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who doesn't know his name

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“Lily, love, do you know where the-?”

Lily hums noncommittally, rearranging the stack of books in her arms so she can dump them on the sofa, and passes Jim the container of lacewing flies he’s obviously looking for.

“Oh, thanks, love,” Jim says, pressing an absent minded kiss to her cheek that actually lands around her eye. “In the bathroom cabinet again? Sorry.”

“Along with the hotpot matches,” Lily says, handing those over too. “But they were my fault, I was using them to clean the tub.”

Jim pauses in lighting a match to toss under the small cauldron sitting on their kitchen counter. Well, to toss under one of the five small cauldrons (each of various shapes and slightly different sizes) sitting on their kitchen counter. The other four are simmering quietly on the stovetop, covered and finished, but this one is still bubbling away on a makeshift fire by the sink.

“Good thinking,” he says, before dropping the lit match into the small fire, which has the cauldron suddenly being engulfed in blue flames. He pops a couple of lacewing flies into the potion, which turns the flame to a nice lazy green that settles back down under the cauldron, and starts stirring it in a brisk counter-clockwise fashion.

Lily wanders back over the books she dumped on the sofa. “I’m looking for Felix Summerbee’s study: um… An Addiction to Happiness. His big investigation into potions abuse. Which book can I find it in? I need the original one, not the follow-up studies.”

“Uh, try Olesen’s Collection ,” Jim suggests without looking up from his work.

Lily begins rooting through the potioneers journals for the book in question, and then the phone rings. She pauses in what she’s doing, stands up straight, and looks over at Jim, who is looking over at her in bewilderment. It takes them both a moment to remember they have a phone.

Lily immediately goes over to the far corner of the room, where they keep the telephone on the top shelf of a bookcase away from as much magic as they can. She grabs a dining chair as she goes, so she can drop it in front of the bookcase like a stepladder, step on top of it, and actually reach the ringing phone. Jim can’t immediately pause what he’s doing to answer it, but he watches her out of the corner of his eye as he begins wrapping up what he’s doing so he can leave the potion to simmer.

They don’t get a lot of telephone calls. When they do, it’s usually because someone’s in trouble or needs to pass a word along, and they don’t have any means of communication besides a Muggle telephone booth. Even if it’s just going to be a message, it’s best to be prepared, because save for a few peculiar Order members, someone needing to resort to Muggle communication generally means trouble.

Lily picks up the telephone and sets it down on a much lower shelf, so she can kneel on her stepladder chair and answer it in a friendly, balanced, nearer-to-the-floor manner. Which is completely at odds to the cold feeling stirring in her chest, waiting to hear dark or desperate news as soon as she picks up the phone and holds it to her ear.

“Lily speaking. Who’s this?”

She waits for an answer and… doesn’t get one. The only sound is her heart growing a little louder in her chest.  

“If that’s Caradoc again, please tell’im that Polyjuice still takes a month to brew,” Jim says, watching closely, switching to stir in a lazy clockwise pattern. “And that he can go hop a pot.”

Lily hums noncommittally, frowning, and presses the phone even closer to her ear. She thinks she can hear sounds, very faintly, but she can’t quite make them out. There’s definitely another end to this line. She tamps down on the loudness of her heartbeat and ignores the cold stir in her chest.  

“Hello, is there anyone there?” Lily says.

Still no answer.

She thinks she hears someone say something, distantly. It sounds a bit like: “ What are you doing?”

“Hello, who’s this?” Lily tries again.

And then she flings herself away from the phone when the caller suddenly speaks very loudly, far too loudly for Lily’s startled heart.

“Please excuse me for just a moment!”

Lily looks over to Jim, who raises his eyebrows at her, clearly having heard that too. He shrugs at her and, her heartbeat storming inside, Lily very gingerly returns the phone to her ear.

“Excuse you?” she says.

There was something about that voice that was familiar. She couldn’t place it exactly, but she wouldn’t be surprised to know it belonged to someone she knew. It had sounded male and relatively young, besides being ridiculously loud, and she might have sworn she’d heard it not infrequently before.

But her question doesn’t get an answer, as the caller has apparently excused themselves without her actual permission. She presses the phone closely against her ear again, pursing her lips, and tries to make out the conversation she thinks she can hear happening in the background. There are sounds beyond the conversation too, distant like she wishes the cold stir and storm in her chest was, which make the voices difficult to interpret or distinguish.

“Who’s’it?” Jim asks.

“I haven’t the foggiest,” Lily answers, feeling a little frustrated. She doesn’t like being on edge.

“Maybe they’re one of those telemarketer people?”

If Lily listens very closely, she can hear what she thinks are sirens. Like the sort of sirens that belong to the police. If she weren’t literally and figuratively on the edge of her seat, she’d probably laugh at the mental picture.

“Somehow, I don’t think that’s it,” she bemusedly tells her husband.

Then she can hear muffled movements, before someone takes a deep breath and says:

“Hello?”

“…Hello,” Lily replies, still amused at Jim’s suggestion.

She’s a little concerned, though, because this isn’t the same person who first called her and this new person’s voice is even more familiar. Still young and still male… and if Jim hadn’t been in the room with her, Lily might have guessed it was her husband speaking. The voice is slightly different, of course, but…

“Who is this?” she asks.

“…Harry. My name is Harry Potter.”

Lily takes in a sharp breath and repeats, “Potter?”

In the kitchen, Jim looks up from putting a lid over his potion, his eyes wide.

“Yes,” says the stranger.

Lily covers the phone’s speaker with the hand holding the phone and gestures at Jim with the other to get over here right now. She’s been under the impression that her husband didn’t have any living relatives. She’s also fairly certain that Jim had a grandfather, fairly well famous for his pro-Muggle activism during the height of Grindelwald’s power, named Henry.

“Jim, d’you know a Harry Potter?” Lily whispers.

Jim nearly trips over the kitchen stool trying to hurry over to her, catches himself on the dining table, and smoothly transitions the fall into sliding into the chair across from her. He takes a deep breath, runs a hand through his hair to fix it, and says with wide-eyed bewilderment:

“…No?”

“Do you or do you not know him?”

“…I don’t think I do.”

Lily purses her lips and narrows her eyes, and only has to wait a couple seconds for a better answer.

“I… might know someone who knows him,” Jim offers, rubbing the back of his neck and skewing his hair again. “But… I’d have to ask and they shouldn’t have our telephone address.” He looks uncertain about all this, and unhappy, and Lily doesn’t like it. “Did he… say he was related to me?”

 “No,” Lily says, determined to find out.

She removes her hand from the phone’s speaker and leans towards her husband, so that Jim can lean in and better listen in to the conversation. It’s inconvenient, but the classics will have to do. She doesn’t know how to turn the volume up on the telephone, or if that can even be done, and while they don’t use their telephone often, they’ve found out from experience – and proximity to Sirius Black – that using magic around Muggle technology is asking for disaster.

“Well,” Lily says, as brightly as she can muster. “What can I do for you, Mister Potter?”

“I’d like… if we could… meet.”

Lily almost frowns at the sound of this maybe-stranger’s voice. He sounds so very much like James, but there’s a strain to him. The pauses in his speech aren’t at all helping the cold stirring feeling in her chest, which doesn’t at all like the look of intrigue and possibly wonder on Jim’s face.

Jim lost his both of his parents just this last summer, within days of each other, to a long and painful battle with Dragon Pox. Lily lost her parents the year before to a car accident and it was the loss of family that prompted her to reach out to what little family she had left, despite how she and her elder sister hadn’t (and still haven’t) got on in a number of years. Lily doesn’t exactly regret offering that olive branch to her sister, but she’s not had a great experiences with estranged loved ones and the last thing she wants is for Jim to open himself up only to get burned.

But… then again… Jim’s just about the only second chance that worked for her. Lily can believe that things might go better for Jim, just because he’s Jim – he’d never abandon his friends or family, and he’s good and clever and loyal to a fault. But as much as she keeps hope, she knows it’ll hurt that much more if this is some sort of trick.

“Oh?” Lily says, over all the stirrings under her lungs. “What about?”

There’s some sort of choking sound, before the maybe-stranger says, “It’s… it’s not very believable. I don’t… I don’t know how to explain it… not… not in person.

Lily and Jim exchange a look between them. Lily’s suspicions are all shouting trick, but Jim looks a different sort of thoughtful, like he just had something confirmed for him.

When they don’t immediately answer, the maybe-stranger named Harry comes back on the line, sounding more than a little panicked, or maybe just slightly out of breath for some reason. His attempt to explain himself doesn’t sound to be going very well, though.

“I’m…” he says.

“It’s about…” he tries.

And then there’s a sound that makes Lily and Jim both sit up and pay a little more attention, one of the phone moving about. Like someone dropped it, which wouldn’t be all that surprising by the struggle of the maybe-stranger’s explanation, or like it was snatched. There’s a soft couple of bumps, at least, before the line goes silent and stays that way without another word from Harry Potter.

Lily and Jim exchange another look. Lily raises her eyebrows at her husband, trying to prompt him to share whatever realization has dawned on him, but Jim keeps his mouth shut for once. He looks back at her and they share a moment of wondering what in the world is going on.

“Lily Evans?” says a new voice.

No, not a new voice at all, Lily realizes as she straightens in her seat a little. It’s the first voice again, the one that had shouted at her to hold on for a moment, now speaking at a much less ridiculous volume. There’s something about their accent that sparks intense familiarity, especially saying her name.

“Mister Harry Potter?” Lily responds, playing a little ignorant.

“No, I’m afraid I’m someone else,” says the new speaker, and doesn’t elaborate on that with the silence that Lily and Jim give him to speak. “My partner and I are in possession of valuable information and want a meeting with you and your husband.”

“Oh, what about?” Lily repeats.

She knows this voice! She knows she does, especially after hearing them speak more than a few words at a time at a normal volume. By the way Jim is frowning, she knows she’s not alone in hearing the jarring familiarity.

“Beneficial to the Order of the Phoenix’s cause, of course,” is all the new speaker says.

Lily doesn’t like the way this is headed at all, and the cold stirrings inside her chest agree. A stuttering stranger sharing Jim’s family name was one thing, but this has a different, darker foreboding to it. This is the sort of thing Lily was worried about when she first picked up the phone.

“How did you get this number?” Lily asks.

“No, how we got this number isn’t important.”

Lily would disagree. Stridently.

“Rest assured that it’s not commonly known and we won’t be spreading it.”

Lily is not assured, restful, or amused by this. Beside her, Jim looks concerned about this too. There’s not exactly a wide range of people who have their number and she’d be much more assured if this new speaker admitted who referred them. That he’s not suggests troublesome things.

“I don’t find myself assured, actually,” Lily says flatly. “How did you get this number?”

“…It’s a very special set of circumstances, Miss Evans.”

There’s something about the way this new speaker says Lily’s maiden name that she really, really doesn’t like. Not one bit. It sounds familiar and natural, and if she doesn’t figure this out soon, it’s going to drive her nuts.

“Mrs. Potter,” she corrects.

“Oh, Mrs. Potter, then. My apologies,” the new speaker says, not sounding sorry at all.

 Lily purses her lips and taps a finger dangerously against the shelf. Unfortunately, hearing their voice wrap around her new last name doesn’t reveal them.

We would like to meet as soon as possible – alone, of course; today, most preferably – just the two of us and you and your husband,” continues the new speaker crisply. He sounds so very formal.

“Uh huh,” Lily says, unimpressed and unconvinced. “And why us?”

Jim gives her a look from the other side of the phone where he’s listening in, as though suddenly communing with the new speaker to give expression to their very pointed pause. Lily ignores the both of them. Just because one of the blokes is named Harry Potter doesn’t give them the reason why two strangers have their telephone number and have Order-crucial information to tell them.

“Because the information we possess is pertinent to you and your husband, of course,” the new speaker says, sounding annoyed, haughty, and very punchable. It makes something stir in the side of Lily’s mind, which she holds on to. “The name of my partner should have made that evident enough.”

“It makes it evident you know your way around a lie,” Lily answers without missing a beat. “How do we know we’re not walking into an ambush? Or being handed false information by… whoever you are.”

Unfortunately, the new speaker still doesn’t take the prompt to reveal himself.

“…I’d swear you a vow, but there’s a device in the way,” he says instead.

He still sounds crisp, controlled, and formal… but much less punchable. The humbled voice – but still sharp - it makes something click in Lily’s mind. Unfortunately for the new speaker, Lily has realized that the non-answer told her plenty by itself and it, in combination with a far too familiar voice, has revealed exactly who their mysterious caller is.

Very carefully, Lily raises a hand and places it over the speaking piece while a pause rests into the conversation. She makes eye contact with Jim and says very quietly, near mouthing it:

“Regulus Black.”

Lily’s main memories of him are of a thin and gloomy-looking young boy at all the Slug Club meetings, with very tense posture and a very forcefully polite smile. He’d watched her, out of the corner of his eye and looking away when caught, but he never spoke directly to her. There was always someone between them, one of them excusing themselves from the group conversation, and having nothing between them whatsoever to even begin a conversation if they had ever once even made an effort to speak to each other. At best, Lily had felt sorry for Regulus Black, and at worst, she’d resented him, disliked him, for the foul company he kept, the causes he clearly supported, and the hurt he rarely but very viciously caused Sirius.

Lily and Sirius have their differences, it’s true, but there’s something painfully familiar about having someone as close as a brother become estranged and twisted, cruel and apathetic, and choose power over being a decent person, much less a friend. Lily can… relate. Just thinking about it sends a whir through her thrumming heart and stirs up the cold at the bottom of her chest.

Jim raises his eyebrows at her, eyes widening, before he visibly considers it and clearly comes to the conclusion that she’s nailed it. Jim wasn’t a regular member of Professor Slughorn’s parties and meetings, but he wasn’t an uncommon guest either and he surely had far more opportunities to become acquainted with Sirius’ brother as Regulus’ elder brother’s best friend than Lily did as part of a club. Mostly, Lily hadn’t paid Regulus any attention at all.

Regulus sounds nearly just like Sirius – not quite, but nearly – younger and posher and more solemn. That’s probably who she was thinking of!

“We have to call Sirius,” Jim whispers.

Lily nods. Harry Potter is probably worth looking into, but Regulus Black is definitely worth dropping a boiling cauldron to look into. How does a young Death Eater have their phone number? Why is he keeping company with an unknown Potter? What is he doing now? What information could he have that’s “beneficial” to the Order and what does he want for it? What does he want, period?

 Her instincts still scream trap, now on Sirius’ behalf as well as Jim’s, but sometimes the best way forward is through. She doesn’t have any plans to immediately leap into danger, but this is something that she’s going to have to see through by the sound of it. For Jim and for Sirius, both.

“Where do you want to meet and when?” Lily says.

At that, Lily expected their new caller, who was almost certainly Regulus Black, to continue onwards with smug formality and a collected, still suspicious meeting place. What she expected, however, isn’t what she got. Instead of a dangerous meeting place, there is a very distinct pause, and then…

“Please excuse me for just a moment,” Regulus says, stiffly, immediately followed by the muffling sound of someone covering the telephone speaker. This is followed by a long silence.

Lily carefully puts her hand over the telephone speaker and exchanges a look with Jim, who seems somewhere between bemused and worried. He has that adorable, uncertain half-smile on his face, but there’s a nervousness there, as he runs a hand up and down his neck and through his endearingly disastrous hair that is all his own fault.

“You should call Sirius now,” she says.

At the same time that Jim says: “I’m going to contact Sirius now.”

Jim grins at her, once he realizes they spoke at the same time, still nervous but less so. He pats the pockets of his trousers for his twin mirror, but doesn’t come up with it. He stands, checks his pockets again, and comes up with nothing again.

“Shit, must’ve left it in the bedroom,” he says, and goes to fetch it.

“What time did he check in last night?” Lily calls, as Jim disappears through the bedroom door.

 Jim calls back to answer: “Oh, uh, not until nearly three, actually. He woke me up.”

“It’s not even noon yet, he’s probably still sleeping.”

“If I let him sleep through his brother using a Muggle telephone to call us, he’d never forgive me!”

“…For more reasons than one,” Lily mutters.

While she’s sure that Sirius would find his stuffy pureblood brother using a Muggle telephone funny, that doesn’t change the fact that Sirius’ little brother is a Death Eater and has been for over a year. Regulus Black, as quiet and naïve as he once seemed from a distance, is dangerous – and for more reasons than one.

Jim exits their bedroom, frowning, and says, “I can’t find it and I can’t remember where I left it last. Lily, love, have you seen it anywhere?”

“Are you sure it didn’t fall down the side of the dresser again?”

“No, I checked there,” Jim says, as he sits back down at the dining table again. “And I don’t want to summon it. Mum always said that’s how nice things get broken.”

Lily is about to reply when another muffled sound comes from the telephone, causing her to remove her hand from the speaking piece automatically, and Jim’s expression to shift as he leans forward again. Regulus Black’s voice comes back into her ear to say:

“The graveyard of Godric’s Hollow. One o’clock this afternoon. Alone.”

Lily finds herself raising her eyebrows and pursing her lips, and very barely manages to make a humming sound in consideration. Then she carefully slips her hand over the phone’s speaker and relays the message to Jim, who didn’t quite catch it. Jim frowns at the phone.

“That’s… creepy,” he says.

Which isn’t helpful, of course, but Lily can’t exactly say he’s wrong.

“That’s a very interesting place, Mister ‘Someone Else’,” Lily says into the phone. “But this is still all very… out of nowhere.” She definitely didn’t expect to be potentially setting up a meeting in a graveyard with the Death Eater young brother of her husband’s best friend this morning, that’s at least for certain while nothing else is at the moment.

There’s another brief pause, another muffling sound, and Lily and Jim are left waiting again.

“Who do you think he’s talking to?” Jim whispers.

Lily bites her lip and shrugs. On one hand, it could be this Harry Potter person. On the other hand, it could be someone actually known to them and a lot worse. It could be more than one person, too.

“Mrs. Potter?” the voice that is probably Regulus says.

Lily and Jim both lean in.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

Regulus says this sentence with what sounds like barely restrained frustration. Lily, at first, feels much the same, because if that’s supposed to charm her into walking into a trap, she’s not really up to having this today. The only thing that saves the other Black brother from the sharp side of Lily’s tongue is Jim’s expression, which is too wide-eyed to be anything besides stunned recognition.

Lily covers the speaking piece of the phone and prompts him. “What?”

“That’s the phrase key to the Map,” Jim says, almost disbelieving. “That’s… no one should know that phrase has meaning – meaning to us… to me – besides Sirius, Pete, and Remus. And we lost the Map near the end of our seventh year. Filch confiscated it. We never managed to get it back before grad.”

It takes Lily a moment to remember what Jim’s talking about. If she remembers right, the Marauder’s Map was apparently a magical map that Jim and his mates made and used to avoid people, specifically teachers and other school staff, while sneaking around at night. It sounded like a masterpiece of charm work, especially for fifth-years, when Jim described it to her (bemoaning how it’d taken years afterwards to perfect it properly), but they’d been in the middle of N.E.W.T.s at the time, graduated soon after, and old school projects didn’t really come up again.

“Would one of you have told anybody about it?” Lily asks.

Jim runs his hand through his hair again. “No, we didn’t tell anyone. We promised.”

“Could someone have stolen it from Filch?”

“Yeah, but it would’ve taken them… Well, I guess he could be clever enough.” Jim’s eyes are unseeing now, staring off into distant thoughts. “We weren’t subtle with the names, either. Sirius’ brother would definitely know it was ours. I just can’t see the Map ending up in Sirius’ little brother’s hands, of all places. Filch has no idea what it even was, he’d never give it away. Last we saw, he’d locked it away and Vanished the key.”

Lily makes another considering humming sound. “So what’s more likely, then, that Sirius’ brother stole and unlocked your map, or that one of you told him the phrase?”

“I… don’t know,” Jim says.

Neither option is very appealing, Lily agrees. The first option suggests a whole world of unknown that stirs up that cold feeling in her chest and lets it sit uncomfortably in her lungs, while her heart thrums with unease all the way down to her stomach. The second is just the same, only the back of her head is now buzzing with frightening possibilities surrounding Jim’s mates.

She doesn’t like this at all.

Lily decisively removes her hand from the speaking piece and says very clearly, “Godric’s Hollow graveyard at one o’clock, you said?”

For the record, Lily doesn’t like this, but she can’t give up this opportunity, whatever it is. This could be so horribly dangerous, but it’s a very well-baited adventure. Jim doesn’t have any family left and Sirius might as well have none – like Lily, only much worse – and suddenly Sirius’ brother is calling them up with a Potter in tow? It’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, but… second chances don’t come around for everyone. If she had even the slightest hint that a chance – that another chance – might come knocking on her darkened door… well…

Well.

That’d be something, wouldn’t it? 

 

Chapter Text

It takes turning half the apartment upside down – and earning a grudge from the unhappily dislodged cat that had been napping in the laundry basket – to find the mirror had been left on the kitchen counter the entire time, only slightly tucked behind the sugar. James has to bury his face in his hands for a full minute to feel better, and at least thirty seconds of that is trying to tempt Lily to comfort him. She doesn’t, of course, too lost in contemplation on the sofa to even grin at him, and James has to give up that ploy to potentially distract her.

He’s distracting himself, of course, by trying to distract her. Which… well, honestly, he’s not sure it’s working on either end. So he picks up the disgruntled cat and gently drops her in Lily’s lap in apology, hoping that the cat and his wife – ah, his wife, that never gets old – will comfort each other. Of course, this could somehow backfire and have the both of them side against him instead of mellowing out, but he’s willing to take that risk. It’s an emergency.

If he can just get Sirius over here, they can figure out what to do about this mess of a situation with Sirius’ brother – and it doesn’t hurt that Sirius is very distracting in general and the cat’s favourite person in the entire world. They need Padfoot.

So it would be really nice, then, if Padfoot would pick up his mirror and answer when James is calling for his best mate in a time of need. Frustrated and desperate, James comes through the usual litany of shouts for Sirius and ends up wondering if they’ll just have to actually crash Sirius’ pad and blast his door down. Whispering, yodelling, and mild hollering – none of the usual methods work.

“I told you he’d still be sleeping.”

“Yeah, yeah,” James mutters, frowning at the mirror in his hand. This whole sleeping at all hours like a fucking cat thing was so much easier to deal with when he could just take three steps and kick Sirius’ bed to wake him up.

The thing is, though, that Sirius isn’t really a heavy sleeper. So if his best mate isn’t answering the mirror after all of this, it probably means Sirius left his mirror somewhere ridiculous in his apartment too, somewhere where James’ dulcet singing voice isn’t easily heard. Hmm. Well, alright then, since none of the usual methods are working, desperate times call for desperate measures.

James grabs his wand off the kitchen counter, presses it to the glass, and makes the heavy, mirror-shuddering, air-shaking, bone-vibrating sound of a ship horn, which is guaranteed to wake even the already conscious up twice over.

That’ll do it.

“While the cat is in my lap, Jim?!”

James looks up and the very unhappy cat is clinging to his very unhappy wife (his lovely, beautiful, very irate wife) for sheer life. This, perhaps, explains why the cat doesn’t seem to like him nearly as much as it likes anyone else.

“Oh, shit, sorry.”

Lily huffs and moves to settle the cat, petting its on-end fur back down and pulling its claws out of her sweater. The accidental plus-side of things, though, is that she doesn’t look lost in distant, potentially morose contemplation anymore. He’ll take annoyed and present over twisting herself into knots of malformed thoughts any day, thank you.

“Prongs, what the fuck.”

James look back down at the mirror in his hand, where his best mate is glaring at him. Sirius’ hair is still tied back, he’s still got a potion mask on his face, and he looks tired and ready to murder the poor git who just ruined his beauty sleep.

“Oh, hey,” James says. “Been trying to reach you for a while now.”

“I didn’t get to sleep until nearly five . This had better be an actual emergency, Prongs.”

“When has it ever not been?”

James would like it noted that there is no good reason for Sirius to raise his eyebrows and look down his nose at him like that, like he’s doing his best McGonagall impression yet, and for Lily to very loudly make her amused noise from her eavesdropping spot on the sofa.

“It is an actual emergency,” James insists, kindly ignoring his best mate and wife’s unfair expressions. “Unless you consider a sudden call from your brother old news.”

“…What.”

“We just had a call from your brother. Apparently he has information for the Order.” Among other ridiculous things like the surprising company he’s keeping. “Wants a meeting with me and Lily to talk about it. Thought you ought to know.”

Sirius stares for a moment longer, then says, “Are you fucking with me?”

“I’d say I’m serious, but that’s you,” James answers, and it’s telling that nobody groans at the overdone pun. “Pads, would I really joke about this sort of thing?”

Sirius is silent, but he doesn’t need to answer. There’s a few things they just don’t joke about, and most of them involve Sirius’ estranged blood family in some way or another. Making fun of them is one thing – one of Sirius’ favourite pastimes, usually – but this situation is definitely the other kind of funny.

“Come over as soon as you can,” James says.

“Yeah, I’m on my way.”

“See’ya.”

“See you,” Sirius repeats, before he moves away from his mirror and James is left with his own reflection looking back at him again. This leaves an odd, unnameable feeling in him, though he’ll see Sirius soon enough, so he slips the mirror into his pocket and turns back to Lily.

“He sort of went quiet there,” James notes.

“Yeah?” Lily says, busy trying to pull the cat’s claws from the sofa for the third time. Their cat’s ginger fur is on-end and she keeps reattaching herself immediately after being pulled free, as though clinging for sheer life to the sofa will ward off predatory boat horns.

Oops.

“It’s never good when Sirius is quiet,” James continues, trying not to worry overmuch. He knows he has a tendency to do exactly that. “Maybe I should’ve asked him to come over first and broke the news in person. D’you think that would’ve been better?”

“Mm.”

James goes on, maybe getting a little off topic trying to distract himself from… everything about this expected turn of events. In his defence, he really wasn’t prepared for today. “No one likes getting bad news over the Floo, after all. That’s almost less mindful than getting another person to do it, Mum said, and nicely written letters are only appropriate for acquaintances or loved ones abroad.”

“Where do Howlers rank on this polite wizard society rule list?” Lily asks curiously.

James doesn’t immediately recognize the teasing note in her voice and, before he does, says, “What?”

“‘Bad news that I didn’t want to be the in-person bearer of!’” Lily declares in a mock, quieted yell as she strokes the calming cat. “‘Your git of a brother’s apparently coming back into your life. Sorry about that, you poor bastard. Have a nice day!’ Fwoom!”

First, James snorts. Then, he laughs.

“How would that world even work?” Lily goes on, not even looking at him. “Would it just be normal for everyone to know every terrible thing that happened to you? ‘Hey, sorry ‘bout this, mate! But St. Mungo’s has the results of hysterically embarrassing thing you needed medical attention for over the weekend! Things aren’t lookin’ good, it’s stuck up there, mate! Hope you didn’t get this in the middle of your work! Best wishes!’”

By the end of this impression, James is barely able to breathe from laughter. Lily finally glances at him, having soothed the cat back into her lap, and grins her cheekiest, smuggest grin at him.

“That would be awful! ” James gasps, after a few seconds more.

On one hand, there’s a lot of stuff that’d be hilarious. On the other hand, beyond the simply embarrassing…

“What? The or worse? All your personal misery and all the skeletons in your closet shouted for the world to hear?” Lily proclaims, still grinning. “But doesn’t that sound just lovely to you, Jim? Who wouldn’t love that? Isn’t that what dreams are made of?”

“Yeah, but only the nightmare kind,” James answers, giving a mock-shudder and grinning back.

He never really managed to master or care about all those proper rules his mother primly kept to when keeping correspondence. Euphemia Potter tried – oh, did she try – but James took after his father more, and Fleamont Potter hadn’t been one for stickling rules or… well… subtlety either.

“Sorry ‘bout the sudden noise,” James says, crossing over to the sofa so he can bend down and kiss his wife – the wonderful woman who married him – on the side of the head in apology. “I didn’t think.”

Lily leans up to press a fleeting kiss to his jaw. “Apology accepted,” she says. “You’re forgiven.”

“I’ll try to give, like, at least five seconds warning next time,” James says jokingly.

“I’ll be sure to use that time to throw the cat onto your lap.”

James pauses, looks down at the cat settling skeptically into Lily’s lap, and… tries not to imagine that. He’s fairly certain that Lily would never do that, partly because she wouldn’t do that to the cat and loves him too much to do that to him. He’d rather not repeat the unfortunate experience of running afoul of an angry cat, or have the new experience of that experience while human-shaped.

“Please don’t,” James says.

Lily smiles, and leans up to give him a proper kiss. “Alright,” she murmurs.

“Thank you,” James says against her lips, grinning back, before pressing forward. He can’t help but smile all through the kiss and it’s a bit awkward leaning over the sofa like this, but it’s still perfect and worth it a thousand times over.

They have to end it when there’s a muted crack, unmistakably Apparition, from outside their apartment. James pulls back from Lily and takes a step back towards the front door by the kitchen to open it, but there’s already the click of the lock turning and clunk of the doorknob following, and there’s no point in time between the door swinging open and Sirius striding purposefully in, pocketing his keys and already closing the door behind him.

James’ best mate definitely looks like he just woke up. Sirius is wearing brown slacks and a Twisted Banshee shirt that he probably slept in, his socks don’t match, and he’s got his brown leather jacket over one arm. His boots are held in one hand and his other hand is reaching up to take his wand out of his mouth. He’s freshly shaven and his hair’s brushed, but he’s still got a bit of green mask on one side of his face.

“That was… fast,” James says.

“Coffee,” Sirius answers, already moving towards the kitchen to fix some himself. He dumps his boots and jacket on a dining room chair with the ease of practice as he goes, dropping his wand on the kitchen counter a comfortable distance away from James’ simmering potions. “Hey, Lily.”

“Hey,” Lily says from the sofa. “Face – jaw, left side.”

Sirius switches from reaching for the beans out of a cabinet and feels his face, grimacing when his fingers land on the leftover potion. “Thanks,” he says, reaching out for the towel that James has moved forward to grab and offer him. “You’re a true friend, Lily-flower.”

“What am I, newt spleens?” James says.

Sirius snorts. “Yeah, no,” he says, flinging the towel back at James’ face. By the time James manages to pull himself free of the towel, Sirius already has the beans down and is rummaging through another cabinet for a pot. “After that wake-up call, Prongs, I’ve made the executive decision to swap you out for Lily. Don’t worry, Pete and Remus will get over it soon enough.”

“I’m honoured, really, but do I get a say in this?” Lily asks.

“Oh, I’m glad for you,” James says.

“Nope,” Sirius says to Lily, ignoring James, then adds on with painful casualness, “Either of you heard from Remus, by the way?”

James’ good humour drops a little, too suddenly to stop. He’s been trying not to worry about Remus – about Moony – for the past few days. As a rule, it hasn’t been going well at all, but today had been better for most of the morning. He’s been brewing ever since he got up and potion-making doesn’t leave much room for thinking if he doesn’t let it.

“No,” James says. “Have you?”

“Nope,” Sirius says, grabbing his wand to fix the coffee without budging James’ potions. “Pete hasn’t either. Neither has his dad.”

That last bit wasn’t surprising; Remus and his dad had a very distant sort of relationship, from what James could make of it. It was disappointing to hear, however, that Remus hadn’t also checked in with either Peter or Sirius. He wasn’t due to check in for a few more days, but the full moon had been on Sunday and it was Thursday now, and James didn’t like not knowing how Remus was doing.

“So what’s this about my brother calling?” Sirius says finally, after he’s set the coffee to brew on the counter next to the sink. He’s already digging through yet another cupboard in search of his favourite mug at their place. “I didn’t think you even had a Floo.”

“We don’t,” Lily says.

“He called on the telephone,” James explains, still wondering about that.

Sirius pauses, then looks at the both of them very… seriously. “Did he really?”

“Yeah, it was weird,” Lily says, scritching behind that cat’s ears. “Gave me all sorts of suspicious feelings.”

“My family does that,” Sirius says, now looking a little disbelieving. “That’s just fucking odd, though? A telephone call? Five minutes ago I would’ve sworn on my mother’s life that Reggie didn’t know what the fuck a telephone was.”

James needs a moment to process that, but when he does. “Er…”

Sirius rolls his eyes and pulls his favourite mug out of the cupboard. It says Bone Appetit! with a little picture of a bone and a lot of little pawprints. Lily got it for him. It’s been proclaimed repeatedly that this particular mug is more loveable than life itself.

“Reggie’s a slippery little creeper, I’m not about to swear on something worthwhile, ” Sirius says.

James decides not to tackle that at the moment. “He wasn’t the weirdest part, though.”

“That’d be new.”

James ignores his best mate’s mutter and tries to come up with a way to even begin to explain what’s just happened. “Maybe you should be sitting down for this,” he says finally.

Sirius looks at James so disdainfully that… yeah… he looks like his brother. “Look, mate,” he says. “If I’ve stayed upright through learning that my idiot little brother can use a telephone and is pretending to have information for the Order – or worse: is actually trying to back out on his own fucking mess – I’m not going to fall over now. Maybe you should… alright, maybe you should actually be sitting down, Prongs, you look sorta peaked.”

“You know what?” James says. “I do want to sit down.”

And James goes to sit down on the sofa because he has family he didn’t know about, apparently reaching out to him under strange and unexpected circumstances. Harry Potter is clearly named for James’ beloved late grandfather and James just… doesn’t know what to do about that.

Lily puts her hand on his knee, shifting against him as much as possible without disturbing the cat in her lap. James leans back into her and takes a deep breath, his other leg jittering uncontrollably.

“Alright, you’ve got me,” Sirius says from the kitchen, frowning. “What was the weirdest part?”

“He was with someone else,” Lily answers.  

“Alright, Reggie having friends is weir-”

“Someone who introduced themselves as Harry Potter.

Sirius’s expression, at first a bit miffed Lily rolled right over his remark, turns surprised. He looks between James and Lily for several seconds. James doesn’t really know what expression he’s making back at his best mate, but there must be something there that Sirius takes… seriously. Well, as seriously as he can take anything, given that he raises his eyebrows, twists his lips in a smirk, and says,

“I didn’t know you had a brother too, Prongs.”

James laughs, his leg still jittering. “Me neither,” he says. “Pretty sure I still don’t.”

“Reggie always was a liar,” Sirius says, shrugging, as he taps his wand on the bubbling coffee pot. It lifts into the air and pours a serving of steaming coffee into the dog-themed mug next to it. “Never much of an actor, though – too stiff, too stuffy.”

“Whoever it was, they sounded a lot like Jim,” Lily says.

James looks up at his wife. “Did they?”

“Almost just like you, dear.”

“Huh.”

It’s sometimes said…

It used to be said by the occasional person or two that James sounded a lot like his old man. James had trouble hearing it, but they spoke a lot alike and it’d make sense if their voices were a lot alike too, so if people said they sounded a lot alike then they probably had. But James hadn’t thought of Fleamont Potter at all when listening to his surprise relation speak, and he can’t really see any similarity in hindsight. They’d been fairly quiet and unsure, and James remembers his dad as loud and certain – whether delighted or upset, in actions and presence – until the very end.

At least, most of the time. There’d been those few moments of quiet, but they’d been infrequent and fleeting as far as James was allowed to see. And on that subject, one of the rarely mentioned things that had been the cause of a quiet moment or two…

“I don’t think I have a brother,” James says, because his dad hadn’t been that sort of man and he can’t imagine his mum having given away a kid either. “But I might have a cousin.”

Sirius and Lily stare at him for several seconds.

“You what,” Sirius says.

Lily frowns, lips pursing in confusion. “I thought your dad was an only child?”

“Yeah.” James Potter is the one son of a one son, but his grandfather wasn’t. “Not a first cousin.”

Is there a good way to get into this? He’s not sure how to start.

“Okay, then what sort of cousin?” Lily asks.

Sirius slams the coffee pot down onto the counter, then marches over to the sitting area and drops down in the sole armchair with his mug in hand. “Yeah, Prongs, you’re gonna need to be more specific than that. If my shitty family’s given me anything besides nightmares, it’s an absurd education in cousins of all distances – plus where it’s alright to marry one, that sort of- Oh, hello, princess.”

This last bit is said to the cat, as their pet wriggled free of Lily’s lap the moment Sirius took a seat. Lily was holding onto the cat to calm her before, but now that he’s in sight and sitting still, there’s nothing that can prevent the cat from saying hello and laying claim to her favourite person. Sirius greets his self-proclaimed favourite member of the Potter household with equal enthusiasm, rubbing under the cat’s chin and along her stomach as she immediately flops over in his lap.

“I was explicitly told that there weren’t any other Potter branches,” Sirius continues, taking a sip of coffee and spoiling the animal in his lap rotten with his free hand. “By the stuffed up snobs who dedicate their entire pathetic existences to that sort of thing, too.”

“Wouldn’t have thought we were blue-blooded enough to be stalked.”

Sirius waves his coffee mug dismissively. “Enh, desperate measures. My parents are first cousins.”

“Really?” Lily says.

“Explains a lot, doesn’t it?”

“Not really, but it says plenty,” Lily answers, before she looks at James again. Her lips are still pursed, her stare steady. Uh oh. “Jim, I didn’t know you had other family. You’ve never mentioned them before.”

“Well, I’m not really supposed to,” James says. His leg is still jittering, even fiercer than before, and it’s starting to ache a little. “Everyone thinks they’re dead. They’re sort of a family secret? I’m telling you two now because… Lily, love, you’re my wife, and I swear it just hasn’t come up before now.”

“Alright,” Lily says, her fingers tightening reassuringly on his other leg.

James looks towards Sirius next. “Sirius, you’re my brother in all but blood-”

“Probably for the best, that.”

“-and it really, really hasn’t come up before now. I’ve never even met them in person.”

“Alright. This is getting weird, but alright,” Sirius says, looking back at him fondly. “Could you just start with who you’re talking about? And then we can get to the whole fucking telephone call business, because neither of you have really explained that bit yet either.”

Oh, yeah.

James takes a deep breath, ignores his leg, and begins, “Alright, so my granddad, Henry Potter, had a much younger brother named Charlus, who was actually closer in age to my dad than Granddad. Born in 1905 or something, I think? They were close, apparently, Uncle Charlus and my dad. Like brothers.”

 Lily’s other hand comes to sit on James’ still leg as well, and that’s good, because… it’s still awful that James had an uncle he never got to meet. He knew his grandad, who died of old age a little before James went to Hogwarts, but it was still Fleamont, a few years later, who had to tell James that Henry had a little brother once upon a time.

That Fleamont had an older brother of sorts, once upon a time.

“Dad said that Uncle Charlus was real clever, very funny, very good at keeping secrets, and always teasing everybody ‘bout the cool things he knew but never telling. Always three steps ahead of everybody else. Dad said… Dad said once, back when we were in our fifth year, that I actually reminded him of Uncle Charlus a lot. Which’s cool, y’know, because apparently Uncle Charlus was a magizoologist. Travelled a lot, always looking for all the most fantastic beasts, Dad said, always throwing himself into ‘the best and worst sort of trouble’.”

James takes another breath, then rambles on. Now that he’s started, he doesn’t really know how to stop. It feels like he’s been waiting years to talk about this.

“But something happened during the war against Grindelwald. Something bad. I dunno what and I don’t think Dad really knew either. Uncle Charlus wouldn’t say, he said, just that he had to leave immediately for everybody’s safety. So Uncle Charlus took his wife and kid, and faked an accident with one of his creatures so everybody’d think they’d been eaten or something. Blood on the walls, claw marks down the walls; Dad thought something had happened until Uncle Charlus got in contact with him a few months later and told him it’d be for the best if everybody thought he was dead.

“Dad had a way to contact Uncle Charlus if he really needed to, but… it was only for real emergencies, he said. I dunno what he meant by that, but I can’t remember Dad ever getting in contact with Uncle Charlus or mentioning having talked. I think they might’ve even had a row or something. Just by a look in Dad’s eye the few times he talked about him. Besides, Uncle Charlus died a few years before Dad an’ Mum got sick, so… yeah.”

There are a few seconds of silence, as James laments the loss of an uncle unknown. There were never any gifts or cards from Uncle Charlus and family. No letters and no calls. James honestly just doesn’t think about this strange branch of the family – they’ve never been a part of his life, really – but when he does, it’s always a bit disappointing to imagine that he had an uncle who’d apparently been just like him, but who’d never really wanted to know him.

“…And you think Harry Potter could be your great-uncle’s kid?” Lily asks finally.

“Maybe?” James offers. “I was actually thinking he might be my second cousin. Uncle Charlus had a daughter, who’s about twenty years older than me, I think. If Uncle Charlus had another kid, I think Dad probably would’ve known? But if Dora had a kid, then… I dunno.”

“Dora?” Sirius repeats. “Like-?”

James suddenly remembers that Sirius’ favourite cousin Andromeda, a fellow Black Family bloodtraitor who married a Muggleborn, has a daughter referred to as “Dora”. He can’t remember what it’s short for, though. Something long and to do with mythology, he thinks, which doesn’t really narrow it down with purebloods, unfortunately.

“Oh, no. Short for Pandora… now. Used to be something else, some constellation or another. Which reminds me, actually, Uncle Charlus married a Black.”

“He did?” Lily says, surprised.

“Yeah. It was a huge scandal at the time; she nearly got disowned, except Uncle Charlus never got into politics like Granddad, so-”

James is interrupted by a sudden snapping of fingers. He and Lily both look towards Sirius, who’s apparently temporarily abandoned spoiling the cat in favour of a moment of eureka. His coffee mug is now sitting abandoned on a side table.  

“I knew that name was familiar!” Sirius says triumphantly. “My mother’s paternal aunt married a Potter. You’re talking about ‘The Devouring of Great-Aunt Dorea’!”

“The… Devouring of Great-Aunt Dorea,” James repeats.

“That’s gruesome,” Lily says.

“Yeah, well, that’s just describing our house décor. Had to make learning the family history a little more interesting somehow,” Sirius says, shrugging. Then he frowns. “I thought the family tapestry said they had one son?”

“I don’t think Dad would’ve confused whether he had a nephew or a niece, Pads.”

Sirius’ brows furrow for a moment, then he dismisses the thought. “That thing is wrong half the time anyway. Never really worked properly. Plus, my dear old mum was always ‘adjusting’ anything that she thought was wrong on top of it being broken. Example: I’ve been burned off, and the family’d sometimes ‘fix’ it so children were born after the marriage and to the ‘right’ parents.”

“…I’ve heard maybe five and a half fragmented anecdotes about your family history, Sirius,” Lily says, consideringly. “But I think I can safely say that it sounds absolutely ghastly.”

“It is. I made a point of focusing on all the bloodtraitors and runaways just to make my mother mad. Aunt Dorea was one of them. The only reason she wasn’t disowned, Aunt Cassiopeia said, is because she was my great-grandfather’s favourite. And then everybody thought she was dead.

“Pandora Potter,” Sirius says, like he’s tasting the name in his mouth. “I guess that’d make her my… first-cousin-once-removed. So, her kid would be my second cousin too, actually. How ‘bout that.”

“What, really?” James says.

Sirius raises his eyebrows and looks down his nose at James. “Are you doubting my Black Family pedigree absurd education in cousins of all distances? How fucking dare you, sir.”

Lily removes a hand from James’ leg so she can muffle her laughter. James is grinning too, though, and grins as he looks between his wife and his best mate.

“Would you look at that, Sirius,” he says. “We might be related after all. If only by marriage.”

“That’s not new. Weren’t we already married, Prongs?” Sirius returns, grinning back.

Lily fails to contain her laughter and loudly… cackles. Yeah, that’s a cackle.

“I must’ve missed that,” James says.

Sirius tsks at him. “Shame on you. Forgetting our special night together. But yeah, give me a family tree and I bet I could find another Potter-Black union. Well, maybe not; Mother might have burned it off. This wouldn’t be the first time, it’s hard to find a pair of purebloods who aren’t some sort of cousin.”

That’s unfortunately true, so James nods to that. Then he elbows his wife because she’s still cackling into his shoulder. This isn’t the first time that joke’s been made, but it gets Lily every time.

“Ohh,” Lily says, fanning herself. It takes a few seconds, but finally she manages to clear her throat and says, “Do you really think this Harry Potter is your second cousin?” She fixes an intensely green stare on him. “Thank you for telling us that story, Jim, by the way.”

“No trouble, just… don’t go around spreading it to anyone else, alright? Even Remus and Pete. At least for now, anyway.”

“Promise,” Sirius says, lifting a hand.

James smiles at him in thanks, then looks back to Lily. “If he is a Potter, then there’s not really any other branch for him to have come from. His… his name is Harry. ” It could just be a coincidence, not a tribute to James’ granddad, but he doesn’t think so. “And… well…”

“Well, what?” Lily prompts.

“It’d make sense, wouldn’t it? A Black and a Potter appearing out of nowhere like this, if he were Uncle Charlus and Aunt Dorea’s grandson?”

Lily purses her lips, musing the thought over. “Would your cousin have our telephone number?”

“Ah… no,” James has to admit. “I never gave it to her. But Dora’s lived abroad and in hiding for most of her life, I think, so she probably knows a thing or two about Muggle technology. Uncle Charlus was apparently really clever.”

Lily doesn’t look convinced.

“But remember what he said? How he sounded?” James says. “‘It’s not very believable’? He said he didn’t know how to explain things and he sounded upset. It’s a mystery why Uncle Charlus faked his death… and I dunno how he really died. What if something happened to Aunt Dorea and Pandora too?”

“What if he doesn’t know you know that Charlus faked his death?” Sirius says.

“Exactly!”

“I’m still waiting on that story, by the way,” Sirius adds, then says, “How did Regulus get involved in this?”

James deflates a little on that one. “I… don’t know.”

“We should make a list,” Lily says. “I have more questions than ever right now.”

Unfortunately, James does too.

Lily looks at him again and asks, “Is there a way for you to get in contact with your cousin Pandora?”

James thinks back to one of those moments where Fleamont Potter had gotten very quiet, and reluctantly showed him a small box not to be used in anything besides an emergency. A box with family on the other side that he’d never known, who’d never really shown any interest in him before.

“I can try,” he says determinedly. 

 

Chapter Text

The last time Sirius was in a graveyard is coincidentally the last time he saw Regulus.

Sirius wasn’t invited to his father’s funeral, so he attended anyway. He hadn’t done it people-shaped, but he’d been there, smug in knowing that his absence made his mother gnash her teeth and that his presence would make her gnash them again if he ever told her.

He remembers saying something along the lines of ‘needing to piss on the old man’s grave’ when Prongs had tried to hen him about it.

Reggie had still been attending Hogwarts then, but he was already a Death Eater. Sirius didn’t see the mark, under Reggie’s long-sleeved mourning robes, but it was still a hell of a thing to look at his grim-faced little brother, dutifully comforting their sour-faced mother, and know Reggie had been a Death Eater for nearly two years now. It was infuriating to know that was where he’d come from.

It was fucking terrifying, if Sirius let himself be things like terrified, which he didn’t, to know that was who he could have been if he’d been that sort of prat.

Marked and happy about it.

What a fucking joke. What a damned fate.

It doesn’t really bear thinking about, and Sirius is an accredited expert on the unbearable, so he should know. He stops thinking about Black funerals, black robes and gnashing teeth and grim faces, and gives himself over to the stretch of black fur, the gnash of long fangs, and the claw and bristle and bound of being a Grim creature. The world just seems so much more fetching when not people-shaped.

Padfoot trots down the street and towards the church, tongue lolling out.

 

~

 

He finds a good corner by the graveyard’s church and waits for one o’clock, occasionally sniffing at the air for signs of company, ears twitching at the bird song and village rabble.

Godric’s Hollow is a nice place, quiet and quaint, and the sort of mixed neighbourhood that Sirius’ family wouldn’t be caught dead in. It’s not exactly the sort of place where Sirius would hang out on Friday nights, but even if he didn’t already like it on the basis his family would hate it, it’s peaceful and reminds him of the Potters.

Padfoot licks his paws and doesn’t think about the Potters. Those thoughts might hurt gently, without the usual dark jealousy of the past, but that’s worse.

It’s probably this possible Potter – hmm, that’s not bad, he’ll remember that – who chose the meeting place. Sirius can’t imagine Reggie knowing a neighbourhood like this even exists. Still, Sirius has to wonder at Regulus choosing a graveyard for a meeting place. Reggie used to love all those stupid old traditions, especially stuff with righteous duels for honour and loyalty, and Sirius is fairly certain duelling in a graveyard was considered a faux-pas in all those silly stories on nobility. It was uncouth and dangerous to duel over the resting places of the dead, the etiquette of the stories said.

Sirius remembers teasing a much littler Reggie for his love of chivalry and bravery. Such a sweet little romantic! “Why,” Sirius remembers saying, “it was practically Gryffindorish of him!” Reggie had squawked and turned bright red, he thinks, before their mother had swept into the room in a terrible rage at the idea of another of her children being sorted into Gryffindor.

Regulus was sorted into Slytherin within the next couple months, and that was pretty much that.

Even as Regulus grew up, Sirius’ little brother had never stopped being an idiot… or a romantic. Soft and stupid enough to believe their parent’s pureblood mania and supposed glory days of magical greatness, and Sirius hated him along with the lot of them. When he hadn’t hated him, Sirius remembers furiously, viciously pitying his freshly Marked, stupidly proud brother. After all, maybe being a Death Eater and getting a real taste of all that horror and hate would knock some sense into Regulus for once.

Served the little twit right that it’d be too late if he did wise up. A lifetime of service or death; that didn’t exactly leave room for a polite letter of resignation, no matter how fancy Reggie’s calligraphy was or how being a Black made you “ practically royal.”

Padfoot thwaps his tail impatiently against the ground a couple times.

If Reggie has wised up, it’ll be a miracle. But if Reggie has wised up, there’ll be hell to pay. It’s probably best not to give Sirius’ idiot little brother the benefit of the doubt, no matter his company. Reggie was never good at hanging around good people.

 

~

 

There's the sound of footsteps at the edge of the graveyard. Padfoot’s ears perk up and he looks towards the people approaching, peering through the bushes by the church. Two young men have entered the graveyard, difficult to see from this distance. The faint smell of salt water clings to them both.

The first one walks forward with a clear destination in mind, moving between the rows easily, while the second hesitates for a second before following. They don’t come closer to the church, but rather away from it. When the first young man stops, it’s not in front of any graves, but rather an empty space of grass, where graves might be one day.

Padfoot carefully slinks out of his spot by the church and closer to the newcomers, sticking to the bushes and the shadows of the graveyard. His ears strain to hear any words between them.

“…I don’t think I’m ready for this,” the first one says quietly.

“I don’t think anyone would be,” the second replies, in a familiar voice. Not as sharp as Sirius remembers, not as cold, but still all posh and crisp and Reggie . “But it won’t be done unless we do it.”

Sirius doesn’t like the sound of that at all.

“If it… helps… at all,” Reggie says, almost uncertainly, “I will be right beside you.”

That’s different.

The angle’s not great, so Sirius leans forward from his hiding place to get a better look at them. He likes being Padfoot, but he doesn’t always enjoy having Padfoot’s eyes. Of the two side profiles that he catches… one of them is family and the other one is disturbingly familiar despite being a stranger.

Reggie doesn’t look all that different – black robes, might be taller, his hair is longer but as fussily put-together as ever – still the perfect son that Mother always wanted.

Harry Potter turns his head to look at Regulus and smiles faintly. He looked nearly exactly like James. It’s uncanny. Except for the round glasses, the slightly different hair, the oversized Muggle clothing, and an uncertainty around the edges, he could be James. Except for how he’s clearly about Reggie’s age, probably sixteen or seventeen or so. Second cousin seems increasingly possible.

He’s the mirror image in a mirror that hesitated on the details.

“Thanks,” the kid says to Regulus, in a voice that’s again almost just like James. Quieter and not quite right. “It does.”

“You’re welcome,” Reggie answers.

What Sirius wouldn’t give to know what the hell Prongs and Lily are making of this right now. The two of them are here now, approaching carefully. No one else has shown up.

Reggie and his companion don’t say anything more for nearly a minute, both looking away, back to the patch of grass that the kid stopped in front of. It changes when Reggie has a quick intake of breath, staring at nothing. Regulus looks back towards the kid, almost… panicked?

“Harry,” he says urgently.

The kid looks up curiously, but Sirius catches a tightness to his shoulders. There’s a long, pale wand ready in the kid’s hand. He waits for Regulus to ask his question, to say something, but the questions seem to get caught in Reggie’s throat. Regulus stares at him and the kid waits, confused.

Then the kid’s expression changes – it closes off – his eyes flickering over exactly where James is standing. His hand tightens on his wand. Padfoot’s hackles rise, surprised and suspicious, ready to burst from the bushes if the kid begins to cast a spell. Those are some instincts.

“There’s someone under an Invisibility Cloak fifteen paces behind you,” the kid warns quietly. “They’re making an indent in the grass.”

Regulus somehow tenses further, because his ability to tie himself into prissy knots should never be underestimated. He doesn’t throw a fit or react wildly, but he does hiss under his breath. “ Sugar Quills. There is someone under a Disillusionment Charm several paces farther behind you.”

What.

Reggie still does that?

Of all the strange habits to pick up and keep from their beloved parents, that’s probably not the worst, but really? Oh, we can let our sixteen-year-old son get Marked by the Dark Lord and have them shout about the filthy sins of Muggles to the sky and use deadly and Unforgivable curses, but we can’t have them cursing. That would be uncouth. By the inbred purity of blood, they can't seem uncivilized. 

It’s annoying that little Reggie’s grown up to be able to spot one of the best Disillusionment Charms that Sirius has ever seen, but he always was a sneaky brat. Always watching. Staring. Snitching.

“Switch positions, wands raised on unknown on three?”

The kid gives a nearly imperceptible nod to Regulus’ whisper and shifts, and a couple seconds later, they’ve switched. Not perfectly smoothly, but quick and without issue. Their stances are good, the both of them, but the kid’s is looser and less “proper” as they point their wands at James and Lily.

Padfoot could launch out the bushes any moment, go between them and for the legs without any warning. They could take out these two teenage boys easily enough, hopefully before any spells go off prematurely. There’s still no sign of anyone else in this graveyard.

“Show yourselves,” Regulus says lowly.

Sirius said he’d let Prongs and Lily take the lead on this one for two reasons. The first was because of this Harry Potter, who was an unknown and a possible second cousin for James who doesn’t have nearly the same number of cousins that Sirius does. The second was because Sirius’ behaviour when it comes to his brother and his family is probably… not exactly unjustified… but immediately antagonistic. A lot of Sirius’ behaviour tends towards the immediate. It’s hard to resist that temptation now.

Lily dismisses her charm and steps out of the air, and James sweeps off the Invisibility Cloak and folds it over his arm. They both have their wands pointed at the kids they’ve come to meet. James looks like someone slapped him with a Stunner, staring at a stranger who’s nearly his mirror image.

“Mister Black,” Lily says politely.

“Miss Evans,” Regulus returns, as polite as he can probably get when his default state of being is snobbish. “I trust it is your husband behind me with the cloak?”

“Yes. Is this Harry Potter beside you?”

“Yes.”

With no elaboration, of course, because Reggie exists to be a pain in everyone’s ass. Never mind that Reggie is all but holding this kid’s hand. That definitely doesn’t need an explanation or anything.

“Miss Evans, are the four of us alone?” Regulus says, in lieu of the explanation that absolutely no one desperately needs. “This information we have to share is extremely sensitive, and may endanger lives if anyone uninvited is listening.”

Technically, Sirius was invited. Just not by Reggie or his new friend.

Lily inclines her head slightly. “We’re alone.”

If they get into this, Sirius is going to have to point out this technicality to Reggie. Possibly gleefully.

Taking notes on how to win any upcoming arguments with his little brother is far better than contemplating what stupid shit Regulus has gotten himself into now. Sirius doesn’t know if this is a trap or if his idiot brother is actually looking to become some sort of Order ally or informant, or even something else, but since it’s Reggie, he knows it’s got to be stupid and dangerous.

“I thought I recognized your voice,” Lily continues thoughtfully, “but I wouldn’t have expected a Death Eater to have my phone number and be desperate to share ‘information pertinent to me and my husband.’”

Regulus pauses for far longer than isn’t incredibly suspicious, and he and the kid are pretty much holding hands without actually holding hands. The kid’s lowered his wand down to his side now, slowly and trembling, still looking at James like he’s seeing an impossible ghost. Regulus hasn’t lowered his.

Prongs is lowering his, though. What the fuck does he think he’s doing. Sirius can’t see James well, but he pretty sure his best mate is practically giving the kid doe eyes, because of course he is.

“Well, to be honest,” Regulus says, voice high and breathy, “I’m not a very good Death Eater.”

The kid makes a strangled sound and Regulus might have his nose in the air but even from his side profile, he looks like he’s going to be sick. Lily raises her eyebrows at the both of them and so does James. It is all Sirius can do, from his place in the bushes, not to either have a heart attack or die laughing at hearing his little brother admit that.

“Actually pretty terrible at it,” Regulus continues.

Stating the obvious, maligning Death Eaters, and mocking Regulus is using Sirius’ thing. Reggie can’t steal Sirius’ thing. Snotty thieving git. How dare he.

What the fuck, though. What the hell.

Maybe Reggie’s cursed. Sirius would also suggest Polyjuice, but he’s honestly never known someone to look quite so disdainful and act quite so prissy as Regulus. It’s probably a curse, because the idea that Reggie actually came to his senses is...

“…Would you mind if we could have this discussion without needing eyes in the back of our head to see both you and your husband at once?” Regulus asks, almost managing polite again. It sounds unnatural on him, Sirius had always thought the closest Reggie could get was sycophant. “I’m not particularly partial to being surrounded and held at wandpoint… It tends to stifle conversational progress.”

Lily thinks about it and nods. “Jim?”

Prongs nods back at her and saunters around to join her. Sirius catches a better look of his best mate’s expression, as he turns to no longer have his back to the bushes. Prongs is overdoing acting casual. He can barely take his eyes off the kid and the sentiment seems mutual.

The kid takes a deep breath. As Prongs walks, the kid turns and then takes in a sharp breath when he presumably lays eyes on Lily. Sirius’ hiding place has a decent view of James and Lily, but a terrible view of Reggie and the kid now. All the better to get the drop on them, yeah, but not great for trying to read their expressions. Sirius’ eyesight isn’t good enough at this distance to catch expressions off a view that’s more back than side profile.

“Do you mind if I check for eavesdroppers?” Regulus asks, after Prongs reaches Lily’s side, in the way one asking permission when one is a Black, which is to say: he’s not really asking permission at all. It doesn’t really matter to him that Lily nods back at him. It never does.

It fills Sirius’ canine heart with endless amounts of smugness to have yet another technicality to fling in Regulus’ face. As an Animagus, he’s not technically a human being at the moment. Detection spells, especially the good ones, don’t turn up dogs on the results. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch Regulus cast his spells and see him lower his wand, oblivious to Sirius’ presence.

“Well… we’re alone, then,” Regulus says calmly.

Padfoot’s tail thumps against the grass.

Regulus looks towards his companion expectantly. “Harry,” he says, even nudging the kid’s arm a little. He sounds somewhere between frustrated and panicked, underneath that damnable forced calm of him, as the seconds tick on in silence.

The kid takes a breath and introduces himself. “My name is Harry… Harry Potter,” he says, shaky and sickly and sure. “I’m your son.”

Padfoot’s tail drops and stills immediately.

What.

“Well, I would have been,” the kid amends quietly.

Sirius gapes unabashedly, because that is probably the last thing was he was expecting, except he never even conceived of the thought to expect it. What the hell? What the fuck? Who does this kid think he is? Prongs and Lily’s son? What by all that’s magical is that supposed to mean?

Prongs and Lily are staring at the kid, disbelieving and stunned.

Interestingly, Regulus looks like he’s about to scream, or on the edge of saying something at least. Sirius’ little brother had looked nearly as surprised as the rest of them at the statement. He keeps looking back and forth between the kid and the Potters, uncertain and unhappy.

Sirius really doesn’t have a good look at this Harry Potter. He wants to burst out of the bushes to stare the kid in the face and really look at him, to demand what the hell kind of sick joke he thinks he’s playing here with Prongs and Lily. There were a lot of possibilities here, and it’s probably a good thing that Sirius is so surprised by this off-menu remark, otherwise he’d probably have bitten someone by now. Probably Regulus for putting this kid up to this shit.

“…Time magic?” Prongs says finally.

Thankfully Prongs and Lily look about as accepting of this as Sirius feels.

“Time magic is illegal… difficult… and dangerous,” Prongs continues, frowning at the boys.

Sirius starts sniffing around for a trap again. It has to be a trap. Even if it’s not a trap here, in this graveyard, it’s going to be a trap in the long run. They can’t trust them.

“I know that this is hard to believe,” Regulus says, high-handed as ever, “but we have proof… and…” Regulus pauses for a second, then says firmly, “I vouch for him… entirely. Hear us out with an open mind, if you will. This… is important.”

Sirius has plenty of words for that and none of them are sugar quills.

“I’m not sure I want to open my mind to the words of someone admitting to time-meddling,” Prongs says mildly. “No offense meant, but my mother warned me about that sort of thing. Some things are best left alone.”

Tell ‘im, Prongsie.

Regulus glares at Sirius’ best mate, or so Sirius assumes. Déjà vu, that.

“It was an accident,” the kid says, and he doesn’t really sound like he’s defending himself at all. No, he sounds helpless and tired, exhausted and empathetic. Essentially the opposite of Reggie. “I don’t really know how it happened… and I don’t think it’s fixable.”

That leaves a silence among for them for several seconds, as everyone seems to consider these words. Sirius waits impatiently for them to keep going, a bark stuck in his throat.

“What kind of proof do you have?” Lily says finally.

Reggie glances towards the kid, uncertainly, and says apropos of fucking nothing , “I have defected from the Death Eaters.”

Sirius called it. He fucking called it that Reggie did something stupid. It’s all Padfoot can do not to howl from disbelief and victory and anger. This little idiot. This could still be a trap, but Sirius should have known not to underestimate Regulus’ capacity for the dramatic.

“…Defected?” Prongs repeats disbelievingly.

“Yes,” Regulus says. Only he says it, of course, like he’s trying to convince himself too.

“And does your boss know that you’ve quit?”

The pause is answer enough, really.

“…No,” Reggie says finally.

That’s either very, very bad or actually good. Sirius hasn’t decided because he still can’t believe that any of this is happening at all.

“That’s… interesting,” Lily says. “But that’s not exactly the sort of proof I was expecting.”

It’s not proof at all, is what she means. Sirius agrees.

“…It’s related,” Regulus insists. Then he clears his throat, leans against his mysterious, time-travelling, possible-Potter friend slightly, and says, “The Dark Lord has made himself effectively immortal.”

Prongs and Lily stare from one side. Sirius stares from the other.

“…I beg your pardon,” Lily says.

“Have you ever heard of the term ‘horcrux’?”

Prongs and Lily share one of their looks, and no, of course they haven’t. Sirius hasn’t either.

“…No, I’m afraid we haven’t,” Prongs says.

“It’s extreme Dark magic,” Regulus explains. “Where a wizard uses an act of pure evil – such as murder – to fuel a ritual that will split their soul and hide that soul piece in an object. This object binds their soul to the land of the living… making them effectively immortal… and it is known as a ‘horcrux’.”

Sirius himself has crowed that he has the stomach of a dog, claiming that nothing can make him sick. This is untrue, especially when someone’s trying to get him to eat something that he absolutely refuses to – except when it becomes a bet. This is especially- especially untrue when he’s just learned that it’s possible to split your soul and bind it to an object and that Voldemort’s done it. Just the idea of it is disgusting.  

That’s… taboo. That’s really, really Dark stuff. Sirius doesn’t have a blasted clue how it works and he doesn’t want to know, but he doesn’t have to know how it works to know that it’s bad stuff.

That’s Dark enough that even the Black Family has probably only done it, like, once or twice.

“The Dark Lord has made five of these objects,” Reggie continues.

“Five?” Prongs demands, rightly incredulous.

“He’s terrified of death,” the kid explains, before Regulus can get a word out, like it’s really that simple.

Like Voldemort is scared of anything. Terrified of anything.

Reggie closes his mouth and looks at the kid strangely, before he turns back to the Potters.

“Horcruxes can be anything,” Reggie explains, and beside him a shiver goes through the kid. “And can be hidden anywhere. And are almost impossible to destroy.”

Well, there goes the neighbourhood.

Prongs and Lily look as confused and overwhelmed as Sirius feels. If this is a trap, it’s... it’s a really bloody strange one. Sirius can’t begin to make heads or tails of it. His tail thumps.

“I only recently learned of one of these objects and made an attempt at it. My attempt would have failed, if I was not unexpectedly assisted by Harry, here,” Regulus says. “Though you may doubt his origins and think what you will of the idea, he has knowledge of all five objects, including their histories and locations, and how to destroy them.”

The kid looks uncomfortable and so does Regulus, but neither of them back down.

“With his invaluable information, we can kill the Dark Lord,” Reggie says, with daring surety.

As though Voldemort hasn’t killed people for less than saying that.

Another round of silence falls between them, as Regulus and the kid wait for Prongs and Lily’s response. Waiting as though there is a response to a story and statement like that.

“Well…” Prongs says. “That’s… horrifying. You can… prove this, somehow?”

Sirius doubts it, and Regulus looks like he wants to speak but then looks at his companion instead. Harry Potter, if that’s even his real name, looks back at Sirius’ little brother and his expectant expression, but just looks lost. In response, Reggie’s hand sneakily curls around the kid’s slightly, as though Regulus offering support or participating in any sort of human touch isn’t incredibly bizarre.

“…There’s a horcrux hidden at Hogwarts,” the kid says.

Now they’re really just making shit up. Regulus might look frustrated and surprised, but that’s probably only because this actor he hired is ruining all his best-laid plans or something. Well, Sirius knew they were lying from the beginning, but this is just getting ridiculous now.

“At Hogwarts?” Lily repeats.

“Ravenclaw’s diadem,” the kid says.

Prongs gestures vaguely over his untidy hair and says disbelievingly, “Ravenclaw’s lost diadem?”

“Yes,” Regulus answers snippily.

Prongs rightfully squints at Sirius’ little brother and Lily frowns. Sirius can only just barely see Regulus’ intense returning scowl and just that sliver is enough to make him want to bite it off.

“It’s in the Room of Hidden Things,” the kid interrupts.

The what?

“…I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with that room,” Lily says.

“It’s a form of the Room of Requirement,” the kid tries to explain. “The Come and Go Room? In the seventh floor left corridor?” All he gets are confused faces, but he keeps going, “Opposite that tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy trying to teach trolls ballet?” Then he looks at Regulus, only to find that Reggie’s expression is no different. “You walk past it three times while thinking of the room you need and a door appears? And it fills whatever your requirements are?”

Reggie shakes his head gently and the kid’s shoulders slump a little.

“Well… that’s where it is,” the kid says. “Volde- Tom hid all his Horcruxes places that were significant to him or with his followers.”

Sirius is very lost. On one hand, this Room of Requirement nonsense? On the other hand, Tom? He’s heard plenty of alternate names for Voldemort in his time and been responsible for some of the best of them – the funniest and punniest, if he does say so himself, and he does. But what the fuck is Tom?

“And if we go to this Room of Hidden Things,” Lily says slowly, “we’ll find this lost diadem of Ravenclaw… and how will we know it’s a… horcrux?”

The kid looks back at her, opens his mouth, and shuts it.

“Dark magic is detectable,” Regulus intervenes, actually holding this kid’s hand now and absolutely trying to pretend he’s doing no such thing. This entire situation is a fever dream. “And… horcruxes are… difficult to destroy. Right, Harry?”

The kid gets over his pause. “Yes,” he says slowly. “Basilisk venom… will do it… and Fiendfyre… and…” The kid trails off, then says more surely, “Basilisk venom and Fiendfyre are the known methods. The container has to be… damaged beyond repair.”

Probably still better than having a piece of Voldemort’s soul in you.

“It’ll probably be cursed somehow,” the kid continues. “His horcruxes are usually cursed to the touch… or if you wear them… or just… stay around them for prolonged periods of time. It’s… not good.”

That sounds like the voice of experience. It shouldn’t sound like the voice of experience.

“Cursed how?” Reggie demands suddenly.

“Uh, possession,” the kid says, giving Regulus a mystified look, “is one of them… over a prolonged period of time – at least for the diary. Mood and personality changes for the worse, also over a while, if worn, for the locket. One of them, the ring, has some sort of degradation curse if worn.”

Reggie relaxes and Sirius knows he’s up to something. This isn’t a surprise, because Regulus is always up to something, usually up to more than one something. No, now Sirius knows that Reggie is definitely up to something with these horcruxes. He’s in deeper than he’s saying.

Prongs steps forward slightly. “So…” he begins, “say we believe you… about these horcruxes. Say this proof checks out… where do you think we should go from here?”

Sirius’ little brother wastes no time in listing his dues, because Blacks are basically born to demanding things. The only difference now is that Reggie’s demands are surprisingly reasonable. Tsk tsk, their mother would be ashamed of him, and not just for the Death Eater defection thing.

“We need shelter, support, and our identities kept secret. Harry’s identity and circumstances obviously cannot be known and… my disappearance will have my family and the Dark Lord under the impression that I am dead. Which is… for the best, I believe.”

Fever dream, Sirius lists for his accusations later. Polyjuice. Imperius Curse. Trap.

“…Dead,” Prongs repeats flatly.

“In the performance of my service or by accident,” Regulus says with a glare. “It will not be a surprise.”

Sirius wouldn’t have been surprised, that’s for sure.

“There are conditions, however,” Regulus continues. “As I’m sure you have as well.”

Ah, here come the demands.

Prongs nods, guarded.

“Firstly, we would prefer that Albus Dumbledore is not informed of any of this,” Regulus says. “If he must be, then he will not be involved. We will not work with him and we will not work for him. Whatever your opinions of him are, I do not trust the man. I do not trust him to have my best interests or Harry’s best interests in mind.”

Surprisingly, Sirius isn’t surprised. Admittedly, he kind of wants to go tell Dumbledore all about this and toss Reggie at the Headmaster’s mercy out of sheer spite, but he sort of knew this was coming. It’s not a surprise that Regulus, even if he has gone mad, still doesn’t like Dumbledore. Regulus made no secret of sharing their parents’ poor opinions of the man at the dinner table.

The kid looks surprised though, which is weird.

“You can be our go-between with Albus Dumbledore if you decide to involve the man,” Reggie dictates to Prongs. “You will keep him out of our business. And if you are absolutely incapable of telling the old man to busy himself with the war he has failed to prevent, then I will see him, but he will not go near Harry.”

Weirder and weirder still. This is very vehement for Reggie, and equally parts ridiculous and reasonable. Prongs and Lily are staring at him, bewildered, and Sirius does the same from his hiding place.

“This is not negotiable,” Reggie says angrily. “I’ll work with you, but I will not work with him.”

Lily is the first of them to recover, either making sense of the nonsense or deciding not to bother trying to figure this out in the moment.

“Your other conditions?” she says.

“You have a traitor in your Order,” Regulus says. “Deal with him how you will, but deal with him. He must not be informed of my presence or Harry’s existence, much less anything more.”

“Who?”

Reggie shifts so that he’s clearly not looking at her, but rather at Prongs.

“Peter Pettigrew,” he says.

Prongs’ expressions turns as cold as Sirius feels. What the fuck. This absolute brat-

“What proof do you have of that?” James demands.

Leave it to Regulus to be flinging accusations like this about. More nonsense. Sirius nearly growls and gives away his hiding place, nearly leaps off and grabs his brother by the front to demand how he can throw an accusation like that when he’s an actual Death Eater and claiming to have defected.

“I don’t,” Reggie snaps, and looks to his companion.

The kid looks back at the Potters without a hint of his earlier anxiety. “He betrayed you to Vold- to You-Know-Who. The both of you. You hid under the Fidelius and made him Secret Keeper and that rat gave you up. October thirty-first, 1981.”

That date is just under two years from now. Two years.

“…Rat?” Prongs says.

The kid takes a steady, deep breath. “Your best friends are Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew,” he says, his voice only wavering slightly on the last name. “The Whomping Willow was planted the year you came to Hogwarts because Remus is a werewolf-”

Sirius’ growl goes out of his lungs.

“Touching a knot on the tree freezes it and at its base is a tunnel that leads to the Shrieking Shack,” the kid says, “where Remus spent the full moon.”

Prongs and Lily stare at this kid, but the growl slowly creeps back into Sirius’ lungs. A new possible answer has revealed itself: 

Snape. They could have gotten this from Snape.  He became a Death Eater too.

The only thing that keeps Sirius in his hiding place now is that there’s no greasy stink in the graveyard and the kid keeps spilling secrets like it’s nothing. Regulus looks shocked, like he genuinely didn’t know every ruinous thing that his companion is pouring. Regulus never seemed to have a thing to do with Snape, actually, now that Sirius is thinking about it; and Sirius would have thought that Snivellus would have tried to kill Prongs by now. 

“Remus tried to keep it secret, but you found out, and decided to become Animagi to help him through his transformations. You succeeded in your fifth year.” The kid looks at James, certain and raw and maybe sorry, but not sorry enough to stop. “You’re a stag. Sirius is a large, black dog; he looks like a Grim.”

Sirius doesn’t know whether to bare his teeth or bark.

“…Pettigrew is a rat,” the kid says.

Or bite.

Then the kid takes another deep breath, opens his mouth and says, “Messyrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs are proud to present the Marauder’s Map.” Then, after a few seconds, he adds quietly, “The Map is locked in a drawer in Filch’s office at the moment, I think.”

This is too much.

Prongs is staring at the kid who claims to be his and Lily’s son, wide-eyed and overwhelmed. It’s Lily beside them keeping all their calm right now, but even her wand’s twitching at her side. Sirius hackles are already up, but they shake at watching Regulus’ wand twitch in answer.

He can’t do this anymore.

“As I said, ” Reggie says, as though he wasn’t as shocked as everyone else at his companion’s words. “Deal with him how you will. Whether he is a traitor or not, I would prefer to keep our involvement to a select few – the two of you and Sirius – he is not to be involved.”

Padfoot slinks out of the bushes, shivering anger.

“You… want to involve Sirius,” James says slowly, trying to clarify some of Regulus’ nonsense.

“Yes,” Regulus says shortly.

Definitely a trap, then, because Sirius was under the impression that Regulus wanted nothing to do with him ever again. 

Prongs doesn’t say anything else, but Lily steps forward, as Padfoot moves behind the pair.

“You’ll understand, of course, that we’ll have to verify everything you’ve told us,” Lily says in the polite voice that usually means whoever she’s speaking to is fucked. Or that she hates them, which is basically the same thing, or doesn’t give a shit what they have to say. “And we’ll have to be talking a lot of this over, but… I think we can cooperate with each other until…”

Lily makes an expression like she’s searching for a word and, looking past the pair towards the Grim in the grass, signals Sirius to come out and join them while gesturing with her hands.

“…All parties have figured what the h… exactly… is going on.”

The world is a haze of confusion, anger, and resentment at the moment. What the hell is going on? It might regain its colour, the details might become sharper, but it sure as fuck doesn’t come any clearer and Sirius lets himself come fully to the forefront. There wasn’t much Padfoot left listening in on this anyway.

“Um, I don’t think that last bit’s ever going to happen,” the kid says awkwardly, while Sirius is shifting up. “I mean… I don’t… Everyone and exactly’s sort of pushing it, don’t you think?”

Regulus actually makes a sound like a laugh, and so does James.

“Okay, until everyone on average mostly knows what’s going on,” Lily corrects, making several so-so hand motions and again signals Sirius to join them. “That we can agree on, right?”

Sirius doesn’t particularly feel like moving just yet. He makes himself busy stretching out his limbs and checking his wand and clothes for dog fur. It happens sometimes.

“That seems reasonable,” Reggie says, like he knows what that word even means.

“So you wouldn’t mind, Mister Black, if we took a moment to discuss a few things, would you?”

“Not at all,” Reggie says, almost politely.

“Thank you,” Lily says, in her polite-but-not-polite voice. “And by the way, I’m sorry about lying to you. It’s just that this has been a very strange situation and it doesn’t hurt to be careful these days.”

Regulus stiffens. It goes all the way up his spine.

Sirius suddenly remembers that he forgot Regulus and Lily were both in the Slug Club. Prongsie had asked him if he had any lingering upsets over seeing his brother again, to which Sirius had replied of fucking course, but maybe they should have asked Lily about that too. Of course, Sirius is absolutely the best at holding grudges, but Lily is pretty damn good too.

“You understand don’t you?” Lily says. “It’s alright, isn’t it, since you’re alright with him being involved? Thanks a bunch.”

“I beg your pardon,” Regulus says unhappily.

The kid beside him tenses, then turns to look at Sirius, waiting behind them, even though Sirius hasn’t said a word yet. Sirius has to give the kid respect for instincts, if nothing else, though, truth be told, he’s not really here for whatever the hell sort of trouble and lies this kid is.

Though, Sirius also has to note, as the kid breathes in sharply and stares wide-eyed, that the similarity really is creepy as fuck. He can see James past this “Harry Potter” and the family resemblance is incredible, especially because he can see Lily behind the kid as well and she’s in there too. It’s mostly James, but there’s enough touches of Lily that he genuinely looks like he could be their son.

The kid’s got the same eyes exactly.

But Sirius didn’t really come for the kid, as much as he wants this not to fuck his friends over. If they’re going to be speaking of creepy as fuck, might as well go to the expert…

“Hello, Reggie, ” he says, the cheerful bite falling out too easily after so long. 

 

Chapter Text

Regulus spins and Sirius smirks at him. At the stiffness of his shoulders and the coldness on his face. As though to tell Regulus now that Sirius is going to make him lose his cool and his lies. Just like old times.

“Sirius,” his little brother says, with all the love between them in his voice, which is none.

It’d hurt if Sirius cared what Regulus thought of him anymore.

“Don’t look so happy to see me,” Sirius says, chiding, mocking, and hard.

“I’m sorry if I thought I could take Lily Evans at her word,” Regulus says icily, and ooh, there’s nooo bitterness there, is there? “I thought eavesdropping was supposed to be for ‘creepy little snakes’, but hypocrisy always was one of your specialities. How much did you hear?”

Sirius lets himself look at the kid, then back to Regulus. “All of it.”

Regulus looks like he’s going to scream. It’s amazing.

It takes another several seconds before Reggie breaks. “Well?” he demands.

“Well, what?”

“Do you have an opinion on any of this?”

Oh, Sirius has a great many opinions on this confusing, enraging, ridiculous mess of a situation. The problem is that he doesn’t know which one of them he actually believes. He believes all of them at once and none of them. He has too many opinions to be put into words.

He thinks Regulus is a fool who’s probably lying but is going to get himself killed no matter what the truth is. He thinks that Reggie’s finally come to his senses, only to immediately charge off into absolute nonsense. He thinks that his clever little brother has stumbled onto something very dangerous but too big for him, and telling Regulus that will just make him try to shove more of it into his mouth. He thinks his unbearable, hateful little brother might actually have changed sides but he can’t tell if Reggie’s doing it for the right reasons or for his own reasons or if he’s just a coward.

He thinks this kid called Harry Potter is trouble walking, an absolute unknown, and can’t possibly be telling the truth. This kid’s too blunt, too transparent, too wide-eyed and green-eyed and he looks so much like James that it’s scary and different enough to be even scarier. The kid knows too much and spills it too fast and stares at them all too intensely for comfort.

He thinks horcruxes are the craziest shit he’s heard in ages, but they sound just the right sort of crazy to maybe be true. Just like this lost diadem in this secret room. He thinks it’s all a trap, but it’s the strangest trap he’s ever seen. It’s a trap that makes no sense, but might just be the right sort of nonsense to work.

He thinks someone’s made a mistake here, a really big mistake. There’s no way that Peter is a traitor or a Death Eater or even once held a door for Voldemort by accident. Peter squeaks at every mention of facing Voldemort or Death Eaters, and laughs at even the worst of everyone’s jokes, and worries about his mother and his friends all the time, and asks people how their day is going as though he actually cares. If any of this bullshit is actually right, that’s the one place where they got something wrong, because Peter would die before he betrayed any of his friends. Someone, somewhere, got something wrong or is trying to divide them.

Really, if this is a trap, it should have sprung by now and Sirius doesn’t know what the fuck to make of the bait. Which might mean that this isn’t a trap, even though it really should be.

“Oh,” Sirius says, on the subject of opinions, instead of saying any of that, because how the hell is he supposed to begin saying any of that, “you mean that worthless thing I should never share lest I embarrass the family again?”

Regulus makes his frustrated squawking sound. Sirius used to live for that sound. It made summers at least somewhat bearable.

“Stop being difficult,” Regulus snaps.

“Pardon me, I was just attempting to clarify,” Sirius says. “I’m still reeling from that whole never speak to me again thing.” There was more than one occasion of this, actually. “It’s confusing, Reggie; you’re really calling me difficult?”

“Yes!” Reggie says insistently. “And stop calling me that.”

Never. Really, just, never.

“Why not? It’s cute. You didn’t mind at all before.”

Admittedly, when Reggie had been, like, eleven, and didn’t have skewed ideas of dignity and respect, and also a stick up his ass.

“You didn’t say it like that before!” Reggie says.

Which… isn’t what Sirius was expecting at all. The complaint isn’t for the nickname itself here?

“And how am I saying it?” Sirius replies, eyes narrowed.

Someone clears their throat, loudly, before Reggie can answer. It’s Lily, of course, looking less than impressed with the both of them. Reggie looks anxiously at his companion and the kid raises his eyebrows in return, looking… very like Lily, actually.

“We were about to talk a few things over, but we can wait for you if you’re not finished?” Lily says, warningly polite. “Are you finished?”

“Seems like a really meaningful and important conversation, though,” Prongs says suddenly, giving Sirius a bright, disapproving smile. It’s a talent of his to manage contradictions like that.  

Sirius doesn’t think James is unhappy because he was arguing with Reggie, though James has never liked it when the Black brothers crossed paths and has never explained why he doesn’t like it. It’s probably more for interrupting this whole time-travelling kid thing that James probably cares about way more than Sirius’ fool of a brother.

“Philosophy for the ages,” James continues. “Would be a real shame to interrupt, especially since we’ve got absolutely nothing better to do but listen to our betters debate the great questions of our time.”

Well, even though Sirius can’t say why exactly, he knows for sure that Prongs is pissed.

“Oh, you’re absolutely right,” Lily says, with the same brightness. “Pardon me. I’ll just start taking notes, shall I?”

Lily too. That’s going to be fun later.

“Sirius, come on,” Prongs says.

Oh, never mind, apparently it’s going to be fun now.

Sirius sighs and steps forward, because he agreed to let them take the lead on this one. He’s not going to bother deferring to Reggie’s personal space bubble and just walks forward, regardless of how Reggie and his new friend tense at his approach.

He can’t keep up a smile anymore. He stops, just a few feet from his brother.

“You’re defecting from the Death Eaters.”

You’re disowning yourself from our family with this one, Sirius thinks. He can’t tell if Reggie’s being genuine here. Not for sure. If Reggie is being serious (ha) about this, has he actually bothered to consider what he’s doing here? If Voldemort doesn’t kill him, their family probably will, never any care for rhyme or reason.

Reggie does remember what nearly happened to Cousin Andy, right?

What nearly happened to Sirius, saved only by the hope that he’ll “come to his senses”?

He remembers what happens to the ones who run, right?

“Yes,” Reggie answers stiffly.

Sirius can’t tell, but oh, how he doubts it.

“And you’re trying to destroy horcruxes,” Sirius continues, unable to fit everything he wants to say into actual words. He barely believes that these Dark things exist, much less that Reggie would try and actually kill the madman he used to all but worship.

“Yes.”

Sirius believes Reggie’s stupid enough to run, but to try and kill Voldemort? Would a loyal Death Eater even have the sheer bloody balls to make up a lie like that?

That’s not even getting started on the whole time travel shit.

“Which is how you met James and Lily’s son, here.”

Reggie raises his chin and says, “Yes.”

He even looks like he means it.

Sirius raises his eyebrows at his little brother, because he cannot even fucking believe what’s happening. This would be the funniest shit he’s ever heard if it weren’t the worst damn joke.

“You always were so damned gullible,” he says.

Reggie, of course, straightens indignantly. All fluffed up feathers and ready to hiss. He looks so offended, so genuinely offended, and it’s probably the best thing he has going for him here. Prongs then makes a disapproving noise, so Sirius looks to Reggie’s companion.

“Harry, it is?”

He really does look like a Potter, Sirius will give him that. He looks gaunt, though. Worn.

Harry, his name is, like James’ grandfather. Possibly after Prongs’ gramps.

“Yeah,” the kid says. “Hello.”

The kid meets Sirius’ stare evenly enough.

Sirius forces himself to smile, when there’s not much about this kid that makes a person want to smile. “Well, I don’t know if I believe you yet, but… you look the part.” Too damn much.

“Like dad, with mum’s eyes,” the kid says hoarsely, something almost like a smile at the edge of his lips. “I know.” He says it like he’s heard it a thousand times before, as many times as Sirius has been made out to be a Black before he can introduce himself.

Sirius stares, because that’s exactly it. Prongs with Lily’s eyes. Not exactly it, of course, there are differences, Sirius knows his best mate and this kid isn’t his best mate, but… if he had to describe Harry Potter in a sentence. In a limit of four words, that’s exactly it. He nods, because yeah.

Then he looks at his little brother. “Honestly, Reggie, the messes that you get yourself into.”

Reggie’s really outdone himself this time. Sirius saunters past his sibling with a snort, because this entire thing is absurd and infuriating, and takes small joy in the strangled sound that Reggie makes as he passes. Neither Prongs nor Lily seem to share his small happiness.

 

~

 

So, they go off to discuss the impossible. Sirius, Prongs, and Lily on one side of the graveyard, by the church. Reggie takes his companion by the arm and goes to the other side of the graveyard, by some trees. Lily takes care of the charms. Reggie does the same across the way.

“So!” Prongs says brightly. “We were incredibly wrong. I was incredibly wrong.”

“Your theory was unlikely,” Lily agrees, “but it was still…”

“Reasonable?”

Lily shrugs as she wraps up her spells. “It didn’t involve time travel, so that’s probably the word for it.”

“Probably So… let’s just… get into it. Sirius, what do you think?”

“It’s shit.”

Lily huffs with laughter and Prongs nods, unsurprised.

“Alright,” Prongs says. “But why is it shit?”

“Reggie’s always full of shit.” Sirius shrugs, because this is a fact of life, then sighs when James just looks expectantly at him. “Sorry, what did you expect me to say when my Death Eater brother shows up with a kid from the future? Your kid from the future? I couldn’t come up with this on tampered Firewhiskey!”

“Maybe we should see this piece by piece,” Lily suggests. “As a whole it is rather…”

“Unbelievable?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright,” Prongs says. “So… first question: disregarding the… future stuff… do we believe that Regulus is sincere here? Pads, you’ve said on multiple occasions that your brother is the most gullible idiot to walk the face of the earth, and also that he’s the most conniving, evil not-bastard to ever exist. Which is it?”

Sirius stares back at his friend. “You say that like they’re mutually exclusive.”

James laughs. “Point, but what’s your take?”

Across the graveyard, it looks like Regulus is about to pace and then he puts his face in his hands. Sirius feels like he could do the same, he can’t believe what he’s about to say.

“I think the idiot means it,” Sirius says. “If this is a trap, it’s mad.”

“This has gotten impractically out of hand for a trap,” Lily muses agreeably. “I can’t imagine an explanation for them than the one they’ve given. It might not make sense, but it somehow makes more sense than anything else I can come up with.”

“It’s like he finally came to his senses only to immediately go mad,” Sirius agrees.

Prongs looks between them both, then over his shoulder towards Regulus and his companion. “You really think you brother of all people has defected from the Death Eaters?”

“It sounds like he finally realized that You-Know-Who isn’t what he thought he was, whatever that was. I believe he believes what he’s saying,” Sirius settles on finally. “I just think he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. He never did.”

“Could this be some sort of ‘divide and conquer’ strategy? To make us question each other?” Lily says.

“Yeah, what they said about Pete… that’s got to be wrong,” Prongs says.

“Everything else they said was true enough, wasn’t it?”

“Uncannily.”

Sirius would concur with Prongs’ assessment. It wasn’t comfortable to hear some of your most dangerous secrets spilled in broad daylight by strangers and estranged siblings.

“Maybe someone framed Peter,” Lily suggests.

“He does lend himself to being easily framed,” Prongs agrees. “Maybe someone’s trying to frame him now. Not necessarily Regulus. Pete makes an easy target.”

“Then we come to Harry Potter,” Lily says. “What’s everybody’s take on him? I still don’t know if I believe all this time travel stuff, but he seems… sincere.”

“Gloomy kid,” Sirius says. “Probably mad.”

“I… think I believe him,” Prongs says.

“What?”

“Jim, really?”

“He looks the part! He knows all that stuff! Maybe some of it’s wrong, like that stuff about Peter, and it’s weird that neither of them want to talk to Dumbledore-”

“Not that weird. Reggie hates him.”

“Maybe that bit’s your brother then, but… he looks at us like we’re ghosts, Pads.”

“He looks like he’s going to be sick.”

“You didn’t see his face when he saw me for the first time,” James insists, pointing a determined finger. “I don’t believe a Death Eater could look like that. Then all that stuff about horcruxes!”

“I’ve never heard of them before,” Lily says, frowning.

“Neither have I,” Sirius says.

“I haven’t either, but I don’t think he’s lying. He told us where one was: at Hogwarts! There’s got to be a way for us to check,” Prongs insists again. “Someone’s got to know more about them. And if we find Ravenclaw’s lost diadem in this Room of Hidden Things, and it turns out to be a horcrux, we’ll know that some of what they’re saying might actually be the truth… and some misinformation behind good intentions.”

“Reggie’s never had good intentions in his life. We’re Blacks; he’d die of the poisoning,” Sirius says, keeping an eye on the pair across the graveyard. They haven’t moved.

Prongs sighs, but Lily looks thoughtful.

“You know who probably could tell us more about horcruxes? Marlene.”

“McKinnon?” Sirius says.

“It’s not like we know more than one,” Lily replies.

Prongs looks very relieved. “Thank Merlin.”

Lily gives him a look, but then focuses again on her point. “Cursed objects? Dark objects? With pieces of soul in them? If they exist, there’s no way the McKinnons haven’t heard of them. Marlene will be able to tell us if they’re real.” She shrugs, too casually. “Both the horcruxes and those two.”

“She does have a way of getting at people,” Prongs agrees reluctantly.

Sirius rather wishes that Lily wasn’t so terribly reasonable. Horcruxes sound right up a McKinnon’s alley, and the McKinnon they know is also a skilled seer. All the McKinnons are skilled seers, according to the pureblood gossip.

“If they’re lying, Marlene will catch them at it,” Lily says, resolved.

“Even seers can be blinded by a pretty face and pretty words,” Prongs says.

Lily blinks at him. “What?”

“Prongs, I know that’s one of your mum’s proverbs,” Sirius says, “but I can’t forgive you for saying it. Why the hell would you say that?”

Lily now looks like she’s going to burst out laughing. “You think Marlene is going to be taken in by one of those two? Marlene?”  She swallows the laughter at the look on Prongs’ face. “I know what you mean: seers can’t see everything. But she’ll be able to work out this horcrux thing, and the time travel thing, since we’ve apparently forgotten about that.”

Prongs grimaces. “Oh, yeah.”

Sirius grimaces too, because he did forget about that. Time travel can break the world.

“How do we check on something like that?” Prongs demands. “We can’t exactly walk up to the Ministry, or any other Ministry, and tell them about this. Ask them to check if time and space are alright, like some kind of weather service!”

“Marlene should be able to check that,” Lily insists. “She’s not an expert-”

“No one was claiming that.”

Lily glares at Sirius so fiercely he almost feels bad. “ But she should be able to point us in the right direction of checking if she can’t do it herself. There has to be someone out there who knows about this stuff and none of us can name anyone or check ourselves if someone’s tempting horrible time magic catastrophe.”

“So McKinnon’s our best bet,” Prongs resolves. He looks like he wants to curse. “What happens after we take them to see McKinnon? Check that time travel actually happened, ask her if horcruxes are really a thing, then what?”

“Go from there?” Lily suggests. “Are we actually going to manage to decide anything else with what we have now? Even if they’re lying or misguided or mad, we can’t just let them wander around on their own!”

“Yeah, definitely not,” Prongs agrees.

Lily looks at him, eyebrows raised like she doubts his reasons for agreeing. She continues calmly: “What if they go to someone else? What if they get themselves or someone else killed? What if the time travel is real and unstable and we just let them go off to break the world?”

“That’s… a good point,” Sirius says reluctantly.

“You’ve been holding on to those thoughts for a while, haven’t you?” Prongs asks his wife.

“I’ve been having a lot of thoughts,” Lily says. “I’d like to get off the ride, actually.”

Prongs sighs and rubs at the back of his neck. “So… in conclusion, Regulus is probably sincere but doesn’t know what he’s doing, I believe this Harry but both of you think he’s a gloomy enigma, and we need Marlene McKinnon to tell us if horcruxes are real and if irresponsible time travel is going to kill us all. And it doesn’t really matter if this is all fake, because no matter what the truth is, we can’t exactly let them go out into the world and terrorize anyone else. Alright? Did I get it?”

“I think you got it, Prongs,” Sirius says. “But it still sounds shit all at once.”

“If this is a trap, it’s the most confusing one I’ve ever seen,” Lily adds.

“I’ll second that,” Prongs sighs. “Pads… Sirius… do you think you can manage… getting these two to Marlene and…” He trails off.

“Not starting a duel with my brother?” Sirius supplies.

“Yeah, that.”

Sirius doesn’t actually know if he can. Reggie is so annoying and so easily provoked.

“I’ll manage,” he says, because he’ll start a duel with Reggie before he leaves Prongs and Lily to his brother. He’s the only one of them who knows all of Reggie’s tricks, and he’ll have better luck with needling his foolish little brother into telling the truth anyway.

Prongs doesn’t look especially convinced. Sirius decides to meet him.

“You’re going to manage keeping yourself distant from the kid claiming to be your kid?”

Prongs has no family left and was all too ready to believe this Harry Potter could be his cousin’s kid. Sirius was there through James grieving over his parents. He grieved them too. Sirius doesn’t want to see all of James’ old hurts ripped open and left to bleed by someone playing a terrible game with all of them. Frankly, Prongs probably needs to stay the fuck away from all of this, just as much as Sirius needs his family to stay the fuck away from him.

Sirius doesn’t know about Lily. He has trouble telling with Lily.

And these two are the ones they decided would take the lead on this one.

Maybe they should bring McKinnon into this, even if she can’t answer their questions, if only to knock some sense into all of them. Another perspective to a disaster where every single one of them is so bloody compromised, it’s a miracle no one’s dead yet.

“I’ll keep my distance,” Prongs promises. He sounds sincere.

Both Lily and Sirius look at him, unimpressed.

“I’ll try,” Prongs amends.

“That’ll... have to do,” Lily says. “Now, how are we getting them over to Marlene’s? Do you think they’ll be willing to go?”

“I’m not much willing to go,” Sirius says jokingly, and quells immediately at a hard look from Lily. “Reggie might argue a bit, but despite being the most stubborn git alive, he’s also a bloody pushover. Make it sound like it’s either Marlene McKinnon or Dumbledore, and he’ll probably go.”

“The only way to know for sure will be to ask,” Prongs says.

Lily purses her lips. “We are making this up as we go along entirely, aren’t we?”

“Absolutely nothing new,” Sirius agrees, bouncing on his feet.

“I’ll need to warn Marlene that we’re coming.”

“Shouldn’t she already know?”

“I don’t think it works like that, Jim,” Lily says, “and you know it.”

They wait for Lily to send her message. She uses a pen and a notebook with a Protean Charm, and Sirius supposes that’d work if you could write fast enough and be sure that your partner checked their own regularly enough. It’d never work for him and Prongs and their mates.

“You sure she’ll see that?” Prongs says.

Lily purses her lips again, then purposefully relaxes them. “Mostly sure.”

“Well, that’s something.”

"Marl's good at improvising," Lily says.

“We’re supposed to be good at improvising,” Sirius points out, gesturing at him and Prongs.

“Who told you that lie?” Lily asks.

“Lily, love,” Prongs says, with fond desperation. “You don’t have all that much room to talk. Are we good, then?” He nods in the direction of Sirius’ absurd brother and his gloomy new friend, and Sirius follows the gesture. “Are we good to go back to them now?”

“Yes, Jim, dear, we’re good.”

Reggie and his weird partner seem to be talking. Reggie looks agitated.

By which Sirius means: more agitated than usual.

“Great. What did we agree on again?”

“We should probably get back over there before Reggie can talk himself into something else that’s nuts,” Sirius says, watching the unlikely pair carefully. “He looks like he’s twisting himself into knots again. Not that that doesn’t bring joy to my poor, shriveled Black heart.”

“Does he look like he’s gonna do a runner?” Prongs asks, squinting towards them.

“A bit,” Lily says. “But I’ve been under the observational impression that Sirius’ brother usually looks like that. In any case, yes, we should probably go and fetch them now. I think we’re done for now. Any longer and we’ll start twisting ourselves into knots trying to figure out what in the world is going on in their heads.”

“A bloke could go mad that way,” Sirius agrees, while trying to do exactly that.

“So, we’re going back. Alright,” Prongs says. “Who’s doing the talking?”

“I thought I’d been disqualified,” Sirius says.

“Right, I guess I’ll do it then. Lily, love, you wanna?”

“Not really. You can do it. I’ll take over if you start messing up.”

“Thanks, love.”

This is a fucking wreck, Sirius thinks, unsurprised.

And just then, across the graveyard, he watches Harry Potter burst out laughing. Hard, bright laughter entirely unlike the gloomy kid that Sirius has seen so far. Harry even claps a hand over his mouth to try and stop, as Reggie crosses his arms and glares at him.

He looks just like James. He sounds just like James.

“Right then,” Prongs says. “Let’s get this over with. I’m not keen to twist myself into anymore knots over this and they sound like they’re having more fun over there.”

So, they go back over. Regulus looks a bit upset at this, but Sirius hardly cares, and Regulus was probably going to be upset no matter how long they took. Regulus glares at him, like this entirely mess is somehow Sirius’ fault, and Sirius glares him down. This is Reggie’s wreck from top to bottom, and the little git should know it.

Reggie mutters something to Harry, just before they reach them. Then he looks back to them and, oh, good Merlin, actually turns his nose up slightly.

“...So?” Reggie demands.

“We’ve decided that the likelihood of this being a very strange trap is low,” Prongs says. “This is all very confusing, mind you, but probably important to get to the bottom of… what with the time travel and Horcruxes and whatnot.”

“‘Whatnot’,” Regulus repeats unhappily.

Lily makes a sound of amusement and Sirius just barely manages not to say cheers to that.

“So, we’ve decided, if you don’t mind, to first -” Prongs raises a finger. For some reason, it’s not in a rude gesture. “- make sure that there isn’t any horribly strict and nasty time magic hanging around this magic.” He pops a second finger up and it’s still not a rude gesture. “And if there isn’t, to move on from there. With the important whatnot… and whatnot.”

“And if there is ‘horribly strict and nasty time magic hanging around’?” Regulus demands, with an expression Sirius might expect of someone who finds consequences distasteful.

James pauses and looks at Sirius, as Sirius looks at him.

What are they going to do if there’s some sort of time-related disaster here? They never really figured that out, for all they talked about it. Sirius can’t remember what they said.

They both look down to Lily.

“Try to prevent horrible time magic catastrophe?” Lily suggests.

Prongs brightens, then looks back at Reggie. “Yeah, that.”

Reggie doesn’t look happy, but when has he ever? “Hmm. And how, exactly, do you intend to make sure of such a thing?”

“By getting a seer worth their salt to check,” Sirius answers. He could swear sometimes that Regulus acted purposefully obtuse; Sirius would have thought this was obvious.

Regulus glares at him for talking, of course. Sirius glares back again.

“It’s not Sybill Trelawney, is it?” Harry says.

Sirius looks at him, someone taken aback by the kid speaking again and the name. He’s not heard that name before, but something about it has Harry Potter looking even more anxious.

“Who?” Prongs says.

“No,” Lily says, at the same time. “It’s not.”

“Oh,” Harry says. “Good.”

“Any relation to Cassandra Trelawney?” Prongs asks.

Sirius looks at James now, who’s probably the best at Divination besides Peter, although that didn’t mean much when none of them were actually good. That name sounds almost familiar, but Sirius doesn’t give enough of a shit about Divination to place it.

“Yeah,” the kid says, looking a bit surprised himself.

“Any good?” Prongs says.

The kid comes back from wherever his mind wandered off to, and looks James very certainly in the eyes. It’s the most certainty that Sirius’ has seen in him besides that bullshit accusation towards Peter and some bits and pieces of the horcrux explanation.

“No,” Harry says, very firmly.

Prongs raises his eyebrows. “Alright...”

“It’s McKinnon, isn’t it?” Regulus interrupts.

The kid furrows his brows, looking confused, but Sirius is more focused on Reggie. For such a gullible twit, he’s such an unbearable, know-it-all git. Too clever and too idiotic all at once.

“Why would you think that?” Lily asks.

Regulus raises his eyebrows back at Lily. “Because the McKinnons are well known for their Divination abilities? Because everyone knows that Professor Palmsee is retiring and she wants one of the McKinnon sisters to replace her? Because she’s your best friend? Pick a reason.”

Sirius vaguely remembers Marlene mentioning having met Regulus at a Slug Club party that she attended with Lily. Either that or just seeing him in passing. Not nearly enough for someone who didn’t know Lily and wasn’t a creep to notice, in Sirius’ opinion.

“Merlin, you’re still an unbearable little creep,” Sirius says.

Regulus stiffens in somewhat almost like surprise, before his eyes narrow again. For a few seconds, there’s a silence in which Sirius thinks he may have finally cracked his brother.

Then Prongs suddenly cracks Sirius upside the head. Well, gentle swat.

“Stop it,” Prongs says.

It is all Sirius can do not to punch him. What the fuck, Prongs.

The only reason he doesn’t is because Lily is between them, and Sirius isn’t going to give Reg the satisfaction. Well, Sirius doesn’t think he could actually ever punch James, honestly, but right now he really feels like he could. He’s not a child.

Sirius shoots his best mate a scathing look. “Yes, Mum.”

Lily sighs loudly.

“Look at that,” Prongs says. “You’ve upset your father.”

While these two would have been better parents than Sirius’ actual parents, this isn’t that funny. Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius is relieved to see Reg looking incredulous, mildly horrified, instead of the smug expression Sirius might have expected.

His friend, Harry, just looks confused.

“Not to ruin the fun or anything, but Marlene is actually waiting on us,” Lily says. “So can we actually go or does Dad have to walk out for another woman?”

Prongs gasps. “You’re leaving me?”

“Yep,” Lily says, her lips popping with the sound. “She’s sexier and funnier.”

Sirius snorts, slightly against his will, because he’s not sure either of those things are true. All the time that James spent trying to look carelessly handsome for Lily, Sirius is fairly certain that Marlene spent hanging around the greenhouses or hunched over her own experiments.

“Either of you have a problem with Side-Along?” Lily asks of the boys.

“No,” Harry answers.

“...As long as it’s not him, ” Regulus answers, with another glare towards Sirius.

Fucking rude. Sirius glares back.

“Excellent,” Lily says, and holds out a hand. “Wands, please.”

“...I beg your pardon.”

Reggie looks like someone smacked him upside the head now, but Lily just looks at him politely. Sirius isn’t too sure what she’s doing here, but he approves.

“You don’t look like much of a threat, Mister Black, but I’m not about to take an armed Dark wizard into my best friend’s home. Wands, please.”

Reggie looks like he’s about to start using his wand.

Reggie,” Sirius says warningly.

“Don’t call me that,” Reggie snaps. “Miss Evans, I mean no harm to your friend, but I’m not about to walk disarmed into a gaggle of Light wizards who might have serious grievances against me, my family, or some random Dark wizard off the street.”

Sirius almost wants to sputter in disbelief. Where does Reggie think they’re going? It’s just to Marlene and her mate Dorcas’ place. Neither of whom is likely to hex anyone.

Prongs says as much. “No one’s going to hex you.”

“I doubt that,” Regulus says, and glares pointedly towards Sirius.

Well, yeah, alright. Sirius might, that’s true. But only if a certain git tries to hex him first.

The gloomy possibly Potter kid speaks up again. “Can he keep his if he sheathes it?” Harry asks. “I’ll give up mine.”

And to prove it, he holds out his wand from the wrong end.

Prongs and Lily look at each other, then at Sirius, who doesn’t know what they want him to say. To be honest, Sirius is more worried about the strange time-travelling kid than Reggie. Between the three of them, they can take Reggie.

“You’re gonna have to put up with us not giving you an inch of space, Reggie,” Sirius says, and moves forward to take Harry’s wand from his hand.

Regulus just glares at him and slips his wand up his sleeve. “So long as it’s not you, fine.”

Like Sirius is going to give him the plague or something.

“Fine,” Sirius replies. “James?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Prongs says, and Sirius is not appreciating that tone of voice.

Prongs comes forward and offers his arm to Reggie, who doesn’t take it because it’s obviously more important to glare at Sirius some more. Sirius glares back as he holds his own arm out for Harry, so Lily can go ahead and warn her friend however she can.

“See you on the other side, boys,” Lily says behind him.

With a loud crack, she presumably vanishes.

And Regulus and his friend still don’t take the offered arms.

“I won’t bite if you don’t,” Prongs offers finally, to break the silence and get on with this.

Reggie’s gentlemanly response is to look like he’s going to bite Prongs, but he does, after glancing around at everyone, take Prongs’ arm. Prongs is infinitely more patient with Sirius’ git of a brother than Sirius would be, and looks at Sirius in exasperated farewell.

And then, Prongs glances at Harry, and winks.

Then he and Reggie disappear with another loud crack.

Sirius doesn’t have anyone to look at now besides the gloomy kid beside him, who still hasn’t taken his arm. Harry Potter, if that is his real name, looks like Prongs swatted him upside the head instead of just winking. Or even like he might throw up, which while understandable because Prongs winking at people is sickening, Sirius hopes doesn’t happen.

Sirius looks back to the spot where Reggie was standing.

He doesn’t know what to think.

Sirius always sort of figured that Regulus would, one day, come to his senses and realize that their family is mad, the Dark Lord is evil, and being a Death Eater wasn’t whatever the fuck he thought it would be. But Sirius figured that in the way of someone who grew up a Black, and knew that these unchanging people would rather die than even consider having been wrong. He sort of hoped Regulus would wake up, but he also knew it wouldn’t happen. It never would. Waiting on his family to realize they’re awful people seems a good way to get dead.

And now Reggie’s enlightenment is apparently happening, sort of, in the weirdest fucking way possible.

Sirius looks at the gloomy kid, at Harry, again. Time travel is a mess. The kid definitely doesn’t know what he’s talking about with Peter. But what are they supposed to do? This is far too strange to be a trap and they can’t exactly toss the kid out to mess things up on his own. Who knows what the kid and Reggie will do if left to their own devices?

Prongs won’t let the kid go. Not until they get to the bottom of this.

Harry looks back at Sirius, and Sirius notices the kid looks like he might cry. Oh, shit. Sirius can’t look the kid in the eyes now, even though he should be watching Harry closely for any sign of a tell. Looking into Prongs’ face and Lily’s eyes for the lie this has to be.

Sirius doesn’t understand how this kid and Reggie even found each other.

“Are we going or not?” Sirius demands, raising his arm.

“...Yeah,” the kid says hoarsely.

Then he reaches out and takes Sirius’ arm, and Sirius whisks them off to get some answers. Personally, Sirius thinks they’re only going to end up with more questions. It must be a cold day in hell if they’re looking to Marlene McKinnon to sort out a mess for them. 

 

Chapter Text

Dorcas is just coming in the back door when the doorbell rings. She’s still wearing her boots, her hat, and her gloves, and her hands are full. Since she wasn’t told that they were expecting anyone, she immediately, inwardly, refuses to answer the door.

It can’t just be a salesperson or a neighbour or someone very, very lost. They’d have to be impossibly determined and obtusely immune to make it up the walkway of Marlene’s great-aunt’s house without a standing invitation or a key. Even if they were, Dorcas isn’t much inclined to open the door for salespersons or neighbours or lost people… or anyone.

Dorcas looks up the stairs, next to the back door, and waits.

Last Dorcas knew, just before stepping outside, Marlene was still running tests upstairs on every piece of junk and knick-knack she’d dragged over their doorstep. While Marlene still performs poorly in letting Dorcas know when people are coming over, Marlene would have told Dorcas if she’d gone out. Marlene should be stomping down the stairs right now to come answer the door, if she’s invited people over.

In the silent, still seconds where Dorcas looks up the stairs and waits, she comes to the conclusion that waiting for Marlene to open the door will apparently be a lifelong commitment. Dorcas scowls up the stairs and turns around to look out the back door’s second peephole.

It’s Lily Evans on their front step. Dorcas would recognize that red braid anywhere and the sweater that Marlene’s best and only other friend has had since she was fifteen. 

Dorcas scowls. Now someone has to answer the door, Lily’s a week early for the potion ingredients she and her husband are after, and since Lily’s not one to pop over for a visit without a reason lately, something must have happened for Marlene to invite them over and open up the wards. Well, something happening won’t have made the radishes ready a week earlier than the absolute earliest date that Dorcas gave them.

If Marlene invited Lily over, she’s not in any hurry to answer the door, or apparently to move. If Marlene invited Lily over, Dorcas will apparently have to remind Marlene to not only warn her when people are coming over, but to answer the door when they do.

At least it’s not Marlene’s sisters. Dorcas doesn’t even know why Marlene’s sisters bother ringing the doorbell or knocking, much less with waiting for someone to open the door, like they’re pretending that they can’t or have some concept of a boundary. If they all have the keys to get onto the property, waiting for someone to come open the door just feels like mockery. It’s not as though Marlene’s sisters really care about politeness or respect in any other situation.

Scowling at her own train of thought, Dorcas carefully leaves her bucket by the back door, finding what could loosely be called room for it on top of a tarp and some hedge-clippers. Then she strips off her gloves and tosses them onto the stairs, near the wall, on top of a pile books and a hairbrush that Marlene’s been meaning to take back upstairs for weeks. The hat and boots she leaves on, because she has some distant, foolish hope that this won’t take too long and she can get back to what she was doing.

Dorcas navigates her way down their disaster of a hallway and opens the front door.

“The radishes aren’t ready yet,” Dorcas tells Lily, straight-out, to avoid prolonged discussion and pleasantries. If there is some emergency happening, there’s no point in small talk, and Dorcas will take the excuse not to indulge in one of her least favourite things.

Dorcas would have been a lot less keen about growing potions ingredients for the Order of the Phoenix, if she’d known before what impatient wankers they all were. Understandable, sure, but Dorcas still doesn’t control how long it takes the grass to grow or when the right moon is going to come along for harvesting anything.

“I know,” Lily answers. “We’re not here for the radishes.”

It is Lily Evans on the doorstep, just like Dorcas saw through the peephole, except… Dorcas apparently missed this when looking out... Lily Evans isn’t alone.

If had just been her loud husband, Dorcas wouldn’t have been surprised. If it had just been James Potter and his loud friend, Sirius Black, Dorcas wouldn’t have been so taken aback. No, there are two more boys besides James Potter and Sirius Black, who look nearly exactly like James Potter and Sirius Black. Dorcas is accordingly taken aback.

Even with people she doesn’t not hate, Dorcas isn’t a believer in “the more the merrier”, or surprises, or strangers. Five people on her doorstep would be a little much even without the bizarre duplicates. Five people without warning, two of them strangers, is a great offense.

Dorcas doesn’t actually hate James Potter and Sirius Black, but…

“Why are there two of them?” Dorcas hisses at Lily.

Lily leans forward to meet her and, much more quietly, whispers back, “Sirius’ brother and a time traveller. We don’t know if we can trust them yet.”  

Dorcas scowls over the strangers again. She’d agree that they don’t look especially trustworthy - especially the other Black, who looks like every bastard she’s painstakingly avoided for years - but appearances can be deceiving. For example, she can’t immediately tell if this time traveller is supposed to be from the past or the future.

“We’re here to see Marl,” Lily continues. “She should be expecting us.”

“She didn’t tell me anything,” Dorcas replies.

Marlene has to have known they were coming to have let them on the property, unless she gave Lily a key and didn’t tell Dorcas. It would be a very Marlene thing to do to give Lily Evans a key to the house and then forget to tell Dorcas.

“It’s very last minute,” Lily assures her. “Can we come in?”

Dorcas stares at her, then over all the surprise guests on the doorstep, and can’t come up with a good reason not to let them in. Being annoyed at Marlene for forgetting to tell her things, unfortunately, isn’t a good reason to be an uncooperative grump. If it were, Dorcas would get her way all the time. If these people are here, they probably do need to be here.

“Yeah,” Dorcas says finally. “I’ll put the kettle on.”

Marlene gets her way again and she’s not even here to answer her own damn door.

Dorcas turns and stomps back into the house, through the disaster of their front hallway. She’s not going to clean up after Marlene or coddle Marlene’s guests, and… well… maybe Dorcas gets some secret, mild amusement out of watching witches and wizards fail to navigate the piles of magical objects in the house. Listening, in this case, but it’s still funny.

Dorcas is going to get her amusement where she can take it if Lily Evans really just brought a damn Death Eater into the house.

Limited though Dorcas’ involvement in the Order may be, distantly acquainted though Dorcas might be with Lily’s partner and his friends, everyone in the Order knows that Sirius Black’s family is rotten and that his brother is a Death Eater. The boy is under constant scrutiny for where he comes from, to which he usually responds flippantly or viciously, which insults those who find him suspicious more than it placates them.

Dorcas finds that one of the few admirable traits of Sirius Black: that he apparently doesn’t give a damn about being liked or approved of, or that he tries very hard to make it seem so. The boy reminds Dorcas of Marlene, honestly, if Marlene’s family were the rabid sort of racist bastards. She still doesn’t like him, for many reasons, but… she sympathized with him… if only because of the obvious similarities between him and Marlene, who is friendly with him.

Until he and his friends brought a Death Eater into Dorcas’ home.

Time traveller? Dorcas can put up with that, with Lily and her company so clearly needing support and improvisation, even though it’s weird. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Dorcas has never considered the problems she might have with a time traveller before, but she’s considered the problems she has with people like Sirius’ Death Eater brother too many times to count.

“You really need to do something about that hallway,” Lily says, having followed her into the kitchen, just as the two strange boys stumble in through the door.

Dorcas isn’t doing anything about a mess that isn’t hers, especially when it would be so much more work for her than it would be for Marlene. Also, the faintly harassed and disbelieving expressions of their surprise guests are very bittersweet. She snorts.

“You should see what it does to people we really don’t like,” Dorcas answers, from where she’s putting on the kettle. Tea is something to do with her hands… and the one obligation to guests that she feels compelled to uphold. Also, if it feels necessary, there are lots of interesting potions that Dorcas can slip into a person’s tea.

“It’s not usually this bad,” Dorcas feels compelled to explain, unhappily. “Marlene’s spent the past few days running new tests for enchantments and impressions on every piece of junk she’s ever dragged through the door of this house.”

Lily Evans still looks unimpressed, as she looks it over. The girl shared a dorm room with Marlene for seven years, she has to know that all this junk isn’t Dorcas’ mess.

“Right,” Lily says flatly, and then flicks her wand at the dining table.

Dorcas feels that old, familiar envy again at the contents of the dining table clear themselves away. The many bowls and books leap off it and float off to find somewhere else to sit, either in piles near the sink or on the edge of an already crowded side table. It’s such an easy, casual display of magic… and Dorcas would do a lot to be able to clean up with a flick of a stick.

Lily then looks expectantly at the two strangers - the time traveller and the Death Eater - and they obligingly take their seats at the cleared table. They sit on the far side, with their backs to the wall, while Lily leans against a counter, her husband standing beside her. Sirius Black leans against the frame of the kitchen’s doorway, watching his brother carefully.

Sirius’ brother looks like a discount version of him, Dorcas thinks, or like the person Sirius Black could have been if he’d decided to listen to his family and be an Evil Bastard Junior. Scrawnier, gloomier, and dressed in all black robes, hair longer but tied tightly back.

And the apparent time traveller looks like a discount version of Lily’s husband. Scrawnier, gloomier, but dressed all in baggy Muggle clothing. Dorcas doesn’t know what to think of him, besides that he looks even more miserable than she feels, if valiantly trying to hide it.

“So, are we waiting for Marlene, then?” Dorcas says finally.

“Yes,” Lily answers. “If you don’t mind.”

Dorcas does mind, but what Dorcas minds isn’t always important. Dorcas doesn’t want a time traveller in her home - she doesn’t even want to begin to think about a mess like that - and she definitely doesn’t want a Death Eater in her home. Dorcas would like nothing more than to give Lily Evans a piece of her mind for bringing problems like this here.

But, Dorcas also knows that these ridiculous, impossible, awful sorts of problems are really exactly what she was signing up for when she joined the Order and decided to accept Marlene McKinnon’s offer to share a house. She was too blinded by the prospect of having so much space to garden freely, of having her own greenhouse, and the only option now is to be unreasonable angry at Marlene for knowing exactly where her weak points are.

There’s clear relief around the room when someone starts thumping around upstairs. Dorcas especially is relieved, that Marlene hasn’t left the house and that she doesn’t have to go drag her friend out of a spell by the hair. Marlene hurries down the stairs, telegraphing her position to everyone within range of her noise, and now Dorcas can dump this mess on her.

“That’d be her,” she tells everyone else.

Just as Marlene McKinnon swings into the room, her arms full of Divination junk. Dorcas would bet anything that she only just came out of a spell, which makes it even more annoying when Marlene comes over winks at her in greeting. Then, to add to her offenses of the day, Marlene just dumps everything into the sink and over the counter, caring only to put her candlesticks to the side and her crystal ball in the strainer, caring not at all for the general mess.

Then Marlene whirls on Lily, cleaning the chalk off her arms with a pink towel.

“So, I don’t know what the hell you were trying without me, but as far as I can tell, time is fine,” Marlene says, expression bemused, getting dust all over her jeans. “So...whatcha do, Lils?”

Lily Evans looks fondly back at her friend and they look, for a moment, like they have eyes for no one else in the room. That curdling jealousy - different from old envies - rises in Dorcas again. Dorcas has tried desperately, angrily, to know that Marlene’s friendship with Lily Evans, begun in only the girls’ sixth year, doesn’t threaten her own friendship with Marlene.

Just as Dorcas has tried to know that Marlene is friends with her for more than an inability to make friends among her classmates and out of pity. Instead of knowing that had Marlene been able to make friends before her later years, she never would have looked twice at Dorcas.

“What makes you think I did something?” Lily says, eyebrows raised.

“Between my sixth and eighth senses, I have a seventh purely for Evanses’ antics, of course,” Marlene says mildly. “But seriously, what’s going on and who have you brought into my house with no warning? No, wait, let me try and guess first.”

“Be my guest,” Lily says.

Marlene smiles at Lily one last time, then rounds on the boys at the table. It doesn’t take her long before she looks at Sirius Black in the doorway.

“The brother you don’t talk about?”

“Yup,” Sirius says flatly.

Marlene nods in satisfaction, then looks at the time traveller, then at Lily’s husband. Back and forth, several times, before she says jokingly, “And the brother that no one has talked about?”

“No,” James Potter says.

“Hmm… Well then…”

Marlene turns her gaze back to the time traveller properly, who looks uncomfortable under Marlene’s intense stare. Dorcas doesn’t really blame the poor boy. Being under Marlene’s scrutinizing stare is bad enough when Dorcas knows her and can call her out on it, but it wasn’t always like that; the McKinnons, Marlene included, really do have scrutinizing stares that can make a person feel like an insect.

The elder ones are especially bad, with that frustrated look they get when they can’t understand why their youngest sister is bothering with someone like Dorcas.

Finally, Marlene stops staring and looks back towards the Potters to say, “Well, don’t you two make pretty babies.”

Dorcas’ thoughts screech to a stop in disbelief. Her guess for the time traveller would have been from the past, because going from the past to the future is the easier and less dangerous one, and Lily didn’t say shit about the time traveller being her own son. But no, the time traveller gets this relieved look on his face, and Dorcas can suddenly see Lily Evans in this boy’s face.

“Thanks,” James Potter says awkwardly to Marlene.

The kettle is softly screaming behind her, but Dorcas doesn’t care, looking at the supposed son of Lily Evans and James Potter. The boy glances at her nervously, but Dorcas doesn’t care about that either. t’s so incredibly obvious, the longer Dorcas stares.

“Now it’s time for that ultimate question: who’ve you brought into my house and what’s going on?” Marlene says. “Introductions, please. Then someone explain to me why I have a time-travelling baby Potter and the Death Eater baby Black in my house. I’m all divined out at the moment.”

Dorcas knew it. She knew this uptight gloomy boy was a Death Eater. Lily Evans and James Potter and Sirius Black have actually brought a Death Eater into her home. The only saving grace here is that he doesn’t seem to have a wand.

It takes a second to stuff the sudden, pure, unbridled hatred she feels back down.

There had better be a good explanation for all this.

“This is Harry,” James says, then looks towards the boy. “Harry, do you know…?”

“Ah… no,” the boy says.

The surprise there is immediate, that any son of Lily Evans wouldn’t know Marlene McKinnon. Marlene and Lily have been close friends, ever since Marlene began pulling away from her awful family and Lily finally ditched her awful Death Eater friend. Marlene is an annoyingly memorable person and there were lots of dramatic, heartfelt promises on the hen night.

Marlene is also the only person here who doesn’t look surprised by this.

“My name is Marlene,” she introduces, when it looks like no one else is going to do it. “McKinnon.” She nods back to Dorcas. “That’s Dorcas Meadowes.”

“Hello,” the boy says.

Dorcas nods at him, then turns around to busy herself with the kettle.

What’s the implication here? That Lily Evans and Marlene McKinnon are no longer friends in the future? Dorcas shakes her head and stops wondering immediately, because that’s exactly the sort of absurdity she doesn’t want to get lost in. A time traveller! A time traveller! Dorcas knew that sort of magic existed, but she’s never bothered to think about it before.

What is, is. What isn’t, isn’t.

Dorcas Meadowes has always lived by that, to keep steady in a world of impossibilities.

“So, Harry,” Marlene says calmly. “I’ve never met a time-traveller before, much less one who’s managed not to twist time as he does it. How’d that happen?”

Dorcas wishes she’d paid more attention to Marlene’s off-hand comments and rants about time magic, but there weren’t really that many. Even the McKinnons seem to know better than to meddle with something as viciously unforgiving as time.

“I’m… not sure,” the boy answers. “It was an accident. I don’t know how it happened or how to undo it.” Then, after that confession, he asks, “Twist time?”

“You know time-turners?” Marlene asks.

“Yes.”

“Used one before?”

“Once,” Harry admits. “Years ago.”

Dorcas busies herself next by trying to find clean cups for the tea, which could take years.

Time turners are… oh… they’re those little devices the Ministry of Magic makes and regulates, aren’t they? Marlene has been moaning about wanting to get her hands on one for years, complaining about how the Ministry won’t give them up. Dorcas remembers that much from Marlene talking about time magic, the few times it’s happened.

“That’s interesting,” Marlene says. “Well, if you all wanted an expert on time magic, you really should have gone to a Palmsee or the like, but since this is obviously personal, I’ll do my best. If you’ve used a time-turner, I’m sure you heard a spiel on the dangers of meddling with the past.”

“...Yeah.”

“Well, that’s because time-turners bend time,” Marlene explains pleasantly. Dorcas turns in time to catch her twisting her wrist around in demonstration. “They twist it. They’re very… local… devices. Limited. When their influence runs out, time…” She flipped her hand back. “...snaps back. If things don’t more or less line up, you get paradox problems. If there’s a way to permanently change the past without consequences, it hasn’t been invented yet. At least, so far as I know.

“So, even if you ended up here accidentally, it’s more than a little curious and, as far as the magical community knows, impossible for you to be sitting there without more than a few twisted and tangled forces around you. ...How long have you been here?”

“Four days or so.”

“Yeah, you should definitely be a walking twist waiting to lash out at any moment,” Marlene says, and Dorcas can hear the hunger and fascination in her friend’s voice. “Besides walking up to your own parents before you’ve even been born, would you say you’ve changed anything significant?”

“Yeah.”

“How significant? Like, ‘can be reasonable and quietly corrected’ significant? Or ‘everything is completely changed and nothing will be the same’ significant? Take a moment to think about it.”

There’s a longer pause, but the boy says, “Yeah. The last one. Definitely.”

Dorcas is sceptical at that. She hasn’t noticed the entire world changing in the past four days. The day four days ago had been like any of the others, and so was every day since, and even now it doesn’t at all feel like history is being made or remade.

“You’re sure about that?” Marlene asks, in a very friendly yet sceptical voice. “Personal significant isn’t the same as ‘important’ significant, you know. When I say ‘everything is completely changed and nothing will be the same’, now, I mean…”

More than this.

“He knows how to kill the Dark Lord,” snaps a new voice. “Which would not be otherwise pursued until nearly twenty years from now. Believe me, the definition of ‘significant’ here is well understood.”

The Death Eater, Sirius’ brother, it has to be. When Dorcas takes a hateful glance, the Death Eater brother is sitting straight-backed and frowning towards the rest of the room. No one has yet to explain why there’s a Death Eater sitting at the dining table, in the company of a time traveller. Dorcas thinks someone should explain that first, before-

Wait, did this boy just say ‘he knows how to kill You-Know-Who’ ?

“Believe me, baby Black, when you know as much Divination as I do, you learn that the definition of ‘significant’ is very rarely understood,” Marlene says. “The world is very big, people are very selfish, and… besides… I tend not to immediately take the word of your sort. Don’t tempt me into an argument; I actually have something to stand on.”

 Dorcas agrees wholeheartedly with that sentiment, but she’s still stuck on killing You-Know-Who. Do these boys have a plan to kill You-Know-Who? They look like the least likely pair of people Dorcas has ever seen to have a plan for something like that.

Honestly, they look more like the kind of bastards Dorcas would catch smoking something behind the Herbology greenhouses, back when she was still working at Hogwarts.

“No offense mean, Harry,” Marlene continues. “It’s not that I doubt you - though I don’t know you - it’s more that it sounds a lot like you should be a walking twist. If I say so myself, Harry, you should be a large one, if you’ve got information as desperately needed as that - or even just a small one, given your contact with Lils and Jim here. That you’re sitting here, fine and unobtrusive as if you belong here, goes against everything I know about past… present… and future. It’s just very… impossible.”

“I’ve… always been good at impossible,” the boy answers.

Marlene laughs, perhaps out of surprise, because the boy does sound very like Lily Evans or James Potter there. It’s uncanny, how much he resembles them.

“Well, considering your parentage, I’m not all that surprised at that,” Marlene says. “Honestly, what sort of ‘accident’ sends you nearly twenty years back in time and lets you change things without so much as a ripple, much less catastrophe?”

“...I don’t know,” the boy says. “I’d… it shouldn’t have happened. I’d rather not talk about it, if that’s alright.”

“I’d rather you did,” Marlene replies with unapologetic pleasantness, and Dorcas is glad she’s not letting an answer as terrible as that go, even it’s probably just because of overwhelming curiosity about time magic. “A potential problem with time isn’t something you leave just because it doesn’t seem like a threat to anyone now.”

Dorcas has given up on trying to find clean cups and shuffles things around in the sink so she can start washing some cups. The silence, between Marlene’s demand for more information and the boy’s response, is long and nearly unbearable. Dorcas focus on her task, instead of whirling around to demand all the answers she wants of these boys, of this time traveller and Death Eater, of these people who feel like they can bring even more messes into her home.

“...I died,” the boy says finally, quietly. “It was the Killing Curse. I shouldn’t be…”

Dorcas pauses, in the middle of scrubbing a mug.

“I don’t know how this happened,” the boy finishes, sounding at once matter-of-fact and miserable. The pause, the tension, in the room is even more unbearable, and the boy makes it worse by eventually adding, “It didn’t hurt. Quicker and easier than falling asleep.”

Dorcas has never wondered what it was like to die of the Killing Curse. Instant and painless, she figured, and endeavoured not to think about something so morbid and pointless. Dorcas isn’t unfamiliar with not enjoying being proven right - it’s never enjoyable to be cynical and yet still not be as cynical as real life - but this discovery hits especially unpleasantly.

Even though dying doesn’t prove anything, in Dorcas’ mind. It’s not an answer. The boy doesn’t know what happened? How is dying supposed to send a person back in time?

“Unless you’d like Harry to relive every detail of his death for you, perhaps we could move on to more important matters?” the Death Eater brother says coldly. “Since I’m the sort that I am and have actually bothered to speak with Harry about significant things, I think I have plenty to stand on when I say that things have been very significantly changed already.”

It’s all Dorcas can do not to snap the mug in her hands or throw it at him. Why does he get to talk like his opinion is the most important one in the room? How about he explains how he’s here? Dorcas is more interested in the killer at the dining table than the dead boy.

“Unless you can actually find a ‘twist’ in time,” the Death Eater brother continues, sharp and haughty, “I suggested that we act as though the world intends to continue as it is now and do something to prevent any future deaths from happening.”

Not something Dorcas ever thought she’d hear a damn Death Eater say, she’ll privately admit.

“Excuse me for giving a damn about the consequences of my actions,” Marlene says finally, softly, dangerously. It’s a good line and… almost what Dorcas wanted to hear.

“I’m sure, McKinnon, the fact that Lily Evans’ son didn’t know your name or your face isn’t lost on you,” the Death Eater brother returns coldly, because for some reason he sees fit to keep talking. Then he sneers, “Are you really so eager to roll over and die?”

It sounds like a threat, and Dorcas switches off the tap to turn, mug still in hand, and stare incredulously at the boy. At the ridiculous, horrifying suggestion that Marlene is going to die within the next… twenty years? Marlene McKinnon has been learning to stand up for herself for as long as Dorcas has known her. Now, finally, Marlene is managing not to roll over for anyone.

And yet… the other boy doesn’t deny it. The time traveller, Harry, has a sad expression on his face, as he looks between Marlene and Dorcas with widened eyes, and doesn’t say anything to deny the fact that Marlene McKinnon is dead in the future.

Dorcas never thought that she and Marlene lived especially safe lives, being a part of the Order, but neither of them are duelists or the sort of person to throw themselves into danger. It makes her terrified and furious. What makes it worse is how the Death Eater brother is glaring at them, like Marlene’s death with be all their own fault for not listening to him.

“Reggie, for the love of magic, shut up,” Sirius Black snaps.

 Dorcas didn’t know the brother’s name until now, but she doesn’t care, especially when the boy whirls on his brother in the doorway like this is all Sirius’ fault too.

“Oh, like you didn’t notice the strangeness there either. All I want to know is if we’re going to focus on nonsense or actually get something accomplished. We’ve established that there isn’t any ‘horribly strict and nasty time magic or whatnot hanging around’, now let’s move on to things that matter. Horcruxes, perhaps?”

That sounds like a nonsense word to Dorcas, who isn’t nearly so prepared to let the issue of Marlene’s death go. But Marlene latches on to this new word with immediate hunger.

“Horcruxes? Who’s been stupid enough to make a horcrux?”

“Volde- Tom. You-Know-Who,” the boy, Harry, answers, like this makes sense either.

Tom?

“Horcrux es, ” the Death Eater brother corrects. “He made more than one.”

“...But that’s stupid, ” Marlene says disbelievingly.

“Well… yeah,” Harry says. “Hang on. How do you know what a horcrux is?”

“My family specializes in the enchantment of objects and some soul-based magic, among other things,” Marlene says, still looking stunned.

Dorcas still doesn’t know what a horcrux is, thanks. It’s a thing that You-Know-Who made, it was a stupid thing to do once but the bastard did it multiple times, and it might have something to do with souls? Lily Evans, James Potter, and Sirius Black don’t look lost at all, so apparently it’s just Dorcas who has no idea what a damn horcrux is.

“...I’m sorry,” Marlene says.

Dorcas scowls at that immediately, because Marlene has nothing to be sorry for.

“For what?” the boy, Harry, asks.

“Pushing you to talk about… something you didn’t want to.”

“Oh,” the boy says. “It’s fine.”

Dorcas has lost the thread of the conversation.

“May we move on now to the ‘important whatnot’?” the Death Eater brother demands. “The Dark Lord has five horcruxes that aren’t going to destroy themselves.”

Marlene laughs at him, incredulously. “And you’re going to do the job? That’s a bit surprising… considering…”

The Black family isn’t subtle in its worship of You-Know-Who.

“Well, it’s not like you were getting the job done,” the Death Eater brother sneers back.

...He has a point, loath as Dorcas is to admit it even to herself.

“So, just to be clear, we’re certain that there aren’t any twists in time or paradox-related consequences to… all of this?” James Potter interrupts, making a sweeping gesture over the many, many messes in this house.

Marlene looks at him, nods grimly, and then shrugs.

“As certain as anything can be in this field, as far as I can tell,” she says. “I’d still like to know exactly how and why something like this might happen, which would require a closer look and probably a few letters to people who know more about this sort of thing than I do, but… sure.”

“...Sure,” James Potter repeats dubiously.

“Sure,” Marlene says again, with a very pleasant smile. “That’s my professional opinion: why not? There are no twists attached here. There’s no evidence of time travel at all. Sure. Why not? The impossible has happened.”

Wand-wielders, Dorcas thinks unhappily.

“I personally find another conclusion far more probable,” she announces.

She scowls at them all, when they all turn to look at her. Dorcas doesn’t know what a horcrux is, she doesn’t know anything about time travel, and she doesn’t really know what’s going on, but she feels she ought to provide some alternative suggestion before these people get swept away on some nonsense scheme. Dorcas has always thought that having magic at their fingertips all the time made people a bit loopy. Less pragmatic.

Marlene is clearly keen on this, but what if the simplest answer is the truth? If there’s no evidence of time travel, maybe there was no time travel. Dorcas doesn’t know why in the world someone would lie about being a time traveller, but they’ve got to consider the option.

“How certain are you that any time travel took place in the first place? Impossible? Maybe you’re overlooking what is possible: that it didn’t. My first guess would be imposter.”

If they are telling the truth, they should prove it better than they have now. Either way, how they react now should be telling. This isn’t the first time that Dorcas has played the unfriendly unbeliever, against Marlene’s friendly interest, to get someone to extend themselves a little more. It’s worked well for them before and Dorcas doesn’t care much about being liked.

“He’s not an imposter!” the Death Eater brother snaps immediately. “He knows far too much about things he should have no way of knowing. I have examined Harry’s every action and word, and as anyone or anything else be the person he presents himself to be, he makes no sense whatsoever.”

Dorcas doesn’t think he makes sense now. “Yeah, well, your judgement means shit to me.”

“Dory,” Lily says.

“Don’t ‘Dory’ her,” Marlene chides. “She’s right.”

The Death Eater brother sits taller and says, “No, she isn’t. I defected before I met Harry. I made the decision to kill the Dark Lord on my own, and sought out one of his horcruxes when Harry appeared to help me. If he’s here to kill anyone, it’s me, and he’s done a terrible job of it.”

Oh, so the boy’s defected.

Dorcas wishes someone had opened with that piece of information. Oh, just bring time travelling sons and defecting Death Eaters into her home, talk about horcruxes and time travel and other things Dorcas doesn’t understand, and proceed to explain none of it. Thanks, Lily.

Dorcas keeps scowling at the Death Eater even so. Just because he says he isn’t a Death Eater anymore doesn’t mean he’s telling the truth. Just because he might have actually defected doesn’t mean he didn’t become a Death Eater in the first place. Dorcas is more than happy to scowl at him disgustedly, to try and make this murderer or would-be murderer squirm, while Marlene tries to coax out the truth of it all.

“Reggie,” Sirius interrupts. “You can shout and insult us all you want, but it’s not going to do anything to help you. We can’t take your word for it straight off… for any of this… the time travel or your quitting. Your word’s just not good enough on its own, Reggie.”

The brother’s expression is mutinously cold, but he doesn’t snap back.  

“...How about a horcrux?” the boy, Harry, says.

Lily looks at him curiously, then says, “...What about a horcrux?”

“Would a horcrux be proof that I’m at least not working for Vol- You-Know-Who? And neither is Regulus? Would giving you one of horcruxes prove that?”

Dorcas still doesn’t know what a horcrux is.

The Death Eater brother latches onto this idea immediately. “You must admit that the Dark Lord would never allow a piece of his soul to be held or threatened by your Order. He’d never allow that. Not for you and not for me. We would all be killed if he knew we knew about them. If McKinnon can confirm the existence of a horcrux, would you take that as proof of my word?”

...A piece of You-Know-Who’s soul? Dorcas thinks, inwardly aghast. What?

“...I’d take it as a point in your favour,” Marlene says. When the room looks at her, she defends herself with a smile: “My mother would kill me herself if I passed up the chance to get my hands on a horcrux.”

...On a piece of You-Know-Who’s soul.

What.

“I’d call it proof,” James agrees.

I’d call it a trap,” Dorcas says flatly, because this is absurd.

“Ravenclaw’s lost diadem is at Hogwarts in the Room of Hidden Things,” Harry says. “The Hogwarts house elves can show you where the room is: they call it the Come and Go Room. They use it all the time.”

That… may be the most convincing thing they’ve said, in Dorcas’ opinion. Not the diadem part, but the house elves part. Dorcas has never known the elves of Hogwarts to be anything less than extremely protective of the school. Telling them to go ask the house elves, to confirm the existence of this room, doesn’t fit with the idea of this being a trap.

“Ravenclaw’s… lost… diadem,” Marlene repeats carefully. “Ravenclaw’s lost diadem, which has been lost for a thousand years, is at Hogwarts and it’s a horcrux?”

Of course that’s the part Marlene focuses on.

“Yes,” the brother says shortly.

“How?!”

“The Grey Lady,” Harry, the time traveller, answers. “She’s Helena Ravenclaw, Rowena’s daughter. She was envious of her mother and stole it, then she ran away to Albania. Her mom sent the Bloody Baron after her, but, um, he was in love with her? And she didn’t want to go back. So she hid the diadem and the Bloody Baron killed her, then killed himself out of remorse or something? And the diadem just sort of stayed there until Tom Riddle talked the story out of the Grey Lady.”

Alright, maybe that’s the second-most convincing thing they’ve said. Most people don’t know that the Grey Lady is Helena Ravenclaw or that she and the Bloody Baron have grief with each other - most students and teachers just don’t pay enough attention to the gossip of the other inhabitants of the castle, especially not the gossip of ghosts and especially not the gossip of house elves. Dorcas didn’t know that the Bloody Baron killed the Grey Lady, once upon a time, but she wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it’s true.

The last time the Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron ended up in the same space, alone, an unused classroom got torn apart. No one was quite sure how it happened. The teachers and caretaking staff involved kept it all hushed up, and made a greater effort to keep them apart.

“You can ask her yourself if you like,” Harry says defensively. “She doesn’t like the questions much… or people, I think… but she cares about Hogwarts and she definitely wants Tom dead.”

“...Who’s Tom?” Marlene says, after a few beats of silence.

Harry looks at her disbelievingly. “V- You-Know-Who,” he says, like he really can’t believe they don’t know this. “That’s his name. Tom Marvolo Riddle… Junior.”

What.

“...Junior,” James Potter repeats.

“Yeah.”

“There’s a You-Know-Who Senior?”

“Uh, no. Tom Riddle Sr. is dead. You-Know-Who killed him ages ago,” Harry says. “And he was a Muggle.”

The.

“You-Know-Who’s father was a-” James trails off, staring incredulously.

“Yeah, and his mother was basically a Squib.”

Fuck.

“What?!” the Death Eater brother demands, looking genuinely shocked.

There’s a smash of porcelain. Dorcas looks down and realizes that she just dropped the cup she was holding. It’s on the floor at her feet, in pieces, and she stares at it disbelievingly for a few beats before she goes back to staring disbelievingly at the time travelling boy.

“Did I not mention that?” the boy says, like that could have casually been dropped into conversation before now. LIke that’s not a conversation stopper.

“No,” the brother says strongly.

“Oh, well, they were. Tom Riddle Sr. and Merope Gaunt.”

Dorcas doesn’t know either of those names. This is so entirely out of nowhere, she doesn’t know how to think through it: You-Know-Who’s parents were a Muggle man and…

...a woman like me, Dorcas thinks faintly.

Some part of her wants to immediately dismiss it as the most ridiculous thing in her life. It can’t be true. How the fuck hasn’t someone figured it out and told the world that You-Know-Who isn’t nearly so “pureblooded” as his mad, murderous followers believe. Don’t purebloods have family trees stretching back hundreds of years? Shouldn’t they know?

But another part of Dorcas, if this is true, isn’t surprised at all. What’s the idea of “pure” blood except a racist lie upheld to maintain power? She’s known all her life that the entire movement, the entire system, is built on lies. She’s never not known that these people, with so much power over their world and at their fingertips, are hateful and ugly and unreasonable and violent and liars. Of course the mass murderer leading the movement, causing this stupid war, is a man trying to rewrite his own history on top of the history of magic in general.

Those people wouldn’t know the truth about magic if it punched them in the face.

If Dorcas had ever been given a hint of You-Know-Who’s real identity and history before now, she would have shouted the truth of Tom Riddle Junior from the rooftops and sent letters to every door. Sure, it would have gotten her killed. Maybe even personally killed by the great bastard himself. But it might be worth it to rake him through the mud he disdains so much.

It makes Dorcas feel something she can’t name. It might be anger, it might be sadness, it might be confusion, but it is all-consuming and resentful and it feels even more awful than self-doubt. It feels worse than the invalidation that creeps up on Dorcas late at night, to berate her for her bitterness and to tell her, no matter how much hedge magic she manages and no matter how she tries to pull her weight, she will never belong in the world in which she was born.

A woman needs to be able to use a wand to be a witch, in this wizarding world.

It makes Dorcas feel sick.

“Is this sort of thing not proof enough for you?” the Death Eater brother demands of Sirius. “Because he’s been doing this ever since I met him and I’m not sure that the Dark Lord can kill me enough for knowing this sort of thing.”

People could die for even suggesting it, much less publishing it or shouting it from rooftops.

How does everyone not know? Dorcas thinks angrily. Maybe some of them do know and they don’t care. They’re all such unbelievable hypocrites and liars.

“He’ll definitely try,” the boy - the time traveller named Harry - mutters. “He killed all his living family, more or less. He even framed his uncle for the murder of his father.”

“Constantly,” the brother complains.

“...That’s… troubling,” Sirius manages in response.

If anyone asked Dorcas to speak in this moment, she doesn’t know if she could manage it. The very idea of all this makes her want to vomit and all she can do is stand and stare and scowl. She still doesn’t know what’s going on, but she knows she doesn’t like it.

She doesn’t like a lot of things in life. They happen anyway.

“Isn’t it?” the brother says agreeably.

“...Very,” Marlene says.

Then she flicks her wand at the broken cup at Dorcas’ feet. It comes together with sure clicks and floats up to settle, whole and safe, in the strainer with the crystal ball. Dorcas has to move a little out of the way, for it to get there, but it’s definitely some of Marlene’s better spellcasting. If there’s one thing Marlene can do, it’s… Well, if there’s one thing Marlene can do, it’s take things apart. The next thing she can do is put broken things back together.  

“I have never in my life felt so fantastically outdone,” Marlene complains, like her ego is the most important thing on the line here. “How very dare you, Harry Potter.”

The boy looks very confused at this. “...Sorry?”

It would almost be funny, if Dorcas wasn’t so desperately confused. As far as she’s concerned, as she has been since the beginning, this is Marlene’s fault and Marlene’s mess to clean up. Dorcas didn’t even want to answer the door. 

 

Chapter Text

Marlene hangs back, as Lily and Jim and Sirius herd their new game-changers into the living room with tea - it’s more spacious and actually less of a mess in there than the kitchen. Also, Marlene needs a moment to talk to Dorcas.

Dorcas has been amazing, as always, and amazingly cooperative, which is… not something that always happens. Marlene is already in hot water for not telling Dorcas company was coming, even with the short warning that Marlene got and the necessity of performing time scrying spells, and in hotter water for making Dorcas answer the door. Then there’s… well… everything that just happened… whatever they want to call that.

“What’s a horcrux?” Dorcas demands in a whisper, as soon as everyone is gone.

“Dark magic,” Marlene answers promptly, also quietly.

“I got that much,” Dorcas snaps. “What is it?”

“It’s a … A person splits their soul, through a ritual that involves… some pretty evil stuff, I think, and puts a piece of their soul into an object. This tethers them to life; they can’t die so long as the horcrux exists,” Marlene explains, from what she remembers about them. It’s not actually as though Marlene ever expected to hear about an actual horcrux in her lifetime, much less have people offer her one to study. “It’s a method of immortality, but… it’s incredibly damaging and stupid and dangerous and evil.”

“I understood that,” Dorcas mutters sullenly. “It figures.”

“Yeah, it does.”

“...I don’t like this, Marlene.”

Marlene is hard-pressed to roll her eyes, at the same time that this is completely understandable. Bringing a Death Eater into their house - even a defected one - without getting Dorcas’ okay was… a bad move. Bringing any of this into the house without talking it through was probably a bad move. Dorcas’ cynicism is tough and predictable, but Marlene can’t deny that it’s been useful, a time or two, to keep them all grounded.

Still.

“Do you like anything, Dory?” Marlene jokes.

This is also probably a bad move, but the air in here is so heavy.

Dorcas scowls at her for the flippancy and says flatly, “No. Especially not you right now. You should have told me they were coming, Marlene; I don’t like having things sprung on me like this, especially whatever this is, with Death Eaters and time travel!”

“I know, Dory. Sorry.”

“I know you’re sorry. I need you not to do it again, Marlene.”

And doesn’t that sum up much of their relationship. Especially Marlene’s attempts at befriending the sullen, pretty girl who worked with Professor Beery in the greenhouses and the nearby Hogwarts farms, with flowers on her hat and no fear of being disobedient or dislikable or disowned for doing what she pleased. It’s not like Dorcas has never apologized to Marlene for something, but it always feels like it’s Marlene mucking something up between them… again.

Their friendship was unlikely for a reason.

It’s unlikely that it’s lasted this long, Marlene thinks sometimes.

“I know. I’ll try,” Marlene promises.

Dorcas looks at her, sighs, and nods like it’s all she expected. “Be careful with this, Marlene,” she says warningly. “Whatever this is: it’s not going to be safe. They’re throwing around rumours or secrets that could get people murdered just for repeating them, before getting into if this horcrux thing and the twisted time mess turn out to be true.”

“Hey,” Marlene says teasingly. “Which one of us is the seer around here?”

Dorcas remains unimpressed. “Which one of us is always saying that looking into the past or future can make a person blind to the present? Take your own advice there and be careful. Right now, there’s a Death Eater in our living room.”

“I didn’t miss that. Thanks for going along with all that, Dory. I’ll be careful.”

“I know. You’ll try,” Dorcas says sullenly.

With that last piece of encouragement, which really is encouragement as far as Dorcas goes, Marlene’s friend stomps off towards the living room. They’ve lingered behind long enough and baby Black - the defected Death Eater - is probably getting antsy and suspicious.

Marlene’s casts one last look back at the crystal ball, sitting in the strainer in her sink. If she’s lucky, she’ll see some shape in its murky white depths that’ll give her the key to all the mysteries Lily’s brought to her doorstep. But, contrary to popular belief, it’s not that easy. She’s also not even really doing it right right now , just looking back and hoping some shape will appear.

The crystal ball doesn’t show anything but fog where the future might be, so Marlene turns on her heel and follows everyone else into the living room.

 

~

 

The argument begins in circles and continues in circles. Marlene and Dorcas take one sofa, across from Regulus Black and Harry Potter on the other, while Sirius takes the chair to Marlene’s left, and Lils and Jim take the one beside Dorcas. The only person who actually seems to be drinking their tea is Sirius and he has a look about him like he’s desperate for another kind of drink, but knows he can’t have that one right now, so tea’ll have to do.

Marlene can’t decide whether this would be easier or harder if she were drunk. If it would somehow be easier or harder to talk about horcruxes and stealing one of them from a hidden room in Hogwarts castle… if they were all pleasantly tipsy right now. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to try. 

“You can’t just break into Hogwarts,” Dorcas says insistently.

“Why not?” Marlene says.

She means her question very seriously. Marlene doesn’t see any reason they can’t just waltz up into Hogwarts, especially Dorcas, and take what they need. Marlene doesn’t actually understand what Dorcas’ real complaint is here.  

“Who said we even had to break in?” Marlene continues, as Dorcas keeps scowling. “Why can’t we just Floo ol’ McGonagall or Beery and tell them I’m looking for a family artefact in this ‘Come and Go Room’?”

“You’re not going hunting for these horcrux things on your own.”

Marlene rolls her eyes. So that’s the complaint. It’s a fair one, really, if they’re about to go fetch some of the most evil magic out there, it’s probably not something to do alone. Marlene hadn’t actually meant to stroll up to Hogwarts entirely by herself anyway.

“So you come with,” Marlene says. “You could probably just waltz into Hogwarts anytime.”

Dorcas only crosses her arms and says, “I don’t count.”

“I’ll take Black, then. The first one, not the baby.”

“He doesn’t count either.”

Marlene is going to guess this means that Dorcas doesn’t want to go back to Hogwarts to find a horcrux, or that Dorcas doesn’t believe she’s sufficient back-up for dealing for that sort of magic, all of which is… fair enough. That Sirius wouldn’t be sufficient back-up, though, is ridiculous. Next to Marlene, he’s probably got the most experience with malevolent magic, and he’s more than decent in a fight should it come to it. Really, he’s far, far better than Marlene herself.

Which means... oh… it’s probably best that Sirius stay behind to watch his brother, who is definitely not going to Hogwarts. And on that point, it’s probably for the best that Marlene not leave the Black brothers alone in their house. Also, that Marlene not leave Dorcas alone with the Black brothers in the house. That all sounds like a recipe for maison brûlée.

Oh. Maybe it’s that Dorcas doesn’t want Marlene to go. Hmm, Dorcas is making some more than decent points here, much to Marlene’s dismay. Possibly accidentally, in simply being stubborn and distrustful, but they’re points all the same.  

If she can’t go, if Sirius can’t go, and if Dorcas is refusing to go… that leaves…

“We could break in, though, if we had to,” Jim says. “It’s not that hard.”

“They probably have your secret passageways marked, dear,” Lily says, from her perch on Jim’s armrest. “Do you really think the Headmaster doesn’t know about them?”

“Well… no,” Jim admits. “But…”

“He might leave them open anyway,” Sirius says. “To Order members, at the least.”

“Exactly!”

Marlene can’t profess to knowing the inner workings of Albus Dumbledore’s mind, but she’d agree that the man tends to leave a lot of loopholes. They won’t know if it’s possible to break into Hogwarts unless they try, and the worst certain people here will get - not baby Black or the baby Potter, but others - is a slap on the wrist.

“I still don’t see why we can’t just walk through the front door,” Marlene says, because she doesn’t. They just tell Dumbledore they’re looking for something and that’s that. “Dorcas could wander in just fine. I could probably go do the same thing right now.”

“You’re blind as a bat, that’s why not,” Dorcas snaps.

Marlene raises her eyebrows - it was just an example. She’s not nearly as fascinated by horcruxes as Dorcas seems to think, not enough to forget how incredible malevolent and dangerous they supposedly are.

“...Bats aren’t blind,” Marlene reminds Dorcas.  

“Reggie and his friend want to leave the Headmaster out of this, for some reason,” Sirius says, giving the boys a sidelong look. “Reggie doesn’t want to even tell him what’s happening at all. It was one of his ‘conditions’.”

“And we’re listening to that?” Dorcas demands.

Oh, baby Black doesn’t like that one, glaring at Dorcas for it. Harry, meanwhile, awkwardly sips at his cup of tea. Marlene thinks he looks a bit shamefaced there. Hmm.

“Yes, because it’s not negotiable,” Regulus Black says loftily. “I’ll work with you, but not with him and not for him. I don’t trust the man. I don’t trust him to have my or Harry’s best interests in mind.”

Good call. If they involve the Headmaster here, baby Black probably loses what little control he has over this fast. If the more senior members of the Order get involved, Marlene can almost absolutely guarantee that things will get immediately out of all their hands entirely. A person doesn’t need the Sight to know that.

“I don’t care what you think,” Dorcas says flatly.

Marlene almost snorts at Regulus Black’s expression and sound of outrage.

“Dory,” Lily says.

“...What?”

“You don’t even like the Headmaster,” Lily points out, chidingly.

This is true.

“Mmm,” Marlene says agreeably. “Yes, don’t you kind of hate him? I know you hate pretty much everyone, of course, but I remember a very special sort of-”

“Shut up,” Dorcas says.

Marlene takes a deep breath, smiles pleasantly, and says very seriously, “No.”

Dorcas has good reasons to dislike the Headmaster, but even more good reasons to dislike Sirius’ little brother and his sort. Regulus Black, looking very stiff and unhappy on Marlene’s sofa, had better remember that they still like him less.

“We’re not telling Professor Dumbledore anything… yet,” Jim says firmly. “He’s a busy man and, working by the assumption that this isn’t some elaborate setup or dream, then we’re going to have to compromise on some of this stuff.”

“And the less people who know Reggie’s defected, the better,” Sirius adds.

Regulus relaxes at first with Jim’s statement, then stiffens again at the nickname. “Stop calling me Reggie.”

“No,” Sirius says easily, and continues despite his brother’s frowning expression, “The less people who know Reggie’s alive, the better.”

“Do you think Dumbledore can’t keep a secret?” Marlene can’t help but ask, just as she can’t help but have a mocking edge to her voice. “With all those long years behind him, he must have more than a few.”

If they really begged, they could probably get Dumbledore to keep the rest of the Order out of this, even the senior members. Sure, they’d probably end up giving up the decision-making to him, but the man can probably keep a secret. Marlene’s never met an old wizard or an old magical family who didn’t have a few skeletons in their closet. Not a single one doesn't have at least one skeleton behind them.

“I think the Order’s already feeling the pressure of our limited spies,” Sirius answers mildly, with a sharp look that dares Marlene to keep going.

Sirius really should know better than to dare Marlene by now, but his answer is good enough to give Marlene serious pause for a comeback or a continuation. That’s a good point. They probably would want baby Black to go play spy for them.

Marlene is also distracted by Regulus’ reaction. Baby black takes in a sharp breath of realization and doesn’t at all look keen on this suggestion.

And as Marlene settles back into her seat, for all appearances cowed by Sirius’ comeback, to study the newcomers among them… Marlene is also-also very distracted by Harry Potter. She thinks that’s fair, with him being a time traveller and all.

Harry’s expression at Sirius’ answer was at first confused, then he seemed to realize what Sirius meant, and then… well… Marlene could swear that she saw a flash of something bright in the boy’s eyes. A glimmer of something unnatural, the same one that had appeared when he’d so painfully admitted that the only thing he knew about his coming here is that he died.

Hm.

Marlene still thinks that’s strange.

“I thought you told them you weren’t going to do that,” Lily says, which breaks Harry’s distant look. The boy looks up at her immediately. “Are they still asking? You told us they stopped.”

“They did,” Sirius answers. “Mostly.

“Sirius,” Jim says.

“James,” Sirius mimics, the he sighs and shrugs. “Well, if Remus gave in, then I’m eventually going to stop telling them to go fuck themselves, right?”

Marlene knows that certain members of the Order want Sirius t o go play Death Eater, so that the Order can have a spy into You-Know-Who’s Inner Circle. Marlene, being generous, could call it an idea not without merit… but it’s also incredibly risky and stupid, especially with Lily’s ex-friend Snape and cousins like Bellatrix Black among the Death Eater ranks. Marlene opposes the idea vehemently, whenever it comes up, knowing that the most likely, most positive way that could end is with Sirius dead after months of misery and suffering.

She’s more interested right now in Sirius’ little brother and in Lily’s son’s reactions to this. Neither of them look surprised, but Regulus is staring very hard at his elder brother right now.

“I’m going to have a word with-” Jim begins.

“I can handle myself, thanks, Mum,” Sirius drawls, then scowls back. “I’m not exactly going to run out of ‘fuck, no’s, James. I’ve an unlimited supply.”

“That’s not the point-!”

“It kind of is,” Marlene interjects casually. “After all, if they can’t get the first Black to go with it, then a turncoat, pre-made Death Eater, baby Black… maybe that’s the better and easier option. One that excuses us from anything like a guilty conscience if it goes badly, even.”  

Regulus Black doesn’t like this more direct suggestion either, eyes widening slightly, but surely he could see where Sirius was going with that. Harry, who doesn’t look surprised, reaches out and takes Regulus’ hand… which is interesting. Especially how Regulus Black accepts the gesture like it’s a lifeline. Marlene doesn't know about anyone else, but she's never seen a Death Eater hold someone else's hand for comfort before. 

“You don’t think they’d give him the same right of refusal,” Lily says, forthright, because she’s keeping up. “You think they’d want him to give them something more in return.”

Marlene looks over to see if Lily is addressing her or Sirius, just in time to see Lily glance at Harry at the same time that Harry glances at Lily. Lily looks away easily, towards Sirius, but Harry has a stricken expression. There’s another flash of something in his eyes.

Hm.

Harry blinks it away quickly, but Marlene knows she saw something this time. Harry looks around the room, at the people in it, most of whom are focused on Sirius.

Harry’s eyes meet Marlene’s, soon enough, and she smiles at him pleasantly, looking carefully for that bright gleam. She’s rewarded by a glimmer, just as Harry looks away.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Sirius says loftily. “It’ll only get worse after…”

Another glimmer, as Harry stares at Sirius.

“Some of us don’t have the luxury of a Light family’s good reputation to protect us from being put to use,” Sirius says, more matter-of-fact than bitter. He swirls his tea boredly.

And, with that, Harry’s gaze is distant and nearly gleaming.

“Sirius,” Jim says, pained.

“It’s not… it’s just the price of being the Blacks’ black sheep,” Sirius says.

There is something; it’s undeniably there now. The only question is what is it? Is it a spell? A potion? It doesn’t seem quite consistent enough to be either and it seems odd that it’s kicking in now. What mysteries here might it relate to? If only Marlene could get a closer, better look through that window.

“...How long has been going on? Really? Jim says.

Sirius sighs. “Nothing’s been going on. I’m just making a point.”

“And doing it poorly,” Lily says.

“My family and I mutually disowned each other when I was sixteen, after years of fighting, and they still manage to make me untrustworthy. Blood will tell and all that? Not so much only a belief of the ‘other side’ in all this.”

“Well, you don’t have to tell me that,” Lily says pointedly.

Marlene would agree with Lily there, if she were fully paying attention, but she’s too fixed on Harry and his distant, glimmering look. If he were looking directly at her, maybe she would be able to tell what it is, but he’s not. He’s not looking in Sirius’ direction.

“You’re not your family, Sirius,” Jim says.

“Yeah, I know that and you know that, but it’s a bad reputation for good reason,” Sirius retorts. “Reggie won’t stand a chance. The less people who know he’s alive, the better.”

Marlene’s Sight is already tired today, but if she pushed herself… maybe she could see…

“I can handle myself,” Regulus insists.

Sirius snorts. “No, you can’t.”

Maybe if Marlene looked hard enough, she could see whatever’s happening right now in Harry’s head… But she’s tired and it’s hard, especially without eyes to stare into. If he’d just turn and make eye contact… then maybe…

“Should we really be having this conversation in front of him?” Dorcas demands.

“Why not?” Sirius says with another shrug. “Whether he’s lying or not-”

“I’m not lying.”

“-we can’t jolly well send him skipping back.”

“I can handle myself,” Regulus repeats, with more strength.

Sirius turns on his brother. “Do you want to?”

“...I could.”

It’s not the Imperius or anything like that, Marlene is sure. Not now and so suddenly.

“Sure,” Sirius says. “Look, it’s just not happening. They can argue ‘greater good’s until they’re blue in the face, but I’m not tossing Reggie back to our loving family. It’ll end terribly. He’s soft as butter, look at him, he’ll spill everything… or they’ll kill him.”

Marlene didn’t ask Dorcas if she put anything in the tea, but she’s relatively certain that Dorcas didn’t do anything like that. Besides, Dorcas is more likely to knock someone out than to make them hallucinate, and Harry Potter looks like a boy who’s seeing something.

“So…” Lily says slowly. “You’re really against bringing the Headmaster into this too.”

“Yeah… turns out,” Sirius agrees. “If it works out, he doesn’t ever need to know, does he?”

“...That sounds like an argument from school,” Lily says.

Marlene gives up, she can’t see anything from here.

“Harry,” she says.

This immediately grabs the attention of everyone in the room except Harry. Sirius and Lily both turn to look at him, so does Regulus beside him, but Harry still looks… lost in thought. Lost in whatever is glimmering in his eyes.

“Harry,” Marlene says again.

Oh, there’s a word. There’s a word on the tip of her tongue for how Harry Potter looks.

Regulus Black pokes his friend - Marlene doesn’t know if she’d call them friends, but there is clearly a connection of some sort there - and Harry looks up. Harry is blinking, rapidly, like he’s trying to get something out of his eyes.

“Harry,” Marlene says for the third time. “Are you all right, there?”

And she gets it! Harry looks at her while he’s trying to blink his thoughts out of his gaze and Marlene sees it. A silvery gleam that fades back quickly, as Harry looks around them room and then lifts his free hand to rub at his eyes.

Pensive.

That’s the word that Marlene was looking for. He looks pensive.

Hm.

“Yeah,” Harry says. “Fine.”

“Where’s ‘fine’ on a scale of most people’s one to ten?” Marlene asks, because she’s worried about this boy. More so than she already was as such a complete stranger to all of them. She needs more time to figure out exactly what she thinks she’s seeing in Harry’s gaze, but it can’t be good for him. He did apparently die four days ago, according to him, which probably still hurts even if it didn't hurt in the moment. 

“Most people being those who haven’t had actual death and impossible time travel experiences,” she elaborates.

“Fine,” Harry repeats, sounding frustrated. “If we’re going to get the diadem now, can we just go?”

Not when they can all argue in circles, apparently. That’s how collaboration works.

“Well, that’s what I’ve been saying, but-”

“No,” Dorcas says.

“-that keeps happening,” Marlene finishes.

Harry sighs and looks at Regulus. “How about that locket then?”

“Locket?” Marlene repeats eagerly.

Is that another one of the horcruxes? They haven’t said yet what the horcruxes are, beyond that Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem is one of them. Is there a locket?

“I don’t think now is the right time for the locket,” Regulus says firmly.

Harry turns to look at the rest of them again. “A locket belonging to Salazar Slytherin is one of the horcruxes,” he explains.

“Where is it?” Marlene asks.

“A cave filled with hundreds of inferi.”

James gives a low whistle in the silence that follows that statement. “You’re not lying about that, are you?” he says, looking exasperated.

Harry shrugs. “Haven’t yet.”

Marlene is still stuck on hundreds of inferi.

“Okay, I’m taking Harry to Hogwarts to get this horcrux,” Lily says suddenly. “If we’re going this, let’s get on with it already.”

“Alright,” James says. “...Wait what?”

“You can come with,” Lily allows generously. “Everyone else can stay here.”

“Oh, come on, Lils!” Marlene complains.

Even if she knows she ought to stay behind to keep an eye on Sirius and his brother, even if she has to, that doesn’t mean Marlene wants to. If they’re going after a horcrux in a room of secret things, then Marlene is really the best person to go. She’s so curious.

“No!” Regulus snaps.

“A whole room of secret things, Lils, you’ll want a McKinnon for that if I’ve-”

“Not if I want to get out of there before dying of old age,” Lily replies, which is an unfairly fair point. “You can have the horcrux once we’ve got it,” Lily says, which is unfairly mollifying.

Lily looks at Regulus next and says, “And yes. You’re not coming to Hogwarts just yet, we’re not going to go anywhere near the Headmaster or tell him anything, and we’re all coming straight back here afterwards, all right?”

“Not all right. I’m not letting you take-”

“Reggie,” Sirius interrupts bemusedly. “You were going to have to let go of his hand eventually.”

Regulus lets go of Harry’s hand like it’s burned him, glaring at Sirius. Harry mostly just looks mildly embarrassed, looking helplessly towards James and Lily, who mostly just look awkward. Marlene still doesn’t know what to make of that.

“It’s fine,” Harry says to Regulus, standing up. “This sounds good." 

Regulus looks like he could disagree, stridently.

But, in the face of Harry’s tired look, Regulus settles back into his seat and says, “...Fine.”

That probably could have been bad.

“Alright, then, if that’s done,” Lily says, and banishes the Potters’ teacups back towards the kitchen with a couple flicks of her wand. “Let’s go.” And she turns on her heel for Marlene’s hallway, Harry quickly following.

“We’ll be back soon,” Jim promises, as he hurries to follow.

“I’ll wait with baited breath,” Sirius says boredly. “Please hurry.”

Harry turns around, just before leaving, and, with some hesitation, says, “Bye.”

Regulus and Sirius both nod at him, Dorcas ignores him, but Marlene smiles widely at the poor, tattered kid and wriggles her free fingers in a wave. He did just die the other day, and seems to be trying to prevent her upcoming death, so Marlene feels that she can wave for him as he goes off to bring her back a horcrux.

“Don’t let the watering can trip you on the way out,” she warns.

Harry knows more about his circumstances than he’s telling, Marlene can tell. He might not even know everything he really knows. People can miss significant clues, just by not knowing that they’re significant clues, and Marlene is keen to learn more. Maybe it’s not a good idea to go looking into a gift horse’s mouth, if he is one, but Marlene’s never really been known for good ideas anyway. Even if she gets bitten, then at least she’ll know.

Harry and Jim are already out of the room by then, neither of them reply, but Marlene can hear them making their way through the hallway. Lily is already opening the front door.

“Clean your house!” Lily shouts. “We’ll be back for dinner!”

And then, with a few more stumbling footsteps, the Potters are gone. Lily slams the front door shut behind them. There’s the clunk of the doorknob and the click of the lock, and Marlene is left in her living room with Dorcas Meadowes, Sirius Black, and Regulus Black.

Yeah, this is going to go great. 

 

Chapter Text

The first little while of their waiting passes in painful silence. The minutes pass in silence because Marlene dismantled the ticking living room clock several days ago. But the lack of constant measurement just seems to make every minute longer.

Sirius just keeps fiddling with his tea, which must be ice cold by now, and Regulus still hasn’t touched his at all. Regulus occupies himself by glaring at all of them, alternately, like he’s daring them all to try something. Marlene is perfectly capable of ignoring him, of spending her time thinking about all the secrets and mysteries that have shown up on her doorstep, but she doesn’t like the way he keeps squinting at Dorcas.

“If you wouldn’t mind,” Marlene says, “Could I see your Dark Mark?”

It’s kind of a joke, out of Marlene’s mouth before she can really think about it, but it’s also not really a joke. Marlene has been wanting to get her hands on a Dark Mark for a long time… in the sense that she wants to have one on someone else’s arm to fiddle with. They’re a fascinating piece of magic; disgusting, but fascinating; she’s always wanted to know how they work.

Unfortunately, this turns out to be an awful icebreaker. Regulus’ head snaps towards Marlene so quickly that she’s surprised it doesn’t crack, his face blank. Sirius and Dorcas both look at her with open disbelief at what just came out of her mouth.

Well, the only thing to do is go with it.

“I’ve always wanted to get my hands on one,” Marlene explains. “Just to have a look.” She grins at Regulus and says the real joke that’s been lingering on her mind, “Give me a hand, won’t you?”

“...Merlin, fuck, Marlene,” Sirius says.

Oh, like Sirius hasn’t said worse puns and worse icebreakers in his time.

“Oh, did I forget the magic word? Please, may I?”

Regulus puts his right hand protectively over his left forearm, scowling, like he thinks Marlene’s going to rip his arm off if he doesn’t hang on to it tightly. “I do mind,” he says sharply, warningly. “No, you may not.”

“Oh, well, worth a try,” Marlene says, because it was. “If you change your mind, let me know, hm?”

Regulus stares at her. “I’m not going to change my mind,” he says coldly.

Hm, looks like Marlene hit a nerve there.

“How very Black of you,” Sirius says, from where he’s gone back to fiddling with his tea.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Regulus demands.

But not as much as Sirius apparently hit a nerve with five words and a look in the wrong direction. Mm, maybe Marlene shouldn’t have said anything at all.

Sirius laughs humourlessly, still not looking at his brother. “What do you think it means, Reggie?”

“I think it means you’re being childish about the fact that I’ve changed, or perhaps that you’re envious because you haven’t managed to mature past twelve, ” Regulus says snidely, clearly prepared to go at it.

Marlene has siblings and the feeling that this isn’t a new argument.

Sirius laughs again. “Envious,” he repeats, and casts a smirk at his brother. “Sure.”

Regulus looks prepared to start a duel, especially when Sirius glances smugly towards Regulus’ left forearm. If Marlene weren’t so suddenly concerned for her house, she might admire how well Sirius can hit his sibling’s nerves… or sympathize with Regulus Black as a fellow younger sibling, which is a decidedly old thought.

“Hey, now,” Marlene says, raising her palms. “I was only looking to break the silence. I mean, I was being serious - no pun intended - but let’s not make my house even more of a mess, mm?”

“Clean it then,” Regulus snaps immediately. “What sort of a witch are you?”

Marlene can’t keep her smile through that. Oh, look, baby Black can hit nerves too, when he feels cornered. That’s going to be fun if this whole thing actually works out.

How Marlene keeps her house is her business, not the business of guests who rolled up and changed everything. She might not be much of a duelist, but she knows a spell or two and this is her house. She fought for this house.

“Witch enough to finish the fight you’re trying to start,” Marlene says evenly.

“It’s not our fault if you’re touchy about being stuck with your mistakes,” Dorcas adds.

Marlene sighs. “Dory.”

She doesn’t need Dorcas intervening for her. Marlene brought this problem into the house, Marlene will deal with them. She doesn’t even know why Dorcas is still here. She would have thought Dorcas would have stomped back to the garden by now.

“Is this my house too, or not?” Dorcas demands.

She sounds cold and Marlene panics a little, on reflex and possibly because Regulus just hit a nerve, because she thought they’d moved past this. Of course, it’s Dorcas’ house too. Marlene said as much when she finally convinced Dorcas to move in. She fought for this house with Dory.

“It is,” Marlene assures her.

But Dorcas is too busy glaring at Regulus to look at Marlene.

“Believe me, if I could give this over to you, I would,” Regulus says flatly to them both, pointedly not looking at his brother. “However, seeing as it’s attached to my arm, I’m not about to hand over my person to your tender care for a ‘look’. I’m attached to my arm and would rather it remain attached to me.”

Marlene blinks at him in surprise. That was… That was kind of funny.

She laughs, because he sounded so snotty, but that was a bit of wit at the end there.

“You’re funny,” she says, genuinely surprised. Regulus sounded like his brother for a moment there, when Marlene had him in her head as nothing but a gloomy prat. “I can actually see the brotherly resemblance now.”

Regulus looks surprised at that, briefly, but Sirius looks offended. Marlene doesn’t know whether to laugh at how offended Sirius looks or to laugh at how Regulus looks kind of offended at his brother being offended. It’s like watching a play… or attending a Slug Club party with Lily… or being home at the Steeple with Mum and all her bickering sisters.

“Marl,” Sirius says. “That’s a bit odd coming from you.”

“I didn’t expect the brother you don’t talk about to be like this,” Marlene replies, unconcerned. Her family problems don’t invalidate anyone else’s family problems. “I have to admit that I was expecting some odd mix between Bellatrix Black and Snape, if I’d been expecting anything.”

Regulus suppresses his offense quickly enough, but Marlene caught that.

Sirius’ brother is nearly loud and mad enough to remind Marlene of Bellatrix Black, nor sharp and furious enough to remind Marlene of Lily’s awful ex-friend. Sirius’ brother seems more like a brat who’s trying, against the odds and everything Marlene knew about him before, to do the right thing, if only because he doesn’t want to die. Marlene still thinks he’s a snot, but she has to give him credit for outright announcing his intentions to murder Voldemort.

“I didn’t get exactly what I expected, that’s for sure,” Marlene says.

“Aren’t you a seer?” Regulus demands.

Marlene rolls her eyes at him. “I am, but the first thing any seer worth their salt will tell you is that everything’s subjective. No one’s going to see anything the exact same way,” she explains. “That you’re not what I’m expecting isn’t a bad thing, baby Black, especially since my expectations weren’t very high.”

That just makes Regulus frown. “Stop calling me that.”

“Sure thing, Reggie,” Marlene says, and grins broadly at him, which makes Sirius snort.

“Don’t call me that either,” he says, annoyed.

“Don’t call you names. Don’t poke at your arm,” Marlene lists, teasingly. This boy needs to relax before he breaks something; it’s hard to imagine Sirius being this uptight. “I renounce the brotherly resemblance, you’re no fun.”

“One of us had to be!” Regulus says angrily.

Sirius taps his fingers against his teacup. “You really, really didn’t, Reggie.”

Regulus looks at his brother and the fury is clear on his face.

“I did, actually, and I’ll thank you to stop talking about things you don’t understand because you didn’t listen and ran away,” Regulus snaps. “Could you at least pretend to have some concept of family responsibility?”

“...Hm, maybe we should have waited for the Potters for this,” Marlene murmurs to Dorcas, in the hopes that one of the brothers may hear this and calm down. Unfortunately, neither do, and Dorcas is now slouching with her arms crossed.

“This is your fault,” Dorcas says flatly.

Marlene winces, because that’s… probably partially true.

“I’d rather have some concept of human decency, thanks,” Sirius is saying. “If the loving old folks back home hadn’t seen that and family responsibility as mutually exclusive opposites, maybe we could’ve had conversation instead of shouting matches. If you actually bought their claptrap, then I’m sorry that you’re so gullible, Reggie. My condolences.”

Ouch.

This is starting to shape up less like general bickering between Daisy and Etta, and more like Marlene’s two eldest sisters having managed to bring Cella home and make her angry. McKinnon fights are bad, but Marlene has a feeling that a Black family fight will be worse.

Regulus looks too angry for words, glaring at his brother. He looks like he’s ready to pull a wand and start dueling in Marlene’s living room. He looks ready to pull back a fist and give a punch a go, so long as it shuts Sirius’ face up. Oh, Marlene knew this was going to go badly, that’s part of why she stayed, but now she’s wishing that she left anyway.

Suddenly, Regulus yanks up his sleeve and throws him arm out towards them.

Marlene and Sirius both go for their wands. Dorcas, who doesn’t have one, draws sharply back ready to run if a fight breaks out.

“Here,” Regulus snarls. “Have a look.”

And Marlene realizes that he hasn’t drawn a wand, but bared his Dark Mark and held it out for all of them to see. He glares at all of them, trembling, as though daring them to have a look at the magical brand of a Death Eater. His glare lands most on Sirius.

Marlene has never been great with dares. She has a look. She has a good, long look at the Dark Mark, because it’s right in front of her, Marlene’s morbid curiosity is a powerful thing, she might not get another chance, and it’s right there . It’s just as gruesome close-up as Marlene imagined, if not more so, and she can’t quite bring herself to look away.

She’s seen that skull branded into the sky, in ghostly green light, with that terrible snake crawling out of its mouth and around in mocking loops. She’s seen that mark sent up over countless houses and buildings and villages, in terrible warning and cruel fear-mongering and as a marker of murder most foul. She’s seen it in day and in night, at all hours of the day, and never has the massive light of the Dark Mark failed to bring dread into her heart, knowing that death was close at hand or had already been and gone.

The brand is different to that spell in the sky. The snake is still, as is the skull, and this Dark Mark is a deep, bloody red. It looks like an open wound, almost, or like it was painted in fresh blood. Settled into skin, it’s no less horrifying. No less hideous.

Marlene has heard such horrifying rumours of the things the Dark Mark can do. She’s desperate to know how it works. To take it apart until she knows what makes it tick.

“One of us had to,” Regulus continues fiercely, but his voice is trembling. Marlene looks up and, yeah, the boy kind of looks like he’s going to be sick. “After you ran, it had… to… it had to be someone and I’ll thank you n-not to dare erase that.”

After glaring at them all one last time, Regulus slowly rolls his sleeve back down and moves back from the edge of his seat. Marlene lowers her wand and does the same. There’s no fight to be had here. She looks at Sirius, who still has his wand pointed at his brother’s heart, to tell him to lower it already but… Sirius looks uncertain, in the face of Regulus’ wary gaze.

That’s… hm. Marlene has rarely known Sirius to be an uncertain person.

Regulus breaks the stare first and looks down at the floor.

“...You were warning me,” Sirius says finally, and lowers his wand.  

Regulus’ head snaps back up immediately. He looks at his elder brother warily, as Sirius stares at him with wide-eyed realization of something yet unknown to Marlene.

“What in the world are you talking about?” Regulus demands.

“‘I think Father wants to speak to you immediately,’” Sirius repeats. “‘I believe he’s in the kitchen.’ ...Only Father wasn’t in the kitchen, was he, Reggie? He was in his study and he didn’t want to speak to me at all.”

For a split-second, Marlene thinks she spy panic on Regulus’ face.

“I made a mistake,” he snaps.

“That’s not what you said before, Reggie. You said you did it to steal my Arithmancy books.”

“You wouldn’t have let me borrow them.”

“Because you had your own copies!” Sirius snaps back. “It wasn’t ever about the book, you lying little creeper! It was because Mother was in the dining room with Aunt Cassiopeia having a conversation you sent me to go overhear because you knew!”

Hm, Marlene thinks, as the picture slowly dawns on her too.

“As usual, Sirius, you’ve put your keen and penetrating mind to the task and come to the wrong conclusion,” Regulus says. He sounds like he was trying to drawl it, but it came out all uneven.

Sirius is unimpressed. “Now there’s an insult I haven’t heard in a while. When are you going to pull your insults into the next century, Reggie?”

“Insults develop with their target… or not.”

“Developing… or not. I think we’ve found the new family motto,” Sirius says drolly. “At least your insults have the family politics to keep them company back there. Come on, Reggie. You warned me on purpose!”

“I wanted your books,” Regulus says stubbornly.

“I thought you made a mistake.

“Yes, apparently it was coming here to talk to you.”

Alright, Marlene’s had enough of this. This is getting annoying, not knowing what they’re talking about. They already nearly came to a duel, just five minutes ago, and Marlene doesn’t actually want a fight to break out in her house. She’s going to cut this one off before it starts in earnest. Marlene lifts her fingers to her lips and whistles loudly.

Both Black brothers shut up.

“Again, there won’t be any pointless fighting in my house,” Marlene says firmly. “Also: there will be an explanation as to what the hell you’re both talking about. The only person who gets to speak vaguely about pivotal moments in this house is me. ...And Dory, if she ever feels like it.”

Dorcas, arms still crossed, remains unimpressed.

“Baby Black,” Marlene says. “Explain yourself. What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Regulus answers icily, and clamps a protective hand over his sleeve again. That says something, Marlene thinks. “But apparently everything was actually my fault all along. It’s my fault that Sirius ran away. Who knew?”

“You’re really going to keep lying about this?” Sirius demands, looking incredulous. His grip is tight on his wand. “Is it just habit to you? You can’t help it?”

“Well, you see, lying is actually defined as when someone isn’t telling the truth-”

“Reggie, I know you’re an idiot, but stop playing the fool.”

Regulus turns up his nose at his brother. “I can’t help it,” he says flatly. “It’s habit.”

Sirius rubs at his head like this is giving him a headache.

He’s not the only one.

“I’m waiting,” Marlene says pleasantly. “If I’m not told,” she continues warningly, “I’m going to start guessing and I can promise that no one will like that option.”

No one answers her.

Alright, these boys can get a hint of how fights go in the McKinnon family, then.

“Alright, so we’re going with the hard way, it seems,” Marlene says. “Here’s what I think: something was happening that the baby Black knew about, so he secretly squealed by setting up the bigger Black to overhear a conversation. Whatever was said may or mayn’t have inspired the infamous disappearing act. Am I right?”

Sirius Black running away from home was big news around their group when it happened.

“...Yes,” Sirius says, clipped.

“Now, baby Black won’t admit to it, but he’s shit at lying about it honestly, so I don’t particularly care. I’m curious to know what this conversation was about, that it was so terrible that it still matters now.”

Neither answer again and Marlene sighs heavily.

“Sirius you’re the one who brought it up. I have an inkling of why you flew the coop early, so if you don’t want to get into it, fine, but then you and him have to drop it in my house.”

 “Hold on, do they really not know why you ran away?” Regulus says suddenly, surprised. “Does anyone? Did the Potters know? Does Potter know?”

Sirius looks at him with wide eyes, then narrows them. “Shut up, Reggie.”

Regulus sits back, disbelievingly humouring. “Fine. Let’s just drop this entire conversation and call it a day, all agreed?”

Marlene… could agree with that… if she weren’t overwhelmingly curious.

“...James does know, actually,” Sirius says.

Marlene looks at him. He has a thoughtful, angry look on his face. A determined look.

“But today seems as good a day as any to let the boggart out of the wardrobe,” Sirius continues, in the face of his brother’s uncertain frown. “It’ll come out sooner of later with you around, anyway.”

Then Sirius looks at Marlene and says, “I was supposed to be Marked the summer after my fifth year, did you know? That’s when it’s done: at sixteen, the summer before you have a chance of turning seventeen.”

Regulus makes a frustrated sound, while Sirius smiles.

Marlene stares at him in something like shock. They were going to try and make Sirius a Death Eater? Marlene thought the Black family intended only on tightening Sirius’ leash, perhaps on sending him away or punishing him, she didn’t think they’d try and bring Sirius into the fold like that. Marlene has always been fairly sure Sirius would die before he became a Death Eater.

He says it often enough.

“You were what?” Marlene demands.

 “Yeah, that was more or less my reaction when I overheard dear Mother and Auntie Cass talking about it,” Sirius continues with sharp brightness. “Never mind that I’d have to be forced all the way - and would rather cut off my own arm and slap You-Know-Who in the face with it than live like that.”

Yeah, Marlene never thought anyone would try and make a Death Eater out of a boy who talks like that. Marlene always figured that Blacks were sort of nuts. Exactly the sort of people who might cut off their arms out of determination and spite, if they thought it necessary.

“So, I stopped overestimating my ability to last the rest of the summer in that house, packed my bags, and ran for it later that night,” Sirius says. “What’s happening here is that I just realized this idiot wasn’t just being annoying and was actually warning me about my parents’ plans for bringing me back into the fold. But you only wanted my Arithmancy books, eh, Reggie?”

Sirius look at Regulus, at that, and so does Marlene. Regulus has been looking at the floor, but he drags his gaze up to meet his brother’s. Sirius looks… almost warm towards his brother here. Regulus… Regulus just looks stricken.

Marlene doesn’t know what to make of Regulus “saving” Sirius. Something seems… off.

“Good read, Reggie?” Sirius asks.

Regulus swallows and says, “I didn’t do it for the books.” His voice comes out harsh and hoarse, and Marlene now has a definite bad feeling about where this is going. She’s proven right as Regulus continues, “And I definitely didn’t do it for you.”

Sirius’ brows crease and that just makes his younger brother look frustrated.

“I did it for me,” Regulus Black snaps. “I was jealous. You were already a bloodtraitor and you still their first pick! You were getting what I wanted, so I got you out of my way.”

Oh, that makes… more sense.

Marlene doesn’t know who to feel worse for here, Sirius who looks stunned or Regulus who looks angrier than he does ashamed. Regulus looks away again quickly, frowning at the floor, while Sirius keeps staring at his younger brother, who just admitted that saving Sirius was a byproduct of jealousy over being a Death Eater.

Marlene’s only reference for this is her own family’s problems, which are very different from these problems, and Marlene couldn’t even handle those problems, so she left.

“...We definitely should’ve waited for the Potters to get back,” she says quietly.

Beside her, Dorcas scoffs belligerently. “This is like being surprise at getting pus when you poke a Bubotuber,” she says. “You should all just stop.”

Regulus lifts his look and glares at her. “Who are you?” he demands.

Marlene thinks that it might be an actual question, though it sounds like a dismissal.

Dorcas glares back at him. “Mind your own business. It’s enough of a mess.”

That doesn’t settle Regulus Black at all. He opens his mouth to answer - presumably to start this all over again in an endless cycle of miserable argument - and Marlene has her fingers at the ready to drown him out with as much shrieking whistles as necessary. Dorcas is not getting an argument with a defected Death Eater on Marlene’s watch.

But, as Regulus opens his mouth to speak to Dorcas, he’s interrupted by a knock at the front door. He pauses immediately and closes his mouth. They all pause.

 

~

 

“Are we expecting more guests I didn’t know about?” Dorcas demands unhappily.

“...No,” Marlene assures her slowly. “We’re not.”

“They can’t possibly be back from Hogwarts already,” Sirius says surely. “It’s not been long enough. They wouldn’t have even gotten past Hogsmeade.”

“Something must have gone wrong,” Regulus says immediately, getting to his fit. He stumbles over a stack of knitting magazines and Marlene turns a finger on him immediately.

“You sit.”

Sirius is right in that it can’t be the Potters. If something had gone wrong, Marlene doesn’t know why Lily or Jim would bother with knocking. Marlene hasn’t invited anyone else onto the property and no stranger, solicitor, or neighbour should know that the McKinnon-Meadowes house is currently open to visitors. The odds of that seem unlikely. Really unlikely.

But the list of people who have their own key to the McKinnon-Meadowes house isn’t long and is really unpleasant. Meaning: the only people who have keys are Marlene’s sisters and mother. The knocking, in this and every case with them, is a rather mocking pleasantry.

Marlene has enough in her to have a look, to catch a whiff of an impression of their intruders...

“Even if you weren’t supposed to be dead, I wouldn’t let you answer my door,” Marlene says warningly, to Regulus, as she takes that look as to who’s on the doorstep. “I’ve allowed visitors, but no one should even know to come now, and I’m not expecting anyone who has a key-”

Unhappiness.

It’s not much to go on, but Marlene knows that distinct flavour of unhappiness.

“Oh, no.”

“Who is it?” Dorcas demands.

“Not the Potters,” Marlene answers quickly, trying not to panic because this is the worst possible time for a surprise visit from her sisters, and whirls on the Black brothers. “You two need to hide now.

Sirius gets to his feet immediately. “Why? Who’s there?”

“My sisters,” Marlene says, jumping to her feet as well, as though she’ll need to prevent Sirius from getting into a duel with them. Oh, her sisters aren’t dangerous, but they are very dangerous and this is not a good time for them to be here.

They’ve been talking about not handing over control to Headmaster Dumbledore, but even that would be better than getting Marlene’s sisters and mother involved in this mess.

“Oh,” Dorcas says, unhappily.

“We’ll go out the back door,” Sirius suggests quickly.

It’s a good suggestion, it’s a sensible suggestion, and that’s why it can’t be done.

“You can’t,” Marlene says. “I’ve done that before. One of them will be waiting at the back door to catch me from sneaking out and-” She throws up a hand. “-I can’t just not open the door. They have keys. They will come in eventually, if I take too long.”

“Where can we hide, then?” Regulus demands.

“Upstairs? A broom closet? Do you have a basement?” Sirius suggests.

A sharp knock sounds on the door once again. Marlene jumps.

Dorcas sighs, the only person still sitting on the couch. “You can’t do that, either. Marlene’s sisters have no real sense of boundaries and half of them are obsessively neat. I’ve seen them go through our closets before. You might be able to keep them distracted, but…”

“They’ll get suspicious and then they’ll really get nosy,” Marlene finishes.

“Then where are we supposed to hide?” Regulus repeats, sounding frustrated. “Do you have a safe room? No hiding spot? Surely, you have some sensible safety precautions of that-”

“Sure, around the house,” Marlene says. “Not in the house.”

“Why not? You clearly need them!”

“Reggie, that’s not helping,” Sirius snaps. Then he looks at Marlene, firmly. “Don’t worry about hiding me, I’m not on the run and your sisters can just throw me out. I’ll turn into a dog if I have to. We need to hide him. Reggie’s the one they can’t see, so just worry about hiding him.”

“How about under the sink?” Dorcas says.

Regulus glares at her, but… Marlene thinks that Dorcas may have a point.

Sirius catches on quickly too. “Hide him in one of the kitchen cabinets and then hide the door. If they can’t see it, they won’t open it. They won’t notice one missing cabinet, will they?”

“No, they shouldn’t,” Marlene agrees. “I can distract them enough for that.”

“You can’t be seriously contemplating-” Regulus begins.

“Too late, Reggie. Contemplated,” Sirius says, and grabs his brother’s arm to pull him towards the kitchen. “Unless you want people finding out you’re not dead and have a better idea, this is what we’re going with. Do you have a better idea?”

Regulus opens his mouth to answer, as they stumble their way to the kitchen, but another knock rings impatiently through the house. “...Fine,” Regulus says unhappily.

Wow, Sirius’ younger brother must really not want to be caught. Fair enough.

Marlene is too panicked to really appreciate the humour in Sirius pushing his brother into a kitchen cabinet. She’s too busy trying to figure out why her sisters have suddenly shown up on her doorstep, without warning, besides simply coming to berate her for joining the Order of the Phoenix and moving out of the house years ago. Are they just here to bother her? Do they want something? How did they manage to pick now to show up?

Why today of all days?

“Marlene,” Sirius interrupts.

Marlene stops pacing, having realized she’s been pacing, and looks at him. He’s got his wand over the closed kitchen cabinet and taps it. First the handle sinks into the wood, then the door itself sinks away as well, leaving nothing by smooth wood in that space. It looks ordinary enough that no one should think twice about there not being another cabinet there. Good.

“I just tried to get a hold of James, but he’s not answering,” Sirius says, frustrated.

“Can you leave a message?”

“Not really. Don’t know if he’s in a position where I can shout for his attention either. Once your sisters kick me out, I can try to reach him but-”

Marlene looks Sirius in the eye with a grimace and says, “Honestly. I’d rather you hide too. I’ll try to get rid of them quickly, so it won’t be for long. Before Lily and Jim get back with the other one we need to hide, definitely.”

The eldest McKinnon sisters give Marlene enough shit as it is for Dorcas. Oh, they won’t think there’s anything necessarily suspicious in Marlene having Sirius over - they know he’s in that Lily Evans and Jim Potter circle of friends - but they won’t be happy about it. Rather, they’ll be suspicious that Marlene fancies Sirius Black and Marlene just doesn’t want to deal with their planned lectures and then also whatever lecture they come up with on why snogging Sirius Black is a bad idea.

Like Marlene doesn’t already know that and would ever want to in the first place. If she’s going to snog anyone to piss off her sisters, it’s going to be Dorcas. If Dorcas ever wants to snog Marlene in the first place, that is, which a girl can dream about if she wants to.

“Please?” Marlene says desperately. “Just… it’ll go a lot quicker if they don’t see you.”

Sirius raises his eyebrows at her, but doesn’t object. “Al...right,” he says. “Fine. So, you’re dogsitting for James and Lily - their dog Snuffles, got it? Try and shove your family out the door because the Potters are coming to pick up their dog and maybe over for dinner, and I’ll… try to alert them something if we can’t get your family out of here quickly enough.”

No, Marlene does not ‘got it’.

“You… want me… to turn you into a dog?” Marlene says slowly. “Wasn’t that a joke?”  

Sirius snorts. “No, I’m going to turn me into a dog.”

“But-”

And then Sirius turns himself into a dog. It’s… it’s like watching any other transfiguration, really: mildly disturbing shape-shifting that takes about as long as a sneeze. It seems like Marlene blinks and suddenly there is a great black dog on her kitchen floor, grinning up at her, wagging its tail. It’s enormous. It’s shaggy. It looks like the damn Grim.

An actual omen of death. That bodes well.

“...How long has that been a thing?” Marlene demands incredulously.

The dog, ‘Snuffles’, barks at her.

Helpful.

Another knock raps through the house and Marlene gets the sense that her sisters’ patience is running out. That’s… faster than it usually runs out. Four knocks might seem like a lot, but Marlene's kept her sisters waiting much longer in the absurd hope that they’d go away if she pretended that she wasn’t home. It’s never worked yet and apparently it’s definitely not going to work today.

Marlene looks back down at ‘Snuffles’.

“This is not over,” Marlene informs him. “When did you become an Animagus?”

‘Snuffles’ barks again.

“I don’t speak dog. I don’t suppose you speak any other animal-”

Another knock.

“They’re going to break down my door at this rate,” Marlene says, looking offendedly in the direction of the front door. “Alright, fine, let’s hope this work. Come on, Snuffles.”

Marlene heads out of the kitchen, with the click-click of a dog’s paws right at her heels, which is odd. Marlene’s not one for pets, McKinnons don’t do pets, and she’s never even really been around dogs before. Neither have her sisters, actually. She doesn’t know if Daisy or Etta are scared of dogs, but she can live in hope, especially when Sirius’ Animagus form is apparently the omen of death known as the Grim.

“I don’t suppose you could haunt my sisters out of here, huh?”

Snuffles… shrugs at her. At least, Marlene thinks it’s a shrug. She didn’t know dogs could shrug. She’ll interpret that as Sirius saying he’ll give it his best shot.

“I’ll take it,” she says, and ducks her head into the living room.

Dorcas is still sitting on the sofa.

“Are you-?”

“I’m going back to the garden as soon as they come inside,” Dorcas says. “I’ll avoid making contact with them so they have one less thing to complain about.”

“Alright. I’ll… try to keep them away from you. I’ll kick them out as soon as I can.”

Marlene would never ask that Dorcas sit around and be belittled by her sisters. That’s Marlene’s job, of course. Also, there’s no reason for Dorcas to have to put up with Marlene’s awful family if she doesn’t have to, especially not when Marlene’s awful family can barely put up with Dorcas’ existence, much less her place in Marlene’s home and Marlene’s friend.

Marlene takes a deep breath and goes to open the door. She checks the peep hole, as a matter of habit, thinking that this’ll be really embarrassing if she’s somehow wrong. She’s not relieved, but she is right: it is her sisters.

But it’s not the sisters she was expecting.

Marlene was expecting Daisy and Etta, with one of them at the front door and one of them at the back door. (Daisy at the front door, because Daisy never uses the doorbell and always orders Etta around the back.) Only it’s Daisy and Cella on the front step, with Daisy looking extremely impatient and Cella looking extremely bored.

Daisy is the eldest, Etta is the second eldest, and they’re both unpleasant and extremely stuffy. But Cella, the third eldest and Marlene’s closest sister, is… well, she can bring her own unpleasantness and problems, but she’s funny and occasionally helpful and the only sister Marlene can tolerate. Cella is also rarely around and Marlene can’t imagine her coming to this house with the others unless Daisy dragged her here.

Marlene checks the second peephole, to look out the back door. Yep, there’s Etta.

That’s all three of them.

Hm.

“Didn’t anyone teach you to stop knocking if no one answers?” Marlene says, as she opens the front door, just before Daisy can knock for a fifth time. “Hello, Daisy. Hello, Cella. I’m a bit busy at the moment and not fit for company.”

“Are you ever?” Cella drawls teasingly. “Hello, Leeny.”

Daisy just scowls, as she lowers her hand. “Hello. It should not have taken so long to open the door for us,” she says imperiously. “We have important business with you, Leeny.”

“That’s nice. Too bad that I’m busy right now.”

“It cannot possibly be as important as the business we have with you. This is family business, Leeny. We have come with a message from our mother,” Daisy continues, looking over Marlene’s shoulder into the house. She frowns deeply at the state of the hallway. “Perhaps it is the state of your house that keeps you from answering the door in a timely manner.”

“Maybe it’s that I just didn’t want to,” Marlene counters pleasantly.

Cella snorts, but Daisy doesn’t find his funny. Sometimes Marlene thinks that Daisy doesn’t find anything funny, except she remembers Daisy laughing, when they were younger, so sometimes Marlene thinks that Daisy doesn’t remember Daisy laughing. Like Daisy just forgot how to be or can’t remember being anything but miserable.

“Step aside, Marlene,” Daisy orders. “We have much to discuss and much to do.”

What’s that saying that Lily’s said before, of dealing with family? Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war? Although, maybe that’s not applicable, because Lily’s sister doesn’t talk to her anymore and Lily actually wants to talk to her sister.

“What’s this about?” Marlene asks stubbornly. “I have people coming over.”

Daisy’s frown twitches. She’s still not gotten used to Marlene having a backbone. Maybe Marlene ought to thank Cella for being so openly disobedient, which distracted everyone from Marlene until Marlene was ready to be openly disobedient. With Cella being so sticky-fingered, it was too late by the time Daisy, Etta, and Mum decided to pay attention to Marlene.

“A family matter and a message from Mum, you said,” Marlene continues, before Daisy can say it again. “But what about? What’s happening that all four of us have to be summoned? Seriously, I have people coming over, can’t-”

“It’s about that You-Know-Who,” Cella says.

“Cella,” Daisy hisses.

Cella rolls her eyes and Marlene feels sympathetic.

“Didn’t you all want to stay out of that?” Marlene says bemusedly. “What’s changed Mum’s mind about getting involved in the fight against You-Know-Who? And yours, accordingly?”

“We will talk of this in private, ” Daisy commands. “Move, Leeny.”

Marlene wishes she was less curious a person.

If her Mum’s decided to wade into this war, something must have happened. Hopefully, Marlene will be able to get it out of them and then get them out of her house quickly.

She moves.

“This ought to be interesting,” she says. “Come on in. Sorry for the mess… and the dog.”

Daisy pauses in scowling at the hallway. “...What dog?”

 

Chapter Text

Lily loves magic. The Room of Hidden things is a wonder from the first appearance of its door, but the room itself is too wondrous for words. Like she’s a little girl again, in this big, big, magical room. Because when Lily was a little girl, so many places in the magical world felt like stepping into a book: Diagon Alley, Gringotts, Platform 9 ¾, Hogwarts… it was like walking through a sweeping daydream with all the details filled in to make it real.

Lily remembers, as a little girl, checking to make sure it was all real at every step. The creaking hinges of the shop doors in Diagon Alley, the dust on the shelves of Ollivander’s shop, and the echo of her footsteps on Gringotts’ shining marble floors. If Lily could touch it, then it was real, and there was an entire world where Lily and her magic belonged, just as promised.

She’s outgrown that habit, like she’s outgrown a lot of ideas about the magical world. Like she’s outgrown a lot of things. But still, the Room of Hidden Things brings back that feeling: like Lily is a little girl… in a wonderful world of magic… and she needs to touch everything.

The Room of Hidden Things is enormous, cavernous, and like a hall even greater than the Great Hall downstairs. It’s like being inside a mountain and surrounded by mountains. In front of them are towering walls of abandoned objects, great canyons of misplaced junk, and it seems to go on and on in a labyrinth of stuff. Lights hang on long chains from that high, dark ceiling, then disappear around corners and behind the hills.

Desks, chairs, and assorted furniture are stacked like fortresses. These fortresses are then decorated with glass flasks in all shapes and sizes, moth-eaten bathrobes and curtains in every colour and pattern, and countless textbooks, suits of armour, staggeringly impractical weapons, and bizarre mechanical devices that aren’t quite gold anymore. The fortresses are then guarded by strange taxidermied creatures, broomsticks that have seen better days, enormous musical instruments of unknown origin, and even a travelling chest that seems to have feet.

It’s largely lost things, ordinary-looking things, but there are extraordinary things hidden in this hoard. Lily can see a carousel horse with flaking paint and a dresser that looks like it has a human face. It’s like the room is holding every bizarre experiment, failed piece of homework, and final assignment that’s ever passed through Hogwarts. Everything every student in Hogwarts ever tried to make or even dreamed of, then lost or tried to make disappear.

“Where do Vanished objects go?” Professor Flitwick had once asked of his seventh year N.E.W.T. Charms class. Then he’d sat back and seemingly had a jolly good laugh at all of them as they argued over it, until he’d needed to step in before the yelling out of hand and one of his own Ravenclaws decided to throw the first punch.

“Here,” Lily might have said, if she’d known about this room. “They all come here.”

“...I’ve made a mistake,” Lily says mildly.

“Yeah?” Jim says, because he’s always willing to humour her.

“I made a joke about the wrong mountain,” Lily tells him. “This is that other lost kingdom behind a secret door, because this sort of hoard is dragonous.”

“That’s not a word,” Jim says bemusedly.

He says it like he wasn’t mildly bewildered by the concept of a talking dragon. (“No, no,” James said quickly. “I understand that it’s a metaphor, it’s just… it’s still weird.”)

“It should be,” Lily insists, because it should.

“What’s wrong with ‘draconian’?”

“Makes me think old rather than big, ” Lily says dismissively, “and this is big.”

Many of the magical world’s laws? Draconian.

This room? Dragonous.

“...It’d be a bit counter-productive for dragons to hoard loads of broken wooden furniture,” James says finally, still sounding bemused.

“Everything is flammable if the fire’s hot enough,” Lily insists, because she can just picture a great big monster rolling around, dormant under these hidden things, in the depths of this mountainous room. “I’m pretty sure that there’s a dragon somewhere in here.”

“...There might be,” Harry volunteers.

He pulls off the Invisibility Cloak and he looks… wary of the room around them.

Lily pulls off her Disillusionment Charm, which has always felt a bit like shaking off egg yolk, even when it’s gone, the back of her mind can still feel it clinging a little bit. She moves her wand to Jim next, to do the same for him.

“...Really? Is there a dragon in here?” she says interestedly.

Jim, as he melts out the air, looks very concerned.

“There’s a stuffed mountain troll somewhere in here,” Harry says, still looking around at the towers of lost things. “Turns out mountain trolls smell terrible dead or alive,” he adds, with a touch of wry humour in his voice. “I’ve never seen a dragon in here, but anything’s possible, I suppose.”

Lily doesn’t actually think there’s a dragon in here, but… she wonders if the Room could make one. She wonders if anyone’s tried to make anything like a dragon in here. Probably. Lily enchanted a little parchment dragon once, for Mary, and it even breathed little puffs of shreddings and could glide across a room with a thrown start.

They never would have gotten Marlene out of here, with all this glorious junk to play with and poke at to her heart’s content - to turn upside down and inside out until she knew exactly what made it tick. This room is probably what their dorm room would have been, without Lily and the others regularly putting their feet down, give or take a thousand years.

“Is anything in here dangerous?” Jim asks.

Harry’s gaze had almost come back to them, but it goes out over the room again, consideringly. “...About as dangerous as the rest of Hogwarts, I think,” he says. “It’s a room of abandoned magical junk, so… yeah.”

So… yeah. That sounds about right.

“Be careful what you touch?” Lily suggests. Then, because Harry’s shoulders are starting to slump, as he watches the mountains like something might jump out, she adds confidingly, “Jim isn’t great at that.” Just to lighten the mood.

Jim scoffs “Cauldron? Kettle,” he declares immediately, but the concern in his expression finally melts away as Harry looks at them.

If someone had told a younger Lily Evans that Jim Potter was such a worrier, she never would have believed them. After all, he didn’t seem to worry about his classes or his troublemaking or his being an arrogant, bullying toerag. Then he grew up and so did she. Then she married him and realized that Jim, all grown up, did nothing but worry. All the time.

Someone had to balance out Sirius. Probably.

“Alright, maybe it was good that we never found this place,” Jim admits, his voice turning fond. “We never would have gotten Sirius out of here, tinkering with all this.”

Yep.  

“Hey, kettle?” Lily says. “Cauldron.”

Because Jim would have been right there with him, once he’d gotten over trying to be responsible and threw himself into the fray. Not that Lily could really comment, because after she’d finished being responsible, she probably would have been climbing over mountain after mountain of misplaced objects after Marlene.

Anything could be in here. Anything. The possibilities are endless and it’s incredible.  

Jim laughs, loud and delighted, and mimes his blow to the heart.

Lily puts her hands on her hips. “To be fair, though,” she admits. “We already would’ve lost Marlene for good by now.”

“Huh. Maybe we should’ve brought her after all.”

Lily swats Jim, lightly, as she does when he’s making that sort of joke. It’s habit at this point, even knowing that Jim likes Marlene well enough and both Lily and Jim being aware of Lily’s own hypocrisy. She’s made enough unserious jokes about ditching Sirius. Or, as she’s frequently called him: Jim’s better half.

“This is gonna go in circles if we keep this up,” Jim says, weathering the swat with a broad grin. “Harry, where can we find what we’re looking for?”

Harry, who’s been watching them curiously, seems to take a second to realize that he’s been spoken to. He looks quickly back to the towering walls of objects, then frowns deeply.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I think I know where it could be, but I think the room’s rearranged itself. Before, it was sitting besides a stone warlock and a dusty old wig, all by a cupboard just off that way.” He gestures in the direction he’s talking about.

“Harry,” Jim interrupts. “You’re not making much tense.”

Harry frowns again and looks confusedly towards James. Then he gets it.

“It will be sitting there,” Harry corrects, smiling back and shrugging, looking terribly like Jim as he does it. “Look, it’s been nearly twenty years and the future’s sort of past for me right now. For all I know, Vold- Tom originally put his tiara on the stuffed troll and it’s still here.”

Lily huffs in amusement and Jim laughs.

“Is that troll doing ballet too?” Lily asks, and Jim doubles over completely.

“I sort of need my eyes, so I hope not,” Harry answers, still smiling. “Not last I saw.”

“Then there hope yet,” Jim declares brightly. “Why don’t we look for where the diadem was before? Then look from there. The objects probably don’t shuffle around so much that it won’t have stuck close to something recognizable. Anything specifically entrusted with something tends to hold onto it.”

Lily nodded, because that was true and as good a place to start as any.

Harry seemed to think about it… and kept thinking about it.

This wasn’t the first time that Lily and Jim had kept the mood bright and the conversation going in a tense situation. It was all they had ever seemed to do as Head Girl and Head Boy of Hogwarts. Some of the other Order members seemed to disapprove of them trying to keep a sense of humour and to remind everyone that it was alright to laugh - Lily, Jim, Jim’s friends, Marlene to a degree - but Lily had had the thought that if she didn’t keep going… if she didn’t keep smiling… well, one day she might just stop. Moping about didn’t get much done.

Harry Potter seemed to have a similar sense of humour, but he was still one of the gloomiest people Lily had ever met. Not that she blamed him for that, if he’d died to get here, but still. Whatever dark cloud was lingering over Harry seemed determined to stay there.

Lily wondered how Harry’s death had sent him here. She’d heard that a sacrifice could be a powerful thing, in the right contexts, but she’d never seen it connected with time travel.

“Harry?” Jim said.

Harry shakes his head and then… smiles. “Sorry. I just realized that McGonagall’s about twenty years younger,” he says wryly. “It’s a bit of a shocker to realized she wasn’t just born already nearly sixty.”

Lily smiles back and Jim grins widely.

“McGonagall’s still at Hogwarts by the time you got there?”

Harry’s smile widens and he replies, “McGonagall was still at Hogwarts by the time I left.”

He then gets a distant look in his eye and Lily thinks she sees a…

“Was she still doing the Animagus transformation trick on the first day?” Jim asks eagerly.

Harry blinks back at Jim. “Yeah, she was.”

“I loved that,” Jim says wistfully, stretching his arms up and ruffling at the back of his head. “No idea how she managed to leap off the desk, striding forward like that, without tripping over her robes. So neat. I’ve fallen on my arse while standing still, never mind jumping. Pads doesn’t either, the git, just me and-”

Lily sighs, because they’ve been over this.

“It’s the antlers,” she interrupts, and raising her hands to mime antlers sprouting from her head. “It keep telling you, it’s probably the loss of the antlers.” And the sudden gaining of them.

“You said that, and the next time, I punched a hole in the wall.”

“You overcompensated, dear,” Lily says teasingly, leaning towards him. “As usual.”

Jim mimes that blow to his heart and grins back at her.

“...Hang on. Is that a pun?”

Lily and Jim both look towards Harry in surprise.

“What?” Lily says.

“I mean, probably,” Jim says at the same time.

“Dear,” Harry repeats, looking specifically at Lily. “‘You overcompensated, dear.’” He squints at them, then says it accusingly, “That’s a pun.”

Well… guilty as charged. While Jim grins unrepentantly, Lily sighs, because she’s just remembered what happened the first time she called Jim “dear”. He burst out laughing, right in her face, and couldn’t explain why beyond that it was an inside joke. She’d been so mad and he’d been so sorry, and Sirius laughed at them both and Lily got even madder.

“I prefer to call it a term of en dear ment,” Lily says.

Harry immediately snorts. Lily smiles at him and he grins back, and he looks so like Jim.

“But we’re going to be stuck here all day if we get going on that track,” Lily continues. “So, let’s get going before we get terribly lost down the wrong labyrinth.”

“You’re no pun,” Jim accuses cheerily.

Lily swats him without looking, still smiling. “Lead the way, Harry.”

“Right,” Harry says, looking back towards the maze ahead of them. “...This way, I think.”

 

~

 

Lily still doesn’t know if she believes that Harry’s her son.

She hasn’t even really thought about kids with Jim yet, beyond that she wants them someday and knows Jim wants them too. Soon, she thought, while we’re still young. Jim’s parents had been old when they’d had him and Lily’s parents hadn’t been very young either when they’d had her and Petunia. Probably not right now, Lily and Jim agreed, because there was a war going on and Lily wasn’t sure she was ready, but... someday soon.

Lily definitely wasn’t ready to have a teenage son pop up out of nowhere. Telling her that he’d be born in less than a year. That he’d already died too. Lily still isn’t ready for all this. How is a person reasonably supposed to be ready for something like this?

She thinks that she believes Harry’s a time traveller, at least. If this is meant to be a trap, there are plenty of better places he could have taken them besides Hogwarts. Dragging along a defecting Regulus Black and stories about immortality aren’t what Lily would have brought with her, if she was looking to to tell a lie. If she believes that, she supposes she’s beginning to believe Harry could be her son. He certainly looks enough like Jim to be a relation.

He has her eyes.

Lily can barely imagine a baby. She’s struggling with imagining creating a whole person.

This whole person.

When she and Jim went to the graveyard, she’d been imagining Harry being Jim’s second cousin, like Jim had suggested. Instead, Lily’s been handed a son and she has to deal with it, when she’s just adjusted to having a husband. It’s… well… it’s something.

“Could we summon it?” Jim asks, less than a dozen steps into the maze.

“No, tried that last time and it didn’t work,” Harry answers, waving a hand over the stacks. “It’s convenient, just like Gringotts. Same enchantments, probably. It doesn’t yield whatever it’s hiding that easily to thieves. I’ve tried. Keep your eyes out for anything that looks like a tarnished tiara.”

“...That… is inconvenient.”

Harry, like Lily, notices Jim’s pause. He looks at Jim, who’s squinting at him.

“What?”

Jim shakes his head. “You sort of implied there that you’ve tried to rob Gringotts.”

“Oh. Uh, yeah. Yes.”

Lily huffs a laugh out of surprise. “How’d that go?”

She doesn’t know if she believes this either, but Harry looks far more embarrassed than anything else. Awkward. Not like he’s trying to brag at all.

Harry pauses, then just says, “It could’ve gone better.” After a few seconds, he continues, “I mean, we did it in the end. It’s just… It’s not as though we don’t try and plan, it’s just that we get there and all hell breaks loose anyway.”

“Probably not in your league of thing, by the sound of it, but yeah, that sounds familiar,” Jim says. “I think that’s a story I want to hear when you’re up for it. Congratulations on being the first person to successfully rob Gringotts!”

Harry grins back. “Second, actually, but thanks.”

“Second?”

“Someone got there before he did, Jim,” Lily explains, as she looks around. “Although… it seems a bit odd to me that there would’ve only been two successful robberies of Gringotts. I mean, surely there’s been more than just two over centuries.”

“It’s a bit odd that both happened within ten years,” Harry agrees.

“I think it’s more likely there’s been a lot more and it’s been hushed up or forgotten,” Lily says with a firm nod, because she does. At the very least, there’s got to be some fraud going on. She purses her lips at this distracting train of thought and says, “No offense to your thieving skills, Harry.”

“That’s all right, I wasn’t all that great at it anyway. Plus we had inside help.”

“This story is sounding better and better with every offhand detail,” Jim says delightedly. “Maybe there’s a whole hidden history of magical thieves who just never got caught. No one’s noticed or looked yet. Maybe because they made fake versions and replaced the real things with it. That’d be the neatest way, actually.”

Lily nods at that, though goblins reportedly can’t be fooled that way. Might be a lie.

Suddenly, Harry stops.

Lily and Jim stop too. Jim asks, “D’you see it?”

“...No.”

Harry looks around the room again, with a frown that looks… lost. He eventually lands on an upside-down bookshelf, stacked with magazines and some scuffed-up Quidditch gear. Lily doesn’t see anything that looks like a tiara there. The most notable part of the pile is the one blue galosh on top, with pieces of a silver flute sticking out of it.

 Harry’s silence goes on a little too long again, so Lily exchanges another look with Jim.

“Harry?” Jim says.

When Harry doesn’t answer, his back to him, Jim exchanges another concerned look with Lily, then Jim goes around to stand in front of Harry. To catch Harry’s attention. Lily follows him, hovering a step behind, keeping an eye on the labyrinth of lost things around them.

She’s noticed that when things go badly, they tend to go really badly.

Whatever’s gone wrong here, Lily recognizes it as the same thing that’s been troubling Harry since they met him. He’s got that distant expression on his face again, frowning towards a pile of junk, and Lily sees it again: that apparent light. That odd gleam.

“Harry,” Jim says again. “Harry.”

Lily’s beginning to think it’s something magical, as it disappears like a trick of the light, when Harry comes back to himself. He blinks at them both, like he didn’t see them move.

“Harry?” Jim says.

“Yeah, um, sorry,” Harry says immediately.

“Your ghost just moved out for nearly a minute,” Jim tells him slowly.

“...I got lost in thought.”

Lily purses her lips and wonders what Marlene would make of this. If this was a spell or a charm or a potion, Lily doesn’t think Harry’s moments of distance would come in and out like this. And if it’s not a spell or a potion, then it’s probably magic beyond her.

“...Pretty far lost in thought,” she prompts.

Harry bites his lip, then says, “Sorry, it’s just… I can’t see anything that I recognize. I know the diadem has to be here, but everything’s been rearranged. I don’t know where it is.”

Well… that’s a problem that would bother someone.

“Al… right,” Jim says.

“I guess we’ll have to find it the old-fashioned way,” Lily says pragmatically.

Jim groans. “Ah… We’re going to have to send a note telling the kids we won’t be back in time for dinner. Sorry, busy treasure-hunting.”

“We’ll make it if we try. They’ll manage.”

Lily might have felt bad for Regulus Black, being stuck with Sirius Black, Marlene McKinnon, and Dorcas Meadowes for company, if she was inclined to feel at all particularly badly for Regulus Black. There’s few groups of people so interrogative and disinclined to believe whatever lies Regulus might tell them, if he tells any. Lily hopes it’s going well.

Lily looks at Harry and smiles encouragingly. “Are you sure we can’t summon it?”

“Tried before and it didn’t work,” Harry answers.

Jim rubs the back of his neck, then offers knowingly, “Mum always said summoning is how nice things get broken.”

“It took Fiendfyre to break it last time,” Harry answers again, looking grim.

“Let’s… not do that,” Lily suggests. “Either of those things.”

She’s never heard of Fiendfyre ending well. It was a foremost example in Charms of magic at its most dangerous, then underlined as a rather… malevolent spell. If not malevolent, then at least hungry, and with no regard with the safety of the caster. Not that many spells had that.  

“I don’t even know how to make Fiendfyre,” Jim says agreeably.

“Personally speaking, the important one is knowing how to put it out,” Harry says, looking thankfully less solemn. He shrugs when they look at him. “I don’t know how to do either.”

“Okay,” Lily says. “How about this? We’ll split up and look for the diadem the old-fashioned way. Jim can go that way. Harry, you and I can go this way together. If anyone finds the diadem, they put some sort of marker on it and give a shout for everyone else. No one, at any point, will light anything on fire without everyone first agreeing on it.”

If there’s one thing Lily’s learned through loving Jim Potter, if being a witch hadn’t begun to teach her the same thing, it’s that sometimes things really do need to be lit on fire. Lily will only lay down the law on talking about it first, if possible. If she needs to be a massive hypocrite later, so be it, but she still thinks fire should be one of those things that everyone agrees on first.

“Room for change in a changing room,” Jim says approvingly. “I like it.” He then gives he a pointed look as he offers, “You sure you don’t wanna take on that path, love? I can take this one.”

He’s offering to take on Harry.

“No,” Lily says. “Dibs on this one, dear.”

She’s still worried that Jim is taking this all a bit too fast.

Jim raises his eyebrows at her, but doesn’t argue aloud. “Fair enough,” he says instead. “Sounds good to me. Harry, you all right with this?”

“Yeah.”

Jim nods, leans down to peck Lily on the edge of her mouth, then nods again and saunters off back the way they came. Jim goes off with a grin and a wave over his shoulder, then turns around a bend of bathtubs and lamps, out of sight.

Harry is watching him go with another odd look, but he doesn’t have a distant expression when he looks expectantly back at Lily. He’s all here.

“Come on,” Lily says, nodding in the other direction.

Harry falls into step beside her easily. “Aren’t we going to split up too?”

“Well, we could,” Lily agrees, “but you don’t have a wand still and I wanted to keep talking.”

“Oh,” Harry says, surprised. “Um, what about?”

“Anything goes,” Lily answers lightly. “How about… hmm…”

Harry looks away from her, back over the piles of lost things, and Lily tries for something easy again. What sort of friends does he have? A person can tell a lot about a bloke through his friends. All she’s heard mention of so far are vague figures and a house elf.

And the subject of friends is an easy one to lead around.

“You keep saying ‘we’ when you’re talking about the things you’ve done,” Lily says finally, friendly and curious. “Is that royal?”

“No,” Harry answers. “My friends were there for most of it.”

“What are they like?”

“They…” Harry pauses for several seconds, and he’s looking away so Lily can’t see the expression on his face. When he looks back at her, he says sincerely and rather finally,  “They’re the best people in the world.”

“The best friends always are,” Lily says, and can’t help a small smile, even though she wishes Harry elaborated. “If you don’t want to talk about them right now, that’s alright. I’m sorry, it was insensitive of me to ask, probably. If you do want to talk about them, I’d like to hear about the best people in the world. They sound rather nice.”

Harry smiles back at her. “Thanks.”

“You’ve met most of my friends already,” Lily begins, casually but carefully. “Well, Dorcas is more of a friend-of-a-friend. She’s really nice once you get to know her. So’s Marlene. They’re a bit strange at first, but they grow on you, like Dorcas’ plants. Not like Jim’s friends. They’re more like leeches. Good leeches, though, except I don’t like leeches, but I like them, so maybe not like leeches after all.”

Harry laughs. “Maybe not.”

When Lily was Head Girl, making people feel comfortable was a good way to get them to come out of their shells. A little self-depreciative sharing never seemed to hurt, alongside some other jokes, in making herself more approachable and personable.

Lily’s problem used to be shutting up once she really got started.

“Did you know Jim accidentally got a bunch of leeches attached to my face once?”

“Oh, Merlin, no,” Harry laughs. “Ouch.”

“Yeah, ouch. He laughed first; I think it was surprise, because then he was so sorry I thought he was going to stick leeches to his own face to make it up to me. I almost let him, I was so mad, but Professor McGonagall intervened before I could make up my mind about it.”

“Ron once accidentally dropped a bar of Unslippable Soap into my glass of water and forgot to tell me or dump the water,” Harry volunteers. “I hiccupped bubbles for a week. He laughed at me more than he was sorry.”  

Lily laughs and she thinks it might not all be surprise. She claps a hand over her mouth.

“Bubbles out of my mouth every time I talked,” Harry says wryly, apparently entirely unoffended. He really does look and sound very much like James. “They tickled.”

Lily laughs again, though she tries to quash it quickly. “Oh, I’m sorry, but that’s… terrible funny. Something like that happened to my friend Mary once. Madam Pomfrey just told her to wait it out and not put Bubbling Tea in a Pepper-Up Potion ever again. She had the hiccups for a whole day - a whole twenty-four hours - she could barely sleep, she was so jittery, and she jumped a foot in the air every time she hiccuped. Poor Mary.”

“...Is that why Madam Pomfrey hands out pamphlets warning people not to mix Pepper-Up Potions? Bubbling Tea was top of the list of things not to mix them with. After Firewhiskey, of course.”

“Of course,” Lily repeats, amused. Firewhiskey wasn’t even supposed to be in the castle, but that hadn’t stopped some people. “I don’t know. Maybe? That’s a funny thought.”

That such a little thing lasted at Hogwarts for a decade or two.

“It is,” Harry agrees, and looks away again.

Lily is searching for the tiara, as they go, but she’s also searching for a way to keep the conversation going. It’ll never get where she wants it to if she just lets it die.

Chapter Text

“So! You didn’t know Marlene and Dorcas when you met them, but you knew Sirius. I’m curious which of our friends you know and which of them you don’t. You must know Remus, I’m sure.”

“Yeah, I know him.”

“Remus is a wonderful person to know, so that’s good!” Lily says, trying not to be frustrated with Harry’s lack of cooperation. That’s a very vague statement, from someone who came up to them saying Peter would betray them to Voldemort. “I couldn’t remember if you’d said that you had or not, but I’m glad. Hmm, if you didn’t know Marlene, then you probably don’t know Caradoc.”

“‘Fraid not.”

“Well, he’s… memorable, I’ll give him that, so you’ll know him when you meet him.”

Harry might, actually, meet him, when Caradoc comes around asking for the Polyjuice he regularly orders. Working at St. Mungo’s, then doing whatever he needs Polyjuice for,  the man just doesn’t have the time to brew his own potions. They’ll have to be careful about people calling on them in the future.

“Speaking of, how about Benjy? Have you met Benjy?”

“Sorry.”

“Emmeline?”

“In passing,” Harry answers. “Never really had a conversation.”

Lily almost breathes a sigh of relief at that. Harry not knowing someone, twenty years from now, isn’t confirmation that they’re dead. But it’s nice to hear for sure that someone lived.

“That’s a shame,” Lily says. “She’s lovely.”

“Yeah, she seemed nice,” Harry agrees. “Always laughing.”

“That’s her. How about Pandora?”

Harry frowns, then shakes his head. “Sorry, don’t know her.”

So, Harry doesn’t know about Jim’s secret cousin after all. Lily wondered if he might, since it seemed the secret was passed down from Fleamont Potter to Jim, even though Jim hasn’t met this cousin of his. Lily doesn’t think he’s just pretending to keep the secret. Did something happen to Jim’s cousin? Did Jim just never tell Harry?

“That’s okay,” she says.

She keeps going, because why not. This is going somewhere.

“Hmm. Do you know Hagrid?”

This, interestingly, makes Harry grin again. “Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts!” he says. “Always wanted a dragon for a pet. Kept a bunch of other monsters in the meantime. Yes he’s…” Harry pauses again, then finishes somewhat lamely, “...a good friend.”

Lily looks for that gleam that’s been going with Harry’s pauses, but instead she just sees Harry’s straighten himself and say determinedly, “Brought me my Hogwarts letter.”

That’s… odd.

“Really? That was nice of him.”

Why would Harry need his Hogwarts letter brought to him? Lily thought they only did that for Muggleborn students like her and she’s never heard of Hagrid being sent. Lily does like Hagrid, greatly, but… well… Hagrid’s about twice the height of a regular person and he can put his foot in his mouth sometimes. If the height didn’t scare Muggle parents, then Hagrid’s excitement over the incredibly deadly beasts of the magical world was sure to do it.

Which isn’t to say Lily thinks that Hagrid’s couldn’t do it. She’s sure he could do it if he put his mind to it and… watched his excitement over dragons and such. Who is she to think that Hagrid’s job couldn’t expand in the next ten years or so? It’s just… odd.

Lily’s really never heard of a kid with wizarding parents having someone come for them.

“Hmm, who’s left that you might know?” Lily muses. “You obviously know Professor McGonagall.”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, how about Fabian and Gideon?”

They’re not much older than Lily and Jim. They might’ve had children Harry’s age.

“Uh, no.”

“No?” Lily pushes, at that strange note in Harry’s voice. This answer wasn’t nearly so easy as the others. “Fabian and Gideon Prewett? They’re hard to miss.”

“Sorry, no.”

Harry looks uncomfortable and Lily prepares to make a note and move along for now.

“I know of them,” Harry says awkwardly, “but…”

“I suppose you might not run in the same circles,” Lily agrees, suddenly unwilling to push that trailing off. Really, Harry not knowing people isn’t an automatic suggestion that they’re dead. “Given the age difference. Merlin knows Molly is up to the tip of her hat with their influences on her sons as it is.”

“I know Molly,” Harry says. “And Arthur. I know the Weasleys.”

Lily hums consideringly. “They’d be your age, wouldn’t they? Molly and Arthur’s boys? You would’ve all gone to Hogwarts together.” She looks at him and smiles encouragingly again, because she’d at least like to imagine that there are children in the future, going about their lives and growing up. “That’s nice.”

Lily doesn’t want to imagine having a son, only for him to die at her age now.

“It was nice,” Harry agrees softly.

But then he looks away quickly, like he’s spotted something… or like he needs to look anywhere but at her. His breath quickly shortens, going ragged, and he suddenly stops walking. When Lily tries to meet his eyes again, he doesn’t look distant so much as he looks gone.

“Harry,” Lily says urgently.

In his eyes again, there’s that gleam she was looking for, brighter than ever.

“Harry. Are you all right? Look at me, Harry, please.”

But Harry only seems to look farther away, turning his head away from her. In the shifting of light, the gleam in Harry’s eyes almost looks like a twinkle. Silver and strange and Lily hasn’t the slightest what’s happening other than it isn’t good.

“Harry, it’s okay.”

He looks like he’s trying not to have some sort of attack of nerves, or panic, and failing.

“You can look at me, Harry,” Lily says urgently, again. “Everything’s fine.”

Harry shakes his head. “I’m fine, Ne-” he begins to say, then cuts himself off. “Never mind, I’m fine,” he finishes determinedly, before he takes a deep breath.

“...That’s good,” Lily says.

She doesn’t know whether it’s a good idea to touch him. She still doesn’t know him, though she doesn’t like watching him keep getting upset like this. She feels like she should be getting someone else, like Jim to comfort him… or even Marlene to have a look at that look in his eyes, or to offer comfort herself, but… Would Harry welcome help?

“You’re all right, then?”

“Yeah, I-” Harry says immediately, then takes another breath. “Yeah.”

But his voice breaks on the word and Harry doesn’t sound all right at all. He blinks rapidly, like he’s trying to get something out of his eyes, and he grimaces towards her like he’s in pain.

Lily dares to move a little closer. “Harry, I don’t know what’s happening with you,” she says slowly, because outwardly refusing to believe him now won’t help a bit. “I don’t know what you’ve been through. Really, I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re going through.”

Lily would love to see her parents again, but she wouldn’t want to die to do it.

“I want to help you,” she says awkwardly, “however I can. What can I do to help you, Harry?”

“...I don’t know.”

“Well… this seems much worse than before. Harry, please, look at me. Try to focus?” Lily doesn’t really know what she’s doing, but she has to try. “I feel like I’m going to lose you again. Just look at me if you can and focus on breathing.”

Lily tries to regulate her breathing as an example, but Harry seems to forget to breathe instead.

“Breathe, Harry. Please.”

Harry breaths.

“Is it something I said?” Lily asks, because there has to be something to Harry’s moments of quiet panic. There has to be a pattern of some kind, if there’s a reason. There has to be something that she can do. “Whatever’s happening here. Is it something I said? If it is, I want to know not to say it. Remember, we don’t have to talk about things yet if you don’t want to.”

Lily might be unsure, still, perhaps out of stubbornness, but…

She doesn’t have an explanation for Harry Potter besides the one he’s given: a boy who died. A boy who died and got lost and wants to help. Any other way she tries to view him, he makes even less sense; the more impossible things he says, the more believable he becomes. Whatever he’s not telling them, whatever secrets he’s hiding, she still doesn’t want to see him in pain like this.

“It’s me,” Harry assures her, miserably. “It’s me. I’m sorry, it’s me.”

Lily doubts it, with that silvery gleam in his eyes.

...Does he know it’s there?

“You were doing all right before,” Lily says carefully.

Harry looks at her desperately and disbelievingly, and there’s a new watery glisten to his gaze. He looks so adrift. Lily feels adrift too, almost entirely alone, in this massive Room of Hidden Things. So terribly small and singular in this big, crowded room.

“So there must have been something,” Lily says certainly. “We’ll just figure out what it was.”

Maybe Harry doesn’t know, she thinks, as he looks no less overwhelmed and lost. .

“Harry,” Lily decides suddenly. “Would you take my hand?”

 

~

 

The touch of another person means a lot. Lily’s had a few moments in life where she wanted nothing more than for another person to touch her… to hold her and let her hold them… to remind her than she isn’t alone and to experience the joy of reminding someone they aren’t alone either. Affection is one of those things a girl can miss very dearly when it disappears.

She holds out her hand to Harry.

It’s a surprise, of sorts, when Harry reaches back without question. He looks surprised too, when their hands meet, warm and solid against each other. Touching a person, Lily sometimes felt, was like getting a sudden reminder that they were very real.

She carefully threads her fingers through Harry’s and looks up at him again.

“Hello,” she says.

Not only has Lily been given a son she wasn’t ready for, he’s already taller than her. That seems unfair. Lily disapproves of this almost as much as she disapproves of him running off to make friends with defecting Death Eaters, before she even met him too.

“...Hello,” Harry says weakly.

Lily remembered how Harry and Regulus held hands, in the graveyards, and thought it might help. Now, she’s holding hands with a stranger who might be her son in a hidden room.

“Should we sit for a time, do you think? There’s a desk over there that’ll do.”

“The diadem-” Harry begins.

“It can wait.”

Harry doesn’t look recovered from his sudden attack and Lily hasn’t recovered either.

“Jim can look for it,” she assures him. “He’s nearly as good at sniffing things out of Sirius, you know. Foraging instincts, maybe? It’s been a long day all around. Let’s sit.”

Lily turns to lead them and gently pulls, hoping Harry will follow, and he does. They go over to a broad, claw-marked desk with plenty of room for the both of them and settle down on top of it. Their joined hands rest between them on the desk. Lily sighs in relief at getting off her feet.

“That’s better,” she says.

Harry doesn’t answer. He just continues to take shuddering breaths.

“It probably wasn’t a good idea to talk about friends like that,” Lily admits. “Merlin knows that I should be able to recognize that sort of pain when I see it.” Lily’s lost a few friends in her time, over time, but mostly to her own mistakes. “Marl would probably swat me if she was here right now. I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

Lily shakes her head determinedly. “I don’t think it is. I won’t naysay how you say you feel, but you don’t have to say you’re fine if you’re not. It’s okay not to be fine. Marlene knows that I’ve not been fine sometimes. You can ask her.”

Marlene and Lily only became actual friends in their fifth and sixth year, after all.

“Uh, alright.”

“Really, she will tell you if you ask her,” Lily assures him, because Marlene probably will, if she already believes Harry is Lily’s son. “You don’t have to hide yourself from us, Harry. It’s pretty clear that you’ve had some terrible things happen to you. It’s not your fault if you’re not fine.”

For all that they’ve been doubting Harry telling the truth about time travel, Lily wonders how much more confusing it must be to experience it. It’s clear which side is worse.

“Besides, I didn’t say sorry to make you feel guilty or anything,” she tells him firmly. “My saying sorry wasn’t about you needing to forgive me so I feel better, it was about letting you know that I am sorry, I didn’t mean to, I’d do differently if I could do it over, and I’m going to try not to do anything to upset you again.”

“...Alright.”

Lily realizes that explaining all this probably isn’t actually helping Harry in any way.

“Sorry,” Lily says again, and dislikes herself for it. She rubs at her eyes, careful not to poke them out with her own wand, and purses her lips then forcibly relaxes them. She really doesn’t know how to stop when she’s started.

“I have opinions on apologies, Jim says,” she explains. “I have opinions period, says Jim. Hello, cauldron! You’re black!”

The joke might be a little forced, but Harry seems to sputter on laughter anyway.

Then he chokes on a sob, as the wetness in his eyes wells. He raises his free hand and rubs at his eyes, but that only seems to spread the tears over his face.

Lily looks politely, awkwardly, away, towards a hazardous stack of mouldy armchairs.

She didn’t mean to make him cry. She doesn’t know if it is her that made him cry and doesn’t know how to apologize again without continuing to make it all about her. None of this is made any easier by Lily having accidentally made people close to her cry before. It just makes her feel worse and then feel worse still for focusing on herself.

Maybe she should have let Jim take this one.

Beside her, Harry Potter cries… and cries and cries and cries.

It’s awkward and painful and clearly a long time in coming. Lily can’t come up with a single reason for this to happen besides a very lost boy suddenly coming to terms with how very lost he is. Stranded in time with loved ones who might as well be strangers? It almost makes Lily want to cry out of sympathy. She doesn’t really want to come up with another reason.

Jim would have been better at this. Lily just wants to cry too.

Harry tries to pull away, gently, as he cries, but Lily just squeezes his fingers tighter. It’s reflexive and she loosens them again, but Harry doesn’t try to pull away again. She purses her lips on the next apology that tries to get out.

It leaves Lily time to wonder about everything she knows about Harry.

About everything he’s said.

To put together the puzzles, out of all the pieces he’s given them.

And the pieces he hasn’t.

The minutes pass them by, one after another, and Lily lets them go.

Harry stops crying soon enough, taking more deep and shuddering breaths. Or, well, he stops sobbing enough to sit up and pretend like the crying’s gone until it goes.

“...Sorry,” he says.

“It’s fine,” Lily says, though she could do with a bit of a cry now. “I don’t mind. I’ve heard it said that sometimes you need to cry to let the bad feelings out before they drown you. Honestly, I wish I learned that a lot sooner than a did. I would have cried way more.”

Harry laughs, maybe obligingly, weakly, as he wipes at his face. He’s still using his soaked arm, instead of the Invisibility Cloak. Lily lets him recover himself with dignity and looks away, brushing away some of the hair that’s fallen out of her braid. Then she puts her hand back and leans back, breathing in deeply. Beside her, Harry does the same, breathing in.

It’s peaceful, until Harry jolts suddenly.

“What is it?” Lily demands.

“I…” Harry is looking behind them, at a large, covered object. “Nothing.”

It’s clearly not nothing.

“No, really, what is it?” Lily says.

“...A mirror.”

Harry is still looking at the large object behind them, as wide as the desk and at least two meters tall, covered in cloth. It looks relatively flat for how wide and tall it is. Lily supposes it looks like a mirror might be under that. How does Harry know?

“Is it dangerous?”

Harry shakes his head. “No, it’s not even magical so far as I know. It’s just… I’ve seen it before,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting it.”

“Is it important?”

“Not really.”

Again with the uncooperative answers.

“That’s still a little bit important,” Lily points out. “It’s all right, though. If it’s a bad memory, you don’t have to tell me about your magic mirror.”

“It’s not a bad memory,” Harry says. Then, after a few seconds, carefully begins: “This room… it’s called the Room of Requirement, and sometimes you need the Room of Hidden Things, but sometimes you need a different room. Me and my friends needed it for a secret club room. It looked completely different, like a classroom, none of these mountains of junk. I didn’t even know about the Room of Hidden things until like a year later.”

He glances at Lily, a little anxiously, and Lily hopes she looks like she’s listening as much as she is listening. Because she is listening.

“The Room can make things you need: furniture, training dummies, beds. We needed a space to practice Defence. I can’t remember if it was there when we first came in or if someone asked for it, but there was a mirror in there. We glued some photographs and newspaper articles to it, or magazine articles. To inspire people. Or just stupid stuff to make them laugh.”

That sounds sweet.

Though Lily’s a little confused why they needed such a special space.

Harry sighs. “This is that mirror. Either that or the room copied it to make a mirror for us, and maybe this one is magical and cursed,” he says, with a very what-can-you-do expression. “I don’t know.”

Lily tries to imagine what he’s describing: this mountainous, dragonous room shrunk to the size of a classroom. A bunch of kids in that room, practicing spells together, gluing articles to a mirror like it was a noticeboard. Where do all the hidden things go when this room isn’t the Room of Hidden Things? Where does all the space go? Where does this Room of Requirement go when it’s not being required?

“Huh, I wonder how that works,” she says, perhaps partly because she doesn’t want to start talking about friends again and upset Harry. “That’s interesting. I wonder what it does if it has to make something it doesn’t have tucked away to copy. It must have some mind-reading ability, but relying that to create objects sounds difficult at best. I wonder how clever it is.”

This room is truly a wonder of magic.

“Wait,” Lily realizes. “I’m interrupting. Continue.”

Harry was looking at her, as she spoke, with a strange expression. Not his distant one, Lily thinks. Not exactly. Closer to the way he looked when James had walked off.

Now he blinks. “I…”

“Yes?”

“I don’t know a lot of the people you mentioned,” Harry says, which surprises her. She wouldn’t have thought he’d wanted to continue on this topic. “I never met them. I don’t know why. I could figure why, but I don’t know for sure.”

He knew so much about her and Jim, but… no, he can’t know everything about everyone.

“It’s… I did meet some people you know… probably,” Harry continues awkwardly. “Order members.”

“Well… I do know all the other Order members,” Lily agrees, though… this isn’t exactly true. She knows of all the Order members, she thinks, but she hasn’t met all of them yet.

Harry breathes in deeply. “Frank and Alice Longbottom.”

“Yes, I know them,” Lily says, a little relieved. “They’re lovely people, aren’t I?”

She says this reflexively and regrets it as soon as she does. Harry’s expression is grim and Lily can feel her face falling, just looking at that expression and everything it says.

“They’re… not dead,” Harry says finally.

This should be a relief, because it’s what Lily was imagining, but… the way Harry says it…

“...That’s good,” Lily says warily.

 “I guess, um… They were kidnapped and tortured by the Lestranges after Vold- You-Know-Who went missing,” Harry explains, then seems to realize he hasn’t yet explained what he’s explaining now. “He went missing for a bit, by the way, for about ten years and everyone thought he was dead.”

Lily stares at Harry and tries to understand that. He what?

“The Lestranges and Barty Crouch wanted to know where he was, so they… attacked the Longbottoms for information. They lived , it’s just… they weren’t well after.”

Oh. That’s… that could have a lot of definitions.

“At least Neville got to know his parents, sort of,” Harry goes on, even though Alice and Frank don’t have a son. Lily supposes that it’s a yet sort of thing. “Better than nothing, I guess. The Lestranges and Barty went to Azkaban. Moody caught them, I think. I wasn’t there.”

Lily tries to sort through all of that for what’s most important.

Frank and Alice get attacked by the Lestranges.

Barty Crouch.

Voldemort goes missing and is presumed dead for ten years.

(“Better than nothing, I guess.”)

“So… I guess what I’m trying to say is that we should stop that from happening?” Harry says awkwardly, but… firmly. Determined. “I thought of it earlier, I… someone ought to know about that, if we’re changing things. I don’t want to forget.”

Lily decides to go for the easiest question first, which she can’t believe is the easiest.

“Barty Crouch… as in Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Barty Crouch?”

“Oh,” Harry says. “Oh, no. His son. His son’s a Death Eater. Barty Crouch Jr. Mr. Crouch doesn’t know. I had the same bit of confusion a few times, actually, when I saw him on the Marauder’s Map, because I didn’t know he had a son. It’s his son.”

“...I think I know who you’re talking about,” Lily says slowly. “I think he’s still here at Hogwarts.”

Harry frowns immediately at that.

Lily doesn’t blame him, if this Barty Crouch Jr. did what Harry’s claiming he did. She doesn’t want to imagine it: Frank and Alice Longbottom getting attacked by Death Eaters. Frank and Alice Longbottom getting attacked by the Lestranges. They’re going to have a son, his name will be Neville, and something terrible will happen to them.

“We are very much going to stop that from happening,” Lily says determinedly. “It’s not going to happen anytime soon, right?”

“...It didn’t happen until late 1981 at least.”

Lily quickly does the math. That means Frank and Alice might have their son very soon. Just like Lily was apparently supposed to have Harry very soon.

“Then it’s not going to happen.”

“...Thanks,” Harry says, like he was worried Lily wouldn’t help him on that.

That might be fair… with how suspicious they’ve been.

“Not a problem,” Lily assures him. “Whenever you’re ready to share things, Harry, I’ll be here to listen. Even if they’re horrible… especially if they’re horrible, even, if we’re trying to stop terrible things from happening, so don’t worry about that.”

Even if she’s struggling to accept everything Harry is telling her, she wants to be told these things if they might be able to save her friends. They don’t have to accept everything Harry says as the truth - not necessarily because Harry’s lying, but because it’s clear that Harry doesn’t and can’t know everything - but they can listen. If it seems like they aren’t listening, Harry might stop trying to tell them things and what if he is telling the truth?

“I’d rather hear about terrible things happening to my friends that have those things happen if I can do anything to stop them,” Lily says firmly. “Which… sounds sort of awful, but still.”

Harry nods. He still looks a little solemn.

“The only person I’d really be concerned about when you’re ready to share things with us is Marlene,” Lily confides, jokingly, though she has to force it a little. “She’s got a great big ego, you know.” Cauldron? Kettle. “She’s going to feel fantastically outdone and none of us are ever going to hear the end of it.”

Harry snorts.

“Oh, you think it’s funny now, but you’ll See.”

Harry squints at her. “...Was that…?”

“Maybe,” Lily admits and smiles broadly at him. “So what if it was a pun? I didn’t take Divination, so I can’t be held accountable if that was bad.”

Harry smiles back, a little weakly, but it’s still a smile.

Lily almost wishes she could get those other things Harry’s said out of her head, but… with the more pieces of the puzzle he gives… the clearer a picture is formed. The more marked the missing spaces are. The more Lily can’t help but wonder terrible, terrible things.

“Hey, Harry, would you mind if I asked you something?”

She has to know.

“...Depends. What is it?”

She wants so desperately to be wrong.

“...Are we dead in your time? Jim and I?” Lily asks.

Harry’s weak smile fades.

It feels like an answer in itself.

“I know there are some things you don’t want to talk about - we just covered that - and that’s fine, but… if you’re trying to change things… I’m… well… saying that I’m ‘morbidly curious’ is in rather poor taste, isn’t it?” Lily asks, grimacing at the armchairs across the way, instead of staring at where Harry’s smile used to be. “It’s either that or ‘dying to know’ and I think that’s worse.”

She glances at Harry again, but he’s still staring at her.

“Well?” Lily says, and it feels like her voice might crack. “Are we dead?”

“...Yeah.”

“Oh,” Lily says quietly. “That’s disheartening.”

“That’s not another pun, is it?”

“Not intentionally. I’m not feeling very witty or funny right now.”

“Yeah,” Harry agrees sadly.

Lily rubs at her own stinging eyes, then says hoarsely, “When?”

“Sorry?”

“When do we die?” Lily clarifies, then she continues anyway. Because she’s started now and she doesn’t know how to stop, and maybe that sentiment explains Harry.  “I could guess, though. October thirty-first, 1981, isn’t it? You would’ve been very young then. Only about a year old. That’s… awful.”

“...It was, yeah,” Harry says. “How… how did you guess?”

 Lily lets out a shuddering breath. “A hundred little things? A feeling? People don’t generally survive being given up to You-Know-Who, that was the big one. ‘How did we live?’ I thought. Once the thought crossed my mind, I couldn’t get it out again, and figured it probably happened then for you to be so angry if it happened at all. I… I was hoping you’d tell me I was being ridiculous.”

“Sorry,” Harry says. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s not your fault.”

Being given up to Voldemort was the biggest hint, but not the only one. There’s how Harry met them in a graveyard. There’s Harry’s awkwardness around them. There’s Harry getting his Hogwarts letter personally delivered. There’s how Harry said, “Better than nothing, I guess.” And then there’s how Harry keeps nearly slipping up on saying Voldemort, like no Death Eater would do and like he remembers only halfway through that it might be Taboo, but he hasn’t once called her or Jim “Mum” or “Dad”.

It doesn’t explain everything. There are still so many holes.

“I’m sorry,” Harry says again.

Lily tries to imagine dying in less than two years and wants to panic.

“I… I want to say it’s fine,” Lily says, even though it’s really not. “We’re going to change things, right? So things like that don’t happen? To me or to Marlene or… Jim… or Frank or Alice or anyone else! It’s not going to happen, so it’s fine.”

She hasn’t looked back at Harry yet.

“It’s all right. It’s okay.”

It’s not and Lily desperately wants Jim back here.

Then… very, very gently, Harry’s fingers curl more surely around Lily’s and he squeezes. Lily looks at him again and he looks so uncertain, but… he doesn’t let go. Lily doesn’t know what to think about receiving comfort from a dead boy from the future.

“...You said that You-Know-Who went missing for nearly ten years,” she says.

“Yes,” he agrees.

“In 1981, after Hallowe’en, but before anything happens to Frank and Alice.”

That’s soon.

“On Hallowe’en,” Harry corrects.

Then Voldemort went missing, presumed dead, for ten years… on the same night that Lily and Jim died… and that Harry lived. Where was Harry on the night that Lily and Jim died? Not there, presumably, if he’d lived.

“...Something happened that night,” Lily says. “Something big.”

“Yeah.”

“Something that… everyone else should probably hear too.”

“Probably.”

Lily doesn’t know if she can take any more of this on her own. She nods. For several seconds, she and Harry just look at each other, before she very gently squeezes his hand back and smiles. It’s forced, but she tries. Harry smiles weakly back at her anyway.

“I hope Jim is having better luck than we’re having,” Lily says finally, trying to bring some cheer and optimism back into the conversation. She doesn’t really feel like it works, but it can’t hurt to try. “I hope Marl and Sirius and the others are having better luck too. It’s sad to say, but they probably need it even more than we do. I hope no one’s hexed anyone, since it’s likely pointless to hope there’s been no arguments.”

“...I wouldn’t bet on it,” Harry says wryly.

“Me neither.”

It takes several seconds for Lily to remember to thank Harry for sharing. Lily has always been the girl who wrote thank-you notes and… well… this probably shouldn’t be the exception. She squeezes his hand again and says, “Thanks for telling me, Harry.”

“Not a problem.”

It sounds kind of strained and it’s clearly a lie, but Lily doesn’t call him on that.

She doesn’t like imagining that the future doesn’t stretch on and on, into years and years of life ahead of her, but rather stops very shortly very soon. She doesn’t like this thought at all. Some part of her very much wants to scream and panic and maybe burst into tears.

But she did ask. She can’t imagine having to answer that question.

Lily threads her fingers even more tightly through Harry’s, as Harry takes a deep breath and returns the gesture. They sit there in silence, in this great room of lost and hidden things. It would probably take a lifetime in here to begin to sort through everything, she thinks.

She doesn’t think she could be mad at Harry if she wanted to. For one thing, he’s only the messenger, if he’s as genuine as he seems against all of Lily’s deepest suspicious. For another thing, she’s just realized, he’s trying to change things. Lily asked him, “Did I live?” And the answer was no, she didn’t and neither did Jim and neither did so many other people. But Harry wouldn’t be here, telling them all these things, if he was just going to let them die.

Now, she inwardly asks herself, “Do I live? Do we live?”

She didn’t take Divination. Even if she did, she still wouldn’t believe in destiny. As crassly as it was put by Sirius’ wayward younger brother, Lily’s not eager to roll over and die.

Well, she thinks about living, we’re going to damn well try.