It was a normal, busy day on Diagon Alley, one of the main shopping thoroughfares of Wizarding London. The weather was brisk but the sky was sunny, and children were chasing each other through the streets on toy brooms or begging their parents for pets from the Magical Menagerie. Madam Malkin’s and Twilfitt and Tattings were overrun with posh customers looking to outfit themselves in the newest fashions for the changing season. It was the perfect afternoon for a young couple on a date to share a treat from Florean Fortescue’s ice cream shop.
But Lily Evans had no time for dates. She did most of her family’s cooking and cleaning, as she’d shown a knack for such mundane chores, and she also worked as a clerk in a small shop called Slughorn’s Elixirs & Ointments. She helped keep the shop clean, sorted ingredients, and assisted the shop owner, Horace Slughorn, with transcribing new recipes or documenting his ever-expanding research. On this lovely afternoon, she was engaged in the mind-numbing task of restocking jars of green lacewings on the “Insects, Arachnids, and Worms” shelf.
Not that anyone would ask her on a date, anyway, even if she’d had the time. Lily was a charming and bright girl, but many of the most prominent wizarding families in the U.K. considered her to be beneath their social standing. While she’d had lots of friends as a child, once she’d hit her teenage years, it seemed that more and more, the boys began to ignore her, and the girls soon followed. Now she was twenty-one years old, and her closest friends were a pair of mice that lived in the floorboards under her wardrobe.
The door chime at the shop tinkled, and Lily paused in her work and her bitter thoughts. Slughorn barely looked up from his work table, where he had three cauldrons brewing three different potions.
“Lily, dear, can you see who that is?” he asked, frowning as he stirred a deep purple concoction.
“Of course, Mr. Slughorn,” Lily replied. She set down the lacewings and wound her way through the shelves and past the charms and talismans Slughorn liked to sell until she reached the front of the shop. “Oh,” she said when she got there. “It’s you again.”
“Alright, Evans?” James Potter asked, his annoyingly handsome face splitting into a wide grin. He was flanked on one side by his best friend and fellow nuisance, Sirius Black, and on the other by Mr. Fleamont Potter's junior business associate, Peter Pettigrew.
Lily sighed. Although she’d just been lamenting how other wizards her age tended to ignore her, Potter was the exception. He was like a bad pixie rash -- she couldn’t get rid of him if she tried. He seemed to take pleasure in trying to get a rise out of her, but she always gave him as good as she got.
“I’m fine, Potter. What do you need this time?” She pursed her lips, then raised her eyebrows in challenge. “An Enlargement Elixir, maybe? For…” She trailed off and lowered her eyes to his groin with a sort of conspiratorial nod.
“What? No!” James’ hand leapt to his already-wild black hair and Sirius barked out a loud laugh. “I’ll have you know, nothing down there needs any enlarging, Evans.” He flashed her a smile he thought was charming. “I’d love to prove it to you if you’re available later.”
“Sorry, I don’t have my magnifying glass on me at the moment. Raincheck?” Lily smirked and tossed her thick, auburn hair over her shoulder before she turned to head towards the counter. “So, what brings you back to this little shop for the third time this week?”
She swore she heard a quiet laugh behind her that was quickly replaced with a cough. As she reached the counter she turned back to the three boys behind her, her question punctuated with the raise of her brow.
“Sadly, it’s not for pleasure this time. I’m on an errand for my dad. He gave me a list.” James rummaged in the pocket of his slacks, producing a paper with more than a few creases in it, extending it towards her. She took it and started looking over its contents. “Dad believes Slughorn has the best ingredients," he continued, "hence the multiple visits. He’s working on a new product.”
Lily looked back at the man in front of her. He avoided eye contact. He seemed to have lost a bit of the bravado he had when he first entered. Maybe he hadn’t meant to mention his father’s new product. If that was the case, Lily didn’t care. Although Fleamont Potter was one of the best Potioneers in the U.K., Slughorn was just as talented. If Potter had a new product on the way, Slughorn would soon have something as good or better.
And if James’ change in demeanor was because the comment about his size had reached his ego, Lily wouldn’t worry about that, either. Surely James Potter would bounce back quickly.
“Give me a couple minutes,” she said, shrugging as if she hadn’t noticed the shift in his behavior. She turned her attention back to the list. As she meandered around the familiar shelves of the shop, her mind kept wandering to a slightly deflated James. A stark difference to the usual arrogance of the boy who came in every other day for some of the premade potions the shop offers, or the occasional ingredient trip for his dad. She wondered what this quieter James was like, as opposed to the overly confident git that usually graced her presence. She shook that thought out of her head, forcing herself to focus on the products in front of her.
After grabbing the necessary ingredients, she laid them out on the counter and grabbed the scales from the cupboard underneath. Once everything was measured out and packed up, she finally spared the group of boys a glance. Peter was a ways down looking at a display for a love potion; though that particular version only tended to increase feelings that were already there, both good and bad. The other two seemed to be in an intense discussion, if James’s expression gave any indication. Although, Sirius did look like he was on verge of laughter.
She rolled her eyes. Boys.
“Anything else I can get for you?” Lily gave the pair a pointed look.
“Actually there is.” James came and leaned on the counter, his hazel eyes twinkling and an infuriatingly smug smile finding its way onto his features. “A few hours alone with you, possibly at a restaurant nearby? Or if you prefer it be more private I have a couple other ideas.” He winked as he collected his package from the counter.
Lily couldn't stop an exasperated smile from stretching across her face, and James’ lips quirked up in a grin. The cocky git was back.
“So sorry to disappoint, but all my time is already accounted for. I heard there's a banshee convention in town though, maybe you should try your luck there," Lily said with a raise of her eyebrows. "Your total comes to 23 galleons.”
She could have sworn she saw disappointment cloud his face, but a smile replaced it so quickly she figured she must have imagined it. He quickly counted out his coins before placing them on the counter.
“Lovely to see you as always, Evans.” The smile stayed put as he turned to leave, collecting his two companions.
Lily’s eyes stayed trained to the back of the retreating figures. It was weird to get a glimpse of a James that wasn’t constantly flirting, even a tiny glimpse like she'd seen today. Her thoughts continued to sift through their previous interactions, and as she was about to settle on it being a different flirting tactic, she saw something that made her hesitate.
A child who couldn’t have been older than five came to a tumbling halt in front of the three men who had just left Slughorn's shop. James immediately knelt beside the boy, who had tears filling his eyes. She could see them exchange some words before James pulled out his wand and waved it over the kid's scraped knee. After another short exchange he stood back up with a warm smile and quickly continued out of sight.
Something about the moment made Lily's insides feel gooey. Just for a second. She ignored it.
Any such feelings would have to stay a mystery for another day. She quickly got back to work restocking lacewing flies, trying her best to banish all thoughts of James Potter.
Pettigrew - If you are interested in your career advancement at the Sleekeazy ranks, meet me in Knockturn Alley, at the alley behind Dystyl Phaelanges. 11:30pm sharp. Come alone.
Peter read the note for what felt like the hundredth time. He could feel the shock of anxiety like electricity coursing through his body, goosebumps following in its wake as the thrum of his heart became deafening. He quickly made his way through the empty streets. The feeling of being followed weighed heavily on his mind; which caused him to keep stock of his surroundings. As he reached the mouth of the alley, he glanced once more behind him before he took a steadying breath and plunged into the uncertain future.
A figure swathed in black stood at the end, dimly illuminated by the flickering streetlamp above. Peter tried to see if he could identify the figure, but a hood effectively blocked out any light.
“At least you can follow directions," a curt, high-pitched voice rang. Another bolt of anxiety arced through Peter's system. He stood rooted to the spot, his mind racing as he tried to think of ways to retreat. A scoff broke through his panicked mind and his eyes landed back on the figure, now removing her hood -- for he could see now it was a her. A shock of blonde hair appeared, and the woman looked up and revealed pale blue eyes, a long face, and a pinched expression radiating annoyance.
“Ye-yes, miss. I can follow directions.” He quickly looked towards the ground, unable to hold eye contact with the woman in front of him.
“I’m surprised a scared rat like you would show up to a meeting like this. Though I suppose the only way to accomplish what you dream would be with an arrangement similar to this.” He looked up to find a raised eyebrow and slight cynicism behind her eyes. Peter suddenly felt a large lump lodge in his throat as he nodded. The hooded witch smirked. “Good.” She started to walk closer, and he resisted the urge to run in the other direction. “Do you know who I am?”
“No, Miss. I-I have never seen you before.”
“Even better. I have a proposition for you that I think will be beneficial given your--” her eyes flicked up and down the man in front of her, derision clear in her features, “--current situation. How would you like me to give you a ladder to climb in order to reach the top spot in that little company you work for?”
“How would you do that?”
“What if I could get rid of the pesky little heir to that company, and it couldn’t be traced back to you?”
Peter felt excitement bubble up inside of him, the fear he felt moments ago fading. With James out of the picture, he had a better chance of taking over the company when Fleamont stepped down. He was already the man’s assistant. It was almost as if he was being groomed for the position.
“Why would you want to help me?”
The woman sneered. “Let’s just say I have my own qualms with the boy.”
“And what do I owe you?”
“Consider us even if you help me get him alone.” A wicked smile spread across the witch’s face before him. The fear came back like a tidal wave. Though it seemed like a small price, he had the feeling that he was agreeing to more than just getting his boss’s son to the right place at the right time. But the draw of such a large reward ultimately outweighed the fear he was feeling.
He gave a twitchy shrug. “Anything for a good cause.”
The smile on the woman’s face twisted into something erring on the side of crazed. “Perfect.”
"I don't understand why you can't go pick up that beauty potion on your own, Pete," James grumbled, as the two young men walked to the apparition point at the edge of the Potter estate. "Evans might hex me if I go back to Sluggy's shop again."
"Maybe you shouldn't hit on her all the time," Peter said, his eyes darting around nervously. He glanced at his watch. "And I can't go get your mum's Timeless Skin Tonic because I've got my own assignments, you know. I actually work for your father's company."
"But if you'll be in Diagon Alley anyway…"
Peter sighed. "James, I go with you on errands all the bloody time. This is the least you can do, especially since the potion is for your mother.”
"Fine," James said. "But after I do it I'm meeting Sirius for a pint, I'm not doing chores all day. Today's my day off."
"Every day is your day off," Peter muttered.
James smirked. Without much effort, the two men linked arms and waved their wands to apparate to Diagon Alley.
They landed at the Apparition station in the back of the Leaky Cauldron because it was considered bad manners (and dangerous) to apparate into the middle of busy streets. Peter snatched his arm away from James as soon as they hit the ground and checked his watch again.
“You’re going straight to Slughorn’s, right?” he asked anxiously.
“Yes, Pete, I’ll go get Mum’s potion. When you’re done all your very important assignments, feel free to join me and Sirius. We’ll be back at the Leaky Cauldron.”
“Sure, Potter. Whatever,” Pete said. “Just don’t forget the potion. I have to go to Sprout’s Seed Shop and then...other places. See you later.” He scurried away, glancing over his shoulder at James as he went.
“Strange lad,” James said, shaking his head. He checked his own watch. It was half-past noon, which meant Lily would be taking her lunch break soon. He’d have to hurry if he wanted to run into her in the shop, which he did, even though he knew she wouldn’t be happy to see him. But seeing her face, even the half-irritated, half-amused look she gave him every time he opened his mouth, always made his day better.
He checked his surroundings, then headed towards Waffling Way. From there, he could take a shortcut through Knockturn Alley to Main Street, and he’d be at Slughorn’s shop in minutes.
It was easy for Pettigrew’s mysterious benefactor to bribe Knockturn Alley's usual inhabitant to stay clear while the Potter boy arrived. A trinket here, a couple of knuts there, and a promise of a future where the status of their hidden business would stay quiet gave her what she needed. The only other thing she needed to achieve her goal: James Potter.
The wait wasn’t as long as she expected. Pettigrew had promised to bring Potter around, and even though the Potter boy would almost always wander and get himself into trouble, this time he didn’t. It seemed that his desire to meet the clerk at the store was higher than his true nature. Pathetic. Anyone could see that he was infatuated with the redhead, and it gave the thin woman a sickening feeling just to think of the Potter heir with someone like her. It seemed he was so entranced by her beautiful face that he was ignoring all the signs that she was beneath him, not worthy of his attention. He was the kind of person who wanted the most beautiful woman in the room to pay attention to him, and he didn’t care if she had any other good qualities at all. But the thin witch in the alley would make sure that whatever the young man had in mind for Evans would never come true.
The unruly hair popped up at the entrance of the little alleyway that led to Main street. It was deserted, just like she planned it, but the man hadn’t noticed just yet. Perfect.
James wasn’t expecting his path to be cut off at the moment, he was thinking of possible reasons he could go back to Slughorn’s shop without being accused by Lily that he was coming up with excuses to go to the store. Most of the time he was, but today it was purely coincidental. He was so lost in thought, he dismissed the hooded figure approaching him in the alley with a quiet “I’m not interested,” figuring it was one of the usual street vendors and not really wanting to buy anything they were selling. But suddenly, he was met by the end of a wand.
“It would be in your best interest to show kindness, Potter. You never know who you run into.” The shrill voice echoed in his mind before the spell hit him. It made him dizzy and he stumbled against the wall, almost falling on his side but a barrel got him. He felt a sharp pain on his limbs as his eyesight unfocused and a splitting headache accompanied the other sensations. It felt like his body was being pulled apart and put back together the wrong way. What had she done to him?
“Y-you said you’d get rid of him!” he heard a second voice appear. He recognized it, but he couldn’t quite place it. He tried to look at the figures but his vision was still blurred, and his mind was too lost in the pain to put the face to its sound.
“And I will, this doesn’t leave any traces!” the woman replied, “Don’t question my methods!” she yelled at the smaller man.
“He’ll c-come back, he’ll t-take everything!” the man complained, half afraid, half enraged.
“He needs a true magical kiss for that to happen. And James Potter only loves himself,” the woman replied.
James didn’t know what she was talking about, but he had to get out of there. If he continued in the alley, he was sure they would find a way to bind him and maybe do something worse than just a hex.
The hooded witch laughed to herself as Potter turned tail and ran away. Her spell was a powerful one. It should keep him out of the way for a while.
Subconsciously, she reached up and stroked the locket around her neck, feeling its power thrum in her hand as she did. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Come on,” she said to Peter, motioning for him to follow her. “We must craft the perfect story for you to tell Fleamont.”
“This will never work!” Peter squeaked. “Fleamont will look everywhere for his son, and he’ll find out what we’ve done!”
The woman narrowed her eyes. “You’re weak,” she declared. “I thought you wanted control of the Sleakeazy company. How did you think you’d make it to the top, by begging and pleading and offering sweet treats? No!” Her voice was getting louder, and her thin face was pinched with disdain. “If you want power, you have to take it!”
“Th-there’s no way Fleamont will make me Vice President of his company if he thinks I’ve done something to James,” Peter complained, wringing his hands. “I thought you were going to make him disappear without a trace! If he comes back, he’ll be able to tell Fleamont I was here with you!”
“I doubt he recognized you,” the witch said. “That spell is very painful, I’m sure he couldn’t focus on anything else.” Peter was still whining and pacing back and forth. The witch frowned at him. “Your weakness will get us both in trouble! I should’ve known better than to involve someone like you in my plans. I have to do everything myself!”
She pointed her wand at Peter, and he shrank back in surprise. “What are you doing?” he cried.
“What I have to,” the witch snarled. “ Obliviate!”
James came to a stop in front of the row of flats on Bell End Lane and looked around wildly. Giving thanks to Merlin that Sirius lived on the ground floor, he began banging his head repeatedly into the door of the last flat on the row, because he did not think he would be able to ring the bell without breaking it. Eventually, he heard a groan and a crash and the sound of someone stumbling toward the door. It swung open and revealed a disheveled Sirius.
He took one look at James and then burst into laughter.
“Why… are you… a deer?!” he managed to get out between laughs.
“First of all, how did you recognize me? Second of all, I am not just a deer but a mighty stag,” James responded indignantly. “Notice these impressive antlers!”
“Seems a bit small but alright.”
“They’re exactly the right size! And I am a stag because some nutjob wizard cursed me! I repeat: how did you recognize me?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Sirius asked, as if that explained everything. “Did you get a good look at the wizard?”
“Nah, they cornered me in Knockturn and were wearing a cloak. Couldn’t see them at all.”
“Hmm. Pissed anyone off lately?”
“No more than usual!”
Sirius shrugged. “Well, you’ve been turned into worse things before. I’ll set you right.”
“Sirius, no wait–” James started.
Sirius ignored his friend’s protests, withdrew his wand from the waistband of his trousers, and waved it at James. His expectant look quickly fell as James remained in his cervine form. Sirius waved his wand again, and again, and again, all with different motions. But nothing happened.
“Like I was trying to say,” James said with a glare that looked rather hilarious coming from a deer. “This isn’t just a normal curse. It’s some kind of dark magic.”
“Well, I am unfortunately well-versed in undoing dark magic curses, but none of the countercurses I know worked.”
“That’s because the curse can only be undone by ‘a magical kiss’. Or at least, that’s what the wizard said.”
“Hmmm…” Sirius pondered while stroking his chin. “That sounds like strangely archaic magic, but okay. A magical kiss?”
“Well… I’m a wizard. And I’ve been told by numerous people that my kisses are magical,” Sirius drawled, smirking at James. “So maybe if I kiss you, it’ll turn you back.”
“I don’t know about that…”
“Have you got any better ideas?”
“Ugh, fine,” James grumbled. “But make it quick!”
“Why are you complaining? You get to kiss me! I’m the one who has to kiss a deer!”
Sirius leaned down so that his face was level with James’s, wiggled his eyebrows, and pecked James on his mouth with a loud smacking sound. As soon as his lips touched James, a jolt of magic went through them both and threw them back from each other.
For a minute, they both just stayed in their spots on the floor, moaning in pain. Sirius finally shook his head to try to clear some of the strangeness he was feeling, and looked over to see James unchanged and groaned. “Guess that didn’t work.”
“And I was so sure!” Sirius continued, ignoring James. “I mean, magical kiss? That’s what I’m all about!”
“It’s probably on you. Maybe you’re just not a very good kisser. I wonder if I gave you some tips…”
“SIRIUS!” James finally shouted.
“What?! I’m just trying to help!”
“That’s not it! Look at yourself!”
“Myself? Why do I need to…” Sirius trailed off as he looked down at his sprawled body and realized that he was not looking at the handsome form he was accustomed to, but at that of a large black animal.
He looked back up at James, who was clearly panicked, looked back down at his body, looked back up again at James, and then screamed.
After allowing Sirius to scream for an unpleasantly long amount of time, James eventually stood up on his four legs, made his way over to his best friend, and, as gently as possible, tried to kick him.
Sirius tried to scramble away, but was unused to his new body and ended up just falling over himself. He did, however, stop screaming, so James stopped trying to kick him.
“WHAT IS GOING ON?!” Sirius demanded as he finally managed to make it to his feet.
“I don’t know!”
“WHO DID YOU PISS OFF?!”
“I told you, I don’t know!”
“AND WHY AM I AN ANIMAL NOW, TOO?!”
“I don’t know how many more times you need me to say that I DON’T KNOW!”
Sirius clumsily ran over to the large full-length mirror he had hanging on a wall of his living room and looked at it only to see a large black dog staring back. He started screaming again, but stopped when James lifted a leg in warning.
When James felt sufficiently sure his best friend was no longer going to assault his eardrums, he began pacing around the room. Sirius continued to stare at his reflection in open-mouthed horror.
Eventually, James turned to Sirius with a determined look on his face. “We need to get this sorted as soon as possible.”
“Really? I thought we could probably wait a few days! I’ve got other priorities!” Sirius responded sarcastically.
“Shut up. We’ve got to get back to Godric’s Hollow. My dad will know what to do.”
“How’re we going to do that? Animals can’t apparate!”
“Shite.” James sighed. “I guess we’re walking.”