Wayfaring Stranger by luna_plath
by Luna Plath
" . . . beware the average man, the average woman, beware their love, their love is average, seeks average, but there is genius in their hatred," Charles Bukowski in "The Genius of the Crowd."
Chapter One: Evergreen
Rosemary Wilcox was not the most talkative of girls, thought Lily Evans, sixth year Gryffindor Prefect and contender for Head Girl, but she was a decent enough partner for potions class. The shrunken numbers of sixth year potions students were huddled over their cauldrons in the chilly dungeons of Hogwarts School, quieter than usual as Professor Slughorn inscribed today's instructions on the blackboard. Many of the students in their class had caught what Madam Pompfrey had classified as "an unusually nasty virus," that had put a good portion of the school on bed rest. Fortunately, it was easily treatable with a tonic that the mediwitch had been able to brew up quickly, but it left the drinker achy and lightheaded for a day or two. Fortunately, Lily had avoided the illness, but the same could not be said for much of her year, which had been hit the worst. Professor Slughorn had volunteered his students and his class time to brewing the tonic, a simple enough task but one that he'd allotted to his older pupils nonetheless. Rosemary was not Lily's usual potions partner-in fact, she hadn't established a "usual potions partner" since her falling out with Severus towards the end of last term, but she normally ended up working with one of the Ravenclaws, not the quiet but somewhat unusual girl of her same house and year.
With Professor Slughorn's rather large back turned a bit of murmured talking had flowered in the classroom; oddly enough, Remus Lupin, who typically appeared slightly peaky and wan without the additional presence of a virus, appeared in good health. He was seated next to James Potter, one of the three Gryffindor boys who had chosen to continue with potions. With Sirius absent James and Remus' were much quieter, talking as they usually did but with less laughter and fewer shenanigans. Professor Slughorn seemed to prefer this development; he'd previously explained that normally he would have enjoyed James' and Sirius' penchant for humor, but he found it distracting in the classroom setting, especially when dealing with temperamental potions and rare ingredients. He'd said so enough times at his little dinner parties, to which the two friends were always invited due to their heritage and connections within the wizarding world. Lily always received an invitation as well, but she had gotten into the professor's good graces by means of had work alone. Being muggleborn, she had no lineage to fall back on like her infamous housemates.
Reading the notice that Slughorn had scrawled in the top corner of the blackboard, Rosemary interrupted Lily's daydreaming. The redhead was startled by her classmate's voice, a timbre that she wasn't accustomed to hearing. Her tone was surprisingly light and articulated. "Slughorn's paired us all up for a partner assignment on medical potion-brewing," the pale-haired girl explained. "We're to write a joint essay and give a presentation this following week," Rosemary continued.
"As if I need more another project to worry about," Lily muttered, more to herself than to her partner. Even though they weren't far into term she was already feeling slightly overwhelmed with school work, which felt even more daunting when she thought about the upcoming requirements for her prefect duties.
Rosemary nodded knowingly, blinking her perpetually sleepy-looking eyes. They were a soft brown that almost bordered on gray at times, highlighted by a light smattering of undisguisable freckles that stretched the bridge of her nose. She flicked her hair over her shoulder and languidly tapped the end of her eagle-feather quill on the desktop.
The past few months had not been kind to Lily Evans. Although she had so far been managing to keep up her grades and fulfill all of her school requirements, she had been stressed and, understandably, lonely. Her closest girlfriend at Hogwarts hadn't returned for the start of their sixth year, staying at home by the will of her parents like more and more of their classmates. Funny things had begun to happen within the wizarding community that made many people uncomfortable: disappearances, strange accidents, the increasing prevalence of dark magic within the platforms of what Professor Dumbledore had referred to as "radical proponents of magical segregation." It had people scared, the parents of Zelda Praise included. Zelda's absence at school had been initially very jarring to Lily; it wasn't that she didn't have any other friends, there were many people that she was on friendly terms with, but she didn't have another close friend. There wasn't a person that Lily felt like she could call on when she just wanted to hang out and gossip and paint her nails or a person to talk her out of one of her increasingly frequent moments of anxiety during class that rendered her pale and manic.
Despite her newfound aloneness, Lily found herself incapable of returning her friend's long-winded tri-weekly letters with equal dedication. Writing to Zelda made it all the more apparent that she wasn't there, and it was much less emotionally trying to make excuses for her brevity than it was to explain her feelings. Without her closest friend, Lily had developed a sense of uneasiness about her daily life. Instead of dutifully counting the number of near translucent swirls emerging from her cauldron in potions or copying down Professor Flitwick's lecture notes with rapt attention, she was questioning the safety of Hogwarts, questioning her place in this newly exposed magical world that she had been born into, questioning whether or not she was skilled enough or mature enough to prepare herself for the political and social turmoil that awaited after graduation. A few of her more observant professors had inquired about how she was getting along. Whether they meant with her studies or with her social life, Lily wasn't sure. Professor McGonagall had even told her at the end of class, finding the sixth year girl asleep on top of her transfiguration notes, to take the rest of the afternoon off and get some rest, a sympathetic gesture that she would have ordinarily believed out of the realm of possibility for the stern professor.
And on this particular Friday morning Lily had been swept up in a similar mental blockade of racing thoughts when they were interrupted-not by Rosemary or Professor Slughorn or even James Potter-but by a nosebleed.
"Oh God," Lily moaned, her pale hand reaching for her nose as the sight of blood dripping onto her parchment began to result in a nauseating, clenching effect on her stomach. "Brilliant," she swore, starting to feel slightly dizzy.
"Duck your head down between your knees," said Rosemary, who had observed the intense response Lily had issued. "Does blood make you feel faint?"
"Yes," mumbled the incapacitated redhead. She squeezed her eyes shut.
At this statement Rosemary's hand shot up into the air. "Professor Slughorn," she cleared her throat. "Lily's not feeling well. She has a bit of a nosebleed and the sight of blood makes her feel ill-"
"Yes, yes, Wilcox, I see," replied the large but kind potions master. "A nosebleed doesn't sound severe enough to warrant a trip to the hospital wing, but seeing as Mrs. Evans has such a strong aversion to blood, perhaps you could escort her to the bathroom? Help her clean up a bit?" He amended, his eyebrows raised.
"Of course, professor," said Rosemary, already easing Lily out of her chair and guiding her out of the classroom. A few Slytherins made murmured, condescending remarks at the Gryffindor girl's squeamishness, but Lily was uncomfortable enough that she didn't care. Stepping out into the hallway, the chill of the dungeon air instantly cooled her clammy skin. She hadn't realized how warm she'd started to feel sitting next to her cauldron, cool outdoor temperatures or not.
Lily stumbled a bit as her eyes were closed, but Rosemary wrangled her fairly successfully into the girls' lavatory. "Here," she said kindly, wiping a damp handkerchief along her cheek, mopping up the blood. "It's already letting up. You're going to be fine."
"Thank you," she said, daring to open her green eyes. "I feel a little silly."
"Tosh," the blond-haired girl replied, smoothing the hair down at Lily's temple. "You're just stressed is all. I see the way you study. Sometimes it's good to take a break, yeah?"
Lily nodded. To her, however, that was the silly part. Plenty of people didn't like the sight of blood, in many ways it was natural, but to put herself through this kind of unhappiness was completely ridiculous. Her hand over her mouth, Lily's eyes began to water. "That's just it Rosemary, I just . . . I feel like I'm so alone and I don't have anyone to . . . I don't have any friends now that Zelda's left and I'm scared just like everybody else and I can't do all this school work all the time and manage everything-" she sniffled into the handkerchief the girl had lent her. "I'm just so perfectly unhappy," she exclaimed.
Looking over her classmate, Rosemary seemed to understand. "You've had a bit of a time, haven't you?"
"Yeah," Lily chuckled thickly, "I suppose I have."
"Look, we haven't got any lessons after this, right? So why don't you stay through the rest of potions, head back to the tower and get some rest, and then come do something with me tonight. Something fun, no school work, eh? When was the last time you did something for yourself, Lily?"
That's a good question, she thought, clearing her throat. "Alright," she said. "That sounds great, actually."
After a bit more cleaning up Lily was ready to head back to potions, Rosemary at her side. "I have some friends we can hang out with," she said, just as they returned to their worktable. "I'm one of the only girls, so it'll be nice to have you come along."
This was puzzling to Lily, who had never truthfully known who Rosemary was friends with at school. For two girls who lived in the same dormitory they did not know each other very well, but Lily was apt to change that. She appreciated Rosemary's kindness and her usually thoughtful observations about others. Not having Zelda at school had been so blindingly difficult for the teenaged Gryffindor that she hadn't spent much time thinking on the other girls--other potential friends, really--in her house. For the second time that day, Lily felt foolish for her individually harming actions. I just want to feel close to someone, she thought, putting away her unused school things as the final bell rang for the end of lessons for the day.
She supposed that most girls had this feeling as well, but that it was typically expressed as a desire for a boyfriend. Lily didn't date much. She'd gone out with Alec Welch over a year ago, a short haired, brunette upperclassmen from Hufflepuff with a strong jaw and a precarious talent for card games. They'd kissed quite a bit and held hands around the castle but being in different houses made their relationship difficult, a factor that had undoubtedly contributed to its rather early termination. Lily and Alec had dated for three months before he confessed that he fancied another girl in his own house, and Lily had been diplomatic enough to accept that as grounds for a break up. She hadn't wanted to hold his feelings over his head, realizing that it was by no fault of her own that Alec's attention had been commandeered.
After her breakup with Alec the Eye Wanderer, as Zelda had titled him, James Potter had taken it upon himself to pursue her heavily for a month or two towards the end of their fifth year. She'd had a suspicion that he had always more or less fancied her, but it was confirmed in earnest by the time they were set to take their O.W. L.s. Initially she'd been flattered by his persistence, thinking that maybe if she hadn't just come out of a relationship she would have given him at least one go at a date, but eventually it began to grate on her nerves, not to mention the absurd displays of dominance he'd taken to performing whenever she was visible. Lily had decided that, if that was how James behaved when he was merely pursuing a girl, he would probably be unbearable if he actually achieved his goal. She wasn't sure if he would continue with his advances when they returned from the summer holidays, but since they'd been back for sixth year he'd mostly left her alone, except for the occasional "Hey Evans" in the hallway or the occasional "Could you pass me the pumpkin juice?" at the Gryffindor table at breakfast.
Lily finally reached the portrait of the Fat Lady after climbing innumerous flights of stairs. "Vermillion," said Lily, catching her breath before clamoring through the portrait hole, the soft sheets of her four-poster awaiting upstairs.
AN: This is my first attempt at a marauder-era fic in a long time, so I'd definitely appreciate some feedback on this piece. The title of this story comes from an old American folk song that's fallen into public domain, but if you're interested there are a couple modern renditions that I think are pretty good, notably the versions by Johnny Cash or Jack White. The Lily/James interaction will pick up rather shortly, so just sit tight for the next chapter. Thanks for taking the time to read, and again, reviews are greatly appreciated.