The first thing Lily knew when she woke up was that she wasn't in her own bed.
She couldn't have said how it was that she knew. The faint scent in the sheets, maybe, or the way the dim light fell across her face, or maybe some subtle difference in the magic in the air. Whatever it was, it left her tense and uncomfortable, desperately trying to work out where she was without showing she'd woken up.
Not St Mungo's; they had the starchy sheets and distinct smell of disinfectants that all hospitals shared. Lily might have been taken in by one of the other Order members, but she didn't remember leaving their cottage, and if it'd been breached and she'd been rescued she ought, at the very least, to feel some kind of physical pain. If she'd been taken by the Death Eaters there was no way they would have left her in seeming comfort - well, unless they were hoping to trick her into revealing information to a seemingly trustworthy 'rescuer', and from what she'd heard that wasn't a tactic they usually bothered to use with Muggleborns like her.
She was tempted to keep coming up with theories, but - no. The chances were highest that she was somewhere hostile, and if she wasn't Lily was sure whoever was looking after her would understand her reaction. Best to work on the assumption that danger was just around the corner, and that the more time she wasted, the higher the risk that somebody would notice she was awake and ruin her chances at escaping.
The only sounds she could hear were her own - breathing, the sheets shifting as her chest moved up and down, the thunder of her panicked heartbeat in her ears. Lily hadn't ever been particularly good at Legilimency, especially wandless and eyes shut, but she cast her magic out into the room anyway, feeling for the edges of someone else's mind.
Lily took a chance and opened her eyes, glancing around the room. She was alone - or at least it looked like she was; someone could be Disillusioned, or under an invisibility cloak, or simply watching her from behind a hidden screen in the wall - in a large bedroom. It had probably been luxurious once, but now there were grey marks on the wallpaper where scrubbing charms hadn't quite been able to clean it, and worn places in the curtains where not even a Reparo could have stitched the aged fabric together any longer. The sight made her even more uncomfortable. While it was true that magic couldn't repair everything, and that poverty was just as common in the magical world as it was in the unmagical one, most wizards she'd met would use some kind of illusion spell to cover that kind of neglect up if they had a guest. Everyone had pride, after all, no matter how reduced their circumstances.
So. Not a hospital. The house she was in clearly hadn't been lived in recently, but its owners hadn't bothered to take all the furniture with them when they left. Surely if this were a trick she'd be somewhere more comfortable, which meant... what?
Lily pushed the covers off and stood, taking a few cautious steps. She felt a little wobbly, as though she hadn't used her muscles in a while, but definitely not injured. The nightgown she was wearing didn't look like one of hers - Lily wasn't much for unnecessary frippery, but this was plain almost to a fault - and, when she looked closer, had clearly had an Expansion Charm used on it. Whoever'd done it was better than most of her Charms class had been, since they'd managed to keep the fabric's weave uniform rather than gaping in places, but the fabric was just that little bit too thin to be an ordinary dress.
There didn't seem to be anything else in the room that might have given Lily a clue about her whereabouts: no other furniture, though there were scuffs on the floor that suggested there might have been some once, and no personal effects whatsoever. She walked over to the window, only to find it coated in grime. No wonder the light was dim. Well, that could be fixed easily enough -
She froze, one hand pressed to the bare skin where her wand holster ought to have been, and remembered she was in a strange house wearing someone else's clothing.
Lily licked her lips and tried to drive the panic back. She'd been born in the Muggle world, hadn't she? She hadn't had a clue wands even existed until Severus had told her. She was more than capable of defending herself without one.
- Except that she'd spent the last few years locked in a war against people who despised her just for existing, people who would have killed her without even blinking, and her best and only defence against them was her wand and the spells she'd learned and all those years of muscle memory, and no matter how optimistically she tried to look at the situation she was almost certainly a prisoner, and if she walked out there without her wand -
The door creaked behind her, and she spun in place, hand flying out in useless, pointless instinct.
The redheaded boy standing in the doorway looked as surprised as Lily felt. He turned and called, "She's -"
Before he could say anything else, another boy pushed past him. Lily almost flinched on seeing him. It was James - except he wasn't, couldn't be, James was years older and not nearly as slightly built as this boy was.
And then her eyes met his, every bit as green as her own, and she knew with a lurch of her gut just who he was.
Hearing Harry's rushed explanation of how she'd ended up here before he was swept away by a significantly older Order of the Phoenix hadn't actually helped clarify things much.
The problem was that none of it really felt like it was actually happening. Lily wasn't sure there was anything he could have said to fix that, though; if he'd told her this was all an unusually coherent dream she would have found that just as suspicious, would have been just as ready to poke holes in what must surely have been some clever ruse of the Death Eaters' to convince her to spill valuable information. The pieces hung together in a way that seemed real, but the whole they created didn't quite fit. She was surrounded by fragments of this apparent reality that seemed anything but.
He was slumped in a seat at the kitchen table, exhausted and still in a way she'd only rarely seen from him. Worn down in a way that spoke of wartime pressure, and that was believable enough given the gaps in the story Harry had told her - but the lines on his shockingly aged face were ones of grief, not joy, and that was just wrong.
"You know," he said after a long moment, "I don't know what I thought would happen when I told Harry he ought to look into getting your and James's stuff back, but this definitely wasn't it."
"Would anyone have expected this?" Lily pressed her palms to her thighs and wished for her own clothes back. She wasn't wearing a nightie any more, at least, and it was comforting to be wearing Muggle fashion again even if it wasn't familiar, but nothing quite fit right.
"Oh, I don't know." Sirius's chuckle sounded rusty, and that was wrong, wrong, wrong. "You weren't ever one to let the boundaries of conventional wisdom hold you back, and James was always a powerhouse. I probably should've expected something weird when I saw Harry going through your old spellbooks."
Was. Lily breathed in and out and didn't flinch. If this was a lie or a dream or the last hallucination of a dying mind, there wasn't any point giving in to the wild and wailing grief beneath her breastbone.
If it wasn't -
If it wasn't, everyone here was a stranger, no matter how well they'd known her once, and she would not let a stranger see her cry.
"My spellbooks?" she asked after a moment, once she was sure her voice would stay steady.
"Oh, y'know. Maybe you called it a grimoire? Those books you were always scribbling in with Snivellus before you two had that blow-up. James noticed you spent a lot of time scribbling in them when we were in the Order right before you came out with a Blood-Replenishing potion that worked better than the store-bought kind, or that spell that glued that Death Eater's lips together before he could curse Marlene in the back. I wanted to ask, but he said if you'd wanted to tell us about it you would've said, so it'd be better left alone. And, well... he's the one who actually managed to convince someone to marry him, right? I figured he must've known something."
"Right. Those." She had called them grimoires, jokingly; she and Severus had laughed about how furious the stuck-up purebloods who boasted about their families' ancient libraries would be if they knew her first grimoire was a Muggle schoolbook with as many enchantments on it as the cardboard covers could hold. She'd kept everything in there, from questions about the nature of magic to the painstakingly recorded results of her experiments in modifying the wand movements of spells she'd learned in class.
James and Sirius probably would have assumed that the spells she'd recorded inside had become lighter after her falling out with Severus. The opposite was true; Severus had always been careful to keep his portion of their experimentation on the right side of the law, which Lily suspected had been less because of disinterest in darker spells and more because he was afraid he'd frighten her away. His caution had kept her from delving into the weirder, less legal side of magic, the part of it that had always fascinated her. Once he was gone, she'd had little reason to hold back.
Harry - this tall, grim-eyed boy who said he was her son, nothing at all like the chubby-cheeked toddler she'd known - hadn't come out and said what magic he'd used to call her back, but it wasn't hard to guess. The only magic she knew that had even a chance to bring a real person back from the grave, rather than their shambling corpse, was ritual work. Lily had always been fascinated by it; when she was younger she'd been drawn to it because it was powerful and versatile and dangerous and entirely outlawed, but later she'd been driven by desperation, by knowing that someday she might be all that stood between her child and a killer.
- chalk on her hands and sweat rolling down her forehead and the sharp sting of teeth in her lip as she spat blood onto the floor, tried not to listen -
Lily pushed the memory away ruthlessly. There was a reason she hadn't recalled whatever that was the moment she'd woken. She'd have to face it eventually, she knew that, but now wasn't the time.
"Lily?" Sirius asked, leaning forwards. "Are you all right?"
She slumped gracelessly into the chair opposite him, legs aching as though she'd been standing for much longer than she'd thought. "Probably not."
"Oh. Uh." Sirius glanced around, an edge of anxiety to his movements that reminded her of the old him. He'd never known how to deal with other people's emotions, especially not women's. "Do you want... some tea?"
Lily gestured to the mugs on the table in front of them, contents long since gone cold. It had been a nice idea, having something warm in her hands to ground her against that terrifying unreality, but it'd been forgotten like so much else when the first Order member came down the stairs and shrieked on seeing Lily sitting there.
Now that Lily thought about it, Harry hadn't seemed too surprised to have something he'd wanted snatched away, even if it was only until the Order stopped panicking. It made a certain amount of sense - being orphaned at a year old set a certain kind of precedent - but it hurt somewhere deep, knowing how resigned he was to loss.
"Well. I - there's got to be something I can do," he said, shoving a hand through his hair.
Lily licked her lips, leaning forwards. "Tell me what happened to you."
He froze, wide eyes fixed on her. "What? Time?"
"Don't pretend to be stupid, Sirius. It doesn't suit you." Lily met his eyes squarely. "You don't look older the way McGonagall does, or Molly Weasley, or even Dumbledore. You look like..." Like something had drained the life out of him. And maybe something had; he and James had always been close, close in a way that'd made a bitter little corner of her heart ache for what she and Petunia could have had, and losing that dearer-than-brothers friendship might have been enough to break him.
A bitter smile spread across his face, and that hard little corner of Lily's heart twinged in response. "Should've known I couldn't put you off. Or hope to hide it. I was in Azkaban."
Was this what it had felt like to die, ice creeping along her veins and entrapping her heart? God knew she hadn't always gotten on with Sirius - he was reckless, self-destructive, had a cruel streak he couldn't admit to himself - but she was sure he wouldn't have done anything deserving of that.
"Azkaban?" Lily heard herself say through the roaring in her ears.
"Yeah. Well. I'd betrayed you, see."
"What -" No point finishing the question; it was exactly the kind of stupid thing Lily could imagine Sirius doing in the wake of losing James, taking the blame for something he hadn't done so he'd feel properly punished for not having realised Peter wasn't loyal - "You idiot."
"Yeah." It was less a word than a sigh. "By the time I realised that, I wasn't really in a state to do anything about it. Not that they would've listened."
"I suppose not." Lily didn't actually know much about Azkaban; she'd learned enough in her early years at school to know she never, ever wanted to end up there, and had then poured all her fear into ensuring nobody ever found out about her ventures into less-than-legal magic. But she knew enough to doubt there were many human guards there. Who'd volunteer to spend their time around Dementors? And why would a human ever be needed when none of the prisoners could have escaped? "They let you out eventually, though."
"Yep. That's what happened."
Lily blinked. That didn't even count as an attempt at a lie, in her opinion. Sirius must have been too tired to bother, or didn't think it was worth the effort - and the lie meant what? That they hadn't let him out? Which meant -
Sirius shrugged. "Dementors don't affect Animagi as badly. Or sense them properly."
"Huh." Lily hadn't ever seen much point in becoming an Animagus - it was undoubtedly cool, but unless she lucked out in her animal it wasn't terribly useful, and there were other kinds of magic she would rather have put that amount of time and effort into. This might change that.
Not that she ever planned on ending up in Azkaban... but, well, she hadn't planned on ever giving James the time of day, either, or fighting in a war, or dying young, or being resurrected. Lily wasn't sure there was much point in trying to predict her life at this point.
Sirius eyed her. "You're taking that surprisingly well."
"Honestly, I think you could tell me Minerva McGonagall has a secret life moonlighting as various actors' pet cats on telly at this point and I don't think I'd have much of a reaction. It's just all too..."
"Eh. Fair enough." Sirius slumped in his seat, glaring at the door. "How long are they planning on keeping Harry, anyway?"
"To be fair, resurrections are fairly unprecedented. I imagine they all have quite a few questions."
"I'm sure I've read about this kind of thing before," Sirius said, switching the glare to her. "Somewhere."
"Sure. But half the stories are completely unverifiable, most of the rest involve illusions or homunculi or a foreign spirit forced into possession of a body that falls apart before long... Genuine resurrections are the stuff of legend." It hadn't seemed to occur to any of the Order members to check whether Lily was actually alive yet, but she'd done what tests she could: she could think for herself, which meant at the very least that she was something sentient, and a heartbeat - not to mention physical resemblance to a body that must have long since rotted - ruled out possession...
It didn't mean she was real. Maybe the real Lily Evans had long since passed on and she'd been tricked into thinking she was Lily, and she just couldn't tell the difference.
But really - did it matter? If she looked like Lily and thought like Lily and loved like Lily, what quantifiable difference was there? None, as far as she was concerned.
"Yeah, but it's been ages." Sirius tipped his chair back as he cast a Tempus. "Ten already. Funny, though - I would've thought you'd do a resurrection at midnight. Or dawn, maybe. Something a bit more eldritch than - what? Sunset?"
"The time of day doesn't really matter to rituals, usually. It only has as much meaning as you think it will." Which was true of all magic, when you ignored conventional wisdom and dug down to magic's long-forgotten foundations, but Lily didn't plan to correct anybody's misconceptions. Thinking too hard about how magic really worked ran the risk of making yourself forget how to do it, much like how hearing or seeing the same word over and over could make it seem utterly foreign. Having to teach herself how to do magic all over again during the run-up to her NEWTs had been bad enough; having to teach someone else during a war would be worse.
"Still seems weird."
"Think about it practically, then." Lily tipped her head back and stared at the ceiling, gleaming whitewash hidden under layers of soot and grime and spell residue. "Three teenagers going off to find somewhere private in a big house looks much more suspicious at midnight or dawn than it does in the early evening. And they'd need a certain level of plausible deniability, given that I'm sure their parents wouldn't like them playing at ritual magic."
"Hermione's parents are Muggles," Sirius said with a shrug. "I'm sure she doesn't tell them most of what she gets up to. And it's not like you'd tell Harry off for it."
Lily rolled her eyes. "You're the one acting in loco parentis, Sirius. You wouldn't have anything to say?"
He pulled a face at the reminder. "Nobody ever accused me of being responsible. And - well, I haven't known Harry for that long, but I'm not sure there's much point in trying to tell him not to do things. No matter how bad an idea they are."
"Still," Sirius agreed, and slumped a little lower on his seat, letting the legs crack back onto the floor. "It's not something most people here would take well unless the idea came from Dumbledore, and even then I think he'd have to sell it as a last-ditch plan. There's too many nasty stories about rituals backfiring."
Lily sniffed. "If you aren't prepared to sacrifice, you shouldn't do magic that requires one. That's what it all comes down to, you know - people who assume that just because they can't feel whatever tiny trickle of their magic the spells they normally cast needs, all magic can be done without a cost. And then get a nasty surprise."
"Mm," Sirius said, staring at her with brows drawn. "Where's your wand?"
"Sorry?" It wasn't that Lily wasn't used to Sirius' habit of changing the topic whenever he pleased, but he'd done such a good job at sticking to it today that she'd wondered if he'd finally learned not to change it constantly. Apparently not.
"You wouldn't have a wand holster," he said, tone exaggeratedly patient, "and you never liked putting your wand in your pocket - I don't think I ever saw you leave it there for more than a few minutes - where is it?"
"Where do you think?" Lily snapped, almost enjoying the confusion on Sirius' face as her anger flared. But then it faded, and so did her desire to keep him guessing. "I don't have it. I died, remember? God only knows what happened to it."
"It might be with your stuff."
"What, in Godric's Hollow?" What would have happened to their house, anyway? Sold? Tidied away and shut up until Harry was old enough to claim it?
"Nah, someone went through and picked up all your and James' stuff after - well - you know. Not the furniture and stuff, just the personal bits. Probably Dumbledore. It all got shoved into some vault or other until I remembered to ask Harry last month if he'd ever looked to see what you'd left behind - turned out he'd only ever been in the vault you two set up for him when he was born, he'd never even realised there was anything else - oh, come on, Lily." He'd made his way over to the door, jiggling impatiently as he waited for her.
"Should we really go through Harry's things without him?" Despite her words, Lily stood, brushing at her skirt.
"He won't care," Sirius said, shrugging. "They're your things. And anyway, he should've given it to you straight off."
Lily trailed him up the stairs to what was clearly a shared room, various personal effects scattered over each bed, nightstand and trunk. Just as clearly, it didn't contain anything that was recognisably Lily's.
"It might be in his trunk," Sirius said. He didn't make any attempt to open it, though.
"It might," Lily agreed. "Or he might have found some empty room somewhere to put my years' worth of personal effects, given that this one's clearly full up already."
"Half the empty rooms are full of doxies."
"Which means the other half are ready to be used. Come on, Sirius. Let's just find him and ask. I'm sure nobody would object to us interrupting their discussion to ask for my wand back."
By the time they made it back down the stairs, the impromptu meeting had apparently broken up; Lily was greeted by a dozen stares, ranging from curiosity to disbelief to distrust. Harry, standing in the middle, was gazing at her with a longing expression.
"Oh, there you are!" A stout redhead swept up - Gideon and Fabian's sister, maybe? - and took her arm. "You must be starving. I'm sure I don't know what magic they used to bring you back - certainly nothing children that age ought to be using, I'm sure - but powerful magic does take it out of people. There was a little stew left, I think..."
Lily was swept along in her wake. Sirius came jogging up to her a few minutes later and stuck her wand in her hand, vanishing before he could be spotted. Lily resisted the urge to call him a coward and let herself be led back to the kitchen. She was hungry, after all.
Sirius's bedroom was dark, curtains drawn - in fact, as Lily tiptoed closer she realised there were cobwebs on them. When was the last time he'd opened them? Sirius himself was a dark shape huddled in the centre of his bed, blankets piled around him.
"Sirius!" Lily hissed. "Wake up!"
He rolled over, squinted at her, and then pulled a pillow over his head. "Go away."
"No. Come on, get up. I need your help with something."
"You are very clearly awake, Sirius." And had been before she'd come in, if she was any judge. If he'd been a decade and a half younger, Lily would have accused him of sulking over something - it certainly wouldn't have been the first time she'd caught him at it, usually over something that didn't merit that dramatic a response - but Azkaban stilled her tongue. Whatever demons Sirius had now, they must have been far fiercer than she'd ever seen him battling.
That didn't mean she'd just let him wallow, of course. She'd just be a bit kinder about shoving him out of his hidey-hole.
Sirius shoved the pillow off his head, apparently having realised she didn't plan to just leave him alone. "What do you want, Lily?"
"Where's your family's ritual room? They must have one."
That, apparently, was enough to get him out of bed; he started untangling himself from his nest of blankets, shooting her a glare. "Don't you dare."
"You're not curious why I want it?"
"No. I know better than that now. Not after - when was it..."
"You're probably thinking about that time I booby-trapped that old Order safehouse before the Death Eaters got there."
Sirius scoffed as he shoved a pile of blankets away. "You booby-trapped it while they were blasting the wards down! You almost killed yourself doing whatever that ritual was you made up on the bloody fly - and wasn't that a nice thing to discover while I was trying to drag you out, that you were playing with magic the Ministry outlawed for a damn good reason like it was Baby's First Potion-Making Kit - and then again actually getting out past the booby traps, and then again when the Death Eaters saw us leaving -"
"You'll note none of us actually died on that mission," Lily said, in the mild tone she knew irritated Sirius more than anything else about her. She probably didn't need the extra provocation now, given he was getting out of bed with no extra effort on her part, but... she did like annoying him sometimes.
"Not for lack of trying on your part! You know, sometimes I hear people saying it's a bad thing Harry took after James - too reckless, too prone to rushing off into danger - but you know what, there are worse habits he could've inherited!" Sirius stood and glared at her, arms folded, for all of a minute before he sank back onto the bed. "Except he did. Didn't he."
"In his defence," Lily said, sitting gingerly next to him, "it sounds like all he really did was modifying rituals I'd already designed. Which... well, I did start there, but I moved on fairly quickly. And started earlier, to boot."
"I cannot believe you never got yourself killed doing that shit."
Lily shrugged. "It's like potions a bit. There's rules and procedures to follow, but once you've got a feel for what you're doing, it's as much about instinct and feeling the magic as it is anything else."
"I'll have to take your word for it. I wasn't ever that good at potions." Sirius cast her a narrow-eyed glance. "Were you just trying to get a rise out of me, asking about the ritual space?"
"No." Lily paused, weighing her words. But that hadn't ever been her speciality, she was much better at jumping in headfirst, and it wasn't like Sirius didn't know her... "What do you know about Harry's scar?"
Sirius frowned. "It's a curse scar? It's, uh, shaped like a lightning bolt? Gets kind of red and irritated sometimes? I don't know what you're looking for here, Lily."
"There's a connection. Between him and Voldemort. That doesn't strike you as strange?"
"The number of times I've heard you complaining about wizards not believing in proper research, I would've thought that wouldn't surprise you. Nobody knows much about curse scars except that sometimes they do weird things, and frankly I think that counts."
"Oh, come on, Sirius." Lily met his eyes, chin up, not willing to show she knew what a mistake treading this particular ground might be. "You grew up with this stuff. A curse scar's unusual side effects almost always have some kind of connection to the original curse. What curse could possibly leave a connection like that?"
Sirius opened his mouth indignantly, then paused, brows drawing down. "I... don't know. But it has to have been the Killing Curse - enough people tagged Voldemort with stuff that should've killed him and didn't during the war, and anyway it was his signature curse, I don't see why he would've cast anything else - there's got to be some kind of thematic connection there. Right?"
"Not one that I can see," Lily said, folding her arms.
"No." He sighed, rubbing a hand across his face. "Could it be something to do with whatever you cast to rebound his curse back on him? The popular theory, by the way, is that you saved Harry by selflessly flinging yourself in the path of the curse and protecting him with the sheer power of your pure motherly love, which... well, it's not impossible? Wouldn't be the first time someone broke an inviolable rule of magic in a moment of desperation. But given I know what kind of weird illegal magic you're into, it doesn't seem like the most likely answer."
"It's not entirely incorrect." Was this something Sirius would understand? There was a reason Lily hadn't ever told James about her last-ditch plan; he would have gladly thrown himself into the heat of battle to protect those he loved, and if she'd told him about the runes she'd carved into the floor of Harry's room and the blood she'd shed into them he would have insisted she tear them up and use him as the sacrifice instead, but he could never have made that cold-blooded choice to sit and wait for his own death. He would have fought instead, and Lily couldn't have blamed him. It was his nature, the same way that trusting in her own spellwork was hers, and so the choice to keep it a secret had been hers as well.
Lily had wanted to live, desperately, had wanted it with every cell of her body and every wisp of magic at her fingertips. She had wanted Harry to live more, and so when the Fidelius fell and the Anti-Apparition jinxes went up she'd sat in Harry's room and felt the pulse in her wrist beat in time with her last, best protection, and waited to die.
"It was a ritual," she said, voice quiet. "One I'd set up ahead of time in case we were betrayed, or the Fidelius failed somehow, or something else went wrong. But it only worked because I let myself die." Not quite accurate, but most people would consider someone saying they'd planned their own death out to be a sign of suicide, not of cold, ruthless pragmatism.
Harry's survival was paramount. Taking Voldemort with her had really just been a pleasant bonus.
"You probably shouldn't say that around anyone else," Sirius said.
"What? Afraid they'll think I meant it another way?"
"Well... Yeah, actually. But what I'm really worried about is what'll happen if someone puts the pieces together and works out what you did. Even the people who think the Ministry never should've banned rituals in the first place shy away from death magic."
Lily shrugged, trying her best to seem unconcerned. "It's not as though I sacrificed someone. It was all my choice."
"Still enough to get you tossed into Azkaban. And Lily, I promise you don't want to go there."
There was something dark and ugly in his eyes. Not entirely unfamiliar - she remembered seeing something like it not long after they'd joined the Order, when they were drunk enough on fear and adrenaline that the Firewhiskey James had brought took hardly any time to kick in and Lily'd made the mistake of asking Sirius about his family - but this was worse. The kind of scarring you could only get from spending a decade and a half soaking in nothing but your own worst memories, no relief in sight.
"No. I don't."
"I don't know how easy it'll be to keep that secret, though," Lily said, pragmatism pushing her to reveal something that she maybe should have kept quiet. If only so Sirius didn't have one more weight on his back. "I know Harry's been through my notes - I suspect whatever he did must have been piggybacked off my death ritual, true resurrections are about as rare as Philosopher's Stones and I don't think I'm a homunculus or a construct or something else along those lines - so he'd know exactly what I did. And it might not have occurred to him to keep it quiet, since I can't imagine it ever would've occurred to anyone to tell him this specific obscure branch of magic happened to be illegal."
Sirius winced, but shook his head. "Hermione - one of Harry's friends, I'm not sure if he got to introductions before the rest of the Order whisked him away - is a right bookworm. Reminds me of you, a bit, except she's a hell of a lot pickier about following the rules than you ever were. She would've started digging for information the moment she got her hands on your grimoires - I'd bet she could tell you what year rituals were banned and who voted for or against the measure, if you asked."
"I hope she isn't enough of a stickler to turn me in."
He snorted. "Nah, she hates censorship. She'll rant about it at length if you let her - the only way I've found so far to distract her is offering to show her around my library, and I'm pretty sure that's mostly because my parents kept a bunch of really old editions for prestige and they're all much less watered down than the current versions. Means they're full of legitimately Dark magic too, of course, but so far Hermione hasn't let that keep her from digging for information."
"She sounds like a woman after my own heart."
"Yeah, probably." Sirius rubbed a hand over his face. "Look, the scar thing - you think it's worrying enough to go to this kind of trouble?"
"You think it isn't?"
"Ha. No. Not any more." Sirius took a deep breath. "But you can't do it tonight."
Lily glared at him. "But -"
"Come on, Lily. You know this. What's the most important rule to avoid fucking up a ritual?"
She frowned at him. "Not bringing any magic other than what you're casting into the same space. Which I won't be."
"Other than, I dunno, yourself? Recently resurrected using a powerful, untested ritual with unknown aftereffects? And by 'recently', I mean less than a day ago? Don't tell me that's not a stupid idea, because I know it is, and I know you know."
Lily scowled at him. The problem was that there wasn't any point in arguing, not when he was so obviously right.
"Good," Sirius said. "Can I go back to sleep now? We can go through the library tomorrow - there's probably some banned text from 1860 or something like that in there, something that'll tell us how to work out if someone's got magical residue on them that'd ruin things if they got in a ritual circle. It's the kind of thing my parents would've kept around just to give the Ministry's banned books list the two-finger salute, never mind I'd bet they never would have been interested in reading any of them."
"I suppose." Lily wanted to argue with him, or point out that he'd actually have to go to sleep for that to be true, but it wasn't like that'd ever been helpful before. Better to let him alone and hope she'd punctured his mood well enough that he'd be able to think about something other than whatever he'd been brooding about. "I'll leave you alone."
"Until you come up with the next thing you want to bother me about, anyway," Sirius said, smirking at her. "Good night."
The corridor outside his room was quiet. Everyone else must have long since gone to bed, Lily supposed. She ran her fingers along one wall as she walked, feeling thick wallpaper and dust beneath her fingers. What had this house looked like at its prime? Had it been well-kept when Sirius was a child and his parents still lived here, or had the rot been setting in even then?
Her room was, if such a thing could be possible, even quieter. Like the grave. Lily flinched from the thought, pulling the four-poster's curtains open and trying not to breathe in the dust that billowed out.
A long-distant memory twitched at the edge of her mind, something from the church she'd attended as a child. Ashes to ashes, and dust -
The curtains were velvet. Dark green. Black embroidery crept along the edges. The sort of pointless extravagance you'd only see in the house of somebody who wanted visitors to know how rich they were, because what was the point in embroidering curtains? Nobody paid attention to them unless they were unfamiliar. But the stitches had come undone, long loose dark threads tickling Lily's arms.
She realised, with a sense of disappointment, that her attempts at distracting herself were just taking her down the same dark paths. Death and decay and destruction, all the same side of the coin, and if she couldn't find some way of getting her mind off that particular track she'd end up lying awake just like Sirius had been.
But what else could she possibly think about? Only a few years ago, Lily had left Hogwarts, and buried her parents, and married the man she loved with the sort of desperate fervour that wars and deaths created; and now he was long gone, and her son grown, and everyone else she'd known had passed her by.
Dead. She'd been dead.
Lily fell onto the edge of the bed, face buried in her hands, and gasped for air.
She wasn't sure how long she sat there, curled in on herself. Long enough for the dust to settle. Long enough for tears to seep between her fingers, and for her throat to start to ache. She only moved when her back began to protest.
Two spells, and nobody could have told she'd been crying. Another one to vanish the dust, and another to adjust the fit of the nightgown she'd been left, and Lily was ready for bed.
She slid between the sheets, staring at the velvety darkness above her, and didn't sleep.
It was quite reasonable. It wasn't as though she'd had a busy day, after all - what had she done other than talk, and that only for a few hours? Though, now that Lily thought about it, she could feel a certain drag on her magic that would take rest to clear up, probably an artifact of the resurrection - it should, after all, have been rather magically taxing on someone, probably to an extent that one person's magic wouldn't have been enough to cover the cost...
Lily rolled over, staring at a different velvet curtain. Surely she ought to have felt more tired once she actually got into bed, not less. That was how it had been when she was a child: no matter how sure she'd been that she couldn't possibly fall asleep, no matter how many fascinating things she'd had to think about, she'd fallen asleep within moments of climbing into bed.
She rolled over again. This curtain was still hanging open, but there was barely a difference in texture between it and the darkness.
Halfway through rolling over yet again, she froze, suddenly utterly convinced she wasn't alone. What had she -
Something creaked loudly in the hallway.
Probably a floorboard. There were other people in the house; one of them must have been going to bed, or sneaking out for a midnight snack. Or maybe it was a house elf - she was sure Sirius had mentioned his parents had one, years ago, and they didn't age particularly fast so it was probably still around -
The doorknob rattled, and before Lily knew it she had her wand in her hand and a curse on her lips and the intruder dodging back with a muffled yelp, face pale against the darkness, hissing, "What, you can barge in on me but I can't do the same?"
Lily's cheeks prickled with heat. Of course it was Sirius. Who else here felt comfortable enough around her to check on her in the middle of the night? And who on earth had she thought was attacking her here?
"Sorry," she muttered. "War reflexes."
Sirius eased into the room, closing the door softly behind him. "Probably should've thought of that before I opened the door. In my defence, nobody else here reacts like that, not even me."
"No. I suppose it hasn't gotten that bad yet."
"Not yet." Sirius paused. "Did I wake you?"
Lily sighed and dragged herself upright again, sheets puddling around her legs. "I can't sleep. Honestly, I feel like I just took a double dose of whatever that horrible coffee potion the Ravenclaws used to sell before exams was, except without the sense of impending doom."
"Huh." Sirius slid down onto the floor with a sigh. "Y'know, I'd completely forgotten about that stuff. No idea how, considering it tasted like if you replaced the salt in seawater with an electric shock and then overlaid it with the very barest touch of shitty instant coffee. I would've thought I'd have remembered that through Azkaban, considering it was and is the vilest thing I've ever voluntarily consumed."
The kindest thing would probably have been to keep her mouth shut. Lily had never been very good at that, though. "Every time you drank it, you were surrounded by friends. And you probably still thought you were going to have a good future then, too."
"Sometimes." Sirius was quiet for a long moment. "What do you think you'd remember? If you..."
"I don't know." Not Harry. Not James, or so many memories he was a part of: their first date in Hogsmeade, sprinting through the rain in Diagon Alley hand in hand. Meeting his parents. Their wedding, and the honeymoon, and every precious moment after. Even the harder memories, the ones where she'd hated him and his bullying and his persistent attention, seemed happier in retrospect.
Maybe there should have been bitterer moments. Maybe Lily should have had memories of being terrified they wouldn't make it through the war, or pleasant recollections of times she'd spent with the Marauders poisoned by the knowledge that Peter had sold them out. Maybe she'd lose that comfort later; right now the part of her heart that ought to have been howling in grief for James was curiously numb, disbelieving. But right now all those times were still shaded a joyous gold.
What did she regret? What had hurt, still hurt, enough to cut through the embarrassment of riches she'd had in her short life? What -
What but Petunia. They'd been so close once. Petunia had been, to Lily, the utter pinnacle she could aspire to; she would have given anything to be as clever and pretty as her older sister.
In hindsight, Lily suspected Petunia had thought things were the other way around. Mum's friends had always fussed over how pretty Lily's hair was, and she'd always felt much more comfortable talking to them and to strangers in the schoolyard than Petunia had. And maybe it hadn't mattered then, maybe Petunia had comforted herself knowing that she was Lily's world -
Lily raised her head slowly and met Sirius' eyes.
Here was someone who'd understand. James, best-loved only-child James, had never understood how Petunia tangled her up into bitter angry knots, and no matter how upset he'd been on her behalf every time they fell out Lily knew he'd always wanted a sibling too much to grasp just how ugly things could get between two people who should have been as close as their shared blood. He'd smiled and nodded and wanted what she'd had, and after a point Lily had been too frustrated to bother to talk to him about Petunia if she could avoid it.
Sirius, now. He knew exactly what it was to have a complicated, bitter, nasty relationship with a sibling, to straddle the line between love and loathing. Now that Lily thought about it, he was almost in Petunia's place: the once-adored older sibling, disregarded by his parents - not that Lily thought Petunia had been disregarded, but she must have felt she was - relationship deteriorating further and further until it was past the point of no return.
"Petunia. I'd remember - that."
He nodded jerkily, stretched a hand towards her, and then dropped it. "Yeah. That was - but only the bad bits, understand."
"They all seem worse in hindsight."
"Yeah, maybe. But there's worse worse, if you see what I mean."
"Probably." What did it matter if she looked back on a memory of her and Petunia as children and felt a stomach-curdling mixture of guilt and regret and searing anger if the memory itself was happy? She'd lose that, probably. Just keep the negative emotions it'd inspired.
"Merlin, this is depressing," Sirius said with a sigh.
"Don't be. At least you aren't pretending none of it ever happened the way some of them do." He laughed, soft and derisive. "It's like they think I'll have a bloody nervous breakdown."
"Nah," Lily said, shaking her head. "Not your style. You'd blow something up - ideally some building the Death Eaters were inside - and go along with it."
"Won't lie and say I haven't thought about it. But that bastard Voldemort hasn't done me the courtesy of making it obvious where he's hanging out... and. There's Harry to think about. Don't know that he'd appreciate that."
"No. I suppose he's lost enough people."
"Has you back now, though."
Lily leaned over the edge of the bed, fumbling until she found Sirius' hand in the dark. "Don't you think that means he needs you any less. Or that I don't. It's a bit bleak, knowing all your friends are dead and gone."
Sirius let out a long, shuddering sigh, but didn't try to argue. His fingers clutched at hers, cold and desperately tight like a drowning man's.
When Lily woke the next morning, slumped on her side and hair pouring over the edge of the bed, Sirius was still holding on.
Like all the best rituals were, it was simple: a chalk circle, five drops of her own blood in the centre, and pure, concentrated force of will.
"Is this enough?" Sirius asked, a doubtful note in his voice. "Don't rituals usually have, I don't know, candles and weird symbols all over the place and maybe a dead rat?"
"Some people's might. Now shush." Performing the ritual now, before most people in the house were awake, would keep disapproving eyes away. Waking them up with loud voices was precisely the opposite of what they needed. And now that Lily had proved to Sirius' satisfaction that she wouldn't taint the ritual with any lingering magic from her resurrection, she wasn't in the mood to wait another day if she could help it.
Lily pressed her palms to the floor just outside the circle, fingertips barely brushing the chalk, and closed her eyes. She could feel magic gathering on the blood she'd shed, and she focused her attention on it: her blood, the blood she'd willingly lost to save her child's life in a rite that had bound their fates so closely together he'd dragged her back from death itself, the blood that beat in both their veins - that was the connection she needed to follow. There were three people still living who shared that connection with her, but she only wanted one. The one closest to her, physically and magically and in all other ways, so it was easy, really, following that path from her veins to his...
And there he was, so close they might as well have been pressed to either side of a window - or cling-wrap, maybe, something thin and yielding enough she could feel the fizz of his magic against her skin as surely as she could hear the solid beat of his heart.
They weren't one, not quite. No matter what poets thought, two souls couldn't ever truly touch; there was always a separation, a resistance, two magnets straining apart no matter how great the strength of the one pressing them together. Lily knew that, but she couldn't help the momentary disappointment. Her son - the child she'd carried beneath her heart - the one she'd died for, the one she'd lost for so many years, grown to a stranger she wanted so desperately to know - but it wasn't as though it would have helped. Touching his soul might have made her feel as though she knew him, but she still wouldn't have remembered the history that had shaped him into who he was now.
Harry's magic moved around his body as surely as his blood did, though not as predictably. Curse scars usually ended up with a sort of magical accretion around them, the remnants of the body's attempt to heal the injury; Lily would follow it there, rather than trying to puzzle out how the shape of his soul corresponded to the shape of his body.
For a moment she hovered in place, feeling the buzz of his magic ebb and flow as it moved. Then she leaped in.
For a moment - just a moment - Lily lost herself. It was exhilarating, like leaping into the ocean and feeling the cold shock throughout her... but like the ocean, too, if she gave herself over to the sensation she'd drown. So she pulled back, focusing on separating herself from the pulse of magic around her.
One beat. Two. And, separation achieved, Lily let the magic carry her along.
She followed the flow of his magic up and up. It seemed deeper, somehow, the further she went. Because she was moving towards his brain, maybe, or because his magic was used to verbal spellcasting, something along those lines -
The deepest cluster of all was around his scar.
Lily pulled back from the magic - just a little, not enough to knock her out of the ritual, just enough to keep herself from being drawn into something she didn't understand - and examined the nodule, sending delicate little tendrils of magic to probe its surface. It made a certain amount of sense for there to be a great deal of magic there, she supposed; ordinary wounds tended to build scar tissue around themselves, after all, and a magical wound on a magical child too young to hold back his instinctual response to danger - yes, that might go further than was really required.
If she hadn't already suspected that something was wrong with Harry's scar, it would have been a perfectly acceptable answer. Given that she did, though, it was something that bore further investigation.
Unfortunately, the protective coating Harry's magic had constructed made a rather effective barrier. If Lily wanted to see what was inside, she'd have to go head-first.
Well. Hopefully it wouldn't turn out to be a bad idea.
Lily took a deep breath and plunged in.
Magic surrounded her, invasive and overwhelming, filling every sense. She might have screamed; Lily had no way of knowing.
And then -
It was wrong. That was all Lily knew, scrambling desperately to keep away from the dark presence in front of her, realising with a rising sense of panic that it had noticed her, it was aware and capable of responding and hostile and it was inhabiting her son -
Lily rocked back on her heels, flinching. The light was too bright, her body hurt, air was scraping and catching in her throat - She remembered, dimly, that this had happened the last time she'd done a ritual that involved an out-of-body experience too, and fumbled for Sirius's hand.
Pain spasmed up her hand, and darkness claimed her.
"- Lily, if you don't wake up soon, I'm getting Molly and you can deal with the consequences -"
"'m awake," Lily muttered, wrinkling her nose. There was a hair on her face, tickling it with each breath in and out, and she was already so annoyed by it she'd happily risk fainting again if it meant she could sit up long enough to get rid of it.
"People mumble in their sleep sometimes," Sirius said, voice a little closer than before. "I'm not sure I can really take that as a sign of life."
Lily opened her eyes, glared at him, and gave him a two-finger salute.
"Ah, there you are. What happened?"
"I don't know." Lily pushed herself upright and propped herself on the wall, shoving her hair away from her face. "I ran into something unexpected, broke the connection, and then..." What had it been? Something to do with her -
Her hand. Which still hurt, a steady pulsing ache that felt like it ran bone-deep. It shouldn't have been possible, not from the ritual alone - maybe if she'd put her hand down on a candle? But the spellwork she'd done shouldn't have had any aftereffects other than she would have expected from casting any high-power spell. Tiredness, maybe a little more trouble casting spells until she'd had a chance to rest, maybe a headache... but no actual physical damage. Not unless she'd screwed the whole thing up enough that it exploded, anyway, and Lily hadn't ever done that.
She raised her hand, fingers curled tensely towards her palm in a way that couldn't have been natural, and with sheer force of will uncurled them.
Stretched across the width of her palm, deep and blood-red and obliterating every little line in its path, was a lightning-bolt scar.
"What is it?" Sirius asked in a hushed voice. "Wait, no, stupid question. How?"
Lily bit her lip. If the thing she'd sensed inside Harry's head had created the scar - and if she'd reached out in that moment of panic, reached out to claw away the threat to her son the same way she'd placed herself between him and danger before -
She took her wand out and rested the tip against the mark, probing it gently with her magic. It reacted the way she'd feared: with a foreign anger she could feel echoing through her body, and with a distinct sense of intelligence.
"Something Voldemort left behind that night," she said slowly, racking her brains for anything that might explain the thing she now bore. "You might have a better idea of what it is than I do, actually. It's - I don't know if you've ever played around with Legilimency, but there's spells like it you can use to feel someone's soul or magic or whatever you like to call it instead of their thoughts. This sort of feels like that, except the thing I'm holding is smaller, and sort of... ragged? Definitely intelligent, though, and coherent enough to have emotions -"
"Well," Lily said, once Sirius had finished stumbling through an explanation of what he remembered about horcruxes. "That's not good."
"I can't believe you just stole it," he said, shooting a glance at the reddened mark on her hand.
"I can. Voldemort can't have intended to put a horcrux in Harry - putting a piece of your soul in another human being, especially one that's your enemy's child, is a terrible idea. So it must have been an accident. Maybe the backlash from my ritual destroyed his original vessel, or redirected the spells that were supposed to move that piece of soul to wherever he'd actually intended it to go, or... honestly, a lot of things could have gone wrong. There's a reason you don't mix rituals." Lily grimaced at the scar. "In fact, it's possible that the mixing of those two rituals left some kind of connection that actually made me a better host for this... soul-chunk, for lack of a better word, than Harry was. It's had a long time to anchor itself on Harry, after all."
"Yessss. Unless - and just hear me out, because obviously this is just a thought, I might be going off on the wrong track - but. What if you only got part of the soul? And now both you and Harry are horcruxes?"
Lily blinked. Sirius clearly meant what he was saying - he wasn't meeting her eyes, but the tension in his shoulders and back told her everything she needed.
"I don't think I need to worry about that," she said, patting his shoulder hesitantly. "I'll admit I haven't done a great deal of research into soul magic, but everything I've happened across suggests that souls are usually fairly coherent. The horcrux-making process would be a great deal easier if they weren't, right?"
"Well, yes, but... it's already been damaged. Surely that'd make it more prone to shearing off into littler pieces."
Lily shook her head. "It felt whole. A little ragged around the edges, maybe, but not damaged in a way that'd make it likely to split. But even if you don't believe me, Sirius, it shouldn't be hard to prove - Harry's scar should be gone. It won't be long until he's awake for us to have a look at it."
"I guess." Sirius subsided, gnawing at his lip, and pretended not to be paying attention when Lily started poking at the scar again.
It felt wrong. So much so that Lily almost couldn't believe that nobody had noticed anything wrong with Harry's scar earlier - except that she could see the logical chain of events. The usual danger associated with curse scars was magic leakage; if the scar hadn't exhibited any signs of that, it would likely have been deemed innocuous. It took years of playing around with delicate, esoteric magic to gain this sort of magic sensitivity. A healer who specialised in curses might have it - or might not. Healers had probably spent years ignoring it, because to them, it didn't seem as though anything was awry.
And, of course, it was possible that she was more sensitive to it because it was in her body, or because she'd just uprooted it and whatever defences it'd built up around itself over the past decade and a half were in disarray. Maybe if she'd tried this kind of examination on it while it was still in Harry's scar she wouldn't have found anything unusual at all.
"It's past seven," Sirius said abruptly. "Do you think he's awake?"
Lily very much doubted it - he was fifteen and on holidays, and in his situation she would've taken every opportunity for a lie-in she was granted - but as she opened her mouth to tell him so, she was interrupted by a shriek from downstairs.
"Come on," Sirius said. "We'd better go see what it is."
It was immediately obvious what the problem was - or rather, what it wasn't. Harry was surrounded by an ever-growing crowd of Order members, fringe shoved up to display a perfectly ordinary unscarred forehead.
"It can't just disappear, though," someone was saying as they clattered down the last few steps.
Harry met her eyes and raised his brows. Lily let a small smile flicker across her face, and Harry visibly relaxed. She realised, with a small stab of guilt, that he must have thought something much less benign was happening.
Lily cleared her throat. "I think I can explain some of what's going on."
The crowd slowly quieted, turning to her with curious eyes.
"I used some unusual magic to study Harry's scar, and it had a few unintended effects," Lily said, wearing the calm smile she'd perfected during her time as a Prefect. "On the plus side, I know what it is now!"
"You got rid of it?" Harry asked, wide-eyed behind his glasses. "Does this mean I won't get the dreams any more? It's gone for good?"
"In a certain manner of speaking, yes."
Severus shoved to the front of the crowd. There was a hint of fear in his dark eyes - not something she'd expected to see, not after all this time, but she wasn't too surprised. He knew her too well. "What did you do?"
Lily sighed and held her hand up, palm out for them all to see.
Everyone started talking at once, tones varying from shock to horror to excitement. Lily couldn't bring herself to look at Severus's face - he'd had fifteen years to work out how he felt about his part in the last war, but she hadn't, and she wasn't nearly ready to deal with whatever overreaction he'd be having right now - and glanced over at Harry instead. He was running his fingertips over his smooth forehead, an utterly blank expression on his face.
The noise cut off abruptly as Dumbledore strode to the front of the pack. Lily lifted her chin, wishing she didn't still look like she'd barely left Hogwarts.
"As I'm sure you can imagine, I have a great many questions." His eyes were fixed on her palm, brows furrowed. "I feel it might be wisest to start with the simplest one. Why?"
"It wasn't deliberate." Not quite accurate, but Lily was fairly sure most people wouldn't count a panic-fuelled reaction as something done purposefully. "I was using an old spell I remembered from years ago to try to find out why Harry's scar was showing such unusual magical properties - as I'm sure you know, there are a few classes of spells that can only be used on blood relatives, and their curse detection spells tend to be more delicate and sensitive than the ordinary kind - and there was a reaction I hadn't anticipated. I suspect it has to do with the raw magic I was exposed to the night I died - and, possibly, whatever magic occurred when I was revived." There. That neatly danced around the fact that she'd used illegal ritual magic, while still technically speaking being true.
"I see," Dumbledore said. "Though I doubt we'll ever know for sure how it occurred. These sorts of magical accidents are rarely ever explained to anyone's satisfaction."
"I suppose we could hardly recreate the conditions," Lily agreed. She'd honestly expected more pushback from Dumbledore - but, well, what could he have said? It was hardly as though she could put it back - or would agree to.
In fact, for all Lily knew Dumbledore might be glad. If he had the faintest idea what Harry had been carrying for all these years... what could he have done to save him? Soul magic was banned in every jurisdiction Lily knew of, and Sirius's explanation earlier had suggested that most of the existing research was focused on either creating horcruxes or destroying them, which always required the destruction of their vessel too. Lily was sure Dumbledore had made some hard choices in his time, between Grindelwald and Voldemort, but knowingly killing a child for the greater good had to be a long step past any of that.
If Dumbledore were glad, he wouldn't show it, of course. Destroying this horcrux would probably require Lily's death, if she couldn't come up with a clever way out of it; Lily doubted the other Order members would countenance it, even if it meant saving Harry, and especially if Dumbledore seemed anything but sorrowful at the necessity.
"I wonder what you learned from the experience," Dumbledore said. There was absolutely no hint of demand in his voice, no suggestion that he thought of the scar as anything out of the ordinary. Lily was still very certain he knew.
"Well, it's very dark, as you'd expect. But not dangerously, the way curse scars can be if they leak magic into the body - it was and is quite self-contained, and Harry's magic was forming a barrier around it, so I doubt it had any effect on him." Lily paused, weighing her words. "It wasn't quite like anything I'd seen before. Very unusual. Unique, even. Like a fingerprint."
Dumbledore met her eyes. For a moment, his brows drew down, almost apologetically - and then the expression was gone, replaced by his usual benign interest. "Fascinating. Perhaps we might have tea and discuss it at some point? I think I have a few rare texts that might allow us to dissect the problem further."
Lily would bet he did. "Of course. But I can't devote all my time to trying to solve this little mystery. I have a son to get to know, after all."
Dumbledore nodded slowly. "It is a time of war. Best not to leave the truly important things in life to later, for one never knows when those opportunities might be closed off forever."
Yes, he knew. What had his plan been? To encourage Harry to enjoy his life as best he could before the end? Lily hated that she could see the necessity of it. Harry was her son - the son she'd died for - but he wasn't Dumbledore's. To him, Harry must have been nothing more than a scapegoat, sadly destined to carry their sins and their risks and to stretch out his neck for the axe.
She could see the necessity, and still think Dumbledore must have had blood like ice to come up with a plan like that.
"But perhaps I could steal you first?" Dumbledore went on, offering Lily his arm. "I don't wish to interrupt your reunion, but I would prefer we discussed your experiences sooner than later - if only so the event is fresh in your mind."
"I certainly can't argue with that." Lily glanced around him, catching Harry's eye. "I'll come find you as soon as I'm finished, all right?"
"Don't worry, Lily," Sirius piped up from behind her. "I'll keep him out of trouble."
"Are you sure, Sirius? That doesn't sound quite like it's in your skillset."
Chuckles ran around the group as they finally began to disperse, and Lily couldn't help the relief that ran through her. She was one of them, of course, but as far as any of them (except, maybe, Sirius) were concerned she was a stranger. She wouldn't have blamed them for being suspicious about how exactly she'd managed to steal Harry's scar, but it did make things a great deal easier that they weren't.
"Shall we?" Dumbledore murmured.
"Yes. We do have such a lot to discuss." And Lily didn't plan on letting him get away with eliding the truth. Not this time.
Sirius broke off his conversation with Harry and his friends as Lily stepped through the door. The room was small and cluttered, scattered with summer homework and stacks of notes in her own handwriting and books that looked like they'd been taken from the Black library; this must have been the room they'd been planning in, though it was messy enough she doubted this was where she'd been resurrected.
"What'd he say?"
Lily hesitated, glancing over at Hermione and Ron. They'd been involved with Harry's resurrection plan, so he must trust them - but was he right to? James had trusted Peter, and Lily had trusted that he was right to, and it wasn't like either of them had a reason not to; he'd stood by his friends' sides for so many pranks and fights before. It would have been stranger not to have trusted him.
"Oh, don't pull that face," Sirius said. "They're all right. They've been with Harry for basically every stupid risk he's taken since he's started at Hogwarts."
"You say that like there's been a lot of them." And maybe there had; it wasn't as though either she or James had had the sense to keep away from potential dangers when they were at school, after all. Pranks and fights and experimental magic, the both of them, and never a thought given to whether they'd get away with it.
Harry's cheeks reddened. "There's, uh. There's been some?"
"You can explain all the stuff you think Lily won't approve of later," Sirius said dismissively. "There's more important stuff to discuss right now."
"There really is." Lily sat beside him, rubbing her face. "You were right."
"It is a horcrux, then."
"It is." Lily glanced around. "Did you -"
"Yeah. Sirius explained." Harry wrapped his arms around his knees, eyes pensive. "I - you shouldn't have taken it. I don't want..."
"I'm your mother. Of course I should have." Lily couldn't help but wonder if Harry was thinking the same thing she was. He was young - too young to be worrying about his parents' war - but she was hardly any better. Had the older members of the Order thought the same back when she and James had joined? Had they looked her in the eyes and wondered how long she'd survive, and what she'd lose if she did?
"But you're going to die!"
Lily reached forwards and took his hand, ignoring the fluttering nervousness in her stomach. "I know it must just feel like you've gotten me back, Harry, but believe me: I'd die for you again, if I had to. You deserve the chance to grow up." If he didn't die in the war like so many of her fellow soldiers had. "And in any case, just because nobody's ever removed a horcrux from its host before doesn't mean it can't be done. After all, nobody'd ever beaten the Killing Curse before - or escaped from Azkaban - or properly resurrected someone - so, really, I think we've got rather good odds."
"Or that we've all used up our one-in-a-million chances already," Harry muttered, but a little of the tension went out of his shoulders. "How'd he accidentally stick a piece of his soul in me, anyway? Well, assuming it was an accident - Sirius said he couldn't see why it'd be on purpose, and I guess that doesn't really make any sense -"
Lily grimaced. "Dumbledore thinks he'd made others. Enough to destabilise his soul."
"Mad," Sirius said, shaking his head. "You'd have to be, to risk something like that."
"If I'm understanding things right, you've already come across one," Lily added, shooting a glance at Harry, Ron and Hermione. "A diary?"
A dark expression crossed Ron's face. "Yes. We did."
"He said that was what tipped him off," Lily said. "And he's been digging ever since, looking for other ones. He's got a bit of a list, actually - I think he's hoping I'll volunteer to help him hunt them down. I suppose it makes sense. He doesn't have much hope I can come up with a way to get rid of my horcrux, so he might as well get the doomed woman to take the dangerous jobs, right?"
"You're not doomed, though," Harry said, meeting her eyes with a desperate air. "You said you'd come up with a way around it."
"I promise you, I have absolutely no intentions of giving up. But having another horcrux to hand might be useful, since I could experiment on them without risking myself. And it's not as though we can just leave them where they are, anyway."
"No, we can't," Hermione said. "I don't suppose you have a list we could look at?"
Lily fished out the piece of parchment and handed it over. "Don't let on I've shown you, mind. I got the feeling Dumbledore wanted to keep this close to his vest."
"How come you're telling us, then?" Ron asked, meeting her eyes squarely.
"I don't want to keep secrets from Harry," Lily said slowly, thinking her way through the answer as she went. "It's not as though any of you are young enough to need to have information kept for safety's sake. And you've all been involved already, anyway."
And Harry clearly had the same unthinking trust in his friends that she'd had with Severus until he called her a Mudblood, and that James had with Peter until the door burst in - or after, even. What would his first thought have been: that Peter had betrayed them, or that the secret had been forced out of him?
Neither of them looked like a betrayer. But Peter hadn't, either. He'd seemed utterly sincere when he'd taken the Fidelius over from Sirius, when he'd gripped James' hand and sworn to protect them all - but he couldn't have been, because a sincere man would have turned himself in as soon as he'd escaped the torture that'd broken him, a sincere man would have saved Sirius from twelve years in Azkaban, a sincere man wouldn't have hidden and kept the lies and misunderstandings going for all those years -
"The Occlumency," Sirius said suddenly, shaking her from her train of thought. "That has to be why."
"What?" Lily asked, blinking.
"Dumbledore wants me to learn Occlumency." Harry scowled. "And he made Snape teach me."
"Ah." No love lost there, which was interesting. "You think it has something to do with the horcrux, Sirius?"
"Well, yeah. Albus knows Harry and Snape don't get on - if it were just about making sure Harry didn't let out mission-critical information the next time he came face-to-face with Voldemort, he'd do it himself, or write up a beginners' manual and give it over. But it was important enough to make Harry get proper lessons with someone he should've known would be rubbish at it. Why else but that he was worried there was a spy sitting in the front of Harry's skull?"
Hermione shot Lily's hand a nervous glance. "Does that mean you're at risk too?"
"I don't think so," Lily said, frowning. "I do know Occlumency - I'm not particularly good at it, but I can keep someone out for long enough to hex them, which is all anyone really needs if they're not interested in learning it for its own sake - but also... It's been attached to Harry since he was a baby. It had time to integrate itself. It hasn't had time to do that to me, and given that I do already have some proficiency with Occlumency, I'd bet I'll have a much easier time blocking it out than Harry would have."
"Do you think that means I can quit learning, then?" Harry said, expression brightening.
"It is useful," Lily said, trying not to grin too obviously. "But it's not nearly as urgent as it was - and it sounds like Severus will want to give up on the lessons as much as you do, anyway. You might as well do it the slow way and save both of you the bother."
"Good," he said vehemently. "Because that was just - it was horrible. I think I got worse at keeping people out of my mind with him for a teacher."
"That can happen sometimes in the early stages," Lily said mildly. "For much the same reason that if you think too hard about something you've learned to the point of doing it instinctively, like tying your shoes, you can make yourself forget how temporarily."
"Oh." Harry's face grew very red. "I didn't realise that was common."
"I'd appreciate a copy of that beginners' guide to Occlumency if you find one," Hermione put in. "It does sound terribly useful, but I wasn't sure Snape was interested in taking on more pupils."
Frankly, Lily was astounded he'd taken any at all; he wasn't exactly suited to teaching, despite Slughorn's attempts to get him to tutor the younger years when they'd been at Hogwarts. Dumbledore must've had some impressive leverage to get him to do it.
"Tell you what," she said. "I'll see if I can find anything in my old notes - I'm not sure I ever had an actual written guide, but it's worth a look - and Harry, you ought to go talk to him."
"If you're withdrawing from his lessons, you ought to tell him yourself," she said firmly. "If he really dislikes doing it as much as you say, I'm sure he'll be delighted for the excuse to stop."
"Fine," Harry muttered, leaving with bad grace. Hermione and Ron followed him with apologetic glances.
"I know what you're thinking," Sirius said quietly after they'd gone. "But I don't think either of them are another Peter."
"I hope you're right."
Despite what he'd said at their meeting, Dumbledore didn't seem in any hurry to get Lily out of Grimmauld Place in search of horcruxes. She had more than enough time to have hesitant, awkward conversations with Harry, to get to know his friends, to bite back exclamations of shock when an exhausted Remus showed up while she was digging through back issues of the Prophet to try to catch up on everything she'd missed -
Training, too. Mad-Eye Moody, seemingly even more paranoid than he'd been the last time she saw him, drilled Lily in a wide variety of hexes and defensive charms, a performance she suspected was meant as much an opportunity to check whether it was really her as it was to improve her reflexes. Harry and his friends started coming along too after the first few sessions. They just lurked at the back at first, noting down which spells were being used and discussing them in low voices; then Moody growled that he wasn't an Auror any more and didn't have any interest in upholding stupid laws, and they started working alongside Lily.
By silent, mutual agreement, none of them let Molly Weasley know what they were doing. Lily appreciated the work she'd done to protect Harry and give him a kinder home than she suspected he'd found with Petunia, but she was also very sure that Molly wouldn't have approved either of their unauthorised wand use or the implicit assumption that the children would need this kind of training at some point. She'd much rather they stayed far away from the war effort, never mind they might not have a choice in the end.
Hermione dragged Harry and Ron off to the deepest reaches of the library to hunt down references to horcruxes, and returned with scorch marks on her fingers and magic crackling through her hair. Ginny wrote out descriptions of what she'd felt when she was possessed in handwriting so neat Lily knew it couldn't have been her first draft, and in between rolls of parchment read through the beginner's guide to Occlumency Severus had written up with a furious concentration. Fred and George borrowed Lily's grimoires, and interrogated her about the spells and potions she'd created or improved, and cast one another expressionless glances when she pointed out what an excellent spy their older brother could be, if only they could get him on side with the idea.
Sirius dropped in on all of them, offering help and suggestions with a forced cheer that dissuaded anyone from pointing out the naked exhaustion on his face, and had quiet little teas with Dumbledore he thought nobody else had noticed, and one day he slumped into the chair opposite her and asked what she knew about Inferi.
"Probably inspired Muggle legends of zombies. Or zombie legends inspired someone to try reanimating corpses, I suppose, but the two are far too similar not to have come from the same root. Why?" Lily had spent the morning asking Molly oblique questions about her opinions on ritual magic, and, frustratingly, she wasn't any closer to the answer she needed. Ginny, whose bad memories of her first year at Hogwarts had been stirred up by Lily's request for information, had asked if there was a way to tell if her possession would have long-term side effects, and the only way Lily knew to get that information was a ritual. Souls were far too well-hidden to be viewable by anything less powerful. And that meant asking Ginny's parents for permission to cast illegal magic on her daughter, and that meant working out where Molly stood on the issue so Lily could come up with a way of asking her that didn't risk her refusing to let her children come into contact with a criminal, and, and, and.
Honestly, the fact that Molly and her husband were part of a questionably legal resistance group against an insurrection the Ministry refused to acknowledge ought to have made this easier, not harder. But the Order was older and staider than they'd been when Lily had joined, and she had a feeling a decent number of them would accuse her of using Dark magic without ever considering that Dark and illegal weren't the same thing.
"Not helpful, Lily. What about fighting Inferi?"
"Run away?" Lily crinkled her nose. "Seriously - shut your mouth, I've heard that joke far too many times - honestly, Sirius, fighting Inferi is a bad idea. Scare 'em off with a bit of fire and get away however you can. Most necromancers don't bother to make them particularly long-lasting, so there's a decent chance if you come back in a week they'll be piles of goo soaking into the dirt."
"And if the Inferi are protecting something you need to get at, and they've been lurking for decades, no sign of rot?"
"Then you're fucked."
"You don't have any ideas? At all?" Sirius rubbed a hand across his face. "Because we kind of need one."
"Why -" The bottom dropped out of Lily's stomach as she asked, because of course. "Another horcrux."
"Ugh." She rubbed her face, thinking furiously. "How many?"
"Well, I've never really bothered with necromancy, so unless Dumbledore knows more shutting them all off isn't an option. They don't like fire, and it's about the only thing that can stop them in their tracks, so I suppose give that a go? In very large quantities? Fly over the top if you can, or use short-distance Apparition to get around the crowd..." Lily chewed on her lip as she thought. "I could have a dig around in the library here, see if there's anything more useful, but frankly I suspect it'll come down to sheer firepower and large amounts of luck. Bring as many people as you can manage."
"I'm not sure that was quite the plan Dumbledore had in mind," Sirius said. "Let's see if I can convince him."
Lily did not, in the end, find anything more useful about Inferi than she'd already known, but it turned out to be a moot point. Sirius managed to convince Dumbledore to bring in more help, and their resident curse-breaker, Bill Weasley, discovered there weren't any alarm wards on the perimeter of the space the Inferi were guarding. Sirus thought it was an attempt to keep the detectable magic to a minimum, thus making it less likely that a passing wizard might realise there was something unusual in the vicinity; Lily, on the other hand, suspected hubris. Either way, there was nothing to stop them from Transfiguring the roof of the cavern into air and firing on the Inferi from above, and a few frantic hours later they returned with a fake locket, a note in familiar handwriting, and a new lead.
And, Kreacher having spilled the secret shortly after that, they then had the real thing.
"There's got to be a way to get it out," Lily muttered.
Unfortunately, their streak of luck had ended with finding the locket. Examining it had made it quite clear what the difference between deliberate and accidental horcruxes was: the piece of soul in this one was barely detectable, submerged beneath layers of protective magic, and what little glimpses of it Lily had managed to get gave a strong impression of wholeness. Tearing this chunk of soul from the whole might have been traumatic at the time, but those wounds had long since healed. If she hadn't known what she was looking at, she might have wondered if it was a Transfigured person; the soul inside seemed far too integrated, as if it truly belonged there.
Removing the soul from it without destroying it didn't seem possible. It was enough to make Lily want to scream with frustration. The soul in her wasn't integrated at all, so it ought to be possible to remove it, but how? It wasn't something graspable, like a splinter driven too far into a finger. She'd need special magic for it, something never seen before, and if she couldn't test it on the locket how would she know it was safe?
Not that she was terribly worried about that; it wouldn't be the first time she'd tested something on herself. But Lily was fairly sure nobody else here would let her do that, and she'd told far too many people to be able to sneak away and cast the magic herself.
And, of course, she'd actually have to have some idea what she was doing in order to have any magic to cast. That was a problem too.
She sat up, stretching her back as she glanced around the room. Sirius and Hermione were as immersed in books as she'd been, while Harry and Ron debated something in quiet voices at the other end of the room. She wasn't quite sure what they'd been up to - neither was as academically inclined as Hermione - but craning her neck, Lily could see a monograph on Occlumency in Severus' cramped handwriting and and a book on, of all things, small-group duelling tactics. She hoped Ron was keeping that one well hidden from his parents.
Sirius groaned and sat up too, setting his book to the side. "I can't tell if I'm not finding anything useful because these books are rubbish, or because I just don't know what I'm looking for. If there were anyone else here with experience in ritual magic I'd say you ought to recruit them instead, Lily, but..."
"We don't have any good choices," Lily finished. "And I'd rather deal with this as soon as possible, which means I can't just do it all myself." The horcrux in her palm had been quiescent so far, but she didn't want to count on that - and besides, the longer she left it there the longer it would have to dig itself in, and the harder it'd be to remove it.
Sirius poked Hermione's shoulder. "Found anything?"
"Oh, don't interrupt her," Lily said, scowling.
"She's been staring at the same spot on the page for the last couple of minutes," he said. "Hermione?"
"Ugh," Hermione muttered. "Have you ever - it's like having something on the tip of your tongue, but it's your brain instead, and it might be useful or it might just mean you're about to remember you forgot to put the rubbish out when you left home -"
"Don't think too hard about it," Sirius advised. "It'll come when it comes."
"Sirius," Harry said, "can you come over here and have a look at this? This book's saying something about overlapping Protegos that doesn't sound right."
Sirius wandered over willingly, allowing himself to be drawn into the discussion, and Lily sighed.
"I could tell them to stop distracting him," Hermione offered.
Lily shook her head. "It won't do any of us any good to work ourselves to exhaustion. That's how you miss things."
"I suppose," Hermione said. "It's important, though."
"Lots of things are important," Lily said with a shrug. "That doesn't mean we have to do them all now."
They fell silent. Lily flipped through the book in front of her idly, not taking anything in. There had to be a way to do it. You could do anything with magic; all it took was power, and intent, and a way to shape the magic so everything worked properly. She'd had long practise in shaping her intent, and between the lot of them there was plenty of power. All she needed was a shape.
"Reparo," Hermione said suddenly.
Harry reached up for his glasses, cheeks reddening when he realised Hermione's wand wasn't in her hand. "What?"
"Well - one of the monographs on soul magic I found talked about how difficult it is, because the soul wants to be whole, and a particular shape - if shape is really the right word for it, which it mightn't be because there's not a great deal we really know about it - but the point is, the only reason it's possible to break the soul at all is by doing something terribly offensive to it, something that weakens its outer boundaries for just long enough to damage it, and then by having the sheer force of will to force it to separate - apparently almost half of attempted horcrux rituals fail because the caster doesn't have sufficient intent -"
"Hermione," Harry said, a long-suffering tone in his voice that told Lily this wasn't the first time he'd ever had to interrupt her. "How does this help?"
"Isn't it obvious?" she said, looking not at him but at Lily. "If you break something that has a Self-Repairing Charm on it, and then bring the pieces close enough together, they'll rejoin. If you break a soul -"
"Then we might be able to remove my piece." Lily clenched her uninjured hand, mind racing. It wouldn't be as simple as that - there must be safeguards on the horcrux itself to prevent the soul from escaping, which would make it harder for it to connect to nearby pieces. Of course, that oughtn't apply to her, since Harry hadn't been the chosen vessel and she was even less so.
She'd read a book of rituals once that'd been written by a group of muggleborns who, like her, hadn't seen why rituals ought to be closed to careful experimentation. One of them had been a ritual to imbue an item with magnetism. Lily had thought it pointless at the time - why not use the Magnetisation Charm? - but now, now the ritual seemed ripe for modification. All it needed was a little research and thought. And finding that bloody book again so she could use that ritual for a template. The Black library wasn't likely to have a copy, not of something that'd been so very Muggle, and Dumbledore wouldn't have kept something in Hogwarts that might have been a temptation for people like her... she must have found it in Knockturn, on one of her and Severus' expeditions out there. Maybe her copy would still be with her effects?
Somewhere in the back of her mind Lily registered that Harry was chivvying the others out, and that Hermione seemed quite dismayed to hear that she got every bit as absent-minded when she was chasing a sudden flash of intuition. She didn't have the time or the patience to pay attention to that, though.
Lily had an impossible ritual to plan.
Harry stood at the other end of the room behind a line of salt and iron filings, well-protected from the ritual magic Lily was going to invoke. He hated it - would far rather have been a part of the spell - but he hadn't been able to argue, either. His magic still remembered the shape the horcrux had pressed into it for so long; better not to risk the spellwork going awry and stealing the chunk of soul back again.
On this side of the line were two circles, one inside the other. Lily sat on the edge of the inner one, opposite the locket, wishing she'd been able to come up with a design that allowed her to do something other than wait for other people to perform the ritual. On the outer circle sat Sirius, Hermione, and Ron, their faces showing varying degrees of nervousness. She'd drilled them, taught them safety precautions and how to channel their magic into the circle and how to give the magic a little nudge if it seemed like things weren't going the way they ought, but that didn't make anyone involved any less wary.
"Mum'll kill me if she finds this out," Ron muttered, not for the first time. His hands were steady, though.
"We'll just have to make sure she doesn't." Hermione cast one last look around the chalk circles, one part last-minute check and one part curiosity laced with want. Lily knew that expression well: she'd seen it on her own face the first time she'd done ritual magic. She'd wanted to know, she'd wanted to do it again, she'd wanted everyone to feel that rush so they'd change the laws back and, at the same time, for nobody else to know just how powerful this made her feel -
Sirius had said Hermione had a reformer's zeal and a healthy disdain for some of the Ministry's laws. Lily suspected that, if this went well, she'd be adding another law to her to-do list.
"Are we ready to go?" Sirius waited until he'd had a nod from everyone - even Harry - before he let out a long breath. "All right, then. Let's do this."
Magic surged around Lily, dangerous and wild and full of possibility, and she laughed. Maybe this would go wrong. Maybe she'd drag her own soul out alongside the horcrux. But right now - right now, with magic curled around her like a lover's caress, she wasn't sure she believed anything could go wrong ever again.
Voldemort wouldn't know what hit him.