all that’s twisting his arteries in knots.

He was stiff with captivation, but also he was energised. A newfound desire to forgo his vows to James nearly overcame him.

Sirius considered strutting over there and apologising. Tell Marly that he lied to protect himself. That he would die for her. He could tell James right now that he doesn’t care about his ridiculous oath to never touch her. If James truly desired to kick him out for wanting Marlene in his arms once more, then so f*cking be it.

f*ck, he’s never wanted anything more than to be with her. Here and now. Now and forevermore.

Sirius has missed her so desperately.

Kissing her in the darkness against the French doors that lead to her balcony.

Laying on her bedroom floor, listening to the eerie sounds of Pink Floyd on a crackling vinyl.

Stargazing in her family’s orchard, pointing out constellations without the need for a telescope.

Rides on the motorbike, weaving recklessly between cars while she holds onto his torso.

Accompanying her into the library to listen to her play the piano.

Dancing around her room with little clothing left on.

Good f*cking god, he really misses dancing with her.

Marlene continued her trek across the platform unaware of his turmoil. And Sirius couldn’t tear his eyes from her sweet figure.

She was exquisite.

She was bewitching.

She was… being groped by Leonard Welch?

What the—?

Peter cooed as Welch spun her around. Sirius looked around slightly and observed that the pair created an audience. Dozens of eyes watching Welch wrap her up in a hug and lift her off her feet in view of the whole student body. When he placed her back onto her delicate feet, they remained embracing.

Their faces are far too close.

This is too intimate.

There is something there that isn’t new. There is history between them that he hadn’t been aware of.

They were Divination partners. He knew this because he shared that class with them. While Sirius was partnered with Peter, Marlene and Welch ended up at the same table.

During the last term, Sirius spent countless hours staring at her from afar, but he never interpreted their relationship as anything more than casual academic correspondence.

Sirius is going to be f*cking sick. She moved on, and he is going to be f*cking sick.

The queasy tension built in his gullet as he reminded himself that he bears no right to intervene.

He lied.

He lied harshly and cruelly and procured venomous insults to keep himself safe. He told her that she isn’t good enough for him to make her leave… and she actually moved on. Because she never cared for him the same way he did for her.

His weak knees threatened to collapse, as if he may just join James on the ground.

And though he bears no right, he is also… furious. This prick is holding his girl. He’s making her laugh. He’s touching her, and Sirius can’t. Not anymore. He ruined that chance because of James.

The threat of his expulsion from the Potter Mansion was enough to warrant Sirius’s obedience at the time.

And James can never know he broke the oath.

In the eyes of James? The threat was preemptive. He threatened Sirius with being kicked out of the Potter Mansion and he didn’t even know that the oath had already been broken. James was clueless to the reality that a deeply intimate and profoundly romantic relationship already began between Sirius and she. A relationship that flourished and extinguished behind the curtains of his knowledge.

Sirius broke up with her for selfish reasons. He cannot risk being sent back to Grimmauld Place. Not after what they… did to him.

However, if anything could send him spiralling into self-destruction, it was Marlene Elaine McKinnon. And he’d gone and co*cked it up like he does everything else in his miserable life.

She is perfect now, but she was perfect before.

There was nothing wrong with Marlene. She is beautiful and always was—but Sirius now faced an unexpected, new dilemma. He’s always found her beautiful, but now, every other bloke does too.

Oh, yes. He is surely going to be violently ill right here in front of the train as Welch looked bloody triumphant walking away from whatever conversation they just had. Marlene performed a delighted, victorious spin.

Are they together already?

Or just talking?

Does he still have a chance?

But there is nothing he can do.

Sirius is paralyzed.

Leonard Welch…

What can they possibly have in common?

He is positively boring.

What can she see in a git like him?

Moments later, Marlene spotted them all.

Her face fell and anxiety took hold of her, that much was clear. She scanned each of the other Marauders until she finally landed on him.

He tried not to show her his fear. The panic elicited by her moving onto someone new swelling in his gut.

He doesn’t want to see her with someone else. He wants to be her someone. How can she not know that? How can she just accept his rejection without realising it’s all lies? He adored her, cherished her, worshipped her every night they spent together in secret—that can’t have been nothing to her when it was everything to him.

Sirius tried to keep his face vacant of the suffocating regret that plagued his soul, but the image of Leonard-bloody-Welch in her arms loomed broadly in his mind, infuriating him.

Sirius wants to ruin them. He wants to prevent them from becoming something more.

He stared at her with fury and jealousy, hoping desperately that she could read within his eyes that he’s not over her. Not even a little bit, not even at all.

Chapter 7: Crazy Train

Chapter Text

Crazy Train

September 1st, 1976

Mary Macdonald was not the type of girl to stay single for long. In all five years of her attendance at Hogwarts, she had never been without a boyfriend for more than two weeks. Her longest suitor to date was Luther Hawthorne—who she loved dearly but often superficially.

She knew she was a catch, but she was also a muggleborn. And while Mary was unmistakably not the brightest or most-talented witch in the institution, Luther Hawthorne was a pureblood.

And that made her untouchable.

What skills she lacked academically, she made up for in feminine charm. She had sleek blonde hair that she bleached regularly (though none of her suitors knew she was a natural brunette). Her nail varnish changed in accordance with her mood swings and her eyes were a lovely shade of steel blue. Mary, while being known as a notorious gossip, was genuine and unafraid to challenge rumours about her welcoming sexuality (or her open legs, as some blokes would say).

Hawthorne and she officially met in third year Herbology, becoming attracted to one another rather hastily. By the end of the term, the two were established as a real couple—but only remained as such when their tempers agreed with each other. Each was extraordinarily besotted with the other but often told they were too similar in respect to their need for dramatics and attention. Their romance was known by others for its passion, but the pair were also renowned for their frequent wild arguments which tended to break out often… in front of the entire student body.

The first time the two broke up was in fourth year after Luther paid a simple compliment to Chasity Vanity. The news of his heinous betrayal circled the gossip scene fast and, soon, she was inside his dormitory ripping apart everything he owned—scattering his trunk belongings across his dormitory while Luther’s dormmates stood nearby, helplessly aghast.

The two of them made up six days later.

In the following months, Luther broke up with Mary in retaliation for allowing Gabriel Joplin to give her a back massage in Defence. He shouted at her in hysterics in the middle of the Great Hall until the two began chucking food at each other—at which time, McGonagall was forced to intervene, putting an outraged stop to their public charade with a month’s worth of detentions.

Mary lost her virginity to Luther at the tail end of the summer before fifth year and—during their temporary breakups—would snog the first bloke who she’d bless with her time.

Luther, being equally guilty of these actions, would snog whatever girl could put Mary out of his mind when they were apart (until—of course—he caught her with a new bloke and would beg for her back).

Their constant oscillating antics were tiresome to their friends and, without a proper referee, the pair sometimes fought for weeks without a white flag in sight.

Despite being obviously wrong for each other in many ways, the couple was deeply passionate, and, as far as Mary was concerned, the good days are well worth the bad ones.

Today, on Platform 9 ¾, was a rare good one.

The two were kissing in the dark corner of the station, hands sliding feverishly along the curves of each other’s bodies, when Luther pulled back from their heated snogging.

“Mary, love, I’ve got to say goodbye to my parents. We have to go.”

Mary was having too much fun though and nibbled on his ear lobe as vengeance for daring to ruin their rendezvous. She whimpered when he started to physically remove her from his body.

“Darling, I have to go—and I want you to come say goodbye to them as well.”

Mary crossed her arms. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea. They don’t particularly like me at the moment.”

“For what happened on holiday? Love, they’re over it. Just like I am.” At this, he placed light kisses on her jawline.

Mary’s eyes fluttered closed as her hips inched closer to his. She sighed dreamily.

“Come with me.” His sultry whisper below her ear sent shivers down Mary’s arm. “I’ll make it worth your while when we get our own compartment on the train.”

Mary was conflicted.

On one hand, a steamy encounter with her fit boyfriend sounded like a dream, but if it meant she’d have to face his parents so soon after she threw a book through the window of their summer holiday home two weeks prior—then she’d rather sit alone until they reached the castle. The incident happened during one of their fights, and she can tell they’re not as quick to forgive as Luther had been. The Hawthornes assured her everything was okay—a simple reparo fixed the window like new—but they still sent her home with a scowl regardless. Seeing them now would be a bit of a mood ruiner.

“Listen, honey, I need to catch up with some of my mates, so I think I’m going to let you say your goodbyes without me, alright?”

He frowned, but Mary placed her hand on the front of his belt, dipping one finger inside his waistline. With a wicked grin, she said, “If you go without me, I’ll make it worth your while. I promise.”

The smile returned to his face, and he kissed her once more, before backing away, promising to meet her on the train. Mary giggled as she caught him adjusting the front of his trousers before stepping back into the open platform.

With a quick fix of her lipstick in a compact mirror, she stepped out into the open platform as well.

She made it only ten paces away from their hideout when Alice Bletchley, her seventh-year Gryffindor companion, grabbed her roughly from behind and spun her around until they both stumbled, nearly toppling over each other.

“Alice! What’s the matter with you?!”

“Mary, I’m sorry, but have you seen her yet?! Please, tell me you’ve seen her!”

Mary rubbed her arms and quietly griped about being nearly thrown to the ground. “Seen who?” she grumbled.

“McKinnon, obviously! Marlene-bloody-McKinnon! Everyone is talking about it!”

Mary was instantly confused.

Marlene is the plainest girl she’s ever met. She’s aces as a mate, but her close friendship with the Marauders is probably the most interesting thing about her.

Mary felt guilty for the cruel thought, but it was the truth.

“Why? What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s had some kind of metamorphosis over the summer or something because she looks incredible. I have to go run to meet up with Frank, so I don’t have time to go all out in detail—but go ask Lily. Elizabeth told Flora who told Brielle that they arrived together in the same car, so she must know something.”

Alice ran off to meet with her boyfriend, leaving Mary puzzled as to what she was referring to. Shaking herself from the encounter, Mary continued her trip across the platform when she watched Lily emerge through the brick wall.

Mary’s demand for the gossip on McKinnon had her sprinting towards the redhead prefect at record speed. The two crashed as they made contact, Mary hugging her friend with enthusiastic adoration.

“Lil!” she squealed. “I missed you! How was your holiday? Sorry, I never wrote back.”

“It’s fine, I guess.” Lily’s brows furrowed. “My early half of my holiday was rather normal. What about yours?”

“Nothing special. I worked with Mum and Dad at the supermarket on the weekdays to help out. Spent the weekends in the sheets with Luther.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Always the tart, Mary.”

The blonde winked. “You can’t be a slag if it’s with your boyfriend, Lily dear.”

“Have you seen Marlene yet?”

Mary made an exasperated face. “Ugh, what is going on with her? Alice told me that McKinnon is something of a talking point right now.”

Lily bounced in place and grabbed Mary’s hands. “Oh, you’ll never believe it until you see it. It’s fantastic.”

Mary mirrored her smile. “Okay, hit me with it, Evans.”

“So, over the holiday, Marlene crashed into my bedroom window. And I mean, literally. I was in bed when she started crawling through the glass and asked if she could stay at mine for a little while. She ended up staying with me for three whole weeks.”

“Seriously? She didn’t go home at all?”

“No! Not once. She was with me the whole time. And that’s the strange thing, she wouldn’t tell me why.”

“Something terrible must have happened. Are her parents alright?”

“Oh, they’re perfectly fine. They weren’t the problem. But just listen, I took Marlene to the cinema to watch a film and, afterwards, she told me that she thinks she isn’t pretty enough to keep a bloke.”

Mary gasped and put a hand over her heart. “Oh, poor Marlene. That’s awful. She is pretty… in a Marlene way, that is.”

Lily paused for a moment to reflect. “Mary, if you could have seen her… She was so upset. I didn’t know what to say.” Lily suddenly straightened, returning to her excited glow. “But! I had the positively wicked idea to give the girl… a makeover.”

Mary co*cked her head to the side.

A makeover? Marlene is not the type of girl who accepts makeovers. The blonde thought back to the one time last term when she asked if Marlene wanted to have her nails varnished. The brunette vehemently declined, scoffing at the frivolous idea with a laugh before loudly cranking the volume to some noisy band with obnoxious singing.

“Are you sure we’re talking about the same Marlene?”

Lily laughed and reassured her with a nod. “Yes, I’m very sure.”

Mary squinted her eyes. “So, you’re telling me that Marlene McKinnon—”

“Yes.”

“—the same Marlene who I’ve bunked with for five years now who’s never even worn a Hogwarts uniform skirt—”

“That’s correct.”

“—let you give her a makeover?”

“Mhmm!”

“I don’t believe you,” Mary said sceptically, crossing her arms.

Lily narrowed her eyes and smiled devilishly. “Oh, yeah?” She gripped Mary by the arms and rotated her to the stunning brunette speaking in close quarters to Leo Welch. The two held each other close and spoke with low voices. “Tell me now you don’t believe me.”

Mary choked on her gasp at the smashing figure she gazed upon.

That could not possibly be Marlene.

The entire ensemble was that of a model in a magazine. Her muggle clothes were fit and trendy. Her black leather skirt lifted her bum and her tit* were particularly perky in her slimming white top. She looked like she could shag the lead singer of a rock band with a little eyelash batting. The bandana atop her head really set the style apart, and Mary was just dying to know where she purchased those heart-shaped sunglasses.

Astonished, Mary wasn’t sure what to say.

“Oh. My. Merlin. Marlene!” Her smile spread like an infection across her face. Together, Mary and Lily watched Marlene secure herself an encounter with Welch as she nodded sweetly. He left looking rather successful.

Lily and she began to clap at the magnificent display of flirting.

“I cannot believe this is real. She looks amazing… and far overdue. Never thought I’d see the death of Mascu-lene.

Lily glared at Mary. “Do not call her that. She hates that name.”

Mary wanted to roll her eyes, but she understood. She’d probably hate the name too if it was an insult the other girls at Hogwarts used on her to belittle her for dressing like a boy.

Marlene glanced up at them with a grin and walked briskly towards them. Suddenly, something caught her attention. She looked to the right and her manner changed instantaneously. Her look of triumph melted as anxiety took hold. Marlene froze mid-step and stared out.

The two Gryffindor girls followed her line of sight to see all four of the Marauders looking shell-shocked. Each of their expressions carried some sort of surprise, except for Black, whose face lacked all emotion whatsoever though the muscles in his neck strained.

Lily charged into action, striding towards Marlene with her head high. Mary followed closely behind, shooting daggers at the boys who obviously troubled their precious McKinnon.

“Marlene!” Lily cooed pointedly. “There you are. I was looking for you. Were you just talking to Leo Welch?”

The brunette turned to Lily with fearful eyes, sinking her nails into the sleeves of her peacoat. “W-what did you say? Sorry, I wasn’t—uh—what did you say?”

Mary sidestepped Lily and grabbed Marlene by the wrist, spinning her in a clumsy twirl. “Marlene, love, you are smashing. An absolute vision.”

Marlene snorted.

The blonde placed her hand on the brunette’s waist and the two began to waltz on the platform. Mary dipped Marlene as she spoke in a thick accent, Gone With The Wind style. “When the hell were you going to tell me that you decided to switch to a life of glamour, darling? I would have simply killed to be a part of it.”

Mary’s bold dancing shook Marlene out of her worries. She wriggled out of the blonde’s hold and rolled her eyes.

Lily gave Marlene a side hug while Mary began to ask what Marlene was thinking with the sudden change.

“I—uh, I don’t know. It was Lily’s idea.” Marlene blushed. “I—well, I think I agreed because… I was tired of feeling powerless in my own skin. And besides, I like this look on me. I feel… confident, for once. Surprisingly more like myself than I expected.”

“Well, you and I are gonna have to take a look at that new wardrobe of yours because true friends share their accessories, love.”

“Mary, you are more than welcome to raid my closet,” Marlene deadpanned. “My clothing is yours to exploit.”

“That wasn’t at all convincing, but it was still a yes!” Mary shouted, causing a few nearby students to jump at the intrusive sound. “Okay, we’re almost all together again. We just need to find Em.”

Lily groaned, crossing her arms. “I found her.”

The remaining two girls glanced up to see Emmeline Fitzgerald, their fourth and final dormmate, chatting up the Marauders—save for Black whose eyes were still cemented on Marlene.

Marlene supposed it was time to face the music.

f*ck. Being forced to speak to exes again should be illegal.

“Hey, Em!” she called out, sauntering towards the group with a faux smile. Her legs trembled with every step.

As Marlene approached, all five of them were scanning her from head to toe, nervously contemplating what to say to the new version of Marlene McKinnon standing boldly before them.

She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose when their silence grew uncomfortable. “Oh, for f*ck’s sake, I’m still me. Stop making this weird. Honestly, it’s just new clothes and a bit of makeup.”

“And the shoes,” Remus added.

“And the hair, Moony. Date I say, she may be a real girl now,” Peter said.

“And is that perfume?” James remarked with a smirk.

Marlene’s nerves eased. “Yeah, it is actually.”

“It’s nauseating.”

“I really only wear it to not have to smell you anymore,” she replied easily. “You should get a whiff of yourself some time, Jamie. You positively reek.”

“Well, the only reason I smell is because I’m so busy working out.” He flexed his muscles and waggled his eyebrows. “That’s the stench of manhood.”

“Really? The stench of manhood smells a lot like dirty stockings and piss if you ask me,” Marlene challenged, pushing him lightly.

James flashed a lopsided grin. “Well, I can’t argue with you there.” He stepped forward and pulled her into a tight, bone-cracking hug, lifting her off her feet. “I missed you, Mar. I was so bloody worried about you. You know you didn’t have to hide all this from me. I would have understood.”

Marlene’s cheeks flooded with heat as she dared herself to peek out at Sirius. He stared at her—an intense, unreadable expression to those who don’t know him well enough to recognize when his Noble House of Black mask is fixed into place. A silent plea to remain complacently silent, just as he asked her to.

“I honestly didn’t know what you would say,” she said at length. “I figured this was the type of dilemma... only a girl could help with, you know? I really am sorry though. I didn’t mean to upset you. It was hard staying away from you for so long.”

When he set her back on her feet, his hazel eyes flickered to Lily. The redhead watched the two of them carefully, gently tugging on a lock of her hair. James pulled out of their hug, resting his hands on Marlene’s shoulders.

“What dilemma? How is wanting to finally dress like a real bird considered a problem?” he joked.

Marlene felt Sirius’s grey eyes drilling into her.

She wants to look at him. Talk to him. Ask him if she still isn’t good enough for him. She imagined this moment so many times—the moment when she saw him again. In her mind, he saw her across the platform and ran to her, dipping her as he did during their ballroom dance class over the holiday, kissing her.

But that was a dream.

A reverie, her thoughts hissed, opening the hole in her chest wider.

And in real life, the only Marauder that cares for her is Jamie.

“I wanted to change for me. Act like a lady and all that. I was worried you’d judge me for it.”

He scoffed a laugh and rubbed his hand across her head, effectively messing up her perfectly set bandana—his touch rough enough to knock the sunglasses clean off her head.

“Don’t be ridiculous. How could I ever judge you? The others however…” James placed an arm around her and faced them towards the remaining Marauders. “Well, lads, what do we think of Mar’s new look?”

“You look absolutely marvellous, Marlene,” Remus said, clapping lightly.

“Honestly, I’m going mental just looking at you,” Peter joked. “You’re one of the fittest girls in school, Mar.” And joke aside, there was a comfortable touch of sincerity in his voice.

When it was Sirius’s turn to speak, he was distractedly staring off into the distance, chewing on his cuticles.

“Padfoot?” James prompted.

“Huh?”

“It’s your turn.”

“Wait, what’s happening? I wasn’t listening.”

“Seriously?” Lily whined, facepalming.

He winked at the prefect and smirked. “Always, love. It’s in the name after all.”

James chuckled, shaking Marlene as he held her under his arm. “Come off it, mate. Tell the girl what you think of her.”

Marlene bit her lower lip, looking up at Sirius with furrowed brows. Her heart pounded furiously.

What is he thinking right now? Will he be honest? Will he tell her what he really thinks? Does he like all of this? Does he want her back?

Marlene wished she could climb into his brain and have a look around. She’d give anything for him to want her back—if only to spitefully shut him down and grind his ego into a fine powder. Her mouth watered with hope.

“Come on, Padfoot, don’t be shy. Tell her how you really feel.”

Sirius gazed into James’s hazel eyes—absorbing the ease beyond his glasses—and wondered if his best mate could sense his fear.

How was he supposed to water down his feelings for her? They’re already on the verge of spilling from his mouth in a garbled mess of regret. And it’s not like he ever made his feelings clear to her before their breakup.

No, Sirius is aware he left Marlene in the dark during their entire time together over the summer.

The closest he ever came to using the L word was blurted awkwardly in the aftermath of sex.

The two were in the orchard of McKinnon Manor, lying beneath an incredible blanket of stars. He just came when he rested his forehead atop hers and whispered, “Please don’t leave me. I think I’m in l—I, uh, I—I think I need you. You’re everything to me. Please stay.” She asked the same thing of him, but he made a point not to agree out loud. He knew even then that there would be no fairytale ending for them.

He kept the secret of their affair from the other Marauders for two months, and he’s sure he can continue the lie now. Even if it incinerates his insides.

“You look very… nice, Marly.”

He may not have said the right thing. James didn’t seem to register the visceral disappointment that plagues her face, but Sirius did. He could always read right through her—at least he used to be able to.

New Marlene scares the f*ck out of him. She’s a stranger.

Marlene squirmed her way out of James’s grasp and cracked her knuckles. “Excellent, now that this embarrassing display is over and done with, there’s still one more thing that needs to be taken care of.”

“Yeah? And what’s that?” Mary quipped from beside Lily, her elbow resting on the prefect’s shoulder.

“I’m so glad you asked, Mary. Allow me to show you.”

Marlene made a fist, reaching back and pulling forward with full force as her knuckles made contact with James’s nose, eliciting a repulsive crack. He fell backwards and held his face, moaning with pain. His glasses tumbled off his face, luckily with the glass still intact. Rocking side-to-side, the Quidditch Captain cried out while the surrounding spectators witnessed the event with stunned expressions.

“Marlene!” he cried out. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”

She leaned over his body resting her hands on her knees until she remembered she was in a skirt and straightened. f*cking hell, these blasted things are so inconvenient. “Oh, Jamie,” she chastised. “Don’t be such a baby. I’m going to fix you right up.”

“Why the hell did you do that?!” His voice reverberated in a nasally tone. “I thought we made up!”

“That’s very sweet of you to think, but you’re not the only one who is in trouble here.” She straightened and looked directly into the eyes of Sirius Black, visibly startled by her brazen attack on their best mate’s nasal cavity.

Marlene huffed. “I want you to know this isn’t personal.”

Sirius smirked. “Do what you have to do, Marly.”

Marlene smiled pleasantly before the palm of her hand came rearing forth, slapping Sirius clear across the cheek. He didn’t expect the strength of her blow—but it was also not the first time he’s been slapped by her. He should know better than to expect her to go easy on him.

Sirius stumbled to the side and tripped over James. He toppled over the weepy body, still holding his burning cheek to his palm. He groaned and rolled to lie flat beside his twitchy best mate.

Marlene scowled down at the pair. While Lily, Mary, and Emmeline cheered their friend on to victory, Remus and Peter took cautious steps backward in fear they might be the next victims of Marlene’s vengeance.

“Both of you, be quiet. Do either of you know what that was for?” Marlene challenged.

James gazed up at his childhood friend with puppy-like eyes. “No,” he whined miserably.

“And what about you, Black?”

“I have some ideas,” he deadpanned.

Marlene narrowed her eyes. “Does Flourish & Blotts ring any bells for you two dunderheads?”

Emmeline looked apprehensively between the boys and the furious brunette. “What happened at Blotts?”

Remus scratched his chin thoughtfully. “We got our books, but nothing of interest really occurred.”

Peter slapped his forehead. “Merlin’s beard, Remus! The door! You remember, don’t you?”

Remus whipped his head up to the brunette who merely raised a brow.

She returned her vicious glare to the boys at her feet. “That’s right. The door.”

James splayed himself out onto the concrete, defeated.

How could he have been so blind?

He knocked that girl over and didn’t even stop to see who it was. No wonder she slammed the door. It was Marlene, his best friend, and he flatly ignored her. James suddenly wished he could punch himself, too.

Sirius apparently found this funny and laughed despite having just been physically attacked. He stood and brushed himself off, then helped James back onto his feet as well.

“Alright, you got what you wanted. Now, fix Prongs’s nose before I decide I like him better this way.”

James glowered at his best mate but lowered his hands to reveal a very broken nose.

“Fine, I guess you learned your lesson.” Marlene pulled out her wand and pointed it at his crooked nose. “Episkey!” she cast effortlessly.

His nose righted itself with a painful crunch. James scrunched his nose to test the dexterity before reapplying his spectacles.

“Are we good now?” James asked.

“Hmm, yeah. I think we’re good. You can bugger off now,” she quipped with a satisfied smile.

“What about the rest of us?” Sirius’s question caused Marlene to gaze at him uncertainly. “Are we… good?”

Marlene’s jaw tightened in a way that told Sirius they were very much not okay, but she smoothly replied, “Yeah. I suppose you lot are okay, too.”

The two shared a look that lasted a beat too long.

Sirius saw Lily from the corner of his eyes, observing the pair carefully. Probably noting how awfully tense they were while James appeared blissfully oblivious. As did Peter and Remus.

Has Marlene told her about them? And if she doesn’t know yet, the prig could be taking note of the palpable tension in the air between Marlene and him right now. She glanced around as if to check if anyone else noticed their strange moment.

When her eyes reached James, his were already on her. Gazing up at her from her feet to her eyes, his glasses low on his nose. Lily flinched under his examination.

They stared at each other for a moment.

James smiled shyly, his hazel eyes sparkling.

The priggish prefect blushed as if caught in her knickers when the loud whistle from the Hogwarts Express stirred all eight of them back into reality.

“We better not miss the train,” Marlene spoke softly.

“Yeah, we better not…” Sirius trailed off, daring to peer at Marlene’s lips. They’re coated with deep, red lipstick. He once told her that he loves red lips on a bird. Did she remember? Was this charade for him?

Lily cleared her throat, stealing one last glance at James before she gripped Marlene’s wrist and her attention. “Let’s find a seat before all the compartments are taken, yeah? Then, you can tell us all about your date with Leo Welch.”

“Yeah, sure. Mary? Em? Care to sit with us?”

“Until Luther is done catching up with mates, I’m all yours!”

Emmeline gave Remus a side-swept glance. The boy haphazardly picked lint from his jumper. “Um, yeah,” she replied. “I guess if no one else is gonna ask me to sit with them…”

Remus yawned, unaware of Emmeline’s clear insinuation. “Yeah,” he said sleepily to the other Marauders. “Are we boarding or what? This ride is gonna be long, so we might as well get in there now and find a decent compartment.”

Emmeline sighed and reached for Mary’s hand, beginning their descent onto the Hogwarts Express.

Sirius and James watched them go.

Sirius isn’t sure how he is going to survive an entire school year with Marlene’s bum looking that wonderful walking away, especially if Welch was going to have his hands all over it.

Dirty bastard is going to touch her in all the places once reserved for Sirius alone.

“Okay, but in a battle between a troll and a Pygmy dragon with no ability to open its mouth, which would win?”

Sirius scoffed. “The dragon, of course.”

Remus tutted. “Now, let’s not be too hasty. Peter, in this scenario, can the dragon still breathe fire through its nose?” Resting his hands behind his head and crossing a leg onto his other at the ankle.

James nodded like a great point was made and took another bite of treacle tart.

Peter scratched his chin. “No,” he finally answered.

Sirius raised his hands. “I still say the dragon. The beasts are bloody huge, even a Pygmy. A troll’s only assets are his club and its strength. The dragon could easily take out the troll with a single claw through sheer speed alone.”

“I’m going to have to agree with Padfoot on this one,” James said. “If trolls were smarter and faster, then maybe it would be a fair fight, but they’re too slow. Dragons have evolved to be supreme killers. Now, a fight between a Pygmy dragon and the giant squid that lives in the Black Lake? That’s a battle I’d pay galleons to see.”

Peter chuckled. “Oh, you mean, a dragon versus Evans’s boyfriend?”

Remus bit back a laugh while Sirius tilted toward the window to muffle his snicker.

James rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I get it. Evans would rather date the squid than me. Ha. Ha. Very funny.”

Peter and Sirius high-fived.

James took a deep breath and rubbed his hands across his face. “I’m bored, boys. These train rides are always such a drag.” He stood up suddenly. “I think I need to take a walk. Clear my head. Any of you lot coming with me?”

Peter chose to take a nap, and Remus decided to catch up on his reading.

Sirius, however, leaped from his seat and stretched. “Yeah, I could use a walk around the train. Let’s get out of here.”

It was nearing two o’clock and the train was still hours away from Hogsmeade. Students of all ages nestled together in their cabins, chatting and playing games to pass the monotonous hours.

And it took James nearly all of his mental energy to not think about Lily Evans. Seeing her in London felt a lot like dangling from a crooked cliff.

He’s falling again. And eventually, he is going to land splat on the ground and he’ll be lost in her magnetism once more. They didn’t even speak, but she looked at him with those damn perfect emerald eyes. She gave him that innocent blush and his insides puddled into goo.

Why does she have this effect on him? This can’t be normal behaviour for a teenage boy. Lily Evans surrounds his thoughts and actions. She is going to be the death of him, for sure.

Sirius tensed beside him as they passed the compartment occupied by the Slytherin fourth-years. And while he’s tried to ignore it, James has noticed Sirius acting differently since moving into the Potter home permanently. James sometimes wondered if it had anything to do with his younger brother, Regulus—aside from the obvious mental healing from the aftermath of his near-murder in June.

James has suspicions that they’ve written letters to each other. One day, sitting in the dining hall, Sirius reached a fat parcel, sealed with signature black wax. Sirius never let James see what was inside.

Over the summer, James would catch Sirius like that one and off. He found his best mate writing in the small journal he keeps close, leaving little notes and scribbles on the pages. He wouldn’t dare let James read its contents, no matter how much he begged or teased.

Sirius had never been the sort to keep secrets from him, but he reasoned that if writing to Regulus was the only secret that he didn’t want to share, then James could accept his desire for privacy. This time.

Truly, James doesn’t like being kept in the dark about secrets. He’s excellent at keeping them, after all. He practically forced Moony to reveal his lycanthropy to the Marauders all but against his will. Probably an overstep on his part. Then again, look where they are now. They’re a team. Their secrets bond them into one unit. Bonded like the oath binds them.

Marlene kept a secret from him. James played cool on the platform, but in reality, he was still very much bitter over the whole situation.

Something just doesn’t add up.

Marlene is not a proud person. She knows James would never judge her for something as trivial as dressing like a girl. There are deeper cracks in the foundation of their friendship that he’s missing. Even if she is afraid of telling him about her little transformation… makeover… whatever the f*ck she did… James knows Marlene better than that. Her excuse is only a half-truth. And a half-truth might as well be a secret. And a secret may as well be a lie.

Though, on the contrary, he keeps some secrets from her, too. Perhaps they’re sort of even.

The day after a full moon run, he’d be so tired from the energy exerted from being in Animagus form that he would sometimes beg her to help him stay awake during lessons. He could see the pang of loneliness she tried to hide when he lied. A distinct pang of envy touched her golden-eyes when he’d tell her they merely stayed up too late or shared a bottle of firewhisky amongst themselves in their dorm. It was obvious she wanted to join them, but it’s never been his secret to tell.

They swore an oath over it in third year. Each chose one indisputable request for the others to adhere to.

Sirius asked the Marauders to never use his family name against him.

Peter asked the Marauders to never exclude him from their group dynamic.

James asked the Marauders to never touch Marlene, his only cherished sibling.

And Remus asked that none of them reveal his lycanthropy, no matter what.

James has respected the oath more than any other promise he’s ever made. It is the vital glue in their friendship. If any of them were to break it, their brotherhood would disintegrate to ashes.

And because of this oath, Marlene simply isn’t allowed to know about his stag animagus or Moony’s furry little problem. It pained him to lie, but it was for the greater good. Perhaps one day she’d be able to become a full-fledged member, but it would be years (if ever) for Moony to come clean about what mischief they get into on full-moon nights.

Perhaps, she didn’t tell him what was really going on with her because it isn’t her secret to tell either. James bargained that he could accept that if it turned out to be true. Probably.

“So, where did you want to go?” Sirius asked, rousing him from his thoughts and back into the hall of train compartments. “Just aimlessly walk around, or did you have something special in mind?”

“I was thinking about nicking one of your smokes on the back of the train.”

Sirius grinned. “Oh, f*cking please. I’ve been dying without one.”

“It’s been three hours.”

“Exactly my point.” He squeezed James’s shoulder.

They set out on their walk to the back of the train, barely enough room to stroll side-by-side.

They made it about five compartments down when Snape opened a sliding door, waltzing into the aisle in front of them.

“Get out of the way, Snivellus,” James warned.

Snape turned sharply and glared at the pair of Gryffindors.

His hair looked more filthy and oily than usual. Honestly, does this cretin ever bathe?

“Make me, you arrogant oaf.”

Sirius reached for his wand, but James gripped his arm to a halt.

“What are you doing?” Padfoot hissed.

In truth, he wasn’t sure exactly what caused him to stop Padfoot. On any other day, he would have drawn his wand himself, but today… was different. Maybe it was the voice of Lily Evans telling him to give the bloke the benefit of the doubt. Her nonsense about not knowing him or whatever. And as much as the notion disgusted him, James was trying to change—and if there was any person to start on, it was with this disgusting git.

“Snape, I’m only going to ask one more time…” The Quidditch Captain inhaled and spoke through gritted teeth, “Step out of the way… please.”

Sirius was visibly appalled at James’s audacity to say ‘please’ to their arch-nemesis, but James kept direct eye contact with Snape, daring him to not comply after he asked as nicely as he was able.

Snape narrowed his eyes and stepped back, allowing passage past him. “Fine.”

James curtly nodded and kept walking with Sirius at his heels.

“What the f*ck was that?” Sirius whispered, outraged.

“What does it matter? I got him out of the way, didn’t I?”

“But at what cost, Prongs?!”

James silently walked ahead but that didn’t stop Sirius from glaring him down the entire trip. After passing a hoard of second-year Hufflepuffs and a rather unseemly Ravenclaw couple snogging in a compartment—at last, the two finally reached the door to the end of the pram.

“Well?” Sirius demanded.

James rested his head on the door and closed his eyes. “I don’t know what to say, Pad. I suppose… I'm testing a theory.”

“What kind of bullsh*t theory would ever force you to be polite to that prick?!”

James opened one eye and looked at his best mate’s indignant face. “Evans...” he whined.

Sirius rubbed his temples. “Mate, I thought you said you were done trying to win the bird over. She’s not worth it. She’s just some girl! Why does everyone think there is something so special about her? I just don’t bloody get it!”

“I’m not trying to win her over. When I tell you that I’m done asking her out, I mean it. There’s… There’s something I never told you about last term, things she said to me… They stuck with me. I don’t know how else to explain it.”

Sirius exhaled slowly. “Okay, listen. How about we take a seat outside and talk about what she said?”

“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea,” James replied and braced himself to recount the talk he and Evans had by the fireplace after the Lake Incident.

“No, no, I swear! It’s true! Evans is a complete drunkard! That girl is wild when she’s had a few. Don’t let her fool you with her pressed shirts and tall socks.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s just ridiculous. I have a hard time believing that Lily Evans, prefect and notorious goody-goody, would ever flash her tit* to a band! There’s just no way.”

“Not just any band. Led Zeppelin! My lovely ginger has standards.”

The two broke out in laughter.

Marlene had been talking with Leo for over an hour now, and she was having a really great time.

She arrived right at two o’clock, finding him in the compartment furthest to the back of the train. When she slid open the door, she saw the cushioned bench was covered with treats from the trolley: Sugar Quills (her favourite), Acid Pops (his favourite), and a few Pumpkin pasties (everyone’s favourite). He gave her a huge hug and directed her inside where they consumed enough sweets to make normal people sick.

Marlene was now recounting a few of the adventures she had with Lily over the holiday.

“Yeah, it was a brill show. I love seeing music performed live.”

“I didn’t realise you have such a passion for music. Do you play any instruments?”

Marlene bit her lip.

This was always a tough topic for her to touch on. The truth was her passion ran incredibly deep for music. So much so that she utilised an overabundance of her free time playing the piano and writing her own songs.

It wasn’t an overnight feeling—her love for music, that is.

She went to the London Symphony Orchestra with her father when she was nine. Inspired by the majesty of the composer, she returned home with every intention of purchasing a piano of her own someday. Days later, her mother bought her a book entitled, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Sheet Music.’ Marlene read and memorised the entire instructional manuscript by the end of the week. Following that booklet, came Intermediate, and Expert not much longer after that.

In the early days of learning, she became a regular customer of a muggle music shop in Kensington. Roland, the classically trained musician-gone-counterculture owner of Roland’s Rocking Records & Meticulously Melodious Music, taught her how to turn knowledge into sound. Every Saturday, she arrived at the shop by nine and stayed till closing time at six. Every Saturday became Saturday and Sunday. Which became three times a week, and then four. All the while, her skills advanced.

When it became clear that Marlene’s understanding of music theory deserved an instrument of her own to practise on, her parents finally pulled funds together and bought her a Baldwin baby grand for the library. Her parents thought the muggle instrument looked rather sophisticated, so they bore no qualms with buying it—especially when they realised how gifted she was. From then on, she played as much as she could.

She mastered Bach’s “Organ Sonata No.4” and Chopin’s “Opus 25: No.14” before she returned to Hogwarts for her third year. That same Christmas holiday was the beginning of her performing her favourite carols with her family to sing along to after Christmas dinner was served and enjoyed. They haven’t spent a holiday without her playing since. One of the reasons she adores the holiday so much

During her fourth year, she spent the term writing amateur lyrics to songs and mapping out riffs and ballads to suit them. She treated this all as preparation for when she returned home, ready to continue her work without hesitation.

She has never been quite as clever as Sirius with songwriting, but she was still learning to bury that painful thought.

In lessons, she taps her fingers and plays on her desk when she wants to practise because—unfortunately—Hogwarts does not have a piano anywhere she knows of in the castle. She once tried to conjure one in the Room of Requirement (her favourite place to hide away), but the product magic creates for her never sounds quite right. No matter how often she tunes it, the procured instrument is useless.

She isn’t sure why she’s always so nervous telling people that she loves to sing and play piano. She supposes the reason is fear of their judgement. If they know she plays, people will expect her to be good and recommend that she play for them (and she is but still). For Marlene, her music is treated as a talent only to be brought out on special occasions.

Jamie has listened to her play from time to time, but his attention only allows for twenty or so minutes of practice before he suggests they do something that can be done together.

Sirius, on the other hand, loved to listen to her play, or so she thought.

But even in those short bursts of performing, Jamie is never allowed to hear her personal repertoire of songs she's written (or listen to her sing at all, for that matter). Her lyrics are her chronicled vulnerabilities splayed out to the tune of her heart through the pressing of ivory keys. Only a select few are allowed access.

Sirius once warranted that privilege, though those days are dead and buried. His voice was angelic. Much like Cliff Richard in his early days when he still toured with the Shadows but with a pinch of Buddy Holly’s smooth finish. She once got him to sing “The Young Ones” and she nearly dissolved into a puddle as the chords rang through the room. And from what she could tell, he liked to listen to her sing, too. He was still the only one who had ever heard her.

However, Leo just asked her if music was a passion of hers. And, sadly, he wasn’t close enough to her yet to receive the real answer.

“Well, yeah,” she answered timidly. “Who doesn’t love music, right? I’ve messed around with a few instruments here and there, but never anything serious. I’ll listen to just about anything though.”

“Oh, I feel the same way. I actually saw a show back in July. My brother lives in New York and suggested I see this one band. Ever heard of a muggle band called The Ramones? They’re still pretty new, but the show was ace despite some technical hiccups.”

Marlene’s face burned. Her heart squeezed to halt before beating in triples.

She had heard of them. In fact, she attended that exact concert… with Sirius Black.

“Yes, I-I’ve heard of them. They’re better in—that is—I’ve heard that they’re even better live.”

She immediately regretted the lie. Admitting to being at the show wasn’t necessarily going to lead to asking who she went with. Maybe she still felt the need to hide the part of her life that held memories of her affair with Sirius Black. And even if she did tell Leo the truth about who she went with, there’s no way he would have asked her if she had sex with him against the brick wall in the dirty alleyway next to the venue.

Because what slag would ever do such a thing?

Certainly not her…

The room’s temperature rose fifteen degrees. She swallowed a few times, her mouth becoming uncomfortably dry.

“Leo, do you by chance have something to drink?”

He opened his satchel and shook his head. “No, it looks like I forgot it in the compartment. Would you like me to go find you something?”

Marlene smiled. He’s such a gentleman. A rare breed of boy that actually goes out of his way for a girl.

“No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary. I should really get back to my friends anyhow.”

His soft smile melted. “Oh.”

She joined him on his side of the bench and laid a hand on his thigh. She leaned in close and bit her lower lip, just like Amelia taught her. “But I want to tell you that I really enjoy talking to you. And thank you for the sweets. Did you know Sugar Quills are my favourite?”

He swallowed hard, looking from Marlene’s eyes to her lips. “Uh, yeah... I remembered from last year in Divination. You used to bring them in all the time after a Hogsmeade trip.”

Marlene couldn’t believe he actually remembered. The gesture reeled in her mind, taking her back to the days when she’d suck on the sugary sweets in lessons.

Without realising it, her lips were inching closer to his. She could feel his breath. He smelled like pumpkin pasties and cologne.

It has been far too long since she’s been kissed properly. Well, there were those blokes at the pub in London with Lily. And there was also that guitarist at the co*keworth nightclub—but they were all strangers. They don’t count, right?

“Marlene…”

“Hmm?”

“I-I think I fancy you…”

“I think I fancy you, too,” she whispered back.

Marlene let her mind quiet and closed the distance between them. Her lips glided across his as her hands trailed up his thighs—up his belt—beneath his jumper—resting on his abdomen. His hand caressed her cheek while he deepened the gentle kiss with soft flicks of his tongue. But Marlene wanted more.

Leo Welch is a lovely kisser, but he’s treating her like she’s fragile. Sirius never treated her like she was breakable. He was passionate and earnest. Their tryst was nearly a nightly affair. Making love at every chance they got. Sneaking kisses under Jamie’s nose. She tasted the sweet bliss of all-consuming sex, and now she misses it—craves it—demands it. The brunette is randier than she’s ever been before with the absence of Sirius. The few snogs here and there while out with Lily may have been nice, but it has been well over a month since she’s been truly touched by a man. And she wants to be kissed hard. Sirius may have an unappeasable hunger for sex, but Marlene wasn’t far behind him. Merlin knew how often she was the one initiating their heedy f*cks with her insatiable demand for his touch.

She pressed her breasts onto Leo’s chest, slowly inching her body and legs over his until she straddled him. He moaned into her mouth as she ground down on him with her hips, her skirt riding up along her thighs. Her mouth no longer dry, she ran her fingers up to his hair and tugged his head back, sucking on his lower lip. She released him with a pop.

“Marlene, I—”

“Mhmm?” She trailed her lips from his mouth to his ear and nibbled delicately.

“I’ve never… uh… I’m a…”

“You’ve never what, Leo?” she purred in his ear.

“We need to stop.”

She pulled back to look at him. He was flushed and breathing hard.

“D-did I do something wrong?”

“Blimey, no! Listen, I fancy you. A lot. But I’ve never—well, that—you know? And I-I’m an old-fashioned bloke. And you’re a lovely girl. And I’m not—I’ve never been that eager to—I mean, I want to, but maybe we should stop… for, uh, for right now. Before I—uh—well, before I can no longer find a good enough reason to stay an old-fashioned bloke. Am I… making any sort of sense right now or am I blathering on like a complete fool?”

Marlene covered her face with her hands to hide her smile. “Oh hell, I wasn’t going to sleep with you. We’re on the train. I’m not some slaggy trollop. Is that what you honestly think of me?”

She actually would have slept with him on the train—but she now knew he wouldn’t have which was only slightly disappointing.

Maybe she is a slag. Ugh, how bloody embarrassing.

Leo reached forward and removed her hands, keeping her wrists in his delicate hands. When he revealed her deep blush, he held back a smile. “You are so adorable. I don’t think that of you, I swear. I’m just overwhelmingly attracted to you and have been since last year. If we don’t stop now…” He gazed down at her chest and released a longing sigh. Marlene giggled lightly. “I don’t think I’ll want to ever again.” He placed tender kisses along the bottom of her collarbone where her white top had slid down. Marlene let her eyes close calmly under his sensual—

The door to the compartment flew open.

Leo launched Marlene off of him. She landed on the opposite side of the compartment and looked up to see the intruders were none other than Jamie and Sirius.

“Are you f*cking kidding me?” Sirius said, low and dark.

“What the hell are you two doing?!” James shouted. “On the train?! Honestly, Marlene! You know better than that!”

Stunned, Marlene watched as Leo calmly rose from his seat, his hands in the air as some sort of surrender. “No, i-it wasn’t like that, Potter. We were just talking, I swear.”

James stepped further into the cabin and raised an eyebrow at Marlene’s dishevelled appearance. Her lipstick was surely smeared and the evidence of how it got to be that way was clear in Welch’s mouth. He turned to Sirius who looked murderous, his eyes charcoal grey and wild.

James tsked lightly. “Well, Padfoot? What should we do with them?”

But Sirius said nothing. He was glowering at Marlene who, in return, probably resembled a petite mouse who wanted to crawl into a sewer drain never to be seen again. Her face was certainly as red as her smudged lipstick, and Leo appeared just as mortified.

“Padfoot,” James requested again. “What should we do? This type of lewd behaviour simply cannot go unpunished. I mean, in the name of common decency, a first-year could have happened upon them!”

Marlene glared sharply at her childhood best friend. “Jamie, don’t you dare! Just leave us alone. We’re two consenting adults.”

James beamed with faux innocence. “That you are, my sweet Mar. You are a consenting adult. You are allowed to do whatever you want. And for that matter, so am I.”

He grabbed Leo by the collar and dragged him into the train corridor.

Before Marlene had a chance to stand, Sirius slammed the door shut. She tried to manoeuvre around him, roughly pushing and squirming against him in her effort to leave. The feeling of her so close submerged his thoughts in a cloudy haze.

He wanted to bring her closer. Pull her into his arms and touch her the way Leonard-bloody-Welch was allowed to now. He’s been replaced. How f*cking irritating.

“Let me through, Sirius!”

“No.”

“You can’t let him do this!”

“Sit down.”

She pushed him with more force, but he simply picked her up by the waist and carried her a few steps to the corner seat by the window. He inhaled the smell of her as he set her down.

Cinnamon and fresh parchment and the orchard at midnight.

Marlene wriggled and shouted for him to release her, but even as he placed her onto the cushion, Sirius couldn’t—wouldn't let her go. His hands held her down by the waist as she tried to escape his grip on her hips.

Marlene smacked him hard in the chest. “It was just snogging, for f*ck’s sake!”

“I wouldn’t just call that filthy display snogging,” Sirius growled low.

Her upper lip twitched as she fought the urge to bare her teeth. “I don’t f*cking care what you think of it. Let me go.”

Her tone stabbed him, but he held firm.

“No.”

“What is Jamie going to do to him?”

“Like I f*cking care,” he sneered.

“Yeah, you’ve made it abundantly clear you don’t f*cking care. I heard it all, and I can’t forget it.”

“Marly…”

His voice came out strangled. This wasn’t easy for him. He chose to let her go because he had to, not because he wanted to. She will never know how much this hurts him.

Her breathing hitched. His calloused hands squeezed on her thighs, hoping to remind her of how he touched her only a month prior. He watched her struggle to remain in control—to pointedly focus on her hatred.

“Don’t say my name like that.”

“Like what?”

“You called me Marly.”

“I’ve always called you that.”

“f*ck. Off.”

Sirius leaned in closer, tempting her like the treacherous traitor he is. His hands slid down the leather until they were pressed into her bare thighs, right above her knees. “I could call you kitten if you’d like.”

Marlene’s temper flared at the use of her former pet name. She tried again to jerk out his clutches, but he held her down. “Take your hands off of me… now,” she threatened between clenched teeth.

Sirius merely rolled his eyes. “No.” He probably could let her go without her running away, but he didn’t want to. His fingers burned as he grasped her. He missed this proximity. He has been starving for it. “Just sit still.”

With his heart still pumping at maximum speed, Marlene released a frustrated groan and retrieved her wand. Sirius reached for his instinctively, but Marlene waved her hand. “Relax. I’m just fixing my face. If I’m going to be forced to endure sitting with you, then I’m at least going to clean up my lipstick.”

She quickly performed the spell to mend her makeup and set her wand back into the pocket of her leather trousers.

Sirius studied her closely—this may be the last time he’ll ever get this close to her.

Autumn cider and wisteria and library books.

He could be buried alive in that scent, and he’d suffocate with a smile.

f*ck, she’s so beautiful now, but it was so… sad to see her like this. She was just as beautiful before her… sudden change. Marlene always looked her best when she wasn't trying. Now, when he looked at her, he saw a stranger. Her face was adorned with powders and rouges, her eyelashes had black lacquer, and her lips were fuller—like they were suckled on by a filthy Hufflepuff.

The Marlene he blessed himself with over the holiday wouldn’t f*ck a bloke in a train compartment, but this new Marlene was unpredictable. She’s miffed at him (and probably at the world, too), and she’s trying to get back at him by sleeping with undeserving blokes on the bloody Hogwarts Express, two metres away from where he was smoking.

He should be furious with her, but the truth is, he’s not. He’s envious. Jealous of the bloke who almost shagged her. He’d give damn near anything to have her starkers and beneath him again.

Sirius clenched his hands a bit tighter on her bare legs.

It’s been so long since the last time they were alone together. His hands ached, stiff like they were engulfed in flames as they held her down. His sweaty palms stuck to her flesh, itching to slide beneath the leather skirt encasing her slim thighs. He gave her a quick examination, given the closeness. Her white shirt fell slightly, revealing the top to a blue, lacy brassiere.

He swallowed hard.

f*cking hell, such a divine sight.

Why does some squirrely Hufflepuff get to touch her in an outfit this provocative?

Sirius could take her. He could kiss her right now. The intensity of his stare cannot be lost on her. He’s inhaling her every curve. So much to see now.

He glanced back up into her blazing honey-eyes. Her makeup made them shimmer. Despite how much he likes her without the powder, he must admit that the glitter really makes her eyes shine like alchemist’s gold.

A stray eyelash rested on her left cheek. The image was so similar to their last Hogsmeade trip at the end of the term and, without thinking, he reached up to brush it away with his thumb.

She swatted his hand away.

“Don’t f*cking touch me,” she spat.

“Don’t hit me. I’m the one who should be upset here, you know.”

Such a bastard. Manipulating her malice like this is just ridiculous.

Marlene gasped. “Excuse me?!

He lifted a hand from her tight, leather skirt and poked her in the chest. “You heard me.”

She crossed her arms and smiled cynically. “This should be good. Tell me then, Black. What gives you the right to say that you’re the one who’s been wronged here?”

Uh, oh. He did not think this through.

Think, think, think.

“You…” he started to mutter, “...lied to me. You said you loved me and wouldn’t let me go. And fancy this,” his tone grew harsh, “you did.

“Only because you insulted me and implied that I’d be waiting around for nothing. You don’t want me anymore, right? I wasn’t good enough for you, so I made myself good enough for me.

“And our breakup gives you the right to strut around here like some tart?”

“How dare you‒!”

“How dare I?”

“You know I’m not some slag!”

He opened up his arms wide and looked around the empty cabin. “Do I, though?! Because I’m fairly certain I just saw Leonard Welch kissing your goddamn tit*!”

“He prefers to be called Leo,” Marlene snapped back. “And oh, please! You’re one to talk! You spent our entire fifth year jumping into a new girl’s knickers every weekend, and you have the gall to call me a slag. You’re the tart, Sirius Black, not me!”

“Well, how was I supposed to know you were going to purchase a whole new personality just to get back at me?! Was this your plan then?! Have sex with anyone who will have you and make me watch?!”

“You were the one who stormed in here, Black. This room was privately occupied!”

He stood and violently pointed to the compartment window that displayed the train corridor. The small blinds were up, having never been shut. Anyone who walked by could’ve seen them. And someone did. That someone being her ex-shagmate.

Marlene paled.

“Sirius, you have to believe me. I had no idea that—”

He raised a stern hand to stop her explanation. “I don’t want to hear it. I don’t care. But what I would like to know is this…” He controlled his voice enough to ask, “Are you sleeping with him?”

Marlene bit the inside of the cheek. “No.”

“No… or not yet?”

“I’m not sure. I wasn’t about to have sex with him, if that’s what you’re insinuating.” She shifted in her seat.

He forced his face to remain neutral.

That was exactly what he was implying, and the weight of her dismissal lifted from his back like a pallet of bricks.

But there is still a possibility she’ll end up beneath him at some point, and Sirius is going to have to learn how to be okay with it.

He nodded his head in acceptance and sat across from her on the bench. After a beat, he said, “Leonard Welch, Marly? Seriously? That’s what you’re into that isn’t,” he gestured to his hips, “all this?”

Marlene rolled her eyes like she knew this would happen. The ‘No one you f*ck is ever going to compare to me’ speech.

“Yes, Leo Welch. He’s a gentleman.”

“He’s a tosser.”

“And you’re a wanker. I shagged you, didn’t I? Maybe I just have terrible taste.”

Sirius smirked. “Maybe you do.”

Marlene bit her lip. He watched her mentally war with herself in her mind. “So, what about you? Have you…?” she trailed off, suddenly losing her nerve.

“Have I what?” He knew what question was coming, but if she couldn’t ask it, then he didn’t have to answer.

“Have you… slept with anyone else… since me?”

Damn it all, Sirius wanted to lie so badly. He wanted to say ‘no’ and that she was the only one for him—but he couldn’t. He went out to forget about her at Krupp & Adam Inn mid-August. The girl was nice, stopping by the Inn on her way South to visit family. She was looking for a one-time shag and he was looking for a way to forget the brunette he was forced to give up.

But it wasn’t right.

The sex wasn’t satisfying in any capacity. Last term, as his secret infatuation for Marlene grew and grew, Sirius was able to fantasise about what it would be like to have Marlene in his bed. But now… he knew what making love to her was like for real. And f*cking strangers would never be the same. He can never go back to the life he lived before Marlene became his lover.

And he tried. He tried so hard to imagine Marlene beneath him… but the smell wasn’t right. And her hands were scratching him in the wrong places. And her moans weren’t the right pitch. And her body didn’t shake the way Marlene’s does before she comes.

Everything about that miserable shag was foreign and terrible.

He hated it.

But he did it.

He soiled the memory of her body on his skin, and he can’t take it back.

“Yes… Once…” he whispered.

Marlene's eyes prickled. Tilting her head back, she blinked the welling tears back as best she could. Her fingers curled into her upper arms. She sniffed softly and looked out the window. “Yeah, I figured.”

“Marly…”

“I told you not to f*cking call me that! Don’t f*cking call me anything!” Her voice cracked as she shouted. She hid her eyes with her hand to keep him from seeing her tear up. The place her nails clung to left tiny crescent marks on her flesh. “Why can’t you just stay away from me? Why do you have to be best friends with Jamie? It’s not f*cking fair. I want you out of my life, Black.”

Sirius’s jaw tightened painfully as he watched Marlene fight to not cry in front of him.

Hell, he wants to throw himself off the train.

No, that isn’t right either. He wants to kiss her. He wants to tell her that he misses her. He wants to tell her that he’s in lov—

“I won’t do it again,” he said suddenly.

Marlene removed her hand, her honey-eyes meeting his.

“You won't—what?”

“Shag anyone else. I did it one time… and I won’t do it again.”

She scoffed sceptically. “Yeah, like I’m gonna believe that rubbish.”

He rested his elbows on his knees as he leaned forward to look her straight in the eye. “I’m being honest. I won’t do it again.”

“Why even bother? This is what you wanted.” Her eyes widened. “Isn’t it?”

“Of course it is,” he said automatically. “I just won’t be telling you about it.”

Marlene crossed her legs and let her foot bounce in place. “If you’re expecting me to care, I won’t. I owe you nothing. f*ck who you want, Black. We’re through.”

“I’m not expecting you to do anything but uphold your promise to not tell anyone about us.”

“And I’ve done what you asked—”

Sirius sighed with relief.

So Evans doesn’t know about them. He’s still in the clear.

“—but I’m not going to sit around and mourn you anymore. I didn’t do all this to my appearance so you could finally see me for what I’m worth. I didn’t change so you’d change your mind. I did this for myself. And maybe now, if I’m lucky, I’ll find someone who’ll actually appreciate me. Who wants to be seen with me.”

“If you want to find someone who’ll like you for you, then you shouldn’t have changed at all.”

“Why? I wasn’t good enough for you. Why should I be for anyone else?”

Sirius wiped his face and wrung his hands. “Marlene… Y-you were never the problem. I was. Can’t you see that I’m the one who’s not good enough for you? I’m a disowned runaway. I have an empty vault at Gringotts, and I can’t ruin what I have going with the Potters.”

Marlene co*cked her head to the side. “What does being with me have to do with the Potters?”

Sirius stared at her with wide eyes. He f*cked up. He f*cked up, and now she’ll find out about the oath he broke, and if she finds out the oath is the only thing stopping them, she’ll go to James. She’ll try to break the oath for him on his behalf, and he can’t have that. It’s too risky. He’d have her, but he’d be out of a home.

But, she’s here. In front of him. With her leather skirt riding up her thighs and her legs open enough for him to trail his gaze up, up, up to the shadows in the middle. His mouth watered thinking about where his tongue has been. How he’s suckled his way from the crook of her knee down, down, down to the hot middle of her open legs. Bare for him, wide and inviting.

God, if he just surrendered, he could be between those legs by midnight.

He opened his mouth to respond, to tell her the truth—but the compartment door opened once more and Leonard Welch was thrown to the floor. The Hufflepuff lay face-down between them like a rag doll.

Marlene, wide-eyed, glanced back and forth from Welch’s lifeless body to a satisfied-looking James.

“Jamie! W-what did you do to him?” She knelt down and shook Leo lightly. He was completely unconscious.

Sirius barked out a laugh and Marlene scowled at him furiously. “This isn’t funny! Help him up!”

The former heir leaned back against the cushion and placed his hands at the base of his neck. “No, thanks. I think I’m fine right where I am. You’re perfectly capable of handling this on your own. You know, as a consenting adult.”

“Nice one, Padfoot.”

“Thank you, Prongs.”

“You two are the most despicable, incorrigible prats I have ever met!” Marlene shrieked.

James rushed to Sirius and threw his arms around him. “Did you hear that, Pad? We’re finally the number one prats she’s ever met!” He wiped an imaginary tear from his hazel eyes. “It’s everything I dreamed it would be!”

Sirius threw his arms around his best mate as well. “I always knew we could do it. I can’t wait to write about this crowning achievement in my diary.”

“What did you do to him, Jamie?” Marlene asked dangerously. “Tell me right this moment or I’m writing to your mum.”

James halted his fake tears of joy and narrowed his eyes. “You wouldn’t.”

“Oh, you know I would. So I’m only going to ask one more time… What did you do to him?”

The Quidditch Captain released Sirius and cleared his throat. With his hands folded together, he began his story with indifference taut in his tone. “Well, I really didn’t do a whole lot to be quite frank. I brought Welch outside to the back of the train and told him the truth. That you are my sister and if he wants to court you, he should have spoken to me first to get my approval. He apologised and explained that the two of you have been flirting since last year. He said he wasn’t aware of my brotherly status in your life. Which, I might add, is rather appalling that you haven't told him about us, honestly!”

She glared. “And..?”

“And when he asked for my blessing to ask you to Hogsmeade next month, I told him that he’s already lost my favour and will never get my blessing for as long as he lives for trying to defile my baby sister.”

Marlene rubbed her temples, contemplating the pros and cons of murder as her best friend spoke so misogynistically. Sirius was giddy watching the show.

“Setting aside how profoundly archaic that story is on so many levels, how did he end up like this?” She gestured to the comatose body on the floor of the cabin.

“Oh, right. My favourite part. So, after I refused to provide my permission to allow your flirtation to continue, he had the audacity to tell me he’ll keep seeing you anyway. So, I did what any big brother in my position would do… I held him over the back of the train by his feet until he fainted.”

Sirius keeled over laughing, clasping his hand to his stomach, as Marlene began screaming, “YOU DID WHAT?!”

“Prongs, you didn’t!” Sirius howled.

“Oh, I absolutely did! It’s not my fault he’s a Hufflepuff who didn’t think to fight back!” James started laughing so hard that he fell over onto Sirius’s lap.

“THIS ISN’T FUNNY, JAMIE!” Marlene screeched. She stepped over Leo and started slapping James in any place she could reach. “You don’t get to choose who I date! Who I snog! Or who I shag!”

Her every smack only made the boys laugh harder.

“Jamie, listen to me!” Marlene pleaded. “I’m trying to talk to you!”

When it became obvious they weren't going to stop, she collected her belongings and stepped carefully to the door to avoid accidentally stepping on the boy that lay paralyzed. She viciously opened the sliding door and turned back, scowling at the pair who were still in fits of laughter.

“And you wonder why I avoided you this summer when you treat me like this!” With that, she slammed the door behind her and stormed down the hall.

The Quidditch Captain ceased laughing.

“She’ll come ‘round, right? I mean, come on. It was hysterical, mate. You should have seen it. He nearly pissed his trousers.”

Sirius shrugged, the shadow of a smirk still evident. “I don’t know, Prongs. Old Marlene may have forgiven you at the drop of a hat, but New Marlene? I don’t know. She’s dicey. I don’t know where her head is at.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m saying she’s not just changed on the outside. She has something to prove to herself, and she's not going to let you get in the way. I’d take her threats seriously if I were you.”

The two were interrupted by a low groan from the floor as the body of Leo Welch started to stir.

“All I'm trying to say is, if she likes a bloke, let her. She doesn’t need you dictating who can be in her life.”

James shrugged and leaned forward towards Welch, giving him a gentle kick in the thigh. “Oi! I’m very sorry about nearly chucking you from the train. Tell Marlene to forgive me and you can have my blessing, alright?”

Sirius stared down at the nodding Hufflepuff, his heart tightening in his chest.

Leonard-f*cking-Welch is allowed to date Marly.

He was hoping that with James’s disapproval, Marlene would drop him, but now the git is being granted an open door by his own best mate.

The same f*cking friend who threatened Sirius when he merely suspected that the two could be attracted to each other. Sirius spoke that advice about letting Marlene choose her men as if it were on Leo’s behalf—but really the words were for himself. He wished he could tell Prongs that.

Sirius swallowed back the bitter resentment with a sigh.

He’d give anything to be granted a blessing like that from James.

Chapter 8: All Shook Up

Chapter Text

All Shook Up

September 8th, 1976

Lily sought damn near anything to entertain her. The first Saturday since returning to Hogwarts, and only half-four in the afternoon, with nothing to do.

She doesn’t need to be in McGonagall’s office for her detention until seven o’clock, but everyone she cares to spend time with is busy.

Marlene is off somewhere walking the grounds with Leo, Emmeline is competing against Remus in a game of Wizard’s Chess, and Mary is likely shagging Luther in any of the broom closets she passes on her aimless stroll around the castle. Without Sev around anymore, her gratuitous reserve of friends unexpectedly has ran empty.

For the first time in years, the redheaded prefect actually longed for summer break to return.

In the holidays prior, she dreaded being home. Trapped in the Evans townhouse during the day without magic and nothing particularly interesting on the telly, Lily would count the days until she could come back to the castle.

Sure, she made a few muggle friends at the nightclub she frequents (hell, they even love Marlene and her experience with muggles is particularly slim), but their presence only cured the loneliness of being away from Scotland for a few hours at a time. The daytime was plagued with boredom and listening to her mother chat up the neighbours until her father came home.

This year was different though.

This year she had Marlene.

Grateful didn’t quite encompass the emotion that swelled inside Lily in regard to Marlene coming to stay with her for those three fantastic weeks. The two were never this close before, and it was nice to have a genuine female companion around. Sev, while wonderful company, never scratched the itch for the solidarity that only other women can bring.

Lily has never been the gossip type which made Emmeline and Mary so exclusively close while Lily played the role of outsider-looking-in. And until August, Marlene spent most of her time with the Marauders or off on her own. Aloof and impersonal.

But now, the pair managed to build comradery that extends beyond the confines of the castle walls. She and Marlene are the type of mates who see each other outside of the magical realm. Marlene staying in her home collided her two lives together and her parents could finally see living proof that the Wizarding World isn’t all in her head.

She has real friends in this place. Friends who finally want to visit her in her muggle hometown. Friends who are beloved by her Mum and Dad. Friends who are not black-haired boys living in Spinner’s End.

In many ways, Lily felt guilty for not telling her parents the entire truth about how her friendship with Severus ended. They were certainly curious, being as close as the pair once was. But telling them the truth would inevitably mean she’d have to explain the term ‘mudblood’—a conversation she just simply was not ready to have.

Engaging in that conversation would lead to explaining the prejudices she faces being a witch born from muggles. Part of her worries that, if they knew of the violent acts muggleborns are faced with, they’d pull her out of the castle quicker than the crack of Apparition. She kept the dark undercurrents a secret from them in order to keep the peace. Preventing them from discovering the truth is easier than trying to explain why the bigotry exists at all.

However, sparing them from the disturbing details of the war brewing also means she can’t have a subscription to The Daily Prophet sent to her home. Every day reports of death and missing persons coat the magical newspaper. It would only be a matter of time before her parents read a copy of it.

If they understood the gravity of the awful word Severus called her, then they’d surely understand why they no longer spoke. Perhaps they’d even agree with her. But protecting them from the truth also meant that she was left even lonelier during the summer days without Severus around to keep her company.

Marlene appeared during a particularly gruelling period of her life (which Lily is consciously choosing not to think about for the sake of her sanity and mental health, thank you very much. It’s hard enough being a girl in this world without every horrible memory needing to be resurfaced. Denial is her happy place. Her survival kit. The dark chasm she nearly fell into no longer exists because it’s been buried. Deep, deep, deep down.) Lily fought the demons that chewed holes in her soul and lived to tell the tale. And that’s all thanks to Marlene.

In her hour of need, Lily’s sweet brunette flew through her window and filled her days with unpredictable adventure. While Marlene was avoiding her own problems, Lily was avoiding hers at the exact same time.

Call it fate, destiny, or divine intervention. Who cares? Marlene McKinnon saved her life.

But now she’s back at the castle and currently without anyone to distract her from her unpleasant memories. She is doing extraordinarily well at avoiding Severus though.

She didn’t catch him on the platform or the train, thankfully. Nor did he try to approach her after the Welcoming Feast. On the first day of Potions, however, he attempted to pull her aside and speak with her after the lesson.

To his supreme surprise, Marlene—being the no-filter-possessing-bint that she is—placed the tip of her wand to his cheek and warned him not to take another step or he’d be crumbling into a pile of ashes. Lily could have gone without the dramatics, but she had to compliment Marlene’s successful method as Sev slunk back to his ghoulish friends, Avery and Mulciber, looking defeated.

Sometimes, she saw him pop his head around the corner of a bookshelf in the library, hoping to catch her alone.

Every once in a while, he paused walking in the corridor and watched her stride past him.

The first time they spoke privately occurred in the Great Hall at the end of supper only two days ago. Arriving rather late, the vast dining hall was empty. None of her sixth-year housemates were in sight, really no one was in sight, so she sat closest to the grand double doors and opened up a book to enjoy while having dinner. She was just beginning to read the fourth chapter of Interview with a Vampire at the secluded Gryffindor table when Sev abruptly plopped down in front of her.

“Lily, please, don’t dodge me like this.” He appeared desperate although his voice remained low and calm. His black eyes frenzied, like he was finally starting to understand the gravity of her decision to end their decade-long friendship. “Let me talk. I need to explain what happened. I need to make this right.”

She furrowed her brows in frustration, but after a quick glance, returned to her book as if he wasn’t there at all. “How can you possibly explain what you said to me in any way that will make it okay?”

“You know I would have never said that if I hadn’t been provoked.”

“That’s odd. I don’t remember Potter telling you to call me that disgusting word.”

“Oh, so you’re defending him now?”

“Not in the slightest. I’m simply analysing the facts.”

“I saw you talking to him on the platform.”

“He’s Marlene’s friend. I was with her, and she was talking to him.”

“And suddenly you’re friends with her too?”

“I’ve always been friends with her.”

“Not like this. You two are inseparable.”

“Well, someone had to replace you.”

His eyebrows upturned glumly, blinking fast and shaking himself. “And what about the carriage ride up to the castle? I saw you jump in with the Marauders. What were you doing there, huh?”

“I don’t believe my whereabouts is your concern.”

“It’s suspicious, Lily!” The volume of his hushed arguing grew as his state of mind became more manic.

Lily set down her novel carefully. With her fingers interlocked on the table, she gave him her full attention. “You don’t quite grasp what is happening here, so allow me to lay it out for you. You called me a mudblood.” Snape winced at the word as if it slapped him while she continued. “Marlene is my friend because she’s never called me that heinous word. In fact, she is my best friend. Marlene is filling the void that you left. You don’t have the right to insult her because she happens to be Potter’s mate. You don’t want me to judge you for your vile friends, but you’re judging Marlene for hers.”

“But her friend is Potter.”

“And yours are death eaters.”

“They’re not death eaters.”

“Not yet anyway.”

“It’s James Potter we're talking about, Lily.”

“You’re a hypocrite.”

“Lily, I’m trying to tell you that I’m sorry,” he pleaded desperately. “I didn’t mean it. I’m half muggle for crying out loud. The word came out because I was upset with Potter. It was stupid and hurtful, and I’m the biggest git in this school—but I am truly sorry. And I’ll spend the rest of my life proving how sorry I am if you’ll let me.”

His hand extended out towards her for her to grasp, but she simply raised an eyebrow at the gesture.

He’s sorry?

That’s it?

“Your friends are evil, Sev. So what if you’re sorry? That won’t stop you or them from calling someone else like me a mudblood—”

“Don’t, Lily, listen to me. They’re not that bad once you—”

“No!” she shouted. “They’re disgusting! They antagonise muggleborns and, if you’re so proud to be a halfblood, then confront them!”

“You know why I can’t do that,” he replied darkly.

“Your excuses are rubbish. If you were really my mate, you would have defended me, but you didn’t. You joined them. You called me a mudblood in front of the entire school. And that’s why I can’t be your friend anymore.”

“Lily, please, I didn’t mean it.”

The Gryffindor rose from her seat on the bench. “I think we’re done here.”

He slammed a fist on the table and shouted louder than she had ever heard him speak, “NO, WE’RE NOT! You’re not listening to me! Give me a chance please!” He stood furiously and seized her wrist as she turned to leave.

“Let go of me,” she demanded, twisting against his grip on her wrist.

“Not until you—!” Snape suddenly went flying backwards off the bench and Lily stared at his limp body in shock. She turned around to see the figure of Declan Calvolio, seventh-year Ravenclaw, with his wand raised.

“Are you okay, Miss Evans?” he asked calmly.

“Uh, yes. That was… You didn’t need to do that. I was perfectly capable of managing the situation.”

As he approached her, Lily assessed him more thoroughly. Eyeing him and categorising her mysterious saviour. He’s tall and lean, not particularly muscular, but his shoulders are broad. His eyes are green, but more like a deep peridot rather than emerald like hers. Declan’s jaw is flecked with pale blond stubble to match the short waves of his hair. It occurred to her suddenly that he was… quite handsome.

Her heart skipped a beat as he stopped less than a metre away from her. He extended his hand towards her. “May I?” he inquired politely.

She followed his eyes down to the wrist she was rubbing and nodded. “Sure.”

Lily admired how gently he held her flimsy wrist in his palm. He furrowed his brows as he examined the wrist Snape grabbed. “It doesn’t appear to be harmed, but I’d still put some ice on it to prevent it from swelling and bruising.” His grassy eyes met hers and a small smile traced the corner of his lips. “Or perhaps go to the Hospital Wing.”

Lily observed him curiously. He’s so considerate and tender. How have they not properly met before? She knows of Declan Calvolio, obviously. Lily knows just about everyone at this school, but thinking back, she can’t recall a single instance in which they spoke to each other.

Blushing lightly, Lily said, “No, I think I’ll just collect my things and return to my dormitory, but thank you.”

“My pleasure, Miss Evans.” He turned to leave, walking leisurely from the Great Hall with a handsome grace.

“Lily.”

Declan paused and turned back to her. “What was that, Miss Evans?”

“I-I prefer to be addressed as Lily.”

He nodded subtly and returned to his calm exit. “Have a lovely evening… Lily”.

She watched him leave the Great Hall, puzzled by the oddly polite interaction she encountered.

With Declan gone, the redhead redirected her attention back to Severus and sighed.

What is she supposed to do now?

Wake him and face his wrath?

He was never an exceptionally easy person to wake up from any sort of nap. And this one is sure to infuriate him royally. But still, it’s only right to not leave him here on the floor, despite how abhorrently he treated her.

The Gryffindor removed her wand from her pocket and was about to Renervate the frail Slytherin when Professor Sinistra appeared in the hall and gasped.

“Why…Miss Evans?! What have you done to this poor boy?!”

“What! N-no, you don’t understand! I didn’t do this!”

The towering, bony witch gestured to the wand in her hand. “Then what do you make of all this?”

“Professor, I swear, this is just a mistake. I was going to wake him!”

“Yes, I imagine you would have to after you brutally assaulted him!”

Lily raised her hands and pleaded. “I know how this looks, but I didn't do this!”

“Detention, Miss Evans! This Saturday with Professor McGonagall, 7 PM sharp.”

“But—!”

“No, buts! Leave immediately, or I’ll make it the following Saturday as well.”

Without another word, Lily stalked out of the Great Hall, outraged.

While the detention was certainly undeserved, it at least removed her from the prospect of being forced to speak to Severus again. And, thankfully, neither has spoken a word to the other since.

Now, here she is—that very Saturday—sulking around the castle and aimlessly waiting for that very detention to arrive. She finished all of her homework the night before and doesn’t have the mental patience to read one of the books she packed.

No… Lily wanted someone to talk to. Someone who she could have fun with. Get into trouble with. If she didn’t have to face McGonagall later, she’d probably be drinking right now.

Lily firmly denied having any sort of a problem. Her reasoning was that she only permitted herself to drink on the weekends now they were back in school—but her new habit definitely came about during a time when drinking made her problems slip away. She spent a significant portion of summer nights partying with her muggle friends, and she liked the way intoxication made her feel numb.

The Lily of years prior would be appalled at the new identity Lily was taking up, but—as the rest of the Hogwarts student body would agree—that ginger prude was awfully dull. The entire Wizarding World is on the brink of war. Life is too short to care about teenagers drinking alcohol.

But… she is also not interested in spending another Saturday waiting for detention. So detention with McGonagall of all professors was going to have to be attended sober. If it was with Sinistra herself, she’d be throwing back Ogden’s Finest down by the lake right now and taking in what’s left of the sunshine before autumn clouds make the outdoor weather impossible to enjoy. The pale complexion gifted to her at birth makes soaking up the sun difficult, but she likes the feeling of heat on her skin. If she could retain a tan, as Marlene could, she’d be glowing all year round.

Lily ended up all the way to the library, pretending to play hopscotch on the floor with the glossy stone tiles. Heaving open the wooden doors, Lily waltzed inside and began searching for people to distract her from the dread of her upcoming detention. There wasn’t anyone specifically she was looking for, but out of sheer curiosity, she scanned around and found no one she was familiar with.

Damn.

Alone again.

As a means of keeping busy, she travelled to the Potions section and lifted a random text from the high shelf. She wasn’t sure what she grabbed—sometimes Lily likes to let the library choose what to read when she faces days like these.

The book was newer—no dust in sight and virtually free of spine cracks. The cover read Werewolves: How Wolfsbane is the Key to Their Assimilation into Common Society.

Lily flipped open the front page.

Damocles Belby?

She read about him somewhere. Or perhaps he’s one of the names that Professor Slughorn liked to drop at Slug Club parties. She wasn’t completely sure.

Whilst sitting cross-legged on the floor, leaning against the shelf, Lily devoured the first fifty pages.

Werewolves and their well-being never particularly interested her by any means. In Defence, they’re a regular topic of discussion. But Lily always figured, if you avoid going out during a full moon, they didn’t pose a significant threat. She had never thought of the daily lifestyle changes one afflicted with the curse faces. In his book, Belby discussed the prejudice in the community, the hardship of the transformation, and the fear that the full moon brings—being without control of one’s bodily urges.

An exceptionally gruesome chapter—describing how the bones of a lycanthrope are broken during the beginning transitional stages—enraptured her further than any horror novel had before when a sudden tap on her shoulder caused her to gasp wildly in shock.

“Bloody hell!” she exclaimed, cringing around the shelf to see if Madam Pince was within earshot. She gazed up at the intruder to see it was none other than Declan Calvolio. His green eyes were wide with regret.

“Miss Evans, please accept my deepest apologies. Forgive me, it was not my intention to frighten you.” His voice dripped with concern as he crouched, balancing low on his ankles to see if she was alright.

The Gryffindor placed her hand over her heart, feeling it throb uncontrollably beneath her jumper. “It’s fine. I was just reading something a bit daunting, and I wasn’t expecting to be touched.”

“What are you reading?”

When she showed him the cover, he raised a brow. “Intriguing choice. You must have a proclivity in lycanthrope literature to choose such a controversial work.”

“No, not terribly. I was bored, so I was browsing for something to read and happened upon this one.”

“Well, I certainly do not mean to disturb your rather… unorthodox reading locale, but I was hoping to retrieve a book that you are hiding on the shelf behind your back.”

Lily jumped up from her place on the floor like it was made of brimstone. “Oh! I’m so sorry, I had no idea.”

Declan chuckled as his fingers skimmed the books neatly arranged on the lower shelf. “It’s no trouble, Miss Evans.” When he found the book he sought, he stood and made to leave.

Right before disappearing around the corner, Declan paused. He abruptly turned and faced Lily again.

“While this venue of yours,” he waved his hand over the place on the floor where Lily was previously sitting, “is all well and good, I was wondering if you’d be interested in following me to my favourite place in the library.” His face was cool and collected which is a far cry different from Lily’s puzzled expression.

Such a Ravenclaw thing to say.

Lily shrugged. “I’m sure it’s better than sitting on the cold floor.”

Declan smiled warmly. “I assure you, it is.”

The Gryffindor prefect strolled over to where the dark blond boy stood waiting and followed him as he walked to the darker section of the library off to the left. It was an area Lily didn’t travel to often. Snug between shelves of literature lay a tight hallway that possessed a limited shelf of dated periodicals near the Care of Magical Creatures section. When Lily picked one up, the pamphlet wafted with dust. Dated April 1209.

Sometimes she forgets how old this school truly is.

When she glanced up from the magazine, she realised suddenly how exceedingly close Declan is to her. The ceiling angled as it progressed deeper into the alcove. With the ceiling so low, his height forced him to duck slightly which brought him intimately near her face.

Suppressing a blush, she said, “This is your favourite spot in the library?”

With a husky chuckle, he shook his head. “No, I just need you to first promise me that it will remain our little secret.” His eyes do not hint at any mischief. In fact, they look polite and sincere.

Who knew some blokes still have manners these days?

Plus his prim and proper tone reminds her of a modern William Darcy.

She lifted her hand to his face, her little finger extended. “I pinky swear.”

“You—what?” Declan asked, baffled by the action.

“It’s the muggle version of an Unbreakable Vow,” she replied with a smile.

“Oh, how does one of these—uh, pinky swears—work exactly?”

“Mimic what I’m doing with your hand.”

“Alright,” he countered with a delicate smile as he imitated her. “Then what?”

“Then we interlock pinkies. Like this.” She curled her finger around his and they shook.

“Excellent. Now what?”

Lily grinned. “Now you show me this favourite spot of yours.”

With his intrigued eyes on hers, he reached above him and clicked a small, triangular-shaped emblem into the stone of the ceiling. The stone wall to his right slid revealing a passageway into a brightly lit room.

Lily stepped inside, ducking her head slightly before entering. She gazed around with wonder and marvelled at the petite sun room that Declan just revealed to her.

It wasn’t large, only perhaps the size of a spare room with lower ceilings. Two modest loveseats adorned with paisley upholstery sit facing each other. Both walls bear floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with little trinkets resting upon them and the floor is dressed with an Oriental green rug that Lily noted closely matches the colour of her eyes. The glass window adjacent to the entrance stretched across the room as its own wall, resting from the floor to the roof of the room. She peered out, now face-to-face with the Quidditch pitch, glowing in the light of the sunset.

The aghast Gryffindor turned and stared at her Ravenclaw companion. Declan shut the door behind him and fought a smile at her astonishment at the secret chamber. He leaned against the shelf to the left, retrieving a delicate glass paperweight, tossing it up in the air, and catching it again without looking.

“What do you think?”

Lily laughed. “What do I think?! It’s brilliant! However did you find this place?”

“My older sister, Viviana, introduced it to me when I entered my first year. I think it’s rather quaint. You’re welcome to use it anytime you fancy. I like to come here and enjoy the solitude when life becomes rather… loud.”

“Does anyone else know of it?”

Declan shook his head. “I believe its knowledge lies only between the two of us, Miss Evans.”

Lily’s pulse quickened. He shared this with her and her alone? Not even his mates? Does that mean something?

“It’s incredible,” she beamed. “Thank you for sharing this with me.”

He rested his hand on the back of a sofa. “Please have a seat. I have some Potions work to take care of, but by all means, make yourself comfortable. This room has the perfect light for reading.” He took a seat on the opposite loveseat as her and conjured a small writing desk. He continued work on an essay that—so far—took up two scrolls worth of parchment.

After some time passed, Lily finished her Werewolf book. She set the novel down on the side table and stood, taking a careful glance around. Small magical artefacts of different shapes and sizes hold a place on the shelves. Broken time turners, jewellery, hourglasses, potted plants, various shimmering crystals, and ornate pendants are sprawled out across each level.

Lily turned and eyed the indecipherable boy who brought her here.

He knocked Snape unconscious on her behalf, and now he’s showing her this magnificent hiding spot. A dark blond-haired enigma who—until only days ago—she never really noticed. She leaned forward, placing her elbows on the back of the loveseat with her chin in her hand. “I can’t figure you out, Calvolio.”

He glanced up without moving his head, raising his brows.

“You’ve practically been a ghost to me these past six years, and now you’re suddenly everywhere, out of the blue,” she mused.

Declan fought a smirk. “Are you disappointed?”

Lily bit her lip. “I’m… intrigued.”

He set his parchment aside, vanished the desk, and crossed an ankle over his knee. Leaning against the arm of the sofa, he offered her his full attention with fingers pressed to his chin and temple. “And what about our circ*mstance do you find most intriguing, Miss Evans?”

She walked around the room, occasionally lifting trinkets from the shelf to absently examine. “Here’s what I know about you. The first few items are really a trifle of basics. You’re in your seventh year… You’re in Ravenclaw… You play Quidditch as a Beater... You’re Italian if your last name is to be considered pertinent… And you’re a pureblood.”

He nodded along with her list in agreement.

“The second thing I know about you is that you speak like a character in a Jane Austen novel.”

He laughed lightly. “I don’t quite understand the context behind that statement, but I feel it was somehow an insult at its core.”

She smiled impishly. “I suppose that depends on one’s opinion of Jane Austen.”

“And are you an admirer of her, Lily?”

Her heart tugged at his utterance of her first name. She playfully bit her lip. “Deeply.”

Declan swallowed and carefully continued, “Go on then… I’m an… Austen character. What does that mean exactly?”

She slowly walked towards him, taking a seat beside him on the soft cushion. “You’re polite like her characters. You have manners. You speak rather eloquently. You’re... a rare gentleman.”

He said nothing, but Lily watched as he swallowed hard again as she inched closer and closer. She noticed his stubble trailed down to his neck and he smells like butterscotch.

“And the last thing, I know about you…” she slowly began leaning closer.

“Yes, Miss Evans?” His eyes flashed down at her lips.

As she lessened the distance between them, she glanced over to the window and realised that it had become dark.

Standing abruptly, she reached into her pocket for her watch.

7:13 pm.

“I’m late! Oh my god! McGonagall is gonna have my head!” She grabbed Belby’s book. “I’m so sorry, I have to go. How do I leave this place?”

Declan appeared startled,but hurriedly approached the door and pressed onto the same emblem embellished on the ceiling prior to their entrance. As the sleek stone quietly slid open, Lily dipped her head in preparation for a hasty retreat.

Before she left, she froze and rose back to Declan, focusing on his grassy eyes. “Thank you for showing me this lovely hiding spot. I hope to join you here again sometime.”

His face was neutral, but he surprised her by reaching forward and tenderly bringing Lily’s wrist to his face. Placing a gentle kiss on her knuckles, he said, “Perhaps sometime soon. Take care, Miss Evans.”

And with a faint blush, Lily rushed out of the sunroom and sprinted her way to McGonagall’s office.

It’s a f*cking Saturday.

James beat his head repeatedly onto the desk. The gentle thuds! echoed in the hollow classroom while he sat nestled by the wall, sulking.

It’s a f*cking Saturday, and he’s here.

He glanced again at his watch.

7:14 pm.

James released a long groan.

It’s a f*cking Saturday evening, and he’s being forced to spend it in detention, waiting for some tosser to show up who is running late.

He is in detention on the first Saturday of the term and—for once—it isn’t even his fault.

After the Hogwarts Express pulled into Hogsmeade station, James and the other Marauders bounded off jovially. They stretched and approached the line to take the carriages up to the castle.

“Mark my words, lads. I am about to eat my entire weight in food,” Sirius remarked as their carriage halted before them. “I’ve been dreaming about the feast practically the whole trip from London.”

Peter nearly started drooling. “That's all I’ve been thinking about all week.”

Remus clapped him on the back. “Doesn’t your mum feed you back home, Wormtail?”

“Clearly not enough,” James joked as he climbed into the carriage.

James sat next to Remus with Sirius and Peter across from them on the other bench. As soon as they became comfortable, James clapped his hands together and said, “So, before this carriage takes off, I wanted to talk to you all about something now that we have complete privacy. I was thinking we skip the annual prank on the Welcoming Feast. Just relax and enjoy it instead. Thoughts?”

Remus raised his hand politely. “Yes, Prongs, just one question... What the f*ck?”

Peter aimed his thumb at Remus and nodded briskly. “Yes, an excellent question from Moony. But, I would like to add on by asking who you are and where the real James Potter is?”

The Quidditch Captain rolled his eyes. “He’s still here, Wormtail. I’m just worried that we might get into a spot of trouble for it.”

The young werewolf jerked away from James like he announced he was carrying dragon pox. “Trouble?! Since when have you ever cared about us getting into trouble?!”

Peter pointed an accusatory finger at James and shouted, “He’s been polyjuiced!”

“I have not been polyjuiced, you tosspot!”

Sirius tsked and muttered, “I told you they wouldn’t go for it, Prongs.”

Remus raised a suspicious brow at Padfoot. “What exactly wouldn’t we go for? An absurd idea to cancel our tradition of pranking the entire Hogwarts student body on the first day back to school? A tradition, mind you, that has been in effect since our third year! We have a reputation to uphold, Prongs.”

“I thought you’re supposed to be the righteous one of the group.”

“Why do you want to cancel the prank? Don’t deflect.”

With a deep sigh, James pulled off his glasses and cleaned them as he spoke, “Mates, there’s something I haven’t told you. Last term, I spoke with Evans—”

A collective groan filled the cabin.

“This again?” Remus moaned as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You’ve been barmy about that girl for two sodding years, Prongs. You’ve got to let it go.”

“I have!” The Quidditch Captain shouted indignantly. “Just listen to me. She said something when I tried to apologize to her for last year’s incident by the Lake. And—I don’t know—it’s just stuck with me. She said… Well, she said that people fear me more than they respect me.”

Peter furrowed his brow and shrugged. “So? What’s wrong with a little dose of fear? I think people around here should fear you at least a tad bit. That’s how you maintain respect.”

James thinks Peter has a point, but he isn’t sure if that’s the legacy he wants to leave behind. “Regardless, I’ve come to a decision that I’m going to attempt to be… kinder to people. I’m only going to prank those that deserve it. Or—at the bare minimum—make the pranks less harmful. No unwarranted jinxes or hexes. I-I don’t want to leave here with everyone thinking I’m some sort of… bully.”

“You’re being serious?” Remus asked.

“Very much so.”

“If that’s all then why don’t we just come up with a different prank for the Welcoming Feast?” Peter questioned. “Make it a pleasant one, rather than destructive.”

Sirius threw an arm around Peter and squeezed him. “See, Pete! Now that’s a positively brill idea! Scrap the old plans and start fresh!”

James thought it over and beamed. “Couldn’t agree more, lads.”

Remus held his hand up quickly. “Wait, before we start planning, I have one final question. You said this isn’t because of Evans. So does this mean you’re not pursuing her anymore?”

The Marauders shifted in sync as the carriage began to move from its stationary position.

James scoffed. “Evans, who? She refused me the time of day, so to hell with her! I mean, I’ve had the whole holiday to think rationally and I’ve realized that we just wouldn’t even be good together. And besides, it’s a full-time job dating a Marauder. She probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with our pastimes anyhow. I’m completely over that prudish, dull prig.”

Right as the words slipped from his mouth, the door to the carriage whipped open and Lily Evans jumped inside, landing on Remus and James with her bum on the thigh of the latter. She reached forward and shut the carriage door forcibly with a sigh.

“f*cking hell, that was a close one.” The redhead wiped her forehead while all four boys astonishedly stared at the petite ginger witch (that had just conveniently been the topic of their conversation) in silence.

James’s heart pounded in his chest like bare fists on a boxing bag. Lily-f*cking-Evans is in his lap. He glanced down at where she was sitting. Her breasts are inches from his face. Her bum is resting on his upper thigh. Her leg is on his—

Holy hell, think about something else.

Anything else.

He inhaled sharply. Her hair smells like roses and strawberries and basil.

James trailed his hazel eyes back up to her face. Those enchanting green eyes of hers were closed. She appeared to be trying to calm herself down. He anxiously ran his fingers through his hair.

When she opened them and examined the passengers of the freight she entered, she stiffened. She glanced from Sirius to Peter, then to Remus until she finally looked at James. Her breath was warm. He felt it tickling his nose. For a moment, he wished he shaved that morning—but her immediate scowl and furious blush suggested how he looked was the last thing on her mind.

Her doe-eyes narrowed. She shuffled her way off of his lap until she landed on the floor with a thud! Her thin frame rested between the benches. She brushed her uniform skirt off with her hands and shuddered.

“Great, just great,” she muttered. “Of all the carriages to make my escape in m, I pick the one that has you four. Fantastic.”

James crossed his arms. “Oh, I’m sorry, Evans. Have we somehow disturbed your ride up to the castle? Oh, wait. No. You disturbed ours.”

Lily mimicked her nemesis’ arm gesture and stuck her tongue out. “Yeah, well, maybe I am sorry. Believe me when I say that I didn’t have a choice. It was either jump into the nearest trolley or risk running into…” She shook her head. “Nevermind.”

“Running into who, Lily?” Remus asked politely.

The prefect bit her lip and gave a sideways glance to James. “Severus.”

Sirius barked out a laugh and put his hands at the base of his neck. “Yeah, you picked the right carriage, Evans. We’re loads better company than that greasy git.”

Lily glared at Sirius from her seated position on the floor. “I’ll have you know that if I was aware you would be my company in this carriage, I would have just stayed put.”

Peter co*cked his head at her curiously. “You two haven’t made up yet?”

“No,” she retorted flatly.

“Good,” the four boys said in unison.

“Evans,” James began, “I know we’re not exactly your favourite company to be around, but we’re still gentlemen. I can’t keep looking down at you like this. So I’m going to have to ask that you switch places and allow me to sit on the floor. You can take my spot on the bench.”

Lily eyed him sceptically. “Really?”

He rose from his seat and extended his hand to help her up. “Yes, really.”

She glared at his hand like she was about to make a deal with the devil. “There’s no catch? You’re not going to force me to go to Hogsmeade with you or something?”

The Quidditch Captain rolled his eyes. “No catch, I’m afraid. I’m not going to ask you out.” Her shoulders relaxed and she accepted his hand. The two switched their seating arrangement seamlessly.

“Much better!” Lily remarked as she stretched, accidentally kicking James in the shoulder.

“Oi! Watch the slippers, Evans!”

Her face reddened. “Potter, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to hurt you. It was an honest mistake.”

The sincerity in her voice, caused a wave of heat to crash into James’s face. “N-no worries. I probably deserved it,” he stuttered, adjusting his hair with his fingers. He realised then that, with his new position, Lily’s knees were eye level with him. If she was to open her legs, even slightly, he’d be faced with her knickers. Unless she wasn’t wearing any, in which case he’d see—

The thought only reddened his face further.

Lily bit her lip and asked, “Anyways, now that I’m here, what were you all talking about before I burst in?”

They exchanged mixed glances until Sirius finally spoke for the group. “Not that it concerns you, but we were just deliberating our plans for the Welcoming Feast prank.”

Lily raised her brows in shock. “Really? You haven’t thought of one yet?”

Remus shrugged. “We’ve mutually agreed on a different direction with our prank this year. We were just about to open up the discussion to new suggestions.”

Lily smiled. “Mind if I help?”

James and Peter dropped their jaws, while Remus and Sirius both shouted, “What?!” in perfect harmony.

The ginger blushed. “Well, I mean… I’m here, am I not? I might as well help. And maybe now, with my influence, your prank won’t send people to the Hospital Wing by the time it’s finished.”

“We don’t require your help keeping people alive and well after a prank, Evans,” Remus said casually. “But if you’re here, you could be an unbiased tie-breaking vote… That is… if you were sincere in wanting to contribute.”

She beamed at the Marauders. “So… Is that a yes, then?”

James nearly snorted with laughter. “Pinch me, I must be dreaming! Evans wants to help us with a bloody prank. Is this really happening?”

Lily reached over and pinched him hard in the shoulder until he yelped in pain.

“Looks like you’re wide awake, Potter. Now, boys, let’s talk business.”

The rest of the fifteen-minute ride to the castle was spent elaborating and debating what idea was best with their limited time and resources. Finally, as they pulled up to the base of the castle, they all agreed that Remus’s idea of the turkey at the Head table exploding with confetti would be the most successful prank, given the short notice.

“Thanks for the ride, gents! I’ll see you in the Great Hall! Good luck with your prank!” She slipped out of the carriage and hurried up the hill without so much as a wave goodbye.

James exited the carriage and leaned against it, watching her strut up the hillside. Her red hair swished side-to-side with each step she took.

Confident, gorgeous, and intelligent.

She really is something.

Not that he cares, but Lily changed over the summer holiday. He isn’t quite sure how, or in what ways, but something is obviously different about her since they talked in May.

She curses now, which is certainly a new trait—perhaps a habit she picked up from the weeks of being with Marlene.

But even still, she carries this air of adventure that James had never seen before. He always wondered how a straight-laced, bookish girl like her landed in Gryffindor. Now, he wonders if he can finally see the reason.

The Marauders only just trudged up to the entrance of the Great Hall when Professor McGonagall put up a hand, forcing them to halt.

“Wait a moment. Mr Potter. Please step to the side. The rest of you may take your seats at the table.”

The remaining Marauders raised surprised eyebrows and hurried inside.

James peered at the Transfiguration professor with a smouldering, lopsided grin. “Oh, Minny. I always knew I was your favourite. Tell me, how can I help you this fine evening?”

She glared down at him with disdain for the informal use of her first name. “An explanation, Mr Potter.”

“An explanation for what, Professor?”

“Please tell me why you deemed it necessary to hold Leonard Welch from the back of the train by his ankles.”

James stood gobsmacked and looked sharply into the Great Hall.

Marlene sat near the door, sipping her pumpkin juice leisurely, smirking at him as if she won some sort of a battle.

“P-professor, I completely deny this heinous accusation.”

“So Miss McKinnon is lying to me then?”

“Leo and I were coming to an understanding of Marlene’s wellbeing. It was all in good fun!”

“Is that so?”

“Absolutely, Leo and I are chummy. He’ll tell you the same thing.”

“I’ve already spoken to Mr Welch.”

James swallowed hard, running a hand through his wild hair. “Y-you don’t say…”

“He’s chosen to corroborate your story.”

The Quidditch Captain beamed. “Of course, he did! That Leo is such an honest bloke!”

“But, Miss McKinnon does not think you should be allowed to go into the Great Hall without a punishment for being so… forthcoming in her affairs.”

James glared daggers at Marlene, who merely flipped her hair with the back of her hand. “Oh, is that what she said now?” he muttered through gritted teeth.

“So, as punishment for what you’ve done, you will be spending the first Saturday of the term in detention with me.”

“But—!”

“No buts, Mr Potter. I’ll see you at seven o’clock sharp. Enjoy the feast.”

Now, only a week later, James is scowling at the Professor—having recalled why he’s here in the first place—with contempt.

Professor McGonagall, who sat calmly at her desk grading the first homework assignment of the term, really allowed Marlene bloody McKinnon the right to dictate who should be punished. Mar isn’t even a prefect, for f*ck’s sake!

It’s a dastardly betrayal. And one he never thought Marlene, of all people, would commit.

James ground his teeth.

She’s a traitor

A traitor to all that the Marauders stand for.

He looked at the desk in front of him and stared down at the seat that Remus normally occupied when they were in class.

His thoughts wandered to the upcoming full moon that’s set to occur next week. It’s been so long since they could all be together as Animagi and he eagerly awaits being able to shift alongside his mates.

He loves being in stag form. Sure, it exerts a lot of energy, but he enjoys the way it makes him hyperaware. The speed of sprinting on four legs mirrors the way flying makes him feel—invincible. His vision is also more acute. So much so, that he wonders if that was how people see without glasses all the time. But mostly, he loves knowing that Remus isn’t hurting himself.

Since the beginning of the animagus transformations, Remus has yet to obtain any new cuts, scratches, or bites. That alone makes their outings all worthwhile.

The lads are probably all having a laugh right now in the common room—while he is stuck here.

On a f*cking Saturday.

And it was his best mate that f*cking put him here.

Sirius is right. New Marlene might as well be a stranger to him.

The watch on his wrist now read 7:20 PM.

At this rate, with whoever his partner is for the evening, they won’t be finished until well after ten. He was about to openly complain these thoughts to McGonagall, when suddenly the door burst open, and a frantic Lily Evans appeared in the entryway.

“Professor, I am so very sorry! I was reading with... someone and completely lost track of time.”

“There is no excuse for tardiness, Miss Evans,” McGonagall scolded as she rose from her place at the illustrious desk. “However, we do not have the time to waste, and seeing as this is your first detention in two years, I’ve decided to let the mishap go. Now, if you two will please follow me, you will be spending the remainder of the detention under the supervision of Mr Filch.”

Lily glanced at James with surprise, and James returned her gaze with equal amounts of astonishment. He rose from his seat and followed McGonagall out of the classroom with Lily at his side.

The two walked as in sync as James could manage. Lily is shorter than him by an entire head’s height and either she’s choosing to walk slower or her legs are simply not as long as his. Regardless, he’s taking smaller, purposeful steps to keep her at his side as they follow McGonagall to the dungeons.

He gave her a quick side glance. She’s wearing a tight white jumper and bell-bottom jeans. Her hair is falling in loose curls around her cheeks, making it hard to read her facial expression. James brought his hand to his hair and shook himself. This is going to be the longest detention of his life.

He wasn’t lying when he told the lads that he was done asking her out. She’s still fit, no question, but the two obviously lack chemistry. Yelling at him at the end of the term was a sort of wake-up call for James.

Lily Evans is never going to like him back. And James would probably dislike dating her even if she had given him a chance. The two are clearly different. He partakes in fun and revelry, while she partakes in being a buzzkill by following rules to the letter.

The pair as a couple would be disastrous.

They are simply not compatible.

They reached an ancient door that James can’t recall having ever seen before. Wormtail did most of the dungeon work when the Map was created, but he was so sure he had been just about everywhere in the castle by now. He furrowed his brows as he read the label on the door: Orphaned Belongings.

“Evenin’, Professor,” Argus Filch grumbled as Mrs Norris meowed from between his calves. “Were they late?”

“Good evening to you as well. And yes, unfortunately, one of them was tardy.”

Filch glared at James pointedly. “Wouldn’t expect anythin’ less of a brat like ‘im.”

James scoffed. “It wasn’t me.”

Lily fought a smirk when she raised her hand calmly. “It was me, Mr Filch. I’m so sorry for taking up your time. I understand that you’re quite busy.”

The Quidditch Captain snickered at her sarcasm, but when he looked up at Filch to see his reaction, the caretaker was almost smiling. He quickly looked back at the ginger to his left and nearly dropped his jaw when he found her pleasantly genuine.

Is she being sincere?!

“Thank yeh, Miss Evans. I, uh, hope yer summer was… nice.”

Holy bloody sh*t.

Is Evans on Filch’s good side?! Filch hates everyone. How is that even possible?

“It certainly was, Mr Filch. I hope your break treated you kindly as well,” Evans smiled warmly, causing the caretaker to nearly blush.

Professor McGonagall cleared her throat. “Alright, then. Argus, I’ll leave you to it. Please make sure to confiscate their wands.” The Transfiguration professor turned to leave, each step of her departure echoing down the dark, haunting hallway.

“Both of yeh, git inside.”

Lily smiled up at the caretaker as she walked through the door and his frown softened slightly. As James approached, he winked at the caretaker and blew a kiss before stepping through the entryway. Filch growled fiercely before following him inside.

James was right about one thing: He’s never been in this room before. It looks like it was previously a classroom by how many desks were pushed against the wall to the far left. He marvelled at how interesting the room’s inhabitants are. It’s full of clothes, jewelry, books, cauldrons, boxes, owl cages, trunks, and toys stacked in insanely high piles around the room from the centre to the tall stone walls. There are no windows, but the room is brightly surrounded by torches that were placed sporadically across the room.

“Wow,” he heard Evans whisper. “What is this place?”

“This place,” Filch hollered, “is where we keep items that rotten children forget n’ their dormitories when they leave ‘ere for summer. The elves vanish an item from the dormitory as it gits cleaned n’ it ends up ‘ere in this dungeon.”

He picked up Mrs Norris under one arm and extended a pointed, crooked finger at James. “You are goin’ to be organizin’ this mess by the time I git back. Now hand over yer wands.”

James grumbled as he pulled his wand from his pocket, dropping it in the caretaker's grasp.

They looked at Lily, waiting for her to hand hers over as well, but her expression was positively terrified.

Her chin began to quiver. “B-but Mr Filch… don’t you know who my partner is?”

Mr Filch frowned. “O’ course I know who Potter is,” he spat.

“T-then you know how he… p-p-pranks people right?”

James sat appalled as he realised that Lily is afraid to be left alone with him. He isn’t going to hurt the girl, for f*ck’s sake. He’s never (seriously) hurt anyone before. And he certainly isn’t going to start by hurting the girl he fanc—er—used to fancy.

“Are you taking the piss with me? What exactly are you trying to say, Evans?!”

She jumped back at his outburst. “See, Mr Filch! I can’t give up my wand! I need to be able to protect myself in case he has a fit!”

He crossed his arms and spat, “I’m not a psychopath, Evans! This is so typical of you. I’m not going to try anything. I don’t care what you do. I just want this detention to be over with.”

“How can I possibly know that for sure? You’re not trustworthy!”

“I resent that! I’ll have you know that I’m exceptionally—!”

“Both o’ yeh! Shut up!” Filch dropped Mrs Norris as he shouted.

The two Gryffindors shut their jaws with a click of their teeth and stood waiting for Filch’s orders.

“Miss Evans… yeh can keep yer wand.”

Lily grinned widely. “Thank you, MrFilch. I appreciate you keeping my safety in mind. I won’t let you down.”

James covered his eyes and groaned, “You are such a prig.”

He turned his back to them and grumbled before slamming the door, “Yeh’ve got two hours! Git to it!”

Lily twirled her wand and smirked. With a hair flip to James, she pointed to a pile with her wand and closed her eyes. The pile scattered into individual items. When she reopened them, she shouted, “Scourgify!” And the entire pile was scraped clean of dust by magic.

James watched her, bewildered. “Wait, what’s happening right now?”

“I secured us a wand to clean this mess with.”

The Quidditch Captain dropped his jaw. “You… what?!

“Honestly, Potter, keep up.”

He sank to the floor, crouching, and rubbed his fingers across his scalp as he processed out loud what occurred. “You… were lying. You… pretended to be afraid of being alone with me… So that you wouldn’t have to work as hard… in detention.”

She giggled with a smug smile. “Yeah, I knew you’d get there eventually. So, let’s get started, I don’t want to be here all night.”

James jumped up, sporting a skewed grin. “You’re diabolical, Evans.”

Together the pair began sorting through the items closest to the door as Lily spread them out and dusted them with her wand.

By the end of the first hour, they made really good progress.

James has to admit, using Filch’s distaste for Marauders was an excellent plan. Evans softly hummed songs while they cleaned in silence. Eventually, she hummed the first song he recognized.

“Are you a Queen fan, Evans?”

Lily blanched at his breaking of the silence and blushed. “Uh, yes. I am actually. I went to their show over the summer.”

James nearly dropped the books he was carrying. “You saw them?! Like in person?!”

The prefect smiled sheepishly. “Yeah. They were positively brilliant. Freddie’s vocal range is insane.”

“I didn’t even know they were playing!”

“It was in London. I didn’t know they were playing either. It was Marlene that knew about them being on tour. She keeps tabs on music like that, I guess.”

James’s joy slipped from his face as he grimaced. “Oh.”

He kneeled down to a pile of tattered textbooks and began to alphabetize. His partner had her back to him, cleaning a pile of old Zonko’s gizmos in the corner, when James ruffled his hair anxiously and asked, “Hey, uh, Evans?”

She turned and deadpanned, “What do you want, Potter?”

“I wanted to—” He pressed his hand to his forehead and bit his cheek. “Actually, never mind. It’s not your place to answer me.”

Her eyebrows raised in surprise. “What’s not my place, Potter?”

“Forget it,” he responded flatly, his cheeks filling with heat. “You’re going to tell me that if I want to know the answer, I should go to the source. So what’s the point in even asking?”

Lily hopped onto the nearby table and crossed her legs. “Well, now I’m curious! I’ve never seen you nervous about asking a question before. It’s… quite fascinating.”

He sighed and stood up from the pile he was organising. Leaning against the wall, he crossed his arms across his chest. “You saw Queen while Marlene was staying at your house, right?”

Lily uncrossed her legs and chewed her lip. She nodded slowly. “Yes.”

“Did she… Did she say why?”

“Why did we see Queen?”

“No… Did she say why she ended up at your house?”

“She hasn’t told you?”

With a ruffle of his hair, he dejectedly replied, “No.”

“Not even after you made up?”

“Well, that’s the thing. She said we made up when we were in London, but she’s the reason I’m in detention right now. She snitched on me to a bloody teacher—which is completely against all that we stand for. It’s obvious that she’s still upset with me, but I don’t know what I’ve done. Usually, I could just ask her, but it’s like she’s avoiding me. I’ve tried to approach her in classes or in the common room, but she just tells me she’s busy or she’s chosen to be paired with you that day. And it’s so frustrating that I haven’t had a real conversation with my best mate since the middle of the summer. I used to have trouble keeping her away from me when I wanted a moment alone with the lads, but… now I can’t keep her around for more than supper and that’s solely when others are around. Catching her without someone else present is starting to feel impossible—and it’s driving me f*cking barmy.”

Lily sighed and looked at the ceiling, likely processing how to respond without betraying Marlene’s trust. “Have you considered that perhaps you haven’t appreciated her properly and that’s why she’s pulling away from you?”

“I appreciate her!” He threw his hands up like it was common sense. “I just… may have been a bit distracted this summer.”

“Distracted with what?”

“Well, I suppose it’s not a secret, but Sirius left his home and has since moved in with us. Indefinitely.”

Lily co*cked her head. “That’s funny. Marlene never told me that. When I saw you drive by on that little motorbike of yours, I just assumed you two spent an awful lot of time together during the summer. But if he lives with you, I guess that would make it difficult for Marlene to get you alone.”

James swallowed hard.

So she’s seen the motorbike.

What else doesn’t he know?

“Was I really so distracted though that she felt the need to avoid me completely? Seems counterintuitive if you ask me.”

“It’s not about the distraction itself. It’s about what you were missing because you were so distracted. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

“And you happen to know what I was missing… Don’t you, Evans?”

Lily shrugged. “I only know what Marlene has told me. Which, in truth, is not much. It took all three weeks for her to admit to me that she doesn’t think she’s pretty.”

James frowned. “But she is pretty. You know, in a Marlene sort of way.”

Lily twirled a strand of hair with her fingers and sighed. “But that’s the thing, she doesn’t want to be pretty in a Marlene way. She wants to be pretty in general… and more specifically, by a bloke.”

“Since when has Marlene cared about getting a boyfriend? Blokes have offered to take her to Hogsmeade before. Why now? What changed?”

Lily stood and paced around the stone floor with her hands clasped behind her back. She turned to him and opened her mouth to respond, but then closed it again.

James rolled his eyes. “Spit it out, Evans. I’m not going to tell her whatever it is you want to tell me.”

She covered her face with her hand exasperatedly. “You promise?”

The Quidditch Captain lifted his hand with his little finger extended. “Pinky swear.”

Lily marvelled at the gesture and crept over to him slowly. With her right hand, she wrapped her finger around his and shook. “Aren’t you a pureblood? How do you know how to pinky swear?”

“Remus. His mother is a muggle.”

“I had no idea.”

James is acutely aware of every beat his heart thumped in his chest.

Lily Evans is touching him.

Willingly.

He isn’t sure why the action is making him so nervous. It’s just a pinky, for f*ck’s sake. It’s hers though, and she hasn’t let go yet. “Well, I suppose… now you do.”

She glanced down at their hands and blushed lightly before harshly pulling her hand out of his. “Well, anyway, I can't say much. Not because I don’t want to, but quite frankly, because I don’t know much. She’s exceedingly private about everything that happened this summer.”

“Stop being vague and tell me already.”

Lily closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them, she spoke determinedly, “Okay, Potter. Here’s what I know. Sometime during the summer, Marlene went to one of those pureblood dance lesson events. I’m sure you know the ones I’m referring to.”

James shrugged nonchalantly. “Of course, I took mine the summer before with Pete. Sirius was supposed to take his this year.”

Lily froze. “What did you say?”

“I did mine last summer with Peter instead of Sirius who was forced by his bint mother to complete his this year before he moved in with me. He didn’t end up going though. His parents kept him trapped inside.”

The prefect thought hard and then dismissed what she was thinking with a wave of her hand. “Regardless, Marlene met someone there. Another pureblood, I guess.”

“She… met someone?”

“Yes.”

“Like a male someone?”

Lily groaned. “Yes, Potter, obviously! Keep up!”

The Quidditch Captain scoffed. “Not possible. I would have known if she was dating someone.”

You admitted to being distracted for most of the summer! Of course, you didn’t know! Don’t you get it? You spent your days with Sirius while Marlene was out there snogging, and quite possibly shagging, some bloke she got together with at the lessons!”

James recoiled under her condemnation.

Marlene was dating someone?

His sweet Marlene may have been shagged?

His thoughts swirled dizzily. Sure, he certainly is no virgin, but he didn’t take Marlene to be the type of girl to shag someone before becoming an exclusive couple.

And by a boy, no less. James was half-convinced that Marlene is a lesbian if he was being perfectly honest. That is until he saw Marlene getting her tit* snogged by Welch. An image he desperately needs to obliviate in order to forget forever. Virgin witches simply do not shag for the first time on the Hogwarts Express and Marlene nearly did just that if he hadn’t interrupted them. The thought of Marlene writhing underneath some slimy git disturbs him, but the prospect does have him wondering… Is Welch the bloke from the dance lesson?

The Quidditch Captain slunk slowly down to the ground against the wall, cleaning his glasses when he reached the bottom. “O‒kay,” he began slowly, “Marlene met a bloke. Then what happened?”

Lily joined him on the floor, a metre or two from his spot against the wall. “Well, that’s the thing, there’s a huge blank space in Marlene’s timeline. The next thing she told me was that it ended. He told her that she isn’t pretty enough for him to want to take their relationship public.”

James frowned. “Oh, f*ck. Poor Mar, I… I don't even know what to say. That’s just… truly awful.”

“Yeah, it was brutal to watch her suffer. I’m not sure when exactly the split happened, but it must have been sometime in July because it was at the beginning of August when Marlene literally fell through my window in co*keworth, sobbing her eyes out.”

“That’s when she started staying with you.”

Lily nodded solemnly. “Yes, that’s when she asked if she could stay with me. She asked for a few days, but I guess she enjoyed her time away from magic so much that she stayed. It wasn’t until the third week of her visit that she finally told me about this boy of hers that broke her heart.”

James rested his head on the stone behind him. “Did she tell you who it is? I’d like to give him a good punch to his jaw.”

The redhead giggled. “No, if I knew he’d already be facing my wrath. Though, she did tell me who it’s not.”

“And who’s that?”

She grinned puckishly. “The Marauders.”

James hollered with laughter. “Well, of course not. They certainly know better. They made an oath to me to never lay a f*cking finger on her. But even still, I wouldn’t want to have to throw one of my mates to a dragon over Marlene’s bruised ego.”

Lily’s smile slipped. “She was really upset, you know. Her confidence was depleted completely. She was in such a rough place when she came to me, Potter. You have no idea how much she was hurting.”

The Quidditch Captain nodded. “Yeah, but some tosser hurting her feelings still doesn’t explain why she’s been avoiding me.”

“You’re a bloke. Maybe seeing blokes is too much for her.”

He groaned. “Girls are so complicated.”

Lily stood and brushed off her bell bottoms. “Like boys are so simple.”

James rose and wiped the back of his trousers and continued to clean the books.

“Well, I’m glad you agree, Evans. I always knew you were a bright bird. And also… Thank you. For talking to me—and what have you—you didn’t have to do that and… I appreciate it.” James tapped his foot uncomfortably. He’s never been good at giving credit where it’s due when it isn’t first directed at himself.

She turned and smiled warmly. “I’d say ‘anytime,’ but honestly, don’t talk to me.”

James laughed. “Whatever you say, Evans.”

About twenty minutes later, Lily struck gold.

She gasped and bounced on her feet like a mad woman. “Oh my god! I can’t believe it! Who would ever abandon something like this?!”

James made his way to her and peered at the record player she had uncovered, the dusty sheet still tight in her grasp. “Oh, well, would you look at that? Looks like we don't need to borrow Marlene’s for parties anymore. Nice find, Evans.”

“Potter, we can’t just steal it!”

He glanced around the room at the thousands of items that were left behind. “You’re right. Someone is certainly going to come looking for it… Just like how all these other belongings were claimed.”

She crossed her arms. “It’s not ours, Potter.”

“Okay, fine, how about this? We leave a note in case anyone tries to claim it. And bring it back to this room before the term ends. That way it’s not stealing and you can sleep better at night knowing that it will be returned back to its rightful home… This abandoned classroom.”

The prefect thought about his offer before nodding her head. “Okay, I think I can agree to those terms.”

“Fantastic! Now, let’s see what albums they’ve left for us.”

The two scanned the surrounding area for records of any genre, until Lily—at last—found an old box filled with them. Most were from the 50s, but she did find a few ABBA and particular one that had her squealing. She lifted the vinyl above her head and shouted, “Victory!”

James squinted as he read the title aloud, “Elvis’ s Golden Records. Don’t know that one, I’m afraid.”

Lily clutched it to her heart and stared at him as if he just announced he was running for Minister of Magic. “You… You’ve never heard of Elvis?”

James raised an eyebrow. “No, I grew up listening to wizard bands.”

“Elvis Presley is not just some band. He’s the f*cking King.” She took a menacing step forward as if daring James to disagree that Elvis didn’t properly earn his title.

Holding his hands up in surrender, James said, “Oi, relax! No one here is arguing that, but I do feel like I need to hear this album for myself if I’m going to make a proper opinion about the bloke.”

He swiped the record from her hands and placed it swiftly onto the player, cranking the volume as far as the dial would turn. Moments later, a loud voice sang, ‘You ain’t nothing but a hound dog!’ and filled the classroom with guitar-lead rhythm.

James laughed as he listened, processing the lyrics. “So you have to catch rabbits in order to be this lad’s mate?!” he yelled over the speaker.

Lily wasn’t listening though. She started to dance, twirling and swaying her hips to the fast beat of the drum. In each chorus, she shouted the lyrics in between grinning and spinning like a mad woman.

James watched her dance, holding back a grin. She’s all hips and arms when she dances, kicking out and twisting. How come he’s never seen her like this? She’s having real fun. She was laughing and her green eyes were sparkling. She was… sensational.

The song switched to something slower and she quickly changed it to the next song that was a little faster.

When she took a few steps back from the player, James watched as she approached him and grabbed both his hands in hers. His ears warmed as she pulled him from his spot against the wall and began to dance again.

Unable to resist, James twirled and dipped her as the music played on. He watched her sing along to every word.

I’m in love… I’m all shook up, hmm, hmm, hmm.”

He sang along to the chorus by the third time it repeated, and James pressed her flush against him while he pretended to serenade her.

I’m in love… I’m all shook up,” he gently sang.

Lily cackled at his horrendous impersonation and continued to laugh even as he dipped her nearly to the floor. Her hair brushed the stone ground until he flung her back towards him.

James was also hyper-aware of how close they’re becoming. They began dancing far apart, but now he could feel her chest on his, her breath hot on his neck, and her hand soft in his. The other hand gripped her waist tight, like he feared he was only dreaming, and she would suddenly slip away if he didn't keep her close.

Her breath fogged his glasses, but James could see she was looking up at him.

And no longer laughing.

James swallowed hard. Her intense stare ensnared his breath.

And just as he considered closing the distance, she opened her mouth to say something.

What are yeh two doin’ in ‘ere?!”

Lily leaped from James with a rough push on his chest.

The Quidditch Captain paid no mind to the caretaker's howling. He merely strolled to the record player and removed the needle. In the quiet, he lifted his glasses to casually rid them of the fog.

“W-we found this r-record and we wanted to p-play it,” Lily stammered horribly under Filch’s scrutinising glare.

“We cleaned the room like you asked, Filchy. We were just taking a break,” James said flatly, leaning against one of the tables they tidied.

Filch took that moment to scan the classroom and see that it is, indeed, loads cleaner than before. The caretaker grimaced and stepped aside. Leaving space for an exit, he said, “Fine. But leave now ‘fore I make yeh finish the place.”

James saluted the angry squib and began to take his leave. When he made it into the corridor, he patiently waited for Evans to follow.

The flustered redhead apologised profusely to the caretaker for their dancing charade as she stepped into the dungeon corridor and took her place beside James.

“Jus’ go. I don’t care much, no more,” he growled.

He slammed the door, locking himself and Mrs Norris inside, leaving James and Lily alone in the torch-lit hallway.

James snickered at how rattled his ginger partner became. “No need to fret, Evans. We’re not in trouble. Don’t be scared of the Big Bad Filch.”

Lily glared at him and scoffed. “I wasn’t scared!”

James stood up straight and clasped his hands together. In a high voice, he stammered, “P-p-please Mr Filch, I’m so t-t-terribly sorry we stopped c-c-cleaning.”

The prefect dove forward and started to beat on his arm. “I don’t sound like that, you git!”

James pretended to be in great pain between his laughter. “I give! I give, Evans! Oi! Quit it!”

Lily was fighting a smile as she halted her violent outburst to cross her arms. “You’re a prat, James Potter.”

The boy’s eyes widened.

She said his name.

It may be his full name, but f*ck, it was something.

“And you’re a bore, Lily Evans.”

“No, I’m not.”

“We are who we are and you are most certainly a boring ol’ prig,” he said sweetly.

Lily frowned. “That’s… That’s not true.”

”I’m afraid it is.”

”It’s not. You don’t even know me.” She turned and began to make her way down the hallway to the above corridors.

James took a few great bounds to catch up with her. “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with being a straight-laced teacher’s pet, Evans. Someone has to take up that role. If not you, then someone else, but you’re definitely the best at it.”

Her eyes rolled, but she said nothing.

“I mean, hey, it’s a role you play extremely well. Why not embrace it?” He was only teasing, but Lily’s pace quickened as she remained silent.

James began to panic.

They’re now at the re-entrance to the upper level of the castle, which means he has about five minutes until they’ll be back in the common room, parting ways.

The last hour was incredible. She talked to him about his problems and danced with him and let him hold her and—dammit all—James isn’t ready for that brief moment between them to end. So he needs to fix this and fix it fast.

He ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath. “Evans, I was just taking the piss. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

Lily clenched her fists.

“Look, ginger, I’m really sorry.”

“What for?”

“For… you know.”

Lily snapped her head at him and glowered. “See, that’s your problem, Potter. You give the most atrocious apologies. How do your mates ever forgive you when you’ve done something wrong?”

James shrugged. “We don’t fight.”

“Everyone fights with their mates at some point.”

“Well, then we haven’t had a fight yet.”

“I pity the day they have to receive one of your piss-poor apologies then.”

James put a gentle hand on her shoulder to stop her heated trudge to the Gryffindor portrait as they approached the Grand Staircase.

“Hold on now, Evans. Let me try again.”

The redhead smacked his hand away and crossed her arms. “Why should I?”

“Do you believe that people can change?”

He didn’t mean to sound so cliché, but the question was honest.

Her expression softened from a glare to a stubborn neutral. She let her arms fall to her hips. “Yeah, I guess. Depends on whether or not they’re really trying.”

He swallowed hard and ran his fingers through his tangled, black hair. “Then, uh, let me try again… please.”

With her confirming nod, he took a deep breath and poured the words from his lips without forethought. “You’re right. I don’t know you. I asked you out for an entire year without having actually talked to you more than a handful of times—and those times were always within conversations that took place with others around. With our friends, or in lessons. We’ve always had some sort of audience. This is the first time that you and I have ever truly been alone together. But despite having never been around you in private before, I built up this arsenal of information on you, so that one day something superficial would stick, and you’d finally agree to go out with me. I know things about you—probably too many things. I know your birthday is January 30th. I know your favourite flowers are daisies and you think blokes who give you lilies are unoriginal. Your favourite author is some muggle named Stephen King for his scary novels and you secretly love horror films—which is subsequently why your favourite subject in Defence is inferi. You pull a lock of your hair when you’re trying to remember something or you feel uncomfortable. Your favourite flavour of ice cream is strawberry, and you always order it with extra cherries and whipped cream, but you hate sprinkles because they get stuck in your teeth. You write silly poetry in the margins of your notes when class becomes monotonous. And while you’ve never been outside the country, you dream of one day visiting the French wine country. You’re probably truly wonderful as a friend and likely the complete opposite of a bore, but I wouldn’t know. Because you’re right, I don’t know you. Not really. I only know what I’ve observed and I’ve never taken the time to carry a genuine conversation with you. And that means I wouldn’t know if you really are a prig or not and it was wrong of me to declare that you were so decidedly and, for that, I am sorry.”

He inhaled deeply to catch his breath after his tirade and watched multiple emotions pass over Lily’s face. Skepticism, fear, confusion, surprise, and—finally—indecision.

The redhead nibbled on her lower lip and tapped her foot. After a moment, she glanced up at him, his hazels meeting her emeralds.

She sighed harshly. “Okay. I suppose that’s good enough for me. You’re forgiven.”

James grinned. “Really?”

“Yeah, I can tell that your little speech is genuine. But that doesn’t make us friends, you know.”

“Yeah, about that… I feel that I should let you know something, too, about what I just said.”

“How you’re a stalker who knows an alarming amount of information about me?” Lily retorted with a cynical smirk.

The two began to walk up the steps to the Fat Lady as James spoke, “Listen, Evans, I admitted to knowing those ridiculous facts about you because… I’ve moved on from you. I know I can be reckless and loose with rules, but I’m a terrific listener when the occasion calls for it. And what you said at the end of the term, I heard you. Loud and clear. I guess, I'm just trying to tell you that I won’t be bothering you anymore.”

They both stopped in front of the portrait and waited for the Fat Lady to droll for the password.

Lily appeared shocked. And James wasn’t sure if it’s because she was surprised that he’s finally moving on or because he had the guts to say it out loud. Either way, he smiled softly and said, “Dimittas.”

The portrait swung open and James winked before stepping inside. “Goodnight, Lily. Thank you for making this the most enjoyable detention I’ve ever had.”

He only just crossed the threshold into the common room when he heard a soft voice say, “Goodnight, James.”

His whole body stiffened.

Dammit all, she just had to go and say his name. He started to turn around and ask her what her plans were for the rest of the evening when Marlene suddenly appeared in view.

The brunette was pacing back and forth anxiously, digging her fingernails into her arms. She glanced up and winced when she realised he was standing there, staring at her in confusion.

“Uh, I’ve been… waiting for you,” she remarked sheepishly.

“What for? To ask how the detention you put me in went?” he grumbled.

Marlene sucked on her lips and tightened the hold on her arms. “Yes, actually. I want to apologise. I was hoping we could talk. Just the two of us.”

His glower softened. “I’d love that.”

He felt a brush of wind against his shoulder as a whirlwind of red hair whooshed from behind him and bid Marlene a gentle, “Goodnight.”

The prefect rushed up the stairs without turning back.

He watched her leave, their conversations still occupying his thoughts. He didn’t mean to unload his feelings like that on her, but honesty was supposed to be good right?

Maybe one day when he found someone new, they could even be friends… possibly.

James smiled at Marlene and threw an arm around her shoulders, “Alright, Mar. Let’s talk. I’ve got loads to catch you up on. Starting with asking you if you’ve ever heard of this ‘Elvis pretzel’ chap.”

Marlene gave him a horrified stare. “You mean Elvis Presley? The King?”

James laughed and steered Marlene towards two empty seats by the fireplace.

Yeah.

The f*cking King.

Chapter 9: Prelude III

Chapter Text

Prelude III

December 3rd, 1975

Left foot, right foot.

One step at a time.

Left foot, right foot.

Almost there…

Bullocks!

And there he went, tumbling yet again. Right outside the portrait of the Fat Lady, too. Bloody embarrassing.

Sirius just finished up a rather boring shag in the fifth floor corridor broom closet with Wendla Stout after they emptied a bottle of wine together, and now he can hardly get himself up the steps of the moving staircase.

Is he drunker than usual?

Did she spike his wine?

Sirius could swear he saw her drink it too. He certainly didn’t need to be coerced into sleeping with her. He would have done it sober and in the middle of the Entrance Hall, for f*ck’s sake.

The corridor spun.

Which way is up?

Is he standing yet?

Ouch!

Was that his head?

What did he hit this time?

Has he fallen again?

The steps look so much further away now.

The floor.

His face is on the floor. Cold marble chilling his cheek.

Hands.

Those are definitely hands.

Someone is lifting him. Someone is leaning him against their shoulder.

He made out the blurred image of their shoes as his head hung…

The loose pant legs of the boys’ uniform trousers.

Some bloke found him.

Someone found...

Some…

one…

found…

And then it all went dark.

The smell of fire.

A pounding headache.

Where the f*ck is he?

Sirius opened his eyes with difficulty and found himself lying on his side in a room he didn’t recognize.

Is he still in the castle?

Lifting his head despite the pain, he glanced around to see what he could view without moving too much.

He’s in a canopy bed, adorned with white silk sheets that he’s neatly tucked into. A small red loveseat, placed in front of a low glass coffee table, sat before a raging fireplace, making the room toasty warm.

Sirius glanced further to the left. A glass of water was perched at his left on a wooden side-table. The glow of the fire, the only light coming from the room, refracted peacefully into the glistening glass.

With a gentle shift of his legs, Sirius noted that he was still in his jeans and white t-shirt. His shoes, however, now rested closer to the fire.

Suddenly, he felt a foreign movement on the bed.

He lifted himself slowly, turning to face… a mysterious guest with him.

Marlene?

Her hair is down—which is a first—and her eyes are sealed peacefully, but it’s definitely her.

He lifted the sheets to examine her clothes.

Still on!

Thank f*cking god.

Without opening her eyes, Marlene smirked. “We didn’t have sex if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Sirius flushed and apologized. “I’m sorry, I’m just confused. H-how did I get here? And what are you doing in bed with me?”

Her eyes opened at last, blinking gently.

Pure honey—like molten gold in the light of the fire.

Marlene yawned and smacked her lips. “I was taking a walk around the castle when I saw you fall down the steps. I tried to ask you what happened, but it became very clear that you were drinking again, so I carried you to the Come and Go Room. I was going to simply leave you here overnight—but then you mumbled something about being drugged, so I chose to stay in case anything happened to you. I already made this room and, since there was only one bed, I joined you. Clothes on, of course. Does that clear things up?”

She finished her explanation with a smile, a genuine sweetness curving at the corners of her mouth.

Sirius merely stared at her.

She looks like a completely different person with her hair down, free of her typical tightly twined braids. Sirius can’t remember a time he’s ever seen her without them. Her natural hairstyle is longer and thicker than he expected—voluminous and shining in the light like fresh coffee in the morning.

Radiant.

Glowing.

Perfect.

A profound sense of ease enveloped his senses while lying in that bed.

It was then he realised he was out searching for that exact same feeling. The same feeling he felt when Marlene held him so close only a few months before in her bedroom closet—the night before they returned to the school.

Having sex with girls.

Connecting skin-to-skin.

It’s the closest he’s ever been to the feeling of being held in her bedroom closet.

He wants it now.

He wants to experience it again.

All the other girls never quite captured that same raw intimacy. Sometimes—though he will never admit it out loud—he wondered what having sex with Marlene would be like. A simple hug unlocked an unprecedented gate in his mind and her mere presence heightens his senses.

In classes.

In the Great Hall.

In the common room.

On the Quidditch pitch while she watches them all practice.

Sirius knows he could never f*ck her. James would murder him where he stood.

But they’re here now, and the circ*mstances are unique. He’ll probably never get another chance to, so maybe just this once he can simply hold her like he did over the summer holiday.

How does one even ask for something like that?

She saw something in him that day. It burned in their embrace.

Comfort. Warmth. Excitement.

There is surely a better word for the feeling, but he can’t quite place it.

He cleared his throat. “Why did you help me tonight?”

Marlene shrugged, sitting up to fluff her pillow. “Because we’re friends.”

“Friends?”

Cuddling her cheek into the feather-stuffed fabric, she replied, “I’d like to think so.”

He watched her snuggle into the pillow. And, suddenly, he wished he was the object she rested her cheek on.

f*ck.

Jealous of a damn pillow.

Ridiculous.

But he wants it all the same, and if he’s going to fulfil his desires, he is going to have to ask for it.

Sirius cleared his throat. “And friends… hug, don’t they?”

Her eyebrows shot up before she chewed her lower lip. “I-I suppose they do.”

“May I… have one?”

Her honey-eyes, once fixated on his eyes in return, glanced curiously down at his lips. When they reached his sight once more, she nodded mechanically.

They carefully shifted closer to one another, adjusting the sheets to suit their new position.

He wrapped his arms around her while she nuzzled into his chest, her hand resting on the ridges of his ribs. His nose landed at the top of her head.

Cinnamon. Tulip season. Flickering through the pages of a new book.

Her hand burned into his side. Her breath steamed the front of his shirt. He bit back the temptation to remove the fabric—if only to know what her cheek feels like on his bare chest. Nothing more.

Being with her is so… comforting. Everything about this seems like what having a real home is supposed to feel like.

Safe. Affectionate. Humble.

And he doesn’t want it to end. Never. He wants this forever.

“How long are hugs supposed to last?”

“Until one of us doesn’t need it anymore,” she whispered back.

Sirius waited for her to pull away, but she didn’t. She stayed. She stayed until they both fell asleep, gripping each other in a tender hold.

It wasn’t until he woke up to an empty bed that he understood—now more than ever before—how desperately he desired to never sleep without her again.

Chapter 10: Love Potion No. 9

Chapter Text

Love Potion No. 9

October 5th, 1976

“Essence of Insanity is no laughing matter, students. The process is excruciatingly precise and will take the entire allotted class time to finish,” Slughorn tittered on as he readied the sixth-year class for their classwork. “You and your partner will either work together or individually, truly it depends on whether or not you’d like to share the prize.”

Angelique Travers, a Slytherin seated in the first row, raised her hand. “Professor, what do you mean by prize?”

“I’m glad you’ve asked, Miss Travers,” he quipped with a jovial grin. “The prize, my dear pupils, will be rewarded to the first pair to make a perfect batch of their potion today. Those lucky students will be allowed to keep a vial of my storage of Felix Felicis to use at their leisure, which of course could come in handy if one were to use it before my exam next week.”

The whole classroom erupted in chatter as the sixth-year Gryffindors and Slytherins strategized plans for making the potion or gossiped about what they would do with the prize if they won.

Lily is confident in her abilities as a Potioneer, but Marlene being her replacement partner since the start of the term means certain doom. Her brunette best friend is a talented witch in Transfiguration and Divination—and if they taught piano on the premises, then she’d be their star pupil—but passing the Potions O.W.L. must have been by some sort of divine miracle. Why she chose to continue on to the N.E.W.T level is beyond the redhead’s comprehension, but she’s grateful that they’re together all the same.

Lily didn’t expect their friendship to remain so tightly knit after the summer holiday. In truth, the prefect silently wondered if their sudden close companionship would fizzle out after she reconciled with Potter. But to her pleasant shock, Marlene hasn’t left her side.

They sit in their joint classes together, complete assignments together, and eat meals together. The weekends are spent side-by-side, drinking Firewhiskey in the dorm, laughing till their stomachs hurt, and filling their boredom with activities like Wizard’s Chess and listening to vinyl on the common room’s new record player. School days with Marlene make it feel as though summer never really ended. The two are beginning to build up a reputation of being as close as Potter and Black.

When Marlene leaves her to spend time with Leo, Lily makes a hasty retreat to the library in hopes that Declan will be in their secret lounge.

They haven’t kissed yet as they nearly did the first time she visited his miniature common room. But she definitely thinks about it.

A lot.

Truthfully, Declan eludes her when they aren’t in some way alone together. He never speaks to her in passing as they walk to their respective classes or into the Great Hall for meals.

In one instance, Lily did try to say hello to her grassy-eyed enigma outside of the prefect’s office as he strolled by with his Ravenclaw friends. But Declan merely smiled and continued on his way without so much as a verbal response.

Even inside their secret room, he is distant. Their conversation is heavily reliant on small talk and it’s nearly always Lily who initiates.

The redhead is rather conflicted on the subject of Declan Calvolio. There is certainly chemistry between them.

That she knows for sure.

He teased her and indulged her flirtation after she called him a William Darcy type of boy.

There is mystery there that intrigues her, but the uncertainty of his feelings leaves her doubtful that he has any for her at all.

Lily is not the type of girl who has to try rather hard for a gentleman’s attention, but Declan is something different altogether. Or maybe she just imagines it because he’s the first boy at Hogwarts she actually likes.

She hasn’t told Marlene about her regular rendezvouses with Declan yet. Lily isn’t sure why it makes her so nervous, but she likes to think it’s because there’s nothing yet to tell. And besides, she pinky swore she’d keep his library hideaway a secret. Her hands are simply tied.

It’s not that she’ll never tell Marlene about him, but her lovely brunette companion is rather distracted with Welch, and Lily is genuinely happy for her. The confidence that diminished over the holiday has surged since the couple began casually seeing each other. Lily is lucky that Potions is paired with Slytherins because the redhead is convinced she’d be without a partner and left to fight off Sev by herself.

From the first day of class, Marlene took upon the role of the perfect deflector to Severus’s antics to get Lily alone. Marlene may not be the best partner academically, but she is undoubtedly her best friend.

Lily looked over to ask if Mar is ready for the challenge of the day’s lesson, but the answer is rather obvious. Marlene focused intensely on biting at her cuticles and hurriedly reread the notes she took in the previous lecture.

Lily co*cked a brow.

She must really want that potion.

The prefect glanced around the room towards Severus who scribbled furiously in his potions book. If they were still partners, this competition would be theirs to win, no question. She wonders if he will choose to work alone or with one of the cretins he calls his mates.

Seated in the two rows directly behind her, Lily overheard the voices of the Marauders talking about what they’d do with the potion if they were lucky enough to win.

“I think I’d swallow the whole vial and finally… ask Audrey Malkin to go with me on the upcoming Hogsmeade trip,” Peter said with a nervous laugh.

Remus, his partner, clapped him on the back and said, “You don’t need a potion for that, Wormtail. Just show her how charming you are.”

James flashed a lopsided smile. “Yeah, buy her some flowers, bring them to the entrance of the Hufflepuff common room after classes one day, and just ask her out! Birds love flowers and, besides, you’re an aces bloke. She’d be barmy not to give you an honest shot.”

Lily smiled. That’s a surprisingly nice thing to say.

Sirius snickered. “Yeah, because buying a particular bird an entire greenhouse worth of flowers worked out so well when you tried it last year.”

Lily stiffened.

She was well f*cking aware of who the ‘bird’ in question was.

James growled and leaped from his seat, wrapping Black’s head under his arm and messing up his perfectly prim hair with the palm of his hand.

Sirius shouted his complaints and desperately tried to buck the Quidditch Captain off of him. His elbow smacked their cauldron, knocking it over until it rolled off the counter and clattered to the floor.

“Potter! Black! Enough of this foolishness!” Slughorn commanded.

But the Marauders’ de facto leader was not done just yet; he clearly needed a point made. The two continued to wrestle until they both fell backward onto the floor, peeling with laughter. The class jumped from their seats and cheered, shouting out the names of their preferred winner.

Slughorn removed his wand from the breast pocket of his robes and shouted, “Stop it this instant!”

With a wave of his wand, the two flew apart each landing a few metres from the place they were roughhousing.

“You two,” Slughorn spat with a curled finger to each Marauder in question, “are no longer allowed to be partners in my lessons from here on out. This childish behaviour will no longer be tolerated in my classes.”

James rose and brushed off his trousers. “Well, I suppose that’s fair.” He turned to Peter and said, “Alright, you heard the man. The two of us have to be partners now.”

Peter shrugged as if the outcome of their foolishness didn’t really surprise him.

Remus merely rolled his eyes and nodded to Sirius.

“Absolutely not,” Slughorn started with an authoritative frown. “The two of you may not switch with those two either. I will be the one to choose your partners.”

“But, Professor, you can't possibly partner us with Slytherins! Nothing will get done! It’ll be chaos!” James shouted.

Sirius gasped and dramatically clutched his heart. “Professor! The outrage! It would be anarchy!”

“You both already cause plenty of chaos in this classroom! But I understand your worry, which is why I’ve already decided who are the best students for the job.” He walked to the desk that seated Lily and Marlene. “I’m sure with your desires to succeed in this class, the two of you will keep Potter and Black in line.”

Lily sat upright, staring up at the professor in shock.

“Me? You want me to be partners with one of them? Have I done something wrong?”

James scoffed and crossed his arms, while the class giggled and relaxed back into their seats.

“Of course not, Miss Evans. But you can hold your own as a Potioneer and you do not tolerate mischief. I’ll even reward you with the choice of which you prefer, in addition to twenty points to Gryffindor for your sacrifice.”

“Don’t I get a say in this?!” Marlene protested, her face pale and panic-stricken.

“Miss Evans is an active member of the Slug Club, so she may have first pick, Miss McKinnon.”

“But, Professor, Lily and I are already partners—!”

“That’s enough, Miss McKinnon! I’ve already made up my mind.”

Marlene glanced at Lily in horror, while the sheepish redhead turned to stare at the two criminals in question.

The prefect grimaced and muttered, “It's like being asked if you’d prefer to cut off your left or right leg.”

The class snickered, but hushed quickly, eager to hear who she’ll choose. Her options are either:

the obsessive git who asked her out nearly every day for years

the narcissistic prat who’ll probably be absent in helping with the N.E.W.T. level workload.

Potter wasn’t looking at her; he kicked the ground with his hands dug into his pockets. Lily wondered if he was nervous that she'd pick him. Or maybe he was hoping that she wouldn’t. A quick glance at Sirius proved him to be equally as uncomfortable as he looked to Lily with pleading grey eyes before she redirected her attention to the messy-haired Captain of the Quidditch team.

That detention with Potter from a few weeks ago was certainly a strange one. The two talked intimately about Marlene—who they now share as a best friend. Her sweet brunette often talked about how misunderstood Potter really is. How he is generous and kind, but only to those who he deems worthy of it.

They danced and sang together to one of her favourite artists. Lily recalled how fast her heart was racing when he crept a little closer to her ear and whispered the lyrics. Perhaps his mates were the common denominator. He’s only a decent bloke when he’s alone.

But when did that ever happen really?

And then there was that peculiar speech he made before walking into the common room. He apologised for the rude insult with sincerity. The first time she ever heard those words out of his mouth with a genuine explanation for what he did wrong. And those little trinkets of information he garbled out were all true, as frightening as it may be to come to terms with.

Perhaps he knows pieces of information like that about everyone. He is top of their year, after all. Logically, there must be a reason for it. Maybe his memory is simply that great. In theory, that will make him the ideal replacement for Marlene.

She glanced back to Slughorn and replied, “I choose Potter.”

The entire class gasped before breaking out into whispers.

“Alright then, Miss Evans, you may stay here. Mister Potter, join her here at your new desk. McKinnon, Black, take the desk furthest to the back. I want you both separated as much as possible.”

Marlene tapped on Lily’s shoulder with fearful eyes. “I don’t want this.”

“I’m sorry, love. You know it wasn’t my choice. Potter is your friend, but Black is rubbish at Potions.”

“Hey! I heard that!”

Marlene bit her lip and reluctantly gathered her belongings. She bid Lily a terrified farewell and left to meet Black in the back of the classroom.

“Mr Potter, take your seat now please.”

Lily glanced back at her new partner and smiled sheepishly. He stared at her with his mouth slightly open like he couldn't fathom how she chose him. Truthfully, she probably could have tried harder to pawn him off to someone else, but Slughorn already has enough on his plate.

What’s the harm if he’s being truthful about moving on?

It’s been a little over four weeks since classes resumed—and he hasn’t asked her out once. It’s so pleasant walking the halls knowing a singing tapestry isn’t going to start belting her name to the tune of “Baby, I Love Your Way.”

Potter nodded to Black and sullenly collected his bag.

Lily noticed grew taller over the summer. She tried not to admire his physique when he fought Black minutes prior, but even she has to admit he gained some muscles over the holiday. All traces of boyish roundness now vanished into a slim athlete.

Potter seated himself in Marlene’s former spot, making a point to slide the stool a few extra centimetres away from her. He’s biting his cheek like he’s trying to stop himself from saying something foolish. He swallowed hard, running his fingers through his hair and drawing the strands upwards before releasing them into a scattered mess.

“Alright, class. Now that the commotion has settled, let’s resume. There is no time to waste! Everyone may now begin!”

Lily turned to her new partner and asked gruffly, “Are you actually prepared for this, Potter, or am I going to be making this potion by myself?”

James co*cked an eyebrow and opened his leather-bound notebook. The entire recipe to Essence of Insanity was documented in perfectly legible handwriting with small tips in the margins on how to make the process easier to perform.

“Yes, Evans. Of course, I came prepared. I’ll go collect the frog brains and murtlap tentacles. Think you can scrounge up the beetle eyes and the occamy egg or would you prefer to set the fire to the cauldron first?”

Lily blinked. “Uh, I can go get those things. I’ll grab the tincture of thyme while I’m at it. I can grab some from Slughorn’s personal collection.”

She stood up slowly and walked briskly to Slughorn’s private ingredients cabinet reserved exclusively for Slug Club members to avoid the traffic of the main ingredients closet.

Huh, so maybe he really was top of their year for a reason. Lily mused over how the rest of the term will fair as her fingers gripped the brass knob of the cabinet door.

The dusty ingredients closet was poorly lit, so Lily cast a quick lumos to find the beetle eyes. She thought she remembered seeing it somewhere on the third shelf to the bottom when the door abruptly and ominously closed. When Lily looked up, the gaunt figure of Severus came into view under the glow of her wand.

“Potter?” he spat. “You chose Potter?”

Lily paid him no mind and continued to search for the ingredients to her potion. “He was the obvious choice.”

“Obvious? How is that despicable swine the obvious choice?” Sev asked darkly.

The Gryffindor prefect rolled her eyes as she collected the beetle eyes jar and placed it under her arm. “He’s top of our year.”

“By cheating, no doubt,” he mumbled, crossing his arms defiantly.

“Have you seen his notebook? It’s actually quite methodical. He might just be that intelligent. Who knows? Regardless, he was a better choice than Black, and I couldn’t refuse Professor Slughorn’s wishes.”

The onyx-eyed boy smacked the shelf with his fist and hissed, “You didn’t even try. The Lily I’m friends with would have never taken that lying down. She would have argued and fought to the bone if she had to be partnered with a bloody Marauder. And Potter, no less.”

Lily’s eyes darkened as her fingers tightened around the occamy eggs. “That’s odd. Last time I checked you don’t have any friends named Lily that I’m aware of.”

The bottles tight in her clutches, she all but shoved Severus to the side. His back hit the shelf as he made way for her.

“Lily, please. We’ve been friends for too long to let it go over one mistake. This has to end. You’re all I have. Please be in my life again. Please,” he begged

Opening the door slightly, she angled her head back to him once more and whispered, “What I do or whomever I choose to speak with is none of your business. You made your choice and I want no part in it. Leave me alone, Sev. I won’t say it again.”

She slammed the door on her way out, rousing a few curious stares, including one from Potter as she forced the ingredients down on the desk with gusto. With her wand, she lit sparks underneath the cauldron and roughly added horseradish to the frog brains that he collected from the other side of the classroom.

When she glanced up, Potter was staring at her with caution.

“What?!” she growled.

“Uh… Alright, Evans?”

“No.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“Do you want to—”

“No, Potter! I don’t want anything from you! Just drop it!”

James furrowed his brows and cracked his knuckles. “Fine,” he spat. “I won’t ask you if you’d like to stir the potion we’re supposed to be focusing on. My mistake, Evans.”

Her name sounded venomous as he spoke.

Almost as vehemently as she spoke to him only moments ago.

Lily softened and bit her lip. With a slight tug on her hair, she reached over and took the stirring rod from his hands.

“I’m sorry, that was awfully rude. I was just a little miffed is all. I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. You didn’t deserve it.”

The Quidditch Captain bounced his leg against the stool and ruffled his hair. “Whatever, Evans. I know you didn’t ask to be my partner, but you should know that I'm not particularly thrilled with the sudden switch in seating assignments either.”

“That’s not why I’m upset.”

His hazel eyes met hers instantly. “Really?”

“Heavens, no. I honestly can’t be bothered.”

“Yeah?” The heat began to rise in James’s ears and he fluffed his hair once more. The sixth time since becoming partners.

Not that Lily is counting.

“Yes, I promise. My, uh, little outburst was not meant for you or our new partnership at all.”

James nodded, contentedly. “May I ask why you are upset then?”

Lily bit her lip again. “I don’t think so.”

Potter shrugged. “No matter. But I suppose if you were to tell me then I could properly forgive you—now that I know you yelled at me unwarrantedly.”

The ginger witch laughed. “Oh, is that right?”

James grinned with his lower lip between his teeth at the sound of her laughter. “Fair is fair, Evans.”

Lily mulled the deal over in her mind before finally conceding with a nod of her head. “Okay, I’ll tell you, but you have to promise me two things. First, you won’t tell anyone. Not even the other Marauders.”

“Done. What’s the second condition?”

“You have to promise that you’ll just listen. No talking to this person. No looking for revenge. No vigilante justice.”

“Vigi-what?”

“Nevermind. Just make the damn promise.”

“Fine, I promise. Now spill, Evans,” he remarked with a wink.

She glanced around the room to where Severus now sat, sulking behind the flames of his cauldron. Lily frowned and turned back to Potter, who furrowed his brows upon seeing her expression.

“What happened, Lily?”

“Remember in the carriage ride to the castle when I told you that I hadn’t made up with Severus yet? And that I’ve been avoiding speaking with him?”

He narrowed his eyes at the Slytherin in question. “Yes…”

“He just cornered me in the closet.”

James stood abruptly. His chair wobbled as it threatened to tip over. With clenched fists, he said, “That slimy little—!”

Lily gripped his elbow and pulled him forcibly back into his chair. “Get a hold of yourself! What did you just promise me, Potter?!”

James flushed and covered his mouth. “Oh, right. I forgot.”

Lily hid her eyes with her hand. “For f*ck’s sake, keep it together, Potter.”

He bit back the desire to tease her for her foul language with a smirk. “Sorry,” he began, “Uh, start over. I promise I won’t try anything.”

“He followed me to the ingredients room and accused me of not putting enough effort into not trading partners. Basically, he implied that I wanted the switch. And then some other things.”

“What sort of things?”

“Well, he’s been rather persistent in trying to mend the friendship.”

“And you don’t want that?”

“I do, but I’m not going to forgive him when he isn’t really sorry.”

“Not that I care for the greasy git, but what makes you so sure that he isn’t being sincere?”

Lily sighed and watched James tend to the potion by attempting to cut a murtlap tentacle. “Well, I suppose saying he isn’t sorry is not the right way to put it. It’s really more his choice of friends that upsets me. He doesn’t understand the effect they have on him.”

James smirked and pointed his shaven chin towards Mulciber and Avery who already managed to set their potion ingredients ablaze. “Oh, you mean those two morons over there?”

Lily grinned. “Yes, those morons.”

“So you’re not a fan of them and that’s why you can’t forgive ol’ Snivelly?”

Lily made a disgusted face and shook her head. “No, it’s more than that. I don’t simply dislike them. They call muggleborns like me mudbloods, and he doesn’t seem to see a problem with that.”

James stiffened at the word and looked around to see if anyone heard her say it. He gazed at her deeply with stern hazel eyes and leaned in slightly. “Anyone who calls you that deserves to get their teeth knocked in, Evans. That word is foul.” His face contorted into anger and his hand gripped the pestle firmly as he ground the occamy eggshell into a fine powder with more strength than necessary. “Any wizard who thinks that You-Know-Who’s some sort of pureblood prophet is f*cking delusional.”

Lily raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Aren’t you a pureblood?”

“Yes, and what about it?” he grumbled as he deposited the powder into the cauldron.

Lily lifted her wand and stirred the potion anti-clockwise twice. “This needs to boil for thirty minutes then we stir constantly for twenty.”

James leaned back on his stool and placed his arms behind his head. With his eyes closed, he took a few calming breaths. When Lily said nothing, the Quidditch Captain opened one eye and said, “I’m waiting.”

“For what?”

“For why you asked if I was pureblood.”

“Are you implying that as a pureblood you don’t believe in Voldemort’s cause? Not even a little bit?”

Most men would have flinched at the sound of the Dark Lord’s name, but James merely replied, “Absolutely.”

Lily tugged on her hair, twirling the lock around her finger. “How come?”

Her voice was so small just then, but she truly wants to know why she deserves to be here. She’s no stranger to the politics of the Wizarding World. From the moment she arrived at Hogwarts, she was forced to accept the status quo which begs the question of whether or not she deserves to know of its existence at all. She understands that she is magical, therefore earning her place, but sometimes she wonders if it is worth the fight.

As if James could sense this, he sat up and placed an elbow on the desk. Resting his cheek on his fist he said, “Because there is no difference. In order for a muggleborn to be a witch or wizard, they need magic. That’s the only requirement. Squibs can still be purebloods and not have magic. Does that mean they shouldn’t be allowed into wizarding society?”

“No.”

“Exactly. And you have magic. That makes you a witch. How you obtained it is an irrelevant argument. You were born with it, so you deserve the opportunity to learn to use it. Plain and simple.”

“That’s oddly insightful,” Lily replied with a sheepish grin.

James waved his hand dismissively, “Not really. Every pureblood should see it that way. What I said is nothing special.”

Lily’s stomach fluttered at his words.

“I wish more purebloods agreed with you,” she whispered.

James merely shrugged. “Plenty of us do. Sirius does, undoubtedly. Same for Pete. Remus is a halfblood, but he especially believes in fighting for muggleborn rights. Did you know that only up until recently wizards and witches couldn’t marry muggles in America?”

Lily dropped her jaw. “Really?”

“Honest! It was a big deal when they finally passed a law to change the old texts. Big celebration for halfblood children everywhere.”

The prefect grinned. “That’s fantastic. Love is so much more powerful than any other force in the world.”

James offered a lopsided smirk. “Are you a hopeless romantic then?”

Lily shrugged. “I think love should be left alone to the two people who are in it.”

“In it?”

“In love, that is.”

“What if I don’t believe in love, Evans?”

The ginger contemplated this briefly before she countered. “Do you believe your parents love you?”

James scoffed and flexed. “Of course, they do. Just look at what they raised.”

Lily flipped her hair victoriously. “Then I suppose you believe in love, don’t you?”

The Quidditch Captain tapped his foot against the desk and thought the argument over in his head. “Okay, you got me. I believe in parental love at the very least. My kids are gonna know how much I love them. I’m going to tell them every day.”

“Fancy being a father, then?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

“That’s funny. I always pictured you as the perpetual bachelor type of bloke who just acts as an uncle for all his mate’s children.”

James practically hung off the edge of his seat. “No way! I’m gonna be the proudest father in England. I’m going to teach my children to fly brooms and read and cast hexes and how to paint. I’m an only child, you know. I want a bunch of children. Bloody loads of them.”

“Did you say ‘teach them how to paint?’ Are you a painter, Potter?”

James shrugged and fluffed his hair as his secret hobby came to light unexpectedly. “Uh, yes, I suppose. When the occasion for it arises.”

Lily smiled and laid her elbow on the table with her palm placed against her cheek. “That's quite amazing. I'm rather a terrible artist.”

“I don’t believe you, you just need the right medium. Personally, I prefer oil paints, but everyone is different. Remus likes clay. He makes pretty spectacular sculptures and pottery if given the right muse. Sirius sketches and writes poems. Marlene composes music. We all have our niches.”

“I understand what you’re saying, but I’ll stick to writing.”

James shrugged. “Whatever you say, Evans. But I’ll believe you’re a sh*t artist when I see it.”

Lily laughed and sat back on the stool and crossed her arms. “So you say you want lots of children. Your poor wife will never have a moment’s rest, since you basically count as a child yourself.”

James smirked. “Hurtful, Evans, but you may have a point. Good thing I don’t plan on getting married.”

Lily dropped her jaw. “W-what?! How the hell are you going to have loads of children without getting married?!”

James winked. “You don’t need to be married to conceive a child, Evans.”

The redhead pretended to gag. “You’re revolting. How many women are you planning on impregnating?”

“Whoever is willing, I suppose. You’d be surprised how many women offer to bear my children for me—I’d never have a little James Junior running around if it wasn’t consensual.”

Lily paled.

“Alright, Evans? Are your virginal ears bleeding from all this talk of premarital sex?”

Lily stiffened but chose to ignore his insinuation. She deflected quickly. “You mentioned that you want to teach your bastard, hypothetical children how to fly.”

“Of course! They’ll have to be as great a Quidditch player as me in order to earn my love.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Well, since we’re waiting on the potion, I might as well ask: How exactly does one play Quidditch?”

James narrowed his eyes like she just told him that Quidditch is not a real sport. “What do you mean, how do you play? You fly,” he replied pointedly.

“Well, that’s the obvious part. What are the rules?”

“You’ve spent the last five years watching Quidditch matches and you’re trying to tell me that you don’t know what the bloody hell is going on in them?”

Lily blushed. “Well, yes. I understand you try to get the ball things—”

“Quaffles.”

“—into the tall circles.”

“Goalposts.”

“And you try to avoid getting hit by the other ball things—”

“Bludgers.”

“—but why are there two Beaters instead of only one? Why not just make one of them another Chaser? And why is the Snitch so many points? And for that matter, why have a Snitch at all? It seems more logical to simply have a timed game and the most amount of points wins.”

Her sudden interest in his favourite pastime certainly stumped the Quidditch Captain. Lily sat waiting for him to respond. He leaned in close and narrowed his eyes.

“Are you willingly trying to talk to me about Quidditch? Or are you trying to distract me?”

Lily’s eyes widened.

Bullocks, he’s onto her.

“Because it… is… working!” He slammed his hands onto the desk and began rearranging the leftover occamy eggs and tincture bottles into a rectangular formation.

He pointed to the jar of thyme and smiled crookedly. “Okay, so this is your Keeper…”

It must be some sort of record.

They were forced to become partners over forty-five minutes ago and—somehow—neither one has spoken a single word.

Marlene and Sirius silently assigned roles for the potion through points of their fingers, nods, and shrugs. Their dedication to not speaking is truly a work of skill. Both know that any word that enters the space will likely end in an argument. Truthfully, their arrangement is better for everyone if their partnership remains nonverbal.

Especially in light of recent circ*mstances.

Marlene’s talk with Jamie after his detention with Lily didn’t go as she expected, but at least they apologised. She tried to be as honest as possible, keeping her secret affair with his best mate pointedly out of her reasons for spending so much time at the Evans home during the final month of the holiday. Hiding so much from him is becoming excruciating and she’s constantly playing defence against Jamie on behalf of the Potions partner that broke her heart.

They were near the fireplace right after his detention with Lily. Both snuggled into their matching maroon wingbacks that rested by the wall, a small walnut table between them for Wizard’s Chess.

James bounced his leg and stared absentmindedly at the Quidditch tryout poster he hung on the wall to his right. Marlene, on the other hand, focused deeply on picking at a scab that was forming on her elbow. Neither quite ready to partake in a serious discussion of their friendship.

But the brunette knew that it was she who needs to speak first.

Marlene straightened in her seat and blurted out, “I’m not really angry with you.”

James crossed his arms. “Oh, yeah? Bullocks for you because I’m right furious, to be perfectly honest.”

“You don’t get to be upset about the detention, Jamie. What you did to Leo wasn’t right.”

“You went to McGonagall, Mar. f*cking McGonagall. That is the lowest of lows. You and I handle things differently and you know it. If the roles were reversed, I would have never gotten revenge against you by going to a professor!”

Marlene inched forward to the edge of her seat, leaning in with narrowed eyes. “So you agree that what you did to Leo warranted revenge?”

The Quidditch Captain threw his hands in the air. “Not anything serious! All his limbs remained on his body. I didn’t bloody hurt the bloke.”

“You hurt me, Jamie,” she explained. Her hands clutched her chest as she said, “You treat me like I’m some annoying little sister that you have to protect and then cast me aside when I try to encroach on your personal time! You don’t behave that way to the other Marauders.”

“They can handle themselves just fine without me.”

“And I can’t?”

James ruffled his hair. “Well, no. It’s not that you can’t. I just know that boys aren’t always kind to girls.” He furrowed his brows, looking her directly in the eyes. “I don’t want some berk taking advantage of you.”

Marlene threw her hands in the air. “That is my decision to make. Not yours. You don’t even know him. Leo is a really great guy, and I rather fancy him. You do not have my permission to dictate who I can date, Jamie.”

James exhaled deeply. “Yeah. You’re right, I guess. Can we agree now that we don’t control who the other dates?”

“Or sleeps with.”

The black-haired boy flinched. “Oh, so… you are, uh, sleeping with Welch.”

Marlene blushed as she awkwardly stammered, “Oh, uh, no. Not yet anyhow. But I just wanted to put it out there that two people don’t need to date in order to be intimate… And even in that case, we still are not allowed to say whom we can be with.”

James scowled. “Yeah, I can agree to that. Anyone, but my mates, that is. They’re off limits.” He shrugged like the notion is obvious.

A wave of lightheadedness rippled through the brunette.

She already broke that rule.

Again and again and again.

She broke that rule for nearly the entire summer.

“Anyways,” James began, “I’m sorry I held your boyfriend over the side of the train.”

Marlene threw her head back and laughed. It really does sound ridiculous.

“I’m sorry I told McGonagall about it. And, by the way, he’s not my boyfriend. At least, not yet.”

James raised a suspicious eyebrow. “It certainly looked like you two were official by the way you were snogging on the train.”

Marlene waved her hand dismissively. “Yes, but that was our first kiss ever. I’ve been wanting to kiss that boy since last year during O.W.Ls. It was an overdue snog.”

He scanned the air above her head in calculative thought. “And I’ve seen you two take walks around the castle grounds. And you now sit together in Herbology.”

The brunette shrugged. “We’re taking things slow. I don’t know if I’m ready for… a real relationship.”

James thought back to his conversation with Lily.

Marlene has a mystery bloke.

If the train incident was their first kiss, that meant Welch isn’t the boy she was seeing over the summer. And, for that matter, if she’s taking things slow with Welch, is she using him to get back at the prick who turned her down?

“Mar? Can I ask you something?”

Marlene leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs. “I suppose so, but that does not necessarily mean I’m going to answer.”

James frowned, uncomfortable by the thought that she would purposefully keep information from him. He continued through his growing irritation. “You told me that you stayed at Evans’s house because you were worried I wouldn’t understand why you were upset. You wanted to change—and I completely understand why you wouldn’t want my advice or help with a makeover—but you never really told me what caused you to want a change to begin with.”

She sat stone-faced, no muscle in her face undaring to reveal her emotions as she curtly replied, “And?”

“And I’d like you to tell me what upset you.”

“Why?”

“Because it upsets me when you’re upset.”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Jamie.”

“Okay, I understand, but whatever happened obviously hurt you. You don’t need to hide that from me. We’re friends.”

A simmering resentment bubbled to the surface of her mind.

Marlene furrowed her brows. “I thought we were best friends.”

“Well, yeah. Of course, we are.”

“Are we really, though?” she challenged.

James held up his hands. “Hey now, why are you getting so defensive? You know I love you. You’re a baby sister to me.”

“But are we even best friends anymore? What about Sirius? And Remus and Peter? Aren’t they your best friends too?”

James grew frustrated. “I can have more than one best friend. What are you trying to imply, Mar?”

She sat forward, elbows on her knees, and said, “I’m implying that you don’t care about me anymore like you care about them.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Ridiculously true, perhaps.”

“You’re mental, Marlene.”

She nearly leaped from her seat. “Am I though? Or am I finally tired of you keeping me on the sidelines of your life and waiting for you to want me to become a part of it?”

James stood up and clenched his fists. “You’re the one who ran away for a month. I tried to see you and you chose to hide instead of just talking to me.”

Marlene got to her feet and met his glowering stare with a fierce glare of her own. “Three weeks, Jamie. That’s how long it took you to realise I wasn’t coming around anymore. You spent that time with your f*cking Marauders while I dealt with my problems on my own. I could have been dead and you wouldn’t have noticed until I was halfway decomposed.”

“Well, that’s not my—!”

“And then you expect me to tell you why I’m hurting,” she scoffed. “You’re not capable of handling others' burdens. You try to fix things without listening or hearing the other person’s side. You make snap decisions and expect everyone to forgive you. And most of the time we do because we rationalise that your behaviour is just James being James. It’s bloody exhausting.”

“So, suddenly, I’m a terrible friend? Suddenly, I’m incapable of listening?” he bit back.

“You haven’t been listening at all this entire conversation,” Marlene accused. She became hyper-aware of the stares. They were accumulating quite a crowd of Gryffindor bystanders, but she was far from finished.

“And what, pray tell, have I missed exactly? Tell me. Do it. Right here and now, let me have it. I’m all ears. What am I missing, Marlene?”

That I f*cked your best mate behind your back for a month straight.

That I foolishly fell in love with him.

That I was tricked into believing he was falling for me too.

That I will never be the same after he broke me because I cannot unlove him no matter how hard I try.

“That our relationship has changed since the Marauders entered our lives… and not for the better.”

James said nothing. The entire common room fell silent as they waited for the Quidditch Captain to respond.

Never, in all their years, had any of their fellow Gryffindors seen the pair of them fight. It’s certainly a first and deserves all their attention.

James and Marlene are a dynamic duet.

A platonic partnership that transcended any other friendship between opposite sexes in the entire school.

And now they are publicly brawling.

Marlene breathed heavily when a soft hand appeared on her shoulder. The disembodied voice of Emmeline whispered, “Hey, why don’t we just take a quick breath? Okay? Let’s not say things we don’t mean.”

Mary appeared at her other side and took Marlene’s hand in her own. “Love, maybe it’s time to go upstairs.”

Marlene shrugged out of their grips and pointed a stern finger at James. “You’re thick, Jamie. You miss the most obvious things that are right in front of you. You’re thick and you play favourites. I’ve come to the realisation that I’m no longer one of yours. If it was between Sirius or I hanging off of a cliff, who would you save?”

“Why does that even matter, Mar?”

“It matters to me, so pick one: Sirius or me?”

James glared. “I have magic, Mar. I’d save you both. Is it really that hard for you to just accept that I love you both equally? Nothing has changed between us. You’re basically a Marauder already.”

“I am not one of your f*cking Marauders,” she replied darkly.

Remus and Peter appeared behind James ready to get between them as the disgusted venom in Marlene’s voice thickened, but their leader coolly held a hand up to prevent them from intervening.

Marlene leaned in so close that only the few surrounding could hear. “If I’m a Marauder then explain this to me: Why am I never invited to your little outings every month? I know you sneak out, so don’t try and deny it. Your bullsh*t lies about staying up drinking are a lie, I just know it. So, if I’m basically a Marauder, then tell me where you go.” When James did not reply, Marlene smirked sardonically. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Go f*ck yourself, Jamie. I’m done with this talk. We’re getting nowhere and I’m tired of your excuses. Come clean, or I’m done with you.”

Emmeline waved her arms to the crowd of common room students and shouted, “That’s it. The show’s over. Everyone out now!”

Marlene didn’t bother to see if everyone listened. She fixated on James, who was now red from head to toe—fuming and caught cornered by Marlene’s accusation and her declaration of their friendship being over if he chooses to remain silent.

So she knows they sneak out. James wants to ask how long she’s known, but Remus stepped forward blocking Marlene from James’s view.

“Okay, I think he’s had enough, Marlene. This needs to end immediately before it gets out of hand. You don’t really mean what you’re saying,” Remus said calmly.

“Lupin, you’ve done nothing wrong, so I’m going to politely ask you to please f*ck off.”

“You have no right to speak to Moony like that,” a menacing voice spoke from behind her.

When Marlene turned to face the intruder, she met the tense face of Sirius Black. “I mean it, Marly. You’ve done enough, don't you think? Go upstairs before you make things worse.”

He reached forward and gripped her calmly by the elbow to guide her towards the girl’s staircase. She ripped her arm from his grasp and pushed him with all her might.

“I’ve told you, do not touch me. You don’t get to touch me. Or tell me what to do. You’re nothing to me. You hear me?” she hushed dangerously.

Sirius stood inches from her mouth and hissed, “You think I give a f*ck what you do? I don’t. But treating Remus like rubbish is a line I won’t allow to be crossed. Your mood swings have gotten old, really quickly. I’m over it. We all are. You’re embarrassing yourself.”

Marlene’s mania skyrocketed.

Embarrassing herself?

He polluted her f*cking insides with his pretty words and idyllic touch.

He did this to her. She is like this because of him.

“Why are you even here? Don’t you have some gullible Hufflepuff to trick into shagging you right about now?”

He leaned towards her ear and spoke viciously low. Her body betrayed her by shivering at his closeness. “I could say the same thing to you. Don’t you have a seat waiting for you on top of Welch’s prick? Or maybe he can finally shut your mouth by keeping it full.”

Marlene slapped Sirius clear across the cheek. Lupin bolted forward and grabbed her to prevent a second attack. She writhed desperately out of his clutches as Sirius stepped backward, holding his cheek in his palm. The third time she’s ever struck him. Carefully, Remus began carrying her towards the dormitory while Em and Mary pleaded with everyone to just leave Marlene alone.

James ran to them all and stood in front of the entrance to the staircase. “Wait, stop! Marlene and I aren’t finished.”

Remus dropped the brunette in front of James who looked down at her with hazel eyes full of remorse.

Marlene exhaled shaky breaths. “You all act like I’m f*cking insane, but I’m not. I’m perfectly fine. Better than I’ve ever been. You want to punish me for not including you when you all excluded me first. I-I’m happy now. I’m happy, and you f*cking hate it. You want to know everything, but I can’t tell you. Believe me that I can’t. I want to, but I can’t. You just can’t see it. I wish you—I wish you could…” Marlene squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her temples.

James reached forward and placed his hands on her cheeks and quietly said, “I hear you. I’m clearly missing something and you don’t need me to help you get through it. But whatever it may be, I am on your side and I always will be. Just tell me what you want me to know and I promise I won’t ask questions. I’ll just listen, I promise. I’ll just listen. I’ll do whatever you want, just don’t—don’t hide from me anymore. Please… I’ve missed you so much, Mar.”

The tears began to well no matter how desperately she tried to blink them away. His concentrated gaze pierced her as she cried, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Jamie. I-I’m such an idiot, I thought he—” But her voice cracked. The string of words that kept her secrets stung tight in her throat.

Sirius stared at her from beyond James’s shoulder. With his eyes alone, he begged her to keep the truth to herself.

It isn’t fair.

She is breaking and she can’t tell anyone why. She is such a hypocrite. She asked Jamie to choose who he’d save from a cliff, but she knows damn well she’d let herself fall to save Sirius.

Why is she saving him?

Her life is crumbling and her secrets are slicing into her with each lie she utters to protect him.

James leaned in and whispered so only she could hear, “I love you, Marlene. I’ve been a bad friend to you, and I won’t let you down again. You can tell me when you’re ready.”

“All I want is to be loved like you love the three of them.” Marlene wrapped her arms around his neck and cried softly, falling into his embrace as they kneeled on the staircase while each bystander left to give them their privacy.

The last to watch the two friends fall apart was Sirius, who stood a few paces back, a profound emptiness growing heavy in his chest. Wishing he could take Prongs’ place, but knowing his chance passed him by before he could understand how desperately he needed to catch it.

Sirius turned and left through the portrait hole, a mandatory cigarette and the girl of his dreams on his mind.

Marlene wept into James’s shirt until they both fell asleep on the bottom few steps of the staircase. Drowsy and dazed, they woke before the rest of the Gryffindors and left the common room for breakfast as if no strife happened between them at all.

Now, not even a month later, Marlene is recalling this horrible fight behind a pewter cauldron.

She couldn’t stop biting her cuticles, her tongue gliding over her teeth to remove the accumulating red chips of her varnish. Her manicure is suffering and it’s all Lily’s fault.

The brunette nearly stopped breathing when her best friend chose Jamie as her new Potions partner instead of the arsehole to her left. The grey-eyed prat currently sits so casually stirring their potion in one hand and tapping his fingers on the wooden desk with the other. His calm demeanour irritates Marlene to her core. It isn’t fair that he gets to sit back and relax while she’ll be internally panicking every Potions class for the rest of the term.

With Lily as her partner, she was guaranteed an O. Now she’ll be lucky to pass the course with an A.

Only eight minutes left until the potion is ready.

Tap, tap, tap, tap.

Marlene glared at his fingers as they drummed on the desk with no particular melody. He is well aware that off-beat rhythms drive her insane. He’s doing this on purpose.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

“Do you think you could knock that off? It’s awfully distracting.”

Sirius scoffed. “Oh, I’m dreadfully sorry. Am I disturbing your potion-making? Oh, right. I nearly forgot. I’m the one doing all the work.”

“You’re just stirring the cauldron. That hardly constitutes work.”

“It’s more than you’re doing,” he retorted with a roll of his eyes. “Evans must be thrilled to have lost you as a partner.”

“I'm perfectly fine as a partner, maybe you’re the sh*t partner. Everyone knows Jamie carried the weight in your time as desk mates. I collected the ingredients, powdered the occamy eggs, chopped the beetle eyes, and added the thyme. Remind me again what you’ve done besides being a huge pain in my arse?”

“Wow, you’re really impressing me with your list of skills. There’s more to a potion than just collecting the ingredients. You have to actually put them together, which is subsequently what I have been doing this entire time. How you managed to pass your Potions O.W.L is a damn mystery to me,” Sirius deadpanned.

“I’ll have you know that I studied extraordinarily hard to pass that exam.”

Sirius stopped stirring the potion and turned to face her. “Yeah, with Leonard, right?”

Marlene slammed her hand on the desk. “Leave him out of this!”

Peter whipped his head around and hissed, “Can you both quit it already? Some of us are actually trying to win this competition! For heaven’s sake, it’s every bloody day with you two. Aren’t you tired of fighting yet?”

“No!” they shouted in unison.

It’s true that their feuding skyrocketed to new heights since the incident in the common room.

Marlene made a point to apologise to both Remus and Peter for her behaviour that night but purposefully ignored Sirius when she made her rounds. Mary and Em both received heartfelt speeches following Peter and Remus. Jamie returned her apology with one of his own, but Sirius was given the coldest of shoulders. This led to the two of them bickering in the Great Hall until most of the surrounding Gryffindors left for fear of being dragged into their petty argument.

That first feud was only the beginning. Since that day, the majority of their squabbles were for James’s attention, but any interaction was bound to set them both off with James playing referee.

These quarrels occur anytime the two speak, which is why their previous silent treatment worked so efficiently. Now their truce is broken and doomsday is threatening to break loose.

“I don’t like this arrangement any more than you do, but we’re stuck with each other, so the least you can do is help with the workload,” Sirius mumbled.

Marlene gasped. “I am helping! I gave you all the easy portions of the instructions!”

“I’m just saying that this would have moved along a lot faster if you’d just been more helpful.”

“That is not what you said!”

“It was too!”

“Was not!

“Was too!”

“WAS NOT!”

“WAS TOO!”

BOOM!

With coughs and sputters, the ashes of their exploding cauldron covered both their robes and desks. Their neglected attention to stirring their potion caused an eruptive reaction that decimated their assignment and notebooks. The potion they spent all hour completing is now completely ruined.

Sirius stood and fumbled backwards into the wall, coughing as the fumes burned his lungs. Marlene fell over, splayed out on the floor gripping her chest as she struggled to breathe. The noxious smoke from the occamy eggs filled her nostrils, choking her, suffocating her. Her eyes fluttered closed.

“Ventus Evanesco!” Professor Slughorn cleared the air of the toxic vapour and leaned down as the surrounding students clutched their throats for clean air. “Oh, my word! Black! McKinnon! Are you both alright?”

In a panic, Slughorn charged to the back of the room and pointed his wand at them both. “Anapneo!” he bellowed.

The two gasped as fresh air allowed both the ability to properly breathe. Coughing loudly, Sirius fell to his knees. He crawled frantically to Marlene who lay breathing in slow, struggling gasps with her eyes still closed.

“Marly?! Are you okay?” He gripped her cheek with his palm and asked again, “Marly? Marly, can you hear me?!”

James jumped to her unconscious side with Lily following behind him. The Quidditch Captain leaned in to hear if she was breathing.

“Marly! Wake up, love! You’re okay, you’re going to be okay.” Sirius patted her other cheek gently, rousing her awake. When her eyes fluttered open, Sirius couldn’t breathe. She was looking up at him with such reverence. He hadn’t seen it in so long. Gentle honey.

Marlene groaned lightly and swatted Sirius’s hands from her face. “W-what happened?” So much for gentle.

“It appears, Miss McKinnon, that your potion was not properly looked after,” Slughorn lectured. “I’m afraid you’re going to both receive a T for the day. You may collect your things and head to the Hospital Wing. I must insist both of you be checked on after your inhalation of occamy egg fumes. They can be rather lethal if not carefully handled. As for the remainder of the class, I recommend returning to your potions to ensure yours does not face the same fate!”

All students, save for James, returned to their work. Lily stirred their potion absentmindedly, peering behind her to check on her recovering friend.

The Captain lifted Marlene to her feet and steadied her. Light coughs erupted from her chest as the brunette struggled to regain her balance.

“Mr Potter, return to your desk. Mr Black can take Miss McKinnon to the Hospital Wing.”

“But Professor—”

“It’s fine, Jamie. I’ll be alright,” Marlene interrupted with a smile. “Finish your potion and win that vial for me, okay?”

“Only if you’re absolutely sure that you—”

Sirius cleared his throat. “I’ve got her, Prongs. She’s safe with me.”

“Like hell I am,” Marlene mumbled.

James furrowed his brows, but shrugged nonetheless, returning to his seat beside Lily. The redhead’s apologetic gaze met Marlene’s eyes and the two softly waved before Sirius steered her towards the door.

They walked together silently through the poorly lit hallway, neither one wanting to address their behaviour.

Marlene thought she’d be angry at being forced to leave the lesson early, but truthfully, she felt the whole affair rather silly.

What were they even really fighting about?

They emerged from the dungeons when Marlene started to giggle.

“What’s so funny, McKinnon?”

“We blew up a cauldron.”

Sirius smirked. “Yeah, we sure did. Leave it to us to ruin the simplest of tasks.”

Marlene’s laughter grew, her cackles echoing down the stone halls of the castle. “And Peter! Did you see his face? He looked like he was going to curl up into a ball and cry when he saw us on the floor. Bloody priceless.”

Sirius began to snicker and threw an arm around her shoulders as they walked towards the Hospital Wing. “Did you happen to catch Remus?”

Marlene’s cheeks warmed at his touch. Pathetically, she decided to leave his arm draped around her neck if only to be near him. “No. I was too unconscious for that one, I’m afraid.”

“His face was a caricature. If only I’d been able to photograph it, Marly. He was green. I thought the poor lad was going to be sick right there in the classroom.”

“Aww, Remus is such a sweetheart. We should really see about finding him a nice girl.”

Sirius shrugged. “We’ve certainly tried. He’s just… Well, he’s Remus. That’s all I’ll say.”

Marlene liked Remus, but he was elusive most days, and probably the one Marauder that she didn’t have a concrete history with.

Jamie and she have always been close and most likely will be until the day they die. Sirius and she were actually quite chummy before their blundering summer fling. And a small book club was formed in fourth year with Peter where they suggested novels to each other, and then discussed them after the other finished. It wasn’t anything major, but it was something.

Remus, on the other hand, was practically a mystery. She knew his poor mother was ill. Regularly, the Marauders usually informed Marlene when he left to visit her. She always thought it awfully kind of Dumbledore to allow Remus consistent visits with her. She, like most students at Hogwarts, only leaves the castle on holidays.

Marlene certainly attempted to form a real relationship with him over the years. She asked him questions about his hobbies or interests, which were usually met with shrugs, nods, or polite smiles. And it was not as though he wasn’t talkative, he often answered questions in class and spoke animatedly with the other Marauders. But the moment she approached, he clammed up like Marlene’s mere presence was too much for him or he was too mature to be associated with the likes of an ill-mannered girl like Marlene.

The Gryffindor pair were quickly approaching the hospital wing when Marlene asked, “So, what’s his deal anyhow?”

“Who? Remus?”

“Yeah, I don’t think he likes me all that much.”

Sirius shook his head. “No, you’ve got it all wrong. He actually speaks rather highly of you.”

Marlene shrugged his arm off her shoulders, a cold breeze filling the spot that his skin kept warm. “If that’s true, then why doesn’t he ever talk to me?”

“Moony doesn’t really talk to anyone.”

“That’s not true, he talks to Lily—!”

“They’re both prefects. They have to talk to each other,” he interjected.

“Okay, then what about Em?”

Sirius laughed. “Emmeline Fitzgerald is persistent, and you know it. The poor lad doesn’t know Em fancies him.”

Marlene gasped with a smile. “How can he not know?! I think she makes it exceedingly clear.”

“Remus is intelligent, but he can also be damn thick sometimes. Especially with women. He’s just not that interested in girls.”

Marlene stopped walking as Sirius grasped the door handle to the Hospital Wing, he turned to face her and saw that her mouth was agape, while her hand rested on her forehead like a secret had been revealed to her.

“What’s the matter with you?”

“He’s not interested in girls?!”

“Well, no…”

“That makes so much sense. I should have known. No matter, we’ll find him a nice boy then.”

Sirius barked a laugh as his hand slipped from the handle to grasp his aching stomach. “Oh, f*ck. That’s too rich. Marly, love, I mean he hasn’t found anyone he likes enough to date. He’s not interested in men.”

Marlene cackled with him as she realised her mistake. “Oh, f*ck! Don’t tell him I thought he was gay!”

“Are you kidding? Of course, I’m going to tell him! He’ll think it’s hilarious!”

“But I wouldn’t have cared either way. I want him to be happy.”

Sirius smiled at her, earnestly. “Me too.”

When they both came down from their laughing fits, Sirius cleared the tears from his eyes and returned to the door. “Alright, let’s get this over with so we can head to lunch. I’m starved.”

Feeling lighter by his side, Marlene replied, “Agreed.”

Poppy Pomfrey, a curvy young witch in her thirties with bouncy blonde hair, scribbled on a faded scroll when the two walked into the wing. A dozen beds lined side-by-side against the walls of the open wing with only two appearing occupied. One bed contained a first-year Ravenclaw covered in boils and the other held a fourth-year Slytherin who looked positively green as she puked into a bucket.

Madam Pomfrey stood as soon as she noticed them and ran to check them out. “Alright, what have we got?”

“Occamy fume inhalation,” Sirius said with a smirk.

“Both of you sit in a cot, I’ll be over in a second with my supplies.”

The two Gryffindors did as they were told and sat together on the edge of a bed, swinging their feet off the side in unison.

Marlene was trying to not think about how he held her for the majority of the walk to the Hospital. They were laughing, and it was comfortable and nice, but also… wrong.

She shouldn’t allow him to touch her like that, right?

Sirius softly brushed his hand over hers. His fingers nearly made little shapes around her knuckles when Marlene jerked her hand back.

“Can you just stop with the touching already? It’s confusing.”

Sirius frowned, inching away. “I’m not trying to be confusing.”

“Well, you are. You say you don’t want to continue seeing me, then you do sweet things like that or put your arm around me in the hall. Make up your mind.”

His back straightened. “I don’t want you.”

Her heart twisted in her chest. “Like I f*cking care,” she lied.

Sirius opened his mouth to respond but inched away from her as Madam Pomfrey returned with her supplies.

She stood in front of Marlene with a tongue depressor and said, “Say ‘Ah!’”

Ahhhh,” Marlene sang as Madam Pomfrey checked her throat for signs of distress.

She turned to Sirius and did the same, attempting a falsetto that caused Marlene to roll her eyes. A small smirk threatened to appear on the corner of her mouth. She wanted to despise him. But she couldn’t when she reminisced about his wonderful singing over the summer. His voice brings back so many magical memories for her.

“Well, I don’t see any lingering effects of the potion fumes. That’s excellent news. I’d still like you both to take this potion to clear your lungs of any residual debris.”

The rosy-cheeked witch placed a vial of greenish-blue liquid in each of their grasps.

Sirius held up the tiny glass to Marlene and said, “Cheers.”

“Bottoms up,” Marlene replied as she clinked his glass with her own and swallowed the liquid in one gulp.

The potion was utterly foul. Less like a liquid and more like a gelatinous paste that felt both chalky and slimy simultaneously. How that was even possible, Marlene was clueless. It carried the odour of milk, but also the distinct taste of lumpy Swiss cheese. Not the worst potion she’s ever consumed, but surely not the most pleasant either.

Both Gryffindors shuddered as the medicinal effects of the potion began. Her chest was light and empty, like each breath she took worked at maximum capability in her lungs.

“How do you feel?” Madam Pomfrey asked with an impatient frown.

“Like I could lap the Quidditch pitch in one breath,” Sirius retorted.

“That’s odd. I feel the same, only I’d rather see how long I can hold my breath diving in the Black Lake.”

The head of the Hospital Wing narrowed her eyes at Marlene. “But you won’t be doing that. Right, Miss McKinnon?”

“Well, Madam, the day is still young. Who knows what kind of hobbies I’ll be practising? Quick question, when do the effects of the potion wear off?”

“An hour.”

“Brill. Plenty of time to eat first.”

“Miss McKinnon—!”

Marlene grabbed Sirius by the crook of his elbow and began to swiftly exit the Hospital Wing, giggling as she passed the flustered witch.

“Thank you, Madam Pomfrey!”

Sirius grinned and hollered, “Till next time, Popp—!”

The heavy, wooden double doors shut before he could finish her name, but Marlene’s outrageous laughter drowned his words out regardless.

She couldn’t stop running. Euphoria coursed through her open lungs. She was grinning and sprinting towards the Great Hall with Sirius in tow. Marlene turned back to see if he was as adrenaline-gushed as she was.

But he wasn’t even smiling. He was staring at her with a dark intensity. No longer exhilarated alongside her.

Marlene halted before they rounded the corner to the doors of the Great Hall, her honey-eyes gazing into his cloudy grey. They both breathed, staring at the other, waiting for one to breach the wall that lay tall between them. Marlene let his arm drop from her clutches. She winced as Sirius lifted a hand to her cheek, the pads of his fingers brushing down to her neck and arm, and finally resting on her hand. He clasped it tight, interlocking their fingers.

“Marly...”

At the sound of her old nickname, Marlene snatched her hand from his and held it close to her chest. Rubbing her knuckles as if caressing burns he inflicted.

“You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Making me feel like I did this summer. I don’t understand what you want, Sirius. You say you don’t want me, but then you look at me like I’m the only girl you see. What the f*ck did I do? What do you want?”

“I want you to stop seeing Welch.”

Marlene’s eyes widened. “What?”

“I want us to be friends.”

“I don’t want to be your friend,” she replied sharply, her lungs now heavy once more in her chest.

Sirius rubbed his temples, fighting some overwhelming urge that she couldn’t quite name by his expression alone. “Marly, that’s… That’s all I can offer you. You have to understand that being together isn’t an option. Not for me anyhow.”

“Because you still can’t see a future with me.”

“It’s complicated...”

“Because you’re afraid to tell people that you want to be with me.”

Sirius closed his eyes and nodded.

She blinked back watery eyes and said, “After all I’ve done, you still want to keep me in the dark. You’re ashamed of me, but you want my friendship? It’s not fair. If you don’t want me and me alone, can you at least do me the courtesy of staying away?”

“I’m trying to. I swear to god, I’m trying, but this is difficult for me. I wish I could explain it better, but I just can’t.”

He reached out to hold her cheek, but she jumped back. “No! Just stop! You say you can’t explain, but you haven’t even tried!”

“Marly, I—”

Stop calling me that. You don’t want to be with me? Fine. But if you get to make that sort of a choice, then I at least have the right to be called that by someone who loves me.”

He dove forward, trying to catch her before she ran away. “You have no idea how much I want—”

“I said stop!” Marlene shouted, smacking him away before he could grasp her. “When a girl says stop, she means it! You don’t get to decide how our relationship functions from now on. I don’t want to be your friend. I don’t want anything to do with you. You’re the best mate to my best mate… and nothing more.”

Sirius let his arm fall to his side, stone cruelty plastering on his handsome face. “Fine. Nothing it is, then.”

She turned and left around the corner, bumping into Leo on the way into the Great Hall. She flushed and wondered if he overheard.

Marlene! There you are! Oh, dear, are you all right?” His creamy espresso eyes blinked with concern as she blinked away the near tears.

“Yeah, a bad day is all…”

He pulled her in for a hug, wrapping his arms tightly around her. His embrace was much like the warmth of a fireplace, comforting and easy to fall into complacency.

With a kiss on her forehead, he said, “I heard about your potion. That’s rotten luck. I was just about to meet you in the Hospital Wing.”

Marlene looked up at him with glassy, honey-eyes, her nose nearly brushing against his freshly shaved cheek. “You were?”

He reddened and said, “Well, yeah. I was worried about you. I care about you an awful lot, Marly.”

Before she had a moment to remember where she was, she reached up and kissed him. The sounds of whistles and hollering coming from the Great Hall made her smile against his mouth. Too late to realise they were standing in the doorway. The eyes of every student who came for lunch now watching them openly kiss. If they hadn’t confirmed their relationship before, this did the trick.

“Excuse me,” a dark voice deadpanned. The figure of Sirius Black stepped forcefully between the couple as he made his way into the Great Hall.

“What’s his problem?” Leo scowled, his eyes following Sirius until he was reunited with the other Marauders. Each welcomed their obsidian-haired companion and questioned him on what happened in class.

Marlene lay her forehead on Leo’s chest and sighed.

She had no idea what his problem was even as his strained voice still echoed in her thoughts.

I want you to stop seeing Welch.

Resting safely in the arms of someone who cared for her, Marlene chose to no longer carry the energy in her heart to find out why Sirius feels that way.

Chapter 11: Prelude IV

Chapter Text

Prelude IV

January 20th, 1976

“Alright, back in formation! We’re running the play until you all have it ingrained into your miserable skulls!” James soared past Sirius and gruffly added, “And don’t you dare let me catch you bitching! I’ll pull you from the Ravenclaw match altogether! f*cking try me!”

Sirius flew into position and lazily straddled his broom—waiting patiently for the play to restart and the Quaffle to be passed back to him. Hovering a few feet above the goal posts, the young heir to the Noble House of Black absorbed the pitch with intrigue.

James was at the centre, instructing the Prewett twins on offensive beating.

Fitzgerald was doing laps again at the inner rim of the pitch. Which is unsurprising. She’s always so eager to mouth off during practice when James calls out her flaws. Directing her on her shortcomings is his bloody job as Captain. Why she has to go on and bitch about his leadership is beyond Sirius’s comprehension.

Although, in truth, Sirius suspects her foul attitude towards criticism has something to do with Moony being in the stands today—which makes perfect sense. With her embarrassingly obvious infatuation, Fitzgerald hates being critiqued in front of Remus.

Sirius glanced over at the stadium benches. He rolled his shoulders when he spotted a gangly girl lounging in the stands.

Marlene is here today.

She missed the last two practices—not that he pays any attention to her attendance—but she’s here today.

She’s here watching him.

Well, watching James and the other players but still. The odds are in his favour. Certainly she’ll direct her attention to him at some point, and likely will again if he’s lucky.

Sirius sighed heavily.

He doesn’t even know why he even cares.

Why should he be concerned that she’s present?

Or what she looks like today.

Sirius swallowed hard and focused on her loose stature.

Her long legs kicked up onto the bench in front of her, ankles crossed. Pigtails, of course, but they aren't braided today. No, they’re tied loosely at the nape of her ears giving the illusion of long flowing hair despite being detained in elastic. It’s a lovely look—in a Marlene sort of way. Her fingers interlocked across her stomach as she reclined in her seat. She’s wearing one of those band shirts beneath her thick cloak again. Chatting so casually with Wormtail and Moony, completely oblivious to Sirius’s captured stare.

When she tossed her head back in a casual laugh, Sirius wished he could hear it.

There is very little he enjoys more than being within earshot when her hearty laugh fills the space. He even managed to make her laugh in Care of Magical Creatures this morning. She was hanging around their quartet in the middle of the clearing when she—

WHACK!

A searing pain exploded in his head.

Sirius strangled the broomstick as he nearly staggered into a free fall. He held himself steady before clutching his aching temple.

Oh, good f*cking hell.

Ow, ow, ow, ow.

Sirius wants to punch a wall.

Getting hit in the forehead by a Quaffle?

Amatuer.

f*cking idiot.

“Padfoot! What the hell were you doing?” James shouted as he dove towards the suffering player. “I called out your name as I sent the Quaffle. What the hell were you staring at?”

Sirius kept his eyes clenched shut as he rubbed his sore head.

“I-I don’t know. I was just—” Sirius reopened his eyes and sought out the honey-eyed girl of his nightmares. Standing now and staring out at him with a fearful expression and her hands over her heart. “—daydreaming, I guess.”

James glided closer and examined the injury with furrowed brows. “Do you need to go to the Hospital Wing? You know how I feel about head injuries.”

“I’m fine,” Sirius dismissed. “Run the play again. I won’t make the same mistake twice.”

James nodded and turned back towards the crowd of team mates formed around them in light of his blunder.

“Alright, everyone, you heard him! Back to starting positions! Let’s run it again!”

Sirius groaned and rubbed his temple once more. He stole a final glance at Marlene who was still standing and staring up at him from the benches. With a subtle wiggle of her fingers, she flashed an adorable half-smile.

She waved at him.

But, why should he care about that?

Shaking himself, Sirius readied his broom.

With a throbbing headache, he pointedly ignored Marlene for the remainder of the practice—a feat that turned out to be much more difficult than he cares to admit.

Chapter 12: I Want To Be Loved By You

Chapter Text

I Want to Be Loved by You

October 8th, 1976

“Finally! Finished at last!” Lily sighed. She sprawled herself out on the paisley loveseat, closing her eyes as she stretched her arms above her head.

Her fingers clenched and unclenched as she struggled to regain feeling in them after having written a particularly gruelling assignment to be due before Flitwick’s Charms exam on Monday. It’s still an early Friday afternoon, but Lily’s not one to procrastinate.

“I’m glad you’ve finished, Miss Evans,” Declan said with a soft smile. “I’ve almost completed Professor Sprout’s essay as well.”

Lily opened her eyes and gazed at the dark locks of blond hair that fell across his forehead.

He’s usually more put together.

His robes were wrinkled, when they’re usually pressed. And his eyes appeared bloodshot like he hadn’t been sleeping all that well.

She couldn’t help but notice these insignificant things about him as they spent more and more time in this room together.

After she finished Herbology late that morning, Lily nearly sprinted straight to their secret study room. Declan was already nestled inside. The Ravenclaw didn’t so much as flinch as she opened the stone door and stepped through the entryway.

She wondered if he simply wasn’t afraid of the intrusion, or if he knew it was her entering.

Did he know her schedule now?

It seemed like every time she was here, so was he.

She spent over two hours writing her essay on disillusionment charms and, after her stretch, she stood. She wandered closer to the marvellous window overlooking the grounds.

She saw a few bodies flying around the Quidditch pitch. Lily recalled having seen a flyer for the Gryffindor tryouts, but couldn’t remember if they were for tomorrow or the Saturday next.

Regardless, she wanted to attend.

Quidditch never particularly interested Lily, but talking with Potter about the sport was insightful.

Her father cares an awful lot about the Manchester football team. Will she ever feel that way about Quidditch? Likely not. But, thanks to Potter, she now understood what was going on when they flew around the pitch.

Truth be told, Lily had an agenda of her own when she asked her Potions partner to teach her about the famous wizarding sport—and it wasn’t to listen to Potter blather on and on.

Oh, no.

Lily has a plan.

She knows that the Ravenclaw vs. Slytherin game is next month, and she wants to be there—if only to support Declan. Listening to Potter explain the game was a small price to pay in order to prove to Declan she is his newest, and most dedicated, fan.

It’s not that she despises the game. She just doesn’t quite see the point. They’re in Scotland, for heaven’s sake. It’s constantly freezing outside. Anyone who willingly subjects themselves to matches out there in the glacial wind (let alone practices) is obviously lacking brain cells.

But, nevertheless, Declan plays for the Ravenclaw team, and if she wants him to ask her to the upcoming Hogsmeade trip, she’s going to have to play the part of the adoring fan well enough to fool him.

Her forehead pressed against the glass. Small pricks of cold crept up her skin as the early October sun began its slow descent behind the green hills beyond the Forbidden Forest. Summer was truly over. The harsh chill of autumn only meant that winter was well on its way.

She missed the sun on her skin.

She missed lemonade stands, swimming in the loch, and staying out late with Marlene. And damn, she missed getting pissed on a weeknight.

With a deep sigh, she turned from the window and faced Declan who waved his wand to clear the parchment of ink smudges.

“All done?”

With a gentle nod, he closed his eyes and leaned back against the sofa, his fingers interlocked and resting on his stomach.

“Tired?”

“N.E.W.T. level assignments are becoming increasingly difficult as the class continues. I fear it is only going to get worse from here, Miss Evans. You’re in for a dreadful term next year.”

Lily took a deep breath and straightened her back as she readied herself for his company. She needed to know if this unspoken tension between them was all in her head.

With her index finger extended, she slowly walked closer and skimmed the base of his neck. The redhead watched his shoulders tense under her gentle touch.

She sat on the opposite side of his loveseat, tucking her legs beneath her. “I’d imagine so. After all, you won’t be here next term,” she said with a shy voice.

His grassy eyes flashed open. He turned his head to look at her fully. His brows knit.

“I don’t suppose you are suggesting that you will miss my company when I graduate. Are you, Lily?”

Her heart skipped as he spoke her first name. It’s a rarity for him, most days. It’s usually Miss Evans.

“Of course, I’ll miss you.” She chewed her lower lip with a bashful frown. “This secret room won’t be the same without you in it.”

Declan eyed her carefully and sat up slowly. “Miss Evans, forgive my forwardness, but may I ask you a rather informal question?”

Her cheeks bloomed with heat. She didn’t trust her own voice, but she did manage to nod.

He leaned in closer, taking her chin in his grasp with delicate fingers. “Where have you been all this time?”

Lily almost squeaked under his touch.

“I could ask you the same thing,” she whispered back. Her eyes threatened to close as she inhaled the scent of butterscotch and crisp cologne. His breath was cool on her lips as he drew closer and closer. She placed her hand on the upper portion of his knee and gently squeezed. Her back arched as she dared to close the space between them.

His free hand grazed her side, the tips of his fingers inching her forward until she pressed flush against him. Her lips were so close to his, one flinch and they’d be united.

“Declan, may I ask you an informal question?”

“Yes, Miss Evans?”

“Will you kiss me?”

“With pleasure, Miss Evans.”

He held her close. His lips collided with hers as she moaned her relief into his mouth. Her hands travelled up to his neck and she tightly locked them around him. His hands moved to the top of her hips and down her thighs.

Her tongue met passionately with his. His stubble tickled her cheek as her nose brushed against his.

The two were grappling for air as their kissing intensified. She kissed him again and again, leaving no space to remember this was their first one. She glued herself to his chest, adoring the attraction, the sensual touches. She wanted more. She pushed herself closer and closer, slowly inching her body over his until she straddled him. The growing heat between her legs rested on the front of his trousers.

She doesn’t want to stop this.

She cannot believe she doesn’t want to stop this.

She doesn’t care how far they go as long as they’re headed there together.

She cannot fathom how she’s gone without this her whole life.

Mutual passion, entangled limbs, rough kisses with lithe hands exploring her curves.

f*cking hell, she’s never in her life—this is so different from before—wild and wanted and welcome.

Declan groaned and pulled her closer by the waist. His grasp tightened on her thigh as she ground her hips down onto the bulge in his trousers. He drew his Quidditch-calloused hand further up, up, up her leg, and under her hiked skirt.

When the tips of his fingers brushed the rim of her knickers, he pushed her away. All but throwing her off of his lap and onto the cushion.

She touched her swollen lips as Declan rose from his seat, taking fearful steps back until colliding with the glass window behind him.

“I am deeply sorry, Miss Evans. Please accept my apology. I don’t know what came over me. That was… inappropriate. Ungentlemanly.”

She stood and tried to approach him, but he held up his palm to stop her. “Declan, it’s fine. I wanted it, too. There’s no need to apologise.”

“No, no, Miss Evans. That was completely unbecoming of me. An utter lack of propriety. It won’t happen again,” he shakily replied, his face flushed and frazzled.

Lily ached with cold rejection. “Why though? I rather enjoyed it. You don’t have to be a gentleman with me when we’re kissing like that.”

“Miss Evans, I think I should leave,” he quickly gathered his belongings, stuffing them haphazardly into his bag.

Lily dropped her jaw. “What! Why?!

“We’re not courting. And we’re certainly not in a relationship.” Lily blanched at his sharp statement. The finality of his words cemented that they never will be. “We can’t be allowed to touch each other so… Well, undignifying. It’s not proper. You deserve to be courted. You deserve to be wooed by someone… by someone better than me.”

“Damian, it’s the seventies for crying out loud! I don’t need to be courted—and I don’t want someone else! I like you!”

“Miss Evans, I can’t be with you like this anymore. I’ve tried to hold my urges back, but I don’t think I am able to separate myself from you anymore because… Well… I like you too.”

Lily’s heart swelled before the true meaning behind his words shot arrows through her inflated chest. She shook her head, spinning with confusion. “If you like me back, then why don’t you just ask me out on a date? What’s the harm in giving in?”

He walked forward and began to put his palms on her cheeks. Right before they touched, he clenched his fists and frowned. Throwing his hands into his hair and groaning in frustration, he turned to walk back towards the glass. He rested his forehead on its cold surface.

Lily wasn’t sure what to do.

Never had she seen him so dishevelled. So emotional. The strangest reaction to a kiss she has ever seen. Her history may be bland, but this was ridiculous.

“Declan, I don’t understand. What is the problem?”

“I’m afraid it’s rather complicated.”

“How do I go about un-complicating it?”

He swallowed hard and shook his head. “You don’t,” he said solemnly.

Lily collected her things and began to walk out the door.

Hearing the stone door shift open, Declan quickly turned and called out to her. “Miss Evans, forgive me. I’m not myself. I just need some time to organise my frustrations. Please understand how sorry I am…”

Without turning to look back at him, Lily snapped, “I’m not an indecisive person, Declan. I know what I want, and I haven’t felt this with anyone before. I don’t date around—in fact, I don’t date at all. But you were changing that in me. I want to be seen with you outside of this chamber. I want to be able to see you more, but I won’t waste my time if you don’t want that too. I feel—” Her voice cracked as a horrible welling filled her eyes. “I feel like such a fool for throwing myself at you.”

The prefect ran from the library, not stopping even for the handful of students who questioned if she was okay as she escaped back towards the Gryffindor common room in search of her best friend.

“Well, this certainly dampers the evening I planned for us,” James muttered cynically.

“Sorry, Prongs,” Peter mumbled from the common room sofa, stuffing a fistful of Remus’s Fizzing Whizzbees into his mouth. The sandy-haired lycanthrope glared as he swiped his treats out of Peter’s reach.

“It’s all right, Wormtail. We’ll just have to find something else to bide our time until Padfoot gets back.”

Sirius leaving the group’s plans unexpectedly was a bit of a norm for them. Ever since the Marauders collectively realized girls weren’t disgusting creatures, Sirius regularly disappeared to meet with birds in search of a quick f*ck.

Many memories of the Marauders’ fifth year exclude Padfoot for that exact reason.

The other boys knew he often spent scattered bits of his weekends in broom closets with random girls around the castle. Always charming these doe-eyed darlings into having sex with him. Meanwhile, the rest of the Marauders have about as much luck with the ladies as Hagrid the groundskeeper.

Despite their drastic difference in track records, James was the first of the gang to lose his virginity.

It happened at an End of Summer Party hosted by the McKinnons in their manor on the night before returning to Hogwarts for their fifth year.

On that last day in August, Olivia and Maddox McKinnon entertained a swell of guests downstairs. Their drunken partygoers, along with his own parents, gossiped and laughed the night away. All the while, Marlene hosted her own party inside her bedroom. With the adults drowning out the sounds of their revelry, the dozens of teenagers upstairs were free to do as they pleased.

And everyone was absolutely plastered.

Marlene managed to sneak a few bottles of firewhisky away from her parents' open bar and it wasn’t long before the group of teenagers managed to empty all three containers.

It was nearing midnight when Paisley Greengrass, an enthusiastic Slytherin in their year, spun the bottle for two love birds to be forced into Marlene’s closet for seven excruciating minutes in ‘heaven.’

The bottle spun and spun until it landed on a squeaky-voiced, fifteen-year-old James. When Paisley crawled closer in an effort to kiss him, James jumped up from the circle of classmates and ran out the doorway without so much as a goodbye.

It wasn’t that Paisley wasn't fit enough for him. She certainly wasn’t the prettiest girl—still isn’t—but she wasn’t an awful sight either. Despite her acne, she had a lot going for her. Perky and smart, and puberty was certainly kind to her thus far by the size of her chest.

James’s real issue lied in her obsession with him. Paisley was annoyingly clingy. He was paired with her during his pureblood dance lesson earlier in the summer, and from then on, he couldn’t get rid of the girl. She sent him daily letters and showed up at his home three times during the last month of the holiday.

The random visits aside, Paisley is a Slytherin and, if James was being wholly honest with himself, her eyes simply didn’t carry the same emerald shine like a certain someone else on his mind.

It always came back to her, didn’t it?

Lily bloody Evans.

Paisley wasn’t a green-eyed ginger with an attitude and a vendetta against him.

Why bother with a second-rate bird? James had his eyes on a prize.

In actuality, he was hoping his redheaded goddess would be attending the party. Marlene and she were supposedly mates—albeit, not very close ones back then. It was only after he arrived with the other Marauders in tow that Mar revealed Lily’s letter which voiced her choice to stay home and spend time with her family on the last night before returning to Scotland.

Even though Lily Evans hardly gave him a second glance, he didn’t have the heart to kiss any other girl in plain view of his classmates. It was too public, and he didn’t want Lily to find out that he was untrue to her—not that she would really care.

As far as Lily Evans was concerned, she was above him; and as far as James was concerned, he would have been perfectly content being figuratively beneath her if it meant he could take a peek up her hypothetical skirt.

Regardless, he was running away from Paisley when he drunkenly tripped down the last flight of stairs. His head landed on one of the cast iron handle posts near the bottom of the first-floor staircase.

His head throbbing and spinning, he stood uneasily and stumbled into the nearest hallway he could follow. Upon closing the door and a few vision-clearing blinks, James found himself in the library that housed Marlene’s prized piano.

It was dark inside, but the fireplace was roaring. A quick scan showed the room was empty, save for the petite figure of Scarlett Macnair.

The witch sat in the reading nook by the window. She was wearing white silk gloves and mink fur draped across her shoulders. Her red, glittering dress had a tall slit that showed off the profile of her bum as she hugged her knees to her chest, gazing absently out the window. James wondered if he successfully managed to keep quiet upon entering or if she simply was unbothered by his sudden intrusion.

The room began to wobble and he leaned against the piano to balance himself. His hands smashed against the keys, sending loud, piercing sounds across the room.

“Good god, James! You gave me a f*cking fright! Are you trying to send me to an early grave?” Scarlett’s hand grasped her chest as if her heart may actually fly away if she didn’t press down hard enough.

James hiccuped and slurred, “Sorry, Lettie, thas my fault. I didn’t realise anyone would be in ‘ere. Truthfully, I’m a little drunk n’ yer just like… whoa.”

Scarlett eyed him carefully. “I’m like what exactly?”

He ruffled his hair and stood a bit taller. “Yer just… in a dress… and it’s the same colour as yer name… n’ yer hair is quite fetchin’ in this light.” He had stumbled over a few words, but he hoped Scarlett didn’t notice. There was something about her in this light that made him nervous, an emotion he rarely exhibits.

The slim witch stood and timidly crossed the room. “You think I look… fetching?”

With her so close now, James could see the fireplace reflect in her blue eyes. She is easily one of the prettiest girls at Hogwarts. She has a Marilyn Monroe kind of look about her. Her smile is gentle but brilliant.

Her teeth bit softly at her lower lip as she waited for his response.

“Well, o’ course,” he slurred. “Yer Scarlett Macnair. Everyone who matters thinks yer smashing.”

The blonde frowned. “Not everyone would agree with you, I’m afraid.”

James tsked. “I hate to be the one to tell ye, but if they don’t—hiccup—think yer fit as all hell… Then quite frankly, they don’t matter.” He delicately adjusted a fallen tendril of her pristine updo.

She followed his fingers with her eyes. “James... Can I ask you something that’s going to sound awfully mad?”

“I s’pose.” His balance failed him briefly, but he was quickly caught by Scarlett before falling back onto the piano keys. Her slender hands wrapped around his waist, keeping him level with her eyes.

“Have you ever made love to a woman?”

The question smacked him into sobriety like being plunged into cold water.

James reddened immediately. Tousling his hair through his fingers, he stuttered, “Uh, I mean the opportunity has, uh, never p-particularly arisen in a manner that would be p-proper. And I don’t wanna come off as anythin’ b-but a gentleman. I guess one could say that I’ve… I’ve certainly had the chance, but didn’t take—well, it never felt like the right, uh, time so…”

Scarlett raised a suspicious eyebrow and smirked. “So… no? You’ve never… had a girl in your bed?”

James looked up to the golden-tiled ceiling and begged any higher power to save him from looking like a complete plonker in front of a magnificently fit girl like Scarlett Macnair. He sighed and met her blue eyes with his hazel. “No, I’ve… I’ve never had sex before.”

Scarlett blushed and leaned forward, her breath hot on his ear as she purred, “Would you like to?”

James stiffened. A million versions of the word ‘yes’ screamed inside his skull, but the only word that tumbled from his slurring mouth was, “What?”

The gorgeous blonde sidled closer. She placed both hands on his chest sliding her fingers downward until she reached his trousers. “Would you like to shag me, James?”

“I don’t understand. This some kinda prank? Did the lads put ye up te this?”

She took a deep breath and dipped a single finger into his waistband, “No, James. I really do want you. This is between us and only us.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Why though? Why me?”

“You’re James Potter. You’re fit and muscular. You have gorgeous eyes, and you’re a fellow Gryffindor, so I know you won’t take advantage of me.”

“Those er certainly all facts, but I still don’t understand why yer asking this parti—hiccup—cular moment. I know we’re not in the same year, but we’re still in the same house n’ we could have done this all year, but yer choosing now.”

Scarlett nibbled her lip and adjusted the tips of her gloves. “I need a fresh start. I’ve only ever made love to one person, and I do not want them to be the last person I’ve given myself to before I enter my sixth year and have to face him. I want control of my body. Does that make any sense?”

“Only slightly. You don’t need to shag someone to move on.”

She placed both hands on either side of his face and kissed him. James melted on her warm lips.

Against his mouth, she said, “I know that… but replacing the memories certainly helps.”

She deepened the kiss until James pulled away moments later.

“Please, James,” she begged against his lips. “Make love to me,” she whimpered before reaching up to suck on his ear lobe.

Good f*cking god.

What boy would ever say no to that?

“Uh, o‒kay,” he answered breathlessly. James gently removed her as she clung to him, placing light kisses on his neck. “G-give me one moment.”

He searched the room and found a plush blanket to lie on the ground in front of the fireplace. Sitting down, he patted the ground next to where he rested until she frolicked over, seating herself to his left.

“Lettie, if we’re gonna do this. We’re gonna do it right. If at any time you wanna stop, jus’ tell me. If I’m doing something that doesn’t feel good, jus’ tell me. I-I want you to… enjoy it.”

She blinked like she never heard those words before. “I promise to tell you if anything feels wrong,” she whispered.

James wiped his face and cleared his throat. “Alright. So, uh, let’s do this then…”

She stood and waited for him to follow. Facing each other, they slowly removed every article of clothing. Never once breaking eye contact.

Shoes.

Stockings.

Shirt.

Gloves.

Trousers.

Dress.

Briefs.

Knickers.

Piece by piece. Clothing discarded. Nothing but bare bodies in the light of the fireplace.

James swallowed hard as she took a daring step forward. He stared directly into her eyes, afraid to look down at her naked physique. She cupped his face in one hand and rested her other palm against his hip.

James shakily said, “I’m ready when you are.”

She giggled. “Then, take me.”

He lifted her off the floor and rested her onto her back, the fur blanket tickling the hair on his forearms.

The first few tries involved a lot of stumbling and apologising. James stopped briefly and kissed her from the crook of her neck, down to her thighs. He kissed her in every spot she allowed him to.

Her fingers curled in his hair and, even he had to admit, the affair was awfully romantic. He snaked his way back up her body and tucked his hands behind her shoulders.

With her arms tight around the base of his neck, they kissed and f*cked and laughed until they both finished.

James made a point to make sure she was thoroughly satisfied before he was. He thought it may have been the hardest thing he’s ever done in his life. But, as his dad taught him: if one’s lady isn’t pleased, then the gentleman shouldn’t be either. It’s a simple rule, but one he found most men choose to forgo. He liked that he stood as a rarity in that respect. Sirius has always been the same.

After a quick contraceptive spell, the two kissed once more and Scarlett left before the party and her parents noticed she was missing. She thanked him once more, and they both agreed to keep the encounter a one-time occasion.

After all, he still had a ginger to win over.

With Scarlett gone, James lay on the rug, now redressed in his briefs. He thought about how he was supposed to be a man now but felt nothing like one.

He didn’t earn her affection. He certainly wasn’t in love with her.

Could one really call it making love when the two barely knew each other outside of casual conversations in the common room?

James pondered until he fell asleep, only to be woken up in the morning to the quizzical Sirius, Peter, Remus, and Marlene.

“I’m just going to go ahead and ask it,” Remus started, “Prongs, why the f*ck are you naked?”

James laughed until his sides hurt. “Because I shagged a lass last night, Moony.”

“What?!” they all shouted together.

“You shagged Susie?!” Sirius hollered.

“Ew! No!”

“Well, who was so pissed last night that they actually had the gall to sleep with the likes of you?!” A hungover Marlene yelled, her ponytail a tangled mess after last night's festivities.

James grinned with his lower lip between his teeth and triumphantly put his arms behind his head. “A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.”

Sirius seemed surprisingly downcast about not being the first of the Marauders to lose his virginity. There was something so odd in the way he carried himself after that night at Marlene’s party.

From the moment they returned to Hogwarts, he set out to shag any bird who was willing, even if it killed him.

It was only their second weekend in the castle when Sirius swaggered back up to the dormitory and flopped onto his bed, grinning madly.

“Well, boys. I can say one thing for certain, I have found my new favourite hobby.”

Peter followed him to his bed and sat on the edge, his stubby legs hanging over the side, “And what would that be, Pad?”

“Sex, Wormtail. Sex is bloody incredible.”

Both James and Remus, who were completing Sprout’s homework assignment, rushed to Sirius’s dormitory bunk.

Wide-eyed, Remus asked, “Just now? In the castle? Where were you at?!”

“Empty broom closet by the Astronomy Tower. The bird grabbed me by the shirt and all but begged me to take her. It was a dream, lads. I feel like a real man.” His hands were resting behind his head, reminiscent eyes gazing up at the canopy that lay above him. “Can’t think of a single thing in this world that tops the feeling of being with a woman, to be quite honest.”

James furrowed his brows. “I mean, I liked it a whole lot too, but I still think it’ll be better with someone you’re in love with.”

“Was your time not with someone you like?”

“I didn’t say like. I said love.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I’m not sure yet. I just have this feeling, I suppose.”

Sirius shrugged. “I guess… I’ll know when I try it someday.”

That encounter may as well have been a domino.

Ever since then, the other three Marauders became exceedingly aware that Padfoot’s addiction to nicotine and firewhisky were not his preferred vices.

It was women. Lots and lots of women.

And the Marauders figured that, as long as he was happy and safe, then they could accept his womanising ways. Despite how often James watched these heartbroken birds wail in Padfoot’s face once their fun was over, Sirius never appeared perturbed by their outlandish backlash to his rejection. As far as the Marauders were aware, Sirius always claimed that he was upfront with his intentions. According to him, he always told them there would never be anything between them outside of the bedroom (or broom closet).

When Hogwarts girls became too boring and clingy, Sirius suggested the lads all sneak out to Hogsmeade and spend the evening taking the Knight Bus into Edinburgh. There, they would find a few drunk birds out with mates at the pub and, most nights, they were too intoxicated to care who they took home.

It took a few months, but at some point, they managed both Remus and Peter to lose their virginities as well.

Remus needed to be damn-near blackout drunk to allow a girl to touch his scars. On their third time going out to the pub, a petite dark-haired girl by the name of Clarissa assured him that she didn’t care about his malformations. She kissed each scar on his face before they escaped to her nearby flat.

Peter was the most difficult one (given his chubbier waistline, acne, and untamed chopped hairstyle). He didn’t seem to find any of the girls that attractive. And even if he did manage to speak to a bird, he stumbled over words until the girl found an excuse to run off.

Eventually, they pulled it off.

It was in April, towards the end of fifth year, and James was refusing all offers from the girls he met to save himself exclusively for Lily. Peter on the other hand, with his complete lack of game, was beginning to think losing his virginity is a lost cause. Early into the night, a young girl in a brown corduroy dress, tall white boots, glasses, and frizzy yellow hair stepped into the pub.

She approached the bartender and the Marauders listened as she ordered a glass of red wine. Peter never took his eyes off of her.

Remus nudged him softly. “Go talk to her, Wormtail.”

Peter flushed and shook his head. “No way! Not a chance. I can take rejection from a lot of girls, but I don’t think I’d be able to stomach this one.”

Sirius slapped his back and said, “Listen, Wormtail. You won’t know unless you go and try. Remember, sex is just a transaction. She’s just a girl. And you’re just a boy looking for… an exchange of currency. But don’t forget to be sweet, girls react kinder to the gentle, shy type than some macho arsehole, okay?”

Peter looked up at him, horrified, but reluctantly nodded his head. “Uh, yeah. Okay. No problem. Sweet. I can be sweet.”

With a deep breath and a crack of his knuckles, Wormtail strolled casually up to the barkeep next to the girl with the boots and remarked, “Her drink is on me, Ralphie.”

“You got it, Pete,” he answered, setting the wine down in front of the blonde.

She turned sourly and narrowed her eyes. “You do not need to do that. I am perfectly capable of buying my own drinks.”

There was a slight French dialect James heard in her tone, even from a few tables away. So subtle, one could miss it if they weren’t paying attention. The Marauders, however, were alert and eyeing the encounter closely. Peter was terrified from the moment their eyes met. He swallowed and fidgeted his hands, touching the bar, his shirt, his neck, his trousers, and the bar again. “Well, yeah. I understand that, but—”

“I can not have a drink with you anyhow. I am waiting for someone.”

“That’s nice, how long until—”

She took two dangerous steps forward. Peter recoiled slightly at the gesture. “And you think that buying me a drink will entice me to go home with you, but that is not going to work. I have an older brother who could make your life very troublesome and I am only sixteen. What are you? Thirty?”

Peter gulped. “Uh, no, Miss. I was just t-trying to b-be nice. I’m only, uh, sixteen, too.”

The blonde’s eyes widened and she gasped. “Oh, I am sorry. That was quite rude of me. When I come to this pub, I meet a number of men who try to take me home without even asking my name first and it is not enough to say, ‘I am too young for you.’ Do you know what I mean?”

Peter glanced back at the other Marauders who were still looking at the pair intently, calculating his every move.

“Come on, Pete,” Sirius encouraged under his breath from beside James. “Show her your sensitive side.”

“Yeah, I guess I do,” Wormtail remarked awkwardly. “I wouldn’t know. No girl ever really gives me the time of day. I-I’ve been a rather timid bloke ever since my dad passed.”

She softened immediately, stepping even closer to place her hand over his. “I am so sorry for your loss. I lost mine only last year. When did he pass?”

Peter shrugged, his cheeks filling with heat as she touched him. Her eyes filled with compassion.

“I was young. Only nine when he died. A heart attack. They said it couldn’t have been stopped, but it still was… painful. We always knew he had heart problems. He used to tell my mum and me that he wasn’t capable of keeping his heart healthy because he was too busy filling it with love for us.”

“That is such a shame for such a kind soul to leave you so early in life. I hope your father rests in peace.”

“What’s your name by the way? I’m Peter. Peter Pettigrew.”

She smiled and looked up at him from beneath her long eyelashes. “Nice to meet you, Peter. I’m Abigail. Abigail Rhodes.”

He blushed, scratched at his neck nervously, “Y-you have a lovely name, Miss Rhodes.”

Merci,” she replied with an affectionate grin. “Unfortunately, our time will have to be cut short. I was not lying when I said I have a friend who is visiting from her boarding school close by. She will be meeting me here for drinks.”

Peter’s face fell. “Oh, I understand.”

Abigail turned to the door and stood abruptly from her bar seat. “There she is now! Harper! Je suis ici!”

The lovely blonde with dark ginger roots came sweeping through the door, her short bob of soft waves bouncing with every step she took towards Abigail. Her outfit was casual and slimming, a simple white tee shirt, beneath a long coat, and faded bell bottoms. Her eye makeup was dark and striking.

Though, most importantly, the Marauders all recognized her instantly.

Because she was a Gryffindor, just like them.

When the two embraced, Peter whipped his head at the other Marauders who all sat with their panicked jaws open.

“Oh, f*ck,” Remus breathed.

Within their greetings and pleasantries, James heard Abigail remark, “There is someone I would like you to meet!”

Peter started to sweat, and James couldn’t fault him. Harper Hughes could easily expose them all for trying to get into her knickers. She was aware of their reputation. Who at Hogwarts hadn’t heard of them? And she was a Gryffindor. A Gryffindor a year below them but a housemate all the same.

What was she doing there?

The Marauders weren’t out drinking in pubs when they were only fourth-years.

And how did the two know each other?

Did this mean that Abigail was a witch, too?

Harper glanced at Peter, lurching back. “Pettigrew?!”

Peter’s face was redder than a Chinese Fireball.

“H-hello, Hughes… N-nice t-to see you…” His words came out broken, fear gripping his vocal cords as Harper stood stunned by his presence.

Abigail glanced back and forth between them. “You two… are acquainted with each other?”

Harper slowly grinned. “Yeah, Pettigrew and I go to Hogwarts together.”

“Oh, how marvellous!” Abigail giggled and hooked her arm in the crook of Harper’s elbow. “So, you are a wizard, too?” She muttered something in French to Harper, not taking her eyes off Pete.

Peter nodded apprehensively.

“That is wonderful. And here I thought you were some silly muggle trying to flirt with me. I am a witch, too. I attend Beauxbatons. It is where my mother went, so when I was offered the choice between Scotland or France, I decided to follow my mother's legacy and attend school abroad. Normally, I would still be there this time of year, but there was a fire in the North Tower, so I am home early for the summer holiday. I owled my sweet Harp to meet me here if she could sneak away for the night.”

“Oh, um… T-that’s, uh, n-nice…” Peter stammered.

Harper scanned the room until she eyed the Marauders’ table, all three poorly hiding behind menus.

“I should have known the others would be here too. I’ll tell you what, buy me a drink, and I’ll keep your little outing a secret from Dumbledore. Deal?”

The youngest Marauder stood aghast. Technically, she was breaking the rules too. The group of boys could just as easily snitch on her for sneaking out of the castle. However, James was absolutely positive their punishment would be far more severe. O.W.Ls weren’t even over yet. Detention meant less time to study, and that’s the last thing they all needed. Peter, especially.

Wormtail smiled and extended his hand. “Okay. You’ve got yourself a deal, Hughes.” He redirected his attention to the barkeep. “Her drinks are on me too, Ralphie!”

“You got it, Pete.”

“Alright, ladies, let’s go say hello to the lads.”

About five drinks later, Peter and Abigail were snogging in the corner.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” James hiccuped. His arm draped lazily around Harper’s shoulders. They were the only two left at the table now. Moony fell asleep on the bench, gently snoring after having too many fingers of scotch with Sirius. Padfoot hung around at the bar, his hand on the thigh of a lean ginger who looked a lot like Evans from the back.

Harper giggled. She lifted the glass to take another wobbly sip of her drink. “You’ll be what?”

James shrugged. “Look at those two. I think they actually like each other.” He watched as Abigail removed her face from Wormtail’s. She whispered something in his ear. Wormtail raised his eyebrows and nodded at whatever she said. Pulling him by the collar, the French witch guided him out of the pub with an Irish goodbye.

Harper rolled her eyes. “No offence to your chum, but Abi’s a bit of a slag. If not Pettigrew, it certainly would have been one of you two.”

“Not me. I’ve got my sights set on someone special.”

Harper shook her head and exhaled. “Potter, eventually you’re going to have to give it up.”

The Quidditch Captain looked down at the blonde beside him, his eyes narrowing behind his bifocals. “Give up, what exactly?”

“Trying to win over Lily Evans. It’s never going to happen. At least, not the way you’re trying to anyhow.”

James scoffed. “Just because she can’t see what a perfect match we are today, doesn’t mean she won’t see it tomorrow… Or the next day… Or perhaps the day after that. I’m very persistent.”

Any day now, surely.

She would fall for him soon. He just knew it.

The strawberry blonde adjusted herself on the bench to face him directly. Her face only inches from his, both seemingly unbothered by the close proximity. “Can I offer you a piece of honest advice?”

“I probably don’t need it, but you’re welcome to share it regardless.”

“Move on.”

James glared. “Excuse you?”

“Hear me out, Potter. The only way a girl like Lily Evans falls in love is to be presented with something she cannot have.”

He blinked and shook his head. “I don’t think I follow you.”

“O‒kay, it’s like this. You make yourself too available. She doesn’t like you because of your arrogant personality—”

“Rude.”

“—and because you’re too easily won over. There’s no chase in it for her.”

James smirked, running a hand through his hair. Harper eyed his fingers as they dove into the black locks. “Do you think I’ve honestly not tried the jealousy tactic? I’m not an amateur, Hughes.”

Harper crossed her arms. “Actually, you are. Your idea of jealousy was to ask another girl out in front of Lily, and then immediately ask if she was jealous. There’s no tact there, Potter. What you need to do is date someone else. And not just for a week. Date someone for a while. You need to stop asking her out and see someone new. Even try to be her friend. Show her that you’re really and truly over her. If you’re doing your job right, it’ll drive her mad.”

James stopped and pondered. It had the potential to work, but he didn’t think he’d be able to follow through. In his eyes, Lily Evans was like a magnet. He was sickeningly drawn to her. Having the self-restraint to be with someone else simply didn’t seem possible.

Harper did have a point though. His first attempt at making Evans jealous was not as methodical as he would have liked. And even if it had been, he didn’t want to see anyone else to spite her. That would mean lying to some poor girl, possibly for months.

No, he wanted to win over Lily Evans, for real. Honestly, with craft, and because Lily wanted him as much as he wanted her.

“Thank you for the advice, Hughes, but I don’t want someone to get hurt in the process. Manipulating a bird in order to make Evans realise her buried feelings for me doesn’t feel right. If I go steady with someone, it’ll be the real thing. You know, because I want to be with her. Hopefully, it’ll be Evans, but if it isn’t, I still want it to be real. Do you know what I mean?”

Harper smiled. Her lips were tinted with red gloss. A truly lovely smile he never noticed before. “You’re a decent bloke, James. And who knows,” she whispered conspiratorially, “maybe one day you’ll want to just… get over her, for good.”

It was then that James stole a moment to look deeper into her eyes. He wasn’t sure if it was the dark makeup, but they looked… especially bright. Rich and bold and the colour of amber. Not quite brown, but too orange to be hazel. “I’ll let you know if that ever happens,” he breathed.

Gazing at her all over, his heart began to quicken. A feeling previously reserved for one girl alone.

Such smooth skin.

No freckles.

No birthmarks.

No peach fuzz.

Her lips were round. Her cupid’s bow more circular than most others.

A complexion as velvety as fresh cream but with a sun-kissed glow—like she spends plenty of free time outdoors, searching for adventure.

He didn’t realise he was staring at her so intently until she blushed. She looked back at her glass. He did the same.

He let one finger brush the back of her hand. Her skin was soft and warm like she recently removed a fuzzy glove. Before she could truly react, he withdrew.

They finished their drinks without another word until it was time to head back to the castle.

Hey, Prongs!”

James snapped out of his memories and came bursting back into the present.

Moony and Wormtail stared at him from their spots on the common room sofa.

“What’s that, Moony?”

“Seriously, Prongs? I asked you a question.”

“Sorry, mate. Ask again, I was thinking back to something.”

Wormtail sighed and picked at the dirt beneath his fingernails, staring up at the ceiling.

Remus cleared his throat. “I said: do you know who Padfoot is seeing tonight?”

“No, but truthfully, I don’t care either way.”

Remus bit his lip, his leg bouncing. “Can I ask the both of you something? Has he been acting… strangely… to either of you?”

Wormtail shrugged. “I guess, but you know Padfoot. Sometimes he just gets in those moods.”

“I know, but this feels different. You feel it, too. Don’t you, Prongs?”

James leaned his head back against the seat cushion. “Yeah, I agree. This is the first time all term he’s gone out to meet with a bird. It's been... what? Five weeks since we’ve been back? That’s got to be some sort of record.”

“But even so, he hasn’t been flirting with girls or even talking to them, really. We don’t even know if he’s out with a girl at all. There’s a chance he’s off by himself if only to have some space. I mean, come on, lads! You saw him last year! We could hardly tear him away from getting into a bird’s skirt, and now this is the first time he’s been absent from the Marauders all term. I can’t be the only one who’s curious as to why that is.” Remus looked between the two of them, searching for answers.

“You’re not, but I have my suspicions as to why he’s behaving differently.”

Wormtail sat up. “And that is?”

“Well, it’s rather obvious, isn’t it?”

Both Remus and Peter shook their heads.

“His parents, gents. He’s run away from home since last term. Whether it’s been overdue is irrelevant. His attack had permanent damage on him. Whatever they did to him… It created holes in his soul. He won’t tell me what happened, but that first night… I’ve never seen anyone so bruised and bloody. I mean, you guys weren’t there when it first happened. One minute, I’m sleeping soundly in my room, and the next, someone’s pounding on the front door at four in the morning, scaring the daylights out of my parents.”

There was so much blood.

Sirius’s back looked as if it’d been slashed by a werewolf. Ripped flesh like flimsy flaps alongside purpling bruises and searing burns. His collarbone was cracked. So were three of his ribs. His left eye was swollen shut and black. There was petrified chatter of him possibly losing his eyesight.

There was a lot of crying. No one in the house could stop crying.

James’s father screamed for help and carried a corpse-like body into the sitting room. His mum was shrieking when she descended the steps and saw Sirius lying limp on the couch. She held his head in her lap and sobbed while James tried desperately to no avail to return Sirius to consciousness. He slapped his cheeks and begged him to let James know he was still alive. Blink. Cry. Squeeze his hand. Something. Something to prove that his best friend was still inside that heap of blood and bones.

When it was clear Sirius wasn’t waking, James gathered reinforcements. He returned with the McKinnons. Maddox, Olivia, and Marlene all fled their bed chambers the moment they heard James stumble into the foyer. James knew he wasn’t speaking coherently. Screaming for Uncle Maddox and Aunt Livy to collect every potion in their cabinet. His horrific, broken voice explaining Sirius’s condition through guttural gasps.

Uncle Maddox and his father sought supplies while Aunt Olivia apparated to St. Mungos on behalf of his mother. She hired every healer who would accept the job. She shovelled out obscene amounts of money from the family vaults. Unfamiliar faces poured into the Potter Mansion. While they worked, James was forced out of the room by his mother. Begging him to leave, to not live with the memory of watching his best mate die.

‘You’re not ready to see thestrals, James. Not like this.’

He waited for answers as patiently as he could manage. He stayed in the hall with Marlene. His baby sister was hyperventilating. Her knees touched her forehead, and her forearms wrapped around her thighs, crying loud enough to tremble his eardrums.

‘Don’t let him die, Jamie. Oh god, please, he can’t die. He can’t die. I don’t know what I’ll do if he dies, Jamie. They can’t get away with this.’

She wept into his nightshirt. Cotton soaked with the tears and the blood of his two best friends.

The house calmed somewhat when the healers reported that he was alive. Barely but… alive, nonetheless.

While the healers tended to Sirius’s wounds, his father’s stone face held promise. Fleamont Potter would get justice against the Blacks one day. In the following weeks, his father explained that keeping Sirius in the Potter Mansion was the best they could do until he came of age. ‘To protect you, James,’ he had said. Fleamont Potter wouldn’t let the Blacks prevent him from protecting his own family.

James waited by Sirius’s bedside all three days of his coma.

No, James would never forget that night. And he could not begin to discuss the emotional vacancy his best friend displayed ever since. A lingering distrust in everyone around him. No one around him deemed safe enough to release his feelings about what occurred in Grimmauld Place on the night of June 27th, 1976.

When Sirius woke, his peculiar behaviour only intensified as time went on.

Sleeping in till two in the afternoon.

Disappearing for hours on end.

Locking his bedroom at night.

Refusing to talk about what happened in the house while he was locked away before the assault.

The panic attacks.

Good god, the panic attacks.

James thought the worst was over when he finally found Sirius awake on July 1st. He appeared fine at first. Cracking jokes, making small talk, bantering with the lads and Marlene—and then, suddenly, Sirius was gone.

It wasn’t until his friend tumbled from his chair in the dining hall—screaming violently for a nonexistent entity to ‘make it stop!’—did James truly understand how polluted Sirius had become because of the Blacks. Sirius has always had a dark side—but it was different now. Worse. Frightening. His voice changes, revealing a sinister inflection of malice shadowing the greater parts of Sirius that are moral and righteous.

Mr Hyde disguising himself inside Dr Jekyll.

Thankfully the panic attacks didn’t occur often. Only two or three by James’s count. But even so, they were bloody terrifying. Sirius slips away, and a cold drenching fear drowns the lad’s mind of reality, leaving a shrivelling body in its wake. There is no waking him. Everyone tries, but it’s as if he’s been cursed, and he cannot wake up until the nightmare is over.

Sirius is still lively and passionate and wild after it all. But there is a solemn tone that one can observe if they catch Sirius alone. A creeping iniquity that silently suffocates him. Sometimes, James finds Sirius smacking himself and muttering too low for others to catch the content.

On one occasion, Sirius shouted obscenities into a spider-webbing mirror that he splintered with his own fist. His hand dribbled with blood as the mirror shards embedded between his knuckles. James entered the space, calmly guided Sirius to the medicinal cabinet, and cleaned the wounds without so much as a question.

It was like the lad couldn’t stand the sound of his own thoughts. He required noise in order to stay sane. Constant reminders that he was not back in Grimmauld.

But nearly being murdered by your own parents would do that to a bloke. James can’t fault Sirius for how the pieces shattered, but if he could only let James in. If only Sirius would let James try and fix what the Blacks broke.

But he won’t talk about it.

And James doesn’t know why.

When they were younger, Sirius would say his greatest fear was losing his best friend, but James doesn’t believe that rings true anymore. Evolving from the childlike worry of being left alone… to a paralysing fear of abandonment.

“Whatever they did to him,” James said quietly to Remus and Peter. “It broke him. And as his friends, we need to respect that space for him to heal. If he’s with a bird right now, or not. As long as he’s trying to heal, that’s all that matters. However long it takes and by whatever means he requires.” James bounced his foot as the images of his injuries flicked across the forefront of his mind once again.

Remus sighed. “I tried asking him about it before we left for school. He wouldn’t say much, but his eyes were so empty, so lifeless. I’m really worried. I know how easy it is for him to get lost inside himself. In light of all the secrets we share together, you’d think he’d be less guarded with us. As far as I’ve noticed, he’s never been more closed off. And certainly never more secretive. What if he can’t heal on his own, lads? What if he needs us, but doesn’t know how to ask? How are we supposed to reach him?”

“What about you, Wormtail?” James asked. “What did he say to you when you tried speaking with him?”

Peter shrank into his seat. “Uh, I didn’t—er, that is—I haven’t yet… W-was I supposed to?”

James slapped his forehead. “Yes, Wormtail! Of course, you were supposed to! How else are we going to let him know that we’re all here for him? His own parents nearly murdered him, and you didn’t think to ask how the f*ck he’s doing?!”

“Wormtail, come on…” Remus groaned, covering his face with his hands.

“Well, nobody told me to talk to him!” Peter argued.

“It shouldn’t have to be addressed. As his friend, you ought to have just—”

The portrait door swung open suddenly, causing a booming SMACK! as it collided with the stone wall.

Every Gryffindor in the common room whipped their heads in the direction of the portrait hole as the dishevelled, tear-stricken figure of Lily Evans rushed into the common room and up the girl’s dormitory.

Everyone was silent.

James has witnessed many faces of Lily Evans in his six years at the castle. He’s seen her neutral, giddy, depressed, disgusted, laughing, and frequently red in the face from anger. But never—not once—has he ever seen Lily Evans cry.

After the Lake Incident, he saw the remnants of her crying, but never the act itself. And as he glanced around the quiet room, he was fairly sure that no one else had either.

After a beat, students continued their conversations.

“Whoa,” Remus breathed. “What do you think that was all about?”

Peter shrugged, the shock still splattered on his face. “That was strange. Right, Prongs?”

James didn’t respond. He was trying to keep himself from standing. Trying to keep himself from climbing up those stairs and consoling her.

Lily Evans is crying.

She’s not the type to express emotions like that so publicly. She’s stone-cold most days, but he knows she is compassionate. He’s watched her help countless others over the years. First years who he pranked or simply anyone who needed advice or a trusted ally. Lily is well-liked by almost everyone because she’s benevolent and sympathetic.

And now the tables have turned.

She needs someone.

Not that he cares, per se. He’s over her.

Obviously.

Mostly.

Sort of.

However...

He’s a good person, isn’t he?

And good people ask what’s wrong and try to help, don’t they?

Marlene told him that he needs to stop trying to fix people, but it wouldn’t be intrusive to simply ask if she was okay. Right? They’re friends (kinda, somewhat, maybe). And somewhat-sort-of-maybe friends check on each other when something is wrong.

James wrung his hands as he debated whether to go up those stairs and make her worries disappear. Hurt whoever hurt her first.

Fix things.

Fix it.

Fix her.

He bit the inside of his cheek.

What is the matter with him?

He bitterly reminded himself that the only thing that he could do that would successfully cheer Lily Evans up would be for him to take a long walk off the Astronomy Tower balcony. She doesn’t want his help. She wants nothing to do with him.

She hates him.

James didn’t realise he was staring at the doorway to the girl’s dormitory until the same ginger witch who occupied his thoughts walked back down the staircase. She scanned the room until her green eyes made contact with him.

His heart pounded furiously as she began walking straight for him.

Holy sh*t.

Holy f*ck.

Holy sh*t.

Oh god, oh god, oh god.

She stopped a metre in front of him and wiped her face with her delicate hands.

“Have you seen Marlene?” she croaked.

Even when she’s defeated, she is absolutely beautiful.

“No, I haven’t. Alright, Evans?”

Her face fell slightly like she was holding another nervous breakdown at bay.

“I really need her right now. If you see her, will you tell her to come find me?” Her hollow voice cracked every few syllables.

She turned to exit back towards the dormitory when James leaped from his seat. “Wait, Evans, I—” He looked at the other two Marauders and took a deep breath. “I know how to find Marlene.”

The prefect co*cked her head to the side. “How?”

“Prongs…” Remus warned.

The Captain raised an easing hand. “I got this.” He turned his attention back towards Lily and continued, “I can’t tell you how, but just know that my methods are extremely accurate.”

“I-I don’t understand…”

He stepped forward and squeezed her shoulder gently, his hazel eyes boring intensely into her emerald green as he leaned in closer. “I know you never have before, but trust me. Even if it’s only this once. Trust me.”

Her eyes narrowed slightly, not sceptical but something else. Like she’s searching his face for deceit or mischief. Perhaps even ulterior motives. But there were none to be found, so she simply whispered, “Okay.”

He grinned madly and bound up the stairs as fast as he could. He kicked open the door to the sixth-year dormitory and reached for Padfoot’s trunk to retrieve the Map laying on top.

With his wand unsheathed from his pocket, he vowed, “I solemnly swear I’m up to no good.

The Marauders Map burst into life, swirls of ink and tiny footprints cascading across the parchment-like art. The sheer beauty of the charm work done by Moony was truly a sight. But now was not the time for that.

Evans needs him.

He scanned the paper searching for M. McKinnon.

Not in the Hufflepuff dormitories, thank f*cking god.

Not in the kitchens.

Or on the Quidditch pitch.

Or in the Great Hall.

Where the hell is she?

The Room of Requirement?

After a few moments, he finally found her… in a broom closet on the fourth floor… with Leo f*cking Welch.

He momentarily stopped himself, gagging at the mere thought of Marlene having sex at this exact moment to his knowledge. Disgusted but now possessing his answer, he closed the Map.

“Mischief managed.”

He tucked the parchment back into Padfoot’s trunk and descended the staircase towards the common room.

Lily claimed his previous spot on the sofa, sitting on her hands. Wormtail sat on the coffee table in front of her, while Moony sat beside her, compassionately stroking her back. The two Marauders were speaking softly as she squeezed her eyes shut. He wondered if she was in danger of crying again.

James cleared his throat as he bent down on one knee in front of Lily. “Well, unfortunately, I found her. But she’s a little… preoccupied for the time being.”

“She’s with Leo, isn’t she?”

The Quidditch Captain nodded. “I’m sorry, Evans. Is there anything I can do?”

She shook her head and stood slowly, fixing her skirt with a quick brush of her hands. “No, I don’t think so. I needed a distraction, but perhaps I’ll see if Emmeline or Mary is around.”

James stood suddenly, towering over her. With his hands tousling his hair, he shouted, “That's all you need?!” He gestured wildly to himself and the other Marauders. “Let us do it!”

Lily looked at him madly. “Let you do what?”

“Distract you, of course!” he replied with a lopsided smile.

Lily fought a smile of her own. “I can’t possibly ask that of you. Why would you three choose to waste a perfectly good Friday evening on me?”

Remus took place beside James and shrugged. “Honestly, we're completely free at the moment. Sirius is off doing heaven-knows-what, so we truly have nothing better to do.”

Lily knit her brows and scanned the air at her feet. When she returned James’s gaze, she asked, “What would we even do?”

James tapped his chin thoughtfully and strolled to the window, gazing out. Satisfied by what he saw, he checked his wristwatch.

“Perfect timing. The Hufflepuff practice just ended, so the pitch is empty for the rest of the day. Fancy testing that new Quidditch knowledge of yours with a quick pick-up game?”

Wormtail stood, stretching, as Lily shouted, “You can’t be serious! I hardly even know how to fly!”

The enigmatic Captain walked leisurely over to her and lightly tapped on her freckled nose. “And that’s why you’ll be on my team.”

Remus chuckled and said offhandedly to Peter, “Maybe now we’ll actually stand a chance of winning, Wormtail.”

James winked and easily replied, “Fat chance, Moony.”

“Potter, I don’t know… I-I get rather uncomfortable on a broom…” Lily’s brow furrowed and her hand instinctively pulled a lock of her auburn hair.

He tenderly removed the grip on her hair and said, “I promise that we’ll fly low. You said you needed a distraction. What better distraction for a Gryffindor than conquering a fear?”

Lily looked around thoughtfully for a moment before returning her gaze to James.

“Okay,” she agreed with a fierce nod. “Let’s do it. But if I’m going to play, I’ll need to change. There’s no way I’m going to fly a broom in a skirt.”

Sirius crossed out another line.

Wrong beat.

And that word didn’t really fit the rhythm either.

He crossed out another line.

Then, one more.

f*cking hell, this is embarrassing. Why does he even bother trying?

The former heir dropped his quill atop his journal and covered his face with both hands.

This is f*cking hopeless. He really should stick to sketching. Writing music is too difficult. Poetry? No problem. But add in a melody, and he may as well be an unimaginative, talentless tosser. This was so much easier when Marlene was around to help him keep time. The girl has as much rhythm as a metronome.

Sirius sighed and glanced around.

The Great Hall was packed. Not unusual for a Friday night but even still. It was so loud in here. Conversations reverberated around the room, and Sirius couldn’t keep focused no matter how hard he tried. His absentmindedness wasn’t entirely his fault though.

Not when she’s so close to him.

Sirius dared to betray his coy facade. He peeked slightly to the left until she unblurred in his peripherals. His breath caught on his tongue.

Marlene sat at the table, picking at her dinner with her fist against her cheek. Sirius swallowed the bubble of butterflies ricocheting around his gut.

She looks so damned cute when her cheek is bunched up in a little pout.

His fingers twitched towards her, but he managed to tighten his fist.

No.

Don’t think about it. Don’t imagine it. Don’t entertain it.

Leave her be. He made his choice.

However…

She’s all alone. He could go talk to her and remain aloof. Make up some bullocks about looking for Prongs. Something believable was mangeable. Anything to force her to look up at him with those mouth-watering eyes.

They have gotten really good at arguing. It was like a cleverly disguised dance of insults, not much different from the way they used to waltz and swing around her room at all hours of the night. Such a simple game, it was: he calls her a foul name, she retaliates with a slew of slander until she’s red and fuming. He hates when she’s angry with him, but dammit, he adores when her attention falls onto him. He devours her delicious wrath because it cements her to the spot in front of him. Her eyes melt like alchemist gold when she’s bloodthirsty.

James is curious, of course. He asked the other day if they’re ever going to relinquish their childish feud. And the answer is no. Not if it brings her within his proximity. The fear of her snapping one day and revealing the truth is never overshadowed by his desire to be near her.

Sirius was aware that he tread on flesh-smouldering coals when he slighted her. But she hadn’t cracked yet, and without proper consequence, he would not stop driving her barmy until she finally up and murdered him.

The arguments are savoury but slim. She doesn’t speak to him in Potions anymore. He’s tried to rile her up. Poke fun at her technique, her handwriting, or her mannerisms.

But she ignores him now.

Because she has someone new.

He needs to let her go. He can’t keep this up forever. He wants her. He wants her so f*cking bad. He wants to pull her into a classroom and beg her to kiss him. Or hold him, if only to breathe her in. How f*cking pathetic.

Sirius didn’t bother hiding his stare now.

Frowning at her fork, Marlene scrunched her nose and wiped her nostrils with the back of her wrist.

He could shimmy right up to her and tease her for her improper dining manners. He could slip into the empty place beside her and ignite her rage until she screamed.

He loves when she screams.

Though his reminiscence of the sound is best replayed in his mind when recounting her beneath him and entangled in the lace sheets of her bed.

Sirius closed his eyes and inhaled.

f*ck, he wants to hear her scream his name again—to listen to her stammer as her brain short-circuits—to rememorize how her body convulses—to tattoo the trails where her sharp nails valley his flesh. He wants to rip the knickers off her hips and bury himself until he can’t breathe under the pressure. He wants to refamiliarize himself with every crook of her body. Make a mental map of her curves and creases.

Sirius pinched the bridge of his nose.

Good f*cking hell.

Dangerous thinking.

When Marlene lifted her head, Sirius flinched and snapped his face back towards the open journal. He lifted his quill and continued to write. When he believed it safe, he spied on her once more—finding Fitzgerald and Macdonald now sitting across from her.

Sirius wanted to scoff at himself.

Of course, she isn’t looking up to eye him from afar. How fancifully moronic to think she’d ever pass him another glance after what he did to her.

Though, he had to admit that he was happy her friends were around now. She wasn’t alone anymore.

But he also missed his chance to interact with her.

Sirius wasn’t sure whether he was irritated or relieved in himself.

No matter.

At least now, he can hear her voice.

Chapter 13: Prelude V

Chapter Text

Prelude V

February 3rd, 1976

“I cannot get this spell for the life of me, lads.”

James sighed and flipped through his notes again. “I don’t know what to tell you, Wormtail. The method always works for me. Try it again.”

Sirius didn’t bother watching Peter’s next attempt. His attention lied elsewhere.

His restless fingers tapped against the wooden table in perfect rhythm with his bouncing leg. The heir to the Noble House of Black fidgeted with his quill in the other hand, twisting and flipping it within his antsy grasp.

Her hair is down today.

He adores when her hair is loose—free and untamed and spilling over her shoulder like a river of chocolate in Willy Wonka’s factory.

She frowned at her notes with pursed lips, concentrating on whatever subject she deemed necessary to study today.

When he and the other Marauders chose this table to seize as they entered the library, Sirius purposefully nicked this seat. Within it, he has a perfect view of Marlene from across the room.

She is only two tables away, nestled next to the shelves housing the Herbology texts. Sirius is beginning to think that particular table is her favourite. She chooses it as her workplace every time he finds her here.

Her lithe fingers flipped to the next page, narrowing her honey-eyes on some passage that displeased her. With a frustrated sigh, the flustered angel clapped a palm to her cheek and let the skin press together tightly. The motion left her cheek bunched beneath her fingers like a pouty child.

Adorable. f*cking precious.

God, he could stare at her all day.

Imagining what the texture of her cheek would feel like if he were to replace her hand with his own fingers—

“Padfoot!”

The sheer volume roused him. Refocused, he found three faces gazing at him curiously.

“Where’s your head at, mate? We asked you a question.”

“S-sorry,” Sirius apologised with a breathy laugh. “I was a bit distracted.”

“By what?” James asked, turning to see what could possibly be so captivating.

Sirius stiffened.

Caught.

James f*cking caught him staring at her.

He’s really in for it now.

Oh, hell. He’s so f*cked.

He hasn’t done anything though, and that’s all that matters. It’s not a crime to stare at a person from across the room.

Suddenly, Prongs snickered. “Listen, Padfoot, if you really want to get your rocks off that badly, you’re welcome to go over and talk to her.”

Sirius’s under-eye twitched. “What?”

James tilted his head in Marlene’s direction. “I said go talk to her. We don’t mind if you want to slip away for a little bit. Empty classroom, broom closet, dorm, whatever you fancy. Go have some fun.” James clapped his shoulder and winked.

“Are you taking the piss with me?” Sirius deadpanned.

“Obviously not.”

Sirius’s jaw slackened slightly. “R-really? You wouldn’t be upset if I went over and talked to her?”

James snorted. “Of course not, Stephanie Floyd is fit as hell. I say go for it.”

Sirius blinked twice before flicking his eyes back towards Marlene’s table.

Sure enough, the occupant at the table between him and his honey-eyed obsession happened to be the sixth-year Hufflepuff, Stephanie Floyd. The saucy witch side-eyed him with a seductive smirk while she pretended to be reading a book. Stephanie flushed when their eyes connected, twirling her hair around a finger while she bashfully loomed over her text.

He was so fixated on Marlene that he didn’t even notice her.

With a forced laugh and co*cky smirk, Sirius said, “It can wait. I’m just trying to weigh my options for later tonight after supper.”

Remus shook his head. “Such a dog, Padfoot.”

“I had to get the patronus somehow or another, eh?”

“Whatever you say, Sirius,” the werewolf shrugged with a half-smile. “Anyways, Peter, go ahead and try it one more time. We want to make sure you’ve got this spell down before the exam.”

Sirius swallowed thickly and pretended to pay attention to their charm work while he glanced back at Marlene once more.

Giving up on her studies, she stuffed her items into her leather satchel and tousled her hair before sauntering towards the exit. As she passed their table, she ruffled James’s hair. He offered a gentle salute back.

Sirius’s ego stung when she didn’t meet his eyes.

Look at me, he silently begged.

Give me one glance.

Look at me.

Look at me.

Just once.

As expected, Marlene could not hear his thoughts no matter how loud they screamed. Rather than assuage his prayers, the brunette continued her trek to the exit while Sirius forced himself with all his might to not crane his neck and follow her trail till she was good and gone from his sight.

Chapter 14: Is She Really Going Out With Him?

Chapter Text

Is She Really Going Out With Him?

October 8th, 1976

James marvelled at Lily as she lay in the grass of the Quidditch pitch, laughing so uncontrollably. His head was throbbing, but her failed attempt to throw the Quaffle into the wrong goalpost he conjured was too cute to not focus all his attention on.

Their miniature Quidditch pitch, equipped with shorter goalposts, was just as low to the ground as he promised her. However, his creation threw off his engrained depth perception of the field.

Saving her from nearly scoring for the other team resulted in him smacking his head on the middle hoop and consequently falling face down into the grass. Watching this happen, Lily slipped from her broom in hysterics and landed about three metres away, gripping her side from the ensuing laughter.

Despite the headache, he was having an incredible time. Lily retained the knowledge of the rules from when they last spoke of the game. So much so that she managed to catch Peter trying to cheat twice. She wasn’t the most balanced player, but her ability to call out accurate fouls was remarkable for how little she knew of the game.

Maybe he’s that good of a teacher.

The score was 200 - 40, in favour of team ‘Jily’ as Moony aptly named them. Lily scrunched her nose at the title but retorted with a devilish sneer that their team name would be ‘Pemus’ for the remainder of the evening. They all howled with laughter and the game began shortly thereafter. Lily managed to score a total of 20 points, which she was incredibly pleased by.

He worried that the other 180 earned by himself would elicit the impression of him showing off (he certainly was but still). However, he was surprised to find Lily’s competitive nature shined bright as she high-fived him for every goal he effortlessly made on their behalf.

Now, he was propped up on one elbow watching Lily Evans laugh like a madwoman at him being smacked in the head by a goalpost.

“Careful, Evans! You may end up hurting yourself by having this much fun!”

Still smiling, she picked up her broom and tossed it at him. “I’m capable of having fun, Potter!”

He offered a slanted smile and rubbed his aching forehead. “That may be so, but it’s getting dark. Are you up for one more round or would you like to head up to the castle for supper?”

She glanced up at team Pemus, who flew in tandem circles above them. “What do you think, boys? Hungry, yet?”

“Famished!” Peter shouted, descending to the ground alongside Remus.

Lily stood and wiped the dirt from her denim jeans before walking briskly over to where James lay.

“Good game, Prongs.” Remus approached them and tousled James’s hair with a rough palm. “You won this round, but we’re going to beat you next time.”

“That’s what you said last time,” Peter sighed dramatically. “Anyways, Moony and I are gonna head up to the castle. Evans, are you coming with?”

“No, I think I’ll stay and help clean up.”

Remus shrugged. “Suit yourself. See you in the Great Hall.”

After watching the pair walk off the pitch, Lily peered down at her teammate and offered him her hand.

He took it, lazily letting her drag him up and onto his feet. When he finally stood before her once more, she gently brushed her thumb against his forehead.

“Does it hurt?” she asked tenderly.

Heat rose steadily at the base of his neck. Willing himself to suppress his growing flush, he dismissed her with a wave.

“Oh, no… I’m perfectly fine. I’ve had worse Quidditch injuries.”

“Like when?”

“Do you remember when that Bludger hit me square in the chest during the Quidditch finals of our third year?” He turned from her and began putting their materials in the trunk he borrowed from the Gryffindor locker room.

Lily’s face lit up. “Oh, yeah! I remember now! I thought you died.”

He barked out a laugh, nearly dropping the brooms he collected under his arm. “Yeah, bloody felt like I had.”

“If I recall, you finished playing that game too.”

James smirked. “Yeah. It was the last game of the season. Nothing was going to keep me from finishing the match—certainly not a few rib fractures. And we won because of it.”

“And I’m fairly certain, that’s also the reason you were chosen as the next Captain of the Gryffindor team.”

“Youngest ever to earn the title.”

“And somehow, I understand now.”

“Understand what?”

“I understand why you earned it. You’re a great teacher.”

“Careful, Evans. That nearly sounded like a compliment.”

With a deep inhale, James hoisted the trunk above his shoulder and slowly leaned down to try and pick up the brooms he gathered with the other.

“Wait, let me help,” Lily offered. She bent down and began collecting all four Cleansweeps. “Where to, Captain?”

James chuckled lightly and nodded towards the far end of the pitch near the castle. “Thank you for staying to clean up. Those wankers always skip out when it’s time to put the Quaffle away.”

They walked in tandem, carrying their equipment towards the castle doors that lead to the locker rooms.

Lily shrugged. “It’s the least I could do. I had a lot of fun.”

“See?! Quidditch isn’t so bad. Tryouts are tomorrow. There’s still time to sign up, Evans,” he said with a wink.

“I’ve seen what you do to those poor players of yours! Em and the Prewett twins always look positively miserable after one of your practices. I think we’d just end up murdering each other if we played together.”

James rolled his eyes. “Afraid of a little exercise, Evans?”

“I’ll have you know that I exercise plenty when I’m home for the holidays”

“Doing what exactly?”

“I go jogging.”

Jogging?! That hardly constitutes exercise.”

“It’s cardio! It builds endurance.”

“If you wanna build endurance, I’m out here on the pitch every other day taking laps. I dare you to try and keep up with one of my workouts.” He set down the trunk as he approached the locker room, opening the door and kicking the trunk inside.

Lily narrowed her eyes. “Is that a challenge?”

James raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Perhaps.”

The prefect smirked as James turned and kicked open the double doors to the locker room. He placed the equipment inside as quickly as he could while Lily waited outside.

When he reappeared a few minutes later, his ginger companion was looking up at the sky. The full moon was only a few days away. Not that he could admit this out loud, but Remus surprised James by being so willing to play that evening, given how close they were to his transformation.

He watched Lily curiously. “What’s going on in your head, Red?”

Without breaking eye contact with the moon above, she asked, “Do you know anything about werewolves?”

James almost winced, his intrepid heart pounding. “Only what I’ve been taught in Defence,” he lied smoothly. “Why do you ask?”

“I read a book recently.”

“Oh?”

“It was about lycanthropy.”

“Oh.”

“Did you know that a werewolf’s bones break every time they transform? It’s supposedly excruciatingly painful.”

James took a step closer and nodded solemnly. “Yes, and they have to go through it every month. That’s twelve times a year for the rest of their lives.”

“Did you know werewolves have the highest rate of suicide among any magical being?”

The idea of losing Remus in such a way stirred panic within. “No, I didn’t. But I can understand why that is when they’re treated so poorly.”

With her emerald eyes glistening in the moonlight, she asked, “Their entire lives are stolen from them by a curse and no one in the magical community seems to care. Why is that?”

James glanced up at the moon as well. It always appeared so innocent when he saw it in his human form. When he was a stag, he could see it for what it really was: A clock. And once a month, the clock struck and Moony suffered. Nearly every month since becoming an animagus, James watched his best friend go through the most horrific and isolating change. And all he could do was wait until the sun came up for it to be over. Over at least until the next thirty days passed.

“Because they fear werewolves. They believe them to be monsters.”

“But they’re humans for the other days of the month. Shouldn’t that count for something?”

“It should. But it doesn’t.”

“Do you fear werewolves?”

“No. When I was a child, maybe. But the McKinnons are very progressive with their beliefs in lycanthropy rights. They educated me rather well. Their love of magical creatures and those cursed by lycanthropy have always been a passion to them and, perhaps, those beliefs seeped into my identity as well.”

“Have you ever met a werewolf?”

“Yes.”

“And what did you think of them?”

James’s lips slipped into a watery smile. “He’s the nicest bloke I’ve ever met. Modest and humble and wickedly smart.”

“If I wasn’t a muggleborn, I’d try to enter the Ministry. Enact real change. Starting with lycanthropy rights.”

“Who says you can’t be muggleborn and work in the Ministry?”

She met his eyes and smiled sadly. “Look around us, James. This is just the beginning. There’s a war coming. I know you read the paper. Muggleborns dying, muggle cities being attacked, and more violent acts than I could count. I’d be killed if I tried to join the Wizengamot without pureblood ancestry.”

“So? That’s the only way these people are going to be stopped. Someone like you needs to take a stand.” He shrugged. “I personally can’t think of anyone better suited for the position.”

“For what position?”

“Minister of Magic.”

Lily laughed and turned to start their hike up to the Great Hall.

“Certainly not.”

“What do you mean? We’ve had muggleborn Ministers before!”

“I’d make a terrible Minister of Magic!”

“Not true!” He jogged lightly beside her to keep her pace. “I believe in you, Evans. So much so, that I’d even settle on being your campaign manager.”

James spent almost fifteen minutes laying out the plan for her campaign. He watched her laugh at his outrageous methods of securing her votes. Tickling jinxes, fake prophecies, bribery, opponent sex scandals, etc. She was grinning so much as they talked, he nearly forgot she was crying earlier.

He liked knowing he was the one who cheered her up.

A small part of him wondered if she considered him a friend yet. The way they were seeing each other lately certainly had the aura of a blossoming friendship, but Lily spent the better portion of six years despising every fibre of his being.

Was there some infinitesimal possibility that her opinion of him changed? Changed since their talk after The Lake Incident?

They were at the entrance to the Great Hall when he jumped ahead and stopped directly in front of her. “Listen, Evans, I’ve been wondering. Would you like to be friends?”

She jumped back as if ambushed. “W-what?”

“Friends, Evans. Mates. Chums.”

She furrowed her brows and twirled a lock of her hair. With a soft pull, she asked, “Friends? The two of us? Like you and me?”

“Well, yeah? If you want to.”

She bit her lip and thought it over. “Well, what would that mean?”

“Depends. What do you usually do with your friends?”

She shrugged. “Lounge around, study together, talk about things that bother us, sit together during meals...”

“Okay, so in that case, do you want to sit together? At dinner? You know, as friends.”

He watched as she blushed and rocked herself on her heels. “W-well, I’m not sure. I usually sit with Marlene…”

“Believe it or not, Evans, Marlene happens to be one of my friends, too.”

“I-I guess I could ask her to sit with you.” She swallowed hard and tugged at her hair, peeking around his shoulder.

Merlin, he asked for too much too soon.

James ruffled his hair. “I can see that I’m making you uncomfortable. Let’s forget I said anything. I just wanted to be friends, but I can understand why our history may cause that to be a problem. It’s not a big deal, Evans. Let’s just pretend I didn’t say anything.”

“No!” she shouted. His wide eyes must have shocked her because she hurriedly amended her exclamation with, “I think I’d like to be your friend, too.”

“Really? Are you sure?”

“Not entirely, but you haven’t given me a reason to not try. So, I suppose… What's the harm? Let me go talk to Marlene.”

Lily strode off, strutting determinedly into the Great Hall. He watched her walk straight down the Gryffindor table without another hesitation.

Is.. is he dreaming?

James lightly slapped his cheeks.

No, not dreaming.

Definitely wide awake.

Not imagining this.

He just became friends with Lily Evans.

Holy f*cking hell.

Marlene picked at her manicure again. She really needed to quit it. Mary wasn’t going to be happy with her, especially since she touched them up the night before.

But she couldn’t help it.

Lily needed her… and where was she?

Snogging Leo in a bloody closet.

Some friend, she is.

What could have possibly happened in such a short period of time?

Lily practically raced out of Herbology without so much as a goodbye, but she didn’t appear upset in class. With some time to kill, Marlene chose to spend the afternoon with Leo. She couldn’t have possibly known that Lily was in trouble, but then why did she feel so... guilty?

Perhaps, it was her pleasure at the expense of someone she cared for needing assistance. She was out in the castle, with Leo’s hand in her knickers and his mouth on her neck, while Lily was somewhere crying.

There.

That was it.

Lily was crying.

Lily never cries—at least in front of others, if at all. She simply isn’t the type. Of all the years she and Lily have been acquainted, not once has Marlene ever seen the act with her own two eyes. And they live together in the same blasted dorm.

Earlier that afternoon, before learning about Lily’s sorrow, Marlene’s steamy meet-up with Leo landed both of them in a state of lethargic euphoria as they dreamily walked about the castle together, hand-in-hand.

It wasn’t anything like being with Sirius.

No.

Not even close.

But still, it wasn’t bad.

She likes Leo. She enjoys his company. She finds him to be a decent kisser. It isn’t love, but it’s leisurely. They were friends first, after all.

But, then again… f*cking a friend ruined her whole life. Crossing the perilous line from friend to lover chewed up her soul and spat her back out with a heart oozing with grief.

And, if she was honest with herself, it still ruined her… every time she trapped herself in his heady gaze, the pain rippled through her like the snapping of stitches.

Sirius Black is a noxious nightmare.

Marlene wished she could go back in time. Refuse to be his dance partner at the class—refuse to allow him through the balcony French doors that lead to her bedroom—refuse the urge to offer him her virginity—refuse to let him return to her every night for twenty-nine more days—refuse to fall in love with him.

Leo kissed her temple and murmured, “I hope you’re not upset with me.”

“Hmm?” she replied inattentively. “Sorry, I was thinking about… something.”

“I said,” he began again sweetly, taking her other hand in his, “I hope you’re not upset with me after… well, you know.”

Marlene forced a smile and leaned forward, kissing him softly. “How could I ever be upset with you when you make me feel this amazing?”

That wasn’t exactly the truth, but she hoped the small compliment would force him to drop the topic. She was peaceful right now. She didn’t want to talk about the rift in their dynamic.

He lightly fixed a lock of her hair and rested his palm on her neck, his thumb gently stroking her cheek. “I just think that if we clear the air, maybe we’ll get to a place where we can… you know… without feeling a sense of pressure or tension about it.”

And there it was.

Leo Welch won’t shag her.

He just had to go and say it out loud.

Marlene let go of his hand and took a hasty step back, her eyes tightly shut. “It’s not that big of a deal, it’ll happen when it happens. I’m not trying to pressure you.”

“It’s a big deal to me, Marlene. I don’t want to f*ck you in some broom closet. I want it to be special.”

Sirius told her that he lost his virginity in a broom closet and didn’t mind it.

“Shagging isn’t that special, okay? It’s dirty and sweaty and sometimes awkward, but it feels incredible when it’s done right.”

Although Marlene never really experienced any of those negative happenings with Sirius, she understood how it could end up that way. Lily’s muggle friends at the club would throw back whisky and share their experiences. Sleazy men with rough hands and selfish intentions. The girls passed around the stories of their misery, but Marlene had nothing to contribute. Those experiences were nothing at all like the profound affection that occurred between her and Sirius. When they had sex, she always finished. He always made her feel adored and comfortable. He used to whisper compliments into her jawline as he f*cked her as slowly or roughly as she asked for. He was patient as he taught her how to touch, how to position, and how to release all of their tense frustration from the safety of her bedsheets. Or her bedroom carpet. Or the library. Or the balcony. Or the orchard. No matter the locale, Sirius groaned his praise into her ear until she shook and crumbled from the pleasure of it all.

His charming words were all lies, but at least she could say that the person she lost her virginity to made sure she enjoyed it, too.

Marlene sighed. “I’m not trying to pressure you, but I feel like it’s not normal for a seventeen-year-old boy to not want to have sex with his willing…” She trailed off and chewed her lip.

The Hufflepuff narrowed his eyes. “His willing… what?”

“His, uh… you know…

“You can’t even say the word girlfriend, can you?”

Marlene’s face broke out in a sweat.

f*ck, this was all her fault. She backed herself into this corner. And for what? Leo wanted to make things official, but her new-budding fear of monogamy was beginning to show.

“It’s not that I don’t want to—”

“Then, what is it? You want to shag me, but you don’t want to date me?” His voice grew colder, his eyes darkening.

“Of course, I want to date you—!”

“Then, why are we having to talk through this? Why are you so afraid to be seen with me in public as a couple? Why are we constantly meeting in places where there are no other people?”

He was nearly shouting now. The brunette scanned the corridor for others. But they were alone, nothing to distract her from their advancing argument.

“You have to understand that this,” she gestured back and forth between them, “is the only way I know how to have a relationship. I don’t know how to handle anything more than this yet. You told me you were okay with taking things slow.”

Leo rubbed his eyes in frustration. “How is having sex slower than dating in public? In what world does that make any sense?”

“In my world, Leo. I’m sorry if my reasoning isn’t enough for you, but this is how I learned to be with someone.”

“Well, I think we should start taking the necessary steps to unlearn it. We obviously operate differently, Marlene. I don’t have the energy to be someone’s secret anymore. I want to be with someone who is proud to be with me. I want someone who will love me openly. That’s what makes shagging special. It’s not about the act; it’s about the person it’s with. Have any of the blokes you’ve slept with ever made you feel that way?”

Her mind hollowed.

There was a time when she believed herself to be special.

Lying with Sirius in the grass after he fixed up his motorbike enough to ride made her believe she was the only person he would ever offer his true attention to.

But that was a fabrication concocted from her own desire to be special to him. And the reality was, she was rejecting Leo from the exact thing she craved from Sirius: commitment. What was she waiting for?

Leo wasn’t going to hurt her like Black. Leo wanted to know they were truly together before he lost his virginity. Marlene hadn’t done the same, but that didn’t mean he needed to follow her example. And, for that matter, her example didn’t exactly end in her favour either.

“Leo,” she began, “I think it’s important for you to know that the amount of blokes I’ve slept with is not plural. It’s one. Just the one and… it didn’t exactly end well. I wanted more from him, and he… he lied about wanting to be with me. It was a mess and I won’t pretend like there isn’t a part of me that wishes he loved me back. I wanted him the way a dragon wants to breathe fire. I burned for him, but I burn for you too. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that way for someone but losing that spark is almost intolerable. He broke me. He made me love him because he can’t love himself… and then he left me in the cold. That’s a pain that I haven’t fully recovered from.”

Leo blinked, his face an eerie neutral. “Are you trying to tell me that you are still in love with someone else?”

“It’s not that I still love him.” Liar. “It’s that I’m afraid to love like that again.”

He sighed and stepped towards the wall. “I don’t know what you want from me, Marlene. I won’t promise to never hurt you, but I don’t want to hide anymore. I’m so sick of being hidden.”

“People are aware of us! It’s not as if we’re guarding some enormous secret. We haven’t been actively hiding our… this thing between us.”

He slapped the stone wall causing the portrait of Nostradamus to yell in protest. With flourish, Leo threw his hands in the air. “You're making this extremely difficult, Marlene! ‘Relationship!’ ‘Girlfriend!’ ‘Boyfriend!’ They're just words! They don’t mean anything!”

Marlene aggressively poked his chest. “They obviously mean a lot or we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all! Being with you is fantastic. It’s all I wanted last term. I used to ogle you every day from beyond that crystal ball. I used to daydream about kissing you and going to Hogsmeade with you and bringing you home to explore my world, but sometimes I wonder if I didn’t do all of this,” she gestured wildly to her face, “then you would barely give me the time of day! He never loved me because I didn’t look a certain way and, quite frankly, you make me feel the same.”

Leo’s exterior cracked. The mask of anger he painted on, melted away as a sliver of her subconscious seeped into the air. He nodded solemnly and retreated backwards, stumbling until his head haphazardly tapped the wall. “Oh,” he mumbled, rubbing his temples roughly.

“I’ve liked you since last term. When did you start liking me back, Leo?”

“I don’t know… Sometime last term, too?”

Her heart squeezed in her chest. Marlene called bullsh*t.

“Are you lying to me?”

He closed his eyes. “No, I was interested in you last term. I promise.”

Marlene crossed her arms and kicked the ground. “Interested in me and liking me are not the same thing.”

“What do you want me to say, Marlene? I’m not gonna deny that all this,” he waved his hand pointedly at her figure, “is an improvement. You look great. I don’t know what you want from me. Isn’t this what you asked for? For me to finally realise my feelings for you? For me to finally see you as something more?”

She rubbed her eyes gruffly.

She is not going to cry.

She is better than this.

She is not going to cry.

Marlene hardened her resolve. “No, I wanted someone to love me for me. I didn’t care if it was you.”

Leo’s jaw dropped slightly. The pain was evident, but Marlene was numb.

He doesn’t want her for her. Not really. Even if he was interested, he would have never pursued her if she didn’t change. He wanted a pretty bird on his arm. He was making that exceedingly clear.

“I’m sorry if that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. I’ve liked you for so long, but you don’t really know me.”

“Wouldn’t you like me to though?”

Marlene hugged herself, sinking her sharp nails into her blouse sleeves. “I… don’t know anymore. You want me to say we’re in a relationship before we shag, and I want to know that you’re in love with me and not the person I look like before we get into a relationship. My heart was torn to shreds by a boy who will never commit and I refuse to allow myself to make the same mistake twice. I know what it feels like to be someone’s secret.”

Leo approached her slowly and drew her into a hug. “Okay, okay… I hear you. I’m sorry. I’m doing this all wrong. I don’t know how we even got to this point. I’m not trying to force you to be my girlfriend… Really, I’m not. I don’t know why… I’m arguing with you about this.”

Marlene hugged him tighter. “I need more time. I’m still healing.”

“Well, actually… There’s something I, uh, need to tell you… and I think now might be the time...”

Leo shakily braced himself for what appeared to be a sore subject when a petite second-year Gryffindor appeared from around the corner, out of breath and wide-eyed.

“M-Marlene? Marlene McKinnon?” Her innocent, round eyes peered at the pair of them with apprehension and admiration. Her small hands shook as she clenched her fists tight at her sides.

The brunette witch slipped from Leo’s arms.

“Yes?”

“Are you her? You look different.”

Marlene fought an exasperated groan. “Yes, it’s still me. What’s the matter?”

The little witch’s jaw trembled. “I’ve been trying to find you. We all have. Lily Evans is upset. She was in the common room asking for you.”

Her eyes shifted to Leo. He was as shocked as she was.

Lily was upset? She seemed fine earlier.

“How upset?”

The second year looked down at her slippers. “She was crying.”

“Crying?!”

“Yes—”

“In the common room?!”

“Yes, but now she’s—!”

“No, no. I’ve heard enough. Leo,” Marlene turned to the Hufflepuff in question, “I’ve got to go. Can we—?”

“Continue this later? Yes, of course. Lily needs you.”

“Are we… okay?”

“Yeah, yeah… sure.”

Marlene could tell he wasn’t trying to be convincing. Cautiously, she kissed his cheek and softly whispered, “I’ll see you at supper,” into his ear.

And with that, she ran.

Marlene searched all of Gryffindor Tower but couldn’t find her ginger-in-distress.

After an hour of waiting in the common room, she chose to wait for Lily in the Great Hall—hoping like hell that she was okay enough to make it down for supper.

Now, stuck in her own head and absently picking at her food in the Great Hall, Marlene began to mull over the full weight of her conversation with Leo.

Her suspicions were correct.

The boy she admired her entire fifth year liked her solely because she changed. He may have been interested but bore no motivation to entertain their growing chemistry until she decided to change.

This was what she wanted though, right?

To upgrade her less-attractive, physical qualities in order to date a bloke like Leo?

If her intentions were to secure a boy, she succeeded.

But she wasn’t happy. He didn’t love her. Leo wanted to make her his girlfriend, but Marlene couldn’t accept the idea. It was like she was waiting for someone better.

Or perhaps waiting for someone to change their mind.

Mary, plopping down in front of her across the table, shook Marlene from her dangerous thoughts. Her bleached-blonde mate began stacking potatoes onto her plate as Emmeline shuffled into the spot on the bench beside her.

“Have either of you seen Lily?” Marlene asked.

Mary shook her head. “No, but I did try looking for her. A few third years informed both of us,” she tilted her head slightly at Em, “that something must have upset her because she was crying in the common room.”

Em bristled. “The idea that something actually got to Lily’s emotions like that… I can’t imagine. It must not have been anything good.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “My galleons are on Snape. Have you two seen the way he tries to force their friendship into reconciliation? It’s embarrassing. I’d have a good cry about it, too.”

Marlene tapped her nails on the table and sighed. “I don’t know. I think it’s something else. She’s taking this Snape breakup rather well. I can’t imagine she’d let something as trivial as a confrontation with him get under her skin. And besides, she supposedly asked everyone in the common room if they saw me. She wanted to speak to me about whatever her grievance is and Snape just isn’t a topic she likes to bring up to me.”

Mary shrugged and took a satisfying bite. “Mmmm. Potatoes are my best friend.”

“And what does that make me?!” Em demanded with feigned anger.

“Are you a potato?”

“No.”

“Then, I guess you’re not my best friend.”

Em gasped and nicked a grand bite from Mary’s plate.

“Hey—!”

“You know what? You’re right, potatoes might just be my best friend too,” Em groaned happily.

The two laughed and added more food to their plates.

“So, Mar, did you hear about Flora Bishop?”

“No, why? Is she okay?”

Mary rolled her eyes and said, “She was sobbing in the loo just now when Em and I stopped before dinner. Bishop had all her friends around her and they were trying to comfort her, but she just kept shouting ‘I missed my chance and now he’ll never want me again,’ or something along those lines. It was just too much for us, we ended up walking out and travelling to the fifth-floor lavatory.”

“If it only just happened, how could I have heard about it, Mary?” Marlene deadpanned as Em snickered.

“I mean, you must know that this isn’t the first time she’s done it. She had some sort of outburst in the Hufflepuff common room a few weeks back. She’s obviously in love with someone, but whoever it is won’t or can’t return those feelings. They can’t all have my luck.”

Em snorted. “Hawthorne isn’t goodluck.”

Mary batted her lashes. “Says the spinster.”

Marlene clenched tightly on her upper arms. “That’s rather unfortunate for Flora. But at some point, we all have to move on.”

Em narrowed her eyes. “We?”

“What?”

“You said, ‘We all have to move on?’ What does that mean?”

Marlene placed her elbow on the table, letting her chin fall into her palm. “I just mean the hypothetical ‘We’ as women who fall for men who don’t reciprocate the same level of enthusiasm towards a relationship.”

“And to be clear, this hypothetical ‘We’ does not in any way correlate to your relationship with Leo Welch, right?”

Marlene’s heart beat fast as her eyes shifted to her sweetheart at the Hufflepuff table. “No, we’re okay right now. If I’m being honest, we had a bit of a rough day, but I’m trying to move past it.”

Em’s expression softened as Mary set down her fork, giving Marlene her full attention. “What happened, Mar?”

“Just my suspicion was confirmed. The only reason he chose to ask me out was because of all this.” She waved her hand over her face and set her palm down on the table. Mary reached over and placed her soft fingers atop Marlene’s.

“Oh, love. I’m so sorry.”

Marlene’s free hand rubbed circles into her temple. “It’s okay. I honestly don’t know why I’m even surprised.”

“Are you sure that you’re not misinterpreting what he said?”

“No, I’m sure. I don’t know why it upsets me. It’s what I asked for. But now, it feels so… empty and meaningless. Is it really too much to ask to be loved by someone who wanted me before all this?”

“That’s a perfectly reasonable request,” a low voice uttered from beside them.

All three Gryffindor girls snapped their heads towards the sudden intruder.

Sirius Black sat roughly six metres down from them—alone, writing in a notebook, and not bothering to meet their stares with one of his own.

Marlene’s entire body seized with rage.

How f*cking dare he. As if that dirty bastard deserves a say in the matter.

“We didn’t ask for a second opinion, Black!” Marlene growled.

He raised a suspicious eyebrow but refused to meet her eyes. “Well, you were speaking awfully loud, McKinnon. I wouldn’t be surprised if Leonard heard it from across the room.”

Mary and Em stiffened as Marlene smacked the table with both hands and stood.

“Stay out of my conversations!”

His eyes shifted, meeting hers dangerously. “Or what?”

“Oh, you know what,” she threatened.

Tell the whole school about how you f*cked me for an entire summer—and left me?

Actually, on second thought, she never wants a single soul to know. Even if she didn’t promise to keep it a secret to him, she was ashamed. She hates this power over her.

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me,” she lied.

Sirius scowled and reached for his wand while Marlene mimicked the motion.

Before a single curse could be cast, Mary jumped forward to stop her, knocking into her plate of potatoes. “No, Marlene! Don’t! It’s not worth the detention!”

With a deep breath, Marlene slowly descended back into her seat. “Eavesdrop on my conversations again and see what happens to that ugly mug of yours, Black.”

He barked a sarcastic laugh. “My ugly mug?! Is that the best you can come up with? We both know my face is rather charming. This is a face that deserves to be sat on.”

Marlene wanted to rip every lock of obsidian hair from his f*cking head. “Do you ever shut the f*ck up? Honestly, no one wants to hear a damn thing you have to say.”

“Plenty of people would disagree.”

“Then, go eavesdrop on them!”

Sirius smirked wickedly. “But your petty problems are far more entertaining. I mean, why are you surprised? If you’re going to dress yourself up for an insincere man’s attention, your relationships are bound to be fake as well.”

Unimaginable heat ripped through Marlene’s entire body, boiling her insides with ferocity and malice. “f*ck you, Black!”

His eyes flashed with an unreadable emotion, almost as if to say, ‘You already have, kitten.’

Em stood suddenly and shouted, “Are you both quite finished?!” Her stately posture and glare could rival McGonagall. “Are we going to prattle on like children or are we going to act like civilised witches and wizards?!”

Marlene still struggled to rein in her heavy breathing as she slumped forward, her chin resting on the table. “Whatever, he started it.”

Sirius grumbled something incoherent and continued writing in his book. Despite the irritation, he looked self-satisfied. Marlene arched her head, laying her cheek on the table. She betrayed her sense of sanity and stared at him. Watching unabashedly as he sat writing in one of his leather journals like he used to over the summer.

Marlene couldn’t help but wonder what he was scribbling down. There was a pensive aura about his concentration that roused her curiosity, even if it deeply pained her to admit it.

There was a Transfiguration assignment due Monday, but he wasn’t the type to complete assignments days before they were to be turned in to a professor.

She eyed him carefully as he furrowed his brows and scratched out words, again and again, rewriting and tapping. Writing and rewriting and tapping. Thinking hard, and then carefully scrawling words onto the parchment. Drumming soft taps into the wood. The beat was oddly steady. Like he was tapping to the rhythm of a metronome.

Is he—?

No, impossible.

But the way his head gently bobbed... It was almost as if he… was writing lyrics.

Peter and Remus appeared causing Sirius to wince and slam his notebook closed. He laughed when he realised who joined him and the three began talking animatedly. Whatever the two said caused Sirius to grin and shout, “No! Absolutely not! There’s no way!”

Peter nodded, smiling and piling food onto his plate. No time wasted digging into his bangers and mash.

Remus shrugged with a grin and pointed at the door.

Were they talking about Jamie?

“Marlene?! Hello! We’re asking you a question!”

She bristled at the call of her name and lifted her head to reface her friends. Both trained suspicious eyes on her. Their intense scrutiny caused Marlene’s cheeks to warm slightly.

“W-what? What was the question?”

Mary groaned. “I said, do you think Sirius was eavesdropping because he’s the boy that Flora Bishop was crying over?”

Marlene’s heart ached beneath her sternum.

The idea was certainly possible.

Flora is pretty in a normal sort of way—not unlike Marlene was only a few months prior, perhaps even still is if she stopped dolling herself up. Sirius exhausted a decent amount of the available girls at Hogwarts. It wouldn’t shock Marlene if he broke Bishop’s fragile heart.

Hell, he did it to her, after all.

Marlene shrugged, hiding her trembling hands by pushing her food around. Taking extra attention to avoid meeting their eyes, she said, “I suppose, it’s possible. That or he’s just a prick who knows no boundaries.”

Em turned back to see the three present Marauders chuckling and chatting. “Still, don't you think it’s… odd that over the loud commotion of the room, he was still able to hear our conversation from way over there?”

Mary nodded. “Yeah, I agree. Black said we were talking loudly, but we really weren’t. Right, Mar?”

“You’re absolutely right, that was… certainly rather strange. He’s got hearing like a damn dog.”

Marlene’s eyes shifted towards the entrance to the Great Hall and caught sight of Lily walking briskly towards their group, looking determined.

The brunette stumbled clumsily out of her seat and ran to meet her, colliding into a powerful hug. “Red! Oh, Lily! I heard you were upset and I couldn’t find you! Where have you been? Are you alright?”

Lily pulled herself from Marlene’s steel grip and smiled. “I’m okay now. I have some things I want to get off my chest with you, but for now, I’m perfectly fine.”

Mary approached them from behind Marlene and threw an arm around Lily’s shoulders. “Then, where have you been? Little Mar here was awfully worried about you.”

Marlene shrugged. “Guilty.”

The prefect reddened slightly and replied, “I was… playing Quidditch.”

All three girls were silent as they turned their attention towards the Marauders, joined now by their final member.

Em’s perplexed stare flicked back and forth between Lily and the Marauders as she whispered, “You were doing—what?”

“Playing Quidditch. I needed Marlene and I couldn’t find her, so Potter, Lupin, and Pettigrew offered to distract me. It was actually rather enjoyable.”

Befuddled, Marlene struggled to find the right words. “Are you… like mates… with the Marauders now?”

Lily furrowed her brows and thought deeply before finally saying, “I wouldn’t say I’m exactly friends with all four, but I also wouldn’t say that I hate them anymore.”

Mary blinked and covered her forehead. “What the f*ck is going on right now?”

“Potter is trying to be nicer, so I’m trying to as well. I don’t know. He was kind to me today when he didn’t have to be. And we had a detention together about a month ago that went extremely well. He… He apologised for something that I think he really meant. It’s been beneficial for both of us, so I figured why not allow him around? We’re housemates, after all.”

“What did he say?” Em asked, gripping Lily’s wrist tight.

“He said that he’s done asking me out. That he is finally moving on, and I believe him.”

All three whispered, “Whoa…”

Mary leaned back to stare at the four Gryffindor boys who chatted eagerly amongst themselves. “So, he’s done? He hasn’t asked you out once?”

“Nope. Not since last year after the O.W.Ls. He’s been true to his word. Hasn’t even so much as joked about taking me out. It’s awfully refreshing.”

Marlene co*cked an eyebrow at Jamie. Her best friend of sixteen years was bouncing his leg and shifting his eyes to Lily every so often. Fingers combing through his hair and twisting until the locks nearly stood straight up.

Oh, Jamie.

He was absolutely not over her, but at least he was trying. And for what it was worth, it was working better than his attempts in the past. Lily spent the past few hours with him and they weren’t screaming their heads off.

Progress.

She turned back to Lily and asked, “So, what now? You’re going to be, like, chummy with the Marauders now?”

“Well, yes, in a way. I thought you of all would be most excited about this. Now you don’t have to spend so much time away from Potter. In fact, I was actually going to ask all three of you if you’d like to join them at the table for dinner this evening.”

“What?!” they shouted in unison.

Em roughly shook Lily. “Who are you and what have you done with the real Lily Evans?!”

The redhead laughed and said, “It’s the real me, I swear!”

“I’m not going to pretend like this isn’t extremely strange behaviour,” Marlene began. “But all I’ve ever wanted was for you to give Jamie a chance to show you how great he can be, so let’s go sit with the bloody Marauders then.”

Lily placed a hand on Marlene’s shoulder and stopped her from retrieving her bag. “You know that we’re only attempting to be friends, right? There’s nothing going on between Potter and I, emotionally speaking.”

“I understand and respect that. I’m just glad I don’t have to split my time between you two anymore. Let’s go take a seat. I want to hear all about your little Quidditch match.”

“And then Prongs smacks his forehead against this miniature goal post he conjured and Lily literally falls off her broomstick from laughter!” Peter exclaimed.

All eight sixth-year Gryffindors started to cackle. Marlene covered her mouth, trying with little success to catch her breath. She couldn’t fathom Jamie doing something so clumsy playing Quidditch of all things.

“It was a fantastic sight, you all have to join in next time!” Remus added. He was seated snug in between Em, Peter, and Sirius while Lily, James, Marlene, and Mary sat across from them.

“Listen,” Lily started, “I’m just saying that—playing or not—I’d pay a load of galleons to watch Potter smash his face into a post again.”

Sirius smirked. “I bet with the right hex, I could turn that dream into a reality at tryouts tomorrow, Evans.”

“You can try. But I might be too quick for you to land a single jinx,” James taunted, taking a gulping bite of his treacle tart.

“I’ll take that bet,” Remus interjected. “With the size of your fathead? How hard can aiming really be?”

The group erupted into laughter again as James reached over the table to take a playful swing at his mate. He had Remus by the collar when a gentle voice behind them said, “Miss Evans?”

All eight fell silent as Lily stood up from her seat and turned to face an anxious Declan Calvolio. He looked uncomfortable, biting the inside of his cheek before softly clearing his throat.

The group of Gryffindors watched as Lily’s cheeks flushed. She brushed her hair. Fixing it again and again as she breathed, “Declan! Uh, hi.”

“I deeply apologise for the interruption, everyone.” Calvolio addressed the entire group, but his pale green eyes fixated on Lily’s dark emerald. “But I was hoping that I may claim a brief word with Lily. If, of course, she graciously allows me the honour of speaking with her privately.”

“Of course, you may,” she quickly replied.

Lily carefully climbed out of her seat, following Calvolio to the edge of the Great Hall.

Seven pairs of eyes glued on the two of them. The pair talked quietly but in rather close proximity to one another. Marlene was sure that Lily could feel him breathing on her by how closely he leaned in to talk with her.

The group of Gryffindors watched their interaction in silence until Mary finally broke the tension.

“Is everyone else as confused as I am?”

Remus muttered, “Definitely. I wasn’t even aware they were friends.”

Marlene added, “Neither was I.”

Her eyes shifted from Lily to Jamie whose entire body seized as rigidly as a petrification curse. Marlene couldn’t even tell if he was breathing. His hazel eyes fastened onto her every twitch. Clenching his fist tight against the table, his knuckles losing their colour.

Marlene felt sorry for him.

Jamie relished in knowing Lily never dated anyone. Through all their years in Hogwarts as classmates, Lily never had a boyfriend or went on a date to Hogsmeade. Those trips were reserved for time with Snape. With him out of the picture, and Jamie no longer claiming his territory on the girl, Lily was fair game to any bloke who could win her heart.

And Marlene swore she could hear Jamie’s shatter from next to her as he drank in their every move.

Calvolio smiled lightly.

Lily giggled.

Calvolio reached for her hand.

Lily blushed.

Calvolio spoke slowly.

Lily twisted her hair around her index.

Calvolio’s thumb rubbed circles onto her skin.

Lily nodded sweetly.

Calvolio grinned.

Lily bit her lip and nodded.

Calvolio lifted her wrist, placing a tender kiss on her ivory knuckles.

Lily flushed as he gently dropped her hand.

Calvolio bid her goodbye, walking backwards towards the exit to the Great Hall, holding her gaze for as long as he was able.

The prefect waited for him to turn the corner before she clapped her hands over her face and leaned against the wall for support.

Jamie was about to be sick. He turned away and stared helplessly down at the table, scratching absently at the wood enamel. His leg bounced uncontrollably and, every few seconds, his free hand ruffled his hair—messier and messier with every touch.

When Lily returned, she was glowing. She collapsed into her seat beside Mary and Jamie. She flinched when she saw everyone sitting and staring at her in bewilderment.

“What?” she asked innocently.

Sirius broke the stunned quiet. “What the hell was that, Evans?”

Lily blushed and glanced at Marlene. “That,” she started, “is what I wanted to talk to you about.”

James snapped his head towards her. His hazel eyes dark and focused. “Is he the reason you were crying?”

The redhead jumped back when she caught the intensity in his face. “It was all a misunderstanding. I never gave him a chance to properly explain himself.”

Mary clapped her hands, grinning. “This is so exciting! Lily Evans! Do you finally have a boyfriend?”

The prefect smiled shyly and waved a dismissive hand. “Not at all, but I do have a date to Hogsmeade next weekend.”

Em and Mary squealed with joy, talking animatedly about outfits and how the two met. Marlene distantly listened as Lily recounted some rubbish about Snape in the Great Hall and Calvolio saving her.

No.

f*ck that.

Marlene wasn’t paying attention to some futilely pointless love story.

No… Marlene’s stare was fixed on Jamie. His eyes were so vacant. Like a dementor kissed the soul straight from his body, he stared down at his food, picking at his potatoes. No life in his expression as he listened to Lily gush about finally meeting a man worth her attention.

She watched the other three Marauders stare helplessly at their leader with no advice. No plan of action. No solace.

Marlene watched her best friend—the boy who always received whatever he wanted with ease—swallow the sour taste of defeat for the first time in his life.

The Marauders strode out of the Great Hall as if nothing awkward happened to them at supper.

Or at least, that was what Sirius was attempting to do.

“So, what are we doing for the rest of the night, chaps?” Sirius asked, clapping Peter on the back.

“Exploding Snap?” Wormtail offered.

“We played that yesterday,” Remus replied, bored. “What about charming random items in Filch’s office to shock him with a small volt of electricity every time he touches it?”

Sirius cackled and threw an arm around Remus’s neck. “And that right there is why you, Moony, are the brains of this operation.”

Peter rubbed his hands together and grinned wickedly. “I love it. It’s diabolical. He’ll have no idea what objects are going to shock him and which are safe. It’s pure evil.”

James shrugged with as much confidence as he could muster. “I can’t think of a better way to spend a Friday night, lads. Let’s do it.”

As they walked through the corridor, Sirius navigated the plan of action—detailing lookouts and time frames. Remus followed by explaining the complexities of the spell they’d perform. It involved some kind of charm work involving harnessing artificial lightning, but James wasn’t listening. Without warning a blur in his peripherals caught his eye, whipping him to the left as something—or rather someone—gripped his attention.

It happened as the gang climbed the Grand Staircase. Halfway up the steps, James noticed Harper Hughes descending an adjacent staircase, exiting the common room.

The strawberry blonde, now a fifth year, bounded merrily down the steps, her chopped locks bouncing along with the rhythm of her stride. Her eyes shimmered in the low light. That same beautiful shade of amber that he was so close to in Edinburgh last term. James’s vision nearly faded as he drank in the features of her face.

Even drunk as he was at the time, he memorised the shape of her round pink lips. How bright her smile was between them. The faint blush across her cheeks as she watched him watch her so vividly.

He wanted to kiss her then. He was not quite sure why he chose not to, but James is sure that it had something to do with Lily Evans.

But he has no claim on Lily.

Sure, Lily may not hate him now, but if he’s going to be her friend for real, he needs to move on quicker than how it’s currently going.

Getting to know Lily on a deeper level only proved to hinder his progress in moving on. But, as if by some kind of fate, Harper was descending those stairs. And their brief time together in April slammed into his thoughts without so much as a warning.

‘Maybe one day you’ll want to just… get over her, for good.’

Harper said those words to him. She sat there in that booth at the pub, only inches from his face, looking up at him, and James came to the realisation that he wanted to kiss her.

The Quidditch Captain stopped walking and stared at Harper’s retreating figure.

‘I’ll let you know if that ever happens.’

Before even understanding the gravity of his own actions (but when did he ever), James ran back down the steps and climbed on top of the moving staircase handrail.

“Prongs, what the hell are you doing?!” one of the Marauders yelled.

James wobbled slightly as the staircase continued to shift.

“Prongs, get down before you bloody kill yourself!”

He wanted to address them, but James wasn’t about to turn his head to look and meet certain death.

James wouldn’t dare look down either. Logically, he knew he was about four stories up and teetering on the precipice of death, but in his head, he was channelling the concentration it took to balance on a broomstick.

Fearing heights was never really his style anyway.

He let the staircase move a little further, careening slowly across the hall of portraits. When James was close enough, he bent his knees and leaped down to the lower set of stairs. James thought he might’ve heard Peter scream.

He landed rather gracefully considering how completely chaotic this act was, even for someone like him. Brushing off his trousers, he looked down at Harper.

She had turned around to watch the commotion. She stared up at him wildly. Her amber eyes shimmered with delighted intrigue.

“Fancy seeing you here, Hughes. Where are you headed?”

Her lips twitched into an amused smirk. “Have you gone completely mad? You could’ve died doing that little stunt, you know. You ought to be more careful.”

James shrugged. “I’m sure I should be, but I rarely do what’s expected of me.”

“Like to live dangerously then, huh?” she teased.

“Only way I know how, Harps.” James offered a lip-bitten smile and swaggered forward. He stopped only one step above her. “I answered your question, but you haven’t answered mine. Where are you headed, Hughes?”

She glanced around before meeting his gaze once more. “Well, I’m actually returning to the Great Hall. I’ve left my journal.”

“Mind if I join you?”

Her eyes brightened as she said, “I mean if you’re sure. It’s a quick trip.”

“Oh, I’m most definitely sure.” James gazed up at the Marauders. Each stood ghastly shell-shocked, painting their faces with utter horror. “I’m going to walk Hughes back to the Great Hall. I’ll see you up in the dorms after. Alright?”

He didn’t bother waiting to hear their answer.

“After you, Harps,” he said, gesturing with his hand for her to continue her walk down the stairs.

“You are something else, Potter,” she said, shaking her head.

“Yeah, but I’d be so boring if I wasn’t so marvellously different.”

Harper offered a dry stare. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being boring.”

“I do. It’s my greatest fear.”

She watched him carefully as they briskly walked side-by-side through the corridor. “I never took you to be the sort of bloke to have any fears at all.”

James waved his hand dismissively. “We’ve all got to have a weakness. I can’t be perfect all the time.”

Harper laughed loudly. “And yours is being a bore?”

James nodded before adding seriously, “I was an only child in a large home with parents who had a lot to do. I spent most of my childhood alone when Marlene couldn’t come to play, so yeah, I would say being bored is my greatest fear.”

Harper nodded. “Sounds to me like you’re more afraid of being alone than being bored.”

“Are they not the same?”

Harper shrugged. “I’m not sure. I have three siblings, so I’ve never really been alone before.”

James walked ahead so he faced her while he smoothly walked backwards. “Three, huh? What are they like?”

“Well, Christopher is the oldest. He left Hogwarts in my second year. He lives in Bristol now, loves cricket, and is married to a lovely muggle named Dorothy. Colby, my other brother, left Hogwarts in my third year. He travels a lot, but he tries his best to keep in touch. The last I heard from him, he was in Serbia protesting the illegal transport of unicorns for profit. My brothers and I don’t speak much. Though you might remember them. They were both in Ravenclaw.”

“They do sound a little familiar. Does Christoper have slicked-back hair the same colour as yours?”

Harper nodded with a smile and ruffled her hair.

James smiled at the familiar gesture and ruffled his hair as well. “Ahh, yes. I remember. And isn’t Colby tall? Like freakishly gigantic.”

Harper laughed. “Yes, that’s him. He may actually be part-giant. We’re too afraid to ask Mum. Could make the holidays rather complicated.”

The Quidditch Captain grinned and skipped back to walking at her side as they entered the Great Hall. It was almost empty. A few stragglers sat in various parts, but it was much quieter than an hour before.

Harper let her whimsical fingers graze the table as she walked down to where she sat at dinner.

“And what about the third sibling?”

“Sophie,” Harper answered. “She’s the youngest. She’s a first-year Slytherin actually. I’m sure you’ll see her around. She looks like a tiny version of me, but with slightly longer hair that she likes to keep in little pigtails.”

James faltered slightly. “Marlene used to do that, too. You know, before… everything.”

“Oh, but I guarantee Marlene never had the same attitude my sister has. Sophie is a demon.”

“Now, now,” he countered. “Don’t be fooled. My sweet Mar can be a real force of nature when she’s in the right mood for it.” He lifted his forearm and presented it to his lovely companion. “See those four little scars right there. She stabbed me with a bloody fork!”

“She stabbed you?!”

“Well, in her defence, we were eight and I most definitely deserved it.”

Harper palmed her face and shook her head. “And how exactly does an eight-year-old deserve being stabbed in the arm with cutlery?”

With a wicked grin, James said, “By putting a spider in her bread pudding, of course. Poor girl thought it was a raisin.”

Harper laughed so loudly, she needed to sit down for a moment. James couldn’t stop grinning at her. He watched her grip her stomach and cover her eyes in between fits of mirth. It was right then James came to the realisation that he quite liked the sound of her laugh.

“You’re such a brat, James Potter,” she replied at last.

“I’ve been called worse.”

When Harper reached her destination and began searching underneath the table for her journal.

“Wait,” James said quickly. “Allow me.”

He dropped to his knees and reached under the bench seat until he grasped a soft leather-bound book. Pulling it close, he tossed it once into the air before catching it gracefully and presenting it to his companion.

“Your diary, my lady,” he drolled.

“Why thank you, my good sir,” she mimicked, taking the book from him. “You didn’t have to come all this way, you know. I could’ve made the trip alone.”

“Well, I wanted to talk to you.”

Harper narrowed her eyes, but her smile remained. She held the journal close to her chest. “You wanted to talk to me?”

“Yeah, I wanted to see how your summer went.”

They turned and began walking back out of the Great Hall. “Summer was fine, I suppose. I was able to spend most of it with Simone. You know Simone, don’t you?”

“Stromville?”

“Yes, her. She’s—well—she’s… my best mate and all. Uh, anyway, we were able to connect our houses in the Floo network over the holiday. We saw each other almost every day. Eating ice cream by the tub, going to see some films at the cinema, reading in bed—”

Harper stopped and thought for a moment, biting her lip.

James co*cked his head to the side. “What is it?”

Releasing a breathy laugh, she said, “Well, I’m not sure if I should say what else I did.” She tossed her book high in the air of the corridor and caught it without looking.

James watched her closely. “Aww, come on, Harps. I can keep a secret.”

Harper shook her head and looked straight ahead as they climbed the staircase to the common room. “It’s not a secret… but I’ve been practising to try out for the Quidditch team,” she uttered sheepishly.

“Really?! That’s fantastic! Promise you’ll come. Don’t skive off now. I’ll be cross if you don’t show your face.”

“I wanted to surprise you by showing you how well I’ve been training,” Harper shrugged bashfully. “It’s embarrassing to tell you. You’re the Captain, and now you’ll expect me to play well.”

James tossed his head back and groaned. “I expect nothing at tryouts. It’s my least favourite task as Captain. It’s excruciating to endure, but you need to understand that I take Quidditch seriously. I want to win. I won’t tolerate anything less. Do you think you’re up for that kind of challenge?”

Harper gave a curt, determined nod. “Most definitely.”

“Well then, I can’t wait to see you at tryouts tomorrow.”

At last, they reached the portrait hole.

“Initium novum,” James chimed merrily to the Fat Lady.

They entered the busy room, all eager to begin their weekend.

James accompanied Harper to the girl’s staircase. “Promise me you’ll be there,” he requested.

“Depends. You’re not going to play favourites, are you? I want a fair shot. I practised all holiday and I want to earn the position.”

What a girl. She wanted to earn the title. He admired that so much about her. The integrity she held was admirable.

James shook his head and chuckled. “If I played favourites then Remus and Pete would be on the team as well. Whether or not you make the team will be entirely dependent on how you perform. I swear it.”

Harper’s eyes reflected like spessartite in the glow of the fireplace. James adored seeing the genuine happiness from his words.

“Well, then…” she sighed dreamily. “I better go upstairs and rest if I’m gonna perform my best tomorrow. Thank you for coming with me. It was a… pleasant surprise.”

“I can assure you the pleasure was all mine,” he shared truthfully. There was a single lock of strawberry blonde hair out of place. His fingers twitched as if yearning to touch it.

“Goodnight, James,” she whispered with round, shy lips.

“Goodnight,” he said, watching her leave.

‘Move on.’

She encouraged him to move on all those months ago. The least he could do is try.

He liked Harper, that much he knew. He could envision himself being around Harper often.

Walking her to classes.

Sitting with her at suppers.

Bringing her home to meet his folks.

Kissing Harper.

Making love to Harper.

He could see it. The visions were right there—if only when she was around. The image was still there. The feelings he bore were real.

James rubbed his face and sighed.

He turned lazily towards the direction of the boy's staircase when something caught his eye.

Looking out into the common room, the Quidditch Captain spied a familiar set of red hair, sitting on tucked knees at the corner of the sofa. She gushed to Marlene about… something worthy of her time. Lily beamed down at Mar who sat at her feet on the floor. Lily spoke eagerly and happily like she was on top of the world.

James did his best to swallow the vicious cut to his ego—to ignore the revolting churning in his stomach.

Calvolio kissed her hand.

Calvolio asked her to Hogsmeade.

Calvolio only needed to ask her one time and Lily said yes to him without so much as a second thought.

Pointedly, James forced himself to look away and trudge up the stairs.

He thought willfully about how Harper’s eyes remind him of fresh maple syrup.

How Harper’s laugh makes him grin.

How Harper wants to play Quidditch with him.

How Harper doesn’t make him second guess himself. And he doesn’t need to wonder when she’ll flip the switch and become angry with him.

Liking Harper was comfortable, mostly.

He wasn’t sure if he’d be successful, but—if there was ever a way to try—he bargained that Harper could help him do it right.

Near the top of the steps, James knocked twice before entering the dorm.

Sirius rested on his bed, flipping through his leather journal. Remus sat at the desk, editing some scrolls for a class. Peter read a book that looked strangely like a romance novel from the front of it.

As he opened the door, they all glanced up and raised their eyebrows.

“Oh, fancy that,” Sirius announced. “Evel Knievel has finally joined us.”

James laughed and shook his head. “I’ve done far more daring stunts and you know it,” he reckoned. “And it was with purpose, lads, I assure you.”

Remus rolled his eyes. “What business could you possibly have with Harper Hughes?”

“Well, for one thing, she’s trying out for Quidditch tomorrow,” James replied coolly.

“Oh yeah?” Sirius remarked. “Is she any good?”

“I won’t know until tomorrow,” James shrugged, ruffling his hair. He walked casually to his bunk and sat back against the pillows. “But she told me she practised all summer so we shall see.”

Peter raised an eyebrow sceptically. “And when did Harper tell you that she was trying out?”

“Just now, on our walk.”

Peter smirked and threw his book at the end of the bed. “Okay, so explain then why you chose to dive off the staircase and speak with her before she told you about tryouts.”

James stiffened.

f*cking hell. What an amateur. He just blew his own explanation.

Remus gasped lightly. “Wormtail, I think you might be onto something. Go on, Prongs. Why don’t you tell us all why you chose tonight to speak to Hughes if you weren’t intending to speak about her tryouts.”

James breathed deeply and reached into the drawer at his side table. He procured an old bottle of firewhisky. In one effortless movement, he pulled the cork off with his teeth and spit it across the room. It landed in the rubbish bin with a delicate clang!

He swallowed a mighty swig and wiped his lips.

“I fancy her,” he said at last.

The Marauders said nothing for some time.

“Genuinely?” Sirius asked at length, walking to James’s bunk and sitting at the end.

“Yes,” James answered quietly, fluffing his black hair roughly.

Remus rose from his seat at the desk. He settled next to Peter on his bed and asked, “And for how long have you… fancied Miss Hughes?”

“It started in Edinburgh.”

They all nodded, staring off, and contemplating what this news truly meant.

“Did you tell her that you fancy her?” Peter asked at last.

“No.”

“Are you going to?” Sirius questioned.

“I think… I think so. I don’t know how yet.” James sighed, taking another sip from his bottle.

“Well,” Remus began. “I’m proud of you. Is there any reason that you chose tonight specifically to speak with her?”

James knew what he was implying—and, yes, it had everything to do with a certain ginger being asked to Hogsmeade.

He adjusted his spectacles. “Probably, but it doesn’t change the way I feel. I need to… to move on, and I fancy Harper. I truly do. I can see being around her more, lads. She’s… she’s fantastic.”

Sirius ran a hand through his hair and smirked. “Well, if you choose her for the team, and she’s complete bollocks at Quidditch, I’ll never let you live it down. Can’t have our beloved Captain thinking with his co*ck, can we?”

James filled his mouth with firewhisky and spit it impishly at his best mate in a massive spray.

“Oh, you bloody bastard!” Sirius laughed loudly. “I just washed my hair!”

Sirius leapt forward on the bed and wrestled James for the bottle.

Once he managed it out of James’s grasp, Sirius dumped a portion directly onto James. The liquid splashed across his forehead and seeped into his pillow.

James couldn’t be bothered though. It was moments like these that he enjoyed the most. The two continued to wrestle for control of the whisky as the other two laughed along from one bed over.

Chapter 15: Prelude VI

Chapter Text

Prelude VI

February 21st, 1976

Sirius pressed her naked body flat against the wall. Her honey-eyes clenched shut, mewling so softly in his ear.

Her delicate olive-toned legs wrapped around his waist while he drove into her hard. With each reckless thrust, her petite frame slammed against the shelves of the broom closet, rattling its contents. Cleaning supplies and mop handles clattered loudly to the floor, but Sirius did not slow his pace.

Her breath hot on his neck and her little fingernails digging into shoulder blades. The harder she stabbed her nails into his skin, the harder he buried himself into her.

She likes it rough.

Everything about this shag is ruthless and relentless and risky. If Prongs knew, he’d be a dead man walking.

But for some reason, he didn’t care. He unrepentantly allowed himself to drown in her sweet warmth—in her effortless comfort.

She’s close.

She’s beginning to shake and gasp with pleasure—and he isn’t far behind her.

Sirius begged a higher power to forgive him of his sins as he felt her tighten around him. With her legs locked around his waist, he came with a guttural groan at the same time she did, rocking against her in shared bliss.

When his senses eased, he kissed the hollow of Marlene’s neck—once, twice, three times—before she finally spoke.

“Holy hell… That… That was bloody incredible.”

Sirius cringed and clenched his eyes shut again, willing the fantasy to return to him.

Honey-coloured eyes.

Soft brunette hair.

Cinnamon.

Flowers.

Bright grinning smile.

Infectious laughter.

“W-was it good for you too?” she asked when he said nothing back.

The heir to the Noble House of Black smirked roguishly before he opened his eyes and stared into the non-honey eyes of Vera Purloin—Slytherin and fellow fifth year.

He did it again.

This marked the twelfth time since December. He imagined f*cking Marlene while f*cking someone else… again.

Pathetic, really. He isn’t even attracted to Marlene like that.

Well, he doesn’t think so anyway.

Sure, he’s catching himself staring at her more and more frequently as the weeks go by.

And, sure, she is beginning to find her way into his sketchbook.

But she’s just a placeholder. The damned girl showed him a tiny shrivel of platonic intimacy, and it’s gone to his head. So what?

It made you come—almost instantly—that’s what, he thought bitterly.

This could get out of hand sooner or later, but fantasy was just… his imagination. Mere fanciful thinking. He wasn’t breaking the oath if he merely thought about Marlene while he had sex with other girls.

He isn’t doing anything wrong, and it isn’t intentional. It’s all pretend.

An act.

A reverie.

His delusion isn't harming anyone.

“Sirius? Could we… maybe do this again sometime?”

Well, mostly anyone.

“Listen, pet, I told you from the start. I don’t shag the same girl twice.”

Chapter 16: Don't Go Breaking My Heart

Chapter Text

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

October 8th, 1976

It may not be obvious, but Mary Macdonald is quite the sensitive individual—and today’s emotional ride was one for the books. After years and years of pestering Lily to make herself more available, the picky witch finally found someone.

And a seventh-year pureblood, no less!

Mary Macdonald loves young love.

She loves new relationships.

She loves seeing one of her closest friends finally cave and give into being romanced—heaven-only-knows how many times she was asked out on dates.

Overcome with joy from the newfound affection between Calvolio and Evans, Mary Macdonald sent a note to Luther at the Ravenclaw table for him to meet her after dinner. He responded with a note of his own informing her that he needed to study for Monday’s transfiguration exam.

A Ravenclaw through and through.

But it’s a Friday night! There is always time to study the night before!

Mary spent only a brief hour doing homework in her dormitory before deciding spontaneously that she’d rather disrupt his time studying than complete any assignments of her own. She changed quickly into her favourite plaid dress, which clings to her in all the right places, before skipping down the staircase and out the portrait hole.

She hoped to catch him by surprise in the library. She’s wearing her most tempestuous brasserie and knickers set. One hint and she’ll steal him away from his books long enough to steal kisses from him near the Restricted Section. Guaranteed.

It certainly wouldn’t be their first time being so publicly lewd and the anticipation set her nerves on fire. Almost a week has passed since they last had any quality time alone. And while Mary wasn’t desperate for the attention, she’d be lying if she said she didn’t crave it.

The two of them are finally in a peaceful place in their relationship and Mary couldn’t recall a happier time with him since they first got together. They hadn’t fought once since the term began and Mary revelled in it.

Over the years, she pretended that the spiteful remarks from her peers about her oscillating emotional liaison with Luther didn't hurt her feelings.

She heard the whispers.

She was aware of their stewing jealousies.

She couldn’t count how many times her friends begged her to just let each breakup be their last, but how could she?

They were complicated people—that much was true—but they loved each other. And like Shakespeare said, ‘The course of true love never did run smooth.’

He was her first everything. How does someone let go of something that special?

Sure, they hated each other at times—but even when it was bad—it was only bad because they care too much about each other.

Her parents fight all the time at their supermarket back in Lavenham. That’s just what couples do when they’re married. She and Luther are obviously not married yet, but Mary is pretty sure they’re soulmates—which only reaffirms for her that their incessant fighting is just a part of the growing process that comes from falling in love when you’re young.

From the moment they met, they were instantly drawn to each other, just like her romance novels always said it was supposed to feel like. Their first kiss was like the explosion from a Bombarda charm, and their first time making love was just as volatile.

The two are ravenous for each other—even during their breakups—and this small hiatus in the physical portion of their relationship is surely just a symptom of schoolwork stress.

However, when Mary arrived at the library at long last, she was shocked to find it empty. Luther assured her he was going to be here.

After checking her watch and finding it to only be 8 o’clock, she retrieved his note from her pocket and re-read it again to be sure.

Mary, my love, I wish I could. But if I want to beat Potter for the top of our year, I’ll need to work double as hard for the Transfig exam on Monday. While I’d love to be your slave in an empty classroom, I’ll, unfortunately, be a slave to ancient texts in the confines of the library until late this evening. Surely, we can spend some time together tomorrow though. ‒ L

The blonde strolled around the dusty shelves once more to be certain if he was hiding somewhere more secluded. As she rounded a corner near the Transfiguration section, a spritely Ravenclaw third-year with hair pulled into messy pigtails caught her attention. The petite girl with overgrown blonde bangs hunched over, hurriedly scribbling in her notebook.

With no consideration for personal space, Mary approached her and sat at the mousy witch’s secluded corner table.

Straightening her back as the shock of a sudden upperclassman frightened her, the little Ravenclaw conspicuously hid the contents of her notebook under her forearm. In the silence, she studied Mary warily.

“Hello, darling, mind if I speak with you for a moment?”

The suspicious girl shrugged mechanically and leaned back slightly in her chair, still blocking the notebook from Mary’s view.

“What’s your name, dear? I don’t bite,” Mary asked, smiling at the witch with a flip of her hair.

“Juliet,” her voice squeaked as she tried her best to sound confident.

“Aww! Like the Shakespeare play. I love it.”

Juliet narrowed her eyes. “What do you want?”

“Now, there’s no need to be rude, Jules. I won’t take up much of your time. I would just like to ask you a few questions.”

“Fine.” Her scowl would have been intimidating if it were not coming from a thirteen-year-old girl with a drastic gap in her front teeth.

“Do you know Luther Hawthorne?”

She shifted uncomfortably, flicking her eyes down at her book for the briefest moment. Closing the book and holding it to her chest, she squeaked, “Yes.”

Mary narrowed her eyes at the notebook but continued her questioning all the same. “And are you aware of who I am to him?”

Juliet nodded and looked Mary directly in the eyes, tightening her grip on the leather-bound spine.

“Was he in here earlier?”

“Yes, for a little while. He and the other sixth years were studying at that table there,” she nodded to the table adjacent to the one they shared.

“When did they leave?” Mary tapped her nails anxiously against the scratched wood.

Juliet glanced quickly towards the exit and shrugged. “A little less than an hour ago, I suppose.”

“Did they say why they were leaving?”

Juliet swallowed hard and glared at the tabletop.

“Juliet, did they say why they left?”

The petite Ravenclaw dug her nails into the cover within her grasp and pressed her lips tightly into a line.

Mary leaned forward and stared at Juliet directly in her fearful brown eyes. “I don’t like to be jerked around, you know. What have you got written in that little journal of yours, Julie? Anything you’d care to share?”

The third year stood suddenly, grabbed her bag, and sprinted her way to the exit. With a massive slam of the stained-glass door and a furious ‘Shh!’ from Madam Pince, the girl was gone.

Mary stared at the door in shock. With a look around to see no one observed their odd encounter, Mary laughed lightly.

What a ridiculously dramatic little girl, she thought. She was only trying to find out where her boyfriend was. There was no need to be so suspicious.

But even still, Juliet’s fixation with hiding her writing was certainly strange. What could Mary have possibly read in that diary that would make her so afraid? Perhaps she had a little infatuation with Luther. Many girls did, after all. He was a downright handsome chap. Of course, he had admirers.

Mary imagined the diary contained Juliet Hawthorne written over and over again in cursive with tiny little hearts around the letters.

Standing up from her seat, the blonde Gryffindor crossed her arms and strolled out of the library.

Casually striding towards the Ravenclaw common room, Mary wondered why Luther didn’t come to claim her after their study session ended. Didn’t he want alone time with her? Mary was no prude. She let him do whatever he wanted with her.

No protests.

The blonde pondered this as she cruised cheerfully down the corridor. The sudden sound of moaning stopped her dead in her tracks.

The broom closet to her right bustled with soft shuffling noises from within.

Mary smirked devilishly.

Oh, what have we here?

The inconspicuous blonde leaned her ear next to the door and heard whispers and groaning coming from within.

If Mary was a prefect, then opening the door and catching the amorous lovers would be a given. But she would never want to be interrupted if she and Luther were in the closet…

Mary started back down the hallway before coming to a slow stop.

She pursed her lips.

Although… It was likely the most hypocritical move she’d ever commit, but Mary was nothing if not a gossip and the scandal seemed just too intriguing to ignore.

With a quick turn, Mary charged back towards the broom closet. With a heavy heave of the solid door, Mary gasped as she gazed in at the two students.

Scarlett Macnair, the beautiful Gryffindor seventh-year, stood pressed up against the shelf. Her normally perfect hair was tousled in the heat of passion and her skirt was hiked up to her upper thigh. Her arms and legs were wrapped tight around her lover as her mouth hung open in shock of being discovered so suddenly.

The boy did not fare much better. His trousers were wrapped around his ankles and his hands were firmly grasping Scarlett’s bum to hold her up into the position he wanted.

His face expressed a mix of emotions: Sheer mortification, regret, shame, and profound fear.

Mary’s heart raced and her hands trembled as she gazed into the blue eyes of none other than… Luther Hawthorne.

“Mary! Listen, baby—!”

But Mary would have none of it.

No, none at all.

Luther did not get to finish his plea of desperation as Mary let out a piercing, painful scream so loud it was heard all the way in the depths of the Slytherin common room.

October 9th, 1976

Lily woke up feeling rather wonderful.

She chose to wear something extra comfortable that morning. Her hair loosely curled and makeup applied, the whimsical redhead made her way to the Great Hall humming and dancing along to the melody of “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” in her head.

Declan asked her out. He finally got the nerve to ask her to Hogsmeade.

Oh, yes.

Lily was downright giddy with anticipation for the moment she’d be going on a date with the boy who made her melt with a single look. The boy with such soothing green eyes.

Their conversation was brief, but it definitely offered her some clarity.

Declan explained to her that he wasn’t sure if being together would be proper because he was older. If things progressed and became serious, he would leave her behind for an entire year at Hogwarts while she completed her studies.

Lily wasn’t ready for anything even remotely serious if she became involved with him.

She simply liked him.

Really liked him.

The redhead laid a gentle fingertip to her lips as she reminisced their last time together in private. He was a phenomenal kisser and she wasn’t ready to deny herself that pleasure over one measly miscommunication. He approached her and apologised like the mature adult he is. It was logical for Lily to forgive him, and now, they were going to Hogsmeade together on a real date.

She skipped into the Great Hall. The ceiling was still dark with hardly any traces of the sun rising. The redhead plopped herself down in the empty space towards the middle of the Gryffindor table.

It wasn’t surprising that she’s the only one up at this hour. After all, it is a Saturday. It’s rare to see anyone at breakfast when it first opens—not even the professors dare to rise this early when classes are not in session. Anything before seven in the morning is abnormal to most, but the prefect found herself too happy to waste time in bed on a beautiful day such as this.

Lily slathered extra jam on her toast and opened her latest novel, The Rats by James Herbert.

Just as the rats were about to overtake the London Zoo, a figure plopped jovially across from her and began portioning hard-boiled eggs and toast onto their plate.

“Good morning, friend.”

Lily tilted the book away from her face and smiled warmly. “Morning, chum.”

James grinned with his lip between his teeth and took a heaping bite of toast. He reached over and snatched the book out of Lily’s grasp and eyed it closely on all sides, careful to not lose her place. “Wotcher readin’, Red?” he asked between bites.

Unperturbed by the rudeness, Lily set her chin in the palm of her hand. “It’s called The Rats. It’s a horror novel, and it was just getting good before you made an appearance.”

The sly insult ricocheted off the Quidditch Captain like a Bludger hitting a bat. “Fantastic! Are the rats the scary part then?”

“Yes, they’re particularly vile in this book.”

James battled a smile. “Not a fan of rats then?”

“Absolutely not. They’re ghastly little beasts.”

He shrugged at some kind of private joke and set the book down, leaving it face-down and open. “I wouldn’t say they’re all bad. I’ve met at least one good rat in my time at this school.”

“Mhmm. Of course, you have, Potter.”

“What are you doing up this early anyhow?”

“I could say the same thing about you.”

James arched his brow. “I’m always up this early.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “That can’t possibly be true. It’s a Saturday.”

“I told you yesterday that I work out. It has to be early or the pitch will be occupied. You would know that if you ever exercised.”

The redhead scoffed. “I exercise plenty, thank you very much!”

James smirked and took a gulp of his black coffee. “Uh-huh, sure you do.”

Lily stood and glared at the boy. “You think I can’t keep up with your silly little workout routine?”

James eyed her arrogantly. The nasty prat. “Oh, sweet Evans, I know you can’t keep up with me.”

Lily pointed at his plate. “Finish quickly. We’re doing this.”

James straightened, shocked. “Doing what exactly?”

“We’re going to work out together.”

“I can’t today. I have to get the pitch ready for tryouts.”

Lily placed both hands on the table and leaned in menacingly. “Afraid you’re going to be too worn out for tryouts? Ickle Potter can’t keep up?”

James stood abruptly and threw his napkin atop his half-engulfed plate, “You’re going to regret riling me up, Evans. Let’s go before my team sees how pathetically out of shape you are.”

Lily beamed as she and James raced from the Great Hall in the direction of the Quidditch pitch.

The first thing they did upon arriving at the pitch was stretch. He mumbled something about prepping your muscles for exertion, but Lily hardly listened to a word he spoke. When they stepped onto the grass of the field, he removed his shirt. Heat instantly rose in Lily’s cheeks. His toned, muscular arms reached high above his head as he began to sprawl out, extending his every limb.

Lily purposefully avoided looking at him and began to stretch as well.

Watching her fail to exert any sort of effort, James walked over and attempted to guide her. Lily bristled at him touching her lower back.

“I can do it myself, Potter!”

He dropped his hand and stepped backwards. “There’s no need to shout. I’m only trying to help you.”

Lily sighed and stood up straight. “It’s done. I’m stretched. Now what do you typically do?”

James flashed another lip-bitten smile and took off across the pitch. “Laps, Evans! Let’s go!”

The pair of Gryffindors made it around the pitch twice before Lily’s adrenaline began to falter. Slowing enough to allow James the opportunity to lap her thrice more in the time it took her to run once. Each time he passed her, the Captain smirked and asked, “Alright, Evans?”

By the third time he lapped her, she yelled, “How many of these bloody circles do you do?!”

“Twelve on a good day!”

“Twelve?!” Lily bellowed from behind him. He laughed the whole way around, until he stopped next to her, keeping pace at her side.

“Feeling the burn yet, Evans?”

“Alright, I concede. You’re bloody mad. How can you do this every day?”

He turned around to jog backwards and smile down at his winded companion. “Well, really I do it every other day, but routine is key. If I slack off, then it’s harder to pick myself back up. We can jump right into the next part if you’d like. This is all about cardio, but you might find the endurance portion a bit more your style.”

Lily shrugged as he raced to the locker room to collect the necessary items for the tryouts.

He returned with the trunk and found his workout partner using the grass as a bed.

James trotted over and bent down to meet her emerald eyes. “We can take a break if you’d like to.”

“No, no,” Lily started hoarsely. “I can do this.” She stood slowly, her knees buckling. “What’s next, Captain?”

“Next is arm strength. As a Chaser, I need to be able to throw a Quaffle from a far distance and with accuracy.” He kicked open the trunk and winked. Reaching in and collecting the Quaffle, he tossed it a few times from palm to palm before sending it nearly halfway across the pitch and directly through a golden hoop.

Lily’s mouth fell open. “For f*ck’s sake.”

James grinned, waggling his brows. “Impressed, Evans?”

Lily fought the urge to punch him and muttered, “I guess that was… skillful.”

With a hearty laugh, the Captain headed for the hoop. “Follow me, Evans. It’s your turn.”

They were planted significantly closer when it was Lily’s turn. Her accuracy was ordinary at best, and there was no way she could throw it high enough to make a goal. James settled by having her aim for the post, and with each strike she made, he instructed her to take a step back and try again.

“If you keep making goals from the same position, you’re not really improving your skill. So by taking a step back, you’re slowly teaching yourself to throw it farther. Does that make sense?”

Lily nodded and tossed the Quaffle, narrowly missing.

“Normally we’d be on a broom—”

“At that height? Absolutely not.” Lily aimed her wand at the post. “Accio Quaffle!”

She was about to throw the Quaffle again when a voice directly in her ear startled her.

“Thinking about trying out for the team, Lil?”

Lily dropped the Quaffle and squealed.

Emmeline Fitzgerald stood beside her bearing a cheeky smirk. “I didn’t know you had such an affinity for Quidditch, Lily. It’ll be nice to have more girls on the team.”

Lily scoffed. “I wouldn’t try out for the team if I had a wand to my head.”

“And a fat chance you’d have of making it, too, what with your abysmal aim!” Sirius quipped as he strode up to their spot on the pitch.

“I wasn’t that bad, Black! Tell him, James.”

She peered up at him with doe-eyes that nearly gave the Captain an aneurysm. Accompanied by the sound of his own name from her rosy lips, James’s brain began to short-circuit.

“You… got... better with time.”

Emmeline and Sirius cackled as Lily narrowed her eyes at the messy-haired boy with glasses.

“You’re dead to me,” she replied flatly.

James chuckled and stole the Quaffle from her hands, spinning the sphere on his finger. “You say that every time. And yet, here we are.”

Gideon and Fabian Prewett, Gryffindor’s twin fourth-year Beaters, sauntered forward to join the group followed closely by Ernest Harrington, the fifth-year Seeker.

“Is everyone here?”

The group chattered amongst themselves in confirmation.

“Alright, lads,” James stated proudly.

Emmeline cleared her throat curtly.

“And lady…”

“Thank you,” she said sharply.

“I’m glad to see everyone arrived on time. Today is obviously the day we’ve been waiting for and I’m sure you are all anxious to meet your new Chaser. We’ve known this day was coming since the end of last term when Pierce left, so let’s all try and make our newest member feel welcome and accepted. I think that—” He stopped suddenly when his eyes made contact with tangled red hair. “Uh, Evans?”

The prefect froze and stepped back awkwardly. “I’m supposed to leave now, aren’t I?”

James bit back a smile and nodded shrewdly. “Yeah, I would say so. Strict Quidditch business and all that. Can’t have you leaking information to the other teams.”

Lily gasped. “I would never!”

“Not even to Calvolio?” Sirius muttered low.

The Captain glared murderously at his best mate as Lily clamoured, “How dare you imply that I’m some kind of spy!”

Gideon and Fabian snickered as Lily stormed off the pitch muttering incoherently to herself about her loyalty and house pride.

James crossed his arms and stood straight. “Can I continue now or does anyone else have something to add that’s absurdly off-topic?”

Emmeline raised her hand and pleasantly asked, “Can you put your shirt back on now that Lily’s gone?”

The team erupted in laughter as James’s ears turned bright pink at the remark. He marched angrily to where he earlier discarded his uniform.

When he returned, clothed once more, James addressed the team coldly. “The time for jokes has passed. A new member means we are going to have to completely reset our plays. I hope you all are ready to work because this year isn’t going to be easy. We haven’t had to integrate a new player in two seasons and you’ve all gone soft with complacency. Anyone who doesn’t agree can walk their way off the pitch and I’ll simply find two new players by the end of the day. Do I make myself clear?”

The team all nodded in agreement and the bodies of Gryffindors eagerly arriving to try out began to pour into the pitch.

When everything was in position, he glanced up at the stands and saw Lily making her way into one of the seats accompanied by Moony, Wormtail, and Marlene.

He shook her from his thoughts and exhaled hard. “All right, team. Let’s do this.”

“Is everything alright with Mary?” Marlene asked Lily as she stepped through the stands to take her spot on the bench.

“I suppose so, she seemed fine after supper. Perhaps a little miffed that Hawthorne didn’t take her up on her offer to shag in a classroom, but that’s typical Mary-esque behaviour. Why?”

“I tried to get her up to join us. She usually watches the tryouts and practices to support Em, but today she was just so… off. I couldn’t get her to budge a centimetre from her bed. She just laid there like a dead person. I had to check her pulse just to make sure the bint was still breathing.”

Lily simply shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you, Mar. She seemed fine at dinner. If something was wrong, she’d tell us. Mary’s emotions are too fraught to simply bottle up her feelings.”

“You’re probably right,” Marlene said. “And also, a bit off-topic, but I wanted you to know that things are no longer going swell with Leo.”

Lily’s face fell. “What? But you liked him so much! What happened?”

“He admitted that he would have never asked me out had it not been for the makeover.”

Both Marauders inhaled through their teeth and shook their heads disapprovingly.

“That’s rotten luck, Marlene,” Remus empathised.

“Yeah, McKinnon, that’s complete rubbish. You’re worth more than that,” Peter added.

“Thanks, Pete.”

“Oh, Marlene, he’s such an arse. But, love, I thought that’s what you wanted,” Lily reasoned.

“I did too,” she deadpanned. “I’m just as surprised to learn that I want more. I want something that I’ll likely never have. It’s utterly pathetic.”

“Have you two been trying to talk through it? Is this one-sided?” Lily inquired.

“Well, that’s the issue. We sort of both have grievances with each other. I’m cross that he only likes me because I changed. But that was only after he informed me that he was just as frustrated with me.”

“Well, what did he say was wrong on your side?”

“He’s unhappy that I don’t want to call him my boyfriend.”

All three of her fellow Gryffindors went quiet.

“Alright,” Remus began. “I’ll go ahead and be the one to ask: What do you mean you don’t want to call him your boyfriend?”

“Yeah,” Peter added. “Are you seriously trying to tell us that you don’t want to be in a relationship with the bloke? What else could you want from him?”

Marlene rolled her eyes. “You all obviously don’t understand. He wants me as some sort of a prize, so he’s trying to force me into a superficial commitment. He’s trying to push labels on our potential relationship before we become physical. And something inside me is just screaming that I shouldn’t.”

Lily tugged on her hair. “So you think he’s only pursuing you for the status it would bring him to have you as his girlfriend?”

“Exactly.”

“Marlene, that’s insane. You’re a catch. Inside and out.”

“Lily, there is doubtlessly something wrong with me if he doesn’t even have the desire to f*ck me before we get into a relationship.”

The Marauders quickly covered their ears.

Remus shuddered. “Oh, good god, please don’t talk about that around us. We’re friends with James and you’re his little sister. We don’t want to know about who you do or don’t have sex with.”

“Seriously, Marlene! What kind of twat prefers having sex before getting into a relationship?” Lily scolded, lightly swatting her best mate in the arm.

Marlene tried to swat Lily back, but the redhead was far too determined. “It’s not that strange, Lily! It’s all I know!”

“Well, unlearn it! It’s not healthy! You deserve to be courted by a nice boy who thinks you’re lovely! With Welch or not!”

“Fine.”

After a brief moment of silence, Lily dropped her voice low. “And just to be clear, this has nothing to do with your… past feelings, right?”

Marlene co*cked a suspicious eyebrow as Remus and Peter leaned closer to hear their hushed whispers.

“What past feelings?” Marlene asked quietly.

Lily nervously tucked a hair behind her ear. “You know… your… mystery bloke.”

Marlene dropped her jaw incredulously. “No!” After a beat, she bit her lip and hugged herself, holding onto her arms tight. “Well, at least… I hope it doesn’t.”

Remus and Peter shared a confused glance before they returned their focus to the pitch.

Marlene sighed gruffly. “Let’s just forget I said anything and watch Jamie eat these poor underclassmen alive.”

It was true that tryouts were about to begin, so Lily decided to let the argument pass as all four of the Gryffindors were eager to see who’d be chosen to represent their house for the Cup.

About an hour into the event, the present Marauders began to take their bets on who would be selected for the team.

“It’s Hughes, Wormtail. No question! Prongs is looking for a Chaser, not a Seeker. That girl has got a seriously wicked throw.”

“No way! It’s gonna be Daxby, are we even watching the same group of Gryffindors?”

“He’s good—I’ll admit, but Prongs is not going to pick a seventh-year. It would be an ill-fated strategy on his part. James will end up choosing someone younger to make sure he doesn’t need to host tryouts again next season and it double benefits him because then the team will flourish when he’s gone. Three of the current team members are sixth-years. Gryffindor needs a younger member so that the team won’t be completely destitute of well-versed players by the end of our sixth year. Hughes is a fifth-year and she plays as well as Daxby. She’s undeniably the best choice.”

“I have to agree with Peter on this one,” Marlene interjected. “Harper Hughes may be a decent player, but her feelings for Jamie will probably be the reason she doesn’t make the team.”

Lily stiffened. “Her what?”

Peter and Remus shared a knowing look. Both stared at the other with eyebrows raised as if in secret communication.

Marlene kept her eyes trained on the pitch as she nonchalantly replied, “Hughes has had a thing for Jamie since the end of last year. Mary heard it through the gossip mill, but once you know, you can’t unsee it. I’ll admit she’s pretty good at hiding her feelings, but she’s mad for him. I mean, a lot of girls are, but just look at her down there—check out the way she seeks his approval after every play. It’s obvious she’s looking to impress him, but he’s in Quidditch mode right now. Jamie can be rather blind when this game is on his mind.”

Lily stared out onto the pitch and locked her sights on the slender strawberry blonde with the choppy bob cut pulled into two tiny pigtails at the base of her neck. She was circling the pitch with a Quaffle under her arm. The loose shirt she wore wafted in the wind as she cruised effortlessly on her broom towards the goalposts. With a quick feint, Harper managed to evade Emmeline’s Keeper position long enough to score a goal.

Harper glanced down at James to see if he noticed. When the Captain simply nodded approvingly, Harper smiled and continued on to attempt the same play once more.

Lily wasn’t sure why the realisation of Harper’s affections suddenly bothered her. Truthfully, Lily barely took note of Hughes at all. She knew that the girl was younger and easy to get along with. Without warning or explanation, a festering irritation started boiling in her gut. Lily tried desperately to swallow it back down.

It didn’t bother her much, not really. But there was a slim part of her that felt uneasy at the sight of them high-fiving at the bottom of the pitch when he happily informed her that she made the team.

A-ha! I knew it!” Remus cried victoriously.

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Let’s just go get some lunch,” Peter mumbled.

Marlene chatted cheerily with the two Marauders as Lily hung back. She took tiny steps until the team emerged from the pitch with their new member. The rejected Gryffindors solemnly marched up the hill back to the castle ahead of them.

“Don’t get too excited now, Hughes!” Sirius exclaimed, clapping Harper roughly on the back. “Ol’ Prongsie here is the devil! Just wait till your first practice, you’ll regret having tried out altogether!”

She merely chuckled at the friendly gesture and shrugged. “Guess I’ll have to wait to find out. Potter doesn’t schedule practice on Hogsmeade days, does he?”

“Are you joking?!” James answered quickly. “I live for those trips! I’d never schedule it on the same day unless one of you sorry lot needed it!”

“Well, good, because the last thing I want is to give those visits up for your sake, Potter.”

Lily hid behind a stone column before they had a chance to see her. She stood with her back against the stone, waiting for them all to pass. Suddenly, she heard James say, “Hey, Harper, will you wait up a second? You guys can go along without us. I just need a moment.”

Lily wanted to run, but she was trapped in her hiding spot.

“Yes, James?” Harper asked pleasantly.

“Uh, two things, I guess. First, I wanted to congratulate you again on making the team. You showed real promise out there.”

“Thank you. I thought for sure Daxby had bested me.”

“He was well-rounded, but you were by the far the best fit. Those summer practices paid off then, huh?”

Harper cleared her throat. “So, I really earned this spot? Really and truly?”

James laughed sheepishly. “I swear, Harps. You earned it.”

“Well, I hope to learn a lot from you.”

“You ought to. You’ll be learning from the best after all,” James said shamelessly.

Harper giggled while Lily rolled her eyes out of habit.

Smug bastard.

“What’s the second thing?”

“Second thing?”

“Yes, you said you have two things to talk to me about. What’s the second thing?”

James cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Oh, uh, yes. The second thing. The other, uh, thing I stopped to ask you. Right. The thing that comes after the first thing. Yeah…”

“Do my eyes deceive me or is the famously confident James Potter nervous?”

“I’m not nervous! I don’t even know the meaning of the word!”

“Mhmm,” Harper teased. “Then what do you want to talk to me about?”

“I’ve been thinking recently about that conversation we had in Edinburgh back in April. Do you remember it?”

Edinburgh?

School would have been in session.

Why the hell were they in Edinburgh together?

Harper went quiet for a few moments before she softly replied, “Yes, I do.”

“Uh, wonderful. It’s just that—I don’t know—I feel like you may have been right, so truthfully, I’m trying to let it all go. For good this time. I think I’m finally ready to just move on like we talked about.”

“I’m certainly happy for you, James. But what does that have to do with me?”

They were both silent for a moment.

“Harper, do you have a date to Hogsmeade?”

Lily stifled a squeak with her palm.

“Not yet.”

Lily swore she could hear Harper grinning.

“Would you… like to go… with me?” He spoke slowly like he couldn't believe he was even asking such a thing.

“I’d love to, James.”

Lily’s legs felt a hundred pounds heavier. She slid down the column in a heap.

“That’s fantastic! Excellent! Brilliant! Then, uh, I’ll see you next Saturday, yeah?”

“Absolutely.”

“Okay, great.”

The two chatted about Quidditch as they walked off towards the Great Hall.

After hearing the pair finally shuffle away, Lily rose from her spot on the ground, a peculiar sensation entering her chest.

It made no logical sense to feel so strangely.

This is a good thing.

She’s happy for him.

Genuinely.

This is good.

Lily will never care for Potter like that. For f*ck’s sake, she only just found the strength to become his friend. He’s insufferable. He’s an arrogant berk most days. He… He’s been really nice lately.

She’s happy for him.

All he needed was someone new to fawn over, now she can be his friend without doubts plaguing the back of her mind.

This is good.

Harper is a great girl.

James deserves a great girl.

She’s happy for him.

He’s being true to his word.

He’s moving on.

She is happy for him.

Lily was so deep in thought, she strolled straight past the Great Hall in the direction of the Tower—and even upon realising the mistake, she decided to leave well enough alone seeing as she oddly no longer had an appetite.

“No, no, no!” Marlene argued. “I never said that!”

“You did! You bet Moony, a galleon that Daxby would also make the team as a second-string player. Didn’t she?”

Remus nodded matter-of-factly. “She sure did, Wormtail.”

“That’s bollocks and you know it, Pettigrew! Jamie doesn’t do second-string players!”

Remus chuckled at their childish display causing Marlene to scowl. “Just fork over the galleon, McKinnon, and we can go about our day.”

“I will not!”

“A bet’s a bet.”

Marlene exasperatedly threw her hands in the air as they quickly approached the Great Hall for lunch. “I didn’t make a bet!”

Peter tsked solemnly, “Not very Gryffindor of you to back out of an arrangement, Marlene. What would Godric think?”

She gasped and pointed at Pettigrew in disgust. “If I have to pay up, why doesn’t Peter?”

Remus grinned wickedly. “So… you agree that you made the bet?”

For f*ck’s sake! You two are such con artists!”

The Marauder duo laughed.

Marlene bumped into both of their shoulders as she stalked furiously towards the Gryffindor table, the giggling pair at her heels.

She only just found her place near the entrance when a tap at her shoulder caused her to whirl around. The witch expected it to be one of the two companions that she arrived with. But her fierce scowl melted when she landed on Leo’s uncomfortable face, his espresso eyes taut with remorse.

“Marlene? I need to speak with you.”

The two Marauders conspicuously held their gazes at the table as they settled into their seats.

“Oh.”

Shocked, Marlene forgot to move.

“Are you… able to join me on a walk?”

“Uh, yes. I believe so.” Marlene nodded to the Marauders curtly. “When Lily gets here, tell her I’ll be back soon. Alright?”

“Sure thing, Mar,” Remus replied as Peter merely smiled.

With a deep breath, she walked beside Leo towards the exit—both waiting for the other to speak first. As they passed the grand doors, Marlene caught sight of the Gryffindor team approaching.

Their enthusiasm echoed the corridor, each possessing a wide grin as they hurried towards the food waiting for them at the house table. Marlene scanned the advancing bodies, taking note that Harper and Jamie were not present.

An interesting development. She’ll have to pester Jamie about that later when she—

Her thoughts cluttered as she made eye contact with Sirius.

He was already looking at her.

No, staring at her.

His penetrating grey eyes watched her as she exited the double doors. They did not waver even as her own gaze glowered back. His mouth tilted slightly into a frown as he shifted his glance to the man beside her. His grimace deepened as the rough-hewn boy sized up Leo with disdain.

Marlene recoiled under his scrutiny. She couldn't help it.

His eyebrows furrowed together as he returned his gaze to hers, glaring her down with contempt.

Unable to bear it any longer, Marlene clenched her fists and forced herself to tear her sight from his haunting figure. Her pulse pounded in her ears. Her shoulders hunched as if she could feel the shadow of those daggers in his gaze still leering into her back as she retreated down the corridor with Welch at her side.

As they reached the staircase, Leo touched her hand.

Marlene winced and held her hand tight against her chest as if the flesh burnt at the brush of fingertips.

Leo frowned. “Marlene, what’s going on?”

The brunette flushed and stammered, “I-I’m sorry, I just... I-I have a lot on my mind. It’s not you, I swear. I don’t know what came over me.”

Leo nodded and steered her to the stone bench that sat at the base of a tapestry. He guided so that she was seated as he stood before her, his arms folded.

Marlene couldn’t stop switching the position of her crossed ankles—her hands—the part in her hair—as she waited for him to start speaking.

She knew what was coming.

While she never explicitly experienced having a real boyfriend, she was well-versed in the body language that accompanies a breakup.

She has Sirius to thank for that.

Grey eyes suddenly appeared in her mind paired with a thin-lined mouth telling her she was nothing to him.

Leo cleared his throat and rubbed his temples. “I’m sorry. I just… I don’t know how to… I’ve never had to… Why does this have to be so difficult with you?”

“It’s okay. Take all the time you need.”

“You don’t even know what I’m about to say,” the blond boy said with a dry laugh.

Marlene slumped back against the wall. “I think I have a pretty good idea.”

“Marlene, I want to clear some things up with you.”

“Okay.”

“And I want you to know that… that I never intended…” Leo groaned and ran his hands furiously through his hair. “f*ck, why is this so hard?!”

“Would you like me to try?”

Leo smiled mournfully. “I guess.”

“This isn’t working, is it?”

“No,” he said grimly. “It’s not.”

“Leo, I’m not cross with you. I want you to know that.”

“Well, that’s certainly amiable of you, but I’m not done. I… I need to come clean about something.”

“By all means, go ahead. This is a breakup after all. Best not to leave anything on the table,” Marlene remarked cynically.

Leo winced and took a calming breath to regain his composure. “I used you.”

Marlene paled. “Oh.”

“No, that’s not right. I’m sorry, I’m mucking this up. I don’t know how else to explain this to you—”

“Just tell me the truth. All I want from you is honesty.”

Leo gave an exasperated sigh and sank down to the empty spot next to her on the bench. “Do you know who Flora Bishop is?”

Marlene’s thoughts drifted to Mary’s gossip from last night. The girl they found crying in the loo. “Of course, I do. She’s in Hufflepuff, too, right?”

“I’m in love with her.”

Marlene lurched back. “Oh! Really?”

Leo shrugged, letting his eyes steadily close. “Unfortunately.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. How long have you known?”

“That I was in love with her?”

“Yes.”

“Since the beginning of fourth year.”

Marlene nodded. They sat in pensive silence before she sighed and rested her head on his shoulder. “Does she know?”

“I finally told her over the summer break. We actually spent a decent amount of the holiday together. It was wonderful at first. We would spend our evenings kissing under the stars or going to Quidditch matches. Sometimes she’d come over to mine and we’d bake cookies. My little sister loves her. They still write.”

“If everything was going so great, what happened?”

“I told her that I love her and she told me she isn’t sure if she feels the same.”

“And now?”

“A week ago, she pulled me aside in the common room to talk. She asked if things were getting serious between you and I. Naturally, I told her they might be, but that isn’t her concern anymore.”

Marlene smirked. “I’m guessing she didn’t take that too well.”

Leo sighed. “No, she didn’t. But it also resurrected feelings for her that I’ve been avoiding. I tried to bury them. Focus on you, but then… Yesterday, she tried again. And she told me that she loves me, too, and I just broke.”

Marlene slipped his hand into her grasp and squeezed. Their fingers interlocked.

“I wanted to tell her I still love her, but I couldn’t. Not with you still being my… whatever you were. I didn’t want you to feel cheated. But then you pulled me into that broom closet, and then we… You were just… And I… f*ck, I’m such a git. I can’t believe I did that.”

Marlene smiled and lifted her head. “It’s fine, Leo. I think we both knew we were missing that spark. I think I was trying to force myself into feeling that chemistry by being so, uh, forward with you.”

It worked for her over the summer.

Sirius arrived at the dance class and ignited the chemistry with his lips and possessive touch. She’s never felt more alive than when she was in bed with him.

“Sure, but even after we were done, I berated you about you not committing to us, but I intended to end things. That was so unbelievably ill of me. Truly, I’m not that sort of man. And believe me when I say, I never meant to hurt you, Marlene. If you take anything from this, please know that I care about you. I really wanted you to be the one. And it’s not because you’re suddenly more attractive to the rest of the school. I liked you back the whole time. Our entire term in Divination, I had feelings for you too… I used to think of ways I could love you as we crammed for our O.W.Ls. But Flora has a spell on me that I can’t seem to break. I’m… addicted to her.”

Marlene nodded kindly.

She experienced the feeling before.

She understood the profound gravitational pull that being in love has on the brain.

Even through all the pain, his attention was ecstasy.

And, even now, she craved it so foolishly.

Thinking about it now, Marlene wondered whether or not Sirius’s blinding effect on her was the reason she felt no ill will towards Leo. The two were sitting together on the bench as he officially ended their relationship, and Marlene was perfectly calm.

Relieved, even.

Leo technically used her to get over Bishop, but hadn’t she inherently done the same to get over Sirius?

It didn’t work. Not even slightly, but that’s where she’ll stay. Dying with the aftermath of what his affection did to her. She could make peace with that. In time.

“It’s okay, Leo. I’m not angry. It’s actually rather funny.”

He co*cked his head downwards to glance at her face. His temple rested peacefully on the stone wall. “How so?”

“Because I’m in love with someone else, too.”

“Ah.” Leo absorbed the news before chuckling. “Aren’t we a sorry lot?”

“Love is f*cking dreadful,” Marlene groaned.

“Is that why you’re taking this breakup so well?”

“I think so. My feelings for you were real though. I never lied to you.”

“Neither did I. Believe me, I really wanted you to be my girlfriend.” He paused. “And while we’re being completely honest, I want to tell you that I am still a man with… urges. But I think a part of me knew that if we escalated our relationship further… in the physical aspect, that is… there was a chance Flora would never forgive me for it.”

Marlene smiled. “You’re a gentleman, Leonard Welch.”

He laughed softly. “And you’re a rare find, Marlene McKinnon.”

“You should tell her. You should tell her that you want to be with her. I heard from Mary yesterday that she cried over you in the loo. Something about wanting another chance. She’ll do it right this time. I’m sure of it.”

Leo stiffened. “She really said that?”

“Mhmm, I swear.”

Marlene stood and stretched her neck before helping to lift Leo to his feet. Embracing him in a friendly hug, she whispered, “You deserve to be loved by someone who can love you back.”

His hold on her waist tightened as he said, “It’s not too late for you. He’s not over you either, you know.”

Marlene let Leo slide out of her arms before searching his face. “What do you mean?”

“It’s Black, right? The bloke you’re in love with?”

Marlene cringed. She said nothing for a long while before finally biting her lip and nodding. “How long have you known?”

“Since the day you two went to the Hospital Wing. I saw the way you looked at him in the Great Hall, and I knew he was the one you were with previously. And—by the way, he bumped into me—I can tell he wants you, too. He’s just an arse.”

Marlene threw her head back and laughed. “Yeah, he really is an arse, but he doesn’t want me. A lovely thought, but a foolish one.”

“I think you might be wrong about that, but for what it’s worth, I won’t tell anyone. It’s obvious you’re not ready to let anyone know.”

Marlene’s face grew hot. “I appreciate that…”

Leo kissed her cheek. His mouth lingered on her skin before he asked, “I know this is rather cliché, but is there any way we can remain friends?”

Marlene smiled sweetly. “Undoubtedly. I think that’s always where we were meant to be.”

“Then, I guess… This is goodbye, McKinnon.”

“Goodbye, Welch. And good luck.”

With one last smile, Leo turned on his heels and headed in the direction of the Hufflepuff common room.

Marlene sighed.

There was an insightful tone in the way Leo casually mentioned Sirius and his feelings for her, but they were obviously misdirected. Leo wasn’t there when things ended with Sirius. There is not a single emotion he possesses for her outside of remorse and fear of exposure.

He doesn’t want her. He doesn’t love her. It’s a kind thought but far from the truth. Marlene isn’t naive. Not anymore. Although, she wished it was different. If crying in a loo were enough to bring the man she knew over summer back into her arms, the entire castle would be flooded by now.

Pushing that childish aspiration aside, the brunette turned and headed back in the direction of the Great Hall—the sound of her newly single steps echoing through the corridor.

As she reached the top step that led to the portrait of the Fat Lady, Lily found a petite Ravenclaw pacing the stone floor. The girl was short, perhaps in her third or second year. A lean child walking back and forth with sandy hair, overgrown bangs, and a pointed nose. Mumbling to herself over and over, the distressed underclassman didn’t notice Lily approaching.

“Hello there,” Lily said.

The strange girl yelped and clutched a leather journal to her chest.

“I’m s-sorry!” the girl cried. Lily noticed an adorable gap in her teeth as she stammered.

“It’s alright, dear. There’s no need to apologise.” Lily smiled, and tension eased in the girl’s shoulders.

She bashfully rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet. “I must look positively mad, but I’m… waiting for someone.”

Lily co*cked her head and grinned. “Do they know you’re waiting for them?”

“Uh, no, I don’t believe so.”

“Well, perhaps I can help. Who are you looking for?”

The girl bit her lip and dug her nails into the journal. “Mary,” she breathed.

“Mary? Sixth-year Mary?”

The little Ravenclaw nodded, avoiding Lily’s suspicious surveillance.

“And you said she doesn’t know you’re here to see her?”

“No, I… wasn’t sure if I should come.”

Lily folded her hands together, trying her best not to intimidate the skittish girl. “I don’t think I follow. Why are you looking for her exactly?”

The Ravenclaw squirmed and backed herself closer to the wall of portraits. “Well, I don’t think… I can tell you. It’s really best that I speak to Mary… privately. Can you just tell her I was here to see her?”

“I suppose I can, but that will require you telling me who you are first.”

“Oh, right. My name is Juliet.”

“Juliet,” Lily repeated. “Like the play.”

The young girl smiled. “That’s what Mary said when I…” Her smile suddenly vanished. An unknown sense of dread taking over her mousey face. “Just tell her I have something for her. Okay?”

The moment Lily nodded, Juliet sprinted down the Grand Staircase and towards the Great Hall.

What an odd girl.

With a shrug of her shoulders, the prefect glanced lazily at the Fat Lady and whispered, “Ignis osculo.”

The ginger witch stepped carefully into the common room and quickly searched for her dormmate to no avail.

Lily only just approached the hall to the girl’s dormitory when she heard a shrill scream.

The redhead stormed up the stairs and entered the sixth-year dormitory.

“Mary?!” Lily searched frantically.

A second scream indicated that Mary was in one dorm over.

Bursting into the seventh years’ dormitory, Lily froze.

Scarlett Macnair huddled on her comforter weeping miserably while Mary berated her with a ceaseless spate of insults, tears of her own streaming down her cheeks. Scarlett’s arms were wrapped around her legs—her face hidden by her knees and platinum-curled hair. The seventh-year shook between fits of laboured sobs. The sound wasn’t hideous though. Even crying, Lily had to admit she was lovely.

Mary, on the other hand, stood next to her bed, taking trinkets from the girl’s trunk and throwing them into the fireplace from across the room. Her eyes were crazed and encircled with purple. Occasionally, she threw the objects at Scarlett rather than the flames.

“Tell me, you heinous bitch!”

“Mary… I never meant for this to… I’m so sorry…” Scarlett hiccuped between her cries.

Mary hurled a pillow from Alice Prewett’s bed at the grieving witch and screeched, “LIAR! Answer me, you traitorous c*nt! How long?!”

“Mary… you don’t understand! I-I love him!”

“f*cking tell me! How long?!”

Mary lifted her arm to chuck a textbook at the weeping witch when Lily woke from her stunned stupor. She sprinted forward and stole the book.

“Mary, stop! Stop! You cannot bludgeon a classmate!”

“Lily, don’t,” Scarlett whimpered. “I deserve it.”

“You deserve more than a hole to the skull, you filthy f*cking slag!” Mary struggled against Lily’s grip, desperately trying to wring Scarlett’s neck.

“Mary, calm down! This is ridiculous—!”

“No, Lily! She does! Why don’t you go ahead and tell her, Macnair?! The whole school is going to find out in a matter of hours anyhow! You might as well tell her all about it, homewrecker!”

Lily stiffened. “Oh, Scarlett… You didn’t…”

Scarlett looked up and bit her lip, wiping tears away from her bloodshot doe-eyes.

“Oh, yes. She did. And I’m betting this isn’t a one-time fling either,” Mary snarled. “So, I’m only going to ask you one more time, Macnair… How long? How long have you been f*cking my boyfriend?”

Her dangerously low voice broke Scarlett. She closed her eyes and whispered, “We first slept together at the beginning of the summer holiday… after my fifth and his fourth year.”

Mary became quiet. “That… can’t be right… It wasn’t until the end of the summer that Luther and I lost our virginities... to each other… But if you two… Then, that means… Oh my god.”

Mary started breathing harder, slowly sinking towards the floor.

Oh my god,” she wailed. “Oh my god, oh my god. It was a lie. He lied to me this whole time? Every time we broke up, he… he was with you. He said… he said he loved me… We’re supposed to be soulmates, Lily! Oh my god!”

Mary collapsed in a heap and screamed, the humiliation like a dead weight. Lily held Mary in her arms. She squeezed her tight, rocking her as she wept loudly into Lily’s lap.

Scarlett cried, “I’m so sorry…” over and over as if reciting a prayer.

Mary’s grief engulfed the room, each occupant absorbing her misery and filtering it in as if it were their own.

In the midst of Mary’s panic attack, the door creaked open.

“Hey… Is everything alright in here?” Alice murmured. She stepped tentatively into the seventh-year dormitory. “We thought we heard screaming—”

Lily snapped her head in Alice’s direction and hissed, “Go to the Great Hall and get Emmeline now!”

One glance at the mourning Mary and Alice nodded. With a slam of the door, Lily listened as footsteps bounded down the staircase in search of help.

“It’s okay, Mary. I’ve got you. Everything will be okay.” Mary cried harder. “This isn’t forever, love. This is the worst part. And everything will be okay someday. My mom used to tell me the only way to heal from this is to feel this. And she’s right, Mary. Feel how you need to feel. I’m right here.”

Scarlett stood abruptly and retreated without another word—likely not wanting to be present when reinforcements arrived.

Mary’s cries simmered for a while, turning from sobs to sniffling.

“How could she do this to me, Lily? All this time she was right there secretly shagging my boyfriend behind my back… I know we were never really friends, but how could she… A year, Lily… A whole year… Oh my god… I’m not ready… I’m not ready to be alone, Lily. I’m not. I’m not. I’m not ready.”

“You are Mary Macdonald. You are the strongest, most fierce Gryffindor I know. You will survive this.”

“How?”

Lily sat quietly, stroking Mary’s dishevelled hair.

“I’m not sure,” the redhead replied. “But I know one thing: We’ll be at your side. However long it takes.”

Lily stroked Mary’s hair for some time before the door finally swung wide open.

“What the hell is going on?” Emmeline barked as she stormed through the oak doorway. Marlene followed behind her.

Mary burst back into tears upon hearing her best mate’s voice. Together, the three Gryffindor friends huddled around their companion until she was able to speak coherently. She explained what she found in the broom closet late last night.

“Why didn’t you tell us when you came back up to the dorm?” Marlene softly asked.

“I didn’t know how. And maybe some part of me also knew that when I told you all… it’d finally be real.”

Emmeline cleared the tears from Mary’s wet cheeks. “And this morning?”

“I stayed up all night waiting for Scarlett to show her face through the portrait hole so I could demand answers, but she never did. Only later, when she finally came back to change did I catch her trying to sneak into her dorm. I was here for maybe five minutes before Lily found us.”

Emmeline tenderly kissed her forehead.

Marlene squeezed her hand. “You’re allowed to be sad that it’s over. I understand how you feel. I truly do.”

Lily rubbed Marlene’s back. The brunette sighed and dropped her temple onto the prefect’s shoulder.

“This is the end, isn’t it?” Mary’s voice was weak and broken. “I can’t go back to him after this. It’s just… over. I can’t believe it’s really over…”

The truth left everyone breathless, but they agreed with her nonetheless.

“Yes, Mary,” Emmeline soothed as she wiped fresh tears from her best friend’s chin. “It’s time to let him go. There’s no turning back now.”

The blonde cried and cried, for hours and hours it seemed. The seventh-years came and went, none daring to speak. Alice joined them for a while before she prepared for bed.

One by one, the girls fell asleep.

Four friends together on the cold rug, listening to the rhythm of Mary’s heart shatter again and again into splintering pieces.

Mary woke to various body parts splayed out across the ancient flooring of the seventh-year dormitory. Her head pounding and her throat dry, she gently removed Marlene’s arm from around her torso and Lily’s leg from her calf.

What a sorry sight.

She stood pathetically, desperately trying to keep herself from waking her friends (or the sleeping seventh-years to whom this room belonged). Tiptoeing to a bedside dresser, she checked the clock. 2:17 am.

Mary groaned faintly. Too early to get up. Too late to get on with the day. Her stomach rumbled as a profound pang of hunger shot through her. She missed both breakfast and lunch while begrudgingly waiting for Scarlett to return. And with her friends around, she somehow slept through dinner.

She narrowed her eyes at Scarlett’s empty bunk. Still absent since their row earlier in the day. Mary wondered resentfully if she managed to sneak into the Ravenclaw dormitories. Heaven-knows how many times Luther managed it with her.

It’s almost too much to bear. She lost the love of her life to someone she shares a house with.

How can she possibly go on without any means of escaping the girl who stole her soulmate from her while they share a common room? Her own housemate decimated her entire world in a matter of hours.

It’d be different if some Slytherin robbed her of Luther. In fact, she’d expect it. Edith Jones has gunned for him since fourth year.

Mary certainly wasn’t blind. She knew girls coveted her boyfriend.

He’s fit.

He’s smart.

He’s a pureblood.

He has goals and plans and a glowing future.

A future that she once was a part of…

Her stomach grumbled again and Mary carefully exited the dorm, gently shutting the door behind her.

Descending the stairs, she found the common room empty. A strange and rare occurrence for a Saturday night. Mary sheepishly wondered if they all heard her crying. Did the whole school already know of Luther’s betrayal? Did they know that Scarlett took part? The entire thought of it made her sick. She wanted to be in control of the narrative. She wanted to be the one to tell everyone that she dumped him.

But the opportunity may have already passed. The Hogwarts gossip mill, that she once gladly took part in, suddenly felt much more vapid than ever before.

Mary was now the explicit subject of their scrutiny.

The victim of cheating.

Truly and wholly single.

Poor, pathetic Mary was tossed aside by handsome Quidditch star Luther Hawthorne for the most attractive girl in school… Scarlett bloody Macnair, another pureblood.

The portrait door swung open, and Mary took one step before tripping on a sleeping body.

The young girl gasped awake as she clutched her aching side. At the same time, Mary struggled to right herself.

“Ouch!” the girl yelled.

“Sorry, kiddo, I didn’t see you—”

Mary stopped speaking as the girl looked up to meet her gaze.

“Wait… I know you. You’re the girl from last night. Juliet, right?”

She blushed. “You remember me?”

“Yeah, how could I forget? You were acting all weird when I asked you about…” Mary’s face filled with heat. “Nevermind. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Did Lily tell you I was looking for you?”

Mary co*cked her head to the side. “No? But I guess she was a bit distracted when she found me. I’ve had a rather… distressing day.”

Juliet nervously dug her heels into the floor. “Yeah…”

“So, you know, too, then? About Luther Hawthorne and... her?”

The Ravenclaw met Mary’s piercing stare and frowned. “Yes.”

Mary nodded, not quite surprised. Her stomach churned with despair. “I suspected as much.”

Juliet lurched forward and picked up her leather notebook off the ground. She shuffled through assorted loose pages until she found the one she sought. Tentatively, she lifted the parchment for Mary to take. “Here. I’ve been wanting to give you this all day.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a page from my diary. It’s… dated from yesterday evening.”

Mary glared at the flimsy paper and snatched it. “Thanks,” she grumbled.

“You should know that I wanted to give that to you while we were in the library, but it didn’t seem like the right time. I hope… it gives you the clarity you need to move on.”

Mary’s expression softened as Juliet turned on her heels and ran back down the staircase.

The paper was heavy as she neatly folded it and stuck it inside the breast pocket of her cloak.

She descended the Grand Staircase until she reached the dungeons, dragging her feet until she reached the portrait of a bowl of fruit. Tickling the pear, she entered the Kitchens and requested a few snacks from the house elves to keep her full until the Great Hall was open for breakfast.

She quickly gulped down a few snacks before she quietly left the dungeons and reentered the corridor.

Afraid of waking her friends, Mary chose to continue strolling aimlessly through the dim castle. Somewhere on the fifth-floor corridor, she found the perfect spot to rest, equipped with a thought-provoking view of the Whomping Willow. She carefully climbed on top of the sill, opened the window, and admired the sky.

The moon was nearly full again. Its lunar presence illuminated the sky with brilliant white light. She closed her eyes and absorbed the fresh autumn air. The chill of the night seeped deep into her lungs.

When she was finally ready, she unearthed the diary entry from her pocket.

Dear Diary,

I’m feeling rather conflicted. Out of sorts, I guess. I’ve been presented with somewhat of a predicament. And I don’t know what to do. A few moments ago, I heard something… awfully troublesome. And I feel perturbed by what appears to be a moral dilemma. The sixth-year boys in my house were talking about the girls they’ve been shagging. While most of them are single and free to sow their wild oats as they please, one of them has a... girlfriend. They were just chatting, talking about the girls who are all dumb enough to meet them in various broom closets, when Hawthorne mentioned he has a date for later this evening. Aubrey poked fun at him, saying that shagging the same girl over and over hardly constitutes a real conquest. That’s when Hawthorne said it isn’t with his girlfriend. All the other boys seemed excited that he was cheating on his girlfriend. Who seems like a lovely girl. Mary, I think her name is? They asked who it was with and he wouldn’t say. They asked him if it’ll be his first offence and he said no! He said that shagging other girls is the only way to keep the “excitement of a long relationship alive.” Disgusting! Carl Davenport even asked who’s better in bed! And he had the audacity to say it isn’t his own girlfriend?! I just don’t understand! How does an arsehole like Hawthorne get to string two or more girls along and get away with it? I suppose he thinks he’s entitled to them. He’s always been a sexist git. But now I wonder whether or not I should tell his girlfriend. Would she even believe me? I’d probably just look like some silly jealous twerp… but doesn’t she have a right to know? I’d like someone to tell me. No matter who they were. Save me the trouble of wasting more time with someone who doesn’t deserve me. And she seems… nice. I hope she finds someone else. I hope this doesn’t break her heart. I hope—

Dear Diary,

She approached me in the library! Of all the rotten luck! She must think I’m positively mad! Bonkers, even! I ran out of there like I was lit on fire. She asked me about him and I didn’t know what to say. She asked about my journal and I panicked. She can’t find out like this. She simply can’t. It isn’t right. He needs to be the one to come clean. I tried looking for him after I left. I checked all the broom closets that lead to the common room, but I had no luck. I think I should be the one to tell her. I did hear him say the words after all. She’ll meet someone else. I’m sure of it. I just hope that Hawthorne doesn’t come after me when he finds out I’m the one who exposed him to his infidelity. Regardless, it’s the right thing to do. I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to give her this page.

Mary, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry, but you’ll find someone else. You’ll find someone better. I’m sure of it. Until then, take care of yourself. You’ll find the love of your life someday.

Mary tore the diary page into shreds and let the fragments of paper flutter out the window and into the night. Her tears stung as the cold wind dried them against her sullen cheeks.

She should thank Juliet.

She needed to read this.

It confirmed the melancholy truth: Luther doesn’t love her.

Not really.

No… You don’t cheat on the person you love over and over. For more than a year, no less.

Her little Ravenclaw friend was right, one day she’d find the love she deserved, but right now… Right now, she wished she could stop the ability to feel love altogether.

She unclipped the locket that Luther gave her on their first anniversary and glanced at it one last time. A tarnished silver heart that read the words, “Until the very end…

Ha.

The end, indeed.

She fisted the necklace and launched it out the window, feeding it to the darkness.

Chapter 17: Prelude VII

Chapter Text

Prelude VII

March 27th, 1976

“So, do you wanna go somewhere more private?” she asked with a sultry purr. Her fingers skimmed the buttons on his shirt before she added, “I’m sure we could think of… something to do.”

It was almost too easy.

Picking up girls shouldn’t be this simple.

Sirius tsked and leaned in to leer at Lyla Maxwell, Hufflepuff's best Chaser. “Well, this is my best mate’s birthday party—and I have obligations to uphold—but I’m willing to slip away for a few minutes… provided the distraction is… worthwhile.”

Lyla’s brown eyes glimmered. “Oh, it will be. And I’ve heard that you’re… well worth the time.”

Sirius grinned lecherously. “You’d be correct about that, pet. For one night at least. I’m not the relationship type. I’m a bit of a rental. If that’s okay with you, then I’m all yours for the next half an hour.”

With a bat of her lashes, the Hufflepuff Chaser tilted her jaw towards his ear. “Let me go tell my friends that I’m slipping away for a moment. I’ll be right back.”

Sirius watched her scurry off.

The lean Hufflepuff Chaser disappeared into the crowd of students all cramming themselves all into the Gryffindor common room.

The birthday boy himself was at the head of the room, doing his pathetic ritual of pining for that redheaded prig. The bird is obviously not worth the trouble, but Prongs can’t seem to let her go. Even now, he was attempting to bribe Evans into dancing with him by offering up his entire pile of gifts in exchange for one song—a request she denied each and every time, much to his chagrin.

Sirius doesn’t understand why a bloke like him would bother with monogamy when there is an abundance of girls all begging to be given a half-hour window with him in a bloody broom closet.

Hogwarts, be damned. Their regular trips to Edinburgh are turning out to be more profitable for Sirius than he ever imagined. Women, both his age and older, paw at him from all directions. It’s easy and fun. Sirius doesn’t think life gets any better than this.

“Still a slag, I see.”

Sirius whipped his head to the right, finding a figure standing alone and pouring herself another drink at the bar.

Marlene lifted her goblet and took a heaping gulp of her punch. When she lowered the glass, her lips were pink and juicy. With a quick flick of her tongue, she licked the residue from her mouth. Sirius shifted uncomfortably as the motion shot straight to his groyne.

Oh, f*ck. Not this again.

“Why change what isn’t broken?” he smugly said.

She co*cked a brow and leaned against the table.

Whether the motion be for drunken support or unconscious seduction, Sirius wasn’t entirely sure. Nor did he mind. With James distracted, she belonged to him at this moment.

“You think walking around like you’ve been gifted an almighty co*ck gives you the right to play with hearts?”

Sirius’s eyes flashed. “You think I have an almighty co*ck, do you?”

Marlene laughed with her whole body, spilling her drink slightly as she leaned back with her palm on her stomach. She sucked the side of her index where the drink spilled, and Sirius’s brain short circuited as he watched her tongue lap at her own skin. She sucked on the digit while he definitely didn’t think about the parts of him she could taste.

He swallowed hard.

“Absolutely f*cking not, Black.” Marlene continued to snicker as she playfully explained, “I’ve heard the rumours, obviously. They’re quite colourful.”

Sirius wasn’t sure what rumours she was prone to hearing, but he certainly wasn’t upset by it. The more she heard about his capabilities, the better.

He rolled his eyes and slapped on a seedy smile. “God-given prick or not, I don’t play with hearts, McKinnon.”

“Right.”

“I don’t. And even if I did, it’s better to be a heartbreaker than pine uselessly after the indefinitely unavailable.” Sirius nodded to James and Evans off by the staircases. “Case in point.”

As Marlene turned to face them, she sidled up closer to Sirius’s right. The nearer she drew, the harder his heart pounded. She stopped just before they brushed shoulders.

“Oh, Jamie. He’s hopeless, isn’t he?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“At least he knows what he wants. You, however?” She tsked. “Still too good for monogamy, are you?”

“Why bother chasing labels when I have a sea of girls begging to let me slip into their bed?”

“You’re deplorable.”

“And you’re a modest prude.”

“Believe me, I’m not a prude, Black.”

Sirius suppressed the reflex to become visibly stunned by her words.

Not a prude, huh?

Does that mean that she’s no longer a—?

A queasy tension settled in his diaphragm, and Sirius blurted the question before he could think straight. Only a self-seeking moron could ignore how rude such an inquiry was, but he asked it anyway.

“Are you still a virgin?”

Marlene’s jaw slackened, but Sirius needed to know. The agonising image of some sleazy bastard sliding into her naked body lit a green fire in his chest.

Jealousy. He is actually jealous. How wretched a feeling.

Sirius held his breath as she crossed her arms and flatly replied, “For now.”

An immoral relief drenched his body. Selfish gratification aside, he was wise enough to recognize the imbalance of his envy. After all, why should he be allowed to slag around without consequences and be upset if she does?

But what if she wasn’t emotionally mature enough to keep love and lust separate? Maybe she needed to hear that slagging around isn’t necessary.

“Good,” he said.

“Good?”

f*cking hell. He really needs to think before he speaks around her.

Sirius hid his warm cheeks by taking another gulp of his drink. “Yeah,” he said coolly. “Give it to someone who will f*ck you properly.”

Give it to me, his thoughts lulled.

“Eh,” she dismissed easily. “It’ll happen when it happens, I guess. I’m not worried about the when or where.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“I don’t need to be in a relationship or anything,” she reasoned. Her tone too cavalier. “Truthfully, I mostly wish to give it up to someone random and be done with it. I don’t need the sentimentality behind it. f*ck me fast and let me go. You know what I mean?”

Sirius didn’t like hearing the words but refuting them would be purely hypocritical. In his eyes, Marlene deserved to be courted and f*cked respectfully by someone who cared for her. However, Sirius was certainly not the person who should tell her so.

“Relationships have always felt shallow and useless to me. They’re bloody pointless. Life is better when you’re on your own.” With a throat clear, the Black family heir bounced his heel and added, “Don’t you agree?”

Marlene glanced up briefly at the ceiling with one eye closed. “Hmmm,” she mused. “I don’t think I do.”

Of course, she doesn’t.

Because she isn’t a villain like Sirius is. She’s a girl conceived of light and purity who would only be tainted by someone as morose and predatory as he. Marlene wants what Sirius can never provide.

Not that he truly wants Marlene, anyhow, but there is still an irrefutable power she holds over him that he can’t quite shake. No matter how many women he uses to satiate his starvation for her affection, that same tunnelling magnetism enters his better judgement each and every time Marlene ignores his presence.

“You don’t?”

“Nope,” she answered with a little pop at the end.

“And why’s that?”

Marlene shrugged and thumbed the rim of her goblet. “I believe in true love.”

Sirius softened. “Really?”

“Yeah,” she dreamily said. “I’d like to settle down someday. I want to be in love and have a family and grow old with someone who loves me, too. I want a partner for life. I’m not like you, I guess. I crave real intimacy.”

The breath hitched in his lungs.

In love with someone?

Starting a family with someone?

Growing old with someone?

Sirius isn’t sure why, but the notion of watching her fall in love with another bloke sickened him severely.

“I’d settle down someday,” he said without forethought.

Marlene staggered as she whipped her head towards him. “Really? Aren’t you cemented in your whole permanent bachelor thing?”

“I, well, I don’t know about all that.” He rolled his shoulders and ignored the heat slinking up his throat to his cheeks. “I suppose… I’d settle down… for the right girl.”

Marlene’s eyebrows raised high. Honey-eyes wide and all-seeing, she carefully nodded.

“I hope you find her someday.”

I think I already have.

Sirius winced at his ridiculous thought and forced a scoff. “Yeah, but it’ll likely never happen. As if any girl could possibly be enough for me.”

Marlene smirked and picked lint off his collar. He stiffened as her nails pinched the fabric before flicking the particle into the open air. “It’s hard to imagine you being in love with someone.”

“So, you agree that no girl in this school is good enough for me?”

“I didn’t say that.” She smiled up at him, a secret behind her eyes. “It’s hard to imagine, but not impossible.”

Sirius met her eyes with a piercing gaze. Her face no longer carried its puckish mirth—the curve of her jaw was tense and squared. Her honey-eyes, raw and sincere.

Is she implying that she—?

No, impossible.

Marlene wouldn’t speak so flippantly about herself. Besides, she doesn’t care for him like that—and he doesn’t desire her in that same way either.

Aside from the visions of f*cking her while buried in other women… Sirius doesn’t really desire Marlene as anything more than a quick escape. His infatuation, he reasons, is purely built on the forbidden fruit effect; he wants her because he’s not allowed to have her. His longing derives from being told she’s off-limits.

Yeah... That must be why. Of course.

Besides, they would never last as a real couple. They bicker like playground children most days—although, in retrospect, that’s exactly how they met. Perhaps that was always their destiny. Arguing and squabbling like… an old married couple.

“Are you ready to go?” A voice inquired, jolting both Marlene and Sirius from their staring contest.

Lyla Maxwell shyly smiled, eyeing them back and forth. “Am I… interrupting anything?”

Marlene snorted and flipped a pigtailed braid behind one of her shoulders. “Definitely not.”

“Yeah,” Sirius agreed. “Nothing of interest.”

The Hufflepuff Chaser perked up and pulled at her jumper sleeve. “So… are you ready to go on that walk around the castle?”

Sirius’s heart sped as he side-eyed Marlene. The brunette witch wasn’t even perturbed by the intrusion. Even with the heavy implication of heavy petting, she was completely indifferent—sipping her goblet and smirking—but overall unaffected by the question.

Because she doesn’t want you as a lover, he thought sourly.

The vindictive part of him wanted her to be jealous—which was equally as cruel, but fun nonetheless.

Sirius grinned wickedly. “Why, yes I am, Miss Maxwell.” He reached forward and lifted her draped wrist to his lips. After a kiss on the knuckles, he said, “Lead the way, pet.”

As the pair turned to go, another face joined the fray.

Roman Crestwood smiled at Marlene and shoved his hands into his pockets.

Sirius never disliked Roman before. No, the friendly Hufflepuff always appeared perfectly gentleman-like. With his chocolate brown eyes and short wavy blond hair, the lad was decent looking and clever enough in classes and polite to others.

“Hey, McKinnon. I’ve been looking for you.”

And without a second’s hesitation, Sirius no longer found the lad charming. The sight of him was f*cking nauseating.

“Yeah?” Marlene waggled her brows with a naughty smirk. “For me, huh? I wonder why.”

“You know why.”

“Wondering if I’d like to pick up where we left off?”

Roman grinned. “I was wondering if you’d like to dance.”

Sirius’s spine hardened as Lyla guided him to the portrait hole by the wrist.

“Sure, Roman.”

He couldn’t turn around to confirm, but he was positive that Marlene was excited to be asked. Her tone, perhaps? Her grin was audible.

f*ck, Sirius doesn’t want to leave anymore. He wants to stop Marlene from dancing with someone else.

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

If she responded, Sirius couldn’t hear it. She was out of ear shot—out of range—and he was out of her thoughts.

Roman Crestwood, though?

When the hell did he enter this equation?

It was probably nothing. A simple flirtation.

But her words reeled in his brain, dissecting her sentences down to the syllables.

‘I don’t need to be in a relationship or anything. Truthfully, I mostly wish to give it up to someone random and be done with it.’

‘Wondering if I’d like to pick up where we left off?’

The breath hitched in his chest.

If Sirius learned that Marlene lost her virginity tonight on account of his choice to leave with Lyla, he didn’t think he would ever forgive himself.

The second they were out of the portrait hole, the grey-eyed Gryffindor strolled swiftly to the nearest closet, not bothering to care of the danger that comes with fooling around so close to the common room during a party.

Sirius drew Lyla to his chest and crashed their lips together. He tugged at her jumper until it was high above her head, tossing it aggressively to the floor.

Their kissing was messy and heightened.

Sirius had no intention of staying longer than necessary. He already made his decision. He was now hellbent on interrupting Marlene and Crestwood.

No, he shouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be right.

But, also, f*ck being moral. He was going to do whatever it took to pry them apart. Even if he had to blast the door off every closet in this castle.

Sirius ground his hips to Lyla’s, pressing her roughly into the shelf. He almost felt sorry until she ripped at his hair and bit his lip.

The depravity was all the encouragement he needed to slip blissfully into the usual fantasy.

With his lips on her neck, Sirius slid his hand up her inner thigh and under her skirt while she mewled softly in the cramped closet.

Are you still a virgin?

Sirius skimmed the satin edge of her knickers as familiar heat warmed his fingertips. With the lightest touch of the silky fabric, she jerked backwards like he shocked her with a jolt of electricity.

For now.

“Has a man ever made you come before?” he asked into the crook of her neck.

“No,” she purred.

“Would you like that to change tonight?”

“Please.”

A ripple of desire shot through him as he pretended it was Marlene once again for what must be the twentieth time by now. Sirius smirked and brushed aside the garment until he was caressing her, bare and slick under his sensual strokes.

“So polite.” He brushed his lips higher until he was at her ear lobe. He lightly inhaled through his teeth. “So good. Such a good girl.”

f*ck me quick and let me go.

He didn’t want to be quick. He wanted to take his time. He wanted to feel, enjoy, and taste every piece of her.

He wanted her desperately.

He pined for her.

Yearned for her.

Craved her.

I crave real intimacy, she had said to him.

If Sirius didn’t know better, he’d be f*cking her right now. If Prongs wasn’t in the picture, he’d be holding her body hostage, toying with her until she begged for him to let her crumble under his touch. If he was a selfish man, she’d be at his mercy, edging along the brim of complete collapse right now. If he was a lousy mate, he’d be slamming his honey-eyed delicacy into the wooden shelves until she cried out for him to keep going—to go faster and faster—to keep touching her—to—“Yes—oh, oh, oh, right there, right there, right thereyes, oh god, yes—don't stop, don’t stop.”

Give it to someone who will f*ck you properly. Give it to me. Yes, honey, give it to me. Good girl, let me have it. Come on, come on. Give it to me. Come on—

She threw her head back and gasped madly, wrapping her arms around his neck as he nibbled the flesh at her throat. And when her knees nearly gave out, Sirius hooked his arm at the small of her back to hold her upright as she shook beneath his unrelenting petting.

She writhed and whimpered and cried out until she slowly returned to peaceful fatigue.

When her body calmed, she dizzily covered her forehead and he patiently waited for her to come to her senses.

“I-I’ve never… That was… Good heavens, how do you do that?”

Sirius chuckled with a low breath. “I’m able to do it because I like doing it. Any man who truly wants to make a girl come is capable. He simply chooses to not learn what she likes.” With a debonair grin, he added, “I, however, always choose to do so. Efficiently.”

Lyla giggled and kissed him hard.

Sirius drew back and retrieved her jumper off the floor. “So, back to the party then?”

The Hufflepuff co*cked her head. “Don’t you want to—?”

Sirius waved a dismissive hand. “It’s my best mate’s birthday,” he lied effortlessly. “I’m happy to give without reciprocation, pet. I don’t require payment for my award-winning services.”

He opened the door to guide Lyla back to the common room as swiftly as he could manage without rousing suspicion. While the desire to get his rocks off coiled uncomfortably inside his stomach, his need to disrupt Marlene from potentially f*cking a stranger took precedence. Sirius would be damned if he was going to allow Marlene’s first time to be lazy.

Not that he’ll be present or anything, but he should probably make sure Roman is worthy.

His arm caught as he made to exit, then he was dragged back into the closet.

“You said half an hour, didn’t you?”

Sirius blinked. “I believe I did.”

Lyla smiled like a lynx and dropped to her knees. “Then, let’s run the clock out, shall we?” she said as she unclipped his belt.

Sirius raised his brows high.

Well, if she was that willing, he may as well stay and enjoy the company.

Marlene isn’t an easy lay, right? He could stay in the closet for a few more minutes without worrying that she’d be off having sex with a bloke she’s barely spoken to.

Yeah, yeah, nothing to fret over.

Lyle wrapped her mouth around him, eliciting a blissful groan from the back of his throat.

Oh yeah, he could definitely wait. This wouldn’t take long. After all, in his head, she was here with him.

Her mystifying image seeped into his mind like the replay of a newsreel on the telly. That tantalising image… watching her suck her wet finger from the dribble of her goblet. Juicy lips sliding the finger into her mouth to the knuckle before releasing with a satisfying pop!

‘I believe in true love,’ she had said.

Marlene’s lips sucked on him hard as he leaned backwards against the shelf.

‘I want to be in love.’

His fingers snaked through her wavy brown hair until his grip on her locks was firm and unforgiving.

‘Have a family.’

Sirius lolled his head back against the nape of his neck, his hips moving lightly with the rhythm of his honey-eyed angel’s mouth. Her tongue coating him until his insides began to melt.

‘Grow old with someone who loves me, too.’

She slid him out of her mouth achingly slowly, only to dive forward to the back of her throat. Sirius grunted under the sensation, his breath alarmingly shallow. He grabbed for the walls to steady him.

‘I want a partner for life.’

He isn’t going to last much longer.

No, f*cking hell, no. He’s going to—

‘I hope you find her someday.’

Oh f*ck, he’s gonna—

‘So, you agree that no girl at this school is good enough for me?’

‘I didn’t say that.’

Sirius arched his back and hissed as he came in the deepest recesses of her throat. Lyla squealed as she lapped him dry.

With a gentle wipe of her lips, the Hufflepuff Chaser stood up once more and politely kissed his cheek.

“See?” she whispered into his ear. “Half an hour well worth it. Don’t you agree?”

‘Life is better when you’re on your own. Don’t you agree?’

‘No, I don’t think I do.’

With a seedy smirk, he replied, “Why, yes, I certainly do.”

Sirius let his eyes sink closed as she placed love bruises along his neck. He’s never minded when a girl stakes their claim on him after a tryst. It’s not as though he needs to worry what someone else will say if they see it. Sirius is available and willing.

Just like Marlene.

Just like Crestwood.

And as if by a drench of cold water to the scalp, Sirius remembered why he wanted to leave in the first place. He rambled on to Lyla about needing to head back for James’s sake.

Strutting through the portrait hole, he found his forbidden fruit with the other three Marauders—chatting merrily about this or that.

No Roman in sight. Thank god.

Sirius wasn’t ready to release the fantasy. If she started to see someone, he’d allow it, of course. He’d be devastated, maybe, but he couldn’t stand in her way. She didn’t belong to him.

However, he was also beginning to teeter the line between madness and temptation. The ritualistic denial of the truth wearing him down.

He wants Marlene.

He wants her passionately, desperately, and painfully for reasons he cannot explain.

As the days slipped in succession, that tragic truth was only growing more evident.

Sirius bid farewell to Lyla who ran off eagerly to brag to her friends about what was surely an earthquaking experience for her. Not that Sirius believes it was much to brag about—every man should make sure their partner enjoys themselves. Plus, if he was going to limit the girls to one encounter with him, he better leave them with his maximum effort.

The closer he got to his friends, the more nervous he became. This feeling wasn’t new to him; he was notoriously twitchy when within the vicinity of James and Marlene at the same time.

How could James not see it? Sirius acts like a madman when she’s present.

“Oi, Padfoot!” The birthday boy called out. Sirius quickened his steps and arrived promptly for James to ask, “Did you just shag Lyla Maxwell?”

Not technically. His prick had been eased from the desire to combust, but that wasn’t going to hold true during his evening shower when he inevitably thought of their conversation all over again.

“A man doesn’t kiss and tell in the presence of a lady,” he drawled.

Marlene rolled her eyes and crossed her arms across her chest, the skin taut beneath her fingernails.

“Since when do you care about parading your exploits in front of other women?” Remus chortled. “Last time I checked, you called it advertising.

James scoffed. “Not when it comes to this lady in particular.” The newly-sixteen-year-old wrapped an arm around his baby sister and kissed her temple. “She’s one of the boys. A bloke like the rest of us.”

Marlene curled into his embrace and squeezed tight.

Sirius’s fingers drummed his legs as he imagined an embrace of his own.

“One of the boys, huh?” she asked playfully. “You all still remember I’m a girl though, right?”

Sirius raked her body beneath his suppressed gaze. Loose-fitting Led Zeppelin shirt accompanied by dark trousers, so long and baggy they passed her shoes and touched the ground.

Three of the surrounding Marauders agreed aloud with the hoyden witch. Sirius, however, chose to stay silent. He was well aware of how feminine Marlene was at the core—and it was that very same reminder that invaded his dreams and haunted his heart.

Because as difficult as the reality was to admit, Sirius did want Marlene.

He pined for her.

He desired her.

He craved her.

He would never be allowed to have her.

Chapter 18: Suspicious Minds

Chapter Text

Suspicious Minds

October 15th, 1976

“I am well aware that the first Hogsmeade trip is tomorrow, students,” McGonagall tittered. She stood at the head of the classroom in a regal purple cloak, pacing back and forth. She slowly observed the fidgety students, making eye contact with each sixth-year in the room at her leisure. “But,” she continued, “I still expect two scrolls of parchment on the magical theory behind Multicorfors in Human Transfiguration. The assignment will be due Monday morning and I will be taking away points for misspellings and unkempt ink stains. You are all now at the N.E.W.T level and I expect professionalism in your work if you are going to further your studies into your seventh year. It is imperative that you take the time to review your research thoroughly before submitting the scrolls to me and allow yourself ample time to complete the work given the nature of this weekend’s revelry. If anyone has any questions pertaining to the assignment, please visit me during my office hours. With that said, enjoy the rest of your day and make intelligent choices on your trip away from the castle. Class is dismissed.”

Lily arose from the oak desk beside Mary and collected her belongings. She didn’t spend much of the lecture paying attention, an uncharacteristic behaviour in contrast to her normal bookish stature.

But it wasn’t entirely her fault. Her thoughts were driven elsewhere and she couldn’t seem to drown them out.

Tomorrow would be her first date to Hogsmeade with Declan. Her first date ever, no less.

Declan was gentle with her the last time they were in their secret room. He’s kissed her twice since she agreed upon their date (chastely but still), and Lily was eager to have him on her arm in full view of the public, for an entire day.

Despite her enthusiasm, she was still overcome with fear.

What if they have nothing in common?

What if the conversation stalls?

What if he doesn’t like her as much as she likes him?

Lily was brimming with the silliest of human flaws: insecurity.

If Declan and she had no chemistry, did that mean she was the problem? Everything was bloody incredible on her end. But there was still something that was absent. Something that felt off and vacant. She assumed it was their lack of familiarity—they were still practically strangers—but what if it was more? What if it was—?

“Lily? Are you there?” Mary softly knocked on the ginger’s forehead as if she were a door.

She blushed and released a nervous laugh. “Oh, sorry. Yes, I’m here. I was a bit distracted, I suppose.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Obviously. I’m assuming you missed my question, then.”

Lily bit her lip and nodded. “Sorry, Mary.”

“I was asking if you saw Welch and Bishop in class today,” she remarked bitterly.

“Of course, I didn’t. We sat in the sodding front row. How could I have seen them?”

The blonde grabbed her own hair and pulled dramatically. “Because they are so rubbing their happy little relationship in poor Marlene’s face, that’s how! It’s utterly insulting!”

Lily smirked. “I doubt she cares, Mary.”

“I just think it’s ridiculous that she waited until this morning to tell us that they’re even over!” The sassy witch glared ahead at the retreating Hufflepuff couple. “Just look at them! Cuddling and acting as if they haven’t broken our friend’s precious heart. That no good bloody cheater deserves a jinx—!” Mary stormed forward, wand at the ready.

Lily placed a rough hand on her companion’s shoulder, heaving her to a stop. “Easy there, Macdonald. You’ve got to settle down. Marlene said the breakup was mutual, did she not? She’s clearly not broken up about the split and decided that she’d rather tend to you instead. Her relationship barely lasted a month. Yours was years. She cares for you far more than Leo. The best thing for us to do on Marlene’s behalf is to remain indifferent. If she wanted us to retaliate, she would want a hand in the planning, right?”

Mary crossed her arms and grumbled, “I suppose.”

“Okay, so what is there to worry about?”

Mary sighed. “Perhaps I am a little more irritable than usual about this particular thing. I just have this suspicion that Marlene is hiding her feelings far more than we know. I mean, if she truly is over Leo, then why does she still look so… sad all the time?”

Lily bit her lip. The question was fair to ask. And unfortunately, Lily had no answer to give.

Marlene carried a subtle distress in her demeanour, appearing at random intervals.

In the Great Hall for meals.

While watching Quidditch practice.

Stalking through the crowded common room.

On the way to Potions.

It was strange. It was as if there was a plaguing melancholia around their friend when she was left alone to her thoughts. Lily had first noticed the moment Marlene tumbled through her window over the summer holiday, and it persisted until—well—until now. While she seemed to be healing from the pain inflicted by whichever bloke hurt her, there was a lingering part of Lily that wondered if her improvement was merely a well-facilitated facade to placate her worried loved ones.

Marlene was a tough girl—no one could ever argue it—but Lily was also aware that Marlene had a perverse sensitivity that is rarely seen by anyone outside of her friend group. And furthermore, if Marlene was burying her true feelings—then sometime soon—she was going to erupt, and the path of her destruction would be immeasurable.

The prefect rubbed her temples. “I don’t know, Mary. But I hope that whatever the reason is, she knows that we’re here for her if she needs us to be.”

“Do you think it has to do with mystery bloke?”

Lily stiffened. “How do you—?”

“Oh, come on, ginger. Remember who you’re talking to.” Mary waggled her brows. “I know all.”

“So… Emmeline nicked it out of Lupin during a game of chess?”

Mary grinned. “You’re smarter than you look, Lil.”

The pair laughed as they entered the next corridor. On their way to lunch, they were stopped by a crowded cluster of students blocking the entire hallway.

“I’m so sick of your bullsh*t, Black!” A voice screeched amongst the herding bystanders.

Mary and Lily stiffened. Together, they forcibly pushed students out of the way. They stumbled through a swarm of cloaks, straight into the centre of the mob.

Sirius Black towered over Marlene, equipped with a hardened scowl and menacing eyes. His stiff body was flanked by the other Marauders. Peter and Remus stood directly behind him, unnervingly bouncing their eyes between the two. James messily adjusted his hair, running his fingers through his wild black locks again and again, pulling at the strands until they stood up at the ends. His attention ricocheted between the bickering pair.

“This is going too far,” James said uncomfortably. He, too, was scowling, but it didn’t appear directed at either one of them. His demeanour was more exasperated than anything else. “You both are acting absurd. Honestly, you’re beginning to form a crowd. Just take a breath. Step outside… Get some air or whatever.”

Both Marlene and Sirius whipped their heads at their friend and shouted, “Stay out of this!”

“I mean it, Jamie! This is between us so come off it already!” Marlene snapped.

“Don’t yell at my best mate like that, McKinnon!” Sirius spat.

Marlene dangerously stepped forward and reached up on her tiptoes to meet his eyes. “He’s my best friend, too, Black! This doesn’t even concern you! So how about you go f*ck right off!”

“Of course, it does! You’re trying to take him away from us!” Sirius gestured to Remus and Peter who backed up considerably as if to say, ‘We want no part in this mess.’

“All I did was ask him to sit with me alone at lunch!” Marlene raged. “And now you’re f*cking knickers are twisted!”

“You know it’s about more than just lunch, McKinnon,” Sirius growled.

“It’s actually that simple, Black, but you’re too much of a child to learn how to share!”

“Rather audacious of you to call me childish when you just rudely and poignantly declared that the rest of us are not included in your little invitation!”

“Because you’re not!”

“And that makes you a child,” he spat back. He tipped his chin back and released an exhausted groan. “You are being such a bint, Marlene. You can take your angsty sh*t out on me, but don’t exclude Wormtail and Moony!” He paused, inhaling deeply. With his hands stuffed into his pockets, he scuffed his loafers into the stone hallway floor. He peered up at her from beneath his lashes, either turning up the charm or uncharacteristically sheepish. “They haven’t done anything wrong, and you know it...”

Marlene glared at him darkly. No trace of his soft shift in emotion affected her contemptuous glower.

After a beat, she muttered, “Fine.” With crossed arms, she turned to Remus and Peter. “You two can consider yourselves invited.”

The rage in Sirius that momentarily dimmed roared back to life with a vendetta.

“Oh, for f*ck’s sake, McKinnon!” he fumed. “You’re really going to let me eat by myself? That’s quite the classy move on your part!”

“Grow up, Black! As if your precious Marauders would ever purposefully leave you alone to your own devices! As if Jamie would ever allow you to feel like the odd man out. You’re his world! You're his bloody best mate! It doesn’t matter what you do or who you hurt, you’ll always come first! And, quite honestly, I’m f*cking sick of being around you. I can’t do it anymore.”

James tried once again to step between them. “Okay, I think we’ve all heard enough of this. We can all just sit together. We don’t have to be split apart.”

“Have you not been listening? I loathe him, Jamie. If he’ll be there, I won’t be. I am tired of him always being around.”

Potter frowned and tentatively rested his palm on her shoulder. “I think you’ve made your opinion on Padfoot abundantly clear, Mar. We both know that he can be a bit of a prick, but he hasn’t really done anything. And besides, it's just lunch? I’m not asking you to bloody well marry him, am I?”

The Quidditch Captain chuckled at his own joke, but Marlene remained eerily stoic. Her stony stare gave away nothing. She merely stared—calmly and without reaction. Her rigid posture remained long after Potter stopped laughing.

Suddenly, she shrugged. “Forget I asked. Enjoy lunch together. I’ve lost my appetite.”

The brunette turned away from the Marauders without another word, effectively exiting the scene she had a hand in creating.

Lily barely registered Mary rushing forward and huddling Marlene under her arm. In fact, Lily hardly noticed she was holding her breath until the air in her lungs reached empty.

Tearing her gaze from her two friends, Lily directed her attention back to the Marauders as they sauntered away. Each held their head high, taking turns clapping Potter on the back for standing up for their smug little quartet. Between proud gratitude, he tousled his hair and threw his head back laughing as if his two best mates hadn’t nearly ripped each other’s heads off only moments before.

At that exact second, one of the Marauders made a curious move.

Had the ginger witch not been paying attention to the boy with shiny obsidian hair retreating towards the Great Hall, she would have entirely missed the brief motion of Sirius… glancing back.

While the simple gesture was normally nothing of note, there was a certain... fervour in his grey eyes. A twitch of his eyebrows, perhaps. The look carried a particular emotion that she couldn’t quite place or name.

“Lily.”

A soft white noise replaced the dull hum of students bustling back to their class schedules. They scattered in every direction. Cloaks of all houses swarmed the hall, but her attention remained securely fixed on her best friend’s archnemesis.

His fists clenched tight. The bleached hue of his bones protruded from the ridges in his knuckles. They refused to relent as he strutted further from view. The muscles utterly taut in his forearms. Like he was mentally prepared to throw fists into the walls. But the word wasn’t anger. In fact, it wasn’t malicious at all. There was a touch of sadness to it. Bittersweet, even.

“Lily!”

The word.

There was a word for that glance.

It was so simple but impossible to pin down. Sirius didn’t give everyone second glances. Not that she had much experience observing behaviours of the Marauders, but Sirius—for all she knew—was not one to take a second look at any woman. Let alone one he was previously arguing with.

“Lily, what are you doing?”

But, he did.

Sirius Black looked back.

He looked back at Marlene.

“Lily, what the f*ck?”

The sound of her own name so far away. Distant and altered as the four gangly boys continued walking, but the image of that stolen glance remained.

“Lily!”

A shove at the redhead’s shoulder ripped her attention from the withdrawing Marauders. The ringing in her ears vanished.

“I’m sorry?”

“Lily, what the f*ck just happened? Are you alright?” Mary scanned her face, searching for the source. “What the hell were you staring at?”

“Oh, uh, nothing. Where’s Marlene?”

Mary motioned behind her. “She’s headed up to the dormitory. Went on about wanting some time alone. Should we follow her anyhow?”

“Yeah, I think that would be best.”

She trailed behind Mary as they headed up the stairs to the portrait of the Fat Lady.

“I think I want to have a party tonight,” Mary stated as they passed the statue of Gunhilda de Gorsemoor.

“Odd time for a party, don’t you think?”

Mary huffed, flipping her blonde waves. “How come?”

“Well, you only just broke up with Luther. And your parties have a reputation for being rather… unseemly. It might suit you best to ease back on all of your… bolder hobbies. At least until that wound has better healed.”

“Not everyone is as prudish as you, Lil. Some of us have a sex drive and like to flaunt it.”

Mary surely intended the quip to be a joke, but the comment made Lily silently fume.

If she only knew.

“But that’s beside the point. I’m fine,” she continued. “I’m not fragile and Luther is in the past. I’m ready to move on, honestly.”

Lily decided to swallow her pride and ignore Mary’s ignorant comment. Instead, Lily co*cked an eyebrow and leaned back against the marble railing as the Grand Staircase slowly turned towards the next platform. Some conversations simply have a time and place.

“Is that so?”

“Yes.”

“And what makes you so sure that you’re over him?”

Mary smiled. Her blue eyes were calm and steady as she sweetly replied, “Because one of these days I’m going to meet the love of my life.” Perching against the railing, she let her gaze wander around to the vast portraits coating the walls around them.

Lily’s eyebrows shot up.

“It's rather exciting, isn’t it?” she continued before Lily could comment. “He’s out there. Wandering this Earth. Maybe as lost as I am. He may attend this school, or perhaps not. But one day, it’ll all fall into place, and I have faith that it’ll be right. I won’t second guess that he’s with another girl… I won’t be looking over my shoulder for our next argument… We’ll simply be happy. It could take decades, but that’s alright because in the end… we’ll find each other at the right time. He’s out there, Lily, and I don’t want to spend my days waiting around for him to find me first. I have to start searching now. Love is worth the painful search.”

Mary’s fingertips brushed the stone wall as she climbed the staircase.

“And for a time,” she continued, “loving Luther wasn’t painful. It came rather naturally. It was passionate and, at times, delightfully simple. We were together for so long that it seemed like staying together was the only option. I’ll always hold him close to me. Luther will always be my first love.”

Mary bit her lip to prevent her glossed lip from quivering. “But the next time, I say ‘I love you…’ He’ll be the last person I say it to. And I want him so bad. I have no idea who he is, but his love is all I think about. I want it now more than ever before… I want it so bad that it hurts.”

And suddenly, it all became clear.

It was right there on the staircase that Lily made her discovery. The word she searched for in Sirius was right there in the same fevered eyes that Mary had as she spoke her final sentence. The penetrating look that Sirius gave with such a simple turn of his head told the story of a singular emotion that outweighed all others.

Longing.

James didn’t expect to spend the evening partying, but he’s definitely not complaining. This is the first party of the term, as far as he’s aware. He needed a night out with the lads, and fate bless him, he got his wish.

Sirius, Peter, and Remus chatted away about the upcoming Puddlemere versus Ireland match.

Their voices were cloudy as he rotated his sights around the room, focusing on a certain ginger in the corner. She was talking to Nelson Bonbrittle, which wasn’t who James expected her to be speaking to.

Albeit, Calvolio wasn’t here.

She’d probably be hanging onto him right now if he was. They weren’t public as much as James feared them to be, and he was secretly grateful. He didn’t know how he’d handle seeing them touch and flirt and kiss.

James shuddered.

Yeah, he couldn’t bear it. He wasn’t ready yet.

Lily rolled her eyes, eliciting a snicker from James.

Bonbrittle could be a real snobbish bore. James was surprised she was still entertaining his exasperating monologues. She looked ready to shatter her goblet against the wall and plunge a shard into her own neck. She sipped on the drink’s rim but grimaced. Empty, James assumed. She’ll need another one. Perhaps he could scrounge something together for her.

James almost can’t believe she’s drinking at all if he’s being honest. Lily never partied in the previous terms. Each event was usually met with an indignant upturn of her nose and self-righteous scoff.

She was so different now.

James hated that he adored it.

He forcibly removed his eyes from her and turned to Harper instead. His sweet date for tomorrow’s Hogsmeade trip giggled with a few of her fifth-year mates. Simone Stromwell, her best friend, smirked from beside her. The dark-skinned witch eyed everyone with smugly silent interest as they all chatted away. Harper leaned over to whisper in Simone’s ear as she sipped, causing her to spit out her entire drink.

James laughed aloud. Stifling his outburst when he found the lads staring at him curiously.

“What?” he asked innocently.

“You know what,” Remus said. He glanced over to Harper who helped clean Simone’s shirt from the dribble of spit and wine. “Are you excited for tomorrow?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you mean, Moony.”

Sirius clapped him on the back. “Listen, mate. We know you’ll show her a nice time. Give her a sweet tour around the village. Buy her lunch. Maybe get some ice cream at Honeyduke’s. Bring her to the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Shag her until you’re both sweating.”

James bristled. “I am not shagging her in the Forbidden Forest!”

“Fine. Bring her back up to the dorm. But make sure to put a sign or something on the door. The last thing I need to see is how horrendous you are in the sheets.” Sirius waggled his brows and lifted his drink to his lips.

James waited until the brim was at his mouth before tipping Sirius’s goblet forward. The whiskey splattered all over his cheeks and chin.

“You twat!” Sirius sputtered, pinching his nostrils. “You got it in my nose!”

“You deserved it.”

“I’ve got to agree with Prongs on this one, mate.” Remus chuckled, sipping from his own goblet.

Peter nodded. “I second that.”

“Hey, Potter!”

James and the other Marauders arched their heads to Bertram Aubrey. The slimy Ravenclaw Beater sauntered towards them with a seedy smirk.

James gulped his whisky and licked his lips. “What do you want, Aubrey?”

“Heard you’re the man to speak to if a bloke wants to ask out McKinnon.”

His fellow Marauders all stiffened.

James co*cked a brow. “You’re correct, except that she’s not available at this time.”

Bertram raised his eyebrows. “You didn’t hear?”

“Hear what?” Sirius asked before James could speak.

The Ravenclaw’s eyes brightened as he exclaimed, “Welch cheated on McKinnon with Bishop!”

Strings snapped inside James’s brain.

Cheated?

Leonard f*cking Welch cheated… on Marlene?

Oh, that sorry bastard was getting chucked from the goddamn Astronomy Tower by sun up. James gave that poxy pillock a f*cking chance, and he then does this?

“What the hell are you talking about?” James growled.

Bertram whistled low. “Wow, mate. I thought you’d be one of the first to hear about it. They’re history. Completely split. Some Slytherin found Welch in an empty corridor with Bishop before breakfast. Everyone’s talking about it.”

James flicked his eyes to Marlene. His baby sister stood by the fireplace, drinking cheerfully with Emmeline and Mary. Nothing about her demeanour screamed heartbreak, but cheating was cheating. Although, Slytherins shouldn’t be trusted.

“What Slytherin found them together?”

“Rowle.”

“Chandler?” Peter blurted. He winced at his own exclamation and looked away.

“The very same,” Bertram confirmed.

The news explained her row with Sirius in the corridor. She had to be upset, deep down. James stared at Marlene and searched for any signs of real distress. Nothing, though. She looked completely at ease. Her golden eyes were alive and deeply engaged with her friends, laughing along with them. She was happy enough. Maybe it was all a lie. Or maybe she had perfected the art of masking. Maybe she was hiding her real feelings. James was learning every day how much she hid things from him.

Mystery bloke being amongst those offences.

James hasn’t asked her about him yet.

It’s been over a month since Evans told him of the lad’s existence, and Marlene still hasn’t brought the subject to light. Perhaps he’ll need to demand she comes clean, but with this Welch business, James may need to wait a while longer.

“So, what do you say?” Bertram asked with a salacious wink. “Mind if I ask her to Hogsmeade?”

The Quidditch Captain scoffed. “Absolutely f*cking not.”

“Ah, come off it, Potter. Don’t be so stingy. If you don’t want her, at least let the rest of us have a stab at her.” Bertram reached forward to clap James on the shoulder, but the Quidditch Captain caught his arm. He bent the limb back towards its owner with a hard scowl. “Hey, at least I asked permission. Alexandar Nott had his hand at her earlier today. She turned him down, of course. But I figured she might just be saving herself for me.”

Alexandar Nott? The slaggy Slytherin Quidditch Captain? That smarmy berk had a list of conquests as long as Sirius’s.

f*cking hell. James was going to need to lock Marlene away if he was going to keep her chaste by the end of term. Although, the possibility of her virtue being robbed by some dodgy git over the summer was still on the table.

James wanted to kill mystery bloke.

He wanted to murder Leonard Welch.

He may hex Nott straight into the Hospital Wing on principle.

He never craved revenge as much as he did now. His mouth watered with the yearning to maim any and all men who have pawed after his best girl.

Bertram Aubrey being no exception.

James closed his eyes and inhaled slowly. Through gritted teeth, he said, “Get out of my sight, Aubrey.”

The Ravenclaw pouted but scurried off as instructed.

James tried to reduce the spiking fury, but it was too late. He needed to say something. He needed to know she was okay—or at least ask her why she didn’t tell him this herself.

James opened his eyes and charged forward, eyeing his baby sister as he snaked through the crowd.

Marlene smiled when she caught sight of him. And for a moment, he faltered. Maybe she merely had the chance to tell him? Maybe that was what she was wanting privacy for during lunch. And he’d rejected it. The rage simmered but did not evaporate.

“Hi, Jamie!” Marlene ruffled his hair once he was close enough. “Hello, boys,” she greeted what he assumed were the other Marauders flanking him.

“Is there something you’d like to share with me?”

Emmeline and Mary sidled closer to each other to watch the show.

Marlene raised her eyebrows. “Excuse you?”

“You heard me.”

“Did someone shove a Beater’s Bat up your arse this morning?”

James narrowed his eyes. “You wanna tell me why Welch is still allowed to breathe air?”

Marlene co*cked her head to the side. “What are you referring to exactly?”

A foreboding roll of horror rippled through him. “Mar, you… Please tell me you know about… them.”

His baby sister blinked, a small smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “You mean Leo and Flora?”

James reignited. “Oh,” he curtly replied. “So you chose to not tell me about the cheating?”

A laugh bubbled from Marlene’s mouth. “Cheating? Is that what everyone is saying?” She rolled her eyes. “He didn’t cheat on me, Jamie. We’ve been broken up for nearly a week.”

“What?”

“We broke up after tryouts.”

“Why?” Sirius asked from behind him.

Marlene pointed a finger at him. “Who the f*ck gave you permission to talk to me?”

Sirius scoffed. “Are you really still cross with me for earlier?”

“You’re still talking, and you still have no right. Bugger off, Black.”

James huffed and asked for himself. “What was the reason?”

Marlene gazed off into space, staring distantly beyond James’s shoulder. “Let’s call it… a lapse in mutual chemistry.”

What the f*ck was that supposed to mean? She was being evasive, but at least she wasn’t devastated.

“So, he didn’t start seeing Bishop while you two were together?”

“Not in the slightest. I actually encouraged him to be with her. They love each other.”

“Can I still hex him?”

No.”

“Please?”

Jamie…” she warned, pointing a finger.

“Fine,” he grumbled. “And you’re… completely okay? No hard feelings?”

“I’m happy for him. I really am. We’re much better as friends, trust me.” She paused. “I know what the spark is supposed to feel like, and it simply wasn’t there with Leo.”

James seized. She knew what the spark was supposed to feel like?

“What do you mean that you know what the spark feels like?”

Marlene froze. Her goblet lingered close to her mouth as she nearly took a sip. She waited a second before carefully answering, “I just mean… that I’ve read what it’s supposed to feel like.”

Liar.

f*cking liar.

He’s tired of this.

“Yeah? So you and that mysterious bloke you saw over the summer had no spark? Is that it?”

Marlene’s jaw slackened.

James smirked callously. “Yeah, Mar. I know about him.”

She toggled through all the faces of their friends. “How… W-who told you?”

The Quidditch Captain folded his arms across his chest. “That’s not really important.”

Mary clapped and bounced in place. “Ooh, Marlene! Finally! I’ve been wanting to hear about this for ages!”

Marlene stared back at her, disgusted. “How do you know?”

“Lily told me at the train station that some tosser broke your heart.”

“He didn’t break my heart.” Her voice teetered the line between fury and mania like a kitten being backed into a corner. “He f*cked me—repeatedly—and then threw me away like soiled rubbish. There’s a significant difference.”

James boiled. Mystery bloke and she actually shagged. And then the berk up and abandoned her? James had never been so utterly repulsed. What sort of man would do that to a girl?

Although, Sirius was the type. He and men like Alexandar Nott regularly discarded women after use. James would never be that sort of man. He swore on his life. If he ever discovered this coward’s identity, James was going to curse him until there was nothing left but his shoes.

“You had sex with your mystery bloke?”

“You had sex with someone in my library.”

“You lost your virginity to someone over the summer?”

“You lost your virginity the summer before.”

“Well, who was it?”

“Why does it matter?” Marlene glowered as they argued. “You never told anyone who you shagged.”

“Because I didn’t throw her out like rubbish. We agreed to keep it a one-time occasion. I didn’t fancy her.”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Jamie.”

“Don’t make me pester it out of you.”

Fitzgerald marvelled at the pair and loudly whispered to Macdonald, “They really do behave like brother and sister, don’t they?”

“And here I thought it was all an act.”

“Marlene, please tell me. You’re my oldest friend, and I really think I can—”

I said, no! I haven’t told a soul, and I never ever will. Especially to you.” Suddenly, she closed her eyes and forcibly calmed herself with deep breaths. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. That was mean. You’re just… I can’t tell you, Jamie. You can’t help yourself but be angry, and I’m over him. He’s dead to me. I swear he means nothing to me. I just want to forget it ever happened.”

Mary pouted while Emmeline marvelled at Marlene. “You… You were seeing someone? Like a boy-someone?”

“Uh-huh,” James answered flatly for Marlene, keeping his eyes cemented on her. “A mystery bloke. You don’t have to hide things from me, you know. I am capable of self-control. And you really should have told me about Welch. If you weren’t here for me to question, he’d be hanging from a goalpost by his toes right now.”

Marlene’s lips pursed, twitching at the corners. Eventually, she cracked. A little giggle erupted from her. She covered her mouth to stifle it. “You really love hanging that boy by his feet, don’t you?”

James grinned along with her. “One might call it a hobby.”

“Git.”

“Chit.”

With a gentle push at his shoulder, Marlene said, “And what about you?”

“What about me?”

She scrunched her face with offence. “Well, for starters, you have a date tomorrow.”

What a f*cking hypocrite.

James released a breathless laugh and said, “Uhh, yeah. About that—”

“Harper Hughes, huh?”

“Who told you about that?”

“Who do you think?”

James thought for a second before he and Marlene answered, “Macdonald,” at the same time.

Mary flipped her hair. “My reputation is still intact, I see.”

“Dating a fellow teammate, Jamie?” Marlene tsked. “Are you sure that’s a wise choice, Captain?”

James dryly glared at her. “Ha. Ha. Cute.” He rolled his eyes. “I’ll have you know that she’s perfectly amiable and very professional.” Turning to Sirius, he said, “Tell her, Padfoot. We had practice just yesterday and were completely normal.”

Sirius tossed an arm around James’s neck and pulled him uncomfortably close. “We didn’t make it through a single warm-up. They snogged the whole time.”

Marlene laughed while James wrestled Sirius into a headlock.

“Listen, all I’m saying is that I’m on track for a very high-paying position in the Department of International Magical Cooperation. I mean, I’m not saying that it's definite, but my father has assured me that it’s almost certainly a done deal. Most hires at the Ministry are based on ‘who-you-know’ and connections from the inside anyhow.”

Seventh-year, Nelson Bonbrittle, took a long gulp of his Lemon Giggle Water before continuing on about how fascinating office work involving multinational magical peace treaties is while Lily desperately fought the urge to yawn.

Mary’s impromptu party, ongoing for a couple of hours now, was starting to get rowdy and energetic. Couples danced the Jitterbug. Friends were out there clinking glasses and toasting to tomorrow’s Hogsmeade trip. The music from their stolen—no, borrowed—record player was blaring, and somehow Lily managed to be corralled into a dark corner of the Gryffindor common room with a grimy pureblood with teeth more yellow than the drink in his hand.

Lily tossed back the remainder of her firewhisky and scanned the room to plan her escape.

“Evans, did you hear what I said?”

The ginger witch perked up at the sound of her surname. “What?”

“Were you listening to me at all?” Nelson grumbled.

“Uh, something about Andorra coming to an agreement with France and Spain for future relations regarding student transfers from either country being a surprising success?”

He grinned, his buttery teeth on full display. “Yes, actually! I find it quite attractive when a woman can match polite conversation. It’s atrocious how seldom women these days can manage to keep up with simple topics.”

Wires sizzled inside her brain as rage seeped within. “Is that right? Well, Bonbrittle, I find it atrocious how seldom men manage to adequately introduce proper toothpaste into their daily dental hygiene. I highly suggest you give it a try sometime soon.”

Without another word, Lily turned her back to him. Her red locks smacked him with her pivot, leaving him confused and jaw-dropped.

What an absolute git.

Lily reentered the crowd of partygoers, snaking through her fellow students.

She headed swiftly towards the bar for another round. Lily swirled the ice cubes in her glass, listening to the gentle clink. Another wave of her growing intoxication rolled through her body, making her stumble.

Before nose-diving into the maroon rug, a pair of strong hands gripped her shoulders. Their warm touch against her upper arms shocked her with a delightful chill.

“Alright, Evans?”

And, just like that, the butterflies in her stomach all sank to the bottom and died.

Lily stepped backwards and rolled her eyes. “Obviously. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Potter snagged his lower lip as he grinned, snatching the glass from her hands and sarcastically eyeing its now empty contents. “I see we’ve chosen to get pissed tonight. Haven’t we, Evans?”

Lily scowled back. “If you’re going to be an arse and swipe my glass, the least you could do is pour me another drink.”

The Quidditch Captain smiled wider—if at all possible—and began mixing ingredients together before he finally presented her with a glass of dark green liquid. Gentle smoke billowed over the top like a small crystal cauldron.

“Are you actually trying to poison me?”

Potter chuckled lightly. “No, Evans. The day I poison you, there will be no witnesses.”

Lily thought the jab would annoy her, but it did the opposite. She laughed.

“Well, I guess you better watch out for me as well,” she snapped back. Lily raised her glass to him. “May the best assassin win.”

Potter gave her another tilted grin and raised his drink to hers.

They tapped each other’s glasses before taking a deep swig of their co*cktails.

Lily was surprised by how tasty it was. Potter was apparently a skilled bartender. Go figure.

“What’s in this anyway, Potter?”

The messy-haired enigma tapped his nose and winked. “I can’t simply give away all my best party tricks, can I?”

Lily shrugged. “Suppose I’ll have to try to recreate it someday.”

She momentarily scanned the party and found Marlene laughing loudly by the fireplace with Emmeline and Mary. From what Lily could guess about the scene, Emmeline attempted to take a shot and it ended up being expelled from her nose as she choked.

Lily shook her head lightly, a small smile touching her lips.

Such a lightweight.

“Or… perhaps you could just ask me anytime to make it for you.”

Glancing back at Potter, she was shocked to find no shred of humour left on his face. The glare of the lights cast a hazy glow in the reflection of his glasses.

“What?” she managed to weakly ask.

“I could make it for you. Anytime. Just say the word.”

Lily’s heart skipped. She wondered when the last time she saw him this close was.

Their dance during detention, maybe?

Their proximity left nothing to be unseen.

He had stubble now. He needed a shave. And his eyelashes were long, nearly reaching the glass in his spectacles. Even his lips, which before went unnoticed, kept a glossy tint from the condensation of his drinking glass.

“Well, isn’t this a lovely scene?”

Lily jumped, her drink spilling over onto her hand as the tension shattered.

Sirius, who appeared from nowhere, wrapped a loose arm around James’s shoulders.

Pulling him close, Sirius smirked. “Am I interrupting an important conversation?”

“No,” Lily snapped. “Potter here was just showing me what an excellent bartender he is.”

Sirius scoffed. “He only thinks he’s a mixologist. He learned all his skills from me.” The grey-eyed Gryffindor delicately removed Lily’s beverage from her grasp and inspected the contents. “Hmm, this one… is new. What’s in it, Prongs?”

Potter rolled his eyes and muttered, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Interesting colour choice.”

Suddenly, Potter turned his head away from them. Lily was surprised to see his ears pink at his friend’s comment.

Sirius held up the drink close to Lily’s face. “Oh, yeah. Dead ringer.” He took a swig and nodded approvingly. “Not bad, but you should really try one of my famous martinis, ginger. They’ll knock you on your arse.”

Lily took the glass back from Sirius, consuming the rest of the drink in one long chug. When she finished, both boys gawked at her brashness. With a smirk, she handed the glass back to Sirius. “Knock me on my arse, huh? Prove it.

Sirius whipped his head to James with an ear-splitting grin. “f*cking hell. Where has this version of Evans been hiding all my life?” He quickly got busy at the bar, only stopping to point a finger at Lily. “Get ready to have your mind swirling, Red.”

“It better be the best damn martini I’ve ever had.”

“Oh, it will be,” he promised.

“Oi, Prongs!” Remus called out. “Howard, here, thinks he can hold his breath longer than you! Fancy a wager?”

“If by ‘wager,’ you mean an easy victory, then why yes I would, Moony!”

James smiled and excused himself from the bar.

Lily turned to Sirius, who stood pouring vodka and some form of juice into a shaker. With no one else around, Lily decided to test a little theory that was beginning to brew.

“So, Black, how are you doing?”

Sirius smirked. “Marvellous. Never better in fact.”

“Really? Even after that awful row, you had with Marlene in the corridor?”

All the light in Sirius’s eyes diminished, but he managed to hold his polite smile.

“Yes. I’m fine, thank you,” he curtly replied.

Lily nodded and pretended to be disinterested.

“The pair of you seem to be getting into arguments regularly now. Was it always like that?”

Sirius’s jaw tightened infinitesimally as he garnished her cup with various salts and lemon twists. “No,” he finally answered. “We actually used to be quite chummy.”

“Interesting. I only ask because—as you very well know—I’ve only become close to Marlene fairly recently, so I have no frame of reference. When would you say your fights began to escalate?”

“Haven’t thought about it, honestly,” he said coolly. “But I suppose ever since I moved into James’s home. She’s always been a bit jealous of my relationship with Prongs. The bird gets awfully spiteful if she doesn’t see him often enough.”

Sirius aggressively shook the tumbler.

Lily watched in amusem*nt. She was picking at his nerves. “You know it may be none of my business, but it seems like the two of you are—nah, never mind. I shouldn’t pry.”

Pure manipulation, but the Marauders are nothing if not notoriously nosy.

Sirius narrowed his eyes, his smile beginning to look rather forced. “Why stop now, Evans? You’ve already started to ask your question, might as well finish it.”

“No, no, it’s not my place. I don’t want to get involved in your Marauder business.”

“Lily, please. We’re having such a lovely chat. I don’t bite. Go on, ask me,” he challenged.

Sirius poured the contents of the tumbler into her glass. Lily watched curiously as his grip on the metal quivered slightly.

“I think you should say whatever is on your mind,” Sirius added, speaking slowly. “We’re friends, aren’t we?”

Lily quirked an eyebrow, taking the glass from his hand. “Is that so?”

“Any friend of Prongs is a friend of mine.”

Lily shrugged, taking an astute sip of her martini. “This is delicious, Black.”

Sirius watched her absently swig her drink. A moment passed and he cleared his throat. “No tip?” he asked playfully.

“Afraid I haven’t got any money on me.”

“No matter, I also take unasked questions as payment.”

Lily's split into a wicked, evil grin.

“Well, then…” she began. “I suppose we wouldn’t want you to end up destitute. What with all your hard work as the bartender for this party and all.”

Sirius did not banter back. He waited.

Lily feasted her eyes on him. Drinking in his every breath and twitch and blink as she said, “I was just going to ask if you’re aware of how alike the two of you are.”

Sirius co*cked an eyebrow. “Marly and I?”

“Mhmm,” Lily answered with a delicate sip of her drink. It really was tasty. The man had a gift for co*cktail artistry.

“That’s a first.”

“You don’t see it?”

Sirius barked a sarcastic laugh. “No, not at all.”

“I do. I see it all very clearly now.”

Sirius frowned and swallowed hard. “I think you’re reading into us very wrong. We’re opposites.”

“I disagree,” she retorted, her state fixated on his every move.

With a roll of his eyes, Sirius gulped down the contents of his own crystal goblet and set about making himself another drink. “How so?”

“You two are both strong-minded and intelligent. You’re both incredibly talented and loyal to Potter. You both laugh loudly and hold your liquor well. Plus, you’re both fantastic dancers. Are you naturally a good dancer or were you professionally trained?”

“Trained…” Sirius stared at nothing for a moment before shaking his head. “…somewhat,” he finished coldly.

Like in a dance class, perhaps?

“Well, I think that skill certainly speaks for itself. But besides that, you and Marlene have a certain spark.

Sirius flickered his eyes warily to her and back down to his drink, lifting the glass to pour the contents.

“There’s something about how bold you both are. So fiercely in tune with your own identities. It’s like the both of you are two sides of the same coin, in many ways. Dare I say, the two of you are… rather perfect for each other.”

Crash!

Lily snapped her attention down to Sirius’s hands, now empty and shaking.

“Are you okay? What was that sound?” Lily panicked. She leaned forward to leer behind the bar cart and found his glass shattered.

Sirius stared at her, not even having registered the noise at all. He stared at the redhead as if she just sprouted tentacles from her head.

Lily snapped her fingers in his face.

Sirius shook himself and reached down to collect the shards of his goblet. “I’m sorry, I must be… drunker than I thought.”

“Was it something I said?” Lily asked quietly, following him to his side of the cart.

“No, of course not. Truthfully, I haven’t thought much about it. Perhaps, there is something to what you’ve said though. It’s—uh—possible that McKinnon and I are simply too similar, and that’s why we don’t seem to get along these days.”

Lily nodded, reaching down to help him clean up his mess with a few napkins. “I think you two should clear the air. Tell her how you really feel.”

Sirius stiffened. “And you want to know how I really feel, do you?”

“I think she should be the one to hear it, not me.”

He looked up, staring straight in her eyes. “You don’t know what the f*ck you’re talking about, Evans. Marlene f*cking hates me.”

Lily smiled. “Nah, she doesn’t.”

Sirius said nothing. He held her gaze for a long while. His grey eyes searched for something. As to what that was, Lily didn’t know. But his grey eyes found nothing because Lily knew nothing. This was all a hunch.

“I hope you understand what I’m trying to tell you,” she added.

“I think I may be a bit lost, I’m afraid.”

“I'm trying to tell you that you and Marlene… could get along great if you stopped fighting how… similar you are.”

Sirius stood still for a minute or so. His eyes studied her so intensely, and Lily desperately wished she knew what he was looking to find.

“Attention, everyone!”

The loud voice broke the spell. Lily and Sirius flinched before whipping their focus towards the source of the disruption.

It came as no surprise to either of them that it was Mary who shouted. She conveniently perched herself on top of a table at the head of the room.

With the sound of the party significantly quieter and the attention solely on her, Mary continued her announcement to their thirty or so classmates. “I want to thank you all for joining this little soiree. I’m sure some of you wanted to get proper sleep before Hogsmeade tomorrow, but this is certainly a far more thrilling way to begin the weekend’s festivities.”

Everyone began to cheer. Mary allowed the revelry briefly before raising her hand to lower the volume once more. “Alright, alright. It’s been fun, but I think we’re all ready for a little… party game. Is anyone here up for Ten Fingers?”

A round of applause erupted throughout the room. No time was wasted as everyone hurried to move furniture and create enough space for most everyone to sit side-by-side in a circle.

Lily was down to seven fingers.

She lost the first one for her being a muggleborn, the second for her being a girl, and the third for being a redhead.

It was only a matter of time before the circle’s questions became raunchy. They nearly always did, which was mostly why Lily detested this game so much.

“Uh, never have I ever been… blackout drunk,” Albert Vonsquire stammered.

Lily sipped her drink and put yet another finger down. Marlene, sitting at her left, also swallowed another gulp of her drink.

“This game is so childish,” the brunette muttered before licking her lips. “It’s such an invasion of privacy.”

“Oh, most definitely,” Lily agreed. “It’s basically a segue into finding out who’s a prude and who’s a tart. It’s complete bullsh*t if you ask me.”

“Well,” Marlene added. “At least when they start talking about shagging, you won’t have to worry about losing any more fingers.”

Lily frowned, uncomfortably adjusting herself on the floor. She purposefully chose not to address the comment.

Next up was Phillipa Burns, fifth-year Ravenclaw. The curvy dark-skinned witch pet the braid lying over her shoulder before saying, “Never have I ever… been in love.”

Lily kept her drink firmly in place, choosing instead to watch everyone who lost a finger.

Mary, of course, dutifully took a drink. As did most of the people in the circle save for the Marauders, Emmeline, Marlene, and herself. Marlene sat alarmingly still, tension rolling off her in waves. Lily gently rubbed circles into her back, but it only helped a little.

Lily suddenly noticed Sirius lean back, out of view from his chattering friends. He managed to take the smallest sip of his drink just before the next person began to recite the next “Never Have I Ever…

“What’s wrong?” Marlene asked.

“Nothing,” Lily squeaked.

“You just gasped.”

“Did I?”

“Yes. And something must have happened for that sort of reaction.”

Lily leaned in close to her friend’s ear and whispered, “I just saw Sirius Black take a secret drink.”

Marlene paled, slowly turning her head in Black’s direction. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’m just surprised. I didn’t know that boy was capable of being in love.”

“He’s not.”

Marlene’s clipped tone surprised Lily.

“Never have I ever… shagged anyone inside the castle.”

Once again, a round of classmates took drinks from their glasses. Of her friends, only Sirius and Mary managed to take a sip.

Emmeline shook her head. “Ah, so we’ve finally reached this portion of the game…”

Lily’s heartbeat in sheer chaos. She managed to escape this round, but it was only a matter of time before—

“Never have I ever shagged anyone I just met and never spoken to them again.”

f*ck, f*ck, f*ck. God f*cking dammit. Did it have to be so specific?

Three of the Marauders sipped their drinks (James Potter, shockingly being the only one to leave a finger up) as many other boys in the circle did.

She could do this.

She could take a sip just like Sirius did.

Discrete.

Nonchalant.

Undetectable.

Slowly placing a finger down, Lily leaned back from the circle to take a quick but tiny sip.

“Oh my god! Evans put a finger down!” Bertram Aubrey exclaimed from across the circle.

All thirty or so teenagers locked eyes on her, abandoning their previous conversations.

Marlene lurched back. “Lily?!”

The redhead scowled at her friend. “What?” she snapped.

“I-I didn’t know that you ever… I mean, you just never told me...”

Lily broke eye contact and stared down at the carpet. She didn’t think her face could be any more red if someone dumped a bucket of pig's blood on her head at the prom. She was trying to find the words, but she never expected to be singled out like this.

“It was one time. It doesn’t matter.”

“I guess I’ll have to congratulate Declan when I see him later. He picked an easy one,” someone amongst the circle sneered.

“No, we’re just talking. W-we’re not…” Lily trailed off as more students laughed at her expense.

“Well, who was it?” Mary demanded. Her arms crossed, clearly offended at her friend for leaving out vital information about her sex life.

“It was… over the summer. Can we please just move on with the game? Why does it matter if I’ve… You know...” Lily’s embarrassment morphed into anger.

“Because it’s you!” Carl Davenport exclaimed. “By your own admission, the entire group now knows that you shagged someone you’ve never met before and then never spoke to them again. Everyone here knows you're the Hogwarts prude.”

“Evidently, I’m not anymore,” Lily snapped back.

“I bet it didn’t even really happen. She’s probably lying for the attention,” a pasty-faced Hufflepuff snickered from the other side of the circle.

“I don’t give a buggering f*ck what you think,” Lily retaliated.

“Hey,” Marlene soothed. “It’s okay. We’re all just surprised. Does he go to Hogwarts? Did you meet him in Diagon Alley?”

“No, he was a muggle, for f*ck’s sake.”

A majority of the purebloods in the circle howled with laughter.

Lily had never been so humiliated.

Her fingers tugged mercilessly at her hair. She hid her face into her knees, but the laughter kept coming. Snide comments hit her left and right as she desperately promised herself she wouldn't cry.

‘I didn’t think she had it in her.’

‘It’s always the ones you least expect.’

‘No wonder Calvolio pays her any attention.’

‘A muggle?! Yuck, even I’m not that desperate.’

‘A complete slag, who would have guessed?’

“ENOUGH!” A voice bellowed, silencing the mob.

Lily peaked her head up to see James Potter and the other Marauders standing above the circle of seated students. His aggressive glare pierced through everyone. His stiff expression dared anyone to defy him by making a sound. He towered over them, showing off how eager he is to unleash his wrath against another whisper amongst them. Everything about his posture commanded respect from the crowd, gawking up at him with open jaws.

The other Marauders stood in a similar fashion, with the exception of Sirius, who stood menacingly at his shoulder, cracking his knuckles. A wicked gleam played on his grey eyes at the prospect of brawling in the common room.

“The next person who says a word about Evans will hear from me. Do I make myself clear?”

The terrified eyes of the other students glimpsed around to see if anyone is brave enough to challenge the King of the Pranksters.

Lily couldn’t bear it any longer.

She could handle the shame from her friends.

The stares.

The insults.

But what she could not stand… was being rescued by James Potter.

Before she realised what she was doing, she stood up and dashed across the room. Ducking out of the portrait hole, she disappeared into the castle without another word.

Marlene scrambled to get up and follow, but James beat her to it. Already striding out of the portrait hole before the brunette could stand on both feet.

“Let him go,” Sirius said to her, blocking her path. “He’s got this.”

“Easy for you to say!” Marlene growled. “You’re not the one who was just publicly burned at the stake for playing a bloody game!”

“Let Prongs handle this one. It’ll be alright. I swear it.”

Marlene faced the portrait hole once more before nodding in agreement. Her cheeks warmed as she acknowledged the intimate touch of his hands on her shoulders. She shook him off, returning to her spot on the floor.

“However, you make a good point.” Sirius turned to address their peers. The crowd still gaped at the portrait hole from their seats on the floor. “If I hear any one of you bastards speaking poorly of Evans and her history from this moment on, you will officially be on the Marauders’ hit list. And I don’t just mean during this game—this rule will remain in effect permanently. From this day forth, Evans is under our protection. You’re welcome to defy us. You can whisper about her in the halls or slew insults at your leisure, but know that your punishment will not be a one-time act of retribution. It will be an endless stream of torment, and it will be our pleasure. So if I hear a single word, from any one of you or from anyone else, that directly pertains to Evans and her love life, there will be no mercy. I’m not f*cking around when I say you will most certainly regret the day you crossed the line and opened your bloody mouth. Am I understood?”

He spoke steadily, but there was a dangerous edge to his voice that left the crowd unnervingly silent.

“Am I f*cking understood?!”

The group nodded wildly amidst a chorus of agreements to his threat.

Marlene stared up at Sirius with a confusing mixture of admiration and bewilderment. The loyalty to Lily’s well-being was out of character for someone like him. Everyone knew Sirius was a bit of a gossip and, furthermore, never batted an eye when he bragged to his mates about all of his conquests.

Well, all his conquests save for one…

Marlene stiffened as she recalled Lily’s voice only moments prior.

‘I just saw Sirius Black take a secret drink.’

He didn’t put a finger down though (not that she was counting, of course).

He was probably just drinking.

He was probably just thirsty.

He probably wasn’t even paying attention to the game.

He probably meant nothing by it.

Marlene took a swig of her drink and looked back up at Sirius.

Sirius breathed deeply, trying to regain his composure. With a loud clap of his hands, he managed to force a grin back onto his face. “Well, what do you lot think about starting up a different game? Perhaps one with less secret divulsion.”

With an uneasy sigh, Marlene watched as he sat down in his seat once more. Marlene saw him chat merrily to his remaining Marauders as she dug her nails into her arms. Sinking the nails into her flesh until the skin nearly broke and bled.

Chapter 19: Do You Want To Know A Secret?

Notes:

Please see Introduction for Sexual Assault and Thoughts of Suicide TWs.

Chapter Text

Do You Want To Know A Secret?

October 15th, 1976

Lily wasn’t sure where she was going, but she knew she had to leave. She had to escape the scrutiny of her peers and whatever saviour complex James bloody Potter suddenly accustomed himself to.

It was unendurable.

The image of his fierce glare that effectively silenced everyone in the room fluttered back into her mind.

It was positively nauseating.

She didn’t need his saving.

She would have been okay.

The knowledge of her f*cking a muggle, at its core, meant nothing to the rest of them. It was easier to tease her. It made sense to call her a slag because—for all they knew—she was quite the opposite.

They were all probably thinking, ‘Poor, pathetic Evans lost her virginity to some sleazy, bloke who never wanted to see her again.’

Lily could vividly hear them all speaking to each other after she left.

‘Sad, little Evans got shagged and then deserted by a lowly little muggle.’

If only they knew.

If she revealed the whole truth, they wouldn’t be laughing.

They would feel sorry for her.

They would pity her.

But somehow that was worse.

It was all too much.

Too much.

Lily was getting dizzy. She was so angry. It was so loud. Everything is so damn loud.

She bawled her fists and struck the closest wall.

A nearby portrait yelped in surprise, but Lily paid it no mind.

She punched the wall again.

And again.

And again.

AND AGAIN!

“Evans?! Evans, stop!”

The wall turned cloudy, her vision blurring. Her wall was suddenly blocked by a white button-up shirt.

The obstruction did not stop her.

She continued to punch, even as rough hands fought to subdue her fists.

“Lily! Lily, please stop! I’m not going to hurt you!”

Thrashing around, the tiny witch struggled out of his grasp.

“Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” she cried out between violent swings. It didn’t matter whose hands they belonged to—they were all wrong. Every sensation was searing.

“Okay! Okay! I won’t! But please, you’re hurting yourself! I need you to breathe. Please, just listen to me. Take a step back. One step. Please, stop trying to hit the wall, Lily. I’m begging you,” the voice pleaded.

Stumbling backwards and into the wall on the other side of the narrow hallway, Lily sank down against the stone until she landed in a heap on the floor. Her ragged inhales echoed throughout the hallway as the gentle voice implored her to keep breathing.

“It’s okay… I understand… Deep breaths, all right? In and out… I know it’s hard, but just keep going… It’s over now… It’s all over…”

With her eyes tightly shut, Lily focused on her heartbeat. How it pounded roughly in her ears and veins. She listened to the soft voice speak over and over about how everything is okay.

But how could it be?

Everyone knows.

They all f*cking know.

Lily wept silently, holding herself with her arms locked tightly around her knees. Unsure of the time passing, Lily continued to drip quiet tears down her cheeks even as the voice no longer spoke to her. Surely, the voice was merely a hallucination. Or at least had the good sense to run away while they still could.

Peeking out from below her lashes, she glanced up at the surprisingly calm face… of James Potter.

Oh, for f*ck’s sake.

He leaned against the wall she violently attacked. With long legs stretched out before him, Lily noticed through the torchlight that his eyes were peacefully closed behind his glasses.

The perplexed witch momentarily wondered if he fell asleep.

“Feeling better?” he asked without opening his eyes.

She flinched. “Why are you still here?”

Opening one eye curiously, he asked, “Would you rather I left you alone in a dark castle unattended?”

“I would’ve been fine.”

“I’m sure you would have, but I was raised by a mother who would swat me with a rolled up Prophet if I’d done something so ungentlemanly.”

Lily smirked. “That’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing.”

“I’ll tell her you said that,” he quipped with a cheeky smile before he closed his eyes once more.

“Not that I need your help getting back to the common room or anything, but,” she glanced around the vacant corridor, “where exactly are we again?”

“We’re in a hidden alcove off the North Wing of the castle,” James answered before adjusting himself on the floor, sitting up a little straighter.

“If we’re hidden, then how did you find me?”

“I followed you out of Gryffindor Tower,” he replied coolly, absently itching his thigh.

Lily took a moment to look at him a tad closer. The torch light was dim, but she could see that he was tired. His hands were draped at his sides, palms up, and his eyebrows were slightly furrowed, creating a tiny wrinkle above his nose. The glasses he always wears were askew, crookedly leaning to the left. When she scanned further down, she saw that he rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt which, curiously, was streaked with dark red stains.

Lily squinted. “I think you might be bleeding, Potter.”

“It’s not my blood.”

“Huh?”

“Take a look at your fists, Evans.”

Gazing downwards, Lily blanched. Both sets of her knuckles were scraped and bloody. “Oh no, I’m so sorry. I ruined your nice shirt.”

He opened his eyes and chuckled lightly. “You see that your fists are shredded, and then apologise to me. You’re one barmy bird, Evans, I’ll give you that. Now, with your permission, may I help you clean them up?”

“You don’t need to ask my permission for that, Potter,” she replied, offering him her hands.

Sliding forward to sit criss-cross in front of her, James retrieved his wand and examined her wounds.

“With all due respect, Evans,” he said, preparing his wand, “you asked me not to touch you. I would have already taken you to the Hospital Wing if I knew a way to carry you there without laying a single finger on you.”

“You could have levitated me there,” she joked lightly.

“The way you were thrashing around? People would have thought you were having an exorcism.”

Lily froze. “Was that… Was that a reference to the muggle film?”

“Of course, the scariest sh*t I’ve ever seen. I’m not particularly religious, but that film is cursed.”

The prefect shook her head. “Well, I’ll be damned. You never cease to amaze me, James.”

His ears pinkened before he gently cleared his throat. “You’re all set.”

Lily eyed her hands carefully, and—of course—they were in perfect condition. Almost as if she never scraped them in the first place.

“Your healing skills are impressive.”

With a light tap at his temple, James gave her a smug wink. “Top of our year, remember?”

“Like you will ever let anyone forget,” Lily replied dryly.

James smirked. “Right… I’ve been told I can be a bit… arrogant?”

“You? Arrogant? Never.”

They both chuckled, echoes of their laughter ricocheting through the dungeness corridor. When their laughing ceased, they sat face-to-face in comfortable silence.

After a minute, James inhaled deeply and exhaled a lingering breath. Lily already knew by his saddened sigh that their mutual agreement to not talk about the elephant in the room was coming to an unfortunate end. Begging, however, was not beneath her if it meant that their blissful ignorance could be extended for a little while longer—or indefinitely if she was lucky.

“Please, don’t start. Please, don’t. Please.”

“Evans, I think it needs to be addressed,” he said exasperatedly.

“It doesn’t actually,” she retorted, frowning. “Especially now.”

James inhaled, clearly controlling his rising temper. “Let’s say that… hypothetically… someone attempted to stop rude comments made about their… former-enemy-turned-friend. Would that particular… friend… be upset with the former enemy over their choice to… intervene?”

Lily blinked. “You think I might be upset with you because you made them stop terrorising me?”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

“They were hurting me. Of course, I’m not upset that you stopped them.” And the moment the words escaped, she was ashamed of how she’d reacted.

James ruffled his hair. “Can you blame me though? You’re a tough bird, Evans. You don’t need me to save you.”

The ginger witch bit back her smirk and released a breathy laugh. “You’re correct. I don’t need help, but I wasn’t in any state of mind to fight them off. Maybe at first, my pride stung at your… little speech, but I couldn’t think straight. I could have never done what you did. So, I guess my answer is… No. No, I’m not cross with you, James. In truth, I’m rather grateful. But don’t let it go to that fat head of yours. I’ll deny it if you ever bring it up again.”

To her complete surprise, the joke didn’t land with him as she expected. He merely stared, profoundly and unrelentingly, into her eyes. Their piercing hazel shining like two algae-kissed coins under the glow of the torchlight.

“Lily, what happened?”

She swallowed hard. “I slept with a muggle. People found out. I got upset and hit the wall. It’s not a big deal.” Lily tried to tear her gaze from his, but it was as if she was under the Imperius. No escape. Spellbound.

“That reaction was the result of something far more dangerous than a bunch of bratty teenagers calling you names. That was grief. Uncensored and unbridled and caused by something potent. I’ve seen that kind of violence before. I’ve seen it unhinge in Sirius, and it always has an underlying cause.”

“Always? Is Sirius known for his outrageous outbursts, then?”

“Don’t deflect, Evans. This isn’t about Sirius. This is about you. And you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. You are obviously entitled to your privacy. But you should know that there is one subject that I truly excel in, Evans… And it’s more important than grades or even Quidditch… It’s keeping the secrets of people I care about.” He paused, staring off for a moment. “So you can choose to tell me what really happened, or you can choose to bury it back inside until one day it escapes again.”

“I choose to bury.”

However, I should fairly warn you, the day that it chooses to release may be at the wrong time and do more harm than you expect.”

Lily’s breath caught in her throat. “What do you mean ‘do more harm?’”

“It means that unresolved suffering creates conflict. I can’t explain how I understand… But just know that… I’m familiar with witnessing misery, and it doesn’t dissipate by sheer human will. My mum always says that a person’s mind is like a sink. And when we’re hurt, the sink fills and fills with all the terrible things we can’t bear to speak aloud. But, eventually, you’ll have no more room in your sink, and the smallest drop of water will cause that sink—or person, really—to spill over. Talking about what hurt you is equivalent to someone unplugging the drain. Sure, the sink can always refill itself, but at least you’ve made room for it…” He ruffled his hair. “I may not know everything, but I do know that misery doesn’t filter out of the body. It collects and traps itself inside of us until we finally burst.”

Lily was stunned. Never in her life would she have guessed that Hogwarts’ greatest prankster was also one of the most insightful people she’s ever met. His words resonated. She was considering confiding in him.

Could she really trust him?

She hadn’t even told Marlene about that… horrible night.

James Potter barely classified as a friend in her eyes.

What right did Potter have to know about… him.

But when she thought back on it, she really didn't know much about the Marauders. Nothing of merit, anyhow. They were the most exclusively private group of individuals that she’s ever encountered. Their nicknames, their secret gestures, that odd parchment they were always clutching…

Perhaps James was the only one who she could tell. Unless, of course, he planned to go running to the other Marauders as soon as they parted ways.

“I haven’t told anyone this before,” Lily whispered. “And I’m afraid to say it now.”

James softened. He wrapped his arms around his knees like she did earlier, letting his chin sit atop the back of his wrist.

“Okay, then don’t.”

“But… I think I’m going to.”

James’s eyebrows shot up. He suppressed his surprise and readjusted his expression to appear neutral. He nodded to show her that she could start whenever she was prepared to speak.

“But first, I’d like for you to promise that you won’t repeat any of this to your friends.”

James revealed his pinky finger to her and smiled.

Lily lifted her hand to his and let her pinky curl delicately around his.

They sat still, staring at their interlocked hands, before Lily finally retreated. James slid back to his spot on the opposite side.

She rested against the wall and thought over where to begin her tale.

One minute turned into ten and—still—Lily remained silent.

She marvelled at how patient he was. Never pushing her to begin or revealing the tiniest hint of boredom or impatience. He wasn’t rushing her. He was waiting for her to be ready.

Lily chose to stare into the torchlight, but she could sense his eyes focusing serenely on her face. Never once turning away or becoming exasperated.

If anyone told her two months ago that she’d allow James Potter to look at her like that from this distance, she would have told them they’d gone utterly mad.

But here she was, sitting before him, about to unravel her soul in the most profound way possible.

And the only left to do was start.

“When Severus called me a mudblood, it was likely the single most painful day of my entire life. And, unfortunately, a pain like that couldn’t be escaped by merely heading home for the holidays. Because Severus is also my neighbour.”

Lily peeked quickly at James to see if he was disgusted at the mention of his enemy. But, to her surprise, he looked… sorry.

“We met when we were six on the first day of primary school. And he just… understood me. I can’t really explain it. We were simply drawn to the other. He was always there when I needed him. He was the person who pushed me on the swing set. The only person who didn’t make me feel like a freak for being different. My greatest confidant. Once, when we were sitting on the playground together, I told him I had special powers. When he asked me to show him, I picked a single bud from a garden that had yet to bloom and conjured a fully grown daisy within the palm of my hand. I remember how he smiled down at me and picked a bud of his own. He copied my flower exactly and explained that we both had magic.

“Because of Severus, I knew I was a witch long before my Hogwarts letter ever arrived. And when he told me about this incredible school in Scotland for people like us that he’d one day attend, I begged him to take me along. Being muggleborn, I thought I might have to audition to get into Hogwarts, so I tested my powers a lot back then. Turning on faucets, flickering the lights, levitating socks across the room, moving books around on the shelves. You know, minuscule tidbits of magic to see how well I could perform and prove my worth.

“Spending all of our free time secretly performing magic resulted in Severus always being around. He was a well-established member of the family. A lot like I imagine Sirius is to yours. He came from a rather abusive and poverty-stricken home. His father is not an easy man to live with. There were many days that Severus would knock on my door with bruises or black eyes. My parents knew there was nothing they could do but accept him into our home as a full-fledged Evans. My parents were aware of his situation and made sure to always set a place for him at the table come suppertime. My parents knew that if he didn’t join us for dinner that night, he might not eat at all. My sister wasn’t pleased with his presence. In fact, before Sev and I met, she and I were as close as two sisters could be. Sev’s existence in my life caused an irreparable rift in our relationship that continued to drift until the day I received my letter. When the envelope finally arrived, my sister cut the cord forever. She’s hated me ever since and doesn’t shy away from reminding me.”

Lily paused. Images flooded the forefront of her brain.

The waxy Hogwarts crest upon the thick parchment envelope.

Her parents' smiling faces.

Petunia’s red face beneath her blonde bangs.

The screams of hatred.

The glass of fresh juice she held shattering against the kitchen tile.

“Congratulate your sister,” her father beamed at his eldest daughter.

“I don’t have a sister anymore.”

“Petunia!”

“Why would I ever want to be associated with a filthy little freak like her?”

“Tuney, please…”

“Stay away from me!”

James cleared his throat lightly, rousing Lily from the memory of her sister closing the door on their relationship for good.

“Sev and I… We both were looking for an escape. I suppose one could say we were bonded by misery and magic. I followed him to this incredible world of wonder and magic. It all felt like a dream. We pinky swore to always be best friends. We were our own chosen family. Though, it became quickly apparent that I’m not welcome by everyone here. The political divide between purebloods and muggleborns leaves me feeling out of place and undeserving. It’s as if I’m still auditioning to be included. Being born with magic is not enough for these partisans.

“So I try to be the best. Study hard and get the best grades. Be kind and have the best relationships with my professors and peers. Follow the rules and become the best prefect. I worked every day to be the best—to earn my place here in this world—to be recognized as worthy of having magic. If I outperformed all of the affluent purebloods, then that must mean I deserve to be here. For a while, I felt like I’d finally succeeded... And then Severus called me a mudblood days before returning home.

“Before Marlene’s surprise appearance in August, no one—and I mean no one—that I met at Hogwarts ever came to visit me. But I understand. Why would anyone ever want to visit their magical friend in a lower-class muggle neighbourhood? During the previous summers, Severus was my one reminder that all of this,” she gestured delicately around the corridor, “was real. Sometimes, when I’m all alone, I imagine that one day I will just wake up in a mental hospital and the doctors—you know, the muggle healers—will tell me that I’ve merely been dreaming for the last six years. I know I’ve mentioned that to you before, but this summer it felt… more difficult to keep the belief that being a witch wasn’t some sort of fantasy. Not being allowed to perform magic outside of school left me feeling isolated and estranged from those around me. For all anyone in co*keworth knows, I’m the other Evans daughter. The one who leaves for most of the year to attend boarding school. No one in co*keworth knows I’m a witch and keeping up the facade of being a muggle can be awfully difficult. Friends of my mother will ask about my studies, and I have to make up clever lies. I list subjects that I assume normal girls my age take. In co*keworth, I spend each day playing pretend. Home no longer feels like home to me.

“So, when Severus called me a mudblood and the only thing left to do was go home, I felt more alone than ever before. Sure, I went home to a lovely set of parents, but I was also forced to live under the same roof as my sister. A sister who absolutely hates me to the core… for simply being a witch. Before this last summer, I’d just leave the house and spend time with Severus when my sister would remind me how vile and disgusting I am to her. If Petunia told me that she hoped I accidentally poisoned myself with my own potions so she’s never have to see me again, I’d simply meet Severus in the park. I can’t tell you how many times she tried to free my owl in the hopes that he’d fly away and never come back. Once, before third year, she filled the bath and dumped all of my textbooks into the water until they nearly disintegrated. During the Christmas holiday last term, she tried to snap my wand in half.”

James winced. A sin in the eyes of magic.

“But in the end, it didn’t matter what she did to me because I could go see Severus and we’d talk about school or The Daily Prophet. With him around, I’d be reminded that I’m not some loathsome creature… I have a beautiful gift. Severus reminded me that I have incredible talent. A purpose for being here.

“We used to read books together a lot. He usually couldn’t afford his own copy, so I would simply buy one. Then, we would take turns reading it aloud to each other. He never cared what book that I bought, just as long as it was something that I like. We have a secret handshake, and even a few words of a made-up language that we created when we were in primary school to let the other know when something was wrong. He knows all my favourite songs, and all my hopes and all my dreams, because he was my best friend. Until, suddenly, he wasn’t.”

“You can always forgive him,” James interjected. “It sounds like… Well, it appears to me that you’re not ready to let him go.”

Lily rested her head against the stone. “I never said I am. But… that’s a topic for another day. What I’m about to tell you is… a bit more complicated, I’m afraid.”

“I’m sorry for inserting myself into your story. I promise I won’t interrupt you again,” he assured.

“Your interruptions are welcome. I’m unloading a lot of information onto you at the moment. It’s okay if you have questions.” Her cheeks warmed slightly as he returned her sentiment with a sheepish smile. The mild upturn of his lips revealed the tiniest dimple on his left side that Lily never noticed until now.

Shaking herself from that odd distraction, she continued her tale. “The pain of losing Severus deepened as the loneliness crept in. It wasn’t noticeable at first. Lounging around the house, often fighting the urge to drop by and see him. For weeks, I couldn’t leave the house without first staring off into the direction of his home. Ten minutes would go by and I’d still be standing on the porch, looking out into the distance like some barmy old bat with memory loss.

“And then… as mid-June arrived, I lost the will to pretend like my heart wasn’t unsettlingly empty. I barely left my room, not even for meals. Petunia would snicker about how she preferred me to stay hidden, which only further drove my desire to stay in bed. Some days, I stared at the walls for hours on end, memorising the floral patterns of my wallpaper. I think that was right about the time when Mum threatened to send me to the hospital for a mental evaluation. Dad was absolutely distraught over the whole thing, had no idea what to do with me or even what to say. They kept asking if they needed to go get Severus for me, but I’d tell them flatly over and over that our friendship had ended and could not be repaired.

“I can’t tell you what I was thinking about the moment I decided to finally leave my bedroom, but I remember it being something insignificant. I had no awe-inspiring revelation. I just chose to get up. Without any real direction or purpose. It was nearing midnight, but for some reason, I ended up leaving the house. It was like my feet propelled me forward of their own volition. I walked the streets of co*keworth listening to wild dogs dig restlessly through rubbish bins and drunkards laughing outside the local pubs. I walked aimlessly through the streets until I managed to find a single establishment open with muggles around my age crammed into every available space.

“I stared up at the neon lights and looked on at another group of people that I didn’t quite belong to. Too muggle to be a proper witch. Too magical to be a muggle. I was within and without. It really gutted me to be surrounded by happy muggles, so blissfully unaware of the Wizarding World hiding in the shadows. I don’t know how long I was staring, but I stood mesmerised like that for quite some time. Wishing I could be one of them, even for a night. Then, without rhyme or reason, the bouncer of the club approached me and asked if I needed a stiff drink.”

James raised his brows in surprise. “You had a drink with the bouncer?”

Lily shook her head. “No, I had a drink with everyone else.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The bouncer brought me inside and introduced me to the bartender. He gave me a drink on the house, but it never mattered whether I had money or not because men from all around were buying me drinks and asking me to dance. I got so drunk I barely found my route home. I passed out in the garden, face first into Mum’s blackberry patch.”

James chuckled. “I have a hard time picturing you acting so recklessly.”

Lily weakly laughed along with him. “I suppose I can rationalise why that’s hard to envision. And I wish I could say it was merely a one-time thing. In actuality, it became a bit of a routine event for me. So much so that I nearly forgot what it was even like to attend Hogwarts.”

“A routine, you say?”

“Absolutely,” Lily continued. “I began returning to the club every night. There was this one muggle named Lydia that I met through Mum’s church that was a nightly attendee. She introduced me to a few of her school chums and, suddenly, I had friends again.”

“You always had friends though.”

“Yes, but at the time, it felt as though I had none. I might have heard from them once or twice directly after the holiday ended, but at this point, I received no letters. Not one. I was spiralling ceaselessly into my own misery and not a single friend bothered to return the letters I sent. Not Mary, not Emmeline, not even Marlene. They watched my friendship with Severus implode before their very eyes and not a single person reached out to check on me once we said goodbye at King’s Cross.”

“Oh.” James shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’m sure there must have been a reason.”

Lily smiled. “Well, of course. They were busy. I’m not daft. I know they’re good people. But I was lonely, they were absent, and I was desperately seeking friendship in any capacity I could reach. My drinking was causing my reality to sway and, most days, I couldn’t remember if Hogwarts was real or imaginary.

“These muggles thought it was so distinguished that I attended boarding school. They loved when I charmed all the boys around us into buying us co*cktails. And for what it’s worth, I really loved pretending I was a muggle for a time. I wasn’t allowed to use underage magic anyhow, so it made no difference to me to act as if I was like everyone else. We danced all night and got pissed. Then, I’d stumble home at sunrise and sleep the day away. The following night, I’d go out again and get absolutely drunk off my arse until I chundered in the alleyway. I was losing myself. Drowning in despair and clinging to any sense of belonging I could find.

“But it quickly became apparent that these girls weren’t my real friends. They used me to get close to the men in the club. When I told them that I was a virgin, they were elated because it meant that any boy with sex on his mind wouldn’t have a chance with me and would move on to one of them after they learned I wasn’t a real option. On the other hand, my inexperience gave them the entrance to use me as their personal punching bag for every virgin joke that arose in conversation. They would prick me with remarks about how I’d finally let a man f*ck me when I had grey hair. Or that, I’d probably end up joining a convent after graduation. Endless prodding about my bloody virtue. Laughing at my chastity. And it was the same thing here at Hogwarts, too. You heard them in the common room this evening. They all think I’m a prigish bint with no sense of sexuality or adventure. Not to hurt your feelings, but even you have said it to me. Marlene as well. And it’s always been that way… That is until—”

Lily squeezed her eyes shut. Frightening images passed through her mind like the sequence of a horror film.

The pitiful gaze of the desk clerk.

Starch-crusted linens.

Yellowing teeth.

His itchy moustache on her lips.

The envelope.

“Hey, Lily. It’s okay. You don’t have to say anymore.”

The ginger witch opened her eyes. James was sitting closer now. His knees nearly touching hers as he rubbed tiny circles onto her wrist. His hand was rather close to her cheek—which was subsequently how she realised she was covering her ears like a little child. The embarrassment flamed her face.

She dropped both of her hands, resting them roughly in her lap.

James recoiled, uttering an apology before sliding backwards to his original spot on the floor. “I’m sorry. You just looked as though you were struggling. I wanted to help.”

“No, no, I’m the one who should be sorry. Thank you for being kind.”

“I was being sincere when I said that you don’t have to finish your story. It looks… awfully distressing to you.”

Lily sighed. “That’s because I don’t know how to say it. I’ve never told anyone before.”

“Maybe I should go get Marlene.” He touched the ground as he made himself ready to stand up.

“Please, don’t go! I want you!”

James froze, staring back at her with his mouth slightly agape. He blinked before shaking himself from his thoughts and sinking his body back onto the floor.

“It’s not that I don’t want to tell Marlene,” Lily amended. “It’s just that… You might be the perfect person to practise on. I don’t know… how to do this. And I’m scared of what she’ll say. I want to make sure I’m explaining it right.”

The Quidditch Captain swallowed hard. “Right, that makes sense.”

“And… I have this strange feeling that I can trust you with this. Though I can’t explain why, seeing as I used to hate you with the fiery strength of a chimaera.”

James chuckled. “I suppose it wouldn’t be smart to divulge pertinent information to your former archnemesis.”

“I suppose that makes you my close friend then.”

His laughter broke off with a gasp. “Close friend? You’re taking the piss with me, aren’t you?”

“I reckon you’ve earned the title. At least you will, after I tell you what happened—provided you don’t think less of me afterwards.”

He stared back at her with wild eyes. An encouraging smile touched his mouth as he said, “I could never think less of you, Evans. You can take your time telling me. I’ll be here all night if that’s what it takes.”

Lily nodded. Slipping into the same comfortable silence that she accustomed herself to before they began talking the first time.

At the fifteen minute mark, Lily continued her story. “It was a muggy, summer night—mid-July. I can’t recall what day of the week it was, seeing how there is no need for a calendar when you’re depressed and not properly caring for yourself. Lydia was prattling on about something insignificant to the girls when he approached our table. He… He said his name was Archibald, but he would allow us permission to call him Archie if we let him buy us all drinks. He was flocked by a few of his mates, but I barely remember them. One of Lydia’s mates kept telling Archie he was wasting his time. She snickered that I’d never go home with him, so he ought not to bother trying. Archie’s mates charmed Lydia and the other girls onto the dance floor quickly, leaving only Archie and I at the booth in the corner of the club. I didn’t see the girls again for the remainder of the night, but their words simply ate at me. I could hear their jeering play over and over in my mind like a skipping record.”

‘Lily doesn’t know how to have fun.’

‘Don’t waste your time, Archie.’

‘If you’re looking for a good time, look anywhere else.’

‘Evans? Do you mean the famous co*keworth prude?’

Lily paused to breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling again and again as the beating of her heart pounded restlessly in her chest.

“My head was swirling with their insults. And I let Archie keep feeding drinks to me. Sometimes, he held up the glass for me while I sucked down another and another. His hand… was on my thigh. Pushing up my dress. He mentioned something about his room at the inn not being far from there. I told him I needed to go home, but he kept insisting he’d take me home after.”

Lily shifted her gaze away from James entirely. She didn’t want to see his reaction as she continued on. “That’s when something inside me just… snapped. I can’t explain it. It was like the pain of Severus being gone and the loneliness of having never dated anyone and the misery of missing all of my friends boiled inside me like a cauldron. That’s when he pulled me into his arms and started to kiss me. At first, I tried to pull away, but he was rather persistent, so I climbed into his lap and gave in. I was so drunk. I felt like I was fading in and out of reality. So I just let him kiss me as if I was interested, but on the inside, I was so very hollow.”

Lily lifted her knees to her chest, wrapping her trembling arms around them. “At some point, he picked me up into his arms and carried me out of the club. I asked him to take me home and he… he told me that’s where we were going. In hindsight, I should have known we weren’t going there. I never gave him my address. After a while of walking, he set me down on my feet and held me to his side as we walked into a cottage with a lean gentleman at the front desk. He was reading a book, but when I met his eyes, they looked pitiful. Like he knew what was about to happen and he felt sorry for me. Like I deserved better.

“Archie’s room was down the hall and as soon as the door was open, he pushed me inside and slammed me against the wall. He was kissing me in any place that revealed skin, pulling my dress up. He wasn’t very gentle and nothing about it was as romantic as I always thought it would be.”

Anger radiated off of James, and she could no longer endure it. Lily covered her eyes and spoke quickly, desperately seeking for this part to be over. The tears dripped across her palms, but still, she continued to speak.

“When he finally got my dress off, he started to touch me. Whispering dirty things—and that’s when it hit me. I was about to lose my virginity to a stranger. It’s like I suddenly became self-aware through my drunken state of what was about to happen. I remember thinking to myself, ‘So this is it, Lily. This is happening.’ He kissed me in places I’d never been kissed before, and I hated myself. I really, really hated myself. And at one point…”

Before she finished her sentence, she turned back to James. His despondent hazel eyes were both fearful and hopeful—holding out for a miracle. A possibility in which she hadn’t gone through with shagging a person she just met at the nightclub.

“At one point, I prayed that he’d kill me.”

James’s mouth dropped. He reached out for her hand. Lily let him take it without complaint. He squeezed her tight as if begging her to let him remain there.

“It was a fleeting thought at first. I hoped that it would be over, and I’d never have to be seen by anyone I know ever again. Even before he managed to… to get me completely naked, I just wanted to die. I thought about it over and over while he undressed and climbed on top of me.

“Having sex for the first time is quite painful. Mums never tell that to their daughters. For men, I’m sure it’s incredible from the start, but for girls, it’s a searing agony that doesn’t stop even after he’s finished. He couldn’t see my face—his face was buried in my neck—but I cried the whole time. It must have sounded like moaning though because every time I released a sob, he went faster and harder. That or he enjoyed my grief. I don’t know which is worse. All I knew was that I didn’t want to wake up in the morning. I wanted my suffering to be over… I was letting this man f*ck me, but all I could think about was how much I wanted to die—”

Her sobs took over where her words failed. Lily wept as the rest came out in scrambled sentences. The images flooded her. Consumed her brain. And she described them to James as best she could.

The more she had cried, the rougher his body rocked against her. Even drunk, she knew she’d be covered in bruises come morning if she lived that long.

At some point, she let herself go limp, praying he’d be done sooner rather than later. His sickening grunt as he finished would likely haunt her forever. Removing himself from her, he left to go to the bathroom. Lily whimpered softly to herself, hugging herself into a tight ball before her vision went black.

In the morning when she woke up, her entire body ached. Her head from the hangover, her heart from still being alive, and her body from… everything he touched. The room was thankfully vacant, but she found a note he left on the dresser in addition to an envelope.

‘Been some time since I've had a virgin. We should do it again sometime. Here’s your cut. Thanks for a great night.’

The envelope was left unsealed. She opened it and found it filled with nearly forty pounds. The realisation that this revolting man actually paid her for sex caused her stomach to churn. The room spun in a dizzy circle before Lily vomited all over the blood-stained bed.

It was all too much.

Too much pain.

She was right about the bruises. They coated her arms and thighs and wrists. There was a sharp pain between her legs that didn’t disappear until days later.

Lily chose to stay in her room for the days that followed. She pretended that everything was normal with her family. Bravely smiling at the dinner table and telling her Mum and Dad that she was eager for school to start again despite the overwhelming sorrow that consumed her at night when they all fell asleep.

She thought about how she was going to do it—how she was going to end her life. The thought resurfaced every few minutes. She thought about writing letters to her family and friends. She mentally organised what she’d say to each of them—how she’d apologise for not being strong enough for them.

It was only six days after her night with Archie that Marlene McKinnon appeared at her window and saved her from herself. Saved her from giving into the temptation of ending her life too soon.

Lily fell silent but continued to cry as reality returned to her. Gentle arms surrounded her and the soft thump of a heart pressed rhythmically against her cheek. At first, she could not bring herself to remove her hands from her eyes.

James held her close. Close enough that she could smell the wonderful scent of his cologne as he pressed her into his chest. He was tender with her fragile frame. His touch did not feel forced or against her will. It was nurturing. It was pleasant. It was a reminder that good men still exist, even though men like Archibald exist as well.

There would always be Archies in the world.

But then there were also men like James, who were the type to hold a girl while she cried over another man paying for her virginity, a young harlot.

Eventually, Lily permitted her eyes to open—carefully and slowly as she unpried the dried tears from her lashes. She scanned down to see her tears soaked the bloody stains that she earlier left on his white shirt.

“I can’t believe you’re still here,” Lily sniffled.

“I can’t believe you walk around this castle as if you haven’t been through such severe pain... real trauma.” He sighed, the breath tickling her hair. “You’re so much stronger than I’ve ever given you credit for.”

“That wasn’t trauma. I gave him permission. It was consensual.”

“Lily, just because you didn’t kick and scream, doesn’t make it right. Men should be held accountable for taking drunken girls home with them. You were obviously not in the right state of mind. And, furthermore, you asked him to take you home—and he didn’t. He took you to his room at the inn. That’s f*cking wrong, and I can’t tolerate excuses for that behavior… Though, I am terribly sorry your first time was so… heinous.”

Lily was embarrassed to ask, but with her head still buried in his chest, she allowed herself to ask him a rather personal question. “Have you had sex before?”

“Yes,” he whispered. “Once.”

“Did you like it?”

“It was fine,” he replied curtly. “It was unplanned, but I made the most of the situation. It was at a party.”

“Oh.” Curiously, Lily wondered how losing your virginity at a party called for it being referred to as a situation but decided the matter was best left a mystery.

“I want you to promise me something, Lily. Something that I have no right to ask.”

“Okay.”

“The next time you allow someone into your bed, make sure they’re making love to you.”

Lily’s heart pounded. He was correct in admitting that he had no business asking for such a vow, but Lily could see through the veil of insecurity. The intention behind the words was well-meaning and pure. He wanted her to be happy. Because he was her friend.

So, instead of saying it out loud, she merely nodded and let him continue to hug her. Even as the moment of grief long passed and the torchlight of the dungeness hallway had all but gone dark.

Marlene sunk her nails deeper into her arms.

Forty minutes later, and—still—they hadn’t returned.

Sirius’s threat was well-received. No one dared to mention Lily or Jamie since the beginning of Spin the Bottle—the new game they mutually agreed on.

Mary and Em were stoic in their spots, fuming with guilt at how terribly they behaved to Lily.

Truthfully, Marlene didn’t feel any more righteous. The shock of the information had a profoundly vacuous effect on her brain.

She should have done something. How could she have just sat there and watched Lily be ripped to shreds?

Everyone laughed and cheered as Sarafina Bombina and Rupert Cunningham snogged their brains out in the centre of the circle.

Marlene rolled her eyes.

She hates this game.

It was as unpleasant as it was sexist and never ended well for her. The last time she played a game like this was when she landed on Sirius at her party the night before they left for fifth year. Right after Jamie ran away lost his virginity to some girl in the library. She spent seven minutes in heaven with Sirius Black.

And they didn’t even kiss. That night at any rate.

“Who’s up next?” someone called out.

“Reginald, I think,” another answered.

The boy, Reginald Cattermole, furrowed his eyebrows. The tall and lanky sixth-year Hufflepuff bit his lower lip and frowned at the bottle.

“U-uhm,” he stuttered. “I don’t have to go next, if s-someone else wants a go then they’re welcome to—”

“Don’t be such a coward, Cattermole,” someone jeered.

Reginald patted down the curls of his dark blond hair and stumbled forward to the centre of the circle. He uneasily gripped the bottle and sent it spinning yet again.

His friends cheered him on, but Reginald appeared deeply unsettled by the game. His face grew with horror as the bottle began to slow down… slower and slower… until it finally landed on… Mary Macdonald.

The pair both blushed and stared at each other until Mary got the nerve to stand up first and meet him in the middle. Obviously irritated that her turn was being used on Cattermole, but as she approached, her disinterest in him calmed the boy.

It was only a kiss, after all. Mary’s experienced plenty of those.

Reginald wiped his palms against his trousers.

Mary recoiled. “Eww, are you really wiping those sweaty hands because you plan on trying to grope me with them?”

The crowd snickered and Reginald’s ears reddened.

“Sorry, I’m nervous.”

“Don’t be a baby. It’s just a kiss.”

“Obviously, I understand that, Macdonald,” he grumbled, her name leaving his mouth like an insult. “I’m just telling you that I don’t enjoy public affection like this.”

“Well, I’m just saying that telling a girl you’re nervous is not exactly an attractive way to foreplay, Cattermole,” she retaliated.

The Hufflepuff bristled and settled his expression into a deep frown. “Are you gonna kiss me or not?”

Mary scoffed and stepped up dangerously close. “If it wasn’t a requirement, I’d say absolutely not, but I’m not the one afraid of public affection.”

“Yeah, we’re all plenty aware,” he boldly muttered, scowling down at her. “We’ve all seen you snog a certain Ravenclaw a thousand times.”

Mary fumed but had nothing to retort.

He was considerably taller. Her lips only reached his collarbones—so she tugged him by the tie and hauled him down to her eye level.

She kept him there until their tempers simmered. Slowly, their contempt morphed into a sort of curiosity.

Reginald glanced down to Mary’s lips and swallowed hard. Ever so tentatively, he leaned forward as Mary guided the tie closer to her chest. She let her eyes close as Reginald gently lifted both hands to caress her face, closing the distance. He placed his lips softly on hers. They both stilled, daring the other to deepen the kiss but also refusing to back down first.

After a beat, Reginald curved his hand—from her cheek—into her hair, pressing her closer to him by the back of her neck. He let his other arm travel to her lower back, scooping her body so that it pressed flush against him. He took her lower lip into his mouth, sucking the pink skin.

Mary let one hand pet his chest. Her fingernails dug into the fabric of his jumper as she moaned.

When the crowd giggled, Mary gasped, leaping away from him.

Marlene was in awe.

That was the single most seductive kiss she’d seen all night. There was a passion that no other pairing had been able to grasp.

The potent sensuality of it left her breathless in her seat on the floor.

Reginald smiled and wiped his mouth with his thumb. “Just a kiss, right?”

Mary smirked. “I’d hardly call that a kiss.”

Reginald shrugged. “I suppose you might be right. Glad it’s over.”

The petite witch agreed and nonchalantly skipped back to her place beside Sirius and Em.

The obsidian-haired arsehole stood and swaggered over to the centre of the circle to take his turn. His jeans hanging low on his hips and his black jumper more snug than usual. The fabric clung to him. His sleeves were pushed to his elbows, showing off the sturdy veins in his forearms.

Remus whistled and Sirius bowed to him like a dark prince.

Marlene didn’t care to watch Sirius snog some girl senselessly. In fact, she was only becoming more and more anxious about it. She couldn’t look. She wouldn’t. She held her breath as he took the bottle in his grasp and flicked it.

The brunette picked at her manicure, ripping and plucking chip after chip. When the crowd gasped, Marlene refused to look up. She kept picking at the green varnish she forced Mary to apply the night before.

While Sirius kissed some girl, Marlene mentally rehearsed how to ask for Mary’s help reapplying after all the damage she inflicted on her poor nail beds. She wanted them to look pretty for the trip to Hogsmeade in the morning. No wonder Mary complained every time Marlene asked for her feminine guidance when she was always ruining—

“Marlene?”

She glanced up at Sirius who stared at her with ineffable horror.

“What?”

But Sirius said nothing. He kept staring at her like she was about to murder him on the spot.

“What’s your problem?”

“Marlene,” Emmeline said. “The bottle.”

Right then, Marlene became scarily aware of the silence. Em barely spoke above a whisper—and yet, even from across the circle, she caught every word.

The brunette let her honey-eyes scan Sirius.

Down his jumper.

Down his trousers.

She let her gaze fall deeper until it reached the floor, and subsequently, the empty bottle of Firewhisky at Sirius’s feet.

It was pointed directly at Marlene.

No one could speak.

To the outsider looking in, it appeared as though two mortal enemies—who only just caused a rather messy row earlier in the public corridor—were about to kiss.

To the two of them, they were about to reignite a long-extinguished flame.

Marlene didn’t know what to do, and Sirius looked stunned.

As far as she could see, Marlene had two options.

Option 1: She causes a scene and demands that he re-spin. The pro is that she doesn’t have to endure the torture of remembering his lips so vividly again. The con being that she’ll miss out on the opportunity to kiss his lips so vividly again. She still wants him. She hates herself for wanting him. Bastard.

Option 2: She acts as though this whole affair means nothing to her. She simply plants a quick, meaningless kiss on him and returns to her seat as if this situation won’t reopen the scabbed wounds throughout her heart.

Marlene decided on the latter.

With a forced bored sigh, she stood from her seat and brushed the dirt from the back of her bell bottoms. With conscious effort, Marlene refused to meet him in the eye. “All right, Black. Let’s get this over with.”

Sirius paled. “You’re serious, right now?”

“Actually, no,” she answered, walking to meet the stiff boy standing statuesque in the centre of the circle. “You’re Sirius.”

Her icebreaker eased the tension. She managed to visibly relax every anxious teenager watching her. Except—of course—for Sirius Black, who stood with his arms firmly crossed and a disgusted look on his face.

“You think kissing me in front of all these people is funny?”

“I don’t think about kissing you at all.”

Sirius’s cheek twitched as he fought against his rising temper. The last thing they needed was another full-blown screaming match right before they were pressured to kiss for the first time in almost three months—with a damned audience, no less.

“I don’t want to kiss you here,” he muttered.

Their audience gasped at the drama unfolding. Two enemies about to share in a moment of passion, one obviously against it.

Marlene bit her lip, feeling the full sting of his words.

Of course, he doesn’t want to kiss her. He doesn’t bloody want her.

He used her up, and now he wanted someone new. Marlene was taking the place of his next conquest. She didn’t want to stand in his way any more than he wanted her there.

“Well, that’s too f*cking bad because unfortunately, fate has decided that we both deserve to have a horrendous f*cking end to our day. So, kiss me already. Then, we can both move on. It doesn’t matter to me.”

“It matters to me,” he snapped.

His arms tightened across his chest fractionally, a motion Marlene fixated her eyes on. She trailed her gaze to a thin blue vein that dares to protrude from his forearm. She followed up to the part of his jumper where the sleeves were neatly folded.

“How are we supposed to kiss? You can’t even look me in the eye,” he remarked sharply.

Marlene let her vision trail higher and higher, stopping briefly at his clavicles at the top of his jumper—up his neck—until she finally met his stormy grey eyes.

The colour was blazing. Its violent intensity pierced through her chest, choked her lungs with ash. She couldn’t tell if he felt the same way, but Marlene knew the truth at that exact moment that kissing was a terrible idea.

One look at his gorgeous, murderous gaze and her muscles trembled with the insufferable anticipation of being able to touch his lips to hers once more. Marlene inhaled as steadily as she could, but the breath in her was failing.

Good f*cking god, she wanted him.

She wanted to have him right here in front of everyone.

But he didn’t feel the same intoxicating spark for her anymore—not that he ever actually did—but there was still a magnetic tension between the two of them so pliable, their onlookers might as well tightrope walk across it. Her desire for him was palpable. She knew this for sure, which only made the prospect of kissing him that much more volatile.

“Can’t you just spin again?” she asked miserably.

“No!” the crowd protested.

“I’m not going to kiss you,” he ordered decisively.

Marlene scoffed. “Of course, you’re not, so just spin again.”

“I don’t want to spin again,” he replied dryly.

“Then, what do you want, Sirius?”

His jaw tightened rather than offer an alternative.

“Oh, for f*ck’s sake,” someone in the crowd yelled out. “Just kiss already so we can move on with the game.”

The rest of the crowd cheered and began to chant, “Kiss her! Kiss her! Kiss her!”

Marlene cringed under the scrutiny of Sirius’s piercing glare.

This was wrong.

This wasn’t how she wanted to remember her last kiss with Sirius.

No.

Not like this.

Anything but this.

“f*ck off, everyone!” he called out to the audience without removing his eyes from hers. “It’s not happening. We’re not going to kiss so come off it already.”

Marlene only saw one way to end this in her favour. They were going to have to brawl.

“And why aren’t we going to kiss?” Marlene taunted, silencing the chanting. “Because you're a rotten coward or because you’re no bloody good at it?”

Everyone gasped, except Sirius, whose stare turned from frightened to frightening in two seconds. His upper lip twitched as if resisting the urge to bare his teeth.

“I have plenty of references if you need to ask someone if I’m any good,” he growled.

Some of the girls around the circle shifted in their spots on the floor.

Marlene was beginning to feel queasy.

“So you’re just a coward then?”

He took a threatening step closer. “You really want to start this now, McKinnon? I was trying to be nice.”

“Fat lot of good that did you. Now everyone here knows that you’re afraid of a little Spin the Bottle. Some Gryffindor, you are,” Marlene spat. When the blood drained from his face, she found her path into his nerves. A weakness he revealed to her over the summer, ready for exploitation. “Which—come to think of it—feels oddly fitting seeing as you don’t really belong in this house to begin with when everyone knows you’re just as demented as your twisted f*cking family. You think you’re better than them, but you’re not. You’re just as cruel and worthless, and this house would be better off without some Slytherin playing pretend with the rest of us who actually deserve to be here.

She knew it was a low blow, and a lie as well. But—if she was going to escape this—she needed him to explode. And Marlene could think of no better angle than that of his wretched family.

Sirius’s cloudy eyes darkened into a savage thunderstorm. Marlene braced herself to be ripped apart. The words were going to destroy her, but insults were far preferable to the searing blisters that would scathe her body and soul from his mere touch.

Remus tried to say something to calm him, but Sirius raised a defiant hand to silence him.

He wanted this.

He needed her to feel that pain, too.

“Hey, Marlene,” he started to say, his voice alarmingly low. “Out of curiosity, has dressing yourself up as some discounted whor* done anything at all for your self-esteem, or has Welch’s little affair with Bishop completely sucked the ability to feel joy out of you?”

Marlene reached for her arms and sunk the nails in deep as everyone waited for her comeback, but she wasn’t going to offer one. His malicious speech would set her free—and he was far from finished.

“In fact, why don’t we call Welch in here right now? That way he can tell everyone here how you were his little pet all throughout fifth year, only to toss you aside when he realised how completely boring you are in reality. You got to be his little f*ck-toy for a month, and now you walk around here thinking you’ve got the most desirable c*nt in this entire castle. Not even all the cheap, clown paint you call makeup can disguise the fact that you’re the most masculine, uptight, self-righteous, annoying bitch in the entire student body. A whiny, nagging little pest—who only has friends, for that matter, because James gave her the seal of approval. But I think we all know that if you weren’t so irritatingly clingy all the damn time, even James would have the sense to drop you. Just like he nearly dropped you over the summer holiday.”

Marlene swallowed hard.

Sirius gleaned at his upcoming victory. Basking in the glory as he struck one of her greatest insecurities.

“How long did it take him to come looking for you again? Three weeks, was it? Not shocking. In fact, I can’t think of a single time he asked about you during your little vacation away from home. But here you were the whole time, dressing yourself up to impress him and anyone—and I mean anyone—who would give you a second look. I think it’s clear to everyone that you’re the fakest slag that has ever walked these halls and you should stop parading yourself around here like you’ll be remembered when everyone knows—deep down—you’re the plainest, most forgettable scrubber anyone has ever f*cking met—and you’d do well to remember that, Masculene.”

An unearthly quiet.

No one dared to move.

Dared to breathe.

It was more than a string of petty insults. He plunged a knife straight through her soul. He called her that name. He swore he’d never use that name again.

The cloud of malevolence lifted from Sirius like Mr Hyde regressing back into Dr Jekyll. The horror of his bloodshed dawned on him like a slap to his own face. He slackened his jaw and closed it multiple times to speak, but nothing came out.

When her watery vision blurred, Marlene stepped forward and slammed her foot down onto the bottle. It shattered beneath her rubber-soled boots and splintered into crystalline shards.

She met his eye briefly before she peered down and spit at his shoes.

Not waiting for him to react, Marlene left the common room through the portrait hole, without so much as a single glance back to see if he had anything more to add.

Chapter 20: Prelude VIII

Chapter Text

Prelude VIII

April 7th, 1976

With his legs propped up onto the coffee table and the works of C.S. Lewis in his clutches, Sirius comfortably rested by the common room fireplace—blissfully alone.

This wasn’t his preferred genre of literature.

Truthfully, he typically engaged his interest in science fiction, though he often struggled with the muggle vernacular. Difficulty aside, he liked the astrological aspect of the novels and their proclivity to space exploration.

Plus, aliens and robots are f*cking cool.

Remus recommended this one to him. His excitement over the series was so endearing, Sirius felt as though he couldn’t possibly refuse.

“I know The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was published first, but trust me, you have to read The Magician’s Nephew before the others. It’s the only way to properly read the series, Padfoot.”

In essence, Sirius didn’t care what order he read them in. He wanted something to remove himself from his thoughts for a while. Studying for O.W.Ls was becoming strenuous and, if he was going to relax in any capacity, light reading seemed an appropriate use of his spare time—especially if he was alone in the common room.

Jadis the witch was only just being woken by the magical bell when the sounds of footsteps trodding down the girls’ staircase hooked his attention.

One look and Sirius was petrified.

It was as if someone wrung the air out of his lungs like twisting the moisture from a wet towel. Sirius parted his lips and dropped the novel into his lap, losing his place.

Marlene entered the space like a spritely pixie, on her tiptoes, scanning the room for something—or someone—in particular. As if her mere presence wasn’t enough to leave him breathless, she was wearing what he assumed were her pyjamas.

Loose, brunette waves draping over her shoulders.

Tight silk camisole with thin strings for straps and a low scoop on the neck line. Latte-coloured. Flesh-toned. If he wasn’t staring so intently, he’d think she was topless at first glance.

Tiny shorts with lace around the edges. Plaid-patterned and hitched high on her thigh, so high they may as well be knickers.

Tall socks. White with a blue pair of stripes around the brim. Unevenly hiked up on her calves.

Marlene notoriously wore baggy clothing. Damn near always. Oversized trousers that she tripped on regularly with the waist cinched tighter with a belt. Dress shirts far too large for her torso—messily tucked in and always over-hanging off the sides. Her non-uniform attire was the same. Loose-fitting jeans. Enormously-sized band shirts. Sweaters that can double as dresses.

Sirius couldn’t name a single time she wore clothing this revealing. For the first time in his life, he didn’t need to imagine what her body looked like beneath her normally formless attire.

He always assumed she was fit. Her cheeks were slender, and her arms lanky. But in all his daydreaming, he never pictured her to have a chest so curvaceous or legs so toned. They look longer when they’re bare.

Sirius blinked a few times to make sure he wasn’t dreaming again, and each time his eyelids reopened, there she stood. A willowy brunette temptress calling to him like a forbidden princess to a devilish bandit.

And as if Sirius’s heart couldn’t possibly pound blood any faster through his veins, Marlene locked eyes with him and grinned. Skipping over to him, Sirius swallowed hard as he watched her breasts lightly bounce with her steps.

f*cking hell.

The closer she got, the more tense his body locked. Sirius’s mouth watered as she neared, and he wasn’t sure what to do with hands.

f*ck!

What did he normally do with his hands?!

How did he usually sit in a chair?

Casual.

Exude apathy.

Remain calm.

Avoiding her gaze became more difficult as the shape of her tit* grew clearer. That lusty camisole was ungodly thin and, if he wasn’t mistaken, her bum was probably showing from the bottom of her shorts.

If only she were to turn around he could solve the mystery for himself…

Sirius shifted the book in his lap to cover the front of his trousers. He rolled his shoulders as Marlene finally approached. She halted her steps a few inches from his bouncing leg, still perched on top of the wooden coffee table.

“Evening, McKinnon,” he greeted, a bit higher than he intended. He tilted his head back to meet her eyes.

Grinning pleasantly from above him, she procured a notebook from behind her back. “Mind if I ask a favor?”

Oh, he could think up plenty of favours he’d like to do for her.

“Depends on the favour,” he replied with a dashing smile.

Marlene remained unfazed by his charm. She tossed the notebook onto the table by his crossed ankles. “When you’re done reading, would you mind bringing these notes back to Jamie? I borrowed them earlier and I’d rather not fight to climb the steps to return them if you’re here. It’s rather late.”

Sirius adjusted himself a bit on the sofa and shrugged. “Yeah, no problem. I’ll make sure he gets them.”

Marlene clasped her hands behind her back and thanked him. The motion thrust her chest forward, and Sirius mistakenly scanned down to watch the shift in her figure.

She’s cold. Damned paper thin camisole. He could see exactly how cold she was, and it was making him dizzy.

Sirius swallowed thickly and ground his teeth together when she raised an eyebrow at him.

“Are you alright?”

“Y-yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

“You look like you’re in pain. You’re making this weird face.”

Sirius felt heat rise up his neck. “I’m fine. Just a bit tired. I think I might head up to bed soon. I doubt I’ll be able to pick up where I left off in my book after this.”

Marlene shrunk sheepishly. “I didn’t disturb you, did I?”

“NO!” Clearing his throat, he lowered his voice. “No, of course you’re not disturbing me. It’s getting late, is all…”

Sirius wanted to drive a fist into his own face for being such a thoughtless twat.

Marlene nodded and stood awkwardly in front of him for a moment before she turned on her heels and began to leave. “Uh, good night, I guess. Thank you for the favour.”

Sirius watched her go. And, damn it all, her bum was peeking out from the bottom of her little shorts.

Watching her retreat, a thought suddenly occurred to him. Taking out his pocket watch, Sirius smirked.

“Oi, Marly!” he called out after her.

With one leg hiked up on the first step of the staircase, the brunette witch pivoted her body back towards him, twisting into a sultry angle that nearly melted Sirius in his seat.

“Yeah?”

He grinned and lifted his watch.

12:01am.

April 8th.

“Happy birthday.”

Marlene’s honey-eyes lit up like the striking of matches. “Thank you,” she said bashfully before dashing up the stairs.

Sirius listened to the gentle patter of her stocking-hushed footsteps until the echoing boom of her dormitory door relieved his heart of its rapid succession.

With the pages still splayed open, Sirius lifted his book, smushed the paper onto his face, and groaned miserably.

Chapter 21: Go Your Own Way

Chapter Text

Go Your Own Way

October 16th, 1976

Emmeline Fitzgerald liked Remus Lupin.

She wasn’t sure the exact moment that her feelings for him delightfully arrived, but she knew they’ve been around since at least fourth year.

They’ve been partners for Ancient Runes for two terms now. One of the few classes the other Marauders unexpectedly didn’t join him in.

Emmeline spent most of the lessons dreamily watching how he held his quill when he wrote notes on his parchments (how he’d spin the feather between his nimble fingers as Professor Babbling babbled on and on). She liked the way his mouth curved into a half smile when their eyes met and how he walked her to the Great Hall for supper after their lesson was over for the day—chatting eagerly about current events, hobbies, or the books they were reading. She liked how he was a prefect and how he took pride in the work that accompanied the title. She liked that he was a Marauder but not mercilessly cruel like the others could be. She liked how he waved at her when watching Quidditch practice. She liked how flawlessly he altered charms to suit his needs. She liked how he played fair when they played Wizarding Chess and never seemed bothered when she asked about schoolwork. She liked counting his scars (six on his face, twelve on his left arm, nine on his right). She liked the way his hair fell neatly above his eyebrows. She liked how the colour of his eyes flickers from brown to green in the right lighting, and how kind they were on any occasion.

Emmeline Fitzgerald likes Remus Lupin. A lot.

And, for some unfounded reason, he didn’t have any idea she felt this way.

Early that Saturday morning, only hours before the first trip to Hogsmeade, Emmeline Fitzgerald strolled into the Great Hall for breakfast. The young witch stiffened as she saw the source of her desire blessedly sitting alone at the end of the table, engrossed in a novel.

With his chin resting in his hand, Remus Lupin focused lazily at the feathered pages with a plate of sunnyside eggs, bangers, beans, and toast—his typical morning meal, Emmeline noted.

She approached him eagerly and plopped down on the bench across from him.

“Good morning, Remus,” she beamed at him.

Dropping the novel lower to meet her eyes, Remus gave her his signature half-smile. “Good morning,” he echoed politely. Without another word, he returned his attention to his novel while the young witch set about making her own plate of breakfast.

They ate their breakfast quietly. Emmeline chewed and watched him twirl the fork in his hand as he did to his quills.

After finishing her meal, she wiped the corners of her lips with a napkin and crossed her arms.

“H-how was the rest of your night?” she asked timidly.

Remus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose between his eyebrows. “It went rather well, all things considered. I’m sorry that—well, I suppose I don’t have anything to be sorry for, but still I’m—” Remus sighed again and delicately placed the novel face down on the table, so he could rub his temples with both hands.

Emmeline’s eyebrows shot up watching him become so flustered. “Are you trying to apologise for what happened between Sirius and Marlene?”

Remus half-smiled sheepishly and Emmeline swooned. “Yes, I suppose I am,” he said at last.

“It’s not your fault your best mate is—well, Sirius Black. Everyone knows he can be abrasive, and besides, Marlene didn’t help the situation. Don’t be sorry,” she soothed. She placed her hand tenderly onto the table. On the outside, she was calm and steady—but on the inside—she was screaming for him to reach out and touch her.

Remus chuckled. “Those are kind words, but I do feel responsible for him—all the three of them, really. If not for me, they’d live in detention rather than merely visit it on occasion.”

“I would imagine so,” she teased with a gentle giggle.

When Remus reached for his book to begin reading once more, Emmeline bristled. “D-do you have any plans for today?!” she blurted.

Remus winced at her volume and stared back with wide eyes before he recovered himself. “Oh, uh, well—I’ll be going to the village like everyone else, I’d gather.”

Emmeline’s cheeks burned. She clenched her eyes shut and muttered, “Yeah, of course. I can’t believe I even asked that. Obviously, you’re going to the village. It’s a Hogsmeade Day.”

Remus quirked an amused eyebrow. “Do you?”

Emmeline snapped her eyes open and stared back at him. “Do I what?” she asked.

“Do you have any plans?” he inquired respectfully.

“Well, no. Mary has some sort of rebound date with a dodgy-looking Hufflepuff. Lily is spending the day with Calvolio. And Marlene is doing heaven-knows-what, so… no, I guess… The reason I asked at all was that I was wondering if maybe you’d like to… Um…” Emmeline wrung her hands together as she prattled on, watching him watch her with a charming smile.

“Would I like to… what?” he echoed absently.

“W-would you like to spend the day… together?” With the question hanging between them, Emmeline became still. Her fragile heart slammed furiously in her chest.

This was it.

“Well, I don’t know what the other Marauders have planned for the day, but you can always join us,” he suggested civilly.

Emmeline deflated. “Oh, yes. I suppose that would be… nice.”

Remus nodded pleasantly and picked up his book, skimming his eyes to the place he left off.

Emmeline closed her eyes and breathed deeply.

Was he really that daft enough to believe she was asking if she’d like to simply join their merry band of miscreants down in the village?

Surely, she’d have fun in their group. The other Marauders were a riot when they weren’t acting so childishly, and she’s bound to have fun with them if she only—

Emmeline furrowed her brows and sighed. “Actually, no,” she said boldly. “I was hoping to spend time with just you.”

Remus dropped his jaw and his book. “With just me? Like the two of us? Alone?”

Emmeline’s intrepid spirit faltered. “Well—uh—I just mean that… I’m asking if you’d… That is…” She inhaled hard and reached deep inside for her Gryffindor bravery. “Yes. Remus, I’d like to go to Hogsmeade with you. Alone.”

Remus stared down at the table and absorbed the statement with mixed emotions. Emmeline wasn’t sure exactly what those emotions were, but they tethered somewhere between shock, confusion, and disbelief.

Finally, he met her eyes once more. “I don’t understand. You… You want to spend the day with me? Your first Hogsmeade trip of the year? Don’t you want to go with a bloke you fancy?”

Emmeline narrowed her eyes and let her mouth drop open.

Daft.

The boy was completely mental and possibly blind.

She groaned and covered her eyes with her hand. “Remus, you’re the bloke I fancy.”

“Oh!” he exclaimed. “I am?”

Emmeline stood suddenly and prepared to exit the table. “I should go,” she resolved. “I’m making a fool of myself.”

“No!” Remus sprung from his seat and extended a hand, gently catching her by the wrist. “Please, don’t go! I’m so sorry. I just… I didn’t realise that you… felt this way… about me.”

Emmeline blushed. His hand was so soft, wrapped around her wrist like a cherished bracelet. “You might be the only one.”

His eyebrows softened before he looked shamefully away. His face reddened deeply, but still, he did not release her arm as she expected of him.

“I want to spend the day with you, too,” he declared. His words rushed out in one breath as if he, too, was amazed they were escaping his lips at all.

As the words registered, Emmeline slowly grew an ear-splitting grin. “A-are you sure? I mean really, really sure?”

Remus half-smiled bashfully and let go of his grip on her arm. “Yes, I believe I am,” he affirmed, at last meeting her eyes with his.

With an incredulous shake of her head, Emmeline said, “Okay, that’s… that’s wonderful. I—uh—I better get back up to the room to… to get ready then. Shall I meet you back here in an hour or so?”

Remus nodded softly. “Seen you soon.”

Emmeline bit her lip to suppress another goofy grin. With a small wave, she retreated from the Great Hall to prepare for the date she waited two years to receive.

Lily and James walked quietly back to the common room. Every few minutes or so, the two would massage their own necks or stretch to placate the kinks they formed sleeping on the cold ground of the castle.

James woke first, gently rousing her with a cautious shake. His hazel eyes behind shiny spectacles were the first thing she saw as she drifted from a dreamless sleep and back into reality.

Now, they were walking back to the common room and neither one was willing to speak first. Although, the silence wasn’t as awkward as Lily expected it to be.

She told him everything.

She hardly believed she told him everything, but that didn’t change the facts. James Potter was now aware of her darkest secret, and there was no undoing the damage.

Lily considered obliviating him, but what would that really solve?

He would never threaten her with blackmail.

He didn’t judge her, nor did he violate her vulnerability.

He just… listened.

And, understanding the depth of his choice to seek her out, Lily decided she wasn’t foolish enough to let that kindness be forsaken without gratitude.

With a gentle clearing of her throat, she muttered, “Thank you for coming to find me—actually, thank you for a lot of things. Healing my knuckles, listening to me, understanding me, being gentle… It… It means so much. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it means to me.”

James nodded curtly, knitting his brows. “No need to thank me. We’re friends now. I was only doing what friends are supposed to do.”

“Perhaps so, but I believe friends are also supposed to give appreciation where it’s due. And you deserve to feel recognition for what you did. You’re—dare I say it—a rather spectacular guy.”

James stared ahead and fluffed his hair. Lily caught the growing pink hue on his ears as she looked up at his profile.

“Careful there, Evans. I’ve got a match coming up next month, and I don’t need any more weight in this fat head of mine. How else am I going to lift my broom off the ground?” he replied with a cheeky smirk.

Lily scoffed. “Don’t quote me, you insufferable git.”

James threw a playful arm around her, squeezing her to his waist briefly in a cheerful hug. “Ahh, there’s my girl. Thought I lost you for a second. Without your snide remarks, how am I supposed to stay humble through the day?”

Rolling her eyes, she removed his arm and dropped it back at his side. The spot in which his arm touched now shivered with sudden goosebumps. “I haven’t the faintest clue, but one of these days you’re going to get a swift kick in the bum from me—and you’re not going to be so cheery when I do it.”

James gasped. “Not my bum, Evans! That’s my broom-riding arse!”

Lily stifled her growing smile. “You better behave then! I’m not kidding I’ll take this shoe right here and kick right up your—Oh! Marlene!”

The prefect raised her brows at the sight of her best friend approaching the portrait hole from the other staircase.

Though Lily would not dare speak it out loud, Marlene looked dreadful. Her hair was a tangled mess, her makeup smeared and splotchy, and she was adorned in the same clothes she wore last night at the party.

“f*ck, Mar. You look horrendous. What the hell happened to you?” James asked brazenly.

Apparently, Potter did not hold the same regard for Marlene’s feelings as Lily did. The redhead glared at her companion and smacked him on the arm.

“Hey!” he protested. “I was just asking!”

“What the hell is the matter with you?!” she hissed. “Have you any tact at all?!”

James gestured to Marlene wildly with his hand. “It’s Marlene, for f*ck’s sake. I’m allowed to say whatever I want. There’s no censorship between us. Tell her, Mar.”

The pair turned their attention to their mutual best friend and awaited her answer.

The witch in question mirthlessly toggled between them. “I’m going inside,” she mumbled after a minute of silence.

“Wait,” James objected. “At least tell us where you were last night. You obviously didn’t sleep up in the dorm. Are you okay? Did someone hurt you?”

Marlene flinched at the last question but shook her head. “I slept in the Come and Go Room.”

“Why?” he interrogated. “Why didn’t you come back?”

Marlene narrowed her eyes at the Quidditch Captain. “Why didn’t you?”

Lily flushed and tugged at a stray lock of ginger hair. “He was with me. We were talking about some… rather personal things, and we fell asleep in the corridor.”

Marlene paled. “Oh, of course, you were. I’m so sorry, Lily.” The honey-eyed witch reached for her friend and drew her into a tight embrace. “I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I just sat there while they did that to you. Honestly, I’m the biggest prat and I don’t deserve your friendship.”

Lily chuckled and returned the hug. “It’s okay, all is forgiven. I mean, it’s not like I told you what happened, although I probably should.”

The brunette pulled back and rested her hands on both of Lily’s shoulders. “I was going to go after you. I truly was, but I was stopped by…” Marlene paused, her eyebrows furrowing darkly, “…someone.”

Lily quirked an interested brow and nodded slowly. “Yeah… Someone, indeed.”

The two witches shared an intriguing sceptical look, trying to read each other's thoughts.

“Mind filling me in on what’s happening right now?” James interjected.

The pair did not have the opportunity to answer—for at that moment—Emmeline Fitzgerald rushed towards them all, giggling like a madman.

“There you both are!” She halted her merriment briefly to ask, “Oh, Marlene, look at you. You poor thing, are you okay?”

Marlene shrugged. “I’ll be fine,” she dismissed.

“Did he apologise to you yet?”

Marlene glared and shifted her eyes once to James and then back to Emmeline. “No,” she replied flatly.

“Did who apologise?” James asked roughly.

“Don’t worry about it,” she disregarded.

“Of course, I’m going to worry about it!” James confronted. “I want to know!”

Marlene held up a hand and hissed, “Shut it. We’ll talk about it later.”

James crossed his arms in a pouty sulk.

Emmeline directed her attention to Lily, squeezing her shoulder. “And what about you? Are you okay? I’m so sorry, Lil. I should have defended you. I don’t know what I was thinking. I wasn’t right in the head. I think the shock of it all dulled my wits. I’m so, so sorry.”

Lily banished the apology with a wave of her hand. “All is forgiven, Em. Now, what’s got you all stirred up?”

“Dormitory! Right now!” she gleefully ordered. “You won’t believe what I have to tell you!”

Marlene smirked and jokingly asked, “Did you finally get the bollocks to ask Remus to Hogsmeade?”

Emmeline lit up like a lumos. “Yes, I did.”

All three of the surrounding Gryffindors gasped loudly.

“You asked Moony to Hogsmeade?!” James exclaimed.

Emmeline and Lily bounced in place—hand in hand.

“I did! I did! And he said yes!”

James covered his forehead with his hand. Grinning, he shook his head in disbelief. “Well, I’ll be damned. Never thought I’d see the day.”

Marlene gripped Emmeline’s wrist and dragged her to the portrait hole. “Upstairs! Now! We’ve got to get you ready immediately!”

“Gaudium cordis!” Lily cried out to the Fat Lady.

“Oh my god, this is so exciting! I’m so happy for you, Em!” Marlene squealed.

The three girls rushed inside and sprinted jovially up the girls’ stairs.

James sauntered inside and marched pointedly to the boys’ staircase when an amused voice stopped him.

“Morning, James. Have a nice time at the party?” Harper sat with crossed legs on the couch, her chin resting on her fist.

James winced at first but eased as he saw Harper’s spunky smile. “Morning, Harps,” he replied coolly. “Sleep well?”

“Better than you did, I’m sure,” she challenged.

James co*cked his head to the side. “Am I in trouble or something?”

“Should you be?”

“Well, usually when I’m in trouble, I have a decent guess as to what I’ve done, but—as of now—I’m rather in the dark.”

She nodded slowly, her wavy hair bouncing as she moved. “I suppose that’s fair. You ran after Lily when she was being accosted by everyone, right?”

James refused to move a muscle as he smoothly replied, “Yes. She needed a friend.”

“I didn’t know you two were friends.”

“It’s a relatively new friendship.” His fingers itched to ruffle his hair.

Harper sighed as she stood and approached him slowly. “I’m not trying to accuse you of anything, you know.”

James eyed her sceptically. “It kind of feels like you are.”

Harper stared up at him with gentle, amber eyes. “I just… I don’t know, maybe you’re not ready to move on after all. I don’t want to be used in some ploy to win Lily over.”

James widened his eyes and shook his head. He placed both hands on her upper arms and held her gaze with his. “Harper, that's not what is going on here, I swear. She just needed a friend. What she went through was brutal, and I’d want the same thing for me if our positions were reversed. You don’t have to worry about Evans. Nothing is going on between us.” His heart skipped as he spoke. James wasn’t sure if his body knew he was lying, or because he wished this wasn’t the case. Regardless, he swallowed down the odd pang in his chest and said, “I promise you. I’m… I’m really excited to spend the day with you. Please, don’t be upset with me. I was only being nice. Honestly.”

Harper searched his face for deceit or some kind of trickery, but there was none to be found. James wanted to move on. He wanted to want Harper.

Harper exhaled deeply. “Okay, I’m sorry I doubted you. I just don’t want to be jerked around.” She looked away, but James guided her back to meet his gaze. “Believe it or not, I actually like you.”

James leaned in and placed a tender kiss on her cheek. He heard Harper inhale sharply before he spoke huskily into her ear. “Can we just forget this happened and do our best to enjoy our day together? I’ve been thinking about this date all week, you know.”

Harper blushed and nodded. “I’d love that.”

“Brill,” James sighed happily.

Harper stepped a fraction backwards and scanned him curiously. “I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’re nowhere near ready to head down to the village. Am I right?”

James brushed her cheek with his thumb. “Give me fifteen minutes, and I’m all yours.”

October 15th, 1976

Marlene didn’t come back to the common room. Sirius waited for her, but she never returned.

The party ended after she left, of course.

The exiting teenagers groaned and complained about how—once again—Sirius and Marlene managed to ruin everyone’s fun. Sirius vanished the shattered bottle and plopped down on the couch by the fireplace as everyone begrudgingly shuffled from the room.

“That was disgusting, Black. You should be ashamed of yourself,” Mary hissed.

“I am,” he said, staring into the flames of the fireplace. He watched the log crispin and blacken beneath the flecks of blue fire. Charred bark and billowing smoke. His mind travelled back to the night he was beaten to near death by his own father—to the night he ran away from home to live with the Potters—the fireplace in the study burnt stacks of wood like these.

Peter and Remus descended into the adjacent chairs and waited patiently for him to say something—anything, really—about what transpired.

After some time passed, Remus gained courage. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“Okay, but I think it’s important for me to tell you that she isn’t right—what she said about you, that is.”

Sirius frowned and rubbed his hands together anxiously. “You don’t know that,” he all but whispered.

“We do though,” Peter advocated. “You’re a Gryffindor. Braver than any of us.”

Staring into the flaming alcove, Sirius thought about the day he was sorted into Gryffindor. A memory he shared with Marlene over the summer.

How the excited eleven-year-olds like himself bounced nervously.

How commanding his name had been called.

How the hat fit so delicately onto his head.

“No. No, you really don’t though… She’s right. I…I don’t belong here. I’m a fraud. This isn’t where I’m meant to be,” Sirius spoke hoarsely.

“Padfoot, the hat chose Gryffindor for you,” Remus reasoned. “That means something.”

Sirius rested his elbows on his knees and leaned forward to bury his face in his hands. “That’s not true,” he said solemnly. “I wish it was, but it’s not.”

“What does that even mean?” Peter demanded to know.

“It means,” Sirius snapped, “that I didn’t earn Gryffindor. I asked for it.”

The silence was palpable.

Both Remus and Peter remained unresponsive as they waited for Sirius to explain.

The eldest Black son said nothing to his friend but recalled the day with perfect clarity.

A lean, juvenile Sirius sat on the stool with bated breath. His eyes locked with an eleven-year-old James who sat waiting in the crowd with the other adolescent first years.

‘My dad was in Gryffindor!’ he had said on the train, beaming with a naïve face too small for his spectacles. ‘Trust me! There’s no other house worth joining!’

The sorting hat plopped on the top of Sirius’s flat, obsidian hair and let out a resounding hum.

‘Another Black,’ the hat drolled. ‘The answer is obvious, of course. The same as those before.’

Sirius grimaced. He knew what house the hat referred to.

‘I sense hesitation,’ the hat mused. ‘Is Slytherin not your birthright? Your legacy and every desire?’

‘No,’ Sirius begged. ‘I want to be in Gryffindor. I want to be different.’

‘If that is what you truly wish, I will grant this to you.’ The hat opened its cloth mouth and hollered, ‘GRYFFINDOR!’

Sirius gazed helplessly into the fire. The crackles and sparks floated whimsically through the air, but still, he had no words to offer his closest friends.

“So what if you asked for it?” Remus remarked at last.

“I didn’t earn it,” Sirius spat. “That’s what.”

“The hat wouldn’t have sorted you here if it was completely ill-fitting. You’re a Gryffindor, through and through,” Remus assured. “Don’t start with that self-pity bullsh*t. You got out, Padfoot. You left them and you’re free. There’s nothing braver.”

Sirius thought about his cousin Andromeda and her battle for the freedom to marry that Tonks bloke.

“You’re nothing like them,” Remus continued. “You have a strong will, and you’re the soul of this group. You’ve seen hell and pain—and you still manage to grin through it all. You’re the best of us. The hat wanted to sort you into Slytherin based on expectation, not what’s inside your heart.”

“But Marlene knows me so well, Moony,” Sirius hinted grimly. “You have no idea.”

Remus nodded and shifted closer to the edge of his seat. He sighed exasperatedly and wiped his face with the palm of his hand. “Marlene only said those things because she wanted to hurt you. You were humiliating her, Pad. Marlene was with us while you were healing after… Well, after what happened to you with your parents this summer. If you saw her then, you’d understand that she didn’t really mean those awful things. She was with you at your bedside every day, whispering about how strong you are and how brave you are for running away when you were on the brink of death. She cares about you, Padfoot.”

Sirius cringed and shifted. He knew she was there, but it didn't make him feel any better.

Things were different now. Moony just didn’t know it.

“It’s true. I was there,” Peter agreed. “She was freaking out, holding your hand, and promising everything was going to be alright. On the second night, she lost her mind. James was holding her while she wept after there was talk from the healers about you not waking up. I swear, she was sobbing, curled into a ball, and bloody inconsolable. Listen to Moony, mate, Marlene doesn’t mean what she said. She knows you belong here. She’s only upset.”

Sirius slumped in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest and squeezing his upper arms in a self-hug.

Marlene sobbed over him.

Stayed at his bedside as his life frayed its last cord.

Of course, she did.

He would do the same.

If she was in the same position as him, together or not, Sirius would lose himself to darkness. He would fall so very far from grace.

But even still, Marlene could have very well have changed her mind since then. Lily may assure him that she doesn’t hate him, but Sirius wasn't so sure those words hold much truth.

“There must be some kind of truth to it though,” he whispered.

Remus could see the insecurity. He probably knew the feeling well. That same emotion came to him on the nights before the full moon when he was too sick to leave the Hospital Wing. It was in those starched linen sheets that Remus doubted that there would ever be a proper place for him in this world.

He was cursed.

Violent. Impure. Too damaged to ever be truly loved.

But those voiced thoughts were always fleeting—for in the mornings that followed those awful nights—Remus woke to three individuals that never allowed his trepidations to bury their roots in his mind.

For Remus, the terror that plagued his restless nights was his lycanthropy.

For Sirius, it was his heritage, his character, his very soul.

As if knowing this, Remus demanded Sirius’s full attention. “Look at me, Padfoot—I said, look at me! I understand. I do. It may be different for me, but the core idea is the same. You don’t feel like you belong. And why? Because you had a hand in the decision-making? But don’t you see, the only way the hat would have put you in Gryffindor was if you were brave enough to ask for it? If you were bold enough to be different from the other Blacks who came before you. You earned your place in this house by having the nerve to say you were done following someone else’s rules—someone else’s dictation of right and wrong, pure and unclean. Even as a child, you recognized that your family was dysfunctional. You knew it. You felt it in your bones. The hat heard you ask for the chance to live life on a new path, and it accepted your plea for help. It may take your preference into consideration, Padfoot, but it would have never allowed you to deviate from everyone’s conceptions of the Black family if it didn’t recognize the absolute courage it takes to renounce their evil. But that’s what you did. Your asking to be placed in Gryffindor was brave. It was a physical representation of you saying ‘f*ck Toujours Pur!’”

Remus breathed hard at the conclusion of his speech, but Sirius didn’t speak for a long while after. He merely closed his eyes. The former heir to the Noble House of Black sat, hugging himself tightly, and suspired shaky, uneven breaths.

And Peter listened in awe, watching Remus say all the right things at the right time—just like he always seemed to do.

“I should have kissed her,” Sirius uttered, an expression of pain plastered across his handsome face. His eyes clenched tightly closed.

He wouldn’t have said those despicable lies if he just kissed her. He ripped her apart. The things he said… were not merely insults. They were matches. He sparked the flint with rotten falsehoods, and with those horrible words, he incinerated her in front of all of their peers. Telling them all with his refusal to kiss her that Marlene had no romantic worth in his life. All those hateful words spewed at her to selfishly keep them from seeing the truth.

He was desperate to kiss her, but the regretful fact remained—if he kissed her again—he wouldn't be able to stop. Sirius would drown himself in her warmth and welcome. He would crumble to dust in front of an entire crowd, and then soon after, Prongs would know of his failure to uphold the oath.

He was a coward, and Marly knew it, too.

Evans was wrong—so damn wrong.

If Marlene didn’t hate him before, she certainly did now.

“What stopped you?” Peter asked curiously.

Sirius relaxed his face and opened his eyes once more, only to return his attention to the fire. Powdered ash lay beneath the glowing embers, patiently waiting to be swept away like the other piles before it.

“James,” he eventually answered.

Both Remus and Peter managed to nod in silent understanding.

The third-year oath. They remember it well.

“I think he might have understood. This was a special case. It would only be the one time,” Remus reasoned.

Sirius merely shrugged. Remus didn’t need to know the truth for the reality to continue weighing on him.

It didn’t matter now.

The damage was done.

After some time, Remus and Peter bid Sirius good night and made their way up to the dormitory.

Sirius waited for her to come back. He waited so he could apologise, and perhaps to merely lay sight on her eyes.

But night became morning and fresh sunlight began filtering through the windows of the common room and—still—she never came home to him.

October 16th, 1976

Sirius’s leg bounced restlessly under the table in the Great Hall early that Saturday morning.

“Aren’t you going to eat anything, Padfoot?”

“No,” he grumbled, his eyes drooping with sleep deprivation.

“Well, you’re going to have to eat now or you’ll be hungry in the village,” Peter shrugged.

“I don’t care,” Sirius replied flatly.

Remus furrowed his brows and placed his bookmark back into his novel. “Padfoot, did you get any sleep last night?”

“No,” he deadpanned.

Peter and Remus shared a look of concern.

“Okay, but maybe you should—”

Sirius ran both hands through his hair and pressed the bottom of his palms to his eyes, rubbing gruffly. “I’m fine, just leave it. All I want is to go down to the village with you all and do our best to have a good day.”

When the other two did not reply, he removed his hands and found them both staring down at the table shamefully.

“What the hell is the matter with you two?”

“Well,” Peter said. “I—uh—I asked Audrey Malkin to Hogsmeade at the party last night, and she said yes.”

Sirius and Remus lit up.

“That’s fantastic, Wormtail!” Sirius applauded, patting his friend playfully on the back. “I’m so proud of you! You deserve this. You really do.”

“Honestly, Pete. That’s wonderful.” Remus added joyfully. “Make sure you show her a good time, yeah?”

Peter turned a pleasant shade of pink and politely thanked them both.

Sirius turned to Remus and said, “Alright then, Moony. I guess it’s just you and me today.”

Remus paled. “Uh—actually there’s been a, er, the thing is that… It’s come to my attention that… You see, I was just sitting here eating my breakfast when…” The young lycanthrope rubbed his temples and closed his eyes. He let out a frustrated moan.

Sirius narrowed his eyes. “Spit it out, Moony.”

Remus pulled at his jumper collar and cleared his throat. “Well, the thing is… I have a date today.”

Sirius and Peter froze, briefly meeting each other’s alarmed eyes before returning to stare at Remus.

The werewolf uncomfortably glanced back and forth between the two until Peter finally asked, “With who?”

Remus forced a watery smile and laughed nervously. “It’s, uh, with… Emmeline.”

Sirius and Peter stood up so fast, the bench threatened to topple over. They clapped—no, they applauded—loudly, chaotically. They hollered. They cheered. They hugged each other and cried out, ‘I never thought I’d see the day!’ They shot fireworks from the tips of their f*cking wands.

Remus watched this all in petrified horror.

They continued to behave like absolute lunatics even as James walked in the Great Hall. The Quidditch Captain sauntered into the grand dining room bearing an ear-splitting grin.

“Heard the news then, have you?” James hinted mischievously. “Moony and Emmeline. About damn time.”

“How the hell do you already know?!” Remus wailed, his face painted crimson.

James hopped onto the bench, sat atop the table, and picked up an apple from a nearby fruit bowl. He playfully threw the shiny Bramley into the air and caught it effortlessly.

“Well—you see, Moony—I just had the most interesting conversation with Miss Fitzgerald outside the common room. She and the other squealing sixth-year girls are all up in the dorm right now getting Emmeline ready for her… date. He bit into his apple and chewed smugly.

Remus buried his face in his hands. “How am I the only one who didn’t realise she likes me? Am I the biggest dolt on the entire planet?”

Sirius barked a near-thunderous laugh. “Oh, my dear sweet Moony. You have no idea how long we’ve waited for this moment.”

“Why didn’t you all just tell me and save me from stupidity!” Remus demanded.

“Because this way was far more amusing,” Sirius chuckled. “I mean, I’m not even upset that I lost the bet.”

Remus narrowed his eyes. “What bet?” he growled.

Peter smirked. “Pay up, wankers.”

James and Sirius reached into their pockets, procured a handful of knuts, and passed the coins to Peter without protest.

Remus’s fist smacked the table. “You placed bets on Emmeline and I?” he hissed.

“Well, technically, we placed bets on how long it would take for you to figure out she’s mad about you,” James replied smoothly.

“It’s true,” Sirius quipped. “Wormtail said you’d figure it out by Halloween. I said Christmas. But Prongs said you’d figure it out by Valentine’s Day. Pete won.”

Peter waved distractedly at the sound of his name, clinking the coins in his hands as he carefully counted his winnings.

Remus abruptly stood, collected his book, and stormed out of the hall. “You guys are jerks.”

“We’re happy for you, mate!” James called after him.

“Yikes,” Sirius cringed. “He’s right cross with us, isn’t he?”

James shrugged. “It’s fine. He deserves to feel embarrassed. It was so obvious right from the beginning, and he let those clues fly right past him. Trust me, he’s going to go off on his date, and we’ll hear all the disgustingly adorable details later tonight.”

“On that note,” Peter interjected. “I best be off. Don’t want to be late. Wish me luck.” He bid the remaining Marauders goodbye and headed off to the Hufflepuff table to collect his own date.

“Where’s he going?” James asked curiously.

“Date,” Sirius answered.

“No sh*te.”

“Uh-huh.”

“He asked Malkin?”

“Yup.”

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

“Me too.”

“That’s fantastic.”

“I know.”

“Wait, but that means—”

“That’s right.”

“You don’t have a date?”

“Nope.”

“Oh…” James slumped from sitting on the tabletop to resting sideways on the bench. He frowned. “I don’t want you to be alone.”

Sirius smiled infinitesimally. “I’ll be fine, Prongs. I’ve been alone plenty of times.”

“But it’s a Hogsmeade trip. Can’t you just wink at some slaggy Ravenclaw and spend the day with her? Then, we’ll all have dates.”

Sirius chose poignantly not to address his question. “Where’s Hughes?”

“In the hall talking to Stromville. Maybe I could ask Harper if you can join—”

“Enjoy your day, Prongs. I’m not going to third wheel your first date to Hogsmeade in two years.”

James bit his cheek. “But I’m worried about you.”

“Don’t be,” Sirius sighed. “Why is everyone so bloody worried about me?”

Turning to face his best friend, James stared directly into Sirius’s eyes as he said, “Because you changed this summer, and it frightens me.”

Sirius couldn’t breathe.

What could he say in response to that? Of course, he changed. Nothing would ever be the same. So much happened over the summer break. Images of Marlene swirled in his thoughts like a cold dip in a Pensieve.

Kissing her in the rehearsal room.

Listening to her sing at the jazz club.

Dancing in her room at all hours of the night.

Watching her play the piano in her library.

Teaching her how to ride the motorbike.

Stealing kisses from her at every chance he got—behind closed doors, in the dining hall, on the motorbike, inside the garage after he purposefully asked James to go collect a part from the main house.

Staring at her from across rooms, checking to see if anyone caught him observing her.

Making love to her—under the stars on her balcony, at the concert, in her bedroom, on her piano bench, beneath the apple trees in her orchard.

Witnessing her crumble as he told her they were over.

Hearing her sob beyond the French doors as he exited her bedroom for the last time.

She was everywhere in his thoughts. A cluttered collage of perfectly tragic memories he was not permitted to share.

However, his relationship with Marlene was not the only tragedy he experienced over the holiday, and the other devastating piece of his summer history included his home life before taking up residence with the Potters. Though it was a gate he preferred to seal tight, he knew the knowledge would placate his concerned best mate—at least somewhat.

James wanted to know what changed. If he couldn’t talk about Marlene, he could at least talk about his… last night at home.

He gazed off beyond James’s shoulder, focusing on nothing. “Sometimes I think I deserved it… what they did to me.”

James’s face contorted into horror. “Padfoot, you can’t possibly believe that you… You’re their son, and they nearly murdered you. Do you understand that? You were out for three days. Unconscious and unresponsive. Dad had healers coming in from all over the country. Dressing your wounds, casting healing spells, applying poultices on your slashed back… The lads and I—” James’s voice cracked. He stopped speaking and rubbed his eyes. After a moment, he inhaled deeply and removed his hand. “The lads and I were told we needed to ‘prepare for the worst.’ Which really just meant that we needed to accept that there was a chance you would never recover from this. And even though you’re awake now, I wonder sometimes if you’re really here with us. So, yeah, I’m f*cking worried about you. I’m worried about those early days during the holiday—the ones where you were locked away in Grimmauld until you showed up on my doorstep. I worry that the torture was enough to break you.”

Sirius’s sad grey eyes peered back at James. The mask was slipping, and now there was no turning back. “I’m worried they may have succeeded,” Sirius whispered.

James dropped his mouth open and grappled at what to say. He was stuttering something incoherently when Harper Hughes approached from out of nowhere.

“Ready to go?” she asked her date cheerfully.

James and Sirius flinched away, breaking the spell, and cleared their throats. James sprang from his seat to greet her.

Harper’s smile melted away and her eyes grew wide. “Oh, no. Am I interrupting something?”

“No, of course not,” Sirius assured.

“I can give you more time—”

“Hughes, take my boy out on the town. Let him pay for everything and make sure he gets a good snog in.”

Harper flushed, and James didn’t fare much better.

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay on your own?” James asked once he composed himself.

Sirius smiled and shooed them with his hand. “Of course, I will be. I'm plenty capable enough to entertain myself for one measly day. I’ll probably stroll through the village and maybe chat up a few people who interest me. Hell, maybe I’ll even plan a prank. If you hear an explosion of any kind, just ignore it. I’m sure I’ll have it under control.” He winked at Harper before taking a purposeful bite of toast. “Now, go have fun. I’ll see you tonight,” he mumbled with a full mouth.

James nodded and said a quick goodbye—although his eyes clearly stated that their conversation was not over—he took Harper by the hand and led her out of the Great Hall.

Sirius watched them leave. As they rounded the corner, Sirius pushed his plate away once more and opened his journal. Without thinking, he began to sketch. His pen curved round cheekbones and detailed fiery eyes and flecked delicate freckles across a shaded nose.

He was sitting at the table for about an hour or so when a familiar Pygmy owl swooped down and dropped a petite letter in front of him.

His fingers tightened around his quill and his heart beat quicker as he watched the brown-speckled bird soar away and out the window from which it came.

Picking up the envelope and examining it closer, he marvelled at the letter with terrified anticipation. His thumb brushed over the crest he was so acquainted with. After he checked around himself once more to see if anyone was nearby, he lifted the wax seal. As he unfolded the parchment, his stomach flipped and churned as he read its contents with hitched breath.

Find me in the village.

— Kitten

“There!” Mary finished with a delighted squeal. “It’s perfect. Lupin is going to keel over when he sees you looking like this.”

Emmeline bit her lip and smiled shyly. “You think so?” she asked timidly.

“Oh, absolutely!” Marlene assured. “Just look at you!”

It was true. Emmeline looked ravishing. From the moment they ascended the stairs and told Mary the good news, they all got to work. Each one raided their closets, mixing and matching jumpers and blouses and skirts and tights and boots until they finally agreed on what the willowy witch wore now.

Lily’s slimming beige turtleneck and dark blue headband (Remus’s favourite colour), Marlene’s best pair of faded bell bottoms, Mary’s leather boots tucked within the pant legs, and an assortment of every piece of jewellery the girls agreed fit the ensemble the best.

They fixed her hair with a handful of Sleakeazy’s finest and rested her reddish-brown bangs behind her ears delicately. Mary applied a dash of makeup to highlight her eyes and lips and cheekbones before stepping back to admire their work.

“Em, you're a vision. You’re simply gorgeous,” Lily cooed, hugging her from behind as she examined herself in the mirror.

“I can’t believe this is really happening. I haven’t had any time to prepare.” Emmeline sighed, wringing her hands together. “I always thought I’d at least have a few days to think about what we should do in the village and talk about.”

Mary rested her head on the shoulder Lily wasn’t occupying and gently squeezed her upper arm. “Love, you are fantastic. Merely breathing the same air together will be enough for him now that he knows the truth.”

Marlene snorted. “I mean it took the bloke—what? Three years to figure it out? And even then he was still confused until you spelled it out for him. Honestly, just by watching the two of them talk every day, I could have sworn he was dead from the neck up.”

“Well, he better be ready because I fully plan on kissing him by the day’s end,” Em uttered to the girls with an impish smirk.

The surrounding girls all jumped up and down, giggling.

“Okay, okay. I should get going. He’s probably waiting for me,” Em resigned herself at last.

“I’ll head out with you,” Mary said. “I’m supposed to meet my date downstairs by the carriages in ten. Later, loves! See you in the village!”

Emmeline and Mary waved goodbye to Lily and Marlene who shouted good luck back.

“When are you meeting Calvolio?”

Lily shrugged. “Soon, I suppose. We never really decided on a time. We just agreed to meet each other outside the Great Hall at breakfast.”

“I hope you have a lovely time. Make sure he’s good to you.” She sighed.

The redhead nodded, smiling to herself as the image of Declan crossed her thoughts.

“What about you? What are your plans for the day?”

Marlene shrugged and crossed the room to lie down on her bed. “I don’t know. Maybe stay up here in the castle and read a book. Listen to a new album or something.”

Alarmed, Lily asked, “Aren’t you planning on going to Hogsmeade?”

The brunette picked at her nails and shook her head.

Lily frowned. “Marlene, why did you stay in the Come and Go Room last night?”

“C-can we please not talk about it? It’s not pleasant.”

Lily narrowed her eyes. Pleasant or not, she wanted to know what was going on. She no longer carried the same sympathy she previously held that prevented her from prying. She gave Marlene months to explain her situation—to come clean about the boy who broke her heart.

After last night, Lily had a theory.

Lily suspected she knew exactly who this boy was and, now that they were alone, she did not intend to waste this moment.

“No,” Lily refuted. “We’re talking about it. What happened to you? Why did you leave last night? You already told me that you weren’t coming after me, so what was it?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Marlene dismissed.

“Of course, it matters!” Lily argued. She stood suddenly and crossed the room to Marlene's bed, sitting across from her at the end.

“Well—what about you?” Marlene challenged. “Why didn’t you come back?”

Lily rubbed her face in her hands. “If you really want to know—I’ll tell you, but what good will that do if you’re just going to listen and never talk about your own bullsh*t.”

Marlene stared off into space before finally whispering, “Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.”

Lily lifted her pinky finger. “Promise me that, if I tell you about this, you won’t deflect. You’ll tell me the whole truth. I’m trusting you with my heart by telling you this, Marlene. Believe that I will do the same.”

Marlene nodded earnestly and wrapped her finger around her friend’s. “I swear, Lil.”

When they each released from the other’s fingers, Lily began recounting the tale she relived last night with James. It was an abridged version, but while Marlene cried quietly for her, Lily felt a surge of gratitude for having practised this speech on Potter first. She should thank him again sometime.

“…and then you showed up and saved me. You saved me from me, Marlene. I was ready to give up everything—living, breathing, going to school. I just wanted to… die. I was drowning, and you pulled me from under the surf. I love you so much. I will always love you as my own sister. You mean so much to me. I will never be able to properly show you how dear you are.”

Marlene nodded as more silent tears slipped down her cheeks. The honey-eyes witch grabbed Lily’s soft hands and squeezed them in hers.

“Lily… I’m so sorry. I’m so f*cking sorry that this happened to you. I… I can’t imagine the pain. I was with you for three whole weeks. And you never… You never seemed distraught about anything. And even though you never made me feel like I was a burden to you, I was so scared that you were bothered by me being around all the time…” Marlene paused to wipe her eyes and whimpered, “But I was wrong. I’m sorry you felt like you had to keep this from me. I’m sorry he did that to you. I'm sorry I wasn’t a better friend when you needed it.”

Lily wiped her cheeks and crawled up to her pillow to lie down next to her. “Don’t be sorry, you’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”

“Better than Snape?”

The redhead nodded gravely. It may be true, but it still saddened Lily to acknowledge. She threw her arms around her companion.

They hugged serenely, lying side by side in the quiet dorm, both swallowing down the urge to bring about more tears.

“Your turn, McKinnon.”

Marlene sniffed and wiped her nose on her shirt. “Before I say what I’m about to say, I want you to know that I didn't keep it a secret because I don’t trust you. I kept this hidden because he asked me to. He manipulated me into never telling a soul, and I’ve obeyed because I loved him.”

Lily sat up and brushed stray locks of hair from Marlene’s delicate face. Her eyes shined like topaz as the tears continued to well.

“Would it help if I told you that I figured it out all by myself?”

Marlene cringed away and stared incredulously. “You—you what? You know?”

The redhead sat up on her elbow, resting her fist at her temple. “It’s not your fault. He’s the one who gave it away—not you. You did nothing, actually. You were sealed tighter than a vault at Gringotts, but I didn’t need you to tell me. I figured it out yesterday.”

Marlene furrowed her brows and tried shaking her head to make sense of it all. “How… What do you mean by ‘he gave it away’? How do you know we’re talking about the same person?”

“It’s Sirius. Isn’t it, Mar?”

Marlene’s eyes widened frantically. Her lips fell open with a gentle pop.

“I—uh—I don’t understand… But when would… Yesterday? What did… But you…” Marlene stammered uselessly, nothing made sense. Nothing clicked into place.

What conversation between the two of them would cause Lily to see the truth?

The prefect giggled. “I know you must be wondering how I came to that conclusion on my own, but I’m right. Aren’t I?”

“Yes,” Marlene breathed, her voice barely audible.

“At least your conscience can rest knowing you never actually told me. Your promise is still intact.”

Marlene couldn’t breathe. It was like being slapped in the face—No, like someone reached into her chest cavity and locked their meaty fingers right around her heart as it futilely tried to keep beating.

Lily knows.

How the f*ck does Lily know?

“I’m sorry, ginger. Forgive me, but how…?” Marlene trailed off in confused wonder.

“It was after you rowed in the corridor,” she replied candidly. “Mary ushered you away, but I stayed and watched the Marauders leave. It was brief, but I caught sight of Sirius turning around to look back at you. He was so… despondent, but also looked… I guess, regretful? His eyes told the story of a boy wanting to run after his girl. I saw that look and thought, ‘Holy sh*t, why hadn’t I realised it before?’”

“You couldn’t have known that all from a single bloody look,” Marlene disagreed.

“Perhaps not,” Lily retorted coolly. “But my conversation with him at the party solidified my suspicions.”

Marlene stiffened. “What conversation?”

“He made me a drink at the bar, and I asked how he was doing. He said he was fine, and when I mentioned your argument he got very jumpy. His fingers shook as he made a martini for me.”

“And then what?” Marlene asked hungrily. She wanted to know it all. She yearned for it. Burned for it. She wanted to hear everything he said to convince Lily of his involvement.

“Well, call it a Slytherin move, but I kind of baited him into asking me my opinion on the two of you. He was desperate to know, Mar. His face was so intense.”

Marlene nodded for her to keep going.

“And so I asked him if he was aware of how alike you are, which he denied. So I explained how I believe you two are so similar and then… And then I said that I think you two are perfect for each other… and then he dropped his glass. It slipped right out of his fingers. Even after it shattered at his feet, he didn’t move a muscle. He stared down at me like a madman. I had to snap him out of it and that was the moment I knew for sure. Sirius Black is the boy you spent the summer with. The one who broke your heart. But it’s plain to me now that you’re not the only one suffering. He wants you, Marlene. He wants you very badly.”

Marlene’s dreamy gaze died and a sardonic laugh escaped. “Yeah, no. You’re right that he’s the boy, but you’ve got it all wrong. Sirius doesn’t want me.” Marlene couldn’t believe she was even saying these words aloud. They spent months buried inside her. Even writing the words down when she composed music felt like breaking her vow to him.

The redhead smirked. “I disagree.”

“You weren’t there, Lily. He… He destroyed me when it all ended. He told me that he doesn’t want people to see us together. He made it clear I’m not good enough, that I’m not pretty enough. He said I was gullible, and merely around enough to manipulate, and I was fun for a while, but now we need to return to reality. And even after we returned to the castle… He… ripped me apart all over again. He wanted me to end things with Welch, but then turned around and said he doesn’t want to be with me. He’s confusing and infuriating, and it all stems from him not wanting to admit to the world that we shared a month together in secret. It’s possessive and upsetting because he acts as if he cares, and then turns around and blindsides me with hateful words! And he does it because he can!”

The redhead nodded along and tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I don’t think he means those words though. I think he says them because he feels like he has to in order to keep you at arm’s length.”

Marlene scoffed. “Oh, yeah? Then explain to me why last night at the party he called me a clingy bitch and a filthy scrubber and a fake slag and a worthless friend to James—who, by the way, is apparently the only reason I have friends—you know, because of his status around here. James apparently never gave a sh*t while I was away in co*keworth, which was so sweet to learn. Sirius called me a clown and a discounted whor* and—” She paused to flinch. “He called me Masculene… He said all of this in front of everyone, Lily. He doesn’t f*cking want me. He regrets our time together and wishes it never happened. He f*cking hates me.”

Lily frowned and absorbed the words carefully. It didn’t make any semblance of rational thought to her.

Why would Sirius say those things?

Provocation, maybe? Fear of exposure?

“Well, what happened after I left? What was going on before Sirius said those things?”

Marlene flushed and gazed around the room, observing anything but her. “We were all playing Spin the Bottle. It was Sirius’s turn, and he… Well, he landed on me.”

Lily gasped, her emerald eyes glimmering. “You two kissed?!”

“No,” Marlene grumbled. “Of course, we didn’t. He refused to kiss me. I tried to be nonchalant. Just one quick peck and move on, but he wouldn’t so much as entertain the idea. I was so humiliated that I… Well… I told him he’s nothing but a coward… and how he doesn’t belong in Gryffindor… and that he’s just a Slytherin playing pretend.”

There was silence for a moment.

Marlene side-eyed Lily’s reaction.

She was pinching the bridge of her nose, looking right furious.

“Marlene,” she replied carefully. “Did you mean those things or were you just trying to hurt him?”

She definitely didn’t mean those terrible words. Not a single utterance of those sentences was genuine. She loves him—and positively hates it.

“I was trying to hurt him,” she whispered back. “He embarrassed me, but I knew if I provoked him enough, he’d give me a reason to storm out. And he did… He said the worst things imaginable.”

“It’s clear he was trying to prevent that kiss from happening. But is it possible that he didn’t mean those things either? That you both said what you know will hurt the other the most? You two are in love. It’s unsurprising that he knows what will strike you down. I’m assuming you did the same to him.”

Marlene covered her face with her hands and snapped, “He’s not in love with me, Lily! He never was! He never said it to me one time!”

Removing her hands forcibly, Lily revealed Marlene’s pathetic, insecure expression.

“Just because he never said the words outright, doesn’t mean he never felt them.”

“Stop giving me hope, Lily,” Marlene protested gruffly. “It’s just backpedalling. It’s over. It’s done. There is no us. You weren’t there over the summer, how the hell would you know what he really thinks of me?”

Lily let out a frustrated sigh. The air blew at her bangs, wafting them across her forehead. “Because of what you’ve told me so far. You felt the magic, Marlene. It was there. You’re not a foolish girl. There was something there, and it clearly isn’t gone or he wouldn’t be making faces like he did yesterday. He wouldn’t be stunned when I say that you’re perfect together. I mean, honestly, you said the breakup came out of nowhere. When was the moment you realised something was different between you two? When did you first feel him pulling away?”

Marlene furrowed her brows and thought back to the summer.

It was July 30th.

They were in Jamie’s sitting room throwing almonds into each other’s mouths from their chairs across the room.

Marlene sunk one into Sirius’s mouth. She watched him chew smugly. Licking his lips the same way he did only twelve hours earlier when his face was between her thighs back in her bedroom.

Marlene, with her face in flames, excused herself to the loo. She held his gaze as she walked from the room.

She was gone for maybe five minutes.

When she opened the door, Jamie was tossing almonds into his own mouth. He flashed a lopsided grin at her when she reentered.

Taking her previous spot, she turned to Sirius who was glaring at his hands. His eyebrows furrowed with a tiny crease in between them.

“How about we all head to the garage and work on the motorbike? I think today might be the day we finally charm it to fly!” Jamie exclaimed. “And, hey, maybe you can have a bit more practice riding it, Mar!”

“Good idea, Prongs,” Sirius agreed. There was an edge to his voice that Marlene couldn’t read. Confused, she tried to hold him back as Jamie left the room.

She reached for his arm. “Hey, are you—?”

He consciously kept her out of reach. “Leave it, McKinnon.”

He was distant the rest of the day.

Never glancing at her or meeting her eyes. He no longer laughed at her jokes or tried to make her smile in return. He was insulting and cruel and made comments about wanting to f*ck other women, right in front of her. Eventually, she got sick of it and left.

That night when he appeared on her balcony (like he did every single night prior since moving in with the Potters), he told her that it was time to end their charade. That this was just going to get her hurt because he would never be able to date her for real. He said he can’t be seen with her.

Marlene recounted this all aloud. Lily listened intently, drinking in her every phrase, occasionally asking if Marlene was merely paraphrasing or Sirius’s exact wording.

“Why does it matter if he said he ‘can’t’ be seen with me versus ‘doesn’t want’ to be seen with me? It has the same meaning at the end of the day.”

Lily shook her head and bit her lip. She stared off into space with narrowed eyes, seemingly trying to use this new information as a means to find the subtext.

“What do you think James said to him?”

“Jamie? I don’t know, probably nothing.”

“No, no. Don’t you see? Everything is fine one minute, then you leave the two of them alone, and he breaks up with you the same day. James said something. Maybe James knew what was going on?”

Marlene thought about it. “No, I doubt he does. He wouldn’t have been silent through all of this.”

“You’re right,” Lily agreed pragmatically. “He would have told me when we had detention together.”

Marlene bristled. “You talked about me during detention?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Of course, we talked about you. You’re the one thing we have in common.” Lily paused to consider her wording. “He wanted to know why you came to stay with me. I told him it was about a boy.”

“You did?” Marlene whined. “So that’s how he knows. Ugh, how embarrassing. And he didn’t try to guess who it was?”

“No, surprisingly. I mean if he really wanted to, he could have. But I told Potter the one thing I thought I knew at the time… That your secret lover is not a Marauder—which, by the way, is a lie you told me. So thanks for that.”

Marlene raised her hands in surrender. “Technically, I didn’t lie. You asked if it was a Marauder, and I merely pointed out that other wizards live in town. I didn’t say no.”

Lily crossed her arms and muttered, “Well played, McKinnon.”

“I thought so, too.”

“This makes my Potion partner choice make more sense now.”

Marlene glowered. “Yeah, thanks for that by the way,” she bitterly mumbled. “I’ve been in pure misery ever since the switch.”

Lily stifled a laugh at her expense. “Okay,” she continued. “So after I tell him that it’s not a Marauder, James tells me that he forced the group into some kind of oath. An oath to never lay a finger on you. If that’s the case, Sirius broke that oath under Potter’s nose. I would imagine he feels extremely guilty about it. And that would also explain why he suddenly changed over the span of five minutes. Maybe James reminded him of his promise. Maybe he could feel the tension between the two of you and wanted to nip it in the bud, but was unaware that something was already in progress. After all, Sirius said he couldn’t be seen with you, not that he didn’t want to be seen with you.”

Marlene chewed the inside of her cheek. “But he still insulted me, Lil. He called me a shag mate. He told me that I was misinformed of what this was to him. That I was embarrassing myself by thinking anything would ever happen.”

“That could mean anything though!” Lily argued.

“Why are you pushing this?” Marlene questioned. “You have no idea how we operated as a couple. You’ve seen us argue. You’ve seen us scream at the other and lash out. Why do you think this is even a love worth saving?”

Lily deflated and sighed. “I guess, I just can’t imagine you with anyone else. I have to believe that you fell in love with someone worthy of falling in love with. If I’m misinterpreting this relationship, then answer me: What was it like? What would you two do in secret that wasn’t just shagging?”

Marlene closed her eyes and pictured it all.

It came so freely.

“Our first kiss was at the dance class, but things didn’t really ignite until the night he woke up from his coma—”

“Sirius was in a coma?!” Lily yelped.

“The night of the dance class… We were being rowdy and got kicked out early—don’t give me that face, it’s not that surprising—anyway, we got kicked out. So we headed to this club he knew of and… His mother found us there. It was… frightening. She hit him, Lily. Right in front of me. I mean, I knew she was abusive, but I never thought she’d just… And in public, Lily. She drew blood.”

The redhead inhaled sharply. “Then what happened?”

“I went home and waited to hear from him but nothing came. I wasn’t surprised to not hear from him. The Potters had all been fuming since the start of summer over how Sirius hadn’t spoken to them. No letters at all. Jamie and Uncle Monty tried going over there, but the Blacks refused to let them inside. Something about Sirius being away with a relative. The dance class was the first anyone’s heard from him since King’s Cross—and it was me. Before he left the club with his mother, he made me promise not to tell anyone that I saw him there and… I obeyed. Like I always seem to do with him…

“It was around three or four in the morning when our door was pummelled. Mum and Dad went down to see what was happening. They opened the door, and Jamie was standing there, pale as a ghost. He rushed inside and begged for their help. He said Sirius was badly hurt and needed all the medicines and potions they could come up with. Jamie, he—” Marlene suddenly stopped speaking and closed her eyes tight. “—he looked so scared. He really thought Sirius had died on his doorstep. I still don’t know how he managed to run away, but it took three days for him to wake up.

“I was the first person he came to. He appeared on my balcony in the middle of the night and held me. He held me so tight, like he was afraid I’d disappear. We talked for a little while. We kissed and we… Well, we… you know. Eventually, I fell asleep in his arms. When I woke up he was gone, but every night following, he would sneak over. From midnight to near sunrise.” Marlene sighed dreamily.

Lily brushed a stray hair from her cheek and smiled knowingly. “Every night, huh?”

Marlene smiled. “Every night. We listened to a lot of albums and danced. Later into the summer, we crept down to the library. There, he would listen to me play piano. The library, like my bedroom, is soundproof, so we could talk freely without worrying about being caught. It was so beautiful. He always had his hands on me while I played. I even showed him my original pieces—Lily, I never show anyone my compositions. But I did it with him because… I was in love with him. One night, he pointed out the names of nebulas from my balcony. Another night, I took him for a stroll through the orchard where we climbed my favourite tree on the property. One night, we swam starkers in the kettle pond. And another time, he tried on my clothes and I braided his hair to look like my pigtails. I can’t remember a time when I laughed that hard.” Her eyes brightened. “And once, Jamie got sick the night of this concert I was looking forward to, so Sirius took his place and it was… f*ck, it was exhilarating. Ooh! And then, this other night, I sat in between his legs and we read a book—he rested his head on my shoulder and we read together from the same novel. When he was ready for me to turn the page, he’d kiss my cheek.”

Marlene serenely grazed her own cheek.

“I did so much with him. It felt like a lifetime’s worth of memories. There’s too much to say, but the best nights were when we sang together. I’d show him an instrumental piece I wrote, and he’d deliver lyrics to accompany it. He’s so talented and, good god, his voice is angelic. He made me come alive, Lil. He made me feel so precious—so sacred.

Marlene’s happy face slipped away as her thoughts drifted to the night they parted. “He made me feel so loved once, but it was all in my head. It was one-sided. He said he wanted me for a little while, but that I was old news. A good time for the moment but never to keep. He wanted an easy lay, and I gave it to him, Lily. I offered myself whenever he wanted because I wanted him, too.”

Lily contemplated her words. “Does he usually sleep with the same girl multiple times?” she asked.

Marlene snorted. “Hell if I know.” Although, he already assured her that he never does.

“I’ve always known him to be a ‘one and done’ kind of bloke. Did you always shag when you saw each other during your nights together?”

Marlene flushed and looked away uncomfortably. “No,” she uttered quietly. “Some nights we just… talked. Some nights we slow-danced around the room in silence until we were too tired to stay up any longer.”

“Then it was more for him, Marlene. He could have just stayed at the Potters and spent his evenings with James, but he came to you. Again and again and again… in secret and without much forethought,” Lily theorised. “I’m willing to bet that James said something to him that day in the sitting room. Something scared him into leaving you, Marlene. I refuse to believe he would have done it willingly.”

“But where does that leave us, Lil? We’re still apart. We still fight. We still can’t be around each other.”

“You should ask him if James was the real reason. Ask him and tell him you still love him,” Lily said simply.

Marlene laughed mirthlessly. “Absolutely not. No way in hell.”

Lily sighed and wiggled off the bed. She fixed her jumper and fluffed her hair before walking over to her nightstand. She picked up her coin purse and lipstick and placed them both in her petite purse. “Suit yourself, Marlene. It’s your happiness at stake, not mine.”

Marlene frowned and crossed her arms again, the nails digging into her skin. “Are you headed to the village, then?”

“I think so,” Lily replied. “I’m sure Declan is waiting for me. Breakfast will be over soon. Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

The brunette shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. I have a lot to think about, but I hope you enjoy yourself.”

“Thank you for talking to me. You really are the best friend I’ve ever had. Be kind to yourself today, Mar.” Lily kissed the top of her head and left the room.

After her prefect friend closed the door, Marlene thought about their talk.

While it was easier to say that Lily was wrong, there was some truth to her words. And the potential of it being a gateway into his arms again had her salivating.

There was a chance.

There was a real possibility that Sirius removed her from his life for James’s sake and not because he didn’t care. It felt confusing and wrong to even allow the thought to cultivate in her mind, but what if Lily was right? What if the only thing Marlene needed to do is simply tell him? Tell him that she knew about their oath. Tell him that she’d keep seeing him in secret if that's what it took to keep him. Tell him that she’d take him any way he was willing to give if only he said that he loves her, too.

Marlene reached into the drawer of her nightstand and procured writing utensils.

Before she lost her nerve, she wrote a quick note and gave it to her Pygmy owl, Humbug.

She watched her feathered friend fly from the window. He soared in the direction of the Great Hall as Marlene turned towards her closet to get ready to meet her fate.

Secrets May As Well Be Lies - ScarlettCrimson - Harry Potter (2024)

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