Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was an unusual school for unusual people. James Potter started his first year with all the other eleven year olds as a perfectly normal unusual boy.
He was a good wizard, James had a particular knack for jinxes and hexes. He used his talent to torment his classmates endlessly. It was curious how so many events seemed to center around this normally unusual boy as his Hogwarts career started to close.
At the moment though, he was concentrating on sprinting to the Owlery. James had forgotten his mum’s birthday. He had written a letter in the common room this morning, when he should have been studying for his Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. which was today.
He picked the owl that looked the fastest and tied his letter to it’s leg. Then he threw it out the window. The brown owl looked back at him reproachfully before taking off.
James turned to run back to the common room, but voices came floating in from the hallway, and he paused.
“I told the Mudblood I’d go to Hogsmeade with her this weekend,” It sounded like Snape’s voice. James’s hand plunged into his robes immediately. His fingers were just tightening around his wand when a second voice came.
“What, Lily? Blow her off. We have more important things to see to.”
“I know,” Snape answered.
They turned into the Owlery, and James had half a mind to start hexing them immediately. But there were two of them, and he was good, but he wasn’t that good. So he swept past them without a word. Anger was pumping through him though. He couldn’t hear anything as he ran up to the Gryffindor common room to get his bag.
How dare he call her a Mudblood.
Sparks shot out of the end of his wand as James ran along. He hadn’t even noticed that he had taken it out. He stuffed it back in his robes so that Lupin wouldn’t ask him why he had it out. He would assume that James had broken some rules, which wasn’t an unfair assumption, but now wasn’t the time for it.
James approached the Fat Lady and gave the password (“animagus”) and then climbed through the portrait hole. He crossed the room to where Sirius, Remus, and Peter were sitting.
“Hey, Prongs,” Sirius said as he leaned back in his chair. He had a worried look on his face.
“What’s going on?” James asked.
“Slytherin’s might be up to something,” Wormtail said, making his voice anxious. His voice was always anxious.
“Yeah, I heard Snape talking about that. They have something to do this weekend. But we can’t worry about that now, we’ve got exams!” James grinned at them all like an idiot. He was really trying not to give into the anger that was still pounding through his ears.
“You saw Snape and didn’t hex him?” Sirius let his chair fall to the ground with a bang, emphasizing his shock.
“He had Mulciber with him.”
“Mulciber is an idiot,” Sirius waved that aside.
“And we have an exam in ten minutes and I can’t be in the infirmary for that.” James finished, talking over his best friend.
“Common sense from you James?” Remus asked as he poured over his notes. “How refreshing,” he finished drily.
James rolled his eyes. “Let’s go.”
They made their way down the stairs to the great hall. The room had had the four house tables cleared from them and they were full of individual desks instead. The four of them made their way through the tightly packed desks to their seats, and when Flitwick flipped the hourglass over, James bent his head dutifully to the first question.
What is the incantation to produce a patronus charm?
The heat from the room was pressing in on James, and all he could hear was the word mudblood pound through his ears. And that was who Lily chose to be her friend?
James answered most of the questions on the test automatically, his hand taking over for him when his mind wandered. There were occasions when he caught himself staring at the ceiling, thinking about Lily and hexing Snape.
But then he gathered himself and continued on with the test.
* * *
“I’m bored,” Sirius complained. “I wish it was full moon.”
James agreed silently, he wanted nothing more than to shift forms and run around the grounds, but he knew how much Mooney hated that time.
“You might,” Lupin said while looking through his book. “We’ve still got Transfiguration, if you’re bored you could test me. . . Here.” He started to hand the book to Sirius.
Sirius made a scathing noise. “I don’t need to look at that rubbish, I know it all.”
James looked up and saw Severus Snape sitting under the shade of a bush a little ways from him. A cruel smile played at the edge of his lips. He shouldn’t.
But he would.
“This’ll liven you up, Padfoot,” he said softly. “Look who it is . . .”
Sirius turned around and then froze as he watched as Snape stand up and start to put his O.W.L. papers back in his bag.
“Excellent,” Sirius hissed. “Snivellus.”
James stood up, Sirius stood with him. Wormtail looked at both of them with an anticipatory expression on his face. Lupin suddenly became very interested in his book, but he was staring fixedly at one point on the page.
“All right, Snivellus? James asked loudly.
Immediately Snape dropped his bag and pulled his wand from his robes. James shouted, “Expelliarmus!”
Severus’s wand flew into the air and fell in the grass behind him. Sirius laughed at James’s elbow. Then he raised his own wand and shouted, “Impedimeta!” As Snape dived for his wand, Snape was knocked off his feet and thrown backwards.
It wasn’t very fair, James thought, two against one.
Students had started to gather. Some of them looked entertained, and others looked apprehensive.
Snape was laying on the ground from where Sirius’s charm had landed him. With their wands raised, James and Sirius walked towards him. James was looking at the water’s edge occasionally, to see if Lily was going to come. He wasn’t sure he wanted her to see this or not.
“How’d the exam go, Snivelly?” James asked.
“I was watching him, his nose was touching the parchment,” said Sirius viciously. “There’ll be great grease marks all over it, they won’t be able to read a word.”
Several people around the circle laughed. Sirius’s eyes flicked to where a group of girls were standing and the edge of his mouth turned up.
Snape was trying to get up, but Sirius’s magic was still working, so the most he could do was struggle weakly.
“You- wait,” he said breathing heavily. “You-wait. . . .’
“Wait for what?” Sirius asked calmly. “What are you going to do, Snivelly, wipe your nose on us?”
But to James, it sounded like Snape was referring to whatever the Slytherin’s were planning for this weekend.
Snape cursed, hexes and swearwords both coming out of his mouth.
James looked down at him, making eye contact and letting his fury shine through his eyes.
“Wash out your mouth,” he said coldly. “Scourigfy.”
Pink soap bubbles started to froth from Snape’s lips.
“Leave him ALONE!”
James’s hand jumped to rake his fingers through his hair in agitation. She was here, and she was taking his side.
Her red hair was brushing against the top of her shoulders, and her green eyes were staring at James accusingly.
“All right, Evans?” he asked, trying to sound normal.
“Leave him alone,” she said again. She was looking at him with disgust in her eyes. It was almost painful. “What’s he ever done to you?”
Not me, James silently argued, you. He called you a Mudblood. A Mudblood! I can’t just let him say things like that. . .
“Well,” James said slowly to give a more deliberate effect, “it’s more the fact that he exists, if you know what I mean. . . .”
The people around them laughed.
“You think you’re funny. But you’re just an arrogant, bullying toerag, Potter. Leave him alone.”
“I will if you go out with me, Evans,” James said quickly. What was he saying? He certainly hadn’t planned this. “Go on . . . Go out with me, and I’ll never lay a wand on old Snivelly again.”
The Jinx was wearing off of Snape now, he had started to crawl towards his wand. He was spitting out bubbles on the way, leaving little pink mounds in the grass behind him.
“I wouldn’t go out with you if it was a choice between you and the giant squid.” She told James.
Suddenly it felt like the weight of a piano had fallen on James.
“Bad luck Prongs,” Sirius said and turned back to Snape. “OY!”
There was a flash of light and a gash appeared on James’s cheek. Whirling, he leveled his wand at Snape, and another flash of light occurred and Snape was hanging upside down in the air. The unfortunate position exposed his skinny legs and gray underpants.
A couple people cheered, James laughed with Wormtail and Sirius, but he didn’t actually feel like laughing.
Lily’s expression had twitched for a second, almost like she would have smiled. But then her face smoothed out and she said, “Let him down!”
“Certainly,” James said, and let Snape fall with a thud in a tangled heap on the ground. He knew he was being more harsh because Evan’s had refused him, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
“Locomotor mortis!” Sirius yelled and Snape stiffened and keeled over.
“LEAVE HIM ALONE!” Lily yelled, and she had pulled her wand out. James looked at her apprehensively.
“Ah, Evans, don’t make me hex you,” James said.
“Take the curse off of him then!” she said angrily.
James sighed, disappointed at this turn of events. Why she was so adamant about sticking up for him, he couldn’t tell. He pointed his wand at Snape and muttered the countercurse.
“There you go,” he said as Snape stood up with stiffness still in his muscles. “You’re lucky Evans was here Snivellus-”
“I don’t need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!”
Lily blinked and James could see the hurt flash across her face, and he filled with fury again.
“Fine,” she said. “I won’t bother in the future. And I’d wash your pants if I were you, Snivellus.”
James felt a fierce satisfaction that she had used his nickname for Snape.
“Apologize to Evans!” James yelled at Snape, pointing his wand at his chest.
“I don’t want you to make him apologize,” Lily shouted at James. “You’re as bad as he is. . . .”
“What?! I’d NEVER call you a- you-know-what!” James was completely flustered.
“Messing up your hair because you think it looks cool to look like you’ve just got off your broomstick, showing off with that stupid Snitch, walking down corridors and hexing anyone who annoys you just because you can- I’m surprised your broomstick can get off the ground with that fat head on it. You make me SICK.”
She turned and, without a backward glance, she walked away.
“Evans!” James shouted after her, “Hey, EVANS!”
She ignored him.
“What is it with her?” James asked Sirius, as though it was a passing question, but really he was burning with curiosity.
“Reading between the lines, I’d say she thinks you’re a bit conceited, mate,” Sirius answered with a knowing smirk.
“Right,” James said furiously. “Right.” He waved his wand and Snape flew up into the air again.
Well, if Lily thought that he wasn’t worth a damn already, then he was going to have fun with torturing Snivellus.
“Who wants to see me take off Snivelly’s pants?”
“I don’t think there would be much to see,” Sirius remarked viciously. The crowd around them laughed again.
“As amusing as you undoubtably think this is, I believe the time has come for us all to adjourn to the Great Hall.” The soft voice from behind James sent a tremor of fear. Somehow it would seem so much easier if he just shouted. As far as he knew Dumbledore never shouted.
James turned around to face the tall wizard. “I see your beard is coming along nicely, Sir.” It was about six inches below his chin.
“Thank you Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore inclined his head to accept the compliment. “Perhaps you could let Severus down.”
James turned around and waved his wand. With another flash of light Snape collapsed on the ground for the second time that afternoon. He picked up his wand and looked as if he had half a mind to hex James right there in front of the Headmaster.
“Go on up to the castle Severus, supper is just beginning,” Dumbledore informed him cheerfully.
Snape turned and stuffed his books in his bag and stalked up to the castle.
Dumbledore regarded Sirius and James with a calm gaze. He seemed to be thinking on something. “Detention I think. This Friday with Hagrid.”
James saw Sirius relax when he heard it was with Hagrid.
“Mr. Black, why don’t you go on to supper, I would like to talk with James alone.” Sirius gave James half of a look and then scampered off to the castle.
James turned back to Dumbledore. The older man was regarding him with serious blue eyes behind his glasses.
James’s hand jumped to his hair out of habit, and the corner of Dumbledore’s mouth twitched.
“The way to a girl’s heart is not by torturing her best friend.” Dumbledore eventually said.
James stared at him. He was expecting a lecture, maybe an admonishment. Not romantic advice.
“He called her a Mudblood this morning.” James said stupidly.
“Did she know that?” Dumbledore asked that.
“No.” James looked down at the ground.
“Perhaps, if you hadn’t made him admit that in front of everyone, she would have been able to convince him to abandon the Dark Arts. As it is now, she won’t talk to him again.”
Dumbledore walked away then, leaving James standing next to the lake with his wand held limp in his hand and nothing better to do but to grab his bag and go up to the castle.
He sat at the Gryffindor table where Sirius was chatting with Lupin and Wormtail.
Mary Macdonald, a pretty fourth year with brown curly hair was sitting next to James.
“James are you okay? You’re not eating,” she asked him kindly. But he didn’t want kind.
At the sound of her voice Sirius turned around quickly.
“I’m fine,” James said and he stood up from the table and hurried up to the Gryffindor common room.
He ran up to his dormitory and took his broom and his invisibility cloak out from his trunk. He threw the cloak over him and snuck back down the stairs.
No one was in the common room so he didn’t have to wait for someone to come in to get out of the portrait hole. He climbed out and started down the stairs. He passed Snape on the way down. He was looking at his feet as he walked and his gaze didn’t waver.
James eased around him and then went down to the Great Hall and out the large doors.
Darkness was falling quickly, so he didn’t have to wait very long before he could fly. He made his way to the Quidditch pitch and stashed his cloak at the bottom of one of the goals. Then he kicked off of the ground. The air rushed passed his face and it felt like waking up.
A sort of euphoria curled in his stomach as he flew laps around the stadium and he made loops and turns.
Then he abandoned the stadium to fly over the lake, as low as he could get. He could feel the water in the air as he flew.
A ripple disturbed the surface and a tentacle of the Great Squid came up, almost unseating James. He flew upwards, yelling from the excitement.
But when he landed there was still unease radiating from the pit of his stomach. He went over the the edge of the Forbidden Forest and placed his invisibility Cloak and his broom at the base of a tree and then walked into the trees and shifted into the form of a stag.
Being an animagus had certain advantages. It was useful on nights like tonight when all he wanted to do was run. James bunched up the muscles in his back and then sprung forward, running deep into the forest. It took him hours to tire out. When he finally did, he had made almost a full circle and he traced his own scent back to where his cloak and broom were hidden.
James threw the cloak over him and started to walk back to the castle. He eased in through the doors and started to make his way up the flights of stairs. There was one dreadful moment when a teacher walking by seemed to hear something, but then the man just shook his head, muttering something to himself and walked on.
James rounded the corner to go to the portrait of the Fat Lady and stopped, seeing Lily and Severus standing in the hallway.
Lily was wearing a nightgown and Snape was dressed in his usual black with his greasy hair.
“Save your breath.” Lily said. “I only came out because Mary told me you were threatening to sleep here.”
Snape was truly agitated, he was wringing his hands and shifting his weight from foot to foot. “I was. I would have done. I never meant to call you Mudblood, it just-”
“Slipped out?” Lily’s voice was colder than James had ever heard it. Even when she was insulting him there a certain amount of warmth to it. “It’s too late. I’ve made excuses for you for years. None of my friends can understand why I even talk to you. You and your precious little Death Eater friends- you see, you don’t even deny it!- You don’t even deny that’s what you’re all aiming to be! You can’t wait to join You-Know-Who can you?”
Severus opened his mouth, but no sound came out and he closed it again without speaking.
“I can’t pretend anymore. You’ve chosen your way. I’ve chosen mine.”
James felt a fierce surge of pride for Lily.
“No,” Snape said, “Listen, I didn’t mean-”
“-to call me Mudblood? But you call everyone of my birth Mudblood, Severus. Why should I be any different?”
He looked at her helplessly, struggling for words, but she only gave him a withering look and climbed back through the portrait hole.
Snape stood there and stared at the Fat Lady for several minutes. Then he turned and walked away.
James waited until he was he around the corner and then pulled off his cloak and gave the password. The picture swung forward and he scrambled through, stuffing his cloak in his pocket as he went.
The fire had gone down to embers now, and all the tables and plush chairs were abandoned except for one.
Lily sat in front of the fireplace, staring into the smoldering coals. The light from them cast strange shadows over her face. James caught himself staring before shaking himself and walking over to sit next to her.
He sat his broom down next to the chair he sank into.
“Sorry,” he said. He waited, hardly breathing, hoping that his apology would be accepted with more grace than Snape’s.
“What for?” she asked with dead voice.
“Er-” James floundered for a moment. “For making your best friend call you an unspeakable name in front of half the school.”
“Not your fault he called me that,” she said.
“But it’s my fault he shouted that in front of everyone.”
“Yes.” She hadn’t moved. “Why do you hate him so much?” The deadness had gone out of her voice and she sounded at least a little curious.
“Slytherin, aspiring Death Eater, and I heard him call you a Mudblood in the Owlery this morning.” James said the last couple of words quickly.
Her head snapped to the side. “Is that why you attacked him today?”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Lily asked. “You don’t need to protect me! Why didn’t you just tell me that he’d said that?”
“How was that conversation supposed to go?” James yelped. “Hiya Lily, sorry to ruin your day, but I overheard your best friend calling you the worst possible name ever this morning, and I thought you ought to know.”
“That’s still nicer than torturing him in front of the entire school!” She shouted at him.
“I was angry!” James shouted back.
“What right do you have to be angry for me?” Lily yelled at him. “What makes you think you have the responsibility of protecting me?”
“I don’t know!” James sat back in the chair. “I don’t know what it is about you,” he said softly. “I just don’t know.”
She glared at him, and then she turned on her heel and stalked away.
James’s eyes followed the swing of her red hair as she walked away.
* * *
James and Sirius were making their way down to Hagrid’s hut as the sun got dark.
That morning James had woken up to Sirius throwing a pillow at him. “Wake up, mate, we’ve got Transfiguration today. And then detention!”
James had groaned and rolled over. When he finally got out of bed he had to endure Wormtail fretting about the exam, and Lupin’s declarations that he would fail this exam, surely, he simply hadn’t studied enough, and Sirius arguing Quidditch with Mary and all the while trying not to glance at Lily, who was sitting next to Mary and therefore right across from James.
He had been mostly unsuccessful.
Sirius knocked on the wood of Hagrid’s door and there were a couple of thundering footsteps and then the door opened. Light spilled out onto the lawn.
“C’mon in then,” Hagrid’s gruff voice boomed out into the darkness.
Sirius grinned up at him. “All right, Hagrid?”
Sirius entered in the door and James followed behind, staggering forward from the weight of of Hagrid’s slap on the back.
He entered just in time to see Lily jump up from the table and almost spill her tea. “I’m so sorry Hagrid, I’ll go now.”
“Are yeh sure yer a’right?” he asked her with his eyes crinkling at the edges.
“Oh, yes, I’m fine,” she said quickly. James could see the redness around her eyes. “Perfectly fine. Thank you for the tea.”
Lily was determinedly looking anywhere but at James. He stared at her while she exited quickly. She fled from the room and out onto the grounds.
“Uh, excuse me, Hagrid, I’ll be back in a second,” James stammered.
Sirius and Hagrid exchanged a look that James had no time to comment on. He ran out onto the grass.
“Lily!” he yelled after her.
She didn’t stop walking.
He caught up to her and started to walk beside her.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” she said sharply.
“You’ve been crying,” James said. He had no idea what he was doing here. He should be avoiding her, getting over her, not chasing after her and worrying about what she had been crying about.
“Look, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry that I yelled at you last night, and I’m sorry that Snape called you a Mudblood and I’m sorry that all I ever seem to do is apologize to you.”
Lily sneaked a peak at him out of the corner of her eye. He ran his hand through his hair in distress. It made his hair stand up even more.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” he asked.
“Thank you for apologizing.” Lily spoke the words stiffly, and continued to march on.
James took her elbow and spun her around to face him. She tried to look at her feet, but then looked defiantly right at him.
James felt a swooping sensation in his stomach as she looked at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said deliberately.
“Yes,” she said, “You said that.”
“You didn’t seem to understand that I was trying to be sincere.”
She wrenched her arm out of his grasp. “Stop it, James,” she said irritably. She turned to walk away again.
“Stop what?” He asked and skipped forward to stand in front of her so that she couldn’t walk anymore.
“Please move.” She sighed and looked up at him once more.
“What is it that you want me to stop doing? I can’t stop irritating you if you don’t tell me what it is that is irritating you.”
“Stop being so damn accommodating!” Lily started to yell at him again. “Stop trying to make me happy, stop trying to apologize every time something goes slightly wrong. No one else bothers, why should you?”
She side-stepped him and started to walk towards the castle again.
He caught up with her again. “I’m confused,” he said. “Does this mean that I’m doing something right or something wrong? Because last time I checked, being accommodating was a good thing, but you yelled it like I was having the Dark Mark tattooed on my arm.”
“Don’t joke about that.” Her face was dark as she said it.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“Sev got it a couple of months ago.” Lily’s breath hitched and James thought he could see her crying again. “I don’t understand why he hates me so much, why he hates Mubloods so much. Maybe we don’t really belong. Maybe he’s right.”
“Lily!” James stopped walking and spun her around so that his hands were on her shoulders. “Don’t EVER say that again! You are a witch, and you have as much right to be here as anyone else. More right than Severus Snape. You are not a Mudblood, and if I ever hear you call yourself that again. . . . “
He trailed off, and Lily looked up at him.
“I don’t get it. Why do you care?”
“Because you’re worth more than that!” he yelled. “And you don’t even see it!”
Lily’s eyes filled with tears again.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “Goodnight.” Then she turned and walked to the castle, and James didn’t follow her.