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Chapter 35 - Lily's Creation
Bellatrix inched her feet over the floor, moving soundlessly across the room. She didn’t know if it was nerves or excitement drawing her awake when dawn was still hours away, but she did know that she needed to plan. The next few months would be some of the most important of her life -- her chance to show the Dark Lord how capable she was of executing his every order perfectly.

She flicked her wand, drawing a massive fire to life in its stone prison. The flame began eating away the logs, the rhythm of it calming her. All she needed was to be prepared... to make sure the two Slytherins she’d be training understood that if they disappointed her, if they even stepped near failure, they would suffer more than they’d ever thought possible.

Bellatrix folded her legs, sinking to the floor in front of the fire and simply staring into it. She was being permitted to oversee two future servants and ready them for their initiation. It was something all five of the most trusted death eaters had done. The First Five. The only ones Master truly confided in. And now, she and Lucius were being given their turn. He would take Snape and Rosier, leaving her with Mulciber and Avery. Bellatrix was curious about Abigail Brookwin’s fallen interest, but pleased nonetheless that the girl had realized that she wasn’t worthy to serve Master. Though that didn’t mean she wouldn’t be of use in the future...

Bella lifted her wand from its spot nestled on the rug and pointed it at the fire, forcing a small piece of wood to break off and come zooming toward her. She waited barely a second before picking up the item, ignoring the heat that transferred onto her skin, scalding the surface of her flesh. With the charcoaled end, she pressed it against the wood floor and wrote Mulciber and Avery in crude, thick letters.

Their test had already been decided by her. She and Lucius each had to set up something to evaluate their ability to follow orders, and she’d been more than thrilled to be able to use them as part of her plan for revenge. They would have one month after graduation, not a day more, to find that filthy girl who had dared disarm Bellatrix. If they were unable to achieve this, they would suffer the consequences. Though, even if they did fail, it still wouldn’t change the pathetic girl’s fate, simply delay it. But it would serve as a necessary tool for Bellatrix to assess the amount of torture her new toys would need before they were fit to be initiated by the Dark Lord.

Master took only the most loyal into his circle. Marked only those truly worthy. Not that any others could match with Bellatrix, of course. She knew without a ray of doubt that she was more devoted than anyone else. That didn’t mean the servants she trained could be anything less than exemplary, though. They would reflect on her; the Dark Lord would judge her ability to command and control based on their ability to pass their initiation test.

Their minds would be dove into, their bodies beaten and battered, and at the end of it all would wait one spell - only known by the Dark Lord himself - that could forever brand them as Death Eaters.

Bellatrix looked down at the names she had written, then began to list curses beside them. Ones that would throw them through physical and mental pain, strengthen them so they wouldn’t break under the Dark Lord’s wand. Sure, Master could destroy them if he wished, but his purposes were to test. Not to kill. He had to be sure his servants were able to handle torture.

She thought of her own initiation day, the memory slipping into her as welcomed as the touch of a lover. It had been Avery Sr. that had trained her nearly five years ago - how ironic that she was now preparing his own son. He’d done next to nothing to prepare her; she hadn’t needed it. She’d killed the people he’d requested without so much as a twinge in her heart, sucked in the pain his tortures had delivered with an eager soul.

The way Master had looked down at her when Avery Sr. brought her to his feet, declaring her worthy of his Mark, would never be forgotten by Bellatrix. The Dark Lord’s face had shown no emotion, his dark eyes hardly even registering her. Then she’d felt him inside her mind, something foreign invading her. But she hadn’t fought it like some did, hadn’t been terrified at the idea that he could feel her every thought. No, she’d embraced it the same way she’d embraced the fire of his curses as he tested her worthiness.

Smudged, dark charcoal covered her fingers as she continued marring the wood floor with its color, feeling herself calm each time she let the plans for Avery and Mulciber’s training solidify in her mind. She couldn’t care less about the success of any other Death Eater, but they would reflect completely on her. The Dark Lord had to be pleased with the work she did with them, the preparation.

She dropped the burnt piece of log and leaned her head back, glancing at the shadows playing around the walls. Her mind slipped away, imagining that sweet moment when the trainees would accomplish what she’d ordered them to. Not only would it mean she would be closer to proving her worth to the Dark Lord, but she would finally have that filthy girl under her control, able to kill her as slowly and painfully as she desired.

The thought elated Bellatrix, lighting her eyes so fiercely that it was as if matches had been struck behind them. As the dark air outside the window became tainted with the morning light, a high pitched laugh bubbled from Bellatrix’s mouth, the hair that was dangling down her back shaking with the intensity of it.

No one disarmed Bellatrix Lestrange.

Soon, the worthless girl would pay. They would all pay.

Soft ribbons of light eased themselves through the curtains hung over Lily’s window, the loose fabric billowing in toward the room with a few good-natured gusts of wind. The proud call of an owl filled the morning. Probably headed back to the Owlry, a sleepy Lily suspected.

Her eyes were still closed, mind still foggy with sleep as she rested in the soft place between consciousness and dreamland. The smell of blooming Cuckoo flowers growing wild outside the castle further enhanced the fantasy-like feeling invading her; the warmth of her four poster bed and the comfort of her Sweet Dreams Blanket kept her lulled into rest.

After a few more seconds she tugged her eyes open just a sliver, barely enough to make out fuzzy shapes around the room.

She waited for a heavy thud to fall into her chest as the fireplace where Alrek had nearly killed her came into view, waited for anxiety to creep through the calmness as the memory of their battle found its claws and dug in.

But neither happened.

She could still imagine the scene, but it didn’t infect her the way it had for the last three weeks. Every morning she’d woken up less shaken, less disgusted by the room around her. This wasn’t a place she wanted to hate; it was her place: the room she’d been given for becoming Head Girl, the room where she’d spent hours painting James’s Christmas present in secret, laughing with Belle and Alice about nothing at all. There was no reason she had to let Alrek ruin that for her.

Her eyes traveled toward the window and she smiled as she watched the breeze flutter her curtains about, letting the motion calm her. On a spur of inspiration, she pulled her body up and pushed off the covers, a huge smile taking over her face. The cream skin didn’t show any signs of the attack she’d undergone, bruise salves and Madam Pomfrey’s talents making it as if the event had never occurred.

But it had, Lily thought. It happened, and she was still alive. Alrek wasn’t.

Remus had helped settle the chaos that had been spinning through her regarding Alrek’s death, and now her feelings for it were relatively bland. She didn’t want to think that he got what he deserved, not exactly. Because maybe there was something going on that she didn’t know about. Maybe he’d been under the control of another Death Eater, though she doubted it. Still, the knowledge that Alrek had pledged himself to the same evil wizard who ultimately ended his life brought a sort of finished feeling to the matter.

He made his choice. The second he entered the Heads Quarters’ he’d sealed his own fate; a life behind bars was just as awful as one that was cut short too soon, she suspected. And now Lily was letting the decisions he made stop haunting her, allowing the fact that she’d fought for her life, and won, take precedence.

The smile remained in place as she slipped on a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a camisole. She rushed into the bathroom and used her hands to wipe at her face, bringing a healthy color into her cheeks. Her fingers threaded through the red strands, doing what they could to untangle the knots. Her half wavy/half curly hair was always a bit out of control in the morning, but she didn’t want to take the time to fix it properly. Instead, she finished her futile attempt at combing and let it remain tousled about, then quickly swished mouthwash around, ignoring the sting of the alcohol.

There, she thought, not giving herself time for the odd sense of euphoria to wear off. Her fingers pulled open the door to her room and she raced down the short corridor, James’s room five or so yards from hers. She was about to raise her hand and knock when she heard a noise downstairs. Her heart froze, icy memories dripping into it.

Alrek was dead.

She repeated that statement in her mind and took a slow breath, ignoring the beads of sweat that had sprung up on her forehead. As her feet moved silently toward the stairs she tightened her grip on her wand.

The first stair creaked under the weight of her foot, followed by a deep voice calling, “Lily?”

Her lips tilted back up into a smile just as quickly as they’d fallen and she hurried down the stairs, taking two at a time.

When she reached the bottom of them she was faced with a curious looking James. She watched him relax, his breath evening out as he realized she was okay, then cocked his head at her. Lily knew he was confused about her expression, and she wondered if she’d smiled as much in the past three weeks as she was just then.

“What’s going-” before he could continue she threw her arms around his neck, burrowing her head into the soft fabric of his shirt. It seemed that the string inside of her that had been hanging on to those dark feelings that the attack created finally snapped. Her friends had spent the majority of April trying to cheer her up and ignoring the moody remarks she made. Of course she’d tried to hide the odd kind of anger she’d been feeling, still pretending to act very much like Lily Evans on the outside. But they’d all known it was an act, James especially. Still, he’d never prodded at her to get over it, to toughen up.

But those were the exact things she needed to do. She survived! She fought for her own damn life, and she deserved to feel proud of herself. Not to feel dark and moody because he’d attacked her in the first place, because she’d been targeted by a lunatic.

“I love you,” she whispered to James, still wrapped in his embrace. “I love you so much, and I’m sorry I’ve been such a nightmare.”

James grabbed her shoulders and pulled her away a few inches. “Hey, none of that. You haven’t been a nightmare. You went through hell and you were...” he paused for a second, thinking, “adjusting to what happened and trying to accept it. At least that’s what Remus said.”

“Still, I shouldn’t have shut you all out that way.” Her eyes flickered down and she hated to think of how detached she’d been.

“Well, you did a fairly decent job pulling off your, ‘I’m perfectly fine,’ act. And Alice said that we needed to let you go along with it until you were ready to snap out of it. Well, I don’t think she said that exactly. Her way was probably a bit more sensitive sounding...”

Lily laughed and slipped her body from James’s, both of them moving to the sofa to sit down.

“I don’t know why this affected me so much more than the Bellatrix one...” she began, her fingers lacing together nervously. “I guess I felt like there was just more I could have done to stop it. Then I was so annoyed that Alrek was dead and wouldn’t sit in prison forever. Then sometimes I was happy he was dead, but felt like a terrible person for being happy and... I don’t know,” she finished with a shrug.

Her eyes found James’s and she saw a dark shadow creeping into them, his relaxed face twisting into a tense one. “I should have been here,” he mumbled. “If you blame me for not being there, for being dense enough to take so long to realize Violet’s shit was a set up, I’ll understand.”

“James...” the realization jolted into her, hard and fast as it took hold of her heart. The entire time that she’d been trying to cope with what happened and accept it all, her friends had been blaming themselves. James probably more than anyone. “God, we’re a pair, aren’t we? What about if I stop blaming myself, and you stop blaming yourself, and we’ll both just blame who’s actually responsible for this all: Voldemort and his pack of murderers.”

James’s look remained suspicious, his eyes searching hers like they were looking for some secret message to uncover. Either he decided to believe her sincerity, or chose to let his doubts pass, because after just a moment his smile came fast, as infectious and charming as the man it belonged to. “Yeah? Well, that doesn’t sound like a bad deal, I suppose. Where did all this...” he glanced over her, “cheerful Lily come from?”

Her laugh was bubbling before she could stop it, the sound of it foreign to her own ears. “I don’t really know. I woke up this morning and it was sunny, and there was one of those perfect little breezes... and I felt fine. I still had a few flashes of what happened, but it was easier to block them out than to remember them. It probably helped that my blanket gave me the dream about the time in first year, when you helped me with Defence Against the Dark Arts homework and then I made you promise not to tell anyone because I wasn’t supposed to need help, especially not from trouble makers.”

“I still laugh when I think about how serious you were when you made me promise to keep it a secret, then I pulled the tie out of your braid so it came loose, and you got so mad you never asked for help again.”

“It took me forever to figure out how to do those damn things!” Lily retorted, remembering how long she’d practiced the fishtail braids with her mum before her first year of Hogwarts. Her fingers had kept wanting to do the wrong thing, and she’d been so proud of herself when she was finally able to do a passable job. Then of course James had to yank the tie out of one without her knowing, leaving her with a frizzy, curly mess hours later after the braid finally worked itself loose.

Their laughter mixed into one another’s and Lily wondered how she’d survived three weeks without this. The easy companionship, the comfort of being nestled into his arms and the feeling of his lips brushing over her skin, easing their way to hers.

“I have to get to Quidditch practice,” he mumbled as he broke the kiss and pulled them from their foggy state.

“Only a month left until the last game,” she added, wishing they were on Holiday at his parents house or something so they could just spend the day cuddling and being together.

“I can’t believe it’s already nearly May,” he added, shaking his head a bit. As the statement floated through the air, Lily realized the full moon would be capturing the night very soon. There were two, maybe three days left.

“I have something I need to get done, too,” she said, thinking about the research she’d been doing on a certain potion. “I’m going to see if Slughorn will let me use his class to brew a potion, then maybe we can meet later and take a walk or something before revision tonight?”

“Can the walk entail more of-” James leaned forward and captured her lips again, “this?”

She smiled, shooing him away. He gathered his practice equipment and gave her one more kiss and a quick goodbye, then left the Heads’ Quarters. Lily sat for a few seconds longer, smiling to herself before heading upstairs to bathe and pack a few books in her rucksack. How had she spent so long sucked into the black hole when there were so many things surrounding her to make her happy?

After the first week she’d actually been doing quite a bit better, until Violet tried to come up to her with an apology. Lily knew it was sincere, but she couldn’t forgive the girl just yet. The conversation had thrown her emotions back into a frightening sort of turmoil, and she’d let herself detach from everything.

As Lily went through the steps of preparing for the day, she wondered if she’d been wrong to tell Violet that she wasn’t ready to accept her apology. It’d probably been small and petty of her, but the girl had nearly gotten Lily killed! All to live out some fantasy of getting James to fall in love with her. Lily assumed that it made her a terrible person to continue resenting Violet, but she didn’t care. She wasn’t ready to forgive, and maybe the sixth year would learn an important lesson from this all. Like don’t lock a bloody person in a room against their will after conspiring with a Death Eater.

She shook the thoughts from her, not wanting to dwell on those, then flung the bag over her shoulder and headed back down the stairs, ready to go talk Slughorn into giving her permission to use his classroom and supply of ingredients for a few hours. She had a potion to brew before the full moon ventured in

James pulled his practice cloak over his jeans and t-shirt as he walked through the entrance hall, pushing the massive double doors open with his shoulder.

He thought over what they should work on today, wanting to get a straight idea of what areas to cover on what practices. Their new schedule wasn’t ideal, but it would suit well enough. He’d reserved Tuesdays and Thursdays from six in the evening until eight, Mondays from five in the morning until seven and a nine to one spot on Saturdays. He’d have liked to get one more in there, five practices a week somehow seeming more adequate than four. But with it just being Gryffindor and Ravenclaw left to play, the teachers had decided it was best to limit practice time to stop the two houses from going off the deep end. They were currently being given ten hours a week, and James wouldn’t let even one of those measly hours sneak by him.

It was a relief to know that the Ravenclaw wouldn’t be able to get in any more pitch time than Gryffindor. Even with having to replace his Seeker, James was certain they stood a good chance at winning the Cup. Hufflepuff had played horribly on their last match, putting them too far behind for James to be concerned about. Slytherin was sixty points ahead of Gryffindor, and that shouldn’t be a problem to beat. Ravenclaw was only five points behind, though.

The final game was going to be brutal, fast, and nasty. Just the way James liked it. Honesty, Ravenclaw was almost worse to play against than Slytherin. Sure, the Snakes didn’t give two shits about the rules, cheating every time Madam Hooch turned her back, but they weren’t as smart or resourceful as Ravenclaw.

Yes, it would be a close one, but Gryffindor would win. James wouldn’t allow it to be any other way.

“If you keep scowling zat way, your face is bound to get stuck.” James blinked a few times, then realized he’d been too lost in his own thoughts to see Belle and Sirius sitting on the bench angled toward the path. Her flushed cheeks, combined with the wicked glint in Sirius’s eyes, made James smirk.

“What have you two been doing out here, eh?” he asked, expecting the flush in Belle’s cheeks to darken.

“Actually, we ‘ave been kissing and zen I was explaining to Sirius ze different activities we could be partaking in if we just ‘ad a bit more privacy.”

If James had something in his mouth, Belle’s answer would have forced him to spit it out. He was silent for a moment, then leaned his head back and laughed into the air. One would think he’d have gotten used to the blunt replies and sassy remarks from the blonde, but they still surprised James. He focused back on his friends, Sirius leaning against the bench, slouching with comfort as Belle raised her brow at James, daring him to reply.

“Apparently we’re going to need to place a few charms around our rooms in the flat,” James stated as he leaned back comfortably on his heels. “It’ll keep any noises the two of you are making private and all.”

That caused a laugh to spread through Belle and Sirius, the latter standing and helping the blonde up after him.

“Headed out to practice?” Sirius asked as he fell into step beside the captain, grabbing Belle’s hand. James felt a little surge of shock run through him when he watched Sirius lace his fingers through Belle’s. Not that he hadn’t seen it plenty of times, or that there was anything wrong with it. He actually quite enjoyed seeing two of his friends together. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Sirius couldn’t tease him as much about Lily when he was wrapped so tightly around Belle’s finger, but James also knew it had to do with genuinely liking seeing his mate happy.

But little displays of affection, like hand holding, hugs, those kinds of things that girls expected blokes to do, had never come naturally to Sirius. His girlfriend in fourth year had even accused him of not loving her because he wouldn’t hold her hand in the corridor, then broken up with him soon after. Though, it was probably because Sirius had told her that she was correct, and he didn’t love her, that really did them in.

“I talked to Lily,” James began as he glanced over at them, lifting his hand over his eyes to stop a ray of sun from blinding him.

“Yeah?” came a deep reply.

“She was smiling. And laughing. And, well... she was Lily.”

Belle stopped in her tracks, her hold on Sirius forcing him to stop as well. “And zey weren’t zose fake smiles or zose fake laughs she’s been doing all week?”

James’s smile turned to a grin, shaking his head enthusiastically. “Nope. And I’m not certain she’ll be able to really just be over it like she seemed this morning, but I do think things are getting a lot better.”

Belle shot Sirius an apologetic look before saying, “I ‘ave to find Alice so we can go see ‘er. I’ll catch up with ze two of you later!” Before they could say their goodbyes, she was already rushing off in the other direction, her feet barely seeming to touch the ground as she glided quickly away from them.

“You know,” Sirius began, and James could make out the very rare look of contentment in his friend’s eyes. Sirius’s emotions usually ranged to extremes; contentment never seemed to be one. “We always figured we’d be getting ready to apply to the Auror training program, or packing for our grand tour... getting ready to seduce girls with how worldly and handsome we are.”

James laughed at the comments, knowing just how true they were. “Now here we are...” he said, knowing he was perfectly happy with the turn things had taken. “You wanting to do more of the things we talked about, instead of being tied to one girl?” James glanced at Sirius as he asked the question, not wanting to think of the tense dynamic the group’s friendship would take if Sirius broke Belle’s heart.

The two boys weren’t the best at talking about this sort of stuff, feelings and junk, but James knew that if Sirius was going to talk to anyone about it, it would be him, and vice versa. That’s just the way things went when you were as good as brothers with your best mate.

Sirius shrugged before saying, “I don’t know if I’m built the way you are, built to have the sort of relationship your parents have, you and Lily have... but if I was ever able to, I think it’d be with Belle. Maybe I’m still plenty fucked up from the shit my parents used to pull on me, but at least Belle gets it... doesn’t seem to want to ‘fix’ me or ‘change’ me. You know?”

James just nodded. He knew the worst parts of Sirius’s past. There were things that had happened to him that would never be fixed, never be forgotten. But that didn’t matter, because he was still Sirius. He had no reason to change, not when he’d been doing just fine the way he was.

After a few seconds of silence, Sirius spoke again. “I’m happy Evans finally figured out that you aren't as bad as you seem, Prongs. Even if she’s confused and you really are as bad as you seem.”

James snaked over, laughing as he tried to grab Sirius in a headlock. The boy was too fast, getting James’s arms behind his back, but not prepared when James spun around and pulled the move back on him. The two continued to wrestle their way to the pitch, which was really the only manly way to finish off the conversation they’d just had, then Sirius hung back and watched as James got the practice started.

As soon as he lifted his wand and called the players to silence, he switched from the playful mood he’d been in to pure seriousness. They had less than a month, and it was time to get ready to win that bloody Cup.

Lily shook her head, smiling as she walked the steps to the dungeon. Alice and Belle had cut her off just as she’d left the Heads’ Quarters. Belle stating in her matter-of-fact tone that they wanted to see if Lily really did seem like she was doing better, and Alice had nudged Belle in the ribs with her elbow, rectifying the blonde’s statement by saying that they just wanted to stop by.

Her friends couldn’t even get their stories straight, Lily thought with a laugh as she rolled her eyes. They’d drug her down to breakfast, ignoring her when she said she was just going to snag a piece of toast then head straight to the dungeons. And, to Lily’s surprise, it’d been the best breakfast she’d had in weeks. Remus and Peter were already at the table, joking about Professor Flitwick’s mishap a few days back when he meant to show them how to charm an item of clothing into tailoring itself. He’d sneezed while he said the spell, forcing the girl’s robe and skirt (he’d been demonstrating on an actual student, of course) to continue tailoring themselves until her stockings and undergarments came into view. Luckily, she correct the charm herself before any real embarrassment could be done.

Lily had caught up with the drama of the Hufflepuff girl that still seemed smitten with Peter, and hadn’t realized until then just how much she’d missed while mentally checked out.

It had taken a bit of convincing to get them to allow her to go off by herself, all of them obviously worried she’d came back upset and closed off again. After promising she wouldn’t be gone long and just had to talk to Slughorn and work on something for a bit, Alice had finally gotten them to back off and Lily slipped away.

How on earth someone survived with such a suffocating bunch of friends, she had no idea. But she was certainly thankful they were hers.

The door to Professor Slughorn’s study came into view, and she mentally crossed her fingers as she closed the distance and knocked on it. She’d looked up at the Professor’s tables during breakfast and he’d been nowhere in sight, so he had to be here, right?

After a few moments of her knock going unanswered, the wood creaked and his plump face came into view. His cheeks were tinted read, a glare from the flame of a lantern shining is head.

“Miss Evans! What a pleasure. Come in, come in,” he stepped from the doorway and she slipped in. Perfect timing, because the moment he closed the door Peeves went flying past, singing some song about the dungeon being filled with toe jam and snake skins.

“Hi Professor, I hope I’m not interrupting.”

“Not at all, dear girl.” He looked her over, and she knew he was trying to see if there were any signs of the attack left. McGonagall had kept news from spreading around the school, which was a nearly impossible feat in Hogwarts, but all the professors had been notified.

“Tea?” he asked, and she nodded politely as he walked to the pot, his belly shaking with every step. Visiting Slughorn was always a different experience. He didn’t keep the same sort of professional quarters that the other professors did. The large, ancient chair was always where he would sit, as opposed to one side of the desk, and he’d regularly offer to splash a bit of something extra in your tea if he thought you were looking peakish.

Lily had heard him being questioned about his behavior a time or two, but his reply was always the same. He was too old, too fat, and too good of a Potions Master to worry about what other people thought of his actions. Lily had always gotten an odd impression of the man. She was surprisingly fond of him, more than impressed with his brewing skills, but he was also the kind of person that usually only did things for others when he knew they would benefit him.

She reached for the cup, taking a gulp and letting the silence gather around for a few moments longer.

“Terrible business... what happened a few weeks back,” he began nervously, apparently unable to ignore the attack. “If you need an extension on the essay, you know it’s not necessary to even ask.”

“Oh no, that’s not it,” she said with a reassuring smile, placing the small china cup on a saucer and setting it down on the table with a soft clang. She didn’t need extensions. She didn’t need special treatment. She just needed to move on. “I’ve already finished that, actually. But I did come here to ask something.” She met his eyes with hers, giving him a hopeful look. “There’s a potion I came across that looks really difficult, and I want to try it out. I know we’re not supposed to be in the Potions room without supervision, but I was really hoping you’d allow me to spend a few hours in there today giving it a go. I’ll replace any ingredients I use within a few weeks and will secure everything when I’m finished.”

He seemed to be thinking for a moment, running a meaty hand along the loose skin casing his neck. “Well, I don’t see why that would be a problem, Miss Evans. Though I feel a bit obliged to ask just what it is you’re working on?”

She hesitated, wondering if the truth was the best policy in this situation. He’d have no reason to suspect her actual use of the potion, even if she told him what it was, and it would keep things from getting messy. “I want to try Fairy Water. It came up in my History of Magic revision, and it seemed so challenging that I couldn’t help but want to have a go at it.”

“Oh, tricky substance indeed! I’ve been informed that the Healing Academy is currently where you’ve set your sights. That potion holds for months; is it one that you’re hoping to demonstrate to them when asked to give a sample of something?”

Well, Lily thought reluctantly, he made up the lie, not her.

“I think it would be a wise choice,” she began, trying to avoid answering directly. “It’s such a rarely used potion, but so beneficial that I can’t see them thinking it wasteful or getting another applicant with the same brew.”

“Yes! I fully agree, Miss Evans! Well, get on with it, then. Though if you can lock the door behind you to avoid unwanted questions about why you’re there, I think it would save us both a hassle.”

She agreed quickly, then thanked him for his time and rushed to the room a few doors down. She’d been nearly certain he’d agree, but now that he had she was even more anxious to get to work.

The room was full of inky air, too dark for Lily to see through as she waved her wand and brought to life all the lanterns decking the wall. Really, just one or two probably would have sufficed. But she liked the reassurance of being able to see each corner brought to life, able to know exactly what was in the room with her. That way she wouldn’t be taken aback if light eyes came peering out of the shadows, a strong grip steeling around her throat and choking the chance of life out of her...

Lily shuddered and took a deep breath, ignoring the hot tears that sprung into her eyes without warning. If she let herself, she could feel his fingers digging into the fragile flesh, her esophagus seconds away from being crushed under his power.

No, Lily thought, reaching her hands up and cradling her face in them. No. She couldn’t go back -- she wouldn’t. She coaxed oxygen to move rhythmically through her, calming her racing heart, and her determination to push forward took charge.

She pulled her now dry hair up, securing it in a messy bun on the top of her head, then stripped off her jumper. Her movements were methodical, well practiced in the room that brought her more comfort than she realized. She’d never been quite able to separate her feelings for potions from Severus, unsure if she began liking the subject because of her care for the boy, or if she would have anyway. The talent she had at brewing was her own, her mind working in a way that made it easier for her than most. But she wasn’t sure if she’d have given that talent so much careful practice without her former friend encouraging it.

As she tied an apron over her clothes and set the ingredients out, she let her mind rest on Severus for a moment longer. Maybe in another world they could have made up, she could have made him and James sit down together and work their immature problems out... though she and the Slytherin never could have been as close as they once were, there could still be a solid friendship that they would continue to cherish.

But as she thought back to Alrek, to the Mark he’d tried burning into her, and to the man he worked for, Lily realized how impossible that all was. Severus wasn’t cruel. She believed that with her entire being. But he did lack compassion, understanding for basic human emotions. He wanted to be respected, to be in control. He’d been a scared little boy who saw more hurt than most ever would, and he’d never go back there -- he’d never be powerless again. Lily understood that, and she’d given up so much of herself trying to help him. None of it had mattered, though. He’d never been willing to end his friendship with some of the most barbaric boys in the school, and had never cared to stand up for what was right against people who believed in doing only wrong.

A bitter sort of sadness crept into her heart as she imagined where he’d end up, and could only wish he’d change his mind before it was too late and he wore that same black Mark that had been branded into Alrek’s arm.

She took a breath and focused her concentration, knowing she’d need every bit of it to pull this potion off. It was something she’d been researching ever since she and Remus talked about the man that had attacked him, and something she hoped would bring a bit of comfort into his monthly change. The only thing designed specifically for werewolves was Wolfsbane, but it wasn’t secure enough yet for a recipe to be readily available. The potion she was about to attempt actually was originally meant for Merpeople.

The odd combination of sea and land creatures were often too proud to accept the assistance from wizards, though. For the ones who weren’t, it was used on the infants during their first four months of life, while their bodies still struggled to define themselves. That was the time they spent shifting, their bones and organs conforming to whatever their future shape would be. The Merpeople who lived in warmer waters, usually around Greece, were considered Sirens. More beautiful, more human, than Scotland's Merpeople. Then there were colonies of Merrow spread throughout Ireland, and they were even more diverse.

The Merrow had neither the seduction power of Sirens nor to control and fierce battle nature of Scotland’s Merpeople. They were able to shed their fish skin completely and live as humans, but unlike Selkies, who could remain that way for ever, the Merrow had to return to their natural waters eventually.

The different kinds of Merpeople were so closely related though, ancient DNA sitting dormant for a few generations, still waiting to spring up, that it was unknown what type an offspring would favor until after their body was through shifting. Most often they conformed to their waters, the temperature dictating their change. But there were rare instances when ones wouldn’t match the rest of the colony, and they’d be allowed to travel to wherever the closest of their kind was.

But what this meant for the infants was an incredible amount of pain. Their bones would break and reform, organs twisting and changing, flesh sizzling away and reappearing as scales... it was said to be a horribly gruesome thing. The Ministry had created the Fairy Water Potion decades ago to help control the pain, but it had been presented with a bribe. They wanted the Merpeople to only inhabit certain areas in trade for the watery substance, which angered most of them too much to accept it.

Lily smiled to herself as she began to set the oil aflame under the cauldron, proud of how much she actually remembered from History of Magic. Or, more specifically, from Peter repeating what they’d learned in History of Magic.

Her mind switched gears, focusing back on the potion. It was able to numb the bodies of the infants while bones and internal organs shifted, as well as simultaneously delivering some sort of sedative that kept the infants relaxed enough that they’d simply sleep away most of their time.

After hours of research, Lily had finally found a few instances where the same potion had been used on werewolves and was successful. Why that wasn’t talked of more widely, she wasn’t sure. Her only guess was the fact that the Ministry hated bringing attention to werewolves in general, and the ways they were able to subdue their disease, because it always ended in riots about how the ‘monsters’ shouldn’t be able to hide themselves that easily. Monthly transformations usually forced most into a life of solitude because of the pain and unpredictability; too much of the wizarding population was okay with that.

It disgusted Lily.

She took a deep breath to calm herself, then set to work using her notes. The most important part of the potion was the Fairy Flower. A rare bloom found only in the dead of December. It was that which allowed the potion to brew at all, and Lily considered herself incredibly lucky that she’d found a small tin of them in Slughorn’s cupboard. They were used in almost no potions, though, making them next to worthless... she assumed that’s why her professor held onto them instead of selling them or something.

She peeled the delicate petals from the flower, which had been perfectly preserved. They were a see through white, making her job of just getting the powder from the petal a nightmare. If even one piece of the actual flower fell into the potion, it would make the ingredients too strong and could keep Remus numb and sedated for an unknown amount of time.

Hmm. Maybe she should make another batch of it and add a few full petals in it and slip it to James and Sirius when they started getting on her nerves. She snickered to herself, then continued on with the work, her face already glowing with sweat from the flame dancing under her nose.

Two and a half hours later she emerged. Her brain was exhausted, her body ached from the standing, and her lungs were sore from the amount of time she’d spent holding her breath.

But she was certain she’d done it. She’d done something that hardly any other wizard or witch was capable of. It needed to sit in a crystal phial drowned in a bucket of ice water -- she’d see the house-elves about that -- for twelve hours to set the particles, then it would be perfect.

She’s really done it.

She rushed to clean up her mess, hoping no one was worried about her. As she put away the rest of the ingredients and grabbed a list of what she’d used and what she needed to replace, she had a sudden surge of inspiration.

Lily ran back to the cupboard, a few strands of hair that had escaped from her bun whirling around her, and pulled out a small bowl that she knew wouldn’t be missed.

She brought the item to Slughorn’s desk and pointed her wand at it, causing it to double in size so it resembled a Quaffle, then added a few charms to make it sparkle and shimmer. She went back to the supply cupboard and found a stock flower, one they would use for basic potion bases, and brought it back with her.

After a few swishes, she’d changed it into a large, perfectly shaped lily petal. She smiled at her handy work, then popped the petal in the bowl and filled it with a few inches of water. Her breath again became uneven as she concentrated... she’d never attempted a time released charm.

The first spell she cast was what she wanted the petal to transform itself into; she was pretty certain that one would work fine. The next created the ability for the charm to respond to the touch of a hand, either on the glass bowl or inside the water. That would hopefully instigate the last part of the spell, though anything with living creatures was terribly difficult.

After doing all she could to be confident the charms would hold, she smiled. If her plan had gone accordingly, as soon as Professor Slughorn placed a hand on the bowl or a finger in the water, the petal would float to the bottom and transform into a small fish. One that, Lily could only hope, would be living and not float up to the surface. She checked her watch again; another hour had passed and she was mentally drained.

But it was an adequate way to express her thanks for allowing her to use his room, at least she hoped.

And now, she thought with a nod of her head, she had a potion that needed to be bathed in ice then delivered to her favorite werewolf.

Thank you as always to my awesome beta CambAngst, and thank you so much to you guys for still sticking through this story with me. Every author's note I have to resist the urge to go on a huge multiple paragraph gush about how great each one of you are -- I'm saving it all up for the giant blog I'm going to have to squee in at the end of this book -- but I appreciate having your feedback and comments on this more than I can say. I never would have had the courage to get this far and plan a sequel without you guys. Okay okay, I'm done gushing!

What did you think about this chapter? Did I bore anyone with the details about the potion Lily was brewing? You all know how carried away I can get with that sort of stuff :P!

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