If I had a day that I could give you,
I'd give to you a day just like today.
If I had a song that I could sing for you,
I'd sing a song to make you feel this way.
She was picking at a scab on her knee when the door swung open, and Ms. Howl stepped into the corridor. “Girls!” she called. Petunia moved quickly to her feet, passing Ms. Howl into the office, and Lily hopped after, earning a glare from the matron. “Hurry up.”
She’d been in Mr. Dunning’s office before, and had decided it was the kind of place a dragon in disguise would decide to live. It was dark, and stuffy, and smelled like oldness, or what Lily imagined oldness smelled like. There were gross dead birds stuck on the walls, and too hard, too big chairs that meant to swallow you up when you sat in them.
Today, her eyes skated over the birds, and landed on the woman. She was new. And tall.
“Who are you?” Lily asked, intrigued.
“Hush, child,” Mrs. Howl said, nudging Lily towards a chair. “Mind your manners.”
Lily sat, and continued to stare at the woman. She was very, very tall, and very stern, and her gaze was sharp, traveling from Lily’s messy red curls to her dirty saddle shoes.
She pursed her lips. “Why are your shoelaces tied together?”
Lily shrugged, and swung her tied up feet. “Why is there a bird on your hat? Did you put it there? Is it a real bird?” She tilted her head. “Does it like being on your hat?”
“Enough,” said Mr. Dunning.
“I’m going to call it Tom,” said Lily. “The bird.”
Mr. Dunning decided to ignore Lily, and address the woman. “She’s a very impertinent girl, you can see; you’ll find her sister to be more agreeable.” He bestowed an ugly, closed-mouth smile on Petunia, who was sitting as straight as a pin, and as quiet as it, too. Then his gaze moved back to Lily, and she met his gaze, watching his face turn sour.
His nose was too big, and funny-looking. Her mother would tell her that was not a very nice thing to say about a person, but Lily hadn’t said it; she’d only thought it, and, anyway, Mr. Dunning was not a very nice man, talking about Lily like she wasn’t right there.
“Ms. Howl had the girls pack up their things before your arrival,” he continued, turning his attention to the woman. “There isn’t much; most of the family’s possessions were sold at auction. But you’ll find they have the clothes they need, and a handful of toys and books and trinkets. Pictures, and keepsakes, and the like to remember their parents by.”
“We’re going to live with you?” asked Petunia, glancing at the woman.
Lily was surprised. “We are?”
“Yes,” said the woman.
“Why?” Lily asked.
“We are related. Distantly. Your grandmother was my aunt, which makes you my cousin once removed.” She paused. “Essentially, I’m your aunt. You may call me aunt.”
Lily nodded. “You may call me Lily.”
That was apparently the end of the conversation. “Now,” said Mr. Dunning, and he began to rifle through a stack of papers. “There is the matter of—” He paused, and frowned.
“Girls, go into the corridor to wait,” Ms. Howl said, moving to shoo them out.
In the corridor, they were by themselves again.
“She seems rather scary, doesn’t she?” Petunia said, worried.
Lily shrugged. “I’d rather live with her than stay here at the home with Mr. Dunning, and Ms. Howl, and that stupid girl who told me my hair looks like smelly carrot vomit.”
“Do you think she’s really related to us?”
“I guess,” Lily said. Her parents had never, ever said anything about a tall, stern woman who was their special removed cousin, or something. Now they couldn’t ask. It made sadness swell in Lily’s gut to think about her parents, so she tried not to think about them. If she didn’t think about them, she couldn’t miss them. “Want to hear a story?” she said.
“There was a bird named Tom,” Lily began. “He had beautiful purple feathers, and—”
The door opened again, and Ms. Howl was ushering the girls to their feet, telling them to take a hold of their bags because it was time to go. “You don’t want to make Ms. McGonagall wait,” she said, and that must be their new stern aunt. Her name was funny. Lily stood, and grabbed her purse, and the handle of her suitcase, dragging it forward.
Her auntie came out of the office, and took the suitcase from Lily.
In reply, Lily took her hand.
It seemed to startle her auntie, who glanced at their joined hands for a moment, blinked, and looked at Lily. Lily smiled, and swung their hands, humming a made up song.
“Well, this is goodbye,” Ms. Howl said. “Be good girls for Ms. McGonagall, and mind your manners.” She smiled, kissed the top of Petunia’s head, and that was that.
They left the home, heading into the street.
“Do you live very far, Aunt?” Petunia asked, clutching her dolly to her chest.
“I do,” Auntie said. “We’ll have to take a train.” She paused. “Have you been on a train?”
“No, ma’am,” Petunia said.
Auntie sighed, and jerked to a stop. “My dear, you are going to need to untie that knot in your laces, and tie your shoes properly. We aren’t going to hop all the way to the train.”
“You don’t have to hop,” Lily replied.
Auntie was silent.
Lily sighed, and bent to untie the knots in her laces. It was hard, but she got it eventually, and her auntie waited silently, and gave Lily a curt, approving nod when it was done.
It was a hike to the train, then they were on the train for ages.
Lily made Petunia read to her. She liked when Petunia read to her. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was their favorite.
By the time they reached their stop, it was dark out. Lily followed her auntie blindly from the station, and down the street, dragging her feet, until at last there was a cottage in sight. “Is this your house?” she asked. It was small. She’d expected her to live in a castle.
“It belongs to the family,” Auntie answered.
Inside, the house was tidy, and sparse. Houses were supposed to have a lot of clutter. This didn’t. But there were rosebuds in the wallpaper, and lots of blankets on the furniture.
“You’ll have to share a room,” Auntie said, “unless one of you wants the attic.”
She led them up the stairs, pointing to her bedroom, and opening the door to their room. It was small, and white, and had two beds with white frames, and white cotton sheets.
“Can I see the attic?” Lily asked.
She loved the attic. It had a pointy spiral ceiling, and a small round window, and smelled like the deep, dark woods in a fairytale. She turned in a circle. There were stacks of trunks in the corner that looked shadowy in the light cast from the bare hanging bulbs.
Lily put her hands on her hips. “I’ll take it!”
“Very well,” Auntie said, amused. “Go wash up, and I’ll move your bed.”
Lily ended up having to wash up twice, because it turned out there was a very wrong way to wash up, and it was not using soap, and sitting at the table with dirt under your nails.
Dinner was the biggest, best meal she’d eaten in forever. The food at the home was gross.
“Did you cook all of this?” Lily asked.
“Who cooked it?”
“I asked a House Elf from the school where I teach to do it.”
“Really?” Lily was thrilled. She’d assumed her auntie didn’t believe in things like elves. She wanted to ask about House Elves. What did they look like? Were they the size of a thimble? She liked to think they were the size of a thimble. But she didn’t get the chance.
“Did you know our parents?” Petunia asked timidly.
It took Auntie a moment to answer. “Unfortunately, I didn’t. My father had three younger sisters. Two of them never had children, and the third was—different from the rest of the family, which lead to her estrangement. That means she didn’t keep in touch with my father. I knew she had a son, your father, and that he had a wife, and two young daughters. I never got the chance to meet him, though. I would have liked to meet him.”
“I know you must miss your parents very much,” Auntie said, softer. “I miss mine.”
“How old are you?” Lily asked.
“You are never too old to miss your parents.”
Auntie wiped her mouth on her napkin. “You are very bold for a five year old, my dear.”
“You’re very tall. Do you like being tall? I hope I get to be tall.”
They had to wash the dishes after dinner, then change into pajamas, and brush their teeth. Auntie needed to inspect their teeth, but Lily was used to that, and turned to her auntie immediately, sporting a big, toothy smile. Mummy had wanted to inspect their teeth, too.
“Fine,” Auntie said, nodding in approval. “Now it’s time for bed. Go on.”
In the attic, Lily fetched her blanket from her suitcase, climbed into her new white bed, and wiggled until she was lying just right. “Goodnight, blanket,” she said softly. “Goodnight, Mummy. Goodnight, Daddy. Goodnight, Jesus.” She had to tuck the thick white bedspread under her sides by herself, because there wasn’t anybody to do it for her.
“Tucked in?” Auntie said, appearing in the doorway.
“No,” Lily said. “You have to do it.”
She tucked Lily in, and she had to be told how to do it right, but she managed.
“Goodnight, Auntie,” Lily said.
“Goodnight, Lily,” Auntie said, and she turned off the lights.
Lily listened to the sound of her auntie’s footsteps fade away, and stared at the ceiling of the attic. It was her attic. Her bedroom, and this was her house. She pushed her blankets off, climbed out of bed, and left the attic, tiptoeing on the stairs, and into Petunia’s room.
It was dark, but that was alright when Petunia was there.
“Go away, Lily,” Petunia said.
Lily pulled at the sheets, and climbed into bed with her sister. “Auntie tucked me in.”
“Then why did you get out?”
“I like her.”
“You need to behave, or she’ll give us back.”
“She won’t give us back. We’re related. She’s got to keep us.” She hugged her blanket to her chest. Mr. Dunning was a mean old man, and he’d told them they didn’t have any family left, but he’d been wrong. They had her. “She believes in elves,” Lily whispered.
“She was making that up,” Petunia replied. “Elves aren’t real."
“Daddy said they were.”
Petunia was quiet, only to lean in, and press a kiss to Lily’s forehead. “Go to sleep, Lily.”
Auntie woke them at 6:30 in the morning, which they learned was wake up time. You had to make your bed, wash up, and dress yourself in half an hour. Breakfast was at seven.
If you were late to breakfast, you got a stinkeye.
They learned to garden after breakfast. They had to put on muddy gardening aprons, and gloves, and big floppy hats. They learned which of the plants were weeds, and how to pull up the weeds. Also, Lily learned you were not allowed to throw the weeds at Petunia.
She learned a lot from her auntie that day, in fact, and in the weeks that followed.
She learned to cross her ankles at dinner if she wanted dessert, and that slurping her soup was rude, and that unless you were raised in a stable, you were not to put your elbows on the table. Also, she learned that a stable was where horses lived, and, no, she could not choose to live in a stable with the horses. She learned that Santa was not real, but you could fly on a broomstick, and take a special magic potion when your tummy hurt, and there was a school for people with magic. She learned that she was a witch, which meant she was going to go to that school, and wear fluffy robes, and wave a wand like Cinderella’s fairy godmother. She learned that Cinderella was a fairytale, and made up.
On a hot, muddy day in July, Auntie told them that they were going for tea at her friend’s house, and they were going by Floo. That meant they were going by magic green fire. Her friend only lived a couple of kilometers away, and there was a path through the woods to get there, but this was faster. They stepped into a real, warm bright green fire.
It was spectacular!
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Petunia said, stepping into a large marble hall.
Lily gaped. “We’re having tea in a castle?” The floor was marble, and there were huge marble pillars, and huge marble stairs, and the walls were hung with portraits in gold, gilded frames, and they moved. One of them nodded her head at Lily, and Lily waved.
“Minerva!” greeted a woman, sweeping into the room.
Lily was surprised at Auntie’s smile. “Euphemia,” she said, warm. “Girls, this is Mrs. Potter. She is a dear friend of mine, and very gracious to invite us to her home for tea.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Potter,” Petunia said, curtseying.
“This is Petunia,” Auntie introduced.
“I like your castle,” Lily said.
“And her younger, precocious sister, Lily,” Auntie said.
Lily swung Auntie’s hand, and beamed.
“Thank you, Lily, and it is a pleasure to meet you, too, Petunia.” She smiled. “Your aunt has told me a lot about the two of you. I am so happy that you could come for tea.”
She led them to the back of the house, and into a small drawing room.
The wallpaper had lions on it, and there were lions on top of the mantle, standing on their hind legs, and roaring. Lily flounced onto a sofa, bouncing a bit, then crossed her ankles under Auntie’s sharp, reminding gaze. Mrs. Potter went to one of the wide, open windows. “James!” she called. “Our guests are here! Come in, and clean up, and join us!”
“Who’s James?” Lily asked. She hoped he was an elf.
“My son,” Mrs. Potter replied, looking at Lily. “I believe he’s your age.”
“I’m five,” Lily said.
“Terrific!” Mrs. Potter said, bright. “He is, too!”
Lily liked her.
“Here I am!” James exclaimed.
He was a tiny little boy. His hair was messy, sticking up in the back, and his glasses were crooked, and although his hands were clean, and wet from washing, his clothes were ruffled, and there was mud on the knees of his trousers, and a smudge of dirt on his chin.
Lily liked him, too.
“Have a seat, precious,” said Mrs. Potter. “Professor McGonagall brought her nieces to tea. This is Petunia, and Lily.” She nodded at each of them. “This is my son, James.”
James grabbed a biscuit from the table. “Hi, Petunia,” he said. “Hi, Lily. Hi, Professor.”
“Hello, James,” Auntie said, familiar.
Tea was boring. The biscuits were chocolate, but James ate so many of them that they were gone in a blink, and Lily was left to sit with crossed ankles, and nothing to do.
“Mummy, may I be excused?” James asked, interrupting his mother.
She expected that he was going to get a glare for his trouble, but his mother only smiled. “I think you have sat for long enough,” she replied. “Go on. Take the girls with you.”
Lily gasped, sitting up. “May I be excused, too?”
“Yes, my dear,” Auntie said.
“I’ll stay,” Petunia said, haughty.
Lily ignored her sister, and jumped to her feet, taking the hand that James held out. They hurried from the room. “I can’t believe they really let us leave!” she exclaimed. Auntie had never, ever allowed her to abandon teatime before, forcing Lily to sit and sit and sit.
“Mummy never makes me stay for long.” James grinned. “She knows it’s boring.”
He took her up the huge marble stairs to his bedroom, and showed her how he’d gotten a bunch of his frog trading cards signed by the people on the cards. Then when she told him she’d never heard of frog trading cards, he gave her one of his that he was saving for later, and it turned out the frog was chocolate. “You can keep the card, too, if you want,” he said, and he grabbed her hand, taking her down the stairs, and out into the backyard.
“You’ve got a lake in your backyard?” Lily asked, stunned.
“You want to play Quidditch?” he replied. “My daddy got me my own broomstick, and a real Quaffle. It’s the same brand that they use in the World Cup! We’ll have to use something else for the Bludgers, though. Mummy won’t let me use real Bludgers when I play. Or a real Snitch, because she says I’ll lose it. But we can use a galleon for that!”
His eyes went as big as saucers. “Only the greatest, most bestest sport in the WORLD!”
He taught her to play, explaining the players, and the points, and the penalties, and she didn’t really listen to everything, but it turned out that he was right. It was the greatest, most bestest sport in the world. Her auntie had told Lily that you could ride on a broomstick, but she hadn’t had a broomstick for Lily to use. James had a broomstick, and it was for kids, but it was still really, super brilliant; it flew, and he let her fly on it.
They finished their game, and went to hunt for a turtle at the lake.
“How come you’d never heard of Quidditch?” he asked.
“What house do you want to be in at Hogwarts?”
“That’s the school where my auntie is a teacher, isn’t it?” she said. “For magic?”
“Which house do you want to be in?” she asked.
“Me, too,” she decided.
He grinned, then seemed to deflate a little. “I hope you can come over to play again,” he said. He stabbed at the ground with his stick. They were digging a smaller, turtle-sized lake for the turtle they’d hunted down. “I’ve never had anybody to play with me before."
“I used to play with the kids in my neighborhood all the time,” she said. “We don’t live there anymore, though. Now we live with my auntie. I like it, but I miss my friends.”
“Do you want to be friends with me?” he asked, nervous.
They used their hands to scoop the water from the lake into their new, turtle lake.
“Let’s fly on the broomstick again!” Lily suggested.
“It’s only a toy,” he said. He leaned in, and lowered his voice to a whisper. “But I know where my father keeps a real broomstick. We just have to pick the lock on the shed."
“Do you know how to pick a lock?”
“Not really,” he admitted. “But I have an idea!”
His idea was to use a stick to pry off the already loose, already half-open window in the side of the shed, and climb in that way. They tried it, and it worked. He fell when he climbed in first, and got a cut, but he said it didn’t hurt, and they found the broomstick!
Lily was amazed, brushing her fingers lightly over the smooth, polished wood.
“Want to fly it?” James asked.
“Do you know how?”
“Sure. It’s magic. We don’t need a wand or anything. I’ve flown it before loads of times.”
They climbed onto it together; James sat in the front to steer, and Lily scooted up to look over his shoulder. He pushed off the ground only the slightest, littlest bit with his feet, and the broom went up just the slightest, littlest bit, too. Lily grinned. “Can it go higher?”
“Hold on tight,” he said, and he pushed off for real.
The broom zoomed into the air so quickly that Lily screamed, clutching at James, and it was spectacular for a second, then they were careening into a tree, and it was painful.
It happened so quickly that Lily didn’t even really remember the crash.
The both of them were crying when Mrs. Potter, Auntie, and Petunia came running from the house to see what had happened. James had sprained his wrist, and Lily had dislocated her shoulder, and Auntie yelled that they were lucky that it wasn’t much, much worse. Mrs. Potter was yelling, too, and James was trying to say that he’d been flying it for a second, but you could have gotten Lily killed! You could have gotten yourself killed! It went on like that all the way into the house, and while they fixed up his wrist with magic, and her shoulder. It was actually the very first time that Lily had seen somebody use a wand, and she was stunned when her shoulder was better with the wave of a hand.
“Lily can still come over to play again, can’t she?” James asked. “Please, Mother? Please?”
“Not until you’ve learned your lesson,” Mrs. Potter said.
“How long will that take? If I learn my lesson tonight, can she come over tomorrow?”
“You are not the only one who needs to learn a lesson,” Auntie said, giving Lily a long, pointed glare. “I believe it is time for us to go, girls. What do we say to Mrs. Potter?”
“Thank you very much for having us for tea, Mrs. Potter,” said Petunia.
“The tea was gross, but I liked the biscuits,” said Lily.
Auntie closed her eyes, and breathed in deeply while Mrs. Potter seemed to choke, then pressed her lips together when they trembled, and threatened to turn up. “I’m glad you enjoyed the biscuits, Lily. It was lovely to have your company for tea. You, too, Petunia.”
That night, Lily learned that you couldn’t have dessert if you broke into a shed, and stole a broomstick that was too big for you, and tried to fly it, and dislocated your shoulder.
“We didn’t mean to do any of that!”
“You did not mean to break into that shed, and use a broom that did not belong to you?”
Lily was quiet.
“My dear, there are rules for a reason. They are meant to protect you, and others. I know that today you simply hurt your shoulder, and it was easily fixed. But you could have broken your neck, and it would not have been quite so easily fixed. Do you understand?”
It turned out that she couldn’t have dessert for a week.
But when the week was up, Auntie declared that she believed Lily had learned her lesson, and James must have learned his lesson, too, because Mrs. Potter invited them for tea.
Auntie put them on a schedule for they rest of the summer. Auntie loved schedules. There was breakfast at seven, then it was time for gardening. They cleaned up after gardening, and it was time for learning their letters, and counting, and the names of every single country in Europe. Then it was time for a brisk morning walk, and for lunch, and for a puzzle after lunch. There was time for playing, and drawing, and for taking tea, of course.
Naturally, Petunia excelled at every small task, thriving on a schedule.
Lily found a schedule to be more of a challenge.
Gardening was interesting if you made the flowers sprout suddenly by magic, which she was thrilled to discover she could do, only to be told that she could not. She got bored with letters, and counting, and couldn’t ever remember the countries. She made the walk into a race that turned Petunia purple with rage, and it turned out puzzles were boring. She collapsed in the middle of the yard during play, saying that she was tired of playing.
“My dear,” Auntie said, “you are the most dramatic, ridiculous, and exhausting child.”
“Can we go to tea with Mrs. Potter?” Lily asked.
If they did, she’d be able to play with James for the rest of the afternoon.
“I’m afraid that Mrs. Potter is feeling under the weather, so we are having tea without her this afternoon,” Auntie said. “Do not pout at me like that, Lily. You are not a baby.”
Lily sat up on her elbows. “Could Jamie come to play at our house?”
“Can you not play with your sister?”
“Petunia is boring.”
“Well, she is your companion for the afternoon.”
They weren’t able to have tea with Mrs. Potter for the rest of the month, in fact, because she was sick for a while, and their family went to France for a vacation after that.
But as soon as they returned, Lily learned the best news ever.
Auntie had to return to Hogwarts to teach in September, and although she would be home in the evenings, she could no longer look after the girls during the day. “Besides, it is time for us to focus more seriously on your education,” she explained, and looked at Lily.
“Where are we going to go to school?” Petunia asked.
“You are not going to go school in the way that you are used to,” Auntie replied. “You are going to be taught by Mrs. Potter.” Lily gasped, and Auntie smiled. “She taught at a university for years, and is among the finest of teachers. She will be teaching James alongside you, of course. I trust her to take excellent care of your education, and of you.”
Lily went to her very first day of school on September 1st, and it was the best.
They sang a lot of songs to practice their words, and counted with biscuits, and she got to play in the yard with James after lunch for hours while Mrs. Potter taught Petunia to cross-stitch. Afterward, they learned the keys on the piano, and read a bunch of stories.
She learned a lot about magic from Mrs. Potter, too.
She learned how wands work, and that potion is fancy magic stew. She learned that there wasn’t royalty among elves, but she liked the House Elf who worked for Mrs. Potter.
She learned there were dragons, and werewolves, and vampires, too.
She learned that a person without magic is called a Muggle, which meant Petunia was a Muggle. Of course, Mrs. Potter explained that it didn’t really matter if you were magical, or a Muggle. It was like the color of your eyes, or your hair. “Some people have black hair,” she explained, “and some people have red hair. Some people have magic, and some people don’t.” It made a lot of sense. Still. Lily was glad that she got to have it. Magic.
Summer became winter, which melted into spring, and warmed into summer.
They got a break from school, and it was back to a schedule with Auntie. She introduced them to a bunch of her friends. They met Professor Sprout, and Professor Sinistra. They learned to swim, and Petunia gave Lily a haircut that made Auntie yell at them for hours.
But her very favorite part of summer remained teatime with Mrs. Potter, and James.
She liked to make special, magic potions with her auntie, and Petunia was fun when they were playing make believe, or dancing to records. James was her favorite, though. He listened to her stories, and he played every game that she invented, and ate a worm when she dared him to, and when she told him that she was afraid of thunderstorms, he told her that he was afraid of vampires, and that was okay; they’d still get to be in Gryffindor. “My dad says that you’re in Gryffindor if you think some things are more important than fear. Like if a vampire was going to get you, I’d fight it to save you ‘cause you’re my friend.” She promised that she would save him, too, from a vampire, and a thunderstorm.
Lily got her first fancy robes when she was eight, and needed a set for a wedding. Petunia got robes, too, of course, and picked awful, candy pink robes with a lacy-edged collar, and pearl-lined cuffs. Lily chose green robes that shimmered like glass when she twirled.
“Those are robes for evening,” Petunia said. “We’re going to a summer day wedding.”
Lily crossed her eyes in reply, because it made Petunia furious.
James was at the wedding, too, with his parents, and they got to sit at the same reception table. She was glad. There weren’t any other kids their age at the wedding. He was dressed in pain black robes, and his hair was combed. Sort of. They ate together, and danced together, and ran away together to hide from the witches who called them darling.
“I like your robes,” James said. “You look like a sorceress from a story.”
Lily twirled. “I am. I’m the Sorceress of the North, and I have a fleet of loyal Hebridean Blacks at my command!” She pointed her finger, and narrowed her eyes. “Fear me."
“Never!” he said. “But I will challenge you to a duel.”
They dueled, and Lily won after she tackled him, pinned him with her knees on his chest, and shoved mud in his hair. She always won fights because he was littler than she was.
He was faster, though. To her frustration, he always won when they raced.
“This is fun,” she announced, shifting off James, and flopping onto the ground to lie beside him, and stare up at red sunset sky. It was pretty. “I like weddings.”
“That’s ‘cause you’re here,” he said. “It would’ve been awful if you hadn’t been here. It usually is, ‘cause weddings are boring. Let’s make our wedding fun. We’ll have the ceremony on broomsticks. And the cake will be chocolate instead of lemon raspberry!”
She laughed. “I don’t want to get married.”
“You have to!"
“No, I don’t. My auntie isn’t married, and neither are loads of people.”
“Come on,” James said. “If we were married, we could live together. Think how cool it’d be! We could fly on brooms in the house! And we could eat with our mouths open, and we’d never eat greens, or any gross stuff, and we’d never have to clean up either; we would just get a dog, and have him lick up all the crumbs. We could eat in our beds, too!”
“Hmm,” Lily said. “Petunia isn’t allowed in our house.”
“And when we have people for tea, they aren’t allowed to sit up straight!”
He grinned. “They have to slump.”
“We’ll need lots of room for my Hebridean Blacks, too.”
“Okay,” Lily agreed. “I’ll marry you. Let’s get married in the snow! That would be fun.”
They planned it for the rest of the night, and when the wedding was over, Lily refused to take off her robes. She went to bed with them on, and Auntie tucked her in anyway.
She went to Hogwarts a handful of times before she was eleven. She needed a babysitter, and Professor Sprout was available, or Auntie needed to do a bit of work over the summer, and she took Lily with her if Lily promised to read quietly in her auntie’s office.
She thought she knew the castle, and liked it.
But that was before she glided silently across the lake, and saw it lit up. That was before the Sorting Hat brushed her curls, and shouted immediately “Gryffindor!” That was before she slept in her four-poster bed, and went to classes, and got lost after a staircase suddenly moved. That was before she ate a feast in the Great Hall, or swam in the lake.
She loved it.
Hogwarts was the most fun, most fantastical place in the world, and it was her home.
She was good at Potions, and Herbology, but tended to nod off in History of Magic, and was dreadful at Transfiguration. That was awkward, but her auntie was unsurprised.
Apparently, she’d “suspected” Lily would not have an aptitude for Transfiguration.
“It involves maths,” she said.
“Maths is the worst.”
“My point,” Auntie replied. “Now eat your biscuits.”
She went to her auntie’s office for half an hour every Sunday afternoon, and had tea with biscuits, and told her auntie all of the things that she would’ve put in a letter, about her classes, and her friends, and her adventures after the staircase moved, and sent her in the totally wrong direction, and she found a room that just had a map of Hogwarts in it, and was completely empty otherwise. It was nice, getting to have her aunt at school with her.
Of course, she’d found it was easier to call her auntie “Professor” when she was in class, or with her friends.
She made friends quickly with the girls in her dormitory. There was Emmeline Vance, who was shy, and quiet, and constantly in the middle of a book. She knew everything about every magical beast, and dragons were her favorite. There was Marlene McKinnon, who was not shy, and was not quiet, and claimed that reading was the worst. She liked to crack bad jokes, and to talk about horses, and to wrap up a bit of her breakfast in a napkin, stowing in her robes to have for a snack in class. And there was Deirdre Greenwood, who had a lot of opinions, and always took charge. She taught Lily a spell for braiding your hair, and a spell for making your bed. Potions was her favorite, too.
She didn’t really spend a lot of time with James. He was still her friend, of course, but she’d made new friends, and he had, too. It wasn’t them against the world now.
For her birthday, he got her a self-inking quill with ink that changed color based on her mood, and a notebook to match. “For your stories!” He gave her a cupcake, too.
“Did you make this?” she asked, delighted.
“Nope.” He grinned. “I nicked it from the kitchen. Fancy a visit?”
He showed her where the entrance was, and how to tickle the pear to get in, introduced her to a dozen eager, earnest House Elves, and they ended up eating a lot of cupcakes.
She loved everything about Hogwarts, and never, ever wanted to leave.
She made her friends pinky swear to write when the boarded the train to go home.
Then it was back to Auntie’s old, unchanging schedule, and to tea at Mrs. Potter’s house, to swimming in the lake behind their house with James, and competing to see whose splash was bigger when they cannonballed into the water, racing the length of the lake when they needed to break a tie, and practicing their handstands, pushing each other over.
It was actually a really good summer.
Petunia was back, of course, from the snooty old school that Auntie had found for her in Switzerland, but she was determined to ignore Lily, and Lily was happy to be ignored.
After all, she had much better things to do.
They played a lot of Quidditch on broomsticks from Mr. Potter. These weren’t toys; these were real, actual broomsticks, and a brand new model, and, of course, he bought a pair of them so that they could play together. After all, James needed to practice if he wanted to be a chaser for Gryffindor. It turned out Lily was dreadful on a broom, but she didn’t really need to be flying to defend a hoop, and that was what how they did it: James flew, and tried to throw the Quaffle through a low hanging hoop that Lily guarded.
He was unfairly good, and won far too much for her tastes.
Summer grew muggy, and cooled off suddenly.
Mrs. Potter took the both of them shopping for the next year’s books, and to the station on September 1st. They crossed onto Platform 9 ¾, and Lily screamed, and ran to greet Marlene, and Emmeline, and Deirdre, and she assumed James went off to find his friends.
It was in their second year that Lily learned her beloved, magical world wasn’t really as magical as she’d thought.
She’d never, ever been teased before, and she wasn’t exactly teased at Hogwarts.
There was the time when she had attempted to remove her acne with magic, and it had drained her face of color, leaving it a shade of chalk for a week while the spell wore off. She was teased a bit for that. But when Tim Fraser had made stupid, childish ghost moans at her, James had cast a spell on Tim that turned his face the color of boogers. Tim had shut up after that. Her color had came back, and the school had quickly forgot the whole thing.
James wasn’t there when Lily got called a Mudblood, though.
Lily had no idea what it meant, but he spat it at her, and it made her flush.
She asked Emmeline about it. “What’s Mudblood mean?” She knew as soon as she said the word that Emmeline knew what it meant, and that it was as bad as she’d thought.
“It’s a really gross word,” Emmeline said, hesitant.
“What’s it mean?”
“It’s a name for people whose parents are Muggles. It’s supposed to be that their blood isn’t pure, you know, because there’s—there’s Muggle blood in it. Dirty blood.”
Lily was quiet. “Rosier said it. To me.”
“He’s a jerk,” Emmeline said. “You should tell a professor. He should get in trouble.”
She went to talk to her auntie. It was a Tuesday, and her aunt was in her office, grading, and didn’t even look up when Lily came in. “May I help you?” she asked, distracted.
“I got called a Mudblood.”
Her aunt’s hand went still. She looked up to meet Lily’s gaze, and set her quill down. “Have a seat, dear.” She nodded. “I assume by your face you know what it means.”
“Emmeline told me when I forced her to,” Lily said.
“It is a cruel and ignorant word, and it is used by cruel and ignorant people.” She sighed. “I have shielded you, Lily. You grew up with me, and the professors at Hogwarts, with Euphemia. We were your only exposure to magic, and to this world, and we showed you the world as we wish it were. But there are a lot of people in our world who are prejudiced, who are cruel, and ignorant, and believe that Muggles are inferior to Wizards, and that magical bloodlines ought to be kept separate from Muggles. It is hogwash, of course. Muggles are not inferior, and you are not less of a witch because your parents were Muggles. Unfortunately, these beliefs run very deep among the worst of our world.”
“Is it rare, being like me?” Lily asked. “Having Muggles for parents?”
“It’s not.” Auntie smiled, only for it turn slightly grim. “In fact, I’d say it’s far rarer to be what’s called Pureblood, or not to have any Muggle ancestors, and it’s only going to become more so. The pools of eligible, pure partners for the prejudiced are dwindling.”
Lily nodded, and it was quiet.
“Who said it to you?”
“Rosier,” Lily said. “But don’t take any points, or anything! If you do, the whole entire school will know what he said.” She crossed her arms. “I just want to forget about it.”
“Is there something wrong with that?”
“It is your choice.” She paused. “But it will not ever truly go away. They will not let it. There is something else that you ought to know, Lily. You parents—I know you were told at the home that they were killed in a bombing in London, and that is the story that Muggles were lead to believe. But I am afraid it is not the whole truth. It was not a terrorist’s bomb that killed a dozen innocent Muggles that night. It was an attack by a group of Wizards. They were terrorists; that part of the story is unchanged. They were supporters of a cruel and persuasive Wizard, a blood supremacist known as Voldemort.”
Lily stared. “My parents were killed by Wizards?”
“Followers of Voldemort,” Auntie said. “Yes. The worst of our world.”
Lily was silent.
“These followers were caught, and put on trail,” Auntie continued. “They were found to be guilty, and imprisoned for their crime. But I am afraid there are others like them.”
“Followers of Voldemort,” Lily repeated.
“What about him? Voldemort?”
“He is cunning,” Auntie replied. “He has managed to evade the Ministry for years.” She reached for Lily’s hand. “Listen to me closely. You are a woman, and a Muggle-born, and our society is not fair to either. Until that changes, it will be an uphill battle for you. But I believe you are made of much stronger stuff than wizards like Voldemort like to think. You are not a ship to be battered in a storm, or a sailor at dock, watching it rage, and waiting for it to pass.” Her eyes were bright, blazing. “You are the storm, my dear.”
The words followed Lily from the office, and to her dorm.
She got up early in the morning, heading to the library. She needed to do a bit of reading.
That afternoon, she used the hex on Rosier in the corridor before Charms. His skin broke out in boils, and when he opened his mouth, and made to draw his wand in confused, boil-infested anger, she countered, and sealed his lips closed with a jinx, shutting him up.
“Nobody wants to hear what you have to say,” she told him.
She got detention every single weeknight for a month, and a talking to. It was worth it.
The year drew quickly to a close after that.
Lily went to Barcelona with Marlene’s family for the month of June, and made her aunt play a lot of chess with her in July, trying to learn to play because it was a thing at Hogwarts. James was too good, and a really sore winner; she refused to play with him. In August, she twiddled her thumbs, and waited for the hot, muggy summer to be over. She found an old cigar box of her mother's things, including her gold engagement ring with a small, twinkling diamond. It fit loosely on Lily's finger, and she took to wearing it.
Finally, she returned to Hogwarts for their third year.
On the very first day of Potions, they were assigned a partner for the year, and Lily got a pale, gangly Slytherin whose name she didn’t even know. It turned out to be Severus Snape, and Severus Snape turned out to be a jerk. She’d heard James talk about a Slytherin named Snape before, and it was never very complimentary. Now she knew why. Snape talked to Lily in curt, one word syllables, and tried to elbow her out of helping with any of their assignments, bossing her around when she insisted on helping.
“Is there a reason you’re an arse to me?” she demanded.
He was silent.
“I’m just as good as you at Potions.”
Sirius chose that moment to saunter by their table, carrying the next ingredient from Slughorn. “You’re stirring that backwards, Snivellus. Don’t know left from right?”
“Bugger off, Black,” Lily said, making a face.
It was quiet.
“I thought you were friends with Black,” Snape said. It was a question.
“I stir it to the left for a reason.”
“I know.” She put her chin in her hand. “I’ve been your partner for a month. I’ve figured out that you know what you’re doing. It’d be nice if you’d figured out that I know what I’m doing, too.”
He stared at the cauldron. “I don’t work well with a partner.”
“I figured that out, too.”
They didn’t really talk after that, but he got nicer.
In the weeks that follow, he explained to Lily why he was changing the directions in the way that he was changing them, and it was actually kind of fascinating. She started to make suggestions for changes, too, and they began to experiment, and it was kind of fun.
On her birthday, Severus gave her a vial with a bubbly green potion in it. “Here.”
“It’s your birthday, isn’t it?” he said, irritated.
“Is this a present?” She started to smile. “You got me a present?”
He flushed. “It’s nothing,” he dismissed, glaring at his cauldron. “I was experimenting, and I thought you’d be interested in seeing the result. I didn’t make it for you.”
She suppressed her smile. “What’s it for?”
“Put a bit of dirt on the windowsill of your dorm,” he said, “and pour that potion on it.”
She did it as soon as Potions was over, and watched a tiny sprout emerge from the dirt, budding into a pretty yellow flower right before her eyes. It was amazing, and sweet.
He pretended to be a rude, disinterested git, but Severus was sweet.
She put the flower in her hair, and went to find him, to thank him. She didn’t even know when his birthday was. If it hadn’t happened yet, she’d have to get him a gift from the Potions supply store in Hogsmeade this weekend. They had all sorts of things he’d like.
She caught up to him on the stairs, calling his name. “I loved it!” she told him, and before he had a chance to reply, she hugged him. He stiffened at first, but he hugged her back.
She beamed at him when they drew apart.
“Going to Charms?” she asked.
He nodded, and they started up the rest of the stairs. “The key is to add a drop of—”
“Oi!” called James, and Lily heard Peter’s laugh. “Snivellus!”
Severus didn’t have a second to react before the spell hit him in the chest.
It seemed to ripple over his face, and he blinked, but didn’t actually appear to be injured. He whipped out his wand, and pointed it at James, opening his mouth, and clucking.
His eyes went wide, and he clucked like a chicken. Again.
“What’s the matter?” James taunted. “You’re not too chicken to fight back, are you?”
Severus looked furious, but the only noise that emerged when he opened his mouth was the cluck of an angry, desperate chicken, and passing students paused, and laughed.
“Chicken got your tongue, Snape?” called a Ravenclaw.
Severus ran, covering his mouth with his hand.
Lily was horrified, and she turned on James. “What did you do that for?”
“What?” He laughed.
“You attacked him!” she said.
His amusement faded slightly. “He was bothering you.”
“Bothering me?” She gaped. “What are you talking about? He wasn’t bothering me. He gave me a birthday present in Potions this morning, and I was thanking him for it!”
“It’s your birthday?” James frowned. “How’d he know that?”
“Marlene, Emmeline, and Deirdre sang to me at breakfast,” she snapped.
“I thought he was messing with you.”
She shook her head. “Don’t.” He didn’t get to put it on her, and make himself into a hero. “This wasn’t about me. You wanted to attack him, so you did, because you’re a jerk.”
“I’m a jerk?” he repeated. “Have you actually met Snivellus?”
“Fine,” James said, sour. “You’re right. He’s a greasy little Slytherin, but I’m the jerk.” He turned on his heel, ignoring her stare on his back while he stalked off.
Severus wouldn’t talk to her for the rest of the year.
For the very first time, she was really, really glad for summer to arrive.
Lily decided to start a garden for herself that year, making her auntie take her into Diagon Alley to buy the seeds that Lily wanted. She wanted some magical plants, and some Muggle plants, too, so after Diagon Alley they had to go to a nursery in Muggle London.
Lily was plotting her garden on paper when Auntie asked if she was ready to go.
“Go?” Lily said. “We just got back.”
“It is time for tea,” Auntie replied. “Mrs. Potter is having us."
“Do I have to go?”
“Do you not want to go?”
There was a beat of silence. “Mind the house,” Auntie said, and left.
She did stop being mad at him eventually, of course, but. They were long past the days when they did everything together, when they were pinky sworn, very best friends.
That was okay, though. She had Marlene, and Emmeline.
It stormed for the month of August, and was pouring out when they returned to Hogwarts for their fourth year, which turned out to be the year when everyone began to date.
Mostly, it meant there was a lot of hand holding in the corridors, and messy snogging in the dormitories, and people were always in fights over the demise of their most recent short-lived romance. Lily thought her auntie was going to turn purple with fury when Mary refused to work on an assignment with Benjy because they’d broken up yesterday.
Lily volunteered to work with him, and learned that Mary was better off. Benjy wasn’t particularly bright, interesting, or helpful, choosing to doodle a bunch of what Lily realized were penises in the margins of his notes in lieu of helping with the assignment.
Marlene went on a couple of dates with Peter, then broke up with him.
James dated Deirdre for nearly a week, going on two awkward dates with her before that fizzled out. Three months later, he began to date a pretty, blonde Ravenclaw named Sue.
Lily liked Sue. Most of the school, in fact, liked Sue. She was friendly, and smart.
It turned out that Sue did not like Lily, however.
Lily was studying in the library with Emmeline when Sue swooped in from nowhere to sit beside Lily. Emmeline had literally just left that seat to find a book in the stacks.
“Are you trying to steal my boyfriend?”
Lily blinked. “What?"
“You are,” Sue accused. “Just admit it. What’s the point of denying it?”
“Why would I want to steal your boyfriend?”
Sue scoffed. “I saw the two of you in Herbology. You had your hands all over him.”
“We’re talking about James, right?” Lily said. Then again, she hadn’t had her hands all over anyone; she didn’t know why she needed that clarified. “Sue, I don’t know—”
“I saw you.”
Lily frowned. She’d been partnered with James for Herbology on Thursday, and they’d been joking while they worked, yes, but. Wait, was Sue talking about when the carnivorous, flesh-eating ivy took a shine to James, and started trying to reproduce with him, climbing up his arms, and covering him, and Lily had to tear it off while James swatted it, and shouted that it tickled, and it was molesting him, and get it off, get it off?
“Well?” Sue demanded.
“James is a toerag,” Lily said, “but I’ve known him forever, and, yes, we’re friends.”
“He made you a flower crown, Lily.”
“Sounds like your problem is with him, not me,” Lily replied, annoyed at this point. “We were partners in Herbology, yes. I’m sorry that upsets you. Take it up with Professor Sprout. But I didn’t ask him to make me a flower crown. And the fact that your boyfriend got bored when Sprout started her lecture, and made his partner a stupid flower crown isn’t exactly the terribly incriminating evidence that you seem to think it is.” She glared.
Sue leaned in closer to Lily. “He’s my boyfriend.”
Lily leaned in closer, too. “Well, I’ve seen him naked. Have you?”
“Hi, Sue!” Emmeline said brightly.
Sue pushed to her feet without a word, and stormed from the library, earning a glare from Madame Pinch.
James dropped onto the couch next to Lily after dinner that night. “Lily.”
“I have a, ah. Question. For you.”
“You didn’t happen to tell anyone that we had a close, physical relationship, did you?”
“Merlin,” he exclaimed, sitting up straight. “You did?”
“No,” she said, dismissive. “But when your girlfriend started to harass me, I might have lost my temper a bit, and told her that I’ve seen you naked. I didn’t clarify that it was when we were six, and I barged into the loo while you were taking a bath.” She shrugged.
He grinned, and shook his head. “I’m glad you’re pleased with yourself.” He slumped in the seat, propping his feet up on the table. “She broke up with me, you know.”
“I’m sorry.” She bit her lip, and sighed. “I can tell her that I was teasing her.”
“Nah,” he said. “She didn’t even think my jokes were that funny.”
“Your jokes aren’t that funny.”
“Oi.” He pointed at finger at her. “Keep it up, and you’ll never see me naked again.”
She rolled her eyes.
“You’re coming to the match on Saturday, right? You have to. If we win, it’ll be us against Hufflepuff for the Cup.”
“Remember in our second year, when you made a banner for my very first match?”
She smirked. “Did I? Huh. I forgot.”
She made a banner for him that evening, working on it in her dorm so that he wouldn’t get to see it until she unfurled it in the stands, and made Marlene hold it with her.
After they won, she ran onto the pitch with Marlene, and they joined the crush of people who were hugging the team, and congratulating them. James grabbed her arm, and pulled her into his chest, hugging her.
She laughed, and smacked a kiss to his cheek.
She ruffled his hair, too, only to squeal at how slick it was with sweat. He grinned, and, before she could stop him, rubbed his head against her neck, and her cheek, rubbing his sweat on her, and making her laugh, and swat at him.
He kept his arm hooked over her shoulders after, keeping her with him while he got congratulated, and clapped on the shoulder, and Remus gave him a one-armed, boy hug. Lily saw Sue then, and a part of her felt suddenly bad. But before she could pull away from James, he tightened his hold, and turned to greet Peter, bringing her along with him.
He was probably using her to try to avoid Sue, which was ridiculous.
But he’d won the match, and he was happy, so she let him.
She went on her first date later that month. His name was Brian, and he was in their year, and in Ravenclaw, and nice to everyone. They walked to Hogsmeade, and had Butterbeers, and talked about their classes, and their taste in music, and how he wanted to be a Healer, and he was really nice, but it was kind of awkward, and kind of boring.
They shared a hug after, and didn’t go on a second date.
The rest of the year flew by.
It was probably her favorite year of school yet, only to be ruined at the end.
Lily was heading out to meet Marlene by the lake when she stumbled onto a commotion in the corridor. There was shouting, and laughter, and a crowd of people, circling something, or someone. Lily pushed her way through the crowd to discover that Severus was at the center of the commotion, stumbling blindly through the growing, twisting ribbons of what Lily realized in horror was his hair. It had some sort of crazy growth spell on it, growing and growing and growing, so quick, and so thick, blinding him, flooding the corridor. He tripped, and fell, and the awful, roaring laughter nearly tripled.
“Looks like somebody is having a bad hair day!” James yelled.
She whirled to get a look at him.
He stood with his friends, looking on, and laughing, and she knew. She shoved her way towards him. “James!” He grinned, and hot, visceral anger choked her. “Reverse it.”
“I don’t know how to reverse it!” He was gleeful.
“You hexed him, and you don’t know how to undo it?” She was incredulous. There was another fresh round of laughter, and James clapped Sirius on the arm, but Lily refused to look over her shoulder. “What the hell is the matter with you?” she demanded.
“We figured if he could just see how truly gross his hair is,” Sirius said, grinning, “he might be convinced to buy a bottle of shampoo. We’re doing him a favor, Evans.”
“Lily—” James started, cajoling, and the laughter was loud in his voice.
She spun on her heel. She was done with them. She needed to help Severus, who hadn’t got anywhere in his efforts to escape his hair, or the hoards of people who laughed at him. Lily began to use a simple slicing charm, slicing at the hair to wade her way through it. She heard Sirius booing at her, but she ignored him, and grabbed Severus’s hand.
“Get off me!” he growled.
“I’m trying to get you to a professor,” Lily said. “Somebody who’ll reverse it.”
He yanked his hand from her grasp, and that was, of course, when a professor finally appeared, and yelled at the crowd to disperse. It was Professor Reedy, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, and he took one look at Severus, waved his wand, and the hair stopped growing instantly. “Who is responsible for this?” Reedy asked, irritated.
Severus didn’t answer, turning on his heel, and escaping at last.
“They were,” Lily said, fuming. She nodded her head at James, Sirius, Peter, and Remus.
Reedy sighed. “Of course. That’ll be detention for the week for the lot of you.”
“Worth it,” Peter said.
“But since it seems that detention is no longer the detriment to you boys that it’s intended to be,” Reedy continued, glaring at them, “how about fifty points from Gryffindor?”
“Fifty?” Sirius repeated, and his laughter was gone.
“Try to argue, and make it sixty.” It was silent. “Yes, that’s what I thought. You’ll clean up this mess, too.” He nodded at the hair, and didn’t wait for them to respond, leaving.
Sirius scoffed, and his gaze found Lily. “You had to point the finger at us, didn’t you?”
“He would have figured it out,” Remus said.
“You really think that was funny?” Lily asked, looking from Sirius to James. “Attacking him like that? That was the cruelest thing I’ve ever seen, but that was funny to you?”
“Guy’s a git,” James said, dismissive.
She exploded. “Just because he’s in Slytherin, doesn’t make him a git!”
“You know, you attacked a Slytherin for fun,” Sirius said.
It took her a moment. “Rosier?”
“Yes,” Sirius said, crossing his arms, and leveling a glare at her. “Rosier,” he repeated.
She opened her mouth, and was ready to tell him that he didn’t know what he was talking about, that Rosier had deserved to be hexed. She hadn’t hexed him for laughs, but because he’d needed to know that he couldn’t call her that, couldn’t treat people that way. But she stared at Sirius, and she swallowed the words. She wouldn’t give that to him.
“You’re an arse,” she told him.
“You’re a hypocrite.”
“I had a reason to do that!” she yelled. “I wasn’t doing it to be funny! But you wouldn’t understand that, would you? Everything’s a big joke to you. Everything is hilarious.”
“Lily.” James frowned.
“You’re as bad as he is,” she said. “I can’t believe I used to be friends with you.”
He was quiet, and she was glad. She was done with them. She stalked away from them, clenching her hands into fists, and willing the anger that was boiling in her to settle.
Eventually, it did.
But she was finished with James. People at Hogwarts seemed to worship the ground that he walked on, but she didn’t. She wouldn’t. He wasn’t a showoff, or a clown; that she could have lived with, would have liked, in fact; he was an attention-seeker, and a bully.
She couldn’t stand it, or him.
He caught up to her after Divination on Friday to talk. “I asked Marlene about Rosier,” he said. “She told me what he called you.” He paused. “She was surprised I didn’t know.”
“Why would you know?”
“We haven’t been friends in years,” she snapped, and picked up her pace, leaving him behind.
Once a year on the anniversary of the day their parents died, Auntie took them to visit the cemetery where they were buried. It was in May, which meant it was usually a warm, breezy day, and they dressed up, put on hats and stockings and heels, and stood in front of the grave in silence. Auntie always made a dozen fresh, beautiful flowers sprout in front of their gravestone, and they left, staying quiet because it seemed so wrong to talk.
For a couple of years, Lily did tell the gravestone that she missed them.
By the time she was a teenager, she just kept quiet.
She returned to Hogwarts with her auntie after, and forgot to think about them.
She was sixteen when she was reminded of them in the cruelest way possible. It was nearing the end of their fifth year at Hogwarts; the weather was growing steadily warmer, summer was creeping up on them, ushering in the O.W.L.s, and making everyone restless, and it happened, and was immediately splashed across the front of the Prophet.
Marlene paid for her copy, and Lily watched the horror play across her face.
She wasn’t the only person who subscribed to the paper. Soon, the whole school knew.
There was an attack in London by followers of Voldemort, and Voldemort was there, too; photographs were in the Daily Prophet, showing him walking in the rubble of the street. Nearly fifty Muggles were dead, and more were injured, and interviews with terrified, befuddled Muddle witnesses described the way that Voldemort had tortured the Muggles.
It was sickening, and it was terrifying, and it was all anybody was talking about.
“Did you hear that there was a Muggle that tried to fight back?”
Her back went stiff as soon as she heard the words. From the corner of her eyes, she saw them. It was a group of Slytherins, standing in the very far corner of the dungeon. Slughorn had left the room, and Lily realized that the rest of the Gryffindors had, too. She shouldn’t have dawdled while packing up, and told her friends to go on without her.
Mulciber laughed. “The Dark Lord made the fool choke his wife to death.”
“You hear that, Evans?” asked Avery, louder.
She turned to look at him, refusing to be cowed by the taunt in his voice.
“You’re on the list, you know,” he went on. “You, and all of your sort. What he did to those Muggles? That’s nothing to what he’ll do to filthy Mudblood slags like you.”
“Ooh,” Lily said. “Now you’ve really frightened me.”
His face went dark, hateful, but she stalked from the dungeon before he could retort.
She could hear his voice in her head, though, couldn’t stop hearing it.
It wasn’t his threat that stayed with her after she’d left, that followed her for the rest of the day, and into the night. She lay in bed, and she thought about the innocent, unsuspecting Muggles in London, and she thought about her parents. She’d imagined when she’d learned the whole truth about their death that it had still been as sudden as a bomb, and they hadn’t suffered, hadn’t even had a chance to be afraid before they’d died.
But that probably wasn’t how it happened, was it?
Had they been tortured? Humiliated?
Had they tried to fight? Had her daddy been like that man, trying to protect his wife?
She didn’t know, and she never would, and she didn’t know if that was better or worse, not knowing. She barely even remembered her parents; she just had imprints of them, feelings, and the memory of memories. She remembered the smell of her mother’s perfume, and how she had sung them to sleep at night. She remembered the tickle of her father’s beard, and how she’d thought his hands were so huge in comparison to her own. They’d died so long ago, and had so little an impact on her life, and it hurt to realize.
It was storming out. She opened the window by her bed, and stuck her hand out to feel it.
She left the dorm, keeping as quiet as possible.
Outside, it was darker out than she’d expected, and the rain was heavier, pouring from the sky in buckets, and pounding the ground. The flashes of lightning made the grounds glow brightly for seconds at a time, and she pressed her back to the stone of the school, and tilted her head to the sky, watching it, and imagining. She sank to the ground, and wrapped her arms around her knees. She was half-sheltered from the rain, but it managed to reach her anyway, to prick at her skin, soaking her nightgown drop by drop, bit by bit.
His footsteps were drowned by the sound of the storm.
But he moved to sit, and the press of his thigh was warm on her cold, wet hip.
“You aren’t going to say anything?” she asked.
“I was trying to think of a clever way to ask why we’re sitting in the rain,” James replied.
She wiped at her nose. “How did you know I was here?”
She glanced at him.
“I figured I’d go for a stroll, and happened to run into you doing the same.” He shrugged, and ran a hand through his hair.
She looked at the sky. “I used to be afraid of thunderstorms.”
“I know.” It was quiet.
She tightened her hold on her knees. “I don’t remember my parents that much,” she told him, “but I remember the night they died. They were in the city on a date, and Jessica was babysitting us. She lived right down the street, and I remember I liked her. But I was scared, because it was storming that night, and it was a storm like this, and I was so afraid of storms. Jessica kept saying there was nothing to be afraid of, and I kept making her promise that my parents were coming home soon, and she did. She promised they were. But they never did.” Tears burned in her eyes, and she clenched her jaw. “It was storming like this, and they probably died like those Muggles last week. They did. They were tortured, and—” She started to cry. “I’m sorry. But I can’t stop thinking about it, and—”
She shook her head, pressing a hand to her mouth.
“Lily.” His fingers were hesitant on her arm.
“I’m—” But she couldn’t get it out, gasping for breath, and sobbing, and when he shifted, she folded easily into his arms. He hugged her while she hugged herself, sheltering her from the rain, and she let him; she pressed her face into the cotton of his pajamas, and burrowed into the warmth of him, into the smell of soap, and the thump of his heartbeat.
She cried until she was exhausted, wrung out.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Forget it.” His nose was cold against her temple, but his breath was warm.
She drew away from him at last. “We should go in.” She brushed at her cheeks, mustered a smile. “We’ve got our Herbology exam in the morning, and Potions right after.”
“Right.” He nodded. “Fancy a snack first, though?”
They snuck into to the kitchen, and were greeted immediately by several very concerned, very kind House Elves, who ushered them quickly into a pair of chairs, found a dozen warm, soft blankets to drape over their shoulders, and piled warm food in front of them.
“Your hair looks absurd,” Lily said. It was sticking up in every possible direction.
“Yeah, well, you look like a drowned red squirrel.”
She grinned, and stole a muffin off the plate in front of him.
“Your parents,” he said, hesitant.
She sighed. “We don’t have to talk about it.” She didn’t really want to.
“Can you tell me about them?”
She bit her lip. “I don’t remember a lot. I remember my dad—my dad liked to garden. Like my auntie. He grew rose bushes. Or maybe I don’t remember that, maybe Tuney told me that. I don’t know. But, um. Yeah. He loved roses.” She went on, told him everything that she remembered about them. It wasn’t very much, but it was something.
James snuck up on her from behind after their very last O.W.L., knocking a knee lightly into the back of her leg, and making her stumble a little in surprise. She shoved him.
He grinned. “How’d you do?”
“My favorite part of exams is when they’re over,” she replied, “and I never, ever have to think about them again. Ever. Please respect that, or we can’t be friends anymore.”
They sat with his mates, basking in the sunshine.
James had stolen a stitch, and was playing with it, showing off.
Lily made flowers sprout up in the grass around them, and made ivy grow from the tip of her wand, charming the shoots to twist around her wrist into bracelets, and sending a shoot to climb the tree that James was leaning on, and brush him playfully on the cheek.
He jumped, and she grinned. “You know ivy doesn’t like me!” he cried, high-pitched.
“I think the problem is that it likes you too much,” Lily said.
He batted it away, and she let it slither back down the tree, and up her shoulders, into her hair, circling her hair, pulling it up, and back, inviting the breeze to cool her neck.
“You ready for Transfiguration?” Remus asked.
Lily shuddered. “My goal is a P, and that’s only because I don’t think I could look my aunt in the eye ever again if I got a D. Is there worse than a D? That’s a possibility for me.”
“It’ll be cake,” Sirius dismissed.
“If you’re feeling that confident, you’re welcome to quiz me,” Remus said.
“Excellent,” Sirius said. “I needed a bit of entertainment.”
Remus frowned. “Really?”
Sirius wasn’t talking about quizzing Remus, though. James grinned. “Oi! Snivellus!”
“Don’t,” Lily warned.
It was already too late for that. Severus reacted instantly, but James was ready, and faster, and disarmed him in the blink of an eye, jinxing him in another, and drawing a crowd.
“Leave him alone,” Lily said sharply. “He hasn’t done anything to you.”
“You know who he’s friends with, don’t you?” James said.
“I didn’t know he had friends,” Sirius said.
“He’s friends with me,” Lily snapped. She didn’t know why James had to go after him constantly, why James had to go after anyone ever. “Leave. Him. Alone.”
James sighed, and lifted the spell. “You’re lucky that Lily was here, Snivelly.”
Severus scrambled quickly to his feet, flushed, and furious, gripping his wand with bony white knuckles. “I don’t need help from a filthy little Mudblood like her!” he spat.
Lily was stunned.
James raised his wand in a fury, opening his mouth.
But she grabbed his wrist, and stopped him, staring at Severus. Is this why her parents were killed? Because of insecure little boys like Severus Snape, who were brainwashed by a monster? Is this who killed them? Her chest was tight. “Don’t waste your time, Jamie,” she said coldly. “You wouldn’t want to get any of the grease that’s oozing off his nose on you.”
Severus’s nostrils flared, and he left.
“You should’ve let me hex his pants off,” James muttered.
“I don’t think that would’ve been enjoyable for anyone,” Marlene said, walking up with Emmeline at her heels. “You okay?” she asked. Lily nodded, and changed the subject. She was fine. She’d learned who her friends were, and she wouldn’t forget so easily again.