Once again and for the record: like Harry Potter, this is a war story. Unlike Harry Potter, it is very up-front about that fact. I'm calling this a choose-not-to-warn experience, because there are things I am dealing with within for the sole reason that the books set them up and didn't deal with them; please proceed with due caution.
Title: Living on Land Mines
Summary: It is the most important lesson you will ever learn, and the one no one particularly wishes to teach you, so I will say it again: magic is intent.
Living on Land Mines
Gryffindor's 1971 class is small, which is only to be expected. Gryffindor has been small for years now. In times of peace, bravery is easy to come by; children who are raised on war are less inclined towards bouts of courage, are drawn instead to caution and care. Slytherin fairs about the same as it's always done, and Ravenclaw, too, only grows a little--intelligence and ambition are born, not bred. Bravery and loyalty, on the other hand, are learned, and Hufflepuff has expanded to such a degree that they need a second table.
"Helga always did say you could mark the climate by the Sortings," the Hat muses, afterwards. "Godric thought it was a load of rot, but then, he would've done."
You're worried you should've sent Evans to Ravenclaw, Ariana thinks, and she is right. She usually is. You needn't worry. History wants her for Gryffindor.
"And I suppose you think it's your place to tell me such things," says the Hat. Ariana's thoughts go dark for a moment, and then shift, again, to light.
History does not want me at all, she thinks, quiet, quiet. And yet, here I am. I'd imagine that makes me the authority.
Sirius Black gets Gryffindor because he asks for it. Narcissa is in Ravenclaw, so that's right out, and the Blacks have slanted snake for as long as anyone can remember, so that, too, is not an option. Sirius loves his family, for a given definition of love; they do what they can, for a given definition of can. Orion, Sirius knows, has opened his doors to the Order of the Oak and its refugees--that would be enough to earn his son's respect, except.
("Filthy blood-traitors," Walburga hissed, the first time. A boy called James waited downstairs, and Sirius meant to pass his parents' room for his own, for the books and toys within that might stop the new kid crying, but listening at keyholes was practically a Black family tradition.
"Yes, darling," Orion agreed. "But if the rumors are right--"
"Rumors are only rumors."
"So you have said for all these years," Orion said, "and yet. Should the Hallows really be at play, we cannot afford to allow them to go to these men."
"Surely you don't think they're unfit," Walburga said, startled. "Why, I agree with nearly all of their arguments--"
"As do I, as do I. My fear is not that they are incapable of wielding such power." Orion sighed, put down his glass, and Sirius moved a careful inch away from the door. "In fact, it is rather the opposite.")
"Didn't you want to be with your cousins?" Lupin asks, voice hushed, as they follow their prefect up to the tower. He's small, Lupin, but there's no question he's earned Gryffindor; Sirius has been watching him since dinner, because he makes it his business to watch anyone who watches James. Lupin's shoulders have not been brought low even once, and Lupin has not winced at all, and when a mad beast in one of the paintings snarled a warning, Lupin snarled one right back.
"No," Sirius says. "Why? Would you want to be with yours?"
Lupin shudders, very slightly. He keeps his eyes fixed on James and doesn't answer, but Sirius knows fear when he sees it, knows deserved fear even better, and knows the curse of family best of all. He doesn't push, and when they get into the Common Room, Lupin turns to him and smiles very slightly.
"I think you can call me Remus," he says, and Sirius says, "Thanks, mate. Think I will."
Severus does not want Ravenclaw, but it was an order. Albus had been very strict about it, even as Gellert rolled his eyes: "You will request Ravenclaw, no matter where that old ragpile attempts to send you. Do you understand?"
"That old ragpile would be extremely helpful to our cause, Albus," Gellert said, his voice rocking with barely-hid fury, and Albus smiled at him over Severus's head.
"Would you like to break in and steal it, then?" he inquired, silky-sweet. "By all means, be my guest."
"Why Ravenclaw?" said Severus, both to avert a minor crisis--that look in Gellert's eyes always spelled disaster--and because he honestly wanted to know. Albus favored him with one of the more honest smiles.
"Ravenclaws are trusted, easy to overlook but rarely out-and-out dismissed; it is a good place for a spy, and so few know you can ask the Hat for the placement of your choice."
"Am I a spy, then?"
"Of course not," Albus said easily, "you are just a boy, and, of course, we love you," and Severus faked a smile. He knew a lie when he heard one.
"You are meant for great things," the Hat says sternly, now. Severus does not shift on the stool, but only from long practice. "And you do not want Ravenclaw, however much you might ask for. Do you imagine I cannot tell?" Severus does not speak, because the crowd would hear him. The Hat snorts. "Ah, and here's a very familiar voice--you're not the first of his, child, and you won't be the last. I shall sent you were you're meant to go; perhaps, in the company you were meant to keep, you will learn something about choosing your friends."
"What," Severus says, the word slipping out despite himself, and the Hat's brim opens wide, barks out "Slytherin," for the whole Hall to mark down.
Lily is the only girl in the first year dormitory, which won't do at all. On the one hand, she hasn't any need for company; on the other hand, she's had an exceptionally long day, and the castle isn't short on terrifying noises. She's not easily frightened, Lily, but magic's only ever been a tertiary part of her life, a flower blooming in soil that wouldn't dream of letting it grow--here, the paintings live and the staircases move, and she is alone.
Hello, someone doesn't say, and when Lily turns there is a woman standing in the doorway. She is not-quite-there, but she is not a ghost; though she's been at the castle only a few hours, Lily's a quick study, and anyway Nearly Headless Nick hadn't hesitated to introduce himself. This is something else, and the back of Lily's mind tosses up spectre. It's the kind of word that she might find in one of Petunia's horror novels, read under the covers where no one could see--the word doesn't fit, but nothing else even comes close.
"Hello," Lily says, and the apparition laughs, says, Ah, I see. She is prone to bravery after all.
"Course I'm brave," Lily snaps, and doesn't let herself cry. "I'm in Gryffindor, aren't I? They said this is the brave house, so I'm brave! And I was brave anyway, because-- "
Calm yourself, the spectre advises her. Of everyone you'll meet, Lily Evans, I am the least likely to doubt you.
"Who are you, then?"
I am, the figure starts, and pauses. Well. I am what would have been, you could say. Or what is, given the chance to roam free. I can only speak to those who are ready to listen; elsewhere, I am bound to my body, which listens least of all.
"Do you have a name?" Lily says, and is embarrassed to find that she's crying anyway. The spectre sighs and moves, sits down on the empty bed across from her, puts a hand on her shoulder. For a moment, Lily can feel pressure; then there is nothing, but she is not frightened anymore.
My friends call me Ariana, the apparition says, but, as you're young, you might as well call me Professor. You will wipe your face, and take your pillow. You will go up the stairs that are not meant to allow you, and you will sleep with the boys.
It is very late when the door opens. Sirius is asleep, because Sirius is that kind of boy, who flips out like a light at the slightest opportunity; Lupin is asleep, because Lupin is that kind of boy, who hoards the chance for uninterrupted slumber like he won't see it again for years. James is still up, and there are a lot of reasons for that, but the most pressing one is the meeting he can't quite remember having with Professor Dumbledore.
He thinks it went like this:
"I'm supposed to give you something," said James.
"You already gave it to me," said Professor Dumbledore.
"Did I?" said James, and Professor Dumbledore said, "Yes."
That certainly feels like the way it went, but then again…well. James has lived the kind of life that leads him to think of things as home, instead of places. James has lived the kind of life that taught him to put weight in that which could be carried with you, and James has lived the kind of life that trained him to look for magic in dark corners, and James has lived the kind of life that schooled him in the sound of large men crying. James has seen things no child should see and pressed on, and James has developed instincts no child should have, and trusts them.
Those instincts say: that package in your trunk was not meant for you. Those instincts say: that package in your trunk was not meant for anyone else.
So he is awake when the door opens, awake when Lily Evans steps out of the shadows, red hair catching the light. He is awake when Lily Evans sees him looking and raises an eyebrow, a fist, hisses, "I dare you."
"You dare me to what?" James says, and Lily's mouth opens, shuts. Her fist falls, and James almost laughs, stops himself in time. "It's alright. Bed over there is free. Don't mind Sirius; he snores."
"Once," says Professor Tom Riddle, "this class was called Defense Against The Dark Arts. Can anyone tell me why?"
A hand raises towards the back of the classroom; Riddle turns, and sighs. It's the Pettigrew boy, who is--based on Tom's initial impression of him--going to be a discredit to Slytherin House. Minerva insists that it is unseemly for him to pick favorites (and unfavorites) the way he does, that it is the duty of a teacher and a Head of House to view all students equally. Tom allows that she is quite correct in principle, and bites his tongue against pointing out that she, too, goes against it in practice, if not so noticeably as he does. In any case, it's hardly fair of her to judge him--it's not as though she has Godric Gryffindor's blood working under her skin. An embarrassment to Slytherin means something rather different, to Tom.
"Yes, Mr. Pettigrew?" he says, his driest, deadliest drawl, and gets a little bit of pleasure at the way he can feel the boy's palms start to sweat.
Minerva says the purpose of teaching is passing on an education. Tom thinks the purpose of teaching is drumming as much stupidity out of humanity as possible and then hoping for the best, but it's not the sort of thing he'd say out loud.
"It was called Defense Against the Dark Arts because it taught you to defend yourself against the Dark Arts, sir!" Ah, a literalist. How refreshingly predictable.
"Two points to Slytherin for being able to follow a basic logical construct," Tom says, "and two points from for calling me sir. In this classroom, you may feel free to address me as Professor, as Mr. Riddle, as God," (the standard laugh here, a few mooning sighs from the more advanced of the girls and at least one of the boys, it gets easier every year) "but I do not answer to sir. Authority is what got us into this mess, after all, and I daresay it won't get us out again--and by this mess, students, I am referring to the war currently raging across the Wizarding world. Don't look so shocked, Pettigrew--you either, Rookwood, get your jaw up off the floor. Learn something from your Gryffindor classmates, and expect nothing but honesty from me. Now! Who can tell me why this class is simply called Defense?"
A boy in the back of the room raises his hand. He has shaggy black hair and the look of someone who'd rather be anywhere else; Black, then. Has to be. Tom raises an eyebrow and nods at him, watches as the three around him--a girl with red hair, a boy with round glasses, and the one whose very walk screams werewolf--settle back to watch.
It will be Evans, Potter, Lupin and the Black boy. Well, you can say this for Ariana; she may be mad, but she's nearly always right.
"It's not just the Dark Arts we have to worry about, Professor," says Sirius Black, and Tom Riddle quirks a smile, says, "Five points."
"This is the Shack," Aberforth says, a calm hand on Lupin's shoulder. "Don't look so nervous, boy; we know you're likely as not to tear it to ribbons. Nothing of value in here, and we've got folks out in the village spreading rumors that it's haunted."
"But you built it for me, sir. You told me as much, sir."
"Yes," says Aberforth, "but the village doesn't have to know that," and he feels the boy shudder.
I apologize for my Sorting. I did like you said and asked for Ravenclaw, but the Hat sorted me Slytherin anyway. It said I wasn't the first of yours, and I wouldn't be the last, thought you'd want to know about that….
As requested, here is the list of coursework Professor Riddle has given us for the month. Professor McGonagall's coursework is attached as well, but only because I was hoping you could help me with Problem 6b. I'm doing well in Potions…
You were right! I can't believe there's a door to the kitchens hidden in a painting of fruit, you'd think everyone would figure it out, but the house elves are as helpful as you thought they'd be…
I miss you. Don't tell Albus I sent this, alright? I'm making friends like you told me to, and you're right, it's easier when I follow your rules instead of his, but sometimes I wish I could come home. Tell the Mandrakes hello for me.
Lily takes to haunting the Astronomy Tower, and then the dungeons, and then the Quidditch pitch. Lily takes to wandering the grounds, and then the library, and then the kitchens. Lily takes to playing with swords, but only because the armor hands them to her. Lily takes to talking to shadows, but only because the shadows talk back.
"You're going a bit mad, Lils, you know that, don't you?" Sirius asks her one night in November. Remus is off ill again, and James has fallen in love with his broomstick, and is intolerable. Sirius thinks everyone is mad, which is, according to Lily's slapdash education in wizarding politics, a case of the pot calling the kettle Black.
"Maybe I'm going sane, and you can't tell," she says. "Anyway, hurry up, we'll be late for supper at this rate."
"Sirius!" comes a voice from the shadows, and Sirius's wince is less a wince and more a muttered curse. Lily turns, and a girl with long, blond hair is frowning down at her. "And…friend."
"Narcissa," Sirius spits, which explains a lot. Lily had assumed, based on his reaction to the voice, that this was one of Sirius's much-mentioned Cousins; Lily knows Narcissa's name, but little else, since Sirius doesn't like to talk about his family. Or, at least, he doesn't like to talk about them with her; James and Remus both say he Talks About Them quite a bit, but there's a certain amount of political implication involved.
It has dawned on Lily, more than once, that quite a bit of Sirius's worldview involves the use of Inappropriate Capital Letters. She'd tried to ask James about that once, but he hadn't understood her. Remus had understood her, and his answer had more or less boiled down to "Old money."
"I'm Lily, actually," says Lily, because she might as well, even as Sirius says, "Don't tell her your name, that's how she'll get you--wait, maybe I've got that wrong. Tell me again, Cissy, how do succubi work?"
"Rather differently than hellspawn, or so I'm told," Narcissa says, with a smile that's not sweet at all. "Tell me, dear Sirius, how is your mother?"
"Mad as a bloody hatter, unless she's died," Sirius says, and no one so young, Lily thinks, should be able to say that about their mum with a straight face. "How's your sister, Cissy? Not Bella, I know how Bella is, everyone knows how Bella is, not quiet about it, is she? But 'Dromeda, I hear she's dating a Muggle-born."
"Oh, say Mudblood like the rest of us, Sirius," Narcissa says, and then turns her not-sweet smile on Lily. "Apologies, of course. I'm sure you're very…capable."
"And I'm sure you're much more pleasant company when you're at home," Lily says, matching that smile with one of her own. Sirius whoops, and Narcissa's eyes narrow. Then she turns back to Sirius as though Lily isn't there; old money, Lily thinks in Remus's voice, and grits her teeth. It is not the first time she's been called a Mudblood, and it won't be the last, and if she's learned anything from being friends with Sirius Black, it's that there's always a time and a place to use your anger.
Granted, she'd learned that indirectly, but the point stands all the same. Sirius is an education in how not to behave, whether he knows it or not.
"You know 'Dromeda has always followed her own path," Narcissa says. "As, I'm sure, will Mr. Theodore Tonks. Where that path may lead…well, I'm only a girl, I'd hardly know, would I?"
"You can't," Sirius says, his face gone suddenly white. "Cissy, you're not thinking of--"
"I'm not thinking of anything."
"Your mum, then!" Sirius snaps. "He's a student, he's not even a seventh-year, you have to know better than to think this does any good--"
"I think it does plenty of Good," Narcissa says, and there's a capital letter Lily recognizes. "As should you, cousin. You won't be a firstie forever."
"There won't be any more firsties if you keep on like this," Sirius says, voice rising. People are peeking out from around corridors, and Lily feels a nervousness that is not her own settle over her like a torn cloak. "There'll just be you and your lot and--"
Silence him, Ariana says, right next to her suddenly, her grip on Lily's arms deathly cold. Silence him, or I shall, and he does not want that at all.
"Sirius!" Lily says, crying it out to be heard over the sudden crackle of Narcissa's magic. She knows she's the only one hearing it, just as she knows the sound will fade when the Professor lets her go. Ariana is only seen by those she wants to see her, and the world is only seen through her eyes when she grants her friends the privilege. "She's not worth it!"
"And how would you know, you filthy little mongrel," Narcissa snarls, at the end of her rope, and Lily…well. Not to put too fine a point on it, Lily punches her.
"That was brilliant," Sirius says afterwards, when Lily has been given four detentions and lost 50 points for Gryffindor, when Professors Riddle and McGonagall have both slipped her a piece of chocolate while they thought the other wasn't looking, when they've all of them skipped their suppers. "That was absolutely bloody brilliant, that was--"
"You've been lying to me," Lily says, "all of you. Haven't you?" She looks around the dormitory, at James' nervous fingers, at Remus's too-pale face, at Sirius's scuffed shoes. "Well?"
"It's only," Sirius says, uncomfortable. "There's certain things we thought you might not…understand."
"I never thought that," Remus mutters, very quietly. "For the record."
"Shut it, Lupin," Sirius snaps, and Remus lifts his head, opens his mouth around something that looks to be vicious, and then…stops himself. Retreats back into his body, looking almost shamed. Lily's going to have to think about that later, when Sirius isn't being a tosser. "The point is, there are just, y'know, bits of it that might not…make sense to you."
"What," Lily says, appalled, "because I'm a girl?"
"Because you're Muggleborn," James says, so quiet and so embarrassed that Lily almost doesn't hear it. She wishes she hadn't heard it, honestly; it cuts deeper that Mudblood did in Narcissa Black's mouth, because this is James, this is Sirius and Remus and the boy who'd said 'You dare me to what,' and she'd honestly thought they were better than this. She really had.
They are, Ariana tells her, and some days--not most days, but some days--Lily really, really hates her. Let them explain.
They do explain. They explain about a history Professor Binns isn't teaching, about blood politics that haven't much to do with blood, about power that grows old and power that blooms young. They explain about the war, about the truths even Professor Riddle doesn't dare do more than mention, about Professor Dumbledore's brother and his hunger, about Gellert Grindlewald and the madness in his eyes. They explain about a resistance that they've been raised around, that's kept them all in hiding, and Lily listens, because she knows that these are truths she must know. Sirius, whose whole existence has been centered around the who's-who of any conflict, pulls out a piece of parchment and sorts the students by houses, writing "Good," "Order," or "?" under each surname, and Lily's anger fades to fear and then grows into something else entirely.
"They thought it would frighten you," Remus says, when they've done. "Well, we all did, but I thought you'd rather be frightened than blind."
Lily spreads herself across the floor, staring at the map as she tries to commit each allegiance to memory. Absently, she says, "For future reference, boys, please do listen to Remus more."
"Did you know," Albus says, calm at the eye of his very own storm, "that after all these years, I still love you? Damnable thing, love. Gets you into all sorts of trouble."
Gellert's fingers twirl the Elder Wand round and round; overtop the sparks it casts, he smiles. It is a smile devoid of warmth, but then again, it would be. "Oh, Albus. Do you imagine there is anything about us, anymore, that isn't damnable?"
"Innumerable," Gellert says. "And the Old magic would have me believe that my soul is in pieces. All for you. I hope you are proud."
"As ever, as ever," Albus says. The earth splits in front of him, and he sighs, frowns. At this rate, they'll never take Moscow. "Could you take care of this, please? We haven't got all day."
The noise Gellert makes is worn and ancient, but he raises the wand anyway, cries "Expecto Patronum!" like it's the Killing Curse. And, on that front, perhaps it is; the wolverine that tumbles out glows white, and then red, before it snarls.
Remus's teeth hurt, and his feet hurt, and his hands throb, even covered thick with Madame Pomfrey's numbing cream. There is grit in his eyes, although, of course, there isn't. There is cotton in his nose, although, again, there's not. The worst thing about the wolf isn't the pain it leaves in its wake, isn't the yawning absence of memory, isn't the sick churn of fear he's always laid flat by until Garnet comes, licks him clean, tells him without telling him that he hasn't hurt anyone this time.
No, the worst thing about the wolf is that Remus knows, afterwards, that he's less. The worst thing about the wolf is that, against his better instincts, Remus is bloody jealous of it.
"Hello, Remus," Lily says, when he gets back to the dormitory. It is the third week of second year, and over the summer she has grown keener. Also, she has grown breasts; of the four of them, only James seems particularly concerned about this development.
"Hello, Lily," Remus says, and collapses back on his bed. "Did I miss anything exciting while I was out?"
"Nothing in particular," Lily says calmly. "Bellatrix tried to stab Sirius over dinner night before last, and James thinks one of the third floor corridors is haunted."
"The usual, then."
"Exactly," Lily says, and then she smiles, lifts an eyebrow. "Oh, and also, I worked out that you're a werewolf."
"Who can tell me what this is?" Professor McGonagall asks her fifth years; not a one of them raises a hand, and she sighs. "Is there perhaps someone among you who could tell me what it was, then?"
They are, as a group, saved by the bell--Minerva resists the urge to yell the answer after them in frustration, but it's a close thing. She's glad to have denied herself the pleasure afterward, though, because Tom slips into the room when they've left and closes the door behind him. He does like his little victories, and she does so hate to give them to him.
"Long day, Minnie?"
"I will turn you into a toad," Minerva warns, biting the inside of her cheek. "In fact, I think you're rather better suited to toadhood than humanity; certainly your manners will make the transition nicely."
"Ever the charmer."
"I do try."
"And here I thought it was an inborn talent," Tom says lightly. He sits down on the edge of her desk, proprietary bastard, and beckons; when she folds her arms over her chest, he laughs. "Oh, Merlin. What've I done now?"
"It's not what you've done so much as how you've done it," Minerva says, but she sighs and crosses to him after a moment. "Your vanity, contrary to what you seem to believe, is not actually attractive."
"I merely sat down."
"You sat down with intent," Minerva corrects. "You sat down with…airs. I'd say I could hear you thinking, but it's not as though that's hard, what with the running litany of I am Tom Riddle and there is no man above me bouncing off the walls whenever you've entered a room--"
"Are you quite finished?"
"No," Minerva says, grinning, "but I'll call a brief détente, if you like."
Tom sighs and reaches out; his thumb swipes over the knob of Minerva's left wrist, and she lets it, because, well. Playing at cross is all well and good, and playing at erudite isn't even hard anymore, but underneath that, she knows Tom rather better than she ought. There's the rooms they share and they nights they spend, yes, but there's the…other things, too. Tom's taken her into the Pensive and showed her his childhood (or lack thereof), and Tom's put a locking spell on the door and flipped the Resurrection Stone, and Tom's whispered to her in the language of snakes. Tom's broken down sobbing in her arms and told her of the reality that almost was, the one Ariana had spun out for him one night through the Sorting Hat's wide brim, and made her promise to kill him if madness ever came for him.
She can tell when something's wrong, when it's Tom. She's always been able to tell.
"What is it?" she says, in the voice she never lets her students hear, in the voice that's only for him. "What's happened?"
"Don't get that way, it's nothing as bad as all that," Tom says quickly. "It's just…well. Potter's got the you-know-what, hasn't he?"
"Of course he does. Aberforth made sure of it."
"Then where," Tom says, "is the evidence? Why hasn't there been an upswing in unexplainable mischief? Why isn't Filch barging into the lounge demanding to know what's irritating that blasted cat?"
"I hope you're not maligning the feline species in general," Minerva says, and Tom grins at her, the unexpectedly honest one.
"I am, in fact, merely maligning those felines who give the rest of you a bad name, Minerva," he says with gravitas. "I set great store by your reputation."
"Yesssss," Tom hisses, still grinning. Then his smile slips, and he runs a hand over his face. "Still, my point stands. There's not enough trouble, and boys that age are nothing without trouble. I'm beginning to think it's possible that someone overdid it with the memory charms."
"Certainly not Aberforth--"
"Diadora, then," Tom says. "Or his father, or someone. If he doesn't know what he's got, how are we to expect him to learn to use it?"
"That..." Minerva says, and sighs. "Oh, Merlin, that's a good point, for all it's a terrible one. Sometimes I wonder if we can count it as winning, if we win by using the children."
"That's how everyone wins, eventually. Children grow up to be adults, after all."
"And kittens grow up to be cats, yes, we've had this conversation. Next you'll say snakes are always snakes--"
"Well, we are."
"--and then I'll be forced to turn you into a toad after all," Minerva finishes sternly. "Which, for the record, I am only forgoing because I think the question of the Clo--of the item in question requires some thought. What do you suppose we do? We can't very well tell him what it is; if the Brother should ever manage to breach the castle, or catch him over a holiday, the results would be…"
"…disastrous, yes, I quite agree."
"Then what do you suggest? Tell one of the others, and hope they aren't child enough to tell him the truth? That's rather dreadful, even for you."
"I don't suggest anything," Tom says, bringing her wrist to his mouth and kissing it, just the once. "You're his Head of House; I was merely bringing it to your attention."
"Yes, well, consider it brought," Minerva says, and glances to the clock. "And now, regrettably, I must send you off, unless you're inclined towards giving my third years a show."
"They might enjoy it," Tom says, eyebrows up, and if Minerva smacks him somewhere delicate as he walks towards the door, it's not the sort of thing that needs to be public knowledge.
"Oh, and Minerva?" Tom says, leaning in from the hall.
"Not that I'm telling you what to do, but I'd go with Lupin if I'd go with anyone," he says, and grins rakishly when the doorknob next to him ribbits loudly and hops away. "See you at dinner."
"You want me to do what," says Remus, and tries not to shift under Professor McGonagall's stare. It's not quite a question, because Remus did hear her, and he knows his Head of House suffers no fools. Still, there's a difference between hearing and understanding, and the Professor's request had made approximately no sense at all.
"There is something in Mr. Potter's possession," McGonagall says patiently, "that will allow you to cause quite a bit of trouble, not that I am advocating your causing that trouble, or your use of that object, and I want it to be quite clear, Mr. Lupin, that I am especially most emphatically not encouraging Mr. Black's use of the item in any way. Nevertheless, the item exists, and Potter should learn to use it, as should the rest of you. Which I certainly did not say, and which I will not admit to having said under any circumstances, and which you must not tell the others I've said. Are you following, Mr. Lupin?"
"Can you…tell me what this item is?"
"Can I ask James what--"
"You most certainly cannot," McGonagall says, her stare very severe. "In fact, if you ask Mr. Potter any leading questions whatsoever about the item, I will hear about it, and it will go very hard for you."
Remus thinks about this. "How can I ask him leading questions if I don't know what I'm leading him to?"
"Tell me, Mr. Lupin," McGonagall says, her lips thinning, "have you gotten the impression, at any point in the last year and a half, that I am the sort of woman who enjoys impertinence from her students?"
"No, Professor. Sorry, Professor."
"That is what I thought."
"Right," Remus says, edging unconsciously toward the door. He thinks he sees McGonagall's lips twitch, which is its own special kind of terrifying. He is a werewolf; he's pretty sure, somewhere deep in his soul, that this should mean he's above being afraid human beings are going to eat him. "Is that…all, then? Or did you need something else?"
"That is all, Mr. Lupin. You may go now."
Remus more or less bolts out of the room; he runs directly into Sirius, who overbalances and topples backwards, dragging Remus with him. He's laughing as he hits the ground, because that's just what Sirius is like--he'll fly into a furious rage over mashed potatoes or an ink splotch or a letter from home, but knock him down across the floor and he thinks it's a laugh riot. He'll sulk for days over a bad mark on an exam he didn't study for, but if you spell the pages of his textbooks together, he'll choke on his hysteria. He'll punch a fifth year over nothing at all, but tell him you're a werewolf and he'll look at you very seriously, crack a demented smile, and start calling you Moony.
He's a very strange boy, Sirius, even for a Black. Remus probably shouldn't like him as much as he does.
"And a good afternoon to you, sir," Sirius says, attempting to do a flourishing little bow--on the ground--and succeeding only in knocking his head against Remus's. "Ow! Sorry, mate, comedy is pain."
"That's beauty," Remus says, standing up and hauling Sirius back to his feet, "not that you'd know that, you look like some kind of lagoon monster. Did you try to sneak into the Forest again?"
"Uh, the Forest tried to sneak into me, more like," Sirius says. "And then the lake, but that was really more of an impact-at-speed kind of interaction."
Remus sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose, even though, of course, it will do no good at all. "Stop taunting the Willow, Sirius."
"Stop refusing to teach me to open it! Anyway, what'd Old Snakecharmer want that scared you so bad?"
"One of these days," Remus says, in the tones of someone who has had this argument many times and is aware that it is not actually working, "she's going to hear you say that, and she's going to make an example of you. By killing you, probably. By killing you slowly."
"She wouldn't be the first to try," Sirius says brightly, and oh, right. That's why Remus likes him so much--because underneath the surface of Sirius there is the decidedly more frightening History Of Sirius, and the fact that he continues to manage irreverent when even James looks at him with pity sometimes is a testament to…something.
"Still, I'd like you to live to see third year."
"Aw, Moony," Sirius says, slinging an arm over Remus's shoulders. "So, what'd she want, then?"
"Oh, nothing," Remus says, and then--compelled by an order from a teacher, a sense of mischief he's never quite been able to shake, and something he'd call instinct, if he dared call anything that--"Y'know, I think we should break into James' trunk."
The great thing about Sirius is that he never needs reasons. He just says "Brilliant! I'd be wondering what to do until dinner," and follows Remus cheerfully upstairs, where they do, indeed, break into James' trunk.
Remus finds what he's looking for in short order. He's not surprised McGonagall didn't explain, once he realizes what it does--why on earth would she need to?
Some things James Potter is aware of, in no particular order:
1. Lily Evans Has Breasts.
2. Lily Evans, as far as James can tell, will likely as not thump him if he ever mentions that she Has Breasts.
3. Nevertheless, those are Breasts, and she does Have Them.
4. There is a war on, and there are things more important than The Breasts.
5. Even when they are sleeping in the bed right next to yours and better than you at Charms and teaching you to spit across long distances--
6. --which The Breasts are not doing, that is Lily, James is going to get himself killed.
"Potter?" says a vaguely familiar voice, and James turns in his seat. He's watching the Ravenclaw Quidditch practice for reasons of tactics, and definitely not for reasons of their extremely attractive Chasers; he wasn't expecting to see anyone else in the stands, but he's not averse to the company. It makes him feel a little less…creepy about the whole thing, although he's not sure if it's creepy to watch people practice Quidditch or not. He's tried to ask Sirius, but Sirius ignores him, and he's tried to ask Remus, but Remus refuses to talk about it. Lily is obviously right out, and since James' brain has been largely occupied with nothing but this burgeoning awareness for the last few…months…he could probably do with one or two new friends.
"Hey," he says, sliding over a little on the bleacher and patting the spot next to him. "It's Snape, right? You're in my Defense section."
"I, yeah," Snape says, and sits. "What're you doing out here?"
"What're you doing out here?" James asks, eyebrows going up, and Snape meets him stare for stare for a minute. Then James lets out a snort of laughter and Snape follows suit, blushing a little bit, which answers that question well enough.
"D'you want some, uh," Snape says, and reaches into his robe. "Lemon drops? My…guardian keeps sending them to me, and none of my housemates want them."
"That's because they're rubbish," James declares cheerfully, "but sure. Sirius'll eat 'em."
"Sirius Black?" Severus says, wrinkling his nose, and James frowns.
"Hey," he says, "that's my best mate you're making faces about."
"Well, his cousin Bellatrix says--"
"Bellatrix is a bitch," James says firmly.
"Muggle swear word," James says, around one of the lemon drops he's eating anyway. "Lily taught it to me. She said I could only use it about Bellatrix 'an Mrs. Norris, though, and then Remus said something about cross-species insults and I forgot to ask her what it meant."
"Something bad though, probably," Snape ventures, and James nods his agreement, chewing thoughtfully.
"You'd imagine," he says. "Anyway, she's awful--you're in a House with her, you probably know she's awful, unless she's only awful to Sirius."
"No, she's awful to everyone," says Snape, in the tones of a man brooding on his wrongs. "Calls me Snivellus to the others."
"Because my first name is Severus, probably."
"Bad luck there," James says, and takes pity when Snape sighs his agreement. "You want some Fizzing Whizbees? As a trade for the lemon drops. They're kind of good, actually, and my mum keeps sending me sweets like it's not costing her money. Makes me feel bad when I eat 'em."
"Sure," Snape says. "Y'know--"
"Severus!" someone calls, and James and Snape both turn to see Peter Pettigrew pounding his way up the stairs. James' nose wrinkles; he doesn't like Pettigrew, though he's not sure why. There's something…oily about him, although, again, James would be hard-pressed to say what. Certainly Snape's the oilier of the two of them objectively speaking, what with the acne problem, but Lily's got spots too and James knows Sirius hexes his away, so that's fine. And, anyway, Snape speaks up in Riddle's class and has never once laughed when James' bag ripped open, or when he had to spell his glasses back together for the hundredth time, or that one night when he must've overheard James begging Professor Slughorn for a spare Potions textbook, since his had fallen to bits and he couldn't afford another. Snape's alright, as far as James is concerned.
"What're you doing up here with Potter," Pettigrew says, and oh, oh, that's what it is James doesn't like. Pettigrew says Potter, but he means poor; means blood-traitor; means dissenter, not that anyone speaks the Good's language within the castle walls. Pettigrew looks at James and makes him smaller than he is automatically, which is really not on, since James is more talented than Pettigrew and taller than Pettigrew and could ride circles around Pettigrew on a broomstick. But the point stands that if the world doesn't change in the next six years--which, James is gloomily aware, is unlikely--Pettigrew will go on to have a cushy, well-paid Ministry job, and James will go on starving like his parents have done and shunting around in the network for reasons no one ever explains to him.
"I like Potter," Snape says, snapping James out his reverie. When he looks up, he's not sure who's more surprised--him, Pettigrew, or Snape himself. "Or, uh. We were just--what're you asking me questions for, anyway? You know better than that. What do you want, Peter?"
"Just thought you might want to know Malfoy's looking for you," Peter says, cowed. "Sorry, Severus."
"Don't call me by my first name, you are unworthy," Snape says automatically, and then makes a complicated face when James raises an eyebrow at him. He looks like he's trying not to laugh, and then, abruptly, like he's terrified--he follows Peter down the stairs, not even bothering to say goodbye.
James shrugs, and pops another lemon drop in his mouth. They're really not bad, and the Ravenclaw Quidditch team is definitely worth watching.
There are certain days in any teaching career that matter more than all the others combined. Sometimes, these days come by accident, a twist of circumstance leading to a necessary object lesson, an unlikely crescendo of questions drawing the room to a fixed point--a good teacher knows how to work with the accidents of fate, and a great teacher learns to plan for them. Anything can be a lesson, if you know how to look for it, and anything can be a valuable lesson, provided you're good with your spin.
Some days, however, are important by design. Tom has been a professor for the better part of two decades, and each new class of students is his for seven years. Most of his valuable lessons are planned to the hilt, and this lesson--the one he insists upon teaching in second year, when he will have six years to carefully observe the effect--is the most valuable of them all.
"Today," Tom says, looking out at his classroom, "we are going to talk about the Unforgivables."
There are a few soft gasps from the students, and Tom looks around the room with sharp eyes and takes note of who uttered those breaths. He touches the basilisk fang at his throat and counts them off--six gaspers, two from Hufflepuff and four from Slytherin, and an uncomfortable squirmer from Ravenclaw to boot. Those will be the children whose families have never warned them, then; always good to know.
Three other Slytherins, six more Hufflepuffs, two additional Ravenclaws and the werewolf from Gryffindor stare back at him with hard, inquisitive eyes--those'll be the ones that've seen them, then. Of the room, only Sirius Black looks genuinely frightened, and that's a pity; Tom would've asked him if he wanted to be excused from the all-House class if he'd known, would've offered private lessons instead. Now, he cocks his head at the boy, and Black looks right back at him, shakes his head almost imperceptibly, and, well.
There's a reason Tom teaches them early, after all, and isn't a twelve year old boy who has known Cruciatus that reason? There are monsters born, certainly, but there are more of them forged from ignorance. Tom clears his throat, and begins.
"Now," he says, "the brightest and best informed among you will know the names of these curses already. For those of you fortunate enough to delay this lesson this long, allow us to enlighten you--there are three curses classified as 'Unforgivable' by the Ministry of Magic. Who can name one of them?"
Remus Lupin's hand goes up so quickly Tom can almost hear the air hiss around it. He does not look at Black, does not so much as twitch as he says, "The Cruciatus Curse, Professor Riddle," but Tom knows a favor when he sees one.
"Ten points to Gryffindor," he says, and does not add for kindness. "We, as a classroom, will deal with Cruciatus--the pain curse--last, for reasons I'll make clear to you as we go along. Can someone name me another?"
"The Imperius curse, Professor," Severus Snape says, when Tom's favored him with a nod. He is a very calm boy, Snape, almost distressingly so; he is certainly not fazed by the words he's speaking now, and Tom moves to the edge of the desk, watching him. "It gives the caster control of whoever has been cursed--physical, verbal, total control."
"Very good," Tom says, and flags Snape in the back of his mind for further study. "And the last of them? Anyone? Anyone?" There is a long pause, and then Lily Evans raises her hand. Tom raises an eyebrow at her--typically the Muggleborn don't know these curses, though, of course, that's hardly their fault--but she doesn't back down, doesn't even blink, and Tom thinks suddenly of the prophecy, of Ariana's insistence that it's Evans it speaks of.
She who was named for the flowers of death will rise to be its Master. Well, well. Perhaps Ariana is right.
"Yes, Ms. Evans?" says Tom Riddle, and Lily Evans says, "Avada Kedavra, Professor. The killing curse."
"Excellent," Tom says, "that's all three of them. Now, you in the back there, and you too, and all of you in the third row--put the quills down, this isn't that kind of lesson. We're just talking, and here's what I want to talk about: why, students, are these curses deemed Unforgiveable?"
Pettigrew's hand goes up, and Riddle knows what he's going to say even before he spews out, "Because once you use them, you cannot be forgiven!" The poor little sod barely has two braincells to put together; Tom has expressed to Minerva more than once that he wishes the child had turned out a Squib, and since she's never argued, he imagines that she agrees with him deep down.
"Yes, Mr. Pettigrew," Tom sighs, "your grasp of the obvious is, as ever, impeccable. Would someone perhaps care to share a less literal view of the matter with the class?
"Because they do something to you," Sirius Black says, without raising his hand. He's staring down at his desk like if he really concentrates, he'll vanish; Tom really does feel rather guilty about keeping him in the classroom, but certainly not guilty enough to stop him while he's getting the answer right. "Because once you've done them you can't ever not have done them. There's nobody in charge of forgiving you, but some say your own magic won't, not with the Unforgivables. That they leave cracks, after."
"Entirely correct," says Tom, "and then again, not correct at all--no, no, Black, don't look at me like that. You're right, or at least you're mostly right. That was the answer I wanted, in any case. Tell me, class, do these curses fall under the heading of 'Light' magic or 'Dark'?"
"Dark, Professor," James Potter says, sounding a little confused. "They're usually considered the epitome of Dark magic, aren't they?"
"They are indeed," says Tom, "but let's talk about that for a minute, shall we? We'll start with Imperius, since that one's the easiest. Now, certainly it is wrong to take control of another human being, yes? To force them to do things they would not otherwise do? To compel them into action that is not their own--we can agree that this is not an acceptable way to treat another human being, correct?"
The classroom nods, and Tom smiles, but not kindly. "Of course, this is a classroom. Discussions of right and wrong are simply discussions, here. Imagine for a moment, children, that this isn't a classroom--suppose this is a battlefront, and there is a man in front of you, and that man's gestures are law. Suppose if he points left, thousands of innocent people will die, and if he points right, thousands of innocent people will live. And supposing you know he intends to point left…is the use of Imperius wrong, then?"
"And what of the killing curse," Tom continues, aware of the silence that has fallen over the room and fiercely proud of it, "that has been used with such constancy throughout our history that even the Muggles have a bastardized word for it? Don't look so surprised, Pettigrew--just because you have grown up ignorant of them does not mean they have been raised ignorant of you. The Ministry is careful, of course, to maintain a divide, but there is no secret that keeps forever. In Muggle culture, they say 'abra kadabra' when they mean magic at large--how Unforgivable can something be, when it is our largest bleed?"
"But perhaps that is too broad a concept for some of you to grasp; I do not blame you. There are much older wizards with much smaller minds, so let us take a breath, look at it another way. Picture the person you love most in the world, students, the parent or sibling or friend whose very existence means the betterment of your own--picture them at the mercy of someone whose sole purpose is their destruction. You have time to utter one spell, and if that spell fails to deter their assailant, you will never speak to your loved one again. Can any among you say you would not use the killing curse, then? Can any among you say that, and be certain? Can anyone know what can or cannot be Forgiven, if the circumstance has not arisen to put them to that test?"
"Mr. Black was quite correct. The Unforgiveables are so named because of internal forgiveness, not external. Those who have killed--by any means, in any circumstance, regardless of what curse they have or have not used to achieve their ends--live the rest of their lives with that blood on their hands. That is a fact of human existence; that is a simple reality. There are those that say the use of the killing curse splits the soul, and perhaps that is true. Certainly it changes the soul, using Avada Kedavra with success--but then, I would imagine stabbing someone with a kitchen knife would achieve that same change, whether the stabber was possessed of magic or not."
Lupin's hand goes up, and Tom tilts his head, nods his permission. "What about Cruciatus, si--Professor?"
"Good catch, Lupin," Tom says, winking, "and we'll get there in a moment. Before we do, can anyone name for me the spell considered the epitome of Light magic?"
It's Snape whose hand goes up, still so calm. "The Patronus spell, Professor."
"Five points to Slytherin!" Tom says, wheeling around so his robes billow around him and stalking to the center of the room. "The Patronus, formed from a core of warm thoughts and happy memories, which manifests itself as an animalistic projection of the caster's own soul, spun of pure light. Could there be a more Light spell that than one? Could magic create anything that would fall more stridently on the side of Good?"
The students shift in the chairs at that word, and Tom grins, raises his wand, and casts. "Expecto Patronum," had given him no end of trouble in school, had required a level of soul-searching that had been genuinely distressing at the time; for a while, he'd thought he had no memories happy enough to produce one of the wispy creatures his classmates were creating. He'd managed it eventually, though, and like all who have to work through pain to get to joy, his Patronus was stronger for it. Now, all he has to do is think of Minerva's fingers brushing against his throat, and a thick silver snake slips free of his wandtip and curls around his shoulders.
"Last year," Tom says, as the snake hisses a cheerful hello to the room, "Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindlewald destroyed a capital city with two of these. Just two--Dumbledore's phoenix, of course, you will remember from his time as Minister, and Grindlewald's wolverine has, I would imagine, already begun to appear in Muggle urban legends. The rose up and slew anyone who walked in their path, growing as they consumed the happiness of those that fell. And they did that, students, they did that because that is what their masters wanted them to do."
Snape does not look calm anymore--looks, in fact, anything but calm--and Tom adjusts the mental flag he's already put up in the back of his mind, makes sure to mark it as urgent. The rest of the students are paying him rapt, if nervous, attention, and even Black has looked up from his desk. Lupin's hand is on his shoulder, and Potter's pencil is jabbing him in the back, and Evans' eyes are flicking to him whenever she can pull them away from Tom, but at least he's looking up.
"Magic. Is. Intent," Tom says into the silence. "It is the most important lesson you will ever learn, and the one no one particularly wishes to teach you, so I will say it again: magic is intent. Your wand is an amplifier, a conductor, if you will; spells are merely focal points, a way to direct your power. The Founders raised this school from the ground with their bare hands, built it full of tricks because they, themselves, were inclined towards trickery. To cast Imperius, you must want to control your target. To cast Avada Kedavra, you must desire nothing more than the death of another living soul. Those who named them Unforgivables meant, I would guess, unfathomable, but were too proud to say it aloud."
"And this, students, is why we discuss the Cruciatus last. The Cruciatus curse is a torture curse; you must not only want to cause pain, but to cause unendurable pain, to cast it with any effect. There are those who have suffered under that curse whose minds never recover, because the agony they experienced left them too shredded to go on. There are those who have suffered under that curse whose bodies have chosen to die, rather than suffer it further. There is no such thing as Dark magic, only Dark souls, and the Cruciatus is simply human hate with a name attached for ease. If you are going to draw a line of demarkation between the forgivable and the unforgivable, you do not draw it at Imperius, and you do not draw it at Avada Kedavra. You draw it at torture, at pain for pain's sake, at the physical manifestation of those parts of you that must remain in check. You draw it at Cruciatus, children, every single time."
He waits, as he does every year. This is the most important lesson he teaches, the single greatest truth he can pass on to his students, but that's not all it is. Their reactions are telling, and will continue to be telling as they grow older. The best students learn from their teachers, and the best teachers learn from their students. With the right eye, it is possible to see the adults these children might grow to be, who will be soldiers and who will be threats, who will rise up and who will be brought low. Who will be drawn to fight, and who to flight. People are simple. Snakes taught him that.
It is Evans who raises her hand first, because of course it is; Tom has never doubted Ariana much, but after today, he does not doubt her at all. "Yes, Ms. Evans?"
"I was just…wondering," Evans says slowly, like she's weighing out each word, "if magic is intent, then the Unforgivable curses can have their place, can't they? Not Cruciatus, of course, but the…other two. Is that why you told us about them?"
"Yes and no, Ms. Evans, yes and no," Tom says, pleased. "I told you about them because you need to know, and I told you about them because there's a lesson in them, and I told you about them because you are far from done with them, at least in this classroom."
"How so?" Snape asks, looking badly shaken, and Tom smiles.
"You will learn the theory," he says, "and then you will learn the history, and then you will learn the side effects, and then you will learn the theory again, and then, dear boy, when I have decided you are ready…well. Then you will learn to use them."
Lily waits at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, and listens. Ariana had told her to come here, after all, and Lily has learned to pay attention to her. She always has her reasons, even if they don't make sense most of the time.
Hello, Lily, Ariana says, and Lily feels herself relax.
"Hello, Professor. What are we doing here?"
It is time I showed you something, Lily. You are thirteen now--in some cultures, that is considered adulthood..
Lily wrinkles her nose. "Begging your pardon, but that sounds a bit mad to me. I'm not an adult! I spat in James' dinner tonight, that's not adult behavior."
This seems to momentarily distract Ariana. Did he deserve it?
"'Course he deserved it," Lily says. "Even when he's not done something awful he deserves it. I see how he looks at me."
But you don't mind it enough to sleep in the girl's dormitory again..
"Well, I figure it's not his fault he's an idiot," Lily says. "You said you wanted to show me something? I wouldn't push, only it's cold and James gets kind of…weird, about the cloak."
Yes, I imagine he does. Instinct, in these cases, is often stronger than intellect.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Never mind. Follow me.
Lily does, even though there's not much to follow tonight. Ariana's stopped bothering with the spectre most of the time, just fills the air around Lily with her inarguable presence--and, alright, if push must come to shove, Lily's aware that there's something more than a bit odd about that, about all of it. But then, that's true of Hogwarts at large, isn't it? Big magical school hidden in the middle of Scotland, can't be found on maps, paintings as chatty as ever and full up with magical children; Lily's grown comfortable with odd.
This will be painful for you, Ariana says, when they're a few yards past the tree line. I apologize, but it is necessary, and it will only be worse the longer I wait. You will not remember all of it when it is over; this, too, is necessary. But it will instill in you the things you must know. Are you ready?
"Yes," Lily says, steeling herself, and Ariana murmurs Brave girl, before it begins.
The world is--everywhere, happening all at once. Lily is eight years old and sitting on a hill with James' friend Snape; Lily is fifteen and telling someone off for calling her a Mudblood; Lily is twenty-one and a man with slits for nostrils is advancing on her, wand outstretched, a baby's wail high in her ears--
No, Lily, Ariana says gently. Your curiosity must not get the better of you. Yours is not that history; you must find the thread that feels familiar, and follow it. I am sorry, but you must.
"But I have to save him," Lily whispers, and Ariana says, Not in this lifetime, you don't.
Lily grits her teeth and tries again; the tide shifts, though she could not say how. A map unfurls before her, that parchment Sirius had sketched allegiances across, with the ink sunk deep into the page; a white-tailed doe licks the palm of Remus's hand before a huge black dog tackles him; James' cloak swirls around her, a wand in her hand, a stone in her pocket. Lily feels inevitability well up within her, and the pressure is unbearable; she says, "I can't," and Ariana says You must, and Lily hates, hates, hates her as she watches a man who looks like Headmaster Dumbledore cast the killing curse, watches Sirius tip his head back and laugh rage with his brother at his left hand, watches James running for her, mouth open, words lost to the wind--
"Oh," Lily says, "it's me."
Yes, says Ariana. And now, you forget.