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Vacation Wars by Auntie Ginny Potter

Format: Novel
Chapters: 3
Word Count: 14,648
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong violence, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Lupin, A. Longbottom, F. Longbottom, James, Lily, Sirius, Pettigrew, Voldemort, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: James/Lily, Other Pairing

First Published: 08/23/2014
Last Chapter: 10/21/2014
Last Updated: 10/21/2014

She didn't have one. Voldemort had a plan, her parents had a plan, Lord knew James had a plan, even Petunia did, but she'd always just made up her own path as she went along. She never did realize that everyone knew about it except her. Then James wanted face-to-face time with the Dark Lord, and he was dragging her along, but it was summer, only she never had a choice. And he knew.

"She didn’t know. She wished she had, later, as she held up an umbrella to try to stop a tsunami, but by then it was too late. But she wouldn't start with the end. She was thinking about the beginning."

Chapter 1: Fairs and Seer Cassandra
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Once, a very long time ago when she didn’t know about pain and sacrifice and loss (nor, whispered the crinkly-eyed, fond, optimist part of her, of magic, love and belonging), when the lullabies were sung to instead of by her, Lily had gone with her family to a little, rusty old fair out of way of absolutely everything. It was one of those poorly thought-out decisions (they ended up arriving home from their vacation, their original purpose, at roughly three in the morning) that make, in the end, for the best memories in anyone’s childhood. It was also the kind of decisions that parents make when their children unite to produce the exactly right amount of whining and begging and no one’s too terribly foul-mooded or tired.

This, as it was back when Petunia still giggled and laughed and had fun with her, instead of at her expense, meant that their drive took an awfully loopy detour that was as much fun as any impromptu activity always is.

And Lily had fun. She jumped and ran and increased her energy when she was supposed to be depleting it. She was loud as only a kid her age knows how to be, and she tried every ride, which, admittedly, wasn’t saying much. And, by the time the sun was setting and her mother was half amused, half horrified at the vague idea of the time they’d get home, she was determined to leave nothing unexplored, which meant visiting the ‘tarot reader’, more out of principle than interest, really.

She called herself Seer Cassandra, even though at least two people stopped by who called her Biddy and Kiki respectively, which confused Lily at the time. Later, when she learned about real Seers, or as real as Lily was ready to believe (back before a little green-eyed baby boy who made beliefs not matter when faced with her limitless need to protect him from all manner of dangers, even if they were announced by dubious prophecies), Lily immediately and vividly remembered this woman whom she’d met once at a tender age and snorted. She did not stop to wonder why she’d been so present in her memory – she was as fleeting a thought then as she’d been a presence in her life when Lily had gone to a fair that one time.

Seer Cassandra dressed very weirdly, all bracelets and rings and smelly hair products. She had a wart which Lily, for some reason, interestedly noted was fake. Petunia had shrilly wanted to know if all those chewed-through old shawls she’d worn didn’t make her hot in the summer. The place smelled stuffy, like it wasn’t aired often, and it was dark, though the candles did let Lily know that one wrong move of her arm could knock down all sorts of breakable-looking things. And then Seer Cassandra wouldn’t be able to reassure her that the flowers at her wedding with a faceless knight who rode a white horse wouldn’t be lilies, because her parents would want to leave.

But she didn’t talk about flowers. Lily had not had extensive conversations with many tarot readers, but she had met one or two before, and, although they’d dressed just like Seer Cassandra, she found that they had been a good deal louder and also a good deal less creepy. Seer Cassandra just didn’t seem to be flamboyant enough to be an Occultist. She singled Lily out the moment they were within her sight – Lily had a strange feeling of nervousness, and she didn’t know why – and, though reluctant and frowning, her parents warily watched as their youngest sat directly in front of her.

She smiled, all blackened teeth (from shadows or not), and she produced a dirty, dusty pack of unlabeled cards that looked and felt, at least to Lily, rather more real and more fascinating than anything else she’d seen in that tent thus far. No one spoke, and even so, it was too quiet – no invisible thumpings, impossible wind rushes, nothing like she’d experienced before. Seer Cassandra just took out the cards and began.

In the end, the cards that Lily ended up picking were no more interesting than the rest – she chose them based on the positions of the nicks and cuts on the wood table. First, Seer Cassandra turned a card which, with a smile, she called The Lovers. Lily eagerly mentioned the flowers – but Seer Cassandra shook her head.

“I think, sweetheart, that this is more of a setting. Young love, early marriage, unsoiled, innocent and rather naïve ideals. You’ll get there, don’t you worry. But I don’t really know about the flowers.”

The next card had the biggest nick beneath it. Cassandra turned it and seemed interested by the result – she said this card was The Magician. Lily grinned back and asked if it meant she was a fairy with magic powers.

“Perhaps.” Seer Cassandra conceded in all seriousness. “I have never really met a fairy, so I could not tell you. But look here, little girl, and pay attention.” Lily disliked being perceived as a little anything, but she obeyed and followed Seer Cassandra’s finger to a little symbol – like an eight that had been pushed to the ground like Petunia sometimes did – over the wizard-person’s head. “Infinity.” She murmured, a faraway and uncannily focused expression on her face.

Lily asked if it meant she’d live forever. Seer Cassandra seemed amused by the idea.

“A corporeal existence can’t be infinite. People who try to live forever generally do so because they know they’ve hardly done enough with the smaller piece of a smaller infinity they usually don’t work to be gifted. No,” She continued, and Lily listened with a rapt attention she tended to reserve to the little math she was allowed to learn at her age. “I don’t believe you will stand out for your unusually long life. As a matter of fact, I’m rather certain you’ll stand out for the opposite.” Now Lily’s parents looked ready to interrupt, but Lily was still looking unfazed and fascinated, and, almost like there was a bubble around the table and its occupants, the idea of quieting Seer Cassandra died in their minds.

Petunia’s frown flickered from Lily to her parents. She was quite sure this wasn’t how a tarot reading happened, but, then again, Seer Cassandra didn’t quite act like a tarot reader anyway.

“But I wouldn’t worry.” Seer Cassandra smiled her blackish smile again, and the crinkles around her eyes weren’t laughing. “It stands to reason that if the man who lives forever doesn’t do much worth mentioning, the woman who lives twenty-odd years leaves her mark. Makes it” Seer Cassandra tapped the card again. “infinite. You’ll live forever, dear; just not by actually living.”

Lily hadn’t worried, although she wasn’t quite sure why. She just figured that if she were going to die early, she’d probably have a good reason for it.

By now, they were all (but Lily) regretting the last stop. But, as if the magic Seer Cassandra called hers was real, they stood still, watching and listening and doing nothing to stop it, like people do when they suffer but prefer the pain to the discomfort of fixing what was wrong.

The next card Seer Cassandra called Ten of Batons. “I can’t tell you much about this one.” She admitted. “Although I think it’s more linked to those that surround you rather than to you, exactly.” She stared at it some more. “Betrayal, disguise, shady choices, wavering paths – I think those are not quite certain. Still,” She said, turning the card to face down. “It’s never a nice card to see.”

“This is- fairly centered in a specific time of your life. All the cards. Of course, not everything about them is – but most, at least.” She elaborated. “Almost as if your destination had been decided upon for a while now, even if the road you take hasn’t.”

She seemed amused at what came next. “The Hanged Man. Prophecy. Sometimes I think I surprise myself as a Seer.” Then she focused with too much intensity on Lily. “Sacrifice.” She said no more about it.

Seer Cassandra paused before turning the last card. “You know, these are not very nice cards.” She murmured. “Of course, it would depend on my reading prowess – but it seems unfair to such a lovely young girl.” She tilted her head. “The cards you’ve chosen – they’re each linked to a different season. That’s rather strange.Summer.” She pulled at The Lovers, quite a sunny card. “Autumn.” She declared The Magician. “The Ten of Batons is a Winterish, cold card, of course. Which leaves The Hanged Man,Spring. Surprising, isn’t it?” She smiled. “Spring is the season of birth. I would expect that – well, what these cards spell should go rather in the same manner.”

Lily didn’t really understand. But her parents were starting to clear their throats, fighting through the numbing smells and air and words that made fog of their minds, and they were becoming agitated even as Seer Cassandra serenely turned the last card.

Lily stood up quietly, waiting for her last words. “The Tower.” Seer Cassandra wavered. She turned the card firmly downwards. “I think there is no fifth season.” She said softly. “Need we see this card, Lily?”

And in that moment, when Lily met her eyes and didn’t look away, she realized that maybe Seer Cassandra’s flamboyant-less-ness was expressed differently, like in her knowledge, her probably real Seer-ness and her wiser persona she didn’t seem willing to show to anyone but Lily. She also realized that maybe that last card mattered a little bit, and Seer Cassandra, who had been positively stoic the whole time she was speaking and interesting everyone else in not doing the same, had cracked and decided Lily didn’t need to know.

That was okay. Lily, instinctively, didn’t want to know either.

She walked out with her parents and didn’t think about it anymore. Not consciously anyway. Even if she never particularly forgot.

All the same, she never saw Seer Cassandra again, and the fair, when Lily revisited it once, an adult with a powerful urge to get back what she had had then and gradually lost, was nothing but a memory. Literally – the place where she remembered it being was total wild, the kind of place that surely hasn’t seen people in centuries, if ever.

But she remembered. Every word. That was part of the problem. The map that, early, she had been drawn of her life never really appeared to her as any kind of guideline. Frankly, it didn’t even figure much in her thoughts (though when it did, it was obsessive). That was mostly why she only started paying attention to it when most of the cards had been used and done with, been matched with their moments in her life.

But she didn’t know. She wished she had, later, as she tried to avoid the inevitable, as she held up an umbrella to try and stop a tsunami, but by then it was too late anyway. Still, she didn’t regret most of the choices she made. Knowing, understanding, there was little she’d change, she was fairly sure. Granted, the little could have proven useful, but she didn’t make a habit of crying over spilt milk, even if, in the end, spilt milk was something she’d rather have gotten instead. That was another story, though, and it was stupid to start with the ending anyway.

It wasn’t the end she was stuck on, anyway. She was mostly thinking about the beginning, about that sunny card that spelt summer and warmth. It’d probably been the nicest one, really. No one could really blame her for thinking about it.

She wished it had stayed that way, now, even if, back then, things looked the bleakest she’d ever thought she’d see. Even if she’d cried a couple of times, she wished she could cry as much as she had then, but later. It would probably reduce drastically the amount of tears he had to see.

But she couldn’t really go back. She could only remember.

It was better than nothing.

Chapter 2: Potter and The Plans
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Lily didn’t particularly feel like reading the rest of the article. It wasn’t as though it had anything new in it. She didn’t think the Daily Prophet did much more than change a few names here and there each week anymore, and their general shortage in colorful wording was starting to show. She was depressed enough as it was.

She dropped it on her desk and then dropped herself on top of her bed, mentally willing someone, anyone (she’d even take Potter), to do something that demanded her full attention elsewhere. Hopefully elsewhen, too. She shut her eyes.

She wanted to forget the monochromatic letters, wanted to forget the paper they were printed on, Merlin, if she could forget the desk it was lying on, that’d be great. She’d actually not mind forgetting the whole world, and the people in it, because clearly they weren’t worth remembering.

It was bad enough that these things were happening, and it was worse that she couldn’t tell her family. Worst of all, however, (because there was still a category above those other two), was not telling them when they were part of those who were in danger. And the fact that that choice was hers was even in a category of its own over those other three.

It didn’t matter. Obviously she didn’t think it was best that they knew anyway, otherwise she’d have told them already. It hadn’t reached them at all, so it wasn’t a problem (she tried hard to pretend the word yet hadn’t crossed her mind). Other than the fact that she felt exhausted at ten o’clock in the morning, everything was fine. Fine.

“Hey, Evans!” Except for that.

So tired. Such a headache. Please.

Evans!” The voice was getting louder. “You know, the faster you answer, the faster I’ll leave you alone.” He suggested, exasperated.

“Yeah.” She muttered to the pillow. “In roughly four hours, when you’re satisfied with the ruins that used to be my neighborhood.” She completely regretted her ‘even Potter’ comment. She wouldn’t take him. Karma had to understand.

Evans!” Now it wasn’t just louder, it was more irritated. “I will go up there!”

No matter the annoyance getting up would prove to be, it was considerably preferable to Potter getting even remotely near her bedroom.

Lily threw the window violently open. He probably ought to know she was far from a good mood, if he wanted to be a pain in the arse. “What?”

He didn’t look amused – he wasn’t smirking, anyway – so she relaxed. Marginally. He actually didn’t seem happy about whatever it was Lily was preventing him from talking about. That also didn’t mean he didn’t look good, which was information she stored away like she usually did, because she liked her sanity, yeah?

“Did you read the newspaper this morning?” He demanded. Her face fell as he brought up the one thing she was counting on him distracting her from. The one thing he might actually prove useful in doing. “I figured. You want to keep shouting through the window, or shall I go up and prevent the neighbors thinking you to be a mad woman?”

“I’m pretty sure they don’t need to hear me shouting at the street to think that.” She muttered, shutting the window and walking down the stairs anyway.

James walked straight in with that familiarity she didn’t remember offering him. She actually didn’t remember offering him much, like her address, for example. It was the only invitation he seemed to need to make his visits, which she didn’t particularly want, hence the whole not-offering-him-her-address thing. Since he hadn’t told her how he had it the first ten times he’d dropped by for a surprise visit she didn’t answer the door for, she didn’t figure her luck lay with the twentieth. Thankfully, she’d be leaving on vacation the next day, and there was no way he had the address to that.

She hoped.

Having a stalker wasn’t all that glamorous. Having a good-looking git for a stalker just made it worse.

Unruly hair, grin that would surely lead to laugh lines in due time, expensive clothes, he radiated easy-going (Lily had never really gotten along with that) – and also arrogance, which was the part she really couldn’t stand. Potter had made a bad impression the first day she’d laid eyes on him. Truthfully, not the first minutes, but she was storming out of the compartment they were sharing within the hour, so he couldn’t get that much praise.

Her problem with him was mostly that, while he wasn’t prejudiced against much, Slytherins got his immediate disdain (and his immediate curses) – she didn’t even really get why. It didn’t help that her best friend was (had been) a Slytherin. Nor that, not two years later, it’d suddenly downed on him that she was both a girl and not falling at his feet.

She wouldn’t say it went downhill from there, because it had been downhill from the beginning, but that was really when the slide had gotten sharper.

The years went by, and James hadn’t gotten any less appealing – or high on top of the mountain, which served as a cooler for any other part or aspect of his that might or not be smoking. He was probably the most liked person at the school. No one seemed to understand why she was so snappish toward him, especially after what Snape ended up doing. No girl seemed to understand, either, why she wouldn’t go out with him, because they all melted every time the common room became a Valentine’s card featuring her, or when he made the entire Great Hall watch a magnified version of himself sing why he’d die for her, and they didn’t get why she didn’t too. None of them seemed to understand why none of these grand gestures didn’t seem to do anything for her, no one seemed to understand why they didn’t mean a thing. Because, not only were they too big to be true, but for every single one of them, there were three occasions where Snape was found unconscious and in his underwear, hanging limp over the lake with the Giant Squid, or spontaneously started to grow mushrooms in areas where nothing of the kind should be growing, or got into a good old-fashioned duel with one (or all four) of the Marauders. She was completely alone in disliking him. Except for the Slytherins. It didn’t comfort her to know that that was her company.

Lily would like to establish that that was not the reason she suddenly started tolerating him (although most certainly not to the point of house calls). Even if it helped. Because tolerating him was the extent of her regard to the prick. The black, shiny-haired prick. Bad Lily!

He went straight to her living room, and she wasn’t sure if he was stupidly brave or just stupid. It scared her that he seemed to pick the exact moments her parents weren’t home – maybe more than it scared her that he knew where her living room was. It also made her mad, but while she was fairly certain he was aware of the second (Lord knew she yelled it at him enough), the first was actually something he was perfectly fine not knowing.

She mused on her parents for a little while. Potter was tall, handsome, charming and smart enough when he didn’t play dumb (those were also a whole lot of somethings he was just fine not even guessing). He knew how to act like a Muggle, he was outwardly nice and he had table manners. Her parents would love him visiting. That was mostly the reason she didn’t complain their absence when he did.

Lily complained a bit too much about him, she knew. Didn’t it sound nice, to have a cute guy so obsessed about you he asked you out once every full moon (and a couple more times every other one) and visited you in the summer completely unannounced and unwanted?

That might actually not sound nice, though.

It was sad that it was the war that made her get some kind of perspective. That, or it just made her depressed enough to exhaust her. Either way, her arguments with him were a lot less fiery and a lot wittier. (Which was good, she guessed, because being depressed was a cause to a lot more consequences than being more tired than she should be.) It was pointless to be fighting him, when she knew that he had, at least, a decent code of morals - her own - and that, just as she planned to fight, so did he. (The fact that she wasn’t surprised at that should have been her first clue.) She didn’t know what it was, between him, his friends and the Slytherins, but he was serenely and almost carelessly certain of his future against Voldemort.

It made her a little uneasy, but not enough yet. Not enough for her to keep thinking about it.

He watched as he made himself confortable, dropping his broom (she really hoped he hadn’t flown that all the way to her door – carrying a broom around in the street was weird enough) on the couch. Her couch. Her living room. Her house. In case none of that was clear.

“You know, this was cute when-” She paused. “I forget my point.”

“Ha.” He said, drying his word to the point she wanted water. “Adorable, but I think what I got here might interest you to the point of being memorable.” He waved a piece of (frightfully) ordinary parchment tantalizingly. She wondered if she was supposed to know what it was, and then decided it was either explosive or a reason for her to prolong the conversation much further than she wanted to.

She wasn’t feeling like being baited. “That’s wonderful, Potter, but I think we both agreed you’d stop drawing pictures of me during second grade-”

“Funny,” Potter said, though his cheeks seemed a little pinker than usual. “but that was more of an ultimatum on your part than a mutual decision.”

“Yes. Otherwise you might actually still be drawing them. Honestly, you should be thanking me for the little reputation you have.”

“Can we talk about this now?” He asked irritably, slapping the parchment on her table in her kitchen, a division in her house. He didn’t use to get irritated (except when it involved Snape and her) before Hogsmeade had been invaded by a group of Death Eaters and there was nobody but students to take care of it.

“Can I know why you’ve been popping up at my house whenever you please since the term ended? As in, what, in the name of all that’s Holy are you doing here?

“No. I love being a mystery for you to solve.”

“Wonderful. Fancy seeing you, then.”

Here.” He unfolded it, exasperated, and, apparently, deciding to abandon stupid, which was a little surprising. Whether it was because refusing to look was more than a bit childish or because of his emphatic movements, she glanced. And then she was right beside him, greedily taking it all in with wide eyes.

How-?” She sputtered.

He grinned broadly, clearly relishing her reaction and her closeness. She didn’t correct it. “I work in mysterious ways.”

“How?” She asked more firmly, tearing her eyes away from the map.

He deflated. “It was an Arithmancy algorithm. You take all the fun out of things.” He grumbled, making to put it away again. She stopped him. She didn’t let her hand linger on his arm any longer than necessary, or at least that’s what she told herself.

Then she turned her attention to the map that depicted every town hitherto hit by Death Eaters – and then predictions for the next two months. It seemed perfectly legitimate – she had a map herself, but hers only went as far as past attacks. What she hadn’t done, however, was find a pattern, which James clearly had. It even had margin for error – there were red dots flagging, like little spots of blood, the probable targets, and then pink areas of tense possibilities. It was mad. There was no way James-

Every single one of the Marauders’ pranks came to her head then, all rushing to see who managed to prove her wrong first (much like Potter himself). One in particular managed to convince her quite well - one which she’d had the power to prevent, but hadn’t, and certainly not because she hadn’t been an uptight brat (at least Potter and Black had been bullying, arrogant prats, which seemed worse to her). It was the last class of First Year Transfiguration, and even Professor McGonagall was being lenient. There was an unusual amount of noise which didn’t seem to be bothering her – she’d told them to practice any spells they wanted, as long as they were related to her class. James and Sirius had immediately taken advantage of this and began trying to get Peter to volunteer to be the subject of a seventh year spell in a page titled ‘Materialization of your Quintessence’ that they swore they could manage. When Peter looked as though he might actually do it (James and Sirius had convinced him with their (truthful) statement that they were O-students at this particular subject), Remus intervened, which stopped Lily from doing the same.

This, however, left her ears open for whatever they were saying – Lily had never been particularly trusting - and for what they began discussing next: an end-of-year prank. As if that wasn’t a horrifying prospect on its own, they described next an elaborated plan involving Switching Spells, the Levitation and Incendio charms, a replicating charm she’d never heard of (something that made her incredibly jealous) and a simple Transfiguration spell. The only thing that appeased her was the fact that it sounded ridiculously impossible. That only made all the more ego-crushing when, during the end of year feast, the food somehow turned back into the plants and animals it had once been (though the Marauders and Lily, due to her eavesdropping, knew these had actually been flown all the way from the forest to the alcove near the Great Hall, where the actual food would have replaced it until someone went to investigate the smell), and every single unoccupied stretch of wall became graffiti-ed with Muggle wildlife protection mottos, which Filch couldn’t get off afterwards because what he was trying to wash was Transfigured wall, and McGonagall took her time in explaining (she was quite proud of her first year students’ work, even if she daren’t admit that to another soul). And then when she spoke the word ‘Transfiguration’ right in front of the defaced walls, they burst into fire, which was meant to be the Marauders’ way of cleaning up after themselves; only it had so far backfired due to Filch’s inability to willingly talk about anything magic, which made him work much more than he had to.

So maybe there was way.

Still, principle dictated she stare at him with her eyebrows raised in disbelief until he explained further. “Okay, Remus dealt with the algorithm.” He admitted with a grin.

“This is-” She was speechless, she was woman enough to admit, even if it only seemed to make James puff up as she gestured at the map in awe.

“I know.” He smiled proudly. “They fell into a pattern eventually. The human mind can only stand random for so long. Still, once in a while there’s a couple of mad turns, which I’m fairly sure are Lestrange’s fault, but we included those in the calculations.”

“You almost sound smart.” She said wonderingly. He made a face at her, successfully proving her wrong. She narrowed her eyes. “Question is, why are you telling me this?”

He hesitated – she could see it, the way his fingers fumbled a second or two on the parchment, the way he made long, tense work of tucking it into itself, the way his eyes flickered to hers behind his askew glasses, and she instantly had a very, very bad feeling.

The war wasn’t a new topic. Not to her, not to any other wizard or witch, may they be supporters of whoever or whoever-else (she quite forgot who, exactly, was supposed to be the main face of their side – even if she were inclined to say Dumbledore, it wasn’t like it was any sort of organized movement except for a bunch of kids barely out of school and a handful of teachers). It’d been going on for almost as long as she remembered being an – admittedly sidelined - active part of the Wizarding World. It was also the reason for the sidelined status. It had grown, in her Hogwarts time, from a madman with a wand to a calculated psychopath with a group of followers to a Grindelwald kind of problem and then past that. Far past that.

To her, Voldemort stood at a crossroads. Only it wasn’t really a crossroads, because though she had two choices, she really only had one. She was involved no matter what – her ‘kind’ was what it was all about, the whole root – so she could either walk up to the madman and ask for her death, or she could walk up to the madman and demand his; using her wand and anything else she could get her hands on, because, realistically, if she didn’t stand a chance anyway, it was stupid to narrow her resources. Maybe that was why fighting with James wasn’t really fighting anymore. Maybe. That maybe really had no business being there.

To James, though, Voldemort was nothing other than a moral paradox. What he was doing was bad, and evil, but what had a seventeen-year-old anything to do with it? He was pureblood. He could perfectly stand quietly aside. Instead, he decided to jump into all the mess and the paradoxes and be dumb and make a loud target of himself. She didn’t care to admit that it brought up a little bit of respect she didn’t know she was capable of having for him.

And she did have it. Right up until he said doing something as stupid as “I thought I might interest you in a field trip to the location of the next predicted attack. At the time of the next predicted attack. In the esteemed company of the Marauders.” He added as an afterthought.

She let the silence reign for a beat or two.

“Are you quite mad?”

“See, that’s exactly what Sirius said you’d say!” He whined. “Must you prove him right?!”

“Oh, shut up!” Lily fumed, wondering how anyone could be this thick. “Let me get this right: you purposefully want to go somewhere you know Voldemort will be, at the time he’s supposed to be there? Where was Remus when you and Black came up with this master plan?!”

“Right there.” Potter answered immediately, joining his broom in making himself confortable on her couch. It briefly occurred to her that her family really shouldn’t be long, but she was too mad to focus on it. “Making the exact same speech you are, only he added ‘with no one to help’, until Sirius used Silencio on him. I think Peter didn’t know who to back.” He frowned for a moment. Then he brightened. “Besides, he isn’t in all of the attacks, is he? Sometimes he stays in the background. Maybe he won’t be there, and it’ll be just seeing Bellatrix dog-face and getting hit by Malfoy’s greasy hair that I’ll have to worry about.” He actually sounded disappointed saying this.

“You want to meet him?”

He shifted uncomfortably.“’Course not. ‘Cause that would be crazy, and reckless, and you know me, I’m all about rules, and precaution, and better safe than sorry-”

Lily just stared at him, half wondering where he was trying to go by vomiting every word Remus had ever taught him, half sure he’d just opened his mouth, went along with it, and now he was having trouble closing it.

He broke after approximately three more seconds of inane rambling. He sounded agitated – funny, because, approximately a year ago, she’d have thought him incapable of such a nervous thing. “I- I don’t know. A part of me kind of wants to know what the bloody hell runs through the bloke’s mind sometimes.” He ran a hand through his hair. She tried not to stare and stayed silent, crossing her arms and joining him on the couch. “Another part of me doesn’t care, and just wants to bash his head in, solve the problem.” He shrugged. “I can’t do either if I don’t meet him in some capacity. Anyway, we’re all seventeen, aren’t we? We’re legal adults. We can make our own choices. Personally, I rather fancy going, see if I can really take a shot at him. You only live once, right?” He grinned. It was the stupidest smile she’d ever seen, even if it made her a little weak in the knees.

“James,” She said, her voice a little shaky, because he was really scaring her right then. “I-You-” She shook her head, trying to clear it. “You’re off your rocker.” She said, fiercely. “Completely off your rocker. And you need to listen to Remus.”

He nodded. “Usually, when someone tells me I’m off my rocker, that is what I do. But, see, I already know his opinion, and he’s against the idea, so it’s not really a good plan. He might convince me not to do it.”

I know!” She said, exasperated. “And, honestly, you haven’t even finished school!”

“So?” He asked, rather defensively. She suddenly wondered why she was having an almost civil (or the equivalent, when it came to her and James) discussion with Potter, in her home, which she hadn’t invited him into, in the middle of the summer, which was supposed to be her Potter-free time, about how it wasn’t very sensible of him to seek death at the hands of Britain’s latest sophisticated serial killer. What right, exactly, had she to tell him these things, give him advice, be concerned about his well-being to the point of arguing with him?

The thought fled and she kept going. “You- You’re barely legal!”

“You know, what I hear when you say that is that I am legal. And so are you, and no one can tell either of us what to do. We can make our own choices. Do you want to come with me?” He asked, and in his determined tone of voice Lily felt her argument wither, and she had no idea why. She’d never had a problem arguing with him before. Then again, all their previous arguments had generally been about when she’d never go out with him. Well, the end of his tirade almost could be part of one of those.

“Well, that’s what no little girl’s father ever wants to hear.”

When had the door opened and closed? Lily didn’t remember the door opening or closing. She was almost positive the door hadn’t opened and closed. So if the door hadn’t opened or closed, her parents, who could use no form or shape of magical transportation whatsoever, shouldn’t have come in and heard that. Because the door hadn’t opened and closed.

Still, they were standing there, arms crossed, raised eyebrows, clearly pretending they weren’t dying inside from all the laughter they were keeping in, and they were not helping.

She was faintly aware that her argument had left her rather closer to Potter than she ever wanted to be, and while that was all well and good at Hogwarts where nobody thought twice of seeing Lily and James like that because obviously they were arguing (she thought, anyway), that wasn’t really good in front of her parents. Especially not after Potter decided to deliver an aggravatingly ambiguous line with an intensity and graveness she did not want her parents listening to because it could be entirely misinterpreted. His low voice wouldn’t help her argument explanation (real explanation) either.

“Nothing.” She stood up quickly, trying to convey breeziness and total lack of concern, but really just hoping her cheeks weren’t looking that much like her hair. Potter looked amused, because he always looked amused and there were no pillows to throw so she could hide it. “P- James was just-”

“Trying a new way of verbalizing my affections for your lovely daughter.” He smiled that charming smile he could mass produce. “It’s been nearly four years, I’m bound to get it right eventually. She still won’t give me one date.” He added morosely.

Lily tried to pretend she didn’t want that pillow. “Yes. He was. But he was just leaving.” She all but shoved his broom into his arms and him into the street. “Bye!”

Her mother, however, seemed too amused to let it go so quickly. “But aren’t you going to give him an answer, sweetheart?” Her mother never called her sweetheart. She made sure Potter could see her glare perfectly as he grinned at her under the sun.

“The answer’s-” She hesitated, eyeing his raised eyebrows doubtfully. “Maybe.” She shut the door on his surprised face and hoped he knew she wasn’t referring to the date.

She was pretty sure she wasn’t referring to the date. Even if considering either the date or suicidal missions just proved how her own rocker was not even in sight anymore.

Her mother and her father were really nice people. They were. Anything that might have gone through Lily’s head at that moment, as she watched them snickering without bothering to hide it, was purely temporary. Lily scowled, cursing Potter for about everything and then some, Black for encouraging him and his stupid ideas, for coming up with half of the ideas and for just existing in the first place, Remus for not getting them under control, her parents for not acting like parents, and the rest of the world for living in it. And herself, she supposed, for thinking James still looked very appetizing even when being kicked out of a house.

She needed water and her mother was blocking the entrance to the kitchen.

She was pretty, Lily’s mother, in a cute pixie-like manner, short and lean and just plain pretty, the way only certain people can be described and whoever was listening would understand. Only she was purposefully standing in her way so that she’d have to interact and talk about it and she knew it too, which was very, very ugly. She was usually delightfully witty too, unless James Potter happened to drop by and she decided she needed to mock her daughter. Then she wasn’t funny, and her jokes were lame.

Her father, she noticed, as he made an entrance to the kitchen that she used to not be stopped by her mother, was the opposite. He was tall, buff and his hair was falling off, which made for a wonderfully permanent mocking topic. He was sweet, sometimes too much, which did not make for the same, because it just made you feel guilty.

She loved them both very much, which was why James Potter stopping by with a war mindset was a very bad thing to happen. Even if, somehow, she trusted him not to purposefully reveal information he knew she didn’t want them to have.

Like she was reading Lily’s thoughts, her mother immediately followed her into the kitchen, bringing him up. And not only him but him 2.0 as well. Her father instantly made himself scarce, because this was a subject neither she nor he wanted him knowing too much about.

“You know, that boy, he’s much nicer than the one you used to hang out with during the summers.” Her mother wrinkled her nose. “I always felt as though he thought as littlest as it was possible of us. Like we were rubbish.” Lily involuntarily flinched, bitterly wondering how she could possibly have missed what everyone else had seen. “Not you, mind.” She added, quickly and apologetically correcting herself.

“Yeah.”She said quietly, almost miserable enough to go back to her room now. Then what her mother had said computed, and she frowned suspiciously. “Wait, what? You saw Po- James for all of five seconds! And the only thing he told you was how he was trying to date me! How could you possibly have formed such a high opinion of him?” She asked, indignant her own mother would betray her.

There was a pause. Lily got a horrible feeling. “He stopped by…” Her mother said vaguely. When she saw Lily’s outraged face, she decided to get the whole truth out. “A few times.” She admitted.

“Oh, I am going to kill him.” Lily vowed.

Her mother frowned. “Really, Lily, this is not like you at all. He’s a perfectly nice boy! What is it about him that makes you so angry?”

The fact that she did not have an answer to her mother’s question perturbed Lily – a lot. At least, she tried to console herself, an answer that doesn’t involve telling her things I promised myself I wouldn’t tell her.

Surprisingly, this excuse held for a while. At the very least, it let her sleep. Mostly because her mother dropped the subject quickly, preferring to discuss their travel arrangements and ask whether Lily was all packed yet.

The same couldn’t be said for the maybe she’d somehow blurted out at James’ departure. It’d been hours, but during the day, she’d managed to keep herself busy, and the same couldn’t be said for bedtime.

It wasn’t as though she wanted to get herself killed. She furrowed her brows. Did she? She rejected the idea instantly. Of course not! Then why would she find it smart to say she might (the maybe was now changing priorities – first she didn’t want to give him a complete no, now she didn’t want to give herself a full yes) go with him on a stupid quest to do a stupid thing they were never going to manage?

They were going to get themselves killed. That was for sure. And if she went with them, so would she. She pursed her lips.

They weren’t exactly chummy BFF’s. They’d never been. She didn’t fully grasp why her little rendezvous with James Potter hadn’t been unbearably awkward. He had a restless manner of keeping everyone comfortable in his presence. Really, it was her house, during summertime, and he’d shown up out of the blue – she hadn’t kicked him out; that seemed important to this particular list - wondering if she wanted to go see Voldemort. For a chat (that wasn’t even sarcasm – he actually did want to have a chat with You-Know-Who). And some tea, maybe, she was sure.

It was bonkers. This was bonkers. She’d faster say yes next time Potter asked her out.

Maybe she could do both.

For some reason, that thought was what relaxed her eyelids into closing. Merlin knew what was happening to her, but the philosophical night wonderings about her death wish reasons would really have to wait.

Chapter 3: Mum and Hogsmeade
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The next morning, Lily didn’t wake up to a pretty picture. Petunia was in her bedroom – Petunia was also the reason she was awake.

“Oh, good, you’re up.” She said briskly, tearing her eyes away from whatever it was that seemed to have been interesting her on Lily’s desk.

Petunia was really skinny, but also really tall, which made her look a little like an overstretched rubber-band. When Lily looked at her from the side, she had roughly the same width as her to-be-bought seventh year History of Magic book, and every time Lily came home for the summer, she got a scare because of how different she was from just about anyone else (it’d occurred to her that she might be sick).

Worse, it seemed this year she’d decided to hack most of her hair off, which actually removed about twenty percent of her body volume. Lily didn’t think her sister usually looked pretty, whatever kind of sibling that made her, but there was ugly and then there was making all the wrong choices when it came to her looks, and she didn’t think Petunia was particularly ugly either.

Lily, in her best impression of the rebel she was planning on being when she left Hogwarts (and, apparently, before that too), refused to get up and stayed in bed, even if that made it harder to stare at her sister. She used both hands to rub at her face. “Yes, because you opened my window in your loudest heels.”

Petunia clucked her tongue and didn’t leave, and only one of those things surprised Lily. It occurred to her that she might actually have to deal with her sister and she groaned, reaching for a pillow to stuff her face in.

She hadn’t wanted to wake up at all, because she preferred having her subconscious mind dealing with Potter and not remember anything in the morning. If she slept and just let her brain sort all the nonsense, there was a possibility that she might not have to deal with it during the day.

But she was awake and she could still hear Petunia’s heels and her mind had clearly been slumbering during the night too, because she could already feel the stress - the kind that only appeared when she was at Hogwarts and James and the Marauders were actually part of her problems. She’d never had it in the summer, which was the argument her irritation was using as the foundation of the headache of the day.

Through the pillow, the sun rays moved against the shadows, and Lily peeked from behind it to see what her sister was doing, and why Petunia would willingly walk even further than she had to into her bedroom. She was still trying to sneak looks at her desk, which seemed rather off, and Petunia was never off. “Tuney, may I ask what you’re doing?” Lily frowned. “Actually, why are you even here? I thought you were ditching us for Vernon’s family?”

She got that face she always did when she was asked anything and sneered at her. “If you must know, Vernon has got a very important internship at his father’s company and our vacation has been postponed. Mum told me that if that was the case, I might as well join the family trip.” She gave Lily a particularly nasty look at these words. “Even if some members do seem to appear for the holidays and disregard everyone else in the in-between.”

Lily forced a smile, letting the pillow drop to the side and sitting up on the bed. “Really? I had no idea you’ve been so busy during my school years. Mum and Dad never mentioned anything of the sort in the letters we exchanged twice a week. I did send you letters too, at least in the beginning, but they don’t seem to have reached destination.”

Petunia pursed her lips. She didn’t leave. Her eyes strayed to her desk anyway.

Lily let three seconds pass before wondering what was happening to her life and blowing a frustrated strand of hair from her face. “Petunia, is there any particular reason you’re still here, or do you just fancy standing in my bedroom for the rest of the day? Because I’d love some privacy in getting ready.”

Petunia scowled. “Breakfast is on the table.” She offered, falteringly and after a moment’s pause. Lily gave her half a second. She didn’t leave.

“Really? That’s all?” She asked. “What’re you still doing here, then?” Petunia’s eyes flickered to her desk for the sixteenth time. “What is it?” She asked exasperatedly and a tad forcefully.

Petunia opened and closed her mouth twice, clearly having something chewing at her she was absolutely loathe to say. “What his that?” She finally cracked, making her gesturing to the Daily Prophet on her desk as curt and inconspicuous as possible. “And what’s a Muggle? Wait, no-” She frowned. “I know what it is. That horrible Snape boy said it once – it’s us regular, garden-variety people, isn’t it?” Her tone of voice suggested an accusation, which was really unfair, in Lily’s opinion.

And then it became so very horribly clear to Lily that her sister had not only rudely woken her up, but she’d also rudely been snooping on her things. Which made for a rude lingering in her bedroom that neither of them wanted.

She flew off the bed, snatched the paper and prayed to whoever was listening Petunia’s prejudice had kept her from having read the story. “Nothing.” She answered, trying to convey smoothness with her pyjamas askew and her hair a sure pillow-nightmare, while also pretending she wasn’t hiding the newspaper she’d just grabbed from right in front of her sister’s nose behind her back. She ignored the second question and the reference to Snape. “It’s- freak stuff. Nothing for your nice, normal head to get stuck on.” She cringed as Petunia bristled, but feigned obliviousness and kept going. “Now can you go?”

Petunia wasted no more time and left in a hurry that she seemed to have been building up since she’d come in. Lily rubbed her face, felt the consequences of jumping out of bed when sleep wasn’t a matter completely put to rest, and thought that at the very least Petunia would be too offended to think much about whatever she might or might not have read.

She flopped back on the bed, belly-up, and her eyes didn’t close again, even though the ceiling wasn’t that interesting.

James stayed away that day. She’d have liked to think it was because he was picking up on how murderous she was feeling toward him, but that would mean he had more insight over her thoughts than she wanted him to, so she didn’t like it too much. Point was she saw neither head nor hide of any of the four nuisances, which was good. Very good.

Not disappointing at all that they were cleaning up to leave after lunch and she didn’t hear from him. Or maybe it was, because, by the time Lily was helping her mother with the dishes, she seemed to have noticed something (even if she could never be completely sure that wasn’t just Mum-radar). Even so, she could attribute it to worry – she was terrified, both that the Marauders would try something and their names would be next in the Prophet Petunia had seemed so keen on spying, and also that they’d do all that and do it without her.

She had mixed feelings about Potter’s ideas – on the one hand, they were Potter’s ideas, and on the other they were Potter’s ideas. The worst of them were brilliant, she could afford to admit; it was just that the aftermath usually uncovered their recklessness. There was something pressing in her chest because he could get himself killed, and there was something screaming in her stomach that wanted a part of this, and she couldn’t see how that would happen if she went on vacation for nearly a month. Which he didn’t even know, and that was something else for her mind to get stuck on.

Petunia had claimed she was terribly busy with something she could only mumble about before locking her bedroom door. Her dad was taking the bags to the car (Lily could hear his timed complaints about the amount and the weight) and all that was really missing were those dishes. Those dirty dishes that she had her full attention focused on, since it hadn’t occurred to her that she was seventeen and magic was a possibility.

“Lily,” Her mother said for the umpteenth time, with an impressive show of a kind of patience Lily would never ever claim to have. That was one of the things she’d trust Potter and Black to back her on. “I think, for the sake of the plates you’re nearly breaking, that I can take it from here.”

“Sorry.” She muttered, feeling properly abashed and handing her mother the plate she’d just knocked against the banister. Those things were deceptively resistant.

Her mother did not, in fact, ‘take it from here’. The moment the plate was safely in her hands, she put it down, dried her hands, crossed her arms and assumed her lets-have-a-talk pose. Lily didn’t leave the kitchen fast enough.

“Lily,” She asked with a strained frown. “what’s been going on with you lately?”

Lily was a little startled – she didn’t think she was acting any different. Even if things were so very royally and completely messed up in so many ways. “What do you mean?” She asked slowly.

“You’ve been incredibly distracted ever since you came home – and before that I feared you’d be sending us a letter saying you were staying at school for the summer as well.” She pointed out bluntly, sounding so upset Lily felt the beginnings of guilt stir in her stomach. Worse, she couldn’t actually tell her that not coming home for the summer was impossible because she might need the excuse in the future. “I’m worried. Does it have anything to do with that boy that visits sometimes? Because it doesn’t matter what he seems at first glance, if you don’t want to see him here again-” She was getting agitated, so Lily decided to stop her imagination before it led her to dangerous places.

“No- No, it’s not- It’s not about Pot- James. Really.” She added earnestly when her mother didn’t seem convinced. “It’s not.”

“But you admit to there being something?” She pointed out, forcing Lily into a chair and sitting in front of her, kitchen duty forgotten.

Lily hesitated. She wasn’t questioning whether she was going to tell her mother anything remotely resembling the truth. She was questioning, yes, what the best way to get out of interrogation was.

She didn’t want to lie, especially not to her family. It left her feeling as if she couldn’t trust them, which wasn’t the truth, which just restarted another vicious cycle of the same. But she didn’t want to find out what they’d do if they found out about the current state of the world that was now permanently and irrevocably her home – her place among equals, somewhere she fit in, and which someone was trying to destroy. And they wouldn’t understand, because they were her parents, and her parents were supposed to be home. And they were, to some extent. Except now she was a full-grown decision-making adult, which made it a little difficult to ignore the rather terrifying idea that she might actually have to go out there on her own and be expected to succeed with her own brain.

But didn’t it always come a time where everyone had to grow up and let go and move on into the scary and the alone and the fending for themselves? This was her time, even if she knew her parents’ opinion on what she was planning to do with it would probably be to lock her in a room and not let her come out, ever. The problem was that the whole point was for her to get out of that room in the first place.

“Lily, I-” Her mother sighed frustratedly, tapping her fingers against the table-top. “I just want to help with whatever it is. I’m not trying to push you, but ever since Easter you’ve been so- so distant, almost downright sad, and I just want to know why! If you tell me, I can help you with it!” She promised.

Lily’s mother had great time-tracking abilities. It was probably a week before Easter that Hogsmeade had happened.

Easter was going to be abnormally cold that year. Even though it was April, and it was raining buckets, they shouldn’t be taking out scarves and woollen overcoats still. Nor, apparently, should they be going to Hogsmeade in that weather, but Lily was accused of being stubborn all the time.

She tightened the coat, though it didn’t seem to help much, and shuffled closer to Alice. Hogsmeade looked more than a little desolate, with all the rain and half-deserted streets, but Lily couldn’t focus much on it. Right now all she wanted to think about was indoors, fire, light, and all those things she couldn’t see outside in the cold.

Thankfully, they weren’t far from The Three Broomsticks, even if thinking about what they’d gone through to get there was sure to send Alice into hour-long rants for at least a month - starting the moment they sat down at the table farthest from the door.

“This is the last time I am letting myself be convinced by any of your brilliant ideas.” She complained, un-gluing her drenched scarf from her neck. It looked splashy enough to milk at least two cups of water from it. “Look at this place! It’s deserted!”

Actually, as Lily had very much noticed but refused to admit, it wasn’t. There were four boys heartily laughing by the bar, and God forbid they approach either of them. She was in a bad mood already.

And, between the six of them, they were not, by a long shot, the bravest students at Hogwarts – Rosmerta was by no means busy, but there was still a handful of more of their far less irritating classmates around. She figured Alice was exaggerating to make a point. Lily couldn’t say she didn’t deserve it a little.

“Sorry.” Lily said, properly abashed. “But in all fairness, it didn’t really start looking like a storm until half the way here.” She meekly pointed out. She’d have felt guiltier if Alice wasn’t the one with the almost boyish short hair, while hers was looking like a particularly wet mop.

Alice’s scathing answer was cut off, because someone did end up joining them - he wasn’t, however, unwelcome, especially not to Alice. Frank slid into the seat beside her, put an arm around her shoulders and instantly mollified her far better than Lily would ever have been able to. “I did not think you two pretty girls would brave the road in this weather.” He teased, grinning. “Are you stalking me? I’m flattered the rain didn’t stop you, by the way.” He added.

Alice was blushing, but that could easily be passed off as the change in temperature when they came in. “No, Lily’s the one doing the stalking. I was just dragged along. She’s completely obsessed with Potter, and she thinks I haven’t noticed he’s here too.”

Lily made a face as they snickered. “It’s like I can hear the universe blanching at that sentence. And, you know, I am a Gryffindor. I’m made for braving things.” She said amusedly.

“Not flying.” Alice corrected.

“Or dates with James Potter.” Frank added.

Lily shrugged. “Everybody’s got their weaknesses.”

Alice smiled, and Lily decided that the catastrophe was postponed, if not averted. Now all they had to do was have their butterbeers and leave before the Marauders noticed her. Rosmerta came by and took their order before Lily had had much to worry about. Alice chattered enthusiastically to her boyfriend while he played with her hair in an attempt to pretend to be paying attention.

Lily zoned out – she was feeling a little bit like a third wheel, like she usually did whenever Frank was around. Fortunately, she was still feeling guilty enough not to feel bad about it. Thank God she actually liked him too, otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to stand hanging out with the two of them.

Until, of course, she realized who Frank was there in the first place with.

“Lily!” He sounded delighted. Why would he possibly sound delighted? It was incompatible with her mood. She groaned, loudly. She hoped he got the message.

He didn’t. He dropped to the seat right next to her, and to make matters better, Black took the one on her other side with a grin. She scooted forward when Potter put an arm on the back of her chair and Alice used a hand to cover her giggles. Frank had no such qualms.

“Hello, Remus, Peter.” She smiled, even if a little forcibly, at the only two she could think to address right then.

“Oi! I’m feeling really unloved right now, I am.” Black said loudly, and Remus rolled his eyes, smiling back at her and taking a seat by Frank.

Peter seemed unsure of how to proceed. He kept glancing between Remus and Potter’s general direction, though she refused to look and confirm his exact position (it was a power thing). It looked terrifying.

“Good thing she doesn’t love you, then.” Potter snickered. Lily was torn between the desire to ignore him and the one to laugh at his face.

“You know, she’s pretending you don’t exist too.” Black played along. She took their advice to heart and did just that. Or kept at it, anyway.

“You’d wonder why, but you’re you and she’s known that for almost six years now.” Remus (there was a reason she liked Remus) pointed out and everyone but Potter laughed.

“That’s right!” He said enthusiastically instead. “It’s been six years since you insulted me for the first time!” He poked at her side and she could hear the smirk in his voice – and yet she had trouble not smiling at that, it was so ridiculous. She compromised in the end by letting her lips twitch and not retaliate for him touching her.

But Alice wasn’t as courteous. Lily wondered how she could ever have thought she wouldn’t get back at her. “Oh, she likes it, you know.” She reassured Potter, who was instantly looking extremely interested. “That’s why she came here. She missed her chance to do it at breakfast.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “That was your fault, by the way. I know it’s the weekend, but you’d want to get up before you have to go to sleep again, no?” Alice showed Lily her tongue, but since she was clearly not all that passionate about being mad at her, Lily just grinned back.

“Why would you ever want to get up at all?” Black piped in, and either he was a better actor than Lily gave him credit for or he actually meant it.

“To have breakfast.” Frank said quite seriously. “I’m pretty sure you haven’t ever woken up early enough to have tried Hogwarts’ bacon, or you wouldn’t ask that kind of questions.”

I’m pretty sure Black hasn’t ever woken up early enough to arrive in time to first period.” Lily mumbled. Alice and, surprisingly, Potter both snorted, but no one else seemed to have heard it.

Rosmerta arrived with all their drinks, including (somehow) for the four unwanted extras. Well, only two of them were actually unwanted (at least by her), but the only time they weren’t all attached at the hip was when their parents, a teacher or, more efficiently and quickly, a girl, surgically separated them, and then they quickly glued themselves back together.

They stayed for a lot longer than Lily would have thought would be comfortable, but then she remembered she was the only one with an actual grudge-creating problem with Potter. They were, as she reluctantly knew, remarkably easy personalities to be with (their table seemed to attract a lot of stares; an almost obnoxiously loud bunch of teenagers in a magical hotspot of a pub was out-of-place), and she ended up withdrawing from the conversation more than she normally would have.

Eventually, Remus, who seemed to do the same in bigger groups, struck up a normal, polite, quieter conversation about their Prefect duties that, as always, made her silently awe at how he got along with Potter and Black’s naturally explosive personas. She’d asked him about it, once during a Potion’s lesson (on Verisaterum), in a bout of brutal honestly that she hadn’t a clue to where it’d come from. He’d smiled, said they made life interesting, and clammed up.

After that, she’d privately stayed with the notion that Remus was a closet-case adrenaline junkie, but not all the truth serum in the world would make that come out of her lips.

The general conversation did, in due course as it was proper for a group of seventeen-year-olds, turn to Quidditch. Potter and Black took this as an opportunity to increase the noise-level, which made nice, normal, polite, quieter conversations become impossible. Remus sighed at the same time she rolled her eyes, and they joined the rest of them in listening, once again, to the story of Gryffindor’s unbeatable Seeker’s perfectly executed Wronski Feint, and which was the feat largely responsible for his getting into Puddlemere United straight out of school.

“You know,” Lily said, drily, once he was done. “if your fascination with broken necks is that great, all you had to do was tell me. I’d be more than happy to handle yours without broomsticks.” She was teasing, and she knew he knew that, though when, exactly, she’d begun feeling comfortable teasing James Potter wasn’t very clear in her mind.

He grinned at her deliciously. “You’re welcome to do anything you want to my neck; or any other part of me, as matter of fact.” He said earnestly, and Black pressed his lips together very tightly.

“Thank God I know a lot of vanishing spells and charms, then. Very inventive ones, too.” Potter winced and she considered it a win.

She noticed Peter, who was looking as though he’d been dropped from the sky in the middle of a population of a different species. “So, Peter,” She said, because ignoring James was still easier than quipping at him. “I thought you’d gone home for the Easter holidays?” She would have smiled at him, but the startled way his watery eyes looked at her disconcerted her. Still, she could feel Potter scowling and bristling, so it was all worth it.

“Y-yes, I was. I mea- I mean, I was supposed to, only my mother had to go on- on a short-notice trip.” He stuttered awkwardly. She realized she should have gone with Remus again. Conversations with him were a lot more stimulating, and sometimes she could actually count on him to help her annoy Potter. Of course, later he’d decide to very deliberately ask her uncomfortable questions with a grin about why she needed to annoy Potter so, which wasn’t as much fun, but at least those never got to Potter’s ears. She hoped, anyway.

“Oh.” She answered politely. Peter reddened.

Frank and Alice were talking to each in whispers other very close and with too much giggling involved (at least on Alice’s part). Her friend’s cheeks were getting progressively more coloured, and Lily decided that if the two of them weren’t leaving soon, everyone else would.

That was when half the bar exploded.

Lily wasn’t proud to admit that – back then – their reaction times weren’t mind-blowing. For a moment that either stretched too long or not long enough, they just stared: stared at a wall that wasn’t there anymore, stared at Rosmerta’s crumpled and unconscious form that had really not Apparated to the other side of the bar from where she’d been initially, and stared at five figures with faces ridiculously recognisable from at least three years of (not particularly peaceful) sharing of a castle, standing in the middle of the crater they were responsible for like some sort of twisted eye of a storm, only it wasn’t safer inside than outside.

Then they threw the first curse, and Lily ducked, and that’s the last she remembered seeing of her friends for a while.

This wasn’t the first time she’d been in the crossfire of a duel – but calling what went on inside Hogwarts’ walls between the Marauders and Slytherin’s finest duelling was a stretch. Calling this a duel was a stretch too, mostly because it almost seemed like a group of God-don’t-make-her-call-former-classmates-of-hers-Death-Eaters deciding The Three Broomsticks (or its occupants – it was probably more about the occupants) didn’t go with the landscape and doing something about it.

From harmless (though sometimes barely tethering on the edge of that definition) and sporadic beams of light, controllable spells, to a mess of no-see, no-hear, no nothing except screaming and white, and green and red and God, but those two didn’t go together – and she was feeling out of her depth, out of her everything, she had control over nothing – the ceiling was falling, but it was in little pieces, little, tiny, miniscule, microscopic really, like flour, so that was okay, even if it would turn this into the most twisted cake in history, and seven kids not even in their last year at school would be the squished middle.

Her first instinct wasn’t cursing back. Then the table she was cowering under with several other someones (the squished screams were too close) disappeared and she had no choice.

In that quiet moment, when the table was there and then not, there was moment of clarity, where the air was still and the proverbial sunray hit her (and the non-proverbial one too, the wall had really been blown to pieces). There was a very clear, bright fluorescent line separating school from reality. She learned about Unforgivables in DADA, but really, her imagination was rather off – the light beam was much thicker, and much brighter than she would expect for a bringer of death, she saw – she used Protego because it was a spell she was supposed to learn for class, but really it was funny how using it to protect herself from falling debris gave the syllabus a whole new meaning. Lily didn’t know if this was because she was a Muggleborn and doing things without spells and magic and potions and anything else wasn’t second nature to her – but suddenly she quite clearly realized that yes, her O at DADA was going to have to serve her.

The first enchantment she used was the Shield Charm. She didn’t stop there.

She somehow ended up outside, her arm stinging briefly before becoming comfortably warm against the rain and cold. She was fairly certain she hadn’t used the door either, but then again, there was a new convenient truck-shaped entrance now, wasn’t there? She couldn’t see anybody – except, that was, Bellatrix Lestrange, whom she found herself duelling.

She daren’t even try offense, because she’d have to have two seconds in-between dodging and blocking Bellatrix’s spells to stop defence. She was terrified – was this it? Was this how she would die, pelted by raindrops, alone with a madwoman cackling against the wind, her whipping hair hardly an impediment for her true aim-

Bellatrix spoke, which scared her more than anything else that night. “And which one would you be, Red? Are you the bitch?” She laughed very dementedly, and in the sound Lily heard all the things one should never hear in a laugh, all this perverseness, and black, and pain Bellatrix enjoyed-

Lily didn’t answer – even if she had wanted to, which she plainly hadn’t, her mouth was too dry, her lungs too empty, her mind too blank – and instead focused on not getting hit with a red, maleficent-looking fireball sort of curse that she didn’t want to imagine was the Cruciatus one. Bellatrix didn’t play soft, which meant most of what she tried, Lily had to dodge – she didn’t hope to find out the consequences of protecting herself with an invisible shield against the words Avada Kedavra that day.

And then Lily tripped.

It wasn’t her fault – she’d been more preoccupied with her opponent than her where her heels where heading. Bellatrix had been forcing her backwards, for some reason (she fervently hoped never to find out what, because her nightmares for the next few weeks were already booked, and she didn’t want them to have to extend over a period of months) and her pathetic attempts to repel her had culminated with her falling backwards over a relatively soft rock – she’d never known rocks could be soft, or have cloaks covering them and oh God, she shut her eyes and tried to imagine this person, this human, bodied person under her could not be dead, and tried to pretend she couldn’t be dead in a few moment’s notice too, because she was just standing there looking stupid and-

Something barked.

It was a dog. A dog had barked, then had full-body-impacted Bellatrix Lestrange to the ground, literally howling mad, biting down with some serious force her wand-hand and Lily had never loved dogs more. Lily scrambled to her feet, listening to Bellatrix’s shrieking curses and non-magic curses and not managing anything, because as far as anyone could see, the dog was clearly enjoying trying to wrestle the wand out of her hand – and then she remembered the body, the maybe-dead, no, maybe-alive body that was still under her.

It was Peter. Lily didn’t quite know what to do with herself, much less with him, and so her hands sort of hovered like useless rescue-copters that couldn’t do much with the rescue at all. There it was: at long last, it hit her that this was a war and that, quite suddenly, they were smack right in the middle of it. There was her classmate, her friend, lying out cold on the ground, someone she had classes with, someone with whom she sat and listened to teachers droning on about their education (and what was that worth, in the middle of the street, in drenched hair, drenched clothes, waiting for a cold that wouldn’t hit her skin yet, but which had frozen her insides already?), someone she’d watched picking his nose at thirteen! And now this, and he looked so peaceful - oblivious to this, oblivious to the screams, oblivious to Lily’s livid inner turmoil, oblivious to everything except his dreams.

Where was she, where boys who called themselves ‘Marauders’ lay on a deserted road because someone who convinced and manipulated and dark-charmed people away from right and wrong and morals and principles wanted a change that would make more boys like Peter end up right there with him? Why was she fighting his follower, how come she was fighting for her future life now, how come she had to fight for her life at all?

Peter wouldn’t wake up. She blinked back the tears that weren’t coming, blinked back the water that covered her whole face and looked – looked everywhere for somewhere safe where Peter could stay for all of five minutes. There was nowhere. She couldn’t see a place where Peter would be safe. She couldn’t see a place where she’d be safe either.

The dog’s howling had stopped, but Bellatrix’s hadn’t. Lily’s wand was in her hand.

Peter had gotten lucky so far – he’d just have to hope he’d get lucky a little bit longer. Cautiously, and with a dangerously trembling hand, she approached the dog and its prey, wand outstretched and ready to attack this time.

The dog was quite beautiful – its night-colour hair was long and thick and lustrous, almost reminding her of Black’s hair, even in the pouring rain. It had a longish snout, and its growling made its gums shake in rage. The eyes were narrowed to dark, glittering little beads. It looked big and powerful and scary, and Lily felt safer, for some reason, in its presence. At the very least, it wasn’t paying attention to her, but to Bellatrix, and it wasn’t the kind of attention Lily would want. It had her wand in its mouth, and it was dripping pink water, which was likely a diluted version of what was running down Bellatrix’s arm. She hadn’t gotten up – both because the dog had made a nest out of her, and possibly because she didn’t like her chances of outrunning it, just like Lily wouldn’t.

Lily pointed her wand directly at the witch’s face, feeling a kind of inspired rage that only came from a sudden moment of clarity that instantly led to despair and misery, which made for the adrenaline-fueled bravery (of the reckless kind) that she was now feeling – at least her mind was not shattered now, because anger was very focusing, and very focused as well.

“Call your- friends. Now.” She ordered, quietly and very steadily, in spite of the rain, the fear and the pure and uncontrollable rage that were all making her whole body tremble.

Bellatrix snorted.

The dog growled a warning.

Bellatrix smirked at her and didn’t seem to care about her mutilated arm anymore. “I see now – vermin can’t turn into other animals. Although I wouldn’t have expected a mudblood not to be a bitch.” She sneered at the dog. Lily was confused.

And then the rain went too quiet. Too inconsequential.

Lily couldn’t say what it was, exactly. It was lots of different things. Bellatrix’s unconcerned, almost giddy attitude, a feeling of horrible foreboding deep in her gut, the fact that there had been way too much calm in the last ten minutes, a sudden dreadful silence behind her, the dog’s shudder and cowering and whimpering and the sound of a boot just kicking aside a body – Peter – carelessly. It all amounted to Lily turning around and wishing for a quick death.

Lord Voldemort was walking toward a wandless woman, a dog lying on top of her, and Lily. Lily had a wand. It had never seemed more like a helpless wooden stick, much like herself. Or at least her best impression of one.

Up until then, Voldemort had been a misty phantom on the edge of her awareness – something foul, shapeless, shadowy, barely real. It was there but not really. Now he was right there, looking straight at her, with red-blood eyes that saw more than she wanted him to see, and thinning hair that made him look a little human – too human-

“A mudblood. And you thought it wise to fight my Bella?” He said this musingly and too low for her to plausibly hear over the raindrops, and quite suddenly she realized she couldn’t hear much of anything else – she opened her mouth to scream-

And there was a great loud bark and the dog was there, standing in front of her like some sort of laughable invisible barrier – Voldemort looked away from her, tore that humanly inhumane vision from her direct line of sight and she felt as though she finally had permission to collapse to the ground. She could hear Bellatrix Lestrange cackling in anticipation – Voldemort raised his wand - the dog would go first-

No!” Someone shouted – and she realized that it had been two voices as one, and only half had been hers.

Potter showed up out of nowhere, wand in hand and running so fast he was practically sliding down the diminished version of a river that had formed in Hogsmeade’s main street. And, because it was Potter, Lily understood immediately that he was about to do something so incredibly reckless it could only be brave and so stupid it could only have been Gryffindor (as a footnote, she was the one with her bottom on the freezing and wet asphalt, with a dog protecting her from the Wizarding World latest nightmare), like raising an admittedly convulsing wand to Voldemort’s chest.

Bellatrix’s gasp was incredulous and maniacally hysterical, and Lily’s was livid. The dog seemed to agree, because it started howling and nudging James’ leg – but he wasn’t listening, he just kept very still like a statue with a wand trained on Lord Voldemort.

And Voldemort raised his eyebrows. “You seemed to have run into the wrong group of schoolchildren, Bella. Obviously, these seven – they are the ones who will finally overthrow me.” His voice carried the s’s so well Lily felt them whisper down her spine and make her shake and shiver and increase her terror.

Bella’s laughter rang cold and out-of-place among the silent witnesses. “Such a pity, to spill pure blood. I have no reason to mean you any harm, boy.” He told James, whose stiffening back told her, even if not him, that not being on Voldemort’s hit list was insulting.

“Don’t you worry about that.” He said, perfectly cheerfully. But Lily knew him, knew his tones of voice, knew when he was nervous, jittery, terrified or livid, and knew when he was far beyond any of those. “It’ll be no trouble, giving you one.”

And he threw the first curse.

The way Voldemort handled it was funny, in a twisted, Lily’s-been-exposed-to-Bellatrix-too-long way, waving his wand almost as if he was bored, like ladies used to handle those old handkerchiefs they kept in their cuffs. Lily never found out which one it had been - by then James was already running, running and almost making her take off, but at least her hand was securely in his and that dog, he was dogging their steps (James’, anyway, because hers were mostly drag-marks) – and she couldn’t find the time or the breath or the pause to tell him no, no, no, Peter’s still back there with the madman and the madwoman! But then another part of her just kept thinking not fast enough. Voldemort wasn’t cursing – likely, it was the only reason they were still alive – and, somehow, impossibly, she found herself right next to James.

“We can’t keep running! It’s just amusing him!”

“Jeez, Evans, way to cheer a bloke up.” James snapped, but then their eyes met, and she found he was just as terrified as she was. “We don’t have any cover – I can barely see anything in this rain!”

“Then make one!” She cried, and they flattened themselves as Voldemort unexpectedly stopped being amused.

James waved his wand, face scrunched up against the rain and the curses and the difficulty of the charm and then they were right behind a huge, rocky, weirdly-shaped thing. And the dog, the weirdly ever-present dog, grumbled as if saying about-time and flopped straight to the floor, tongue out and looking more like Black than ever. Lily practically did the same against the rock, because James could run.

“James-” She said urgently. “Peter – he was back there-” She was trying – she was trying really hard – but a sob escaped her. She buried her head in her hands, only she didn’t want a head right then, she didn’t want to think, didn’t want to imagine poor Peter, just lying there unconscious, Voldemort and Bellatrix looming over him- how could she have just left him there?!

James was halfway out the security the rock offered before she noticed a thing, but the dog had quicker reflexes. It grabbed his leg and pulled him forcibly back, and for one, terrible moment, she thought it’d give him the same treatment it’d given Bellatrix – but then it’d let go, growled loudly and reproachfully at him and shot off into the rain, alone and smaller and more inconspicuous than any human – even if it seemed strangely aware…

No curses shot its way, and Lily was glad, because she was starting to like it.

James watched it anxiously – Lily started to form the idea that maybe the dog was more than a dog, but the confusion was not worth the time it would waste. “Where’s Remus?” He demanded, wildly looking for the answer as if it would be around him somewhere.

“I don’t know.” She answered, and the terror built again, stretching as if a hand and enveloping her whole being into one giant mess of worry. Where was Remus? Or Alice? Or Frank, or Sirius? “You’ve lost him?”

“I’ve lost everyone!” He cried, and seemed to want to tug at his hair.

Then Voldemort spoke.

“You have plenty of dare, James Potter.” Voldemort said, deadly and smooth like poison. His voice was loud and abnormal, distorted by spell or malice. “Devilish, if one may. Even if, in inopportune moments such as this, it can easily be mistaken for affronting recklessness. And loyalty – your furry friend, who just dragged the other one from here, it seems, is perfectly unscathed. Consider it a show of good faith. Useful qualities, I daresay. Touching ones. They’ve more than likely served others at some point.

“And yet – what about you? Where are they? Those loyal friends – you’re here, facing me, and I see but one mudblood by your side.” Lily flinched and James’ eyes were murderous behind the glasses.

“You’re a bright young man too. I saw what you just did to Mulciber – it’s certainly- inventive, you’ll allow me. I can help you, James. Can you imagine what you could do with unlimited possibilities - resources? Not those offered at Hogwarts – they barely, tamely skim the surface. You could do formidable things. You have potential. Don’t you want to explore it?”

He answered his own question. “Join me, and you’ll find real loyalty. Royalty.” James looked incredulous now, but Voldemort seemed perfectly self-assured of the sentiment. “All those things you crave – I see them, all of them, deep down there, even her… You could have it all – you wouldn’t have to do anything. You’d have the respect and that support, unwavering, of the Wizarding World. Think of all the things you could do – you’d be cleaning our world, purging it! Is there a nobler task? You are a Gryffindor, are you not?”

James had stood perfectly stoic through his words, and Lily had been perfectly content watching him, dying to know what went on in his head. For whatever reason, she was aware that Voldemort had touched a few right buttons – more than a few wrong ones too – and she knew that there was no way, and that Voldemort knew less of loyalty than the average Slytherin, which his big talk showed, and yet, and yet… And now, listening to the silence, she almost wished Voldemort’s voice back. Then James nodded, gave her a jittery sort of look, the kind of look she’d come to associate to late-night findings of him where he wasn’t supposed to be (when he wasn’t supposed to be), put one arm around the rock – his wand arm – and fired an indistinguishable spell with indistinguishable words.

A cool, female and impersonal voice began reciting, in deadpan, “If your blood is indeed the purest of the purest, please contact St. Mungo’s immediately – you may be missing vital components from it, important to your life. A lot of respected and important members of our community have perished due to this terrible, non-contagious disease that seems to be spreading more quickly than the birthrate of pureblood babies. Please, help us help you.”

There was a beat of silence. Then Bellatrix Lestrange began screaming bloody murder in a string of profanities.

Lily wanted to be having a nightmare. Potter seemed to be feeling perfectly pleased with himself, but she was afraid the rock they were hiding behind was going to have a very explosive ending, and they were going along with it.

“Sorry.” He whispered. She peeked between her fingers to let him take a good long glance at the look on her face. “I just wanted to say something as ridiculous as he did back.”

“If that is your answer-” Voldemort sighed, as though regretting the bother it would be, killing James. “It’s a pity, James Potter. We will meet again. And I will not be so friendly then.” Voldemort’s snake-like voice whispered all the way to them, heard even above Bellatrix’s screams of outrage – and then there was a Disapparating pop and Lily knew they were gone.

It was over. And it’d begun at last.