The first summer after Hogwarts, Lily is so excited she can hardly stand it.
Hogwarts is wonderful, but Lily has missed her family and especially her Muggle friends. She hasn't been very good at keeping in touch—it's hard, without the telephone, and it's not as though she can send them letters by owl. But she misses them, and she knows they must have missed her, too, and sure enough, within a week, Sophie Claiborne invites her to a sleepover.
She arrives at Sophie's feeling like a balloon, buoyant and ready to burst with stories to share. The other girls look at her eagerly, and one of the first questions anyone asks is, "What's your new school like?"
"It's amazing," Lily starts, "it's…"
And it's right then, staring into their expectant faces, that Lily remembers: the Statute of Secrecy. The warning letter she'd received from the Ministry not two days ago, chastising her for the matchstick she'd transfigured into a needle. You can tell your family, Professor Dumbledore had told her once, but otherwise, when you're with Muggles, it has to be a secret.
She doesn't understand why. They're her friends; they should be able to know. She wants to tell them about Quidditch, about Potions, about a professor who can turn into a cat, about the castle and its moving stairs, about portraits that can talk to you and nearly-headless ghosts.
But the warning from the Ministry had sounded serious, and she doesn't want another one, not so soon. So she falters.
"...really great," she finishes.
It's an anti-climax, she knows. The other girls stare at her strangely.
"Is it true you haven't got a telephone in the whole school?" asks Madelaine Winfield.
Lily nods. "Or telly."
"It's…" Lily hesitates. "Too distracting. They want us to focus on school."
The allure of Lily's mysterious school fades fast in the wake of such revelations. Sophie wrinkles her nose. "Thought you said it was amazing. Sounds stuffy."
"It is amazing!" Lily objects hotly, but Sophie looks unconvinced and unimpressed.
"What's it for, anyway?" asks Sophie. "Why are you going there?"
"It's for the specially gifted." The lie—the same one her parents have told the neighbors, their coworkers and all their friends—feels awkward on her tongue. She isn't special, she's a regular witch.
Sophie's eyes narrow, and Lily wonders if she can spot the lie. "'Specially gifted'? What does that mean?"
It means I'm a witch, she wants to say, but instead she lifts one shoulder and smiles. "That I'm clever?"
Sophie nods like she understands, but there's something cold in her eyes that makes Lily want to argue. It's not her fault she can't tell them the truth, just like it's not her fault Petunia can't come to Hogwarts too.
Before she can say anything, though, Divya Gadhavi askas, "And that boy goes there too? The one from Spinner's End?"
"Yes," she says sharply.
But the other girls all look at each other skeptically, like they can't conceive of a school for the gifted that would include Severus Snape. Her cheeks are growing warm, and she can feel herself bristling, but she doesn't want to argue, not here, not with them, not when she and Petunia have already argued six times in the five days Lily's been home.
So she takes a breath and swallows her pride and turns to Madelaine. "Anyway, what was it like here? What did I miss?"
That does the trick; the rest of the girls launch into stories about school and their lives involving people Lily has never met, television programmes Lily hasn't watched, records Lily hasn't had a chance to hear.
She joins in when she can, and she laughs in the right places, and there's some things — like seeing how many jellybeans Divya can fit in her mouth at one time — where it doesn't matter, Muggle or witch. But when she gets into her father's car the next morning, Lily can't help but feel like something is ending.
She first hears the word "Mudblood" bellowed at top volume out of a red envelope she will later learn is called a Howler.
The word itself catches her attention for only the split-second she hears it, and then it's lost in deluge of words that follow, spoken with so much vitriol that Lily doesn't need to know the definition to understand as unpleasant. The whole of the Great Hall falls quiet to listen, and Sirius Black, the subject of the rant, has gone nearly as red as the envelope, scowling murderously into his scrambled eggs. The three friends on either side of him look between Sirius and each other nervously.
The ringing silence that follows the Howler is broken by a smattering of laughter from the Slytherin table. Sirius sits up defiantly, and he catches Lily staring at him before she can look away like everyone else.
"What?" he demands.
"Nothing," she says honestly, turning back to her own breakfast. She's glad her parents are Muggles, and can't send her letters that scream.
Not that her parents have ever yelled at her like that, anyway.
The second time she hears the word is nearly a year later, when she crosses over to the Slytherin table to meet Severus before Potions class.
"Here comes the Mudblood," mutters Mulciber to Avery, who snickers.
Not one to be intimidated, Lily folds her arms across her chest, staring them down. "Are you talking about me? What does that mean?"
Avery nudges Mulciber, and the both of them share a nasty grin.
"See, that's the thing," Mulciber says, speaking to Avery while staring at Lily. "They don't even know what they are."
Lily grits her teeth and keeps her chin held high. She doesn't want to give them the pleasure of getting under her skin, but she needs to know what they are saying. So she turns to the friend who has been her guide to the wizarding world since she first learned it existed. "Sev?"
Severus looks as though he'd rather be anywhere but here. He glances in her direction, and then in Mulciber and Avery's, looking none of them in the eye. "It means Muggle-born," he says quietly.
"Oh." She raises an eyebrow. "Is that it?"
Mulciber and Avery only laugh harder at that, shoving past her as they head to class. Lily stares after them, brow furrowed, sure she's been insulted but not entirely sure how.
"I don't get it," she says.
Severus only shrugs, but he still won't meet her eye.
The third time she hears the word "Mudblood", it's directed at Mary Macdonald, whose eyes well up with tears while her bottom lip trembles. Cressida Abbott yells at Avery while James Potter jinxes his mouth shut, Slytherin and Gryffindor lose 20 points apiece, and Lily suspects that Severus' answer was not entirely truthful.
Christmas break of fourth year, Lily is home alone and bored.
Her parents have gone to some work do. Petunia has a date with a boy she won't stop talking about, seemingly hoping that if she says his name often enough, Lily will become jealous. (She isn't.) She calls Sophie, and Madelaine, and Divya, but it's Christmas and they've all got family engagements.
She decides she wants to go see a film. She hasn't been to see a film in ages, and it's a nice night for it, cold and cozy with nothing on the telly.
So she calls Severus, whose typical resistance to Muggle culture can be abated by a bit of wheedling, the chance to leave his house and a promise to pay for popcorn.
Lily is in good spirits when they arrive at the theatre, chatting his ear off. Films are something she misses about the Muggle world, something that can't be replaced by moving photos and talking portraits. Murder on the Orient Express is playing, and Lily heads towards the concession stand to make good on her promise.
That's when she sees Sophie, Madelaine and Divya, clustered together in the concession queue.
Her good mood evaporates immediately, replaced by an ice-cold chill. A small part of her wants to turn and leave, pretend it never happened and save herself the embarrassment. But Lily is a Gryffindor, and so she marches straight over to them.
"Thought you all were busy with family," she says coolly.
The other girls are startled at the sight of her, and they look at each other quickly. Madelaine and Divya scramble for excuses.
But Sophie—Sophie, who Lily has often thought would be a Gryffindor herself, if she were a witch—draws herself up taller. "Yeah, we lied," she says bluntly. And then: "Petunia told us the truth, Lily."
It stuns Lily, who tries immediately to consider all the ramifications. It doesn't sound like Petunia to admit any association with magic. What happens if a Muggle breaks the Statute of Secrecy? Is that even possible? Would anyone even believe them?
"Yeah," Sophie continues, an angry edge in her voice. "All this time, being so secretive, trying to make us jealous of your posh school for clever people." She lowers her voice, but her stare is cold. "We know it's really a treatment centre for the dangerous and disturbed."
"What?" Lily roars. Other people must be looking now, too, but she doesn't care. "You think I'm dangerous?"
"I think you've been hiding something for years," Sophie fires back. "Why don't you ever tell us the truth, Lily? Why don't you ever talk about your super-smart classes? How come you never call us?"
"I've told you," Lily snaps, "there aren't any telephones—"
"Right," sneers Sophie, "no telephones in the whole school, and no radios or televisions or record players either, because you have to focus on your studies, yeah, so you've said. Why don't you ever write? That too distracting, too?"
"You never let us write, either," says Madelaine, timid but emboldened by Sophie's frankness. "How come?"
"You don't tell us anything," Divya agrees.
"We're not stupid, Lily," Sophie finishes. "We know when we're being lied to."
"Obviously you don't," Lily bites out, her hands shaking with anger, "since you listen to Petunia."
"Then what is the truth, Lily? Hmm?"
Lily's mouth opens and closes wordlessly as she searches for an explanation through the haze of fury clouding her mind. She wishes she had her wand, Ministry be damned, so she could show Sophie the truth with a well-placed hex.
But she's silent too long, and Sophie looks to Madelaine and Divya with a smirk. "See? I told you."
"Petunia is a liar," Lily says at last, decisively, "and you're idiots for believing her."
Heart pounding in her ears, she turns around, holds her head high, and says, "Come on, Sev." She grabs him by the elbow and marches him towards the auditorium with her.
"Let's just go," Severus whispers to her as they walk, sounding nonplussed by the whole event.
"No. I want to see the film." She leads him to the back row of the theatre, still gripping his arm tighter than must be comfortable, sitting down so heavily the chair creaks. "I am going to kill Petunia," she tells him furiously.
And then Sophie, she thinks. And whoever came up with the Statue of Secrecy in the first place.
"I don't know why you care so much what they think, anyway," says Severus. "They're just Muggles."
He means it to be comforting, but as the lights go down, Lily only feels more alone.
Fifth year, and she's arguing with Potter, and then—
"I don't need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!" Severus says, and something inside Lily that has been bending for a long time finally breaks.
By seventh year, the owl post is met with more trepidation than excitement as the world outside of Hogwarts reaches a new level of chaos. It feels as if every day a student is being pulled aside by a professor with grave news, and scouring the Daily Prophet for familiar names becomes a sick hobby shared by most of the school.
When the murder of a Muggle-born family—a married couple and their child—is splashed across the Prophet's front page, the first thing Lily feels at all is the weight of everyone's eyes on her. Whispers and concerned stares follow her and every other Muggle-born through the halls like they're expecting some kind of grand show, like at any moment she might break down into hysterics or cower in fear. Lily holds her chin up and meets their eyes as she walks past, daring any of them to breath a word of it to her face. She almost hopes they will. Throwing a good curse might be therapeutic.
James sticks to her like flypaper the whole day. He keeps one hand on her as much as he can—on her shoulder, on her waist, at the small of her back, holding hers. Lily doesn't mind—in fact, it's nice—but she suspects it is for his benefit as much as hers. He's worried, as though Lord Voldemort himself is likely to materialize in the castle at any moment and attack his girlfriend. He wants to talk, but knows enough to wait for Lily to initiate.
Which she won't.
It's not that she doesn't care, or that she's naive, it's just that there's nothing to say. She's known for a long time that when you're Muggle-born, the Muggle world won't have you and the wizarding world doesn't want you.
That night, in the relative safety of the Gryffindor common room, Lily is quiet. She curls herself under James' arm and opens her Charms textbook in her lap like a shield against discussion. She turns pages without really reading them, sheltering in the sound of James' voice as he talks to Sirius.
Across the room, Mary Macdonald's conversation escalates until it is impossible to ignore.
"I'm sick of it," she's telling Cressida Abbott.
"No, you don't," Mary snaps. She pushes her chair out from her table roughly, then looks around when she notices the attention of the rest of the students. "I'm moving as soon as I graduate," she announces.
"Mary—" Cressida tries again, in a placating tone that only serves to do the opposite.
"I am," Mary insists. "I've got family in Canada, I'm going to live with them." Her whole body shakes with the same anger and bitterness that has been lodged in Lily's chest since this morning. "I've already got the plane ticket, I bought it over Christmas. There is no way I am staying here to be slaughtered by a bunch of psychos." Gathering her belongings in a chaotic armful, she starts towards the girls' dormitory, but she pauses when she sees Lily. "If I were you, Lily, I'd think about doing the same."
For what feels like the hundredth time that day, all the eyes in the room are on Lily. Beside her, James doesn't move, doesn't say anything, but she feels him tense.
Slow but steady, the anger she has kept such a tight leash on all day spreads through her body like a creeping vine, and she looks Mary hard in the face.
"I'm not going anywhere," Lily answers fiercely. "I'm not going to be chased out of my home."
Mary only snorts. She reaches into her bookbag, tosses her copy of the Prophet onto the floor in front by James' feet. "This is not a place I want to call home."
She spins and storms up into the dormitory before Lily has the chance to answer.
Lily doesn't have a counter argument anyway.