Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who's reviewed so far! My apologies for the delay in getting this chapter out. This story seems to be heading in a different direction from where it started, but hopefully the next few chapters will be up a little quicker.
Chapter 2: Deep Thinking
James Potter was not, as a rule, much given to introspection. Okay, there had been those few horrible months earlier this year when everything had seemed to turn upside down and he'd found himself doing some pretty hard thinking, but he'd chosen to view that as a temporary aberration. Just the world going insane for a brief while. And now, everything was back on track and things were back to normal. Including happy-go-lucky him.
So why, he thought to himself gloomily, shifting in his seat, was he sat here in the changing rooms having deep thoughts?
It has to be a coincidence...
No one would do that deliberately, would they?
'James flipping Potter!'
Lily was imagining things - he was imagining things. It had to be a coincidence...
A piece of chalk flew out of nowhere and hit James in the forehead. He blinked owlishly and shook his head, as though to clear out the unwanted deep thoughts.
'Oh,' he said guiltily. 'Sorry, Frazz, did you say something?'
Frazz Davies opened and shut his mouth a few times, looked ready to explode, but apparently thought better of it. He contented himself with breathing heavily a few times.
'I am on the verge of flipping greatness here, Potter,' he said in a voice closer to a growl. 'I have the chance to make my mark in Hogwarts history. Do you know how many House Captains have won the championship three flipping years in a row?'
'No,' said James, curious. 'How many?'
Frazz paused. 'Well, actually - I don't know. No one records that sort of thing. But that's not important,' he went on, finding his train of thought again. 'What is important is that I am about to go down as one of the greatest Gryffindor captains ever, and no one is going to mess that up for me, you hear? So pay some flipping attention! I am about to - yes, Pippa, what is it?'
The small third year next to James put her hand down. 'Don't you mean we?'
He stared at her. 'What?'
'Well, you keep saying 'I' and 'me', but surely you mean we and us? After all, you're not going to win anything without the whole team, are you?'
The rest of the team nodded agreement, and James tried to stifle his laughter at the sight of Frazz's expression.
'Right, yes,' he said uncomfortably. 'I meant us, obviously. Now, if every member of the team is paying some flipping attention, can we get back to it?' He turned back to the chalkboard, lifted his arm and paused. 'Um…where was I?'
'You were about to tell us the one thing you need to be a flipping successful Quidditch player,' Sam said helpfully.
'Yes, that's right.' He seemed to regain his confidence. 'Right. The one thing you need to be a successful Quidditch player is dedication and commitment.' He wrote the words on the board as he spoke, complete with much underlining and exclamation marks.
'Um...Frazz?' said Danny hesitantly. 'Isn't that two things?'
'That's two things. Dedication and commitment. Two things.'
'He's right, you know.'
'Actually, he's not. Dedication and commitment both mean the same thing, so that's only one thing.'
'And one word's redundant, so it's a whajamacallit...'
'That's right! A tautology.'
'Actually, it isn't a tautology, because dedication and commitment do mean slightly different things - you can be committed to something without being dedicated to it -'
'Shut up! Shut up! Will you please all just shut the flip up!' Frazz was practically on the verge of tears - well, angry tears - as he glared around at the team. 'It's flipping irrelevant! Will you all please just flipping concentrate, so we can get some flipping work done!' He turned back to the board, glared at it for a moment as though it had personally insulted him, and then threw the chalk at the wall in frustration. 'I give up. Everyone, grab your broomsticks and let's go and play some flipping Quidditch.'
'Of course, he didn't actually say flipping,' Remus felt obliged to point out, 'he said -'
'I get it, thank you, Professor.'
Practice that evening was Not Good. Well, the Keeper was okay, though not exactly tested by the half-hearted moves of the Chasers. The Beaters weren't too bad, but Danny and Geoff rarely strayed out of their own little world and noticed what was going on in the rest of the game anyway. Frazz had more than once tried to drill some tactics in their heads, but without success - they would just stare at him blankly and point out that they hit the Bludgers with the bats. Those were their tactics.
The Chasers, on the other hand...
'Okay, I'm having some sort of personal crisis,' thought James irritably as he watched Pippa Prescott throw the Quaffle wildly and hit her fellow Chaser in the head. 'What's their excuse?'
Both of the new girls had flown reasonably well at try-outs - not that he could remember much of them first hand, as whenever he hadn't been flying himself, his eyes had been locked on Lily Evans - but both of them, Pippa especially, seemed to fall to pieces when asked to perform the most basic moves in practice. And the more James watched them, the more that little voice at the back of his mind wondered if maybe it wasn't just a coincidence...
Maybe Lily had a point...
'All right!' cried Frazz eventually, bringing a halt to the whole sorry affair. 'That's enough! I can't take any more. We'll have an extra practice on Saturday, and just... just be flipping better, all right?'
They trudged back to the changing rooms in thankful silence, most of the team heading back to the castle as quickly as they possibly could. James lingered, however, until Frazz had rolled up the last of his pitch diagrams and left, muttering what were probably obscenities under his breath. Left alone in the dark changing room, James sat down on one of the benches and exhaled loudly. He didn't believe it, he didn't want to believe it for one second because it was so patently ludicrous, and yet...
He sat there in silence for some minutes before getting a grip on himself. This was stupid. What he had to do, he realised with a sinking feeling, was talk to Lily and find out exactly what she had meant. Chances are she hadn't spotted what James had spotted and he was panicking over nothing - and if she had spotted the same thing, all he had to do was to convince her that it was just a coincidence.
Right after he convinced himself of that.
With a groan, he pulled himself upright, pushed his glasses up his nose and set out to face the dragon.
At the moment James made his decision, Lily Evans was sat in the library, staring at a Charms textbook without seeing it at all. Partly because the text was extremely dull - what was the point of learning about spells that are so obscure and complex that no one ever actually performed them? - but mainly because it was hard to read anything when all she could hear were the words 'I shouldn't have said anything, I shouldn't have said anything,' echoing round and round in her head. She groaned.
'I can't believe I told him...'
Of course, she hadn't told Potter anything, not really. But she had insinuated something, and that was just as bad. It's one thing to have suspicions or even beliefs, but it's another thing to tell someone about them - especially if that person then turns around and says, 'Prove it'. And that was the thing, she couldn't prove it. Half the time, she didn't even believe it herself. But coincidences like that don't just happen, do they...?
'Concentrate!' she told herself fiercely, and directed her attention back to the book.
Once the charm has been cast, it is impossible to switch from one Secret Keeper to another without breaking the enchantment and starting again. The witch or wizard casting the Fidelius Charm must therefore be very careful in selecting their Secret Keeper...
Not that James had asked her for proof, she thought, her attention drifting again. Or said anything to her in the last week at all. In fact, she got the distinct impression he was avoiding her. She had a sneaking suspicion that he still hadn't worked out what she had meant about the Quidditch team, and was avoiding her until he could figure it out, which made her slightly disappointed, oddly enough. Potter was supposed to be intelligent, for goodness sake. Unless he had worked it out, of course, and was avoiding her for other reasons...
She forced her attention back to the book.
This inflexibility, however, although one of the strengths of the Fidelius charm, can also be a weakness in many practical situations. If the Secret Keeper is incapacitated in any way...
'Oh, who cares!' she thought irritably and slammed the book shut. What was wrong with her? It wasn't as though she minded Potter avoiding her. On the contrary, she was enjoying the peace and quiet. Really, it was quite a relief not to have him constantly asking her out.
Not that he did that much any more. At all. In fact, she didn't think he'd asked her out once since they had got back to school this September. This was a good thing, obviously. She was glad about it. It's just that she had had some really scathing comebacks prepared and now they were going to go to waste. There was a rumour going around as well that he had asked out Katy Hill, but she was sure that was a load of nonsense...
She gave a small shriek, jolted out of her thoughts. 'Don't do that, Potter!' she said, glaring at him. 'Do you want to give me a heart attack?'
'Sorry,' he said, not looking it as he slid into the chair on the other side of the table.
There was a pause.
'Well?' said Lily eventually, seeing as he didn't seem inclined to start the conversation any time soon.
'You were the one who said my name and sat down opposite me,' she pointed out. 'And you don't have any books or anything with you, so I'm guessing education isn't the point of your visit...'
He looked down guiltily. 'Oh. Right. Er...Evans...'
'Yes?' she said, suspecting she was going to have to do most of the work in this conversation.
'Well, you see... the thing is...' He stopped and started again. 'When you said... I mean, what did you...?' He stopped again and Lily sighed in frustration.
'Is this going somewhere, Potter?'
He opened and shut his mouth a couple more times, before suddenly standing up so fast his chair fell over. 'Never mind.'
'You interrupted my studying for that?' she said in disbelief.
He shrugged and grinned at her. 'Sorry. I haven't annoyed you very much in the last few days, I thought I'd better make up for it.' He saluted her and turned to go.
'I take it you've finally noticed, then?' she called to his retreating back.
He faltered for a moment before flashing her another grin over his shoulder. 'I don't know what you're talking about.'
She smiled with grim certainty. 'Yeah, you do.'
I knew I wasn't imagining things...
James made his way back to the common room in a state of high gloom. 'I can't believe I chickened out,' he thought morosely, giving the Fat Lady the password and climbing in the portrait hole. 'Why can't I just ask her what she meant?'
He knew the answer to that, of course, even if he couldn't admit it to himself - if he asked Lily what she had meant she might tell him, and he wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.
He scanned the common room for his friends in vain, before spotting the unfamiliar sight of Remus sat at a table on his own, frowning at a piece of parchment. Wondering vaguely where the other two were, James made his way over to the table, a faint spark of hope beginning to kindle in his chest. If he could talk to anyone about this without them jumping to conclusions or being judgemental...
'Hey, Moony,' he said, sounding much more cheerful than he felt.
Remus looked up, his expression clearing. 'Oh, hi, James. How was practice?'
James paused. 'Odd.'
'Odd how?' Remus said absently, returning to his homework. 'Have you done that essay for McGonagall yet?'
'What? Oh, no... not yet. Look, Moony -' He stopped. How on earth was he supposed to start this conversation? 'You love Quidditch, don't you?'
Remus blinked at him. 'Yes, of course.'
'But you've never tried out for the team.'
'James, is this going somewhere?' he asked.
James tried to shrug casually. 'Just wondered why, that's all.'
'I should have thought that was obvious,' said Remus with a wry smile.
'Right,' said James guiltily. 'Of course. The... thing. Your furry little problem.'
Remus burst out laughing. 'Actually, I was referring to the fact I'm just not very good at it.'
There was a pause before Remus said mildly, 'Something on your mind, James?'
'Well... you know the Quidditch team?'
'It is something with which I am familiar, yes.'
'Well... have you ever noticed anything about it?'
Remus frowned. 'In what respect?'
'Well, anything odd. Or anything that's probably a coincidence, but might not be, though it most likely is.'
'Was that even English?'
James sighed. 'Look, let me put it another way.' He thought for a moment. 'You watched tryouts this year, didn't you?'
'Yes,' said Remus, looking even more puzzled.
'What did you think of... I mean, do you think...?' He got a grip on himself. 'I mean, did the best people make the team, in your opinion?'
'Well,' said Remus slowly, 'I think the people who made the team are all very good, if that's what you -'
'No, I mean...did the best people make it? Out of everyone you saw?'
Remus looked at him severely. 'Prongs, this wouldn't happen to be about Lily Evans, would it?'
'No!' said James defensively. 'Well, not exactly. Maybe. Sort of. How did you know?'
'It's always a pretty safe bet with you, James. Was she upset she didn't make the team?'
James hesitated. 'Sort of.' He was beginning to feel a bit more hopeful - if Remus hadn't noticed, maybe he was just imagining things...
'Is it to do with the fact that every member of the Gryffindor team since Frazz Davies became Captain has been a pureblood?' Remus asked directly, and the spark of hope inside James didn't so much die as come crashing down to earth in a blaze of fire.
'Oh. You noticed that, did you?'
Remus leaned forward, looking serious. 'Look, James, there aren't that many purebloods in Gryffindor. I doubt I'm the only one who's noticed. But I'm sure it's a coincidence - Davies has picked good players, and the team's won for the last two years, so I don't think anyone's complaining. And I'm sure if anything was up, McGonagall would have done something about it.'
'That's true,' said James, feeling a bit more hopeful. 'I mean, Davies is a decent bloke. I'm sure it's a coincidence.'
'They do happen occasionally,' said Remus, smiling. 'Do I take it Lily thinks differently?'
'I don't know,' said James gloomily. 'I don't even know if that's what she's referring to, or what she believes. She didn't actually say anything, she just sort of hinted, and I haven't had the courage to ask her what she actually meant.'
Remus' mouth twitched. 'And you a Gryffindor.'
James thought about what he had just said and couldn't help grinning himself. 'I know, it's a bit pathetic isn't it?'
'If you're really worried about this, Prongs, you need to talk to Lily about it.'
'I'm not worried about it! I'm sure it's a coincidence. Besides,' he added, 'we're not all purebloods.'
'No. I know for a fact that Sam has one Muggleborn grandparent.'
Remus gave him a look.
James sighed. 'I know. I'll talk to her.'
He didn't talk to her, of course, or at least not immediately. Not, he reassured himself, slumped in an armchair in the common room on Saturday, because of a lack of Gryffindor courage or anything like that, but because these things are delicate and shouldn't be rushed into.
Oh, who was he kidding? He sighed heavily.
'What's the matter with him?' asked Sirius, frowning absently at the chessboard in front of him.
Remus shrugged, prodding a knight forward. 'The usual.'
'Oh, Evans again.'
'This has got nothing to do with Evans!' James protested, glaring at Remus, who at least had the grace to look apologetic.
'Is it about Quidditch, then?' Sirius moved a bishop with a decidedly smug air, though Remus looked unaffected.
'Padfoot, I do have other interests in life besides Quidditch and Lily Evans!'
'Really?' said Peter, sat watching the game with interest. He looked up. 'What are they?'
James paused, his mind gone blank. 'Stuff,' he said eventually. 'But this has nothing to do with Quidditch or Lily Evans, I promise you!'
'You know, James,' said a female voice, and he turned around quickly to find Katy Hill smiling at him, 'for someone who's not obsessed with Lily Evans, you do seem to talk about her an awful lot.'
'I am not obsessed with her,' James protested feebly. 'These clowns were the ones who brought her up. In fact,' he went on, ignoring the noise that sounded suspiciously like a snort from Sirius' direction, 'I can hardly ever remember which one she is.'
'She's sat over there,' Katy said helpfully, and James almost broke his neck as the instinct to whip his head round was followed a split-second later by the realisation that this would rather give the game away. 'Very noticeable red hair. You've had lessons with her every day for the last seven years. And she's Head Girl.'
'See? Instantly forgettable,' said James.
Katy laughed a little longer than the not very funny joke expected. 'So...'
'So...' he repeated blankly, aware of Sirius and Remus exchanging looks out of the corner of his eye.
'How are you?' she asked.
'I'm fine.' There was a long pause. James had a feeling something was expected of him.
'Oh, how are you?' he said eventually, realisation dawning.
'I'm good, thanks.' She smiled at him, and seemed to be waiting for something, though he was damned if he knew what it was.
'So, what are you up to today?' she asked.
'Um, not much really.' There was another awkward pause. 'Oh, um, how about you?'
'Not much. Thought I might go for a walk, actually.' She gave him a pointed look.
James felt he was beginning to catch up to this conversation. 'That sounds like a good idea. Would you mind some company?'
Her smile broadened. 'That would be nice. I'll get my cloak.'
James waited until she had disappeared up the girls' dormitory stairs before turning on his friends. 'If any of you says anything,' he warned, wagging a finger, 'just one word...'
Sirius looked offended. 'Why are you looking at me? I haven't said anything!'
'Yeah, well,' James muttered, 'just make sure you don't.' He plastered a smile back onto his face as Katy reappeared. 'Fancy wandering down to the lake?'
'Sounds like fun.'
On the way to the portrait hole, James tried his hardest not to look in the direction of the flash of red hair to his right - but his neck muscles had their own ideas. His eyes met hers, briefly, before Lily looked away. Feeling oddly discomforted, James helped Katy out of the portrait hole and they set off.
'Katy...' he began hesitantly, 'have you ever noticed anything odd about the Gryffindor Quidditch team...?'