... There's Fire
“You know, it’s sort of too bad that these guys are demonic. They’re kinda cute, like Pokemons or something.” Buffy watched a group of gribles peeking out from around the dumpster. Giles looked at her oddly. “Well, they’re yellow and spiky and sort of cat shaped. That’s just like Pikachu, except, not cartoony. Fine, you know what, nevermind.”
“How is that you can remember the name of some asinine cartoon that has no relevance to society whatsoever, but can’t remember the name of a rampaging demon about to swallow the world into hell?”
“It’s a talent.” Buffy shrugged. “So, we’ve got forty Pikachus to vanquish with nothing but strawberry incense. No problem.”
“They’re gribles, not Pikachus.” Giles fumbled with the lighter and box of incense, trying to figure out how to light the sticks without dropping the box.
“How many of those boxes have you got?” Buffy eyed the growing army of small furry creatures advancing from the dark shadows of the alley. “Because I’m thinking this is going to take a lot of those sticks.”
“I’ve got two boxes, so we need to make every throw count.”
“Okay, then, you get the sticks out of the box; I throw them. Does that work for you?” Buffy took pity on her watcher and took the lighter from Giles’ hand.
“Fine.” Giles agreed as he fumbled with the flap of the incense box.
“Any time now, Giles.” Buffy muttered, watching the gribles get a bit braver. From the other side of the door she could hear his brother mutter something about missing out on all the action. Evidently the idiot cast another charm with that stupid stick of his. Like a colony of meerkats, all the gribles perked up and focused their attention on the watcher and slayer, ready to pounce at the slightest provocation.
“Here.” Giles handed her a stick, which she promptly lit.
“Ew, this smells like that one time Dawn stuck my Strawberry Shortcake doll in her E-Z Bake Oven. I can’t believe people actually pay you for this.” Buffy coughed.
“Well, you don’t have to smell it, you just have to throw it.”
Buffy aimed for the closest grible, and watched as the stick bounced off its back, landing underneath it. “Um, nothing happened.” She observed as Giles was already handing her another stick.
“You have to wait for the smoke to reach the spines on the back, and then…” With a loud pop, the grible Buffy had been aiming for exploded into a yellow smear.
“That’s so gross.” Buffy said, already lighting the next stick. “And I swear, if any of them get close to these shoes, you are so going to have to replace them.”
“Heaven forbid you get some yellow on your shoes.” Giles said as another pop indicated a successful hit.
“These are my mom’s shoes, thank you very much, and I think a little bit of yellow would be a dead giveaway that I’ve been borrowing them.” Buffy said, tossing another stick in the general direction of the largest group of gribles. The pink end got caught on one of the critters’ spines causing it to immediately explode. A few more curious gribles exploded when they went to investigate, but the majority of the gribles backed away from their exploding colleagues.
“Well, then, I suggest you throw faster.” Giles teased, handing Buffy another incense stick.
“Gah. This one’s not catching on fire. Anya’s so right. The fruity ones just aren’t so good.” Buffy threw the dud on the ground and quickly replaced it with another stick. “How many come in one of those boxes?”
“A dozen, I believe.”
“That’s it?” Buffy tried to tally the remaining gribles. Although there was a large spot of yellow guts on the pavement, and more gribles were disappearing due to second-hand smoke, they still had barely made a dent on the population.
“I would think a dozen would be quite enough for the average customer. Any more than that, and the sticks risk getting damaged before you can use them.”
“Yeah, but we have way more than two dozen gribles here.”
“Just be careful with your throws, aim them towards groups.” Giles instructed, fumbling with the last few sticks of the first box.
“Great.” Buffy rolled her eyes, but refrained from any more snarky comments. They worked efficiently for a couple more throws.
“Giles, I’m ready for the next one.” Buffy had her hand out, as she watched the demonic critters regroup. “You know, this just isn’t as much fun as slaying vampires. I mean, the sticks just sort of bounce off the ground. And where’s the witty comebacks? These guys just make that funky chittery noise.”
“Other than you, I don’t think anyone would equate vampires with fun.” Giles muttered.
“That’s not true, sometimes Willow and Xander have fun with the quippage too. It’s a total fun fest. Gah, and that sounded lame even to me. So, um, next stick, any time now?”
“Just a moment. I have to open the new box. Ah yes, here we go. No, that’s not it.” Giles fumbled with the cellophane wrapper. “It seems to be stuck. Maybe you should work on witty comebacks in the meantime.”
“By meantime, you mean like two seconds, right? Because I think the natives are getting restless.” One made a pre-emptive strike, jumping at Giles’ pants cuffs. Buffy flipped a stake out of her pocket and impaled the poor critter before his teeth could sink into Giles’ leg.
“Please tell me you didn’t just cut that grible.”
“Hey, it attacked first!”
“Yes, but now it can double its numbers.” Sure enough, rather than bleeding to death, the demonic critter just split down the middle creating two gribles; two rather angry gribles at that.
“So next time I should just let it eat you?”
“No, next time you should… here, take this!” Giles had finally managed to open the box of incense.
“Take that, gerbils!” Buffy tossed the lit stick with a satisfying spin at the closest group of gribles. Unfortunately, this time the gribles didn’t blow up into a satisfying yellow smear. When the gribles exploded, each exploding part reformed into a new grible.
“Um, Giles, something’s not working right.” Buffy said as the second toss in a row resulted in regenerating gribles.
“What? How is that possible?”
“You tell me, Mr. Wizard.” Buffy said, waving a third incense stick in the air at the gribles, but not actually throwing it at them.
Giles glanced at the label of the box. “Oh bugger.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means, we’ve got bloody strawberry-kiwi, not just plain strawberry. Bugger!”
“You mean, kiwi can do that?” Buffy watched as more gribles grouped around the smoking kiwi stick, using its fumes to bud off into even more gribles. “That’s no fair. Can you zap them away?”
“I can try.” Giles held out his wand. “Portus!” He directed at the fuming incense stick. The single grible touching the smoking stick disappeared, but the rest of the gribles turned their attention to the watcher.
“Buffy, I think now would be a good time to…”
The gribles rushed them at once, jumping at their ankles, clawing at their legs. The slayer did her best to knock them away, but whenever one was knocked off, another took its place. “Retreat?” Buffy offered.
“Exactly.” The pair made it to the back door of the shop, kicking at the creatures as they went. Just as they ducked into the shop, a grible made a flying leap and landed on Giles’ arm, biting his hand as he slammed the door shut.
“Bloody, blasted, Godric-damned…” Giles ranted, shaking his hand to dislodge the beast.
“Ooh! You’ve got one on you!” Willow squealed.
“Yes, I think I noticed that.” Giles yelled back. “Now help me get it off!” Buffy yanked the thing off and tossed it out the back door. “There that should hold them off for…” a thud landed against the back door, “a few minutes at least.”
“I’ll go get the bandages; that bite looks nasty.” Willow muttered, heading off towards Giles’ office.
“So, the world renowned slayer battles a small nest of mostly harmless gribles. I see that I should have sided with the gribles on that one.” Severus commented.
“Evidently, gribles and kiwi don’t mix.” Buffy shot him an unamused glare. “But I suppose you would have already known that, Mr. ‘Sure, take this box of incense and don’t mind me inciting a riot from behind the closed door because I don’t have the common sense to keep my wand in my pants.’”
“Muddy, your slayer is even worse with names than I thought physically possible. No wonder things get apocalyptically bad every year if she can’t even learn a name as simple as Snape.”
“No, I think she got that one just about right. Now, I hope you have a Plan B.”
“Plan B?” Severus gulped as he heard another thud against the door. Somehow the few dozen gribles must have multiplied into the hundreds. After years of serving as a double agent and teaching ignorant children one of the most volatile subjects known to man, somehow Severus had never seen his end as coming from a grible attack. Clearly fate was having too much fun.
“Good morning, Rupert.” Mr. Borgin greeted his apprentice without glancing up from his work.
“Good morning, Mr. Borgin. Still working on that quill?”
“Indeed I am, boy. Marvellous find here. You were right on the money with this one. Clearly this is from Branta augustiana, not a standard goose quill at all, but it’s not registering on any of the standard spells. Now it’s possible that some random MacDuff found a golden goose quill some distant time in the past and didn’t realize what he had, but it should have passed the mythical beast extract test then. Unless, of course, it has some impressive shielding charms on it, but to not just mask its identity but also its own shielding charms, is impressive magic. It would take a very powerful wizard…”
“Or witch?” Rupert interjected, amused by the man’s dedication to his work. The poor curator had probably been at his desk all night with that feather.
“Oho! Wouldn’t that be exciting? And Rowena was such a master of charms! But, it’s no use. I’ve tried every revealing spell I know.” Mr. Borgin popped the magnification bubble in frustration.
“It’s too bad you can’t just compel it to tell you who it belonged to.”
“Wait a moment. I think I can!” Mr. Borgin’s eyes lit up. “Why didn’t I think of this before? Sure it would never work on a locket, or candle stick, but this is a quill!” Mr. Borgin grabbed a clean sheet of parchment and put it next to the pale golden quill. “Quis estis?” Mr. Borgin’s wand mapped out a question mark in the air. The quill hovered over the paper expectantly.
“Maybe it needs ink?” Rupert offered.
“Of course, of course.” Mr. Borgin added a small inkpot to the desk. The quill delicately dipped its nub in the ink and in a ladylike scrawl, wrote “Property of Rowena Ravenclaw.”
“Brilliant! Hail Merlin!” Mr. Borgin cried out. “We’ve done it, boy. We’ve done it!” Mr. Borgin rushed to the small safe in his office and threw it open. With utmost care, he floated the feather onto the velvet lined pillow sitting in the safe, and locked it up tight. He quickly wrote “I found it!” on a piece of paper, folded it into an airplane, and sent it to his supervisor, Mr. Alderbridge. “Now what should we do to celebrate?”
“Could we work on the books?” Rupert asked. He had just a single week left of the summer and had yet to find the watcher’s diary. His father was getting impatient.
“Books? I was thinking of stepping out for a pumpkin juice, but…”
“A pumpkin juice would be nice, sir, but I was just thinking. I return to Hogwarts next week, and I still don’t have a NEWT project yet. I was thinking the books might be some good references for me to look into.”
“Oh dear, I have been a bad mentor, haven’t I? Yes, yes, onto the books. I won’t let Binns think I’ve ruined your NEWT project, as if Binns gave much thought to it.” The curator smiled at his own joke. “So, your NEWT project, you had mentioned something about looking at the earliest sightings of the Loch Ness monster, is that correct?”
“Well, it was an idea.” An idea that would at least give him credence for looking at any journals from the right time period as the slayer that had bound the beast to her eternal home.
“It’s a rather unique idea. Most historians chose to follow people rather than beasts.”
“I just think it’s rather odd that a beast that is so clearly mythical would have so many sightings by muggles.”
“Yes, Nessie is an amusing topic, and if any wizards were likely to write about the beast, it would have been a MacDuff. Gryffindors the lot of them, always prone to chasing after the monsters.” The pair had wound their way through the storage rooms to reach the work room Rupert had spent the majority of his summer in. “Let’s see, where to begin? It’s always so much more dangerous working with books than other types of items. Often times a simple reveal spell won’t be enough to show you the spells hidden inside dormant until someone reads them, but it is just as critical that we don’t let any potential spells escape in to the muggle public.”
“So does that mean you have to read all the books?”
“No. That would take much too long. I generally begin by weeding out any recent books that bear muggle copyright marks. It’s really quite ingenious, this system they have. They can replicate books, hundreds of times in a single year, and they don’t even require a replicating spell. Sometimes those muggles impress me with their creativity, not that you’d ever catch me saying something like that to a few of my colleagues.”
“I understand completely.” Rupert nodded, relieved to at last be getting into the books.
“Why don’t we start by sorting the books? Put all published materials on that table, and all the one-of-a-kinds on this table.” Rupert eagerly went to pry the lid off the first crate of books. “Ah, ah, ah! What must you always do first?”
“Scourgify.” Rupert quickly scoured each of his hands.
“You’d be amazed at how much magical residue rests on a wizard’s fingertips, not to mention crumbs from breakfast.” Mr. Borgin commented. Judging from the number of times Rupert had heard that same warning, he was willing to bet he had a pretty good idea of how much residue that really was.
The first crate of books was a complete letdown; a complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica from the 1920s might have been a find for a small town library, but wasn’t even worth a quid to the muggle side of the museum. He painstakingly labeled each item and packed it off to be sent to the muggle side, amused with the idea that his father’s friend would have to wade through the same pile of junk. The second crate was not much better. Rupert was beginning to think he wouldn’t find anything before lunch.
The fifth crate, however, was a very different affair. Rupert could practically feel the magic coming off the books before he had pried the lid off. “Mr. Borgin, I think you might want to take a look at this.”
“Holy Helga!” Mr. Borgin exclaimed upon seeing the title on the top of the crate. “This is a first edition of Moste Potente Potions!”
“How do you know what edition it is?” Rupert asked. He knew that the book had been around for awhile, as Severus’ father’s copy was already on the twelfth edition and it was one of the oldest books Severus was allowed to keep from his father’s library.
“You can see by the yellowing of the cover here that this was written on onion skin pages. It used to be a common medium for larger books, as it was much lighter than common parchment. Unfortunately, it’s terribly fragile and tends to cause its readers to tear up. Not very practical for a potions handbook. Thank goodness parchment enchantment has come a long way since then. This is going to take a lot of preservation spell work.” Mr. Borgin removed the book as carefully as if it were the Holy Grail and placed it on the work table. “What else do you have there?”
“There’s a ‘Magick Moste Evile’, ‘Wayes of the Weirding’, and something about scrying…I’m guessing all of these books are magical.” Rupert picked up the first few books.
“Oh, how about that one?” Amidst the elaborately bound and gilded wizarding texts was a simple black volume with the title ‘Journal.’ Mr. Borgin waved his wand over it with a simple revealing spell. “How peculiar. It appears to be mundane, and yet it’s mixed in with this lot.”
“Shall we take a closer look?” Rupert pulled the book out of the crate and set it down on his work table.
“Now, remember to test for any enchantments first.” His mentor warned him. “And it wouldn’t hurt to cast a few impervious charms on yourself before reading an unknown book. It’s always a bit embarrassing to be transfixed by a book when the author is long dead, and diaries are notorious for having privacy spells. A colleague of mine once had a scarlet ‘S’ on his forehead for a month for trying to read the journal of Miss Hester Prymme.”
After the requisite safety spells were cast, Rupert opened the journal. “Here begins the chronicles of the slayer, Wilhelmina MacDuff, as told by her watcher, Mortimer Travers, on this, the 18th of March, 1753 year of Our Lord.”
This was the book he had been looking for! Now, all Rupert had to do was somehow get this book over to the muggle side of the museum without officially cataloguing the item so that his father’s colleague could add it to the Council’s private library. Of course, he’d want to read the book first, and judging from Mr. Borgin’s distraction with the other books they’d found, he’d have the time.
He’d just brought his chair over to the desk when there was a pounding on the door. “My word, I wonder whom that could be.” Mr. Borgin muttered, going to open the door. “Ah, Mr. Alderbridge, Mr. Malfoy, I assume you received my note?”
“There he is, men.” Mr. Alderbridge said, refusing to acknowledge his employee’s greeting.
A pair of aurors entered the work room, wands pointed at Mr. Borgin. “What’s this? I don’t understand.” Mr. Borgin muttered.
“Hands and wand above your head!” One of the aurors barked out.
“Mr. Alderbridge, what’s going on?” Mr. Borgin asked as he slowly put his hands up. In his panic, he dropped his wand on the floor, but no one moved to pick it up.
“Phineas Borgin, you are under arrest for the theft of Museum property.” The head auror announced. Rupert couldn’t have been more surprised if a marching band of elephants had invaded the stock room. Mr. Borgin would never do anything to harm the museum; it was his life.
“Gentlemen, I believe you’ll find the artifact in question by turning out his robe pockets.” Mr. Malfoy announced. As the second auror moved in to search Mr. Borgin’s robes, Mr. Malfoy shifted closer to Rupert.
“Is this what you were looking for, Mr. Alderbridge?” The second auror asked a moment later, pulling a golden quill from Mr. Borgin’s pocket. It was hard to tell what
was disturbing Mr. Borgin more- the fact that somehow the quill had been in his pocket, or the fact that the auror had not washed his hands before handling the ancient quill.
The museum director pulled out a magical monocle to inspect the item. “Yes, indeed, this is Rowena Ravenclaw’s golden goose quill. For shame! If we hadn’t installed those ocularomnia devices last summer we never would have known it had gone missing.”
“But Mr. Borgin…” Rupert started to defend his mentor, but a cold hand descended on his shoulder.
“Mr. Giles, as one Slytherin to another, I recommend you stay very quiet, unless you’d like to attract the aurors’ attention. Accessory to theft is also illegal, and the ministry tries most apprentices as adults.” Mr. Malfoy’s quiet voice threatened.
“I better take this as evidence for the hearing.” Mr. Alderbridge took feather from the auror, ignoring Mr. Borgin’s sputterings of innocence and outrage. “And to think we were just discussing Mr. Borgin’s upcoming promotion! This is a sad day indeed for the British Wizarding Museum.” Mr. Alderbridge was acting the part of the outraged employer to a tee, but Rupert was beginning to get the sense that it was indeed all an act. As the aurors escorted Mr. Borgin out of the storage room, Mr. Alderbridge followed along, tsking the whole way.
Rupert found he was left alone with just Mr. Malfoy, who was studying him carefully. “Mr. Malfoy, this must be some sort of mistake. I’m sure Mr. Borgin would never try to smuggle out an artifact, especially in his robe pockets. The lint alone would drive him mad.” Rupert tried appealing to the Ministry official, but had a feeling it was landing on deaf ears.
“I understand you were with Mr. Borgin when he appraised the quill.” Mr. Malfoy stated calmly.
“Yes of course, it was just this morning.”
“It must be quite a shock for you to find out that he could be so corrupt.” Mr. Malfoy drawled. “When I set up this apprenticeship for you, I had no idea. Mr. Borgin has always been an intelligent and passionate man. I knew he had been overworked of late, falling behind on his processing and whatnot, but I had no idea that the pressure would drive him to this. You must believe me.” Mr. Malfoy’s tone sounded more like an order than contrition.
“I saw him put it into the safe.” Rupert tried to add weakly.
“You must have been distracted sometime this morning when he went back for it. What have you been working on today?”
“Well, I have been working on the MacDuff library.”
“And what did you find? Any other relics from the Ravenclaw estate?” Mr. Malfoy’s question set off silent alarms in Rupert’s head.
“No?” Rupert cautiously answered. “We found some old magic books, over there, but none of them are that old. Mr. Borgin was working with those. I was just weeding out these old muggle books before bringing them over to muggle side.” Rupert casually stuck the watcher’s journal into the box of old encyclopedias, hoping Mr. Malfoy wouldn’t notice.
“Perhaps it would be best if you take off the rest of the afternoon. You’re due back at Hogwarts next week anyway. Mr. Borgin will undoubtedly be detained long after your apprenticeship should end.” Mr. Malfoy reasoned. “It would be best for you to go home and not think anything more about this apprenticeship. I’m sure Professor Jigger can find you an appropriate Slytherin mentor for when you graduate.”
“But Mr. Borgin wanted us to finish this shipment before I left.”
“I’m sure Mr. Borgin’s replacement will want to look over everything.”
“I suppose.” Rupert was beginning to panic. Mr. Malfoy probably thought it was due to a Slytherin’s ambition being thwarted, but Rupert’s problems were much more immediate. Anyone who replaced Mr. Borgin would want to start on one of the other more important collections and leave this room until much much later. The watcher’s journal would be lost for years and his father would never forgive him for it. “I’ve already catalogued this box. I could carry it over there and let the muggles know that we won’t be bringing any more MacDuff items on my way out. They’ll undoubtedly be wondering about it, and I’m sure Mr. Alderbridge would rather not have to deal with them. It would really be no problem. I just would hate to see the job go unfinished.” Rupert tried to look adequately flustered.
“Are you absolutely positive that those books are not important?” Mr. Malfoy watched Rupert for any tells.
“These books are so mundane, they may as well be firewood.” Rupert picked up the first volume of the encyclopedias and showed Mr. Malfoy all the non-moving drawings of aardvarks and anteaters. “In fact I’ll be surprised if they decide to keep these, but they know there were books in the original shipment, so they’ll be expecting to see something.”
“Very well.” Mr. Malfoy nodded. “Be sure to lock up on your way out.”
“Yes sir.” Rupert Giles nodded, not sure what else to say.
“And let me know if you ever need a letter of reference. I’m not sure Mr. Borgin’s reputation will give you the type of position a Slytherin deserves.” Rupert watched Mr. Malfoy walk out of the room after he had seen a supposedly close colleague’s career ruined, as if he had no care in the world. Suddenly he believed what Severus had been telling him since their first year- the Malfoys were very scary people.
The three apprentices entered their suite, ignoring the comments from the portraits as the door swung shut behind them. After a grueling day of final presentations to the Hogwarts faculty and the traditional celebratory dinner, their summer of servitude was officially over.
“Well, here’s to the end of another thrilling summer.” Remus collapsed on the couch.
“Shouldn’t a toast like that really be done over some sort of drink?” Severus settled at the other end of the couch.
“Right you are. Figgers, oh Figgers!” Remus called out.
“What are you… oh my!” Lily was shocked by the elf popping up in front of her. Of course she had met Figgers the elf on one of the many Gryffindor kitchen runs, but she didn’t think Figgers could just pop into their suite like that. In fact, she knew she had read somewhere that there was no apparating inside Hogwarts. How did the house elves get around it?
“What would you be wanting, Mr. Moony, sir?”
“I don’t suppose you could bring us some pumpkin cider and three glasses?”
“Right away, sir.”
“Remus! Pumpkin cider?” Lily sounded thoroughly affronted by the suggestion.
“Better add a tea set to that as well, just in case we don’t feel like going out tomorrow.” Remus added with a twinkle in his eye. The house elf popped out of the room.
“Really, Lupin, pumpkin cider?” Severus groaned.
“Exactly!” Lily agreed. “You know students aren’t supposed to have alcohol at Hogwarts.”
“Let me rephrase that. Really, Lupin, pumpkin cider? Couldn’t you have found something better than what the house elves use for cooking?” Severus clarified.
“Filch’s stupid kitten knocked over Hagrid’s mead still and I thought borrowing Flitwicks’s firewhiskey would be too over the top.” Remus answered Severus’ concern while ignoring Lily’s.
“What about McGonagall’s scotch supply? You’re a Gryffindor; that shouldn’t be too hard to get.”
“Well, she only had one bottle open and it had just a glass left, really more of a gulp, barely a sip.”
“Had?” Severus raised her brow.
“What can I say? Last year, that Ravenclaw, Marcella Something-or-other, convinced McGonagall that I needed liquid courage to make it through my apprenticeship speech, so this year McGonagall decided to be proactive instead of waiting for me to turn green and faint.”
Lily kicked at Remus’ shin. “As apprentices, we’re not supposed to bring alcohol to Hogwarts. It was in the rules you signed. We could get into serious trouble.”
“I know the rules, but we ceased being apprentices as of dinner this evening and we aren’t technically students until the train arrives tomorrow.” Remus reasoned.
“Besides, the rules strictly forbid students from bringing alcohol onto campus. It does not forbid us from imbibing what’s already here.” Severus announced.
“So that’s how the Slytherins get away with it.” Remus muttered. Turning to his fellow Gryffindor, he added. “Come on, Lily, relax. You’ve worked so hard all summer.”
“What if Dumbledore…”
“Then we fetch an extra glass for him, but it’s not going to happen. It’s an apprentice tradition. We always have a drink on the last night and the faculty always pretends not to notice.”
“If there was the slightest chance of being caught, do you really think I’d encourage him?” Severus added.
Lily had an idea from Rupert’s stories just how many pranks Severus had been involved in over the years, but as far as she knew he had never been caught- he had even gotten out of that illicit quidditch match that every other boy in Slytherin and Gryffindor served detention for. That alone was more convincing than any argument Remus could muster. “Well, alright.”
As soon as Lily had taken a seat between the two boys, two house elves popped into the room. One handed Remus a large jug and three mugs while the other set a teapot, cups, and array of breakfast pastries on the work table. “Thank you, Figgers.” Remus said as the elves popped back out of sight.
“Wait, how’d they…”
“Too late.” Remus grinned. “Now, be a dear and give me a hand, please?” Severus grabbed two mugs from Remus’ right hand and Lily grabbed the third. “Alright, let’s see if this stuff is better than last year’s.” Remus pulled the cork off the jar and began pouring.
“Anything is better than Trelawney’s spiked tea.” Severus observed.
“I’ll toast to that.” Remus smirked in response. He finally finished pouring the three mugs full and placed the half empty jug of cider on the floor. “Alright, who wants to go first?” Severus arched a single brow in contempt and Lily looked at him blankly. “Alright, I’ll start. Here’s to our seventh and final year, where we will have the best defense teacher yet! … As long as she signs the contract by tomorrow.”
“Here here!” Severus echoed, clinking his mug against Remus’. “And here’s the end of the summer, and everyone finishing their apprentices with as many fingers and toes as they had going in.”
Lily looked at the Slytherin oddly but raised her glass with the others. “My turn?” The boys nodded. Lily bit her lip as she thought. Remus had already taken the future year and Severus had taken the past summer, leaving Lily with no obvious toasts available. At last she had an idea. “Here’s to Dumbledore. May he quickly defeat the Death Eaters and make the wizarding world safe for children again.”
“To Dumbledore.” Severus quietly clinked his mug against hers and took a sip.
“To Dumbledore and world peace.” Remus added, giving Lily an encouraging smile before chugging half his glass in one gulp.
Lily took a sip of the cider and promptly spit it out. “Pttph! That tastes awful!”
“Of course, silly, you don’t drink it for the taste.” Remus said, setting his empty glass on the coffee table in front of them. “Tee hee, Silly Lily.”
“You’re probably drinking it with the wrong part of your tongue. If you aim liquor towards the back of your mouth, it’s much more palatable.” Severus informed Lily before turning to his fellow drinking veteran. “And you probably shouldn’t be drinking anything, considering what tomorrow night is.”
“What’s tomorrow night?” Lily asked after cautiously taking another sip of the cider.
“What, you haven’t noticed? It’s the…”
“… First night back in Gryffindor.” Remus quickly cut off Severus before his secret was spilled. “You know how giddy that makes me. To think, this will be our last year in Gryffindor Tower.”
“I know!” Lily fell for the change of topic. “It’s so weird to think that this’ll be the last year I share a room with any of the Gryff girls. I wonder if I’ll even get to see them once I graduate and go to med school.”
“The wizarding world is a very small place.” Severus announced, sipping his cider to punctuate his comment. “Undoubtedly half of your mediwizardry classmates will be other Hogwarts alumni.”
“You are so right, my friend. I wouldn’t be surprised if we all end up in Merlin College next year.” Remus agreed. Severus raised a speculative eyebrow as Remus poured himself another mug of cider. Clearly the first round had affected Remus’ judgment if he was referring to Severus as ‘friend’, but evidently the werewolf was intent on finishing the jug of cider with or without the others’ help.
“Actually, I was thinking of going to muggle medical school.” Lily admitted.
“Really? Merlin, wouldn’t that be a kick in the head? You spend an entire summer training with one of Britain’s best mediwitches and wind up as some muggle doctor.”
“Hey, be nice!” Lily immediately defended her muggle heritage.
“I am being nice, but Lily, really! Do you have any idea what muggle doctors can do? Not much. Surgery, drugs, electroshock therapy, that’s about it, and I’m not even sure about that last one. Lord help them if something serious happens to their patient, like he gets turned into a parrot or something. They’d probably just give him birdseed and name him Polly!”
“You know, Remus, I did go to a muggle pediatrician as a child. I know what they’re like and it’s not that bad. Muggle doctors can solve a lot of problems and make a lot of patients better. Besides, muggles don’t get turned into parrots.”
“Lily, anyone can be turned into a parrot. Trust me.” Remus sincerely answered. “My mum did an article once about muggle doctors…”
“Merlin, here we go again.” Severus mumbled as Remus began his story. Severus lazily lit the fireplace with his wand so he could watch the fire instead of listening to yet another story of Mrs. Lupin’s ethical mores and investigative journalism skills. Once he got past the bitter aftertaste, sipping cider in front of the fireplace was actually rather cozy; the pumpkin cider, mulled with the nutmeg and cinnamon, actually had a warm spicy flavor. Of course he’d never let anyone even guess that the word “cozy” was part of his vocabulary. The first log had already turned to burning embers by the time he tuned back into the conversation.
“… and they finally gave her a sheet of paper with the word ‘valium’ written on it and underlined. Now how do you like that? How could she fix her hypothetically charmed husband with just a word on a piece of paper? It wasn’t even a working spell- I mean, valium, what sort of charm is that?”
“Oh Remus!” Lily was now laughing; Severus wondered how much of the laughter was cider induced, but figured not much when he noticed how little she had drunk. “It’s called a prescription. She was supposed to give it to the pharmacist who would give her the medications.”
“What a ridiculous system, trading paper for potions! Why would the doctor give her a prescription, anyway? It was the parrot husband with the problem. Refill?” Remus said, offering Lily the jug even though she still had over half a mug left.
“See, now that’s actually the funny part of your story.” Lily giggled.
“What is? The silly piece of paper?” Remus was confused.
“Here your mother is going out of her way to demonstrate the craziness of muggle medicine, and they all diagnose her perfectly- valium!”
“I don’t get it.”
“Valium is what they give crazy people.” Severus filled in.
“Oh.” Remus thought about it for a moment. “Oh! So you’re saying that they thought she was crazy and she thought they were crazy? Ha! That is good. I’ll have to tell her. Hey, Sev, how’d you come to know that anyway?”
Severus shrugged and took another sip of cider. Actually, the topic of valium had come up when his mother and Bradford had been talking about one of the older watchers who had gone into a bad spell at the death of a slayer he had trained as a potential. The Council had generously offered to cover the cost of his medication as they ushered him through an early retirement.
“Sev, you’re always so quiet. Have you ever tried to let loose? Just once?” Remus heckled the Slytherin. “Just because your name is severe, doesn’t mean you have to be.”
“I let loose. Just not around drunken Gryffindors.”
“Who are you calling drunk? I’m not drunk.” Remus burped. “Alright, but Lily isn’t drunk yet. She’s hardly touched her cider.”
“And it’s a darn good thing too! Somebody has to save Gryffindor’s good name.”
“I think it’s a little late for that.” Severus pointed out. “Godric himself had a
reputation for not being able to hold his liquor.”
“Really?” Lily blinked. Somehow that had never been included in ‘Hogwarts: A History’.
“Slythies are just jealous.” Remus said, slurring the ends of his words, so it sounded more like ‘Shlythies are jush jealoush’.
“Right. We’re terribly jealous of Gryffindors. Just because there have been more Ministers of Magic from Slytherin than any other house, just because there have been more Hogwarts Headmasters from Slytherin than any other house, I can see how we’d be horribly jealous of you.”
“Quidditch! We beat you in quidditch.” Remus finally remembered.
“Can we please not talk about quidditch? I have a feeling we’ll hear enough about that tomorrow.”
“That’s right, Padfoot and Prongs…” Remus trailed off the end of his sentence, getting distracted by a spark from the fireplace.
“So, if quidditch talk is banned, how about we go back to the more interesting subject. Muggle medicine.” Severus said, also watching the logs settle in the fireplace. “Why are you going to muggle school?” Something about his tone made Lily feel like she was back in front of that board of faculty this afternoon, defending her work on quidditch triage procedures.
“Well, I haven’t said positively that I am.” Lily blushed.
“Why are you even thinking about it?”
“I don’t know. It just makes sense. There are so many more muggles out there. I could do more good treating muggles.”
“Nonsense. There are more muggles out there, but there are also more doctors than mediwizards out there. You’d see about the same number of patients either way. What’s your real reason?”
“My sister and grandparents don’t live close to a wizarding community. I want to live closer to them. Being a doctor would allow me to do that.”
“I know for a fact that McGonagall has been training you for your apparition license. Try another one.”
“No, really, I want to be closer to my family.”
“You could live with your grandparents and still apparate to Hogsmeade or London or Ottery St. Catchpole or any other wizarding point on a daily basis. That’s what my mother does. She floos to Diagon Alley all the time even though we live in a frighteningly muggle neighborhood.”
Lily shrugged, having no answer for Severus’ pestering. She glanced at Remus for help, but somewhere along the line, the boy had fallen asleep, his empty mug trailing along the floor. “Have you talked to Pomphrey about this?” Severus continued.
“She said she’d help if that’s what I wanted to do. I haven’t been the first Hogwarts student to go back to the muggle world.”
“No, but you aren’t anything close to a squib. It’s generally the mostly-squibs that get sent back to the muggle world.” Severus countered. “What about Dumbledore? Have you talked to Dumbledore?”
“Not exactly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew.”
“What about Rupert? Have you talked to Rupert?”
“Why do you care?”
“About Rupert? He’s my stepbrother.”
“Why do you care if I’ve talked to Rupert?”
“It matters, alright?” Severus could feel his cheeks heating up, and wondered if it was a side effect of the cider.
“Yes. I’ve talked to Rupert. I mentioned it when he was in the fireplace last week. He said that he thought any decision I made would be the right one and he’d come to visit me no matter what neighborhood I lived in.”
“Well, that’s unhelpful.” Severus muttered.
“I thought it was nice of him to say that. At least he wasn’t asking me all these questions I don’t want to answer.”
“Someone has to ask the questions or else you might make the decision for all the wrong reasons.”
“Why do you even care what I do?”
“I’m being selfish.” Severus replied, surprising Lily with the answer. “I’m being horribly selfish. You see, I’ve had a running bet with Lucius ever since first year. He said that mudbloods had no place in wizarding society and I said that mudbloods could just be as important as purebloods. He picked three purebloods, and I picked three mudbloods, and whoever’s picks were most successful by our tenth reunion would win five galleons from the other. It’s that simple.”
“You’re kidding right?” Lily stared at Severus like he had lost his marbles.
“Now, I figure Rupert will definitely be more successful than Sirius, but I’ll admit picking Rucklesby over Botts was a mistake. So far, Lucius and I split one and one. The true test is will you be more successful than Narcissa Black? She will undoubtedly be a trophy wife of a Ministry official. If you pass your mediwizard tests, you will easily beat her, but if you disappear into the muggle world you forfeit.”
“You’re harassing me about my future for five galleons?”
“No, I’m harassing you about your future for the sake of winning. This isn’t about five galleons; it’s about being right. So tell me, why won’t you go to mediwizardry school? Do you think you’re too stupid to handle it?”
“No!” Lily immediately retorted.
“Do you think that you’re too weak to handle it? I mean, blood and guts aren’t for the faint of heart.”
“No, muggle doctors deal with that stuff, too.”
“So we’ve ruled out the greater good, family, intelligence, and stomach. Why, Lily? Why not mediwizardry?”
“I don’t know.” Lily was getting flustered. It made sense when she was writing letters to her sister. Petunia would be more proud of a doctor sister than a witch sister, but she couldn’t honestly say it was about Petunia. If it was Meggie hounding her, she’d just make up some silly answer and her friend would accept it. She wondered just what sort of ridiculous lie Severus would actually believe.
“Let me rephrase this, then. Why are you so intent on leaving the wizarding world?” Severus turned away from the fire to face Lily, and his dark brown eyes shone with such intensity that Lily knew she had to tell the truth.
“I’m too young to die.”
“Is that all you have to say? Oh?”
“Well, if that’s how you feel, you’re as good as given up. I may as well hand Lucius the five galleons right now, because you’re not going to win.”
“This isn’t about a bet. This is my life we’re talking about.”
“No, this is about winning. You’re letting them win by being stupid.”
“Stupid?! I read the Prophet. Muggleborns are being attacked right and left. Death Eaters are burning our houses, hurting our families, torturing us. You think it’s stupid to leave that behind and find a real job in the real world?”
“Yes. I think that’s stupid. I think that’s you saying to the Death Eaters that they’re right. You’re telling them that muggleborns can’t stand up to a little bullying, that muggleborns are weak, and that muggleborns can’t make it in the wizarding world. You walking out now is exactly what they want, and you’re going to hand it to them on a silver platter.”
“Fine, at least I won’t be dead.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. If you think they haven’t noticed that your OWL scores were among the best in the class, then you’re badly mistaken. They know you, they know you can be a danger to them, and even if you think you’ve walked away, they know that you will always be a liability. Going back to the muggle world will just make it easier for them to frame it as a muggle death.”
“I don’t want to die.” Lily wiped a tear from her face. She was not going to sob, not in front of jerk like Severus.
“That’s all you have to say?”
“Giving up is as good as dying. You want to live, right? What is a better way of being alive than getting into the mediwizardry class and showing them all that you can do it? What’s better than being at the very top of the class and showing them you’re smarter than all those purebloods?”
“There is so much more to life than studying, Severus.” Lily sighed. “I want to live. I want to fall in love. I want to get married. I want to have children. I can’t do that if Death Eaters are threatening me to get me to drop out of school.”
“Lily, if you ignore the Death Eaters, they will kill you before that’s even an option.” Severus tried to get Lily to see his way of thinking.
“See, this is just the kind of thing I don’t want to have happen! I’m too young to think about this. I have so much I want to do. I want to see the world before I die. I want to learn how to drive before I die. Merlin, I want to have a first kiss before I die! I can’t stand you sitting here and telling me it’s all going to end soon so I need to study more stupid books!” Lily jumped up from the couch.
Severus jumped up, following after her. “Look, Lily, I’m sorry. This is wrong. This is all wrong. You’re not getting my point. I just…” Severus nervously tucked his bangs behind his ears, ignoring the fact that his hair flopped right back in his face. Lily nervously glanced between the sleeping Remus and the flickering fireplace; anything to avoid looking at Severus. Seeing his chance slipping away, Severus moved right in front of her. “I can’t solve all your problems, but I can do this.” And then, not even thoroughly understanding why he was doing it himself, he leaned down and kissed her.
Their lips met only for a moment. In retrospect, Severus had probably had more involved kisses from Gran than the kiss he had just landed on Lily’s face, but something about it made his whole body tingle with excitement. Lily blinked her eyes a few times. “Um, what was that?” Lily finally asked.
“A kiss?” Severus muttered, his cheeks turning a dark scarlet red that he couldn’t blame on the alcohol or the cozy fireplace.
“You said you wanted to have a first kiss before you died?”
“So you thought you had to do something about that?” Lily was utterly confused. Was this just because Severus wanted to win an argument, or did he really think about her that way? Did she think about him that way? Did she want to think about him that way? Did it even count as a first kiss? It was nothing like the kisses in the romance novels Meggie always lent her. The witch was supposed to melt in the wizard’s arms as he caressed her and their tongues… did something. This was more like two faces bouncing off each other.
“Well, I couldn’t show you the world.” Severus offered feebly.
“Oh.” Lily nodded. It almost made sense, but then nothing ever made sense with Severus. He was always so intense about the strangest things. She didn’t know what to think or do. “I think…” Lily set her mug on the top of the fireplace mantle. “I think I need to go to bed now.” She took several steps towards her bedroom door, surprised she could still walk straight.
“Wait.” Severus called as she reached her door. She paused. “You should talk to Dumbledore. He…” Severus wasn’t sure what, but it was the one piece of advice Gran, his mother, and his father had always agreed on, and it had never let him down. “He won’t let you die.”
“Okay.” Lily said, opening the door to her room. “Good night, Severus.”
“Night.” Severus mumbled, watching as she closed the door and slid the lock into place. “Well, that could have gone better.” Severus sighed. He picked up his mug and emptied the rest of the jug’s contents into it. “Here’s to spending the rest of the year hiding in the lab and hoping I never embarrass myself that badly again.” He raised his mug in salute.
“Fizzing whizbees.” Remus mumbled in his sleep.
A/N: Whew, long chapter! I just wanted to take some time out and say thanks to my beta, Cameron. Without her this chapter would have been a disaster.