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Before They Fall by Jchrissy

Format: Novel
Chapters: 39
Word Count: 271,385

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Dumbledore, Lupin, A. Longbottom, F. Longbottom, James, Lily, Sirius, Pettigrew, OC
Pairings: James/Lily, Sirius/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 04/19/2012
Last Chapter: 07/27/2013
Last Updated: 06/20/2017


Join me on a heart warming and soul splitting journey. Fall in love with Lily and James as they learn to find each other in a world of chaos. Watch as our infamous Marauders prepare to leave their legacy at Hogwarts and step from the gates of safety into the middle of the first wizarding war.
~Book one of two~

2013 Dobby Award Winner for Most Addicting Story|Breathtaking banner by heartfelt. @ TDA

Chapter 1: Sirius Black
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Wonderful chapter image created by heartfelt (formerly pheonixn) @TDA.

Chapter 1 - Sirius Black

Clouds gathered over the breast of the shining moon, blowing through the warm August sky. The houses that filled the area around Cokeworth, England had long been dark and settled for the night.

That is, most of the houses that filled Cokeworth, England. For there was one exception.

This house, the exception, was set apart from the others, cradled atop a small hill and secluded in a sea of grass and flowers. Large, leafy trees gathered around to conceal the majority of the crisp, white paint that decorated the elegant home. But through those trees the tiny flickering of burning lights could be seen.

There was something about this home that made it unlike the rest, but it was neither the sheer size of it nor the breathtaking amount of multicolored flowers that filled the landscape. Those things did give off quite the impression, but what made it different was something that no passerby would ever be cognizant of: magic. Magic is what made this large concoction of wood and plaster special, or more specifically, the magic of the family who lived inside. A family of four, to be exact.

Their name was printed clearly on the black postbox at the start of the driveway. A postbox that was mainly for show, for they didn’t receive a thing in it. But on that deep black metal, two loopy words were prominent: The Potters.

On this particular evening, the Potters were not nestled into their beds. William and Olivia Potter did not dream peacefully in the warmth of each others arms, and James Potter was not flipping through one of his best mate’s Muggle comic books, waiting for sleep to come.

Instead, Olivia was looking out at the the dark blanket of sky, her son’s words still fresh in her mind. After a few long seconds of silence she turned to James, seeing her own determination mirroring back in his eyes.

“James,” she started, stepping forward. “Sirius wished to do this on his own. I can’t let you go after him, not yet.”

“But mum,” the seventeen year old pleaded, “you know what he had to do. If he isn’t back here by now... I’m worried Mrs. Black could have lost it. He hasn’t seen her in a year, then when he told her why he was there she probably went off her rocker.”

The Potters were silent for a moment, James’s eyes steady with his mother’s.

“Why did he tell her, James? We know that hag-" William’s deep voice was cut off by a piercing glare from Mrs. Potter. “I mean, that woman, wouldn’t take well to the idea of releasing her hold on Sirius’s inheritance before she’s required to.”

“He’s trying to get early acceptance into Auror training. He didn’t want me to tell you guys yet...” James looked away, shuffling his feet. “But he doesn’t want to try and apply after graduation then get denied. They’d be crazy to turn him down, but some of his marks aren’t the greatest. And then there’s his last name. So taking the Auror tutoring program would give him a bit of an edge. The program is really expensive, though.”

Mrs. Potter nodded at her son, stepping over to the couch and letting her body sink into it. The age of her bones was feeling particularly vengeful at such a late hour.

“James, you know he could have asked us for the money.” William’s tone was soft as he stared into his son’s hazel eyes.

“I know dad, but Sirius, well, you know how much pride that bloke has.”

The statement brought a warm sort of glow around Olivia’s heart. Sirius did have more pride than he knew what to do with. Of course he’d choose to try and go reason with his mother instead of asking them for the money they’d happily give. She and William would do anything for the boy that was as good as their son, something as simple as taking gold from the vault would never have been denied. Olivia felt a small twang of guilt spread into her at the knowledge of how hard Sirius was trying to get into the Auror training; she hoped it wasn’t her and William’s stories of their days as Aurors that pushed him into it.

James was correct about the program, it was very selective. Somewhere inside of Olivia a small voice was praying that neither of her boys would be admitted into it. It was such a dangerous life to chose. She knew it wasn’t likely, though. Once both those boys decided they wanted something, that was it. And James had his own last name working in his favor; the Potters were a long line of Aurors. But Sirius’s surname... that was a different story. Olivia and William had encountered, even arrested, many members of The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. The entire Auror office associated Black with Dark Magic, and even if Sirius was as different from his family as day was from night, that didn’t mean everyone else would be as quick to understand that.

Even she had been plagued with a few doubts when James first befriended the boy in first year. He’d sent letter after letter back home, all talking about his new friends Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew. Both she and William had been thrilled that their son was meeting mates so easily, but they’d still harbored enough doubt about someone belonging to the Black bloodline. They’d seen too much damage done by that family during their fifty years in office.

But all that anxiety had melted away when they’d met Sirius for the first time during Christmas Holiday. From that day on they had tried their hardest to give him all the things his own flesh and blood deprived him of.

Olivia felt another wave of guilt wash through her. She should have gone to the house with Sirius. He’d said he needed to do it alone, but she shouldn’t have listened. Would her presence have actually helped anything, though? Could she stand in that home and not let her anger get the best of her? She knew from an old colleague that the youngest Black, Regulus, had been overheard bragging about taking on the mark of Voldemort. Though they’d always known how much the Black family supported the blood purist, it surprised Olivia to learn that they would allow their youngest son, barely sixteen if her memory served, to make such a deadly decision. And if she’d have gone with Sirius, she wouldn’t have been able to leave the home without trying to take Walburga with her. The woman deserved to rot in Azkaban for the abuse she piled atop of one son, and the support she gave the other to willingly hand over his soul.

Olivia was pulled from her thoughts when a loud roar came screaming from outside the home. She stood up as quickly as her bones would permit, pulling her wand from her pocket as her husband did the same. James shot toward the front of the house and to the large double doors. With a flash, the noise had ceased and the light was gone. James and his parents, who had followed directly behind him, stood looking out the front door at a large boy sitting on a much larger motorcycle.

Mrs. Potter let out a breath that she felt like she’d been holding for hours, showing the fear that she had been keeping at bay. Sirius stepped off of his motorcycle and for the first time the family noticed a figure that had been sitting behind him.

"Hello all,” he greeted, not meeting their eyes. “I brought someone with me." Olivia squinted at the girl. She knew she recognized her, probably from platform 9 3/4.

“Lily?” James said, the name jogging Mrs. Potter's memory. Lily Evans... she lived a few neighborhoods over, Olivia was certain. She stepped aside as Sirius walked toward the front door, his arm threaded through the girl’s. Once they were close enough for the light pouring from the front room to shine on their faces, Olivia realized that something was terribly wrong. The girl, Lily, had tears covering her face and the skin around her eyes swollen from crying.

“Here you are dear, I hope you like loads of chocolate in it.” Lily nodded as Olivia Potter placed the cup of steaming cocoa onto the table.

“Thank you, Mrs. Potter.” Her voice seemed raw, distorted.

James watched as his mum walked closer to Sirius and him, handing them both their own mugs. He could tell she was stuck deep in her own thoughts, probably trying to figure out how to coax a few words from Lily.

He waited for his mum to speak; she always knew what to say. As the seconds spilled by he found himself paying more attention to the sounds filling the house than ever before. The rusting of the wind outside, the shallow breaths, the ticking of his mum’s favorite clock that stood near the kitchen... it was all too much for James. He couldn’t handle the silence, couldn’t handle looking at Lily’s lifeless face with her usually lively green eyes now staring off into nothing.

“Talk to us. What happened? Where did Sirius pick you up?” he asked, moving closer to Lily as he spoke and placing a large, tentative hand on her back. His fingers and palms filled the space between her shoulder blades, and them some. Had she always been this small?

After a few moments of his questions going unanswered, Sirius began to fill in the parts that he knew.

“I was a couple blocks down, I had just landed the bike.. err.. drove it-”

Landed it? You bewitched that bike?” Mrs. Potter’s raised voice brought a guilty blush to Sirius’s cheeks.

“Well Mrs. Potter.. I really, erm, didn’t mean…” his words trailed off, James was sure it was because he knew he had no excuse.

“Anyway, I wanted to let off some steam and just ride around the streets for a while. I noticed that Lily’s house still had lights on and thought I’d sneak up to her window and get her to bring me down a snack. Maybe hang out a little bit while I built up the courage to come talk to you.”

Olivia’s eyes softened.

“But I realized she wasn’t up there, so I started looking in the downstairs windows and saw her just sitting on the floor. I knocked, and she looked up at the window. I could see that she had been crying and all, so I asked her if she wanted to talk. She hasn’t said anything since. I looked around to see if her family was there, then when she still wouldn’t talk I was worried so I plucked her up and brought her here.”

Lily had been motionless during Sirius’s entire speech. The only thing that had changed was the look in her eyes; James caught the quick flash of grief when Sirius had said that he looked for her family.

He felt himself growing more anxious. Through the brief bouts of friendship that had grown more steady during sixth year, he had learned how deeply she depended on her parents.

James circled his arms around Lily’s limp body, bringing her into him.

“Talk to us Lily, what happened? Did something scare you? Can I call your mum or dad?”

He released his hold ever so slightly when he heard a small sound come from her throat. Her pale skin seemed to be thinner than paper, like if she moved her features too quickly the flesh would simply crack. He kept his hazel eyes glued onto hers, forcing himself not to look away as the green color began to blur with tears.

"You can’t," she finally whispered. "They’re dead."

Chapter 2: Hogwarts Express
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Chapter 2 - Hogwarts Express

“Please eat, Lily. You have to. You can’t get keep getting weaker. You need-” the deep voice faded from her ears like a distant memory. She felt her eyes begin to close again, her heart doing what her mind couldn’t and shutting her down completely. In and out. In and out. Asleep and unaware, or awake and dying. That was her life. She let the black fog edge into her vision, let the voice of James - or maybe Sirius - drift away from her. Eat. Eat. Eat. Why did they all want her to eat? If she stopped eating, maybe she would stop hurting, too. Maybe it would all just stop and she could leave this place, she could see her parents again.


“My mum tried to get in touch with your sister, Lily. She tried to get her to come, but-” the words were ushered away as her heart grew tired and let all but the rhythmic pumping of her blood shut down.

She nearly sobbed with gratitude when black fog beckoned her to its suffocation, coaxing her to drown out the world that was much too harsh. Petunia, where’s Petunia? Why wasn’t her only sister crying with her, promising her that everything would be okay? Promising her that she would be okay? The pain stabbed through her so completely that she couldn’t control the cries that trashed from her throat. She wept for the fog to come dull the broken pieces that were slowly ripped from her, to take her farther under, until nothing but mute whispers and shadowed feelings remained.


Did she hear shouting? Who would be yelling in her distant world of comfort? No one yelled there.

No, no she wasn’t asleep anymore. She was awake. Her eyes were open, weren’t they? Maybe it was dark, maybe that’s why everything still looked black. How long had she been away for? She strained to hear the words that were seeping into her hazy mind.

“So that’s the only reason Petunia decided to try to contact her? After days of us begging her, pleading for her to come see Lily, to come and help her, the only reason she finally talked to you is to let you know about the funeral?” James’s anger sliced into Lily’s ears.

“This just means Lily’s going to need us more than ever. We’ll all go, and if her sister still wants nothing to do with her at least she’ll have all of us to fall back on.” The strong voice of Olivia Potter vibrated around Lily’s mind.

But how could it sound so real when it was so far away? Why wouldn’t her sister come to see her? Did she still hate her? Why would James and Mrs. Potter be talking to Petunia about a funeral — a burning anguish spread through her body like a flame to paper as her weary mind drew to the surface the reality that it had been running from.

The strength of that anguish forced her to scream out in loud, gut wrenching sobs. They’re dead. They’re never coming back. Her tears blended into her mind, she didn’t realize that the echoes of cries weren’t only in her head, but reverberating through the room.

She heard the pounding of footsteps crash over the wood floor and opened her eyes just enough to make out the shape of James running through the large, French doors and into the room. He was beside her in a second and she felt the mattress sink under the weight of him. The callouses of his hands caught the strands of hair as he smoothen them back, away from her tear soaked face. She heard the melody of soft words slipping from his lips. He was singing to her, singing her back into the black fog that protected her from the jagged edges of reality. Singing her into the sleepy world where nothing could hurt.

The house nested atop the green hill was slowly drawing in for the evening. First the front room flames were blown out, followed by the large set of sapphire curtains being swept across the windows upstairs. It seemed that all the members of the white, plantation style home were tucked away.

That was partially true, for Lily Evans was already fast asleep. She wasn’t dreaming quite yet, which was a blessing for her because, as of late, her dreams had been riddled with nothing but nightmares.

William Potter was settled into his large bed, waiting patiently for Olivia to join him so they could talk about tomorrow morning already being the first of September. Their boys would be starting their seventh year of Hogwarts in less than a day, how had the time flown away so quickly?

James, Sirius, and Peter were further down the hall from William, sprawled across the floor of James's room massive, rectangular room and submerged in a game of wizarding chess.

Sirius was just getting ready to send his pawn crashing into James’s knight when a gentle knock on the door drew their attention away.

“Boys, there’s some left over pudding downstairs if you’d like to finish it off.” Olivia Potter’s sea green night-robe was tied tightly around her thin waist. Her dark, pixie like hair, speckled with strands of whitish grey, was a bit mussed up from a long day of shopping in Diagon Alley.

“Brilliant, your puddings are are always the best. Also, thanks for offering to take us to the station in the morning, Mrs. Potter,” said a shorter, sandy blonde boy as he blushed a bit at Olivia. Peter had always enjoyed staying at the Potters, and was quick to thank James for anything and everything that his parents did.

Sirius stood with a smile, thanking Olivia as he passed. His eyes had the same purple shadows surrounding them as James’s; the last few weeks hadn’t been easy on either of them.

“James?” Olivia said, as her nearly grown son also got up to leave. He understood the questioning tone of her voice, and told his friends to go ahead. He moved over to his bed to sit next to his mum, and let his eyes glance around while he waited for her to tell him whatever it was that was on her mind.

His room was something he always missed when he was away. His large window that showed him everything over their trees. The smell of cinnamon that his mum had somehow bewitched to linger at just the right strength. But more than anything, the way he could always count on his mum or dad to stop in and talk with him about everything from a story in their Auror days to the score of his few favorite Quidditch teams.

“James,” Olivia began as she reached forward to take her son’s hand. He knew by the soft feel of her green eyes, and the way she rubbed her thumb over his much larger palm, that she was about to get to the reason of why she lured his mates downstairs with sweets.

“I know how worried you are, but Lily wants to go back to Hogwarts. Ah,” she held up a finger to stop hin from interrupting. “You know Professor Dumbledore and myself have been talking a great deal for the last few weeks, and he would give her as much time as she needed, but it’s her decisions. She wants to go.”

“She’s barely left that room in three weeks, mum. Can’t you just make her stay? You make Sirius and me do all sorts of things,” James mumbled.

“Sweetie, even if I could, I wouldn’t make Lily do anything. She’s a strong girl, she’ll be okay. Alice and Isabelle have been here nearly every day, between those two and all you boys, she’ll have plenty of people to rely on. Being busy is the only thing that is going to begin helping her. She’ll start faking that she’s okay, and after a while, she’ll realize that she isn’t faking it and that she really is okay.”

James sighed as his mother’s words set it. He understood what she was saying, but part of him didn’t want to accept it. At least with Lily here, his mum was always near; she always knew what to do.

Three weeks ago he would have given anything to get day after day to spend alone with Lily Evans, now everything was different.

He glanced over at his mum next to him, the woman who he knew had done everything from arresting some of the most dangerous wizards, to learning how to bake the muggle way because it looked more relaxing. He couldn’t image a life without her.

Lily tried to say she was okay, but James knew that she had loved her parents just as much as he loved his, and that she had a long way to go until she reached okay.

“I’m so proud of you, darling.” Olivia whispered as she pulled James in for a hug. “I’ve always been proud of the person you’re turning into, but I’ve never seen quite so clearly just the kind of man you will be until now. You have so much of your father in you, did you know that? So much to give in that big heart of yours.”

James hugged his mum back, thankful that her sentimental side didn't come with a teary one.

“I love you too,” he mumbled, “and I’m sorry for making you feel like you had to try to convince Lily to stay. I should have realized that when you picked all of her things up in Diagon Alley, she would be going back right away.”

“James! You have to try some of this, I swear, even if I live to be as old as Merlin, I’ll never eat something else that tastes so good,” Peter said as he came back into the room, Sirius close behind, with a bowl of whatever his mother had concocted.

Mrs. Potter smiled at the two, the soft look covering her eyes quickly changed to amusement. “I’m happy you boys like it. So, we’ll be leaving first thing in the morning. I’ve already owled Augusta, and she’s happy to have us apparate over to her home. She’s barely a block from Kings Cross, so we can walk with her and Frank to the station. Will Remus be joining us before we leave?”

The three boys glanced at each other. They were lucky that Olivia had yawned just then and missed the silent communication that passed between them.

“No, Remus’s mum is taking him.” Sirius answered, fidgeting with the black hair that grazed his ears.

“Alright then, you three get some sleep, and I’ll see you bright and early.” She shut the door quietly as she left. James let out a long sigh, leaning back against the wall as he stretched his arms over his head.

“I don’t know why Remus just won’t let us tell your mum about his situation. He knows she wouldn’t care,” Sirius remarked as he pulled off his muggle jeans, shaking them from his ankles then pulling a pair of pajama bottoms up.

“I don’t know, either. But I wish he would've let us come with him to transform tonight. I know his mum has a safe place and all, but..” James trailed off.

“He’s going to look like dragon dung on the train tomorrow, that’s for sure. I’m going to go use your washroom, James,” Peter said as he finished double checking his school trunks, and pulling a clean pair of pajamas from it.

“So, what did your mum want to say?” Sirius asked when they were alone.

“Just that Lily hasn’t changed her mind about taking more time off. She’s so goddamn stubborn, she just lost her entire family. No one would blame her for needing more time.” James fought to keep his annoyance in check. He knew it wasn’t fair to be frustrated with her, but he just wished she’d realize that she didn’t have to be some super witch, and that her marks wouldn't suffer with a few extra weeks off.

“At least this way we can keep an eye on her, right?” Sirius said, only half joking. James knew that he more than trusted the capable eye of his mum, but Sirius did have a point. The four of them had known Lily for over six years. And even when she wasn’t one of James’s biggest fans, she still spent loads of time with all the others.

“I want to talk to you though, before Wormtail comes back, about Lily, the night of her parents and all.” Sirius said, glancing up at James.

“Yeah?” James prompted after Sirius stayed silent.

“Just that, you’ve been really great with her and all. I mean, I know what a good bloke you are, and that you care about Lily, but you’ve really been there for her. Your reputation as a prat might slip if any of this gets out, though.” Sirius joked, and though James couldn’t help but laugh, he felt a certain amount of doubt fill him. Why did he feel like that wasn’t all that Sirius had wanted to say? But maybe he was just making things up in his head, because Sirius had never hesitated to tell him anything before. Why would he start now?

Maybe they all just needed a good night’s sleep.

“Lily, what’s wrong with you? I’ve been telling you about my trip to the States for the last fifteen minutes and you haven’t said anything! What, did you have such a delightful summer that you just want me to shut up so you can talk all about it?” The sharp voice of an impatient sixteen year old echoed through the compartment of the Hogwarts Express.

Lily had desperately needed a few moments of nothing but silence, and excused herself from the compartment that she had been sharing with her friends. She assumed that by making her way to the oldest, farthest part of the train, where the walls still smelled like hundred year old mold, and the seats lacked the plush, ‘sink into me’ feel, that she would find the solitude she craved.

Less than a minute after sitting down, Violet Clarke strutted in beside her. She’d never been close with the sixth year Gryffindor, and would even go as far as to say that Violet was one of the few people Lily just didn’t care for. She was just thankful that the blonde was a year younger than her and they’d never had to be dorm mates. Usually Lily had the patience to at least fake polite conversation, but now, when it felt like the girl was throwing everything Lily had lost in her face, she couldn’t so much as force a sound from her throat.

She was preparing to make an excuse and leave the compartment when a knock on the door, followed by a sea of black hair, distracted her.

“Hullo James, can we do something for you?” Violet asked, a sickeningly sweet tone ringing from her lips. She shot James an endearing smile before using a small, suntanned hand to pat the seat beside her - motioning him to sit.

“I’m hoping you can excuse Evans and myself.” His voice wasn’t cold, not exactly. But the demanding tone to it made it clear he wasn’t asking Violet to leave, but ordering her to.

Violet looked from Lily back to James for a moment, then as if she had been horribly insulted, stormed from the compartment and slammed the glass doors behind her. James drew down the shades of the transparent barriers and locked the handles before rushing to Lily’s side. His arms reached for her, encircling the small, delicate form of her body and pulling her closer. Brutal sobs escaped her throat, sending tremors through her bones.

“Lily, it was too soon. I wish you would have stayed with my parents for longer.”

Three weeks. That’s how long it had been since the horrific car wreck claimed the lives of Lily’s mother and father. Three weeks of hell caused by mere moments of metal meeting metal, glass flying into flesh, and somber police officers telling her it was too late.

Her only living relative was Petunia - who barely spoke a few polite words to Lily at the funeral before rushing off with her fiance, Vernon - so she had remained under the care of the Potters. Parts of her were immensely grateful that her sister had dealt with everything: the funeral, selling her childhood home, all the details Lily couldn’t handle thinking about. Despite that gratitude, she wasn’t able shake off the sickness that plagued her whenever she thought of how little they had spoken. The memory of her older sister’s voice still rang through her heart. The way Petunia had told her that dwelling on what could not be changed was useless, then leaving her alone once again to face the darkness with nearly no light; it was the worst possible insult placed on an already severely injured soul.

Olivia and William Potter had more than likely saved her life by giving her the kind of compassion and love that was required to salvage the broken pieces of her heart.

“I need to be busy. I need to forget.” Her last word came out in another sob, causing James to tighten his arms. “As much as I dislike Violet, I don’t think she meant anything on purpose. My parents were only in the muggle paper, so she couldn’t have heard. I’m okay now, you don’t have to babysit me. It’s fine for you to go join our friends.”

James kept silent, letting the initial annoyance of her attempt to brush him off fade. When he felt her relax farther into him, he spoke.

“I’m not babysitting you, Lily. I want to spend time with you. I don’t care what Violet said - it hurt you, though. That’s what I care about. Besides, with all the time I plan on us spending together, it will give you more chances to tell me what a prat I am.” James watched as amusement swept over Lily’s face. She moved her head from his shoulder to meet his eyes with what could have been a glare from her own.

“I won’t have to tell you that if you don’t act like one,” she mumbled as the false glare remained in place. The look that truly conveyed her anger was nothing like the adorable one she was currently fitted with. And if anyone should know what angry Lily looked like, it was James Potter.

He felt a small shift click inside of him as she rested her head back to his shoulder. Parts of him had changed: irrevocably, perhaps. Watching Lily break so drastically; watching her struggle every morning to open her eyes and get out of bed, then seeing her grow a little bit stronger day by day, had made James know without hesitation that he would do everything he could to help ease the path of destruction that spiraled through her.

Lily sat up in the aged bench and let her head fall back, resting the base of her skull against a faded blue wall. She blinked a few times to shoo away the remainder of the water that laced her lashes, and when she went to look back at James her eyes instead moved to the side, her own reflection was clear as day in the darkened window. Lily was surprised that she no longer saw the empty green stare that she had grown accustomed to witnessing in the mirror the last few weeks. This time there was something else rooted deep into her eyes: determination. She would be okay.

“Let’s go back to the other compartment. I think the mold on the floor is starting to work its way up my shoes,” she was pleased that her voice was stronger than before, the words a bit more stable. James remained silent as he looked at her - into her, until he finally smiled and stood to lead the way through the glass doors and out into the hall. They would need to change soon, anyway. The train was already starting to slow down, and that could only mean one thing - they were almost home.


This chapter has been rewritten as of Nov, 17, 2012. I hope the changes are positive ones!

Please don't hesitate to leave your thoughts and comments!

Chapter 3: Head Boy and Girl
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Chapter 3 - Head Boy and Girl

Lily made her way with James, Sirius, Remus, Peter, Alice, Belle, and Frank into the Great Hall. The astounding appearance of the bewitched ceiling captured her and coaxed the corners of her full lips to tilt up by just a fraction.

A million stars shined against a sky full of royal purple and black, with a barely there sliver of a moon resting contently on the night. The feeling of happiness felt so foreign to her that it took a moment of acceptance before she realized that she was, in fact, experiencing the warm sensation of joy.

“Welcome home, Evans,” James whispered to her, grabbing her hand and giving it a reassuring squeeze. The easy touch of affection caused her heart to do a small leap inside her chest.

No, the word jumped from somewhere in the back of her mind to the very front, focusing all of her thoughts on it. No. It wasn’t time to think about exactly what had happened between her and James during the last three weeks. The essence of her parents still strangled her with nearly every breath, and wondering why her heart had leapt so willingly just had no place.

Something crept up behind the odd contradiction of emotions, and as soon as she recognized the feeling, she willed herself to stop thinking: guilt. It slowly surrounded her on all sides; her parents were less than three weeks in the ground — why had she even felt that small leap? Was she so cold that she could just move on with her life? The idea blurred out the chaos of the Great Hall and for a moment she became terrified it would overtake her.

“What do you think, Lily?” Sirius's voice cut through her thoughts, and she silently thanked God for small mercies.

“Ehr, sorry, about what?”

“Where do you reckon Dumbledore is?” Lily’s head shot up to the front of the room where the professors sat. The gold, throne like chair in the middle was indeed empty. She frowned a bit, trying to remember if there was ever a time when they arrived with the Headmaster absent.

They continued to make their way through the crowded chaos of the Great Hall, finally getting through the swarm of bodies and taking their places at the Gryffindor table. Lily pushed back the tangle of emotions playing within her and sent a wave to the friends that she hadn’t seen over the summer. And even through the handfuls of condolences that poured in, despite her own fear that she was forgetting her parents too easily, the happiness of being home hummed through her.

Her eyes danced over the staff table as they all waited for the Headmaster to appear, and fell upon a new face.

“It looks like we have another Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher,” Lily mumbled, her gaze still lingering over the woman. “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. No one really expected Professor Goldbard to stay after the boggart incident last year. Isn’t that right, Frank?” She directed the comment to her friend, one eyebrow raised.

“Come off it, Lily. He didn’t have two sickles of sense. Was it really my fault that he couldn’t handle a boggart?” Frank asked, trying to maintain a serious expression.

“I think she was referring to the fact that you pointed out to the entire class that he couldn’t handle the boggart, then showed him up by dealing with it yourself, mate,” Sirius answered through large gulps of pumpkin juice.

“Well, what kind of bloody Defence Professor are they giving us that can’t manage a simple boggart? What happens when we need to defend ourselves against an actual threat?” Frank asked, looking around the table at them all.

“Excuse me, Mr. Potter, Ms. Evans,” the stern voice of Minerva McGonagall brought them to a quick hush. “The Headmaster requests to see you. If you would just step outside, you will find him waiting in the corridor. As for the rest of you, do try to behave yourselves. Mr. Longbottom. I believe this year's professor should be up to your standards.” Her cat like eyes fell directly onto Frank, causing him to blush. “Welcome back, students,” she said with something that could have been close to a smile, then turned on her heels and continued to the staff table.

“Uh.. sure thing professor,” James muttered, even though she was already out of earshot. He swung his legs over the bench and stood with a stretch, then reached a hand down to help Lily up. Her palm meeting his forced a small spark of electricity through her, which she immediately vowed to ignore. Instead, she muttered something about being able to get up on her own, and lengthened her strides to pace herself ahead of him.

They made their way back through the Great Hall, Lily’s eyes wandering over all the faces of Hogwarts.

“Do you reckon Dumbledore will make an announcement about the attacks this summer?” James asked her, referring to a few deaths that had been in the Daily Prophet.

“I’m not sure, they were all Muggles, and there isn’t really much he can tell us about it that we don’t know,” she answered, shrugging her shoulders. In all honestly, she had thought very little of the darkness that had fallen on their world. Her own suffering had been too great.

Being a Muggle born did worry her, but she was at Hogwarts, under the watch of the world’s greatest wizards. She was confident there was nearly nothing that could harm her here, and by the time she made her way into the real world, the Ministry was sure to have a handle on it. She knew James was taking it more seriously, though.

“What do your parents think about it all?” she questioned.

She felt the hesitation in his movements. Was there something he didn’t want to tell her?


His voice was quiet when he answered. “They spent the better part of sixty years fighting against dark wizards, and played a large part in rescuing and housing witches and wizards that fled from Grindelwald during his time. I think now that they're retired and this is happening, it makes it harder. There have always been those nutters trying to start this kind of thing. I think this one is just a bit more organized, it worries them. But, they're my mum and dad, everything worries them," James joked. Lily still felt him holding something back from her. Before she could push the topic further, Professor Dumbledore came into view.

“Ah, Ms. Evans, Mr. Potter, good evening to the both of you.” Albus Dumbledore stood near the entrance of the castle, one hand stroking his long silvery beard, the other held out in greeting. His dark purple and gold robes had small flecks of light being cast on them from the flamed torches decking the wall behind him. His appearance always stunned Lily. The way someone could seem so gentle, yet commanding.

She glanced towards James, surprised to find his eyes on her. She immediately looked back at the Headmaster.

“As we have students waiting to be fed, I shall jump straight to the point of why I requested a moment of your time.” When neither James nor Lily protested, he continued. “Now, as you know, I am fully aware of your situation Ms. Evans. You have suffered a great loss. If there is anything I can do for you, all you need is to ask.” Lily nodded, her eyes glued the twinkling blue of the Headmaster’s.

“To endure such a loss at an age as tender as yours is not something I would wish upon my greatest of enemies,” he paused, letting the words fade away before continuing. “Alas, loss is part of life and our hearts must remember the beauty of it, and let the darkness that death creates inside the soul slip away.

"I am sure you don't wish to dwell on this. Let me address my reason for disturbing your first evening back. I sent along twenty-two letters informing twenty-two students of their new position: Prefect. Now, I have two more letters to deliver to offer the position of Head boy and Girl,” Dumbledore paused, and seemed to be very focused with something on his sleeve.

James and Lily glanced at one another, neither uttering a word as they waited for their professor to continue.

“Ah ha!” Dumbledore pulled a star from his robe. It reminded Lily of the way a child would peel their sticker from its holder. “Now, those two letters were, of course, destined for the both of you. It was my prerogative to appoint you to this new challenge. However, due to the hardship you faced this summer, it is something I wished to speak with you directly about. Students are meant to use those few months of summer and away from our castle as a chance to gather themselves and prepare for another thrilling year ahead. That option was taken away from you both. Therefore, if focusing strictly on your studies is as much as you wish to take on, you have my absolute understanding.”

Lily waited to see what James would say, but after a moment of silence, she answered. “Sir, I believe we can handle it. If you still think we’re qualified.” James nodded at Lily’s words.

“Excellent! Excellent!” Professor Dumbledore gave his hands a small clap, the star still tucked between two fingers. “I am are aware of the extra stress placed upon the two students that are awarded this title. The responsibility of it, along with your other necessary commitments to your classes and preparing for your N.E.W.T.s, balancing your personal goals and, for you Mr. Potter, your Quidditch obligations… I know that a significant amount of pressure is placed upon the two awarded the title of Head Boy and Head Girl. To make up for the burden, I offer you both private dormitories, each having a washroom, and a shared common area below both dormitories. You are of course just as welcome to spend your free time in the Gryffindor Common Room.

"However, it isn’t often that a Head Boy and Head Girl are chosen from the same house. The shared and private common area for the Head Boy and Girl usually allots the opportunity to discuss Prefect schedules, to arrange plans for monitoring students' conduct during our Quidditch matches and of course the outings to Hogsmeade. All of which require an environment that allows you to speak freely without the prying ears of other students. You will have a number of sensitive things to discuss, and the privacy of a protected and shared room to do so. Your things will be waiting for you in your new dormitories.

“If you follow the main staircases up to the second floor then another staircase to the third…the smallest staircase, I believe. Or is it the shortest? No matter, you’ll happen upon it one way or another. You’ll then locate a portrait of the both of you. Stick this star anywhere you wish on the painting to let it know that you are the two I’ve assigned this new adventure.” He held out the thin, sparkling piece of watery cloak and Lily took it gently between her fingers.

“Then state your full name, a secret about yourself and a password of your choosing to gain access. And this—” he reached a wrinkled hand into one of his cloak pockets and produced a large white envelope, green cursive dominating the front of it, “should tell you all there is to know about your new positions. Now, if you will now excuse me, I believe it is time to get our feast started!” Professor Dumbledore clapped his hands together and smiled kindly before turning on his heels and disappearing back into the Great Hall.

Lily felt another rush of the newly found guilt-coated happiness flooding her. Head Girl!

Though part of her couldn’t help but wonder about Professor Dumbledore’s choice for Head Boy. James had never done anything to show a desire to enforce rules… in fact, he had always partook in quite the opposite. Maybe Dumbledore, like her, had seen more sides to James Potter than most?


As the sky grew darker and night beckoned the students to rest and sleep, James and Lily walked through the castle to the area described by their Headmaster. The dinner had, in a way, been like a turning point. A kind of marker in their lives.. the start of their final year in Hogwarts and a new sense of responsibility with the position they’d been awarded. What would this year hold for them? What would it be like to know as the days ticked on, they would reach a point where this would no longer be their home?

Deep thoughts weren't something James enjoyed dwelling on too often, and he was relieved when, after what felt like hours of searching, they came upon a large portrait with their pictures painted into it. In the portrait Lily was sitting on the grass, ignoring James as he swooped around on his racing broom.

Their new quarters were in a convenient part of the castle, James mused. A much shorter walk to the Great Hall than it was from the Gryffindor tower.

“So, any ideas for a password?” Lily asked, glancing at James.

“Let’s do something simple that isn’t too easy to notice if someone overhears us,” he suggested. “What about Chudley Cannons?”

“That seems rather obvious…” Lily mused, trying to think of something a little more creative.

“That’s the beauty of it!”

Lily shrugged, not entirely convinced. But at the same time, if someone wanted to learn the password badly enough they could always try to follow them and listen in.

“Sure,” she agreed, ready to be done with it all and be tucked in her bed for the night. “Lily Evans, I enjoy Country Western music, Chudley Cannons.”

“Country music? Really, Evans?” James said with a snort before taking his turn. “James Potter, I didn’t actually snog Pippa in sixth year, Chudley Cannons.” Lily raised an eyebrow at James's secret, then motioned for him to enter first.

“Blimey,” James muttered under his breath as he walked over to an enormous fireplace, though it was the bookshelves on either side that caught his attention. Old, rotting wood was lined with hundreds of books from novels to encyclopedias.

Surrounding the fireplace were two sofas atop a deep red, lion embroidered rug. The rug was nearly as large as the room. An ebony colored table between the two sofas was set up with ink, quills, parchment, and everything else they could need to study.

“He must’ve been certain we’d accept,” James mumbled as he nodded his head toward the lion decorating the rug.

After another few seconds of exploring the room, James motioned for Lily to head up the spiral staircase.

Lily checked out her room first. It had a very traditional feel with a huge four poster bed against a large window and an enchanted wardrobe that, according to the instructions in Professor Dumbledore’s letter, would hang and fold her clothes. All she had to do was toss them inside.

The bathroom was similar to the others in Hogwarts, made mainly of stone and mirror. Next, she walked down her hall to a smaller staircase that curved to the side a bit. At the top of the staircase sat the door to James’s room. She peeked in as he stood in the center, the set up being very similar to hers. Lily smiled as she noticed what James was fixated on. In the corner of his room was an entire broom cleaning and storing station.

“Do you remember Peter telling us that the castle forms to our needs?” James asked as they headed back down the spiral stairs.

“Erm, I think so. That was after one of Professor Binns’ painfully long lectures that none of us quite understood, right?”

“Really, Lily?” he asked with a cocked brow as they reached the floor of their common area. “All of his lectures are like that. So yes. Anyway, he was telling us that Hogwarts has so much old magic, it can form to its students’ needs.

"Dumbledore’s a great Headmaster and all, but I don’t think even he could put so many details into this place to make it fit us this well. I reckon he must have told these rooms we would be the next Heads, and then it transformed to fit us,” James said, as he threw his body onto one of the sofas.

“Since when do you know so much about Hogwarts, Potter? That means that Professor Dumbledore must have already assumed we’d accept the position,” Lily replied, laughing as he pulled her down onto the sofa next to him.

“Stick with me, Evans, and you’ll know all the secrets. Anyway, I think I might ask McGonagall about it in the morning.”

Lily knew he had meant sticking with him as a joke, but she couldn’t stop the quick feeling of anxiety starting build. Hadn’t she proved the last month between her parents leaving her and Petunia further ostracizing her that she couldn’t stick with anyone?

Was it fair to let their friendship continue building?

Somehow, through a summer of grief, a boy that she’d started considering a somewhat friend during their sixth year had turned into much more. She trusted him. He’d started acting slightly less deplorable last year, and she’d been able to see the glimpses of the smart and funny boy that he was described as. And yes, he could even be kind. But the summer had taken a whole new turn. Between the secret her and Sirius carried, and the absolute goodness she’d witnessed in James… she just couldn’t convince herself to view him as the annoying, cocky boy that she’d spent years ignoring.

But his feelings for her weren’t something he hid. And now, especially now, that she had started respecting the man he was turning into, she couldn’t let him foster a false sense of hope that they’d ever be anything but friends. Friendship was all she wanted from him, right? Sure, maybe she got those occasional tugs of… of what? Of something when he looked at her a certain way, or brushed his hand along hers, but that didn’t matter. Practicality was more important, and she couldn’t handle any more pain. Falling for James would not end well, so it wasn’t something she would allow herself to do.

“James, lets talk.” She knew this probably wasn’t the right time, but she glanced up at him and pushed ahead anyway. “I can’t imagine what would have happened to me without you this summer. You and your family have done so much for me, I just don’t want you to get the wrong idea about…” she let her words fade away. Where did she go from here?

“About what, Lily?” James asked, a hint of impatience flickering in his eyes.

“Just about, um, our friendship?”

“Our friendship? We had a friendship last year, too. I think we even went an entire six months with enjoying each others company. Why would I get the wrong idea now?” Lily wanted to think he was being kind, but the tone in his voice, the arrogance seeping through, told her otherwise.

She wanted to stop and just leave it at that, but felt like he deserved better. He really did have an incredible heart, and she knew that there was spark deep within her he could easily ignite.

But that didn’t matter… she shouldn’t think about things as childish as a crush she may have on James Potter after both of her parents died in front of her. She needed to make sure he understood, then maybe the gnawing guilt would let her be. The guilt that asked her over and over how she could possibly feel happy to be at Hogwarts, how she could possibly feel excited about the days ahead, when the parents she’d loved so deeply were gone forever.

“I guess just because we spent so much time together the last few weeks, and I just didn’t want you to think that because…” She lost her words.

“Let me help you,” James stood from the couch as he spoke, backing away from her towards the fireplace. “Because now that you realize I do care about you, you’ve decided it’s best if I don’t and that you wanted to squash any intention of that now?” Lily was a bit surprised about the sudden bite to James’s tone.

“No, I didn’t mean it to sound like that, I don’t think… I just, I’m really grateful that you kept me company, that all of you did. I just want us to stay friends like we are now.” What was she even saying anymore?

“Oh, so now that you’re back at Hogwarts you don’t need my help anymore?” James looked annoyed and amused all at once, and for some reason it had waves of anger crashing toward Lily’s surface.

“I didn’t need you, or your help, in the first place, James. Now I think we should just go back to getting to know each other as friends,” she whispered in a colder tone than intended.

“Because you’re so damn perfect? Lily Evans doesn’t need help from anyone, right?” His hazel eyes ate away any annoyance and sparked straight to anger.

“That’s not what I said, Potter. Did you expect because you were there during an incredibly difficult time, it would mean that I’d fall into your arms and beg you to ask me to be your girlfriend?” Lily stood as she answered, heat filling her words.

“Right, Lily. I’m that awful, am I? So terrible that you think I could be simply waiting to use your dead fucking parents as leverage to date you? You’re the one going off about getting to know each other as friends and some other shit. I already know plenty about you. And I would never have brought up the idea of a relationship if you didn’t start it. But since you did, might as well continue.” He was angry, too angry to see how pale she’d gone at the mention of her parents. “You did need my help. You still do, and you don’t have to date me to get it. But since you think that’s what’s happening, sure, you might as well come over here and snog me. We’re probably headed that direction anyway.”

“Go to hell, James Potter.” Lily couldn’t maintain the quiet tone of anger the way James could, and she felt her voice ebb toward shouting with every syllable. “If you really knew plenty about me, then you’d realize that we don’t know where this is headed because it isn’t heading anywhere.”

“Let me tell you what I know about you, Lily.” He turned slowly and moved closer to her, forcing her to look up to keep her eyes locked into his. The heat of the argument slashed through her and gave her something she hadn’t felt in weeks — it made her feel alive.

“I know that, despite everything you just said, if I kissed you right now you wouldn’t be able to stop yourself from kissing me back. I know you’ve thought about it, felt what’s between us, just as much and as strongly as I have.” His body backed hers against the couch, and she was forced to look up at him as her eyes shot angry spears of fire through them. “And maybe I would do just that, kiss you right now,” as he spoke he tilted his head toward hers, his breath warm against her cheek. “Maybe I would show you exactly how wrong you are in deciding we can be nothing but friends, but I won’t give you the satisfaction. I won’t let you think that the pain you went through this summer, the pain you’re still going through, has anything to do with you and me”

She couldn’t respond. Speechless, she supposed. She had annoyed James, offended him even, exhausted him countless times - but this was the first time she had ever seen him truly pissed off at her. And she couldn’t help but think that it was rather exhilarating.

“I get that it might not be the right time. But don’t act like, because you don’t want to face your feelings, that the feelings I have for you are selfish, or that I would use what you went through as some sort of sick fucking blackmail to get you.” James backed away as he spoke the words, his fingers finding their place in his hair and running through it.

Part of Lily wanted to thank him, to tell him to keep fighting, to let her yell, because for whatever reason, is was helping. It was helping all those lingering back-droppings of anger and finally giving them a reason to come out, it was helping her heart remember what it was like to need blood so much, that it pumped faster and faster. She wanted to yell, she needed to. And why shouldn’t they keep yelling at each other? It wasn’t as if she could yell at her parents for leaving her, yell at Sirius for the secret they now shared between them, so why not James?

Before she could think of any response, James turned around and stormed through the portrait, both hands shoved in his pockets.


James made his way through the nearly deserted halls of Hogwarts, his hard steps muffled by the dense stone floors. He was thankful that it was barely after nine and not yet curfew; his desire to get away from Lily before he said something he regretted had been too strong and caused him to forget his cloak.

The walk through the dimming halls was usually one he enjoyed. Coming from a pure-blood family didn’t mean that magic still didn’t astound him, it did. Hogwarts was by far the most magical place out there, and he usually liked to take his time moving through the rarely deserted corridors. But this evening he just wanted to get the hell away from Lily and up to the Gryffindor common room.

The Fat Lady came into view, and he gave her a half smile as he told her the password that had been written in the letter Dumbledore handed him earlier.

The size of the common room always surprised him. The way the ceiling never seemed to end as the sets of spiraling cases disappeared into the wall. Tonight was no different, and for a moment he nearly wished this was his one and only common room. He and Lily wouldn’t have started a row if they’d been surrounded by their classmates. Well, they may have, but it wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand.

He waved to Margaret and Alexander, the star Beaters of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and made a mental note to ask why a Captain hadn’t yet been announced. Unless whoever it was, was simply not telling anyone that they received the letter awarding them the position just yet.

He tried to ignore the sting of that thought. Part of him had really thought he’d made that position, but maybe McGonagall assumed it was too much with being Head Boy too?

He filed away those thoughts for another time as he glanced around for his friends.

He saw Sirius’s head from above the couch, with Alice and Frank next to him. He just wanted his best mates. Not everyone else, not right now. He stayed in the background for a moment and thought on the best way to get his lot away from the rest. Luckily for him, Peter looked up from his conversation with Belle and James caught his attention. He motioned his hand forward and pointed at the backs of Remus’s and Sirius’s heads.

Peter quickly gathered the other two and headed towards the boys dormitory. James followed up behind them, ignoring Sirius’s questioning look.

When they opened the door to his friends’ dormitory, he was annoyed to see a few of their other classmates already in it.

“Listen up," Sirius began, "unless you want us to test out a new stinking spell, clear out for a bit." His eyes fell on the two boys unloading their trunks. Tig, who understood Sirius didn’t make idle threats, glanced at the other seventh year and nodded his head toward the door.

When the room was clear Sirius opened his trunk and knocked out the false top, allowing a flask of Firewhiskey to tumble free.

James was even more impressed with his friend then usual.

“So, trouble already?” Sirius asked with a smirk as they all got comfortable around Sirius’s trunk.

“You could say that,” he sighed and reached over to grab the bottle from Sirius.

“Lily kick you out of bed?” Sirius dangled the bottle an inch from him, waiting for an answer.

James just glared at him as he snatched the bottle and drank down a large swig of the cinnamon flavored alcohol.

“No, you arse, she didn’t kick me out. She can’t even get into my room to kick me out. Well, she could, but she’s not supposed to. Bewitched, just like the dormitories here. Not exactly the same enchantments, but similar enough. She didn’t even tell me to leave the common area. It seemed like a better solution than throttling her, though.”

“Seems sort of lonely, having to sleep in your own area.” Peter mumbled, grabbing the bottle from James.

James didn’t comment, just grabbed the bottle back from him and took another swig. His eyes traveled over the faces of his friends. Remus, patiently waiting for it all. He’d be irritated with James when he finally got around to telling the tale. He always sided with Lily— bloody annoying, actually.

As he drank from the bottle again, something in his eyes must’ve told Sirius it wasn’t the time to try for another joke about shagging Lily. And so, silence dominated the circle they formed.

He needed the silence. He used it, used the patient and curious faces of his friends to try to help center his mood. After a few more seconds of letting the comfort of being surrounded by his mates wash over him, he took a deep breath and passed the bottle to Sirius.

“We had a fight…” he began, and launched into the story.

When he was done, when anger was sparking to life again after going through it all, he let out a frustrated moan and waited for the first of his three friends to chime in.

“James,” surprisingly it was Sirius that spoke, not Remus as James had anticipated. “It’s been hell for her, you know? Probably the worst thing she’ll ever go through. Maybe you should’ve just let her say what she wanted to say and then left it at that.”

“Do you hear yourself?” James shot back. “She acted like I killed her parents myself, let her cry on my shoulder, then demanded she promise her undying love to me!”

Sirius winced at James’s words, another thing that surprised him. It wasn’t as if Sirius was any stranger to angry shouts and temper tantrums.

“What does that matter, though? She’ll date you when she wants, no sense starting out the year with a row,” Sirius countered.

“Well,” Remus began, drawing the attention to him. “Oddly reasonable, coming from you, Sirius.”

“Hey, I can be reasonable. Doesn’t make sense for them to bicker already, unless the bickering ends with a makeup shag,” Sirius added with a wink.

“Ah, now that seems more in character for you,” Remus said with a nod. “And you’d know all about that, because you’ve had so many makeup shags, have you?.”

“More than you,” Sirius muttered as he tossed the empty bottle at Remus.

“I just thought once she realized that I do care, she’d get over the just friends thing,” James continued, ignoring the glass bottle now being propelled back and forth.

“Sure,” Peter began, missing the bottle that was tossed to him. “And even though we know this isn’t true, it basically sounds like you’re saying exactly what she accused you of. That now, because she’s seen you don’t always act like a git, she should be with you.”

James was silent as he let himself dwell on Peter’s words. His friends let him have his mental space and turned the topic to the more familiar talk of tomorrow’s first day of classes.


An hour and a half later, James made his way back through the halls. He was half an hour over curfew, still semi buzzed, and didn’t need to get in trouble his first night as Head Boy.

Once he was finally within touching distance of the painting, he let his body relax against the stone wall. The cold, uneven texture felt remarkable on his back.

As the buzz continued ebbing away, he couldn’t stop from lecturing himself for the way he had treated Lily. She was fragile. She’d been through hell and back. He should just be happy she was alive considering it had seemed like she’d simply slip away at any moment during the last few weeks.

The kicker was that he wasn’t even angry about her not wanting to deal with her feelings. That didn’t bother him, not really; James was patient. It had been the fact that even part of her could believe he would use her parents’ death to try and corner her into that relationship that made him feel sick.

But was that because maybe, just possibly, a tiny part of him had been thinking exactly along those lines? Not like she’d made it sound, like there were strings attached… but maybe he had thought now that they’d shared something so… huge… maybe it would be enough to convince her to give him a chance.

That thought had him frustrated with himself, with her… with everything.

But, one thing was absolutely undeniable. He needed her friendship. So if he had to be patient, if he had to let her think that this wasn’t going anywhere, fine. It was worth it to keep that friendship.

On that thought, he moved his back away from the wall and faced the painting.

“James Potter-" he paused to think of a secret. “I lied and told Peter a Hufflepuff girl had a crush on him in sixth year because he seemed so down about not having a girlfriend. Chudley Cannons.”

The frame moved aside and James crept into the room. He turned left to face the towering bookshelf and, using his wand as a light, chose one quickly. How To Be An Unstoppable Chaser and Other Quidditch Tips. He wasn’t ready to sleep; he needed to wind down.

When he stepped towards the sofas, he saw a small body curled under a blanket.

“Lily?” he whispered, unsure if she was already fast asleep. When he saw the form move he gave his wand a flick and set two of the oil lamps adorning the wall aflame.

“Hi,” she mumbled as she pulled the blanket from her head. He had to hold back a chuckle as the static forced stray bits of her hair to the blanket, causing it to stick up in every which way.

“Hi,” he answered as he sat on the couch opposite to her, his hands moving over his legs, unsure where to rest. “Listen, I’m going to get this over with. I’m sorry if I took things too far, okay? You’re a good friend, Lily. I’d rather keep you as that instead of you pretending to hate me.” He looked up at her, happy to see she was staring back.

“I shouldn’t have yelled at you, either. It’s not your fault, I just — I’ve just been like that. I meant what I said, about not needing your help, so don’t feel like you have to give it,” she paused, probably letting herself think of the perfect way to choose what she’d say next. “But, I appreciate it. And I like knowing that you’ll talk to me about my — about them. And that you’ll understand. Friends?” Lily smiled as she said the words and held out her hand across the table to him.


AN: Rewritten as of June 2017. Thank you so much to Cambangst for his editing work!

Chapter 4: A Night of Surprises
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Amazing Chapter Image created by Pheonixn at The Dark Arts.

Chapter 4 - A Night of Surprises

Lily was wand deep in potions assignments. She desperately wanted to complete the paper that was due the following week so she could work on the extra credit project Professor Slughorn had optioned to them. She also needed to catch up on the Defence Against the Dark Arts homework; she had almost lost a duel to Abigail. Thankfully Abigail wasn't nearly as good with shielding charms as Lily, and after exhausting her opponent Lily had been able to disarm her. Part of her almost felt bad, of course the second she walked by them and they jeered ‘mudblood’ that empathy disappeared and she was left wishing Salazar Slytherin had never created a stupid house to begin with.

She twisted the quill in her fingers, letting the soft feather brush her chin as her eyes focused on the first two paragraphs of The Benefits of Potentially Deadly Potions. Of course she had chosen one of the most difficult topics to write her essay on. She knew the benefits of dangerous potions, some of the most deadly were also the most necessary. However, it wasn’t as easy to put into words as she had assumed when she chose her topic.

She stilled her tapping fingers and reached for the book that was spread open on the table, flipping through pages until she finally reached the ending section regarding Draught of Blood and Wolfsbane. The context touched over how both were seldom used.

Typically, a Healer could help the body recreate enough blood to make up for any loss, but there were those rare cases that it wouldn’t be enough and the draught would be given. It worked by immediately matching the patient’s blood type and would begin multiplying rapidly, however the potion was frighteningly fickle. There was no guaranteed way to test its contents, and it would show no signs of contamination during the brewing process, but even something as small as an extra stir could cause it to mutate.

If a person was given a batch that had been compromised, the results were deadly. It would continue to multiply their red blood cells, thickening the life that pumped through their veins until it became a slush like texture. It would be unable to move through the fragile capillaries, forcing it to clot and killing the patient within minutes. This reaction occurred less than three percent of the time, and when death was already calling, the potion’s risks didn’t seem as frightening. Thankfully, it had to be used very rarely.

Most wizards and witches were able to get to St. Mungo’s long before the amount of blood loss was severe enough for the draught to be necessary.

Then there was her second potion, Wolfsbane. Draught of Blood was much easier for her to identify with. If she was bleeding to death and that was her only chance of survival, she would take it happily and cross her fingers that her batch was a healthy one.

Wolfsbane, now that was tricky. It was a new creation, invented by Damocles during her third year of Hogwarts. She remembered his picture being plastered all over the Daily Prophet for being the first person to create something that was able to help a werewolf contain his human sanity during a transformation. Although it wasn't yet approved by the Ministry's Potion Regulators, which she assumed had to do with the lack of werewolves available to test it out.

How was she supposed to identify with the pros and cons of Wolfsbane when she couldn't begin to imagine what it would be like to be infected with Lycanthropy?

To a werewolf, it would be a haven, right? It wasn’t as fickle as Draught of Blood, but if the aconite used to create it had become rotten, or if any other kind of ingredient found its way into the potion, the consequences were unfathomable. There were reports of the potion causing the disease to hold its mutation, and the transformation back to human form couldn’t take place after a corrupted brew of Wolfsbane was ingested. That was only if the aconite was horribly rotten, though. And the plant gave off a dreadful smell at the slightest bit of aging, so it would be easy to notice if it was far too bad to be used.

Yes, the Wolfsbane was an incredible creation, but were werewolves even common enough to require such an invention? The only one she had ever heard stories about was Greyback, and he may have been the only one on this continent, for all she knew. He was famous for attacking innocent people, and not because he was transformed, but because he enjoyed it. So, it was obvious he wouldn’t be someone to take the potion. What they had learned about werewolves did make it clear that many never admitted to their disease, so she supposed it was possible that there was a higher number of them than she realized. Regardless of whether there were one in a hundred or one in a million, she still had to come up with a way to describe how the benefits outweighed the negatives.

She let her fingers move over the lines of the book, reading them over and over, trying to understand more about this potion. Her brain was finally moving in what she believed was a positive direction, a solid answer was almost close enough to touch, yes, she nearly had it-

“Hey, Evans. I need to-” James's voice filled their common area as he entered through the portrait. He sounded like quills on a chalkboard to Lily’s annoyed ears. She barely suppressed a growl as the answer that had taken her at least twenty minutes to come up with began dissolving from her train of thought.

“James, do you know how long I’ve been —”

“Working on that paper, yes yes I know. And every other assignment you can find. I swear Lily, you really can just relax sometimes. It’s permitted.”

“So you do know how long I’ve been working on this?” Lily asked sarcastically as she stood up and moved from the floor in front of the table to the couch.

“Yes I know! But I really need to talk to you.”

Lily glanced back at the half finished essay before sighing. “Alright, let's have it.”

He sat beside her. His face looked so much younger than seventeen with his obvious excitement humming just barely below the surface.

“McGonagall came into the library when I was working on revising for our Defence test and she asked me to come into her office—”

“James what did you do to already get called into her office?” Lily sat up straighter on the couch, crossing her arms as she spoke.

“No, that’s what I thought at first, too!” The way James threaded his fingers through his hair made Lily smile, it was such a familiar gesture, something she barely noticed now.

“But I wasn’t in trouble. You know how we were talking the other day about Quidditch? I was trying so hard not to just start asking people who the bloody Captain is, because it’s already a month into school and no one has scheduled anything?”

“Yeah, I remember. So did you find out?” Lily watched his smile grow even brighter. She started to piece together the clues, but forced her mind to stop turning in case she was wrong.

“Well, you know how Dumbledore waited to tell us about our Heads positions to see if we were ready?”

“Are you saying McGonagall…” She put her hand up to her mouth to stop the words from coming out, wanting him to be the one to spill his news if it was what she was thinking.

“Yes! And she just wanted to make sure that I could handle it, that everything that happened this summer…” Lily felt his hesitation.

“Don’t worry, I get it. So it’s really you, though? You’re really the captain?”

James stood from the couch, nodding his head and unable to remain still.

“She even nearly smiled when she told me! But there’s something else. When I told Sirius and the guys, well we had an idea.” He sat back down, glancing at Lily out of the corner of his eyes.

“It’s just that, well, it’s our seventh year and I’m captain. I’m captain! So we thought we should celebrate, and that maybe if you talked to McGonagall…”

Lily rolled her eyes, though more out of habit than annoyance. How often had she chastised the four of them — well, mainly Sirius and James — for throwing parties after the winning games? She’d been just a prefect then, but she’d still took it seriously. And now she was a Head Girl. She was supposed to be one of the most responsible people in this school, but part of her wanted that party. She was supposed to remind people of the rules and enforce them, though if it was just a celebration...that wasn't against the rules.

But, she knew a party meant sneaking things in that didn’t belong. It meant sneaking in Firewhiskey and trying to figure out how to get students from different houses in. It meant being up way past curfew and giving Filch too much excitement for one night. Still, if Professor McGonagall did agree to it, which she may if they had adequate supervision. She was one of the most enthusiastic people about Quidditch that Lily knew, after all. So maybe she could just ask…

“Alright, I’ll talk to her. But if she doesn’t permit the celebration, that’s it. No party.” The wind was nearly knocked out of her when James launched forward and squeezed her into his arms, hugging all the oxygen from her.

“You’re the best, Lily.” She smiled as the tug that was become all too familiar pulled against her heart.


The late afternoon sun was gently dipping below the Heavens, casting a soft, warm glow into the sparkling windows of Hogwarts. The last few rays fell upon the faces that filled the corridors. And, if one were to listen close enough to the voices passing through those corridors, they would most likely hear the name James Potter being mentioned in the groups of girls and boys alike. As of the last two days, that name became one that was being thrown about like a Quaffle. James had done the impossible, and gotten even more popular. The news of him being made captain spread like wildfire, and nearly everyone was pleased for him.

He was enjoying the attention, happy to bask in the limelight. Everyone wanted to know exactly what his plans were. When are tryouts? Is Sirius going to play on the team, now that you’re captain? Are you going to buy the team new brooms? And those were only a few of the inquires floating around!

He was relieved to have slipped from a classroom without being assaulted by questions this particular Friday afternoon, with Sirius by his side.

“So, how was it?” Peter’s voice rang through the emptying corridor the second Sirius and James emerged from the classroom where Auror Tutoring had taken place. “Will they have class every Friday afternoon? Or was this just for today?” Sirius ignored his questions for a moment as they began their walk from the seventh floor down to the Great Hall for dinner. He looked over his shoulder to make sure there wasn’t anyone from his class before he spoke.

“It was awesome, mate,” he spoke in an animated voice. “This guy that teaches it, he's one of the best. He really knows his stuff, and I mean he knows it. He isn’t just one of those people telling you things he got from a book, he’s really been there! Anyway, he split us up in groups. There’s only five of us, which is still a fairly decent size, I think.” Sirius held out a hand with five fingers up to illustrate his point. “Two of them are those rich prat twins in our house, they’ll never have the stuff to be an Auror so their mummy and daddy are trying this,” he lowered two of his fingers.

“Then there’s a bloke from Hufflepuff who is really into it. He wants to get into the program right after Hogwarts and not risk getting declined and having to reapply, so that’s why he’s taking it.” One more finger was brought back into the fist. “Then the last, besides me, is a Ravenclaw girl. Her whole family are Aurors, and she isn’t great at defense spells, so I think she’s hoping this will help,” he took down the last two fingers before continuing. “Anyway, the Hufflepuff, his name is Derrick, and myself are going to be taught by the same Auror we had today! He split us into groups based on our skill level and assigned an Auror to both groups, he said that we show the most potential, so he’s dealing with us personally! It’s going to be four hours one Saturday a month, which doesn’t sound like a lot-”

“So why did James get to go, and not me?” Peter interrupted, trying to keep his tone light.

“My parents are close with the bloke teaching it,” James replied. “In the owl they sent last week it said that they talked to him and he was more than happy to have me join in on some classes, since I want to become an Auror too, and all.” He felt a quick flash of guilt. His mate had been put through hell trying to pay for his class, and all it took was a small conversation for him to be part of it.

Everything had worked out, at least. Sirius finally agreed to let his parents handle it, promising to pay them back after he graduated and was able to use his uncle’s money. After over a year of living with them, you’d think Sirius would have realized that the last thing his parents needed was more money.

“Where have you lot been off to?”

“Oh, just finding Sirius here a new dress for the party,” James joked. Sirius was much too high spirited to let his friend's teasing daunt him.

Before Remus could respond, a chain of three girls all linked arm in arm approached them.

“Hey, all!” Lily shouted as they walked past, sending a quick wave with her free left hand.

“Where are they off to?” James wondered aloud.

“Probably going to get ready for the party. You better stick with us, mate. I don’t think your dorm area is going to be too safe about now.” Sirius said with a laugh as they entered through the giant doors of the Great Hall. The smell of spiced, steaming hot gravy atop a platter of juicy pork chops had his taste buds tingling in delight.

“You’re probably right. Anything that is going to take them two hours can’t be safe. Well, mates, we survived our first month of our seventh year. What do you say to treating ourselves to a few of Sirius's butterbeers out of the stash after dinner?”

The three friends nodded at James in agreement as they sat down, ready to dig into the feast that was placed before them.


Lily, Alice, and Belle were all perched on different surfaces of Lily’s bathroom. The white, gleaming stone was nearly hidden under mountains of beauty products. The large mirrors that adorned the walls were each taken up with a different face. Something about sitting two inches from a mirror when applying cosmetics really helped with the process.

“You have to take that lipstick off, Belle.” Alice said, hiding a giggle as she started at the overly red color painted across her friends mouth. “Seriously, you’re far too pretty, adding that sort of just…” she trailed off, glancing at Lily.

“It sort of screams little girl playing dress up, or desperate adult woman,” Lily added helpfully and laughed as Belle huffed and grabbed a tissue to scrub away the color.

“Zat’s lovely,” Belle said as she rolled her eyes.

“Well,” Alice began as she applied a much glossier product to her own lips. “It does. Besides, you’re French. You’re perfect. You don’t need half the makeup you wear anyway.”

“Zat may be true…” Belle wasn’t one for false modesty. She knew she was lovely. “But I ztill like to apply it.” Her beauty wasn’t something that could be faked from a bottle. Breeding could go a long way, and she and her sister Adeline were both blessed with the perfect bone structure that seemed to run in some old French families. Adeline had even married the eldest brother of a French Duke.

“Speaking of liking things,” Alice shot her friend a smile. “You have something I’d very much like to borrow for the evening. That silk blouse you brought over, the green one on the bed.”

“I could be ‘alked into letting you borrow my silk blouse for the evening… if you can ‘elp me figure out ‘ow to get my potions essay to stop screaming at me.” Belle negotiated with a teasing smile, knowing she would let her friend borrow the shirt regardless.

“Slughorn said something about a plagiarism charm being placed on the parchment. Did you reword the things you found in the books, or just copy them?” Lily asked from her place near the sink as Alice dashed to change into the blouse.

Belle’s annoyed expression was answer enough.

“Belle, we talked about this. There are no easy ways out when it comes to homework!”

“I don’t want an easy way out! I just picked ze worst topic to write on, and ‘ave no way of even rewording what ze books say! If I would ‘ave known ‘ow boring my topic of potions used during a birthing was, I would never ‘ave chosen it! I know a few muggle mothers, and the way they were rid of the pain during childbirth was much more gruesome!”

“You’ll figure out a way to make it work, I’m sure of it.” Lily said, relieved she wasn’t the one having to write about that topic. “By the way, have you written your mum yet? I know you stayed with your sister over the summer, at least when you weren’t at James’s. Does that mean she’s not as angry about you transferring to Hogwarts anymore?” Lily asked, turning to Belle as she spoke.

“My sister does not ‘ave a right to be angry at my decision. My reasons to transfer at the end of last year were necessary ones. And no, I ‘ave not and will not speak to either of my parents.” Her answer was said in a quiet tone, though the warning to drop the subject was crystal clear. She will tell us when she’s ready, Lily thought.

The breathtaking, pixie sized blonde had blown into the end of last semester like a hurricane, setting nearly the entire male population on high alert. Alice and Lily had been happy to welcome her into Gryffindor, and had spent a very exciting three weeks at the end of last year’s term teaching her all they could about Hogwarts.

Their friendship was easy, comfortable even, as if they had both known Belle for years. Despite the quick closeness of their relationships, Belle still refused to open up to them about more of her life, or what she called her previous life, in France.

Lily was jarred from her thoughts when a large bang echoed through the bathroom.

“Oh, that was the bedroom door, hold on!” She stumbled over the different obstacles of clothing to reach the front of her bedroom, quickly pulling off a bra that had been hung on the door-handle during their ordeal of deciding on outfits.

“Looking stunning as usual, Lily,” Sirius said with a mocking bow. “I always knew James had good taste in ladies.”

“James and I are just friends,” Lily shot back with a laugh.

“Keep thinking that, Evans.” Before Lily could respond, Alice and Belle were making their way over to them through the same treacherous clothing hazards.

“Hey Sirius, is Frank downstairs?” Alice asked.

“That goofy looking bloke prowling about? He is. However,” Sirius glanced her over playfully, “You don’t need him when I happen to be right here.”

Alice, whose sweet nature had never been great with quick banter, simply swatted a hand at him as she pushed through the doorway and passed him to get to the staircase.

“James sent me up here to ask you if the enormous list of rules accompanying the party had grown, or if the note you left downstairs covered everything?” Sirius raised a brow as he leaned on the frame of the door. “Can I come in or will this thing blast me to hell?” he asked as an afterthought, glancing meaningfully at empty doorway.

“Oh, you’re fine to come in. You can’t open a closed door to come in, but just like the main dormitories, if I invite you there’s not much the castle has to say about it,” Lily answered.

“Odd zat zere aren’t more fool proof restrictions to allowing the opposite zex to share ze room.”

“I thought that too,” Lily said. “But, the castle is huge. If someone wants to get away with something, there are plenty of empty rooms to do so. Having shared dorms probably helps stop most of the issues of someone wanting to do, er, specific things, with someone else.”

“Except for those of you that have your own private bedrooms,” Sirius added.

“Oh please. If Dumbledore can trust two students enough to place them in charge of so much, he should certainly be able to trust them not to sneak into each other’s rooms and snog at every turn!”

“Too bad for James. Anyway,” Sirius said before Lily could react. “We’re to end the gathering no later than 12:00, and as it’s only Gryffindor students and the ‘gathering’ is being held in the Common Room, that shouldn’t be an issue with anyone being out past curfew. No alcohol, no stupidity, and no leaving the common room. Did I cover it all?”

“Nearly,” Lily said with a prim nod of her head. It had been quite a surprise to her when she’d approached their Head of House about James’s idea, and Professor McGonagall had given her consent to the party. And she’d given Lily permission with fairly loose restrictions. She’d simply demanded it be called a gathering and told Lily to use her head to determine the guidelines.

“Good, then. The others are waiting downstairs. Belle, can I have the undying satisfaction of escorting you downstairs and to the party, where I will be the envy of every bloke in there?”

Lily felt the line of tension as if it were a tangible thing spearing from Belle. She’d slid seamlessly into most their lives last year, but the friendship didn’t seem as natural between Sirius and her as it was for the rest of them.

On top of that, they’d spent a great deal of time in each other’s company over the last few weeks of summer. Lily hadn’t just shattered her own world with her inability to handle the loss of her parents, she’d also brought her friends into it by unknowingly forcing them to spend so much time at Mr. and Mrs. Potter’s, all trying to help tip her to the side of sanity when it seemed uncertain if she would make it through.

And she’d learned from Alice that those days of taking turns talking with her, checking on her, and so on, had taken their toll on Sirius and Belle. Sirius had seemed morose, impossible to be around… Obviously Lily knew the reason for that, not that she would tell the others. And Belle’s temper had lashed out at him, her frustration of being unable to help Lily combined with Sirius’s own moods had turned that not so comfortable friendship into more of a volatile one. Yet, neither of them had made any moves to fix the situation.

Belle didn’t posses a vast array of emotions. She was one of the most passionate people Lily had ever met, but that passion was typically either burning hot, or freezing cold. No middle ground. Lily couldn’t help wonder if Sirius was just a bit addicted to the uncertainty of it. As if it had become somewhat of game to him, trying to bring out the different extremes of her.

Resigned to having no control of the matter, Sirius waited patiently to discover which Belle would receive him this evening.

“‘I appreciate ze offer, Sirius.” Belle paused in front of him, her blue eyes drilling into the grey mist of his. Lily tried to hold back a laugh as she watched the two collide, both refusing to break the stare.

Finally, Belle let her gaze drop and replaced the ice that filled them with something hot and playful, as if the ice had melted into a deep blue summer’s lake. She flashed an easy smile, the happiness of it fell on Sirius and had his face lighting up. Lily tried not to roll her eyes, amused and annoyed at the constant ups and downs of her friends.

“Let’s go, shall we?” Belle said, holding her arm out for him to place his inside.

“M’lady,” Sirius said, bowing again with a laugh before turning back to Lily. “Remus is downstairs. He wanted to talk to you, so he will just hang out until you're ready to go.” She nodded, her previous annoyance spilling straight into amusement at the beautiful picture her friends made: soft, brilliant beauty, against dark and viciously handsome.

As they headed down the staircase, Lily started rushing around her room picking up the hurricane of clothes and throwing them into the wardrobe.

“Okay, do your thing,” she mumbled to it, shutting the espresso coloured doors firmly. She slipped on a silky cream cardigan that had been her mum's; the smell of Adrianna Evans perfume filled Lily. Sweet vanilla with subtle hints of birch-wood, beautiful and loving, just like the woman that had adorned the scent as far back as Lily could remember. She felt her eyes growing wet, her heart closed around the pain, unable to fight off the memories that the scent forced into her. God, how long ago had it been when Lily had played with that perfume?

“Mummy! Do I look pretty? Pretty like you, Mummy?” She could hear herself, hear five year old Lily dancing around in a much too long nightgown. “I want to sleep in silky things like you! Can I sleep in silky, pretty things too, mummy?" Maybe it wasn’t wise, but Lily let the memory take over her.

“Nothing is as pretty as you, my girl. Now, let Mummy get ready for bed and maybe we will have a late night tea and biscuit party, what do you think?” Adrianna asked, taking in the sight of her baby girl, while dabbing her cotton ball once more into a clear liquid. After it was thoroughly soaked, she proceeded to rub the days wear from her face.

Her mass of thick, red hair was tied up in a bun, a few strands breaking free and curling around her ivory skin. The small child twirling at her feet was a near replica of Adrianna, something she was told often, but never got sick of hearing.

“Can I wear your nightgown for it, please? Please!” The full lips of the little girl fell into a comical pout.

“On one condition, darling, you have to make an invitation for Petunia to our tea party. It has to have loads of colours on it, and some of the letters that we have been practicing,” she replied, mocking a stern look.

“Okay! I can do that! I will make one for daddy, too! Just in case he gets home soon from business working in Illendran!”

“That’s Ireland, love. Daddy will be home tomorrow night, and the next day we will all be home together. Maybe then we can take a trip to the shops, you and Petunia can help mummy pick out more lovely clothes! I bet daddy will even take us for dinner at your favourite restaurant!” The child squealed in delight at her mother's words, then dashed quickly from the room.

Adrianna heard a sudden halt of footsteps, a few whispers, and the sound of running feet racing towards her.

“Mummy! Lily said we are having a tea party! Can I put on one of your nightdresses?” Petunia’s smile matched her younger sister's. Though they barely resembled one another, the second they smiled it was like they were twins. Both faces lit up in the kind of joy only a child could really understand.

“Of course, darling! Two lovely nightdresses for my favourite girls!” She bent down and scooped each of her daughters up, thankful that Petunia was a small seven year old and could still easily fit in her arms.

Lily felt the hard wood of the wardrobe against her back as she slid to the floor, her legs unable to hold her as violent tremors of emotion ran through her body. She pulled her knees into her chest and let the sobs take over her. “Mummy, do I look pretty like you, Mummy?”

God, Adrianna had been so beautiful. Not just to look at, but to be around. Lily couldn’t imagine having someone more loving for a mother.

Do I look pretty like you, Mummy?

Lily clung tighter to the cardigan that had brought the memories back in a suffocating wave, her body shuddering with every sob. That smell. How long did she have until it faded? How many other blouses or sweaters did she have that would smell just like the mother that didn't deserve to die? How many times would she picture the man that she’d been so blessed to call a father, come home with a huge smile ready to tell them tales of his travels? Tears soaked her face and hair; oxygen came in heaves, trying to force its way into her flooded heart.

She felt arms around her and curled tighter within herself as someone picked her up and laid her on the soft cloud of her mattress.

“I want them back,” was all Lily could say as she let her body melt into the blanket. “I want them back so badly.”

“You’ll never stop missing them.” Remus’s soft, strong voice contrasted against her weak, desperate tone. “I wish I could say you’ll forget, but you won’t. It won’t always hurt this much, though. It won’t always feel like your heart is being ripped from you when you think of them.” His words helped calm her. She tried to focus on one breath, then another.

“Just keep breathing,” he said when the next one caught in her throat and came out as a sob. “One after another. Just keep breathing.” It was the voice that would be used to calm a fragile, terrified child or sooth a frantic animal. She felt like both.

As seconds ticked by and turned to minutes, she managed to gain control of the sobs.

“Have you ever lost someone? I know your mum and dad are both still here, but you sound like you know how it feels.” Lily asked, her words barely a whisper.

“Lost someone to death? No.” He took a deep breath before continuing. “But when I was younger, I was really close to this little boy, he was a great kid. His mum and dad didn’t have a lot, but they always made sure he was safe and happy. Then as a form of revenge, a monster that had once fought with this boy's father went after him.”

Without realizing it, Lily gravitated from her fetal position on the bed and sat up, moving closer to Remus as he continued.

"He didn’t kill the little boy, but he left scars in such a way that they could never be healed. The type that don’t just stop at marking the skin, but go deep inside and ruin many of the best things that made life worth living. This monster meant to leave the boy alive, so he would spend the rest of his years suffering. Watching the little boy go through this really took its toll on me, it was harder than anything else I have been through.”

“What happened to the little boy?” Lily asked, engrossed in the story. Remus smiled in such a sad way that, for once in the last month and a half, the heartbreak Lily felt wasn’t for herself.

“He found a way to continue a life, a really decent life, in fact. There are so many kind people in this world that will give anyone a chance to prove that they aren’t what they seem,” he answered, a ghost a smile quivering over his lips before it faded. “He found people that could still love him, even being so greatly maimed as he was, they continued to love him.”

Lily smiled as the last words fell from Remus. She could tell that this boy wasn’t completely better, but he had still found happiness. She would never forget her parents, never rid herself of the feeling of abandonment, but she could grow strong enough that the memories of them didn’t have to break her so completely.

“Remus, I don’t know how to thank you for finding me and-- wait, how did you know I was crying? How did you get in?” She said as an afterthought, knowing the rules placed upon girls' dormitories. Remus chuckled, then pointed to the still wide open door that had remained that way after Sirius and Belle had exited.

“I could hear you crying from downstairs. Everyone had just left when you started… you know. It really is a terribly sad sound, now I know what James meant when he said that being in-” he cut himself off abruptly.

“Being in what, Remus?”

He evaded the question, and put a gentle hand on hers. “Do you still want to go, Lily? If not I can go down to the kitchens and get you some treats, hot cocoa always does the trick to cheer one up.”

Lily knew her question would go unanswered. Remus would never give away something that James wasn’t okay with. The group in its entirety might be an annoying, over boastful, and trouble making bunch, but they were also fiercely loyal to one another.

“I’m okay with going. It will just bring up all sorts of awkward questions if I don't.” And she was so sick of her friends worrying about her, she didn’t want to tell them she couldn’t be there to congratulate James because she was lost in a world of self pity.

“Let me just go into the bathroom for a moment and…” she gestured to her swollen eyes, her pale cheeks. “Do something about all this.”

As she started to leave the room, Lily noticed Remus’s eyes shift to the window. A look so full of melancholy filled his face, that she was sure when she followed his stare there would be something out there. But, there was nothing. Just the ordinary view from the window as a nearly full moon danced light over the shadows.


Lily and Remus moved through the corridors of Hogwarts, shadows dancing along the walls as lanterns threw flames into the darkness. They weren’t too far behind their friends, a half hour or so. Lily had done what she could to collect herself, and then as if to prove she was getting stronger, she refused to take off the cardigan that had started the flood of emotions.

“If we work on our Potions tomorrow, we may be finished fairly early and have the entire weekend free of homework,” Lily said, her mind dwelling on the a paper she still hadn’t perfected.

To her surprise, Remus simply made a noncommittal noise. He was usually quick to take her up on that sort of offer, needing to find some sort of respite considering the two of them were the only ones who tried to get things done ahead of time. Even Alice liked pushing it to the last minute now and then.

The silence fell over them, and Lily wondered if Remus was worrying his paper as well. She turned her focus to their surroundings and made sure to glance into alcoves as they walked; they were taking the long way around to Gryffindor Tower so Lily could do a quick check through the castle and be sure all was in order.

When they were about to turn and move toward a staircase that would get them on track towards the Common Room, Remus froze. Their eyes locked and he gave a small tilt of his head, beckoning Lily to follow, then slipped behind the shadow of a large statue. He reached into his robe pocket and pulled out a silvery, water like cloak, and tossed it over Lily.

“You're under James’s invisibility cloak. I need you to be very quiet, understand?” His voice was soft but left no room for discussion. “I hear Regulus. That means there is a group of Prospects, and from Regulus’s tone they don’t want whatever they’re saying to be overheard.”

“Prospects? And how on earth can you hear anything?” Lily interjected.

"That's the name we gave to the students who are clearly aiming to be Death Eaters. I can’t give up this chance to get a listen in. You wait right here and I’ll come get you, okay?”

“Absolutely not. If I’m actually invisible—we’ll discuss that part later— it would make more sense for me to go and you wait here.”

“That’s not going to happen. We’ll both go. But if I tell you to leave, youleave.” Remus demanded, the whisper barely audible. He waited a beat, but was met with silence. “Lily? Did you hear me?”

“Yes, of course! I nodded!” she hissed.

“You're under an invisibility cloak!”

“Right! Erm, yeah…I’ll leave if you say so, probably. ” She made certain to say the last word quietly enough that it would go undetected. Remus motioned her forward.

Invisible. Was she truly invisible? She wanted to poke her head out and glance at part of her body to see… but Remus wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t true. And It certainly explained a lot about how James managed things that he shouldn’t be able to manage…she would absolutely need to talk about this with him. But in the meantime, the idea of moving around the castle, as transparent as air, brought a giggle to her lips.

Remus turned around and sent a warning look straight into her eyes, which was rather eerie, considering they couldn’t be seen.

After easing down the corridor inch by inch, taking each step painfully slow and stopping often for Remus to listen, Lily finally heard the whispers that he had somehow detected from their original spot.

“Move over,” he whispered. Lily crept half of the cloak off of her and let him under it. They prowled closer until they were within a few feet of their prey. Lily had to hold back a groan as she saw Severus among the ranks of the others.

“She thinks he’s weak, susceptible, easily manipulated.” The first voice, deep and sharp with anger, belonged to Sirius’s brother.

“She’s wrong.” She felt sick as Severus’s voice filled the silent corridor.

Regulus paced back and forth, Severus and Avery both so still that it seemed they were built from stone themselves.

“Severus! Keep quiet,” Regulus Black hissed.

“You’re that terrified she’ll hear you all the way from the forest?” Severus countered with a sneer. “Bellatrix is wrong. And I can’t fathom why you’re pretending otherwise. You know just as well as I do that it won’t matter what she or the Dark Lord himself promises, he won’t be turned. Get word to her that she’ll need to consider other options. A civil discussion about the merits of serving in the rank of the Dark Lord is going to be far from adequate.”

Avery whirled toward Severus, impatience and maybe even something like fear humming around him. “Obviously we won’t be able to get word to Bellatrix for days. She risked too much coming this close to Hogwarts. And if we would have been caught sneaking into the forest to meet with her…” he let out a shudder. “We’ll just need to find a weakness that Bellatrix can prey upon. Something she can use to convince the arrogant prat to listen to what the Master can offer.”

Silence filled the space, but Lily’s mind was filled with a terrible buzzing as it struggled to piece together the conversation. What could it mean? They were obviously trying to recruit someone… Oh God, was Severus wasn’t actually as involved with You Know Who as it seemed? So many questions spinning through her that she barely noticed when the group of three moved in unison, straight toward Remus and Lily.. She didn’t have the chance to react. Remus was trying to pull her backwards but she was frozen. He drew his wand and shot a quick spell across the wall, forcing a painting to crash to the ground.

The diversion gave Lily and Remus the few seconds they needed to back away and slip farther down the corridor, their steps timed perfectly with each others as the cloak fluttered against their feet. When they’d gotten a reasonable distance away, Remus stopped and pulled the cloak from them.

“Well, doesn’t that just start our night off brilliantly,” he said with a shaky laugh as he stuffed the cloak back into his pocket. “Professor McGonagall will be in the Common Room supervising, I’d like to get to her immediately to tell her that there was a Death Eater in the Forbidden Forest. You should go back, go to bed.”

“No, no it’s fine. I have too much energy now. Bellatrix. I’ve read of her in the Daily Prophet. They say she’s done terrible things… cruel beyond belief… a Death Eater, so close to Hogwarts? Should we go straight to the Headmaster?”

“Yes, Bellatrix Lestrange. Cruel doesn’t begin to describe the things she’s done, the things she will do…she is one of Voldemort’s most loyal and sadistic supporters. She’ll be long gone from the forest by now, I suspect. I think it would be quicker to go to McGonagall and let her decide the next step.”

Lily just nodded as they continued their walk in a hurried silence, wands at the ready. Severus. How was it possible that after everything that had happened, she could still be surprised in the path he was choosing? He’d always shown too much interest in those terrible boys, awful creatures who got pleasure from hating other students simply for their blood status.

She felt her eyes stinging as the memory of their friendship dissolving filled her. She could hear his words still, see him in her mind as he lashed out at her and called her a filthy Mudblood. She’d told him then, told him time and time again when he tried to apologize, that the words didn’t matter. No, it was the sentiment behind them. The idea that he could find nothing better to insult her with than the blood that ran through her. And maybe they would have gotten through it if he promised her he had no intention to join the Death Eaters… but even then, even as fifth year Hogwarts students, he’d already begun falling for the seductive promises Voldemort painted.

She tried to shake the memory from her. She could mourn the loss of a childhood friendship, she could feel sorrow for the man that a former friend had turned into, but she wouldn’t regret making Severus choose. Her, or the Death Eaters. She may have been the one that ultimately refused to accept his friendship back, but he was the one that burned the bridges between them when he made it clear that he intended to join the Death Eaters. A person that can believe someone deserved to die simply because of their birth was nothing but a coward.

“Hey, come here,” Remus said, pulling Lily into him with one arm. The feelings swirling through her must’ve been reflecting in her face. “I know that wasn’t easy to see. Here,” he rummaged through his pocket, producing a small piece of chocolate wrapped in foil. “Eat this.”

“Thanks.” She concentrated on the sweet warmth of the chocolate dissolving in her mouth, and on the feeling of Remus’s arm around her. The strength of his friendship was something that she would never stop being grateful for.

“I’m okay,” she said with a long sigh. “Really, I am. It just… I guess it just hits me sometimes, how real what’s going on around us is. I can’t understand it. I can’t understand how someone like Severus—“ she paused, pulling together her emotions. “How someone like Severus who spent years being best friends with a Muggle-born can decide that their lives, our lives, are worth less because of that.”

Remus was silent for a moment, the last corridor to the common room nearly upon them. When he spoke, it was with the voice of someone who had already endured more than they should have to. “I think, Lily, we aren’t meant to understand it. We aren’t meant to understand how a person could commit such terrible cruelties, because there are no rationalizations for it. A hate and fear so strong, so powerful, are the only things that can drive someone to harm an innocent person. You can’t understand it because you don’t have that in you.”

As he finished, they turned the corner to Gryffindor Tower and stepped directly in front of the Fat Lady. She sat in her pink dress, curled up with a book that looked like it could be older than Hogwarts.

Remus’s words both comforted Lily and brought her a sadness she couldn’t explain. Shaking the emotions off, she glanced to the portrait. “Excuse me,” she began politely.

“Well, how nice to see you. I assume because you have been made Head Girl, and have your own portrait, you don’t find the need to stop by and visit your dear old friend?” The Fat Lady began in a dramatic voice; Remus coughed uncomfortably.

“Oh, hello, dear. Well, I suppose I have you and your friends to thank for the music keeping me up all hours? How you conned Mistress McGonagall into this, I'll never know! It’ll take me weeks to recover the sleep I’m losing, and now I’ll have to-”

“The password is Rumple Dumpel. Now will you kindly let us in?”

The portrait swing open with a huff. The dim lighting of the common room caused Lily to stumble a bit over Remus as she walked through, who was deaf to her apology over the loud, intoxicating music. A small house elf scurried up to them, shouting her squeaky voice over the song.

“Good evening sir and lady! Leeny is here to help! Leeny can bring you pumpkin juice, if sir and lady wish!” They shook their heads no, and began walking through the tangled mess of dancing bodies to search for Professor McGonagall. Remus spotted her first and they made quick work of the crowed.

“Professor, we need to talk to you,” Lily said breathlessly when they finally reached her.

Remus cut her off with a glare, and Lily quickly realized her mistake. It wouldn’t do for students to overhear and panic.

“Can I step outside and talk to you about something Lily and I overheard, professor?”

“If you feel it’s that important, certainly. Miss Evans, please remain in here to act as additional supervision.” Before Lily could argue, they were both making their way toward the exit and stepping from the room.

Well then, Lily thought with a huff, feeling relatively deflated and semi relieved to have it out of her hands. Still, she had a frantic energy humming through her, and decided it was a good night for music and friends.

She started glancing around the common room to find the faces of her friends, and noticed for the first time just how impressive it was. There were twinkling objects that looked remarkably similar to fireflies near the ceiling, thousands of them casting a soft glow on the entire room. That had to be a bit of Sirius's work, she thought. He had always excelled at transfiguration.

In the middle of the room was a massive gold banner, fluttering in the breeze that didn’t exist. The words ‘James Potter. O Captain, My Captain’ were illuminated in a fierce red against the sparkling gold background. Now that was definitely Sirius, Lily decided with a laugh as she matched the words to a famous Muggle poem. She wasn’t sure if Sirius had originally started liking Muggle literature and magazines just to spite his parents, or out of pure curiously, but either way his love of it had rooted itself deep into him. On the banner she could make out a small figure that did look quite a lot like James flying around the banner, throwing the Quaffle in odd directions and always circling back around to catch it.

“What took so long?” Alice shouted, and Lily looked behind her to see her friend making her way over.

Lily simply shook her head. She’d tell them everything in the morning. It had all been too much for one evening. The break down, overheating the conversation… she didn’t know if she wanted to weep, or laugh. Discovering James had a secret cloak… God, how much more could happen in one night? For now, she just wanted to relax. Belle spotted them, and grabbed Sirius by the arm, yanking him over with her only to be caught by a group of fourth years who were probably peppering them with all sorts of James related questions.

Lily felt the happiness of the room start seeping into her. She grabbed Alice and gave her a quick, hard hug before letting her go.

“Let’s dance for a bit,” Lily suggested. “Then I’ll make a circle through the room to be sure there are no illicit activities going on.” Even as she said it, Lily knew that, despite her appreciation for following rules, there were quite a few she wouldn’t feel the need to enforce tonight. If someone was having a little too much fun, enjoying the company of their fellow classmates a bit too much… well, there were worse things in the world. And for tonight, Lily felt like everyone deserved to just soak up the happiness, especially tonight when there was too much darkness surrounding them.

She wanted to get to Sirius and Belle, wanted Remus to come back and to find James, Peter and Frank so they could all just be together.

Almost the exact second that thought swept through her, she saw a familiar face in the crowd. It was James. It was James, with a girl pressed so tightly against him that that not even a breath of air could pass. Not only that, but the girl’s face was tucked into the curve of James’s neck. She seemed to be trying to suck the flesh off. James had her by the shoulders, maybe trying to push her off of him, as his expression was more of shock than anything.

He clearly isn’t trying too hard, Lily thought. The jealousy that was coursing through her veins was such a foreign feeling that it surprised even her. Impatience, annoyance, laughter… those were all emotions she came to expect when dealing with James Potter, but jealousy?

Lily stared into him… If looks could kill. James must’ve felt the assault of piercing green eyes, because he raised his to meet hers. The way his face fell as he held his hands up in a ‘can’t you see that I’m trying to stop it’ gesture, just brought more anger into Lily’s already raised temper.

She gave him one last look before turning and moving toward the crowed that had gathered around Sirius. Alice latched onto her arm, but it didn’t slow Lily down. She was done. It was too much. The energy still coursing through her, the rawness of the emotions she’d poured out only an hour or so earlier… for once, she didn’t think about what was right and what was wrong. All she thought about was what she needed, and right now she needed an escape.

“Hey there, Evans!” Sirius shouted, not noticing the overly bright glint in her eyes. She didn’t answer, just reached into his hands and grabbed the flask he was holding labeled Pumpkin Juice. Who does he think he's fooling? He watched in awe as she untwisted the top and poured every ounce of the liquid down her throat. She leaned over in a fit of coughing, the burn of it like fire to her raw throat.

“Er. Sorry Sirius…” she mumbled as the cough subsided, handing the flask back to her gaping friend.

“Evans! Are you mad? McGonagall has been circling around the room all night, there's no way you can hold your bloody alcohol and if you get caught I'm sure-” Sirius cut his sentence off as James approached them. Even in the dim light, the red swell of a love bite was visible on his skin.

“Fuck…” Sirius mumbled. “Well, mate, nice going. Lily just finished off my entire bottle of Firewhiskey,” he said, shaking the flask to prove his point. "Let's get her out of here before McGonagall tries to talk to her and she's sloshed off her arse."

“Lily-” She was already turning away from James even as he spoke, the heat of the alcohol drumming through her.

She didn't want to leave. Those two did whatever they wanted and got away with it. They ran around the castle like wild animals, sneaking here and there, nicking things left and right from the kitchens. Well, she wanted to get away with something for once.

She moved towards a crowded group, hoping to lose James between the people. Feeling a hand on her shoulder she turned around, irritated that he had caught up so quickly.

“Don’t talk to me!” She snapped, and then quickly covered her mouth, realizing it wasn’t Potter.

“Vell, then, are all new transfers treated so... interestingly?” Spoke the blonde man that stood in front of her.

“No, I'm sorry, my friend- well right now he’s not exactly my friend, but he was following…then you. I’m Lily,” she said, realizing her explanation was going nowhere. “A new transfer? I don’t remember seeing you around.”

“No, you vouldn’t have, I have just been arriving last night and my course load is much lighter than most. I attended Durmstrang, but my mother is rather... skittish and did not vant me to be partaking in the seventh years Dark Arts curriculum. She spoke to Headmaster Dumbledore and he has permitted me to finish my schooling at Hogwarts,” answered the blonde. Lily was a bit taken back by how charming his smile was.

“What is it about Durmstrang’s curriculum that your mum is unhappy about? We’re very excited to have you in Gryffindor!” She said in an attempt to maintain polite conversation.

“I vould not be sorted. I informed Headmaster that I do not like having no choice in the matter. He allowed me to choose my house, and because I was rather ahead of the rest at Durmstrang, I chose Ravenclaw. My mother did not vont me to return because it is Durmstrang’s belief that Dark Arts should be learned, not just taught to defend against.

"A rather realistic theory, you see. For if ve need to be defending against curses, ve need to be able use those curses as vell, yes?” Lily bit her tongue to refrain from comments, she was feeling much too light to get into a such a serious discussion. When she didn’t respond, the boy continued.

“I don’t know, maybe I am simply missing my old friends and home already. I am sure Hogwarts is a very fine school, it is just difficult to be taken away from everyone you vot you vold be graduating with.” Lily felt a sigh of sympathy; being alone was never fun.

“That would be very hard, I suspect. But, er, this is the Gryffindor common room. I’m not entirely sure how you ended up here. You see, students are highly discouraged from going into the common rooms of another house. Ravenclaw is great,” she added quickly, not wanting to appear too rude. “But, this, er, isn’t Ravenclaw.”

“Oh no, my apologies. I vas talking with a few new students I met and just followed them in. It vas not my realizing that I vas not intended to be here.” The sheepish look on his face had her feeling rather sorry for him. Still, she was surprised the Fat Lady allowed him to enter… but maybe with the buzz of the party she’d been a bit distracted?

And how had McGonagall not noticed? It was true that typically every Gryffindor from first year to seventh didn't gather together in the common room, so maybe just the sheer number of people grouped up had masked him?

“I vould be apologizing for my lack of manners, Lily. For I have neglected to introduce myself. I am Alrek, and feel very lucky to have found some’vne so nice to talk to.” He stuck his hand out and Lily grasped it, surprised at the rough texture. They reminded her of James’s, and she wondered idly if he played Quidditch like James, also.

“You will find loads of nice people here. And I hate to sound like anything but welcoming, as I promise I don’t intend to be. But, um, I’m Head Girl and responsible for enforcing our rules-“ she didn’t have to mention that she’d just broken one of those rules by chugging down fire whiskey. A decision that was currently causing a warm rush to flow up her body and into her cheeks. “And, um, we can’t allow students from other houses in here.”

“Oh, I vill be taking my leave very shortly, then. I vouldn’t want to cause you trouble. But I vos hoping, since you are Head Girl, you vould vant to join me on a valk around grounds tomorrow morning? It vould be nice to be getting familiar with my new home, and I vould love to spend more time vith you.”

“Sorry there mate, she’s tied up with me tomorrow. Now if you'll excuse us, you’re going to need to leave.” After much shoving through classmates, James finally made his way up to Lily just in time to hear this new git ask her out.

“James,” Lily said with a bite. “Alrek is new and didn’t realize that he wasn’t supposed to be here.” Maybe it was the alcohol blurring her decision making skills, and maybe it was James rushing over here to treat her like a child after what he’d been up to, but she sent Alrek a bright, slightly frightening, smile.

“Alrek, I would love to. Meet me at the entrance of the castle around nine?” she said. Besides, he was new and deserved someone to show him around.

“That is perfect! I look forward to meeting you, Lily. I vill be going now, it seems that my night couldn’t get any better,” he replied, taking Lily’s hand and drawing it to his lips. James scowled after Alrek, then back at Lily. His quick movement caused her eyes to blur a bit, her head to spin every so slightly.

“What the hell was that? You know nothing about him! Now you've agreed to spend a morning with him?” James would have continued his scolding if he hadn’t noticed that Lily’s eyes seemed to be losing focus.

“Oh blimey. This is going to be a long night,” James muttered, then quickly scooped Lily up and rushed her out of the room, staying behind crowded groups to keep them out of sight. He barely made it into the hallway before she started puking up the contents of her stomach. Luckily for them, Sirius and Peter had seen him shoving through the crowed and joined them outside where they were met with the sight of Remus pacing the halls.

“Thank God," James said as his mates crowded around. "Sirius, you go inside and keep an eye out to make sure McGonagall doesn’t come—“

“She’s not here,” Remus interrupted. “She had to go talk to the Headmaster. It’s a long story, I’ll fill you in later.”

“Alright, then. Peter, Remus, you guys go inside and take over supervising? As I believe Lily is supposed to be in charge of that and she’s evidently not fit to fulfill those obligations.”

“What happened?” Remus ran his eyes over Lily, taking in her sallow complexion and watering eyes.

“She, er, had a bit too much to drink,” Sirius answered. Remus followed his gaze to James, and saw the hickey planted proudly on his mate’s neck.

“Bloody hell, James,” Remus hissed. “Do you have any idea of the night she’s had? You couldn’t have picked a worse time to act like a prat.”

“Come off it, you think I was really necking some girl in a corner? It isn’t…” he was about to say it wasn’t how it looked, but it was how it looked. “It was Violet, I can’t explain. She just latched herself to me and kissed my neck, and right where she kissed started burning the second she touched it. And what do you mean the night she’s had? What happened?”

Remus ignored his question. “Just make sure you get her back to the Heads’ quarters unseen, you git. I still have your cloak.” He pulled the fabric from his pocket. “When she’s finished, take her back and we’ll handle the clean up and supervise the rest of the party.”

“Good idea. I swear…” James began, wanting to again assert his innocence despite how it looked. But he knew now wasn’t the right time. Instead, he turned his attention to the portrait protecting the entrance to the common room. “You,” he shot a look to the wide-eyed Fat Lady, “You tell anyone about this and I’ll make sure to mention that the portrait you sneak off to is—“

“Hush, boy! I see nothing!” And with that, she closed her eyes and pretended to snore.

Bloody fucking hell, James thought as Lily finished another bout of retching. The last thing he ever thought he would see was Lily Evans doubled over in the corridors of Hogwarts, puking up a flask of Firewhiskey.


AN: Rewritten as of June 2017. Thank you so much to Dan (cambangst) for his amazing beta work!

Chapter 5: Secrets Surrounding Us
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Thank you to Pheonixn for the amazing chapter image!
Chapter 5 - Secrets Surrounding Us

In an almost deserted street, a woman crept. Silence being her only company, fear slipping through every pore. She would return empty handed; He would be displeased.

There was no higher honor than satisfying her Master, her Lord. But tonight she had nothing for him. She deserved to be punished, and silently begged he would do at least that. Only a few hours until they would meet, then she would know.

Her feet carried her along a previously invisible path, winding through vines and flowers to finally reach a large stone door. Knocking was not necessary, they would know.

Within seconds the door opened; a tiny body with oversized ears and an odd shaped head appeared.

“Miss Bellatrix. Dobby can take your coat, if Miss pleases.” He wasn’t answered, but the weight of a coat fell upon him. He rushed to the nearest wardrobe, hanging it quickly.

“Does Miss wish Dobby to take her to Master Malfoy?”

“Yes,” she hissed.

He began leading her towards one of the many studies that the Malfoy Manor housed. The rich, blood red rugs sunk under the weight of Bella’s heeled boots. Dobby's small hand reached up and turned a heavy brass knob, bowing deeply as she passed him.

“Master Malfoy, Miss Bellatrix-” he was cut off as she slammed the door on him.

She slithered to a silky, charcoal colored sofa and remained silent for a moment, as did the couple sitting across from her.

Her fidgeting eyes darted through the room and rested at three large candles that burned atop of the pure white mantle. Their flames danced through the darkened light, drawing shadows on the wall.

Her fear and shame grew heavier. Deep breaths came in thrashes that shook her pale, boney shoulders. Her fingers clenched around one another, twisting and pulling at themselves, trying to force her to remain calm and steady the anger that pulsed through her. Her slender face turned from the mantle to her sister and brother-in-law.

“Nothing you told me was helpful, Narcissa, nothing!” She spat the words at her as if they were poison, begging to infect.

“Bellatrix! Mind your tone while you are in my house!” The protective arm of Lucius shot around his wife’s shoulders.

“I will speak however I like!”

“We told you it would be an impossible task, Bella! It was only one year that I attended Hogwarts with him. Two that Narcissa did, and it was time enough to see where their loyalties would always lie. His parents were Auror’s! We gave you any information we could, but warned you against the possibility of success. The Dark Lord wants Potter, he didn’t say he needed him willingly.” Lucius's voice had a strained patience, but the uncertainty was evident.

“I need something to give to the Dark Lord! Something to please him!”

“We need to go.” Lucius bent down to kiss his wife. “I will see you soon, Cissy.” She gave him a small smile as the two Death Eaters left the room, closing the door firmly behind them.

He drew a thin, silver key from his pocket and placed it in a hole that was on the outside of the door, twisting the lock until the sound of the bolt clicking into place reverberated off of the walls of the corridor.

“She’s still adjusting. We agreed it’s best, this way her curiosity can’t get the best of her and have her trying to listen in.” Lucius mumbled.

Bellatrix didn’t reply, her thoughts too submerged in her own terror. Her Master was not a patient man, nor did he have reason to be. His orders had been clear, find something useful for Regelus to use and begin to persuade the few Hogwarts students that he’d set out to recruit. She had accomplished nothing. Would she endure a round of the Cruciatus Curse?

Only once had she been ordered to feel that pain, when she had failed to rid this world of her blood traitor sister. Her Lord had still been merciful, though. Subjecting her to mere moments of the burning, strangling hell brought on from the curse, then telling her she would get her chance one day to destroy Andromeda, to please him.

Would the curse be used against her tonight?

Her anxiety had reached its height as they walked into a dimly lit room. Five Death Eaters sat erect in plush chairs. Tension radiated throughout the table. Their masks had already been donned, the Dark Lord required it. However, due to Pure Bloods’ need to boast about their status, many were aware of the company they were in.

Lucius took a seat on the opposite side of the others. The five originals: Dolohov, Mulciber Sr., Nott, Avery Sr., and Rosier Sr., always arrived first, and together, so it was safe to assume that was who they currently sat amongst. Bella put herself at the chair closest to the one her Master would sit.

One by one the rest began to appear: sixteen Death Eaters. Words were not shared, not when they were all so close to being in the presence of Him.

Bellatrix felt the rise and fall of her own chest. The beat of her heart echoed in her ears, the way it sped up when her thoughts dwindled on her failure, until she was able to calm it down by sucking in slow gulps of air. The steady whistling of one of the death eaters filled her ears, that small noise grew louder and louder until it sounded like a train departing its tracks. Her black, pointed nails clenched into fists, the sharp bite of pain as they entered into her flesh helped her to remain calm.

She noticed Lucius wiping his hands over and over, his own nerves drawing a clammy sweat to the surface of his pale skin.

By the time midnight struck, He had arrived.

Voldemort sat seemingly calm as he tapped his skeleton fingers against the nearly black wood. The centerpiece of candles that rested on the table had the hollows of his skin more noticeable than ever. Their pronounced depth and the fierce structure of his face was nearly as terrifying as the soul inside the body.

After what seemed to be hours, he finally spoke.

“We are making progress. Our numbers grow, and they will continue to do so. Bellatrix, remove your mask.”

She did so, fingers shaking. “My Lord?” The silence remained. Voldemort’s eye assaulted hers, then moved down the table to another figure.

“Black. Remove your mask.” His hands were steady as they exposed his face.

“I understand you had company the other night. Tell me.”

“Friends of Sirius, my Lord,” Regulus answered, keeping his eyes focused on the scrutinizing ones that bore into him.

“I see.”

“Lily Evans and Remus Lupin,” he continued. “She is also quite close with James Potter.” The tapping fingers stilled.

“Rukin. Focus on her.” A murmur went through the table, they were unfamiliar with the one he addressed. A smile spread across the masked face.

“I have already started to, my lord. It took but the smallest amount of questions quickly learn of her attachment with Potter,” the deep voice boomed through the open room. 

Voldemort nodded.

Seconds passed, maybe minutes, no one was sure.

“You are all dismissed. Bellatrix, Black, stay.”

When the room was empty, Voldemort stood and began a slow pace behind the chairs. His calmness unnerved the two servants.

“You were given a mission, the two of you. And only the two of you. Explain why this was shared.” They exchanged looks. Bella spoke first, her voice giving way to the bone shaking dread that penetrated her.

“My Lord. I wanted to gain information, I wanted to please you. I thought that they could be useful.” The last word came out as barely a whisper.

“As did I, My lord. Severus Snape and the others brag about being loyal to you, about wishing to be marked. I thought it to be a good test.” Voldemort searched through him and found the truth in his words.

“Your mission is to be kept to yourselves. It is not your place to test. Stand.” Both servants did as they were told.

“Black. Your orders remain the same; observe and infiltrate if an opportunity arises. You are dismissed.” Regulus let out breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding. He bowed deeply, then turned and walked from the room.

“Bellatrix,” the word was said in a hiss. “You were told to gain information. You have given me nothing.”

She stayed petrified, unsure if he desired an explanation, but not wanting to risk angering him further.

His body moved directly behind hers, the words he whispered into her ear were said almost painfully slow. “Tell me, do you savor each moment you are summoned to me, Bellatrix? Do you delight in the knowledge of serving your Master?”

“Yes! More than anything, My Lord.” The shame overpowered the fear and forced her down to her knees, pleading for Him.

“I am beginning to regret my choice in servants, Bellatrix. Is that what you want? To be rid of my control?” He turned his back to her and distanced himself as he spoke.

“No! Never Master! I am yours to command. I will obey you at all costs! Please Master. Please let me prove myself to you!” Sobs rocked through her and came out in heaves as she placed her hands on the ground and let her head fall. The disgrace filled her soul and urged her to continue begging. “I will redeem myself, anything-”

He turned back to her.

“Remove your cloak, and expose your arm.” Her hand could barely grasp the black cuff to push it up and out of the way.

He drew his wand and allowed it to hover just above her Dark Mark.

“This is an honor that can easily be taken from you, Bellatrix.”

“No! No my Lord! Please, have mercy, my Lord!” Her legs turned to glass, threatening to shatter as the Dark Lord’s stare pierced into her.

His wand moved slowly up her arm, the tip pressed into the bare spot just above her Dark Mark. She shuddered as an intense heat began to build in the fragile layer of flesh covering her bone, growing hotter until she was forced to bite her lips, silencing a scream. He moved is wand farther down her arm, the heat leaving a burn as it passed.

Tears swelled behind her eyes; the pain radiating through her until he suddenly removed his wand. An angry red line remained.

“One strike. If two more are earned, You will no longer have the privilege of calling me your Master.”

“Yes, my Lord,” she said through tears.

With a loud pop, he was gone, and Bellatrix let her battered body fall to the floor.

“Thank you, Master. Thank You.” Her fingers traced the blackened lines of her Mark as softly as one would touch a lover. “I will never fail you again, never again, My Lord.”


Sirius’s long legs moved in a lazy motion, nearly a swagger, as he strutted through the castle. His mouth full of a pastry that he had grabbed before leaving the kitchens with arms stuffed high of snacks and treats to take up to Lily.

Poor thing probably never had a hangover in her life, he thought, thankful that the terrible one he typically got hadn’t affected him this morning.

“Oi! I can’t keep up,” came a squeaky voice from behind.

“Sorry mate. Just thinking about how crummy Lily probably feels. Do you reckon she is even awake yet?”

“It’s past 9:30, isn’t it? She’s always the first down to breakfast, so I doubt she sleeps in.”

“I also doubt she’s ever slammed down half a large flask of Firewhiskey, either,” Sirius said, trying to hold back a snicker.

“I suppose. Anyway, I’m going to go dump this off at the willow. James'll have to change anyway to get in, so he can grab it.” Peter pointed toward the sack hung over his shoulder. It was crammed to the seams with enough food and extra supplies to last them the night.

“Thanks, Peter. Hey, I know you’ve been stressed about your parents and stuff. Why don’t you send them an owl?” Sirius suggested, concern flooding his voice.

“No, no it’s okay. I got a letter from mum a few days ago, and they’re both... they’re getting by. I don’t want to ask too much, y’know what I mean?” Sirius nodded. Peter was taking his parents’ separation fairly hard, maybe the weekend ahead would help distract him.

“Okay, I’ll see you in a couple hours, don’t forget we’re playing Quidditch today.” They parted ways as Sirius continued his walk to the Heads’ Quarters.

“Sirius Black, I never cursed Snape’s broom, just took the credit for it, Chudley Cannons.” He walked in the room prepared to find Lily laying miserably on a the couch. Instead, he was faced with a very moody looking James Potter.

“Hey, mate. I brought our girl some snacks and Tingy the house elf’s special hangover remedy. She still sleeping?” James let out a pathetic sigh.

“It seems that Lily Evans does not get hangovers.” Sirius looked shocked at James’s revelation. He finished his last bite and moved to the cream couch, throwing his body beside James.

“What? After drinking enough to make any normal person sicker than a dog-”

“Don’t kid yourself, Sirius, no one can get sicker than you.”

“Very funny, Potter. Anyway, nothing? Not even a headache?”

“Correct. Not even a headache. I’m glad you're here, though. Did you get everyone back okay?”

“Yep, safe and sound all snug in their beds. Here you go, Tig, sniffs around my stuff a bit too much, you keep it.” Sirius reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of parchment, then tossed it to James.

“Ah, trusty old map,” James leaned forward to place it on the table in front of them. “I need to talk to you about some stuff Remus told me when we were getting Lily back.” He took a deep breath, then continued. “Lily and him ran into some Prospects last night. They had apparently snuck out of the castle and met Bellatrix in the forest. Remus already told McGonagall about it.”

“Charming woman, isn’t she?” Sirius said with a snort.

“I'm sure,” he held a hand up to stop Sirius from commenting, needing to continue. “Also, Regulus was with them.”

Sirius face grew somber. This wasn’t a revelation, but he needed to hear it. “What else?”

“What he said seemed to erase any doubt that he’d been marked. Along with that and what mum told me a few weeks before we went back to school… that she’d suspected as much, I don’t think there’s any denying it.” James said slowly.

“You’re sure?” Sirius tried to ignore the burning sensation in his heart, not wanting to care.

“Fairly certain. Mum and Dad stayed close with some of their Auror friends after they retired. Seems your mum let it slip to a few people, and it got back to them. They weren’t certain, of course, but after what Remus and Lily overheard last night…” They had both known where Regulus was headed, but it didn’t make it any easier. “I’m sorry mate, I know he’s a git and all, but he’s still your brother and-”

“No. You’re my brother.”

The absolute conviction of the words hung in the air. James gave himself a moment to feel the power of them, and then shot his mate a quick smile. “Who says I want to be brothers with such a prat?”

“After last night, no one but you can be considered the prat, Prongs. So where's Lily, anyway?”

James scowled. “She had plans to take a walk with the new Durmstrang transfer.”

“What? You just let her go? Why aren’t we following her?” It was James’s turn to look pained by Sirius’s words.

“Remus talked to me for a bit last night after Alice came and got Lily to bed. She had it rough yesterday. Something sparked some fairly intense memories of her mum and dad and from how Remus told it, she just broke apart after we left. Sitting on the floor sobbing. I just, I couldn’t start a fight with her this morning after knowing she’d felt so hurt last night, then running into the Prospects, then what happened with me…”

Sirius felt a new, ripe flash of pain sear through his heart. James had a right to know everything about Lily’s parents, everything about their death. He couldn’t carry it around any longer.

“James, I need to tell you something about the night Lily’s parents died. Before we came-”

A quick slam followed by a body racing through the portrait hole caused both friends look up.

“I just saw Remus, he was really out of sorts,” Peter said through heavy breaths. “I ran all the way up here, I tried to talk to him but he just walked off towards the forest.” His body fell into the opposite chair, showing its annoyance at being so abused with a nearly mile run first thing in the morning.

“Don’t worry, mate,” James said with a sigh. “You know how he can get before his furry time. I guess we should go find Professor McGonagall. She wanted to talk with Remus about last night. Us too, though i’m not sure why. But if Moony’s not feeling fit for company…”

“That means we’ll have to fetch Lily to have her fill Dumbledore in, right?” Sirius spoke, a sly smile playing on his lips.

“Wait, I thought she was here?” Peter asked.

“Nah, she took off this morning with that Durmstrang bloke.”

“If you two mates are through gossiping,” James interjected, “Sirius, you can go get Lily. I think she said they were going around the lake.”

“Why do I have to be the one to go?”

“Because me and Wormtail haven’t gotten our breakfast yet, and the jam all over your face is telling me that you have. Meet us at Dumbledore’s office after you find her.”

“Fine, I’ll go get the Princess, but you now she’ll give me hell for it. Uou two boys play nice.” Sirius stood up and threw the treats he had brought for Lily over to James, before slipped out the portrait hole, grateful for an escape.

He paused once he was a few feet down the corridor and let his body rest against the stone wall. Part of him wanted to turn back, to finish telling James what he had nearly said before Peter interrupted.

Now isn’t the right time, he reasoned with himself. He would tell him soon. He had to.


“So, you have always been vanting to play Quidditch, or is it a new idea?” His voice was relaxed as they strolled along the lake. Lily was almost glad she had agreed to spend time with Alrek, it was a bit awkward, yes, but he seemed genuinely pleased to have her company.

“Well, not so much. I used to be terrified of flying, but after I had a fight with one of my friends in fifth year, I let James teach me to take my mind off it.”

Lily remember how Sirius had wanted to kill Severus when they’d had that fight, and the only way she had gotten them to agree to let it go was by giving them a chance to teach her to ride around far too high up on a broom.

It was kind of amusing that so long ago Lily had used trying to fly as a bargaining tool, now James was dangling Quidditch in her face, knowing she would take the bait.


“I’m sorry, I got a bit side tracked, what was that?”

“I vas asking if you enjoy being Head Girl. You must be very smart to have earned that.” Lily blushed at the compliment.

“I don’t think it’s that, really.”

“And I have been hearing your skills as a vitch are quite remarkable, vould you want to show me anything?” The red in her cheeks darkened.

“Oh, no, I’m sure you have seen much better magic.”

“Durmstrang is a strict school, yes, but it does not help in making our talents any more defined. The spell I always was having the most trouble with is creating a Patronus.”

“It’s not too hard, honestly. Once you get it down, you can almost do it without thinking.”

“You are able to conjure a Patronus?” The amazement in his voice caused Lily’s shyness to kick in again, making her wish she would have kept her big mouth shut.

“Can you conjure one right now? I really vould love to see it!”

She sighed, unable to think of a good excuse to say no.

She raised her arm and let her mind conjure up memories of her and Alice's first time sneaking out of the castle. The spell was on the edge of her lips when a deep voice broke through her concentration.


She would recognize that tone anywhere, and made a mental note to thank him for the distraction.

“Come here, Evans,” he continued to shout as he moved forward. Lily glanced at Alrek, who looked rather irritated. She shot a small smile at him before turning to run to Sirius.

“Sirius! If James sent you here to spy on me-”

“Nope, I wanted to do that, but he wasn’t so keen on it. We need you to help us out, though.”

“With what?” she questioned. Sirius looked over her shoulder, aware that Durmstrang was within earshot.

“We are going to talk to our old friend about last night.”

“Our old...Oh!” Lily turned back to Alrek, moving a few steps closer to him. “I’m sorry, I really do need to go with him. I will see you soon, I’m sure!”

Sirius was already pulling her away before he had the chance to answer.

“Why didn’t you just say we had to see Professor Dumbledore?” Lily asked, once they were out of Alrek’s earshot.

Sirius ignored her question, his eyes stayed focused on the ground ahead of them.

“Lily,” he whispered her name, “I almost told James about, about the night with your parents.” Lily stayed silent, not sure how to respond.

“I’ll have to tell him soon. If you can forgive-”

“Sirius,” she interrupted, “there's nothing to forgive. We’ll tell him, when you’re ready we can do it together, okay?” He let out a long breath, relief crashed through him like the water of an opened dam.

Lily grabbed his hand and gave it a tight squeeze, forcing the words she couldn’t get out, into that small touch.

They walked in silence to the front doors. The autumn weather was hitting quickly, but the beauty of all the colours that fall cast upon the grounds made the chilly wind bearable. Lily couldn’t help but feel a small part of her heart ache; this would be her last autumn at Hogwarts. Her last chance to soak up the changing of leaves. The last time she would watch as her school slowly transformed into a winter wonderland.

James and Peter were already waiting patiently for the pair as they finally arrived at the Gargoyle.

“G’morning, Lily. Hope you’re feeling okay,” Peter greeted.

“Oh, you didn’t hear, Peter? Princess Lily is immune to the evil affects of alcohol.” Lily couldn’t help but laugh at the obvious bitterness in Sirius’s voice.

If they only knew, she thought, smiling at her own little secret. She'd been too stupid to stop herself from taking the firewhiskey last night, but she certainly didn't have to admit that every sound made her head pound like a drum, or that the light of the sun had made he want to curl into the darkest, smallest whole of Hogwarts. No, she would bite her tongue and pretend to be perfectly fine to keep those self satisfied, smug looks off their faces.

James cocked an eyebrow at her. “Care to share the joke with the rest of us?”

“Just happy to be in such great company, is all. Well, mostly, great company,” she retorted, sending him a pointed look as her eyes narrowed at the sight of the red swell on James's neck. “Now, shall we get this over with?”

The group nodded at her and turned make their way to the Headmaster.


“What do you make of this, Albus?” Minerva’s voice was strained. She had refrained from commenting much during the entire discussion, not wanting to give away the small prickles of worry that clouded her.

“Actually, Minerva," his voice was thoughtful as he popped a lemon drop into his mouth, "I’m still pondering on how Ms. Evans was able to persuade you to allow a party, knowing it was at Mr. Potter’s request, I’m sure.” Minerva smiled ever so slightly at Albus’s statement.

“You aren’t the only one who can bend the rules now and again. Some light hearted fun seemed to be in order for that lot… the summer wasn’t kind to them.”

“Ah, and yet, their friendships don't seem to have suffered. It’s a marvelous thing, you know, finding beauty where destruction has touched. Now, about the issue at hand,” he removed his half moon spectacles and let his fingers gently rub over his eyes. “I believe moving our meeting up to the weekend after next seems fitting. We’ll contact the rest of the Order this afternoon….Prospects. An interesting term. Rather creative, isn't it?" Albus chuckled to himself as he proceed to rub a few stray fingerprints from his glasses.

Chapter 6: The Picture of Friendship
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Chapter 6 - The Picture of Friendship

“Lily, would you calm the hell down and listen to me!” Alice shouted, running to get one step ahead of her friend as they rushed out to the Quidditch pitch. “You told me this morning that you weren’t going to hold it against him!”

Lily halted in her tracks and spun around, her red hair snapping behind her like a curtain of fire.

“Yes, I know what I told you, thank you very much! I was even nice to him this morning! I thought to myself, you know Lily, you really did put him in a terrible position, maybe you guys can work through this! Just a few hours ago I was ready to talk him, Alice! I know it hurts him that I don’t want to date, or am not ready to, or whatever it is.”

She was pacing in quick, furious lines as the grass crumpled beneath her steps. “I know I’m asking a lot of him! And sure, maybe it was that - that girl's fault, but he still let it happen!”

“So, what changed? What happened?” Alice asked as she reached her hands out to take hold of Lily’s shoulders and forced her to remain still.

Alice met Lily's eyes, and Lily knew she was gauging her anger, watching it build behind her ivory skin. Lily's mother used to tell her that her temper had a captivating quality to it. That it was like witnessing a tornado touch down into the middle of a wild fire, causing embers to be hurtled in every direction.

Lily usually kept it so tightly rained in that when it finally snapped, it was a sight to see.

“Violet Clarke happened!” Lily spat, then let her body drop to the grass and released a long sigh.

“What does that sixth year have to do...oh,” Alice cut herself off. “James wouldn’t, Lily! There must be a misunderstanding. He doesn’t even care for Violet!”

“Well, he certainly fancies her enough to let her suck his skin off!”

“How do you know it was her? You only caught a glimpse of the girl’s back, right?” Alice asked as she sat on the grass beside her friend.

“You remember during breakfast when I told you about the conversation Remus and I overheard last night?” Alice nodded. “Well, James, Sirius, Peter and I went to Dumbledore this morning to tell him about it. After we finished we decided to head to an early lunch together when I remembered that I needed to turn in a library book. There was no way I was going to get another finger gluing curse, compliments of Madam Pince. Do you know how long it took me to get dressed last time I-

“Lily,” Alice interrupted, “get on with it.”

Anyway,” Lily continue as stood up from her spot on the grass. “I told them I was going to go return it and I started to head up towards my dorm when I remembered that I lent the book to Belle. I rushed back down, but before I rounded the corner I heard Sirius ask James about that, that, that thing.” She shot a finger to her neck to imply James’s love bite. “So naturally I wanted to listen in on what they were saying.”

“Naturally,” Alice agreed.

“Right, so I was standing where they couldn’t see, and that was when I heard Sirius ask James if he talked to Violet about the, the thing!” She pointed to her neck again, not willing to say the word. “And honestly, what could they possibly have to talk about? Sucking technique, maybe? Maybe they want to discuss using a bit less force next time so it doesn’t look like James got hit with a bloody bullet-”

“A what?”

“Never mind, it’s a muggle thing,” she mumbled as she let her breath out in a long sigh. She felt her energy slowly wearing down, taking bits and pieces of her unjustified anger with it. “But I guess if he wants to get cozy with some girl that’s his business. I made it clear we’re just friends, after all,” she finished, a raw tone clinging to the last of her words.

“Well, darling, if you would care to calm down on ze dramatics I could fill you in on what actually happened.” Both girls turned to see Belle walking up behind them, wrapping a translucent, rose coloured scarf around her slender neck as she spoke.

You’re telling me to calm down, Belle? I’ve seen you nearly eat Sirius alive for simply breathing!” Lily answered, throwing some of her anger into the blonde.

“Well, per’aps I didn’t want 'im breathing at that moment,” she said with a shrug, obviously unfazed as she sat next to Alice and motioned for Lily to do the same.

“But, 'e is ze one I just finished talking with, and I believe you will want to know what ‘e said.”

“Fine,” Lily sighed in surrender and let her body fall back to the ground between her two friends. “Out with it.”

“It seems Violet Clarke ‘ad come up to James to congratulate 'im on 'is new position. She also informed ‘im that she is interested in trying out for Keeper,” Lily interrupted her with a sound that resembled gagging. “As I was saying,” she glared at Lily, silently ordering her to behave. “She was simply talking to ‘im, rather closely because of ze loud music. And then she kissed ‘is neck! Which I assume is ze part you saw.”

“Just kissed his neck?” Alice shouted in a rare show of tempter. “Kissed his neck? Did you see his neck? It definitely wasn’t from a kiss!”

“Exactly!” Belle’s voice sounding like a detective’s who had just cracked her case. “That’s precisely what the boys were talking about when Lily over’eard. The second she kissed it, while James was trying to push ‘er off, the spot started burning! And I assume left that revolting mark!”

The other two girls were silent for a moment as they let Belle’s statement sink in.

“Sirius wouldn’t lie to Belle, or any of us. You know that.” Alice said softly. Her soft words threatened to break through Lily’s barrier of doubt.

“I know he wouldn’t,” she mumbled, “but I almost wish he was lying.”

“You would ‘ave rather James gone off with Violet, then?” Belle asked quizzically, moving her fingers over the small blades of grass they sat on and twisting them from their roots as she spoke.

“No, maybe. No. It would just be easier. I wouldn’t have to worry about what we do next. What I do next. I don’t even know what he wants from me.”

“Lily,” Belle said gently, moving her hand from the grass over to her friend’s shoulder. “You don’t remember a lot about what ‘appened after your parents passed away. You were ‘ardly there with us. But James, ‘e was nearly as broken as you. Every time ‘e looked at you I felt like I was intruding on something private: something sacred. I think all ‘e wants is for you to be ‘appy.” Lily felt the last of her anger crumble, leaving an empty fear humming through her heart.

She couldn’t deal with this. Not now, not yet.

Her eyes flew from Alice’s dark brown back to Belle’s shining blue, searching through them to find that anger again, to give her a justified reason to keep a relationship with James Potter out of the question. All that looked back at her was sincerity. The soft, never ending support of a true friend, or in her case, two true friends.

“I’m not ready,” Lily whispered. “I’ve lost too much. I can’t lose his friendship, too. It would be so easy for something to go wrong if we dated, then it would ruin everything. I’d lose him for good.”

She raised her chin and held her head a bit higher, refusing to let her thoughts turn to everything that had been snatched from her: taken by the cruel hands of fate.

Belle squeezed even closer to her, wanting to be able to offer any comfort she could. Alice’s hand moved to Lily’s and held it gently.

“Will you tell me about them? Will you tell me what they were like?” Belle asked in a wistful tone as she let her head rest on Lily’s shoulder.

A warm smile surfaced on the redhead’s face as an ocean of memories came crashing through her, catching her in their current and pulling her into their sea.

The August sun was just beginning to fall from its throne in the sky, letting rays peek through Lily’s forest green curtains and into her bedroom. Her hands moved like clockwork against a large piece of canvas, only stopping occasionally to retie her hair. Her eleven year old self had kept it much longer. She loved the feeling of it swaying over the majority of her back when it wasn’t held prisoner with an elastic band.

She had hidden herself in her room and submerged her mind in her newest creation, trying to ignore the feelings that tugged at her heart.

“Lily? Lily, where did you run off to?” The energetic voice of Shane Evans echoed down the hallway and filled Lily’s room.

She gripped her paintbrush tighter, letting the top of it swipe into the blue, then the green, swirling them together to create the colour of the sea.

“That’s lovely, darling,” Shane said as he came up behind Lily and placed his large hands on each of her shoulders.

“Maybe I’ll move here someday,” Lily said with a sigh. She stepped from under her father’s grasp and sat on the chair placed near her easel.

“I’ll have a house so big that it looks like a castle. It will be all rock, too. With flowers planted everywhere! I’ll tend to them myself and water them every day just like mum does. Then when I go outside, I’ll look down at the sea crashing into the cliffs, my cliffs.” She had tumbled into her own imagination, thinking of all the stories about Ireland Granda had told her when he was still alive.

“Did Mummy ever live in Ireland with Granda Gallagher?” She asked, turning to her father who was now kneeling beside her.

“For a bit, only until she was about three, though. Granda Gallagher always knew that Grandma wanted to move back to England. It was too hard for her to be away from family, so right after they had Mummy they started planning for it.”

Shane grabbed his daughter's hand and pulled her over to the window seat with him. She scooted to the wall and rested her back against it with her feet up in Shane’s lap. Her eyes glanced out the window. A gentle breeze danced over the lilac bush planted outside her bedroom, causing a few purple petals to twist from their place and sway along with the wind.

“Do you want to tell me what’s bothering my girl?” Shane asked. Lily looked directly into her father’s eyes. The shades of emerald green glinting in them were identical to hers, yet Petunia had been the one to inherit his dark brown hair.

“Tuney hates me, dad. She said if I get on the train tomorrow she’ll never talk to me again.” Lily leaned forward and collapsed into his lap.

“The worst part is,” she whispered, “I don’t even know that I’ll care if she never speaks to me again.” The admission was painful as it left Lily’s heart. But the way her sister had been treating her from the moment she got her letter in January nearly made Lily wish Petunia wouldn’t ever talk to her again.

“Don’t say things like that, darling,” Shane coaxed. He held her shoulders and eased her away from him, wanting be able to look into her eyes as he spoke.

“This isn’t easy for Petunia. She’s never been good with change, with accepting new things. Now she has to watch her only sister go away. You know how bad it feels to be left out, don’t you?” Lily nodded. “Well, she’s going to be left out of such a big part of your life. It hurts her.”

“Does it hurt you too, daddy?” Lily asked in a whisper, letting her eyes fall to her hands.

“Of course not! But that’s because I can see it in a different way. You’re so special, darling. You’re so very special. We’ve always known that, and now you get to learn more about this gift. You get to be something incredible, Lily. Something most people believe only exists in fairy tales. You’ll meet new friends, and you won’t have to worry about feeling lonely because Severus will be there with you, too.” Lily smiled at the mention of her best friend’s name.

Her stomach gave way to a new round of butterflies as she thought about the fact that in less than a day they would both be on the Hogwarts Express.

“And Petunia will still love you. She’ll adjust. Magic is a part of you. She’ll understand that and accept it. Then once she does, she’ll be so anxious for you to tell her about all the new parts of your world!” His excitement was infections. Lily had never been able to remain upset for long when her father was around.

She sat up straighter and swung her feet over the ledge of the window seat. When her eyes turned to the door they were met with the golden brown ones of her sister.

“Petunia wanted to talk to you, Lily,” Adrianna said as she pushed her eldest daughter forward.

Shane stood and gave Lily a kiss on the forehead before walking over to his wife. He gave Petunia and encouraging smile before kissing her forehead, also.

“We’ll be in the kitchen,” Adrianna said. She held her gaze with Petunia for a moment longer before she followed Shane out of the room, shutting the door firmly behind her.

Lily’s hands started fidgeting. Needing something to do, she started picking up the remains of her paints and placing them into their containers. Petunia remained silent at the door, watching her sister’s every move.

“Lily,” the voice was soft when she finally spoke. Lily glanced up from her work and noticed the watery look of her eyes.

“Aw, Tuney, don’t cry.” She moved to her sister, forgetting the anger of earlier, and placed her arms tightly around Petunia. “Don’t cry, Tuney.”

“I’m sor-sorry, I was so awful to-to you,” she said between escalating sobs.

“It doesn’t matter,” Lily answered, desperate to make her sister happy again.

“I’ll always love you, Lily. I won’t ever be mean again, okay?”

The girls smiled at each other for the first time in months. Lily forced the left over feelings of hurt away; her sister had said sorry, that was all that mattered.

And with the simple sincerity of Petunia’s apology, the torn fabric of their relationship was sown together, mended with careful hands.

The three girls sat together in a huddled ball. Lily’s cheeks were damp with tears of joy and pain all twisted together on her creamy complexion.

Alice muffled a cry, sniffing it back before speaking. “They really were great, Belle. I wish you’d had a chance to meet them. They always invited me over the last few weeks of summer, and they loved hearing about our world. Mrs. Evans would take us to these classes where a muggle lady would teach the people how to use clay to make pots and vases. I never thought doing things without magic could be fun, but we always had the best time.”

“What about your sister? I know ze two of you no longer speak often, but you seemed so close. What ‘appened?” Belle asked, her eyes bright with concern.

Lily and Alice stared at each other for a moment, a subtle look of understanding passed between them. Lily knew she was safe to skirt around the truth without Alice questioning her.

“Sometimes things are just meant to fall apart, I suppose,” she answered. They had walked through so many emotions that day, she didn’t have it in her to delve head first into this one.

Belle stared at her for a moment longer, fully aware her friend wasn’t telling the entire truth.

“If you ever want to tell me what really ‘appened, I will be here to listen,” she answered with quiet understanding.

Lily pulled her jumper tighter, blocking out the gusts of October wind. Not quite October, she corrected herself. The thick red hair whipped around her face, blending into the blonde and brown that flanked it. From the back they looked like a blur of contrasts, all huddled together. At least that’s what James thought as he, Remus, and Sirius walked up behind him.

“Hey, you ladies beat us out here.” The three girls untangled from one another at the sound of Sirius’s voice. Belle was the first to her feet, and held her hands down to help up the other two. Lily nearly lost balance as she placed her foot in an uneven part of the grass, but thankfully she was still connected to Belle.

“Hey, where were you this morning? We went to talk to Dumbledore,” Lily asked, facing Remus.

“I just had some things to finish up,” he answered with an easy smile. Lily wished he would elaborate, anything to keep her from having to focus her attention on James.

She didn’t have time to think of how to avoid what was certain to be an awkward discussion, because before she could so much as try to start another conversation, James was closing the distance between them.

“Can I talk to you for a second, Lily?” He took her hand as he asked, not giving her a chance to protest.

She nodded, knowing it was better to say those two dreaded words sooner rather than later. She had never been good at apologizing, especially not to James.

Neither spoke while the walked.

The wind had calmed enough to let the mild sun warm her skin. With a gentle whoosh of it, something intoxicating reached her nose.

She was taken back by the soft hints of cedar, and nearly felt her head spin as the barely there touches of jasmine sweetened the mix. She had never smelt something so captivating, and had to silently scold herself for wanting to bury her nose into James’s neck to continue living off of the wonderful fragrance.

Maybe she could understand what prompted Violet to throw herself at- she shook her head quickly, forcing those thoughts out and earning a curious look from James.

“Look, Lily,” he started as they reached the side of the equipment shed that housed the Quidditch gear. “I need you to let me explain last night.”

“No,” she interrupted. “You don’t need to explain anything. Belle told Alice and me the story. But even that doesn’t matter, because you’re free to do whatever you please.” She did everything she could to let the words sound natural, causal even, but the bitterness of them was obvious to even her ears. She turned her body to lean her back up against the wooden shed.

“That’s the thing though, I know I can, but I wouldn’t do that to you Lily, you-”

“Stop, James. Just stop. You don’t have to try to make me feel better. I know you didn’t let Violet suck your neck, but if you would have, well, you shouldn’t have to apologize for it. You can snog whoever you please,” she said, feeling her heart crack with every word.

She would not make him feel guilty. He didn’t deserve that, not after everything he did for her. He didn’t deserve any of the unjustified anger that she had thrown against him the last few weeks. But he had taken it. He had let her use him as verbal punching bad for her own chaotic mix of emotions, and that ended today.

She was so lost in her swarming thoughts that she didn’t notice the flash of fire erupt into James’s hazel eyes.

“I know I don’t have to do anything,” he said, his tone quiet, dangerous, “and I’m getting sick of telling you that you’re the one I want to be with.” He moved to face her, and in one fluid motion he had both his hands resting on either side of her head. Lily's red hair was twirling in the breeze, tangling over James's fingers as they both stood with eyes locked on one another.

She held his gaze despite the sudden quickening of her heartbeat urged her to look away.

He moved slowly, his messy black hair being tousled by the wind. The scent of him closed over her again as he inched closer; his eyes still stayed steady on hers.

When she was sure he was going to close the distance by letting his soft lips linger over hers, he instead veered to the left.

“If that was true, and I could kiss whoever I pleased, I would already be kissing you," he said in a whisper that was close enough to dance the warm breath over her ear. She felt a shiver run through her body that had nothing to do with the weather. Something deep inside of her was sparked and set ablaze with longing.

“But, I won't.” He smiled at the sight of her as he spoke. It was easy to see that she had wanted him to close that gap by bringing their bodies together and letting his lips spill every emotion coursing through him onto hers. The heat simmering from her darkened eyes made it clear she craved that almost as desperately as him.

But he wouldn’t rush her. The first time they kissed, they would be each others. Not just friends.

“James Potter,” she tried to make annoyance ring in the words, and failed miserably.

“We both know what we just wanted to happen Lily,” he said carefully.

Lily wouldn’t hide from her feelings, she never did. She faced them head on, and this would be no exception.

“I know,” she whispered. “But James, it would have been a mistake. Not because I don’t fancy you. I do.” She felt the declaration free something in her heart as the truth slipped from her tongue. Something heavy that had been eating into her ever since the last week they had spent at the Potters’ house.

His face changed from shock to realization at the easy admission of her words. He placed one hand back against the wall, waiting patiently for her to continue.

“You know I’m just not ready. Too much has changed in my life.” She stepped forward and began pacing, needing to move her vibrating body.

“I’ve always known you’re a loyal friend, James. Everyone in this blasted school knows the four of you would stick together through anything. Being one of those people you give your loyalty to feels safe. Our friendship has changed so much since,” she paused, holding her emotions tight, “since my parents passed away. And I never thought I would love being so close to you, but I do. I don’t want to lose that. I can’t risk what we have by trying a relationship, not yet. I just-” James stepped forward and took Lily’s hand, hoping the touch would persuade her to stay still for a moment.

“I understand, Lily. You don’t have to explain it to me. We already decided that we’d just be friends, I get it. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start snogging other girls. It just means I’m going to have to work really hard to not snog you.” He smiled as he said the words, trying to make them sound like a joke, but they both knew the truth. 

“Stop putting this pressure on yourself,” he continued. “You don’t have to know exactly what you want, or when, or anything. I just want you to be happy. We’ll figure something out...eventually. We have all the time in the world, right?” James locked fingers with her as he spoke. “I’ve liked you for this long, do you honestly think I’m just going to stop now?”

Lily felt her lips creeping into a smile. Relief tingling through her as her mind tried to grasp the fact that she wouldn’t lose him. She knew she was being selfish, wanting him to herself, yet unable to give him more than her friendship. He wasn’t provoking her, though. He wasn’t telling her he’d go find another girl who knew what she wanted. He was just accepting it.

She would’ve been shocked to know that James’s feelings were very similar to hers.

His mind had tumbled into a nearly euphoric state as he thought about what this meant. He didn’t have to worry about playing games to make her jealous, about trying to trick honest feelings out of her, because she laid them all out on the table. He didn’t have to wonder if she would go off and start dating some bloke -though he would still have to keep an eye on Durmstrang - they could just take things as they came.

James broke their gaze and pulled her into him. He touched his lips to her temple, feeling the blood beating beneath the thin layer of skin.

He was about to separate himself from her so they could make their way back to the group when a rustling in the greenery that lined the spot near the equipment hut caught his eye.

He tensed, causing Lily to back away and furrow her eyebrows at him.

“Take your wand out,” he whispered to her. She didn’t question him, but did as he asked. She turned her body to face the same direction he was, trying to figure out where exactly he was looking.

“Move slowly,” he whispered again. His first instinct had been to tell her to turn around and leave, but then they would simply waste time arguing over it.

They took a few small steps toward the bush that was only three or four yards from them. James’s wand was raised slightly, ready to react at the slightest spell.

“Ouch!” a muffled voice hissed through the bushes. Lily and James halted, both looking at the other.

“I wouldn’t ‘ave pinched you if your ‘and didn’t somehow find my bum! Now shush up, I can’t ‘ear a thing!”

Lily quickly placed her finger to her lips at the sound of Belle’s voice, urging James to stay quiet.

She took a few more steps forward, then sprang into the bushes, causing Sirius and Belle to yelp in surprise.

James was right behind her, tapping his foot like an annoyed father glaring down at his children.

“It was all this one's idea, mate!” Sirius said, pointing his finger to Belle.

“So what if it was? ‘e is the one that went along with it. And the one who picked the bushes that are so thick we can’t see a thing out of them,” she said with a growl.

Sirius’s eyes latched to Belle’s, his white teeth bared into a smile which caused Belle to retaliate with a glare. Luckily for Lily and James, their friends were much too focused on one another to notice when James leaned forward to whisper something into Lily’s ear.

“Hey, don’t worry about it you guys. You’re our friends and were curious. We get it,” James said with an easy tone, wand still in hand as he took a small step toward Sirius.

“Let’s just go find Alice and Remus, the friends that don’t intrude on our privacy,” Lily added, holding out her left hand for Belle to grasp it.

James coughed loudly and gave Lily a sideways glance.

They both raised their right wand arms and shouted, “Aqua Eruct,” causing a light blue hue to form and jets of water to shoot from the tips of their wand straight into their friends.

A screech similar to a cat’s tore from Belle’s lips. Sirius rolled over onto her with a mixture of a shout and laugh, causing them both to fall further into the bushes.

Lily and James lowered their arms and waited patiently to see their friends’ reactions - wands still out just in case.

“Well now, that really showed us, didn't it? I don't now about Belle, but I sure learned my lesson.” Sirius said through his loud barks of laughter.

He stood carefully, making certain to keep his footing steady so he didn’t wind up on his arse in the puddle of water. Belle was doing the same, though she lacked the same good natured smile that Sirius maintained. After wiping his hands on a dryer sections of his robes, he pulled out his wand and pointed it at Belle.

“Calidus aeris,” he murmured. His wand radiated an orange glow while emitting an odd kind of suction along with a soft heat. He moved it up and down Belle’s body until the water was merely evaporated steam.

“What about my ‘air?” She held up the bundle of matted blonde locks to further illustrate her issue.

“Let Lily handle it, although I am partial to the wet dog look,” he said with a smile as he turned to James and motioned for him to dry off his robes, as well.

“What happened out here? It sounded like a bloody pack of wolves fighting!” Alice said as her, Remus, and Peter ran toward them.

“Just trying to teach our friends here a lesson in spying on others, is all,” James answered, his wand already at work syphoning the water from Sirius. “Nice to see you finally made it,” he nodded to Peter as he spoke.

“Unlike you four, Peter has actually been productive.” Alice’s smile grew larger as she glanced at Peter. “Go on, tell them,” she said with a squeal.

“My mum is living over a joke shop in Diagon Alley until her and dad figure stuff out,” Peter began. “Before I left for Hogwarts this year, she took me down there and let me pick a few things up. I just remembered this morning when we were talking about Violet that at the shop I saw a Love Lip Gloss. It said something about guaranteed to mark the one who you choose with a big bite of love,” his face grew red at the words.

“Anyway, after you guys left to get the set of practice Quidditch balls James has I went to find Violet, because the lip gloss sounded just like what happened to James’s neck.”

“Wow Peter, you were busy, good work. Now we can try to get her to tell us the truth.” Sirius walked to his friend and patted his back with a large, dry hand.

“That’s not all,” Peter added. “I told Violet that James really liked the smell of whatever she put on his neck, and he wasn’t mad at all.” His face grew even redder at the admission of the lie.

“She was excited and everything, and threw this to me,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, circular tin. “And said James could keep in as a reminder. Then after I had it,” he paused, looking nervously around at them. “After I had it, I told her that James doesn’t like her, he only Likes Lily, and to stay away from him.” He was beet-red by the time he finished. Sirius nicked the tin from his hands to better inspect it.

“Peter,” James walked closer to him to place a hand on his shoulder, “that was really great of you to stand up for me like that. Gryffindor to the bone, aren’t you?” Peter smiled at his words. The fear that James would be annoyed at him for talking about those private feelings quickly vanished, and was replaced with the excitement of receiving his friend’s approval.

“So, should we wait for Frank, or is time to get this Quidditch game started?” Sirius asked as he passed the tin to Alice, who was eager to exam the contents.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you guys,” she threw the container to an impatient looking Lily as she spoke. “Augusta is close friends with the Bones family. You know Amelia, the sixth year Ravenclaw? Well, her older brother, Edgar, and his wife just had twins. The family wants Augusta and Frank to attend their Christening so he's away until Sunday evening.”

“I thought Amelia only had an older sister?” Lily asked as she read the information detailed on the back of the Love Lip Gloss.

“No,” Alice answered. “She does have an older sister, the one that graduated a few years ago, but she has an older brother, also. Edgar was a seventh year when we were in our first.”

“I remember my mother and father talking about him before I moved out.” Belle looked at Sirius out of the corner of her eyes as he spoke, surprised that he was brining up his family. “They said something about him marrying a muggle, isn’t that right?” Alice nodded at his question. “He’s also really close with Dumbledore. That’s what my father said when he was going on about Dumbledore’s group of people being a mix of blood traitors, half bloods, and muggle borns alike.” Sirius had changed the last few words of his father’s tirade. Mudblood wasn’t a word he would utter around Lily.

“I bet he’s part of the group that my parents told us all about this summer. The one that helps Dumbledore keep tabs on Voldemort.” Alice shivered as the name left James’s lips. She detested it more than anyone in the group. Not feared, Alice never feared, just despised everything it stood for.

“Probably, I bet loads of people are part of it, people we don’t even know about. Do you think there are Aurors in it, too? Maybe the one that your parents are friends with, the one that’s going to be my tutor, maybe he’s part of it too!” Sirius said with excitement surging through his eyes. The grey colour of them was glowing silver as the thought swirled around his mind.

“Maybe. They didn’t tell me anything more about it other than what you guys heard. Just that Dumbledore will continue trying to keep everything safe and that he has a group of people working with him so they can follow exactly what the Death Eaters are doing.”

His answer wasn’t exactly a lie. His parents hadn’t told him more than that, though even in such a large house, sometimes it was impossible not to overhear things. Especially if you were listening outside doors. He would tell Sirius, Peter, and Remus the rest soon enough. But there was no point in scaring the others.

Voldemort was already terrifying. Everyone knew that. Telling them that he had overheard his mum and dad talking with Alastor Moody about how powerful he was becoming, and about the amount of supporters he’s gaining, wasn’t going to do anything good.

“So, it looks like this stuff really can cause what ‘appened to James’s neck. I think Peter ‘as already done enough to scare ze little wench off, but we should all keep our eyes out for any more tricks.” Belle said, changing the subject and passing the tin to James, who was the last to see it. “Now, are we ready to play Quidditch?” she asked with a smirk. Her competitive streak was already itching to get the game underway.

“Okay, considering Peter is the man of the hour, let’s let him decide how we do it.” Remus said as the group started making their way from the equipment shed back to the field.

“Well, we have,” he paused for a second to do a quick count, “seven of us. So, let’s have Lily as seeker and she can play for both teams. We’ll just use one Snitch, then whoever has the highest points after she catches it, is the winner. Then James will be Chaser on one team and Sirius can be the Chaser on the other.”

Peter was interrupted when Sirius let out a quick, Yess! It was common knowledge that any game involving those two put against one another was going to be a good one. Both enjoyed winning entirely too much.

“That will leave Remus and me for Keepers. I’ll be with Sirius, Remus can be with James. Then Alice and Belle for Beaters. Let’s have Alice with myself and Sirius, and Belle with Remus and James,” Peter finished, looking around to see if everyone agreed.

Belle was giving Sirius somewhat of a twisted look as she slowly untangled the scarf from her neck placed it in a robe pocket.

“Great. I always wanted to hand a bloody bat to a girl who’s already looking for an excuse to hit me with something,” Sirius mumbled.

“Maybe she can toughen you up, princess,” James said with a laugh.

He was too amused with himself to notice as Sirius pulled an imitation Bludger from the chest and hurtled it towards him. With the true skill of a Chaser, James caught the jet black ball in the center of his large palm. He threw it straight above his head into the air and quickly captured it with his other hand, holding it for a second before sending it flying in Sirius’s direction.

“We left the brooms where the girls were sitting earlier,” Remus said, distracting Sirius enough to let the ball miss his hands by inches. “Nice catch, butterfingers,” he added with a smirk directed at his friend.

“Please, it was either let it drop or spend the next twenty minutes in a pissing contest with James. Never liked team sports, either,” Sirius mumbled, bending down to retrieve the ball and shutting it safely away in the chest. He brushed the dark locks of wild hair out of his grey eyes before barking out a good natured laugh at what seemed to be his own private joke.

“I’ll go grab them while you guys get set up,” Remus offered.

“Thanks, mate. Be careful with mine!” James shouted at him as he took off towards the edge of the Quidditch pitch.

Remus slowed his pace after a few seconds of sprinting, feeling his stomach groan in protest due to his desertion of lunch early that day. The soft touch of the sun fell over his thin, sculpted face. He glanced up at the blazing yellow star to check its position; it was closer to the West than center, making its way over the massive horizon.

He guessed that it was nearly four o’clock. Soon it would be time to head into the warmth of the castle. He would let the reassuring presence of his best friends be enough to help him hold onto his good mood, while rehashing whatever happened during this game through dinner and ice cream.

Either outcome would be a good one; James and Sirius were both awful losers, which would make for an entertaining evening. He would spend the remaining hours noticing his friends as they continued to send him sidelong glances, silently assessing him in hopes of figuring out how he was doing.

The blue sky would struggle against the velvet black, then finally surrender as the sun bid it a good night. While that bright orb slipped from them, the other would begin to show its self. Slowly first, as the sky began turning to dusk, and that mysterious time between day and night took over.

By eleven o’clock his cells will have completely altered, his make up will be nothing similar to his current one, and he will be howling and biting at the pain. The werewolf would be in control. September moons were always the least predictable, so the group had already decided on being safely locked inside the shrieking shack by no later than nine o’clock.

But, he had a few hours yet. A few hours to laugh with his friends. To watch James and Lily send each other smoldering looks, then glance quickly away the moment one caught the other. He could pick Alice’s brain about their charms homework over dinner, she was the best in their class, always staying a few points ahead of him.

He bent down to retrieve the forgotten pile of brooms and arranged them so they were tightly situated in the nook between his elbow and shoulder, then raised that hand to grasp tightly over the bundle. He mounted his own broom, The Fire Flame 500, and smiled as he thought of the Christmas before last when his mum and dad had woken him up at dawn.

They had been too excited about presenting him with the broom to wait any longer. He had been slightly nervous about it - flying was never his strongest suit, but it had given James and Sirius something to tutor him on for weeks after he returned to Hogwarts. With their help he had quickly become not only a competent flyer, but an exceptional one.

Remus reached forward slowly to keep the pile of brooms balanced, and tightly gripped the handle of his own. The tender air lifted his body and let him cut through the icy chill of it. He carefully controlled his height, wanting to remain closer to the ground in case any of the brooms slipped.

The distance between his friends and himself was quickly closing. Their laughter already began slipping into his extraordinary range of hearing and making him anxious to get the game underway. The picture they all made, talking and yelling over one another while jumping into new conversations, would be the one he held tightly in his heart that evening as the transformation clawed through him. The picture of friendship.

He directed his broom to towards the ground and landed with easy, jumping quickly off as his feet touched the fading grass. He rushed into the heart of the group and began passing brooms out to everyone.

The seven friends were too caught up in their own elation and amusement to notice a pair of dark green eyes watching them from behind the stands.


Thank you to everyone still reading and reviewing. A special thank you to my wonderful Beta reader, CloakAuror9, for being completely amazing.

There is a certain sentence in this chapter that really got to me and hurt my heart. I hope a few of you pick up on it, also!

*Calidus aeris: Calidus is Latin for warm or hot, aeris is latin for air.

Chapter 7: Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs
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Gorgeous chapter image made by pheonixn @ TDA
Chapter 7 - Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs

The last few leaves of the thinning elm tree tugged against the late September wind. They pulled and twisted until their stems weakened enough to be captured by the breeze and ushered away. The naked branches swayed through the evening air and scraped against the glass of a rectangular window. Back and forth - scrape, silence - back and forth - scrape, silence. It was an eerie sound, rhythmic in its own right, yet still not altogether comforting.

On the other side of the long window, the side safe from the battering nature of the autumn wind, stood a richly adorned room with the last few drops of an oil lamp giving life to a burning flame.

There were places of that room that were still touched by the fading sun rays, but there were also corners that stood absent of all light, so dark that neither sun nor flame could reach them.

In one of those blackened areas was a cluster of four people who created a semicircle around a tall, dragon hide chair. They anxiously waited for the fifth man, the one seated in the chair, to speak.

Lucius Malfoy stood with his eyes averted from his Master and his hands hidden behind his cloak to cover the nervous twitches that pulsated through them. Nerves were not something he was willing to show, especially not with his current companions. His pale blue eyes slid surreptitiously towards his sister-in-law, giving him a momentary opportunity to study her.

A heavy, deep purple cloak covered the majority of Bellatrix from the shoulders down, and the places that it neglected to conceal were veiled by her thick, crazed mass of black curls. It was her face that really caught his attention, though - the eagerness that it held was so obvious, she had an excitement that he wished he could possess. Her scarlet lips were parted ever so slightly. He could tell she wanted to speak, but she knew better than to utter a sound.

The two men on either side of him were thrilled, he could feel it, though their body language managed to remain calm. At least, as calm as anyone could muster in the presence of their Lord. Lucius hoped he would feel their sense of thrill coursing through his own veins soon; he was thrilled about this mission, about his chance to eliminate some of the filthy blood that littered their world. But the mission, it was dangerous.

“Lucius.” The slithering voice jerked him from his thoughts and direct his attention to his Master.

“Master?” Relief washed into him as he spoke, satisfied that his words sounded steady and confident.

“Is there something displeasing you about your orders, Lucius?” It wasn’t a real question, he knew that. It was a warning. His Lord knew all, and he had been stupid enough to let his fears float around the space of his head like a naive school boy.

“Nothing, my Lord.”

“My Lord, my Lord we are honoured to be at your service, I am honoured that you selected me,” Bellatrix interrupted in a whisper, finally getting the opening she desired to speak to her Master, to hear her own voice slip into his ears.

The smoky white skin stretched tightly over the fierce planes of his face creased with the movement of an emotionless smile.

“Yes, Bellatrix, this is an honour. One I would bestow upon only four of my most trusted servants.”

The last few words slipped out like a promise. But to Lucius, they felt more like a threat.

“Rodolphus - go over it again,” he instructed, turning his body slightly to face the man.

“Yes - Yes, my Lord. Rabastan will go tomorrow morning to get a layout,” he nodded his head toward the his brother standing on the other side of Lucius, “then he will arrive at the meeting place by four o’clock. I’ll join him ten minutes later, then Malfoy will follow after another ten. We’ll all enter together and Bellatrix will guard the rear door.”

Rodolphus was as still as the fixtures of the Manor as he spoke, but his nerves were betrayed by his tongue constantly darting out to lick his lips. Nerves, or excitement - Lucius couldn’t be sure.

“Yes,” hissed Voldemort. Shadows played in his eyes, they hinted that he was already envisioning the masterpiece that would occur tomorrow - his precisely planned Sunday massacre. “Tomorrow afternoon we will demonstrate just what happens to a blood traitor and his filthy muggle family.”

Dancing rays of the setting sun cut through a trail of clouds and flitted over the faces of seven students who were all making their way closer to an enormous castle. The stone walls belonging to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry seemed to glow against the light of the early evening; the fortress looked more alive than ever surrounded in the colourful autumn leaves.

Lily and Sirius walked a few paces behind most of their friends. Lily was positive neither she nor Sirius would admit it, but they were attempting to avoid being lectured by Belle.

Remus had injured his wrist, and Belle was the most capable at Healing spells. She also hated being hovered over and after sending Lily and Sirius a few glares, they finally got the hint and fell back.

Remus was laughing with James as they recounted their very lucky win. They had just gotten the Quaffle through the hoop when Lily’s slender fingers closed over the Snitch - their final score had only beaten the other team’s by ten points.

It was even more impressive due to the handicap they weren’t aware they possessed until the game started. The moment the players kicked off from the ground one thing became obvious, Belle was quite possibly the worst Quidditch player in all of history. Combined with Alice’s talents as a Beater, it really was a bit miraculous that James, Remus, and Belle managed to come out ahead.

Not without payment, though. The second James sent the Quaffle racing towards Peter’s set of hoops, Sirius had done the same, shooting his team's directly at the open one Remus had left unguarded. Without thinking, Remus dived after it, forcing his broom ahead at an uncontrollable speed.

He caught the Quaffle, but was sent hurtling into the metal ring of the hoop and, surprisingly, only came out with a bruised and banged up wrist.

“It will ‘urt for sometime, but nothing is broken,” Belle commented after she finished poking and prodding Remus’s injury with the tip of her wand. “Maybe you should see ze nurse when we get back into ‘Ogwarts?”

Remus thought of the night ahead of him; this injury was the first of many

“Yeah, yeah that’s a good idea. But I think I’ll wait it out for a bit, see how it feels in a few hours,” he answered, shooting a pointed look towards James as he spoke.

“Lily, if you could’ve only waited a few seconds to catch that bloody thing,” Sirius mumbled, shuffling his feet against the cobblestone path.

“Think of it this way Sirius,” Alice interrupted, squeezing herself between Lily and Sirius and falling into step with them. “Now we get to be the first in the kitchens to get the ice cream. We may have to do the extra walking, but we’ll get to sample the goodies before anyone else.”

“James! James Potter.” The seven of them turned, nearly at the top step of the entrance, to see an elfin looking brunette running their way. “James,” she said again, pausing at the base of the stairs. Her eyes skimmed over the group, uncertainty glowing in them.

“I’m Polly Turner. Bain Turner’s younger sister.”

“Bain Turner? Bain the Beater?” James asked, stepping forward as he spoke with Sirius right behind him. “Bain the unstoppable? The same Bain who was the best Beater Gryffindor has ever seen?”

“Hell, best that Hogwarts has ever seen, I’d say,” Sirius interrupted.

Lily tried to stifle a chuckle, but watching two of her friends get so worked up over a Quidditch player was a bit humorous.

“Yeah, that Bain. Did you hear that he got picked up by the Chudley Canons?”

“Well, zis is all very nice, but I do not intend to starve because of zis stupid game,” Belle grumbled before turning with a snap and walking off through the large entrance.

“She’s just bent out of shape after learning what a terrible Quidditch player she is,” Lily said in response to the curious look James directed at her. “Anyway,” she continued, stepping down a lever closer to Polly. “You’re a second year, right Polly?”

“Yes, er... Miss Head Girl Evans.” Lily tried to change her laugh into a cough, but failed and immediately felt horrible as Polly’s face paled.

“Lily is fine, if you don’t mind. And that charming display you just witnessed was performed by our friend Isabelle Leclair. This is-”

“Alice Christopherson,” Polly interrupted as Lily turned and pointed to Alice. “My brother talked about you all last year, about how he couldn’t believe it was already his seventh year and he hadn’t been able to get you to fall for him and-”

“Alright then. Polly, these are our other friends, Peter Pettigrew and Remus Lupin,” Sirius interjected.

Lily stared at him, a bit shocked by his rude interruption, until the realization that he was obviously not comfortable hearing about another guy having a crush on Alice became clear. She felt a gentle warmth spread through her heart. These boys really are great friends.

It was nice to know that, even though Alice and Frank’s feelings for one another were clear, Sirius cared enough to not want Alice hearing about some other guy liking her.

Sirius continued as if he had never cut Polly off in the middle of her sentence. “I think I remember seeing you at a few of last year’s games, right? I’m Sirius Black, by the way.”

“I know who you lot are, the entire school knows the four of you.”

“We’re about to head into the Great Hall for dinner, do you want to join us, Polly?” Alice asked, her stomach rumbling.

“Actually, I have to go meet my friends in the library,” she paused for a second, her golden eyes darted from Alice to James, her gaze remaining on the latter.

Polly took a slow breath before continuing, her voice more serious than before. “But, I saw the information sheet for Quidditch tryouts in the common room. You said that there isn’t much time to get a team in shape for November’s first game, so you’d rather if only people serious about it showed up.

"Well, I want to tryout. I know I’m a second year, but I’ve been playing with my brother for as long as I can remember,” Polly’s voice had quickened in her need to defend her statement. “I know I can outplay most of the Chasers I’ve seen,” she stopped at the sight of James raising an eyebrow, “except you, of course, Captain...”

“James,” Lily whispered, grabbing his hand and giving it a squeeze. “You’re making her nervous, just answer her question.” She smiled at Polly, almost as eager to hear James’s answer as the second year.

“Polly - If you’re serious about playing, I’d love to see you out there. Tomorrow morning at ten sharp, I’ll be dropping off a few forms in the common room this evening. Pick one up and bring it with you to tryouts.” Polly’s face lit up at his words.

Lily couldn't help but be happy with James's decision. It was widely known that the captain decided what would happen with first and second year tryouts. Many students simply wanted to be good enough but lacked all the necessary skills. Quidditch was the quickest way to get your name known at Hogwarts, therefore the go-to way for many of the newer students.

A captain was free to refuse tryouts to any of the younger years, therefore avoiding hours of sifting through players that barely knew how to mount their broom. They could also require Madam Hooch, who usually spotted the promising players during the first year’s flying lessons, to nominate first and second years.

“Wow, James - er, Captain - thanks! I’ll see you in the morning! Nice meeting you all. Oh Alice, my brother wanted to know if you’re still with Longbottom and-”

“Nice meeting you, Polly!” Sirius interrupted loudly, ushering the brunette past the group and through the entrance.

The comfort of the castle engulfed Lily the moment they made their way inside. One of the towering knights in armor flanking the entrance gave the students a small nod, which Lily promptly returned, despite the fact that she was almost certain the knight couldn’t see her.

“Good evening Gryffindors, good evening! And I daresay, it must be a fine one in fact, if the lovely young lady that came skipping by me only seconds ago was any indication!”

“Good evening Sir Nicholas,” the seven of them chorused at the jolly ghost floating by before heading towards the Great Hall.

The scent of herb crusted chicken and roasted lamb glided from the Hall to Lily’s nose and made her mouth water. It was the second most delicious thing she had smelt that day, the first being the intoxicating aroma James-

“There’s Belle, at the end,” James pointed out, interrupting Lily’s thoughts and causing her cheeks to redden.

The Hall was calmer than usual, probably because it was nearly six o'clock. Most students would have arrived an hour earlier when food first started popping up on the tables. Lily placed her broom under the bench of her seat before sitting down. She knew it wasn’t the safest place for it, but after flying James’s Starshooter 800 earlier, she was already considering dipping into her savings for a new one.

All the hours she had spent the last three summers working at St. Mungo’s as a clean up girl, following around Healers with a broom, making vacated beds, and all without magic - had really added up. She knew it was frivolous, especially considering she would need that money for supplies if she did end up enrolling in the Healing Academy of Magical Medicine. The large sum of money left to her by her parents wouldn’t go far in the wizarding world.

However, the witch that hired Lily every summer did always seem to mention something about funds being available to a select few...just like the position of cleanup girl was available. It wasn’t something that was necessary; cleaning up while they go was an easy task for the Healers. But they had given Lily the job because she needed the money and was willing to work her arse off for it.

Still, she didn’t think she was able to hand over such a large sum of money for a broomstick. Maybe one day, but for now she should continue to let it sit in Gringotts, waiting until it could serve an actual purpose.

She glanced at Remus to ask him about his wrist, but the words that had formed on the tip of her tongue were lost. He was concentrating so intensely on the greying night sky, so focused on the drifting clouds that, at first, Lily was sure he didn’t even register her stare. When he looked away from the bewitched ceiling his eyes met hers.

Something in them made Lily’s heart constrict -- a quick drumming of fear that the emptiness coating the dark eyes of her friend caused. But before she could even begin to wonder about the look, it was gone.

“I’ll meet you all at the ‘eads quarters, I ‘ave to return a library book.” Belle stifled a yawn at the last few words before dumping the remainder of her dinner onto Sirius’s plate.

“Okay, take your time. If the portrait won’t budge, that means we aren’t back yet. James or I have to be in there for it to open.” Belle nodded at Lily before grabbing the broom that Sirius had lent her and weaving her way towards the exit of the Great Hall.

“So, did you two get the Hogsmeade date figured out?” Alice asked, glancing at Lily as she spoke.

Lily tried to warn Alice about the tart she had left unprotected on her plate, but was too late and James managed to snake his hand across the table and steal the dessert.

Lily gave him her best reprimanding glare and reminded him that there was an entire plate of tarts.

After James finally picked up another tart from the pile and placed it on Alice’s plate, Lily was satisfied and turned to answer her friend’s question. “We voted with the Prefects and ended up with the 29th of October. It’s the Saturday before Halloween.”

“That’s brilliant timing! Zonko’s will be loaded with Halloween gags! We’re all going together, right?” Peter asked, looking up from his dinner.

Lily smiled as the group dived into their plans for the first day of freedom.

“Alrii if you gers don need my hel for anyfing I’m going to cach Belle in the tower,” Sirius commented through a mouthful of rice pudding.

Before waiting to see if anyone had actually managed to sift through the words and decipher what they were supposed to sound like, he was already up and running through the emptying Great Hall.

Sirius was so distracted on his way to the Gryffindor tower that he nearly took the wrong staircase, the pesky one that was sure to spin him halfway around the castle before letting him loose. But the distraction was merely the result of a busy day, at least that’s what Sirius told himself. It had nothing to do with wanting to catch Belle alone for just a second. And what would be so bad about wanting a minute alone with one of his friends, anyway?

He took the next few steps two at a time and tried to ignore the piece of dark hair that kept falling in his eyes. When he reached the top of the final set of stairs, he paused for a moment and took in a few deep breaths to hide the fact that he’d been running, then stuffed his hands in his robe pockets.

“Periwinkle Plimpy,” he said quickly, not giving the Fat Lady time to set into him for disturbing her nap. She let out an exaggerated sigh, then finally swung open.

Sirius climbed through the hole completely prepared to start teasing Belle, instead his entire body froze up.

What he was faced with wasn’t the French snob - who could be particularly sweet when she wanted to be - no, it was a bundle of blonde hair and cream skin that sat curled around herself, the unmistakable sound of tears coming from her. Part of Sirius wanted to back away, to turn and pretend he had never entered the common room. He was terrible with crying women, his tongue tied into knots and he usually ended up saying something stupid or making a joke, but he couldn’t just leave her.

He placed his broom against the bookshelf, hoping the sound of his movements would be enough to get her to look up at him.

He was sure that she did hear the noise, but instead of jumping up like any normal human being would, she slowly unfolded her body without the slightest bit of acknowledgment that someone else had entered.

For the first time he noticed a small first year standing at the staircase leading to the boys’ dormitory. Sirius guessed he had been down here when whatever upset Belle happened, and was now taking cover. Smart kid.

Sirius glanced at the first year and made a shooing motion with his hand, pleased that the boy cooperated and ran up the stairs.

He waited for her to do something, anything, but she just sat with her body facing the fireplace. The orange and yellow flames glowing in it licked at the oxygen and crackled with the pleasure of life. Those flickering bits of light quivered over Belle’s tear stained cheeks and made her skin seem as if it were also on fire.

“Belle?” Sirius finally whispered. She didn’t speak, but turned her head to him.

The image that she made, her mess of beauty lit from the flames, mixed with the fierce burn in her eyes, would be one that forever lived in the back of his mind, haunting him.

“Belle?” he said again with a touch more persistence as he moved across the common room, hoping no one would come through that portrait hole.

The grey sky, slowly relinquishing the sun, was visible behind her. It served as a reminder that they needed to head to the Whomping Willow in just under an hour and a half.

He crossed over the gold and red rug and let his body slip beside hers, careful to keep an inch or two between them. Belle’s tears seemed to be drying on her skin, but the ones weaved through her eyelashes still clung for dear life.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked, a bit impressed that all the words came out in the right order.

He tried to remember what he had done when Lily cried over the summer; he hadn’t had to do much of anything, really. Alice, Belle, James, or Olivia were always right there by her side. Even without them, he had been the reason for Lily’s tears - at least partially. And he wasn’t someone that left his mess for others to clean up, not when it could be avoided.

He risked a sideways glance at Belle, surprised to see that her darkened blue eyes were already focused on him.

Blue against grey. Steel against sky.

Her pale hand moved to the other side of her and pulled from somewhere under the blanket a piece of embroidered parchment. She handed it to Sirius.

He adjusted the letter to catch the light of the fire, and glanced at her one more time to see if she had changed her mind - with a single nod from Belle, he began to read.

Dear Isabelle,

I apologize that my response has been delayed. Elroy and myself have been on holiday in the United States - Louisville to be exact. Elroy enjoys to gamble now and again, the first of the Triple Crown races was the perfect opportunity to do so.

I am thankful now that mother was so insistent on us being skilled in the art of language. My English is nearly perfect, and this was a delightful opportunity to practice it!

Speaking of mother, it is because of her that I have held off on writing this letter. I spent many hours discussing with her my options regarding you, Belle. I know you feel that you are doing the right thing. I understand what you went through, that it was a stressful situation. But it’s been seven months - we both think (mother and I, that is) that it’s time you came home. Well, I think that it’s time for you to come home, and I have persuaded mother to allow it. It won’t be an easy transition, and it will take time for both of you to adjust to one another, but I think it’s for the best.

You need to realize the caliber of shame this entire situation is bringing our family. To have the youngest Leclair daughter gallivanting off in Scotland! It’s unheard of! It’s disgraceful and needs to be ended. Now that Elroy and myself will play a more active part in the Witches and Wizards Assembly, we will need to present a united front for our country - we will be looked to for guidance, looked up to by the entirety of France! What they can’t see is my younger sister, a member of the Leclair tree - disgraced by her family and running away like a spoilt child.

Now, I am sorry it’s being forced to come down to this. You are my sister and I will always care for you. But until you can come to your senses and rejoin our family as a proper young lady, I can’t be in contact with you.

Though this letter may not demonstrate it, I am pleased at the woman you’re becoming, independent with the strongest backbone that I’ve ever seen. Yes, those qualities can be thought of as admirable ones, but they are also the ones that are destroying layers of my reputation.

Great Britain has started their own war, we are stuck knowing there will come a time when we either choose to fight alongside our neighboring wizards, or watch them die. Do you see the trouble that lies ahead of us? Do you understand the vast amount of support our people will need to remain strong enough to endure this? With Elroy’s title as Duke and father’s influences - we will continually be in the public eye. I can’t be respected when my flesh and blood has forsaken everything we were raised on and disgraced our family.

The choice is yours.
Return home.
Return to us, to your family, or forfeit the right to call me your sister.



Sirius tightened his grip on the parchment and rubbed his thumbs over the edges while his mind formed the words bouncing through it into a sentence.

“Is it worth it? Is whatever happened to make you leave worth losing them for good?” he asked after a few more painfully long seconds of silence.


Sirius would have understood if she needed to take a few seconds to think before answering, but he should have known that Belle was never unsure. Her answer held no hesitation.

“Yes, Sirius. I know ‘ow cold zat must sound-”

“No, not if you feel that strongly about it,” he interrupted, knowing perfectly well that there were things that could never be forgotten, even if it meant being disowned by your entire family. “Do you want to tell me about it?” he spoke the words softy, trying to make sure they sounded safe. But, he was partially hoping she would refuse. He needed time to adjust to seeing this more fragile side of Belle.

“No. Not now - maybe someday. Not now,” she answered, taking the letter from him while she spoke.

Sirius’s desire to tell Belle’s family what they were missing out on by excluding their daughter was overwhelming. But he knew that if his own vexation was released, it would fuel Belle’s. Anger wasn’t what either of them needed just now.

It was odd to know the turns and twists of someone's personality the way he understood Belle’s. He hadn’t even talked her into a date and she was already crawling around under his skin.


A sly smile that he tried to hide broke through his somber expression.“Well then, welcome to the orphaned life. Now, I claimed the Potters years ago for my new family. You can share them I suppose, though you’ll have to double check with James. Lily too, since I’m fairly certain she’ll end up with that last name someday.” Sirius smiled as he spoke, happy to see Belle laughing through the rest of her tears.

Her light skin had taken on a dark purple tint under her eyes and created large circles that made her look overly tired. He was pleased at the sight of her usually perfect appearance finally faltering.

She let out a quivering breath and took the letter from Sirius, then stood and brushed the wrinkles from her robes while she walked closer to the raging fire.

Sirius wanted to stand, to follow her and rip the paper from her hands. He wanted to tear it to shreds. Instead, he did something that was very new to him, something he often hated to do under any circumstance - he waited.

Her head slowly turned to him, her eyes focused on his. They kept their gaze linked as she reached forward and dropped the paper into the flames, letting the hungry heat ravish the ugly words.

While the insults turned to ash and the painful memories burnt away - Sirius Black and Isabelle Leclair smiled in understanding.

“Let’s go return your book then get some ice cream, Leclair.”

“That doesn’t make sense, Lily. Why would he need to add another dash of scales when it says one?” Peter asked while he skimmed his fingers down the page of the Potions book.

Lily smiled at his determination. Potions was one of those few subjects where sometimes the book just didn’t have all the correct answers. It would have been a bit easier to practice the brew in the Dungeons; the Heads’ Quarters just weren’t as properly equipped. However, the room did seem to find ways to cater to their needs.

Earlier they had spilt an entire vial of vinegar brewing base onto the rich fibers of the red rug, they all scattered to retrieve cleaning equipment. By the time they returned, which was only a minute or two at the most, the spill was nonexistent. Though, Lily supposed it could have been very efficient house elves that had taken care of the mess.

“We’re supposed to be celebrating, not studying! You three are making me nauseous,” James said in an exaggerated voice, looking up from his sprawled position on the couch.

“You aren’t the one who has to brew the perfect batch of Toxin Solution,” Sirius answered. “At least Lily and Peter care enough about me to try to help. I swear, the Auror that teaches us has no regard for human life. He’s going to deliver the toxins then make us drink a bit of our own potion to see if it does the trick.” He shook the hair out of his eyes while he glanced at the ingredient list Lily had made for him. “Bloody brilliant, he is,” Sirius added.

“I thought James attended the Saturday lesson with you? Doesn’t he need to brew it too?” Alice asked from across the room. She had her back against a chair with Belle sitting over her, twisting Alice’s dark waterfall of hair into a braid.

Lily made a mental note to corner Belle when she got a chance. Belle’s hands were never idle when something was upsetting her, and the way they were moving furiously through Alice’s hair was a dead giveaway that something had indeed gotten to her.

“I did, but I’m not actually part of the program - so I can’t do anything other than sit in,” James complained. Lily picked up a bit of resentment in his tone and wondered if he was regretting his decision not to enroll.

“My wrist is really starting to act up again,” Remus said from the corner chair, looking at James while he spoke.

“Is it? Do you want Belle to take another look at it or do you think we should head up to the Hospital Wing?” James asked, glancing towards Peter with the last few words.

“How did you get so good at understanding injuries, Belle?” Alice looked up at her friend as she spoke.

“Beauxbatons focus ‘eavily on ‘ealing, believing that knowing ‘ow to cope with an injury is as beneficial as knowing ‘ow to avoid it.”

“I think I may just go up to the Wing and have Pomfrey take a look. Not that I don’t trust you, Belle.” Remus stood and placed his book on the table as he spoke.

“You know, I haven’t seen Poppy much this year. I think I’ll come with you, see if there’s anything I can do to get her knickers in a bunch,” Sirius said with a sly smile. “James, do you want to come with us? That way you can hang up the forms for tomorrow’s tryouts in the common room.”

“Yeah that’d probably be best.” He stretched out his body while he spoke, a pile of tart crumbs fell from his shirt to the rug below. “You might as well come too, Peter. That way there will be someone Pomfrey likes in the room and she may be a bit gentler with our dear Remus,” he snickered as he walked to Remus and ruffled the top of his hair, then quickly dodged the hand that reached out to sock his arm.

“Do you want us to come?” Lily asked, already standing and removing her own Potions book from her lap.

“No, I’d feel awful if we all wasted our night because of something that’s probably just a silly fracture.” Remus smiled easily while he spoke, but there was something behind the smile that made Lily wonder.

He's probably just in pain, Lily thought. She knew boys didn’t like to admit when something hurt, so it had most likely been bugging him all day. And now he had to worry about a crowd of girls wanting to watch as he was poked at- no wonder his smile didn’t seem genuine.

“Finally, now at least we can talk about ‘ow annoying zey are be’ind zeir backs,” Belle said with a wicked grin directed at Sirius as she spoke. “Because truthfully, I was close to just saying it in front of zem. Wait, I suppose I just did, didn’t I?”

“Ha ha, very funny blondie,” James said as he came bounding back down the stairs with a small binder shaped bag in hand. “Alright, got the forms,” he shook the bag to illustrate his words. “Try not to have too much fun without us,” he joked, winking at them before following the other three and exiting through the portrait hole.

“James, you have to go back in and grab the stuff!” Peter whispered as the four of them gathered on the other side of the James and Lily’s portrait.

“Undetectable Extension Charm?” Sirius asked James with a smile of approval.

“Right you are. And to think, Peter here doubted me,” he faked indignation while he carefully unzipped the rectangular bag and pulled a thin, glossy cloak from it.

“Okay," he continued. "I really do need to drop the forms off at the common room. Remus, you go ahead and meet Pomfrey to walk down to the Willow, we’ll catch up and meet you inside. Peter, why don’t you transform now so we don’t have to worry about more than our feet sticking out?”

James swore his antlers had grown since the last time he transformed. Which was all very good for keeping Remus under control, but not so beneficial when he forgot how far they stuck out and came very close to ramming into Sirius. And what was Peter doing? He was nearly under James’s hooves - was he trying to get stomped on?

The three of them gathered at the edge of the forest, cloak and map stowed away in the woodshed where Hagrid, the groundskeeper, kept his kindling. Thank god the man was a heavy sleeper.

James would have to remember to bring Boozer, Hagrid’s beast of a dog, a biscuit next time they visited. It was the least he could do after ordering the dog to stay silent while they poked around his owner’s property. That poor thing was almost too obedient for his own good.

He stood back and let Peter get a good ten yards ahead of him, that would give them enough time to head the other way if he saw anything out of the ordinary in their path. A rat was easy for a wandering student overlook. But a stag and a large, black dog walking side by side? Now, that was a bit more peculiar.

Once Peter came scampering back, then took off in the same direction, it was clear that they were all set to move closer. For the first time that evening James finally felt relaxed. The knowledge of an upcoming change was stressful for all of them, though nothing compared to Remus’s anxiety.

There were always those stray tangents of worry. What if one of them couldn’t change for some reason? What if Remus’s transformation started early? He knew that was impossible because it was the complete amount of light from a full moon that instigated the change, but the thought still sat dormant in the back of all their minds. What if for some reason they couldn’t get away and their friend had to start the change without the group being together?

But now, in the crisp and welcoming air, all those worries seemed to vanish. He turned his horned head to Sirius who let out a few playful barks, making it clear he was just as pleased to be back in Padfoot form as James was to be Prongs.

That was one of the most difficult things about spending so much time around their female friends, constantly calling each other by their proper names. The nicknames were their own thing, though. Something that was just for the four of them. They didn’t need to share those titles with anyone else.

James kicked his front hooves a few times, prancing them over the hardened dirt. The sensation of power tingled through him, the muscles of his four, large legs ached to run; the second Peter gave them the final go ahead he would-

His thoughts were cut off by the scurrying of his small friend, who flicked his long tail a few times. That was the second confirmation they needed, their path was clear. Sirius started sighing and whining, circling James like prey. James waited, using his ability to turn his ears in every direction, and listened for one last second before finally bowing his head in confirmation. Sirius gave another yelp of delight and took off as fast as his legs could carry him, becoming nothing but a blurring streak against the darkened air.

James waited a beat before finally letting his legs stretch to their full length. His front met the back, pushing off with all his brawn and sending his body torpedoing through the night. Apart and together, apart and together with the rhythm of his pounding heart; nothing could ever feel as free as this.

Past his excitement, something clicked. Lily.

He wanted Lily to feel this, he wanted to watch her face light up after experiencing the life changing sensation of complete freedom. Maybe someday, when everything was normal again, when there wasn’t this danger of war about lurking in every corner - maybe then Remus would allow him to share with her the secret of the full moon weekend. Of course, that would be years from now. And for tonight, it was just the four of them.

His sprinting legs quickly overtook Sirius, but the dog was never one to turn away from a challenge. Sirius yelped a few loud, demanding barks before putting all the force behind his lean body and flying light a bullet after the Stag. His determination was obvious as he started to close the distance between the two, but not before James reached the edge of the Whomping Willow. He danced around in pleasure, eager to use his voice and gloat properly.

James stopped and listened again for any out of place noises. Then, once he felt certain they were truly alone, he inhaled deeply. He closed his eyes and let the images of his family rush through his mind: the smile of his mother; the smell of his father’s tangy cigars; the faces of both of them as they congratulated him and Sirius when they got their O.W. L results, telling the boys that they had never been more proud. Yes, his family.

The love that existed in his human life began filling his pores, sinking into the depths of his soul and lighting him from the inside out. When there was enough of it all, enough reminders of why he wanted to transform back into a human, the change began. Four legs, then two. Fur, then naked flesh.

After the last antler dipped away, he gave Peter a nod. The vulnerability of being stark naked in the middle of Hogwarts grounds was overwhelming. Sometimes he wished he could hold off on transforming until they entered the shack to avoid the awkward exposed part of it, but it was too tempting to do it at Hagrid’s hut with his friends. Thankfully Peter caught the signal and went into action.

The rat scampered between them and raced to the willow, then quickly jammed his body against the knot closest to the base of the tree. The beating branches stilled; the three boys had just over eight seconds to get through the deadly trap and into the hole. James went first, needing to get undercover the quickest. Next in was Sirius, then Peter last.

After the three were nestled in a straight line, snug between the grimy walls of the tunnel, James turned to Sirius.

“Thought you could outrun a stag, did you?” Sirius bared his teeth at James’s taunts, causing James to laugh at his best friend before giving him a few pats on the head and scratching behind his years. No dog could resist a good petting, even a human-turned-dog.

They walked a few feet forward until the pitch black tunnel widened, giving James enough room to transform back into his animal form. He was the only one that couldn’t get through the entrance when he was changed, which did make for a few extra steps along the way.

This time he imagined the exact opposite of before: flashes of the war ran through his mind, the headlines of another family tortured and killed; the sound of Mrs. Black screaming at her son, telling Sirius he was a worthless excuse of a child; Peter’s fear of his father’s violent drinking binges; Remus’s scars - as deadly as they were hidden.

All of those things he despised about the life of a human, the pain that it brought, came crashing through him.

Then, he switched gears and remembered the sensation of flight when his four legs hit the ground, that did it.

The altering of cells was an odd experience - like you were turning your body in all sorts of directions it didn’t belong - but it was over quickly and he returned to the enormous, powerful stag.

All in all, the process took no longer than ten or fifteen seconds, and supposedly got easier with time. There were those few instances when one of them couldn’t remember why they wanted to reenter the life of a human, and the change would take a bit longer, but they always managed it. And they had all learned the Shifting Curse in case one of them couldn’t get out of their second body.

It was a frightening little spell that forced the cells to shift into their original form, but if performed incorrectly and it could do untold damage. Good thing they hadn’t yet needed a reason to test it out.

James stopped suddenly, causing the other two to do the same, and rotated ears to the face directly ahead. His heart hammered against his chest as a scream of pain entered into him. The sound of Remus’s body being ripped apart and slowly reforming vibrated through his ears. He took in a long breath, preparing himself for the struggle they would all face tonight. The September full moon, the largest of the year - elegant and beautiful to most people. To the four of them, it was a mixture of Hell and adrenaline.


Thank you to both Becky and Penny for their wonderful feedback on this chapter!

The use of italicized words during the 'animal' portion of this chapter was inspired by Rosie's use of it in His Pack of Four.

Thank you everyone that has taken the time to leave a review - you guys are amazing.

I also wanted to add that, as you can see, I use horns and antlers both in this. They're not the exact same, though they're often used interchangeably. So, any of you amazingly knowledgeable animal people - I hope you don't mind me taking a bit of liberation with that.

Chapter 8: No More Secrets
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Chapter 8 - No More Secrets

He felt the thunder of power come alive under him as he turned the key. Power, that’s what he needed. More. He tried to shake the stinging pricks of anger from his body, but they continued to penetrate his flesh like razor sharp needles.

The handlebars pulled back farther as he lifted the wheels into the sky, cutting through the thick layer of night and breaking the peace that blanketed the world.

Lights, houses, trees, they all blended through the sweeps of hot rage that spread through him. How dare she! Pitiful, fucked up excuse of a woman. It had taken all of his self control to leave his wand in his pocket.

The front wheel touched back to the asphalt, but it wasn’t enough. He needed more. Like a gift sent to distract him, he looked over to see long waves of mahogany hair and the laughter of a white smile already drilling into him. His head tipped up on its own accord, accepting her challenge as she gave the muggle car a few quick pumps of acceleration. Red. Red. Red. Green.

They took off like bandits through the night. Her 1966 Cobra — 427 engine, he was sure — matched with the power of his motorbike. Sirius assumed Daddy’s money had to do with the car that was currently the fastest in England.

Red. His fingers gripped the brakes as they came to a stop. Her laughter rang through the open windows of her car.

Forget, forget, forget. It was a challenge.

Speed, power, challenge. A game. Then, it wasn’t.

It wasn’t a challenge. It wasn’t speed, power. It was Hell. Screaming and shattering, glass and blood. More screaming. Screaming had to have been born from the devil; it was all he was surrounded in.

“Come on mate, we need your help.” Sirius felt two large hands clasp around his shoulders, shaking him over and over. His brain started weaving away from the dream that had drenched him in sweat.

The shack. He was still in the shack.

“Wha-” he muttered through his sleep-washed state of mind.

“It’s Remus. We can’t get the bleeding to stop. He just finished his change, but before it was complete he started ripping into his own arm.”

James sounded calm, but James always sounded calm. It was the way that his voice shook slightly to maintain its composure that had Sirius’s heart hammering in his chest.

He jumped up from the makeshift bed. Just finished his change - it can’t yet be four o’clock then. He would have only been asleep for fifteen minutes, twenty at the most.

He followed James through the grimy room of the Shrieking Shack, the worn boards moaning under his steps. The torches that lined the walls of the room that Remus occupied were still lit. But the oil was slowly wearing away and the flame had barely enough life to show the shape of his friends. He muttered the incantation to light the tip of his wand, thankful he had thought to put it in his pocket after he changed from Padfoot.

The scene before him knocked the wind from every space of his lungs.

“What the fuck,” he said more to himself than the others as he bent down next to James. Remus was lying on his back, the thin camp bed splotched with dark shadows. He was changed over to his natural form, but the color of his skin was seeping into a sickly pale.

Peter had his hands wrapped tightly around Remus’s forearm with a blanket covering the majority of it. The once light blue piece of fabric was coated with red, slimy blood and was quickly becoming saturated.

“We’ve tried everything. The bleeding wasn’t as bad at first, then it just kept getting worse. He’s been like this for at least three minutes,” Peter stuttered while continuously adding different corners of the blanket to the wound, trying to trap in as much of the red as possible.

Sirius nodded at his friend then removed the blanket from Peter’s hands, exposing a mangled mess of flesh.

“Vulnera Sanentur, Vulnera Sanentur, Vulnera Sanentur,” he whispered with his wand nearly touching the gash. The blood began to take on a gloppy texture and thickened enough to slow, before finally stopping completely.

Sirius leaned back on his heels and wiped away the sweat caked hair from his forehead. James came up behind him and cast a few spells to help seal the flesh back together, followed by Peter with a small jet of water to get the majority of the caked blood from Remus’s arm and then soak up the moisture with another blanket.

“You’re okay, mate. You have a few hours until Pomfrey comes. Get some sleep.” Sirius sighed as he stood, stretching out the muscles of his back.

Remus grabbed the glass of water sitting on the night table and gulped down the rest of it. He nodding weakly then turned onto his side.

The three boys made their way out of the room and into the front of the shack.

“Are you sure we shouldn’t wake him back up and have him go to Pomfrey?” Peter asked as he rustled through the bag that they packed until he found a clean pair of tracksuit bottoms to replace the blood spattered ones.

“No, his pulse is still strong. He just needs to get some rest. Sirius, we tried that spell and couldn’t get it to do anything,” James said as he turned to Sirius and flopped onto the ground.

“Lycanthropy. Even though Remus is already infected, it’s still a disease born from dark magic. You have to do the spell three times when it deals with that,” he answered as he reached into the bag and pulled out a thick jumper.

He wasn’t sure if it was the memory of why he knew that spell's trick, or the early fall weather, but something had his chest prickling with chills. The remnants of the nightmare were still floating in the back of his brain, he would tell James — today.

“So,” Peter started as he joined the two of them on the floor, “any idea what we’ll tell the girls when we get back?”

Lily stood in front of the large bed, its gold duvet twisted and curled around the bodies of her two friends. Her thick red hair was already washed and placed into a tie. She had dressed in a pair of jeans and a grey jumper. Her teeth were currently being brushed — and they were still asleep.

She could jump on the bed after she finished brushing, give it a few solid shakes to wake them. Belle would be furious. She despised being woken up. Alice would be annoyed, but she’d pretend she wasn’t and it would only be minutes until she got over it.

Lily walked back into the shared bathroom of one of the Gryffindor girls’ dormitories and finished brushing. She quickly rinsed out her mouth and toothbrush before glancing at her reflection in the mirror; the skin under her eyes was nearly translucent. They had been up relatively late, and Lily had never been good at sleeping in. She reached into a drawer below the sink and pulled out Alice’s make up bag, then dipped her finger into a pot of concealer and dabbed a bit on the purple colour around her eyes.

Better, she thought as she rinsed off the remainder of the make-up from her fingertips and dried her hands. She turned from the well lit bathroom and walked into the circular shaped dormitory.

It felt good to be back there for the night, back in the room she had practically grown up in for six years. The deep red curtains allowed the morning flecks of sun to trickle through, reminding her that it was already past seven. She was more than ready for her first cup of tea.

She tip toed to the side of the bed where Belle was tangled up in the sheets, eyes still shut tightly.

Lily’s thoughts wandered to Belle and what she told them last night about the letter from her sister. Part of her couldn’t stand not knowing what had happened to drive this crack between Belle and her family, but she kept reminding herself that when Belle was ready, she’d tell them everything.

She walked back to the end of the bed and leaned against one of the sturdy, red alder posts framing the large mattress. Maybe she should just head down and let the other two sleep? She knew Belle could certainly use the rest.

She heard the rustle of blankets from a behind the thick curtains where Margaret slept. She held her breath, not wanting to wake up the other seventh year if she wasn't already....

“Lily!” Before Lily could finish that thought, or even continue trying to remain quiet, Margaret was flying from out of her covered bed and Lily's body was engulfed into a cloud of light brown hair and lean limbs.

“Margaret! You’re finally back, how was your sister’s party? I didn’t wake you, did I?” Lily asked as the girl unraveled herself from Lily’s body.

“It’s ‘er you’re worried about waking? You’ve practically been tossing cold water on me with zat stare of yours all morning,” Belle grumbled as she pulled the blanket over her head, leaving only a few traces of blonde hair peeking from the cocoon and resting on the pillow.

Margaret rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to Lily.

“No, no I’ve been awake for a few minutes. The party was actually pretty brill, as far as engagement parties go. Gideon and Fabian got really sloshed, Elodie wasn’t too pleased at Gideon for making a fool of himself at their party. Molly and her husband Arthur were there, too, but they didn’t stay long. They left their three boys with a friend, and one is barely a month so they wanted to get back.”

“Augusta met the new baby when Mrs. Weasley had him, she was volunteering a bit at St. Mungo’s and she wanted to stop in to the maternity ward. Something about knowing Arthur Weasley’s mother, paying family respects.” Alice’s sleepy voice floated through the dorm.

“Nosy woman just wanted to have an excuse to lecture Frank and myself about not making any babies. ‘Loudest place I’ve ever been! Stinky, too - I could smell their dirtied nappies from miles away. Not that there’s anything wrong with producing some fine, strong children. Alice has the hips for it. But I won’t be listening to any crying for sometime now. So, if you two can’t contain your urges, well, you just better use every bit of protection there is,’ is what she said to us.” Alice yawned as she finished up her half-asleep speech. The three girls, Belle now sitting up and looking much more alert, all stared at her with wide eyes.

Alice didn’t even like talking about her and Frank snogging with tongue, and here she was bringing up babies and protection! Lily was the first to break the silence with a quick snort of laughter that she tried to cover up. She was too late. Margaret’s composition had already cracked, light chuckles rolled from her lips. Alice’s face paled at she realized what she had been going on about, but even she couldn’t stay humiliated for long as she joined in on the laughter.

Somehow they all ended up on one bed, legs knotted with legs, elbows hitting ribs.

“I wonder if ze boys are down at breakfast?” Belle asked as she kicked her legs over the side of the bed. She leaned the front half of her body back to urge out the sleep still resting in her muscles.

“Maybe they slept in the Heads’ Quarters?” Margaret suggested as she walked over to her bed and pulled out a pair of stretchy black exercise trousers and a thin jumper from her trunk.

“No, it was stated very clearly in the letters that Dumbledore gave James and myself about our Heads positions that our rooms are for our sleeping purposes only. Which is actually a bit nice, because I’ve really missed being around the Tower lately,” Lily answered, undoing her messy hair before putting it back up in the tie.

“Ha, hang out in the common room for a few and you won’t. I swear, Violet is trying to make everyone miserable. Sometimes I don’t even know how Mary can be friends with her.” Margaret looked at Alice and Belle for confirmation of her words

“Mary MacDonald is friends with everyone, she’s too sweet not to be.” Lily tried to think of something relatively polite to say about Violet…. She was drawing a blank.

“Well, she walks around the common room, throwing herself all over every guy. I swear, that girl makes herself seem easier than getting a detention from Filch.”

“Margaret!” Alice scolded, covering her mouth to hide a smile.

Lily stood from the toasty bed and started shooing her friends into the bathroom to get bathed. It was nearly eight and she was ready to get her morning started.

“I’m going to go grab some breakfast, then head down to the pitch to warm up before tryouts,” Margaret said. She finished pulling on her clothes, then threw her hair into a messy bun.

Belle was the last to stumble through the portrait hole, trying to braid her cascade of blonde hair to the side as they walked down to the Great Hall.

The castle still felt a bit somnolent considering it was nearly eight. Lily supposed it could be because most of the students took Sunday as an opportunity to catch up on sleep. Lunch began at eleven, so missing breakfast wasn’t a big deal to those who could sleep until ten.

“What were you saying when Belle was showering? About N.E.W.Ts?” Alice asked as they turned the corner to the first staircase. The railings looked as if they had just been polished, their glossed marble gliding under Lily’s fingers.

“Oh, I was just saying that I’m going to talk to James about the idea of us coming up with scheduled revision for the test. We need to hold a Prefects meeting soon, next week sometime, so we can present it then. I’m just not sure how much is too much and what isn’t enough,” Lily answered. They reached the bottom of the stairs at the same moment that a group of first, or possibly second, years ran past them, until one noticed Lily and tugged on his friends’ sleeves.

“Sorry for running, Head Girl Evans,” he muttered as they continued forward.

Alice, Belle, and Lily managed to hold their laughter until the group was out of earshot. Lily made a mental note to tell James about it; he'd have loved to see that one.

The castle seemed to burst open as they stepped through the first floor corridor that twisted down to the ground level. The windows that sprinkled the walls of Hogwarts looked as if they were on fire with the shine of the sun capturing the colors of glass.

Lily was about to remark on what a perfect day it was for tryouts, but a hand grasping her elbow stopped her.

She turned around, surprised at the boy standing before her. “Hello,” she began, suspicion coating the word.

“Hi, Severus!” Alice greeted cheerfully, which was quite the contrast to Belle’s glare.

Severus simply nodded with his inky coloured eyes set on Lily.

“A moment?” he asked in a hushed voice, already turning around before Lily could answer.

"Severus." Belle's voice was nothing but ice. Possibly a colder tone than Severus had ever mustered, which could've been the reason he began turning around to match her freezing stare with his own.

"If she is not back in ze next ten minutes - when she does come back, if she looks even remotely upset, you'll answer to me." It was a threat that, if not heard directly, could have been humorous. What could a pixie sized blonde do to intimated Severus Snape, after all? But the look on Belle's porcelain face, the way the words slashed from her lips without apology, made it clear that she wasn't a force to be reckoned with.

Before Lily could say anything to diffuse the situation, Belle had turned around with Alice following her.

Severus's echoing steps resumed again and Lily followed down the corridor after him. He didn’t look back at her, but kept his paces even, his hands shoved in his robe pockets. She wondered if he was going to try and explain what she witnessed the other night, explain why he had been working with one of Voldemort's most terrifying followers?

If that was his plan, she really saw no reason for it. What did it matter? They had both chosen their paths. Severus had never been able to give up his obsession with the more twisted aspects of magic. Lily had never been strong enough to continue trying to force him from it. Their friendship had been weak long before he slipped on his own cruel words. And now, if he was going to try to excuse what she saw, or pester her for information — it would be nothing but a waste of time.

He finally stopped in the cove of the wall that opened up to allow room for a large, white, gargoyle statue. He stepped behind the statue into the space between that and the stone, and motioned for Lily to follow.

After a few moments of staring at one another in silence, he pulled a pale hand from his pocket with an item, a piece of paper, clutched between his fingers.

She took the paper and let her eyes drop to it while she unfolded the sides.

Her heart fell into her stomach.

Looking back at her were the four faces of her family. The photo was creased, the features a bit blurred. But the smile of her mother and father, both their hands on the shoulders of the daughters that stood in front of them, was evident. The way her mother’s eyes glinted, like she was holding onto a hilarious secret, and her father’s face was the cheesy one he always gave for pictures.

“It was one I took when we were playing with my father’s…” he paused, Lily was sure he was choking on the word muggle, “his camera. My mother found it in the attic and owled it over, thinking you may like to have it.”

Severus’s eyes had left Lily’s and simply drifted while he spoke. Lily couldn’t decide if it was her presence that cause his disdainful attitude, or the mention of his parents.

“Sev-” the childhood nickname slipped from her lips. She pretending not to notice the way it made his entire body tense just a fraction more. “I don’t know what to say. Thank you.” Lily looked up at him, the picture held carefully between her fingertips, her family.

For a moment, so much of her wanted to start spilling everything. To tell him that her first few tests had all been perfect scores, that she was getting quite good at flying, that Alice had made a joke about her and Frank’s sex life. All the things he would have already known if it were a few years ago when he was the closest thing she’d ever had to a brother.

But then she remembered the reason he had brought them to the concealed corner, the reason they passed one another in the hall without a word. Because he was Severus Snape, the Slytherin who mastered Dark Arts like it was as simple as breathing, and she was Lily Evans, the type of person that his kind sought to destroy.

“I am sorry,” he muttered. And through the stiffness of it, Lily could pick up traces of sincerity.

She couldn’t have said if it was her loss he was apologizing for, the conversation she had over heard, or yet another apology for his words in their fifth year. But before she could respond, he had already turned to leave, his pace taking him quickly down the hall with his black cloak billowing behind him.

“Welcome Gryffindors! I’m pleased to see such a large turn out. We’re getting started late, so the next month is going to take a lot of commitment to get caught up. Now, let me make myself clear before we begin — I’m building a team of players. If you don’t know how to work with a team, you might as well leave now.” Lily smiled as James looked around to see how his speech was being taken. She was happy that they decided to come down and watch the tryouts after they finished eating, seeing James in his element was rather fascinating.

“Now, a few of my friends are going to help me today. They’ll be getting you all started on your drills, leaving me free to watch. If you would hand your filled out forms to Belle,” he pointed toward the stands where Belle was sitting. “Then, I would like Beaters to line up behind Sirius, Seekers behind Lily, Chasers behind Remus, and Keepers behind Peter.”

Lily backed up a bit to create more room between her and the others.

“Now, I’ll be circling above to watch you all and Alice will be keeping score of your catches, fumbles, goals, and so on. Do exactly as the person you’ve been assigned tells you!” James glanced around to see if anyone looked confused, then gave a nod, signaling the okay to begin.

Lily looked over a list of drills that James suggest for the Seekers. She decided that she’d save the Snitch Searching for last, and start them with James’s Flight Control Challenge.

“Hi Lily,” the voice stung Lily’s ears, she was careful to keep her expression solid as she turned to the player on her right.

“Hello, Violet. Trying out for Seeker?” Violet didn’t answer, but kept the false smile planted on her face.

As the different groups started to take off and move from drill to drill, the sun crept higher into the sky. Lily could see everyone beginning to tire out. They continued to fly the players hard before James transitioned them into a scrimmage set up. After he had them in the air and playing, he flew down and motioned for his friends to do the same.

Lily stood, amused by him as he paced in a circle and bounced ideas off of them.

James finally held up his wand and sent a jet of blue sparks from it, then ordered the players to gather on the stands. He turned to face Lily, silently questioning if she was really okay with his decision.

Lily nodded, no more thrilled than him about what he was about to announce. But one thing was certain, Gryffindor was a winning House. If someone was clearly the best player, they deserved a spot on the team.

After a moment he held his wand to his throat, causing his voice to boom through the air.

“Quiet down! You all played great, and I really appreciate you guys being here. Now, if you make the team, you better get familiar with this pitch because you’ll be spending the next eight months out here. If anyone has a problem with that, I want to know now.”

James paused to glance over the faces that stared back at him, when it was clear no one was going to speak, he continued.

“Alright, I’m proud to introduce the Gryffindor Quidditch team! Our Beater positions will continue to be held by the incredible Margaret Blackbourne and Alexander Sheffield! Both returning players and seventh years,” he paused to allow a moment of applause. “Our new Keeper position goes to Caldwell Jasper, a first time try out and fifth year. Our Chasers to play alongside myself will be the returning Mary McDonald, sixth year, and a new edition — as well as the youngest player since, well me — Polly Turner, second year!” The steady whispers of Turner hummed through the stands.

“Yes, Turner - Bain Turner’s sister, to be exact. And talent does run strong in that family. Polly, we’re lucky to have you.

“Now, our final position is Seeker,” James allowed a moment of silence, trying to torment them, Lily was sure. “Seeker will be played by sixth year Violet Clarke!”

The look of shock slowly molded over Violet's face, it was clear she hadn’t expected to make the team. After the shock faded, a genuine smile replaced it as she nodded a thank you at James.

“Now, we have some familiar faces and some new ones. I want you all to meet in the Great Hall this evening at six, we’ll be eating our first dinner as a new team together.

“Your teammates are the ones who are going to watch your back, who are going to catch your brilliant passes, and your sloppy ones. The same people who will be trying to stop that black, iron ball from cracking into your bones. This team will be stronger than Slughorn’s B.O.” He stopped for a second to let the snickers die down.

“We’ll understand the signals and we’ll adjust the moves to those of our mates'. If anyone, and I mean anyone messes with my team, if any of you think you’re going to try to be the star, or you try to screw with your fellow teammates,” James’s eyes glared directly into Violet, “I will kick your arse off so fast that you won’t know what hit you. Are we clear?” A murmur of agreement went through the players in the stands.

“Great! Now, I will be making a decision regarding reserve players. But I still need to consider a few more things before deciding how many we need and who our reserves will be. I'll post an announcement in the common room in the next week that will inform you all of my choices. So, I think that's everything. Get out of here and I’ll see you all this evening!”

“So, Captain Potter, I’d say that went well.” Remus said as he walked over to James and clapped him on the back with Sirius and Peter right behind.

“You really sounded brilliant, James.” Alice stood on her tip toes to give James a tight hug. Lily knew she and Alice were thinking the same thing, James would make a wonderful leader.

“So, do you zink that girl will be able to ‘andle zis?” Belle asked with her arms crossed over her chest. Her dislike for Violet may have been strongest in the group. Lily knew her protectiveness over her friends was just too much to let her forgive and forget.

“She’ll do fine, and if not, she’ll regret ever trying out,” James said with a wink as he started to walk towards a stray Quaffle.

Lily glanced at Sirius to ask him if any of the Beaters had close to the kind of talent that Alexander or Margaret possessed; the look on his face made her stop. The smile that never seemed to stay away for long was set into something deeper than a frown. His grey eyes weren't look at any of them, or even look up, their pupils pointed directly at the ground.

“So, are you guys ready to tell us just what you were up to last night?” Alice asked. “Or do I need to wait until Frank gets home this evening to have him pry it out of you?”

“You know what zey say, friends should never keep secrets,” Belle pointed out with curiosity glinting in her blue eyes.

“Well, I don’t know about you guys, but the four of us don’t keep secrets,” James answered as he walked back to the group with the imitation Quaffle in hand, matching Belle’s playful banter.

Sirius’s expression darkened; Lily wanted more than anything to walk over and throw her arms around him. She knew their secret had been haunting him, and most of her feared that by telling him to keep it a secret she had hurt him more than protected him.

“James,” the quiet tone of Sirius's voice had James turning around. Lily struggled on her words, though they wanted desperately to slip out and come to some kind of rescue.

“Sirius?” Remus said, picking up on his obvious anxiety.

Lily shook her head just a fraction as his grey, desperate eyes met hers. She felt the weight of her heart increase and her blood turn into lead as it pumped through her veins.

Sirius nodded at her, and though she wanted to deny it, she knew that it was time.

“James,” his voice cracked as it caught in his throat. “There’s something I need to tell you. All of you.” Sirius’s eyes never left Lily’s.

“Okay, we’re here. Mate, if this is some sort of joke, I’m really not laughing,” James mumbled as the group gathered around the Heads’ Quarters, after a very silent walk from the pitch to the castle. Lily kept her gaze even with Sirius’s and sat next to him on the couch. The soft flickering of the room usually felt so warm, so loving. But right now, the way those flames breathed in and out, strong and weak, it felt like they were taunting Lily, throwing shadows that didn’t belong in the midst of their friendships.

James glanced from Lily to Sirius. Lily knew he could feel the trepidation slipping from her as easily as he could sense Sirius’s thumping heart. Remus and Peter settled on the other couch, with Alice in between them, Belle moved to the other side of Lily.

James paced the room, unable to still himself.

“So, can you tell me what the hell is going on? Did something happen with your brother?” Lily could hear James work to keep the impatience from his voice.

“Sit,” Lily whispered. James stopped and stared at her, then walked over to the large arm chair and sat on the very edge of it, his chest leaning out with his elbows on his knees, like he was prepared to jump up at any second.

“The night that Lily’s parents died, there was more to it,” Sirius began, grabbing Lily’s hand and squeezing it as his voice slowly filled the empty air of the room.

Sirius walked from his parents’ house, his hands shaking as he slipped them into his pockets to steady. Seventeen years he had been forced to know what kind of people had spawned him. Seventeen years of dealing with the looks of his twisted cousins. And until the last two, he had spent countless summers and holidays listening to his family’s fucked up ideals and their theories of what the wizarding world should be like.

And now, he was going to set out to stop people like his family. Nothing had ever felt so right before, nothing as clear as this decision. He would be an Auror, no matter what.

Alphard had been clear that he could do whatever he wanted with the small fortune he inherited, but of course Sirius's sorry excuse for a mother had found some way to tie the money of his dead uncle up in strings.

He thought he could talk some sense into her, tell her that as soon as she gave him his inheritance, they could be rid of one another for good. Then dear old mum had started dangling it in his face, bragging about how it’d be more use to the Dark Lord than him. But they both knew she couldn’t give it away, it was his. His. And then, he finally snapped.

He screamed at her, shouted and threw it in her face that his money was going to be used to stop people like Voldemort. He wasn’t even sure what else he may have said, only that his throat was raw and that he had to get as far away from 12 Grimmauld Place as possible.

He stomped to the bike that he’d parked around the corner and fiddled in his pockets to find his key. He knew setting a spell that could start it wouldn’t have been hard, but the feel of turning the little piece of metal and forcing the engine alive was too much to give up. Even if it was inconvenient to try to fish the tiny thing from his robes.

His head pounded with the leftover fury that he wished he could have taken out on those people. And now he was going to have to give up the idea of the tutoring program, the program that was legendary for producing some of the best Aurors. Now he was going to spend three years applying and not getting accepted, probably four.

Why hadn’t he tried harder for his marks? He knew that shit better than nearly anyone, the spells he could create with his willing wand were some of the best. James’s parents had spent hours tutoring them on magic, knowing that both boys were thirsty to learn faster than Hogwarts could teach. He could have aced each test, he should have.

Now, he was going to let them down. He was going to spend years trying to get into the Auror program all because that bitch of a woman wouldn’t give him his own money.

Sirius melted into the night sky, unsure of exactly what direction he was going. He tried to force himself to suppress his thoughts. He didn’t want to be like this when he got home; he didn’t want to have to face Mr. and Mrs. Potter with this kind of anger so close to his surface. Not that they wouldn’t understand. They’d seen him like this once or twice before, and they always understood. But this was different. He had done this to himself.

He should have studied more, tried to show off less and put actual effort into his essays. He should have held his temper and tried harder to talk his money out of that woman.

A large bird flew too close to Sirius and he dived to miss it. The gentle air around him wasn’t enough, he needed more.

He made a quick dive toward the ground and eased his brake in, slow enough to keep his weight balanced, landing it smoothly onto the asphalt.

These roads were ones he could have driven in his sleep. He made a few turns until he got to the long stretch of empty motorway. His thumb found the throttle and he took a deep breath, then pressed. The speed pulled down his stomach and brought an intensity inside him that he craved. Speed, speed, speed.

He let the feeling dull as he eased up on the gas and circled from the motorway back into the streets of Cokeworth.

He still felt the rage steaming barely below his flesh and considered another lap. He was just deciding on where to head from here when the sound of a strong engine drowned his. One of the dark windows of a Cobra was rolled down and in the glow of the traffic lights, he could make out the laughing eyes and an easy smile. He couldn’t help but nod his head at her as she ran a hand through her waves of mahogany hair.

He knew that the car held a V-8, one of the fastest engines on the market, and he was pleased when she gave the gas pedal a few pumps. The roar of the challenge sparked Sirius as he did the same, answering the speed of her daddy’s-money car with his motorbike.

His eyes moved to the red traffic light and stayed hooked to it. Red. Red. Red. Green!


They sped through the street, his bike pulling ahead of her car, but the Cobra’s power was close behind. Red!

The squeal of brakes crashed over the night.

Red. Red. Red. Green!

He gave her a few seconds this time, wanting to see the stamina of her car. She roared quickly ahead, leaving a trail of exhaust fumes behind. He squeezed his hand and turned the throttle, the back wheel of the bike lifted off the ground with the sudden surge of power.

He was reaching her front doors, so close to passing her — Red! Again they both pounded on the brakes. His heart was alive with excitement, with the taste of challenge. He looked over and her lips where turned into another smile, her eyes just as hungry to win as his.

Red. Red. Red. Green!

They both put all of their horsepower in, no hesitation, no doubts as they coerced their engines to work harder. Neck in neck, their vehicles thundered to push past one another. The red light was evident, but they still had enough time. She wasn’t slowing, he wasn’t slowing.

Neither was letting up and it became a game of guts; who would fold first? The red light came closer, it was nearly glaring in his eyes and still she wasn’t slowing. This would open into the motorway quickly after, ending the deserted streets of Cokeworth. But the power remained strong.

When they were so close to the light that Sirius could hear the sounds of other cars, he clutched in his brakes and the force of it threw his weight forward. He moved quickly, trying transfer enough to keep the back wheel from flipping the bike over. The instant came when he realized it was going down and he couldn't control it. He thought he heard a ghost of a laugh as the Cobra sped through the red light, until it happened.

His bike tipped and the weight turned onto Sirius, but through the foggy confusion he knew it wasn’t just him.

Metal hitting metal. Shattered glass. The smell of burning brakes.

A black mist consumed him.

“Chappie, chappie, can you hear me?” Sirius felt a someone shaking him, a quick pain surged through his stomach where one of the handlebars had nearly impaled him. He pulled apart his eyelids and saw the face of a man looking back at him.

“Well then, gave me quite a fright. Listen, it must’ve been the crash that startled you, but your bike seems to have fallen over on you. The bobbies are on their way and I suspect there’ll be ambulances soon, too. So you may want to get up off the road.”

Sirius’s heart slammed against his chest as he tried to concentrate.

“Could you…?” He started to push on his bike to demonstrate, the man quickly caught on and came around to help pull the bike off of him. Sirius stood and realized that he hadn’t acquired any real injures, just a head that felt like it was splitting open.

He nodded at the man and leaned on his bike for a moment of support before looking around him.

His blood froze.

The quick alert of sirens came from behind him.

“Hey there, you’re going to need to clear out.” Sirius turned and realized two police cars had pulled up near him and were now closing off the road with large, orange cones. He shook his head a few times, trying to shed the fog of confusion.

“I, I can’t. I was driving by her, is she...?”

“Listen, we need to get the ambulances through. If you’re not hurt please clear out,” the voice of the constable was sharp as he ordered Sirius to leave.

Sirius turned his bike and headed toward the other road. He drove it up onto the grassy area next to the side of the street then looked around to be sure everyone was distracted by the commotion of the accident. He pulled his wand out and cast a small charm over his bike to conceal it, then turned around to slip closer to the crash.

His hand stayed in his pocket to clutch his wand while he inched forward.

This can’t be real. This can’t be real.

Not even the screams of the ambulances could break through his delirium. Cars stopped behind the cones, but he couldn’t hear any of it. That silence was as terrifying as the glass covering the street.

When he moved closer he could see that the Cobra’s side had been hit, the entire right half of it crunched in like a metal can under a boot. He took another few steps forward, thankful to go unnoticed amidst the chaos, and was finally able to take a proper breath as he spotted the girl standing outside the car.

He walked behind the people surrounding her, close enough to catch bits of the conversation.

We still need to take you to the hospital.

You ran the red light, it’ll be up to the family.

Sirius could tell the words were simply bouncing off the girl, whose parents were on either side of her and cocooned her into them.

She’s okay. She’s okay.

He let his heart take in the news and slowly let his relax every so slightly.

It was then that words sliced through all the cries.

Not so much words, but a sound. A screech like an animal about to be attacked. But he knew the voice.

He felt the cold chill capture him as he turned to his side and saw the ghostly white face of Lily Evans.


He didn’t know if it was her cries or his, but somewhere in the fogged reality an officer had spotted him and pulled him away.

“Sirius!” Lily came running up to him and threw her body into his, tremors rushing through her so fierce that they nearly shook him.

“They’re still alive, they have to be.” She tightened her grip, and somewhere in the part of his brain that could still rationalize, he realized that she was slipping slowly into shock. Her breath came in shallow heaves. He could feel the sweat of her skin as his arms gripped around her.

“Breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe.”

He kept repeating the relaxing words, the way Mrs. Potter had for him when he was much younger and his mother still scared the life from him.

Lily’s breath slowly evened out, he could feel her chest constrict deeper as her lungs finally started releasing the carbon dioxide.

“How, how are you here?” she whispered as she continued to clutch to him.

He didn’t know why he said the words. She wasn’t even adjusting to the crash, but he couldn’t hold them in.

“It was me.”

Before Lily could say anything, a police officer was ushering her into the back of the ambulance with the muggle healers. Lily kept repeating that her car was there, that she watched the sirens speed by her house and she knew something was wrong, so she'd followed them in her car. She just kept telling the officers that she couldn't get in the ambulance because she would have to leave it... Like that car was the only thing she could think about just then.

After finally getting someone to tell him what hospital they were taking her too, Sirius closed his eyes and apparated away from the screams and cries of the night.


The walls of the muggle hospital were white, clean, sterile. He knew that people were all around, but he just couldn’t see them. He reached up to rub away the layer of tears that stuck to eyes. He needed to understand the faces. He struggled to make sense of their features: their noses, their eyes, their bone structures. He had to be able to tell which one was Lily when she came back out. Why had she been gone so long? Maybe, maybe... or was it too much to hope? But if she was still gone, it could be because they'd... survived.

The police officer had already forced Lily to talk to them while they waited for the muggle Healers. Sirius had watched from the edge of the waiting room as they explained her options to press charges for the girl’s reckless driving. Lily had no other family. It was up to her, to her sister.

The moment the girl's parents hugged Lily, he knew she'd declined. But had they noticed the blank stare in Lily's eyes? The fact that she probably had no idea what they were saying, no understanding of what was happening.

And now he was here.. waiting for her to be done talking to the muggle Healers. Parts of him weren’t even sure how he was here. They were just playing. A challenge. Only racing.

“Just stay!” Sirius's head snapped up as he recognized the voice. His eyes fought against the florescent lights until he was finally able to make out the shape of Lily chasing her dark haired sister through the lobby. The girl never looked back, and after a moment of trying, Lily stopped chasing her. Her feet seemed to move on their own accord as Sirius watched her make a small circle before taking a few steps in his direction.

The look on her face brought his hazy state to a shocking reality; everything about her seemed empty. The green eyes James always joked about loving to set fire into, the smile that could turn into a McGonagall rivaling scowl in seconds, all of it seemed to have vanished. She could have been one of the ghosts of Hogwarts moving towards him.

“Lily?” he whispered as she collapsed beside him.

“Dead on arrival.”


“It was my fault, Lily. I never, I never even thought-” His own voice was so far from his ears, detached from him. He did this.

"No. You didn't kill them." He could hear her struggling against the tears. But she didn't understand. She didn't want it to be his fault, because Lily never wanted to blame someone. He knew that. But she just didn't understand that he did this.

“She, the girl racing you, she didn’t kill them. I’ve already talked to her.” Sirius didn’t know if she was really talking to him, or trying to make herself believe it.

The distance in her voice, the separation her eyes, it was a million times more painful than every ounce of blood and wreckage he’d seen that night.

“They had a light, too. Theirs was yellow. They sped up to get through it, that’s what the man driving behind them said.” It didn’t help. Sirius’s mind still circled the what ifs. If he hadn’t raced the girl, then even running through the yellow light wouldn’t have mattered.

They would have cleared it.

“I can’t go to that house. I can’t face Petunia. I can’t do it.” A tone of desperation began to take over Lily’s emptiness. Sirius wasn’t sure which one terrified him more. He reached over and put his hands against her ice cold cheeks, moving her head up and towards the lights in the ceiling to make sure her pupils were focusing, thankful yet again for the amount he learned from Mr. and Mrs. Potter.

Her eyes hooked onto his, her lips were a soft pink and free of any blue tinge. Her pulse was as steady as one could expect. She wasn’t going back into shock.

“I’m going to take you to the Potters’ house, okay? We’ll —” tell them, he meant to say tell them.

How did he tell them that he killed Lily’s parents?

Lily seemed to feel his hesitance.

“We’ll tell them the truth. That there was an accident,” she mumbled as she leaned her head onto his shoulder. “That there was a crash, and that —” her mind seemed to be trying to get past some kind of blockage. “You picked me up at home,” she said with a small nod of her head as if to conform it with herself.

Sirius’s strength shattered, he felt the fragile wire he’d been walking on break, his heart shaking.

“No. I killed them.”

Her head fled from his shoulder as her eyes locked onto his, and before either of them realized what was about to happen, her hand collided with his cheek. The sting of the slap silenced the waiting room.

“Don’t ever say that. You didn’t kill them. You didn’t kill them.” He saw the hint of something ignite in her eyes.

She just had her world ripped from her and crushed into piece, but she was trying to make him believe it wasn’t his fault. The compassion rooted so deeply in her was too much for him, and all he could do was put his arms around her and let himself try to hold them together, every broken piece.

“You’ll tell them what I said. I won’t have you thinking that you— that it was your fault,” she whispered into his ear. "I won't think that. I can't handle thinking it. Please, don't try and make me."

"Lily." His heart couldn't handle the amount of care she was giving him. He needed to be the one helping her.

"Let me take you to the Potters," he finally said. She would break soon. Once their shock wore off, they would both break. And he needed to make sure that Lily was somewhere safe, somewhere loving, when that time finally came.

"They're gone. They're really gone?" The recognition began seeping past Lily's facade of bravery.

"Come with me." He placed one hand on her arm and the other on her back, cupping her in him as she began slipping into the fierce reality. He had to get her to the Potters.

The silence of the Heads’ Quarters was broken only by Alice’s muffled sobs. Sirius's hands shook as he held Lily’s and glanced up at her, probably expecting to see tears. Lily knew she surprised him with a small smile.

Their death had haunted her. The image of the two cars skidding into one another, the front of her parents' BMW crushed in, compressing them in their seats, had played in her mind millions of times. Despite all the agony and uncertainty that had plagued her, despite all the anger at them for leaving her, the rage at her selfishness for the times she blamed them, never had she faulted Sirius.

She glanced at James, surprised to see the way he was starting at his best friend.

“Sirius, mate, you couldn’t have known.” Remus's soft tone broke the silence.

“You’re the reason,” James’s whispered, his voice unsteady. “You’re the reason for this? You’re the reason that Lily spent weeks unable to get out of that bed. You saw her! You watched her cry herself to sleep night after night!” James stood from the edge of the chair and took a small step towards Sirius.

“James! No! That isn’t fair!” Lily snapped as she jumped from the couch.

“Lily, he’s right.” Sirius whispered, his head held down, resting in his hands.

“You watched her wake up over and over, nightmare after nightmare. You stood there at her parents’ funeral! You stood there and held her other hand, and it was because of you!” The quiet rage of the words sent shivers down Lily’s spine. She’d heard James yell before, but this, this nearly silent hiss, was worse.

“Back down, James.” Lily turned to Remus, surprised at the strength to his voice.

“You sat there with me while I talked about how much it hurt! You sat there and comforted me, comforted her! The entire time and it was you!”

“Back down James!” It was the closest Lily had ever heard Remus come to shouting. His face was absent of the usual gentleness that filled it, his eyes hard as they stared into James.

“No. Let him, I deserve it.” Sirius said without glancing up from his hands. He finally lifted his head to meet James, his eyes were too much for Lily to handle. He looked like a dog that had been kicked over and over, like a broken form of the man she knew.

“You have no right, James,” Lily whispered, sharp slices of anger pouring from her.

“Were you there that night? Did you watch Sirius pace that waiting room for hours? Did you see the way it killed him to look at me for days after that?” Lily’s whisper quickly raised, strengthening inch by inch.

“And the girl. Was it her fault too? Should I have pressed charges against her and ruined her future, put her in prison for manslaughter, James?” She stepped towards him as she spoke, her temper drilling red to the apples of her cheeks.

“If you need someone to blame, blame me. If you need to think that someone is at fault for their death, pin it on me. Did you know what my parents were doing that night? Did you know that they were coming home from the film that I bought them tickets to go see, telling them they needed to go on a date already? So why don’t you yell at me? Why don’t you tell me that it was my fault?” Lily knew the small shards of her own insecurities, of her own thoughts that maybe it was her fault, were slipping out.

James backed away from her and fell into the chair, his forehead pressed into his hands.

“Zings don’t always ‘ave to ‘ave a reason. Sometimes very terrible incidents ‘appen to ze best people. If we all needed someone to blame, we would spend out entire lives feeling angry.”

Belle’s words twisted around the room and slowly faded. No one dared to speak, the nerves were too suffocating.

“James,” Sirius began, looking at his best friend.

James started to speak when the sound of their door being opened shifted the groups attention.

“Professor?” Lily asked, stunned as Professor McGonagall became visible through the entrance, her usually tight expression contoured into something very different.

She glanced at the students, her rectangular spectacles hanging from a chain around her neck.

“Ms. Christopherson, Mr. Potter, Ms. Evans. You’re needed in the Headmaster’s office immediately.” There was a softness in her voice that caused Lily’s heart to constrict.

James was already on his feet. “Is everything okay, Professor?”

Minerva McGonagall was silent. She stared at James, her eyes unsure.

“No, Mr. Potter. Everything is not okay,” with that, she turned and stepped back through the portrait hole.

I have a new Beta reader for Before They Fall! Although he's been a constant part of these chapters, so he's not actually new. So thank you to the wonderful Dan(CambAngst) for not only being such a great friend, but also stepping in to take over as my beta reader. I'm sure many of you know he's the author of the wonderful story, Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood. So you also know how lucky I am to have him a part of this project!

So - Sirius's secret is finally out. I'm curious as to what you all though about this chapter: James's reaction to Sirius; if Sirius was wrong to keep it a secret for so long; if Lily should have never suggested it they lie in the first place...

I've been really excited to get this one posted, though.

Exploring the points of when the friendships could have broken, but were fused back together stronger than ever, is by far my favorite parts of writing a Marauder's fic so far.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and I apologize for the lengthy AN.

Also! I want to point out that my head canon for Augusta never really existed until I read Alyssa's (Dirtydeedsdonedirtcheap) amazing stories.

Chapter 9: One of Theirs
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Chapter 9 - One of Theirs
Professor McGonagall walked over to Fawkes as Lily, James, and Alice all took their seats on the other side of Albus Dumbledore’s desk.

Lily eyed Fawkes as he nudged at the hand of Gryffindor Head of House. Despite the exquisite purity that the bird represented, something about his spiny wings and excessively contrasted features always gave Lily a bit of the creeps.

His colouring was more than beautiful; he looked like a flame that had been plucked from the fire and shaped into the form of a bird. However, even those magnificent oranges and reds weren’t enough to detract from his large talons or the way his beady eyes could stare into hers with entirely too much awareness for an animal.

“Professor,” James began as their Headmaster took his seat in the overstuffed chair across from them.

Lily found herself unable to meet Professor Dumbledores’s eyes. Instead, she focused on the engraved gold that swirled and looped over the well oiled wooden desk.

“Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said with his hand raised. “I will soon get to my purpose for asking the three of you here. First, Miss Christopherson, are you aware of any other plans that Mr. Longbottom may have had for this evening?” Dumbledore removed his distinctively shaped glasses, keeping his vibrant blue eyes on the group as he spoke.

Alice stayed silent for a moment. Lily knew she was racking her brain to accurately answer their Headmaster.

Alice struggle to keep her voice even as she began to speak. “No… no professor. He told me that he and Augusta would attend the Christening, stay for the small get together after, then be back to Hogsmeade around five. He said that she was going to walk him to the castle and check in with you once they arrived.” Dumbledore nodded at Alice’s words before glancing back down at the parchment in front of him. Lily assumed that he must’ve been writing on it right before they entered; the ink was still glistening with moisture.

“Mr. Potter, Miss Evans, I will need your assistance in gathering the seventh year Prefects for a meeting tomorrow morning before breakfast. That should allow us a sufficient amount of time to spread the word. I strongly suggest that it’s held in the Heads’ Quarters for adequate privacy; the prefects will be told to wait outside your portrait at seven o’clock in the morning.”

Lily and James nodded, staying silent while they waited for him to continue. Lily glanced to her left and reached over to grab Alice’s hand. She wasn’t surprised to find that her friend’s skin was ice cold, all the blood focused on keeping her heart consistent.

“There has been an attack.” Lily heard the breath catch in Alice’s throat. She squeezed her friend’s hand tighter, eager for Dumbledore to continue.

“A Christening was held for the twin daughters of Edgar Bones, who wed a delightful muggle woman.” Their professor paused as Lily felt the words sink in. For a moment she couldn’t understand why he was telling them this instead of just getting to the point.

His gaze stayed steady on them and she felt her own impatience hum…. Why wasn’t he continuing?

After another moment of intolerable silence, something inside Lily clicked. Her green eyes widened as she realized that he had gotten to the point.

There was an attack because of who Edgar Bones had married… Because of the blood status belonging to the children who were being Christened.

“Professor, is Frank..?” James started, his voice much stronger than Lily felt.

“Mr. Longbottom and his mother have yet to be accounted for. Augusta posses a very keen sense of awareness and I’m sure she was on the lookout for this Christening to be protested. It’s very possible that they slipped away as soon as the Death Eaters began to attack and are already making their way back to the castle.”

“It wasn’t just someone acting up? It was actual Death Eaters? Has anyone… do we know if anyone was hurt?” Lily asked, unable to keep the questions in her mind for another second.

Dumbledore’s eyes slipped over to hers. Their gentleness both frustrated and reassured Lily. After another seemingly endless silence, he glanced to Professor McGonagall who was still stroking the large bird.

“Amelia, Edgar, and Esther Bones are all safe. Their parents and the parents of Edgar’s wife were murdered.” Dumbledore paused as Lily felt the news try to penetrate her. “Edgar is a wise man and planned accordingly. Measures were taken to protect the gathering and those measures kept over twenty guests safe.

“The names belonging to two of the Death Eaters have been reported, and that is where I will need the cooperation of my Prefects and Head Boy and Girl.” Lily and James nodded quickly. Lily just wanted him to keep talking, she wanted to know everything.

“The two Death Eaters who were identified are from prominent wizarding families. This is certain to create tension among some of our Houses, and it is my hope that we can keep that tension to a minimum and possibly even attempt to strengthen our unity at this very difficult time.”

“Professor, if they were spotted, if they could be identified, why haven’t they been arrested?” Lily hadn’t meant for her voice to sound so edgy, but it made no sense to her.

They know who at least two of the Death Eaters are! Why was it so difficult to find and capture them?

“Ah, Ms. Evans, a frustrating thing, isn’t it? We’ve come so far with magic, yet there are still very dangerous souls walking free. These aren’t untalented witches and wizards, my dear girl. These are very dangerous individuals without a care for the laws of our world. Aurors are, of course, hunting day and night. The Death Eaters, however, know they are being hunted, and they possess the requisite skills to prepare and conceal themselves.”

Just as Lily was about to ask who the identified Death Eaters were, a large burst of white light filled dim room. The graceful shape of a fox slipped through a glass window and leapt onto the desk.

“Find Dumbledore and tell him Mother and I are safe. We’re making our way from Hogsmeade.” As soon as the essence of the animal dissolved away, Alice let out a gasp.

It took Lily a minute to remember that just a few weeks ago Frank had produced that same Patronus in Defence Against the Dark Arts while they were covering previously learned material.

“Mr. Potter —” It was the first time McGonagall had spoken since they entered the office. “What I presume to be Mr. Longbottom’s Patronus, just spoke to us?”

“Er, yeah. That seems accurate.” James guided his fingers through his hair as he spoke.

Why did Mr. Longbottom’s Patronus just speak, Mr. Potter?” Professor McGonagall asked with a bit more force.

“It was something we all started working on over the beginning of the summer. Frank stayed with us for a few weeks, and Peter and Remus came to visit too. And we, er, we were all of age..” James seemed to be stumbling over his words. If the situation wasn’t such an upsetting one, Lily would have laughed at his tumble of explanations.

“Are you suggesting that you boys taught yourselves this means of communication?” Dumbledore asked, the colours of his irises sparking with interest.

“We just wanted to know if there was a faster way than owls, and we had all gotten the hang of our Corporeal Patronus when they first came up at the end of sixth year. And we figured since they’re ours we should be able to use them for something else.”

“And to speak? How..?” Professor McGonagall began, moving from the Phoenix to Dumbledore’s side. “Can you send one back to Mr. Longbottom?” she asked after a moment.

Lily felt James visibly relax beside her as he realized they were curious about the trick, as opposed to angry. He nodded at his professors and stood from the chair and walked to an empty space of floor that allowed him a bit more room.

“Lily,” James murmured. She glanced over at him to ask what he wanted, but her words became as thick as honey in her throat. Something warm — nearly hot — something that made her fingers tingle and the blood rush from her heart filled his hazel eyes. He moved his gaze away from her so quickly that she halfheartedly wondered if she’d imagined the entire thing.

“Expecto Patronum!” The strength of his words coerced a smooth, glowing jet to soar from the tip of his wand and form into the shape of a powerful stag.

The radiance of the animal, of the happiness that it had taken for James to create it, took Lily’s breath away. A Patronus wasn’t something new. A handful of them had even been able to create a corporeal form at the end of sixth year.

But even though she’d seen a Patronus before, and could cast her own, this was the first time she’d ever witnessed James’s Patronus. She couldn’t help but wonder what he’d say if he knew hers was a doe, the animal designed as the mate to a stag. He’d probably act like it was some sign, she was nearly sure he would. Though even as she thought the words, her heart sped in her chest.

James stood from the chair and walked to the animal that was now kicking his hooves silently against the stone floor. He pointed his wand at the stag, then closed his eyes. “Expecto Patronum,” he said with the same amount of intensity as the first time.

Only this time, there were no white ribbons of light flowing from his wand. Instead, the already created allusion of a creature stood completely stiff with his eyes focused on James’s. Lily blinked a few times, trying to figure out if this was the flames casting shadows around and causing the glow to seem more… solid. She blinked again and waited to see if it was a trick of light or simply her own imagination. However, the animal really did seem to be made of a denser kind of luminesce. She could no longer nearly see through him, only into his beams.

James kept his wand level and pointed at the stag. Lily held her breath as he touched the head. Her heart skipped into her throat when his hand rested against the bright shimmers, as opposed to slipping through it.

“Find Frank Longbottom, tell him: we’re safe and get your arse back here before Alice stops breathing for good. That’s all for now.”

The stag bowed his graceful head before James removed his hand. As soon as the touch of flesh left the creature, he seemed to lose the amount of solidity that had allowed James to touch him. His light became closer to transparent once again.

He turned around the room and launched himself out the largest window, flying away from Hogwarts.

“How did you boys come up with this?” McGonagall asked as she sat in a chair beside Dumbledore’s desk. Her voice was nearly as curious as Lily felt. She glanced at their Headmaster and wasn’t surprised to see his thin lips turned into a small smile.

“We just… tried, I guess. A lot of things didn’t work, and we still can’t figure out how to get them to listen without touching them. So far that’s what keeps them real enough to know what to do after casting the second spell, and then they remember.” James moved to sit back down as he continued his explanation.

“We aren’t sure how far they go, but we were able to send one to Peter when his mum took him to Blackpool a few weeks before term started. It was Remus’s idea to cast the charm the second time.”

“And how did you discover that it was necessary to touch them to hold the solidity?” Profess Dumbledore asked. To Lily’s surprise, James let a very rare blush creep into his cheeks.

“I was getting frustrated because they’d start losing their coherence right away, and I went to grab mine by the antlers… and it worked. He didn’t return to being just light until I let go.”

“And then, during that time you were able to dictate the message and assign a recipient? That’s very impressive magic, Mr. Potter.” Professor Dumbledore remarked in a voice that Lily thought sounded a bit younger than usual.

“Ms. Christopherson, Mr. Longbottom is safe, breathe,” McGonagall ordered. Lily looked over and noticed that Alice really didn’t seem to be inhaling nearly enough. Her friend nodded her head and took in a large gulp of oxygen.

“And Mr. Potter, don’t use curse words in this school.” The very small patch of red strengthened in James’s cheeks. Lily assumed he must’ve thought he’d gotten away with saying arse when he passed along his message.

“The attack, Professor?” Lily asked, the reason for their presence in the office coming back to the front of her mind.

“Yes,” Dumbledore began. His mind seemed to be drawing away from the new discovery and back to the issue.

When he spoke again, his tone was one of gravity and the blue of his eyes quickly lost their twinkle. "Four innocent people lost their lives this evening. Edgar reacted quickly enough to save the lives of his infant daughters, as well as his wife. Should he not have there would be at least three more deaths to tally.

"Now, what I need from you, Mr. Potter, and you, Miss Evans," he nodded his head at both his students, "is to be sure that our Prefects are given the correct facts that I've just relayed to you with regard to the attack. Our school, glorious as it may be, is not free of judgement nor prejudice. This news will be covering the front of the Daily Prophet tomorrow morning. It's best that we don’t underplay the magnitude of this issue, and we must remain on the lookout for increasing quarrels between Houses and students."

Lily thought about how the Slytherin students would react. There were even a few Ravenclaws that she knew of whose families believed in blood purity. But before this attack, the names had been meaningless. They'd been muggles, and despite the disgusting crimes committed against them, no one at the school had any idea of who they were.

Now, some of their own had been targeted. Many people knew Amelia, along with her brother. Esther would even ring a bell to some. Now they knew there was the chance that it could have easily been Amelia on the other side of that Unforgivable Curse. She wasn't a nameless, faceless muggle printed on a paper. She was one of theirs. Just like it could have been Frank. It could have been Frank.

"Ah, Mr. Longbottom and his mother have arrived." Dumbledore watched as the color of his fireplace turned from the natural hues of flames to a gentle blue.

"Professor, the fire, er, the fire turned blue because of Frank?" Lily asked, curious about what he was searching for among the flickering.

"Yes, Miss Evans. We do have a vast amount of protection around this school, you know."

Lily wanted to ask why it turned blue, but she understood the fact that he didn’t elaborate meant that they wouldn’t be given anymore insight. Instead, she remained silent as she watched the flames fade back to a twisting blend of orange and red.

"Mr. Potter, Ms. Evans, you understand your assignment, correct?" Professor McGonagall's voice was shifted back to her normal, no nonsense attitude.

"Yes, Professor. Tell the seventh year Prefects to meet outside our portrait at seven o'clock tomorrow morning." James's voice sounded off to Lily. She glanced at him, then after he didn't continue, she took over.

"And tell them all the details you've told us. As well as making sure they put the other Prefects of their house on high alert to keep an eye out for more tension between the students. Professor?" She glanced at McGonagall.

"Ms. Evans?"

"Is…. Will Amelia be coming back?" Lily asked. “And now, now that they, his followers, made their point… what will happen?”

McGonagall glanced at Dumbledore. "Yes, Miss Evans. Miss Bones will be returning. Regarding the attack, you must understand that just because this is the first one against such a large wizarding family does not mean it will be last."

The warning rang through Lily's soul as they said their goodbyes and departed from the Headmaster's office. The ride down the self moving stairs, back to the Gargoyle, was a mixture of relief and terror.

Frank was safe. Lily couldn't image how painful those first few minutes would have been for Alice. Frank was safe. But a girl she'd gone to school with for years just watched her parents get murdered in front of her. She watched her family become a target, herself even.

It was true that the war had already started, but it had been so secretive before. Muggles were murdered in the dead of night, miles away. Disappearances were being reported left and right. Aurors had been killed on the job. Terrible things had been happening. But this time, it as good as happened at Hogwarts. Frank was there. Frank saw it. It happened to one of theirs.

She saw Sirius’s face as the Gargoyle leapt aside. His features twisted with worry and stress. Then, as they exited the staircase, Remus, Peter, Frank, and Mrs. Longbottom came into view.

“Lily, James, Alice,” Augusta greeted them hastily before stepping into the still open staircase and letting it bring her up.

“Frank.” A whisper that was so quiet it was nearly non existent left Alice’s fragile lips.

Lily’s heart tugged as she watched two of her best friends lean towards each other. She heard Alice’s breath even out the second Frank laced his arms around her. The intimacy of the moment, the sight of their friends holding one another together, had the rest of the group shuffling away awkwardly.

“Frank filled us in,” Remus said. His eyes bored into James, causing Lily to remember what had been happening when their professor interrupted.

James nodded before turning away.

“Sirius, Lily, can I talk to you guys?”

Lily glanced at Sirius then nodded as they began making their way farther down the seventh floor corridor.

Once they were a considerable distance from the office and in front of the staircase to the West Tower, James stopped and sat one on of the stairs.

“I shouldn’t have reacted that way. Sirius, you know I didn’t mean… I would never… I was just so angry that you guys lied to me.” The hurt in James’s voice was worse than his previous rage.

Lily’s cheeks took on a scarlet tint of shame. “It was my idea though, James. I wouldn’t have Sirius thinking it was his fault, removing that part of the night seemed like the best option and —”

“Lily,” Sirius interrupted. She nodded and sat down on the stair below James. “James, Lily did suggest it, but I didn’t have to go along with it. I should have trusted you enough to talk to you. I just couldn’t handle you thinking I had any part in putting Lily through so much.”

“But you did have a part in it,” James said. “You did. I don’t blame you, and I know it was an accident, but you still had a part in it. I guess I did too, though. I mean, I’ve raced my broom against that thing. I’ve hung around in the sky and watched you race other muggle cars. And I never, we never, thought about what could happen. So it can be my fault too. And maybe we’ll have to acknowledge that when Lily yells at us to grow up, it’s for a good reason.”

The grin that had been so absent the last few hours filled Sirius’s face.

“Everything I do is for a good reason,” Lily said, the light of her smile reaching her eyes.

“We have enough shit going on around us without lying to each other,” James said after a moment. “So, whatever happens, if there’s anything else you guys aren’t telling me, now is a good time. Do my parents know?” he asked, his eyes once again drilling into Sirius.

Sirius looked down at Lily before sighing and sitting beside her. “Yeah, they know. I asked them not to tell you James, I’m sorry. Don’t be angry at them though.”

James kept his gaze steady on Sirius. His features betrayed nothing, and Lily found herself impatient for him to continue.

“Well, you know what this means, right?” James finally asked, his words slow and somber as they left his lips.

“Er, what?” Sirius asked, his eyebrows furrowing in confusion.

“This means that… we finally know who the favorite son is.” James let out an exaggerated sigh as he stood up that was almost instantly followed Sirius’s bark of laughter.

“Well, James, I could have told you that ages ago.” He stood up as well, and just like that it seemed that the sharp words and guilty consciences were drowned out by the integrity of friendship.

Lily fell behind as her friends started walking back towards Dumbledore’s office. The weight of her and Sirius’s secret seemed to slowly dissipate from her shoulders. She had expected James to stay angry for much longer. But why? When had he ever remained angry for long? The very few times she had forced herself to apologize to James Potter, he’d accepted it easily and forgotten whatever incident sparked the apology.

Frank’s face came into view as they neared the group still waiting outside the Headmaster’s office.

“We figured we’d wait for you guys. We wanted— we thought it was best to all go down to dinner together.” Alice’s voice was stronger. The anxiety was still there, but it was now hidden under a paper thin cover.

“I like that idea,” Lily answered as she took Alice’s hand. Belle looped her arm around Lily’s free one, though her vivid blue eyes seemed to be glancing over at Sirius every few seconds. Lily smiled as she realized that her hot headed friend appeared very relieved to see Sirius smiling again.

The empty space was suffocating. The air around her was void of all light, a void that no candle nor oil lamp could fill.

She slipped her feet over the ebony wood floor, her stockings occasionally getting caught on the grains of the planks. The room was freezing, but the chill didn’t register against her flesh. Only her blood felt the cold, an icy sensation drummed deep into her bones.

The silence surrounding her was normal. A large rock and plaster concoction filled with towering stairs and vacant rooms was typically silent. And maybe the Lestrange Mansion wasn't as fine as the Malfoy Estate, but as long as her Lord approved of it, she didn’t care. As long as it was able to assist her Master as an occasional meeting place, that was all that mattered. And it would assist for just that in a few long, strangling minutes.

Bellatrix continued sliding her feet over the bathroom floor: back and forth. Right foot, left foot, right, left. The mirror caught her attention as she glanced at it from the corner of her eye. She snapped her head up from the position of shame, causing her wild curls to fly behind her.

Her bony fingers dipped into her pocket and retrieved her smooth wand. She used what strength she could find and whispered the incantation to light the lamps and candles placed around the room, and in a split second dozens of flames were ablaze. The inky black air was tainted with the burn of fire.

Her dark eyes grew large as she turned to the mirror and began searching it, as if she wasn’t certain it was really Bellatrix Lestrange looking back at her. After a moment she moved away from her own reflection and faced the wall.

She lifted her hands, then brought them crashing down into the plaster, leaving an array of small cuts over her skin.

She spun back around to face the mirror, a new madness overtaking her dark eyes.

“You failed Him! You failed Him!” She screamed it at her reflection. Her voice ripped from her throat until the rawness began to overtake her.

She shrieked the words, not stopping until the beating that her vocal cords were enduring became evident and her voice was little more than a croak.

She reached up to the mirror, enraged at the reflection dancing back at her. Her reflection. Her weak face taunting her. Because even the reflection knew that she failed.

Her fingers grazed over the glass where her cheek was depicted. They brushed gently down the false face and farther along the mirror until the tip of her black nail was just over image of her heart. The oxygen shook her lungs as she brought it in with violent sobs.

Her nails quivered over the smooth surface until she was no longer able to handle it, to handle the worthless face glancing back at her.

Another scream ripped from her and she dug her nails into the glass.

They were too frail to handle the assault.

Their tips began breaking, but she kept clawing against the failure. Despite the cracking, she didn’t stop. She continued to attack her own reflection, putting so much force behind her fingers that the thin nails started peeling back to reveal the soft flesh underneath, blood dripping from them.

A quick knock at the door forced her to stop.

“It’s time for the meeting. He will be here soon.” Her husband’s voice circled around her, and she began to clean her hands and prepared to meet her Master. It’s time.

Only hours ago she had been ready to honour her Lord, to do whatever its took to serve him. And now, she was nothing remotely resembling an honour; she was a disgrace. The mudblood infants walked free. The filthy muggle wife still had a beating heart. She had failed. She would be punished.

Anything, she could withstand anything as long as, when it was over, she still held his Mark.

Her hand crawled down her left arm and clasped tightly around the spot that housed her Dark Mark. Yes, she could endure whatever punishment she was given, as long as she was permitted to keep her branding.

It’s time.
A huge thank you to my darling beta reader, CambAngst, for not only being an awesome beta, but for really helping Dumbledore come together in this chapter.

Okay, one more thing. As you can see, I am giving the talking Patronuses an origin. Wiki does say it was invented by Albus, but not the HP Lexicon. We all know that HP Wiki takes some liberties with what they consider canon, so I decided to go with Lexicon's information. You also may have noticed some differences between how James gets his Patronus to talk, to how the second Order members do. This was intentional. I think it's important to show that things, even magic, evolve.

Did you pick up on what exactly James was thinking about when he cast the first Patronus Charm?

Thanks for reading!

Chapter 10: Constant Vigilance
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Chapter 10 - Constant Vigilance

Lily’s body melted deeper into her sheets. The mist of dreams clung tightly around her as her subconscious sucked her back into the false reality.

“Tuney, why’d you do that?” A twelve year old Lily stood with her hands on her hips and flakes of snow coating her white hat. She tried to keep her lips set into the frown, but her sister’s playful laugh broke through her serious attitude and forced her to giggle along.

“See Lily, it’s funny. Look!” Petunia bent down to gather another ball of snow and chucked it at the neighbors cat, who let out a hiss before sprinting away. Lily’s face fell back into its frown.

“No Petunia, it was okay at the plant, but you hurt the kitty.” Lily moved her hands from her hips and crossed her arms. Her thick blue gloves were slipping out from under the sleeves of her winter coat.

Petunia sighed as she plopped back down in the snow and began drawing shapes in the white mounds of fluff. “That cat shouldn’t have been in our yard anyway. And if my friends were here, they’d think it’s funny,” she finally replied with a huff.

Lily felt herself fumbling over how to cheer her sister back up, though part of her rang with jealousy at how often her sister mentioned her friends. The friends that she always said Lily could never meet, because Lily was constantly away at school.

She was nearly resigned to let her sister start another snowball fight when the slamming of their back door distracted her.

“I have Christmas Eve hot cocoa!” Adrianna smiled as she brought the tray down the steps. “Sorry girls, I don’t have my boots on, this is as far a I can go.”

Both girls raced over to the porch, Petunia grabbing the first cup and passing it to Lily. Lily smiled as she sucked off the top bit of whipped cream and glanced up at her mother to thank her. Adrianna’s milky skin was already growing pink with the cold, but Lily knew she would stand out in the chilly air for as long as her daughters wanted to talk with her.

After the girls agreed to come in shortly and play a game with their parents, Adrianna took the empty tray inside and reminded them both to bring their mugs with them when they were through.

The disagreement about the snowballs was quickly forgotten as the sisters talked in squeals and giggles about Christmas being the very next day.

Lily was relieved that Petunia had wanted to spend so much time with her over the Holidays. She'd been afraid Petunia would still be upset, as she had been on September first when Lily boarded the Hogwarts Express for her second year of school. Petunia had barely hugged her, and refused to write her all term because she was unable to send the letter through ‘normal’ post. But it seemed that Tuney had gotten over her anger, for the girls had spent nearly every waking moment together.

Lily sucked down her the last few drops of the warm, chocolate liquid and was placing it onto the porch stairs when the sound of shattering glass stopped her.

“Oh, Tuney,” Lily sighed sympathetically as her sister bent down to start scooping up the bigger shards of glass. The red mug was in dozens of pieces over the cobbled patio. The fall had even cracked the layer of ice that covered everything.

“Lily, these are the mugs that mum got us from her trip! This was my favorite one!” Petunia whined.

“I know, I’m sorry,” Lily whispered as she got down to help.

“Can you fix it, Lily? Can you use that spell that you were telling mum about?” Lily froze. Her sister had asked her this kind of thing countless times. As patient as she wanted to be, she didn’t know how many ways she had to tell Petunia that she couldn’t do magic outside of school.

“I’m sorry Petunia, I just—”

“No Lily, don’t say no. Just do it, okay? I heard you telling mum and dad about what happened with Severus. That he hurt some boy and their glasses broke, and one of his friends used a spell and fixed them! So if someone can fix that boys glasses, that means you can fix my cup too, right?” Petunia fixed Lily with a pleading stare.

“That was on the Hogwarts Express! It’s different there. And I didn’t say that Sev hurt the person, he just bumped into James and his glasses fell off.”

“But his friend still fixed it!” Petunia’s tone was slipping into one of frustration. “And mum and dad are always talking about how great your marks are! But maybe you don’t even know how to fix it,” Petunia whispered angrily. Lily would have given anything to be able to pull her wand from her trunk and repair her sister’s mug, but she just couldn’t.

“Petunia. I’m not allowed. It would be breaking the rules, something I’d get in big trouble for, and I already told you that,” she finally said after waiting to see if her sister would continue. Petunia remained silent, refusing to meet Lily’s eyes. After a few seconds Lily grabbed her own mug and turned around to go inside. If Tuney refused to understand, she wouldn’t keep trying to explain.

Lily assumed her mother had heard the fight, because she didn’t question what was going on when Lily stomped inside and down the hall to her bedroom. After removing her wet clothes and pulling on a red pair of pajamas, she slipped under the white duvet on her bed.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep, but when her eyes fluttered open the first thing she noticed was that her sheer green curtains hadn’t any light coming through.

“Lily?” Petunia’s soft voice followed by a knock jolted Lily completely awake.

“Come in.”

“Lily,” Petunia started as she hopped onto her sister’s bed, “I’m sorry about earlier. I don’t want to fight. You’re only going to be here for a while longer until you have to go back to school. I was just upset about my mug.”

Lily smiled as she refrained from hugging her sister, something that Petunia decided she didn’t care for. “I’m sorry I couldn’t fix it.”

Petunia looked relieved as her sister accepted her apology. She jumped off of Lily’s bed, pulling the covers off as she went. Lily was sure Petunia was going to start teasing her about the stars covering her pajamas, but before she could, their mum walked through the door.

“Girls, I’m going to light the candle. Will you help me?” Adrianna smiled as she held up a large, silver candle that they would place in their front window.

The two of them followed their mother into the living room, where Shane already stood beside the twinkling Christmas tree.

The entire house was filled with the scent of baking, and Lily wondered what their mother was preparing for tomorrow’s dinner.

“Okay,” Adrianna began as she placed the elegant candle on the windowsill. Lily’s heart sparkled with joy as Petunia reached over and grabbed her hand.

Their mother smiled down at them before holding out a match to light the candle. Once the flame was devouring the dark air, Adrianna began to speak. “May the light of our candle burn as a symbol of welcome, and a symbol of love for Mary and Joseph. May it bless any travelers going through the night, and offer our hospitality. Girls, would you like to say the prayer?”

Lily and Petunia glanced at one another, and each took in a deep breath. After Lily nodded at her sister, their words began to meld into one another. “The light of the Christmas star to you. The warmth of home and hearth to you. The cheer and good will of friends to you. The hope of a childlike heart to you. The joy of a thousand angels to you. The love of the Son and God's peace to you.” *

“Merry Christmas, girls,” Shane whispered as he hugged his daughters into him.

Lily sat straight up in bed, her entire face covered in salty water. She tried to shake the remnants of the dream from her, but they were too strong. It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the dark, and longer for her heart to begin beating to a steady rhythm. She reached up and wiped away the rest of the fat tears from her cheeks, thankful that at least the dream had been one of happiness and not a reliving of their death.

The image of Petunia’s fourteen-year-old smile, the feel of their small hands laced together, floated around Lily’s murky brain.

Before she could change her mind, she slid from her bed and tiptoed to the far wall, then rifled through her rucksack. Her hands finally found the familiar shapes that she was searching for. She pulled the chair to her small desk out, stubbing her pinky toe in the process, and lit the oil lamp resting on the corner of the rectangular piece of wood.

She quickly yanked her hair tie from her wrist and bunched her red locks up in it, then bent over and dipped the slender quill into the ink pot. Her fingers were moving before she could even try to ponder what she was writing.


I was just thinking about you and wanted to write. Things haven’t been particularly easy, and I found myself remembering a few of our old Christmas traditions. Anyway, I hope all is well with you and your boyfriend. Are you two settling into your new home well? Vernon likes living closer to work, I’m sure. Well, I guess that’s really all. If you want to respond, I’m sure you remember how.


She folded the piece of parchment and slipped it into an envelope, then raised her wand and extinguished the flame before stumbling back to bed. She fell asleep the second her head hit the pillow.

The Monday morning sun assaulted Lily’s eyes through her champagne coloured curtains. She stretched her arms high above her head, letting the duvet slip from the top half of her body as she moved.

Her hands fumbled around her nightstand and grasped onto her mother’s watch. It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the insanely small ticks depicting the hour, but after squinting she realized it was just after six o’clock.

The Prefects would be there very soon, and she needed to get bathed.

She threw her legs over the side of the bed and started slipping off the nightdress as she made her way across the room. A small, white envelope with the word Petunia written on it caught her eye. Like a cold bucket of water being spilled over her, she was doused with memories of her dream and the desire to reach out to her sister

She’d really written the letter? It wasn’t just a false creation of her night? Well, she must’ve, as it was sitting on her desk staring her in the face. Should she send it?

She heard the slamming of the portrait door downstairs, James woke early. The noise jolted her back to reality and she rushed into the bathroom.

After an extremely hot bath that left her mirrors fogged with steam, she walked back into the bedroom and to her wardrobe, which was still her favorite thing. Lily was so organized when it came to homework, classes, books, everything really. Only her best friends knew that she couldn’t keep her clothes folded and room clean to save her life.

She quickly slipped on her white vest and grey waistcoat, along with her trousers and black cloak. She combed out the tangles of her hair and applied a small amount of cosmetics to hide her restless night, then checked the time on her mother’s watch, her watch, before securing it around her left wrist.

After brushing her teeth and gathering her rucksack, she headed down the stairs and into the common area to wait for the Prefects.

“G’morning.” Lily froze at the sound of Sirius's voice, then took her final step to reach the bottom of the stairs as the faces of Belle, Sirius, Alice, Remus, Peter and Frank all glanced back at her.

“What are you guys doing here?” she asked, taking the mug of hot tea that Sirius handed to her.

“We wanted to be here for the meeting,” Peter said, handing over a pastry to Belle before settling down on the flat stone ledge of the fireplace.

“James said that it’s up to you though," Remus quickly interjected as he moved to sit a few feet down from Peter. "And if you aren’t okay with it, we completely understand.”

Lily took a bite of the blueberry muffin that Alice handed her before her friend got comfortable next to Belle and Frank on the couch. Professor Dumbledore hadn’t said just the Prefects, though he probably meant it. Everyone would find out soon enough, regardless. And Frank had been there, so maybe he could answer any appropriate questions. Still, was she pushing her luck by doing this? Was she breaking a rule?

She glanced over the faces of her friends. Remus and Peter patiently waited beside the flames that one of the house elves must’ve gotten started. Alice was leaning into Frank, something Lily rarely saw for neither of them were big on public displays of affection.

Sirius was slumped down on the floor, his back resting against the couch near Belle’s legs. He’d been the only reason they’d all gotten through dinner last night. By getting the group talking and laughing, they were able to make it to the end without their tense moods being picked up. But soon the entire school would know about the attack.

Why shouldn’t she and James be surrounded by their friends right now? True, Dumbledore hadn’t said it was permitted. But he was always telling them that friendship was the greatest gift they could give one another. So, though she might be going against orders, this morning she was going to let herself be surrounded by the friends that loved her.

“Okay, stay. And you guys,” Lily waited until the entire group was looking up at her. “Thank you.”

She walked over the fluffy arm chair and pulled the footrest away from it, then moved it between the open section of the sofas and perched herself on top.

“Listen,” Peter said, the rest of the group shushing and focusing on a voice coming from the other side of the portrait hole.

“James, we’ve gone through this, why can’t we just say the password?” asked an obviously annoyed girl.

“You know that just the password doesn’t work. You tried that last time.” James’s tone held the rare speckles of annoyance.

“He’s not a morning person, our James,” Sirius joked as if reading Lily’s mind.

“If I ever find that you’ve been playing a bloody joke on us—”

“Just get on with it,” James’s said, cutting off the girl. The entire group waited and held their breath as the prefects took turns passing through the portrait, each secret being a bit more ridiculous than the last.

“Okay, quiet down all,” Lily ordered once everyone made their way into the common area. This was the third Prefect meeting they’d held, and they were all fairly adjusted to fitting themselves around the room. Lily was surprised that no one seemed to question the presence of the others, but she decided to just go with it.

“So, as always, let’s check that we’re all here.” Lily began as James came up behind her spot on the footrest. His warm, spicy hints of cologne swirled around her and threatened to distract her. She quickly glanced back down at the list and dipped her quill in the pot of ink resting on her binder.

She scribbled Seventh Year Prefects Meeting - Bones Christening Attack on the top of her parchment. She felt James’s hand rest on her shoulder and give it a small squeeze before he removed it.

“Eleanor and Tyler?” The two Ravenclaws greeted Lily as she called them. “Bridget and Jackson?” The Hufflepuffs confirmed their names. “And obviously James and I are here for Gryffindor. So, Abigail and Briscoe?”

“I’m here. Sorry Lily, I tried to get Abigail here but she said something about not feeling great.” Briscoe rolled his eyes as he spoke, and it was obvious to Lily that he was just as annoyed at the other Slytherin Prefect for not being here as Lily was.

Lily was about to say something when James's deep voice cut her off. “Okay, let’s get this over with. I get that none of you want to be up and over here this early, but we need your full attention.”

Lily took a breath before glancing at James, and at his nod she began. 

“There was an attack by Voldemort’s Death Eaters.”

“Lily, don’t you know what they’re saying about that name?” Eleanor interrupted, her dark eyes set on Lily.

“Well, she just said it and he doesn’t seemed to have attacked yet,” Sirius piped up from his spot on the floor.

“Eleanor,” Lily began, forcing a smile. “If it makes anyone uncomfortable, I won’t use it.” Lily glanced around and watched as the majority of the Prefects nodded their heads. “Okay, then. There was an attack by You Know Who’s followers. I’m sure you all know Amelia Bones, sixth year Ravenclaw, and some of you know may know her older siblings. Esther graduated two years ago. Edgar was a seventh year when we were first.”

Lily took a deep breath, pausing while the students murmured to one another. Once silence was regained, she continued. “Edgar had a Christening for his twin daughters yesterday evening. Edgar’s wife is a muggle woman.” She waited a moment for the importance of that to sink in, the same way that Dumbledore had the previous evening. “Edgar, his children, and his wife are safe. Amelia and Esther as well. However, their mother and father, Amelia’s mother and father, were murdered. As well as Edgar’s mother-in-law and father-in-law. It was also made very clear that these Death Eaters had meant to kill the infants, but they were protected.”

An eerie silence filled the room. The uncertainty creeping into the eyes that looked back at her slowly changed to fear, the kind of fear that grew when you realized that it wasn’t just a name anymore.

“There’s more,” James said. “Out of the four Death Eaters, two were identified. We aren’t sure who they are, but Dumbledore said that there may be people in our school that know, or are related to, them. And that may cause some serious tension. Those names will undoubtedly be printed in the Prophet this morning, and it’s up to us to make sure that we keep everyone calm.”

“How do we know this is actually what happened?" Bridge, the Ravenclaw Prefect, asked. Despite the confident way she held her head, her voice was still shaking with every word. "I mean, people are losing it left and right, and we’re supposed to just believe someone that says it? What if someone from the party had a bit too much firewhiskey and went off his rocker?”

“I was there.” Frank’s tone was quiet, but it silenced the room. “I was there, and I watched innocent people be run down.” He stood up from his place on the couch, towering over the rest of them.

“I helped put up the charms for the Christening, there were more than you could image protecting that church. But they broke through those like they were a bloody joke, and they just started throwing spells everywhere. They didn’t give a fucking sickle about who they hit with their killing curse.” He took a deep breath and lowered his body back to the couch. His voice calming a fraction as he started to speak again.

“We don’t want to believe that it’s this close to us, I get it. But it is. And I hope to God that when Amelia comes back to school, you aren’t so damn insensitive as to ask her how she knows it was the Death Eaters that killed her parents in front of her.”

As Frank’s words hung through the air, the Prefects seemed to be getting more uncomfortable by the second.

“Listen, what you all want to think or believe doesn’t matter to us right now,” James said as he stepped from behind Lily, closer to the middle of the circle. “What matters is two Hogwarts students were just in the middle of an attempted mass murder. Two Hogwarts students! One of them lost her parents, and nearly lost the rest of her family. This is real.”

Lily glanced at the faces looking back at her. More than a few glistened with the tears that often fell when you realized that life doesn’t care whether you’re ready to grow or not.

“We knew it would happen,” she began in a softer tone. "I mean we all kind of knew that the Ministry disappearances, the muggle murders… that it wouldn’t end there. And it’s scary, because now it’s more than knowing. Now it’s seeing. But we need to focus on what’s important today, and that’s making sure that anyone who needs to talk, anyone who just needs someone to reassure them or answer questions, gets that.”

The Prefects nodded back at her, and she began assigning extra patrols throughout the day for those who had free periods. She added two more sets of night patrols as well, and handed the lists to the seventh years to pass on to the other Prefects in their Houses. Before they left the common area she took a vote on the N.E.W.T revision sessions, wanting to end the meeting with something else besides murder.

Lily rushed down the staircase with her and James’s rucksacks each thrown over a shoulder. After the meeting they’d all been in a hurry to get to breakfast before any owls started flying in with the Prophet, and she and James had both forgotten their class material. Which actually surprised her because it was rare that she forgot anything.

James’s rucksack bounced over her arm; there couldn’t be more than two books in it, though she supposed that was a blessing considering hers was probably half her weight.

It had been nice to see the smile on his face when she offered to get their bags. But it did make her feel fairly guilty, like he was so happy because she never offered to help him with anything. That wasn’t true though, was it? And he’d been so eager to read the letter from his parents that his Chaco owl dropped off, offering to get both of them made the most sense. Maybe he’d let her use Beowulf to deliver the letter to Petunia later that evening? That is, if she sent it.

She hadn’t been the most pleasant person to him, or anyone really, during breakfast. She probably even owed him an apology for teasing him about being the only person in Britain that owned an owl from Argentina. Brilliant. Because she loved apologizing so much. Still, it hadn’t been his fault she was on the edge, waiting for anyone to start spewing rubbish to another student about the attack, and end up with wands drawn on each other.

She stepped to the ground floor and her thoughts tumbled away as the busy corridors swarming with students distracted her. You would think that by the way people pushed and shoved, the halls weren’t huge enough to accommodate more than triple the number of students who actually attended the school.

She wondered if seeing Alice would straighten up her disagreeable mood. For some reason her best friend could always bring any attitude up a few notches. Although, Alice and Frank had both been quiet that morning, so they were probably busy enough trying to work on their own moods.

It didn’t worry her that neither of them had said more than a few words over breakfast. She knew that was just how they dealt with things.

Frank liked action, he wanted to react then and there, and when he wasn’t able to fix something it ate away at him. Alice was as patient as a butterfly circling a fragile flower, waiting to land until just the right second. With that combination they usually both ended up dwelling on their own thoughts until the other was ready to talk.

She reached the corridors surrounding the courtyard and slowed down a bit to catch a glimpse of the sun. It was odd to think that after everything had happened yesterday, after Sirius had told them all of their secret, after they learned about the attack… that the sun could still be shining.

Breakfast had been as tense as they all assumed, but at least it went by without any rows. The names printed in the front page article, Rabastan and Rodolphus Lestrange were foreign to her, but Sirius quickly explained that the twins were part of another old pureblood family. One that, like the Blacks, believed in Vol.. You Know Who’s cause. Apparently Rodolphus was also the husband of Sirius’s cousin, Bellatrix. Lily had shuddered at the idea of husband and wife each being as soulless as the other.

Sirius also said that the Malfoys, Blacks, and Lestranges were extremely close. So in spite of the Lestranges not having any direct relatives at Hogwarts, they still needed to keep their eyes open.

The Great Hall had been a blend of disbelief and panic. Gradually, all of the students had come to the same realization as Lily: it could have been any of them, it still could be any of them. That was the worst part.

Was it only a month ago she had been so convinced they were untouchable? A month ago that she had thought that by the time they graduated, this war would be drawing to an end? Maybe that’s why James always seemed to tense up when she asked him about his parents’ thoughts, because she really was acting that naive.

“Over here!” Peter’s voice caught her attention, and she realized that she’d nearly passed the side corridor that lead into the Transfiguration room.

“Thanks,” James said as he eased his bag off of Lily’s left shoulder. He quickly looked back towards their classroom, and Lily realized that her entire group was just as focused on the locked door as he was.

“What’s going on?” she asked, bobbing her head around to try and get a view through the thin window alongside the wooden door.

“You know the Auror that does Sirius’s tutoring lessons? The one my parents are friends with that I’ve mentioned a few times?” James asked, not taking his eyes from the door as Peter nudged another student in front of them out of the way to get a better view.


“Well he’s here! He’s in the classroom!” Sirius whispered, though the excitement in it strengthened the tone so it was much louder than an actual whisper. “Do you think they’re recruiting at Hogwarts or something?”

After realizing that they just weren’t going to get a peek in, the group started moving forward while the seventh year Slytherins began making their way down the hall.

“I doubt it. I mean, we’re barely a month into our seventh year. And it’s not like they can just ignore that we don’t have the necessary N.E.W.T.s yet,” Remus said. Lily followed his eyes to see that they were locked with Avery’s. If even Remus was feeling confrontational, then this was going to be a long day.

“But maybe they are! This could be our chance, James,” Sirius said with a hint of childlike excitement.

“No mate, not mine. I’m not going to be an Auror. At least, not yet.”

Frank, Peter, and Remus both turned and stared at James, as well as Belle and Alice. Lily waited for him to laugh or say something, but his expression remained earnest.

“Very funny, James,” Sirius finally said, clapping his friend on the back as he spoke. “You’ve talked about being an Auror since we were first years.”

James reached into his robe pocket and pulled out the letter from his parents, then handed it to Sirius. Lily was just about to lean towards him and read over his shoulder when the sound of a door opening focused their attention forward.

“Please come in and take your seats quietly. We have a lot to cover and I must insist that there be no disruptions.” Professor McGonagall stepped aside as she allowed students to file in through the now open door. Lily noticed that the Transfiguration professor’s eyes still had that same misty glaze to them, though her face was as stern as ever.

She heard a few whispers being passed along the students entering through the wide door, but it wasn’t until they got to the front that she understood what they were about.

A man, or what was probably a man, stood at the front of the classroom. She was sure that she’d never seen a person with the number of scars he possessed. The most prominent was an angry red line that chased all the way up his eye and under a black patch, connecting again at this forehead. She was certain that it probably went into his dark, greying hair, as well.

Lily made her way to her front row seat. As soon as she sat down, she noticed the podium he stood behind had something placed on it. A jar of some sort, with a ball that looked creepily like a human eye floating about.

Her friends were silent as they gathered around her. Alice and Belle quickly slipped into seats on either side with the boys filling up the row behind them. Lily glanced over and noticed Sirius taking a seat beside Belle instead of his usual one between James and Frank.

“Good morning students. I presume you are aware that we have a guest joining us. We are very fortunate that Mr. Alastor Moody has made a few hours available in his schedule to meet with us, and we should not take advantage of his kindness by paying him anything less than our full attention. At this moment, every fifth, sixth, and seventh year class will be speaking with an Auror or Ministry official, as well.”

“Is this about all that Daily Prophet rubbish?” Lily’s green eyes widened as she glanced behind her to see who was really daft enough to interrupt their teacher. She wasn’t surprised to see the bored face of Evan Rosier glancing around at them all. Once he realized that Severus and Avery were looking blankly around as opposed to backing him up, he seemed to visibly shrink in size.

“Mr. Rosier,” Professor McGonagall began, but was quickly cut off by a rough growl coming from the man she’d addressed as Alastor Moody.

“Rosier, is it? Wouldn’t be the son of Thatcher Rosier, now would you?” The tone of the man’s voice brought chills to the surface of Lily’s skin.

“Yes, I am,” Evan answered, raising his nose a few inches as he spoke.

“Well well, looks like we’re just old friends then, boy. You haven’t asked your old man about how exactly he’d be missing those four fingers, have you?”

Lily wasn’t surprised when Rosier simply stared. Mr. Moody’s words would have sounded intimidated even without the growl, with it they sounded down right frightening. After letting the silence drag on for a few seconds, he continued.

“Well now, I can fill in those blanks for you. Or maybe you can ask your father if cursing off a chunk of my nose was worth having to wipe his arse with his left for the rest of his life.”

“Mr. Moody, please focus on why you’re here,” Professor McGonagall interrupted, placing one of her hard stares on the man as she spoke.

Lily thought she heard him mumble something under his breath, but it was clear he chose not to elaborate on it.

“Well, then. You all have an idea of what’s going on outside these walls, outside the protection of Albus Dumbledore. I think it’s pretty damn clear by now that these Death Eaters aren’t against attacking children.” Lily felt the entire room tense at the Auror's words.

“But not one of you really understand it. No one does, not even the scum buckets that serve Voldemort.” Another layer of stress floated over the room as the name of the most feared wizard in the country blanketed them.

“Those pawns think they’re gettin’ a ride to the top, they do. But he’d kill them as quickly as he’d kill one of you.

“You’re all getting the best Defence training possible. Professor Genov is one of the finest Hogwarts has ever seen. She was hand picked by Dumbledore, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll all listen to every single thing she tells you. But there’s always more. You can always do more to keep yourselves safe.” He was quiet as that thought stewed around, then went on.

“I’d like everyone to look around this classroom.” The room remained frozen until Mr. Moody growled and told them to get on with it. Lily tore her eyes from the face and did as he said, then quickly brought her focus back to the front of the room.

“You all get a good look?” he asked, swirling the glass jar as he spoke. “A good, long look? Did you all see the faces of people you’ve known for over six years?” The classroom nodded in unison.

“You remember those faces. With things going the way they’re going, some of them will be the ones that are trying to kill you, and some will be a headstone in the graveyard.” The room was alive with gasps, though everyone was too shocked to do little more than that.

“I’m going to go through and give you a few pointers on how to remain aware and possibly safe. You can never be too careful. You saw this morning’s paper, and let me tell you that they were about as careful as it gets when it comes to protection. But those worthless bags of bone still made it through.”

“At least those bags of bones didn’t marry any filthy muggles,” the words were a whisper said under his breath, but in the silent room they were loud enough. Lily felt the quick rush of anger flood to the surface of her skin.

Mr. Moody started hobbling towards Rosier’s desk when Frank shot out of his chair, his wand pointed above the students and locked on Evan.

“Mr. Longbottom, put your wand away. Mr. Rosier, out in the hall, now.” Professor McGonagall’s voice snapped through the room, but neither student moved.

For a moment, Lily found herself aching to mirror Frank’s response. Could anyone really say, much less believe, murdering muggles was better than marrying one?

Her anger turned to confusion in an instant. She tried to blink away what she was seeing, but after she focused again on the boy, she realized that it wasn’t her eyes tricking her. Evan Rosier was slowly swelling up. First his fingers grew from the pudgy things they were, to sausage sized tubes sticking out from the palms of his swollen hands. The entire class seemed to be in the same sense of bafflement, until Avery jumped to his feet and started shouting something.

“Mr. Longbottom!” Frank held up his hands at the professor to demonstrate his innocence as the Slytherin boy continued to swell. Lily looked to the gruff Auror, surprised that he seemed to be chuckling to himself. But it was clear by the fact that he had no wand drawn, the curse wasn’t his.

“Alice?” James’s smooth tone caught Lily’s attention and she looked to her right. Alice sat, her lips closed so tightly that they were nearly turning white, with her wand still pointed at Rosier.

“Alice,” Lily began, though she wanted nothing more than to let her friend continue the spell.

“Ms. Christopherson!” Professor McGonagall’s tone was sinking closer into anger than annoyance as Alice finally broke the connection.

“Four people are dead, you bloody coward,” Alice hissed at Rosier before turning her head to face their professor.

“Fifty points from Gryffindor and Slytherin. Detention, Ms. Christopherson, for an undetermined amount of time.”

“Minerva,” Mr. Moody interrupted. “I’ll be needing to see those two.” He pointed to Alice and Frank before turning on one leg and tromping towards the door. He stopped abruptly and turned back to the podium, lifting the patch from his face and fiddling with some kind of device that was hooked where his eye should have been. He lifted the striking blue eye out of the jar of water and shoved it into the device.

It rolled around a few times, causing a disgusted murmur to spread through the room, before finally settling.

“Can’t seem to get used to this bloody thing,” he mumbled before walking back towards the door. Professor McGonagall removed her rectangular glasses from her face and motioned for Frank and Alice to follow, then pinned a stray piece of hair back into her bun and began going over the things that the Auror had been assigned to discuss.

The rest of the class was the quietest she could remember, everyone clearly too stuck on what had happened to be able to do much else than stare forward. Lily was thankful that they weren’t actually practicing any transfiguration that morning; with all the shaking nerves she was sure someone would end up turning their glass into fire instead of water. The elements had already been tricky enough without the added morning excitement.

She wanted her friends to come back. She knew that James and Sirius had both spent enough time with Mr. Alastor Moody for him to be considered safe, at least she hoped. And he’d seemed more amused than angered at the curse Alice had delivered, but he was still an Auror. Did he have to arrest them? Though they were both of age, and the spell wasn’t considered a punishable one. Still, why else would he have called Frank back with them if it wasn’t to reprimand them about pulling their wands on another student?

She glanced over at James, who seemed to be reading her thoughts.

“He’s one of the few blokes my parents trust. They’ll be fine,” James whispered.

Lily let James’s words swirl around a bit, glancing at Belle to see what she thought. To her surprise, she wasn’t looking at them, but Sirius. Sirius in turn wasn’t look at Belle, but James, along with Remus and Peter.

James glanced around, then sighed before turning to Peter. “Okay, fine. If you two have finished reading it, pass it to Lily and Belle.”

Peter nodded and reached under his piece of parchment to pull out the letter that Lily recognized as James’s. How had she missed the group passing it to one another to read? He slipped it smoothly to her, and she carefully unfolded it and slid it under her piece of parchment with their essay assignment on it. She slowly slid the homework up to view more of the letter. After a few moments, she got impatient and revealed the entire thing.


We’re so relieved to hear that everything at the castle is safe, not that we thought it would be anything but. We were told about the attack at the Bones’s Christening right after, and it took all the convincing I could muster to keep your mum from charging down there herself. Alastor (that’s Mr. Moody, to you) owled us and told us he’d be speaking in your first class this morning.

His warnings can usually get a bit cryptic, but listen to him carefully. He is one of the few that your mum and myself would trust with our lives. Everyone at that Christening knows how lucky they were to have Alastor in attendance, his actions saved half of those people.

Now, this brings me to the other reason I wanted to owl you. Actually, before we get into that, I want to tell you how damn proud we are you, James. Your mum told me that you got Captain! And that yesterday’s tryouts went well. I know you’ll be great, son. You tell me whenever you want mum and me there to watch a game, and we will be. And Lily is doing better? You know how worried your mother always is. Not me, but her.

Lily stopped and couldn’t help but chuckle to herself. One thing she’d learned about Olivia and William Potter was that Olivia very seldom worried. Her husband, on the other hand, often used her to try and convey his own concerns. Her soft lips tilted into a smile as she continued.

We are looking forward to having all you kids here for Christmas. We’re assuming Lily will be with you and Sirius, right? It’ll be a wonderful Christmas, indeed.

Now, onto more serious matters. I think I’ve put them off for as long as I can… I won’t be thanked by your mother for telling you this, either. But you’re a grown boy and deserve to know.

When I said that Alastor is one of the few I would trust with our lives, I mean that. Word has gotten around that the Auror Office isn’t as secure as it should be. Alastor is known for being a bit over cautious, but I don’t believe this is the case. There have been many signs pointing to the possibility of infiltration in the Ministry, and more specifically in the Aurors.

The ministry is imposing stricter orders than ever and seems to be slowing down investigations more than speeding them up. I tell you all this, James, because I won’t let you walk around unaware of where this war stands. You know we want to shield you from the darker aspects of this. However, I feel that shielding you would be more dangerous than educating you.

If anything seems fishy, if you’re ever concerned about something, you know to go straight to Albus or Minerva. You’re safe at Hogwarts, we’ve always trusted and believed that. That doesn’t mean Hogwarts is impenetrable.

You and the boys keep your eyes peeled. And let Sirius know that Alastor has only positive things to say about his performance in the class. But again, he should be aware that if he follows through and applies for an Auror position, he may be dealing with a serious amount of politics to be able to even pick up his wand and set out on capturing a Dark Wizard.

Now, don’t forget to throw your old man a few stories every now and then. With your mother taking away my cigars at every turn, I need any extra excitement I can get around here. Put that cloak up to any good use lately?

Love you, son. Write soon. And again, trust your instincts and if anything feels off, tell Albus immediately. Pass on greetings to the boys and give Lily a hug for us.

Love, Dad (and mum, since she’s been trying to read over my shoulder all the while that I write this).

Lily glanced back over the lines talking about the Aurors. Infiltrated. The people trained to capture darkest of wizards, how can they be infiltrated?

She needed to remember to ask James more about that after class. So this was why James no longer wanted to pursue his career choice. What else would he do instead? She knew that he wanted to help. But his name was well known, and if Vo.. if his followers really did have eyes in the Aurors office, James would be watched closer than anyone

Her head was swimming with details, and just when she was about to turn to Belle to ask what she made of it, the opening of the door caught her attention.

Frank and Alice walked through with Mr. Moody close behind. Frank’s face betrayed no emotion, he simply looked bored. But Alice’s dark eyes were sparking with what Lily knew was excitement. What had the man told her friends?

“We don’t have as much time now, but this won’t take long.” The gruff voice of Mr. Moody snapped everyone to attention. His false eye was swiveling around the room faster than his other. The two eyes moving separately was positively unnatural, even more so than the sound his false, wooden leg made as it hit the stone floor.

“The first thing I need to talk to you all about is staying safe. And the first rule of staying safe is constant vigilance!”

Thanks, as always, to my awesome beta reader CambAngst!

So, what were your thoughts on this chapter, and the effect that the attack is having on Hogwarts?

*Represents a traditional Christmas time Irish prayer. The origins of it are unknown, but it was not created by me.

Now (sorry for the length of this) I have to say how excited I was to write the Christmas time memory. That wasn't planned in my outline. But, my good friend (and an awesome writer) Sarah (Athene Goodstrengh), and I got into a conversation about Christmas time, and I just couldn't shake the season feeling so I decided to work it in here! We're only a few months away from the best season ever!

Chapter 11: The Order
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Gorgeous Chapter Image by Pheonixn@TDA
Chapter 11 - The Order

“Please come in and make yourself comfortable.” Minerva had said those words too many times to count, but each time they left her lips it was with the utmost sincerity. Never had she, nor would she, offer someone the comfort of her home without wishing them just that.

She closed the heavy door as Dorcas stepped inside. The young woman flicked her wand with a quick snap of the wrist, sending her cloak onto the rack before making her well accustomed way into the dim room. Minerva didn’t immediately follow, instead she whispered a few more enchantments over the door. There was never a thing wrong with extra precautions.

She was glad to offer her small London home as a meeting place for the Order. The house did nothing but sit there and collect dust, it might as well be put to use now and again. She’d been so overzealous as a girl — buying the cottage during her time at the Ministry had seemed nothing but sensible.

The size wasn’t ideal for their meetings, but it was bearable. Hardly a soul knew she owned the home, making it their safest option.

She turned from the door and made her way to the long table that took up the majority of the room, where everyone was already in place. She lit a few extra lamps while she walked to her chair next to Albus’s, giving the room enough light to easily make out one another’s expressions.

“Edgar, is it a bit soon to be up and about?” she asked, taking a seat across from the man.

“It’s been two weeks. I can’t sit in that house forever. Besides, I barely have a scratch left.” As Edgar’s deep voice filled the musty room, the rest of the group seemed to hush in unison, leaving nothing but the sound of the wind twisting and blowing outside.

“We’re all extremely pleased that you’re recovering nicely,” Albus answered with a smile before clapping his hands together. “Now, let’s dive in, shall we?”

“Edgar,” Minerva began, running her finger down a piece of parchment and stopping on the first underlined section. “Your daughters and wife have been relocated to a family member’s home in Belgium?”

“My aunts home, mother’s sister, yes. She was extremely close to my mum, and wants to do whatever she can to help.”

“And Alastor accompanied you on the journey to set up all possible safety precautions?” Minerva continued.

A deep grunt came from the other side of Albus, signaling the gruff looking Auror’s confirmation.

“And the Portkey, it was registered under a false name and unable to be traced by the ministry?” She glanced down the table as Elphias Doge, a small man who was nearing a hundred and still retained his position of Head of the Department of Magical Transportation, nodded at her.

“We have protection on Esther. Amelia is, of course, in the safety of Hogwarts,” Albus added as he glanced down at Minerva’s list.

“The Christening was too risky. We got lucky with the number of people that walked out of there alive,” Edgar admitted to the table. “If it wasn’t for Augusta I’d have probably lost more of my family that day.”

“Her boy gave Rodolphus a proper stunning if I’ve ever seen one. I don’t think he even knows he’s the one that cast the curse. Too mixed up with the commotion and trying to keep eyes out for his mother,” Fabian, the older of the Prewett twins and one of the undercover guests as the Christening, said through a gulp of tea.

To the table’s surprise, Alastor let out a deep laugh followed by a quick slam of his fist onto the wooden table. “What did I tell you, Albus?”

“Can someone fill us in on the joke?” Dorcas interrupted from the other end of the table.

Minerva was pleased to note that the meek girl she’d taught for seven years had nothing but confidence in her voice. Watching them grow was always the best part of her job, then if she was lucky enough to know them after they reached adulthood…

“Augusta’s boy, Frank Longbottom, he’ll make a damn fine Auror. Him and that brown haired thing both.”

“If you’re referring to one of my students as that brown haired thing, Mr. Moody—”

“Oh you know what brown haired thing I’m talking about, Minerva. Alice Christopherson, daughter of Able and Caitleen.” His magical eye spun around as he waited for the others to recognize the names of the pureblood couple “Well, she’s not a quivering, spineless squid like her parents. The girl cursed Evan Rosier, Thatcher’s boy and budding Death Eater, nonverbally from across the room. Set him straight, she did. He got a bit too mouthy while I was lecturing at Hogwarts a few weeks ago.”

“Now Alastor, Able and Caitleen are fine people. They are simply trying to stay out of the war, not unlike the majority of our country.”

“And the majority of our country is why this war isn’t close to ending, Albus!” Moody growled before letting out a sigh and reining himself back in. “Anyway, those two are just what the department needs. Good people that won’t be turning away from a fight anytime soon.”

“So, did yer talk to em ‘bout their… future plans?” Hagrid asked from his large chair at the end of the table, causing a sly smile to play across Alastor’s face.

“Well now, I’m not a man to meddle-” a chorus of chuckles spread through the table at Alastor’s words, causing him to speak up a bit louder, “but I made it clear that if they apply, I’ll mentor them personally.”

“You’d meddle in anything if it brought that department someone you think is worthy of mentoring. So, how did they take it?” Marlene McKinnon, a short brunette who always seemed to be smiling, asked from her seat next to Dorcas. She’d just graduated last June, and Minerva knew that she was close enough with Frank and Alice to consider them friends.

“The girl, damn spit fire. Composed herself, of course. Could barely tell if she thought my offer was brilliant, or just words from an old nutter. But her eyes, she couldn’t do anything to hide the excitement in those. Longbottom, on the other hand… he barely blinked. Holds himself better than half the Aurors in my department.” Moody reached down and picked up his mug, taking a large swallow before continuing.

“I need them in the training program so we can get their applications through and approved the day after they graduate. I have just enough left in the Ministry account to let one in without payment, but only one. I know Augusta won’t be able to cover it, but the Christophersons wouldn’t let a single sickle get squeezed from them for the likes of this war. I laid out the facts for the two of them, told them to owl me by Halloween and let me know where we go from there. I haven’t heard from ‘em yet, but they still have a over a week.”

“And if you don’t object to my asking,” Minerva interrupted as a loose strand dangled from her bun, “how is Mr. Black coming along in his training? He’s just scored the highest in my class for our most recent transfiguration exam, beat Miss Evans by a point.” Minerva couldn’t hide the pride in her voice. She’d been handed a terribly talented bunch of Gryffindors six, nearly seven, years ago, and sometimes she just couldn’t resist bragging about them.

Alastor’s eyes filled with a new kind of humor as he glanced up from his drink over at Minerva. “I had a few Auror Trainees in for our last class to give Black and the other one I’m working with a fair duel.” He paused and pulled a cigar from his robes, lighting it slowly and letting the smoke fall from his lips in a puff. “Black had him beat before the man even knew what was happening. Damn quick, smarter than the most. But we all know where he’ll end up.”

“Alastor, not again,” Elphias interrupted. “This turned into an hours long debate last meeting. Shall we continue in order to avoid that occurring at tonight’s affair?”

“I’m afraid I’d like to dwell on the subject for only a moment longer,” Albus interrupted as he again glanced down at Minerva’s list.

“Minerva and I have watched these students grow from children to adults in what seems like the blink of an eye. The time to make a decision is coming upon them. After Alastor’s most recent discussion with William Potter regarding the infiltration in the Auror office, I think it’s safe to assume James Potter is not planning to follow that path. And I also feel confident that Mr. Potter’s decision on what to pursue after Hogwarts will influence the decisions of his friends. Mr. Lupin has already met with me about his possible options after schooling with his condition. The fact is, we are getting closer to the end of their schooling, thus closer to needing to finalize a decision.”

“Albus,” Minerva spoke, trying to keep the strain from her voice. “They’re still just children. Let them enjoy their last year, it’s the least we can do.”

“Ah, my dear Minerva, they know far too much to be just children. I’m not suggesting we coerce them into joining our Order just now, but if there’s ever a group of people who desire to help in what they believe is right, it’s these students. I don’t wish to bring them anymore strife then this war already has, but the time is coming—”

“Let them enjoy their last year,” Minerva said again with more edge to her voice. “You know as well as I do the second that we speak with them about this, they’ll be willing. They don’t need to know until they graduate.”

Gideon cleared his voice from down the table, bringing all eyes to him.

“We have plenty of meetings to debate this. For now, let’s just try to keep our possible recruits organized. So, whether or not we wait until after they graduate, let’s get the Hogwarts students on the list.” He dipped a quill into a small ink pot and positioned it above his own parchment. “Names and strengths,” he added, nodding his head toward Albus.

“James Potter. Defensive spells, offensive as well. Patience. He doesn’t give up easily, not if his courtship of Miss Evans is any indication,” Albus let a small smile fill his gentle blue eyes. “Sirius Black. He has a temper, one that would be both an asset to us and a danger. His Defense Against the Dark Arts marks are some of the highest I’ve ever seen. He learned a great deal when he was still living with his family, most of it is not pleasant, but helpful nevertheless. He has always had a very special way with magical creatures, as well.

“Remus Lupin. One of the strongest all around students Hogwarts has. He’d be the last person to let someone down. And as terrible as his condition is, it could be of use. Petter Pettigrew. He soaks things up in fierce and quick manner, anything he lacks he’ll work harder to make up in. And he’s ever the observer, picking up details most don’t.

“Lily Evans. Well, we all know there’s a reason she’s labeled the brightest witch Hogwarts has seen since Minerva herself. In all the time I’ve known her, her moral compass hasn’t ever threatened to shake. She’s truly a remarkable young lady. Alice Christopherson and Frank Longbottom, we’ve already discussed their qualifications. Alexander Jasper, a Ravenclaw prefect…”

Minerva let her thoughts wander as Albus listed a few more seventh year students that would strengthen their cause. She believed in what they were doing, more than she believed in just about anything. But out of the eleven students they’d be speaking with at some point, seven of those were hers. Hers. The children that had sat on the stool to be sorted years ago. She knew why so many of the possible recruits were from her House, their hearts were of the brave. But that didn’t make it easier.

James made his way along the path as the afternoon sun drenched the grounds.

It wasn’t often he wanted to be alone. He’d grown up an only child. A very loved only child, but still he appreciated having the voices of his friends surrounding him, having Sirius to turn to and joke with. This afternoon he wasn’t good company for anyone.

They’d held the first N.E.W.T revision session last night. It was open to any seventh years who wanted to join, and it actually went well. Chaotic, but decent. Lily managed to get everyone to a certain table while he started assigning subjects for each group, so after about half an hour of getting things organized, it ran smoothly.

But it was different. The whole evening wasn’t how it should have been.

A few weeks ago, before the Bones attack, all the students there would have been joking around during the revision. But now, instead of laughing between quizzing, they were all exchanging information in hushed tones. So and so’s parents heard this, and someone or other saw that… it didn’t help that there’d been four more attacks on wizarding families in the last three weeks.

One of the witches who wrote the Muggle Lifestyles article in a gossip magazine was missing, and the magazine stopped printing that article the very next day. He wouldn’t have even noticed, but Margaret pointed it out at breakfast on Tuesday morning.

James continued to walk along the path, kicking a stray stone down the curve of the grass. His thoughts didn’t usually get the best of him like they were that afternoon. For some reason he just couldn’t shake the piss poor attitude.

Sirius’s was looking over Belle’s Herbology essay in the common room; she still had trouble distinguishing between a few of the magical and muggle fungi. Considering she’d spent six years learning about completely different plants, the ones that were native to France, he imagined it was a pain to have to relearn them.

Peter was hanging out with them as well, finishing his Charms assignment. Lily and Remus were in Arithmancy. And he.. he wasn’t anywhere. He didn’t even want to be anywhere.

He didn’t want to study. He didn’t want to hang out in the common room with some of the other Gryffindors. Quidditch Practice wasn’t until six o’clock that evening. It was tempting to get some solo flying in, but there was only an hour until he needed to be in the dungeons for Potions and that didn’t give him enough time.

He stopped along the path to pull his robes tighter. At least he’d thought to grab his heavier cloak… Scotland in late October wasn’t freezing, but it wasn’t as toasty as could be, either.

But the end of October was one of his favorite months, because it meant that it was almost the start of November, which meant the first Quidditch match. He needed to owl his mum and dad soon to tell them what time it started. It was the fist time they’d be able to come to one; only seventh years were allowed to have their family members attend.

His parents had seen him play before, but not really. When he’d gotten on the team his second year, they’d purchased a bit of land outside London and set up a practice pitch for him, putting up all the necessary muggle repelling charms. But watching him play around with his friends wasn’t anything like watching an actual match, and he was really excited that they’d be there. They were only allowed to stay for the duration of the game, then they had to be back in Hogsmeade by five o’clock, when the protective spells around Hogwarts resealed. But that didn’t matter, because at least they’d be able to watch him win. It was only one week and one day away. Not even the tension of the war could take that away from him.

James neared the lake, looking up when he heard the sound of a rock being thrown into the black water. Without even realizing it, his pace quickened and his moody expression broke into a smile, one big enough to have the corners of his eyes crinkling up.

He nearly ran the remaining distance to the shores of the Black Lake, only to slow down and take a few breaths before closing the gap between them. “Hey you, do I need to write you up for skiving class?”

“I’d like to see you try,” Lily said as she turned her head to glance at him. “Besides, I’m not skiving. Professor Ashdown is ill so we were just given work to complete before Monday’s lesson.

James felt himself try to form a response, the words clicking around in his brain, but for some reason nothing would come out. Instead of trying to force them, he turned his body toward Lily’s and pulled her into a hug.

Maybe she could tell that was all he wanted. Maybe they’d both just grown more comfortable around each other and were able to ignore the bits of energy that seemed to charge between them… for whatever reason, Lily didn’t laugh and playfully push him away like he’d expected. Instead, she wrapped her willowy arms around his back and relaxed her head onto his chest.

He held their hug for another moment, letting the sweet scent that always hovered around her capture him for a few seconds longer. Her hair tickled his chin, and made his face light up even more.

“What was that for?” she asked, rotating her body just enough to slip out of the hug, but still sharing one another’s space.

“I just needed it, I guess.” If he’d thought about how embarrassing that answer might be, he probably wouldn’t have said it. But he was happy he did, because it seemed to relax Lily again.

“I did too. It’s a lot, isn’t it?” She could have been referring to the studying, to the work they had to do as Heads, anything really. But they both knew she wasn’t.

“Yeah. It is a lot. I keep waiting for.. I don’t know what I’m waiting for.” James thought about what he was going to say next. Would it make him sound cold? Heartless? He didn’t know, but he was going to find out. “You know how people always say things get worse before they get better? I want them to get worse. I don’t want people to keep getting hurt or anything, but I just want things to reach their boiling point so then they can start to get better.”

“Oh God,” Lily said as she let out a sigh. “That’s just what I’ve been thinking. I felt horrible for wanting things to get worse, and it’s not exactly that. I just know what you mean. Something just needs to happen so it can be over and done with. I thought it was kind of silly before, when they called it the Wizarding War in the Daily Prophet, now I realized how stupid I was. Because that’s exactly what it is.”

“Do you get… does being muggle born…” James couldn’t figure out how to ask her if being a muggle born scared her. He’d never really thought about it before, because she was just Lily.

“Do I get scared?” She lowered herself to the chilly ground, pulling her cloak tight as she spoke. “Being a muggle born doesn’t really scare me. I think I’m just as frightened about the whole thing as everyone else. Although, part of me is relieved I don’t have to worry about my family turning up on the list of recent attacks.”

James reached over and pulled her hand to his. That same energy was already back and coursing through the air between them, but he was careful to ignore it. He’d made it clear that, until she said otherwise, they’d be just friends. That didn’t mean friends couldn’t hold hands. Not that he was planning on skipping down the halls holding Peter’s hand or anything.. but that was different. Peter’s hands weren’t soft and small like Lily’s.

“Speaking of your family, did you want me to send Beuwulf back to Petunia’s to see if she wants to send a letter?”

Lily sighed again, although this one was void of the relief she’d had earlier. Her fingers tightened just a fraction around his, probably involuntarily, but that didn’t stop it from making his stomach ache just a bit more.

“Yeah, I suppose so. I sent the letter weeks ago, and maybe she didn’t realize that she’d need to ask Beowulf to stay if she wanted to send one back. Would he mind?”

“No, course not. I have to send a letter to my mum and dad, anyway.”

“James?” Lily asked, looking even more serious. “The letter they sent you a while ago, about Christmas and stuff.. did they really mean it?”

James tried to hold back the laugh, but he couldn’t. Maybe because he’d been so moody for the last few hours, but it came out too quickly to stop.

Lily’s face stayed straight as she stared into him, clearly not seeing what he found humorous.

“You’ve met my parents, right Lily? You know, those people that barely left you alone for a second while you were staying with us? The ones that said only a thousand times how it was nice to have a girl around?”

Lily’s straight face finally broke and her laugh met James’s. He didn’t realize she’d thought their desire for her to join them over the Holidays was anything but sincere.

James’s thoughts wrapped around what Christmas time would be like. When Lily had stayed with them over the summer, the circumstances were too terrible to think about much of anything.

But this time? When she was just sleeping a room away from him? A room that didn’t involve a million security measures like the Heads’ Quarters. When she wasn’t in school uniform and robes, but those tracksuit bottoms or the jeans that showed what a nice arse she had.. Damn, this wasn’t going to be easy. He wondered if any of his mates knew some kind of spell to help with the issue of getting… excited… at the wrong time.

“James?” Her voice broke through his very inappropriate mental image, and for half a second he was sure that she could read his thoughts.

“Sorry, what?”

“I said that we’d better head to Potions.”

“Er, right,” James muttered as he mentally shooed his thoughts away. He bent down and picked Lily’s rucksack up from the grass.

“I can-”

“You can carry it, I know. I want to.” James interrupted, amused by her predictability. Before she could argue, he began making his way up the hill and toward the path that would lead into the castle.

Just a few minutes ago he’d wanted nothing more than a bit of quiet and a good sulking. Now he could barely stop from grinning. Funny how someone could do that to you.

Lily caught up to him and as they fell into a comfortable silence, James couldn’t help but think about one of his dad’s favorite sayings. It’s all about the girl.

Years ago when James asked his dad why he shaved every morning, William had simply said because Olivia liked it.

When he’d asked why they always went to the Ministry’s biannual fundraiser, even though his dad hated it, he’d always replied, ‘because your mum likes it.’ And for the first time, James began to understand just what that meant. It’s all about the girl.

Just as James and Lily entered through the large double doors, a voice called to them from across the hall. “Oi, James, Lily! Over here!”

They rushed forward to catch up with their friends, who were standing off to the side of the staircase that lead into the dungeons.

“Where’s Alice?” Lily asked as they all fell into an easy pace. James noticed that Belle was a bit more smiley than usual, he’d have to find out if Sirius finally grew some bollocks and made a move.

“She’s angry at me,” Frank answered with a shrug. “I told her I’m not doing the training program, since Mr. Moody can only cover the payment for one student. It should be her. I also told her that I’m going to owl Moody tonight and decline his offer, and she’s pretty irritated about it. You know how she is, can’t stand when people see her angry.”

Just as James was about to say that he bet they could figure something out, maybe the school had a fund or something, Sirius spoke up. “Oh, I forgot to mention that I had a solution to that. You guys know I’ve never been good at following the rules,” Sirius smirked at his own statement before he continued. “And the more I think about it, I figure I’m not the best person for an Auror position. Especially if the infiltration lasts. I’m rubbish at trying to hold my tongue. I spoke to Moody on Saturday, told him it was my last lesson, and that one of you will be taking my place. Next lesson is November twelfth at ten.”

James knew it was silly, but he felt a certain amount of pride in his best mate just then.

“Ah Sirius, you know I couldn’t let you do that,” Frank began before Sirius cut him off.

“Too late, it’s done. You better be a bloody good Auror, though. Don’t make me regret it,” he joked, then quickly turned the conversation to Hogsmeade the following day.

They finished their decent to the dungeons, and just as the group shuffled through the door into the Potions classroom, James grabbed the sleeve of Sirius’s robes.

They stepped back a bit from the door to get out of the throng of students entering.

“You know,” James began, glancing around to make sure they wouldn’t be overheard. “My mum’s offered to pay yours a visit if you want. It wouldn’t be easy, but I’m sure she could get your inheritance from the old bat, then you could still take the class.”

“Well, seeing your mum take on Walburga would be fairly brilliant, but I meant what I said. You know I want to do something to help all this, but this can’t be it. Remember I told you after your practice last Saturday that someone was at the lesson watching us?”

James nodded as Sirius pulled out a torn off piece of the Daily Prophet from that morning’s edition. “I started to this to you all at breakfast, but then everyone was talking about Hogsmeade and I didn’t want to ruin the mood.” He handed it over to James, who glanced at the picture of a pale man with a wide, scrunchy face.

Under the picture was an article that read:

Cornelius Fudge, Junior Assistant to the Minister, has been assigned by Minister Yang-gae Tanaka to oversee all training and recruiting done by Alastor Moody, Head of the Auror Office, and Bartemius Crouch, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. It came as a surprise that Minister Tanaka didn’t assign her Senior Undersecretary, Millicent Bagnold, to the position. Though we don’t have her on the record stating this, it’s thought that Ms. Bagnold disagrees with Minister Tanaka’s involvement. Neither Moody nor Crouch have commented. The exact reasoning for this change has yet to be clarified.

“It’s not just the Auror office. It’s the entire bloody Ministry,” James whispered as he glanced up at Sirius. “So if an Auror or Law Official even puts a toe out of line, they’ll get sacked.”

“Exactly. Alice and Frank know how to play nice, but still do what they need. Remember when we had that fifth year Defence teacher that failed everyone on nearly all the exams? The only reason our group passed was because those two somehow made him like us enough to stop taking points off for every tiny thing. They’re good at handling tough people. I’m not.”


James turned to see Slughorn standing at the door a few feet down from them. He quickly shoved the article into his own robe pocket, and covered his strained expression with a casual one.

“Sorry professor,” both boys muttered as they neared the open door.

“Not to worry, not to worry. Gives me the opportunity to deliver you both these.” The plump man pulled out two small, green envelopes from his robe pockets, thrusting one into the hands of each student before ushering them in and shutting the door behind them.

“You think he’d take the hint,” James whispered as they made their way toward the back of the class to sit beside Remus, Peter, and Frank. “We haven’t gone to a single meeting since he started inviting us.”

“And that was fifth year,” Sirius added, opening his envelope. “Well, this is easy enough. He’s having a late tea after the Halloween feast. So, do you want to tell him that we’ll be running around with a werewolf that night, or shall I?”

James held back a laugh as Remus elbowed Sirius in the side.

“Good afternoon class. Let’s begin where we left on Wednesday. As you remember, we started discussing the properties of a Fever Potion. Does anyone remember exactly what it’s used for?”

A sea of hands shot in the air.

“Mr. Rukin,” Slughorn said, pointing at Alrek.

“He hasn’t tried to ask Lily out or anything lately has he?” Peter asked James in a hushed tone even though the girls were at the front of the room, well out of earshot.

James began answering, then stopped when Alrek’s voice filled the room.

“The Fever Potion is used to raise the temperature of the body during emergencies so you can be vithstanding extreme cold. However, it isn’t to be used for more than twelve hours at a time. And people can only be taking it vunce every three months or you risk killing too much of your body’s necessary bacteria.”

“Excellent, five points to Ravenclaw.”

“I don’t think so,” James started once the Professor was distracted again. “Maybe he really did just want someone to show him around?” he added with a shrug.

The group stood up as Professor Slughorn gave them all the okay to collect their ingredients.

“I think you spoke too soon, mate,” Frank said, clapping James on the back as they walked toward the front of the room, where Alrek was already standing next to Lily.

They were a few rows back, but his loud voice was easy to hear even from their position. “I vas vondering if you vould vant to be attending Hogsmeade with me tomorrow?”

“Excuse me there,” Sirius said in a much deeper tone than usual, pushing past the few Ravenclaws that were separating them from Alrek and Lily.

“Sirius,” Remus hissed under his breath. James smirked, knowing that whatever Sirius was about to do on his behalf, it wouldn’t be the greatest idea.

“Couldn’t help but overhear you asking our Lily here out. Sorry to tell you that she already has plans with James.”

James was thankful he rarely blushed. Now he needed to do damage control. He couldn’t act immature about this bloke fancying Lily, it would just annoy her. So he needed to go about this a different way.

“Thanks, Sirius,” James said, coming up with an idea that would make Durmstrang back off without making himself look like a prick.

“But actually, we’re all going together. You’re welcome to join us.” There, James thought. Now he was the nice guy for inviting him, and no way would Durmstrang want to go to Hogsmeade with all of..

“Sure, I vould enjoy that.”


Did you guys enjoy the Lily/James feelings in this chapter? Writing those two always makes my heart warm and mushy. Thank you, as always, to my awesome beta reader, CambAngst. Who is filling up his author pages with some really incredible stories that you should absolutely check out!

Also, a big thank you to Roots in Water for leaving me such helpful and wonderful reviews. She always offers amazing advice, and if you've ever been curious about Moody's time spent as a hostage, or Pansy's life after the war... her Author's Page is the place for you!

If you have time, I would really appreciate a review! And most importantly, thank you for reading :)!

Chapter 12: Hogsmeade
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Amazing CI by heartfelt. @ TDA
Chapter 12 - Hogsmeade

Lily took the handle of a red porcelain teapot and filled her mug up with the steaming liquid before averting her eyes back down to the pile of forms in front of her. She absentmindedly dumped a few scoops of sugar into the tea while skimming over the next form, and then the next.

The Great Hall was peaceful; only a few dozen students were present. Probably because it was barely seven in the morning. While most people were still buried deep in their covers, she was enjoying the sight of the bewitched ceiling transforming from a soft, hazy grey to a brilliant orange. Breakfast hadn’t even started popping up when she arrived nearly half an hour ago, though the plates were now piled high and ready to nourish.

She took a sip from her cup and then set it far enough away from her papers to avoid them from getting destroyed if it happened to get knocked over. Her eyes glanced back down at the form in front of her with Denny MacNamara bolded at the top of it. She shook her head as she looked over the place where a signature from a parent or guardian was required. Instead, his own name was written in what seemed to be purposeful sloppiness. Lily was sure that he’d assumed if it looked messy and loopy, no one would give it a second glance. But, to be on the safe side, she picked her wand up from the table and cast the nonverbal spell that Professor McGonagall had taught her for this specific task. Instead of staying the same, like an authentic parent or guardian signature would, a thick red line appeared over the letters. Well, at least she double checked.

She dipped her quill in the pot and put a neat FI (Form Invalid) next to his name which was written on a separate sheet, then slipped the form behind that parchment. She went back to the pile and continued to check the signatures, pleased when she realized how quickly the chore was going. She’d be able to get it back to her professor well before afternoon, when they’d all depart to Hogsmeade.

“Morning, Lily,” Alice greeted with a yawn as she, Frank, and Belle sat down at the Gryffindor table.

“Morning. Where’s everyone else?”

“Just wait,” Frank answered, smirking into his juice. Lily started to ask him what exactly she was waiting for, but he simply shook his head and pointed toward the door.

She turned her head just in time to see the Gryffindor Quidditch team, with James in the lead, storming into the Great Hall with voices raised.

Lily couldn’t figure out what they were saying, but she could hear Margaret’s angry tone carry across the room, followed by something that sounded like agreement from the other players. James, who seemed to be oblivious to all this, shot a smile at Lily.

“What are they arg-”

“Shhh,” Belle said, holding a hand up to Lily.

“Alright,” James shouted over the voices of the players once they got to the table. “If you all could please grab a piece of toast and some fruit, then we can be our way. Morning,” James added to his already seated friends. Sirius, Remus, and Peter came from somewhere in the bunch and plopped down around the table.

“Err.. something happen?” Lily tried not to snicker as she asked, but the angry faces looked more than humorous in contrast to James’s large grin.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” Margaret growled. “This blood git-”

“Your captain, you mean?” Sirius piped up as he shoveled sausage onto his plate.

“This bloody captain git sent a Howler into our dorm! The thing just started shrieking about it being time to wake up! Captain git said practice was at nine! Then sends a bleeding Howler before it’s even seven! The sun isn’t even all the way up yet!” Margaret pointed an angry finger up toward the foggy sunrise.

“Well,” Peter reasoned, “a Howler really is the only way James could wake them up. He can’t very well walk into the girls’ dormitories now can he?”

“And remember, this is James we’re talking about.” Remus finished chewing the rest of his bite before continuing. “He could have sent loads of other things much worse than a Howler.”

“He shouldn’t have sent anything,” Mary snapped, surprising Lily. She didn't think that she'd ever actually heard sixth year girl yell at anyone. “The stupid envelope landed on my face and if I had realized what it was, I never would have opened it!”

“At least you opened yours! The one that came into the seventh year dorm just laid there on the floor without anyone noticing it! It started smoking and crackling before it even started to yell. And why aren’t you two angry? You hate being woken up, Belle!” Margaret asked, turning to the sitting girls

“At least zis was a rather entertaining way to wake up.”

“And Lily told us last night she was heading down to breakfast early.” Lily smiled at Alice’s answer. It didn’t mean anything to Margaret, who was still too angry to even realize that. But to Lily, it meant everything.

Alice and Belle, though neither of them admitted to it, were always very careful to try and limit the amount of time Lily would be alone. When she would mention anything about needing to stay up late or wake early, they were quick to make an excuse to be with her. Lily knew they still worried that if she was given too much time with her own thoughts she’d dwell on her parents. She’d gotten so much better in the last two months, but still never refused the extra company. And, if she was being perfectly honest with herself, she knew they were right. Her nightmares had lessened, but not disappeared. And because of the extra care of her friends, the piercing pain that would strike her heart had gone from a regular occurrence to an infrequent one.

Violet cleared her throat from somewhere in the back before speaking. When she did open her mouth, her tone was as snobby as ever, forcing Lily to hold back an eye-roll. “And why didn’t the boys get a Howler in their dorm?”

“Didn’t have a problem getting into the boys’ dormitories,” James answered with a shrug.

“You three think you got the rough end? I woke up to James and his mates shooting bloody fireworks off in the dorm!” Caldwell Jasper, the fifth year Keeper, said. Still, his face didn’t hold the same hints of absolute outrage as Margaret’s.

“And what about you? Did you get a Howler too?” Alexander Blackbourne questioned as he turned to Polly, who until now had merely stood aside and listened.

“Actually, I was already in the common room waiting,” she answered, a small blush creeping into her cheeks.

“If you’ve all finished your whinging, I’d like to start practice sometime before midnight. Now, as your teammates have pointed out, it’s seven. Not nine. Our first match is a week away, and after checking last night I noticed that Slytherin has taken out a five hour block for the pitch tomorrow.”

Lily knew he was probably addressing his players, but she couldn’t help joining in. “So, since Slytherin is practicing for five hours tomorrow, you’ve decided to get the team started early so Gryffindor will be able to practice for five hours before Hogsmeade?”

“Exactly!” James beamed at Lily, clearly proud that his logic made sense to someone other than him. “Now, grab some food to go and head out to the pitch. Anyone that doesn’t beat me out there will be polishing all the brooms!”

The team scurried around, reaching for handfuls of this and that, guzzled down drinks, then rushed toward the exit. James waited until the last one was out of sight before stretching out on a seat.

“Why aren’t you trying to beat them out there?” Alice asked as she jabbed a fork into her pile of eggs.

“Well, I had the teams leave their brooms with me last night so I could run a few spells on each one. Wanted to make sure the Slytherins aren’t trying to pull anything over on us. After I was finished with that I polished them all up then shrunk them to fit into my practice equipment chest. So they’d have nothing to polish.” James patted the large box beside him before picking up a few pieces of toast.

“But I better get out there anyway, don’t want any of them falling asleep on the pitch.” He eyed Lily’s teacup for a second longer. Then, with the speedy skills of a Chaser, he snaked his hand out and grabbed the cup, gulping down at least half of the liquid inside before placing it back down. Lily rolled her eyes, but the gesture wasn’t enough to prevent the laugh that followed. He was lucky that she was usually a cheery person in the morning.

He waved a hurried goodbye to the group, then grabbed his chest of polished brooms and equipment and was out the door.

“Well, I suppose I’ll head to the library to get the Arithmancy assignment finished before Hogsmeade,” Remus said with a glance towards Lily as he picked up a napkin and dabbed the crumbs from his face.

“I’ll come too,” Lily said, slipping her papers into her rucksack. “Are you all going to join us?” she asked, already fairly certain that they would. Wasting a few hours that could be spent studying during their N.E.W.T year just wasn’t a sensible option, and they all knew that.

“I really need to go back over the Defence essay in case some of the questions come back up for the test. I mean, I scored well on it, but I don’t feel like I got it all.” Alice furrowed her eyebrows as if trying to recall what she may have missed.

“Alice, you don’t get to be stressed about the test,” Frank said, grabbing her books as they stood. Lily couldn’t help but giggle at the honesty of his words. Alice really didn’t deserve to be worried the way they were. She was the one with the photographic memory. If she was nervous about this, none of them had a prayer at passing.

She watched as Alice gave Frank her best impression of an annoyed look, but considering Alice wasn’t actually annoyed, the look was just playful. Her friends both began to walk ahead, whispering teases to one another and, to Lily’s surprise, Alice leaned over and pecked her boyfriend on the cheek. Three displays of public affection in only a few months had to be a record for those two.

Without warning, Lily felt a small burn of jealousy creep up as they all moved toward the exit of the Great Hall. Not jealousy of Alice and Frank. She loved Frank of course, he’d been part of her life for over six years, but just as a friend. And she wouldn’t want Frank and Alice to be with anyone but each other. It was a different kind of jealousy. She didn’t even know if she understood it. But she did know that it made so much of her wish James was standing there beside her, teasing her… close enough that if she wanted to she could lean over and feel the scratchy stubble on his cheek with her lips…

“Lily!” She was broken from her thoughts with Belle’s voice hissing in her ear. “I ‘ave to talk to you and Alice alone.”

Lily nodded, then raised her voice loud enough for the group to hear. “I don’t think I have my Arithmancy book. I’ll just run up and grab it and meet you guys there.” She eyed Alice as she spoke, hoping her friend got the hint.

“No, I have yours from our revision in the common room last night.”

Lily noticed Belle walk up behind Alice and whisper something as well, which was immediately followed by Alice making an excuse about needing her Charms book.

“No Alice, it’s right here,” Frank said, eying her and patting one of the books in his arms.

Lily was certain that she could feel Belle’s frustration vibrating around them. She was about to say that she needed to go get a jumper when Belle started speaking.

“I zink I need to grab a tampon.”

At that moment, Lily wished more than anything that she had a camera with her. Watching the faces of their male friends twist into some sort of disgusted panic was positively brilliant.

“Erm.. yeah. See you there then!” Sirius stuttered. Without so much as another word, the four boys turned and rushed down the hall.

“Oh God, Belle,” Alice said through her snickering as the blonde began walking toward the corridor that lead past the courtyard.

“I don’t get it. I mean, zey realize it happens, don’t zey?” Belle remarked, shaking her head and continuing past the first set of windows.

“They’re still probably traumatized from our second year,” Lily began. “In first year, Madam Pomfrey met with all the girls and did the ‘talk’ about our bodies. She did the same with the boys. Which wasn’t terrible, because most of us knew it all anyway. But then, and this is where the traumatizing part starts, in second year she met with the girls and talked with us about the boys and met with the boys and talked with them about the girls.”

“I don’t think anyone looked the opposite sex in the eye for months,” Alice added.

“Well, at least it worked to get zem to leave us alone I suppose.” Belle slowed down as she spoke and leaned against the stone wall.

For the first time that morning, Lily really looked at her friend. Despite the concealer, she could make out the dark circles surrounding Belle’s eyes.

“So, what’s up?” Alice asked, leaning next to Belle.

They were far enough down the corridor filled with only classrooms that Lily thought it would be highly unlikely for anyone to walk by on a Saturday, but just to be on the safe side she pulled out her wand and whispered Muffliato. She felt a small sense of guilt at using one of the spells Severus had invented, but she ushered that feeling away and focused on Belle.

“You remember ‘ow I left dinner early last night to get ze book on fungi from ze library? And Sirius went with me?”

Both girls nodded.

“Well, we were flipping zrough a few other books and came across zis article about Mr. Potter. It talked about ‘im being ze first wizard to ever live off of Ares’s Fingers. ‘E was stuck in a desert on a mission and too injured to apparate. ‘Is wand ‘ad been snapped in ‘alf and that cactus was ze only zing ‘e could get to. ‘E ate just enough to stay alive, but not too much to let ze poison destroy ‘im. So while we were reading zis article Sirius started talking about Mr. and Mrs. Potter. ‘E wasn’t saying much, but it was ze way ‘e was talking. It was obvious ‘ow much ‘e cares about zem, and I assume it must’ve made me emotional. Because…”

“Because?” Alice prompted after Belle stayed silent.

“Because I nearly kissed ‘im,” she finally answered in an excited whisper.

“Well, why just nearly?” Lily pushed.

“I’ve already told you. I’m not ‘ere to ‘ave a relationship. And it wouldn’t be fair for ‘im to start liking me when zere are so many zings ‘e doesn’t know.”

“Well, I think you’re too late for the ‘start liking’ part,” Alice pointed out. “And besides, we don’t know everything about you, Belle. And even when you tell us, it won’t matter. We’ll still love you, and Sirius will feel the same.”

Lily wanted to continue with the topic of them not knowing, because she really did want to understand why Belle came here. But she knew they couldn't try and push Belle into telling them, it would just close her off even more.

“So which one are you worried about?” Alice asked in a gentle voice.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” Lily started, glancing at Alice to make sure they were on the same page. “Are you scared that he’ll think differently of you after you tell him whatever it is? Or are scared that you really like him already, and he might not keep liking you? There has to be more of a reason that you stopped yourself from snogging him last night.”

Belle was silent for a few seconds, and Lily was afraid they may have pushed her too far.

“We aren’t children anymore. If I was still attending Beauxbatons and living in France, my parents would ‘ave already started selecting appropriate young men for me to wed after graduation. And what ‘appens if I would ‘ave kissed him? Zen I would start to trust ‘im.”

“And what’s so terrible about that?” Lily could see the beginning of tears swelling behind Belle’s eyes. She wanted to know what they were really talking about, because it wasn’t just Sirius. It was so much more than the idea of starting a relationship with someone who adored her, but it was that more that Lily couldn’t figure out.

“Because ‘e would learn zat I’m not just zis person. Zat I’m not always beautiful and put together. Zat sometimes I do zings, terrible zings, and I’ve made choices zat even if I could go back on, I wouldn’t.” Belle’s exterior finally began cracking as a tear slithered down her cheek, and Lily and Alice both closed their arms around her.

“Belle, it’s okay. Whatever happens, it’s okay. You’ll always have us. And you aren’t giving Sirius enough credit. He knows that there’s more to you than what you show. That’s probably why he likes you.” The unusually fragile blonde took a shaky breath, then another.

“Zank you, both of you,” she finally whispered as she brushed her fingers under her eyes to rid them of the salty drops. “And I hope zat you mean what you said about always ‘aving you two.”

“Of course we mean it,” Alice said with a gentle smile. “You’re one of our best friends.”

“And nothing will change that,” Lily added, pulling her friend back in for another tight hug.

Lily stepped from her bathroom, running her fingers through the length of her hair. She’d had to blow it dry before removing the braid, but it was worth the extra time and she was surprisingly happy with the result: not too curly but not too straight. A wavy, relaxed sort of look.

Alice and Belle were in their dorms, still changing for Hogsmeade. As much as Lily loved her friends, she was thankful for a bit of quiet. After the Belle episode that morning, they had both decided to focus on asking has what she was going to wear, how she was going to do her hair, if she was excited… acting like it was a date instead of just a group of friends going to the Village together to have a bit fun for the afternoon.

Though it would probably be fairly awkward with the inclusion of Alrek. She couldn’t even harp on James for inviting him because, well that would just be rude. Honestly though, had James even realized how transparent his false friendliness had been? She saw through his plan right away. And as creative as it was, she still wished he’d have just let her politely refuse the transfer student's offer. Maybe James had actually believed that she wouldn’t refuse? But that couldn’t be it. She was certain she’d made it clear to him that, even if she wasn’t ready to date, she still fancied him.

What made Lily even more curious was why Alrek accepted the invitation. He seemed well liked by the Ravenclaws, so why wouldn’t he want to go with his own Housemates? He had plenty of girls making advances toward him… And during the last few months when she hadn’t accepted any of his invitations to join him for a walk or to study with him in the library, she thought she’d gotten it across that she wasn’t interested.

Alrek had to have realized there was something between her and James, didn’t he? The entire school thought they were dating, and they nearly could be. Although Lily couldn’t help but remind herself that the second they did start dating, if they did, something was bound to go wrong. They’d have a terrible fight that would ruin whatever relationship they started and then the friendship they spent years trying to build, occasionally shattering, then rebuilding. But then again, didn’t she just get done telling Belle to stop being so worried that very morning? Why could she give out sensible advice, and then not listen to it?

Because, she thought as she began rifling through her wardrobe to find something to wear under her cloak, he was one of the only things that kept me from the edge for those first few weeks. So if she lost him, if they tried it and it didn’t work, what else would keep her from that rocky cliff?

But, like she told Belle earlier, she’d always have her friends. She just wasn’t ready to take that chance yet.

Lily sighed as the bottom of her wardrobe came into view, discarded clothes surrounding her. She tried to push James from her mind while she picked up what seemed to be her last option, a thick, teal jumper. But just as her fingers closed around the cotton, she noticed a thin, cream coloured cardigan. Her thoughts drifted back to the night of the party, when she’d dissolved into a puddle of tears on her bedroom floor because of that very piece of clothing. Her stomach felt like it was being filled with lead, but she forced herself to pull the item from her wardrobe.

The smell was still as strong as it would have been if her mum had just donned it. Vanilla and Birch-wood. Her fingers were trembling as she let them explore the silky memory, and she felt her heart give a large quiver when she realized that she wasn’t going to cry. It was okay. It hurt, but it wasn’t tearing her apart.

Without pausing to give herself time to rethink the idea, she stripped off her comfortable long sleeve shirt and replaced it with a tighter, blue one. Then over it she slipped on the cardigan, and let herself drown in the feeling of being surrounded by her mum.


“Come in,” Lily called after Alice’s knock.

“Are you-” Alice cut herself off as she stared at Lily. “Oh… That’s the one she always used to wear to brunch on Sundays, isn’t it?” Alice asked, her own eyes swimming.

Lily’s mum had taken the girls to brunch almost every Sunday of the summer. Although Alice’s parents had never been thrilled about their daughter spending so much time with muggles, it had been easier to allow her to go than have to deal with her. So from first year on, it became a summer tradition.

“You look beautiful,” Belle added softly.

After Lily grabbed her purse, the three girls began making their way from the dorm on the second floor down to the ground floor. Hogwarts was alive with students all scurrying to finish up whatever task they were doing before it was time to begin lining up for Hogsmeade in thirty minutes.

As they stepped from the main staircase her eyes glanced over a small group of students who were already waiting. She felt the same bubble of excitement she had five years ago. Actually, she was probably even more excited now considering she’d had such a large part in making the day happen. She and James had chosen the date, organized it, gotten it approved… quite a lot, really.

They made their way past the gathering students, mostly third years terrified of missing their first excursion, and to the double doors. Lily pulled out her own copy of the list she’d given Professor McGonagall that morning and began scanning it.

“Fancy running into you three here.” Sirius’s voice was nothing but relaxed as he and Peter joined the girls.

“Belle, I went over your History of Magic essay,” Peter said, taking a step closer to the blonde. “Everything looked good, except for a part you have about Pandora. I don’t think we know for sure that she left her husband, or if she even had a husband, to pursue her dream of creating a safe and protected colony of Sirens. It’s a good explanation as to how they began leaving the warmer waters of Greece, but…” Peter stumbled a bit over his words, as if he didn’t want to correct her but didn’t want to see her marked down for it.

“Well, every’zing we know about ze Merpeople is so boring. I just zought I would spice it up a bit.”

“You can’t spice up history,” Alice said with a laugh as Frank and Remus joined the group.

“I don’t see why not. The Blacks make up loads of things to make themselves seem more interesting,” Sirius added with a crooked smile, earning a grin from the blonde witch.

“You know, maybe if you tell Professor Binns that you understand it isn’t true, but wanted to give your essay more substance, he’d let it pass?” Remus suggested, quickly catching up to the conversation. “Hey James,” he added, causing Lily to turn around to face the doors.

She watched as the Gryffindor team, with cheeks red and wind beaten, made their way through the doors and into the warmth of the Entrance Hall. The gust of wind that came alongside the players brought a sting of chill over Lily’s skin. She almost slipped the cloak that was dangling off her arm around herself, but after the last student came in and the cold disappeared, she decided against it.

“I’m going to go get changed, then I’ll be right down,” James said to no one in particular, then maneuvered quickly through the ever growing crowed.

“So, ‘ave you decided to use your own trick lipgloss on yourself, now?” Lily turned toward Belle, confused by not only her words, but the icy tone of them. The confusion vanished instantly as Lily realized who her friend was speaking to.

Violet’s hand shot up to her red and gold scarf and tugged it over a very visible love-bite.

“Mind your own business, Isabelle,” Violet snapped before trying to push between the other players on her team who were chatting with one another.

“Well, I’ve made zis my business. So, care to tell us who you’re planing on saying gave you zat disgusting zing?” Belle asked, pointing at Violet's neck.

“Why would you care? Are you worried that someone else besides you may get some attention in this school for once?”

“Not particularly. I am rather fascinating to pay attention to.”

Lily had to force back a laugh at her friend’s casual attitude. “Belle,” she began, knowing it was her responsibility to stop this.

“What I don’t want to ‘appen,” Belle said, ignoring Lily. “Is for you to go around zis school saying zat James planted zat zing on you.”

“I apologized to James for what I did. He forgave me, so I don’t see why you care.”

Oh God, Lily thought, that was a mistake. Belle had many brilliant qualities. The ability to forgive and forget was not one of them.

“When people purposefully ‘urt one of my friends I don’t consider a fake apology worthy of any sort of forgiveness.”

Lily glanced at Alice; they needed to figure something out. She didn’t think Belle would instigate a duel, but if she did, it would be with her fingernails and not her wand.

“Belle, leave her-” Alice began before Violet interrupted her.

“Look,” the girl began with an exasperated sigh. “I understand that what I did was stupid. I apologized, but you can stay mad for as long as you like.”

With that, Violet turned and walked through the throng of students and toward the staircase. Lily darted her gaze over to Belle to see if her friend was going to go after the girl, only to see a sly smile spread into the her sharp cheekbones.

“You just had to do that, didn’t you?” Alice asked, her hand on her hip, causing Belle’s smile to reach all the way into her indigo eyes.

“Just zought I would make it clear zat I still don’t trust ‘er. No ‘arm in zat,” she answered with a bounce to her voice.

“No harm at all, I’d say,” Sirius agreed, laughing. Lily looked at her group of friends, and though she knew that she really should have done more as Head Girl to stop the altercation before it started, she was glad she didn’t. Yes, Belle’s temper had been as unnecessary as her words, but it was a humbling reminder of just how great her friends were.

She checked the dainty watch on her wrist, another one of her mum’s possessions that she hadn’t been too scared to wear that day, and noticed it was five minutes until twelve.

“Eleanor, Jackson,” Lily called as the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff Prefects made their way into the group.

“Can you both get your houses lined up from third to seventh years?” she asked once they were close enough to hear. “And Eleanor, do you have a moment?”

Jackson took his cue and turned back toward his House, then began ushering them into a single file line.

“What’s up?” Eleanor asked, following Lily as she stepped a few yards away from the rest of the group.

“I’m wondering if you can tell me anything about Alrek? He’s joining us for Hogsmeade today, and I suppose I just didn’t understand why he wants to when he has plenty of friends he seems to be close with.”

Eleanor thought for a minute before leaning closer to Lily. “He is well liked in our House. Very intelligent, and a few girls seem to fancy him.”

“But?” Lily prompted.

“But…. there always seems to be something… off about him. Like he’s too comfortable with doing whatever he pleases. He’s nice enough, though. And he’s asked about you and James, the whole group actually, before. So maybe he just wants to get to know you all?” Eleanor shrugged as she and Lily said their goodbyes, then mimicked what Jackson had done and began getting the Ravenclaw students organized.

Lily gave the same set of instructions to Briscoe when she spotted him and was just getting the Gryffindors in order when James came bounding over to her.

“Afternoon, everyone!” James said, amplifying his voice with his wand. Lily took a step away to stand next to him, their backs to the door, and motioned for him to continue.

“We all know that there have been a few rule changes this year. Let’s go over those so none of you trouble makers can pretend you forgot,” he said with that casual smile of his as a few third years giggled back at him.

Lily took that as her cue to take over, and pulled a piece of paper from out of her purse, unfolding it carefully.

“As always,” she began, “we will be escorted to Hogsmeade by Professor McGonagall. While walking you need to remain in your line. After we’re in the village you’re free to do as you wish. This year as an added security measure students are not permitted to head back whenever they please. If you’d like to leave before our allotted time is over, which is at four o’clock, you need to wait until the start of the next hour. There will be a professor waiting at the entrance to Hogsmeade to escort any students back every hour, on the hour. All the shops have their own rules, so be courteous and mindful of that. As an added precaution, upon your arrival back at Hogwarts a Sneaking Scan will be performed. That scan will show if you have in your possession any of the items on the forbidden list you received with your Hogsmeade forms.”

Lily paused and glanced at James. Even with the extra height of her winter boots, she still had to tilt her head up to meet his eyes.

“Thanks, Lily. Now, I know it’s tempting to try and enter Hogsmeade if for some reason you don’t have permission, or if you’re not at least in your third year. I’m giving anyone who is trying to slip past the rules one chance to clear out. Professor McGonagall will be here shortly and she’ll weed out anyone not permitted to join us. Then when she catches you, you’ll end up scrubbing toilets by hand with Filch all day. You’ll probably even get a Howler sent to you after your mum and dad are owled and told about the incident.”

Lily’s mouth nearly dropped open when she saw a few students rustle around, then dart to the staircase and up the marble steps as fast as their legs could carry them. She was sure there had been at least five students running away! She expected one, maybe two. But five!

“Thank you for that, Mr. Potter,” Lily turned as Professor McGonagall walked up beside them, her thin lips not quite as tightly pressed as usual. “Although I’m not sure if Mr. Filch will be pleased that you’ve deprived him of the extra help.”

James and Lily greeted their Head of House and stepped aside as the Professor took over. They stood patiently against the stone wall, just the two of them now that their friends had gotten into their proper places in line.

“Hey,” James whispered, leaning his lips close enough to Lily’s ear so only she could hear. “You look beautiful.”

She felt the heat rising in her cheeks and was sure they were bright red. She glanced out from the corner of her eyes, only to see him smiling down at her. It wasn’t a new thing for James to tell her she looked lovely, or brilliant, or even beautiful. But usually he made a big show of it… when they were in the middle of class, in a crowed hall, somewhere that he’d be able to bask in the adoring looks of the others student. This time he’d said it to just her, though. So if he wasn’t saying it to make himself the center of attention…

“You may proceed to Hogsmeade!” Minerva McGonagall’s voice jolted Lily from her speculating, and she and James immediately turned to lead the group of students to the village.

“We’ll take nine butterbeers, please,” Remus said to the barmaid as James and Sirius pushed a table next to a booth and added enough chairs for the group to sit.

Lily pulled her cloak tighter around her as she waited for the warmth of the pub to seep it her chilly body. After they'd met Alrek at the entrance of the village, they'd all but ran to the Three Broomsticks to get out of the chilly October wind. She couldn't remember it being quite so cold in the fall before, and that had to mean they were in for a brutal winter.

After James and Sirius had sorted out enough seats to accommodate all nine of them, Lily squeezed into the booth. She watched as Alrek moved to slide into the booth directly across from her, and was relieved when he noticed James and instead allowed him to go first. But she realized with the order everyone was getting in at, that would leave Alrek and Peter next to one another. And poor Peter really didn't like having to try and keep a conversation going with new people. She was just about to ask him if he wanted to switch places when Remus picked up on it and offered under the pretense of wanting to give him a chance to talk with Frank about an assignment.

"Here you lot are," rang the voice of the barmaid as she slid around their drinks.

"Vell, this will be tasting enjoyable, I'm sure. Though I vouldn't have turned down something stronger." Alrek's comment earned a laugh from both James an Sirius, and Lily found herself quite pleased with how comfortable the start of the afternoon seemed to be.

Maybe she’d worried about Alrek’s presence too much. It was still a bit awkward with how frequently he directed his questions straight to her, and looked at her with such an intensity that it made her avert her gaze, but she supposed that could be because she was the one that he knew the best. Maybe she’d been slightly full of herself when she assumed he’d only agreed to come in order to get a chance to be alone with her.

He’d even offered to pay for their second round of drinks, but then James had immediately insisted on paying for the next.

Lily let the thoughts seep from her mind and focused back on the conversation spreading around her.

“Well, he does have an owl, but Acorn is more mine anyway,” Alice said with a laugh. It took Lily a moment to catch up, but then she remembered that Alrek had asked Frank if he had any other animals besides the toad he occasionally brought to class.

“And the toad isn’t even mine! The start of sixth year the critter somehow got into my robe pocket when we were taking the carriages from the train to Hogwarts. Then I could never get rid of the thing,” Frank added. The group laughed, and even though Frank acted like he didn’t care about the amphibian, everyone knew he adored the slimy thing.

“I zink if I could ‘ave any pet it would be a dog,” Belle said absentmindedly.

“I always knew you had good taste, Leclair,” Sirius remarked as he took another swig from the brown bottle.

“What about you, Lily?” Alrek asked, turning the table’s attention to her.

“Well, I really want a cat, but I can’t get one because Petunia and my mum are allergic.” Lily lifted her glass to take another drink, and she noticed the faces of her friends dropping. She was halfway through her sip when her heart realized what her mind had just said.

Her mum was allergic… three months ago when she’d still been alive. The sister she had a strained relationship with for over a year, who moved out before Lily even began sixth year, was allergic.

“I guess, well, I suppose that doesn’t matter anymore,” she said, trying to force herself to sound okay.

“You should see my owl Beowulf. The thing barely makes a sound when it sees me, then when Lily goes into the Owlery he’s hooting himself into a fit he’s so excited,” James said, rushing to distract the table as he gently squeezed Lily’s knee under the table. She forced down a few deep breath, and reached her hand down to squeeze Belle’s.

The group followed James’s lead and managed to change the conversation, and after a few more seconds Lily felt her racing heart slow back down. Her mum had been allergic. It was okay. It was normal for her to forget, even for half a second, that her parents weren’t with her anymore. The book that Professor McGonagall had discretely given to her, The Art of Moving Forward, taught her that much.

Lily struggled to get back into the conversation just as it was seemed to be changing to their coursework.

“Lily’s really the best with Potions, though," Remus was explaining as he leaned back into the booth. "And Charms. When we took our O.W.Ls, she was the only one to get through the Charms obstacle course. You didn’t have to make it through to receive an O. The Ministry sets it up so not even most full grown wizards can handle freezing all the Muggle alarms and getting the necessary objects to move at the perfect time, and that’s just the start of it, but Lily did it,” Remus said, grinning at the redhead. Even though Lily didn’t always feel comfortable in a situation where her work was being bragged about, that instance was one that she was particularly proud of.

“Came out without a scratch on her, and earned our House fifty points,” Peter added.

“That’s not entirely true, I did break three toes,” Lily reminded them.

After just under an hour in the Three Broomsticks, the group was getting ready to go pay for their last round when the sound of shouting distracted them.

Lily turned her body around in the booth to see what was going on. Alana, a seventh year Slytherin, was locked into a heated stare with Abigail. The former’s face was red and blotchy, her hands clenched into fists on the table.

“And here’s another thing,” Abigail hissed in a more controlled voice than her previous yell. “Just because you’re stupid enough to get yourself knocked up, doesn’t mean you can run to me to help your trampy arse out of this situation.” Alana’s face paled a few more degrees, but her lips remained shut tightly. “You’ve fucked up the rest of your bloody life, fine, but I’m not going to be part of your idiotic decision.” Abigail continued, venom seeping from her words.

“I don’t care what your opinion is,” Alana began in a tone that was much stronger than she looked. “I was simply trying to be a good friend and tell you before the news got around.”

“The news won’t get around, because the moment your parents find out they’ll be sure to cover up and fix your mistake so you don’t humiliate our entire family.”

“They're cousins on Alana's mum’s side,” Sirius whispered around the table.

“My parents aren’t yours, Abagail. They don’t have the same set of outdated opinions as your stuck up mum and dad.” Abigail shot up from her chair, her wand gripped tightly into her fingers.

“How dare you, you pathetic slag!”

“Abigail,” Lily said, as she pushed her way out of the booth and walked over to the girls. Her own voice wasn’t raised, but it held a certain kind of contained anger that made it all the more intimidating.

“Professor Slughorn will be waiting at the Hogsmeade entrance in,” she glanced down at her watch, “five minutes. You will head back to the castle with him as well as explain that you’ve just drawn your wand on another student. I’ll be meeting with him this evening to be sure you actually did that, and he'll decide if this kind of poor judgement warrants the removal of your Prefect badge.”

Abigail opened her mouth to say something as Lily glanced down at her watch, then cut her off. “Now you have four minutes. I suggest you hurry up, unless you’d like me to start taking points from Slytherin.”

The girl stared at Lily, her eyes smoldering with rage, before turning and stomping from the establishment.

“Thank you,” Alana said in a weak tone. “You all won’t, well, you won’t tell anyone, will you?” Her eyes glanced over the table, which had been the only one close enough to hear what the girls were arguing about.

“No, of course not," Lily assured her. "But it would be wise to see Madam Pomfrey, and you may want to talk to the Headmaster.”

Alana nodded, then slipped her purse off of the table and hurried from The Three Broomsticks.

“Wow,” Alice said with a sigh as Lily rejoined her friends. She was about to reply when she looked around and realized the blonde of the group wasn’t there.

“Where’d Belle go?” The group seemed to notice that she was missing for the first time, as well, because they all shook their heads and shrugged.

“Let’s go see if she’s waiting outside, then we can head to Zonko’s,” Peter suggested.

“I vould think that I am needing to be going. I have made plans to join a girl from Ravenclaw at a tea shop,” Alrek said, causing the boys to shoot him a sympathetic look.

“Ah, Madam Puddifoot’s, good luck with that,” Sirius snickered.

They made their way outside after dropping some coins onto the table, and Lily smiled when she noticed Belle’s waves of blonde hair, her back turned to them.

Lily and Alice waved their friends forward after agreeing to meet them in a bit, then headed towards Belle.

“What is it?” Lily asked as they closed the distance between them. Belle’s usually sparkling eyes had a dull tint to them.

“I just needed a minute to zink.”

Alice and Lily remained silent, both of them knowing there would be more.

“Ze reason I came to Hogwarts… I zink I would like to tell you about it, but not until zis evening.”

"We can always go back now, if you'd like to talk about it right away," Alice suggested, grabbing one of Belle's shaking hands and holding it tightly.

Belle seemed to contemplate it for a moment, glancing between the both friends. The uncertainty in her eyes unnerved Lily. She wasn't used to seeing anything other than confidence in the vivid blue pools of color.

"I.." Belle paused, taking a deep breath before continuing. "I zink it will be easier to talk about later."

"It wouldn't be-"

“Lily-” Peter yelled, interrupting Alice as he came running toward them. “You better come see this.”

Lily glanced at Belle, nervous about letting the subject drop. The unusually vulnerable looking blonde gave her a small nod, and was the first of the three to begin following Peter down the cobblestone road. Lily’s feet were sweating in her winter boots after they passed a few shops, and she began slowing down, thinking Peter was about to turn into Zonko’s, when he instead crossed the street and opened the door to Hogsmeade’s Critters of all Kinds Pet Shop.

“What are we doing here?” Lily asked, stumbling through the entrance. She followed Peter’s glance, surprised to see Frank, Sirius, Remus and James all standing at the service counter. They walked past the cages of all kinds of animals, magical and muggle alike, as James handed over a few Galleons and Sickles to an older woman with blue hair piled high atop her head.

She started to turn to Peter to ask why he’d rushed them over here just to see James buy his owl a few treats, when a tiny meow came from close by.

“We told him to ask you first, Lily,” Remus said, though his voice made it sound more like an apology than anything.

“Well, Remus and I told him to ask you first. To make sure you’d want to take care of him,” Frank added, shooting a glare at Sirius.

“Told him to ask me what exactly?” Lily felt herself grow more nervous; anything that Remus and Frank both tried to talk James out of, and Sirius tired to talk him into, couldn’t be good.

James stepped away from the counter before glancing sheepishly down at her. He reached into his cloak pocket, and out of it pulled a small bundle of golden fur that couldn’t have been any larger than a Remembrall.

“He was curled up in a cage in the front window, and I thought about what you said at The Three Broomsticks..” James stuttered, petting the top of the kitten’s tiny head. “There are a few other ones to chose from, but I picked this one because his fur looks like that butterscotch candy stuff that you love...” James added, just barely meeting her eyes with a hopeful smile.

“You… You got me a kitten?” Lily usually prided herself on the amount of control she had over her reactions. She could stay calm when she needed; she could be the one to make sense out of a confusing situation.. she was a very self contained person for the most part. But just then, she lost every bit of that ability and threw her arms around James, careful not to bump the kitten.

A chorus of awws immediately followed, and as she looked around she realized it wasn’t just her friends in the shop, but a handful of other students. At that moment though, she couldn’t have cared less. She didn’t mind what they thought or how many of them went back to their friends and told them about this, further enhancing the ‘Lily and James’ rumors.

“Told you,” James mumbled to his friends as Lily slowly pulled away.

“I didn’t buy him a bed or anything. I thought you’d want to choose one yourself,” he added as Lily picked up the delicate, now purring, ball of fur.

“Here,” Lily said, reaching into her purse with her free hand. “How much was he?”

“Absolutely not,” James growled. “I wanted to get him for you.”

Lily knew the sensible thing to do would to make him take the money, not that she was under any delusion that she could make James do anything, but instead she brought the small creature up to her face and cuddled him into her neck.

“Hi Butterscotch,” she whispered as her friends gathered around her. It was silly to get so excited, but she couldn't help it. 
She had her very own kitten.


Thank you, as always, to my amazing Beta, CambAngst. Who, by the way, has started writing an awesome story that centers around Draco and Astoria post war and currently has two chapters up, and I absolutely suggest checking that, as well as his other stories, out.

And now, I'd like to dedicate this chapter to a really wonderful friend I've met here on HPFF. Athene Goodstrength (Sarah), whose birthday is Sunday the 18th! I hope that all the warm fuzzy Lily and James feels in this chapter has helped to give your birthday an awesome start, Sarah! ♥

Also, thank you to Arithmancy_Wiz for helping me work out some transition issues I was having in this,

Thank you so much for reading! ♥

Chapter 13: Revelations
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Amazing chapter image by Pheonixn@TDA
Chapter 13 - Revelations

Regulus Black paced back and forth. Every step he took caused the rotting floorboards to emit a small moan of protest, and though the noise irritated him, he didn’t stop. He wanted to light his wand and further explore his surroundings, but these things were better done under the mask of dark. He pulled out his pocket watch for the second time and took a step closer to the old, boarded up window, hoping that the afternoon sun would be able to slip through just enough to illuminate the hands of the watch. He squinted closer to the glass face, but no luck. It was still too dark.

He slipped the gold heirloom back in his pocket and continued pacing. Regulus knew his companion should be there any moment, but he detested waiting. And if the boy didn’t arrive before Bellatrix, then they’d both be in trouble.

A sharp creaking of the door forced him to come to a complete halt. He knew he was nearly invisible in the shadows, but that didn’t stop him from drawing his wand. He watched as a male form slipped into the Shrieking Shack, but he was unable to make out the face. The heavy hood of the newcomer’s black cloak concealed his identity completely. The boy coughed four slow, deliberate times, causing Regulus to lower his wand with a sigh.

“Finally,” Regulus hissed. “Took you long enough.”

“I had difficulty slipping away. You vouldn’t be vanting me to raise any suspicions, vould you?” The boy removed his hood, his blonde hair catching what little light there was.

“No matter, what’s important is that we’re both here before her.Have you found out anything valuable, Alrek?” Regulus asked, then proceeded to whispered a spell under his breath, causing a small orb of light to appear at the tip of his wand. He avoided speaking to someone whose face he could not make out whenever possible.

“Before ve get into that, are you being certain this place is safe? You are aware that other students are still swarming Hogsmeade, are you not?”

“Of course I’m aware of that. And yes, it’s safe.” Regulus snapped, not one to appreciate his choices being questioned. “When I mentioned to Severus Snape that I needed a secure location to meet someone from our side in Hogsmeade, he suggested it. Students don’t come near this shack because it’s supposedly haunted. I made it clear to Severus that if he should be mistaken and someone was to walk up the path and find us, he would answer for it personally.” Regulus smiled at the thought of how much power his small, tattoo like trophy gave him. Severus might be a Potions prodigy, but he wasn’t a marked follower. The youngest of the Blacks could tell that the greasy-haired seventh year craved the power and prestige more than anything. “We just can’t use it on full moons. Something about a nutty villager coming up here on those nights.”

“And vhy are ve not using the cabinet on the second floor?”

Regulus usually grew bored of questions, but just now when they had nothing else to do besides wait, he didn’t mind them quite as much. Especially when the questions were coming from Alrek Rukin, who was supposedly chosen by the Dark Lord himself as a spy inside Hogwarts. It was also rumored that Alrek’s entire family were some of the largest supporters of the Dark Lord’s in Easter Europe and that the majority of Bulgaria feared them. How much of that was true and how much was talk, Regulus didn’t know.

“I assume it’s because Vanishing Cabinets have been turning up left and right now. Even if Dumbledore is a fool, I’m sure he searched the castle floor by floor after Bellatrix was spotted. She can’t risk using the cabinet when he’s probably found it and set up all sorts of traps around it. Although I’m surprised the old man hasn’t gotten rid of it altogether.”

“Very good, little cousin.” To Regulus’s credit, he didn’t jump, though he was certain a large portion of his blood may have frozen over.

“Bellatrix?” He said with as much confidence as he could gather. He pointed his wand in every direction, but still failed to spot his cousin.

“Are they teaching you nothing at that school?” came another hiss. He pointed his wand in the direction it had seemed to originate from, and after a moment of searching he began to see what could only be described as portions of her. Her dark, glassy eyes first, then a few strands of her thick mass of curls. He swore her nails, blood red today instead of their usual black, came into view next. After less than five-seconds, her entire body was visible as she leaned comfortably against the wall.

“Don’t tell me that you can’t even recognize a simple Disillusionment charm, my dear cousin,” she taunted as she took a step towards them. Of course, a Disillusionment charm. He should have expected her to be waiting even before they arrived. She always did like watching people while they were at their most vulnerable.

“You don’t think I would trust Severus Snape’s word simply because he admires the Dark Lord, do you? Even you can’t be that naive. I arrived hours ago and set up the necessary precautions. Now,” she took another step towards the boys, reaching her fingers out and grabbing hold of Regulus’s chin. “Tell me you have something for me to pass on to the Dark Lord.”

Regulus forced his gaze to remain steady on her shadowy eyes. “I would rather tell the Dark Lord directly, Bella.”

“Ha!” she cackled, her fingernails digging into his flesh with just enough bite to cause Regulus to clench his jaw before she finally let go. “You think the Dark Lord would set foot in this Mudblood-ridden village?”

“Ven are ve being able to attend another meeting?” Alrek asked from the side, drawing Bellatrix’s attention to him.

“Are the itty bitty boys desperate to play with the grown ups?” She mocked a pout as she pulled out her wand and lit the tip. “Desperate to be in His company?” Regulus picked up the familiar hints of adoration in his cousins voice. The way her tone seemed to cradle even the thought of their Lord.

“Now,” she continued, “we don’t have all day. Tell me you have information.”

“All the Slytherins I mentioned before still seem easily recruited. Mulciber isn’t a genius with a wand, but he’s brutal and followers orders,” Regulus replied promptly, not wishing to push his cousin’s temper. He took a step back toward the wall as he spoke to avoid a rat that scurried across the floor.

“And about the others?” she asked, her eyes darting to the same rat that Regulus had just distanced himself from.

He assumed she was about to do the same, keep the vermin from scurrying over her shoes. Instead, she raised her wand and pointed it at the creature, her face set deep in concentration. A thin jet of green light tore from the tip of her weapon and collided with the creature, silencing the scratching of his tiny nails against the wood.

“Your nonverbal abilities are impressive,” Regulus muttered, not knowing what else to say.

“Tell me about the others,” Bellatrix ordered again, ignoring her cousin’s comment. “If He’s to gain new support from Hogwarts, it must be done soon.”

“What does it matter if he has Potter on his side? There are plenty of Slytherins who want to join him,” Regulus asked, hoping to avoid the truth. He was no closer to finding a weak link to prey upon in Potter’s chain than he’d been months ago.

“What matters, is that we gain numbers. Power. Do you want to live day in and out in a world surrounded by filth, Regulus?” Bellatrix’s voice was dangerously low as she stepped toward him.

“Of course not, but he’s just one arrogant, cocky student.”

“If I may-” Alrek interrupted, causing the two others to turn and face him. “It is true he is just one student, that is being obvious. But he is part of a group that idolizes him. Vhy vould the Dark Lord be recruiting a Slytherin, and be getting just one follower, vhen he could recruit the boy who has most of Hogwarts eating out of his hands? This school looks up to Potter, vhat he and his group do influence more students than anyone else.”

Regulus didn't let his outward appearance change, but inside he felt like a dense child, who'd just been told a painfully obvious answer.

"Enough about why. Your mission is not to analyze the Dark Lord's orders. Now, do you have something useful to tell me, or are you planning on further wasting my time.” The intensity of her tone had the hairs on the back of Regulus’s neck standing on end. He knew she couldn’t be pushed much farther.

“I think I may being of help vith that.” Regulus wanted to be irritated that Alrek seemed to be so ahead of him, but the fact that it was keeping his cousin’s anger away was too great of a relief.

“Our main goal is to be getting Potter alone, some’vere that he can be captured and taken to the Dark Lord, is it not? Vell, I have just spent the afternoon in Hogsmeade vith his group. They talked of going home for the vinter holiday, so he vill no longer be in the protection of Hogwarts. Vell, I believe I can continue to gain their trust, be part of their circle, and vith that trust I can discover a time over the holiday vere ve can get him alone. Even if it means creating that time myself.”

Bellatrix stayed silent for a moment, and despite Regulus’s better judgement, he voiced the most obvious concern. “Even if we do get him and bring him to the Dark Lord, he won’t join. You don’t understand him, any of them, Bellatrix. He’s dating a mudblood, for god sakes. It’s a waste of time for Him to even try.”

Bellatrix snapped her head toward him, her lips tearing into an angry snarl. “It is not your place to decide who the Dark Lord should and shouldn’t recruit! It is your place to follow orders and do as you’re told!” He took a small step backward as her hand hovered over her wand pocket. “And even if Potter denies, then we will have the chance to make an example out of him. Out of all of them. Haven’t you always wanted to teach your blood traitor brother a lesson, Regulus?” Bellatrix asked, the dark light in her eyes making it obvious that she wanted only one answer from him.

“Yes, yes, of course,” he lied, hoping he’d never have to come to a point where he was expected to teach Sirius a lesson.

“It is being close to time for us to return,” Alrek interrupted, the time ticking closer to four o'clock.

Bellatrix stood frozen for another moment, her eyes and Regulus’s latched together, before facing Alrek.

“You have until the end of the term. If by then neither of you have a time and place that Potter can be easily accessed, you will pay for it.” She turned her head and gazed at the dead rat at her feet, making her point all too clear.

She faced them again, and cast the Disillusionment charm atop their heads one after another. Regulus sucked back a groan as the icy feeling trickled slowly over him, covering his face then seeping down his neck and dripping over his body. After a moment he glanced at Alrek to see that the boy was blended perfectly into the darkness around him.

“I assume you know how to return back to your normal form?” Bellatrix questioned as she twirled her wand between two fingers. “Don’t make a single mistake, or I will watch as the Dark Lord handles you personally.” She pointed her wand into the air and created a swirl of dust. A mist like feeling surrounded them. After a moment it dissolved, and it seemed as if nothing had happened.

“Don’t tell me you were both going to be careless enough to leave this room without erasing every trace of you? Pathetic.” Bellatrix sneered.

Before either of the boys could make a comment, there was a loud crack and she was gone.

Isabelle let her mind wander as she, Lily, and Alice got comfortable around the fire in the Heads’ Quarters. She'd been on edge the rest of Hogsmeade, her thoughts revolving around the story she was now moments from telling.

“So,” Lily began, settling herself on the sofa close to the fire, Butterscotch curled into her lap. Belle smiled at the small animal, so innocent and untainted by the world around them.

When this was all over and her heart didn’t feel so heavy, she would have to mention how much Lily and James had resembled new parents: toting their kitten around Hogsmeade, James asking if Lily thought the little guy wanted more milk every few minutes, Lily scrunching her eyebrows up and questioning James on what kind of blanket she should get for him…

“Why are you scared to date James?” Belle asked, tearing her eyes from the kitten to its owner

“Well,” Lily began, biting the corner of her lip. “I suppose it’s too scary to know right now what we feel. He saved me, his family saved me, and as much as that means to me, I know that isn’t the only reason I fancy him. But what about how he feels about me? What if it isn’t real, and he just thinks it is because of how close we got during the summer? I’m not ready to see what happens if we date and it doesn’t work out. I don’t want to lose him yet.”

Alice and Belle stayed silent as Lily’s words floated around the room. Belle had hoped it would be a silly reason that she could argue with, keep the conversation from her own affairs for as long as possible, but that wasn’t the case. Even though everyone else could see how much James cared about Lily, Belle understood that she would have to accept it on her own before she opened her heart up to a relationship.

She gazed around at her friends, their faces patient. She knew they wouldn't push her to begin until she was ready, but she was running out of ways to distract herself. She met Alice's dark eyes, and that single glance was filled with more understanding than Belle could handle. What if once her friends realized that what happened was her own fault, their looks of understanding faded and were replaced with the same cold glares that the girls at Beauxbatons had given her? But Belle knew that she’d have to take the risk… they’d been the best friends anyone could have, and they deserved to know the truth.

She closed her eyes, and knew there was no use at putting it off any longer. She'd start at the beginning and hope that they still cared about her by the time she got to the end. “I left my ‘ome… rather I was told to leave ‘ome and not return because I made a decision zat my parents could not agree with.” Belle stood up from the sofa and moved next to the fire. Her eyes were hooked to the flames, the dancing oranges and devouring yellows. She let her mind wander back to the tenth day of April. The day that everything in her life changed before she even realized it. It was just barely six months ago, but in her heart it felt like another life.

“I made a decision zat would shame and disgrace them, and instead of supporting me, zey exiled me.” Her breath evened out as she let the memories seep into her.

“I met Christophe my first year of Beauxbatons…” Her words where there, but her mind wasn’t. It was far away, years past their initial meeting and dwelling on the end of it all. The feeling of the sea, just warm enough to walk a few inches into it. Conjuring images of the way his hand laced in hers and squeezed it just a little tighter when she dared to step a few more feet towards the waves… “Our families were somewhat familiar with one another, so I'd already known a bit about 'im prior to ze start of school. ‘Is father is a business man, one of ze most successful in France, ‘is mother, a well known witch zat is rumored to ‘ave been born into more money than God ‘imself would know what to do with.

“I liked Christophe well enough when we were first acquainted; ‘e was polite, courteous, and didn’t ‘ave ze same attitude most of ze school possessed. We started dating in April of fifth year, right before I turned sixteen. Even though we liked one another before that, I wasn’t permitted to date until then. ‘E asked me to join ‘im on a walk around ze Palace Gardens.”

Had she really only been in fifth year then? Was it two years ago that she held his hand as they toured the gardens, laughed when he tucked a petal behind her ear...

“‘E asked me to be ‘is girlfriend zat day. Ze following week was Easter ‘oliday, and our families dined together on ze night of my birthday, both pleased about our relationship. I understood zey were already thinking of a wedding, of what a suitable match we’d make and ‘ow soon after graduation we’d be wed. But Christophe and I laughed about zat behind their backs. We’d joke zat we’d take off together, move in after graduation and live in sin just to vex zem. Though I wouldn’t ‘ave been against it, I knew ‘e never would follow through. ‘E’s an only child and ‘is parents approval meant everything to ‘im, but it was still fun to pretend. At ze time I wanted to study Wandlore, and I knew that I would not be marrying right after graduation. I never voiced that though, because it was easier to spend time with ‘im if my mother and father thought I’d be wed to ‘im within a few years time.”

She thought about how it had been after they began dating, when their families both approved and they could be open about their relationship at Beauxbatons. They went from being popular, to being treated like royalty.

“Everything continued just like you’d zink it would. We spent a decent amount of time together over ze summer, and we even vacationed with one another’s families before sixth year started. I didn’t love Christophe, or at least I wasn’t in love with ‘im. I zink I was infatuated ze way anyone would be at zat age. After all, ‘e was handsome and caring, and ‘e adored me. After Christmas passed, we were starting to get more desperate to get a bit of time alone together. A chance to be with each other and not be ‘overed around in the Palace of Beauxbatons, without our families being around… we just wanted it to be us. Zen our chance came when ‘is mother and father announced zat zey would be taking a ‘oliday at their villa in ze Côte d'Azur-”

“The what?” Lily interrupted, drawing Belle from her own world of memories. The strength of them, of the imprints of her past, had captivated her so completely that she’d nearly forgotten she was reliving it all in the presence of her friends.

“Ze Côte d'Azur, ze French Riviera. Christophe’s family owns a villa in an area of ze French Riviera called Cassis.” Lily nodded at Belle, and she took a breath to steady herself before she continued.

“Zey invited me on ze ‘oliday, and Christophe told me zat ‘is parents ‘ad friends in a neighboring villa zat zey would spend the majority of their time with. So we knew zat even if we weren’t going to be completely alone, it would be close enough. We went to dinner ze first night we were there, Easter night which also ‘appened to fall on my birthday, to celebrate both my turning seventeen and our year anniversary. Zen we walked along ze beach together under ze moonlight… ze kind of romantic setting zat every girl dreams of ‘aving.”

The way the wind had whipped her silvery blond hair around Christophe’s face when he pulled her into him was so clear that Belle gave up trying to forget, and let the memory wash through her. Their footprints were still etched into the sand where they had walked along the line that separated land and sea, the music of the waves surrounding her heart as his kiss filled her lips. They’d both known what they wanted to happen, or at least they thought they did.

“Belle,” Lily’s soft voice and protective arms reaching around her brought Belle back to reality. She realized for the first time that there were tears slipping over her cheeks… but she couldn’t figure out why they seemed so detached from her. Maybe because the tears she was shedding were different now, not the same kind she’d cried in the following weeks after that night.

“Belle, you don’t have to,” Alice whispered, clutching both of her hands.

“No, it’s okay. I need to.” She shut her eyes and silently pleaded that by the end of it, they’d still be sitting beside her. “The walk back to their villa was nothing but blurry with the knowledge of what was going to come next…”

Nerves, fear, excitement… all of it burning into her veins as he unlocked the glass doors. All the contradictory feelings only growing stronger when Christophe picked up a note that told them his parents were out and would be back later. She was only seventeen, barely seventeen, but that wasn’t so young, was it? She was of age to do anything else, to perform any spells that her wand wished to, so she was old enough to let herself be with the person she’d just spent the last year of her life with, wasn’t she? This was how it was supposed to happen…how relationships moved forward. She forced all the concerns, all the questions from her mind as he guided her upstairs.

“Zat night we took steps together zat neither of us ‘ad really been prepared for. We tried to laugh through ze awkward parts, and at ze end ‘e told me ‘ow much ‘e loved me.” Had she even believed it? Had she loved him? She was the image of everything he wanted, she knew that. Beautiful, well bred, intelligent…

“Shhh, it’s okay,” Lily cooed as Belle’s voice became thick with tears.

“It’s not even zat I was very sad about ‘im,” Belle tried to explain, her thoughts so tangled. “It’s just zat, now when I think about it, when I really see what we were, I realize ‘e cared only about ze person inside me zat I detest so much. Ze person zat let ‘erself be ze image of what everyone wanted, what everyone thought was perfect. Beautiful, malleable, simple, controllable…”

“Even if you used to be that person, you aren’t anymore, Isabelle. Beautiful, yes, but just as much inside as you are out,” Alice whispered. “No one would ever think of you as malleable-”

“Definitely not simple,” Lily added with a gentle smile.

“And controllable? We’d get looked at like nutters for even suggesting it.”

Belle smiled as another tear slipped over her lips. Though the smile still held more sadness than relief, because they didn’t know. They could still change their minds and be disgusted with her by the end of it… but she couldn’t stop now. She had to finish.

“It was ze first and only time we were together. Ze last two days of ze ‘oliday spent touring ze Côte d'Azur.”

As her friends loosened their grip, she let her mind drench itself back into the memory. Painful as it may be, she needed to be back there.

“School started ze next week. And even if what ‘appened between us wasn’t ze movement of ‘Eaven and Earth zat people make it seem like, we were still closer because of it. I even started thinking zat Christophe wouldn’t be a terrible match for me… Zen in ze middle of May I went to speak with ze infirmier who lived at the Palace because I believed I was ill. I ‘ad been throwing up for a few days, and it was beginning to disrupt my morning classes.” Alice’s gasp told Belle that her friends realized where this was going.

“She asked me ze normal questions, and zen asked me about my cycle. Ze second I figured out what she was talking about, I started trying to think back to ze night. Could I really ‘ave been zat stupid? I just assumed Christophe was taking ze potion. I mean, ze side affects of ze male form of protection are so much less zen those of ze woman’s. So naturally I assumed ‘e’d also realized this and was already using ‘is protection.”

Belle got caught for a moment on the thought of the infirmier’s face. The older woman’s eyes had filled with empathy when Belle told her that she hadn’t been using protection.

“Christophe ‘adn’t asked if I was protected, so I assumed ‘e was. But ‘e must’ve assumed ze same. Ze infirmier took a blood sample and mixed it with some potion. After a few minutes, she came back and told me zat I was pregnant.”

Belle felt Alice’s own tears against her shoulder and glanced up.

“You shouldn’t have had to go through that alone. Why didn’t you have anyone with you?” Alice whispered. For the first time, Belle’s smile was genuine. Her friend was more worried about why she was alone in the infirmary than why she was stupid enough to get pregnant on the first time she was ever with a man.

But that small moment of happiness dissipated as she forced her mind to stay where it was, to stay in what was just the start to the worst three days of her life. She glanced over at Lily, and something about the way her friend’s impossibly green eyes were strained from holding in tears, the way there was a shadow similar to her own over them, made Belle think that the redhead already knew what was coming next.

She continued, temporarily ignoring Alice’s question. The answer to it would come out very soon, anyway. “I told Christophe right away, and ‘e didn’t say anything at first. Just zat ‘e needed time to zink. I understood zat and was careful to avoid ‘im for ze rest of ze day. Zen ze next morning I ‘ad planned to talk with ‘im. I left my room ready to deal with whatever Christophe would say, but not even a minute after entering ze dining chambers, I was received by ze worst looks, ze meanest insults, I’d ever imagined.

"Ze friends I thought I’d made at Beauxbatons were now nothing but cruel voices. I learned through one of zem zat Christophe ‘ad told ze whole school I’d been cheating on ‘im and got pregnant, and now was trying to pass it off as ‘is. Zis was almost ze worst part of it all. Learning zat these girls I’d spend six years with, this boy I cared a great deal about, ‘ad all turned against me. It was like a terrible joke, except it wasn’t. I felt like I ‘ad no one.”

It was overwhelming her. The memory was sucking away the strength she’d tried so hard to surround herself in. She squeezed the hands holding hers even tighter, and forced herself to press on.

“Christophe must’ve contacted ‘is parents immediately, because zey contacted mine and I was called ‘ome ze next day.”

Her heart sped up as she envisioned herself walking through the doors of the Leclair mansion, the sight of her mother and father sitting calmly, backs straight, on the pure white sofa. She’d thought that maybe there she’d find some solace. Maybe there she could break down and tell them that she’d been such an idiot, that no one would even look her in the eye anymore.

“They sat me down, and I knew zey were angry. But zey were still my parents. They told me ‘ow irresponsible and stupid I’d been, something again zat I already knew. Zen zey went on about ‘ow our family would not suffer because of my mistake. Ze wizarding community respects them, looks up to them, and zey told me zat I would not destroy zat. Would not demolish their place in society.

“My mother told me zat even though I made ze mistake of an adult, zey would handle it for me. At zat point I assumed zey were going to tell me zey would get a tutor so I could remain ‘ome for the rest of it. I understood zat I’d made a mistake, but it didn’t ‘ave to be ze end of ze world. I was only seventeen, but plenty of girls ‘ad children right after Beauxbatons and zey were only eighteen. It wasn’t like we didn’t ‘ave ze money, and I would still make something of myself. I’d thought about it all night and day, and knew zat I could ‘andle it. I’ve always been able to ‘andle anything. Even after I learned what Christophe ‘ad done, I simply took ‘im out of the equation. I could do it without ‘im. And besides, look at what I would gain from it.

“I would ‘ave zis baby, a part of me zat needed me to care for it, zat needed me to love it. And for some reason, I really wanted zat. I wanted to love something, to ‘ave something zat saw me as anything other than Isabelle Leclair, the youngest beauty of the Leclair family. I realized zat I wanted ze zing everyone was calling a mistake, and I knew I could show it all ze love zat my parents ‘ad always been too proper and cold to show me.”

Belle felt the memory of the bond she’d created in such a short time break into her heart. She’d been naive by thinking that she could easily handle a child, but she would have managed. She would have loved the child more than anything, given it the soft kisses and warm embraces she’d always craved.

“Yes, I ‘ad thought about it and I was ready for it. When I started to tell them, my parents, ‘ow sorry I was, ‘ow I knew I ‘adn’t been wise but zat I was going to grow up and would make this ze best zing zat ever happened to me, zey forced me to stop. My mother… she’s always been distant, but zat was just ‘ow she was. I never realized ‘ow much ‘er reputation meant to ‘er until zat day.

"She said ze only thing zat was going to happen, was she would make an appointment to ‘ave my mistake rectified. I would go back to school in a week and act like nothing ‘ad ever ‘appened. If someone tried to say something about it, I was to simply deny it all and say I’d been ill. Mother told me zat she already spoke with the Brelands, Christophe’s family, and zey told ‘er that Christophe denied ever sleeping with me. Zat ‘e’d been trying to break up with me for months, and ‘e wouldn’t be dragged into zis.”

Belle felt her hands shake with such anger that if it wasn’t for the friend’s beside her holding them, keeping her together, she was sure she’d hit something. It was as if she was still listening to her mother, listening to the icy voice tell her that she would see a Healer and get the problem dealt with and that would be that. The looks of disgust in both sets of her parents’ perfectly blue eyes, sympathy the farthest thing that could be found despite the fact that their youngest daughter was struggling not to break apart in front of them.

“Zat is when everything snapped. We fought, and my parents made it clear zat ze only way I could remain a member of ze Leclair family, was to do as I was told. She informed me zat if I refused to, I needed to leave immediately because zey would not live with ze shame of an unmarred daughter giving birth to a bastard child. Zey said zey raised me better than zat, and zey wouldn’t let society think otherwise just because I’d been stupid enough to get knocked up.

“So I did just zat. I packed some of my clothes, and I left. I went to my sister’s first and told ‘er everything and she said I could stay as long as I needed, but mother wasn’t to know.”

Belle was too far back into her mind to let go now. She no longer felt like she was telling a story, recounting a terrible event, but like she was handling it all over again. Reliving it with the same intensity that she’d been forced to face the first time. Everything was still so real… the way she’d slipped into her sister’s house, the luke warm embrace she’d gotten. Her sister didn’t approve, that had been clear, but she wouldn’t turn Belle away.

Her mind and heart had been so exhausted when she stumbled to the large, carefully made bed in her sister’s guest room. So much of her was shattered, wounded, but she didn’t regret her decision. She wouldn’t trade this small thing growing inside her for the comforts of her family. If they would only take her without it, then they couldn’t have her at all. If they would turn their daughter away in the most desperate hour of her life, she would turn her back on them as well.

Belle hadn’t been able to fall asleep that night, her eyes still raw from the tears she’d never stopped shedding. But she’d been able to think past all that, and she’d started to work out a plan, to plot where she’d go next. She had enough money in her vault to live comfortably off for at least a year while she figured things out, so that was a start. Her parents had already given her pieces of her inheritance during every passing year, and that could only be touched by her. So what if those people didn’t want her? She’d make her own way, give the baby inside her somewhere to belong. It was that thought, that tiny thread of warmth, that finally lulled her to sleep.

And that very idea was still at the forefront of her mind when she’d been jerked awake later that night. A pain had twisted up her stomach and forced her back into consciousness. She lit her wand and tried to stand when she noticed red splotches tainting the white sheets. A raw sense of panic sunk into her as she realized what was happening, her mind trying to block it out as she called for her sister.

Everything from that point was a mess of confusion. Her sister insisting on rushing her to a Healer at the After Hours…. The words of the kind woman in pink robes that told her she’d miscarried the baby…. The emptiness that gathered inside her when she thought about everything she’d just done, everything that had happened in the last two days… It was all just an emotional disaster that she could barely handle dwelling on. But when she did remember, what hurt more than anything was the knowledge that she’d let the baby she already decided to love, that she’d fought for, disappear right in front of her.

“After zat, my sister brought me back to ‘er ‘ome and gave me something to ‘elp me sleep. While I was sleeping, she went to see my parents. My mother came back with ‘er. Zat.. zat woman stood there and looked at me on ze bed. Saw ze marks from days of crying, ze sickly pale of my skin,.. and she told me to be thankful. She told me now zat I was rid of ze shame, I was welcome to come back ‘ome. Zen she apparated away. I ‘aven’t spoken to ‘er since.”

Zere, Belle thought with a sigh. The worst of it was over.

“Belle,” Alice began, her voice drowning with emotion. “What she said, what happened to you-”

“No, let me finish.” She was so close. It was time to end it. “Ze next day I went to ze bank, collected all ze money I ‘ad, and sat in a cafe in a middle-class wizarding village zat no one I knew would step foot in. I was still sick looking. I ‘ad forced myself to shower but ‘adn’t stopped crying. I covered my face with a large ‘ood and tried to blend into ze woodwork as much as possible. But as terrible as I felt, I knew I needed to get out of there, far away and as soon as possible. Before I became weak and changed my mind. Before I crawled back to them and became one of those people again. The Isabelle Leclair I’d been raised to be was dead, and I knew if I wanted it to stay zat way I needed to disappear. Start over.

“I wrote a letter addressed to ze ‘eadmaster of ‘Ogwarts requesting a meeting right away, and received a response only ‘ours later approving my meeting and instructing me on ‘ow I would be able to get to ‘Ogsmeade, and through there, ‘Ogwarts. Ze second I finished reading ze letter, I went to ze Deparment of Magical Travel and paid enough to be granted a Portkey to Scotland for later zat day.

“While I walked along ze path zat led to ze school, I remember zinking how ‘Ogwarts wasn’t like Beauxbatons. It wasn’t a grand palace zat screamed elegance. It was a fortress. A ‘uge, stone fortress… and I knew it was perfect. I was escorted by ‘Agrid through ze castle and to ze ‘eadmaster. I told Professor Dumbledore everything, and I begged ‘im for a spot in ‘is school. I offered ‘im all ze money I ‘ad. He denied ze money, but told me I was in luck because ze year I would be apart of was a small one, and zere was room for me. ‘E set up an entrance exam for me zat I took ze following day, and zat was zat.”

Belle opened her eyes again and glanced from Alice’s face to Lily’s. Her nerves were finally calming down for the first time that evening.

Lily wiped her own tears away, one arm nestled over Belle and the other cradling the kitten. “None of it was right Belle. None of how they treated you, what they tried to make you do… and God. This whole time you’ve been living with it… dealing it with it all yourself because of how those people at Beauxbatons treated you, that disgusting excuse of a man, your parents… no wonder you didn’t want to tell us,” Lily whispered.

“I knew you guys wouldn’t be like zem. I know ‘ow different you are, but I still zought zat maybe it would make you zink differently of me.”

“I do think differently of you,” Alice whispered. “I think you’re so much stronger than we ever realized. That getting through all of it on your own, then having the courage to come here, to make friends with us-”

“I didn’t exactly ‘ave a choice on zat matter,” Belle said with a small laugh at the memory of the two girls bombarding her at breakfast and insisting she hang out with them for the day to get aquatinted with Hogwarts.

“But you did, you had a choice on everything,” Lily said in a much more serious tone than Belle’s. “You had a choice to take what your parents offered… so many girls probably would have. You had a choice to let what happened, to let… to let losing the baby destroy you and go back home, be what they told you to… you didn’t do any of that. Just like you didn’t tell us to sod off when we told you we’d show you around. Belle…”

“We love you,” Alice whispered, pulling her into a hug. “We’re always going to be here for you.”

“Now I feel like an idiot for not telling you both sooner. I just didn’t know ‘ow to, or ‘ow you’d react. But I feel so lucky to ‘ave you both. Sometimes-” she stopped herself as her mind realized what she’d been about to say.

“Sometimes what?” Alice prompted.

Belle sighed. She’d told them everything else… why stop now. “Sometimes I feel like I’m terrible, ze worst person ever.. because I lost a baby, I lost some’zing I’d decided I’d love so much…. but I’m ‘appy now. ‘Aving you two, and all ze boys, it’s like I’m somewhere I belong. I found people zat I belong with.. but zen I remember why I’m ‘ere, and I know I am ze worst person because I can be happy about ze fact zat I’m with you all, and zat baby never ‘ad a chance.”

Belle felt the salty water slip over her sharp cheeks. The tears now were different, so much newer than the ones she’d shed because of the memories.

“You can’t think like that, sweetie,” Lily whispered as Alice pulled her back into her arms. “You didn’t mean for the baby to miscarry. You would have done anything you could to stop it.”

“I zink about zat, and I know zat I can’t stop what ‘appened. It’s just ‘ard sometimes to feel like I can be ‘appy, when maybe I don’t deserve it.”

“You deserve it more than anyone I know,” Lily said in a stronger tone. “You deserve to have us, friends that love you more than anything, and you deserve to let yourself be really happy again. Be with someone who makes you really happy.”

“Well, you two make me really ‘appy,” she answered, though it was a joke, her own attempt to avoid where this conversation was going, she still meant it.

“Well of course, we’re bundles of sunshine,” Lily joked.

“But,” Alice interjected. Belle realized she was being ganged up on. “If this is what’s stopping you from being with Sirius, from letting yourself care about him as much as he obviously cares about you, maybe you should at least tell him that.”

“But ‘e won’t understand ze way you two do.” Belle said firmly, knowing that even if he didn’t react like the others at Beauxbatons had, he still may not take it well.

“We’re not going to try and push you into anything,” Lily assured her. “But Sirius is one of the most understanding people I’ve ever met. Look what he comes from, Belle. You don’t think he’s been judged all his life for his last name? He wouldn’t dare judge someone else for things they’ve done. I just don’t want you to be too scared and miss out on being with someone who really does care so much about you.”

Belle thought back to yesterday evening. To the feeling of Sirius’s hand touching hers as he flipped the page… the way that he’d smiled when he talked about the Potters, how easy it was to see the love he felt for that family. She understood Sirius was different from people she’d known, but was he different enough to accept it all?

“You’re as bad as she is,” Alice said, glancing at Lily with a raised eyebrow. Belle’s red tinted lips curved into a smile, knowing how correct Alice’s words were.

Lily opened her mouth, probably to argue with Alice, but at just that moment Butterscotch let out long, comical sort of yawn. Lily glanced down at the kitten, her cheeks growing red, and leaned back into the couch without saying whatever she had been about to.

“We make quite ze group, you know zat? We'd better get to ze library before ze boys come looking for us.” Belle finally said, glancing around at her friend. Despite all the pain that reliving what happened had caused, it was worth it. Because now she knew without a doubt that no matter what, she'd always have Lily and Alice to stand beside her.

First of all, I apologize for not getting this posted last week. I was on a vacation for my birthday. But, I hope the wait was worth . I owe a million thanks to my amazing beta reader, CambAngst. This chapter ended up being very difficult to write and he helped me so much with making sure I got everything I wanted in.

So, Belle and Alrek's stories are finally out.... to us at least. What did you guys think? Thank you so much for reading!

*Infirmier is French for nurse, at least according to Google translation. And The Côte d'Azur is, of course, The French Riviera.

**Update** Hey guys, I just wanted to let you know that I've gone through and edited Belle's accent a bit. The original version where I stuck to replacing *every* th with z was just too much. The simpler ones, like the, some of 'that' a 'them'... are still replaced with Z, and I'm sure their are inconsistencies with what I did and didn't replace. But the heavy accent was taking away from the importance of her story. Just assume that she's adjusting to the language and losing her accent a bit, ya? ;).

Perfect image created by heartfelt. (previously pheonixn) @ TDA
Chapter 14 - Build Up
Lily glanced up from her parchment just in time to see Professor Genov flick her wand at the board, causing a piece of chalk to zoom into the air and begin writing. “Now class," the professor began once the chalk had a few lines written down, "take a moment to copy these notes before we continue.”

Tachycardia Curse. Two levels below an Unforgivable. Punishable depending on the situation. Maximum Punishment - Lifetime in Azkaban. Considered ‘very difficult’ and should only be attempted under supervision.

Lily just finished the last word when Professor Genov's voice broke the sound of scratching quills. “Can someone tell me why exactly this curse is so dangerous?” she asked, glancing around. Lily let her eyes wander as well, noticing a few hands that shot up. She did know the answer, but decided against raising hers. She was too tired to risk using unnecessary energy.

The weekend felt like it had come and gone in the blink of an eye. After they’d finished talking with Belle in the Heads’ Quarters, they spent the rest of the evening in the Gryffindor common room and stayed up entirely too late chatting with some of the other students. Then they’d spent the majority of the next day working in groups for the scheduled revision, and she somehow ended up talking with Remus about their Arithmancy homework up until curfew.

She finally made it to bed around eleven, looking forward to a full seven hours of sleep. What she didn’t count on was Butterscotch having a very different agenda for the night. After running all around her bed thrashing like crazy then trying to use her toes as play toys, he finally settled down and curled into her hair before falling fast asleep. By that time midnight was approaching, but Lily was okay with getting only six hours of sleep.

Then sometime during the night her little ball of fur had decided that Lily's thick strands of hair were a much better used as a toy than a bed, and around three she’d woken up to him frantically meowing after getting himself too tangled to find his way out. The worst part of it all, was she couldn’t even be mad. He was too tiny and soft to be frustrated with. She may have to ask one of the house elves for a warm water bottle that evening. Hopefully that would do the trick and calm him down enough to fall asleep at a decent hour.

“Yes, Abigail? Do you know the answer?” Lily’s thoughts returned to the present, causing her to stifle a yawn and sit up straighter. Her eyes fell on the shiny gold Prefect badge pinned to Abigail's robe… too bad, she was almost hoping Slughorn would’ve removed her from the Prefect position after the issue in Hogsmeade.

“The Tachycardia Curse causes the heart of whomever you’re casting it on to speed up at an alarming rate. If someone is subjected to the curse for more than a few seconds, their heart will start beating too fast to pump blood and they’ll die of heart failure.” Lily nodded to herself, knowing that Abigail had given the correct answer.

“Correct. And what are the benefits of this curse? When can it be used in one’s favour?” Abigail stuttered for a moment, before shaking her head to indicated she wasn’t sure.

“Anyone?” Professor Genov asked, looking around the room. Lily thought for a moment but couldn’t remember reading a passage on the benefits…. Although, if someone’s heart rate was going dangerous slow and they needed to be able to react…

“Lily?” Lily was only half aware that her hand had slowly began to venture into the air and had to mask a moment of surprise.

“Well," she began, recovering quickly. "Considering the curse works by releasing high doses of epinephrine, it isn’t just the heart rate that will increase. Because of the adrenaline, the person will go into fight or flight mode. So if you needed to react quickly in a situation and couldn’t, you could even use it on yourself.”

“That’s very inventive,” Professor Genov said with a nod. “Any other benefits of the curse?”

Lily turned around as the hand behind her went up, and was curious as to what Remus would say.

“Mr. Lupin?”

“I don’t know for sure, but I think if you were in a situation where someone went into cardiac arrest, the curse could almost be used to restart the heart?”

“Exactly! Ten points for Gryffindor.” If it had been anyone but Remus, Lily would've been a bit jealous that she didn’t think of it herself. But she was so used to either being just above or just below him when it came to their marks, essays, exams, everything that had to do with class, really.. that she was no longer daunted by it when he got to an answer before her.

“Excuse me, Professor," Abigail interrupted with just a hint of bite to her tone. "I wasn’t awarded any points for correctly answering the question."

“Well Abigail, that’s because I assigned chapters five and six to read. The answer you came up with was in chapter five, meaning you should know it regardless. I don’t reward students for doing what they were told. I reward students for going past that, and coming up with their own theories and opinions. Any more questions?” The professor sat at her desk with her grading quill already in hand before Abigail even had a hope of defending herself.

Lily heard Sirius and Peter muffle a laugh from their seats behind her. At least James managed to contain himself. But that was to be expected, considering he was Head Boy and laughing at another student really wouldn’t be the best example to set.

She turned around to lecture the two boys, only to realize that James was, in fact, part of the snickering.

“Remus, control them, won’t you?” Lily hissed at the tired looking boy. She was about to turn about around when she noticed that he didn’t just look tired.. Had he not slept well either? Maybe he was coming down with something… If he was feeling ill he really should go see Madam Pomfrey.

“You know just as well as I do how impossible that is,” Remus said. Despite the pale colour of his face, his dark eyes were dancing with humor. That relaxed Lily enough for her to come to the conclusion that he probably did just need a bit of sleep.

“I don’t know, Remus," Frank said in a whisper, leaning forward to look down the row. "I don’t think it would be impossible for Lily. I’m sure James wouldn’t mind too much being controlled by her.”

“Franklin Longbottom!” It was Lily’s turn to hide a smirk as Alice turned around and locked her eyes onto Frank’s. Unlike the cold glare that Belle often used to shut one of them up, Alice’s look was much different. She didn’t have the same ability to instill fear in someone the way Belle did, instead her eyes screamed disappointment. Like the look a puppy gives after you promised to take it for a walk, but never did. Lily wasn’t surprised when the glance had Frank quickly glancing back down to his parchment and continuing his work.

“Hey, did you guys see that?” The group turned toward Sirius, waiting for him to elaborate.

“None of you can see that?” Sirius asked again, elbowing Peter next to him and nudging his head toward Frank.

“Oh… I think I did see that,” James said, clearly catching on to whatever it was Sirius was talking about. He glanced at Remus, a smirk plastered on his face.

“I suppose I did too,” Remus muttered, still half concentrating on his notes.

“You four ‘ave lost it, ‘aven’t you?” Belle added, her eyes running over the group of boys.

“Well, I guess if none of you lot saw it…” Peter finally said with a forfeiting sigh.

“Saw what?” Lily demanded.

“Alice rip the pants right off Frank.” Sirius tried to keep his face straight, but a grin broke through.

“Guess there isn’t any question as to who wears the trousers in the relationship,” Peter added. That was enough to ruin every bit of control the boys had managed to maintain. Even Alice, despite the reddening of her cheeks, couldn’t hold back her laughter.

"Excuse me," came the stern voice of their professor. Lily didn't imagine the dark haired witch to be much over five feet... but just then she looked like she was standing a mile above them all. “Is learning about curses that can potentially kill a person really that humorous?” Professor Genov asked as she came up toward the group. Lily, Belle and Alice quickly faced down to their notes, leaving the boys to clean up their own mess.

“Er, no Professor Genov. We were just…” James grew silent, clearly having no excuses handy.

“Just getting to work on your notes, or just surrendering five Gryffindor points?” Lily bit down on her lip, waiting to see how James would answer

“Getting to work on my notes, of course,” he said smoothly, causing Lily to let up on the bite ever so slightly. She could picture the look he was giving their teacher perfectly. Apologetic, but not quite sincere.

The class got back into their routine, continuing to copy down the notes that the chalkboard created. After Lily had unrolled her scroll for the third time and added at least another five inches to the essay, she carefully placed her quill onto the desk. She rubbed the soreness from her eyes before looking up to the front of the room where a large, crystal and brass hourglass was set on a small corner table.

The smooth, tiny pieces of sand were slipping through one level to the next, both the bottom and top half almost exactly even. Which meant the first hour of double Defence was almost over.. but that wasn’t too encouraging considering, even after the first hour ended, it would still only be nine o’clock.

Then they’d spend the next hour studying a spell that would be the best to defend against the curse they talked about in the first half. By the time almost all the grains of sand reached the bottom, it would be nearly ten-thirty. They’d get fifteen minutes to finish things up or meet with Professor Genov and talk to her about anything they didn’t understand. And then it would finally be time to move onto the next class.. getting her one step closer to bedtime.

Lily heard commotion from the other side of the room, but refused to look. She was sure Abigail and Rosier were at it again. For a relationship that had started less than two weeks ago, it sure seemed rocky. She should know, she had to listen to them every single morning. Having Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts with the Slytherins wouldn’t be as terrible, except for now that they were all at NEWT levels on two of the hardest subjects in Hogwarts, both classes were doubles. Transfiguration being even longer to make up for the fact that it was only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

It was already pretty blatant that it would definitely be one of those days.


Lily’s face was molded into concentration as she peeled the last piece of skin off of the Water Egg. She went slowly, forcing her fingers to stay as steady as a surgeon's while the thin, bright red layer began separating from the dark purple meat of the plant. She knew there was no room for error, especially considering there weren’t any extras. It’d probably been a nightmare for Slughorn to find the few Water Eggs that the class now had considering the only known lake to grow them was the Black Lake. And the Merpeople guarded them heavily for one of their own food sources. Lily began pulling back another piece, her thoughts stuck on why the plants wouldn’t grow in any other lakes… She supposed it could have something to do with the high concentration of magic floating around the Hogwarts grounds.

Not only was the Water Egg hard to come by, but it was completely necessary for the White Wash potion. She still didn’t even fully understand how the concoction they were currently brewing worked. It was extremely hard to get just right, but Professor Slughorn was expecting the class to get close enough that, even if it didn’t work properly, it would have nearly all the characteristics of a correctly brewed batch.

But she still thought that being able to wrap her brain around just how the potion worked would give her a better chance at creating it. She knew it did just what its name promised, washed the entire body with all five types of white blood cells. Its job was to kill even the strongest infection or parasite in a situation where a person couldn’t get to St. Mungo’s. But the potion wasn’t able control the cells for long. She knew it started by attacking the site of the infection with the cells, but once that was eaten away a counteracting potion needed to be given to stop them from multiplying. If they weren’t stopped, they would create blocks that the red blood cells couldn’t get through.

They had yet to discuss the counteracting potion, and from what their professor said it was only given by a Healer and only brewed by a Potions Master.

So, although that all made sense to Lily, what she didn’t understand was exactly how the potion was able to go to the spot of the infection. But she supposed some things in the wizarding world just weren’t meant to be understood.

She ripped the now separated Water Egg skin in half and dropped only one of the halves into her concoction, then watched as it turned into a royal blue colour. Perfect. She couldn’t help but smile at herself, and was pleased she’d decided to follow her instincts instead of the book. She knew the Water Egg skin was meant to add a cementing quality, and the potion itself was already very thick, so the putting the whole skin in would probably have turned the entire thing rock hard.

Now it needed to sit completely undisturbed for fifty-eight seconds, then get half an anticlockwise turn.

“Custodiant Tempus*,” she mumbled, pointing her wand at a piece of parchment next to her elbow. A red shimmery glow appeared over a section of the parchment and she used her wand to write the number five in the air, followed quickly by the number eight. The fifty-eight formed easily from the glow and with one last flick of her wand, the misty colour turned into more of a solid red and the seconds began counting themselves down.

Her thoughts circled back around the potion and she found herself wondering if it was the potion itself, or the result it had on the body that interested her the most. The seventh years would soon have their final Career Advice session… usually the Heads of House began seeing students right after winter holiday, and she didn’t see any reason it would be different this year.

It seemed like a lifetime ago that she’d told Professor McGonagall she was set on becoming a Healer… and the professor had been nothing but encouraging and confident that Lily could achieve the goal. But was that what she still wanted? Would attending two years of The Healing Academy for Magical Medicine be anything but pointless when their world was in such turmoil? Although they would always need Healers.. even in a state of war. Probably more-so now than ever. That thought had Lily’s stomach churning; she hated the idea of how many had already been hurt, killed even.

She turned her thoughts back to the Career Advice, blocking the war out. Would she miss creating potions if she went into the field of Healing? She knew people had often thought her talent in the subject came from her former best friend, but she would have loved potions with or without Severus’s friendship. Slughorn had even mentioned offhandedly to her that it wouldn’t be long now until he retired. Whether it had been just a casual comment or something more, Lily didn’t know. But teaching was something she could absolutely see herself doing.

Lily focused back on her potion as the large red numbers began blinking, then fading off into the background, leaving her parchment completely clean once more. She picked up the long, thin stirring stick as well as the towel beside it. Her stirring stick, a solid metal that had been made by goblins, was tough enough to withstand any potion, unlike some wooden ones that could melt or disintegrate. She reached to the middle of the table and grabbed the cleaning solution, which was simply water with a few drops of dragon blood in it, and used that along with her towel to clean off her stick. That way she knew it didn’t have any sort of contaminants on it that could alter the make up of her potion.

Her lips, naked of any gloss that afternoon, flicked up into a smile as she slowly began administering the turn and her potion faded from the royal blue to a pale, soft one.

“Looking good, Evans,” James said, bringing Lily from her thoughts. When she glanced up at him to give him a thank you smile, she noticed that everyone else was just as concentrated on their potions. There wasn’t one word being passed through the classroom.

Across the perfectly square table, Alice had face almost inches away from her brew as she studied whatever ingredient she was now adding. Frank, who was sitting right next to his girlfriend, seemed to be contemplating something in the book as his eyebrows scrunched up and his fingers tapped softly against the pages. To her right, Belle was leaning over the corner of the table and reading something in Sirius’s book. Potions wasn't her strongest subject, which was understandable considering Beauxbatons had focused more on the theories of potions, what made something do what in a potion, as opposed to brewing the actual potion.

Her and Sirius often worked together. He was incredibly patient with explaining his process, whereas when Lily tried to go over the steps, she got too focused on what she was doing. She didn’t dislike helping Belle, not in the slightest, but she would often get so lost in her own work that she’d forget to explain and would be two or three steps ahead.

Lily watched the way Sirius and Belle read through another step of the directions in unison. After their eyes reached the bottom of the page, Belle picked up her own stirring stick and cleaned it off with the same solution Lily had used, then handed to Sirius. Who, in return, gave her a peeled piece of Water Egg skin.

Surprisingly enough, Lily felt a swell build inside her chest. Something about seeing two of her best friends work seamlessly together… both so focused on what they were doing that they probably hadn’t even realized they were building their potions around one another.

Sirius had never liked cleaning his stirring stick, he always got way too much solution and dripped it all over himself. Belle never liked peeling their ingredients, the long nails she refused to cut always dug too severely past the skin and ended up breaking the parts she needed. So, even without her two friends voicing this to one another, they already knew and tailored their brewing around it. The odd kind of intimacy behind it made Lily want to throw her arms around them both and hug them until her heart calmed down.

She knew Belle hadn’t told any of their other friends about her past just yet, but it wouldn't be long now until she talked with Sirius. Where they’d go in terms of a relationship or friendship from there, Lily couldn’t say. Sirius would never blame Belle for what happened, but he was a jealous person. Would he be able to accept the fact that Belle had almost been the mother of a past lover’s baby? Would he understand that the reason Belle wanted the baby so badly had nothing to do with Christophe, and everything to do with her own desire to be loved unconditionally?

“I don’t think it should be that colour, mate.” James’s voice distracted her, and she glanced from Belle over the other side of James where Peter sat. James was looking to his left to get a better glimpse into Peter’s potion. Remus, who was sitting beside Sirius, was leaning over the table as well. “Lily, can you take a look at this?” James asked, glancing up from Peter’s potion.

She peeked back over at her own, and flicked her wand to extinguish the flames underneath, leaving only the embers. It needed to cool for a bit, anyway.

“Not coming along properly?” she asked Peter with a smile. He was usually very capable at potions, but he did have a habit of ignoring his measuring utensils and just guessing how much of what he added.

“Well, it’s a little less blue and a little more.. erm.. red.” Lily nodded at him, but didn’t want to risk standing up, that would draw the attention of their professor and he’d come over to see what happened. Then the whole class would know something was off, and Peter would get embarrassed. Instead, she motioned for James to slide Peter’s cauldron over, which he promptly did.

“I double checked all my steps, but I must’ve missed something,” Peter said with a shrug.

Lily didn’t answer, instead she went into her rucksack and rummaged through until she found the bag where she kept a few of her smaller potions supplies. She pulled out a white piece of cloth from it and used her wand to cut a small square from the fabric. Then she dipped half of the fabric into Peter’s potion and left it in for barely a second. When she brought it back out, it was charred on the edges.

She looked up from the caldron to the group, who were all giving her curious looks. “If you use cloth made from only spider's web silk with no dye added, you can tell if something’s wrong or not,” Lily told him as she inspected the charred end more carefully.

“If your potion is made exactly how it should be, the cloth will come out just as you put it in. But in this case…” She let the words trail off as she slid her finger over the list of ingredients in her book. “Ah ha! It was the Lime Grass pieces. You see how the fabric isn’t as much burned as eaten away at?” Peter, James, and the rest of her table who were now watching, all nodded. “That means your potion has too much acidity in it. You need to counteract that with something that has more of a salty make up to eat away at the acidity. Try just a tiny drop of the Sea Berry foam. That should have plenty of salt in it. Turn the heat up a bit too, and If it doesn’t start turning more blue add one more drop. But only one at a time.” She slid the potions to James who passed it back to Peter.

“Thanks Lily,” Peter said, clearly relieved to not have to start from scratch.

“Is there something you learned that helps you to remember all this?” Remus asked, and she knew he was trying to find a delicate way to figure out if Severus had taught her some secret that she had yet to share with them about potions brewing. She waited a moment to see if James would make some arsehole remark, then when it was clear he didn’t intend to, she continued.

“Oddly enough, Severus didn’t teach me most of this. Not that he didn’t teach me a good deal about potions, he’s very talented with them.” She shot a glare at James when he sounded like he was about to say something, but he must’ve come to his senses last minute and instead cleared his throat. “Brewing potions actually reminds me a lot of baking. When you’re making a cake or something, you have to use proportions that balance each other out. If you use too much or little, you can usually fix it by counteracting it. I used to bake all the time with my mum, so I think that helps me. But some of the other things, like the spider's web silk, are ones that I learned from him”

Lily’s attention quickly went to the front of the room when Professor Slughorn stood from his table. “Alright, class. I daresay we have come to that moment again where it is time to test our creations before we leave for the evening.”

“You’re both coming tonight, right?” Lily whispered to James as Slughorn started at the first table to look over the potions.

She’d nearly forgotten about Professor Slughorn’s little gathering that would take place after the Halloween feast and last until curfew.

She watched James and Sirius exchange looks. Those two, along with Alice and herself, were the only ones of the group that had been given invitations. James and Alice had been invited for the first time in first year, both of their last names being very well known and respected.

Then Lily got her first invitation second year after teachers started becoming more aware of how much work she put into advancing her skills. Then Sirius had received his sometime in third… or Lily had just found out about it in third year. She wasn’t sure.

James and Sirius had never attended one of Slughorn’s gatherings though, and Lily found it astonishing that the professor continued to invite them. Whether the two boys always declined because they were still irritated that Slughorn had overlooked Peter, Frank and Remus - which really wasn’t fair - or they just hated the idea of it, Lily wasn’t sure.

“Er..” Sirius began, his eyes already apologetic. Lily should have known he wouldn’t attend. Regulus was a member, after all. That, along with everything else, would have been enough to keep Sirius away even if the parties weren’t dreadfully boring.

She knew before she opened her mouth that what she was about to do wouldn't be playing fair... but she had no other choice. They were allowed to bring guests in honour of Halloween, so Alice would have Frank. She couldn’t show up alone and have to deal with hearing everyone’s pretentious conversations all night.

So, even if this wasn’t the fairest way of going about it, she was prepared to try. “James…” Her glance locked onto him. His hazel eyes, dotted with little flecks of gold, flicked up to match hers. “I know the party really isn’t the ideal way to spend an evening, It is rather dull… but I’d really love if you went with me. He usually has very decent food.”

There. It was out. And even if neither of them actually wanted to be there, at least they’d be there together. Maybe they would even have a bit of time alone. She’d been thinking more on what she told Belle and Alice about not being so sure how James felt. Whether he really cared for her, or just thought he did. But maybe getting some one on one time while they tried to dodge the other students at the party would be just what they needed. She’d be a bit more dressed up than usual… it would almost be like a date.

She felt the butterflies start swooping around her stomach, the good kind. The ones that told her that it really could be fun…. that maybe this could be what they needed to decide where they’d go from here. She tried to stop herself from smiling at the prospect of the two of them deciding to take a step forward-

“Sorry Lily, I can’t.” She felt her heart drop and instantly began lecturing herself for getting so excited. James must’ve noticed something, despite her efforts to just shrug it off and smile, because he reached forward and grabbed her fingers in his hand.

“It’s not that I don’t want to, Lily. I’d deal with a few hours of having to hear everyone talk about how great they are to get to spend it with you.” James’s voice was too quiet for anyone but their table to hear, his eyes as serious as his tone. “I just really need to work on Quidditch stuff for Saturday’s game. You understand, right?”

“James,” Remus said, getting both her and James’s attention from the other side of the table. “You should go. Quidditch won’t fall apart one day without you. I can even think up some plays and I’m sure Sirius and Peter will help.” Lily didn’t let herself get excited at that. She might not know everything about James just yet, but she did know that he was very set on seeing things through himself.

“Thanks mate, but don’t worry about it,” James answered with a half smile. Lily was about to make some kind of joke so they’d both stop looking like they swallowed a slug. She shouldn’t have asked James anyway…. And besides, Quidditch really was important. She knew he wanted nothing more than to win the Quidditch Cup during his first and only year as captain. Then, before Lily could try to ease the tension, Professor Slughorn came up behind them.

“Ah, another perfect batch. Wouldn’t except a thing less, my dear Lily,” he began with a chuckle as he swirled his wand over the brew.

James slowed down as Lily and Alice stopped just before the staircase that led to the first floor. “We’re going to drop our stuff off in the Heads’ Quarters,” Lily said in response to his curious look.

“I’ll come with you guys. You lot want me to take your bags as well?” Frank asked turning to the four boys who all shook their heads, before he followed Alice, Belle and Lily up the stairs.

“James,” Remus’s began. James knew he was about to get some sort of lecture by the tone of his friend’s voice. “You really should just go with Lily tonight. I can handle one moon without you.”

James glanced at Remus’s dark eyes and knew that his friend wouldn’t be angry if he did decide to go with Lily. It could be what they needed to take a step past friendship… the step that James was trying so hard to let Lily take first. And Remus would still have Sirius and Peter..

“Yeah, don’t you trust us to keep everything under control, Prongsie?” Sirius added as they all slowed down, not yet ready to become part of the noise pouring from the Great Hall.

James did trust them… and it was the first time Lily had ever asked him on something that even remotely resembled a date. Even though there would be other people around, he'd have her more to himself than he'd had in weeks. And she'd actually looked disappointed when he said no. If he told her that he changed his mind and he could come he was sure she'd get that really excited smile that she sometimes gets. The one that's so big that her small nose crinkles into itself.

“Course I trust you gits…but-”

“But nothing, James,” Remus began, setting his face into a stern seriousness that always amused James. “You’d be daft not to go with Lily.”

“Well, you’re always daft,” Sirius added. “But you’d be dafter than usual.”

“Thanks for that,” James answered dryly, but he was too stuck in his own thoughts to follow it up with an insult.

Sirius was plenty large as the dog to control Remus for the most part.. and he’d give them the cloak and the map of course so they’d have plenty of protection against running into anyone. But still… there had been those times when Sirius’s size hadn’t been enough. When they’d left the shack and explored beyond boundaries that would have been considered safe and James and Sirius both had to use every ounce of their power to get Remus back into the shack.

Of course they could always just say in for the night, but Remus was so destructive locked up. The injuries he’d give himself without the freedom to roam were some of the worst James had ever seen… and there’d be nothing that Peter or Sirius could do to stop their friend from the inflicting the injuries on himself.

Sure, he could go with Lily and be fairly certain his friends would make it out alive. But Remus would be covered in the fading remains of what he did to himself the night before Or they would decide to leave the shack, and they’d lose control of him. James knew that if Remus hurt someone, his friend would never forgive himself. Would one date with Lily really be worth risking all that?

They would get other chances, after all… it was just one party. “Sure I trust you gits,” James began again, knowing his decision was made. “But I haven’t missed a change during the school year since we all started this. Not going to start missing one now. And really Remus, leave it to you to be the world’s most predictable Werewolf. Turning on the full moon and all,” he added, trying to make a joke out of the situation.

Remus’s eyes searched James. One of the pitfalls of having such close best mates was the fact that it was often hard, nearly impossible, to hide anything from them.

"James," Remus began, his jaw set tightly. "We don't want you there tonight. I know what you're trying to do, and don't get me wrong, I appreciate it. But I want you to go with Lily."

"No," James said halfheartedly. He did want to go with Lily so badly... to get to pull her aside when no one was looking and hold her just a little too close.

Sirius laid a hand on James's shoulder, taking his attention from Remus. "Sorry mate, afraid you're out voted on this one. Besides, this will give Peter and I a chance to try out a sticking charms and see if we can glue Remus's furry arse to a wall."

Remus rolled his eyes at his friends, but when they fell back on James they were as stubborn as ever. "We don't need you tonight. We can handle it."

"It's always been none of us or all four of us, though," James said lamely. He usually got his way.. well, he always got his way. But right now, when he didn't know if he wanted to get his way or not, he was having a tough time trying to fight for it.

"Well," Sirius said with a crooked smile. "It isn't too late to tell Frank. We can ask him to join us for the evening."

"Hey Frank, care to come watch me turn into a werewolf? Yes, that would go over brilliantly," Remus said.

“You guys ever actually wish we would have told Frank about it all?” Peter asked as he loosened his tie. James wasn't sure if his friend was meaning to change to subject so that he wouldn't be able to continue arguing...but he was almost thankful for it.

The moon didn't even become completely full until nearly nine. He could go to the party with Lily and still make it back to the shack before the worst of it started. Yes, that may actually work. Which meant that it might finally happen... he was actually going to go on a date with Lily Evans.

“Nah," Sirius said, interrupting James's thought. James glanced at Remus, who gave him a small nod.. like he knew what James was thinking and approved of it. Bloody creepy sometimes, having such close mates.

"I mean, I don’t think it’d be bad if Frank knew or anything, but we didn’t really get close to him until beginning of forth year," Sirius finished.

“Yeah, when he and Alice started dating and he stopped acting like such an odd bloke,” James added, doing his best to jump into the conversation. Peter and Sirius eyed him the same way Remus had, almost daring him to continue arguing about Lily. Gits.. all of them.

“He was never an odd bloke. Just a loner. I would have been too, without you lot.” Remus raised his eyebrows at them, the way he always did when he thought they were acting a bit too harsh.

“Still,” James continued, “it wasn’t like we were just going to tell someone we barely just became friends with. I mean, we got closer with him forth year and all, but still…”

“And what would we have even said?” Sirius interrupted. “Hey Longbottom, we know you’ve only really been mates with us for a year, but the week before fifth year starts we’re all going to meet at the Potters' house. During that time we’re planning on brewing a basically illegal potion after using James’s invisibility cloak to steal the ingredients from Knockturn Alley-”

“Hey, I left more than enough to cover those when the shopkeeper wasn’t looking,” Peter added.

“You lot should have told him," Remus interjected. "Maybe he would have talked some sense into you.”

“If we wanted someone to talk sense into us, we’d have told you, Remus,” James replied, patting his friend on the back.

"Lucky for you I've talked some sense into you about tonight," Remus said, giving him an easy smile.

Maybe the moon wouldn't be too bad of one for him... he was in a much better mood than usual for a transformation night. Maybe James could go the whole evening without feeling guilty for not being in the shack. It was Remus's idea, after all. And he did usually make the most sense out of the group.

Except when he brought up their change and how someone should have stopped them. That was something none of them would ever regret

James knew they’d scared him. Well, not at first. At first they’d just antagonized the werewolf side of him.. showing up at the shack in the middle of the first transformation they were ever part of. But after they all came to, Remus was nearly sick over what they did. Not that he didn’t have a right to be. Now that they could look back on it, James realized how bad it would have been if something happened to one of them and they ended up dead. Remus would’ve spent the rest of his life blaming himself.. but they didn’t. And James knew all three of them would make the same decision if they had the chance to do it again.

“He must be imagining Lily without her knickers or something,” Sirius said, breaking through James’s own thoughts just in time for him to deliver a solid punch in the arm to his best mate.

“If I’d been thinking about Lily in her knickers, you’d be able to tell,” James joked. “Anyway, much as we all care about Frank, it’s better that it’s just us four. That’s how it started, isn’t it?” James added, to himself just as much as the other three.

“Course, and that’s how it’ll always be. Even after you and Lily have a big girly wedding and loads of kids, you’ll still have us,” Peter said with a nod.

“Yeah, only then we’ll all be trying to wrangle drool drippers and help James get them to stop crying. And of course we’ll have to watch Lily breastfeed-” Sirius’s words were cut off when James aimed his elbow at his friend’s stomach, successfully knocking the wind from him before they all made their way to the Gryffindor table.

“So,” Peter started once they were sitting on the far side of the table, a few feet away from anyone else. “Sirius and I will be working on Quidditch plays for James… and Remus needs to see McGonagall about his mum.. right?” The group all nodded at Peter, knowing that, though their alibis probably weren’t foolproof, they'd work better than any other. Sirius coughed loudly and James glanced up, noticing the three girls and Frank headed their way.

As Lily became visible through the crowd of students, James felt a warm tingle spread through him. His fingers ached to run through the hair that she usually put in a braid over her shoulder. Because now, instead of the twisty thing, it was falling freely over her. She still had on robes, but these were different. A creamy color, like the filling of his chocolate pastry. And they weren’t loose and big like their school robes, though they weren’t tight either.. they were… flowy.

“Something wrong?” she asked, drawing his attention to the fact that he’d been staring at her.

"Actually," James started, with one last glance to Remus who gave him a stern nod. "I've talked it over with the guys, and they're certain they can handle thinking up some plays without me. If you give me a few minutes to run up and change, I can meet you back down here for the party." James was already halfway up from his seat, his mind imagining walking into the party with Lily by his side. He could whisper to her how beautiful she looked and watch her cheeks grow red, and get just close enough to make her nervous...

"James," she began, and he noticed the way her smile fell. Had she decided not to go? Why would she look like that if she wasn't attending?

“We ran into Alrek on our way into the Great Hall,” she continued, her hands fidgeting with her robes. "I mentioned that I was going to Slughorn's gathering, and he said something about one of his friends in Ravenclaw being invited as well. And he just looked so disappointed that he wasn't, and I was sure that you weren't coming with me. I couldn't ask Belle to come with me because Slughorn already talked her into playing the piano so we'll have music throughout the evening... I guess I just panicked and, well, I asked him if he wanted to go. Just as friends, of course!"

James almost wanted to start laughing, part of him certain that this was a joke they were playing on him. Sure, he hadn't completely hated Durmstrang when he joined them in Hogsmeade, but that didn't mean he wanted the bloke attending parties with Lily!

He couldn't talk her into telling Rukin that she wasn't going with him, could he? That would just make her think he hadn't matured and he was still a jealous git. But he still had to try it, didn't he? It'd been bad enough when he thought she was going alone... but now thinking that she was going with some other bloke?

He glanced at his friends, hoping they'd know what to say. Their faces seemed fairly close to what he was sure his felt like.

"Lily," James finally began, "can't you tell him that-"

“Mr. Potter!” James felt his nerves teeter on the edge as the professor's voice interrupted them.

“Professor Mc-”

“Mr. Potter, please come with me,” she continued, her tone sharper than even usual.

“Something wrong, Professor?” He asked, forcing his voice to stay even as he stepped from the table.

Despite his hopefully calm exterior, he felt his heart pounding against his chest. The blood rushing through it, hotter than it should be. His parents. They hadn’t been in the best health lately… they were helping Dumbledore out with a few things for whatever organization he had going on… they had plenty of wizards that wanted to see them dead for putting them in Azkaban for life… oh God. It had to be his-

“I need to speak with you about your owl,” the professor said, causing James to take a visible sigh of relief. “We believe he’s been attacked while attempting to deliver a letter this morning.”

James paused, realizing for the first time they were halfway out the Great Hall, Sirius two steps behind him.

“I thought-” he’d started to say everything running through his mind, but then realized what he was doing and stopped himself.

James was surprised when Professor McGonagall gave him an understanding smile, before leading him from the excited noise of the room and into the silent corridor. She started to close the door behind her, but not before Sirius could slip in, and when they turned toward the entrance of the castle James noticed their Gamekeeper holding Beowulf in the center of one, giant palm. The pet owl’s eyes were open, but his wing was hanging limply to the side as he tried without success to use the other wing and hug them into his body.

James felt a quick burn course through him. How dare someone try to hurt his owl. The owl that used to perch on his pillow and sleep beside him, that nestled on his shoulder every chance he got…

“Found em a few miles outside the school. One of the Hogwarts owls must’er seen him go down, cause he led me out to yer owl,” Hagrid began, stepping closer to James and allowing him to carefully check out the damage.

“It seems as if whoever did this wasn’t able to actually catch him,” Professor McGonagall added as she glanced at James and Sirius. “Because the letter was still intact. It appears to have been sent by a Petunia Evans.”

Thank you to my always amazing Beta, CambAngst. I know this chapter was a bit slow, and things do speed up from here. For some reason I really enjoy writing the class scenes... Thank you so much for reading! If you have time, I'd love to know what you think :)!

*Latin for 'Keep Time"

Chapter 15: Not Just Friends
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Gorgeous image my heartfelt. @ TDA
Chapter 15 - Not Just Friends
James forced himself to remain seated in the large chair. His fingers tugged at his hair with enough strength that the scalp underneath would certainly be tender the following day. He glanced back up at Remus, who was still debating his point with enough ferocity that it made James want to argue back even more.

“Just listen,” Remus continued, obviously aware that James’s attention was slipping. “If someone is after you, then they may as well be after all of us. If someone is after Lily, then it’s not just Lily. It’s not safe-”

“You listen to me,” James snarled with a burst of frustration, standing from his chair and pointing a steady finger at his friend. “You are not going to be out there alone tonight. Lily will be back any second; you have less than two hours until the moon and half that until Pomfrey goes to McGongall’s office to gather you. We don’t have time to sit here and go on about this. I agreed to stay here tonight-”

“You didn’t agree,” Remus spit back. “Dumbledore ordered you to because someone shot your owl out of the bloody sky. You’re staying here, Peter is staying here, Sirius is staying here. None of you are coming with me!”

“Well,” Sirius started, his voice managing an easy tone, even though the fists clenched at his side showed differently. “I don’t figure you have much of a say in the matter, mate. You’ll be in that shack in less than two hours and won’t be able to decide what we do or don’t do. We aren’t in any more danger on the grounds-”

At that, Remus’s face twisted against its normally placid features. “You aren’t in any more danger running around outside the castle than inside? Really now, because I thought that was the entire reason James and Lily were ordered to remain in their rooms! Dumbledore might as well have told them to go for a nice walk along the Black Lake if it’s no more dangerous!”

“Look Remus,” James began, taking a deep breath to calm himself. Calm, steady, solid. That’s how he got what he wanted. Not by blowing up on Remus… even if that’s what he felt like doing more than anything. “I know you’re worried. We get it, and it means loads to us. But we’ve seen what you look like after a morning by yourself in that shack. You know how sick it makes you wondering if we’re safe or not? Well, think of how we feel when we get a glimpse of you before Pomfrey puts you back together. Think what it does to us to see gashes covering every inch of your bloody face. However terrible it may feel being worried about us, it doesn’t compare worth shit to what we feel knowing we could have stopped that.”

Sirius stood up from the sofa, taking a step closer to stand beside James. “You know that there’s almost no chance that anyone is inside the grounds, Remus. McGonagall and Dumbledore just have to make sure James and Lily stay put while they try to get to the bottom of whatever it is they can about Beowulf. Even if, somehow, there is someone on the grounds, they won’t be looking for a dog and a rat. We’ll use the cloak; we’ll stay invisible until we transform. James and his huge antlers won’t be there needing to get through the passage so we won’t ever have to change from animals. We’ll be careful. You just need to trust us and let us do this, yeah?”

“Besides,” Peter piped up from his place on the ledge by the fire. “With Alice, Belle and Frank still having to go to Slughorn’s party….This means James and Lily will finally be getting a bit of time together.”

James couldn’t help but chuckle at his friend’s words. Leave it to Peter to be able to make a good situation out of almost anything. “Always a step ahead, aren’t you?” James said with a laugh before turning back to Remus, whose face was still nothing but serious.

“I swear, you lot are more work than you're worth half the time,” Remus finally said with a sigh, flopping down to the sofa.

James and Sirius followed, both exhausted. Fighting amongst themselves was grueling. Usually the group could laugh anything off; it was the rare instance that they were at odds with one another. But when it happened, it was always interesting to realize just how strong willed they all were.

“Yeah right,” Sirius argued, “we’re as delightful as a sip of butterbeer.”

“Okay,” James began, pulling an aged pocket watch from his robes. “You lot better get going. Peter, you still have the stuff?” Peter patted his own his robe pocket to double check that both the cloak and map were there, then nodded at James. “Right then, good luck tonight. Come here first thing in the morning, yeah?”

The three boys nodded at James before saying their goodbyes and departing from the room, leaving him back to his own thoughts.

Thanks to Remus’s rare but powerful stubborn streak, he’d been able to focus on something other than the attack. But with the silence of the Heads’ Quarters falling quickly upon him, he couldn’t help but to let his thoughts wander.

He knew what Remus said was true. If someone was trying to attack Beowulf and get the letter, they wanted information. And it seemed improbable that whatever they wanted to know was just about James. He didn’t think that it had to do with his parents…if Beowulf had been delivering a letter from them, the owl would been flying from the opposite direction. But just because he knew that, didn’t mean the attacker did. He’d have to make sure that Dumbledore understood that this needed to stay between them.

Before his thoughts could go any farther, a noise on the outside of the portrait had his hand slipping into his pocket and tightening around the security of his wand. He stood and faced the portrait, his defensive stance solid as he listened to the sound of his own breathing.

His tension eased as the door swung open and Lily’s delicate face stared back at him, an eyebrow raised.

She stepped into their room and glanced at his wand, her expression growing more amused. “Really, I thought we’d moved past calling each other names and threatening to curse one another into oblivion?” she said with a smile playing into her lips. He let out the breath that had caught in his chest and relaxed his aim.

“Odd, I don’t remember ever calling you a tosser or threatening to curse you so badly that your glasses would be up your arse.” Lily’s face regained a bit of color as a blush flitted through it, something James loved being able to cause.

“Excuse me, Potter. My mother raised me better than to use words like tosser. Although, I’m still not above threatening you with your glasses up your arse.” Part of James wanted to laugh, but an even larger part of him just wanted to scoop her into him.

Being able to joke with her like this, to feel better just because she was around… it was so different than James imagined. Sure, he’d spent years telling her he was mad for her, but back then it was her waves of cinnamon hair and the way she smiled that caught his attention. What he felt then was nothing compared to the way he felt about her now.

“Thanks for the warning. Maybe I’ll consider investing in some sort of trousers that protect against the ‘glasses up your arse’ curse.” Lily snickered at that, covering her face with her hands. James knew she didn’t like the way she looked when she laughed, but he’d never understand why.

She slipped past him into her usual chair. An overly stuffed one she conjured a few weeks after living in the Heads’ Quarters.

“So, McGonagall and Dumbledore?” he finally asked, relaxing back into the chair adjacent to hers.

“Dumbledore escorted Hagrid back to his hut to speak with him, I suppose. Hagrid will keep an eye on Beowulf until he’s well. McGonagall had to go unlock her office for something, but she waited for me while I spoke with Alrek.”

“Oh?” James knew he was lucky that Lily seemed distracted enough to miss the tones of jealousy ringing in his voice.

“Yeah, I told Alrek that the professors needed my assistance with a Head Girl thing, and I asked him to join us for the Quidditch match. He mentioned during Hogsmeade that he’d never understood Quidditch. And since his House isn't playing ours, I thought explaining it to him during the game would be a nice way to make up for the last minute change of plans. Anyway, both professors will be here shortly.”

James let Lily’s words about Alrek toss themselves around in his mind for a moment. Part of him did want to resent the fact that she’d gone to such lengths to avoid hurting the bloke’s feelings... but he also knew that was just how Lily did things. She’d go to the same lengths to keep from hurting a slug's feelings, if need be.

And at least a Quidditch match was much less… personal… than accompanying her to a party. But even with those rational thoughts spinning around him, part of James still wanted to agree with Peter, who made it clear that he didn’t trust Alrek. Peter had always been so loyal to James, though. He’d be suspicious of anyone who he thought might try to ruin James’s chances at winning Lily over.

James was fairly sure he didn’t completely like the transfer student, but he didn’t dislike him, either. And he understood why Alrek would want a few friends outside Ravenclaw. Smart as the lot was, they could get bloody boring.

“James,” Lily said, the softness of her voice causing James to look up at her. “I should have never asked Beowulf to go back to Petunia’s. If he-” Lily cut herself off, the sound of the portrait opening distracting them both.

Although James didn’t reach for his wand the way he had when Lily entered, he still remained on edge until the distinct face of McGonagall became visible, immediately followed by Professor Dumbledore.

“Good evening to you both,” Dumbledore said, gazing down at them through his crescent shaped glasses. “If it’s of no mind to either of you, I believe Minerva and myself will be taking a seat.”

“Please,” Lily said, standing as she gestured to the empty sofa.

Dumbledore motioned for her to sit back down before saying, “No need to stand, my dear girl. Let’s all get comfortable and address the reason why we’re here, shall we?”

The professors positioned themselves on the cushions, and before James had the chance to ask what they knew, McGonagall was already clearing her throat. “Before we ask the two of you a few questions, I'd like you to know, Mr. Potter, that your owl should recover fully. We are still unsure of how long it will be before he can fly again, but I trust Hagrid to notify us on all the details of the owl’s health as soon as he himself figures them out.” James nodded at her, a small balloon of stress popping inside his lungs and allowing his breath to come a fraction more easily.

“Now,” she continued, “may I ask what the owl, Beowulf-”

“Creative name, Mr. Potter,” Professor Dumbledore interrupted. “I find myself curious to know if it was given with prior knowledge of the Muggle poem?” All James could do was nod at the professor, unsure if he felt more impatient to get to the questions, or more interested as to why exactly his professor had read Beowulf. Though, he supposed his parents’ library couldn’t be the only one in the wizarding world to house a good many Muggle works of literature.

“Very well, then,” Professor McGonagall said, seeming just as impatient to get back to the subject at hand. “May I ask what he was doing with a letter from Petunia Evans?”

“Professor,” Lily’s voice rang through the room. “A few weeks ago, closer to a month I suppose, I wrote to Petunia and used Beowulf to send the letter. I don’t have an owl of my own here. She didn’t respond, but on Friday James asked if I’d like to send Beowulf back to her flat in London in case she’d changed her mind and wished to write back.”

“Is there any reason to believe Beowulf would have gone elsewhere after picking the letter up from London?” The professor pressed, though her eyes didn’t have their usual hardness.

“No,” James answered, thinking carefully. “No. I don’t think so. I asked him to deliver a letter to my parents first, then go to Petunia Evans’s flat. I’d just given him a few mice that morning, so he wouldn’t have needed to stray from his path to hunt.”

“Professors,” Lily started, glancing at James before speaking. “Are you both sure… I mean, is it unambiguous that someone was attempting an attack on James’s owl? Could it have been a mistake?”

Both the headmaster and deputy headmistress hesitated, McGonagall finally being the one to break the silence. “No, Miss Evans. We aren’t absolutely certain. Mr. Potter’s owl is a rare breed, giving someone that may have come into contact with him the motive to try and capture the creature in order to sell. However, Hagrid informed us that, because of their small size, the Chaco owl keeps to very high elevations to avoid any sort of predators. Beowulf most likely would have been hundreds of feet up. It’s very, very unlikely a witch or wizard was flying that high without a predetermined purpose.”

James cleared his throat, wanting to ask a question that he knew would be all the answer they needed to find out if the attack had been purposeful. “Professor, how many curses was Beowulf hit with?”

Again, a silence loomed, though Dumbledore was the first to break it this time. “Approximately fourteen, Mr. Potter. Which leads us again to another suspicion… that whoever was after your owl didn’t want to kill him. Possibly just discover the contents of the letter before sending the animal back on his way. However, something must have altered the attacker's original plan. Chaco owls are incredibly proud; delivering the letter only to you would have been his main focus. Beowulf could very well have attempted to resist being captured, resulting in the more dangerous curses that were used on him.”

James just nodded, not trusting his voice. His mind was too drowned in images of Beowulf trying to escape curse after curse. It churned his stomach, forced his fingers to clench into his palms. The idea of some coward flying around, going after his defenseless owl instead of facing James themselves, triggered his usually calm blood and sent it boiling through his veins.

“Professor McGonagall and I have no way to be certain what sort of information, if any, the attacker was searching for. We thank you both for agreeing to remain in your quarters for the evening as an added precaution; it would serve well in times like these to be constantly alert. With our world in such a state of turmoil, the best thing we can give to one another is the security of friendship. Too often we turn our backs on what we need to do, in favor of following the path of least resistance.”

Just when James, who was far from in the mood to play a game of riddles, was about to ask their professor what on earth he was going on about, Professor McGonagall cut him off.

“I believe it’s time we take our leave. I’m sure Mr. Potter and Miss Evans have more than enough school work to amuse themselves.” James was surprised by the rigid tone Professor McGonagall had used to address their headmaster. As if he’d done something, said something that she didn’t approved of.

“Professors,” James said before they could stand to leave. He made sure his voice remained calm, and hoped that what he was doing was right. “I need to be sure that this, this attack on Beowulf will remain between us. My mum and dad will be here Saturday for the Quidditch match, and they can’t know about this.” James knew that he wasn’t using the most respectful tone, and that he had no right to try and order his professors around. But this was something he was extremely set on.

“Mr. Potter, if this was an act done for the purpose of finding information to harm you or-”

“Professor McGonagall,” he said, cutting her off and earning himself a glare that was as hard as steel. “I understand what the risks could have been, but whatever they were looking for, I think it’s safe to say they didn’t find it in a letter from Petunia Evans. I’ll make sure that anything else I send or receive is done so more discreetly. But I’m of age, and this is a matter that concerns me, not my parents.”

“Mr. Potter, I think Professor McGonagall and myself can assure you that, as an adult, we agree it is your choice to make the decisions of one. Including keeping private matters just so.”

James let out a sigh, glancing up at McGonagall with what he hoped was a clear apology for interrupting her. “Thank you, professors. You know how my mum and dad are. If they got even wind that someone may have been trying to get information about me, or hurt Beowulf… they’d probably be back in their Auror robes and at the ministry before nightfall. And with their health…” James trailed off, not knowing where to go from there.

Even if it was for their own good, he hated keeping things from his mum and dad. Sure, they may not look a day over fifty, but the truth was that they were nearing their eighties. All the curses they’d taken throughout the years, the stress they’d lived under, had taken its toll. His mum endured mornings where it took her an hour to get out of bed. Her arthritis was so vindictive, it could occasionally seep through the potion she took to dull the pain and force her body to remember just how long it had lived. And his dad had been told by a Healer countless times that his blood pressure was too high, his cholesterol even more so.

James was certain that his parents knew more about the war, about whatever it was Dumbledore had going to try and counteract the Death Eaters, than anyone. But their age and their need to keep James from the danger of it all stopped them from doing anything more than passing along information. If they knew there was a chance that James or Lily had been targeted, that would all change.

As long as they thought James was safe, they’d continue living their retired lives. Helping where they could, doing what their health allowed them to. James was going to keep it that way.

“Also, before you both go,” Lily started, saving James from his thoughts. “The letter from Petunia… is it safe for me to read?” James felt hesitation in her words. Was it because of what had happened, or was she afraid of what the letter might say?

“Ah, but of course, my dear girl. I hope you don’t mind, but it was necessary that we perform a few spells to check the safety of it.” Lily shook her head at Dumbledore as he pulled the letter from his robes and handed it to her.

“One more thing,” McGonagall said, turning to face Lily as they stood to leave. “I’d hoped to have a moment to speak with Ms. Christopherson, but I don’t believe that time will allow it this evening. Can you inform her that her detentions have come to an end?” James almost asked the Professor what detentions she was talking about, until he remembered the incident at the start of October when she cursed Rosier and blew him up to twice his size. She’d been meeting with the professor a few mornings a week before class, but had never complained about it, or even brought it up, really. Which is how James supposed he forgot about them all together.

“Of course, Professor McGonagall,” Lily agreed.

“Well then, we appreciate both of you being so agreeable about the arrangements for this evening. I trust you’ll be kept busy with the seven inch Transfiguration essay due Monday morning.” James and Lily mumbled their agreement, saying their farewells as the portrait door snapped shut behind them.

“So…do you want to talk about it?” Lily asked, standing from her chair and plopping down on the sofa once the sound of fading footsteps was no longer present.

“Does it scare you?” he asked, moving to sit beside her. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to talk about it or not, but if she did, then they would.

“Yes and no,” she answered without a second of hesitation. “It’s not like we’re even sure that whoever attacked Beowulf knew it was your owl. People seem like they’re doing anything to blackmail their way into power or safety these days. Even the Ministry is turning on itself. Maybe someone just thought they’d be able to land themselves on something that would keep them protected. Either way, there isn’t much we can do about any of it.”

James felt himself relax at her words. He’d been worried that she would fall apart, which would have been understandable. Though, he should have known better; Lily very seldom fell apart. Even if she did, he would have tried to help make it better. But this way, with her attitude mirroring his own, it was so much easier to understand her.

“So,” she continued, glancing at the envelope in her lap, “should I open it?”

“Course you should open it, or I’ll have to.” He pulled his wand from his pocket and added strength to the fire. Then he set the oil lamps around the room ablaze so she wouldn’t strain her eyes trying to read whatever would be written on the parchment. The sound of a loud thump coming from upstairs caused the apprehension that was finally draining from James to pound back into his bones. He was on his feet in seconds, his wand ready to obey.

“James!” He glanced down at Lily, her green eyes laughing up at him. “Lower your wand, will you?”

“Didn’t you hear it...” he started asking, suddenly afraid he was going mad.

“Of course I heard it. I spend all night listening to it.” Still smiling, she turned on the sofa and raised her body so that she was kneeling on the cushions and glancing toward the staircase. “Butterscotch! Come down here, kitty,” she coaxed, her voice echoing through the room.

“He likes jumping from my bed to the top of my wardrobe,” Lily explained before calling the kitten one more time. “He’s really much too confident in himself. I keep telling him that he’s too small to be doing things like that, but…” her sentence trailed off as the small creature came sprinting down the stairs, meowing as he crept to the front of the sofa and sprang up next to Lily.

James smiled more to himself than the cat. That day, when he’d walked into the pet shop and purchased Butterscotch, was one of the few things he did on impulse that actually turned out well.

Usually his spontaneous decisions ended rather disastrously. Like letting Sirius transfigure their beds at his parents’ house into Muggle water beds, but those only worked if they were fully sealed. Sirius’s and his hadn’t been. Or letting Peter and Remus trick him into shaving his legs so that he’d be more aerodynamic during Quidditch. It hadn’t been until after he’d removed all the hair that he realized it would only make a difference if he played Quidditch naked.

Yes, his impulses didn’t have the best track record. But the only thing that had been filling his mind that afternoon at Hogsmeade was Lily’s face when she told them all that she’d never been able to have a kitten. He’d been dwelling on the thought that she deserved to get something she’d wanted for so long. She deserved to get everything she wanted, really. And then, before he could talk himself out of it, or could let his mates do that, he’d already paid for the little kitten.

Now, watching Butterscotch climb up the front of Lily’s robes and tuck himself under her hair, he knew he’d made the right decision. The way she giggled at the kitten was so different then the laugh she usually had… gentler, more free, somehow.

“You scared James, you know,” she whispered, glancing to the side at James. “Yes you did, you pretty boy. He thinks he’s so big and tough, but you’re tougher, aren’t you?”

James smirked at her teases, reaching forward and pulling the bundle from under the protective, red curtain of hair.

“You couldn’t scare anyone,” he argued, but instead of giving the animal a menacing look like he’d planned, he laughed as it turned into nothing but a purring ball. “Now,” James continued, moving his body so that his back rested against the sofa, letting the kitten get comfortable on his lap. “Open it,” he prompted.

Lily’s eyes lost a bit of the vulnerability, and he almost wished he wouldn’t have said anything. But he had to know. And he wasn’t going to let her go upstairs to open it alone, just in case it was something that would upset her.

The way Petunia had treated Lily after everything made it clear to him that the girl couldn’t be trusted, even if it was just a letter. Who knows what nasty things she could pile her words into.

Lily’s fingers ran over the sealed edge, carefully pulling it apart. Precise and deliberate, just like she always was. She slipped out a piece of parchment… well, something that resembled parchment. Only it was much whiter, and appeared to be relatively flimsy. Closer to the material that Sirius’s muggle comics were made out of.

He was surprised when she scooted closer to him and held the letter over so that he was able to make out the words as well.

“This way I won’t have to go back over and tell you what it says. We might as well figure it out together,” she answered to his questioning look.

He nodded back at her before glancing down, and for the first time that evening he become submerged in something other than the attack.


I’ve mentioned before that I don’t appreciate being contacted by your abnormal way, nor will I respond using the same means. But since this thing doesn’t seem like it’s going to leave my window sill, I suppose I have no other choice. At least this way I can be rid of the creature before Vernon arrives home from work for the evening.

We are adjusting to living in the city quite nicely, though the noise can be bothersome. It is a much shorter commute, at least. I’ll be pleased when we decide to purchase a home, though it will be a normal one set in an acceptable neighborhood. Not an odd ball in a combination of much too small and too large houses like the one we grew up in.

James felt Lily’s hand grasp his, and knew they were reading at the same speed.

I suppose I should be flattered that you were dwelling on a fond childhood memory - though it leaves me wondering how busy that school of yours is actually keeping you if you’ve got the time to zone off and day dream. I can’t say that I have the same luxury; between work and planning the wedding I am rather pressed for time.

“Wedding?” Lily exclaimed, before they continued reading.

Although I suppose you wouldn’t know about that, would you? Well, Vernon asked me to marry him in September. Obviously I said yes. He’s a very stable man. He doesn’t even hold your freakish condition against me… quite embarrassing having to tell him. But I couldn’t risk him finding out one day and thinking I’d been lying to him all these years.

We’re to be married the twenty-second of December, and if you can manage to fit in with the rest of the guests, I wouldn’t disapprove of your attendance. It’s probably necessary to get together before the ceremony so I’m able to introduce you to Vernon, and as we’re getting married in Swansea so Vernon’s grandparents can be present. I guess I can be bothered to reserve an extra room at the Inn we’ve booked. Though, don’t think I’m paying for you.

Well then, I guess we should set a date before I change my mind. The Seaside Inn is were we’re staying, and there’s a restaurant inside of it. Meet Vernon and I there at six p.m. on the twenty-first. Also, all the other guests are allowed to bring a person of their choice. I guess you can, as well. Just be sure whoever you bring is normal, presentable.

No need to write back, I don’t fancy another creature showing up at my flat.

Well, see you in December, then. Please don’t wear anything that clashes too horribly with your hair.


James finished the letter a few second after Lily, and lifted his gaze to her. To his surprise, instead of her face being twisted into an angry look as James’s was, she had a small smile creeping over her. What on earth about that letter would make anyone want to smile?

“So, this was good, then?” he finally said.

“She wants to see me, James,” Lily answered, her eyes shining with the flickers of the oil lamps.

“Lily…” How was he supposed to say what was in his head? Did he have any right to tell her how angry it had made him when Lily begged for Petunia to come see her, and the girl couldn’t be bothered? Now she wanted Lily to go watch her marry some stupid oaf? “Just because she’s your sister, it doesn’t mean she deserves to have you there. How she acted toward you during everything, it wasn’t nice,” he finally settled on, knowing it sounded weak.

He didn’t want to try and tell Lily what to do; this was her sister, after all. But he couldn’t stand thinking about the way Lily had gravitated toward Petunia during the funeral, and Petunia had simply walked away and left Lily to handle the pain on her own. It was true that everyone grieved differently, at least according to his mum, but that didn’t make James any less angry at the girl for adding more suffering to an already broken Lily.

Then again, he had no idea what started the separation between the sisters. And maybe it was something Lily felt like she needed to make up for?

“I know it doesn’t seem like much, James,” Lily finally began, “but for Petunia, it is. It’s so much more complicated than just how she behaved during the funeral. And yes, the letter isn’t a warm welcome, but it’s more than I’d ever expected of her. Does that make sense?”

“Sure, I suppose that is good, then,” he offered with a weak smile. If Lily thought seeing her sister would be good, he wouldn’t try to take that away from her. But he sure as hell wouldn’t let that girl do anything else to upset Lily, either.

“Lily,” James began, his mind piecing together the perfect plan to make sure Lily didn’t get hurt, and to get to spend time with her all to himself. “The letter talked about a guest. I understand if you’d rather Alice or Belle go with you, but if not…” he stopped, knowing he’d said enough to make his message clear.

“But, it’s during the Holiday.” Lily glanced up at him, an apology already forming in her features. “And your parents barely get any time with you as it is. It probably wouldn’t be any fun for you to sit through a dinner with Petunia and Vernon, then a drawn out wedding.”

“It would be fun for me to get to do all those things with you, though. But if taking one of the girls is easier for you-”

“No,” Lily interrupted, “no, it isn’t that. I just know you, James. I know you’re worried, and that’s sweet of you, really. But I don’t want you to waste two days of the holiday just because you aren’t sure how Petunia will treat me.”

James was amused that she’d figured out his motives so easily. But he supposed she wasn’t labeled the most gifted witch of their age for no reason.

“You’re right, I am worried about how she’ll treat you,” James answered, knowing lying to her would be pointless. “And that’s part of the reason I want to come. But only part. The biggest reason is because I want to be with you. Even if the wedding is boring, even if they make us go to one of those restaurants that serves tiny potions of food that couldn’t feed a Pixie, none of that matters. And besides, I’m sure you’ll take Butterscotch. It’ll be his first big trip. You wouldn’t want me to miss that, now would you?”

To James relief, Lily’s wide, ‘I’m sorry’ eyes lit back up. “Of course, then. As long as you aren’t doing it just for me, I’d love if you came. But you’re sure your parents won’t mind?”

He shook his head at her, knowing that they’d be delighted at the prospect of him experiencing more of the Muggle world. They’d lecture him about making sure he was a gentleman, of course. He’d need to write to the Gringotts Department of Currency Exchange and ask them to send Muggle money for their rooms at the Inn… room? No, no rooms, and meals.

He was about to ask her what the Muggle currencies were called again, but she began speaking first. “We should probably tell Dumbledore, because of what happened with Beowulf and all. Maybe we can ask him about arranging a Portkey?”

“Well,” James started, with a sudden burst of inspiration. “What was your favorite way to travel before you used magic?”

“Train,” she answered immediately, the excitement of her voice snapping Butterscotch awake. “I’ve always enjoyed train travel. I think it’s the first thing I fell in love with about going to Hogwarts, getting to ride the Express.”

“It’s settled, then. Holiday starts the twentieth, so we can go to my parents house for the first night. Then the next morning we can take the train to Swansea. And we can take it back to London the following night after the wedding. That way we’ll still be back in plenty of time for Christmas.” James was sure he’d never been so organized in his life, but he thought the smoother their plans went, the better chance he had of getting to squeeze every possibly of alone time out of those few days.

“James,” Lily started, but before she could continue with what was on her mind, her arms were slipping around his neck and pulling both of them into a tight hug.

“Thank you,” she continued, her body resting into his with her voice just inches from his ear. “Seeing Petunia again won’t be the easiest thing, but you being there will help more than I can tell you.” James felt a tug deep in his heart. It was a simple sentence, a thank you, but the vulnerability in Lily’s voice was something he rarely heard. The open honesty of her words.

He knew nothing he’d say would do justice to that moment, so instead he pulled her closer into him, marveling at the sensation of how small her body felt inside his arms. James started to make a joke, but as Lily pulled back from him he felt the breath that had been moving through his lungs tremble.

The shift of her body caused her hair to fall around them both, the faint aroma of her shampoo surrounding James. She froze as he glanced up at her; her face just a touch away from his.

He tried to remind himself what she’d been through today, to tell himself that he needed to pull away because she couldn’t be thinking clearly.

But even while that thought was attempting to stay alive in his mind, the feel of her arms still laced around him was all the could concentrate on. The places that her hands rested on his neck burned into his flesh with such heat that he knew he’d feel like ice the moment she took them away.

He meant to unclasp his own hands from around her; he knew that’s what he intended to do. But instead of slipping off of her slender frame, his fingers pressed harder into her lower back, drawing her closer into him.

Every part of him that was saying he couldn’t let this happen, she wasn’t ready for the next step, became drowned out by the sound of his heart pounding in his ears. The feel of her body dipping further into his. Then, the same hand that had held her against him, was again moving without his permission…traveling up her back and dancing under the waterfall of hair to land on the skin of her neck.

He was losing control.. maybe he’d lost it the moment his eyes fell on her, he wasn’t sure. But every thought-up attempt to restrain himself disintegrated as he pulled her willowy form into him. All of the warmth that their hug had held, all of the tension that was forever pulsing between them, gave way to a heat that James could have only dreamed about feeling.

Yet, this wasn’t a dream. As he finally closed the last flicker of distance between them and caught her lips with his, he was almost certain it couldn’t be reality, either.

“James.” The fragility of that word as she whispered it into him was enough to break past his delirium, and he used what amount of self control he could find to break the kiss. Though the second he did it, he was sure it was the worst decision he’d ever made.

“Lily,” he whispered back, gripping her arms and drawing her a few inches from him, then letting his head fall against her shoulder. He released a deep breath, closing his eyes as he concentrated on forcing his head to stay where it was.

“I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have…” he began.The feeling of her body tensing on top of his caused him to move his head and meet her eyes. He couldn’t quite remember how she’d gotten onto his lap, but it was odd being the one to look up at her.

“James Potter,” she started, and if his lips weren’t so tingly and numb, he’d have smiled as she crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at him. “It’s not very flattering to have someone kiss you, then immediately tell you their sorry. Sure, I haven’t kissed many times before, but-” This time James did laugh, earning himself a McGonagall worthy glare.

“You know that’s not what I meant!” He insisted, immensely grateful to her for breaking the pressure surrounding them. “I just, I told you on the Quidditch Pitch that day we almost…that I’d let you make the first move. And, well.”

“I think it’s safe to say we both made a move this time,” she answered, sliding from his lap and to her own cushion. “But, James-”

“I know. We’re just friends. I shouldn’t have let it happen, but you’re so..” he stopped, not even knowing what word could describe her. He glanced over, then felt a sense of panic grow as her frown deepened. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No, not you. It’s just. I’ve been thinking about the friends thing.”

If he’d ever experienced more emotions in one night, he couldn’t remember the time. Because as quickly as panic came, it faded and was replaced with a terrifying amount of excitement. He ordered his mouth to stay shut, to let her continue, pleased that his body was again obeying him.

“It’s not like it’s a secret that we fancy each other, and something that Belle and Alice said Saturday night had me thinking. I just, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m ready to be everything. Ready for a relationship. Ready to see what happens if it all goes wrong.” She paused, but he could tell there was still more left for her to say, and remained silent. “But I think we both know that we’re more than just friends,” she finally said.

“So,” he began cautiously, grabbing her hand to stop her from picking at her lips, a clear sign that she was as nervous as him. “What does that mean? We’re not dating, but we’re not just friends?”

“I don’t know what it means,” she answered, her voice fortifying her exasperation. “But, I just… I don’t want us to be ‘not just friends’ with anyone but each other. I don’t mean to sound jealous or childish or anything, and I know it isn’t fair to expect you to wait around forever for me. But I also couldn’t stand the thought of you being ‘not just friends’ with someone else.”

“Lily, that’s ridiculous. You know that I don’t fancy anyone else, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have kissed you first, or kissed you back, or whatever happened, if I did.”

She nodded at him slowly, a certain kind of reassurance passing over her emerald eyes.

“I don’t fancy anyone either. And I hope you know that I only invited Alrek to Slughorn’s tonight to be polite. But, I still… even though I want us to be more, I’m scared it will end with us destroying our friendship. You mean a lot to me, James. And a few years ago I never thought I’d feel the way about you, about our friendship, as I do. Now I can’t stand the thought of losing anyone else, especially you.”

“Well, considering I’ve had the same best friends since first year, I think I’m a tough one to shake,” James joked, needing to see her smile again.

“So maybe we can..” she started, glancing back at him quickly before glancing away. “Maybe I can try to stop worrying so much about the what ifs, and just let things happen the way they’re supposed to?”

And the same euphoric sense that had filled him when Lily had been pressed into his body returned.

“So,” he started, turning his head back to face hers and lifting his fingers to her chin, keeping his eyes on her all the while to gauge her reaction. As slowly as before, but with a more controlled deliberation, he edged his lips closer to hers, and let them travel along the bone that framed her jaw. He paused for a moment, giving her what he believed was enough time to pull away, before once again seizing her lips with his.

“Does that mean that this is allowed?” he asked with a smile as they parented, relieved that she wasn’t giving him the, ‘in trouble’ look.

“I suppose,” she began slowly. “But not in here.” His jaw almost dropped at her last few words, sincerely confused on why he couldn’t kiss her in a completely empty room.

“James,” she began, clearly picking up on his bewilderment. “We’re in the Heads Quarters! A place we get for being responsible, role model students. Do you have any idea what Professor Dumbledore or McGonagall would do if they knew about this? And I’m sure they’d know somehow. This room can probably talk or something. No.. it’s just too weird.”

Of course, he should have known. This was Lily Evans, after all.

“Okay,” he agreed. “It’s allowed, but not in here. And if you change your mind… if you feel like things moved too fast and we need to be just friends without the not just friends part, I'll understand. And Lily, no matter what, I won’t let anything ruin our friendship, okay?”

She nodded at him, and he believed that she understood how sincerely he meant that.

“You know,” she began, glancing up at him suspiciously. “You are really a very good kisser. Is there any particular reason you’re so good at?”

“Oh no, if I can’t kiss you in the Heads’ Quarters, you can’t use it as a place to ask me about girls I’ve snogged, either. But,” he added, seeing her face fall a fraction. “If it helps, I can count the girls I’ve kissed on one hand.”

“And the girls you’ve…”

“On one finger.”

She let out a sigh, and for the first time he realized there may have been a chance that Lily thought the rumors always circling him were true. Not that he ever minded before if anyone believed the stories that a few vindictive girls had fabricated. If the school wanted to think he was a lady’s man, well, he wasn’t going to argue. But he didn’t want Lily thinking it.

“James? You’re not so bad, you know,” she said with a smirk that looked so practiced, he was certain she must’ve picked it up from Sirius. “So, you really think we can do this? Be an ‘us’?”

He waited a moment, wanting to make sure to give her a true answer. “I think that we care about each other, and that won’t change. And, let’s face it, we’ve already been an ‘us’ in my head since third year. That has to count for something, right?”

Lily’s laugh echoed in his ears, the sound of it every bit as intoxicating as her lips had been. Too many things were happening in their world to know what was around the corner. But just then, every part of James was confident that as long as Lily could keep making him laugh, as long as he could hear the sound of hers whenever he wanted, everything really would be okay.

Finally! You guys have no idea how excited I've been for James and Lily to get to this point. So, thoughts?

Thank you so much to CambAngst for putting up with my craziness and being an awesome beta. If you haven't checked out any of his stories, you're missing out!

Beowulf is an epic poem dated between the 8th and 11th century and it's original creator is unknown. Though the most well known translator is Seamus Heaney.

And now, I am so excited to see what you guys thing of this chapter! Thank you so much for reading!

Chapter 16: A Day for Madness
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Chapter image by the amazing heartfelt.@TDA
Chapter 16 - A Day for Madness

“So, my boys, is winning on the agenda for today?” William Potter asked, laughing as he clasped both Sirius and James on the shoulders.

“I don’t know,” Sirius answered with a false tone of gravity. “I suppose there’s a good chance of it. James has been having a nice stretch of luck this week, hasn’t he, Lily?”

Lily felt a blush of embarrassment creep into her cheeks. She resisted the urge to let her foot come down hard on Sirius’s toe. Of course he would find a way to tease her about the kiss, in front of James’s parents no less. It was hard for Lily to stay annoyed for more than a few seconds, though. Excitement was alive in the air as hundreds of students made their way to the stands surrounding the Quidditch pitch, laughing and chatting under the brilliant November sun.

Lily knew that they already missed their chance to get the best seats, but when James had asked them all to walk with him and Professor McGonagall to meet the seventh year parents, there wasn’t a chance they were going to say no. He’d been much too excited about the prospect of Olivia and William being greeted by all eight of them.

“James,” came a yell from the open flap of the changing tent. “You thinking of playing Quidditch anytime today?”

“I guess today seems like a good day for it,” James joked, stepping from his parents and craning his head into the tent. “Be right there. You lot just worry about getting your robes on the right way.”

“I should get going. I need to be in the tower for the match to kick off,” Frank said with a sigh, holding his hand out in front of him and shaking Mr. Potter’s. “It was nice seeing you guys. I may not get a chance to say goodbye before you have to leave, but I expect I’ll be seeing you next month?”

Olivia pulled Frank into a tight hug, kissing him hard on the cheek before patting the other with one of her slender, knobby hands. “Good luck, and of course we’ll see you and Augusta over Christmas.” Frank’s ears turned bright read, and Lily had to bite the corner of her lip to force away the giggle building in her throat. It was no secret that Frank’s own mother, Augusta, wasn’t the most tender woman in the world. She did seem very nice, just not as nurturing as some. So watching Frank’s awkward uncertainty at how to handle this kind of warmth really was more amusing than it should have been.

“Frank.” Lily put on her best ‘Head Girl’ attitude as she turned towards the boy. “You try to keep the comments clean and fair sided, yeah?”

“Ah, Lily. What’s the point in me being the commentator if I can’t favor Gryffindor?” Frank said with a wink before turning around and taking off up the path.

“Alice,” William interrupted, releasing his hold on Sirius and moving his giant hand to Alice’s much smaller shoulder. “Are you and Frank enjoying your lessons with Mr. Moody?”

“Um, well,” Alice glanced around, and Lily could tell that she was uncomfortable talking about it. Not because she didn’t enjoy it, but because it singled her out.

“She’s doing amazing,” Lily interrupted, wanting to make sure her friend got the credit she deserved.

“And ze teacher told ‘er zat she and Frank are at ze level of most of ‘is second year trainees,” Belle added proudly, grinning at the slender brunette.

“Vat are you training for?” Lily turned around to see the Bulgarian transfer making his way over to the group. “Sorry I am arriving late. It found myself losing the track of time in the library.”

“Don’t worry.” Lily gave Alrek an encouraging smile before stepping over to make room for him. “Mr. and Mrs. Potter, this is Alrek Rukin, he just came to Hogwarts this year from Durmstrang. Alrek, these are James’s parents.”

Alrek held out his hand, shaking both of theirs. “It is a pleasure at being aquatinted vith you both. So,” he continued, facing Alice, “vhat are you and Frank having to do extra of? Is it Potions? Because I seem to be needed a bit of extra training in that, myself.”

“Not exactly, though I probably could use a bit of tutoring in Potions as well,” Alice said with a sympathetic smile. “But this training is for after Hogwarts.”

“It’s nothing really,” William cut in, his eyes serious for the first time that afternoon. “They’re both just interested in Ministry positions that they’re being trained a bit about. Boring stuff, really.”

Lily watched Mr. and Mrs. Potter exchange a look, and for some reason she was relieved that James’s dad hadn’t told Alrek the truth. It was a pretty incredible thing, being trained early as Aurors, and as long as their NEWTs panned out they’d be years ahead of anyone else. But it wasn’t the kind of information you shared with just anybody, Lily supposed. Especially considering Alice and Frank both mentioned that Moody wasn’t entirely sure if it was ‘Ministry approved.’

“Well then,” Olivia said, clapping her hands together and easing away the bit of tension that had crept through them. “I think it’s time we go get ourselves seated. Peter, you’ll be a dear and escort me up the stairs?” Olivia asked, holding her arm out so Peter could thread his through it.

“Don’t let her go for a second, Peter. She’ll take off and start encouraging all the students to bet on the game. The woman is a sucker for a quick Sickle.” William winked and gave the sandy blonde boy a pat on the back before turning back to James. “Good luck, son,” he said, pulling him into a tight hug. “You know that no matter the outcome of the game, just watching you play is the best thing of all. But we wouldn’t mind seeing you win, either.”

“You’ll do great,” Lily added, smiling as James stepped toward her. She was about to move aside so the rest of the group could wish him luck, but James clearly had other ideas. His arms laced around her shoulders and he pulled her into a tight hug. She laughed as she hugged him back, and let the scent of his cologne overtake her for just a second. When she felt his weight release, she unhooked her own arms and started to turn away. But before she could, he took her chin in his fingers and placed a light kiss over her lips.

She was too surprised to say anything. And by the time the fog filling her mind cleared, he was already slipping into the tent and out of sight. She stayed where she was, not wanting to meet the eyes of anyone, and was thankful when Olivia ushered the boys forward, leaving her alone with just Alice and Belle.

“So,” Alice started as the rest of the group got a few yards ahead. “I know you guys decided you weren’t just friends, but does this mean...?” She let her words trail off as the three girls took slow steps up the path toward the stands.

“I have no idea. We haven’t really said much more about it since the Monday kiss,” Lily answered, still trying to shake the tingle from her lips.

“Well, ‘ave you wanted to kiss ‘im since zen?”

“I... I suppose. We’ve been alone a few times but neither of us did anything, so I thought… I don’t know what I thought.”

“Maybe he was backing off a bit to see how you acted?” Alice reasoned. “I’m sure he wants to be careful not to move to quickly in case you have one of your freak outs.”

“I do not have freak outs,” Lily argued. “I just, I’m not any good at this. Doesn’t it seem like we’re moving awfully fast?”

“So you zink it’s moving too quickly, zen?”

Lily stayed silent for a moment as they continued up the stairs. Did she think it was moving too quickly? Well… they had kissed twice, no, three times, since Monday. But that wasn’t that many.

“I’m not really sure,” she finally answered. “I just don’t want things between us to change. I don’t want him to change.”

Alice slowed down as they got closer to the isle that the group was sitting in. “Well, have they changed so far?”

Lily shook her head, her teeth pressing into her bottom lip. Why did everything have to be so confusing?

“This can’t last though, the not knowing.” she finally reasoned. “I mean, we did decide we’re not just friends, but we never said we were going to be…you know.”

“But do you wish you guys would have said that you’re…you know?

“I really don’t know,” Lily said, glancing at Alice. “How am I supposed to know if I want us to be dating? I’ve never dated him, so I don’t know what it’s like. I do enjoy spending time with him, but I enjoy spending time with all my friends. I did like kissing, though. And not just in a way that I didn’t hate it, I mean,” Lily felt her cheeks getting hotter and knew they were probably bright red. “I really, really , liked it.”

“It looks like zat’s your answer, zen,” Belle said, a huge smile filling her angular face.

“But what if-”

“Nope” Alice interrupted as they began down the isle. “No more arguing. This is exactly what you want, Lily. And we know it might be scary. You’ve always dated boys that you know are better off as friends, that you won’t get attached to. But with James, the idea of not having him around is frighting because you care so much about him. Of course that makes getting into a relationship harder, because there’s more to risk. But you deserve to be with someone who you know it would hurt to lose, right?”

Lily stayed silent, not sure how to answer Alice. It was true that with the few boys she’d dated before she’d ended up deciding they were better as friends. She’d never had a messy break up, a dramatic fight. Was that because she’d never been afraid to lose any of them?

Well, not the way she was afraid of losing James, that she was certain about.

“I really care about him,” Lily finally whispered, not knowing what else to say.

“We know you do, sweetie,” Alice answered, rubbing Lily’s arm. “And that’s what makes the risk of getting hurt worth it. Isn’t that right, Belle?”

Lily laughed as they scooted into their seats. Leave it to Alice to get two lectures into one sentence.

“Yes, yes, I know.” Belle rolled her eyes and took the seat directly behind Sirius, before leaning closer and whispering, “I’ll tell ‘im, soon. ‘Is birthday is Tuesday, and I promised I’d do it before zen, didn’t I?”

Lily was about to answer, but their conversation was forced to a close when Alrek moved from the row up ahead to the seat next to Lily.

“Is it okay if I sit in this row, that vay if I’m having a question I’ll be able to ask you.” Lily smiled at him and nodded. She had offered to teach him how the game worked, after all.

Alice leaned over Lily to Alrek. “Are you excited for the Holiday next month?”

“I am both being excited and not so excited,” he started, moving forward a few inches so he wouldn’t have to yell. “I had thought I’d be relaxing vith my family, but ve just learned that a cousin is being married. My family’s house has a lot of empty room, so most of the guests vill be staying with us.”

“My sister’s getting married over break, as well,” Lily said, trying to ignore the part of her that wished she had a large house full of family to share it with. “I don’t know any of her fiancé's family, but I’m excited to see her get married.”

“I vish I had siblings. It vould be so much better to endure my crazy relatives if I had someone to make fun of them vith,” Alrek joked, an easy smile playing over his usually serious face. Lily found herself surprised, not for the first time, that he hadn’t dated anyone. He really wasn’t bad to look at. Eleanor had been complaining about being lonely ever since her break up with a seventh year Hufflepuff, maybe she should try to set the two of them up.

“It was fun having a sister when we were younger,” Lily said, the truth of that sentence surprising her. She really had always loved having Petunia when she was younger. Before Lily started doing weird things with her magic, before Severus told her the secret about what that magic meant, before Petunia hated her more often than she loved her…

“Are your parents being excited about your sister’s wedding?” Alrek asked.

Lily felt the blood drain from her face. “I…” she stammered as the feeling of tears pricked behind the surface of her eyes.

“Lily’s parents passed away earlier this year,” Alice said gently, squeezing Lily’s hand. She blinked away the largest of the tears trying to break their way through, and noticed for the first time that the boys and James’s parents were turned around in their row facing her, all probably trying to decide what to do.

“Oh, Lily. I vas having no idea,” Alrek began, stumbling across his own words. “I never vould have asked if…”

She ignored the feeling of her heart racing in her chest, and tried to make her words come out sounding much more put together than she felt. “No, don’t worry. You couldn’t have known. I’m sure they’d be excited about the wedding if they were still…” she couldn’t say alive and hoped that he understood.

“Well,” Olivia intervened swiftly. “I know James is really thrilled to be going with you, Lily.” She grabbed Lily’s hand in her soft, wrinkled one. For a moment Lily remembered what James said about his parents nearing eighty, and found it hard to believe as she looked at the dark haired woman in front of her.

William cleared his throat, drawing Lily’s attention to him. “We had a Hogwarts owl show up at our window Tuesday morning and thought without a doubt that Sirius and James had got themselves in trouble. Probably dragging Remus and Peter into it with them. We were almost certain before we opened the letter that it was telling us the whole lot of them had been chucked out of Hogwarts,” William’s deep laugh boomed through, the sound of it enough to calm Lily’s quivering heart.

“I have to say,” he continued, “we certainly were pleased when it was a letter from James telling us that you two were going to the wedding. It’ll be quite the experience for the boy to learn more about the Muggle culture. But you, young lady, have to promise to tell us right away if he isn’t on his best behavior.” He gave Lily a stern look that didn’t do anything but make her, and the rest of the group, laugh.

“Are your friends being of attendance to the wedding as well?” Alrek asked, glancing at Lily. She wondered if he was feeling shy, because he spoke in a much quieter voice so only she could here.

“No,” she answered, her tone a few octaves louder. “It's just going to be James and I.”

Alice smiled at Belle before leaning closer to Lily and whispering, “Just you and James for two whole days and one night.” Lily’s cheeks flushed bright red, but before she could tease her friend back, Frank’s voice boomed through the stands.

“Good afternoon students! Welcome to the first match of the year! Without further ado, let’s welcome our players! First we have Gryffindor-” Frank paused while all seven of the players, James in the lead, zipped into the air and circled the pitch. Roars and applause filled the stands. A sea of red and gold all got to their feet along with the majority of the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs.

Lily shook her head and smiled as James let go of his broom and raised both his hands over his head, shaking his fists as the applause continued. Show off, she thought, though even in her mind her words sounded rather affectionate. She stopped cheering only for a second to tighten the gold scarf around her neck, shivers going up her spine as a chilly wind blew through.

“Let’s start with our, always modest, captain and Chaser James Potter!” The already insanely excited cheers grew even louder as James flew to the center and took a deep bow on his broom. “Followed by the lovely Chaser, Mary MacDonald, and the youngest Chaser Hogwarts has seen in years, Polly Turner, second year! And yes, folks, that’s Turner, as in Bain the Beater Turner!” They both waved as they lined up on either side of James, Polly looking both pleased and embarrassed at the cheers her brother’s name received. Lily couldn’t imagine that it was easy being the younger sister to such a legend, but the determined second year seemed to handle it well.

“And now, our own Beater legends, and some of the best that this pitch has ever seen, Margaret Blackbourne and Alexander Sheffield!” Frank cheered along with the crowed before continued. “Then of course, the brick wall himself, the reason Slytherin can’t score a goal on the pitch any better than they can score off the pitch,”-

“Frank Longbottom!”
Came the angry hiss of Professor McGonagall’s voice.

“Oops, sorry about that, professor. Just trying to welcome Caldwell Jasper to the pitch!” Lily couldn’t help herself, and laughed along with the rest of the crowd as Caldwell did a quick circle before lining up beside the Beaters.

“And last, but absolutely not least, a new addition to Gryffindor and the Snitch’s worst nightmare -- Violet Clarke!”

“Are all the introductions usually being this… extreme?” Alrek asked, whispering in Lily’s ear over the sounds of dying applause.

“Well, since Frank is the commentator and he’s a Gryffindor...” she began, and Alrek nodded with a laugh, seeming to understand.

“And now I suppose we should welcome to the pitch the Slytherin team! Let the losing begin!”

The audience erupted into another round of laughter as Professor McGonagall’s hissed through the stands.

“Sorry about that Professor. Don’t know who said that, really.”

Lily remained standing and clapped as Frank called each player on the Slytherin team, although she was one of the very few Gryffindors who did so. The other ones being prefects, who must’ve held the same sense of obligation as her to be an example for good sportsmanship.

“And now, Madam Hooch!” The flight instructor and referee soared to the middle of the pitch.

“Let’s make sure the first match of the season is a clean one!” she said, holding her wand to her throat. She waited for both team captains to shake hands, then flew back down to the grass and landed next to the rough looking chest that held the equipment. She tapped the chest once with her wand, causing the lid to fling open. Two Bludgers and the Golden Snitch came tearing out. The audience held their breath as the referee lifted the Quaffle and held it above her head. As she chucked it into the air all the students broke into a wild applause.

“Let the game begin!”

The fierce clicking of heels, one after another, was lost in the evening air. A woman adorned in only black slipped through the alleys deep in the heart of Edinburgh. Her mind was so preoccupied with it’s own musing that the cold gusts of wind coming in from the North Sea didn’t send a single shiver down her spine.

Soon she would be face to face with Him. That was the only thing worth thinking of. Not the disgusting Muggle filth living in the buildings that she walked past, not the annoyance of having to travel to Scotland. None of that mattered when it was all for such a precious chance to share His company.

She halted as she came to a set of black steps that seemed to lead straight into a concrete wall. But she was one of the very few that knew differently. One of the trusted few. That knowledge forced a shudder down her body, her lips curving up into a sneer. She stepped to the second stair, and with a glance to her left and right, she drew her wand from her pocket and hissed a flawless incantation.

Her body seemed to turn into fog, nothing but a few dark wisps. And then, before even a whisper of time could pass, the fog was gone and a woman had reappeared on the other side of the wall.

“Welcome, Madam Lestrange,” came the irritating squeak of a house-elf’s voice “Aggie’s Master has been telling Aggie that you’ll be arriving soon. Can Aggie take Madam’s cloak?”

Bellatrix dropped her thick, fur cloak on top of the creature, before stepping over it and making her way through the narrow corridor. The number of torches lining the wall, casting hot waves of light, surprised her. Her Master usually darkened his surroundings before holding a meeting, preferring the intimacy of it. At least, that’s what Bellatrix liked to believe.

She reached her boney knuckles up and rapped on the thick wooden door in front of her, but stopped when it began opening.

You may enter.”

The same tremble passed through her, but she didn’t allow her face to show the intense thrill that hearing his voice brought to her.

She could see little more than shadows as she stepped into the darker room, only a single oil lamp afire. But as she neared the desk, she was able to make out the form of another Death Eater.

Bellatrix waited a beat, then decided it was safe to speak. “My Lord. Karkaroff.” She nodded at them both, though her tone changed considerably between the two names.

“Bellatrix,” Karkaroff greeted stiffly. “I trust the journey was bearable.”

And suddenly Bellatrix realized why the other man was sitting in a chair across from her Lord. Why the light in the halls didn’t seem to reflect her Master. It was often that the Dark Lord chose one of his servant’s homes to temporarily dwell in, and she supposed that must be the case on this night. But when He sent word of how she could enter his current residence, and made it clear that she was to tell no one from the inner circle, she believed that she was being invited to somewhere more exclusive, somewhere none of the other Death Eaters had the chance to venture to. His own, personal quarters.

She tried to shake the sting of disappointment away and forced herself not to focus on why her Lord had chosen Karkaroff’s home instead of the Lestrange Mansion.

“Bellatrix, my faithful servant, you come with information, I trust?” The silk of his voice, the quiet tone drenched in control, bled into Bellatrix and caused her pulse to quicken.

“Yes, my Lord,” she answered, still frozen in place, waiting for him to command her to do otherwise.

“Karkaroff and I were just discussing the importance of information, weren’t we?” The Dark Lord’s icy gaze slipped over to the man in the chair. Now that Bellatrix’s eyes had adjusted to the lack of light, she was able to make the Death Eater out a bit more clearly. His overly pale skin, the clammy drops of sweat covering him…

Bellatrix’s lips twitched as they begged to curve into a smile. It was obvious that the Dark Lord was not in his home as a reward. The severe lack of color in the man’s cheeks, the way his flesh seemed paper thin and showed every bone of his face… Those were a few of the tell-tale signs left behind by the Cruciatus Curse. Her Master was not dwelling in this home as a reward, but as a convenience while he administered some sort of punishment. She didn’t know what Karkaroff’s current mission was, but he was obviously failing.

That knowledge brought a savage pleasure to her, and she found it extremely difficult not to let out a high pitched giggle.

“Yes,” Karkaroff croaked, meeting the eyes of neither servant nor Lord. “We were just discussing that.”

“You are dismissed,” the Dark Lord ordered. “Don’t let our lesson this evening go to waste. Bellatrix, sit.” He waved his wand at a chair next to the one that Karkaroff had just vacated.

“Bellatrix,” the Dark Lord began once the door clicked shut. “Your message sounded very promising.”

“Yes, My Lord,” and for the first time she finally let herself smile. Her lips, as red as the blood that she craved to spill for her Cause, twisted into pleasure. “I have a letter that’s just arrived from Alrek Rukin regarding the orders I have him under. It’s written in code,” she added. But of course the code would be easily broken by her Lord, there was nothing he didn’t know.

She pulled out the folded up parchment, her fingers careful as they touched it. The last thing she wanted to do was damage the precious information that she’d received barely an hour ago. Her deadly hands smoothed out the creases before placing it on the desk in front of the Master.

He pulled out his wand and set the tip of it on fire, holding the flame close enough to the ink to light the words.

Hello, my dear friend. I wished to write to you and tell you of the mundane happenings of my school and it’s inhabits.

The extra project I’ve been working on for Herbology seemed to be at a stand still, but I believe I’ve now figured out how to get it back on track.

You see, the plant I was working with didn’t appear to want to cooperate. But then, it seemed my luck was being changed. I learned that this plant needs to be worked with slowly, and that it prefers colder temperatures. So as soon as the year reaches a close, I’ll be placing it outside to enjoy the December frost.

I thought that was the only thing I’d be able to give for my plant, to do for it, but recently, just hours ago, actually -- I learned that I can do one more thing for this delicate project.

If I place another plant, cut from the same garden, beside it during that frost, they will feed off of one another. It can only be two plants though, that’s a very important part. If I add any more, it will be harmful. At least according to my book. Interesting, isn’t it?

The plant must also be set far enough away from any building so that its air isn’t contaminated. So not only will I be putting these two outside in the frost, but I’ll be moving them somewhere secluded on the grounds. And then, the most important part of the process, is that it can only last two days. Barely that. Closer to twenty-four hours.

I’ll write soon, once the start of my project draws closer. I think that I’ll try and check the temperature the first of December. It’s a Saturday, I believe, so I’ll have a few hours to myself to work on this side project of mine.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Best wishes.

Your loyal and always dedicated friend.

Bellatrix waited, nearly shaking, as her Lord finished reading the words.

“Go through the steps that have led us to this letter, Bellatrix.” The Dark Lord demanded.

“Of course, my Lord. You are aware of the Tracing Spell I ordered Alrek Rukin to place upon Potter’s owl. He was able to do so exactly a week ago, and it proved worthy. The compass I bewitched to work along side the spell began glowing, and led me to the direction of the creature. I was about to intercept the letter from the Mudblood’s sister, but I had difficulty catching the creature. I'm not sure it lived, but I cleaned him of any traces of the spell and modified his memory just in case.”

She waited for a moment as her Lord held up a hand, his eyes seeming to probe into her.

“Continue,” he commanded.

“Yes, my Lord. After I memorized the letter from the filthy Muggle and delivered the message to you, I wrote again to Rukin and told him we needed to gain specific information about the wedding, who would be in attendance, if Potter and the Mudblood were going, and so on. This letter,” she pointed a shaky finger to the parchment, “is the reply to my orders. It’s in the code we use often.”

She stopped again as he held up the same hand. An intense thrill hummed through her as his eyes latched back onto her.


“The code, the project is of course the Potter mission. I believe he wrote, the extra project to signal that he was speaking of the Mudblood. The section that tells of the two plants - he’s informing me that we will be able to get to him through her. And that it’s over the Holiday, which is why he talks of waiting for the frost. In the letter that I intercepted from the Mudblood’s sister, she spoke of the wedding being in Wales. I believe Alrek is informing me that both her and Potter, and only her and Potter, will be attending and staying at least a day for it. Which is why he mentions that there can’t be more than two plants outside. His last sentence, when he writes the date he will check for frost, is the date of their next Hogsmeade visit. I’ve made it clear that I want another face to face meeting before the end of term, so I can be assured that he and Black have made no mistakes in the information they’ve passed along. I believe, my Lord, that we will have a twenty-four hour block to execute an attack and bring Potter to you.”

“And the Mudblood,” He ordered. “I want her, as well. And I want them both alive.”

“Yes, my Lord,” she said, and lowered her head the moment he broke their gaze.

“You know, Bellatrix, There are times when I question my choice in servants.” The words slashed through Bellatrix, a raw sensation of fear immersing itself in her body. Had she been wrong about the message? Was she wasting His precious time? The line of burnt flesh on her arm, an everlasting reminder of her first strike, seemed to throb as The Dark Lord stood up and looked down at her.

“Yes,” The Dark Lord continued, moving from the side of the desk. He inched closer to his servant, and she knew that he could sense her terror. The fear that she may have disappointed Him filled the room, so thick that it it seemed to be suffocating her breath by breath.

“There are those few times when I come to think that I may not have chosen the best, the finest, to walk behind me and fight for the purity of our world. But then there are those times, my servant, when I think just the opposite.” He knelt down beside her, his white skin nearly glowing as his sharp finger ran down her arm. “You have done well, Bellatrix. I am pleased with you in a way that I do not often feel.” She shivered at his compliments, unable to contain the tremors that raced through her.

“I would like to reward you for your loyalty and the valuable information you’ve delivered,” he hissed, his nearly black eyes still drilling into hers.

He stood and pulled up the thin fabric of his sleeve, his back to her as he whispered something. Seconds later, a muffled knock came at the door.

It opened, making no sound, and revealed Karkaroff’s face on the other side.

“You called, my Lord?” he said. Though he attempted to cover his nerves, Bellatrix could still pick up on the hints of them.

The Dark Lord ordered the man to step in, and once the door was closed he turned back to Bellatrix. “I have been discussing with another of my servants,” he gestured toward Karkaroff, “the lack of progress on a vital mission he is charged with. I’ve given him ample warnings, when not even one should be necessary. Over the past several hours, I’ve reminded him of the importance of following my orders. But you, my servant, have given me a something that has pleased me greatly. As a reward, I would like to pass to you the duty of reminding a fellow servant how necessary progress is, how vital being given correct information is.”

Bellatrix’s face twisted into a sneer, her blood pounding with anticipation at what the next few minutes would bring her.

“I have other things to attend to before the evening draws to a close. I am pleased with your progress, Bellatrix. I will return shortly, at which time I would like you to be gone and this poor excuse for a servant to be properly educated in the significance of following my orders. Do you feel that you can handle this task?”

Bellatrix’s fingers twitched with pleasure as she clutched her wand. Her mind was already racing over the different options, trying to decide which curse would bring her Master the most satisfaction. “Of course, my Lord,” she answered, standing and bowing to him.

Seconds later, the Dark Lord walked from the room and shut the door behind him. But the click of the lock was never heard, for it was too drowned out by the sounds of fresh screams splitting open the silent air.

“James!” He thought he heard someone calling his name, but for some reason he couldn’t make out who it was.

“James,” it came again, a little less murky this time. But it still wasn’t enough to convince his mind to wake up, too satisfied with the relaxed state it was currently in.

“Potter!” That did the trick.

“Evans,” he mumbled, peeling his eyes open just enough to make out a halo of red. “Evans, you aren’t supposed to be in my dormitory.” But he still tried to scoot over in his bed a few inches, just in case she wanted to crawl in.

He expected her to yell, or to push him out of bed and tell him he was running late. Instead, the sound of her laughter was what filled is ears. He decided to test his eyes again, and let the right one try to open first. Once there was a sliver of light coming through, he forced the left one to do the same.

“Morning, beautiful,” he said with a smile as the outline of Lily’s face came into view. He thought maybe it felt so murky because he was dreaming. What else would she be doing here, leaning over his bed with those lips of hers looking like they just needed to be kissed?

“Good evening, Mr. Potter.” The sharp tone of Minerva McGonagall forced all the fogginess to drop away, and his eyes flew wide open.

Bloody hell. He was in the hospital wing. He should have known. No wonder his body felt like it’d been trampled over by a heard of hippogriffs.

“Erm, hi Professor McGonagall.”

“Is that James? He’s awake?” Sirius came bounding over to his side, and James instantly felt the need to shield his face, expecting Padfoot to start licking him or something. “James, you bleeding tosser. Always have to be the center of attention, don’t you?”

The confusion must’ve shown on James's face, because Lily pushed his best mate back a few inches

“James, do you remember what happened?” she asked in the sing song voice she sometimes used to talk to Butterscotch.

James felt his lip twitch up, and knew this probably wasn’t the time for joking, but he couldn’t help himself. “A giant black dog attacked me, I think.”

The eruption of laughter from his friends was worth the glares both Lily and Professor McGonagall gave him.

“I can see it’s safe to assume that he’s fit enough to be left in Madam Pomfrey’s capable hands. I’ll go speak with the rest of the team; I’m certain they’re all very worried about you, Mr. Potter.” the Gryffindor Head of House turned to Pomfrey and whispered something, then walked briskly out of the room.

“James,” Lily started. “You flipped to avoid a Bludger and fell off your broom. You weren’t very high up, and Madam Hooch was able to soften the fall, which is the only reason you didn’t break every bone in your body. But you hit your head really hard.”

James tried to go through his memories… he knew they’d been playing Quidditch. Slytherin’s team was a lot better then they’d been prepared for and it was neck and neck. He remembered Frank announcing that they were just going into sixth hour, the game lasting over three times longer than an average match.

“Are my parents here?” he asked, trying to sit up.

“They had to leave three hours into the game. Hogsmeade seals its wards at a certain time,” Sirius answered as he came to stand on James’s other side. Something about having them looking down at him gave James the creeps, and he tried to slide his back up.

“Here,” Lily murmured and grabbed hold of one of his arms to help scoot him up. He could have told her he didn’t need the help, but that would mean not getting the feeling of her slender hand on him.

“We already wrote to your mum and dad and told them that Gryffindor won,” Peter added. “But we didn’t tell them about the fall. We thought we’d wait and see if you wanted to.”

James rubbed his eyes, happy that he was coming around a bit more. He reached into his robe pocket for his watch, only to realize he was still in his Quidditch gear. “What time is it?”

“Just after eight,” Remus said. “The game ended after six. You got hurt right before Violet caught the Snitch, so you haven’t been out for more than two hours.”

“Mr. Potter.” He tilted his head to the side to see the school’s matron walking toward him with a glass of something bubbly and dark green. No way in hell was he going to drink that.

“Madam Pomfrey. Looking lovely as always,” he greeted, hoping if he started sucking up now she wouldn’t force the thick liquid down his throat.

He turned to ask Lily, hoping that she could somehow save him from the terrible smelling stuff, only to realize she wasn’t there. Instead, she, Belle and Alice were huddled together talking in those fast whisper-hisses that only other girls can understand.

“Sorry Mr. Potter, no amount of flattery is going to help you. You’re incredibly luck to even be awake right now without a single bone broken. But we need to be sure that your brain-”

“Really, haven’t we already ruled out the possibility of James having a brain?” Frank interrupted, earning approving laughs from his other mates. James really needed to find himself more sensitive friends. Gits.

“As I was saying, this is going to protect your brain from swelling. Now, drink all this up, and if you remain awake and cognizant for half of an hour, I’ll send for a house-elf to prepare you a late meal in the Great Hall.” James’s arguments against drinking the potion immediately vanished. He hated being stuck up in the Hospital wing, and would drink anything the woman handed him if it meant he’d be free sooner.

“There we are,” she said as he took the glass. He was fairly used to the drill by now. He complained about how it tasted. She said that it only tasted so bad because it was potent enough to do what was necessary. He argued that she made it taste bad just to torture him, and then-

“Done,” he mumbled, setting the empty glass on her tray. “So, what did I miss?”

Sirius was the first to start, grabbing James’s glass of water and chugging it first. “Durmstrang had to leave about two hours into it. Said he had a something wrong with his stomach, and he went and ralphed at the bottom of the stands.”

“Excuse me,” Madam Pomfrey began, taking James’s empty water glass from out of Sirius’s hands. “Now that we can see Mr. Potter is awake and in once piece, I would like a few of you to get out. My hospital wing isn’t equipped to handle the rowdy happenings of a bunch of teenagers.”

“Madam Pomfrey,” Sirius began, using that smooth voice that James knew he saved for specific occasions like these.

“You know,” Alice interrupted, still huddled next to Belle and Lily. “Let’s let James relax a bit and get out of Madam Pomfrey’s way.” James knew he didn’t understand much about girls, but he did definitely see a look pass between the three of them. “You wanted to talk to Sirius anyway, didn’t you, Belle?”

James wanted to chuckle at Belle’s face… It looked like she’d just eaten a boogie flavored bean or something. He knew that she wouldn’t appreciate being told that, though, and kept his mouth shut.

“Yes,” Belle finally agreed. “If you don’t mind?” Sirius nodded, but James could tell by his face that he had no idea what it was about.

“Now,” Alice started again once those two were gone. “Let’s all go down to the Great Hall and we’ll see James there. Except for you,” she added, pointing a finger to Lily. James decided right then that Alice was his favorite out of the bunch.

“So...” Lily muttered after the rest of their friends cleared out. James glanced around the room, trying to see if Madam Pomfrey was anywhere in sight. When he didn’t see her, he leaned up further in bed and moved over, then motioned for Lily to sit beside him.

“I’m not going to fit there,” Lily laughed, looking at the corner of room he made.

“You’re tiny, you could fit in my pocket,” James said, happy to see her smiling. “Thanks, by the way, for staying.”

“Of course,” she whispered, taking him up on his offer and wedging herself into the small corner between the wall and the bed. “James…”

“I'm sorry,” he began, knowing where her tone of voice was heading. “I should have figured that kissing you in front of everyone would be too much.”

He knew it was a risk, and he tried not to look disappointed as he said the words. But he’d really hoped that after Monday night they’d gotten to the point where they could stop worrying about things and just let it all happen.

“James!” The loud voice of Alexander came booming into the hospital wing, along with the rest of the Quidditch team right behind him. “Sirius told us you were alive, but we wanted to come check for ourselves.”

He wanted to shoo them all back out and lock the door, his conversation with Lily not even halfway through.

“We got you these,” Polly said, thrusting a handful of chocolate frogs into his hands. James smiled at the second year. He still had a hard time believing that this shy girl could be such a killer on the pitch.

“Are we, um, interrupting something?” Margaret asked, and James realized that Lily was still nestled into the corner of his bed.

“Not at all,” Lily said quickly. “I’m just going to let you guys visit and head down the the Great Hall.”

James felt a sense of panic bubble up in him. He’d finally gotten her back on the subject of ‘them’ and now she was running off.

He glanced over at her and concentrated on making his voice come out right. “You can stay. We can finish what we were talking about in a bit,” he said, hoping that she found the pleading look he was giving her endearing instead of pathetic.

“No, no it’s okay.” She smiled at him, but not the nervous smile she usually did when she was trying to avoid something, but a more devious one. “I think I’ve already made up my mind, anyway.” He felt his heart drop and knew that this must mean they’d taken another hundred steps backwards. He’d have to wait a few more months before even so much as trying to hold her hand, and even that may be to soon…

“I’ll see you soon, James,” she whispered, and for once James was the one to be completely speechless. Because, instead of rushing out through the door like he assumed, Lily leaned in towards him and pressed her lips against his. “See,” she said, stepping back from him as the entire Quidditch team remained silent. “I told you I made up my mind.”

And with a quick flash of white teeth and red hair, she was gone, an echo of catcalls from his team trailing behind her.

Happy Saturday! I want to say a huge thank you to my outstanding beta/friend/idea bouncer-offer, CambAngst. If you're looking for a story, I suggest strolling over to his Author Page. He has quite the variety of awesome pieces.

And now, I wanted to give this chapter a bit of a dedication. To both MissMdsty and FredWeasleyIsMyKing. You are both so awesome to have as readers. I get so excited to see what you guys think of every new chapter, and I hope you both know how much your reviews mean to me ♥

And of course, a huge thank you to anyone still reading! I'd love to know any thoughts you had about this chapter!

Chapter 17: Breaking Curfew
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Perfect CI by heartfelt.@TDA
Chapter 17 - Breaking Curfew

The empty corridors were a godsend for Sirius. His patience didn’t need to be tested just then. The sound of his shoes trudging along the ground helped calm the angry boiling of his blood, but only by a fraction. He thought that if he got away from Belle the anger would subside, but so far that didn’t seem to be working. Now he probably just looked like a huge tosser for running off right after they finished talking. He just hoped she knew that he wasn’t mad because of-

“Hey!” The sound of James’s voice echoed through the silent corridor, but Sirius tried to ignore it.

“Sirius!” It came again, only a bit more forceful this time. He let out a sigh and slowed down. There wasn’t any real point in trying to avoid James. He’d apparently decided that they were going to talk, and once James set his mind to something, that was it.

“Well then,” James continued as he rushed over to close the distance between them. “Suppose you’re going to try and pretend you didn’t hear me?”

“Nope.” Sirius answered dryly. “I heard you from the start. I was just ignoring you.”

“Not very good at that, are you?” James must’ve realized that now wasn’t the time to joke with Sirius, because after seeing his best mate’s angry snarl, he quickly continued. “Well, you and Belle both seem to be a bit..”

“Messed up?” Sirius finished.

“Yeah. That’s a proper word for it. So, you want to fill me in?”

“Where did Belle go?” Sirius asked, ignoring James’s question.

“The common room with Alice and Lily.”

“Did she say anything about what we talked about?” God, he couldn’t handle telling the entire thing, he could barely handle hearing it.

“She didn’t, but she told Lily to. So she did.”

Sirius stayed silent as they reached the third floor, not knowing if he wanted to get into all of it just then. He stopped in front of the large windows and rested his elbow on the sill of it, trying to ignore the urge to put his fist through the thick glass.

“So, Lily told you guys everything?” Sirius finally asked. He knew whatever was raging around inside him wouldn’t go away on its own. But that didn’t mean he was ready to talk with James about it.

“Yeah. Lily told us. Are you angry Belle didn’t tell you sooner?”

“No,” Sirius answered, knowing that question would come next. “‘Course not. She thinks that though, doesn’t she?”

“Not sure. She just said that you took off right after you guys were done talking and you told her you’d see her later in the common room. I figured something must’ve gone wrong so I... found you.” James patted the pocket of his robe.

“You know, if I’d have known when we started making that map that you were going to use it to track me down, I never would have helped,” Sirius said, his lips tempted to curve into a sneer.

“Sure you would have. You always want to be found.” James said, leaning his back against the wall.

“No, I wanted to be alone.”

“No you didn’t, that’s why you were stomping about. Couldn’t even stand your own company with the mood you’re in.”

Despite Sirius’s attempt not to be amused at his best mate, he still found himself relaxing bit by bit. Maybe he didn’t want to talk about it... but would that really matter? James had already made up his mind that they would talk about it, and he didn’t feel like matching James stubbornness for stubbornness just now. They’d done that before, probably only a handful of times throughout their entire friendship, but it had certainly happened. It usually ended in the two of them pissed without even knowing why, and Remus and Peter having to play mediators.

“James,” he started as he slid to the ground, his tall frame no longer wanted to support himself. “You know what my parents were like. What mum was like. She hated me. Hates me still. But at least we understood how we felt about each other. There was never any pretending. They never thought they had much of a chance with me, and I knew the day I went to Hogwarts would be the happiest day of my fucking life.”

He leaned his aching head against the stone. James slid to the cold ground as well and pulled out a handful of chocolate frogs from his cloak pocket, then handed Sirius one.

“But with Belle,” he continued, pulling the card from his frog and immediately tearing it in half. The face of his great-great-grandfather Black was one of the last he wanted to see just then. “With Belle, it wasn’t the same with her and her family. It wasn’t a mutual hate. What they did to her for her entire life... not even just before she ran away.. but for her entire bloody life.” Sirius forced back the raw edges of his feelings and tried to keep his composure as cool as possible. “She told me more than she meant to, I think. More about growing up. They would do things, just cruel, fucked up things to make Belle feel like she had to be exactly what they wanted.

“My mum shouted and threw her temper tantrums and curses, but Belle’s mum would tell her not to eat that day because her robes looked too tight. When my mum was pissed at me, I’d know it and I’d make sure to stay clear or get ready to defend myself. And that’s better than what Belle had to deal with. Her parents would go days without talking to her. She’d have to figure out something she could do to make them pleased with her again so they’d stop pretending she didn’t exist.” Sirius cut himself off, knowing he had to stop or he’d get too emotional.

“It made you too angry, and you didn’t want Belle to see?” James questioned, his voice barely louder than the wind just outside their stone castle.

“Yeah. I got to that point where I just wanted to lose it. I wanted to go to France right then and make them regret ever treating her like that. You know that I didn’t want Belle to think she’d made me angry, but I just had to get away and calm down after we finished talking. Now I’ve probably gone and made her even more cross than I am.”

“You know what’s weird? I would have thought the same thing if I hadn’t seen her. but she didn’t seem angry or anything. She just seemed...tired.”

“Because,” Sirius started answering, shame spreading through him as the realization clicked into his mind. “She’s used to people walking away from her. She probably already figured I would.”

Sirius knew they’d only been there for maybe twenty minutes, but it felt much longer. More like hours had already passed with his body pressed into the rough wall and James sitting next to him.

From the day he’d met Belle, he understood that she came from a closet full of skeletons. He had enough of his own to recognize someone hiding theirs. And he never cared about that − he still didn’t. But how cold someone would have to be to fuck up a girl as sweet as Belle, it truly pissed Sirius off.

It wasn’t just that her parents were mean to her. Sirius knew that she would have been able to handle that. But they screwed with her mind. They made her feel worthless over and over, until she got so desperate for someone to care that she slept with the first bastard who pretended to love her... it was a lot for Sirius to take in. Most things didn’t shock him anymore. He’d seen too much darkness in his life to be surprised about the cruelty people were capable of.. But Belle was so caring. Knowing someone could do that to her, really hurt him. And he’d never been good at dealing with things that hurt him.

“You know,” he started, his throat so dry that his words came out in cracks. “I don’t know many people that would be strong enough to try it all again. To come to a different school, to have friends, to trust people.”

“I know someone who’s that strong,” James answered, glancing at Sirius from the corners of his eyes. “But don’t let that go to your head. The last thing I need is my best mate getting all cocky.”

Sirius smiled for the first time in what felt like ages. “It might do you some good. Then you’d be able to see what Remus, Peter and I have to go through every day.”

James shot him a sneer, but the look quickly softened. “Are you going to talk to her?”

Sirius stayed silent; there was really no point in answering James. They both knew what he would do. So instead of wasting his energy on words, he let out one of his famous sighs and began wondering if he could talk his best mate into going with him to the kitchens before they headed to the common room. He knew Belle had a sweet spot for any sort of chocolate dessert... maybe bringing something up to her would help smooth over the worst of the cracks he’d created earlier that night.

Lily pinned her Head Girl badge to the front of her robe before slipping out through the Fat Lady’s portrait. She made sure the shiny, red ‘H’ was clearly visible, hoping it would be enough to stop anyone from asking her what she was doing out after hours.

That wasn’t important right now, though. What was most important was that Belle was finally fast asleep.

Lily had no idea what happened during the talk with Sirius, but Belle had looked far from all right when she came to the deserted Great Hall. She didn’t say anything, just begged Lily to tell everyone about her past so there would be no more secrets and she’d never have to talk about it again. Lily did as her friend asked while Alice took her to the common room to try and figure out what was going on. As soon as Lily finished telling them the tale, she also left to go back up to Gryffindor Tower. But it had quickly become apparent that Belle wasn’t going to talk to her or Alice, or do anything more than stare off into space with those heartbreaking tears running over her cheeks. She wouldn’t say what Sirius said or did that upset her so much, she just kept saying that it was okay. But considering she was saying it while sitting as still as a statue and letting tears cover her, it was evidently a lie.

Lily had realized that the only thing that would help their friend would be sleep, so she’d gone to the hospital wing and told Madam Pomfrey that James was really sore and couldn’t relax. And just like that, she was given a large phial of Sleeping Draught. Which she and Alice promptly fed to Belle, and finally the girl slipped into a deep sleep.

Now that everything was calming back down, Lily really just needed to be away from it all. Away from the common room, away from the sounds of chess pieces smashing into one another, and away from all the Gryffindors who wanted to ask her this or that. She’d left the common room under the pretense of getting her rucksack from the Heads’ Quarters so that she could work on a few things while they waited for James and Sirius. Which probably was the truth, because that’s the direction she was currently walking, but it definitely hadn’t been the reason for her departure.

Lily tried to count the number of lies she’d told in the last hour. She’d lied to the matron about what she was doing with a potion; she’d left the common room after curfew knowing very well she would say she was patrolling if she were caught by a professor; she’d lied to her friends about what she was doing; and now, instead of going straight to the Heads Quarters, she’d just decided she would walk around a bit to search for James and Sirius.

She lied a total of, or was planning to lie a total of, three times in the last hour, as well as breaking school rules left and right. One thing was certain, James was wearing off on her.

She followed the twisting corridor down from the fourth floor to the third. She knew she didn’t stand much of a chance at finding the boys. The castle was too big and god only knew how many secret passages they could be holed up in. Really, she didn’t even know why she wanted to find them. Maybe she was worried about what kind of state Sirius would be in after seeing Belle look so terrible. She knew the reckless boy too well to think he intentionally hurt their blonde friend. Maybe he wasn’t always the most sensitive one in the bunch, but he was a good person that cared about his friends. Usually, he cared too much, which is what Lily suspected had been the cause of him taking off.

She lifted her fingers to her temples and began massaging away the ache that was finally lessening. Sure, she was breaking too many rules, but having a minute to just listen to the silence of the stone castle and enjoy the view of the world outside the tall, aged windows, was worth it.

She hadn’t even told Alice and Belle about kissing James in the hospital wing yet, there hadn’t been time between everything else. But that was okay, she would tell them soon enough. For now, it sort of felt like her own secret. Her own moment to prove to herself, to James, that she wasn’t scared of what a relationship could mean.

Lily had thought a lot throughout the day about the talk she had with her friends before the match stated. Honestly, she could barely get it off her mind. But that wasn’t all. She also thought about how proud she’d been watching James fly up there, so focused on the game that nothing else mattered. And how wonderful it had been to hug Olivia and William goodbye... what it felt like being wrapped tightly in the arms of a mother again, even if it wasn’t her own.

She’d also found herself dwelling on James’s attitude last Monday night. The look he’d given her when she told him that she was going to the wedding and how plainly the worry had been written on his face. He knew Petunia had hurt Lily; he didn’t want to see her hurt again. It was so simple, so sweet, that Lily was certain it was one of the things that helped her make up her mind.

And then, worst of all, she thought about how her stomach had lurched into her throat when James’s body hit the ground. How the collective gasp of fear from the audience had frozen Lily to the core.

Her feet hadn’t been able to move fast enough when she raced to the pitch. She’d ignored Madam Hooch when she tried to fight her way into the grass. And, though she wouldn’t be telling James this, she’d had to hold back her own tears at the sight of his body, turned and twisted as it lay helpless on the ground.

Yes, a lot of things had happened that day. And Lily now knew, without much of a doubt, that she was okay with where she and James stood. She was okay with being scared of what could go wrong, because she’d realized when she kissed James in the hospital wing, that what could go wrong was no match for what had the potential to go right.

Lily’s thoughts came to a halt as she turned into the second corridor and the sound of a voice rang off of the walls. At first Lily thought it was a professor, but as she neared the origin of it she realized that it was a student − no, students − and they seemed to be shouting. Her instincts ordered her to tighten her fingers around her wand as she quickened her pace down the long, dark hall.

“I was not up to anything,” came the angry squeak of a young girl’s voice just as Lily rounded the final corner. She was surprised when she saw Polly and Mary MacDonald, the sixth year Gryffindor prefect, standing off to the side with Abigail Brookwin, Evan Rosier, Burgess Mulciber and Severus Snape surrounding them.

“I have this handled, why don’t you lot clear off,” Mary MacDonald said, though her voice wasn’t nearly as confident as usual.

“She’s breaking curfew,” Abigail taunted. “So for all I know she was out causing trouble with her other Mudblood friends. She’s lucky we don’t have Burgess teach her a lesson the same way he taught you one in-”

“Excuse me,” Lily said, interrupting Abigail. “Is there a problem here?” Polly looked like she’d just taken her first breath in ages as she moved to the side of the group and ran over to Lily. Her small frame seemed even younger than usual with the obvious fear shining in her eyes.

“I’ll tell you what the problem is,” Abigail started, but Lily cut her off with an icy glare.

“Polly, can you tell me why you’re out half an hour passed curfew?” Lily asked, resisting the urge to kneel down and hug the girl.

“Yes Lily, um, Head Girl Lily. I wanted to write to my brother and tell him about the match, so I went and got my things and took them to the Owlry right after dinner. It must’ve been just around eight when I got there, then the letter took longer than I thought it would. I was heading back to the Gryffindor tower when I realized I left my broom in the closet near the Great Hall. James would murder me if he ever knew I left it unattended... so I was going to get it and that’s when Mary found me. She said she would go with me then walk me back to the common room, and then..” Polly glanced at the group of, not needing to finish the rest.

“Thanks for being honest Polly. Ten points from Gryffindor for being out past curfew, and if it happens again, it’ll be a detention.” The young girl nodded, clearly relieved that she was nearing the end of the entire ordeal. “Mary, can you escort her to the Gryffindor tower? Don’t worry about the broom, I’ll get it.”

Mary glanced over at Lily, her face still too pale. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?”

“No, don’t worry. Just get back quickly.” Mary nodded, and with one last look she and Polly took off down the corridor the way Lily had come.

“Now,” Lily started, her voice instantly losing the warmth it had held when speaking with her fellow Gryffindors. “Why don’t you tell me what the hell you’re all doing out here?”

She glanced at Mulciber first, his slick, oily features sending a flash of anger through her. She knew she needed to look away, the cruelty in his eyes only making her angrier, but she couldn’t handle the idea of having to look at Severus instead.

“Abigail is the only one who has any right to be here. Though that privilege will be taken away rather soon, I believe, when I discuss with Professor Slughorn what I just witnessed.”

“You know what I think,” Rosier slurred, his eyes drilling into Lily. “I think I have a lot more right to be wherever I want in this bloody castle than you, you filthy Mudblood. The only place you should be is on your knees trying to convince me to spare your pathetic neck when The Dark Lord takes over.”

Lily ignored the sting of the insult and kept her gaze steady. She wouldn’t look let the overgrown bully think he’d intimidated her.

“You want her on her knees, Evan?” Mulciber added, taking a step closer to Lily. “I’m not even sure I want her there. I don’t want her filthy mouth on any part of me.”

Lily felt her face turn red, but she still refused to look away. Her hand was steady inside her pocket. Her wand ready to attack if it came to that.

“Let’s just go,” Severus said quietly, and Lily knew he didn’t want to hear this anymore than she did. But that was the difference between them; that had always been the difference. Severus might not enjoy watching Lily, or anyone, get hurt... but he still stood with the side that caused it. He turned a blind eye while it happened, just like he had when Mulciber attacked Mary. And Lily was on this side of it. The side that refused to be ashamed of what kind of blood she possessed. The side that wouldn’t be made to feel weak because others believed them to be.

“Why, Severus?” Abigail taunted, running her hand down the arm of Lily’s former best friend. “Not still hung up on that filthy thing, are you? You know that Corliss wouldn’t be happy to hear that.”

Lily did meet Severus’s eyes this time. As much as she tried not to let herself think about it, she couldn’t stop. She couldn’t stop herself from wondering if all this was worth it. If getting to date the popular Slytherin girls and having the support of the most nasty lot in the school behind him, was worth the friendship he’d destroyed. She’d always known he’d wanted the power, wanted to be someone that everyone knew. But just then she could swear she saw a million regrets passing through his eyes, then, before she could even be sure, they were gone. The look seemed to be so fleeting that she wondered if she’d made it up in her own mind. Maybe part of her still needed to believe that he did regret it all.

“Let’s go,” Severus said again, his voice lower as he started to turn from and the rest of the group.

“I don’t think I’m done playing with her yet,” Rosier snarled, and Lily was taken by surprise when he stepped within inches from her. “It’d be nice to watch her stuck up arse get knocked down a few inches, wouldn’t it?” he continued, his hot breath falling over Lily’s skin. Part of her knew she should be afraid, because these weren’t people that cared. Not about the rules. Not about the possibility of getting kicked out of Hogwarts.. not about anything. But that part of her was too diluted in her own vexation, her own desire to drop her wand and rip into the boys flesh with her nails.

“You think you have it all, don’t you?” she hissed, knowing with the silence around them the entire group could hear. “You think your support, your family’s support of some deranged maniac makes you a God. One day you’re going to take it too far, Rosier. You’re going to realize what happens to arrogant bastards who think the world owes them, and by then you’ll be rotting in Azkaban. The only lips you’ll feel on you will be the Dementor’s when they take whatever parts of a soul you have left.” She realized she was pushing him too far. As the shadows darkened around his light eyes and she watched his face twist further into a sneer, she understood he wasn’t going to just continue trading her insult for insult.

She braced herself when she saw Rosier raise his hand, but she was quicker and already had her wand slipped out of her pocket. She screamed the incantation in her mind, and with the tiniest flick of her wrist, the boy in front of her went completely immobile before crashing to the ground.

“Nice one.” Lily let out an involuntary gasp as the deep voice broke through her concentration. She turned around, and her lips threatened to turn into a grin as Sirius and James walk from the shadows into the moonlit corridor.

“I swear,” Abigail hissed as she stepped closer to Lily, ignoring the newcomers completely. “On every bloody piece of gold my father has, that I’m going to get your dirty arse kicked out of this school. The second my parents hear about this, you’ll be on a train back to London.”

“You know, Sirius,” James said evenly as he stepped to Lily’s left side with Sirius flanking her right. “I’ve been wanting to test out that spell we invented. You know, the one that turns bitchy little tarts upside down and throws them out the nearest window.”

Abigail’s lip curled, but before she could speak Sirius was already taking. “I’ve been thinking the same thing, James. Only we could try and tweak it a bit to make sure it carries the tarts little boyfriends out with her, as well. The Black Lake seems like a good place for this lot to go.”

“Raise your wand and see what happens, you filthy blood traitors,” Mulciber growled. “Your little girlfriend is already going to get thrown out for cursing a student. Let’s see if we can get rid of all you scum in one night...” The challenge in his voice was clear, and before anyone could so much as blink the three boys had their wands drawn, pointing at one another.

Lily risked a glance toward Severus and felt her heart drop. Any hopes she may have been harboring about her former best friend being able to change were disappearing into the night air. The sight of his wand raised high, pointed at them, was all the answer she’d ever need.

“Oh my...” came a greasy voice from down the corridor, and Lily felt the anxiety swell inside her chest. “Oh my.. the Headmaster certain is going to love this, won’t he, my pretty?”

All the students stayed frozen, wands still out, as Argus Filch stepped into view, his scraggly hair swinging against his face and the homely looking cat at his side. “Lower your blasted wands and come with me. We’ll see that the lot of you are expelled before the sun comes up, isn’t that right, Mrs. Norris?”

Lovely, Lily thought. This night couldn’t get any better.

“I have never, not once in my years of teaching, witnessed such utter disregard for the rules of this castle!”

Lily kept her eyes on the dark, wooden floor as Professor McGonagall paced back and forth. She was almost certain that the deputy headmistress had seen more of a disregard for the rules. Honestly, she was nearly certain that James and Sirius disregarded them to this extent on a daily basis. But now was obviously not the time to mention that. None of the students had so much as opened their mouth since being ushered into the professor’s office. Even the Slytherins had the sense to stay quiet.

She glanced out of the corner of her eye as the sound of footsteps came up from behind her, and wasn’t surprised to see Professor Slughorn making his way into the office. Both professors had their night robes on, and if the situation wasn’t so serious Lily would have felt like laughing at Slughorn’s big, green nightcap with silver tassels. She always wanted to laugh when she was in trouble, though... even from the time she was a little girl and got a lecture from one of her parents... she supposed it was a nervous thing.

She knew that it wasn’t just the two professors, but that Professor Dumbledore was in the room as well, even if she hadn’t seen him yet. She could feel his powerful presence looming near by.

“Evening, Minerva,” Slughorn greeted without a trace of amusement in his voice as he stood beside the Gryffindor Head of House.

“Horace. Now,” she continued, her attention back on the students. “I want someone to tell me what occurred this evening, and it had better be the truth.”

Lily tried to concentrate on her breathing as the deputy headmistress spoke. She’d never, not in the seven years of her schooling, done something to merit the need for this many professors to be present. She could count the total detentions she’d ever received on one hand. But just now, she refused to care about what kind of trouble she might be in. Because, even if hexing another student hadn’t been the right thing to do, she couldn’t muster even an ounce of regret. They’d purposefully intimated a second year. They’d joked about an attack they committed against one of her Gryffindor mates. They expected to be able to walk all over her, expected her to just bow down to their pathetic arses and take their insults without standing up for herself. They deserved what had happened, and no amount of shame for breaking the rules would make her forget it.

“Mr. Potter and Miss Evans, please step forward,” came the sharp crack of McGonagall’s voice. “Miss Evans,” she continued after Lily and James stepped a few feet from the rest of the line. “I would like to know what happened this evening. Every detail.”

Lily nodded. Though she’d rather have kept looking at the ground, she raised her eyes to meet her professor’s.

“I needed a few minutes to myself and thought I’d take the opportunity of having some free time to do a patrol. I wasn’t scheduled for one this evening,” she added, not wanting to get herself in deeper by lying. “I was in the Gryffindor tower when I left just after ten o’clock. I’d decided to stay with my friends this evening instead of in the Heads’ Quarters, but then after all the drama of James getting hurt and a few other things that happened, I wanted a bit of time alone.” Professor McGonagall nodded, her thin lips remained closed. “I made it to the second floor when I heard something. I walked up behind them,” she nudged her head toward the place where the Slytherins were standing. “And they had cornered Mary, who was patrolling tonight, and Polly Turner, who was out after hours because she’d forgotten her broom in the closet next to the Great Hall. I deducted ten points from Gryffindor as punishment for Polly, and asked Mary to escort her back to the tower while I spoke with the Slytherins. I wished to not only address why they were out past curfew, except for Abigail because she was on patrol. But I also wanted to address the fact that I’d overheard Abigail calling Polly a Mudblood.”

“She’s lying,” Abigail burst out in the dramatic fashion that Lily had already anticipated.

She was about to argue Abigail's words and tell Professor McGonagall that Mary and Polly could both account for what she said, when Dumbledore interrupted from his place somewhere in the back of the room. “If I may, I would like to add that I’ve already spoken with the portraits on the second floor who bore witness to this evening’s... encounter.” Lily heard a strangled sound come from the Slytherin girl, who was clearly trying to fight the urge to continue with her false story.

Professor McGonagall nodded toward the headmaster before turning back to Lily, “Continue,” she ordered.

“We traded insults. I know I should have simply directed them all back to the dungeons and informed Professor Slughorn of his prefect’s behavior, but I didn’t. Rosier said something rather vulgar to me, and I replied with an... unkind response. He reached for his wand, so I hexed him.”

“He was not reaching for his wand! He was barely even speaking to her!” Abigail shouted again, her tone only growing more belligerent. “And he’ll be lucky if he recovers from that girl’s hex! He may not ever be the same after this!” Lily risked a glance over her shoulder, and noted that Rosier was putting on a good show as he sat flopped into the desk chair while the rest of the students remained standing.

“Hush up, you silly girl. It was a hex that even a first year could manage, though still not acceptable.” Lily nodded as the Professor’s eyes glanced back at her. “And what were you doing in the halls after curfew, Mr. Potter? Along with you, Mr. Black?”

“Professor,” James said, and Lily was surprised that his voice was sincere instead of the charming tone he typically used to avoid trouble. “There wasn’t any reason for us to be out. We just were. It’d been a long day, and then a long night, and we just needed some space.” McGonagall didn’t speak for a moment, probably surprised by his honesty. She gave him a curt nod before turning to face the other professor.

“And you,” Slughorn said, pointing a finger at his group of students. “What in god’s name did you think gave you all the right to go galavanting around the halls together? And bullying your fellow students, as well! Your position is already on probation Abigail. Do you have anything to say for yourselves?”

“I’ve just been so scared with all the things that have been happening,” Abigail started, her voice getting thick with false tears. “With the attacks always in the Daily Prophet, I was terrified of patrolling alone. And they, Severus, and Evan and Burgess, were very sweet and offered to spend their saturday night patrolling with me. I couldn’t bear the thought of walking around those dark corridors at night-”

“Did you ever voice these concerns to your Head Girl or Boy?” McGonagall asked sharply, obviously not buying the Slytherin girl’s act.

“Well, no, I didn’t want to be a bother... I’m sure you can understand.”

“I most certain can not.” Professor McGonagall countered. “Now, in the interest of getting a proper night’s rest, I believe we’ve heard enough.”

“Minerva,” Dumbledore interrupted, moving forward to stand by the woman’s side. “The story Miss Evans relayed to you varied ever so slightly from the one I was told by our lovely Portraits.”

Lily’s heart sped up, pounding against her chest. Her mind began racing through the evening, trying to find what she may have neglected to tell the Gryffindor Head of House.

“You see,” Professor Dumbledore continued, “what Miss Evans called ‘sharing vulgar insults’ doesn’t accurately describe what I was told occurred. I believe harassment of another student and prejudice against muggle-borns would ring more true.”

Lily wasn’t sure if she’d ever seen the professor angry, but as his blue eyes bore into Rosier’s, she understood why so many people feared Albus Dumbledore. She understood why he was a legend for his power...because she would almost swear that she felt it vibrating off of him as he kept his eyes locked on to the Slytherin.

“Very well,” Minerva continued. “Mr. Black and Mr. Potter, twenty five points apiece from Gryffindor for being out past curfew. If either of you so much as think about breaking another school rule, your badge will be in jeopardy Mr. Potter, and you won’t see another Hogsmeade for the rest of the year, Mr. Black. Miss Evans, despite not being scheduled to patrol, you were still doing just that. You won’t have any points deducted, but you will serve three detentions with Madam Pomfrey for hexing a fellow student. Be in the hospital wing every Sunday morning at seven sharp for the next three weeks.”

Lily tried to hide her surprise... but she wasn’t sure she succeeded. Madam Pomfrey only ever had students help her replenish and organize her potions and other Healing tools. Something that Lily actually enjoyed doing... but she obviously wasn’t going to argue.

“Professor,” James began, his tone much less agreeable than bore. “She was just trying to defend herself. You know Rosier would have cursed her!”

“Whether that may or may not be true, Mr. Potter, she was still the only student to curse another. Now, I suggest you hold your tongue before you risk more Gryffindor points.” James nodded, sending Lily an apologetic look.

Professor Mcgonagall turned her gaze from him to the Slytherin Head of House, and Slughorn took over. “Twenty five points each from all four of you. You three for being out past curfew,” he pointed a stubby finger to the Slytherin boys, “and you Abigail for allowing them to accompany you. Abigail, you will serve five detentions with the caretaker as punishment for abusing your power as a prefect. You’ll be with Filch every night this week from the second you finish dinner until the caretaker excuses you. Your may retain your position as prefect, but your privileges that come along with it are suspended until you return to school after winter holiday. I’ll be sending a letter home, as well.”

“You’re all excused,” McGonagall said, letting her eyes go down the line. “I trust you can get yourselves back to your common rooms without any more incidents. Mr. Potter and Miss Evans,” she added once the Slytherins began making their way toward the door. “If you’re going back to the Gryffindor common room, I’d appreciate if you passed this along to Miss Christopherson.” Professor McGonagall reached into her heavy desk and pulled a sealed envelope from it. Lily stepped forward to take it from her, and for a moment when her eyes met the professors, she was certain that they were smiling.

After apologizing one last time, Lily walked with Sirius and James from the office and into the empty corridor. Once they got to the first floor, James slowed down and slipped behind a large pillar.

“What..” Lily started, though she was rendered speechless when he and Sirius started shaking with laughter.

“We broke a dozen school rules!” she yelled, loud enough for them to hear through their own snickering.

James struggled to get out a sentence through his labored breathing. “We, we never, got our midnight snack.”

“And we,” Sirius began, his huge palm falling on Lily’s shoulder to steady himself. “And we, we were just going to go back to the common room after the kitchens. We didn’t even wear the cloak!”

“Oh god!” James shouted, practically holding his sides together. “We didn’t even wear the cloak! It’s in my pocket! Just sitting here.” He patted his pocket, causing him and Sirius both to delve even deeper into their hysteria.

“We broke a dozen school rules!” Lily said again. And then, without warning, a small bubble of giggles started building in her throat.

That only seemed to further exhilarate Sirius, his eyes watering from laughter as he spoke. “We broke a dozen damn rules! And we watched Lily curse Evan Rosier! That bloke has been blown up by Alice and now cursed into immobility by Lily!”

Lily knew she must be losing it. She must finally be going nutty. Because, for some unknown reason, she was standing behind a pillar while the hour ticked closer to midnight, laughing her head off with James and Sirius on either side of her.

Yes, James Potter was definitely wearing off on her.

As always, a huge thank you to my wonderful beta, CambAngst. So, what did you guys think of this chapter? Were you disappointed I didn't actually show the conversation between Belle and Sirius? I played with the idea, but it felt pretty redundant since we already know what happened.

Thank you so much for reading♥

Chapter 18: Baby Steps
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Awesome chapter image by heartfelt @tda
Chapter 18 - Baby Steps

Lily popped the top off of the glass phial, then swirled it around under her nose. It smelled spicy, but in an odd way. Kind of like paprika, she thought. But it did seem to have a hint of sweetness to it, which was a sure sign of the Pepper-Up potion having soured. She secured the cork tightly before tossing it into the bin that Madam Pomfrey had labeled disposables.

After writing down Pepper-Up potion on her list of the ones that she’d put into the rubbish bin, she continued going through the large cupboard full of different colored and sized phials. Lily knew it was a bit odd, but she was rather upset that this was her last detention with Madam Pomfrey. When Professor McGonagall had told her that she would have them every Sunday morning until the end of the month, Lily was sure they’d drag on. But now that it was the first day of December, she almost couldn’t believe how quickly the time had flown.

And, if she was being honest, she knew cursing Rosier was worth every hour she spent in the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey hadn’t even made it feel like a punishment. The matron had given her fairly exciting things to do every detention, and even took the time to explain the injuries and why a certain potion would work best. As long as the injury hadn’t been an emergency, of course.

With all the thinking Lily had been doing about her future, it was probably a good thing she’d been given the detentions. A few weeks ago, she was still on the fence about a career. But now she was certain that she’d be asking Professor McGonagall for an applicant packet to the Healing Academy of Magical Medicine first thing Monday morning.

Yes, there was a war going on. Yes, it would be hard. But Lily had realized with each student that she watched the matron care for and send on their way, that she wanted to be a part of that. She wanted to take broken things and fix them. To watch a person’s body heal before her eyes and get to be the reason they could still walk, still see, or in some cases, still breathe.

Of course, there was no saying she’d get in. If it was only Great Britain she was competing against, then she’d feel fairly confident about earning a slot in the school. But The Academy was one of the best in all of Europe. That created a fair amount of competition. She could handle it, though. If she didn’t get in, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. She could always reapply. At least this way she’d be able to say she tried.

Lily stood up from her position on the polished floor and stretched her legs. The hospital wing was exceptionally quiet for a Sunday morning. Probably the quietest she’d seen yet. There was a Ravenclaw girl laying in the bed closest to the office, but she hadn’t made a peep. From what Lily gathered, the fourth year had been up late into the night writing essays and making notes. At some point, her hand had cramped up so severely that the pain was enough to convince her to go to the hospital wing. That was before Lily arrived, though. And really, it didn’t surprise her. Quills were far from easy to write with. You had to add more pressure than a pencil or pen, and just when you were finally getting a sentence together, you’d run out of ink. Irritating things.

She closed the cabinet door and replaced the lock, then scanned the room to be sure all the potions were put back before clicking the bolt into place.

“Okay now, into bed with you. We’ll disinfect those cuts and heal the wrist, then you can rest a while.”

Madam Pomfrey’s voice echoed through the hospital wing and into the small office that Lily was working in. She checked the lock one last time, then rushed to bundle her hair up in a tie, anxious to see what kind of injury they’d have this morning.

“It’s not so bad, really.” Lily paused at the sound of the male voice. It was more hushed than Pomfrey’s; she couldn't make it out perfectly. It sounded like... no it couldn’t be him. While trying to convince herself of that, she hurried through the office door, shutting it firmly behind her. Her steps involuntarily rushed forward as she made her way to the bed that she’d seen the matron draw the curtain around.

“Madam Pomfrey?” she said through the thick fabric, ignoring the lump of worry forming in her throat.

“Ah, excellent timing, Miss Evans,” came the reply. Lily struggled not to open the curtain, knowing that would be an unfair invasion of privacy. “Go get bezoar and honey salve, put a few drops of Sea Eel blood in it, and bring it here. Grab the Porlock hair swabs, as well.”

She turned from the spot, her mind still twisting around the sound of the voice that had yet to speak again. It could be anyone in the school. Just because it sounded exactly like Remus didn’t mean it was him.

She grabbed the supplies, stirring the blood into the salve as she walked, and rushed back to the occupied bed.

“I have the things you asked for, Madam Pomfrey.” Lily could hear the matron reach up and grab hold of the string before sliding the curtain open, just enough so Lily could step inside.

She felt her heart fall as she took in the sight of Remus laying on top of the covers, his pajama shirt pulled up, exposing dried blood that caked the majority of his ribcage.

“Remus, what-”

“I’m fine, really,” he interrupted quickly, not meeting her eyes.

“Let’s save the pleasantries until after we’ve healed him. Miss Evans, Get to work clearing the blood while I fetch a sling and potion for the wrist.”

Lily hadn’t noticed Remus’s wrist at first, but as she glanced down at it, swollen and angry, she was sure that it was broken

She nodded at the matron, who stepped from the curtain and closed it behind her. Lily dabbed a Porlock hair pad into the salve and kneeled to the side of the bed, keeping her hand steady as she began the first stroke down his ribs to remove the dried blood.

“Oh no,” Remus groaned, leaning forward an inch or so. “I didn’t live through one of Hagrid’s crazy animals attacking me just to get killed by James,” he added, obviously trying to force a bit of humor into his voice before snatching the salve from Lily.

“Don’t be an idiot. Give that back to me.” He couldn’t put up much of a fight with only one hand, and Lily had the container of salve back in her grasp in seconds, then continued her work on the gashes. “One of Hagrid’s animals did this to you?” she asked in a gentler tone, forcing her fingers to remain steady as she realized how deep the injury went.

“Yeah. My fault. I went out there early to help him with-” he cut himself off, tensing up for a moment. Lily knew the eel blood could sting something awful as it disinfected, and tried to slow down with the salve to let his body adjust to the feeling.

“To help him with a feeding,” he continued after a moment. “He warned me that he was caring for an orphaned hippogriff until someone from the Department -” The tensing came again, and Lily waited patiently for him to relax his abdomen. “The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures could come get him. I must’ve not been paying enough attention, because I went running back there to get some more squirrels and scared the thing half to death,” he finished, laying back as the worst of the sting subsided.

“Remus, Hagrid shouldn’t have an animal back there if it isn’t safe. Maybe we should go down and talk to him about-”

“No!” The intensity in Remus’s voice caused her to look up from her work. His eyes, still a bit glossed over from the pain, were pleading with hers. “No, you can’t say anything to him or anyone else. He would feel terrible, Lily. You know that.”

She held their gaze, wanting so much to ease the fear that seemed to be pulsating through him, but something felt off. Something was wrong with what he was telling her.

“Lily, please,” he begged, his voice shaking. She let whatever was holding her back crumble away as she reached forward and grabbed his hand.

“Of course, it’ll be just between us,” she answered, giving it a tight squeeze, relieved to see him relax back against the pillow. “But you know that you’ll have to tell Madam Pomfrey how you got injured. She’s going to ask you the second she comes back.”

“Ask what?” As if on cue, Madam Pomfrey slipped through the curtains, a tall glass of a thick, purple potion in her hand and a sling draped around her arm.

“Oh, Lily and I were just discussing how I got injured,” Remus said with a sheepish smile, taking the glass from her willingly.

“Well now, I’ve learned in my years at this school that some things are better left unasked.”

Lily was surprised at the matron’s brisk answer. She usually insisted on knowing exactly what happened, in case whatever it was counteracted the kind of treatment she was going to administer.

“Lily, if you’ll excuse us I believe that’s all the assistance I’ll need.” Lily stepped away reluctantly, handing the salve to the matron. “You’ve done a marvelous job these past few weeks. I’d say your detention has been well served. You’re excused, and feel free to come see me when you fill out your packet, if that’s what you decide on.”

“But I can stay and help-”

“No, that’s not necessary. Good day, Miss Evans.”

Remus tilted up the corners of his mouth, offering her a weak smile, and with the stern glance of the matron on her, she had no choice but to turn and slip through the curtain.

She knew she should walk across the room and out the doors, thankful that her detention had been cut short. But the dark shadows that had haunted Remus’s face were still vivid in her mind. She couldn’t let it go, not just yet. So, instead of leaving, she found herself easing open a curtain that was a few down from Remus’s, and sliding onto the bed so her feet wouldn’t be visible. She listened closely for the sound of Madam Pomfrey walking across the room to head back to her office, trying to get her heartbeat to remain even. She shouldn’t be nervous... she had every right to be in the hospital wing seeing her friend. It was visiting hours, after all.

She tried to ignore the guilty tug of her conscience, and instead focused on just why she was hiding two beds down, waiting to get a moment alone with him.

Remus had gone to help Hagrid with the feedings. Okay. Hagrid was harboring a dangerous animal at his hut... that wasn’t surprising. But the rest didn’t add up. If he was waiting for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, that meant that he’d already reported the animal. So he shouldn’t get in any trouble for it being there, which should leave Remus free to tell Madam Pomfrey the details of his incident. Although, if word got around, then there was still the possibility that an angry parent would complain. But they were in a school to learn magic, for Heaven’s sake! A few gashes from a creature was far from the worst thing that could happen. Still though, some parents would never understand that. And Lily knew Remus would feel terrible if he said something and it resulted in the animal being executed.

It still didn’t add up. Why hadn’t any of the boys gone with Remus? Sure, it was earlier than they liked waking up, but that wouldn’t matter. And why was he still wearing his pajamas? How had Madam Pomfrey met up with him... why wasn’t Hagrid with them if his animal had been the cause of all this?

The quick swoosh of a curtain brought Lily’s focus back to the situation. She held her breath and listened to the clicking sound of the matron’s shoes as she passed the bed, then a few seconds later came the solid thud of the office door being closed. Before Lily could talk herself out of it, she ducked out of the curtain and slipped inside Remus’s now closed off area.

“Lily, I thought you’d left.”

Her curiosity was pushed to the back of her mind at the sight of her friend struggling with the sling. She moved to the other side of his bed and adjusted his elbow to get his arm placed in more comfortable position.

“You’ll only need to wear it for a day or so while the wrist finishes mending,” she said in a gentle tone, relieved to see the swelling had already gone down. “Remus,”
she stepped back, ignoring the chills that prickled over her skin as she struggled to think of the right words. “Something else happened.”

It wasn’t said as an accusation, but as a fact. A hippogriff, even a young, temperamental one, wouldn’t have caused this.

“Well, I had to eat a few of Hagrid’s awful pastries, if that’s what you mean.” He smiled, but Lily just stood there with her arms crossed and her eyes hooked to his.

“A hippogriff didn’t do this,” she whispered, trying to make him understand that she’d seen through his story. “If it was a Slytherin, if another student did this, we need to see the Headmaster.”

“I told you, Lily,” he started as he sat up in bed, his features getting harder with every word.

“You told me a lie, Remus.” She watched for his reaction, for some sort of guilt to spread across him that would make her sure what she was saying was true. “If you’re in some sort of trouble, we can figure it out. Were the rest of the boys with you when this happened?”

“Lily, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” The clipped tone he spoke in, the way his always friendly eyes pleaded with her to stop talking, forced shame into Lily. He wasn’t admitting that he’d been lying, and he wasn’t continuing to insist that he’d been telling the truth. But whatever it was, whatever happened to him, he needed to understand that he could tell her.

“You can trust me,” she finally whispered, sitting on the end of his bed. A blush crept into her cheeks as she remembered what she’d done when James had been in Remus’s position, laying injured in the hospital wing. She veered her thoughts back to the situation, knowing now wasn’t the time to think about kissing James. “Whatever it is, whatever is going on... I can help.”

She averted her gaze from his and glanced down at her hands. Something about Remus’s eyes, a break in their soft brown, was too much for her to look at, so instead she tried to concentrate on the creases in her palms.

“I wish you could.” He said the words so softly that Lily was sure he hadn’t meant for her to hear. But maybe he’d hoped she would?

There’d always been something different about Remus, ever since their first year at Hogwarts. Something that set him apart from the other boys, the other children. A kind of aged feeling, like you weren’t exactly talking to a peer when you spoke with him.

Lily knew that his attitude, the way he seemed to hold himself like an adult at even such a young age, had always upset Severus. People respected Remus, whether they knew him or not, whereas Severus had continually been struggling to get the same kind of treatment, but never seemed able to. But her former best friend had insisted that he wasn’t jealous of the Gryffindor, only that there was something funny about him. And as Lily ran through all the details that didn’t add up, as she thought about the injuries currently marring his flesh, she heard the theories and accusations Sev used to make bounce through her mind.

She’d refused to give them any merit then. Not because she hadn’t believed they could be possible − she’d learnt not to consider anything impossible in the wizarding world − but because Severus had no right to pry into Remus’s business. Even if she hadn’t acknowledged the theories then, that didn’t mean she ever forgot them.

“Remus, no matter how bad something is, or how bad you think it is... I’m still your friend. I’ve always been your friend,” she finally managed. Part of her thought she saw a flash of understanding dart through his eyes, but maybe her brain was playing tricks on her. Was she getting carried away, letting an idea that Sev had told her years ago take root so strongly in her mind? She didn’t think so.

“That means a lot to me,” Remus finally said with a half smile. But Lily knew he was just trying to appease her so she’d drop it. And honestly, if that’s what he wanted, shouldn’t she play along? But if she could help him, even by making him understand that nothing could change her opinion of him, shouldn’t she try?

“You know,” she began, her mind suddenly spinning back to the night before James's celebratory party when he'd made captain. How, only hours before she'd made a fool of herself with the help of Sirius's firewhiskey, Remus had told her the story of the little boy he used to know. Lily could almost feel the answer slide into place as she realized what the story had really been about. “I heard this story once. A few months ago. It was about a little boy and a monster.” She met Remus’s eyes, refusing to stop despite the warning that seemed so obvious in them. “This monster hurt a little boy. But not just that. He tried to kill everything in this little boy that made him good. To destroy his soul. But what the monster didn’t understand was that too many people loved the little boy to care about scars, no matter how deeply they ran.”

“Lily, you don’t know what you’re-”

“Talking about? I do know what I’m talking about, Remus. And I know that you’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Nothing would ever change that.

Remus was silent for longer than Lily liked. She could almost feel the conflict fighting inside him. Was this really so surprising? After all the facts Severus had laid out in front of her, after trying to ignore Remus’s conveniently timed plans that kept him away during the same phase every moon, could she really say that she hadn’t known? That would just be insulting her own intelligence.

“But,” she began again. If he needed to let himself believe that his secret was his own, she would allow him that. He’d always know that she was there, ready and willing to talk to him. “If you say it was a hippogriff, then it was. And you’re right, I don’t want Hagrid getting into trouble, so I wont’ mention it to anyone.”

“Thank you, Lily,” Remus said, sincerity coating his words. “You’re one of my best friends, too. And if I ever want to talk about... the hippogriff, I’ll come to you.”

She nodded and gave him a small smile before kissing his cheek and telling him to get some rest. Then she finally left the hospital wing like the matron had instructed her to at least half an hour ago.

As she stepped through the door and into the silence of the hall, she felt a ball of emotion strangle up inside her chest. Maybe this was why she’d spent so long pretending not to know what was always right in front of her face. It was so much more painful than she was prepared for. Part of her had realized Severus was right back in the start of fifth year, when he'd convinced her to read the section on werewolves in their Defence Against the Dark Arts book. But even back then, the idea of Remus Lupin having to suffer through all of the things the passage talked about was so terrible that she’d refused to believe it was true.

She slowed her pace and stepped behind the statue of a large sphinx, her eyes blurry with tears that she probably had no right to shed. She wasn’t the one living through it. As she let her emotions leak out over her cheeks, she made herself promise that whenever Remus did decide to talk to her about it, she wouldn’t act like this. It was the last thing he needed. But for just a few minutes, she let the pain of what one of her best friends had endured for so many years take front and center in her mind. She sat next to the tail of the sphinx and cried for the little boy whose scars would always run deeper than just flesh.

The warm fire, hissing and crackling, made a perfect companion to Belle’s solitary mood. She’d almost talked herself out of coming to the library in favor of heading back to the common room, but now as she sat beside the heat, flipping through The Tales of Treachery and Treason, she was thankful that she’d come here.

She’d been meaning to start a new book for ages, and Madam Pince had suggested this. The witch that wrote it published fiction novels for both the Muggle and wizarding world, but it had yet to become popular in the former.

Belle couldn’t understand why. As she neared the end of the second chapter, she was already certain that it was one of the most capturing things she’d read. She hadn’t held much hope that anything would distract the thoughts that’d been filling her mind throughout the day, but the book was doing a decent job of it.

She knew she should have turned to her friends to help diffuse her terrible mood, but with winter holiday only a few weeks away, the last thing she wanted to do was bring everyone else down. Belle knew this was supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year, but all she could focus on was what her life had been like a year ago. Christophe’s family had dined with hers on the Eve of Christmas; her sister Adeline and Adeline’s then fiancé, now husband, had joined them. It wasn’t the warm loving Christmas Eve that some experienced, but she was still surrounded by people that she’d believed cared for her.

Would they even think about her this year? When they ate their dinner in silence, house-elves filling glasses and plates, then departed to the drawing room to discuss whatever was appropriate at the time, would they even once think about their youngest daughter?

“There you are.” She closed her book as the sound of Sirius’s voice came up from behind her. “We figured you’d gone off to the common room when you left the Great Hall.”

Belle stayed silent as the boy came over and sat on the chair next to hers. She glanced around and noticed that the library was almost empty, which wasn’t surprising. The room had so many windows and only two fires, so it got much colder than the common rooms.

“Well, that looks like a fluffy bedtime story,” Sirius commented, nodding down at her book. Belle’s expression fitted into a small smile, though she still remained silent. She still wasn’t sure what to say to Sirius after everything.

He’d explained why he left so quickly after their conversation as soon as Belle woke the morning after it all. It had been a relief to learn that he wasn’t disgusted with her, but she would have accepted it if he had been. But how he reacted instead, the way he’d been so angry with the people that hurt her, it brought too many emotions to Belle’s surface. She still wasn’t over them completely. It was almost harder to accept him being so defensive over her, when nearly everything that happened had been her own fault. But she didn’t want to question it. She was too afraid he’d realize that she wasn’t worth it.

Lily and Alice had told her that Sirius would understand what she’d been through more than anyone. But the boy sitting next to her, his eyes glancing over at her every few seconds, he never had a choice. She did. She had a choice when she walked into that villa with Christophe. She had a choice when she ignored all of her feelings telling her it wasn’t right, in favor of wanting to know what it felt like to have someone love her. But she was dealing with it, at least she thought she was. She thought getting it all out in the open would make her feel better; why did it only seem to make her feel worse?

“What ‘appened when you left your ‘ome?” Belle said the words before she could stop herself, though she probably wouldn’t have even tried. She needed to know. She needed to understand why she felt like part of her was still back in the mansion that she grew up in, cowering away from her mother’s insults.

“Well,” Sirius started, sitting back a few inches in the chair and putting his feet on the table in front of him. Madam Pince would have his head if she saw. “I guess nothing, really. They didn’t try and stop me or anything. I’d only stuck around so long for Regulus, but he’d started spending more time with my cousin Bellatrix, and I knew there wasn’t anything I could do for him. He was the only reason for me to be there, and once I realized his head was far too up their pure-blood arses to be pulled back out, I knew it was about time for me to leave for good.”

“So, did you just leave when zey weren’t looking and never come back?” Belle asked, tucking her legs up and under her.

“Oh no, far from it. They knew I was leaving. My mum and I had gotten into a row, and she let loose a pretty nasty curse.” Belle noticed that he reached his hand up and rubbed down from his shoulder to his chest. She immediately recalled the tip of a scar she could sometimes see just above his collar. “I went straight to St. Mungo’s and owled James. He and Mr. Potter met me at the hospital, and we all agreed that it was best not to tell Mrs. Potter. She’d have gone over to my mum’s house and killed the woman herself.”

“But you were ‘urt! Zer was proof of ‘er abuse. She should ‘ave been arrested!”

“Belle, my family has their claws into the Ministry so deeply that they’re as good as untouchable. They’ve had at least half of those people on their payroll for as long as I can remember. All that would’ve happened if Mrs. Potter found out, is she would have ended up in Azkaban for committing murder.”

Belle nodded weakly. She understood, but it still wasn’t right that Sirius’s mother could just do what she wanted. But her own mother had been the exact same way, hadn’t she?

“Anyway,” he continued, “They saved the arm and healed me up. Mr. Potter told me I was moving in with them, and that we’d go to my house when I was doing better to get my stuff. And that’s what we did. You should have seen my mum’s face. A retired Auror standing in her front room, smoking his cigar and making pleasant conversation just to piss her off. That was the summer before sixth year, and I’ve only talked to my parents once since.” Belle could see the shadows fall over Sirius’s eyes as he remembered that one time that they’d talked. The fight that resulted in an accident that he’d probably never forgive himself for.

“I just left,” Belle said quietly, fidgeting with the edges of the book. “I didn’t get to see zeir faces when I told zem I was was leaving. Zen when my mom came to my sister’s, she’d left fully zinking I’d be back on zeir doorstep by the next morning.”

“You never really got any closure to it all,” Sirius said gently, his grey eyes looking wiser than ever.

“Maybe zat’s what’s upsetting me,” she agreed. “I feel like zer is all zese loose ties. All zese zings that keep me from really letting go and moving on.” Why was it that she was able to be so honest with Sirius? Because he’d been there? He understood what it was like to be nothing but an insignificant problem to his parents? But he’d been stronger than her. He faced it all head on, and she’d slipped away in the night, fled to another country.

“Well, let’s find you some closure. Write to them. Tell them you’ll be joining them for a few days over the holiday.” The suggestion sent Belle’s nerves into a panic. She couldn’t do that. She couldn’t meet with them face to face. She’d end up telling them how much they hurt her, telling them that she’d spent her entire childhood fighting for an approval that they’d never give.

But that was just what she wanted, wasn’t it?

“I don’t know,” she started tentatively, though the new kind of light that was glowing in Sirius’s eyes made her feel a touch more confident about the idea.

“If you think it’s what you need to stop feeling guilty about all this, to stop killing yourself because of something you couldn’t have changed and never should have had to deal with it, I say go for it. But if you don’t think you’re up to it...”

He was challenging her. Belle knew that. He’d already decided that confronting her past and ending it all was what she needed to do, and now he was trying to dare her into following through. She was sure of that, because it’s the exact same thing she’d have done if their roles were reversed.

“I still ‘ave a number of contacts zat I could use to acquire a Portkey. But Sirius, with ze way we left zings and zat letter my sister wrote to me a few months ago... zey will zink I’m crawling back to zem.”

A wicked smile ran over Sirius’s face and something about it fed into Belle’s energy, making her want to do this even more. To face it all and leave nothing unturned, so when she came back she would be rid of all the guilt.

“Let them think that. Then the slap will just be even better when you walk out again and tell them it’s for good.”

Could she really do this? What if when she got there, she chickened out? She meant to say that much to Sirius, but instead it came out as, “What if I can’t leave once I get zer? What if I forget ‘ow much it all ‘urt, and zey make me zink zat zey love me again? It used to happen all the time, Sirius. I would be so close to snapping, to telling zem zat I never want to see zem again, but zen she’d do something nice and I’d zink zat she cared still and I’d bite my tongue.”

“Well,” Sirius started, the same smile finding it’s way into his eyes. “That’s why I’ll be there. To remind you of what you’re there to do. And Belle, can you honestly think that after spending so much time with us, after seeing what it’s like to have people really care about you, you’d mistake their pathetic games for anything but manipulation?”

He’d tried to distract her with the end of that sentence, to throw her off, but it hadn’t worked. “What do you mean zat’s why you’ll be zere? I don’t ever recall inviting you.” Her words were much stronger than they’d been before. He’d already done more than enough; she wouldn’t drag him into this, too. Besides, if he wasn’t there, then that still gave her the chance to change her mind and never even step foot in the Leclair Mansion.

“You didn’t need to invite me, Blondie. I invited myself. It’s getting late, we better head back to the common room. I’m thinking of turning in early, didn’t get much sleep last night.”

She was nearly spinning at his quick change of moods and subjects. She couldn’t allow him to accompany her. It wouldn’t be fair to him. And her parents would never be pleased with...

But that didn’t matter. Her parents didn’t have to be pleased. They didn’t have to be anything because Belle was going there to end this all. To stop making herself feel like she owed them something. She owed them nothing.

But that didn’t mean it was okay for Sirius to join her. He didn’t need to take on that sort of responsibility.

“I appreciate ze offer, I really do, but I’ll be fine. I’ll ‘andle it, and I’ll come back better for it.” She smiled reassuringly, ready to put the topic to rest.

“Belle, there’s nothing wrong with getting help. If Mr. Potter and James hadn’t been with me when I faced my parents, it might have gone much differently. I know you can handle it, but there’s no reason for you to handle it alone. Plus,” he added, standing up and taking her by the hand to pull her up as well, “nothing would mean more to me than to watch their faces when you walk out again for good. You need to let me have that, or I’ll eventually just go to France to tell them off myself.”

The image of Sirius stomping into her parents towering entrance hall, his hair wild and eyes even wilder, was enough to bring a genuine laugh to Belle’s lips.

“James and Lily will be at the wedding for the first few days of the holiday,” Sirius continued. “We can go then, so no one will miss us.”

Belle stretched her legs out as they stood, her eyes looking into the fire instead of at Sirius’s. Could she really let this all happen? Was it even fair to go back to her parents with Sirius by her side, so much happier than she’d been the day she left?

Alice and Lily had told her that she had to stop punishing herself. Sleeping with Christophe was a mistake, but it wasn’t completely her fault. Hadn’t he already punished her enough for that mistake? When he’d turned his back on her, looked at her like she was nothing but a pathetic slag, did she really deserve to be punished any more than that? And the baby... she may never be able to stop blaming herself for that... but she had to try. She couldn’t keep wondering how she’d possibly let a little human being slip away. Why she couldn’t even manage to protect the life that had been growing inside of her.

Sirius must have felt all the conflicting emotions swirling around through her, because he reached down and grabbed her face in his hands like she was a small child who wasn’t paying attention.

“You can do this. We’re going to do it together, and you’re going to leave France understanding that you did nothing wrong. And I’m going to find Christophe so I can break his nose.” She knew the idea of watching Chirstophe’s aristocratic nose get bent out of shape, literally, shouldn’t have been amusing, but is was.

“Okay. We’re going to France,” she whispered after a moment, and something inside her felt like it snapped away from one of the suffocating ties.

She wanted to laugh at the change of direction her evening had taken. Just an hour ago, she’d been set on being alone, trying to forget about everything filling her mind. Now, all of the sudden she was going to France in three weeks time. She was going to look her mother in the identical blue eyes and tell the woman what she’d done to her.

Then, when her parents sat her down to inform her that they’d decided to take her back if she was able to maintain an appropriate attitude, she’d be able to tell them that she didn’t want to be taken back. That she’d started carving out a life of her own, and one day they’d regret missing out on it.

“We’re going to France,” Sirius echoed, giving her a smile that sent butterflies through her stomach.

Thank you to me awesome beta reader, CambAngst. I didn’t even have this chapter completed until Friday afternoon, and Dan (who was currently running on about three hours of sleep after driving all night) edited both versions of this chapter and got them back to me in less than a day.

So! What did you guys think? This is our last chapter before the group heads back for Christmas! I know we didn’t see all of our characters in this, so I hope that was okay. Don’t worry, they’re not doing anything fun. Just getting their essays completed and all that. ;).

Thanks so much for reading ♥ I’d love to know your opinions, good or bad, of this chapter!

Chapter 19: Train Rides and Memory Lane
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Perfect CI by heartfelt.@TDA
Chapter 19 - Train Rides and Memory Lane

Lily bundled her thick, ivory colored scarf tightly around her neck. After pulling her curtain of hair out from under the fabric, she slipped on a matching hat and zipped her coat up tightly. She was just stuffing her fingers into her gloves when James came darting up from behind her.

“Okay,” Lily’s boyfriend −boyfriend? It still felt so foreign for her to refer to James as that, even in her own mind − began as he ran up to her, pausing to catch his breath. Lily assumed he must’ve sprinted all the way from the Heads’ Quarters to the Entrance Hall. “Beowulf is with my luggage. I packed Scotch’s food in my bag, and you have her bed, right?”

“I have Butterscotch’s bed. I don’t know who on earth Scotch is,” Lily answered, crossing her arms. Just because Sirius and James had taken to calling her kitten by the name of a liquor, did not mean she’d play along.

“Perfect,” James said, giving Lily a smile that made it obvious he didn’t care how many times she corrected his use of the name. “I think we’re both packed, then. How long until everyone starts-”

James’s question was drowned out by the sound of noisy laughter, and he and Lily both turned to glance at the Grand Staircase. The sea of students making their way down the stone steps signaled that it was time to face the freezing air.

James grabbed the handles of the doors, glancing at Lily as he spoke a bit louder so she could hear him over the voices. “Well then, shall we?” She nodded, wiggling her fingers to make sure they were all cozy in her gloves. Just as the students were stepping onto the ground floor, James pushed open the double doors. A gust of chilly December wind blew into the castle and devoured the warm air, making Lily thankful that she’d overdressed. James held the door open, letting her go first, then they both rushed to stand alongside the path where the carriages were lining up.

Lily smiled as Mary McDonald, who had the handful of Gryffindor first years behind her, made her way down the path. “Put the students in these two,” the head girl instructed, glancing over them. “Each carriage seats five, so it should be perfect. And don’t forget, this is the first time they’ve ridden them, so you may want to remind them of the rules.” Mary nodded at Lily before escorting the wide eyed students up a few yards to the tall, black carriages waiting along the path.

James held up his wand once Mary game him the wave, and sent a shower of green sparks into the air, causing a collective ‘ohh’ from the younger years. The sparks signaled the lead carriage to move forward, and the two that had just been loaded started to roll along the path at a comfortable pace. Once those two were out of the way, James sent up another shower of sparks, only these were a vivid blue. The next two carriages came forward, and the process started all over.

The mass of students continued on, with a prefect escorting each group of first years. Once they got to the second years, things sped up considerably. The wind was just beginning to numb the tip of Lily’s nose and frost her lips when they finally reached the seventh years. She did her best not to look away as Rosier met her eyes, and she felt James tense beside her, as if he was waiting for the Slytherin to make a move. Someone else in line nudged the boy forward, and Lily was thankful for it as he continued up the path.

“There’s the group,” James said, pointing toward the end of the line. Lily stood on her tip toes trying to get a glimpse at them. Just as the unmistakable stands of Sirius’s dark hair came into view, she felt her boots slide under the snow. She reached her arm out to grab onto James and steady herself, but she was too late. Her balance had already failed and she was plummeting backwards.

“Lily!” James’s shout did nothing to ease the thump as her back hit the ground, her head half buried in the flakes.

“Lily,” came the unmistakable yell of Alice’s voice, and as Lily struggled to open her eyes she saw her friends rushing forward.

When she got past the blinding light from sun hanging over her, she could just see Sirius’s face, twisted in all sorts of angles as he tried to stop himself from laughing.

“Lily,” Alice cooed again, bending and grabbing the hat that must’ve slipped off when she fell. “Are you okay?”

She wiped away the flakes on her face and lifted her head a few inches. Her gaze landed on Sirius, who was now openly letting his laughter out with James right beside him, poorly concealing his own smirks.

She glanced at Alice and gave her a small nod, assuring her she was okay, before sitting all the way up. She took advantage of both boys being distracted and gathered a ball of snow, packing it tightly. She glanced at Remus and Peter to make sure they didn’t see her. Both boys did, but their smiles made it clear they weren’t going to warn the other two.

Before James and Sirius could compose themselves, Lily stood up and launched the ball at the back of James’s head, then grabbed another and threw it at Sirius.

“Hey!” Sirius shouted, turning around and cupping his hand over the part of his shoulder that was now covered in the frozen substance.

It was Lily’s turn to try not to laugh as James and Sirius looked at her, wearing identical expressions of confusion before they realized that it was actually her who’d thrown the snowball.

“I’d be careful, Lily,” Frank warned, stepping closer to her.

“Frank’s right,” Peter added, “they don’t often turn down a chance to retaliate...”

The words were barely out of her friends’ mouths when James came speeding toward her. She tried to leap out of the way, but his arms were already clenched around her as his body launched them both into the snow. She was once again half buried in the fluff of white, and was about to wiggle out of James’s arms when she noticed that her friends were all engaged in a full on snowball war. Maybe this was the safest place to be just now...

“Excuse me.” The sound of Professor McGonagall’s tone brought reality spinning back, and James was quickly standing up and pulling Lily along with him. “I assume all the students have been escorted into the carriages?” The deputy head mistress continued as Lily struggled to brush off the snow clinging to her coat.

“Yes, Professor,” James answered with an easy smile.

“Well then, I think you lot should be on your way.”

“Yes, Professor McGonagall,” they chorused, everyone dropping their ammunition.

“And a very happy Christmas to you all,” the transfiguration teacher added. It was one of those rare times when Lily was nearly sure that their Head of House was smiling. They all wished her a happy Christmas as well before heading off toward the two carriages that were left empty.

“I’m going to get you back for that little incident,” she whispered into James’s ear as she, James, Frank and Alice all climbed into one carriage, with the remaining five occupying the other. 

“I’d like to see you try,” he joked back as he laced his fingers through hers. “Don’t forget, I have an entire holiday to torment you now,” he added with a wink before the sounds of the wheels bumping along the cobblestones drowned out any chance of continuing the conversation.

Lily glanced out of the small window, mesmerized by the sight of the feathery snowflakes catching in the wind. A hum of excitement strengthened in her chest as they continued down the path. In a few minutes, they’d be at the Hogsmeade station, then they would be on the train back to London!

“It’s an odd feeling, watching the carriages take away the majority of our school, isn’t it?” Minerva turned as the Thestrals faded into the background, surprised to see Albus behind her.

“I can only hope it proves to be a quiet holiday for them,” Minerva answered, trying to stop herself from worrying about the children who weren’t even hers.

“I spoke with Edgar again last evening. He and Miss Meadowes have made all the necessary preparations to keep an eye on Mr. Potter and Miss Evans while they journey into Wales.”

“Did we do the right thing, Albus? Should we have told them about our concerns for their safety?” Minerva tried to hide the doubt in her voice. She knew it was too late to change anything. And having the students know about their fears wouldn’t benefit anyone. The Order had all agreed on that, and it wasn’t as if Mr. Potter and Miss Evans would be unprotected once they left London, even if the students themselves didn’t know of that protection. But Minerva still couldn’t shake the leaden feeling in the pit of her stomach that something was terribly wrong.

“We can’t ever be sure that our decisions are without fault. All we can do is act on our instincts. I trust Miss Evans and Mr. Potter will have a more enjoyable visit without the knowledge that we’re concerned.”

Minerva let out a sigh. She knew Albus was right. They had no real reason to believe Lily and James were in danger, and she supposed the attack on Beowulf had given her more stress than called for. Dorcas and Edgar would be close by and watching for anything suspicious, at least until the wedding was over and the children were safe and sound in the home of the Potters.

“They’ll all be back and roaming the corridors in two weeks’ time, Minerva. Enjoy the hours of solitude you’re so rarely given.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she finally responded, wiping a stray flake of snow away from her glasses.

Though she didn’t voice it, she knew she could never enjoy an empty castle more than a room full of students all waiting to be taught.

Lily closed the door to the prefects’ compartment, slinging her rucksack over her back and mentally going through the checklist to make sure she’d covered everything. There wasn’t very much to go over, and the meeting had only taken about thirty minutes. The bulk of the time had been used to discuss the safety guidelines that Professor Dumbledore had asked everyone to familiarize themselves with.

It was odd, briefing students on how to stay safe while they were out of the castle. Travel in pairs. Be sure proper precautions are secured around your home. Don’t accept any sort of parcel from a stranger. To Lily, it was another unwelcome reminder of the war that they all tried not to dwell on.

“Finally,” Belle said as Lily slid open the compartment door and slipped inside, finding a place among all of her friends. “I zought she was going to ‘ave a ‘eart attack or some’zing.” The blonde girl lifted a fluffy blanket up to Lily, with Butterscotch curled somewhere inside, meowing over and over.

“She’s never been on a train,” Lily reminded them, then moved the blanket back so the kitten, who seemed to be growing everyday, could see that she was there.

“Where’s James?” Sirius asked, his voice more impatient than usual.

Lily wedged herself into a seat before glancing up at her friend. “He went to patrol the train while I held the prefect meeting. He should be back soon.”

“How can we plan the annual Christmas feast if he’s off roaming about?” Sirius answered, his voice sounding like that of a whiny child.

“You don’t want to help plan the Christmas feast,” Remus said, laughing at their friend. “You know it’s nearly planned anyway. You just want him here so you can plan the annual Christmas prank.”

“Well, obviously!” Sirius agreed, mischief filling his smokey eyes.

“What’s ze annual Christmas prank?” Belle asked Alice in a hushed tone.

“Only the best part about the Holidays!” Sirius, who had evidently heard the whisper, said. “You know about the dinner, when everyone will bring the best desserts, and Remus’s dad roasts the rack of lamb, which is all lovely and junk. But then, sometime in the middle of it all, we always play a prank on everyone, when you’re least expecting it...”

Lily let her thoughts wander as Sirius continued describing the Christmas feast. Lily had never been to the Potters for one, but she’d heard so much about the dinner and pranks from James for the last month that she felt like she had.

She knew that Peter and his parents − well, probably just his mum this year − Remus and his mum and dad, Frank, Alice and Augusta, and of course Sirius, would all get together at the Potters on Christmas evening for a huge celebration and a delicious feast. Belle had even received her own invitation from Olivia, which Lily knew had really made her feel like she was welcomed into it all. Alice’s parents were always invited as well, but they made it clear that they didn’t agree with the type of dinner the Potters hosted. One that was loud and chaotic and fun. At least, that’s what James said. Then somewhere in the thick of all this celebrating, the boys would pull off a prank that, as James told her, was a sworn secret and for the boys’ ears only. Lily just hoped it wasn’t too over the top.

“You and Sirius are all set with your Portkey?” Lily asked quietly as she turned toward Belle, with Sirius still going on about Christmas to no one in particular.

“Yes. Ze Regulation of International Travel in France wrote back to me after getting it cleared zrough ze Ministry. Zere will be a Porkey waiting at ze bench by ze pond on ze Christopherson’s estate.” Lily nodded at Belle, feeling better that everything had been confirmed. Her french friend would be going home with Alice when they got off the train in London, which Lily didn’t envy her for. Alice’s parents were terrifying and easily the most pretentious people Lily had ever met. But Belle had assured Alice when she’d voiced just as much that she was very accustomed to dealing with that sort of attitude. Sirius would be going with her and James of course, then he’d Apparate to the Christopherson’s mansion tomorrow morning and he and Belle would be off.

“Are you nervous?” Lily asked, meeting her friend’s royal blue eyes.

“Yes, but not as nervous as I zought I’d be. It will be tedious. I’ll have to wait for ze proper time to tell zem zat ze only reason I’m there is to make it clear zat I am moving on with my life.”

“Can’t you just blurt it out right when they open the door?” Lily asked, wanting her friend to be able to get it all over with as soon as possible.

“No,” Belle answered with a soft laugh. “No, zat isn’t how zings are done in zeir world. And if I want to be taken seriously, and not treated like a child throwing a fit, I need to go about zis ze proper way. We will be expected to have tea and dine with zem tomorrow evening, and zen when zey move into ze parlor for evening conversation, zat will be the most acceptable time to address my reasons for coming.”

Lily let Belle’s words sift around in her mind as she thought about how thankful she was that she hadn’t been born into the same type of world as Belle... or Sirius or Alice. Even if her parents were gone, at least they’d given her enough happy memories to last a lifetime.

“And what about you?” Belle asked, leaning her head back and letting half of it rest on Lily’s shoulder. “Are you feeling nervous about seeing your sister again?”

“Oh god, thinking about it kind of makes me want to vomit,” Lily said in a joking tone, though she knew that part of her was serious. She was about to ask Belle if she thought Sirius would do all right in France, but before she could, James slid open the compartment door and the entire group broke into an animated discussion about all the things they’d do over the Holiday.

As the conversation slowly died down, Lily let herself lean against Alice, stifling a yawn. She’d been up since five in the morning, excitement and nervous energy not allowing her to sleep in. That was clearly wearing on her, and as she cuddled Butterscotch closer to her in the thick blanket, she let her eyes close. She was just going to rest them, just for a moment.

“Come on Petunia, mum left lunch out and it’s going to spoil.” Lily knocked at her sister’s bedroom door, not waiting for a reply before heading into the kitchen.

She only had a few more days before it was time to head back to Hogwarts for her fifth year of school, and she hadn’t even finished reading all the books on their supply list. She certainly wasn’t going to waste ten minutes knocking on her sister’s door.

She held her copy of ‘The Art of Advanced Potions’ under her arm as she perched herself onto a chair. Her mum had made a plate of sandwiches before leaving to go into town, and her dad was somewhere in Eastern Europe on a business trip. So it was just Petunia, Petunia’s best friend Matti, and Lily for the afternoon.

She was relieved that her mum had thought to purchase covers for her books, so now they all just looked like regular school texts. She’d had close calls in the past when Petunia had a friend over and Lily had left one of her books out. This year she’d made sure that would be avoided.

“Hi, Lily,” Matti said, smiling as she followed Petunia into the kitchen.

Half the time Lily didn’t even know how Petunia and Matti had been friends for so long. The girl was always nothing but kind, and hardly said a bad word about anyone. Which was quite the contrast to how Petunia had acted for the last three months that Lily was home. Her older sister was full of mean gossip, talking nonstop about anyone she deemed ‘weird’ in her high school. Lily knew her mum hadn’t liked what she called Petunia’s new ‘seventeen-year-old attitude’ and Lily could see why.

The last time she’d seen her sister, before this summer holiday of course, had been Christmas in fourth year, and Petunia had changed so much since then. Lily couldn’t figure out why, but she hoped that when she turned seventeen she wouldn’t start acting like such a brat.

“Hi Matti,” Lily answered with a smile as she moved her chair over so both girls could have room. “How did the film go last night?”

Matti had spent a lot of the summer at the Evans’ home, so Lily knew that she’d had a big date with someone from her high school the night before.

“Oh, not too bad, but I don’t think it went great either. He’s rather... dozy. A duffer. I never talked to him enough in school to pick up on that, though I wish I had. It would have saved me the trouble of getting all dolled up for a pointless date.”

“Lily,” Petunia said, a glare fitted over her face. “You can’t just go asking my friends about their personal lives.”

Matti interrupted before Lily could. “Be nice, Petunia. I don’t mind. So how’s school going, Lily? Are you excited to go back to Scotland?”

Lily glanced up at Petunia, who was frowning down at her lunch. She didn’t want Petunia to be cross, but she had every right to talk to someone.

“Yes, I suppose. I wish it wasn’t so long between holidays, but it will be nice to see the rest of my friends again.”

“Hah,” Petunia laughed in the sarcastic tone she’d recently picked up. “You mean other friends besides the gross boy that lives down the street?”

Lily felt her anger rise. She was about to stand up for Sev when Matti quickly intervened, changing the subject. “I’m so jealous you get to go to boarding school,” she said, taking a bite of cucumber sandwich. “I’m sure it gets tiring being there all the time, but it still seems so brill.”

“It’s not that cool, you know,” Petunia counteracted in a venomous tone. “It’s not even normal.”

“Petunia,” Lily shot, her anger evident.

“Well it’s not. It’s just a freak’s school with freaky people.”

“Why are you so mean to your sister?” Matti asked, rounding on the elder of the Evans girls. “She’s always nice to you. You spend all year talking about how terrible she is, then when she comes home she’s nothing but kind and you’re the terrible one!”

Petunia’s face lost all of its color, and Lily could tell her sister was struggling with her control.

“Petunia’s just joking when she’s mean,” Lily said weakly. Part of her didn’t even know why she was defending the girl, who really hadn’t been anything but nasty all holiday. But Lily also understood that, even if Petunia wouldn’t admit it, she’d always be jealous of the fact that Lily had something different about her. And she didn’t want her sister to feel like she had to be jealous.

“No, she’s being cruel,” Matti said, glaring at her friend. “I listen to you talk meanly about everyone else, Petunia. And I don’t say anything because I know what a nice person you really can be. But-”

“But what? If you’re so sick of me talking about people, if you think that my sister is so much better than me, why don’t you just be best friends with her?”

Petunia’s dark eyes were lined with tears, and Lily struggled to find something to put a stop to all it all.

“Maybe I should be! Everyone in your family is so nice to you, then you’re just a bloody bitch to all of them!”

Petunia’s eyes hardened. Her cheeks flaring with red. “Get out of my house,” she said in a cold tone after a second of silence. “And don’t ever speak to me again!”

Matti stood frozen for a moment, her face angrier than Lily had ever seen. “Gladly,” the girl finally spat, before standing and rushing out of the room.

“Petunia,” Lily started, hoping it wasn’t too late to talk some sense into her sister and get the other girl to come back. Lily knew that Matti was one of Petunia’s only real friends. “You had no reason to-”

“Shut up!”Petunia screamed at Lily, “just shut your mouth and stay out of my life! I never want to talk to you again, you stupid freak!”

“Lily, wake up Lily, we’re almost to King’s Cross,” James’s gentle voice brought Lily from the dream and back into the comforting compartment. She started to adjust her body, then stopped when a heaviness on her lap became apparent. She glanced down and had to stifle a laugh. Belle’s head was resting across Lily’s knees, with Alice fast asleep and squished against the wall by the two girls. Clearly they were all a bit tired that day.

She noticed Butterscotch’s empty blanket and felt a quick rush of panic at the idea that her kitten may be buried somewhere between them, but as she glanced around, trying to use what was left of the fading evening light, she could just make out the splotch of golden fur curled up on Sirius’s chest.

She thanked James for waking her before gently easing herself off of Alice. Belle was still fast asleep, and Lily tried her best not to let her movements wake her. Lily leaned back as James took his seat next to Frank and Remus on the other side of the compartment. Both those boys seemed to be awake, along with Peter.

She closed her eyes as the soothing bumps of the train carried along, and couldn’t resist playing with the golden hair spread out over her. As her fingers started twisting the blonde strands into a braid, she let her mind think back over the dream. She supposed talking about Petunia with her French friend had brought the feelings to her mind’s surface, but the memory of what had happened a few years ago wasn’t what she needed to get excited to see Petunia again.

Of course the sisters had ended up on speaking terms again, making up only a few hours before Lily left for her fifth year to Hogwarts. But as far as Lily knew, her sister never spoken with Matti again. Petunia had blamed Lily for making her lose her only best friend, and even though Lily had felt immensely guilty at the time, now she as able to look back and realize that she really hadn’t done anything wrong.

She and Petunia were never as close again, but that fight really was nothing compared to the ones that had followed. Especially the one that they’d had the summer before sixth year. And Lily couldn’t even handle thinking about that just then.

But all that was in the past. And what was important now was that they still stood a chance at reconciling. Lily wouldn’t let that chance be tainted by bad memories. She’d hurt Petunia just as much as Petunia had hurt her during their childhood, and she wouldn’t let those feelings compromise what they had the potential of building now.

“James,” Lily whispered, needing to get herself out of her own thoughts. He glanced up from whatever he was reading, using the tip of his wand for light, and she felt a rush of butterflies escape through her stomach. Why did he have to have such a perfect smile?

“Yeah?” James prompted, and Lily realized she’d just been staring at him.

“I’m really excited to be spending Christmas with you.” The way James’s entire face lit up made Lily want to go over there and curl into him. He was such a happy person... just being around him did wonders for her when she wasn’t able to get herself from whatever negative thoughts surrounded her.

“I’m really excited to be spending Christmas with you too,” he answered, thought the end of his was drowned out by a loud whistle that broke away the sleepy silence of the compartment. Lily rushed to wake up both her friends, and then told them all she’d see them on the platform as she and James left the compartment to start their patrols.

In just a few minutes, after they made sure that everyone got off the train, they’d gather their luggage and head to the platform. Then of course she’d hug Alice and Belle goodbye even though she’d see them both in under a week’s time. Then she’d go home with James, Sirius, and Mr. and Mrs. Potter. She couldn’t believe how excited she was to be spending a Christmas with them. It wouldn’t keep the memories of her parents and the fact that this was the first Christmas without them completely away, but it would help ease the pain that those memories brought.

As laughter and chatter surrounded Lily, students all making their way from their compartments, she felt her spirits rise even higher. Yes, it was her first Christmas without her family, but it was also her first with James.

And she couldn’t think of anyone else she’d rather spend it with.

Thank you, as always, to my amazing beta CambAngst. I'm sorry this chapter is shorter than usual, but I hope you still enjoyed it! Thanks for reading ♥

Chapter 20: No Turning Back
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Amazing CI by heartfelt.@TDA
Chapter 20 - No Turning Back
Bellatrix submerged her body under the bathwater, letting her mass of curls crowd around her and float to the surface. She continued to hold herself down, ignoring the feeling of her lungs begging to rid themselves of the carbon dioxide. Once she felt the ache begin to take over, and knew the black fog would edge into her vision, she broke through the glass water and allowed herself one deep breath.

As soon as her lungs were once again full of air, she repeated the process and slipped her body back under the water. Control. She had to control her lungs. She had to control her breathing. She had to control everything. Just like her Lord taught her. Control your magic. Control your spells. Control your mind.

She took a deep breath and rested her head against the porcelain tub, then raised her feet from the bath and used her toes to turn on the tap that coaxed out the hot water. After a second of waiting, the lukewarm liquid began steaming. Bellatrix’s first instinct was to pull her leg away, to stop the hot water from assaulting her flesh. But she quickly identified that as a weakness, an inexcusable break in her chain of control, and she forced herself to wait three long seconds before recoiling her leg and sinking it back into the water.

She let her body relax slightly, allowing her dark eye to search the shadows of the room. As some of the oil lamps strengthened, it seemed the others weakened. Smaller flames being devoured by the larger, their shadows not able to match those that were superior. That’s where their world was finally headed − a place where the stronger race devoured the weaker. The ones who were born to live and breathe magic, crushing out those who were too underserving of the gift. The idea of it sent a chill of pleasure shuddering through Bellatrix.

Their world had finally found someone whose power could be matched by none, and he was going to set right the wrongs that had occurred for too long. He would take back their place as the dominant beings, and all those who refused to succumb to this new order would perish under his wand.

Yes, things were finally going in the direction that the wizarding world needed. A few years from now, it would only be those of the purest blood that held their heads high in public. It would only be those who had nothing but magic in their veins that stepped through the doors of Hogwarts.

And she would be in the center of it all.

She would assist in cleansing the filth from her world, and watch as the others bowed to her Master. They would accept his position above all of society, and give him the respect he demanded. Or wish their beating hearts goodbye.

They would cringe in fear at the sight of her, knowing that it was her hands, her magic, that acted as tools in bringing the Dark Lord to his place on the throne of power.

And all she had to do to finally show her Master that she was truly deserving of his faith, was complete her mission. In less than two days the boy would be either marked or dead. If he made the wise decision, the only decision, she would be responsible for training him herself. For torturing all the filthy Muggle loving ideas out of him, and making him understand that their world was meant to be cleansed. Maybe he could even bring her traitorous cousin over to their side, or maybe she would at least get a chance to hold a wand to his throat and watch her green curse reflect in his eyes.

Bellatrix took breath of the misty air, and let her body fall back into the water.

Control. She had to have control.

Lily twisted and turned in her covers, the thick feather duvet wrapped around her like a cocoon. She tried to let her mind fall back into its sleeping state, but after a few seconds she got impatient and started opening her eyes sliver by sliver.

The soft drifts of light catching the golden brown of the curtains surprised her, but only for a beat. Her disoriented mind pieced together the memories of the previous day, reminding her that she wasn’t in her four poster bed at Hogwarts, but in the cozy, warm guest room − one of many − at the Potters’ home.

She stretched her limbs out before grabbing her watch and glancing at the small ticks depicting the hours. It was just after six. They needed to be at the Manchester Piccadilly station by nine and, as long as everything was running on time, they would be in Swansea by afternoon.

She slipped from the bed and grabbed a pair of leggings and a long jumper from her trunk, then tiptoed from the room and down the hall to the bathroom. James’s room was on the other side of the hall, and Mr. and Mrs. Potter were on the floor below them, so she assumed she was far enough away to avoid waking anyone up with her bath.

She made it quick, just to be on the safe side, and in under half an hour she was dressed, had her hair braided loosely over her shoulder, and was growing more and more anxious about the events that would unfold that day. She tried to curl up on her bed again and read a book that Belle had lent her, but her concentration was far from willing to cooperate.

Just as she was about to pull out some material to revise, a soft knock came at her bedroom door, followed by a rough whisper of, “Lily?”

She rushed over, opening the door slowly so it wouldn’t creak, and was met with a wave of dark hair and a lopsided smile.

“Sirius? What are you doing up?” she asked, stepping aside so he could come in, then shutting the door behind him to prevent them from waking rest of the house.

He just shrugged, then plopped himself on the bed and began fidgeting with the book Lily had been trying to read.

“You never wake up early at Hogwarts,” she continued, “and careful with that. It’s Belle’s.” She snatched the book from him before he could continue to bend the paper, then made herself comfortable next to him.

“I just couldn’t sleep, I guess. I tried waking James, but the bloody git went for his wand. He was about to curse me in his sleep, I’m fairly certain.”

Lily studied the boy, noticing the way his face betrayed a very rare sense of nervousness, his grey eyes − lighter than normal − not meeting hers.

“You’re scared about what’s going to happen?” she asked gently, realizing that Sirius was probably even more worried about how Belle’s confrontation would go than she was.

“Not so much what’s going to happen,” he answered, glancing at her through his dark lashes. “But what if it isn’t a good thing for her like I think it will be? What if I pushed her into doing this and it ends up just hurting her more?”

Lily’s heart ached for her friend. She knew this was hard for Sirius. Hard for him to see someone deal with what he’d gone through, and even harder because of how much he cared about her.

“You really think that you’d have been able to push Belle into anything she didn’t really want to do?” Lily answered, hoping her voice held enough seriousness that he’d understand she wasn’t just teasing.

“S’pose not.”

“She’s already half terrified that she won’t be strong enough to do this, Sirius. You don’t need to have those same fears. What you do need to do is believe in her one hundred percent, and make sure she knows it.”

“You know, you sound an awful lot like Remus sometimes.”

Lily chuckled at the compliment − which was what she was taking it as. She felt herself suddenly wishing he was there with them, along with Peter, Alice, Frank, and Belle. Not that she wasn’t more than happy with Sirius and James’s company, but things just felt weird when the whole group was split up all around the country. Remus had seemed so happy to see his parents though, and Peter equally happy to see his mum.

“Sirius,” Lily started, with the thoughts of Peter still turning around in her mind. “Do you think Peter was upset that his dad wasn’t at the platform yesterday?” She knew it probably wasn’t any of her business, but she had to ask.

“Peter stopped expecting things from his dad a long time ago. I think he was more relieved than anything.”

The idea of that pricked against Lily’s heart like needles, but she couldn’t help wanting to know more. “His dad can’t be that terrible, can he?”

“He didn’t used to be. I don’t know if Mr. Pettigrew was ever the picture of fatherly perfection, but I know things didn’t get bad until he started seeing someone else. Then he wanted a divorce, but Peter’s mum can’t work and... this all stays between us, yeah?” Sirius added quickly, glancing at her.

“Of course.”

“Good. Well, his mum can’t work much, because her magic isn’t that strong. She might be a squib, Peter never really said. And they wouldn’t be able to survive without his dad’s income. His mum said that she wouldn’t agree to a divorce, and if he tried, she’d take everything from him because he’d committed adultery. That was years ago, and ever since then Mr. Pettigrew has been a lousy drunk. Hardly remembers who Peter is half the time. They don’t live together anymore, but they’re still married.”

Lily stayed silent, taking in everything Sirius had told her. She knew that Peter’s dad wasn’t the best, but she hadn’t known how bad he really was.

“But,” Sirius continued, “his mum is really great. She’s one of the sweetest ladies there is. You’ll get to know her a bit more at the Christmas feast.”

That information made Lily feel a bit less hurt for her friend. Mrs. Pettigrew was always really quiet when they said their goodbyes at King’s Cross, so she didn’t know what to make of her. She was probably just shy. That would make sense, considering how shy Peter was.

“You guys are good friends, you know.” Lily said, smiling at Sirius. “And you’re a good friend to Belle, too. Everything will work out how it’s supposed to. Trust me.”

“I’ll try and remember that. I just hope I don’t do something stupid...”

Lily nodded, patting his hand with hers. Sirius always worried about how he’d act in an intense sort of situation. She knew a lot of the students at Hogwarts thought that he was reckless for the sake of being reckless, but if truth be told, Lily knew that he couldn’t do much about it. He’d made decisions he wasn’t proud of, and he’d acted in ways that he shouldn’t have. Half the time he’d even regret it after he did something stupid. Lily suspected that Sirius had been forced to make so many split-second decisions growing up to protect himself from his own family, that he’d lost the ability to stop and think things through in the way that most people did. It took a lot to get him to that point, where he was so angry he just had to lash out, and after spending so much time growing closer with him, Lily understood that Sirius truly hated himself when he did go over the edge.

Sirius stood from the bed and knelt beside Butterscotch, petting him from head to tail. “Well, shall we go down and make some tea?” he suggested after the kitten seemed satisfied.

“Sure. Maybe we can even get breakfast going for everyone. I’ll teach you to cook the Muggle way.”

Sirius was forced to stifle a laugh. His grey eyes, no longer shadowed, smiled at Lily’s, and she couldn’t help but already feel so much better about her own nerves.

She just had to remember what she told Sirius. Everything would work out how it was supposed to.

The sound of knives and forks scratching against china dishes that were as blue as the shell of a robin’s egg, was the only thing puncturing the silence of the oppressively formal dining room. Giant windows decked the walls, but curtains were pulled tightly closed, allowing not a fleck of sun to slip through.

Conversation was nonexistent. Just as Belle knew it would be, as it always was in this kind of setting. Only animals spoke while chewing their food, her father would say.

One thing was certain, her parents never would have objected to her spending time at the Christophersons’ Mansion. It would have fit their standards perfectly. She could almost hear her father’s pretensions voice commenting on the quality of the wood used to carve the massive, ornate dining table. And her mother would have said something in that airy, obnoxious tone of hers about how suitable the meal was, and how they’d clearly trained their help properly.

It felt odd to be back here, back in the world that she’d grown up in, even if it wasn’t her family. But at the same time, it was still so familiar that it nearly seemed like she’d never left that world in the first place. Only Alice hadn’t crumbled to the picture of what her parents wanted her to be, like all of Belle’s past-life friends. Girls that would talk about things far from polite in the comfort of the Palace, then be nothing but perfect around their parents. Alice stayed Alice. She’d gotten on her mother’s case for punishing a house-elf and she was still the incredibly caring girl that Belle had the privilege of calling a best friend.

“Well, that was an adequate breakfast. I’ll be in the study,” Mr. Christopherson said, pushing his chair back and excusing himself from the table.

“Father,” Alice broke in, her voice holding a tone of displeasure that Belle often got when she was being lectured about an assignment. “I think you’ve forgotten to clear your plate. You’re going to pass right by the kitchen. It seems silly to have a house-elf make a special trip just to get it.”

The annoyance in Able Christopherson’s eyes was clearly a learnt one, and it was obvious that Alice must have spent a good amount of time saying that same thing to her parents.

“As I said, I’ll be in the study,” the man repeated, before turning away and heading through the door. Belle glanced over at Alice from the corners of her eyes, surprised to see that her friend was struggling to hold back a laugh.

“Honestly, Alice,” Caitleen Christopherson said, “I don’t know why you have to torment him so.”

“Oh he needs to lighten up, mother. I was thinking of going to lunch at Frank’s after Belle and Sirius leave, would you like to accompany me?”

Belle nearly spit out the sip of tea she’d just drank. Who on earth was this cheeky girl? Not that Belle didn’t love to see Alice this way, but it was such a change.

“I’d rather keep to social gatherings with my own class. I’m sure you understand.”

“Suit yourself,” Alice answered, her tone now nothing but sweet. Belle understood that was their cue, and nodded at Mrs. Christopherson before grabbing her dish and walking alongside Alice toward the kitchen.

“Sorry about that,” Alice said once they got in the privacy of the kitchen. “I tried to tell myself that I wouldn’t start things with them while you were here. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable or anything. But sometimes I just can’t help it.”

“Alice,” Belle interjected, wanting to rid her friend of the guilty look her eyes held. “I zink zat watching you give your parents a difficult time may be one of ze best parts about this ‘oliday.”

Alice smiled, letting out a sigh of relief, then turned to the subject that Belle knew had been coming all morning. “Sirius should be here in the next few hours. Are you going to be okay?”

“I’m going to try to be. I hope zat’s enough,” answered the blonde, her deep blue eyes already filling with the ghosts that she knew she’d soon be confronting.

Lily went through her mental checklist, trying to be sure that she’d packed all the necessities. She knew her decision to put the Undetectable Extension charm on her rucksack was a convenient one, but it also made things more stressful. Without a large overnight bag hanging off her shoulder, she felt like she couldn’t have possibly remembered everything.

“Well,” James said, distracting Lily. She glanced over at him, his hands tucked into his pockets and a small rucksack over his back. “I suppose I should leave my robes here, instead of wearing them to the wedding.”

“Oh no, I’m sure Petunia would be delighted to see you in full wizard attire,” Lily answered, unable to resist the playful banter.

Just as James was about to reply, Olivia and William entered the family room, distracting both teenagers.

“You two all set?” William asked, placing a hand on his son’s shoulder. “You know, it’s not too late to see if we can get a car from the Ministry. Plenty of people still owe me favors,” he added with a wink. Lily wished they had more time, she’d talk him into telling one of his old stories from his days as an Auror. For some reason she really loved watching Mr. Potter get submerged into his memories as he told them all a tale of when he was on the squad.

“Let the children travel however they want, William,” Olivia lectured, pointing a playful finger at her husband. “Besides, we all know you ran out of favors back before you went grey. And that’s saying something.”

“I’ve run out of favors?” William argued, a comical look of indignation filling his kind features. “Me? William Potter? Ha! The day I run out of favors is the day that Quidditch is played on dragons.”

“Now that’s an idea...” James mumbled, his eyes holding way too much mischief for Lily to be comfortable.

“I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that,” Olivia said, raising her eyebrows at her son. “Between you and Sirius, I can’t imagine how I’ve managed to keep from going grey myself.”

“Did I hear ‘Sirius’?” came the booming voice of Mr. Black himself. “What, Jamesie, you’re getting both of us in trouble now?” he furrowed his eyebrows up, like he was really in shock that his best friend had said something to put the two of them in a negative light, then walked over to Olivia and draped a large arm around her. “You know, Mrs. Potter, I’ve been trying to get that one under control for years.” He clicked his tongue, then added a shake of his head as he eyed James.

“Oh I know you have, darling. You’d never be the one caught in the center of any trouble,” Olivia answered, patting Sirius’s face playfully.

For the first time, Lily got a real glimpse at just how much the Olivia and William cared about the boy who was as good as their second son. Of course she already knew that, but seeing it was something completely different. She’d never been cognizant enough during her stay at the Potters’ last summer to really pick up on it, but now that she was, it brought an incredible kind of warmth through her. Listening to James banter back, teasing his best mate and both of them playing Olivia against one another, then of course William coming in with his own one liners every few seconds... it was enough to make Lily want to just group them all together and hug them. She’d always wondered how Sirius managed to be such a caring friend, considering what he’d been raised around. But now more than ever, Lily understood.

“You two better get going,” Olivia said, breaking Lily from her thoughts. “And Lily, good luck.” The words were simple, but as Olivia pulled her into a tight hug, they felt anything but. “We’ll be waiting right here for you two when you return,” Olivia whispered into her ear, before releasing her and moving to hug James.

“You tell us if he’s anything less than a gentleman,” William added, putting his arm around Lily and pulling her into him. “And you two look out for each other.”

Lily knew they’d only be gone for one night, but it still felt so grown up to be going away with James.

They said their goodbyes to Sirius as well, wishing him luck on his own excursion with Belle, before linking hands. She glanced up, meeting James’s stare. He raised his eyebrows at her, and she gave him a small nod.

After one last farewell, James tightened his grip on her fingers and they turned to head through the room and out the front door. As soon as they got past the wards, they’d pop to the Manchester Piccadilly station. Then they’d be boarding a train, and by the time the sun set, she’d be eating dinner with her sister.

“Maybe I shouldn’t be doing zis,” Belle said, her voice shaking as she checked the watch that dangled from her wrist one more time. Sirius would be there in a matter of minutes. Then she had no choice but to go forward. He wouldn’t let her turn back.

“If you don’t, you’ll regret it,” Alice reasoned as her fingers twisted through Belle’s hair, catching the fly-away strands and pulling them into a braid.

“I know, but if I do it, it might turn out ‘orrible.”

“But if you don’t do it, you’ll never know if it would have turned out horribly and you’ll still regret it.”

“What if zey missed me? And zey ask me to stay?” The fragility of Belle’s voice upset her, and she knew Alice heard it as well.

“Do you want to stay with them?” Alice asked after a moment’s silence.

“No.” She knew that. But it didn’t make it any easier to stop herself from imagining her mum hugging her, and telling her she was sorry and that she loved her.

But that wasn’t her mum. There was no danger of Mrs. Leclair doing that. She’d never said those words when the two of them were on good terms; she certainly wouldn’t say them after her daughter had run away for so long. If her mum was that kind of person, the kind to take her daughter into her arms and tell her how special she was, maybe Belle never would have ended up in this situation.

But Belle had made mistakes too. It wasn’t fair to lay all the blame on her mother. And if she never had ended up where she was, she wouldn’t have met Alice or Lily. Or any of the group. She wouldn’t have met Sirius.

The last thought stuck into her mind, and she tilted her head back so she was able to meet Alice’s eyes, then took a deep breath and prepared herself for what she’d been wanting to say for weeks. “I zink I really like Sirius.”

She expected Alice to laugh, or giggle, or scream. Something. But instead, she just gave her a quizzical kind of stare.

“Well, that’s nothing new,” Alice finally said.

“I know,” Belle argued, lowing her head back down and letting her lips form into a pout. “But I never really said zat I liked him before.”

“I’m not the one you need to tell that to.”

Belle frowned at Alice’s words. “Zat’s too much right now. I’ll get zrough zis first, zen see if ‘e even wants any’zing to do with me.”

“Isabelle,” came the strict tone of Alice as she yanked her blonde hair back so that Belle was once again staring into her eyes. “Stop doubting Sirius. If you think anything your family could do would make him turn and run from you, you clearly don’t know him as well as you think.”

Once Alice loosened up on Belle’s hair, the blonde leaned forward again so that Alice couldn’t see her face and let a small smile fall over her lips. She knew what Alice said was true, but actually hearing it, having someone else confirm what she desperately wanted to believe, felt so much better.

A loud crack filled the room, though neither girl flinched. They were both more than accustomed to hearing house-elves pop in and out.

“Madam Christopherson sends Kitts up here to tell Miss Leclair that Sirius Black is being downstairs.”

“Thanks, Kitts,” Alice said, her voice as warm as ever, before smiling at the elf and sending it on its way.

“Well,” Belle sighed, twisting her hands together in a rare display of anxiety. “I zink zat means it’s time, doesn’t it?”

“It’ll be fine. And no matter what, you know we’re always here for you,” Alice said, helping her friend up off the floor and hugging her tightly. “I didn’t mention to mother and father that there was a Portkey on the estate. They’d have thrown a fit about the Ministry thinking they can step foot onto their property, or something along those lines. You go down to Sirius, and I’ll keep them busy. That way they’ll just think you walked outside of the wards and Apparated off to your Portkey. Just go out the back doors and follow the path that leads to the left through the garden. That’ll take you right to the bench.”

“And you’re sure zat it’s okay if I return late?” Belle asked, not wanting to impose on her friend.

“Of course. I’ve asked an elf to be on the lookout for you. I don’t want you walking back to the house in the dark or anything, so she’ll meet you back at the bench whenever you get here and walk you and Sirius to the house. He can use our fireplace to floo back to the Potters’.”

Belle nodded, and she knew her eyes must’ve looked pathetically scared, because Alice pulled her in for another tight hug.

“Thank you, Alice,” Belle whispered before Alice ushered her out to the room and down the stairs.

They parted ways on the main floor, where Alice went to distract her parents. The closer she got to the family room, knowing Sirius would be waiting there, the slower her feet seemed to move. She knew she was doing the right thing, going to France. Deep inside her heart, she was sure of it. She couldn’t keep making herself feel like it had all been her fault. She needed some sort of closure, some way to tell them that she was done. She was never coming back, and what they’d done to her, how they treated her, had nearly ruined her.

If she hadn’t found Lily and Alice... well, if they wouldn’t have badgered her into eating with them at the Gryffindor table, she truly had no idea where she’d be. She probably would have started convincing herself that running away to Hogwarts was a mistake. She would have gotten lonely, and let her mind forget about all the terrible things her family did. Maybe she’d have lasted a month until she went back home, back to the life where she was nothing but a porcelain doll meant to look pretty and stay silent.

Yes, she was certain that without the friendship that Alice and Lily had given her, she wouldn’t be here.

She’d never have gotten this close to Sirius.

She would probably already be betrothed to a boring man who enjoyed keeping playthings on the side. She’d have ended up as the Lady to a large manor with a husband who didn’t care for anything but her looks, and a life that would have suffocated her to death.

But she didn’t have to be that. And she never would be.

“Hey there,” Sirius said reaching a hand out to her as she stepped into the room. His eyes were steady. The look he gave her was neither one of nerves nor sympathy. Thank God. She couldn’t handle any more sympathy, or any more doubts piled on top of her own.

She took his hand and let him pull her into a tight hug. This wasn’t new for them, but each time he hugged her she was surprised at how easy it was. She didn’t back away from the physical contact − something she’d done with Christophe. She didn’t feel like she was supposed to say something dumb and charming about how strong his arms felt, like her mother always instructed her to do.

Though he did have very strong arms.

“Zank you again for coming,” Belle said after he eased his grip.

“I already told you, there will be none of that. I’m coming because I want to. You don’t need to thank me for doing something that I want to do.”

Belle smirked at him, wanting to match his playful attitude. But on the inside, a heavy weight seemed to lighten by just a fraction. She hoped he was telling her the truth.

“Alice is distracting ‘er parents. Something about zem not knowing ze Portkey was put on zeir estate.”

“Well then, I believe it’s time we go. The Portkey leaves at noon, right?”

“Yes, in just under ‘alf an ‘our.”

“Belle,” Sirius said as they began walking toward the back of the house, stopping in his tracks and drilling her eyes with his. “You can do this. It’s going to be fine. Yeah?”

She let out a deep sigh, then placed her small hands on his shoulder and stood up on her tip toes. “Thank you,” she whispered, touching her lips gently to his cheek. The feeling of his stubble grazing her soft flesh sent a shiver through her, and she lowered herself back down before she let the friendly kiss on the cheek become something more.

If everything went okay today, if she still felt like herself when it was all over, maybe then she could think more about Sirius and the real kind of kiss she wanted to give him.

But first, it was time to face her ghosts.

She could do this.

As always, thank you to my wonderful beta, CambAngst ♥

Chapter 21: When Past Collides With Present
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Perfect CI by heartfelt. @ TDA
Chapter 21 - When Past Collides With Present
Lily stepped into the small bathroom, leaning her body against the door the second it closed and letting out a sigh. They’d been lucky on their journey to Swansea; everything had gone smoothly. Their check-in had been uneventful thanks to Mrs Potter, who had helped Lily to transfigure her Apparation license into a driver's license. And she’d even held her tongue when James insisted on paying for the room, knowing he couldn’t be talked out of it.

Her lips curved into a smile as she stepped over to the shower and pulled the faucet up. James had been so sweet when he’d suggested buying himself a second room, but it seemed silly to get two instead of the one with double beds. It was just like the Heads’ Quarters, only there was no wall separating them as they slept. And it saved him from paying another eighty pounds.

The sound of laughter slipped into the bathroom. Lily was sure that James was still playing with the lamps. He’d been amazed by electricity since the moment they arrived; he’d even tried to show Butterscotch how one little flick could turn the light on. Too bad for James that kittens could care less about the boring happenings of the human world. Not when there were so many strings to find and small areas to explore.

She slipped off her clothes and stepped under the steaming water, her tired body relishing in the feel of it. It was just after four o’clock, and that gave them a few hours until they met Petunia down in the restaurant attached to the Inn. Maybe they could go explore the town a bit? Butterscotch would probably want to go out and stretch his legs. Or maybe they should just stay in the hotel, and she could hyperventilate for a few hours. That definitely seemed like the best idea, considering the amount of anxiety fizzing around inside her. She knew she’d be nervous to see her sister again, but now that it was getting so close, she couldn’t believe just how nervous.

James had been able to distract her for most of the train ride. They’d talked about school, about his family, bits and pieces of hers. She’d told him about the summer that they visited some of her mum’s distant cousins in Ireland, and how much she loved it there. James had even made a comment about how fun it would be to go there for a graduation trip with the whole group.

How was it possible they were not only on a trip together, but already talking of more?

Lily finished rinsing her hair as she let her thoughts circle around that. It wasn’t like anything between them had moved incredibly fast... it was just so strange to think of where she and James were with their relationship. Even when she’d realized that she liked him in the beginning of the year, she never thought they’d feel this... serious.

Not that he’d dropped down to one knee and confessed his undying love or anything. Well, not in the last few years, at least. In fact, neither of them had even brought up the L word. It was way too soon. But that didn’t change the fact that it still felt so serious to Lily. Maybe it was because she knew this wouldn’t be just a temporary type of boyfriend. They wouldn’t date for a few months, realize they had nothing in common, then part amicably. It was James. It wasn’t the same as the beginning of most relationships, because they already knew so much about each other. Maybe that’s what made it feel different... the fact that there didn’t seem to be the sort of awkwardness that the first month or so of dating someone usually held. They didn’t have to play any games to make sure one of them really did like the other.

She stepped from the bath and toweled her body off, glancing at herself in the mirror. Suddenly, she became very aware of how she looked without clothes on. Or, more specifically, how someone else would think she’d look without clothes on.

It wasn’t as if anyone was going to see that anytime soon. But that didn’t stop her from thinking about it. Eventually, well, if she and James did stay together, he’d see her naked. Not tonight, of course. But eventually.

She glanced over her body again before closing the towel. She wasn’t someone out of the racy photos in the Witches Gone Wild magazine, but she still thought she had a rather cute body. Normal, but cute.

She stopped in the middle of pulling her pajamas on (she didn’t want to risk wrinkling the clothes she’d picked out for dinner) and shook her head. How on earth had she gone from thinking about what the evening would be like to how she looked naked?

God, Lily. Get a grip. For now, she just needed to concentrate on getting through tonight.

She cleaned up the water puddles she’d created throughout the bathroom, then grabbed her things and opened the door.

“Okay, the shower is all yours,” she started, before realizing that it was entirely too quiet. “James?” she said softly, tiptoeing to the bed that he was stretched out over, Butterscotch curled up above his head.

“Nap,” he muttered, obviously half asleep. “Long train ride.”

She covered her mouth, stifling a giggle, and moved to turn away from the bed when his arm snaked out and wrapped around her waist.

“Nap time for you too,” he mumbled, pulling her onto the bed. She was about to argue, but the warmth radiating off of him and the soft blanket he was pulling over her were too much, and suddenly she realized just how tired she was.

“Let me at least set an alarm,” she mumbled, then leaned over and fiddled with the clock placed on the nightstand. Thirty minutes should be more than enough for a nap.

“I hate alarms,” he complained, but waited for her to finish before pulling her back into him and nuzzling his head against her neck. “You smell good.”

James’s easy presence relaxed her, but it wasn’t enough to completely diminish her anxiety about the evening. What if Petunia didn’t even remember the dinner, and they waited for hours but the almost newlyweds never showed up? What if they did show up, but no one spoke the entire time? Or if-

“Lily, I can hear you thinking from over here,” James mumbled. “Wanna talk about it?”

She was about to say no, to tell him to sleep, but instead she found herself nodding. “I’m just worried it will go poorly,” she admitted, though she supposed James was more than aware of that.

“We’re going to go have dinner with your sister tonight. I’ll be nice, and I won’t make mean jokes or turn her into a weasel. You’ll be your normal sweet self. What could go wrong?”

“I could accidentally bring up something about magic, and then she’d get angry and her fiancé would probably get angry and everyone would be angry. Or she might forget to come. Or she’ll-”

“I promise, no matter what happens, it’ll be okay,” James assured her, hugging her body tightly.

“But James, last time I really spoke to her, even before the funeral things went badly.” She hadn’t meant for her voice to sound so unsteady, but she knew it did.

“What happened?”

Did she really want to get into all this? She knew she was the one who brought it up...but maybe she shouldn’t have. Though, as much as she tried to ignore the memories, they still felt so alive in her mind. Maybe talking to James about it would help.

She took a slow breath before speaking, wanting to sound much stronger than she felt. “When we were in the hospital, after our parents passed and we had to talk to the doctors and identify the bodies, Petunia asked for a minute alone with me.” Lily blinked back the sensation of tears, and tried to focus on the feel of James’s calloused hands rubbing through her still damp hair. “And she begged me to fix them, James. It was the first time we talked about my magic since before fifth year. And she, she started crying more, and she told me that she knew my teacher could turn into a cat, and she knew that bones could be fixed with a potion. She must’ve been paying attention in the past when I talked to my parents. And she...”

Lily closed her eyes tightly, trying not to see the memory of her sister’s desperate face, dark eyes rimmed red from tears. “She just kept begging me. I told her I couldn’t, that there was no spell, no potion, nothing to bring someone back from the dead. But she just kept crying, and just kept begging.” Lily’s voice was barely audible, the salty tears no longer captive behind her green eyes.

“Lily,” James whispered, pulling her tighter into him. “You couldn’t help them, Lily. No one could have, not even Dumbledore. You can’t feel bad about something that you had no control over. Your sister has to realize that.”

“I didn’t think she’d ever talk to me again, James. She stomped out of the hospital, I tried to chase her but she wouldn’t stop. And now that we’re here, that this is all happening, part of me thinks maybe she will forgive me, but I don’t even want to hope that, because what if I’m wrong?”

“Listen to me, Lily Evans,” James began, leaning up on his elbow. “There is nothing to forgive you for. You would have done anything if you could have, and she knows that.”

Lily nodded, wiping the fat drops from her face. The only person she’d ever shared that story with was Alice, and it had been so hard that she was certain she’d never talk about it again. But having James know everything about what happened between her and Petunia was like lifting a suffocating weight off of her chest.



“Thanks for coming.”

James didn’t answer, instead he curled himself back around Lily, grabbing Butterscotch from the pillow and tucking the kitten under her arm. Between the small ball of fur cuddled against the front of her, and the warm body wrapped around her, she felt her eyes grow heavy once more. Yes, she definitely needed a nap before this evening.

“We’re just a few minutes from ze ‘ouse,” Belle said, running a hand through her hair as she shook out the uncomfortable feeling the Portkey left behind. “It’s not too late for you to turn around and run,” she added, raising an eyebrow at Sirius.

“You know, maybe I’ll take you up on that. Just give me this Christophe bloke’s address, and I’ll be off.” Belle rolled her eyes at the boy, but still she felt her lips curve into a smile. She pulled her cloak tighter around herself, trying to ward off the December wind. The Portkey had dropped them off at a private park, and from there they could have Apparated directly to Belle’s parents’ front lawn. This was a small area with only four other estates, and they were all owned by magical families. But she needed the few minutes of walking to steady her nerves.

“So,” Sirius started as his pace evened out with Belle’s. “We’ll get on with the fake pleasantries, then after dinner it will be time?” Belle nodded, relieved that she didn’t have to explain to Sirius why things had to work like this. He’d grown up in this lifestyle, he understood.



“You’re brave, you know.”

She glanced up at him, her gaze meeting his, and felt herself calm down by just a fraction when he slipped his much larger hand into hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

She tried not to glance around too much, but she couldn’t help it. So many memories had been made there. Walking with her sister to and from the very park that she and Sirius had just left. Playing tag with some of the younger kids until it got too dark and the house elves came to collect them and bring them back home.

Maybe things with her family hadn’t ended well, but they weren’t always bad. While her parents had never been anything but cold, she still had friends to play with, delicious picnics to eat on Sunday afternoons, people to run around in the snow with when their tutors deemed it too dreary outside to study. Plenty of things other children dreamed of having.

“You know,” Sirius began, distracting her from her thoughts. “When I first started spending a lot of time around the Potters, and would go to their house during summers and stuff, things were really different for me. I can remember this one time when Olivia and William were talking about a Quidditch player that I’d never cared for. I was still pretty young then, it was the summer before third year, and I hadn’t spent a ton of time with either one of James’s parents up to that point.

“William asked me what I thought about the player, and I said I liked him. I didn’t, but I was so used to adults getting angry at me if I disagreed with them, and I really didn’t want James’s mum and dad to hate me. Anyway, I don’t remember what happened after that. I s’pose we just went on with our day.” Sirius paused, and Belle glanced up, surprised to see him looking off at nowhere in particular. He wasn’t one to usually get lost in his own thoughts.

“And zen?” she prompted, impatient to hear the rest of the story. He looked down at her, and used his free hand to tuck a stray hair behind her ear before continuing.

“And then, when James and I were getting ready for bed Olivia came into James’s room and asked him to go help his dad with something downstairs. I got nervous, because I’d never been around just his parents without him. Olivia sat me down and told me that she knew I didn’t like the Quidditch player, and that I just said that to please William. She said that I had my own brain for a reason, my own opinions, and I was never to feel like I shouldn’t share those. If I didn’t agree with something, or didn’t like something, then I needed to say it.” He stopped again, his lips curving into a smirk. “As long as it didn’t have anything to do with her cooking, I could have all the opinions in the world.”

Belle had to resist the urge to lace her arms around Sirius. It was so easy to picture him as a young boy, trying to put on a tough appearance but so full of hurt and broken pieces.

“They took a lot of things from you, Belle,” Sirius continued as they made their way closer toward the estate. “Just like my mum and dad took a lot of things from me. They would have given me plenty: all the money I’d ever need; the respect of the most elite people in wizarding society.... but it wasn’t worth what they were taking. Your parents can still give you plenty. But before we go in that house, I want you to think about how much of you they’d strip away, who they’d turn you into, in trade for those things they’d give.”

Belle nodded and almost closed her eyes as the front of the red brick house came into view. All she wanted was to turn to Sirius and beg him to take her back Britain, where she could continue pretending her past didn’t bother her. If she tried hard enough, she knew she could convince him. But then she’d be left feeling like this for years, probably for the rest of her life.

“Sirius?” she whispered as they came to a stop at the towering, wrought iron gate. “Don’t let me give zem any more parts of myself today. I can’t ‘andle losing more.” She met his gaze as she spoke, knowing she was showing more fragility than she’d ever been comfortable with. His smoky eyes were softer than usual, every trace of laughter that typically lived in them absent.

“They’re not taking anything from you today, Belle. You’re getting something back.”

And with that, he bent down and pressed his lips lightly to her cheek, letting them linger for just a moment before backing away. The heat they left was still tingling as they turned to the gate walked through it, hand in hand.

The dimly lit hallways made James want to pull his wand out. Although, considering it was now hidden carefully in his sock under the leg of his black dress trousers, it would be a bit more difficult to get to. He was happy Lily had agreed that they should take their wands, though. She’d told him that hers was hidden on her as well, but as he glanced down at her, he couldn’t imagine where. Her jumper was tight enough that he’d see it bulging out from somewhere. She probably did something sneaky with it, like transfigured it into one of her own fingers so she could just go shooting spells if necessary.

“What are you chuckling about?” Lily asked, glancing up at him, her cheeks were still the same shade of pink they’d been for the last half hour. Poor Lily had no hope at all of hiding her nerves.

“I’m just imagining you shooting spells from your fingertips, is all,” he answered honestly, chuckling even more at the look she gave him before continuing forward.

James tried to focus on what it would take to make sure everything went okay this evening. He hadn’t been sure if it was even possible for him to dislike Petunia Evans any more than he already did, but after the story Lily had told him earlier, he was certain he’d surpassed even his own expectations. He knew that not matter what, he’d never be happy about spending time with the girl. She’d done too much to Lily. But he could at least figure out how to be polite for the evening, if it meant seeing that big smile spread across his girlfriend’s face.

James glanced down at Lily again, and resisted the urge to kiss the top of her head. She’d sprayed something on her red strands right before they left, and he’d made the mistake of touching the top of the bottle only to find out it was some hard, sticky substance. Hairspray was what Lily called it. Not a very creative term... he wondered who came up with it. Well, he wouldn’t be testing its abilities by kissing the hair that was coated with it.

“That’s it,” Lily said, glancing at a restaurant connected to their Inn. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Well, you’ve been starving me all night promising me dinner,” James joked, but he stopped her before she could walk any further. “Lily, everything is going to be okay.” He leaned down and met her soft, gentle lips with his. He’d grown more familiar with the sensation of kissing her over the last month, but that didn’t stop his head from spinning. She was the first to break the kiss, and James had to give himself credit for not throwing her over his shoulder and carrying her back to their room so they could spend the rest of the night snogging.

“You ready for this?” she asked, smiling at him. Her eyes still betrayed her nerves, but he knew the red in her cheeks was now from something entirely different.

They walked to the woman who was standing behind a podium, clipboard in hand.

“We’re meeting my sister, Petunia Evans. I’m not sure if we have reservations,” Lily said as the woman glanced back down to her list. James felt an odd sense of pride at the way Lily managed to sound so confident, even when he knew that right now she felt anything but.

“Ah, yes,” the woman said. “Petunia Evans and Vernon Dursley have already arrived. If you just follow me, I’ll be happy to lead the way.”

James felt Lily’s hand clamp tighter around his, and he couldn’t help but wonder what this bloke would be like. Vernon hadn’t been at the funeral, so neither of them even had an idea of what he looked like. With a name like Vernon, James wasn’t expecting much.

They began weaving through the restaurant, the smell of steak and seafood reminding James of how hungry he really was. He kept his grip tight on Lily’s hand, knowing they couldn’t be more than a few steps away from wherever her sister was sitting.

“It’s the table just back there next to the window,” the lady said as she stopped.

James followed her finger, and instantly recognized the face of the other Evans sister. Sitting next to her was an overweight man who, James was happy to say, truly looked like he deserved the name Vernon. See, he hadn’t been judging someone just by their name. He had good instincts, that’s what it was.

“Hello, Petunia,” Lily greeted as they reached the table. James was genuinely impressed with how smooth Lily was able to make her tone sound.

“Lily. This is my fiancé, Vernon Dursley.”

“Nice to meet you, Vernon. This is my boyfriend, James Potter.”

Boyfriend. He’d never heard her say it out loud. He smiled his best charming smile and shook their hands before pulling out Lily’s chair. See, they were off to a good start. The evening would go perfectly fine.

Belle laced her fingers together, keeping them from fidgeting as she and Sirius stood in the large entrance of the Leclair Estate. A house-elf had already let them in, and Belle knew it would be just seconds until her mother and father came walking through the French doors. They’d be dressed in attire that made it look like they were preparing to dine with royalty, and their faces would be completely emotionless

Before Belle could even finish her mental calculation of what the next few minutes would bring, those very doors were creaking open and an attractive couple came walking in. It was odd, seeing her mother’s face again. It looked so much like her own, so much like her sister’s, but a million times harder than Belle ever wanted to be. Her blue eyes, just a touch lighter than Belle’s, had no laughter dancing in them, no emotions swirling their color. And her father, God could he even be called that? Belle could almost count the number of real conversations she’d had with the blond man. His features were beautiful, like he’d been carved from stone. She remembered being little and thinking how perfect her father looked, how she wanted to fall in love with and marry a man just like him.

Her eyes couldn’t resist darting to her right and resting on the boy just inches from her. His dark hair, as wild as the man it belonged to, was longer than usual, curling up just as the base of his neck. He was nothing she ever thought she’d want. He didn’t control his emotions. He was either sickeningly happy or moody as hell. He always had something to say, always had something going on in that dangerous mind of his.

No, Sirius Black certainly wasn’t the type of man that her younger self ever could have imagined falling for. But, as she compared the idea of the man she used to think she wanted, to the person by her side, she knew she would choose Sirius any day.

The sound of her mother’s heels clicking over the marble floor drew closer, and Belle glanced from Sirius to the couple coming toward them. The two people she was certain she’d never want to become.

“‘Ello, mother,” she said evenly as the woman held out her hands to administer a very false show of affection. “Father,” she added, nodding her head.

“Isabelle.” Had his voice always been so lifeless? Had it been so long since she’d heard her father talk that even his tone sounded odd? “I can’t tell you ‘ow relived I am to ‘ave you in our ‘ome again.”

It was the first knife. The first lie they’d tell to make her believe that she was wanted. She wasn’t. What they wanted was to tie together their image again. To look like France’s perfect family. Their two daughters, both grown and beautiful, to display to the world.

“Yes,” her mother added, nearly pulling her tight lips into a smile. “Nous ignorions que t'avais convié un invité.”*

“Mother, I’d rather we stick to English zis evening. It would be rude to exclude my guest from ze conversation,” Belle said, crossing her arms. She glanced at Sirius, who seemed to be completely at ease.

Her father cleared his throat and sent his wife a warning glare. It was obvious he’d made it clear that she was to be on her best behavior if they wished to bribe their youngest daughter back home. “We just weren’t expecting company other zan you,” he said with a nod to Sirius.

“It was a last minute plan,” Belle lied, though she knew there was no reason for it. She didn’t have to act like she cared about pleasing them. That wasn’t what she was there to do. But she did need to get through dinner. “Zis is my friend, Sirius Black.”

Sirius stepped forward, shaking both their hands. Belle saw her father wince before he was able to cover it, and knew Sirius must’ve been squeezing somewhat harder than necessary.

“Mr. Black, I’m Nathanael, and zis is my wife Claudette. I’m pleased zat my daughter ‘as at least made some respectable acquaintances at zat godawful school of ‘ers. I believe zat my company ‘as done business with a family member of yours years ago when we were working to secure somethings with your Minister of Magic.”

“Yes, that would be my Uncle Cygnus. He used to be quite involved with the Ministry.” The way Sirius said the words sent chills down Belle’s back. She knew whatever he was involved in must not have been good.

“Well zen,” her mother began, the tone of her voice already drilling a headache behind Belle’s eyes. “I’m pleased zat you come from such a prominent family.”

“Yes madam, I do. Although we don’t see each other often.” Oh God, Belle thought, this certainly wasn't going ideally.

Before she could change the subject, her father was already speaking. “Busy with school and working on your future, I trust?”

Sirius paused a moment, like he was actually giving the question a moment’s though. “Not necessary. I think what keeps us from spending more time together is the fact that we draw our wands on each other nearly every time we come into contact. I found it beneficial to cut ties with them long ago. But if I see them again, although I can only wish it won’t be until I’m standing over their graves, I’ll mention that you both send your regards.”

Belle clamped her lips together to keep her mouth shut. This was, without a doubt, the worst way they could have started the evening off, but she still wanted so badly to laugh.

Her mother caught her bearings first, and cleared her throat before addressing them. “I suppose you’ll both want to get cleaned up before we dine. Isabelle, I’m sure you remember where ze guest bathroom is. Your bathroom and room ‘ave both been prepared and are fit for use. We’ll dine in ‘alf an ‘our.”

Belle knew her mother was incredibly close to breaking her control and saying something insulting to Sirius, because she turned around and walked back through the French doors without a second glance.

“Yes, well zen. We’ll see you both shortly for dinner. Isabelle, we’ve asked for your favorite vanilla pudding to be prepared.” And before Belle could so much as nod, her father followed her mother’s lead.

Sirius turned to her, his eyebrow raised. “You hate vanilla. Chocolate’s your favorite.”

“Yes, I do. It’s funny ‘ow you know zat after months with me, and zey’ve had years and still don’t.”

It was a small thing, her father not knowing a food she disliked, but it still reminded her of how little she actually meant to them.

“That’s why I’m standing beside you and get to be part of your life, and that bastard is still wondering what burned his hand when he shook mine.”

Belle almost reprimanded Sirius for using that word to describe her father, but before she could, she realized that it was completely accurate. That’s exactly what he was. And he didn’t deserve to have her defending him. It took a minute for her mind to get across that, and realize what the ending of Sirius’s sentence had been.

“What did...” she started, reaching out and grabbing the boy’s right hand. It didn’t appear any different.

“Just a little charm Mr. Potter taught me,” Sirius said with a wink. “Now, we better go upstairs and get cleaned up. I’m clearly much too dirty to dine like this.” Sirius gestured to his simple black robes, with the Gryffindor crest sewn into them. It was a far cry from her mother's silver and lace ones, or her fathers charcoal colored ones with the sterling silver cufflinks. But she liked him much better like this. At least the torn up Muggle jeans that she was certain were under the robe weren’t visible.

“Come on, Princess,” Sirius said and she realized she hadn’t responded. “Let’s get this show on the road so we can get out of this castle. I say, if we get out of here early enough, we find somewhere to stop for ice cream after.”

Belle felt her eyes light up. The idea of celebrating the cutting of her ties with these people by getting ice cream seemed more than fitting.

She laced her arm through Sirius’s and began leading him up the stairs.

Maybe it was because her parents’ false affection had been so easy to see through, or simply the support Sirius was giving her, but something had her fear switching over to anger. She knew that if she got angry, she could walk out of this house without a single tear being shed. And that’s what she wanted. She had no reason to ever cry over these people again.

As the second floor came into view, a rush of memories flooded into her. She and Adeline sitting at the top stair, trying to listen to the parties their parents would throw. Sneaking snacks up to her room, and always making sure to stop halfway up and peek through the banister to be certain that the coast was clear before darting to her room.

As they stepped onto the second floor, she couldn’t help but walk to her bedroom first. She knew she should have showed Sirius around, but it was too tempting. She creaked the door open, ready to be crushed with a wave of emotion as she remembered all the hours she’d spent there. Instead, she was faced with a sickening feeling that stabbed into her. The room. It was identical to how she used to keep it.

A photo of her and Christophe still sat on the nightstand.

Her school robes were folded neatly on the chair.

It was like they’d thought that if it was still all there, if they forced her to come face to face with the memories, she’d regret walking away from them.

“Belle, let’s go into a different room,” Sirius whispered. She tried to respond, but her eyes were latched onto the moving, laughing photo of herself and another girl. The girl she’d thought she was best friends with for six years. The one who threw the first insult when the entire school found out she was pregnant. But it wasn’t just that one. The pictures, they were everywhere. Different girls, different friends, except their faces weren’t smiling. They were smirking. Their eyes hungry for gossip, their cruel laughter filling the room and drilling into her heart like it had that very day her entire world had fallen apart.

“Belle,” came his voice again as he wrapped his arm around her waist and led her back out of the room.

“I’m sorry,” she began, her previously built up anger diminishing. The shadows of her past took over, holding tightly and pressing the pain back into her. “It’s just... all of zat. Zose pictures, ze robes, I destroyed it all before fleeing to Adeline’s house. I know it’s childish, but I ripped every single picture to shreds and I stuffed everything I had from Beauxbatons in ze back of ze closet.”

“They put all the pictures back together? Hung them back on the walls?” Sirius asked, his voice hardening as she nodded her head.

“I’m so sorry,” she said again, hurt that he had to see her break down like that.

You’re sorry?” he asked, anger filling his words. She glanced into his eyes, surprised at the rage that burned so visibly in them. “You’re sorry? You have nothing to be sorry about! Those sick fucks knew you were coming, Belle. They did that so you’d have to go in there and come face to face with every reminder you struggled to get away from!” He turned from her, his voice nearly yelling now, and gripped hard onto the wooden banister. She was sure he was struggling to keep his hand there, to stop it from going into the wall.

“Those stupid bastards think they can screw with you like that? Make you hurt so much that, what, you’ll decide you should stay to get it all back?” He stepped farther away from her, and before she realized what he was doing, he began stomping down the stairs.

“Sirius, where are you going?”

“To end this bloody charade and get you the fuck out of this house,” he shouted, not even turning around. “I’m not going to sit back and watch your mind get screwed with all night.”

She rushed after him down the stairs, ignoring the drumming of her heart, and tried to catch up with him before he got to the French doors. “You can’t do it zis way, Sirius!”

He stepped halfway to the door and turned around to face her. “Fine. If you don’t want me to do it, you’re going to. You’re going to tell those stupid, worthless pieces of shit what a bunch of nutters they are. And then we’re going to leave.” She watched as he tried to struggle with his own self control, but he was losing. His hand was shaking as it reached to grab hers.

“Zey may not ‘ave known how I would react. Maybe zey zought it would be a nice gesture to put zings back how zey were before everything ‘appened,” she whispered, wanting to hold onto a shred of hope that they was still some good in her parents.

“Belle,” he began, massaging the palm of her hand with his thumb. She was sure the gesture was to calm himself down, and not her. “Belle, does any part of you really believe that?”

Belle thought about his question. Her mother may be a pathetic woman, but she was smart. Terrifyingly so. Did she believe Claudette would overlook any small detail about her visit? Did she believe the woman was above using any sort of tactic to get her emotional enough to stay? God, she wanted to. She wanted to think that she could talk to her parents like adults, get all her pain out there, then her and Sirius would leave and maybe years down the road, burnt bridges could be mended. But they couldn’t do that. They couldn’t handle her thinking for herself, so they’d tried to remind her of all the things she had in this house, all the things she lost, hoping she’d fall back into them.

“No,” she finally whispered. It was a small word, but something in it lit her own fire. Because she didn’t believe that. She knew they wanted to hurt her. They wanted to hurt her so bad that she’d have no choice but to need them. And who the hell actually tried to hurt their own child? The crippling heartache she’d felt moments ago started transforming back into the rage, and she knew Sirius was right. It was time to stop playing their games.

She nodded her head a fraction, then stepped to his side and slid her fingers into his. She needed every ounce of support she could get. Her hand gripped the cold metal door handle, and before she could change her mind, she pushed it open. She led Sirius through the main area of the house, knowing they’d be tucked into the study. They were only a few steps away when she heard a voice, one that belonged to neither her mother nor her father.

It’d been months since she heard it last, but she’d recognize it anywhere. She froze up, her body turning to lead. Sirius tugged at her, and she had no choice but to follow, praying silently that her ears were deceiving her. As they took the final step into the study, a boy stood brushing off his robes, still covered in the ash from the Floo.

He looked up at her, and a smile crept over his face.

“‘Ello Isabelle, it’s been ages.”

She couldn’t answer, her tongue threatening to suffocate her. She ordered her mind to shut down and tried to ignore the sound of her heartbeat, so loud it might as well have been a canon going off.

She met his eyes, though it almost killed her to do so, before saying as confidently as she could, “Hello Christophe.”

Sirius let Belle’s hand drop from his, and curled his fingers into fists. Every part of him wanted to launch his body at the thing standing in front of them, but he managed to keep his feet in their place. At least until they learned whether this coward was here to grovel at Belle’s feet as he should be doing.

“Mother, father, what’s going on?” Belle asked, and he felt his self control slip farther away at the shaky tone of her voice.

“Well,” Mrs. Leclair began, crossing her arms like she was insulted that her daughter would speak to her that way. She was about to be a hell of a lot more insulted when Sirius lost all of the control he was managing to hold onto and broke a man’s face open on their precious white carpet.

“I zink it’s fairly obvious,” the bastard interrupted, his voice sounding just as pathetic as Sirius would have imagined. “Isabelle, your parents are concerned about your future and requested zat I come by and talk some sense into you. Just because I ‘aven’t forgiven you for what you tried to do to me, doesn’t mean I want to see you throw away all ze ‘ard work Mr. and Mrs. Leclair put into you by running off with zis classless, greasy animal.”

The insult that was thrown at Sirius barely even registered. He was already too suffocated in the sound of his own blood pumping through him. “You don’t forgive her?” he began, taking a step closer to Christophe and shaking Belle’s small hand off of his forearm. “You don’t forgive her for trying to clean up the fucking mess you left her in?” His hands were no longer responding to his attempts at keeping them in his pockets. One snaked out and grabbed the front of the worthless bastard’s robes, pulling him so close that their noses were just inches away. The other held his wand steadily to his throat. “You don’t forgive her for having to stand up for herself when no one else would?”

“Excuse me,” the bastard started, trying to cover the quiver in his voice. “I don’t believe zis is any of your concern.”

“Sirius,” came Belle’s voice, but even that wasn’t enough to pull him back.

“You don’t, do you?” he asked, his tone sounding terrifying even to his own ears.

“Look ‘ere,” Mr. Leclair bellowed. “I want you to release zat young man zis instant!”

Part of Sirius wanted to dare the spineless man to come over here and try to make him, but he was too focused on what was in front of him.

“Look, whatever she ‘as told you,” began the pathetic creature under his grasp, his tone nearly begging Sirius to listen. “She’s lying. Zat’s what she does. She’s always done zat, and what you zink you’re about to do isn’t worth it, not for ‘er.”

Nothing the boy said in that moment could have been worse.

Sirius released his grip on the robes, and lowered his wand a fraction. He saw a small flash of relief go through Christophe’s eyes, like he thought he’d said the right thing to calm the enraged man down. But that was proven wrong in an instant as Sirius’s large fist went crashing into the bastards face.

“Stop!” Claudette Leclair cried as the blond boy’s body spiraled to the ground.

Sirius moved to pull him back up, just to hit him and watch him collapse again. But before he could, a jet of sparks went flying by him.

“Mother!” Belle shouted, and Sirius turned around just in time to see her pulling out her own wand and pointing it at her mother’s face. “Drop your wand, now. Sirius, let’s go.”

Sirius glanced down at the pile of shaking bones curled onto the ground. He wouldn’t have turned down getting a few more punches in, but he supposed he’d done good enough work.

“Isabelle Leclair you will not zink of stepping foot out of zis ‘ouse with zat maniac!”

Sirius thought Belle would simply ignore her deranged mother’s order, but instead she lowered her wand, and hooked eyes with the woman.

“Maniac?” Belle started, ice coating her words. “‘E’s ze maniac for sticking up for me? For defending me when none of you ‘ad ze courage to do so?” Belle stepped closer to her mother, a kind of confidence radiating off of her that had been absent all evening. “‘E’s ze one in ze wrong for doing what you were too useless to do, and defend your own daughter? Zat poor excuse of a ‘uman being,” she pointed down at Christophe, “left me when I needed someone ze most, and zat’s bad enough. But you turned your backs on me, you turned your backs on your own child! And I ‘ope you never forgive yourself for zat.”

As if in slow motion, Sirius watched the scene play out in front of him. Before he could so much as move to stop it, the sound of flesh meeting flesh was already ringing through the room.

Lily took another large gulp of her water before trying once again to keep the conversation afloat. It felt like they’d ordered their food hours ago, but she knew it couldn't have been more than twenty minutes.

“Well, you see,” Vernon started, and Lily wanted to plug her ears. The man had done nothing but make himself sound like a pompous git all evening. She glanced up at him as he took a swig of beer and wiped a few loose dribbles off his face before continuing. “It won’t be long now until I get moved over to Grunnings. And with the salary that is attached to that, I’ll be more than able to purchase a house that’s much more suitable than the flat we’re living in. I think, if we’re speaking frankly here, it’ll be much nicer than anything most people can afford. I’d be able to purchase it sooner, if I hadn’t already put such a large sum down for my Ford Capri. But that baby’s not even a year old, newest on the market.”

“And Ford, that’s a car model, right?” James asked. Lily felt extremely grateful for how much effort he was putting into keeping things moving along. She and Petunia had barely even spoken to one another. Each time she tried, her sister would make a comment about Vernon, and that would get the big oaf talking again about himself.

“Well, of course it’s a car! What else could it be?” He threw his hands onto the table and laughed heartily. Lily was desperate not to see the glances that were being thrown their way, and instead averted her eyes out the window that the table was nestled against.

“Well, Vernon,” Petunia began, her tone silky enough to make Lily want to vomit. Good gracious, how could she even stand the man, let alone talk so sweetly to him? “James may not be about to afford a car, so he wouldn’t know the makes and models.” Lily snapped her eyes from the window to her sister. James had been nothing but agreeable all evening. Why did Petunia have to keep throwing jabs at him?

“Well,” James began, and Lily could hear the relaxed tone of his voice betray hints of annoyance. “It’s not that I can’t afford a car, we just don’t have much use for them.”

“Not much use for a car?” Vernon’s beady eyes were full of mockery, and Lily struggled to try and change the subject.

“So are you guys planning on buying a house soon after the wedding, then?” she asked, meeting Petunia’s gaze. It was odd, looking into the face of someone you’d grown up with and barely feeling like you recognized them. It wasn’t even just Petunia’s looks that had changed. Sure, she’d lightened her dark hair a bit so it was growing closer to blonde, and she was wearing these terrible, huge pearl earrings that reminded Lily of the style elderly woman wear. It was more than that. Something just felt so unfamiliar about the woman.

“Well of course, it’s the proper thing to do,” Petunia said, rolling her eyes like she couldn’t believe Lily would ask such a silly question. “And besides, we’ll want to start a family rather soon after, and you can’t really raise a child in a flat, now can you?”

A family? Her sister was actually going to have a child with this man? The thought of it made Lily’s stomach churn.

“Now Petunia,” Vernon bellowed. “Just because we don’t think it’s proper to raise a child in a flat, doesn’t mean that’s true for everyone. For all you know, James here could have been raised in one!”

Lily glanced again at her sister, hoping so much that her pleading look would be enough to get Tuney to shut her git of a fiancé up. James might be tolerant, but he wouldn’t handle being insulted all night, and the last thing Lily wanted was for this evening to end on a dramatic note.

Just as James started speaking, their waitress stepped over with entrees in hand. Thank God. Now maybe Vernon could get some food in his mouth and that would prevent him from talking.

“Thank you,” Lily said, as the woman slid a plate in front of her, then moved to James. He nodded at her, thanking her as well, and their waitress’s cheeks flickered to pink.

“And you ordered the rack of lamb,” she said, continuing over to Vernon, the flush of color instantly fading.

“Hmph,” he started, and Lily wanted to bang her head on the table. “I ordered a rack of lamb. There’s nothing on this. Couldn’t even feed a child.” Lily felt herself wanting to shout at him that the waitress doesn’t control the food portions, and that he hand plenty of food right in front of his face.

“I think that’s just the average size of our portions, sir,” the young brunette said as she placed Petunia’s entree down, her eyes glancing nervously around.

“I guess there are some places that have to make all their money by cheating people out of a proper meal, eh?”

“Vernon,” Lily started as pleasantly as she was able. “I’m sure we’re all more than happy to share if you’re still hungry.” Lily glanced at the waitress and nodded her head to the side. The girl took her cue and hurried off, probably to beg another server to take their table.

“Take food from you both? Well, good god, the boy can’t even afford a car and was raised in a flat! I’m not going to take one of the only decent meals he may eat for the next while out from under him!”

“Excuse me,” James began, a dangerous edge clipping his words. Lily struggled to think of a way to smooth it over. All they had to do was finish eating and pay the bill, then they’d be done. But before she was able to distract him, James was already continuing.

“I very well was not raised in a flat. My parents’ home could probably fit ten of whatever house you plan on purchasing inside of it. And even if I was raised in a flat, I still wouldn’t be half as much of an arse as you are.” He kept his gaze steady on the pink faced man across from him, and Lily felt like he was daring Vernon to challenge what he said. The silence hung through the air, and Lily risked a glance at her sister. Oh god. She had tears in her eyes. What on earth did Petunia have to be upset about, Lily wondered angrily. Maybe she was upset because, in less than twenty-four hours, she’d be marrying the world’s most intolerable man.

Just when it seemed Vernon had found his voice and cleared his throat, a white glow on the outside of the window distracted them. Lily looked over, and was certain her heart stopped. Standing on the outside and facing into a restaurant full of Muggles was a glowing, white dog that Lily knew without a doubt was Sirius’s Patronus. The creature lifted his paw, and scratched at the window. James jumped from his chair and took off in the direction of the exit. Lily’s heart constricted, and she hoped to God Sirius was just playing some sort of terrible prank and nothing was wrong.

With her worry about why the dog was there, she’d nearly forgotten about her sister sitting across from her until Petunia’s sharp voice bit through the silence.

“What on earth is that thing?”

Sirius sat on the bench, Belle nestled under his arm with his cloak tucked over her like a blanket. Sirius was still playing out their departure from the mansion in his mind. It’d been nothing but a chaotic blur. Claudette had lost every bit of her control the second Belle had stood up to her, the deep red mark printed on the young girl’s face was proof of that. Sirius didn’t know whether he was more angry at Claudette for giving it to her, or more proud of Belle for not even showing the woman one ounce of weakness.

“‘Ee just laid zere. ‘E was too scared to even get up and fight,” Belle said, giggling. Sirius thought she might have lost it after all the stress of the evening, because all she’d done was go back over how brilliant watching Christophe getting knocked to the ground had been. He agreed, of course, and would cherish the aching feeling in his knuckles from delivering that punch for as long as it lasted. But his nerves, his emotions were still too raw to really enjoy it. It’d taken all his self control not to pull his wand out and curse the fuck out of that woman. What he needed more than anything right now was for someone to talk him down. He needed to hear that he’d done the right thing by getting Belle out. He needed James.

He knew that he’d probably screwed up the dinner with Lily’s sister. If it was still going on. But he just hoped his Patronus had been able to find his best mate, because he didn’t think he could handle not seeing him right now. And he needed to get Belle somewhere safe. He knew there wasn’t much of a chance that her parents would try and get the authorities involved, which was the only benefit of Mrs. Leclair raising her hand to her daughter. Now they could twist the story around and plead self defense. But just because there wasn’t a large chance, didn’t mean there wasn’t any.

They just needed to get safely back. He needed to see James; Belle needed to see Lily; and he wanted to crack open the bottle of Bordeaux wine that he’d lifted from Leclair’s mansion.

“Look,” Belle whispered, pointing at a glowing object as it moved closer. Sirius could just make out the antlers. The noiseless hooves sped closer, until it was close enough to reach out and pet. Sirius let out the breath that’d been stuck in his chest. That was the farthest they’d ever sent their magic before, and even if he hadn’t voiced it, he’d been terrified it wouldn’t make it.

“We’re at the Seaside Inn. Take the Portkey to Alice’s, Floo to my parents and get your bike. It’s too far to Apparate.”

Sirius felt a small panic try and wash through him, but quickly drowned it out. He hadn’t been on his bike since the accident with Lily’s parents. The machine had been too hard to even look at, so William stored it at their house.

But right now it was their best option, and he’d make it work.

“Sirius,” Belle whispered, and he glanced down at her. The sky was nearly dark, but he could still make out the glow of her eyes. He lifted the arm that was curled around her and gently touched the place where her mother’s hand had collided into her cheek. Before he could stop himself, he lowered his head down and touched a soft kiss to the delicate bone.

“I should have stopped her somehow,” he mumbled, a heavy feeling of failure building up in him.

“Sirius Black. Don’t take zis away for me. I made ‘er angry enough to break ‘er perfectly built control and actually slap me.” She let another giggle bubble through her throat, and Sirius decided that whether she was losing it or not, he didn’t care. He was just happy she wasn’t crying.

“But Sirius,” she started again, her tone somber. “I can’t ‘andle being back at Alice’s home right now. Not zat I don’t love ‘er, but I just can’t do it. It’s too much like that one.” She nodded her head in the direction of her family’s estate.

“Don’t worry, you’re coming to Swansea with me. We’ll stay there with Lily and James tonight, and head back to the Potters’ tomorrow. Then if you’re still not ready to go back to Alice’s, you know you can stay there.”

“But zen Alice would be lonely.”

A snort of laughter escaped Sirius, and Belle shifted to look up at him. He was sure she was glaring. “Belle, Alice usually spends the entire break at Frank and Augusta’s. Her parents pretend she’s up in her room, but she usually just comes home once every few days.”

“Why didn’t she say anything?” Belle asked.

“I’m sure she just wanted you to have a place to stay. Your other option was with us at James’s, but I don’t think she wanted you to feel like you had to stay with us.”

“Why wouldn’t I want to stay with you all?”

Sirius paused for a second before answering. He knew why Alice gave Belle another option. The girl was a genius; she could see through people faster than anyone he knew. Which is why he was certain that Alice realized if Belle wasn’t constantly around him, maybe that’d give her the chance to miss him and want to be around him. Really, Alice was basically just a puppeteer pulling all their strings until they paired off according to her plan. But considering her plans were always the best, he didn’t have too much of a problem with that.

Sirius took a slow break before answering. “Alice was probably worried about you being stuck there because she knows me. And she knows it wouldn’t be too long until I couldn’t resist doing this...” He never thought his actions through first, maybe if he would have, he’d have decided now wasn’t the best time to create a first kiss. After they’d both just been through hell and were more on edge than ever. But he didn’t think about any of that, instead he acted on what he wanted, and leaned into Belle. Everything else faded away as he become completely lost in the taste of her kiss.

Thank you guys so much for getting through this massive chapter! As always, thank you to my awesome beta, CambAngst!

I've been really excited to post this one. What did you guys think? Was the length a killer?

*Witches Gone Wild is a play off of the title Girls Gone Wild, created by Joe Fracis.
* translates to - We weren't aware you invited a guest. At least, that's what Google Translator told me.

Chapter 22: Holding On To You
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Incredible CI by heartfelt. @TDA
Chapter 22 - Holding On To You

Lily took the glass bottle from Sirius and tipped the opening into her mouth, letting a large gulp of wine slip down her throat.

“And zen,” Belle continued, “we left. Zey didn’t even speak as we walked out, just stood zere.”

“You should have seen her,” Sirius said, smiling as he glanced at the blonde to his right. Lily knew that they probably looked silly, a group of fully grown witches and wizards all sitting cross-legged in a circle on the bed, but she didn’t care. In fact, she was too full of the delicious liquid to care about much of anything.

“Well, you weren’t ‘alf bad yourself, I suppose,” Belle joked. The look that passed between them was as subtle as fireworks. Even if Belle wouldn’t have already told Lily that they’d kissed, she’d have figured it out just by the way their eyes simmered over each other.

“So,” Sirius started, “now it’s your turn. You guys fill us in.”

She glanced at James. His hazel eyes seemed to have the same gloss over them as hers. Something about the way they focused on her brought a scarlet blush over her cheeks, and she found herself struggling to remember Sirius’s question.

“Our night?” James supplied, smiling at her patiently. Oh good, at least someone remembered what they were supposed to be talking about.

“Um,” Lily began as she shook her head to clear the fuzzy feeling away. Sirius passed the bottle over to her, and she took another deep drink. “Well,” she started again, “despite saying probably five words to the oaf my sister is marrying, and both of them seeing the Patronus, and James telling off Vernon the oaf...we’re still invited to the wedding tomorrow. Which means it could have gone worse, I suppose.” Lily was barely able to get the last few words out before she fell into a similar fit of giggles that Belle had been stuck with all evening. Of course, none of this had seemed funny earlier. But now that she thought back on it, it really was quite humorous.

“James is going to face your sister and ‘er oaf of a fiancé again tomorrow?” Belle asked, her clear blue eyes opened wide in surprise. “Wow, ‘e must really love you.”

Lily hadn’t expected the end of her friend’s sentence. If she had something in her mouth to spit out, she probably would have. Her words froze up inside her chest, and she couldn’t get any of them to come out. Even if she could, she’d have no idea what ones to use.

She glanced at James out of the corners of her eyes, half expecting him to have the same petrified expression that masked her own face. Instead, his easy smile that never seemed to falter was resting comfortably on his lips. Well, what did that mean? Why wasn’t he denying it? What would she do if he denied what Belle said?

“So,” Sirius interrupted, and Lily felt herself let out a sigh of relief. Whatever James was feeling, right now probably wasn’t the best time to know about it. Or maybe now was exactly the right time. Or maybe she just needed to shut her thoughts up and take another drink of the wine. Yes, she thought, that was the best thing to do in this case. “We were thinking about just leaving with you guys tomorrow. We can check out the town for the day, then race the train back to England.”

“And I’m going to drive ze motorcycle, yes?”

You’re going to drive it?” Sirius asked, giving Belle the same look that Lily had gotten from James when she suggested leaving his broom at Hogwarts over Christmas.

“Of course. I’ll be excellent, don’t worry,” the blonde said, nodded her head with a confident smile.

Speaking of smiles, Lily couldn’t figure out when her own had gotten so big. But as she glanced between her friends, she realized her cheeks were sore. She tried to relax her face, pressing against it.

“Hey,” she started, pushing a finger harder into her skin. “My cheeks aren’t working! They’re stuck like this!” She glanced around, and Belle seemed like the only one who understood the serious predicament she was in.

“Lily, love,” James said, leaning over and pulling her hands from her face. His smile was even larger than hers... his cheeks must’ve gotten stuck too! “If you want your cheeks to go down, you have to stop smiling.” She tried to take his advice, and after a second she realized that her lips were back down to their normal position. She couldn’t resist lifting her finger again, and was happy to discover that her cheeks were, in fact, back in their proper place.

“I think I liked your cheeks better when zey were stuck smiling,” Belle concluded, petting Lily’s caramel colored kitten who had made himself comfortable in the center of their circle.

“Hey, Lily,” Sirius said, and she turned her attention to him. However, almost as soon as it was there, it bounced from what he was saying to the wisps of hair falling over his ears. He had very dark hair. Him and James both. And his eyes weren’t normal... but not in a bad way. Belle’s eyes weren’t normal either; they were too blue. As she glanced back and forth between her two friends, she realized, not for the first time, that they were incredibly pretty. Their features were so different, but they still looked brilliant together. They’d have pretty babies, too. Maybe Lily should tell them that...

“Lily?” Sirius said again, and she focused back on his words. “Pace yourself, why don’t you.” He raised his eyebrow at her, and she’d realized she’d been hogging the bottle. Well, her and Belle both.

“You should probably multiply what’s left, and we’ll chug that to keep up with them,” James suggested. Lily wasn’t sure if his words had slurred together, or if it was her ears combining them too quickly.

“You know,” Belle said, sitting up straighter on the bed. “I don’t zink I’ve drank even a sip of wine in at least a year. I used to ‘ave ze occasional glass or so at dinner with mother and father...”

“The first and only time I drank before this was during James’s captain party. When he made out with Violet.” Lily drug the name on, just to demonstrate that she hadn’t forgotten. Well, that, and because her lips liked to make the V sound.

“Excuse me,” James interjected, his voice sounding hurt. He was just faking the hurt, though. At least, Lily hoped he was. “I believe Peter proved my innocence on that matter.”

“Zat was ze same day we spied on zem,” Belle whispered to Sirius, though Lily could hear the whisper perfectly well. Maybe she had super hearing. Did alcohol give people those kinds of powers? Maybe if you were a wizard or witch drinking Muggle alcohol it did...

“And those gits sprayed us down with water,” Sirius added. The memory was one of Lily’s favorites, and she felt the light air of laughter bubble in her chest.

James leaned towards her, his lips just a few inches from her ear and whispered, “That day was almost our first kiss, too.”

The laughter inside of her seemed to vanish as the heat of his breath was left clinging to her flesh. By the time she turned her head, he was already back in his place. She glanced over at Belle and Sirius; they both seemed preoccupied, still laughing about that day. She looked back to James, his eyes resting on her. She felt her body gravitate toward him, a content sort of warmth spreading through her when he tucked her into him.

“Okay,” Sirius said, pointing his wand at the nearly empty bottle. He mumbled the spell a few times, multiplying what the bottle already held, then smiled proudly at them all. “And we’re filled back up. Although, you two are nearly cut off.”

Belle grabbed the bottle from Sirius, tilting it into her mouth and gulping it down for much longer than necessary. Lily realized that her friend was making a point − that they were adult witches and could do what they wanted − and she took the bottle from Belle as soon as the blonde was done, then repeated her friend’s process. Once the taste became too heavy, churning at her stomach, she pulled it back and looked up at James, finding an amused expression on his face.

They continued joking about the day that she and James almost kissed, and Lily had to constantly remind herself to take part in the conversation. Every few seconds her mind would travel back to that magical moment when it had been just the two of them near the equipment shed. That small blip in time when his lips had been so close to grazing hers.. and when that memory took over, she’d find herself unconsciously nuzzling deeper into his relaxed body.

As the conversation moved from school work, to Christmas dinner, to all of them wanting to take a trip with the rest of the group after graduation, Lily’s eyelids got steadily heavier. She was reaching for the gold and glass bottle less often, and resting her eyes every few minutes.

One of the boys finally declared that it well past bedtime, and Lily and Belle stumbled to the bathroom to get changed and clean their teeth. She offered to sleep with Belle if her friend didn’t feel comfortable sharing a bed with Sirius, and was happy when Belle refused her offer. For some reason, the desire to fall asleep wrapped in James’s arms became so strong that it was almost painful.

The girls giggled their way into their pajamas. Both falling numerous times as they struggled to get their legs through the soft, cotton trousers.

When they emerged from the bathroom, James and Sirius had already changed and turned out all the lights but one. Lily snuggled deep under the covers, wishing both her friends a good night, and was already half asleep when James turned the last light off and cuddled in beside her.

It seemed that sleep only captured part of her brain, though. Because in less than an hour, she was awake again. She heard the sound of steady breathing, and knew that either Belle or Sirius, or both, were fast asleep. James’s arm was still nestled around her, and she couldn’t resist bringing his hand up to her lips and placing a soft kiss on the back of it.

“What was that for?” She nearly jumped at his voice.

“I didn’t know you were awake,” she whispered, turning around so that she was facing him. The fuzzy mist of the wine was still filling her head, but not as severely as it’d been earlier.

“I didn’t know you were awake,” James retorted, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to the tip of her nose. She glanced up, and could just make out his face. A shudder ran through her, and she found herself unwilling to ignore her body as it urged her towards him.

She raised herself a few inches off of the bed, and let her lips linger over his. Somehow one of his hands ended up wound through her red strands, and the other wrapped around her, pulling her on top of him. Everything else around them was forgotten as the feeling of the kiss took over. Her body seemed to move of its own accord; her skin felt almost feverish wherever he touched her.

She felt another kind of fuzziness take over as James’s hands danced under her shirt and glided from the small of her back up her ribcage, his soft touch amplified by the calluses on his palms. She arched her own body into him, her mind begging for his hands to keep toughing her, to keep exploring. Her breath was turning ragged and she felt unable to catch it, but she didn’t care. She moved herself over him, and his fingers clamped to her hip bones. She wanted to feel more of him on her, to slip off her pajamas and feel his skin on hers. Her hands shifted from their place on the bed and reached for the hem of his shirt.

“No, Lily,” he whispered, his voice husky in her ear as he turned his body and eased her off of him, back to her position on the bed.

“Did I do something wrong?” she asked in a shaky tone.

“Lily,” he whispered, cuddling her into him. “Of course you didn’t do anything wrong. You’re plastered, though.”

“You are too.”

“No, not in the way you are.” He scooted down so that their eyes were level with one another, his hand still brushing through her hair.

“You know, just because I’ve... been with someone, doesn’t mean I... expect anything.”

“But didn’t you want...” she trailed off, not know how to say it. Was something wrong with her?

“Of course I wanted to,” he whispered, cupping her face in his hands. “That has nothing to do with it.”

“You’ve already... been with another girl, though,” she argued, still not understanding why he’d have wanted to sleep with someone else and not her. “Was it a girl in our year?” she asked, unable to stop herself.

“No. It was a girl that I met the summer before sixth year, when my parents took Sirius and me for that vacation to Norway.”

“Did you care about her?” Lily whispered, wishing she had more control over her words.

“We liked each other all summer, and I thought I was finally starting to get over you. Then we tried to keep talking, but about a month into sixth year, things just fizzled out. Yeah, I suppose I cared about her. But I think were both more curious than anything else.”

Lily realized that she remembered what girl he was talking about. Well, sort of. She just remembered overhearing him talk with the boys about her.

“But just because I’ve done that, doesn’t mean I expect you to do anything. I really care about you, Lily. I don’t want to mess anything up,” he said softly, and the sincerity in his words nearly overwhelmed her.

“So it’s not because there’s something wrong with me?”

“Of course not, you crazy girl.”

“James?” She waited until she could feel his eyes on her, then reached up and melted her lips into his. “I really care about you, too.”

James cuddled her back into him and gradually drifted off to sleep. As she felt the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest even out, a heavy realization sunk into her mind. Maybe it was the enhanced freedom of her feelings because of the alcohol, but for whatever the reason, she was certain that she was falling in love with James Potter.

The light of the moon slipping in through the window irritated her, and she resisted the urge to use her wand and blast something. 

“Bellatrix, come sit. We have hours yet.” She glanced over at her husband and felt her fingers clench into her palms. He’d been so much more intelligent when they married. With each passing day, he became more like the Dark Lord’s other followers: worthless and pathetic.

She knew he was still her best partner for this mission, though. He’d spent enough time with her that he knew her moves, her curses.

“We don’t know how much time we have,” she hissed back. They’d gone over the plan too many times, and she refused to tell him again. They’d wait. They’d wait until after the wedding so the targets’ presence wasn’t missed. They didn’t need any reason for someone to come looking for the blood traitor and his Mudblood girlfriend.

“Why don’t we at least go and take care of the Dumbledore’s followers, then?” Rodolphus suggested, and this time Bellatrix’s control wasn’t able to hold her back and she slammed her fist onto the wooden desk. She hated this room. Everything about it reeked of Muggle.

“What happens when Dumbledore doesn’t hear a report back? Hmm? He’ll come here himself, and then we’ll have a lot more to deal with than two barely of-age wizards. Fool,” she sneered over at him, disgusted with his stupidity. The only thing he’d done that was even remotely helpful was notice the man and woman following their targets. Though she would have shortly noticed them herself. She was sure of it.

“Just thought it’d be best to get anything out of the way we can,” he answered with a shrug before laying back on the bed.

“You’ll go to their room when I go to the targets. Don’t kill them, just capture them. The Dark Lord may be able to get information from them. Then you’ll meet me, and we’ll handle Potter and the girl.”

She felt like she was talking to an incompetent child, and wanted to reach her hand out and claw him down the face just for being as pathetic as he was. But no. No. Control.

It wouldn’t be long now... and her Lord only really needed Potter alive. It didn’t matter what happened to the Mudblood. If she agreed willingly, if she begged enough, maybe Bellatrix would permit her to stay alive. But if not... the alternative brought a shiver of pleasure through her.

She’d bring Potter to her Master, and possibly the Mudblood, and he would reward her beyond any other servant. Then, if the boy refused his Mark, she’d get to dispose of him.

It wouldn’t be long now. Not long at all.

“That was terrible. Absolutely terrible,” Lily said, shaking her head. James nodded his agreement, not having the words to describe how bad it really was.

He’d been to too many weddings to count. His parents seemed to know everyone on the face of the earth; he’d seen more, “I do’s” than most preachers. But the Evans Dursley wedding was easily one of the worst. Boring. Stuffy. And boring.

“At least Vernon didn’t call you an amateur magician,” James pointed out, still regretting not showing the git how amateur his magic really was. When the dull bloke was walking on cow hooves for feet, then they’d see who had the last word.

“So, you’re an amateur magician. At least you aren’t Petunia’s unfortunate little sister who isn’t ready to leave her special school in Scotland yet,” Lily grumbled, her breath circling around them as she spoke.

James slowed his pace as they made their way along the path and smiled down at her. Sure, the ceremony had been so boring that he’d struggled not to fall asleep, and the reception felt more like a charity event than a party... but as he gazed down at Lily, he knew seeing her all dressed up was more than worth it. He didn’t know what she’d done to the dress she was wearing, but it wasn’t blue and it wasn’t black. It was sort of both, but all blended together. Every time his eyes landed on her, he felt like his mouth was going to water. The fabric was just tight enough to remind him of her shape, of the way her body felt pressed into his last night...

“You know,” he started, trying to get the thoughts from his mind. “You bounced back pretty well this morning.”

“I think spending an hour in the shower may have helped. I don’t feel nearly as bad as I did the night after your captain party.”

“Really? I was under the impression the morning after that you were as good as new. Remember, you told me you didn’t feel a bit hungover?” James glanced at her, her cheeks blushing.

“About that...” she mumbled, and he let his head fall back and laughed into the chilly air. He’d suspected that Lily had been lying when she refused to eat anything for dinner that night, but catching her in it was even more fun.

“Thanks for breakfast, by the way,” she added, giving him one of those smiles that he could never see enough of. He and Sirius had done a pretty good job at ordering and paying for a breakfast at the Muggle cafe. Well, no, they’d done a horrible job, but the lady took pity on them and helped them count out the money. She asked if they were foreigners, and they quickly agreed, earning them a bit of sympathy.

He stayed silent as they continued along the rocks, going deeper into the trees that surrounded the events center where the reception was held. They still had an hour before they met Sirius and Belle back at the hotel, and three hours before they needed to be at the train station. It was probably too cold to be outside walking, but the late afternoon sun and the clear blue sky were few and far between this time of year, too rare to waste sitting inside an overly crowded room.

“Do you think anyone realizes we’ve left?” Lily asked, pausing to readjust the long coat that was covering her.

“I doubt it. Good thing we found the kitchens, or we’d never have gotten out without someone spotting us. Although I’m sure your sister would be just as happy to have us leave.”

“Of course, but then she’d spend the entire rest of the afternoon telling anyone who’d listen how rude I am for leaving before they cut the cake. No, it was much better that we snuck out without anyone being able to see us.”

James nodded, and sat himself on a large, flat rock. He wasn’t sure just how far from the building they were... but he was certain it was far enough that no one would stumble over them. He grabbed Lily’s hand, tugging her down onto is lap.

“You’re shivering,” he said, pulling her tighter into him and kissing the top of her head. A smile covered his face as his memory drifted back to the night before.

“James?” she said, interrupting his thoughts. “Even with this being the most boring wedding known to mankind, I still had a lot of fun these past few days.”

“I did too. And...” he thought about what he was about to say, and wondered if he really should, or just wanted to because it was already on his mind. After a second, he decided that they probably did need to talk about it. Nothing had felt awkward between them his morning, but that didn’t mean they weren’t both still thinking about it. However, before he could bring up the subject, she was already speaking.

“I’m sorry if last night I was a bit... much,” she muttered. He glanced down at her, amused by the blush filling her cheeks. He’d always loved the way her skin was so light that it showed everything she was feeling.

“You should be. You nearly killed me,” he said, raising an eyebrow at her confused expression. “What, you think it was actually easy not letting things go farther?”

“I don’t know... it didn’t seem too hard for you,” she retorted, turning her body so that she was completely facing him.

“Well it was. But now aren’t you happy that at least one of us wasn’t completely saturated in wine?”

She half shrugged, but didn’t meet his eyes. “Lily?” He moved his body, trying to get her to look at him. “You know that what didn’t happen last night has nothing to do with how much I care for you, right?”

“Yeah,” she answered after a moment, still avoiding his gaze. “I just... I’m still trying to figure out how to be a good kisser. But last night I felt like I could’ve been good at everything. And now I don’t feel like that anymore.”

James wanted so badly to laugh, but he knew it was far from the right time. What had he done to deserve this girl?

“You are a good kisser. And you felt like that because you were sloshed. Would you really have wanted that to be how your first time happened, though? In a hotel room with Sirius and Belle two feet away, after drinking too many bottles of wine for your little body to handle?”

“I never told you that I hadn’t slept with anyone before. I mean, I haven’t, but I never told you that,” Lily mumbled, glancing around. At that, he did laugh, earning himself something between a glare and a smirk from the redhead. But at least she was finally meeting his gaze again.

He didn’t say it out loud, and knew that when he mentioned it to his friends they’d make fun of him, but the fact that Lily was thinking about that between them, and making him her first, meant more to him that he’d realized it would.

She was so different than the girl he’d fallen for in Norway. That girl had been confident and forward, neither of them thinking twice when Sirius covered for them and they snuck around for those few weeks. Neither he nor Linnea had even talked about their pasts, though he was certain she was a bit more experienced than him. And what he’d told Lily last night was true; they’d tried to keep something going. They wrote to each other a few times, but it didn’t take long until both of them realized that what had been between them was just physical.

He wouldn’t have thought twice about being with that girl after they’d downed a bottle of wine back then. Maybe the fact that he’d grown up in the last year played into the fact that he’d thought so seriously about it last night, but he also knew that it had a lot to do with how much he cared about Lily and what kind of girl she was.

“You’re pretty amazing, you know that?” he said after a moment, knowing his smile probably looked goofy and ridiculous. “And I know you didn’t wait this long to be with someone just so it could happen like that.”

She nodded, and he could see some of the anxiety leaving her vivid green eyes.

“James? I really don’t want to go back to the reception.” He laughed at her confession, his thoughts mirroring her own. “Not even for a piece of cake. We’re far enough away from any Muggles. Let’s just Apparate back into the hotel room and I’ll send Petunia a letter about the fish making me sick or something.”

James nodded, agreeing whole-heartedly. She slipped from his lap, and he realized that his butt was numb from the freezing rock he’d been sitting on. He held out his arm for Lily to thread hers through. He couldn’t resist leaning down for one long kiss before popping them away from the spot.

The world became a spinning mixture of colors, then faded completely to black. In a matter of seconds, the compression squeezing his lungs had disappeared and he felt his feet land on solid ground. Lily’s arm slipped out of his, and he tried to blink the black edges away before realizing that it was their hotel room that was dark, and not his vision.

“Lily, are you near the light flicker thing?” he asked, taking a step forward in the direction he thought she was. When her reply didn’t come, he felt his heart give a heavy thud.

“Lily?” he said again as he tried to ignore the thought that he’d somehow splinched her. Maybe she’d slipped out of his arm before they Disapparated... she was probably still standing at the rock. He quickly fumbled with the leg of his trouser, pulling his wand out of his sock and whispering the spell to light the tip.

He felt a sharp stab of terror enter into him as Lily’s face became visible, her head pulled back and mouth covered by Bellatrix Lestrange.

“Let’s try this again,” came the silky voice. James struggled against the invisible binds holding his body to the chair, but all it did was further seal him in place. He kept his eyes on the woman in front of him, thankful that at least she was focusing on him and not Lily.

“In a very, very short amount of time,” the deranged woman continued, the black of her eyes drilling into James, “you will be face to face with the greatest wizard to ever walk this earth. You will be given a choice, Potter. If you choose wrong, you’ll watch that Mudblood get tortured to death, then we will kill you.”

So much of James wanted to believe she was lying, to believe that no human would ever walk someone into their death, but he knew that wasn’t the case. He just needed to make sure they didn’t leave this hotel room. If he could figure out how to distract her, maybe the hold on Lily’s bonds would break and she could run.

“I don’t see any reason that you need her,” James said, refusing to let even an ounce of the fear he was feeling show through in his voice. “She’s worthless to him. Just let her go and you can take me. I won’t even fight.”

He glanced at Lily and saw her mouth open and close like she was trying to scream. But whatever Bellatrix had done to restrain her was forcing her to stay silent.

“That’s not the way it works, precious Potter,” she started again, stepping closer to him and running her nail along his cheek. The feeling made him want to shudder, but he ignored the reaction and remained still. “You aren’t in any position to bargain. The chance I’m offering you is one that many would kill for.” The way she cradled the word kill, like she wanted nothing more than to do just that, burned itself into his mind.

He had to figure out how to keep them there. She obviously didn’t know they were expecting Sirius and Belle, and having the two of them show up would be enough of a distraction for James to get to his wand and knock the maniac out. He just had to stall until then.

“Why does he want me?” James asked. Maybe if he played into the idea, if she thought she was convincing him... “And why didn’t he just come here to talk to me himself?”

She threw back her head and let out a cackle that rang through the silent room. It was the most chilling thing he’d ever heard. He risked another glance at Lily, and felt a hand squeeze over his heart. He needed to get her safe.

“The Dark Lord... set foot into a filthy Muggle establishment? You have so much to learn. So much I can teach you. Take his Mark, Potter, and you’ll watch every door life could ever offer open up to you. You’ll have the chance to serve the most powerful wizard there ever was, to be a part of a Cause more important than life itself.” As her words slipped through the room, James realized that she wasn’t just here on some mission. She wanted to be here. She enjoyed every second of it. But why didn’t she just take them straight to the man himself? Maybe she was supposed to convince them before-hand. That had to be the only reason she was sitting here doing this instead of just killing them and being done with it.

“And if I agree to join him, what happens to Lily?” He didn’t even glance towards her this time, but kept his gaze locked onto the dark eyes in front of him.

“That’s up to the Dark Lord. Whether he thinks she’s too dirty to be allowed to live, or he graces her with the chance serve him... Or maybe, if you deny us, we’ll take turns torturing the filthy blood from her. You can watch as she screams for you to try and help her...” The woman lifted her wand and flicked it at Lily. James watched in horror as her back arched against the chair that was holding her prisoner, her face twisting and contouring with pain. For a split second, Bellatrix released whatever was forcing Lily silent and a soul shattering scream tore through the room.

“STOP!” James shouted, his heart beat ringing in his ears. “Stop. Leave her the fuck alone and I’ll do whatever you want!” He watched her small body fall back into its chained position, once again silent, and tried to blink against the salty sting of tears.

“That’s much better,” she hissed. As she took a step closer to him, he could see a some sort of sick pleasure shining in her eyes. “But listening to her scream... it was fun, wasn’t it? That’s always the best part.”

She lifted her wand, but this time it was directed at him instead of Lily. She flicked her wrist, and something began filling James’s throat. It was like cement was being poured down it, silencing him, his breath barely able to escape.

“And you, filthy little Mudblood,” James kept his eyes on Lily as the woman advanced towards her. He knew she was going to play the same games, to get Lily to mold to whatever she wanted. They just had to keep stalling.

“Tell me,” she continued, flicking her wand, “why I shouldn’t drain you of every bit of life you have?” The woman’s voice was harsher, colder, as she spoke to Lily. A new thought crept into James’s mind; what if she really only wanted him alive? What if all her stuff about You-Know-Who getting to decide had been said just to torment him?

As the woman bent closer to Lily and laid a finger on her cheek, James closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. He needed to figure out how to break free, how to slip away from her magic... to destroy the bonds holding him...Of course! He kept his eyes glued shut and began to picture his Animagus form. He had to be Prongs. He had−

Lily’s scream broke through the room and his eyes shot open. Her skin was a ghastly pale, and James became terrified that Bellatrix really was draining the life from her, taking her blood... Goddamnit! he had to get free! Prongs. Prongs. Everything he hated about this life, hearing Lily scream, hearing the sounds of her cries as−

“Why would you ever deserve to stand in his presence?” Bellatrix’s voice shrieked, followed be another gut wrenching cry. He felt the cells inside him struggle to shift, the breaks that he’d created so long ago trying to reform and put him back together as Prongs...

Fuck! Whatever she’d done to them, whatever magic she was using to hold him was counteracting his.

“You’re barely alive and you’re still fighting, stupid girl,” came another taunt. James ignored the hot tears slipping down his cheeks, trying not to see how lifeless Lily looked. He couldn’t... he wouldn’t let it happen...

“Barely alive,” she said again, and James felt his throat constrict against the gag in an attempt to cry out. No. No. Not Lily!

The monster circled Lily like a vulture, and her green eyes began fluttering closed.

“That’s right, you filthy thing. Stop fighting me. You know you don’t deserve life, deserve magic.” No! He had to be stronger than the binds, stronger than the twisted, fucked-up puppet of Voldemort’s. Whatever she was doing to Lily... he could... he had to stop it.

“Expelliarmus!” came a scream that didn’t belong to the crazed woman. He snapped his head toward the door where Belle and Sirius stood.

The bonds on his wrists and ankles broke away as Bellatrix's distraction wavered, and he raced to Lily’s side.

“You stupid girl,” came a hiss from Bellatrix as she stalked towards the other two, but James kept his focus on Lily. He tried to pull her from the chair, but she was still trapped tightly against it. Her skin felt cold, places of it raw from the invisible chains. Whatever was used on her was different...

“Don’t move, Bellatrix,” Sirius growled, and James glanced up to see both friends pointing their wands at her.

“Oh, what’s ickle Sirius going to do about it?” she laughed, a sense of hysteria filling her voice. But her eyes were still on Belle, and part of James felt like screaming at his friend to run. “The Mudblood is going to die first, and then I’m going to watch as all of you follow in her path. And you,” her red finger nail was pointed directly at Belle’s face, “your death is going to be the most painful. You dare disarm me, you worthless creature!”

Before any of them could react she had already spun to face Lily, a familiar wand gripped in her fingers. A sickening realization tore into James; she was going to kill Lily with his own wand.

She started screaming an unfamiliar spell just as Belle and Sirius shouted their own. James watched a white jet shoot from the tip of the wand and threw his body in front of Lily’s.

The last thing he felt before crumpling to the ground was a blinding flash of pain.

I know I know... I'm sorry! I really didn't plan such a big cliff hanger!

As always, thank you so much to my wonderful CambAngst. I'm so lucky to have him as my beta. If you guys haven't read anything of his, you should really check out his AP!

Okay. This chapter caused me some serious grief. I ended up deleting the entire thing on Thursday and rewriting it, but it was worth it. I really like how it turned out, and I hope you guys do too!!

Thank you so much for reading, and I'd love it if you'd share your opinions with me!

Chapter 23: Surviving the First Defy
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Gorgeous CI by heartfelt. @ tda
Chapter 23 - Surviving the First Defy

“I need you to stay in bed, just for a while longer. The potion works more slowly when it’s matching an O positive blood type, so you’re going to need to be patient with us, okay?” Lily stared past the woman’s face, unwilling to answer. She was dizzy. She was exhausted. But she was alive. She was alive. And right now, she didn’t know if she could say the same for James. All she wanted was to see him. She needed to hold his hand and urge him to keep fighting, just like he’d done for her when Bellatrix tried to steal every ounce of blood from her. She needed to see James.

She glanced up at the woman. Kind, dark eyes stared back down at her, and she felt a twinge of guilt for how unkind she was being. But she was alive, and James was sitting one room over possibly dying. She didn’t have time for guilt right now.

“Yes, I understand,” Lily said, offering her the most earnest smile she could muster. The healer nodded, then wrote something down on the parchment by her bedside.

“Okay,” the woman explained, pointing to the scribble she’d just made. “This is the name of the nurse on your floor. If you start getting dizzier or feel nauseous or need anything, just give this a twist,” she pointed to a small wooden knob on the nightstand “and that will alert her.” Lily nodded her head, trying again for a convincing smile, then closed her eyes while the woman poked around her a bit more. After a second, she was left alone in the room and the door closed with a click.

She took a few deep breaths, then arched her legs and began moving them toward the edge of the bed, sliding her feet onto the cold floor. Someone had placed a pair of white slippers next to the table, which she was grateful for as she squeezed her toes snugly into them. After another second, she gritted her teeth and stood up, moving only an inch at a time.

The light flickering from oil lamps lining the room began to fade as a soft black edged into her vision, but she waited it out. After a few seconds, her body adjusted to the change and she took a hesitant step forward, then another. She made it to the chair placed in the corner of the room and took her time slipping the gown off and putting on a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a loose blouse. Once she was dressed, she paused again to take a few breaths, annoyed at herself for feeling so weak. She made the mistake of glancing in the bathroom mirror as she walked past and was half terrified of her own reflection. Pale didn’t even begin to describe her appearance. She bit down on to her lip, ignoring the exhaustion, and kept going. A small sense of pride washed through her when she reached the door handle.

Opening it carefully, she looked both ways in the corridor before stepping out. She hung her head, just in case her nurse or healer were to walk by, and tried to remember if she’d heard her friends saying that James’s room was next to hers on the right or the left...

She decided to go with right for the sole reason of it being a few feet closer than the left. Her feet moved quietly, not making a sound against the clean tile, and she crept into the room. Relief washed through her when she saw James spread out over the bed. But Lily’s relief disappeared not even a moment later when she realized his eyes were still closed tightly. His face pale, but far from serene. She glanced around the empty room, wondering where the group had gone. Her fingers shook as she pulled back the sheet on the bed and climbed in, knowing her legs wouldn’t be able to support her for much longer.

She glanced over at James; his features weren’t smooth or relaxed. They were stressed, angry. He didn’t look peaceful. That meant he couldn’t die, didn’t it? People always looked peaceful when they died.

“Oh god,” she whispered as she curled next to the limp body beside her. “Don’t leave me, James. Don’t leave me.” She reached for his hand and found a small amount of comfort in the fact that it was warm. She kissed it the same way she had the night before, and part of her was desperately praying that it would be enough to wake him up. He’d say something and surprise her just like he had in the hotel room. After a moment, she realized that wasn’t going to happen. She moved his hands from her lips and nuzzled it against her cheeks.

“Lily.” She glanced up at the sound of Mrs. Potter’s voice, though the movement was enough to cause her vision to darken once again. “Honey, you aren’t supposed to be up and about yet.” The woman walked to the side of the bed that Lily was on and ran a soft, wrinkled hand over her forehead. “Healer Knowles said that you needed at least a few more hours of sleep so the potion can finishing replicating your blood.”

“Please,” she croaked, her voice raw. “I can’t... I have to...”

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Olivia soothed as fresh tears gathered around Lily’s green eyes. “We just spoke with a healer. They’re going to wake him up any minute, and he’ll be fine. William is just speaking with Albus right now, and then he’ll come in and the healer will administer the potion.” Lily heard the distress filling Olivia’s voice, and couldn’t imagine how much it took for a mother to be strong.

“And, he’ll really...” she began, terrified of getting her hopes up.

“Yes, darling. He’ll be okay. Trust me, I didn’t raise my boy to give up without a fight. He’s strong.”

Lily could only nod, and was relieved when the door opened, preventing her from trying to speak. She knew that she should feel uncomfortable laying in the bed with James as their headmaster walked in, but she couldn’t even muster the energy to pretend that she did. Nothing in the world would get her away from his side. Away from the feel of his warm hand, a small reassurance that life was still pumping through him.

“Miss Evans,” Professor Dumbledore greeted, nodding somberly at her. She tried to nod back, but felt an intense wave of fatigue sweep through her and force her eyes to drift closed.

“Can you tell us why this happened, Albus?” Olivia whispered, her voice sounding somewhat far away to Lily’s ears.

“I think it’s best if we wait until Mr. Potter is awake, that way we can discuss everything at once,” the professor answered. Lily heard the faint sounds of Mr. Potter’s voice when her mind began separating itself farther from consciousness. She knew her healer warned her that the potion would do this, but she didn’t want to believe it. She wanted to stay away, to stare at James until he opened his reassuring eyes... to hear him make a joke out of all this. God, she needed to hear his voice.

Somewhere inside of her, she felt her body give willingly into sleep. She knew it realized what her mind refused to acknowledge; she needed the blood. It needed to shut down while it struggled to recreate itself. Lily’s last thought before slipping into the darkness was that when she was a healer, she wanted people to look up at her eyes and find kindness in them. Just as she did earlier. Kindness was the only thing that made it all less terrifying.

“You know, if you ever scare me like that again... I don’t know what I’ll do. It won’t be nice, though. It’ll be really taking away all your books.”

Lily felt herself chuckle at the joke even before she realized she was awake. Then, as if a light had been flicked on inside her brain, she understood whose voice was speaking.

“James!” she whispered, almost too excited to get the word out. Her eyes darted open, the heaviness that had plagued them earlier seemed nearly gone. “James,” she said again when she saw his smiling face glancing down at her.

“Morning, sweetie,” came another soft voice, and she turned to the other side of the bed to see Belle and Alice, both sitting in chairs that were pulled up right next to her.

“Alice, Belle,” she said, overwhelmed by the emotions pumping through her.

“There’s our girl,” came the deep voice she knew so well. She leaned over James as Sirius took a step closer to them and gave her friend what she hoped passed as a hug.

“Hey, don’t go hogging her now,” Remus said, and Peter laughed next to him. By the looks of their rumpled hair, both boys had been asleep as well.

“How long have you guys all been here?” she asked as Frank came over and gave her a peck on the cheek.

“For a few hours,” Frank answered, bending over to kneel beside Alice. “My mum was here earlier, but she had to get to work. She dropped off those for both of you.”

Lily smiled at the bright, happy flowers gathered into a vase. Beside them was a large box of chocolate-peanut-butter Snitches.

“Yeah, my parents were here as well,” Alice added. “They dropped off some sweets and said to get well soon.” Lily smiled, and as thankful as she was for her friends’ parents and their concern, she was more thankful that none of them were around just then.

“Good afternoon, sleepy head.” Lily looked up toward the door as her healer, along with Mr. and Mrs. Potter, walked in. “I believe I ordered you to stay in bed.”

She couldn’t help but blush, though she knew by the tone of Healer Knowles’s voice that she wasn’t angry. “How long was I asleep?” she asked, glancing around at her friends.

“Well, you and Mr. Potter here have both been in and out for the last twelve hours. You took your final dose of blood replenisher fourteen hours ago, and Mr. Potter woke up for the first time ten hours ago before falling back asleep.” Lily nodded, happy that the healer gave her such a detailed answer. “Can you tell me the last thing you remember happening?” she asked, her eyes soft as they stared into Lily’s.

“Zat ‘ardly seems necessary. She’s been zrough enough without ‘aving to discuss it,” Belle interjected cooly. Lily knew she should lecture her friend about her tone, but the concern behind her words was far too moving.

“Don’t worry, it’s fine,” Lily said, smiling over at Belle. “The last thing I remember is when she, Bellatrix, tried to curse me.” The image of the woman, her wild eyes drilling into Lily, came jetting back. “I think I remember other people being there too besides Belle and Sirius... but...”

A soft knock came at the door, taking the entire room’s attention away from the healer’s question.

“Pardon my intrusion,” came the light voice of Albus Dumbledore.

“Albus, please come in,” Olivia said before turning back to the healer.

The dark eyed woman glanced around at the room, probably waiting to see if anyone else wanted to speak, then continued. “Well, as you both know, dark magic was used on you. You need to understand that it’s terrifyingly tricky to narrow down exactly what it was or how it was done, but we have what’s important figured out.” She paused for a moment, sorting through a few papers before pulling out one and scanning it.

Lily felt James’s hand slip into hers and squeezed it tightly as the healer cleared her throat and continued. “The spell that was used on you, Miss Evans, very literally drained the blood from you. How exactly, we’re not sure. I wasn’t able to track down any sort of curse that resembled it in my texts, but we were able to rule out internal bleeding. Our best guess is that the woman was, in some way, transporting your blood somewhere else. But the Draught of Blood worked well and you’re on your way to recovering. You’ll still feel tired the next few days, and you need to drink and eat as much as possible, but you’re doing well. I can’t say that the same would be true if you’d taken the other curse that was meant for you, though.”

“And you have no idea what that spell was, either?” Frank interrupted. Lily could already tell by the pained look on the Potters’ faces that the healer didn’t know.

“I’m sorry, no. We were unable to find anything that even resembled it.”

“But,” Alice began, “you’re certain that neither curse will have any lasting effects apart from the immediate damage?”

“As certain as we can possibly be. From the descriptions Miss Leclair and Mr. Black where able to give me, the curse that was delivered to Mr. Potter depended on its caster’s concentration. That’s a fairly definite clue as to the fact that the spell isn’t able to survive without its power source. And the two of you,” she said, looking from Belle to Sirius, “lessened the severity of the curse when you attempted to stun the caster, because it broke her focus. But even with that, the injuries were severe. The curse hit your chest, Mr. Potter, which resulted in a hemothorax - internal bleeding between your chest wall and lung. That build up of pressure caused one of your lungs to collapse. It’s very, very fortunate that you were able to get here when you did. We immediately started you on a blend of potions. One was to stop the bleeding, and you’ve already taken the last dose of that, and the other was to eat away the excess blood. However, the second wasn’t working quickly enough, and a Muggle medical specialist was called in. He relieved the area around your lung of the pressure, and that lung inflated back up. We kept you asleep for a few more hours while we allowed the potion to continue working.”

“And you’ve given them both the extra phial of vitamins we discussed?” Olivia asked, her face pale. Lily was sure this was far from the first time James’s parents had heard about their condition, but the worry in their expressions still looked fresh.

“Yes, absolutely. And both of you are going to be just fine,” the healer added, offering them an encouraging smile. “I’m going to give the nurse my paperwork, and she’ll begin the discharge process. Our fireplaces are connected to the Floo Network, so if anything feels off we’re only seconds away. Mr. and Mrs. Potter, if you can come with me for a few moments, there are some things I need filled out before you can go.”

“Of course,” they both agreed, following the healer out the door. The moment the large wooden barrier closed, James sat up straighter and turned his head toward Professor Dumbledore.

“Professor, how did we get here? How did Bellatrix get away? And what do my parents know?” he asked in a hushed voice, and Lily could just pick up the hints of exhaustion.

“And you both,” Lily interrupted, turning to Belle then Sirius. “Neither of you were hurt?”

“Well, I zink I may have ‘urt my wrist when I zrew a stunning spell at ze woman,” Belle said, giving Lily one of her classic smirks.

“Both of your friends were tremendously brave, Miss Evans,” Dumbledore added. He stood up from the bench lining the hospital room and took a step closer to the bed. “And I can’t tell you how proud I am to have the honor of calling you all my students. To answer your questions, Mr. Potter, your parents know hardly more than you. That you were targeted, fought courageously, and were transported here.”

“How were we-” Lily began, before Sirius interrupted.

“Some bloke and a witch came barging in and scared off my cousin. Then they Apparated us all here. Apparated! It has to be at least three hundred miles!”

Dumbledore let out a soft chuckle before continuing. “Yes, you’re nearly correct with the distance, Mr. Black. The recommended hundred mile limitation can be stretched considerably in necessary circumstances.”

“‘Ow did zey know we’d be zere?” Belle asked, piping up from Lily’s side.

“And what about Butterscotch?” James said, sending a cold chill through Lily. Oh God, how had she not thought about her kitten?

“We have him, mate,” Peter answered. “Sorry, forgot to mention that Remus and I used the Floo and took him to your parents’ house.

Lily watched as Professor Dumbledore’s face seemed to grow more and more amused. She supposed the man probably wasn’t often surrounded by a bunch as demanding as hers.

“The two people who Apparated you here,” the headmaster began again, “are ones that I have working alongside me in certain efforts. I was concerned for your safety due to Beowulf’s interception, but believed it to be nothing more than an old man’s folly. Nevertheless, I requested those two to journey to Swansea and keep an eye on you both.”

“What about them? Are they injured” Remus asked, his calm voice such a contrast to the intensity of the room

“They’re safe as can be. They were cornered by a second Death Eater during the time of the attack, which is why they hadn’t been able to get to Miss Evans and Mr. Potter immediately.”

Lily felt James shift beside her, and looked over to see his features tight, like he was struggling with something. When he began to speak, his words were hardly more than a whisper. “Professor, she, Bellatrix, knew we’d be there. She didn’t just run into us. She must’ve been the one that got the letter and... the Death Eaters followed us. Mum and dad... they can’t know. I can’t do that to them.”

“I’ve informed them that I had you both accompanied without your knowledge as an extra precaution. I believe I’ve told what I feel is necessary from my perspective, any more is up to you, Mr. Potter.”

Lily felt James relax beside her. “Thank you, professor.”

“Sir,” Lily interrupted, unable to contain the question buzzing in her mind. “Why us? Or James, I suppose. She was going to kill me regardless, but she didn’t want to kill him.”

“Trust me,” Sirius said with a snort, “she did want to kill him. My cousin wants to kill anything she can get her bloody hands on. Sorry for the language, sir,” he added quickly, his eyes darting to Dumbledore.

“What Mr. Black so eloquently stated is, I believe, rather accurate. I can’t pretend to know of the inner most workings Voldemort has constructed, but I am certain that his followers are not often known for their choice to allow a person life. I can only assume that Mr. Potter was sought out for his reputation as a leader. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t concern us, though. What needs to be focused on now is not allowing the terrible events of that evening to dictate where you move on from here. Your friendships and the trust you all place in one another stopped two very priceless lives from being lost. That’s what I believe is the most important aspect to dwell on.”

They all remained silent, and Lily felt a soft kind of warmth spread through her.

“If there are no other questions I’m able to answer-”

“Professor,” Remus began, “will they go after James again? And Lily?”

Lily watched as the professor’s eyes searched over them, and part of her was certain he was trying to decide on whether or not the truth was necessary. But they already knew, didn’t they?

“I believe that any and all who stand in opposition to Lord Voldemort will be targeted. Maybe not as directly as Mr. Potter and Miss Evans, but it would be foolish to think ourselves untouchable. This is precisely why we must keep our wits about us and our friendships strong. It won’t be long now until you’re all stepping from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy as fully trained witches and wizards. For now, enjoy these last few months before you must succumb to the cruelest of all masters, adulthood.” He nodded at them all, then turned to the door. Just before twisting the handle, he glanced back at them, a small smile playing on his bearded face.

“Ah, there’s one other thing. I had the pleasure of speaking with the keeper of the hotel. It seems there was a large, black motorbike parked in his lot. I took the liberty of having the machine transported to the Potters’ home.”

Lily couldn’t hold back a chuckle as Sirius let out a quick whoop!

“And you have no speculations as to why they were targeted?” William asked, pacing the small, dim hall. Olivia glanced back towards their son’s room, wanting to be sure the door was still closed.

“I always have ideas, William. But none that will prove of any worth. Your son and Miss Evans are very well liked students at Hogwarts, that alone could be enough,” Albus answered kindly, and Olivia just nodded her head. She knew that William had to ask, though they were both certain of the answer they’d receive. No one truly knew anything about the attacks and the war, apart from those that administered the cruelty.

“Albus,” she began, her words sounding nearly as weak as she felt. “Is there anything we can do?” She knew he would pick up on the meaning of her question. Just because she and her husband had been forced into retirement, their health being far from up to par for the Auror Department, didn’t mean that they wouldn’t take an investigation into their own hands. They would do anything they could if it meant bringing Bellatrix Lestrange in, alive or dead. Preferably alive, so Olivia could watch her deteriorate month by month in Azkaban. Watch her pay for her attempts at taking her son’s and Lily’s lives.

“I’m afraid you’re both doing everything you can. At this point, the only thing we’re capable of controlling is our own actions: our own paths. Those four students fought with more strength and determination than most would be capable of. If Miss Evans would have let her focus, her intense desire to stay alive, slip for even a moment... I can’t say I’m confident she’d be here with us today. They’re strong and capable, and all we can do now is give them every ounce of knowledge we possess to keep them safe.”

“Would it help if we were part of it?” William asked, glancing over at Olivia. She wrapped her arm through his, making him understand that she was willing to take on anything he was. “Would it help if we did more than just pass information to you? Were a more active part of the Order? You know we’ve always wanted to remain in the foreground. We can’t risk putting any unwanted attention on our boys. Not when Sirius’s family is already so involved in Voldemort’s group. But if the attention is already there...” he let his sentence trail off, and it pained Olivia to hear the desperation in his voice. But they both felt it. They needed to keep their children safe, and would die trying.

She glanced back over at the door, satisfied that it was still closed, before meeting Dumbledore’s eyes. She could already tell his answer by his expression.

“If I thought for a moment your more active support in the Order would do any good, I would have told you so months ago. The information you are both able to collect and pass because of your connections has already helped tremendously. You’re doing more than your share of assisting in our efforts to stop the senseless cruelty. Now, all we can really do is stick by one another and see this through,” the man answered. Olivia knew it was silly, but she felt a small pang of jealousy for the kind of vigor he seemed to posses.

He was nine years her senior, seven years older than William, but he seemed to be in a state so much stronger than them. She knew they’d run their bodies down faster than most - taken more curses than people should live through. But as the constant fiery ache of her bones flared up from hours of standing, she knew she was half grateful that there wasn’t more they could do. Their bodies couldn’t take the abuse.

“And now, I think it’s time we part ways. Minerva has been waiting anxiously at the school to hear news from me. She’ll be more than a bit relieved to know all of her Gryffindors are safe and whole.”

“Albus,” Olivia said, reaching out and grabbing his arm. “Thank you for keeping our babies safe. We know after this year there won’t be much anyone can do besides stay alert, but they deserve this last bit of childhood before having to become part of such an unstable world. Thank you.”

She witnessed a rare flush of cheeks in the headmaster’s face, and smiled despite the gravity of the situation. He was truly a kind man. She knew he wouldn’t be able to do much when James learned of the Order and became insistent on taking part in it. She knew her boy, and knew that he would throw his heart and soul into doing what was right. But as of now, he was just a seventh year Hogwarts student. A Quidditch captain and Chaser who happened to have the privilege of being cared for by a girl more lovely than Olivia could have ever prayed for. She knew Albus would accept his help willingly when that day came, unable to pass up young, bright and determined spirits. But, for now, they weren’t members of this war. They were all just her children.

The chilling air snuck under Regulus’s cloak, forcing him to hold back a shiver. He knew it was foolish to be pacing outside in such unacceptable weather, but he couldn’t stomach the thought of using the fireplace in the manor just yet. He would need to walk past Bellatrix and possibly some of the other Death Eaters to make his way back to the Malfoy’s sitting room. That was something he was not yet ready to face. Hopefully she would leave soon, and he’d be able to slip undisturbed through the flames and back to his parents’ house.

He slowed down as the garden path twisted farther into the dark and lowered his body onto one of the many decorative rocks. The cold stone was sure to numb him in a matter of minutes, but that could be precisely what he needed. Maybe he’d become so full of the icy air that it would coat his insides and stop his heart from feeling the current ache that grew with every beat. He was lucky, incredibly lucky, and he knew that’s what he should remember. The Dark Lord had ordered him to only focus on the other Slytherins, and he’d done just that. He had no part to play in Bellatrix being unable to capture Potter and Evans. But that didn’t stop him from being made to witness the punishment delivered by Avery Sr.

Whether it was for the purpose of reminding him what happened when things didn’t go as they were supposed to or it was simply Avery’s way of testing his strength as the youngest member, Regulus didn’t know. He knew that the man’s son would soon join their ranks, and part of him felt sure that the seventh year would be just as cruel as his father. But those thoughts were for another day... just now, he had to concentrate his energy on draining his mind of what he’d just witnessed so he could walk confidently back through the manor. But that was much easier said than done.

He took in a deep breath and let his thoughts go over it all. He had to remember them before he could forget. He’d always been that way, ever since he was a small child. He had to understand before he could accept. His cousin’s face... he hadn’t known how she’d been able to keep from screaming. The pain that had been glowing in her dark eyes twisted his stomach into knots. Though Regulus was sure she was more hurt by the fact that the punishment had been delegated instead of administered by the Lord himself. Her obsession and devotion to him was something that not even he understood. She had failed him, though. And that’s why she’d been forced to undergo the ordeal. Regulus wouldn’t fail, and he’d never have to feel that kind of pain.

The oddest part of the torturing, however, wasn’t Bellatrix’s lack of screaming. It was the way she’d kept whispering about revenge. But Avery Sr. had made it clear that Potter would no longer be in the hand’s of his cousin... so how would she make them pay without defying the Lord’s orders? She’d been taken off her mission and told that her only new goal was to assist Regulus in preparing the interested Slytherins for challenges that would test their loyalty. The Death Eater had told the two of them that they would be responsible for setting up a meeting between the students and one of the First Five: Rosier Sr., Mulciber Sr., Nott, Avery Sr., and Dolohov. Obviously they couldn’t set up Rosier, Avery, or Mulciber with their own fathers, but their meetings hardly mattered anyway. Those three would be guaranteed positions; their fathers’ statuses assured that. They would still need to be tested though, just as every other Death Eater was. Just as Regulus had been at the start of the summer... but no. He wouldn’t remember his own trial just now. Too many demons for one night.

He would watch his follow Slytherins carefully. Then, when the time was right, he would tell Evan, Burgess, Avery, and Severus to expect word from Bellatrix. She would meet with them during the next holiday: Easter holiday he assumed. And the day after they graduated, they’d be Marked.

Regulus was uncertain what Alrek’s next focus would be. Avery Sr. had told him to continue to play the position of friend, and if he wasn’t able, he would be worthless to the Dark Lord. And that meant they’d have no reason to keep him alive.

Regulus felt a tremor run through him. He wasn’t particularly fond of Rukin, but he also didn’t want to be present if the Dark Lord decided the Bulgarian was disposable. He would probably let Bellatrix do the honors... and she’d never been a clean killer.

He coaxed the image from his mind, slowly replacing it with his own goals. He needed not to dwell on what could happen to the other servants, but to concentrate on watching his house mates. To see if there were any other promising students that would serve the Lord well.

He let a long breath escape him, the white puff of air falling away in the darkness. It was time for him to go home. Time to forget about the agonizing cries that had tore from Alrek’s mouth. To force away the memory of Bellatrix’s mental muttering as she repeated over and over that no one defied her, no one disarmed her without suffering the consequences. The words she said hadn’t been severe, not nearly as cruel as usual... but the detached sort of desperation in her voice had sent chills to his bone.

He would let all that drain from him. He’d walk into the manor, take the Floo home, and request that Kreacher bring him a hot meal. He’d fall fast asleep, still in good graces with the Dark Lord, and try and ignore the small voice in his head that said he hoped his cousin was never able to get her hands on Potter and Evans, or whoever else she was muttering about. That was a fate worse than any other he could think of.

He stood from the rock and began his journey back into the house. His brain was no less saturated in the dark images he’d seen, but now he was able to handle them and walk confidently through Malfoy Manor. He filed them in the back of his mind, and was ready to move on.

Tomorrow was Christmas Eve after all, and he had his heart set on a new racing broom.

Hi guys, and thank you so much for continuing to read Before They Fall! As always, massive thanks to my amazing beta, CambAngst!

I know the last few chapters have been far from happy ones, but the next is centered around Christmas at the Potters! And the Death Eaters are not invited ;).

I'm going to have family visiting from out of next weekend. Friday through the following Sunday, so Saturday's next two updates might get a bit off. I'll try and not let that happen, but just thought I'd warn you guys in case it does.

So, what did you think of this chapter? I'd planned on going back into Bellatrix's perspective, but for some reason Regulus decided he wanted to come out and play instead. Besides, Bella's gotten more than her fair share of attention the last few chapters :P!

Chapter 24: Christmas Day
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Gorgeous CI by heartfelt. @ TDA
Chapter 24 - Christmas Day

Lily tiptoed down the stairs, Alice and Belle right behind her. She kept her wand close to her body, not allowing the light shining from the tip to travel farther than a foot or so. They were a few steps away from the main floor and Lily was pleased that they’d managed to stay quiet enough to avoid waking Mr. and Mrs. Potter. Mere seconds after that thought tumbled through her mind Belle let out a muffled shriek from behind them. Lily whipped around, the image of Bellatrix instantly flashing through her memory. She let out a sigh as she realized that no one was attacking Belle, and crossed her arms in front of her.

“Why on earth did you scream?” Alice snapped.

“It was ze cat,” Belle answered, pointing toward the top of the staircase. Lily moved her wand a bit, and could just make out her pale-amber kitten as it darted up the remainder of the stairs.

“Because kittens are so terrifying?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at the blonde.

“He rubbed against my feet! I ‘ardly expected him to be zere and it surprised me!” Alice and Lily giggled at their friend, who let out an undignified huff. Lily turned back, smiling at Belle who (despite her best attempt) couldn’t pretend to be mad for more than a few seconds. Once the blonde finally smiled back, Lily turned from her and they finished their descent onto the ground floor, then maneuvered through the living room and into the kitchen. Lily waved her wand at the lanterns and brought them to life, small flames pulsing behind the glass.

After the flames grew large enough to illuminate the entire room, the girls set to work digging through recipe cards that Mrs. Potter kept in a cupboard near the sink. Lily let a yawn escape, which was passed over to Alice and ended with all of them taking turns trying to stifle the contagious things. It was just past five in the morning on Christmas Day, and their bodies obviously weren’t adjusted to waking at such an early hour. But it was worth being up, because they’d decided the night before to surprise Mr. and Mrs. Potter with breakfast. James’s parents had done so much the last few days... the last few months, really.

After Healer Knowles allowed James and Lily to leave St. Mungo's the Potters had invited the entire group − all eight of them − over to their home. This way they could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas together. Lily was sure that Olivia and William realized the group would be worried the second they left the hospital, so having them all at the house eased everyone’s minds. Still, all of them being underfoot couldn’t be convenient. Lily knew breakfast probably wasn’t the biggest ‘thank you’ ever, but it was at least something they could do.

The girls finished choosing the recipes, then began dancing around one another to rifle through cupboards and gather ingredients. A large pile formed as they placed everything they’d need on one section of the merlot colored counter. After a few arguments to decide if something was actually necessary or not, they were finally ready to cook. Eggs were cracked into bowls, scoops were measured, and milk was spilled, but they trudged along.

Belle finally got the pancake batter to cooperate and was stirring it carefully, her face streaked with flour, as Lily fiddled with the flame for the oven. Olivia had a passion for Muggle cooking, so she had quite an odd set up for the stove. It took the girls a few minutes to figure out, but once they did it was actually a rather genius idea. There were five ceramic jars hanging above the unit, each with a flame in them. Four of those controlled the cooking on the stove top and regulated the temperatures by the size of the flame, then the last one mastered the oven and worked the same way. It took them some experimenting, but they were finally able to get it all burning at just the right degree.

Once the French toast was spread out over a copper skillet, the pancakes dribbled into another, and an egg casserole cooking in the oven, the girls finally took a moment to tidy up around them. Lily began putting away the unnecessary ingredients while Belle and Alice set to work washing and drying the dishes.

“You know, I’m pretty impressed with us,” Alice said, leaning against the sink and drying off her soapy hands. Lily poured another steaming cup of tea from the pot, then hopped up on the counter and let her legs dangle toward the ground. She didn’t want to admit it, but her body was feeling much weaker than it ought to.

“And I zink it didn’t take us too very long,” Belle added. They all glanced toward the giant clock sitting in the corner. As if on cue, it bellowed out six deep, powerful chimes. No, it really hadn’t taken them long at all. Especially considering that none of them were great at cooking. Lily loved baking, but had trouble with everyday meals. She supposed that’s what happened when you’re served breakfast, lunch and dinner through the majority of the year.

The smell of bacon sizzling and syrup warming over a flame for the pancakes made Lily realize just how hungry she was. She hadn’t eaten much since leaving the hospital early yesterday, but being hungry was a good sign. It meant her body was feeling closer to normal than it had since the attack. She was actually slightly astonished by how well she was taking everything. Maybe her body wasn’t completely back to normal yet, but her mind didn’t seem as messed up as she would have thought. True, she’d had a few nightmares the last few nights, but those had been a problem since her parents' accident. Now, instead of watching the car crash over and over in her sleep, she was seeing the twisted face of Bellatrix Lestrange. Which was actually a bit better than reliving the death of her parents.

It was odd, but in a way she nearly felt relieved about the whole thing. Almost like she felt satisfied that the attack on Beowulf tied into the one on her and James; now they knew they didn’t have to continue convincing themselves that the owl’s interception had been nothing. It had happened for a reason and now that reason had come to a head. They’d been cornered and attacked by one of the most terrifying women imaginable, and they lived through it. Would they have survived without Sirius and Belle? Absolutely not. They were lucky that their friends had ended up coming the night before. Lucky that Christophe had been called to the Leclairs’ and Sirius had punched him, because that brought them to Swansea.

Even if they’d mainly survived on luck, at least they knew now to be aware. They could protect themselves better. Knowing that they weren’t safe really was more of a comfort than trying to force themselves to believe they were.

“What’s going on in there?” Alice asked, tossing a dry rag at Lily.

“Sorry,” she said, shaking her thoughts from her mind. “I was just thinking, I suppose.”

“About zat steamy night you and James shared?” Lily’s cheeks flickered from cream to pink at her friend’s words.

“I knew I shouldn’t have told you two,” she grumbled.

Alice smirked, or tried to. On her face it looked more like a silly smile. “Yeah right, you couldn’t not tell us anything. So, do you think that you and James know... soon?”

“I think I humiliated myself,” Lily answered, not even wanting to remember the night and how forward she’d been.

“You did not ‘umiliate yourself. James spent ze entire next morning drooling over you while you were getting ready for ze wedding. It really was a tad pa’zetic, poor boy. ” The girls broke into a hushed round of giggles, and Lily couldn’t stop herself from being pleased about the idea of James wanting her.

“I just don’t know how any of this is supposed to work, I guess,” she answered after they all quieted down. “I wish my mum was still here so I could talk to her about it.” The familiar sense of pain washed through her, but it passed quickly. Her mum was gone, and so was her dad. It was a fact that could still break her if she let it, but she learned to allow the agony sweep through her then shooed it away. She had to let herself feel it, or else she’d risk burying everything, but she didn’t have to let it overtake her.

“Well, that’s why you have us,” Alice said, stepping over to Lily and placing a hand on her arm.

“Do you wish you would ‘ave done it zat night? Zough, I’d rather not zink about it ‘appening so close to where I was sleeping.” Just like that, Belle managed to diffuse the rest of the tension in Lily.

She thought for a moment about her answer. Most of her knew that she was happy it hadn’t happened that night, because James was right when he talked about what she wanted her first time to be like. But that didn’t mean she didn’t want it to happen. She was about to tell her friends just that when the sound of creaking stairs stole their attention.

“Girls?” Mrs. Potter said as she lifted her wand and gave it a few flicks. The oil lamps that filled the living room were all set ablaze, and the small candles tucked throughout the Christmas tree sprung to life. Lily would never get over how gorgeous the Potters’ home was at Christmas time. It was beautiful any time of the year, warm and inviting despite the size, but the huge evergreen tree full of golds and reds really was a sight to see.

“What are you doing awake so early?” The older woman’s voice was still heavy with sleep, her dark hair crumpled.

Lily slid off the counter, stepping aside so the platters of food were visible. “We wanted to make breakfast, Mrs. Potter. There’s warming charms on everything, so we can wait until everyone is awake.”

The skin around Olivia’s eyes crinkles up as she smiled. She finished tying the belt of her night-dress, then made her way over to kitchen and pulled the three of them in for a group hug.

“That was incredibly thoughtful of you all.” She kissed their cheeks, then glanced from Belle to Lily. “My boys and Frank are very lucky to have you girls, aren’t they?”

Lily wasn’t surprised when she felt her face heat up. She always blushed, and knew when to expect it. What did surprise her was the glow of pink forming in pools under Belle’s skin. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen Belle blush...

She supposed her French friend hadn’t thought that Mrs. Potter would know there something was going on between her and Sirius, though it was pretty difficult to miss. She wondered for a moment if she should break the silence, but Belle managed to shake herself out of her temporary muteness.

“Yes, I suppose zey are, aren’t they?” she replied, her lips curving into a smile that matched Olivia’s. Belle had never said that she and Sirius weren’t together, but if Lily wasn’t mistaken, this may have been the first time she really acknowledged something between them.

Lily was sure neither Belle nor Sirius would ever actually ask the other where their relationship stood, but she didn’t think they needed to. Ever sense the blonde had started willingly spending time with the group, she and Sirius just seemed to understand one another. Lily suspected that would carry over to any sort of romance. It seemed fairly likely that they’d never feel it essential to define their relationship.

“Thank you again for letting us all stay, Mrs. Potter,” Alice said, and the woman pulled her into another hug.

“Having all of you here does more joy for my heart than I can say. Lily, you’re sure you feel strong enough to be up and about?” Her all knowing eyes turned to Lily, and she gave a convincing smile and nod. Well, what she thought was convincing.

“How about you girls go get comfortable on the sofas. I’ll make another pot of tea, or maybe some cocoa, and we’ll relax until the rest of the house wakes up. I have a few new novels. Maybe we can all read a while,” Olivia suggested.

Curling up in one of the blankets with a book in hand and a steaming mug of cocoa sounded just perfect to Lily. They all agreed, not needing to be told twice.

“Girls?” Olivia said, reaching forward and taking Lily’s hand in her soft, slender one. “I really am so happy to have you all here. Merry Christmas.”

A bright tune flitted through the house, coming out of a few decorative elves bewitched to sing. The music was lovely, but for the most part it was drowned out by all the voices filling the rectangular table and the clinking of silverware. James hadn’t been lying when he told them about the Christmas dinner his parents held. It could probably rival Hogwarts’s feast.

“You take some more of that, dearie,” Augusta Longbottom said, scooping another heap of mashed potatoes onto Alice’s plate. “You’re looking a bit too thin lately.

“Oh Augusta, leave the poor girl alone,” came William’s booming voice, causing the two adults to get tangled up in friendly banter. Alice glanced across the table at Lily, all the redhead could do was give her an apologetic smile. She wasn’t sure just how Frank’s mum had managed to get herself seated next to the brunette, but it certainly wasn’t by choice of the latter.

James leaned over toward Lily and she arched her neck so he was able to whisper into her ear. “You know, rumor has it that once you have my mum’s Christmas feast, you’ll never be able to keep from coming back.”

“Is that so?” she asked, faking a curious tone. “I suppose I’ll just have to try and keep you around. You know, only for your mum’s delicious cooking.”

James’s laughed. It was a happy sound, nearly identical to his father’s.

“So Remus’s mum and dad are friends with Peter’s mum?” Lily asked once James directed his attention back to her. She looked out of the corners of her eyes at the three adults down the table, who seemed very into a conversation. Lily was certain they were more familiar with one another than just the yearly gathering.

“Sort of. Remus’s dad delivers the lantern oil to shops and some wealthier families that don’t want to go out and buy it. They get it cheaper for purchasing a lot at a time too, I think. Every day Remus’s dad goes around to different wizarding villages throughout Britain and does the deliveries. Well, Peter’s mum recently moved into a flat above a joke shop. Not one in Diagon Alley, it’s a smaller village than that. But he delivers the oil to that shop, and she sees him most days that he’s there. I think they chat a while and stuff, and sometimes Remus’s mum will go with his dad on the deliveries and then spends the afternoon with Mrs. Pettigrew.”

Lily kept her eyes on James’s expressions as he answered. He seemed much happier than he’d been earlier, his quiet mood having lifted considerably. She’d mentioned James’s sort of detached attitude to Remus a few hours before dinner, and he suggested just letting it blow over. He told her that it was hard for James to not blame himself when bad things happened, but that talking to him while he was feeling like that wouldn’t do any good.

She’d taken Remus’s advice, and also made sure to be extremely upbeat around James to show him that she was perfectly fine; nothing about what happened was his fault. She was relieved that the mood seemed to be wearing off, and they’d spent the majority of dinner joking with one another and the rest of the table. Maybe she’d convince him to talk about what had been bothering him tomorrow or something, that way he could get it out in the open and she could make it clear that not for a second did the blame of the attack belong on his shoulders. He was the only reason she was still alive. If he hadn’t been with her...

“All right friends, I’d like to make a toast,” William said, standing from his seat at the head of the table and interrupting Lily’s train of thought. “I just want to thank you all for being with us this evening. In past years, this was always a way to get our boys together during the Holidays so they didn’t mope around like the whiny little things they are-”

“Dad,” James interrupted.

“Well, not as whiny anymore as they used to be,” he said with a wink. “But what I’m saying is, what started out as an idea to make sure the boys got an evening together over the Holidays, became something my wife and I look forward to every year. I know we don’t all see much of each other in the surrounding months, but when this day comes around and we’re all eating my wife’s impeccable cooking and catching up with one another... well, it’s something that I’m blessed to be part of.” A bottle of champagne lifted itself in the air and began going from person to person filling their flutes. “Thank you friends for being here to celebrate Christmas with us.” He lifted his glass for a toast, and the rest of the table lifted theirs as well. Just as Lily was about to take a sip, James reached up and pulled her flute from her.

She turned to him to ask why he’d taken her drink, then noticed that Frank had done the same to Alice and Sirius to Belle.

“What-” she started, but was cut off as Olivia opened her mouth. Instead of words coming out, there was some sort of chiming music. Augusta tried to speak as well, and the tune of Jingle Bells came pouring out. They all tried to talk at once, and a loud cluster of different Christmas tunes filled the house.

“Thank you, thank you,” James said, standing. Sirius got up as well, followed by Remus, Peter and Frank.

Sirius beamed at them all, then spoke loudly enough to be heard over the music. “This year’s prank has been bought to you by none other than: James Potter, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Frank Longbottom, and of course myself, Sirius Black. We hope you enjoy your next few minutes of singing. If you’d like to thank us for pulling such a delightful gag on you all, we accept sweets and butterbeer as tokens of your appreciation.”

It seemed everyone had realized that they’d fallen right into the boys’ trap, and the only person left looking truly annoyed was Augusta. But Lily was certain she usually looked annoyed. She couldn’t help herself, and joined in on the fun of trying to coax the parents into talking. Angie and John Lupin seemed to be enjoying it the most, taking turns singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer back and forth to one another.

“Hey,” James said, leaning into her. “I have a present for you.” She waited for a moment, expecting him to pull out some sort silly thing to go along with his prank, but instead he stood from the table. She glanced around, and after deciding they wouldn’t be missed, stood and followed him out of the dining area and toward the Christmas tree.

“I didn’t say anything this morning because I didn’t want you to open it in front of everyone.” He reached toward the back of the tree and pulled out a pillow sized box. The silver paper covering it was wrinkled and ripped in places, pieces of tape trying to hold it together. Something about that, the proof that James had wrapped it himself, warmed Lily’s heart.

“Wait, I have something for you too. It’s up in my room, though,” she said as he plopped down onto the overstuffed chair, the present in hand.

“Well well, Lily Evans. I didn’t know we were giving each other those kinds of presents, but I suppose that’s okay with me.”

She crossed her arms, copying the face her mother always used to make when she or Petunia had said something completely ridiculous.

“Only kidding,” he added, his arms up in mock surrender.

“You wait right here, I’ll go grab it.” She didn’t stick around to hear his response, but ran off toward the curving staircase. She had to slow down after a few steps, her body feeling shaky, and held the railing carefully as she climbed to the first floor. Once she made it to her room, she moved the careful stacks of clothes from her trunk and pulled out one relatively large parcel, and another small one. She turned to leave the room and had just gotten to the door when she sighed. After a second’s thought, she walked back over to her trunk and replaced the clothing she’d removed. This wasn’t her room in the Heads’ Quarters... she couldn’t just leave it a mess and wait until she had more time to clean it.

After tidying up to her own satisfaction, she finally left the room and crept back down the stairs. William’s voice was easy to hear from the next room over, but it seemed like he was the only one who’d gotten back his ability to speak.

“James,” she said as she reached his chair, only to find him with eyes closed tight and head flopped back. “James Potter, I know you aren’t sleeping.” She waited a moment, resisting the urge to flick his nose, then let out a theatrical sigh. “Fine, I suppose I’ll just give this brilliant present to someone else. Now if I could just find Remus...”

“Don’t even think about it,” James said, laughing as he sprang back up in the chair. “Sit with me.” She squeezed herself in next to him, enjoying the heat radiating from his body. She’d give almost anything just to curl up and fall fast asleep...

“Here, open yours,” he prompted, passing the silver parcel to her. She’d always loved presents, and didn’t need to be told twice as she ripped into the twinkling paper. A piece got away from her and hit the ground. Then, out of nowhere, her kitten came darting in and attacked it like it was the last mouse on earth.

“You get that scary piece of paper, you tough kitty,” she cooed before turning back to her present.

It seemed kind of like a blanket, but not a blanket at the same time. The deep purple fabric was nearly transparent, but in her hands it felt heavy, like a down duvet. She unfolded it, surprised when the color started swirling around in itself.

“It’s something that I started working on a few months ago,” James began explaining, talking faster than usual. “I thought of the idea over the summer actually, but it took a lot more time than I originally thought. The guys all helped, and Alice and Belle.” She lifted it up and wrapped it around her shoulders, surprised that it did actually feel quite warm despite the thinness of it. But there was something else... almost a kind of energy coming from it.

“I don’t...” she started, not knowing what to say. It was gorgeous, absolutely beautiful, but she still couldn’t figure out if it was just a blanket or not.

“It’s for sweet dreams,” he continued, and pulled it completely around her. “Pretend you’re about to go to sleep and imagine something sad or scary.”

She did what he asked and closed her eyes, taking a few breaths like she was just getting ready to lay down for the night. It didn’t take much prodding for the face of Bellatrix to come crashing in. The woman’s nearly black eyes so cold as they drilled into Lily, the way she’d taunted Lily, trying to force her to relinquish the hold on her own life... the memory playing out before her became fuzzy and whirled into a mixture of colors on its own accord, and when it reformed the deranged witch was gone. Instead, the faces of Belle and Alice were dancing around her, both of them laughing as they trudged through the snow. She watched herself turn around, a few feet ahead of her friends, and say something that had both girls nearly doubling over with laughter.

After a few seconds Lily realized that the memory was from a month or so ago when they’d been walking out to Herbology. She opened her eyes and blinked away the images in her mind, still somewhat distorted when she began speaking. “James... how did you...”

“I got the idea when you were having really bad dreams about your parents. I wanted there to be some way that, when the bad dreams started happening, something could replace them with good ones. We all put loads of our happy memories in the blanket, so you should have enough to last a lifetime. I thought that it would be sort of useless now that you haven’t been having nightmares much anymore, but then after the other night...” A mask crept into James’s eyes, and he turned away from her.

“James, it’s perfect. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen,” she whispered, taking his hand and trying to get him to come back to her. When the feeling of detachment didn’t disappear, she decided now was as good of a time as any to bring it up. “I know you’ve been upset the last few days about everything that happened and have decided that, for some unknown reason, you should take responsibility. What happened to us was... well, I can’t even describe it. But James, nothing about it was your fault. If you keep blaming yourself I’m going to start getting angry.” He glanced back over at her, probably to see if there was truth behind her words.

“I’m not trying to be... to seem like there’s something wrong. I’m really happy you’re okay, Lily.” He tried to pull her into him, but she stiffened up.

“No. That isn’t how it works. You can’t be happy that I’m okay and try and make me feel better, but then keep putting this misplaced guilt yourself. What happened was neither of our faults, and if you’re going to say it was yours, I might as well think it was mine, too.”

“It wasn’t you she came for,” he said, his tone too quiet. “It was me. And if she-” he cut himself off, his body tensing beside hers.

“If she...?”

He stayed silent for a moment, then smiled up at her. “You’re right. I’ll try and stop blaming myself,” he agreed, but there was still something else there. He was keeping something from her.

“James, if you want to tell me something, anything...” He glanced down at his fingers as she spoke, then back up at her.

“I will. But later, okay?” She nodded at his answer, not wanting to get into an argument about it right then. She knew whatever it was he wasn’t telling her would gnaw at her, but it was Christmas. It wasn’t the day to dwell on this kind of thing.

“This blanket... it’s really incredible,” she said softy, deciding a change of subject was probably best. “How did you do it? What kinds of charms did you have to use? Everything about it just feels so... magical.”

His serious expression lit back up, and he simply shook his head, refusing to tell her the secret behind it. She couldn’t imagine the kind of magic that it would have taken to make it happen, the amount of work he must’ve put into it... She decided to break the rule she’d just made about not hugging him while he was blaming himself and leaned forward, slipping her arms around his neck.

“It’s perfect, James,” she whispered, letting their embrace linger for long enough to have her wanting more.

“Okay, my turn!” His hand snaked over Lily’s lap to the bigger of the two presents. Oh, why did he have to pick that one first, Lily thought as she chewed on her lip. She tucked a red strand back behind her ear, annoyed at the loose piece for getting in her eyes, then tried to put on a brave face.

He tore open the paper just as haphazardly as she had, which of course brought Butterscotch back to attacking the balls of shiny rubbish. She was tempted to close her eyes, unsure if she wanted to see his reaction or wanted to hide from it. Time ran out for her to decide as his gaze fell upon the canvas that was now free of all its wrapping.

“Did you...?” he asked, glancing up at her. The admiration in his face brought a wave of reassurance through her, and she nodded.

“Lily. It’s amazing. Well, you know that, you did it.” He stayed focused on the painting, and though Lily wasn’t leaning over his shoulder, she could picture it perfectly. She’d spent every free hour she could get away with on the piece of art, wielding the brush and strokes of oil paint as carefully as possible. A few times she’d made an error and had been tempted to use magic to correct it, but always resisted. Painting wasn’t about perfection, but about getting emotion into something that couldn’t speak for itself. She knew his eyes were scanning along the stag, something she’d wanted to paint ever since she’d witness his Patronus in Professor Dumbledore’s office. She watched his gaze follow the lines of the trees that the stag stood in front of, the dark greens and browns housing the silver animal perfectly.

“Here, open this one too,” she said, placing the small box on his lap. He stared at the painting for one last second before moving it carefully to the side then picked up the gift, pulling the wrapping off with steady fingers. He reached inside and retrieved a Golden Snitch with a date carved into it.

“It’s not the one from the match. I wanted it to open to your touch, so I got a new one. There’s something inside of it, but you can’t look. You have to wait until I’m not with you anymore. And that’s the date that Gryffindor won the match,” she added, pointing to the loopy numbers.

“And the day you kissed me in the hospital wing,” James said, smiling as she blushed. “These are incredibly, Lily. I can’t believe you painted this.” He turned back to the picture and Lily saw it again for the first time since she’d finished wrapping it. She realized that she was rather pleased with how it came out. Some of her coloring for the forest was a bit off, but the stag was just as Lily had wanted it. He was proud but graceful, strength and purity all mixed into his stance.

“I know this Christmas is probably really different for you,” James continued, placing all three of their gifts on the table in front of them then pulling Lily closer to him. “And with everything that happened, I didn’t think there was any way that it was going to be a good one. But this might be the best Christmas I’ve ever had.”

Lily felt her heart melt at his words. She’d have to ask one of her friends if they knew the charms James had used on her duvet, because this was one memory she really wanted to include. She tilted her chin up, meeting her lips with his and losing herself in their kiss.

“Happy Christmas, James,” she whispered when they parted. Even though it was the first Christmas without her parents and they’d been attacked just days ago, it was still more wonderful than she ever could have imagined.

Hi guys! As always, thank you to my wonderful beta, CambAngst! I also want to thank Arithmancy_Wiz for her always helpful reviews. She offered some invaluable suggestions in this chapter and I just want to hug her for them!

I told you all that the Death Eaters weren't invited to Christmas! I hope you guys liked the lighter chapter. We needed on after the last few. What did you think of their gifts to each other?

Thank you so much for reading and reviewing!

Chapter 25: Trouble on the Hogwarts Express
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Gorgeous image by heartfelt. @ TDA
Chapter 25 - Trouble on the Hogwarts Express

James rolled the golden Snitch back and forth between his fingers as he made his way through the Hogwarts Express. Prefects would be doing the remainder of the patrols, but he and Lily had taken the first shift to give everyone time to get settled. Both of them had started at opposite ends of the train and they were hoping to run into each other in the middle.

He glanced out the window to his left, not surprised to see piles of thick, grey clouds spreading out in every direction. Of course it looked like rubbish outside. It was England in January, after all. It would probably be ages until they saw the sun again. The weather wasn’t what was creating the edgy sort of tension inside of him, though. He knew it had nothing to do with the constant drizzle of rain turning all the snow into dirty slush, and everything to do with the conversation he’d be having with his friends in the next few minutes. He’d held off talking to them about what was bothering him while they’d been at his mum and dad’s house, but there was no sense in putting it off any longer. He hadn’t wanted to ruin the mood then, especially not on Christmas day when Lily had first asked him, but he knew she realized something was wrong. And he might as well tell the entire group at once.

James halted outside of a compartment as the sound of exploding snaps caught his attention. Amateurs, he thought, listening to the surprised squeals of what sounded like younger students. He shook his head and continued the patrol.

It wasn’t long until his attention was back on the small item Lily had given him for Christmas. After looking all around to be sure no one was near, he stopped and leaned against a window then gripped the ball in his palm; the cool metal felt oddly comforting to his clammy hand. The wings fluttered and the Snitch repositioned itself, allowing him access into the small compartment. He pulled out a tiny picture of Lily, smiling as her lively eyes met his.

The sudden urge to talk to the miniature Lily was one he forced himself to ignore, not wanting to interrupt her patrol. The sneaky witch had put some sort of charm on the photograph that made it act a lot like the two-way mirrors James’s dad had given him and Sirius.  All he had to do was tell the picture that he wanted to talk to Lily and it would alert the photo she had of him, then they could pass messages back and forth using their image selves. James’s smile grew even larger as he replaced the photo and put the Snitch back into his pocket. Something about knowing that he was able to talk to her anytime he wished brought a foolish sort of happiness to him. God, if any of his mates saw him acting like a lovesick puppy over this, they’d never let him live it down.

James picked up the pace of his patrolling as the steam engine chugged along, ready to get the remainder of his area finished so he could head back to their comportment. He felt a bit off, almost sulky, but he never got sulky. Sirius was always the one to stomp about like a child if he felt even slightly off. James just needed to get back to his friends and talk to them about everything that was on his mind, he was sure of it. Usually leaving England and heading back to Scotland after holiday was something he looked forward to, but this time it was more bitter than sweet.

He’d had all of his mates with him at his parents’ home this year, unlike prior ones when it’d been just him and Sirius and they’d only seen Remus, Peter and Frank during Christmas dinner. Then after Christmas day the rest of the group had gone back and forth between their houses and the Potters, except Belle and Lily of course, who’d spent the remainder of the holiday with them. James had also gotten a few days completely alone with Lily, just the two of them relaxing and spending time together. One of the days they’d gone to visit Lily’s parents and placed poinsettias on the graves while Lily chatted with them. She didn’t mention anything about Bellatrix, but instead told them of the wedding and how suitable Vernon seemed for Petunia. Well, that was absolutely true, James thought. Each of them was rather terrible in their own way.

They’d spent evenings playing games, or Lily would explain different Muggle things to his parents, or his mates would show up for the night and they’d all just mess around until Lily or Remus bullied them into studying. It was one of the best holidays he’d had, apart from the attack, of course. He basically had all the things he loved about Hogwarts in his own home where he could sleep in as late as he liked and not have to write a bloody letter each time he wanted to talk to his mum or dad.

Having Lily spend so much time with his parents had made him happy, too. An odd sort of happy. It had been a bit shocking the first few times he’d ventured downstairs to find her already up and sitting with his mum drinking tea, but not in an unpleasant way. It was almost too easy for him to see her in his home with his family, and made him realize what a large part of his life she’d become.

James wondered if it had been shocking to see her slip so well into his family because he was still adjusting to the serious relationship, or because he was afraid of what would happen if he didn’t have it anymore? Though he didn’t want to admit it, part of him knew it was probably the latter. He had a few instances, though he’d never admit it to anyone, where he’d get terrified that she’d wake up one day and remember all the times she’d hated him and call the whole thing off. They’d talked about their rocky past before, obviously. He’d told her there were instances when he’d taken things too far and did things he wasn’t proud of, even if Snivel - Snape - did deserve what he got more often than not. And she admitted that maybe she’d refused to see some of the darker parts of Snape because they’d been so close.

That was as much as they’d ever said, and probably ever would say, about it all. Sometimes James wanted to ask her why she’d overlooked all the fucked up things Snape had done, but he knew it’d make her either sad or angry... he really didn’t want to do either of those things. And it wasn’t like he and his mates hadn’t done their fair share of pretty terrible stuff. The trick that Sirius played on the Slytherin to lull him into the Willow had been particularly awful... and the time James used a curse on Snivellus... Snape... without really knowing what it would do.

James supposed that when you cared about someone enough it was easier to ignore the stupid things they’d done and focus on the good. Just like he and his mates did for each other and just like Lily had done for James. The redhead knew he wasn’t that same person he’d been a few years ago; surprisingly enough James Potter had grown up. Not that he’d never do anything mean to Snape again, but he’d wait until the boy did something first. Or was acting funny... like he was up to something. Or if the bleeder and his gang ever went after one of James’s Quidditch players again. Then they’d really be in for it.

“Hey there.” James looked up to see Lily stepping from the compartment. “You nearly walked past us.”

“Well Lily,” he started, his face quickly morphing into the picture of confidence, hiding all of the things that had been brewing under his surface only moments ago. “Some of us take our duties as Head student seriously. Couldn’t be bothered to remember the compartment everyone was in when I’m trying to check the safety of our sacred train, now could I?”

James’s face broke into a grin as Lily placed her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes into a glare. God, he loved being able to get her all worked up. He needed to start keeping track of all the things that worked best to put Lily Evans into Angry Mother Mode.

“Well then, I suppose − because you take your duties so seriously − you’ll just want to continue patrolling the portion of the train that I’ve already seen to. Just to be certain.” Her eyebrow raised as she spoke, and he wanted so much to throw her over his shoulder and wipe the smirk right off of her face. Instead, he hung his head and faked the most sincere voice of shame he could manage.

“No Miss Evans, I’m sure your patrol was done to standards that were more than satisfactory.” He peeked up through his lashes and saw her smirk transform into a smile before she simply shook her head and laughed, then turned to walk through the glass paned door of the compartment.

James followed her, his mood much better than before. He still wasn’t looking forward to the conversation he was about to have with his mates, but at least everything would be out in the open. It wasn’t as if he was telling them anything especially surprising, just not the best thing to start the term off with.

Oh well, he thought as he pulled the curtains of the compartment closed, might as well get on with it.

“There’s someone at Hogwarts watching us. And not just to get us in trouble like always, but really watching us.” James's voice rang through the now silent compartment.

For the first time since the start of the journey from Kings Cross, Sirius stopped fidgeting. He'd never been good at sitting still for long, especially on the ride to Hogwarts when he was usually just excited to get back, but now not even his fingers dared to move. He felt Belle sit up straighter beside him and glanced around for any indication that he’d heard his best mate wrong.

“You mean... someone like Avery or one of his bunch? They’re always watching us, James,” Sirius asked slowly, narrowing his eyes.

“No. Well, I might mean it could be them, but I don’t know. I figured something out over holiday but I didn’t want to say anything until we left my parents’ house.”

So it was something James didn’t want Mr. or Mrs. Potter to find out about... Sirius knew that most things James kept from his parents were for the sake of avoiding any sort of worry that would be put on their shoulders.

“James, who do you zink is watching us and why?” Belle snapped, and Sirius could tell she was just as nervous as he was.

“Is this something we should really be discussing here?” Remus interrupted. Always the practical one, Sirius thought. Though he may be on to something with this.

“Yeah,” Alice agreed. “It sounds like, if you’re serious about what you’re saying, it might be safest to wait until we can go into the Heads’ Quarters.”

Sirius didn’t know if he could wait that long to hear what was eating his best mate up. James was never very good at hiding things... and Sirius had noticed he’d been a little off during holiday. He’d seemed quieter than usual, but Sirius had just assumed that it was because of the attack.

“I can do something about that,” Lily said, standing up and pointing her wand at nothing in particular. “Muffliato.” A gust of wind came shooting from the tip of her wand.

“Erm, Lily...” Peter said kindly, and Sirius was sure he was also wondering if Lily had gone barmy. “I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of that spell. Or if it did anything...”

Lily opened her mouth to answer, but Alice had already started saying something. “Hey, isn’t that the spell you used when Belle wanted to tell us she and Sirius had almost kissed in the lib − Hey!” The pillow that Belle had been laying on was sent flying at Alice, cutting off the remainder of the sentence.

Sirius glanced over at Blondie, his mouth turning up into a half smile. “You just couldn’t get to me soon enough, could you?” he joked, slinging an arm around her which she promptly plucked off her shoulder.

“Don’t go getting a big ‘ead, Black. Maybe I was simply traumatized about ze idea of it all and I ‘ad to tell ze girls. You never know, do you?” He tilted his head back and laughed loudly enough to shake the bench. He always enjoyed his and Belle’s banter.

“If you two are finished,” Frank said, throwing the pillow that had been on Alice’s lap back over to Belle. “Lily, what does the spell do?”

“It’s meant to block the sounds of whatever it’s cast around. If anyone walks by our compartment, they’ll just hear a buzzing noises instead of our voices.”

“Useful spell,” Sirius said, nodding approvingly. “How did you learn it?”

“Severus came up with it in fifth year,” she replied. Her tone had changed just enough that it was clear she was daring them to say anything negative about the wannabe Death Eater. Ah well, Sirius thought, they couldn’t blame her for being loyal to the memory of a former friend. Even if he was a piece of slimy dung.

“Thanks, Lily. Going to need to remember that one. Now that we’re safe to talk...” James finally took a seat on the bench, leaning forward with his hand on his knees. “You all know what happened in the hotel room. No, Sirius, not that,” he said, cutting off Sirius before he was even able to make a joke about what he'd later learned his mate and Lily had been up to. “You all know what happened with Bellatrix. Well, I realized that she wasn’t just guessing or hoping I was there. She knew I’d be there.”

Lily was the first to point out the obvious. Of course they knew that, Dumbledore had made it clear that the intercepted letter had been tied into this.

“No,” James continued when they’d told him just as much. “No, I don’t mean she knew that there was going to be a wedding and all that. The letter from Petunia said all the details she’d need, so of course I didn’t think twice about it when Dumbledore told us. But I realized later that she knew I was going to be there. She didn’t just guess that Lily would end up going and hopefully bring me. She knew it. And she doesn’t seem like someone who would just go ahead with an idea and hope it worked out.”

Sirius shook his head slowly, his good mood falling away as the pieces all clicked together. “No,” he began, clearing his throat. “No. My dear cousin wouldn’t do anything without knowing it would go how she wanted it to. She was after you most, right, James? She said that he - Voldemort - was going to offer you and possibly Lily spots in his little group of psychopaths?”

“Yeah, she said she was going to take me to him and that I’d better give him the right answer.”

“But what if she’d just meant to go after Lily, and it happened that you were there and that was even better or something?” Alice asked in her always optimistic tone.

“No,” James began, “that’s what I thought at first, too. Or I guess I didn’t even really think about it. But she didn’t care if Lily was alive or not. It wasn’t that she ended up just getting lucky and having us both there.” Sirius watching as James glanced over at Lily, taking a step closer to her before continuing. “She wanted to kill Lily and just take me. She knew I’d be there.”

“When we came in,” Belle interrupted, a tremor in her voice, “I thought Lily was dead. I didn’t zink zere was any way...” she paused, taking in a ragged breath. “I didn’t zink we’d all come out alive. From ze looks of it, zat woman was never planning on anyone but James leaving with ‘er.”

“Except she never counted on you and Sirius turning up,” Lily said, giving them all a smile that Sirius was sure she had to force. “And that made all the difference.”

Remus stood up, pacing a few times before he turned to Lily. “Lily, you never wrote back confirming to Petunia that you and James would attend or anything?” Lily shook her head, the serious expression seeming much too somber for her usually smiling face.

“Someone in Hogwarts is watching us. Someone knows, and whoever does is part of their group. Or wants to be badly enough to pass the information along to a Death Eater.” James went silent for a moment, and Sirius knew he was gathering his thoughts. “We never really said anything about our plans to anyone. Not that I can think of, at least. Dumbledore made it clear that we should keep everything discreet after Beowulf was attacked.”

“I don’t think we were ever specific at all,” Lily added. “We told a few people, like Margaret and Mary, that we’d be spending the holiday together. Maybe we mentioned going to my sister’s wedding, but no one that would be working with them. We don’t even know who exactly works for You-Know-Who.”

Sirius felt his anger slowly begin to boil. He knew someone who walked through the corridors of Hogwarts wearing the Dark Mark like a fucking badge. He tried to keep his voice stable as he spoke. “Whoever it was that told works with the Death Eaters closely enough to know that Bellatrix or Voldemort or whoever the fuck was in charge of this, needed information about you guys. None of us would ever sit there and talk to a Prospect about our plans, or even talk about plans near one. But it got back to them. And it got back to a Death Eater. Probably the same one who’s sitting in our fucking school every day.”

“Sirius,” James started, a warning in his voice. “You don’t know that your brother had anything to do with this. You’ve said it before yourself, Regulus wouldn’t be up to doing any dirty work. Voldemort probably just marked him to get more money from your family.”

“I don’t know what Regulus can and can’t do anymore than I know what my nutter cousin is capable of. I never thought she’d actually try to kill me, but if she’d had the chance in that hotel room I’d have been the first person she offed.”

“No,” Belle said, shaking her head. “She’d ‘ave killed me first. She was quite angry when I disarmed her.” Sirius knew Belle was trying to bring some sort of humor into the situation, but he couldn’t handle that.

“Sirius,” Remus said, trying to reason. “He isn’t the only student here who supports Voldemort-”

“Yeah, but he’s the only one we know who’s Marked, isn’t he?” He was a Death Eater. They all knew it. None of the other Slytherins had been caught bragging about being a fucking follower like Regulus.

“That doesn’t prove anything,” Lily said gently, but Sirius barely heard her. His mind was already slipping farther away from the conversation and focusing on what he needed to do next.

He felt his fingers aching to ball up into fits. His own flesh and blood had tried to get his best mate killed. The person that Sirius had done everything he could to save, to pull away from the Black pure-blood beliefs.... the boy who had been the only one in the family to tell Sirius he didn’t mind that he was in Gryffindor...that same boy was the reason James and Lily were nearly murdered. Sirius knew he and his brother had gone their separate ways, Regulus too set on pleasing their parents to ever abandon the values he’d been raised with, but he’d never believed him capable of this sort of thing. Even when he’d learned that Regulus had been marked, Sirius was certain he would be nothing more than a connection to the vault of Black family gold.

“I swear, I’ll fucking kill him,” Sirius whispered, standing up. He felt Belle’s small hand reach over and grip his arm. He shook it off, ignoring the voices of his mates as they tried to get him to sit back down. A cloudy kind of color blurred his vision as he tore open the door to the compartment and set out into the hall. Regulus, the little mommy’s-boy bastard, had probably sat there and laughed at the thought of Sirius being alone again. He’d probably wanted to take away the family that Sirius had been welcomed into. Wanted to rip the mate that was more of a brother than anyone ever could be away from him, so he and the rest of the sick family could laugh at Sirius.

Regulus walked two innocent people into a massacre, for fuck’s sake! The idea that he was capable of that sent a churn through Sirius’s stomach. He was just a kid who would never stand up for what he wanted. Sirius had tried to keep talking to him after he fled to the Potters’ home, but it had quickly been made clear that his parents wouldn’t allow communication to continue and Regulus would never do anything that his precious mummy didn’t like. They’d never been real brothers, but Sirius had wanted to save him from the Blacks. Sirius had tried, and he didn’t want to be saved, so he’d wiped his hands clean and not let himself be bothered by it.

But now... now, knowing that little coward had been so close to destroying two people Sirius loved...

He raced by the compartments, ignoring James and Belle’s voices coming from behind him, and used his wand to shoot the curtains aside on every covered door. After he’d made it nearly halfway through the train he heard a greasy laugh he’d recognize anywhere.

And he was nearly certain where Mulciber was, he’d find....

“You,” Sirius spit, tearing open the door and pointing a finger at Regulus. He heard an angry shout from Abigail, and pointed his wand at her. “Get out here, now," he ordered Regulus, his fingers aching to clench into fists and give the boy what he deserved for ever getting involved in this life.

“Sirius, stop!” Belle shouted from behind him, placing her hands on his shoulder.

“Leave,” he growled, his eyes still burning into the boy across from him who resembled Sirius more than the latter would ever want to admit. Regulus sat there looking almost amused.

“Don’t worry, my brother is partial to temper tantrums,” began the younger of the Blacks, tapping his fingers impatiently. “Though I’d rather hoped he’d outgrown them. What is it, Sirius? Mum refused to give you your inheritance again so you’re going to come shout at me about it?”

“Ignore ‘im Sirius. ‘E isn’t worth zis, let’s go back right now.”

“This has nothing to do with you. Get out of here,” he said, turning on Belle. He saw the worry in her eyes morph to hurt before flashing quickly to anger.

“So I’m ze only one zat ever needs any ‘elp? My family ‘ad nothing to do with you but I wanted you around to ‘elp with zat, didn’t I?”

“This isn’t like that, Belle,” Sirius answered, getting steadily more annoyed at the blonde. “Just leave. I don’t want you here right now.” He didn’t want her to see what he was about to do, but he also knew that it wouldn’t be long until the last string of control snapped inside of him and he buried his first into Regulus’s jaw. It would be nothing like the clean punch he’d delivered to Christophe, Sirius would make sure there was much more blood this time.

“I want you all out, now!” shouted Mulciber.  “Or we’re going to tell Slughorn you’re harassing us.”

Sirius almost laughed at the statement. Did the Slytherin think he cared? Did he think the threat of getting in trouble was worth walking away, despite the fact that he’d almost lost his fucking best friend? The thought of it caused the red to ebb back into his vision, and he launched his body at the Regulus. He heard a shout from one of the Slytherins and saw a wand aimed at his direction, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was making the Death Eater pay.

Before he could even swing his fist he felt someone come up behind him and grab hold of his elbow, forcing him back.

“This isn’t the way we’re going to handle it,” James whispered.  Sirius tried to shake him off but he felt more hands clamp around his other arm. Remus was on the left side of him, both boys forcing Sirius back toward the door of the compartment. He fought against them, then raised his wand, wanting to at least curse the piece of shit if he couldn’t punch him. Peter was too fast and plucked the wooden tool from his fingers.

They managed to yank him from the compartment and he felt his body get pinned against the wall, then was face to face with James and the tip of his mate’s wand.

“I swear to God Sirius, I will petrify you if that’s what it takes to get you back into our compartment,” James threatened, and Sirius was certain by the look on his face it was the truth. “I don’t think it was him, or else I’d be attacking him too,” he continued, lowering his wand a few inches. “Go back to the compartment and I’ll tell you the rest. Don’t make us drag you there.”

Sirius tried to fight off the part of him that wanted to knock James out and go back into the compartment. Why didn’t he think it was Regulus? Why wouldn’t it be the piece of Death Eater shit?

“Just, trust me,” James said, answering his questions before Sirius could ask them. “Remus, Peter, get him back to the compartment. I’ll clean this mess up so we don’t find our arses expelled.”

Sirius took a breath, trying to calm himself down. If James asked for his trust, there had to be a reason. But now he sort of wanted to punch Regulus just for sounding like such a conceited wanker.

“Let’s go,” Remus said as James stepped away. Sirius gave the compartment one last hard look, then turned to follow his mates. He noticed James and Lily disappear back into the Slytherins' area, but Remus prodded him along before he could ask what they were going to do to fix it.

The tension was still steaming off of him as they slipped back into their section of the train. He’d wanted so badly for it to be Regulus, to make someone pay for what had almost happened. He sat back down on his cushion, not looking at anyone. He knew no one there was surprised at his actions. He’d never had the best control of his temper... he didn’t need anyone to explain that to him. Sirius turned his head and looked at the window, the train heavy with silence. He watched the air around them grow cloudy as they passed through fog, and finally let out a long sigh.

Maybe he should have let James finish explaining before he’d gone after Regulus.

He turned his head to tell Remus that he’d gotten stronger since the last time he’d had to help hold Sirius back, but instead Belle’s face caught his attention. Her jaw was set tightly, her light eyes not even glancing toward him.

“Hey,” he began, reaching a hand out to touch the blonde’s. She yanked hers away and he felt his heart sink. Maybe not everyone was used to his temper.

“What, are you going to tell me to leave zis compartment, as well?” she snapped, still not meeting his eyes. He started to say something else but caught Alice shaking her head out of the corner of his eyes. He shut his mouth. He’d never made Belle actually angry before. They’d bickered and everything, but not like this.

He shrugged his shoulders and relaxed into the seat. Maybe she needed time to cool off, or maybe he should try and explain that he hadn’t meant to make her mad. But she shouldn’t have been trying to stop him. Maybe he had no idea what the hell he was supposed to do.

Well, from the start of it, it looked like this was going to be a brilliant term.

Yay we're back on regular posting schedule! Thank you all so much for understanding the last few crazy weeks. But my life is back to its nice quiet self now and Saturday postings shouldn't get off track again :).

Thank you, as always, to my lovely beta reader CambAngst!

I also wanted to thank Kiana , Val. Their reviews leave me seriously speechless.

What did you all think of this one? Was Belle's anger at Sirius justified, or do you think she was over reacting just a bit?

Chapter 26: The Marauder's Map
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Perfect CI by heartfelt.@TDA
Chapter 26 - The Marauder's Map

Belle pulled a comb through her hair and ignored the tugging as she coaxed knots from her golden strands. She knew Alice and Lily were waiting in the girls’ dormitory, but didn’t let that rush her. This time was hers. She craved these few moments of solitude that went along with her morning routine, the sound of rain pattering against her window making her want to move slower than ever.

Actually, she’d be perfectly content with slipping back into bed for the entirety of Saturday and finishing her book, but she knew they had too much to do. The start of February brought a new wave of anxiety as the N.E.W.Ts loomed closer and they needed to dedicate as much free time as they could handle to preparing. That didn’t bother her much; revising may not have been her favorite thing, but doing it with the whole group was always more fun. Except for recently, thanks to the tension between her and Sirius. Despite Belle’s best efforts, she hadn’t been able to get past the way he’d spoken to her on the Hogwarts Express. She knew it wasn’t fair to still feel angry at him... she had plenty of experience with saying something then regretting it. And it wasn’t that she wanted to be upset, it was that she simply couldn’t be anything else.

She’d taken him into one of the most private places of her life, shared with him more of herself than anyone − with the exception of her two friends sitting just a door away. And then when it came to her wanting to help, wanting to stop him from doing something that he’d probably end up getting expelled for, he’d treated her like she was nothing more than an annoyance.

Isabelle understood why Sirius had wanted to attack his brother. When James told them what was on his mind, she herself had started thinking only of who it could be and what she’d do to them when she found them. But there were better ways. Ways that wouldn’t involve a handful of witnesses saying Sirius was the one who started the fight. She knew he had a temper... she’d witnessed just as much in her parents’ study. But the kind of thing he was about to do could have ruined his future. Did he even take a second to think about what would’ve happened if he’d gotten expelled?

She knew that his mother was able to twist the terms of his inheritance so that he couldn’t receive it until graduation. So not only would he have walked away from Hogwarts without sitting for his N.E.W.Ts, but Mrs. Black would have gotten to keep the ridiculous amount of money meant for her eldest son. And just because Sirius had decided to stop pursuing a future as an Auror didn’t mean he wouldn’t go back to it after the war was over. Right now he wouldn’t be able to work in the Ministry, the corruption so severe that Professor McGonagall had warned them against believing anything they read in the Prophet, but that didn’t mean he never would. The war wouldn’t last forever.

Sirius hadn’t thought about a single one of these things, though. He’d lost his head and acted rashly in a situation that could have cost him dearly. Oddly enough, that wasn’t even what was upsetting her the most. It was the fact that every time she thought about the incident, she could still hear him telling her to leave, that he didn’t need her there. That was what really twisted her stomach up. He told her he didn’t need her. After she’d needed him so desperately to get through the evening with her family... it felt like a slap in the face.

They’d barely spoken since then, Belle knowing she didn’t trust herself not to make it even worse and choosing instead to leave the room whenever he brought it up. She knew he was sorry for how he’d spoken to her, but his apologies did nothing to calm the feeling of betrayal.

“Belle!” came Alice’s voice, as close to annoyed as it ever got. “Come on! We’re going to miss breakfast.”

Belle replaced her comb then ran her fingers over her face, as if trying to wipe away all the thoughts she couldn’t rid herself of. Why couldn’t she just shove things out of her mind the way Lily could? Her best friend had been the one who was only seconds away from death and even she’d been able to bounce back. Why couldn’t Belle let go of what happened with Sirius, even for just a day? At least James had taken longer than Lily to accept everything... that made Belle feel like less of a drama queen. A sad smile flitted over her face as she thought of how often she caught James starting at Lily when the latter wasn’t looking... like he couldn’t believe how close he’d come to losing her.

Still though, they’d all been able to understand and get over what had happened. And here she was stewing over a few words Sirius had said to her in a moment of anger.

“I swear, Belle, I’m giving you two seconds before I unlock this door and pull you out by your hair!” Lily said, her tone ten times more threatening than Alice’s.

“Alright, alright.” Belle stepped from the washroom with a cloud of steam trailing after her.

“Finally,” Alice sighed, closing her Target or be Targeted book, one of the dozen Mr. Alastor Moody had assigned her and Frank to read.

Belle glanced over at the empty bed across from Alice’s, pressing her lips together. “Did Margaret already leave for breakfast? I zought she was going to go down with us.”

“She was,” Lily said, raising her eyebrow. “An hour ago when you said you’d be ready in twenty minutes.”

Belle only smirked. “And she ‘asn’t learned by now not to believe me when I say it will only be twenty minutes? Zat’s unfortunate.”

“Belle has a point, Lily. But that was still way longer than usual,” Alice added as the girls began their walk down to the Great Hall. “Poor Lily could’ve slept an extra hour before meeting us in the dormitory.”

“No, I would have been awake anyway. I started having this dream about the time Alice and I transfigured Sirius’s quill into a garter snake during class. I woke up laughing so hard that I had to stand to breathe properly.”

“Oh!” Alice began, practically bouncing in place. “That was one of the memories James used of mine for the blanket!”

Belle watched as Lily’s face fell a fraction before her smile was forced back up. She was sure it was hard for their friend to know that the nightmares were still present. The blanket had been an incredible idea of James’s, and the best thing for Lily, but it didn’t hide the fact that somewhere in her mind all those dark things were still haunting her. Maybe Belle wasn’t the only one left dwelling on what happened.

“So,” Lily said, changing the subject. “We’re going to have breakfast, then Alice, you and Frank need to talk to Professor McGonagall, right?”

“Yes. Well, we just need to give her some things. It won’t take long. She just needs our completed forms so she can write up our transcripts to give to Mr. Moody.”

“Okay. So after breakfast we’ll go to McGonagall’s study and you can give her those. Then I need to talk to the Heads of House to remind them of the upcoming Hogsmeade day. Then we’ll head to the library to revise until lunch?”

“Except Belle,” Alice added as they finished the descent down the last few stairs. “She’ll come revise with us until Sirius shows up. Then she’ll spend the entire time trying so hard to ignore him that she’ll have no idea what we’re talking about.”

Belle glared at her friend, though she couldn’t deny what Alice said.

“Belle,” Lily began gently. “Don’t you think it’s time you agree to hear him out? You know he never meant to upset you.”

“‘E didn’t upset me,” Belle said, her features firm.

Alice halted in place, positioning her hands on her hips. “Sorry, Isabelle. You might be able to lie to yourself, but lying to us isn’t nearly as easy.”

“Look, we aren’t telling you what he did was okay.” Lily took a step closer to Belle, her eyes cautious as they searched the blue. “He acted like a stupid prat and he had no right to shout at you like that.”

“Exactly,” Belle concluded. “So you understand why I don’t zink it’s necessary to speak to ‘im. Now, let’s get to breakfast, shall we?”

“Belle.” Lily’s voice was firm, causing Belle to roll her eyes. She knew it wouldn’t be that easy. “How Sirius acted wasn’t okay, but I still think you should let him explain. Or at least try to apologize. He hurt you. That blows, it really does, but it wasn’t intentional and these kinds of things happen.”

“Don’t you think Frank has upset me plenty of times?” Alice asked, leaning against the stone balustrade. “He can be such a bullheaded prat sometimes. Like with the Christening after he and Augusta were involved in the attack. He didn’t talk to me about that for weeks, Belle. Weeks. Do you know how hard it was to wait while he came around and finally decided it was better to speak with me about it instead of shoving it under the rug?”

“But zat’s different,” Belle argued. “Something terrible ‘appened to ‘im and ‘e wasn’t ready to face it. ‘E didn’t say any’zing mean to you.”

“No,” Alice argued patiently. “He just chose to practically ignore me for weeks while I tried to deal with the fact that my boyfriend was in a Death Eater attack. Look at this from Sirius’s point of view. He thought he’d discovered the person that was responsible for putting Lily and James in danger. He was angry. How he treated you wasn’t kind, but neither is the fact that you’re basically using it as a reason to back away from him before you get too close.”

Belle leaned her back against the wall, refusing to meet their eyes. She wasn’t using it as a reason to pull away from him. Was she? Was she really that terrified of caring about someone again that she’d use anything she could to stop herself from getting attached?

“Whatever you want to do is up to you, Isabelle,” Lily added, her voice a bit softer. “We’re going to love you no matter what.”

Belle was trying to think of what to say, but whatever words started forming behind her lips were cut off as the group of boys came barreling out of the Great Hall.

“There you all are,” Remus said, struggling to balance a book under his arm as he finished his last bite of toast.

“We tried to wait to eat...” Peter began, shrugging apologetically.

Belle tensed up as Sirius took a step closer to her. She struggled to focus on what James was saying about Quidditch but could feel the grey eyes staring at her. She kept her gaze straight ahead, trying to drown out Alice’s and Lily’s words that fogged up her mind. Was she really dragging this on because she thought it would be easier to distance herself from Sirius now instead of letting them get closer? She really was hurt by how he’d treated her, though. She’d had enough people act like she was a glass doll − something you could look at and comment on the beauty of it, but was basically worthless for anything else.

“Belle, can we talk?” She was so focused on attempting to ignore him that the sound of his voice only inches from her ear startled her.

The group went silent before Lily rushed to usher them all away, mumbling something about needing to eat breakfast and James needing to get changed for Quidditch. Somehow, in what felt like less than a second, it was just Belle and Sirius left standing there.

“You haven’t eaten,” Sirius pointed out. “Do you want to grab something?” She shook her head. She didn’t think she could stomach anything just then. She’d done so well at refusing to speak with him about this... but had that been because she really was angry or she was struggling to make herself that way?

Could she honestly handle facing Lily and Alice and telling them that she’d refused to talk to Sirius again? Especially with how patient they’d been so far...She would hear him out. But it wouldn’t change anything. At least then she could say that she did give him a chance to explain.

“Let’s walk,” she heard herself suggest before turning her body away from him. Her feet moved of their own accord, her mind too focused on trying to keep her blue eyes free of the emotions swelling up inside her. She didn’t want this − any of it.

Was that the truth, though? Did she really not want it or was she just too scared of what losing it would feel like? Everything had felt so right after France. The way they’d sort of fallen together, then spending the entire day just laughing with each other as they roamed around Swansea. Christmas at James’s house... why had it all been so easy then, yet here she was doing almost everything she could to break apart what they started building?

Belle didn’t know why she was heading into the storm, but before she could think twice she was pushing the doors open, heaving wood creaking against their hinges. A gust of chilly wind came darting in. Despite the temperature, she continued down the aged steps with Sirius a few paces behind her. The fat, icy drops fell onto the hair she’d spent so long brushing, catching in her lashes and blurring her vision.

“Belle,” Sirius said, taking her arm as she began to follow the path toward the lake. “Belle, you’re going to get ill out here. You don’t even have a cloak on.”

She whipped around, her wet hair snapping behind her. She didn’t need someone to baby her. She didn’t need someone to treat her like she was a fragile ornament meant for show. “I can take care of myself,” she said, the words as cold as the water leaking through her thin robes.

Sirius must’ve realized he’d hit a nerve, because he simply raised a brow and nodded. She turned around to continue walking when a group of yellow clad students came running by her. James would be happy that Hufflepuff finished their practice, she thought as she stepped aside to let the bodies and brooms go by. One girl whose name she wasn’t certain of but recognized the nearly black hair, eyed Sirius as she walked by.

Mine, Belle thought, narrowing her eyes into a glare. But that wasn’t even true, was it? Because if Sirius was hers, she wouldn’t be doing everything she could to push him away.

“Belle,” he said again as the last Quidditch player passed, reaching forward and grabbing her hand. She’d forgotten what her palm felt like against his... silk on sandpaper. “I never meant to hurt you.” The words were simple, his voice getting tangled with the wind that snarled around them. She hated the way his eyes drilled into hers, like they were trying to force her to believe the sincerity behind the statement.

“You saw what I went zrough with my parents. You watched me ‘andle zat all. Did I ever give any sort of indication zat I was too weak to deal with it? Zat I’d be too weak to deal with you?” Her voice was getting louder, the control she had around her tone slipping away. “Is zat why you wanted me to leave? Or did you just zink zat I wasn’t worth helping you? Zat fragile Isabelle would never understand?”

“That’s what you think?” He kept her hand in his and pulled her under one of the large trees so they were half sheltered from the weather. But Belle didn’t need that. Right then, what she needed was to be submerged in the storm, circled in something nearly as destructive as she was.

“I’ve never thought you were weak, Belle. I watched you disarm the most deranged witch around.” Sirius rubbed his hands over his face, nervous tension vibrating off of him. “But I didn’t want you to be there for what I was planning on doing to Regulus. I didn’t want you trying to stop me.”

“Because you’re worried that I couldn’t handle it!” Belle shouted. She turned around ready to leave. This was getting them nowhere.

“No!” Sirius’s hands snaked forward and grabbed her wrists, tugging her back to him. He moved his fingers up her arms and gripped tightly onto her shoulders. Belle wanted to throw his hands off, to tell him never to touch her again, but the look in his eyes convinced her not to.

“Because...” he continued, staring down at her with frustration gleaming in his darkening eyes. “I don’t know, Belle. I didn’t want to worry about how you’d look at me if you watched me attack him. I didn’t want to worry about trying to justify what I did, or about what would happen if it made you think less of me. I didn’t want you to look at me like I was no better than them.”

“No better than who?” she asked, unable to stop herself.

“All of them. All the fucking Blacks! Bellatrix, Narcissa, Cygnus, Druella... my mother and father and all of them that just curse the fuck out of people to get what they want! I didn’t want you to see what I was going to do to Regulus and realize that I’m just like the rest of them.”

Belle felt a chill wash through her that had little to do with the storm.

“I know I’m not the same as them, Belle. I don’t think like they do, but that doesn’t stop other people from believing that I’m no better than my Muggle hating mother and father. And if you saw me do what I’d wanted to me brother, you’d look at me that way too.”

“What was so different about ze time in France and ze train? You didn’t care zat I watched zen,” Belle retorted. She wanted to accept what Sirius was saying, but she didn’t need to be protected. Not even from him.

“Christophe is a cocky bastard who needed to be hit. I wanted to teach him a lesson for what he did to you.” He turned his head from her, the sharp angles of his face looking more shadowed than ever. “But with Regulus... I wanted to make him regret ever taking that fucking mark.”

“And you would ‘ave gotten expelled! Zats why I wanted to stop you, Sirius. But you acted like I was nothing. After every’zing zat happened in France, I would ‘ave zought you’d want me to ‘elp you when you needed it.” She felt herself quivering on the border of anger and understanding, not ready to choose one just yet.

“But I didn’t want you to help me. I wanted to do it, and I didn’t want you or anyone stopping me. I know I shouldn’t have gotten angry at you-” Sirius cut himself off then turned from her, reaching up and rubbing his hands over his face. “God, maybe I am just like them,” he whispered, barely loud enough for Belle to hear against the crashing rain.

“No,” she started. His anger she could handle; she could stay just as angry for probably longer. But this... his pain, she couldn’t. “No Sirius, you’re not like zem. Just like I’m not ze same as my parents. Maybe we ‘ave zings that are similar, we’ll always look in ze mirror and see pieces of zem, but we’re not ze same. We chose different lives. We got away.”

“I wanted to hurt someone, Belle. Badly. I didn’t even think about it. If James and Remus hadn’t pulled me back... if Peter hadn’t grabbed my wand-”

“Zat’s ze difference, Sirius. You ‘ave zose people zat care about you. Because you’re someone zat deserves to be cared about. You may ‘ave zeir temper, and maybe what you wanted to do to Regulus is far from anything I’d ever want to see, but none of zat happened because you ‘ave people zat love you to stop you. Don’t you see zat’s what matters?”

“And if they weren’t there?” Sirius countered, his grey eyes filled with more shadows than Belle had ever seen.

“I don’t know,” she finally answered. “Maybe you would ‘ave done something zat you regretted, but you’d regret it. You’re already zinking about what might ‘ave ‘appened, and zat’s so different from zem - your family. Don’t you see, it’s ze fact that you’re worrying about all zis zat makes you different.”

The first sign of a smile ghosted across Sirius’s face as he finally met her gaze. “Is that why you wanted to stop me? Because you knew I’d regret it?”

“Well, Remus and Peter and James aren’t ze only people zat care about you, you know,” she answered, her full lips curving up at him.

“Do you still care about me? Even though I acted like a prat?” He tried to make the question sound casual, but Belle could hear the nerves in his voice.

“I could be convinced to forgive you...” She let her sentence trail off as she turned and leaned her back against the tree. Was she still angry? “Sirius, you know zat I can ‘andle zis kind of zing, right? Zat I don’t need you to protect me, especially not against yourself. I know I probably stayed angry too long... but I can’t be back zere again. Back where nothing I say matters because all I’m meant to do is look pretty and act accordingly.”

“Well, I’ve seen you act a number of different ways... but accordingly isn’t one of them.” He dodged her small hand as it came at him in a playful punch. “I do want to protect you from things, but not because I don’t think you’re strong enough to handle them on your own. Because that’s just part of me.”

“I suppose I can live with zat. But if you ever snap at me like zat again, I’m going to stay angrier for much longer.” She thought for a minute of how cold she’d been to him the last few weeks. Maybe if she’d have understood from the start what was really upsetting him, she wouldn’t have stayed angry for so long. Although she supposed she hadn’t given him a chance to explain the reasoning behind all of it...

“You know,” she began as she lowered her body to the ground, not concerned with the dirt that would gather on her robes. “I’m ra’zer surprised you kept trying to talk to me and explain for so long. I was acting slightly unreasonable, I suppose.”

“You think I give up that easily, princess? After watching James trail around Lily like a lovesick puppy for years, then that finally paying off, I’ve learned a thing or two about persistence.”

Belle felt a giggle bubble up and couldn’t hold it back. The laughter started spilling out of her until Sirius’s deep voice joined in with the airy sound.

“So,” Sirius began as he leaned against her. “Does this mean we’ve survived our first fight?” She grinned as she turned to him, a happiness that she’d been missing the last three weeks filling her chest.

Maybe Lily and Alice were right and she’d been trying to push away from him, maybe she’d thought she was ready to let him go and not risk caring ever again, but that was before she watched the impossibly complicated man beside her turn into nothing more than a child needing some sort of reassurance. She’d just spent one of the best holidays of her life with Sirius, and wasn’t ready to give up that feeling for anything.

“We survived our first fight,” she concurred, leaning over and touching her lips to his. “But,” she added, pulling away from him and narrowing her eyes. “Just who was ze girl zat looked at you like she was undressing you with ‘er eyes when we were walking by ze ‘Ufflepuff Quidditch team?”

Sirius leaned his head back and barked a laugh into the sky, the sound echoing through the leaves of the tree.

Lily held a piece of parchment to the wall while James aimed his wand at it. He flicked his wrist a few times, then nodded at her. When she removed her hands the parchment stayed stuck in place.

“Perfect,” she said, then turned to the rest of the group. All of them, besides James who was still standing, were stretched out around the Heads’ Quarters. Belle was curled into a blanket with Sirius next to her, a sure sign they’d worked out everything that morning. She and Alice hadn’t gotten a chance to talk with their French friend alone when they’d been revising, but she was sure they’d have time that evening.

She glanced at Remus. His eyes looked heavy, like all he wanted to do was fall fast asleep. Lily felt her heart give a sympathetic lurch. Neither of them had brought up what they’d talked about in the hospital wing months ago, but that didn’t stop Lily from noticing every full moon. Thursday evening had been the last, then they had class all day Friday. No wonder Remus looked exhausted. Maybe she’d brew him a batch of Relaxation. She couldn’t tell him why; he was still set on pretending like their conversation never happened, but he’d understand even if he didn’t want to admit it. Then, on evenings after the full moon, he could take a few sips of that and it would relax him enough to slip into a peaceful sleep. Not nearly as strong as an actual sleeping potion, but much less addictive.

Maybe she could tell James to give him the potion? Though she still wasn’t certain on where they all stood with that. From the story Remus had told Lily back in September about the little boy finding people that still cared for him, she thought that he’d probably told James, Sirius and Peter. Though she was far from positive. God, this would be so much easier if she could just tell James that she knew. But then if he didn’t know... she’d never risk doing that to Remus.

“Lily?” James prompted, and she let the thoughts slip from her mind. She’d deal with those later.

“Yes, sorry. Okay, well. Let’s start with Regulus.” James nodded at her then swished his wand. Regulus’s name appeared in black ink on the hanging piece of parchment. “James doesn’t think it’s Regulus because it would make much more sense for a seventh year Slytherin, not sixth, to be the one passing information along. And because Regulus knows James well enough to understand that he’s as far from a future Death Eater as you can get, right?”

Sirius nodded at Lily and began to elaborate. “I didn’t really think about that on the train, but yeah. I used to talk to Regulus quite a lot about James, when I still thought there was a chance the little worm would ignore mother and father and try to do things a different way. I told him about James’s parents and how they used to be Aurors, so they could protect Regulus from Orion and Walburga if needed. I still don’t think Regulus is off the table, because just knowing James wouldn’t join isn’t enough. Volde-fucker probably doesn’t care what Regulus says as long as he does what he wants.”

“Okay, well, we’ll leave him listed,” Lily decided. “Now, what about the Prospects?”

“I think one of them is our most likely candidate,” Remus said, rubbing his hands over his eyes. “Because if we ever did mention our plans for Christmas holiday in front of anyone, it probably would have been in class. And they’re all seventh years, with more chances to overhear us than any other Slytherins.”

“Do we know...” Peter began, glancing around them. “I mean, is there any way to find out if any of them have been marked? Couldn’t we accidentally rip off their sleeve or something?”

“I’m not sure how much it matters if they’re marked followers or not,” Frank cut in, tapping his fingers against a table. “Being marked shows that Voldemort already somewhat trusts them. Mr. Moody said that he doesn’t even mark some people that work with him. There’s an entire pack of werewolves that help him and do his bidding, but Moody told us that they captured one and interrogated it, and learned that Voldemort won’t give any of them the mark.”

“Because they’re unworthy of even that sort of acceptance as an equal,” Remus said, his eyes staring at the ground. Lily wanted to walk over and hug him so tightly that he’d never feel the way he seemed to now, ever again.

“Well, maybe, but also because they’re already doing his bidding,” Frank said, obviously unaware of the dark tone that had filled Remus. “So if the Prospects are already doing his bidding, sort of like he’s testing them, it might be even more likely that it was an unmarked follower. A trial to see if they can really offer him anything.”

“And it would make sense,” Alice said, standing up and beginning to pace. “Because it’s not as if recruiting James and possibly Lily is a huge operation. From what Professor Dumbledore said, You-Know-Who thought that James and Lily’s influence on the school would be helpful. But not necessary. So it would make sense for someone who isn’t as trusted to be tasked with the goal of finding out more information.”

James nodded and aimed again at the parchment. Avery, Mulciber, Rosier, and Snape all wrote themselves clearly in the same thick, black ink.

“No,” Lily said, crossing her arms and trying to ignore the angry rush that filled her. “Take Severus’s name off, now.”

“Lily,” Sirius argued, “he was perfectly happy letting his friends nearly poison Mary in fifth year. Sure, he probably didn’t say the curse, but who do you think brewed the potion?”

Lily’s turned her head, meeting Sirius’s eyes. She’d accepted the way they used to treat her former best friend, and though she’d still never let them forget how childish they’d been, at least she’d moved past it. But this wasn’t something she would allow.

“I’ve known Severus most of my life,” she said, her words sharp. “He may want power, and yes he’s going about it the wrong way, but he would never lead me into something that would get me killed.”

“What if he didn’t know you would be in danger and he thought just James would be?” Alice suggested.

Did Lily think Severus cared if James got hurt? After all the things that the boys had done to one another, probably not. But he still wouldn’t put James in danger if it meant she might be in the cross-hairs of it. “No, he wouldn’t lead Death Eaters to where I was. No matter what. Take him off the list.”

James shrugged, whether or not it was because he believed Lily or didn’t want to argue, she wasn’t sure. But regardless, he still lifted his wand and caused the final name to disappear. Lily felt herself let out a sigh of relief. Severus did make it clear that the Dark Arts was where he wanted to be, but she knew without a fragment of doubt that he would never let her walk blindly into death.

“Now,” James began, turning from the parchment. “We mentioned to Slughorn in Potions that we couldn’t attend his gathering because none of us were staying over Christmas.”

“Oh, I’d forgotten about zat!” Belle said, sitting up straighter in her cocoon of a blanket. “‘E wanted me to play ze harp, and I told ‘im I’d be in France.”

Lily tried to think back to that afternoon. She knew she remembered mentioning something about seeing family over the holiday, but she wasn’t sure exactly what she’d said.

Remus stood up as well, the attention of the room turning to him. “When he asked James and Sirius if they were finally going to attend one... I can’t remember what you blokes answered. Did you just say that’d you’d be leaving for the holiday?”

They all fell silent and it became increasingly evident that none of them could remember the exact wording.

“Well,” Alice said, shrugging. “Even if they just said no, that they would be gone for holiday, we may have joked later on or a different day or something about Lily and James taking their trip. I remember once Belle and I were teasing Lily about bringing Butterscotch with her. I could have said something about James, too.”

“Any of us probably could have,” Sirius agreed. “So how do we narrow it down to who might have overheard us?”

“I’m not sure we’ll be able to,” Remus answered. “But I do think we need to keep an eye on where the Prospects all are. It might be impossible to figure out exactly who the spy for Voldemort is, or if it’s more than one of them, but this way we can know if they’re somewhere they shouldn’t be and we can also be careful to avoid them and not risk getting anymore information passed along.”

“‘Ow are we going to keep an eye on zem? Unless we each follow one all day. And zat is hardly possible.”

Lily smiled, already realizing the answer to Belle’s question. There were a lot of things that James, Sirius, Remus and Peter did that she was not thrilled about. Like nearly every prank they pulled which resulted in people being unable to go in certain parts of the castle for weeks due to gasses, smells, or other disgusting issues. But one thing that always amazed Lily was how they were able to create nearly anything. She watched a half smile play over James’s face before he dashed up the stairs to the bedrooms.

“Where is ‘e going?” Belle asked, obviously irritated. Lily realized as the confusion filled Alice and Frank’s faces that she was probably the only one, besides the four boys, to know about the map. James and Sirius had showed it to her over the summer, attempting to get her to think about anything other than her parents.

James’s footsteps returned as he ran back down the stairs then sat down at the table in front of him, a piece of parchment in hand.

As soon as James started opening it, Sirius slapped his hand down and glanced around at them all. “Now, what you are all about to see never leaves this room. You lot all close your eyes.”

Lily wanted to argue that she’d seen it before, but figured she’d just get glared at for not telling her friends about it. She followed along and listened as James mumbled something to the map, then told them to open their eyes again.

She hadn’t paid very close attention to the parchment last time she’d seen it, not in the mood to look anything that wasn’t her mother and father alive and healthy. But now, as she leaned in and got a closer look, she felt her breath catch in her chest. The way all the dots were moving around, the detail each and every stroke of ink had in it... it was amazing. Easily one of the most incredible pieces of magic she’d ever seen.

Remus chuckled as Alice reached forward and followed a line with her finger.

“And this, my friends,” James began, his voice full of pride, “is the Marauder’s Map.”

Hi guys, and thank you for reading! And huge thank you again to my wonderful beta read, CambAngst!

What did you all think of this chapter? You should have known I couldn’t keep Belle and Sirius mad at each other for too terrible long ;)! Thank you so much for stopping by! Also! I know I mentioned before that I was NEVER letting Belle talk as much as she did in her chapter, Revelations. I don't think she talks quite as much in this one, but pretty close. I hope her accent wasn't too much trouble to get through!

Chapter 27: A Game of Sorts
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Awesome CI by heartfelt. @TDA
Chapter 27 - A Game of Sorts

James tried to organize his thoughts as he stood on the outside of the Quidditch pitch and watched the stands fill up. His teammates were already changing in the players’ tent and he’d have to be in there soon to give them a talk, but he needed a moment to himself first.

Between classes, Head Boy duties, revising, keeping their eye on the Slytherins, and trying to snog Lily every chance he got, Quidditch had been one of the last things on his mind. Not that he let the team’s performance slip by any means. He was captain and it was his job to put them first, and he did just that. But it was more difficult to get his personal intensity at the level it needed to be in order to play his best. With so many different things buzzing through his mind, he was surprised it didn’t just explode.

They also had the Valentine’s Day Hogsmeade trip tomorrow. Lily told him she didn’t want a gift, considering her birthday had just been a few weeks ago and he’d given her a new set of art supplies, but he didn’t know if he was supposed to believe that or not. He didn’t really have any idea what sort of thing you got someone for Valentine’s Day, though. Alice and Belle said that as long as he took her somewhere to eat in Hogsmeade, then that would be perfect. Consequently, he had to tell Frank and Sirius that they were expected to take their dates somewhere lovely, as well.

Being a boyfriend was complicated, but James couldn’t deny loving it. He loved knowing what kind of mood Lily was going to be in just by the look on her face. And he loved knowing that she’d be waiting there at breakfast every morning, usually with a story about something ridiculous Scotch − Butterscotch − had done in her room the evening before. She’d been so focused on revising lately that they’d barely gotten any time together, so he was rather excited to spend an afternoon alone with her. But first, he needed to get his head in the game if he wanted to win this match.

James went through the calculations in his mind: they beat Slytherin the first match, Gryffindor scoring two-hundred and thirty points to Slytherin’s ninety. Then Ravenclaw beat Hufflepuff back in November, four-hundred to three-hundred and ten. The start of January brought the third game, ending in a Slytherin win against Ravenclaw... one-hundred and sixty to ten. So Slytherin was sitting at two-hundred and fifty, and only had one match left for the season. Ravenclaw was at four-hundred and ten, but they also only had one game left.

Neither of those teams worried James too much, it was mainly Hufflepuff he was concerned about. They were eighty points ahead of Gryffindor; both teams had only played one game so far. James needed to tell Violet not to catch the Snitch unless they were ahead by at least eight goals.Ten would be better... but he’d settle for eight. Then when it came down to the last game of the season, Gryffindor against Ravenclaw, James would have a better idea of how many points they needed to earn to win the Cup. But this game was just as important; the more points they earned today, the bigger their lead would be.

He took a deep breath, ready to face the noise and excitement of his players as they donned their Quidditch robes and prepared to kick arse. They were the best team around. He was captain, after all. He’d settle for nothing less than the best. Now it was time to get his heart into the game and show the school who would walk away with the Quidditch Cup come June. It was his only year as captain and he sure as hell wouldn’t let that go to waste.

“James!” He turned around to see Lily sprinting up to him, her cheeks full of color from the chilly February air. Behind her was the rest of the group, all making their way over. He noticed Alrek walking with a Ravenclaw girl... Janet? Janice? Something like that, James thought. Well, good that the bloke finally found someone in his own House.

James smiled down at Lily as she reached up and threw her arms around him, her hair catching in the wind and blowing everywhere. The sun bathed her red strands, causing a small glow to shine off of them . Scarlet and gold... James smiled as he thought about that. Lily really had been born a Gryffindor.

A shiver rushed through him as she gave his neck a small kiss and moved her lips up to his ear before whispering, “You’re going to do brilliant today James, I just know it.”

He nuzzled into her, the desire to get to his team and the urge to stand there in the biting February air and cuddle his girlfriend fighting against each other.

“Oi! James!” Sirius’s shout came barging through James’s thoughts and he glanced up to see his best mate running closer, pulling Belle along with him. “You aren’t going to win the Cup by snogging Lily. No offense,” he teased, sending Lily his typically charming smile. “I’m sure you’re lovely to snog and all, but, you know...”

Lily rolled her eyes at their friend, then laughed with Belle in a way that made James feel like he’d missed something. Alice, Frank, Peter, Remus, Alrek and his Ravenclaw girl all made their way over and circled around, everyone laughing and chatting. James heard a mixture of good lucks, even from Alrek and Janet (Janice?) who didn’t seem too concerned about the Gryffindor vs. Hufflepuff outcome.

“So he’s watching the match with you lot?” James asked Lily as the rest of group began venturing toward the stands.

“Yes, and Jenna.”

Jenna! That was it. He was about to tell Lily he’d forgotten the girl’s name, but decided against it. He was sure she wouldn’t understand how he couldn’t recall the name of a student he’d gone to school with for seven years.

“It’s nice the bloke finally has someone from his own house,” he said instead, nodding at his own words. “That must’ve been who he was with during the match in January since he didn’t sit with us.”

James began walking with Lily toward the pitch, though it was only a few feet until they’d need to split and go their separate ways.

“Yeah, he only watched that first match in November with-” Lily cut herself off and James glanced down. The thud of his heart strengthened in his chest at the sight of her face, frozen and pale.

“Lily?” he prompted, turning to her and placing his palm against her cheek. “Lily, what is it?”

“Oh, no it’s...” she tried to mumble out some sort of excuse, but James knew her better than that.

“Tell me the truth,” he insisted, taking her hand and stepping to the side so they weren’t in the way of students still rushing in.

“James...” Her usually light voice was nothing but serious. “You need all your attention focused on the match. We’ll talk about it after, yeah?”

“No,” he said firmly. James wasn’t that kind of person. The... wait until a better time to know what was happening, kind of person. Sure, he made other people do it; he put off talking about things if he felt like the timing wasn’t right, but he couldn’t handle when it was done to him. “I’m going to play much worse not knowing than I would if you just told me.” He watched as she struggled with herself, probably trying to decide if what he said was true or not.

“Okay,” she began, glancing around them. “Okay, but listen to me. It probably means nothing. When Alrek watched that first game with us, I remember us talking about Christmas. I don’t know exactly what I said or if I said you were coming to the wedding. And it wasn’t for long that we talked about it, maybe a few seconds before we started watching the match. Then he became ill and...”

James felt his breath quicken and struggled to even it out. Could the exchange student have anything to do with this? Rukin seemed nothing but casual around them... but he’d heard enough stories from his parents to know that it didn’t matter what someone appeared to be. They could be anything.

“Listen to me,” he said, holding Lily’s face with both hands. “Don’t say a word to anyone else in the group. Not here. Don’t make it seem like you suspect Rukin of anything. If he’s involved in any way, we don’t want him to know that we know.”

“The more I think about it, the more I don’t think it has to do with him,” Lily said, and to James’s surprise it sounded like she actually meant it. “It’s just... he’s never with the Slytherins, and we were already getting friendly with him so if he was involved you’d think there would’ve been better ways to get us alone with Bellatrix. He could have invited us straight into Voldemort’s... house? People like him don’t really live in houses, do they? Lair? Lair sounds better.”

James thought about what she said. There were just too many damn people it could be. Lily hadn’t remembered talking to Alrek about it until, well, just then... so any of them could be forgetting a time that they spoke to anyone in the entire fucking school about their Christmas plans.

How were they supposed to remember exactly who they talked to and what they talked to them about? But that still didn’t mean he was convinced Rukin didn’t play a part.

“Okay, sure, I see what you’re saying,” he said. “But no one is to be alone with him and, unless we somehow learn it definitely wasn’t him, he isn’t to be trusted. And Lily...” He waited until she was glancing back up at him, worry evident in her green eyes. “Thanks for telling me. I’ll play better than ever just because you did.”

She smiled and gave him another small kiss before turning around to take off toward the stands.

“Wait, not so fast,” he said, grabbing her hand as he turned around to see what group of students were passing them on the path. After spotting Ethan, a sixth year Gryffindor, he darted over to him, pulling Lily along.

“Hey there James, good luck tod-”

“Yeah yeah, thanks,” James said, cutting him off. “Walk Lily to the stands and make sure she gets to my mates, yeah?” Ethan looked at James like he’d inhaled a bit too much broom cleaner, then just shrugged.

“James Potter,” Lily growled, pulling James to the side as Ethan waited on the path for her. “I am not some child that can’t handle looking after herself.”

James put on the face he used for his mother the few times she’d been angry at him. “I need to know you get there safely,” he said quietly, hoping she’d understand. He wasn’t sure if he was off the hook or not, but she just rolled her eyes and walked to the path, sending James on last glare before continuing down it with Ethan and his friends.

After he watched a few more seconds to be sure she stayed with him, he turned toward the direction of the players’ tent and sprinted into it, knowing his team would be fuming by now.

“Sorry for taking so long,” he said as he tore through the flap. James took a deep breath and forced his brain to shut off and ignore what Lily had just told them. He couldn’t do anything about it now, and she’d been right when she said that maybe it wasn’t Rukin. It still seemed more likely for a Slytherin to be behind it, but now at least they could keep an eye on the Bulgarian transfer too.

He shook away the thoughts, then glanced around the room at the faces of his teammates, their eyes hungry for a win. After the game, he and his mates would figure out what to do about Alrek. For now, the only thing that mattered was the match.

Lily stood on the tips of her toes as she watched James soar through the sky. He looked like he was on fire, the crimson robes tearing behind him and catching every speck of sun. She gasped and reached down, squeezing Sirius and Alice’s hands as a Bludger went spiraling toward James.

“Please see it, please see it,” she whispered aloud, hoping with all her might that the ball wouldn’t crash into him. Just when she was sure it was going to make contact, Margaret came out of nowhere and smacked the Bludger so hard a crack echoed through the pitch.

“What a hit! That, folks, could have been a bloody mess if I’ve ever seen one. James Potter’s bones will remain intact though thanks to the brilliant Gryffindor Beater, Margaret Blackbourne!

Lily laughed at Frank’s voice, sounding so much more powerful than usual as it boomed through the air. She tried to take a deep breath to steady her nerves but it was no use. Every point Gryffindor scored seemed to be followed by a Hufflepuff goal. Finally James, Polly and Mary got into an incredible routine, and the Gryffindors started creeping further ahead. People still underestimated Polly because of her size and she managed to score three goals in a row. Lily honestly couldn’t believe how powerful someone so tiny could look up there, her moves precise and clean.

As the minutes ticked by Lily felt her throat grow raw from cheering and the crowd was losing their stamina ever so slowly. She watched Violet scour the pitch, and felt herself urging the Seeker to the find Snitch and end the game. She glanced around and noticed Professor McGonagall leaning over in her box, but couldn’t make out who she was talking to. The man looked young with short hair, but wasn’t the slightest bit familiar to Lily.

“Hey,” she said, turning to Sirius at her side. “Who is Professor McGonagall speaking with?”

Sirius narrowed his eyes the same way Lily had, then after muttering, “No way,” he reached forward and plucked a set of Omnioculars from a student in front of them. The girl turned around, presumably to shout at him, but her eyes grew large as she saw it was Sirius that had been the one to snatch them. Lily let out an accidental snort before focusing her attention back on the stranger.

“Lily,” Sirius said, gripping the Omnioculars so tightly that Lily could see his fingers turning white. “That’s Bain Turner. Polly’s brother. Then you see that man next to him? That’s Stanley Henniway, the Ballycastle Bats manager.”

“Doesn’t Polly’s brother play for the Cannons?” Alice asked from the other side of Lily. “Why would he be with the Ballycastle Bats manager?”

Sirius turned to them and handed the girl her field glasses back, ignoring her flirtatious smile completely. Lily couldn’t help but wonder if the younger Gryffindor was crazy for being so obvious... Belle’s feistiness had become something of a legend throughout the school.

“Well,” Sirius started, sitting down and leaning in as Remus and Peter both turned their attention from the pitch to what the group was talking about. “Word may have gotten around that the Ballycastle Bats were interested in looking for players. Maybe the Cannons got wind of it and wanted to scout for new talent as well and decided to be a bit more secretive about it all. Having Polly on the team gives her brother a good excuse to be here, after all.”

“And Violet’s spotted the Snitch!” Franks announcement forced their attention back to the pitch. Violet jetted through the air, her entire body forming to the broom with the Hufflepuff Seeker yards behind her. The crowd all held their breath, then broke into a wild cheer as Violet’s hand reached out and she brought her broom to a halt, holding her fist up to show the sneaky ball tucked inside of it.

“Gryffindor Wins! Two-hundred and thirty to one-hundred and sixty!”

Lily and Alice turned to each other and fell into a tight hug, both of them letting out the kind of squeal that was sure to annoy every student around. When the girls released their hold on one another, Lily noticed that the Hufflepuffs were already filing out of the stands and headed toward the castle. They didn’t look angry, just rather disappointed. A small twinge of guilt crept into Lily but she shook it away. It was a game, after all. The purpose was to try and win. She glanced over at her friends to ask if they wanted to head down to the pitch or just wait for James in the common room, when her eyes caught Alrek’s.

For a brief second, something in them terrified her. Icy fingers dipped through her and stole her breath before she managed to shake herself from the strange feeling.

She knew she’d never be able to recall what it was or explain it to her friends... but something about the way he’d been looking at her, the color of his blue eyes... It sent a violent shiver through her body. She told herself to stop thinking and ignore whatever the hell she thought she felt. She followed the group as they started making their way down the steps, trying to focus on what they were saying, but it seemed the harder she tried to forget, the more doused her mind was in it. Was she simply creating things in her mind because of the discussion she’d just had with James? She wanted to convince herself that was the case, but couldn’t begin to fathom how her imagination could have created such a feeling.

She wasn’t sure of anything regarding Alrek; what she was sure of was that this was James’s moment and she wouldn’t ruin it. As they neared the Gryffindors, all huddled together laughing and shouting, she plastered a sincere smile over her face. She was happy, after all. That wouldn’t be diminished by some odd feeling she couldn’t even explain.

Although the smile did threaten to falter when she saw Violet throw herself on James. Lily pushed down the urge to go peel the girl off and instead watched as James nudged her away. She trusted James. If the girl wanted to make a fool of herself by flirting with Lily’s boyfriend, that was her choice.

“Excuse me, James,” Belle said, her sharp features looking more dangerous than ever as she glared at Violet. “I believe you ‘ave some’zing stuck to you.”

Lily tried to cover a laugh by fake coughing, then grabbed Belle’s arm and faced her friend away from the players. “You know I can’t let you insult a student,” she lectured, raising her eyebrow. “But if I wasn’t Head Girl, I’d tell you how brilliant that was. Unnecessary, but brilliant.”

“It’s disgusting ‘ow she zrows herself at him,” Belle said, raising her voice a few octaves.

Alice stepped to the side of Lily and crossed her arms. “Belle, don’t sink to her level. Everyone knows she looks ridiculous trying to flirt with James, but you don’t need to make yourself look ridiculous as well by insulting her.”

“Fine, fine. I’m finished insulting ‘er for ze afternoon.” Belle held up her hands in mock surrender and the girls turned back to their friends just as James was walking over.

“Congratulations, mate!” Sirius said, reaching over and ruffling the captain’s hair. Lily felt a smug sense of satisfaction as he scooped her up and gave her a tight hug, but tried to force it down. She didn’t want Violet to be upset or anything, only to stop throwing herself at James.

“You all played brilliantly,” Remus said, beaming at the entire group.

“Though with all the talk James has been doing, we knew you would,” Peter added. Lily’s smile grew at the confident tone to her friend’s voice. Peter was still the shyest of the group, but nothing like he used to be. She made a mental note to prod him into asking Ellie, a sweet Hufflepuff girl that fancied him, to Hogsmeade for Valentine’s day. Remus was going with Eleanor − the seventh year Ravenclaw prefect − and Lily didn’t want Peter left out. And she might have already mentioned to Ellie that Peter would be asking her.

“Polly,” Lily started, leaning forward and hugging the small girl that came bounding over to them. “You looked perfect up there. Like you were born playing.”

“Well she practically was,” James said, patting her on the back. “Okay team-” Lily covered a giggle as James took on his ‘captain’ voice and turned to the players crowding back around him. “We won today, and I can’t tell you all how thrilled I am at the hard work you’ve put in at practices, but there’s still a ways to go for the Cup. We-”

“Mr. Potter.” The voice of Minerva McGonagall caused James to cut his sentence off. They turned around as the Head of House walked closer, Polly’s brother and the manager for Ballycastle both in tow.

“Bain!” Polly squeaked, running up and hugging her brother.

“Polly, you were bloody amazing out there,” tfohe deep voice said followed by a sharp cough from McGonagall. Lily tried not to laugh as the Quidditch star muttered a quick apology for his language.

“Mr. Potter,” the professor continued, “Mr. Henniway would like to speak with you. If you would please join us in my office at your soonest convenience, we’d greatly appreciate it.”

“Yeah, sure,” James mumbled as he shook both Mr. Henniway’s hand and Polly’s brother’s. “Let me just go get changed and talk to the team for a sec, then I’ll be right there.” McGonagall nodded and James gave Lily a nervous smile before taking off, the team right behind him.

“Miss Evans, I need to speak with you as well. Are you able to accompany us on the walk back to the castle?” Lily could only nod, not sure what the professor had to talk with her about.

“I’ll meet you guys in the Gryffindor common room,” Lily said to her friends, knowing full well that by the time she got back there would be a party for the books going on. Maybe she’d take her time making her way to the tower. That way they’d get longer to celebrate before she broke it all up and confiscated every forbidden item that they were either chugging down or lighting off.

As she waved goodbye to her friends and trailed behind the adults, her mind turned back to Alrek. Could the boy she’d just spent three hours sitting beside be the reason her and James nearly lost their lives? Most of her knew it wasn’t likely, but one small corner of her mind kept reliving the feeling she’d gotten when their eyes had met.

Regardless of how probable, or more likely improbable, it was, Lily decided it was worth bringing up to the professor once the manager was no longer around. Then maybe the nagging feeling would leave her alone

Minerva waited patiently, or as patiently as she was able, for the three men to arrive. Waiting was not her strong point. She was a woman who liked action, liked getting things done the moment she was able and always seemed to have another task on her list. Idle hands were the Devil’s tools, her father always used to say. A motto her family was raised on and one she never forgot.

“They’ll be here any moment, Minerva,” Albus said gently from his position behind the wooden desk. She simply nodded then resumed staring at the fireplace on the far side of the office, willing the flames to turn green and their guests to walk through. She wasn’t sure why she was so anxious. Possibly because she disliked the waiting, or the fact that she knew the longer it took for the others to arrive the longer Albus would have to leave the Floo connection unlocked. That allowed more time for someone to find a hole and break into it. She was confident that the headmaster had made certain his network couldn’t be tapped, even by the Ministry, and had taken every precaution possible before unlocking it for these painfully long minutes. Still, that didn’t ease her nerves.

Of course Floo was by far the safest way to allow their guests into the study, and with the nature of the conversation, it was much too sensitive to discuss anywhere but there.

The fire erupted and growled to life, causing Minerva to let out a small sigh of relief as a stocky body came clomping out.

“Good evening, Alastor,” Albus greeted, nodding at him. Minerva didn’t have the chance to add her pleasantries, for it was barely a breath until the next two came tumbling in.

“Oi, you didn’t wait long enough! You big baboon! You nearly stepped on my face,” came an annoyed huff from one of the men as he stood and shook his robes off.

“Maybe stepping on your face would have improved the ugly thing a bit,” the other man replied, to which Minerva could only further tighten her lips to stop herself from pointing out the fact that the men were identical to one another.

“Gideon, Fabian,” Alastor growled, before raising his wooden leg and bringing it down a few rough, hard times to get their attention.“You both best shape up unless you want to find my wand six inches deep in-”

“Mr. Moody,” McGonagall interrupted, not wishing to hear the crude remark that was on the tip of the man’s tongue. “Mr. Prewett and Mr. Prewett, if you would all care to take a seat...”

Albus flicked his wand as she spoke, causing three ancient chairs to dance their way over and settle near the desk. After everyone was seated the headmaster cleared his throat.

“As you all know, a full Order meeting wasn’t currently feasible. We will go forth with the one scheduled for the start of March, but it was necessary that I speak with a few of you prior to that.” Everyone nodded at the man’s words, and Minerva felt her anxiety lessen as they began the meeting.

Fabian sat up a touch straighter, his voice losing the teasing tone it held when he and his brother first entered. “If this is about the Dementors research, we really don’t have a way to slip any more than what we’re doing under the Ministry’s nose. We’ve nearly doubled our allotted fund for Magical Creature research and if we keep pushing, someone's bound to notice.”

“Yeah,” Gideon said, picking up where his twin left off. “Not filing your current project is as severe as committing murder, at least in the Ministry’s eyes.”

“Bloody bastards are keeping everyone on shorter leashes than ever,” Alastor growled. “It’s a mad house. If it weren’t for Crouch’s influence, I’d be disgusted at what my department would turn into. Thank God no one can say no to that son of a bitch; he’s the only reason my Aurors are still allowed the freedom they are. Minister Yang-gae Tanaka has her head so far up her-”

“As true as that may be,” Minerva cut in, “we aren’t here to discuss the happenings at the Ministry.”

“We had an interesting conversation with Miss Evans and Mr. Potter earlier today,” Dumbledore said, and Minerva was satisfied that they were getting back on track.

“Finally got ‘em in on the Order, did you?” Moody asked, his false eye glancing from Headmaster to Deputy Headmistress.

Albus answered before Minerva had a chance to. “Not precisely. In fact, Mr. Potter met with Stanley Henniway today about the possibility playing for the Ballycastle Bats. Another team sent one of their players to survey his skills as well, I believe.”

“I don’t understand,” Fabian said, leaning forward impatiently. “Are you reconsidering speaking with them about the Order?”

“No, no,” Albus said, holding up a patient hand. “I believe they are aware of certain aspects as it is. Mr. Potter is frighteningly perceptive. He doesn’t know what we are by name, but he understands that there is a ‘group,’ as he put it, devoted to stopping Voldemort. I didn’t have it in me to bring the information up just then. He deserves to think through the offer presented by Mr. Henniway. A decision isn’t needed by the team until after graduation, regardless.”

“What if he decides to play?” Gideon asked. “We need more people. We barely have a handful of us. Anyone willing to help-”

“Anyone willing to help would greatly increase our chances of stopping this, I know,” Dumbledore said calmly, flicking his wand at the wall to bring the lanterns alive. “But we must allow him control of his own future, or we’re no better than Voldemort’s side.”

A silence fell over the room, the crackling of flame on oil being the only thing to puncture the stillness.

“Oddly enough,” Minerva said after a few beats, “Mr. Potter’s future isn’t the only one that’s been discussed this evening. I received word yesterday from the Healing Academy of Magical Medicine that Miss Evans’s application has gone through to the next round. I discussed that with her while Mr. Henniway spoke with Mr. Potter. It was hard to read her exact reaction, but If she chooses to join us, she may be able to attend school and assist our cause at the same time. Frankly, it may do us good to have someone inside St. Mungo’s.”

“Minerva, you know what those hours are like,” Moody argued as he stood up and began pacing. “The girl wouldn’t be able to manage both. Not well, at least.”

Two deep lines appeared on either side of Minerva’s lips, creating a heavy frown. She knew the truth behind Alastor’s words, but she didn’t want to believe Miss Evans’s dream of being a Healer wouldn’t be possible. So much of her was torn... she wanted desperately to recruit more willing souls to help them fight, but she didn’t want to see any more of her students in danger. In many ways, she felt like a mother sending her children off to war.

Albus’s aged voice broke through her thoughts. “Well, true as all that may be, it’s necessary we let them decide for themselves. Minerva and I will discuss the Order and divulge any details we feel comfortable with come graduation. For now, I believe we’re doing the correct thing. But this is not the reason we requested the three of you to join us this evening.” Albus was silent a moment, fiddling with the hairs of his beard before continuing. “Mr. Potter and Miss Evans have discovered something that we already feared to be true. There is someone inside this castle who is responsible for passing information to Voldemort. Accurate information, I believe.”

“You go right ahead and tell them to talk to my Aurors,” Moody said with a proud grin. “Longbottom and Christopherson have more insight and brains than anyone in my whole damn department. They’ll have it figured out in a few weeks flat.”

“They’re still my students Mr. Moody. Not yet your Aurors.”

“Let’s not argue affiliations just now. Mr. Potter and Miss Evans did bring some interesting theories upon us,” Albus said. “Of course the ones we’ve already suspected are those whose families are known supporters of Voldemort, but it seems that James and Lily also believe Mr. Rukin is worthy of suspicions.”

“The odd thing about that,” Minerva continued, her skin tingling with the excitement of a mystery, “is that our Defence Professor, Genov, has also mentioned distrusting him.”

“But you searched his background thoroughly before accepting his transfer, didn’t you, Albus?” Fabian asked

“Oh, quite. Nothing out of the ordinary caught my attention. One thing is certain, though: information is passing from our school and into hands where it does not belong. After discussing it further, Minerva and I are hoping that the two of you,” he inclined his head toward Fabian and Gideon, “would both be willing to relocate to Hogsmeade. We’ve already spoken with a shop owner who is willing to rent her apartment for a fair price. We understand it’s a large favor to ask, but safety for our students has to be a top priority and I believe the more Order members we have in a close radius, the better protected we are.”

“‘Course, Albus. You know we’ll do whatever we can. Right, Fabian?”

“Absolutely, Gideon. In fact, I’ve heard that there’s an attractive barmaid working at the Three Broomsticks.”

Minerva could only roll her eyes and conceal the smile that threatened to sneak in. Regardless of the circumstance, the Prewett twins were always able to keep their spirits up. It was something that she admired greatly.

“Wonderful, and my deepest gratitude for that. Alastor, our request for you is a bit more time consuming. It’s something we’ve thought about occasionally, but never before felt the need to go forward with. We believe our of-age students would benefit from weekly dueling classes. Rigorous ones that allow practice of more complicated spellwork. If you are able to spare one of your Aurors to teach these classes weekly, and possibly be present every so often, we would be sincerely grateful.”

Alastor’s eyes lit with excitement. She and Albus had both known he’d be willing. The man would preach his mantra of Constant Vigilance to anyone who would listen, and getting to show them just how to act that way was even better.

“I suppose I can fit it into my busy schedule...” Moody said with what could pass as a smile. “First and last Saturdays of the month are when I have Longbottom and Christopherson. So we’ll work around that.”

Albus nodded and rose from his chair. He and Minerva thanked the others for their time before seeing them back through the Floo. Once the three Order members disappeared and the last flame died into the darkness, Minerva felt herself breathe a bit easier. Albus pulled out his wand and gave a few sturdy flicks, locking access once again.

She turned to Albus, ready to wish him a good night, when his glance stopped her.

“Is there something worrying you?” she asked, taking a step toward her old friend.

“It seems as if there’s always something worthy of worrying over, doesn’t it?” he answered before looking up at her and offering a warm smile. “Alas, that’s simply life. Pleasant dreams, Minerva.”

She understood the request to be left alone and stepped through the door, closing it quietly behind her. His words were still ringing in her head, and the truth behind them caused a dull ache in her heart. No matter how hard they tried to protect their students, no matter what they did to keep their Order members safe, it never felt like enough. Yes, as usual, Albus was correct. There really was always something to worry about.

Thank you to my lovely beta reader, CambAngst. He's the best ♥

The phrase 'Idle hands are the Devil's tools' is first traced back to Chaucer's 'Tale of Melibee.'

What did you guys think of this chapter? I've mentioned before that I try to avoid writing Quidditch games, so I hope none of you mind that I sort of jumped to the end of this one. Thank you so much for reading!

Chapter 28: Valentine's Day
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Perfect CI by heartfelt. @ TDA
Chapter 28 - Valentine's Day

Sirius stripped off his robes, not bothering to go into the bathroom, then balled them up and threw them at his four-poster bed. He didn’t want to wear robes. He spent every damn day in the black, obnoxious things that had a habit of trying to wrap around his legs. Just because it was the Valentine’s trip to Hogsmeade didn’t mean he had to get all dressed up. He was going to wear what he wanted, and if Belle didn’t like that, well bollocks to her.

With that thought set firmly in place, he stalked over to his trunk and heaved it open. He moved the faded, worn pair of jeans to the side and grabbed the newer pair that didn’t look quite so aged. He pulled those on along with a T-shirt and jumper.

There, he thought. He was wearing Muggle clothes. He was a grown man, he could decide to wear whatever he pleased. Sirius huffed into the bathroom then turned the knobs of the sink, leaning his elbows on the polished stone as the water came crashing from the spou