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Witch and Princess

Chapter Text

It was a lovely day out. The garden smelled fresh, and there were tiny daisies to be found if you hunted round the bushes. Lily did, valiantly, for Petunia had to have a crown, and for that, daisies were the best. Their yellow centers set off Petunia's thick, golden brown hair like nothing else, especially once Lily was done plaiting them in.

Petty wriggled, of course. Complained about the empty box she sat on, and generally made things trying. But the end result was worth it.

"See?" Lily said, grinning at the greedy wonder she could see on Petty's face. "You look really pretty now."

Petty's stubby brown fingers tightened around Mum's old hand mirror. "Like a princess?"

"Exactly like."

Petty twisted round at that, to look up and make sure, her familiar suspicion almost haughty beneath her braided crown. Lily reached out to pose one of the crinkly curls she'd left out for an effect, and Petunia endured the fussing with wide, excited eyes. "The curl will stay, won't it, Lily? All afternoon?"

"All day," Lily promised, though she wasn't sure if she'd put enough spit in for that long. A spit and a wish was usually enough for her own hard hair, but Petty's curls always seemed to fall apart when Lily wasn't there.

Petty had noticed that— she noticed everything, sooner or later— and that was why she asked. "Promise, Lily?"

Lily ignored the loud huff from the tree above. She knew why Petunia was asking. "Cross my heart," Lily said, doing so. And, hearing a second huff, she urged Petty out from between her knees. "Go play, your highness."

Petunia giggled, and tiptoed off to one of the rosebushes, her nose in the air. Thankfully, she did so without arguing or making a fuss, without making Lily ask and beg, and just in time, too.

For today, Severus was in a mood. He said, from up high, in his baby voice, "Go play, your highness," and Lily was very glad Petunia had gone. The way Sev sounded, he'd have done it to her face, and ruined the whole afternoon.

"Shush," Lily said, because she couldn't let that pass.

"You shush," Severus said back, really laying it on, enough that Lily tossed up a rock at him, if not very hard. "You coddle her, you know," he said, normally, as if she hadn't thrown a thing. "She can't be a princess."

"Her hair's golden, of course she can."

"Golden in the right light, you mean," Severus said, rudely. "And anyway, she's all dark. She's never a princess."

"She is too," Lily said, though she privately agreed. Princesses were all pale skin and lovely white hands, and while Petunia was more than tiny enough, her skin was just as dark as Lily's. "If you say anything to her, I'll strangle you."

"With what," Severus said, his voice receding as he scuffled his way down from the tree, "a daisy chain?"

"With only the longest daisy chain in the world," Lily crowed, picking up the chain she'd got started on, while cajoling Petunia to sit. "Look!"

And then, glancing up, she saw why Sev had been so grumpy. There was a darkening, deep set of smudges on his neck— smudges that Lily suddenly recognized as bruises. From fingers, she thought, freezing there for a moment, her own fingers suddenly numb.

Severus went still, on meeting her eye. Glared.

Lily remembered the chain, and shook it gently, holding it out between them. "See?"

Severus ignored it. "She always wants what she can't have," he said, transferring his glare to Petunia's bent form, where she was setting up court with her dolly. "Can't be a witch, can't be a princess…"

"That was your fault," Lily said, sharply. "All that nonsense about magic." The first time he'd deigned to speak to them back when they'd been neighbors, it had been to tell silly stories about wizards and wands— the kind of tales Daddy told, to scare them. "And anyway, you know what she's like. She wants baby things, so what?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Like anyone with any sense would want to be a princess instead of a witch."

Lily sighed. It had been all she could think of to distract Petunia, when Sev had kept on insisting that she had to be the witch, and not Petunia. "It's perfectly sensible," she said now, hotly. "You marry a prince, and he's king in a bit, and you can be queen—"

"And a witch can kidnap a queen, make a bit of a potion with her hair and be her when she fancies it." Severus thumbed his collar up, covering his bruises as if that was part of his point, and made a superior face. "So there."

"She'd run out of hair," Lily said lamely. "She'd get arrested."

"By who? The muggles?" Severus laughed, loudly. "My mam says the aurors can barely catch their own breakfast of a morning, and you think muggle aurors would catch her out?"

"Oh, go away," Lily said. And, because Severus never would, from an argument, she tried to wrap the daisy chain around him.

"Ugh, don't—"

"That's don't, your highness." Lily cornered him at the tree. "Say it!"

"Your witchiness," Severus said, with an almost-smile, and Lily looked over her shoulder at Petunia to make sure she hadn't heard. "You're no princess."

"I'm a princess!" Petunia cried, and Lily, for once, did not mind the way her sister overheard things she shouldn't. As Petunia curtsied, Lily turned away from Severus, flung the daisy chain into the air, and went to her knees.

"Kneel for her highness," Lily said. Severus snorted behind her, but allowed himself to be pulled down, just in time for Petty to walk up and deposit a crushed daisy on his head. "All hail the generous golden princess!"

Beside her, Severus sighed.

Chapter Text

Lily didn't usually get the post of a morning. Petty liked to do it, liked to puzzle over the intricacies of who to give each letter to. But Petty was down with a horrid summer cold— the hours in the garden, Lily thought, guiltily— and had given up her prized morning duty in lieu of being fussed over by Mum.

"Lily, get the post, will you?" Mum had said, once it was clear that Petunia wouldn't. "There's a girl."

So Lily was the one to touch the letter first— first after the postman, that was. It caught her eye immediately, all heavy yellow paper and bright green ink, brighter than Mum's eyes. It distracted her so much that she didn't think to sort the letters till she'd got back to the table, and that was when she realized it was addressed to her.

"What's that?" Petunia asked, coughing.

"I dunno," Lily said, rereading the address. "But it looks like it's for me."

Mum rose from her seat, and was behind Lily in a moment. "Give it here," she said, firmly. "Let me— oh." She flipped it over neatly, and blinked hard. "What on earth," she muttered, as Lily sat down. When Mum flipped the letter over again, Lily noticed a bright little seal on the front.

Petunia squirmed in her seat. "Is it for Lily?" she demanded. "Who's it from?"

"I don't know," Mum said, moving to take her seat again. She shifted her plate out of the way, brushing at the tablecloth, clearing a space to set the letter down. Then she glanced up at Lily and Petunia, raising her eyebrows. "Shall we find out?"

The seal did not come off easily. Mum worked at it with the flat of a hastily cleaned table knife, muttering to herself, a flush rising on her pale face. She didn't stop when Dad came down, rubbing his eyes and sighing at the mess on the table.

"Morning," he said, pausing behind Mum. "What's that?"

"A letter for Lily," Petunia said, excitedly. "Came this morning."

"We don't know who it's from," Mum said. "But—ha! We'll know soon. Look at this, love. Isn't that the oddest seal you ever saw?"

Dad took the bent little thing in his clever brown hands. "You don't recognise it?"

"Not in the slightest," Mum said, drawing the letter out of the open envelope. "I'd think it was a joke, except for the paper— there. Look at that." She handed the envelope to Dad with a flourish. "Feel how heavy it is?"

"I do." Dad tucked the seal away in the envelope, then scraped his chair back from the table, so he could sit. "Odd. And for Lily?"

"Yeah, going by the address," Mum said, quietly. She was reading the letter now, mouthing the occasional word. "Gifted and talented...what on earth do they mean?" Dad cleared his throat, and Mum looked up at him. "It's a school, apparently."

"A school? For, er," he winked at Lily, "the gifted and talented?"

"They say that," Mum said. "The other letters, though...witchcraft and wizardry, is what they say. Ridiculous."

Lily looked at Petunia, unable to help herself. Petty's eyes were wide, and her mouth was half open, and Lily knew she was thinking of what Severus had said, what he'd always said.

You're a witch, he'd said, that first day. He'd not backed down since.

Now, despite Mum and Dad's wry smiles, despite how Dad winked at her when he passed her the damning letter, Lily couldn't help but believe.

Later that day, well after Dad had gone off to work, Lily and Petunia went out to the garden. Lily had the letters in her pocket, and kept looking over her shoulder, worrying that Mum would take it into her head to come out and sit in the fine weather this once. She'd done it before, and Severus never showed when she did.

"Lily!" Petunia tugged on her arm, excitedly. "He's there already. See?" She pointed at the tree, and would have gone on ahead, eager for answers, if Lily hadn't held her back. "Lily—"

"Hush," Lily said, firmly. It was all very well to be excited if you weren't the witch, the unnatural one. Petunia looked up, her green eyes shining with tears, and Lily wanted to hit her. "If you shout, you'll bring Mum," Lily said, instead of slapping her, of pulling that soft golden hair. "So shut it."

Severus was climbing down the tree, slowly, casually. Lily couldn't see his face, but she thought there might be a smirk on it, the rare sort he only brought out when he was absolutely certain.

If he laughs, she began, in her head, and stopped, because she couldn't decide what to do if he did. He only seemed to laugh at things that might hurt, and she'd never done anything but scold before.

Severus ambled over, a small smile on his face, and Lily decided. If he laughed, she would hit him.

All he did was stand there, looking pleased. "You got your letter, then?"

"Yes," Petunia said, hopping up and down. "It's yellow! With green ink!"

"It's not your letter," Lily snapped. "It was addressed to me."

"I know that," Petty said, smiling up at her. "But it's nice, isn't it? You're a witch, and I'm a princess! It's true!" She twirled, she actually twirled, and she looked so triumphant that Lily was touched, for a moment.

Then Lily happened to steal a look at Severus, and went right back to being appalled. "Look, Sev," she said, calmly, so as not to worry Petty, "if this is something you did, it's only a matter of time before I find you out."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Can I see it?"

"You haven't already?"

"No, I haven't," he said, as if she were stupid. "My mam's a witch, I've only seen what the standard one looks like. You, now, you're muggleborn." Lily frowned, wondering what on earth he meant, but he didn't seem to notice. "It'll be different, yours."

Petunia whirled right into Lily's side. "It's in her pocket," she said—to Severus, of all the things. "There were three letters inside—"


"Ah," Severus said, nodding. "I only got two."

"What's your pet?" Petty asked, ignoring the pinch Lily gave her. "Can you really have a toad?"

"Yeah," Severus said. "But books are better. I'd rather have those." He looked at Lily then, warily. "Please, Lily?"

Lily put her hand inside her pocket almost automatically—he never said please. Then she stopped herself, remembering what was at stake. "It's my letter," she said. "I don't have to show it to you."

"I just want to know what they did different," Severus said, shrugging. "That's all. I'm hardly going to—tear it, or anything."

"I can tell you what's different," Petty said, winking one eye repeatedly. "I heard mum and dad, going on about—ow!" She shied off from Lily's grasp. "That hurt!"

"Well, go away, then!"

"You go away!"

The doorbell rang faintly, stopping them both. Petty practically swelled with excitement, even as Lily stood there, frozen.

Severus looked from Petunia to Lily, frowning. "What?"

Petunia squealed. "It's the rep'sentive!"

"It is not," Lily half-shouted. "It could be anybody, Petunia."

"No one calls after the postman," Petty pointed out, importantly. "You heard Mum."

Lily bit her lip. She'd heard, indeed—heard more than Petunia seemed to have understood from Mum's soft, angry tone. It's like we don't exist, she could hear Mum saying, and even now you could hear the bustle inside the house, of Mum going to the door. No one but Dad came by between the post and the milk, and Dad wasn't off work for hours.

"Petunia," Severus said, cajoling her for the first time. "Who is it?"

"The rep'sentive," Petunia said, over Lily's silence. "The one from the school, to ask questions."

"Answer questions, you mean," Severus muttered, now looking at Lily. "That would make more sense."

"Lily?" That was Mum, muffled, from inside. "Petunia?"

"Come on," Petunia said, grabbing her hand. "Let's go! Do you think they sent a wizard, or a witch?"

Lily didn't answer. She was too busy being dragged along to think.

Inside, it was cool and quiet, save for the low conversation that could be heard coming from the direction of the tiny sitting room. Mum laughed, but there was something strained about it, something that led Lily to push past Petunia and hurry in.

"...and while I thought we'd see someone soon, I didn't think it'd be today," Mum was saying brightly, her eyebrows slightly raised. "Oh, there you are."

Mum was in the tiny, uncomfortable armchair near the door; all Lily could see of the stranger was a loose bun of sleek black hair and the back of a tartan jacket with no trim. The strange woman shifted in her seat, then turned, revealing her pale, stern face.

"Come on in, you two," Mum urged. "This is Professor McGonagall, from Hogwarts."

Professor McGonagall, Lily soon realized, was nothing she had expected. She was slim, black-haired, and pretty in a stern sort of way. She wore a shapeless tartan suit that looked quite odd next to Mum's simple blue dress, and she kept doling out fantastic answers and sights like they were everyday facts.

When asked if witches could fly on brooms, she nodded, and pointed out that that was generally the slowest way to go. "And also rather difficult to demonstrate," she added, just as Petunia's eyes looked like they would fall out of her head. "Open spaces are best, and it's not always something one can have at the drop of a hat."

Mum nodded at that, and launched into a brief discussion on space constraints in the town. Lily watched her warm up to the professor with every word they traded about Hogwarts' supposedly lovely grounds, and wished Mum wouldn't look so obviously wistful at every mention of trees.

Petunia, of course, had been a lost cause as soon as the brooms were mentioned. Now, she fidgeted and bit her lip and positively wriggled when Mum and the professor began to arrange a shopping trip to London.

Thankfully, Mum noticed Petty's fidgeting, and headed off her excitement with a sharp look. "Eleven will suit wonderfully, thank you."

"Good," McGonagall said, taking a large feather and a pad of paper out from a jacket pocket. "Now, let me just note that down...Lily Thomas and family, eleven...ah. You might be along at the same time with one other new student, and their family. I trust that won't be a concern?"

"Oh, not at all, professor."

"Couldn't tell you who exactly right now, I'm afraid," Professor McGonagall said, tucking away her feather back into the pocket it had come from. "I still have a visit or two to make—nowhere near here, oddly enough." She smiled faintly. "I distinctly remember two letters being addressed to this town when I was writing them all up."

"Do you," Mum said, politely. Lily traded a knowing look with Petunia, unable to help herself—Severus had said something about their letters being different, since his mother was a witch. "I suppose that is odd."

"So you haven't noticed any strange behavior, strange happenings, in town?" McGonagall leaned forward. "None of Lily's classmates...doing things, like she does?"

"That is actually a question we had," Mum said, carefully. "In your letter to us, you mentioned that we might not be surprised, because of things Lily might already be doing—"

"Oh, yes. We call that accidental magic. Very common in young, magical—that is, talented children."

"Very common?" Mum glanced at Lily. "That is to say, you find that every child acts out that way?"

Professor McGonagall opened her mouth, then gave a little laugh. "Oh, I see. Lily hasn't..."

"Never," Mum said, her shoulders sagging. "Not that we've seen, at any rate."

"Well I can't say that the absence of signs is quite as common," was the somewhat reassuring answer. "But that does happen, too."

Mum nodded hesitantly. "So," she murmured, half to herself, "it's not a mistake."

"Not at all, Mrs. Thomas," McGonagall said. "And it is possible that you might have missed a few things—it's not always jumping off a roof or healing far too quickly. It can be very simple, subtle things."

Squirming, Lily thought of the big curls that always stayed in her hair. Mum went to the salon, very occasionally, and she'd never taken Lily or Petunia along. And she had a big, smelly can of hairspray that she used on Petty's hair when it wouldn't hold anything at all...

"Well," Mum said, smiling. "I suppose that's that."

"Yes," McGonagall said, looking just as pleased to get off the topic. "Now, I don't suppose you'd like to see a quick demonstration?"

Petunia squealed—very quietly, to herself, and aimed her most beseeching look at Mum. Flustered, Mum looked from Petunia to Lily. Lily's hands were behind her back, out of sight of both Mum and the witch, and yet she kept them very still, and tried not to look like she wanted anything at all.

Finally, Mum turned her concerned gaze away, her eyes going back to McGonagall. "What," she said, "would a...demonstration, entail?"

Out in the garden, Professor McGonagall made herself very agreeable. She complimented the year-old brickwork on the wall, work Dad had slaved over last summer despite snotty comments from old Mrs. Wilkins next door. She praised the tiny vegetable plot, admired the flowers, and did not seem to notice the telltale signs of occupation in the old tree by the wall.

That last was understandable, though. Severus was good at hiding, good at staying still, so much so that Lily had only seen an empty garden at first, same as the others.

Then she'd noticed the raw scuff on the trunk, the place you tended to put your foot when you were scrambling to get up, and looked straight up at a wide-eyed Severus.

"Hope the weather's this nice in London," McGonagall said, stepping away from Mum's prized begonias. "Wizards have never been able to do much more than predict the weather, I'm afraid—so you would see umbrellas about on Diagon, on a rainy day."

"Would you?" Mum looked surprised. "I'd have thought, well, if you can pop down from Scotland to here without much effort..."

"Ah, yes," McGonagall smiled, slightly. "I have heard that a lot, over the years. It's a bit boggling at first, for people new to magic, to find that it can't do everything." She reached inside her jacket again, and drew out a long, pointed wooden stick. "But that's not what we're out here to see, is it?" She was smiling down at Petunia as she said that, and for a moment, Lily didn't blame her— Petunia looked ten times more excited than Lily felt.

Even Mum looked excited. "Is that...?"

"A wand? Yes." McGonagall gave the stick a negligent wave. "Lily will be getting hers tomorrow, all things being equal. Now—" she went still, and Lily felt the hairs on her arm stand all the way up.

"It was wonderful," Mum said more than once, while explaining the surprise visit from Professor McGonagall to Dad. "She did so many things..."

"Mum, mum, tell him about the caterpillar!"

Lily couldn't help a rueful smile at the additions from Petunia. Her little sister had thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, despite not being able to feel half of what was really going on. Lily herself had barely had eyes for the tricks McGonagall had done. Next to the first real bit of magic she'd felt in the garden, even the thing with the caterpillar had seemed rather small.

McGonagall hadn't even said a word. But she'd released a burst of something, some silent wind that had made Lily shiver inside. Then, once the tricks were over and done, Lily had seen McGonagall twist her wand again through the same, elegant little loop, and felt the rush in reverse.

Now, at dinner, Dad kept looking around at all of them, a crease on his dark brow. "I hate to stick a wrench in the excitement," he said, giving Petunia a friendly nudge, "but did this McGonagall leave a way to contact her? To change plans, for the shopping trip?"

Petunia wilted. "Dad—"

"Hush," Mum said, pointedly. "Yes, Ernie, she did leave a phone number, just in case."

"Can we call her, then, and see if she mightn't be able to take us all out next week, if I can get some time off?"

Mum set down her fork. "Time off," she said, hesitantly. "Is Mr. Jenkins no longer being...strict with it?"

Dad pursed his lips, then laid down his knife and fork. "I just want to be sure that this isn't, well, some sort of—"

"Some sort of scam?" Mum lifted her chin. "You don't think I'd have noticed that sort of thing?"

"Marie, that is not what I meant," Dad said hastily. "I only want to see a bit of the stuff for myself. For my own sake."

Mum gave a stiff little nod. "I'll call her, then."

"You were much more skeptical than I was just this morning," Dad went on, gently. "If what the professor showed you was that concrete, I'd really like to see it too."

"Well, then you will," Mum said, firmly, rising to her feet. "And once you have, you will feel quite foolish for not believing me."


"Will tonight do, Ernie?"

"Marie, she cannot possibly come down here, all the way from Scotland, in—in the work of a moment!"

"Then how on earth," Mum said, loudly, as she made her way over to the telephone, "did she make it here this morning, like the letter said she would?"

"An excellent guess, perhaps...?"

"Shush!" Mum snapped, the receiver to her ear. "It's ringing."


"Professor McGonagall, please..." Mum said, turning slightly away. "A very good evening to you, professor. I'm so sorry to call late...yes...well. I was wondering if you could possibly come down for another demonstration? You see, my husband...yes...yes, he's here...ah. Tonight, if possible, and of course I understand if it isn'"

Dad sighed, explosively. "Marie—"

"All right," Mum said, sharply, turning away a little more. "Yes...I'll tell them." She took the receiver away from her ear. "She said to prepare for a bit of a shock."

"Marie, there's no need—"

A loud pop cut Dad off mid-speech. Suddenly, where there had just been Mum, there was now also Professor McGonagall, in the same shapeless suit she'd worn earlier during the day.

"Oh," Mum said, taking a hesitant step back, the receiver tipping out of her hand. "Professor."

"I very much apologize for the shock," McGonagall said, smiling ruefully. "As I said, this isn't orthodox behavior at all...much more polite, you see, to appear outside, on one's doorstep, for example. However," and she turned, to face everyone at the table, "as you see, it can be done."

Dad dropped his fork, and moved his mouth, but the words he had been about to say seemed to have gone entirely away. "Well," he said, haltingly. "Well. Good evening."

"And to you, sir," Professor McGonagall said, smoothly. "Did you want a particular demonstration?"

Dad opened and closed his mouth again, still lost for words. Petunia, impatient, reached out and tugged on his sleeve.

"Daddy," she whispered, loudly. "The caterpillar."

"I thought Dad would never close his mouth," Petunia said, gleefully, shifting from one foot to the other. "He asked for the caterpillar again, too. I made him."

"Did you," Severus said, uncertainly. It was the day after Professor McGonagall had come by, and Petunia had been bombarding Severus with questions and details at every turn. "Did she do anything new?"

"Nothing really," Petunia said, rolling her head to one side as if to think over it. "Well, except for the pop."

"Apparation," Severus corrected, his tone a bit desperate. "It's called Apparation."

"The pop!" Petty jumped behind Lily, then jumped out again, waving her arms. "Pop, pop, pop! And mummy dropped the phone, too..."

"Petty," Lily said, taking pity on Severus. "Do you want to make Minny Many do it too?" Minny Many was Petunia's favorite doll, an old, stalwart doll of Lily's, that had seen quite a lot of pretend magic in the last few days. "You can use my skirt, if you like."

Petunia squealed in triumph. "Thank you!" Barely pausing to hug Lily around the middle, she turned and dashed off for the back door, obviously hoping to outrun any reconsideration on Lily's part.

"What's so good about your skirt?"

"It's not quite tartan," Lily allowed, "but it's close enough to what the professor wore yesterday." She nudged Severus with her foot. "What was that, anyway? Awful bright, it was, and so shapeless—"

"She was trying to look muggle," Severus said, defensively, nudging back. "Real robes don't look like that."

"Robes," Lily repeated, still unable to shake the image of men and women walking around in copies of Dad's tatted terry bathrobe. "Well, anyway, I wanted to ask—did you get away okay?"

"Well," Severus said, dropping down to sit on the dry grass, "yes and no."

"What happened?"

"She came back just as I was scrambling down from up," he said, nodding at the tree. "Asked why I was spying."

Lily looked around at the garden reflexively, wondering how the professor had gotten in again without them noticing. Then she remembered that sudden pop in their hall, and nodded. "She popped in, I suppose?"

"Apparated," Severus said, automatically, scowling up at her.

Lily couldn't help but grin. "I didn't mean the sound, you know."

Severus closed his eyes. "Oh. It's just..."

"I was teasing, though," Lily added. "so it's all right." She sat down by him, on a nice thick patch of grass. "What happened after that, then?"

Severus scowled again. "More like what didn't happen," he muttered. "She had to have my name out of me, then she had to walk me home, and then she had to have a chat with mam." He snorted. "Right meddler, that one. Gryffindors always are, mam says."


"Gryffindors," Severus repeated. "Remember how red that tartan was? It's because their color is red."

"So it's like a house? Like the red House, or something?"

"It is a house," Severus said, nodding. "There's four: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw."


"Red, green, yellow and blue," was the quick answer. "Slytherin's the best."

"And they're green, aren't they?" Lily lay back, cushioning her head on her arms. "Mum's always said I look lovely in green."

Beside her, Severus coughed. "She's right there," he muttered.

"Oh, give over," Lily said, waving at him. "Mums always say things like that," she pointed out. "Auntie Jenny gave us these awful flower dresses for her wedding, and Mum said we looked smashing on the day."


"We looked like oranges in the pictures," Lily said, sighing. "Boiled oranges, really."

"Oh," Severus said, quietly. "Well." He lay back, adjusting his collar as he did. "The colors don't really matter, you know."

"Why not?"

"Everyone wears black robes," Severus said. "It's really just on your badge that there's a color."

"Really? What about sports?"

"Maybe then, I suppose," Severus allowed. "But that's only quidditch, isn't it?"

"Oh? What about netball, then?"

Severus fidgeted. "What's that?"

"What about netball, I said," Lily said, slightly louder. "And there's hockey, and football. They don't have lacrosse or something poncey like that, do they? I can't play it."


"And I'm awful at hockey, to be honest," Lily said, ruefully. "I'm always afraid I'll get whacked in the chin."

Severus began to sit up. "Whacked with what?"

"The stick," Lily said, eyeing him. He didn't come to school, as far as she knew—maybe no one had ever made him play hockey. "Well, hopefully they don't bother with hockey up at Hogwarts. Football though..."

"No," Severus said, with a short laugh. "Thank god. Da loves that, and I know I'd be no good."

"Oh," Lily said. "So...netball?"

"I don't think they have that either," Severus said, just as carefully as Lily had asked. He was not looking at her, and the stiff line of his back called for a change in subject.

"So Gryffindor are the meddlers," Lily said, sitting up. "What about the rest?"

That did the trick. Severus turned back to her then, happy to explain, and as he did, Lily couldn't help but wonder why he'd gone weird about her netball question twice in a row. Football, she could understand, but he'd groused about that right off the bat, like he knew exactly what he was talking about—

Oh. Lily went still. Suppose he really hadn't known about hockey, and the shiver it gave you when someone hefted the stick too high. Suppose, Lily thought, wildly, suppose he doesn't know what netball is.

The back door creaked open, and Petty came out, a nicely folded tartan bundle under one arm.

"Oh no," Lily said, without thinking. "I bet that's from the laundry." Sure enough, Petunia went right over to her dolly box, not even looking in their direction. "I hope Mum didn't see her."

"Really," Severus said, dryly. "Were you listening at all?"

"Er..." Lily blinked. "Um. Sorry. I was just—well, isn't it boring to just have one sport that everyone plays?"

"Where'd you get the idea that everyone plays?" Severus rolled his eyes. "Most people watch, yeah, but not everyone, and only the people on the house teams have to play."

"I know that," Lily said, wrinkling her nose. "I just mean, well, if you don't like that one sport, but you want to play something, what do you do?"

"Why would you want to play anything?" was Severus' scornful answer.

"Because sports can be fun," Lily insisted. "If I didn't play anything at school—" she bit her lip, holding in the rest, the cold knowledge that still hurt. No one would talk to me if I didn't play.

Severus seemed to have caught her drift, despite her not saying anything. "It'll be all right," he murmured, "even if you don't play."

Lily wanted to protest, wanted to ask him how in god's green earth he was so sure of that, when he'd never been to any school she knew of. Instead, she shrugged. "We'll see."

"Yeah," Severus said. "You will." His encouraging half-smile only managed to make her feel worse. "It'll be great."

Over the rest of the summer, Mum and Dad threw themselves wholeheartedly into the task of getting Lily ready to go off to Scotland, which meant several trips to Diagon Alley and even more phone calls to Professor McGonagall. Though cautioned not to tell anyone the whole truth about Hogwarts, Dad still managed to brag to every relative of Mum's that Lily had been selected for a 'gifted' school.

"Ernie, don't," was Mum's preferred interjection. "It's so embarrassing," she would add, blushing prettily, her expression and tone indicating exactly the opposite.

In the midst of it all, Lily never knew how to feel, what to think, what to say. She bristled inwardly at the surprise that often graced the responses to the news, the outright wonder. "Oh," she remembered Grandmother saying, with a wistful glance in Petunia's direction. "Really?"

Dad's relatives were no better. "That's so nice for her," was the frequent phrase, as if the whole thing was a sop to make up for Lily having less than perfect skin, having dull brown hair that didn't catch the light.

Sometimes, Lily felt like Petunia had the better hand: exciting sights and magical secrets, and the outstretched arms and comforting shoulder of any adult that saw her crying about Lily going away. For Petunia, the trips to Diagon Alley were like something out of a wondrous dream.

For Lily, each trip to the Alley had felt like being swallowed up. Every time they left the winding street behind, she yearned to turn back; every time they walked up to the dreary pub that hid the entrance, she dreaded running the gauntlet of curious, hostile stares.

At first, Lily had thought the wizards were staring because of the usual, because of the sight of Mum leaning on Dad's arm and smiling up at him when he pointed something out. Then she'd noticed how slowly a friendly white man talked to Mum when she asked a question—watched the realization dawn on his face as Mum tried to explain her confusion.

"Oh!" he said, cutting over her. "You're muggles, aren't you? That's why you don't know." And Lily's heart had sank.

"Well," Dad had said, after they left that shop. "That was odd."

"Lily'll be fine," Mum had said, drawing her closer. "She's hardly the only one in her year that's like us—unlearned, and all that." She had left it at that; there'd been a white muggleborn girl along on the first trip up to Diagon Alley, and she and her parents had turned their noses right up at the Thomases.

"Poncey gits," Severus had said, when Lily told him about it. "Only idiots think that anything could matter more than magic." He'd said it confidently, like it was supposed to comfort her, so Lily had just swallowed the words down, and hoped.

Maybe Hogwarts would be better than she thought, better than here, where Mum would rather hazard her daughters spoiling her garden than let them out onto the unfriendly street. If there was only Winnie MacDonald that was like that in Lily's year—if everyone else was like Severus, caring only about magic—

Well. Lily thought of how that might be, and couldn't help but hope. Everyone would be magical, at Hogwarts, and if she was the only dark one there, she would still have her magic, her one talent, to make her almost the same.

Chapter Text

"In here," Severus called, out of a half-open window. "This one's nearly empty!"

"Now, Lily," Mum said, shaking her a little, to draw her attention back. "Write to us. All right?" She squeezed Lily's shoulders, then pulled her in for one more hug. "I'll leave the window open every weekend."

"Write to me too," Petunia said, plaintively. Lily wriggled free of Mum's grasp, praying that she wouldn't start blubbering before Petty did. "Write me about everything."

"Oh, Pet," Lily muttered. She hugged Petunia as hard as she could without mussing her hair, hair that she would not see or touch again for months on end. "Of course I will."

A piercing whistle sounded, and a boy pushed past them, dragging his trunk toward the compartment Severus had pointed out. Severus ducked back in through the window, probably looking to defend the empty spot he'd been saving, and that prompted Lily to finally let go.

"I should get on, now," she said, feeling both guilty and relieved when Petunia didn't make a fuss. Petty just nodded and stood there, solemn as anything, as Lily caught up the handle of her trunk and began to drag it off.

It felt heavy, even with the spell Severus' mum had applied, once she'd seen how Lily struggled to move it about. Lily wished she could drag the boxy old thing and still keep an eye on Petunia and Mum, but there were the inevitable steps up onto the train, and a corner and corridor that seemed far too narrow for things to fit.

Thankfully, when Lily shouldered open the door into the compartment, Severus was right there. "Need a hand?"

"Yes please," Lily said, nodding. "I thought it'd be lighter than this."

"Well," Severus said, taking hold of the other end, "there's only so much a lightening charm can do, if something's pretty heavy to begin with."

"Figures," Lily muttered. Moving the trunk was much easier with his help, though— they had it slotted in the rack in a trice. "Oh well, that's that." She smiled her thanks at Severus, then turned to look for the window he'd called out to her from.

It was occupied, unfortunately, by the same boy that had pushed past Lily and her family on the platform. He was practically half out of the window, waving wildly. "Ta, Mum!" she thought she heard him call out, in a cross between a drawl and a shout. "Write you as soon as I'm there!"

"Do you mind?" Severus said, sharply. "You're in my seat." He took a step forward, obviously meaning to make his annoyance heard, but Lily caught at his sleeve.

"Not worth it," she whispered. Letting go, she walked over to the window two seats down from Severus' surrendered seat, then yanked it open as roughly as possible. The window let out a satisfyingly loud screech that made the other boy jump, and it still let Lily lean out and find Mum and Petunia right away. "Oi! Petunia!"

It was Mum that looked first. She grinned, and jiggled Petunia's hand, trying to get her to look up. Steam billowed down from above, causing Lily to jerk back in alarm, but the little she felt on her hand was only as warm as toast.

"Good luck at school!" Mum called, a blur of red and white, wreathed in steam.

"See you at Christmas!" Lily called back, leaning out again, hoping to see more than a flash of Petunia's bowed, golden head. Then the train shuddered around them, jolting into motion, and Petunia disappeared behind a rather energetic woman waving to someone in the compartment beyond. Mum disappeared too, lost in the crowd of waving, shouting family, and Lily let her hand drop to the sill.

It hit her, then, that she was leaving home, truly leaving everything she'd known. Lily blinked, hard, and made herself lean back into the compartment, and shut the window.

Beside her, Severus already had a book out, though he didn't seem to be reading yet. "All right?" he asked, tentatively, and of course Lily had to nod and say yes, because to say anything else was to look like a fool.

He was all right, despite his mum sending him onto the train with a brusque kiss, vanishing off to God knew where as soon as she'd done so. He'd found a compartment for them, and saved her a spot, and not said a word about her dawdling on the platform until the very last whistle.

"I'd better go change," Lily said, rising to her feet. She was not going to burst into tears here, with Severus and the other boy looking on. She would do it in the loo, and dry her eyes, and come out and be sociable.

"You don't really need to," Severus said. "Just because I'm changed—"

"Oh, no," Lily said, going over to her trunk. "I might as well, is all." Her schoolbag was on top, with her robes and her comb and everything she needed, so it only took a moment to open the trunk and fish out. "See you in a bit."

The door opened just before she got to it, at the hand of a boy that was just almost her height. He was already changed too, in robes that looked far more expensive than anything Lily's family had been able to afford, and there was another round-faced boy hanging around behind him.

"Is this compartment full?" The first boy asked, peering past her anyway. When Lily shook her head, he gave her a little smile. "Fantastic, excuse me." And he reached back and began to haul in his trunk, blocking the doorway so she couldn't leave until he was done.

Lily sighed, inwardly, and seized her chance once his large, richly trimmed trunk had come through. "Sorry," she said, to the second boy, squeezing past him when he tried to step forward. "Excuse me." He shrugged, not quite taking his eye off the first boy, and once she'd got past, he rushed forward to help with the other boy's trunk without so much as a word back.

"Idiots," Lily muttered to herself. There wasn't a loo out in the tiny corridor, so she steeled herself, walked up to the opposite compartment door opposite, and went through.

Half an hour later, Lily made herself leave the loo. She felt horribly awkward in the robes, which were just a tidge warm, and rather longer in the hem than anything she usually wore. It felt like wearing a thin, swishy dress with too-long sleeves—a bit dramatic, over the rest of the uniform, which was really only Lily's old school things, without the tie.

That, and lovely grey socks, with green-and-white lilies knitted around the top. Professor McGonagall had looked quite amused when Mum asked if there was a regulation color, and so Lily had quite the set, in lightweight greys and dark, heavy greens.

Write me if you aren't sorted into Green House, Mum had said, dismissing Lily's token protests. We can at least afford to have those be new.

Walking through this compartment, Lily was glad, now, that Mum had insisted. Unlike the one she was heading for, this one was mostly girls, almost all of them older, almost all of them white. About half of them were already changed into their uniforms, and there were splashes of yellow on their new ties, their long hair ribbons, their bright little socks.

As she edged her way through, Lily heard giggles and whispers, felt eyes on her back. "Haughty little thing," she heard someone say, back at the other end. "Proper Slytherin, I think."

Lily kept going; Lily did not look back. And if she shut the door behind her a little harder than was necessary, well, that was that.

She still remembered what Caroline Bisby had always said. "Smile, Thomas. It won't kill you to be a bit friendly."

Lily opened the compartment door ahead, and couldn't help stiffening at the raucous laughter. Severus was where she'd left him, hunched over his book, but the boys that had come in earlier on had already formed their own little group at the other end, laughing over what was probably nothing.

Severus looked up when she shut the door, and his eyebrows went up. "Nice," he said, as Lily sat down. "Very Slytherin."

"You're joking."

"Am not," Severus said, pinking up. "The ribbon's really close, is all."

"The—" Lily picked out the end of her hair ribbon, twisting round to look at it. "Oh. I completely forgot this was green." Mum had insisted on putting her widest velvet ribbon in Lily's hair this morning, and tying it just so. "I suppose I do look it a bit, with this."

"Well, yeah," Severus said, going back to his book. "It's huge."

Lily sagged back into her seat, feeling a bit deflated. "What are you reading?" she asked, hoping to change the subject. "It looks—" she eyed the tattered cover, "—interesting."

"Blast and blight," Severus said, perfectly calmly. He lifted up one side of the book, so she could read the cover. "It's a bit old, but my mam's always said it's got everything you'd really want."

"Er," Lily said, squinting at the peeling lettering, "oh. Blast and Blight: A History of the— of the—"

"Hex," Severus finished, wryly. "Want a look?"


With a book to focus on, it was easier to ignore the constant mutters and sniggers from the boys at the other end of the compartment. Severus had always liked to explain things, and he soon seemed quite caught up in giving her a tour of the book.

"Most of it's a lot of waffling, really," he said, shaking his head. "The best bits are in the spell dictionary at the end—really fascinating. Like, take stinging hexes." Severus flipped through the book, hardly glancing at the page numbers, then turned it around so Lily could see the pages. A helpful, jabbing finger led her gaze to the right entry, which was just beneath a drawing of a man with a rather wicked expression on his face. "Stinging hexes are pretty simple—exactly what it sounds like, you know?"

"A sting," Lily said, eyeing the definition, which said exactly that, only in the most roundabout way possible. "Right."

"Turns out," Severus said, leaning forward, "the incantation for it sounds very nearly like the one for an old torture spell. One of the really horrible ones—something about consuming from the inside, that sort of thing. So back when people knew about it, you could hex 'em with it, and they'd be, well, terrified."

"Oh," Lily said, though she couldn't quite imagine it. She didn't remember McGonagall doing much in the way of 'incantations' back in their garden—just speaking or whispering a bit of Latin now and then. "Well."

"Bit of an arse, the inventor," Severus went on, smiling to himself. "Right here, it says he got nicked for giving the wrong somebody a heart attack, hexing them with that."

"Bully for him," Lily said, her eyes skipping over to the next entry. "Eugh, is there really a Strangling Hex? Isn't that a bit—"

"Dark?" Severus shrugged. "Well, maybe a bit. But wouldn't you rather know it, just in case?"

"Dark," Lily repeated. "As in dark magic, as in evil?"


"Why not call it evil?" Lily thumbed the page, right by the entry for the Strangling Hex. "I mean, why else would you strangle someone?"

"It's just called that, though," Severus argued. "See, there— it's a wonky version of another spell. A medical one, even. It's just a tool, it's not dangerous if you use it right."

"Doesn't change how it's named," Lily said, shrugging. "And anyway, how would you learn it? By strangling someone?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "It's a compression hex," he said, pointedly. "You don't practice it on a person—"

"But you'd use it on a person, wouldn't you?" That was from one of the boys at the other end of the compartment— the boy that had commandeered Severus' seat earlier on. "Spoken like a Slytherin."

Severus bristled, understandably annoyed. "You say that like there's a problem with being Slytherin."

"Well, there is," the boy said, lolling back in his seat. "Listen to yourself, for Merlin's sake. It's not dangerous," he lisped, his voice a snotty, poor imitation of Severus', "not if you use it right."

Lily glared at the boy. "Did we ask for your opinion?"


"No? Well, shut it, then, will you?" She sat back, satisfied with the shock on his face— he looked exactly the sort that wasn't used to people being that rude to him right off, a bit like Bruce Kendall from the year below. Kendall had always done all right in a group, or against the ones that wouldn't talk back, but the moment you mouthed off back in his face always threw him for just a bit. "Idiot," she said, just loudly enough that the other boy was sure to hear. Then, to Severus, "so you practice on objects?"

Severus was trying not to smile. "Yeah," he said, turning away from the boy. "Pillows, mostly."

"Get a load of this," the boy said loudly, putting a hand to his heart. "Like two peas in a pod."

"Green peas," one of his mates piped up. "Slytherin green."

"You know, they don't let boys and girls share beds at Hogwarts," the first boy said, coming closer. "But I'm sure they'll make an exception just for you."

The door opened to their right just as Severus opened his mouth, cutting short whatever he'd been about to say. The door at the boys' end of the compartment creaked open reluctantly, coaxed by an older, pink-faced boy.

"Merlin," he said, once the door finally succumbed. "Right." He only glanced at Lily and Severus for a moment, before settling his expectant gaze on the boy between him and them. "You saving that spot, Potter?"

"What spot...?" Potter reluctantly turned to the other boy, obviously loath to have his little triumph interrupted. "Oh, you mean the luggage rack?"

"No, you joker, I mean the spot you're standing on— what else could I mean?" Rolling his eyes, the other boy put his head back round the door he'd come through. "Oi, Tommy! In here, there's a space in here." That done, he came all the way into the compartment, heading straight for Potter. "Now, Tommy's bringing in another firstie like you, to take advantage of that spot. If you wind him up, I'll toss you out the window on my way back through. Is that clear?"

"Why would I wind him up?"

"Like you've ever needed a reason," the older boy said, casually flicking Potter on the ear. "Go on, sit down."


"Sit down and shut it," was the remorseless response. "Now, Potter." Scowling, Potter did as he was told. "There, now. That wasn't so hard, was it?"

Just as Frank said that, a pair of boys appeared at the door. The older one— Tommy, most likely— urged the younger boy toward where Potter and his friends were sitting. Looking at his tired face and shabby robes, Lily could see why Frank had been so insistent that Potter not bother him.

"What's your name?" Potter was saying now, as the new boy flopped into a seat. "I'm James."

"Remus," the new boy said. Lily wondered if she'd heard him right, but supposed it was all one with the odd names wizards seemed to have.

"Right," Tommy said, turning back toward the door. "Let's get that trunk in." He pulled out a wand and gave it an abrupt wave, muttering something to himself, and a battered old trunk came floating in through the open door, wobbling in mid-air in time with his wand movements. Lily leaned back into her seat automatically as the trunk passed them, then leaned forward again, to watch Tommy steer the trunk into the rack. "Finite," he said, slashing downwards with his wand, and it dropped into place.

"Hover charm," Severus whispered, nudging her. "We learn it this year, too."

"We do?" Lily said, trying not to sound eager. "That's nice." Thankfully, no one else seemed to have noticed how interested she'd been in that spell— Potter and his mates were now chatting away with Remus.

"Remember, Potter," Frank said loudly, causing a momentary lull in their chatter, "we will be back through in a bit."

"Not soon, I hope," his friend said, already at the other door. "If you've dragged me all this way just to wave at her and run off—"

"Shut it," Frank said, going pink, and Lily suddenly remembered the compartment of older girls that was the next one over. As he ducked out through the door held open for him by his friend, Lily wished him the best of luck. Every extra minute Frank spent in the next compartment was another minute of relative safety for Lily and Severus, and added to the chance that Potter might just forget about bothering them.

Luckily, Frank and Tommy spent the rest of the train ride in the next compartment. Better still, Tommy came back through their compartment from time to time, at first accompanied by an older girl with a bright yellow badge stitched to her robe front, then alone, chasing after the snack trolley for something he'd forgotten to buy.

It meant that Lily and Severus were largely left in peace, and able to chat and bicker about all sorts of silly things. By the time the train pulled to a rumbling stop, Lily was well on her way to being hoarse, and newly impressed by the immense amount of things Severus seemed to know.

Severus, for his part, was still a little sullen from their last little tiff. When Lily got to her feet, he mumbled something under his breath.

"What's that?"

"I said, you don't need to get up," he said, slightly louder than before. "The doors open on their own, and they don't make you move your own trunk once we're here."

"I'm stretching," Lily said, pointedly. "Wasn't planning on doing anything else," she added, though she had meant to be on her feet when Severus' outlandish predictions failed to come true. She hadn't seen doors opening and closing on their own behalf at the station, and refused to believe they would until she had seen it.

"Fine," Severus said. "Don't believe me. Do what you like."

"Thank you," Lily said, sarcastically. "Much obliged, your grumpiness," she added quietly, so only he could hear. It made it so much worse to hear the official-sounding announcement about leaving one's things on the train, followed by the banging and clanging of spontaneously opening doors nearby. "God," Lily couldn't help saying, as the noise subsided. "What a waste of effort."

Severus gave her a smug look. "Is it?"

Lily sighed. "All right," she muttered, reluctantly. "You win."

"Do I?" Had they been in the garden, Lily would have taken the opportunity to shower him with weeds. Unfortunately, they were on a train, with the horrid Potter well within earshot, and there were no weeds to hand anyway. Sighing again, Lily settled for jostling Severus and getting in his way while they filed out of the compartment and onto the platform, and she didn't even do that for long.

Outside, there was a sea of children in black robes and wizard hats, people shoving and scrambling their way off the platform and into the darkness at the end. From that direction, Lily heard a man call out, his hoarse, booming voice that of the first adult since King's Cross.

"First years!" the man called. "First years over here!"

Lily obeyed, threading her way forward in the vague direction of the man's voice. There was a little more light where he was standing, but not enough to make his size any less frightening. Lily stumbled when she caught a glimpse of his huge hands, one of which clasped a fat, pink umbrella .

"Don't be shy," the man was booming down at them, likely having noticed the way all the new students were giving him a wide berth even as they gathered round. "I'm only the groundskeeper, you know— be my job's worth if any of you got hurt. Look sharp," he waved at the last two students coming up. "it's a bit of a walk to the boats, and you don't want to be late for the sorting, do you?"

"Just along as he's not sorting us," Lily couldn't help whispering. She was glad to have Severus choke back a laugh instead of reeling off another I-told-you-so— he hadn't warned her about this giant of a man, but next to his massive bulk, Lily could believe the existence of a talking hat that would do the house sorting. "I mean, the size of him—"

"Shush," Severus whispered back. "Anyone that big's got giant blood, and the hearing to go with it, all right?"

"Giants?" Lily eyed Severus. "You mean you actually have giants?"

Severus elbowed her in the side, hard. Split between horror and wonder, Lily still had the presence of mind to elbow him back, partly because it was that or look around at the dark branches that crowded in on either side of the road, or at the half-giant man leading them.

"Almost there," he said now, reassuringly, and if he'd been normal, Lily would have felt more comforted by his rough country accent and gruff tone. "Eyes up, you lot— you'll be able to see the school in a bit."

Sure enough, as they rounded a sharp corner, the dark trees fell away to reveal the darker waters of a wide lake. There was a castle on a high hill on the other shore, vast and solid, its walls cloaked in moonlight and sharp shadows, its windows glittering in the night.

Lily looked at it, and wondered how any of it could be real. She couldn't believe that was the school— her new school. There were no other buildings near the lake, nothing the man could have pointed out by mistake, and he was waving them on now, beckoning them toward the shore.

"Four to a boat," he said, pointing out the small fleet of boats sitting just off the shore. "No more than four to a boat." He bent over, and began tugging each boat within reach.

It took a while for everyone to get settled. The water of the lake was awfully cold, and the boats were not very firmly wedged onto the sandy grass of the shore. Despite her own unease, Lily went first onto their boat when she saw how pale Severus had gotten just watching everyone else do it.

"Glad we don't have to heave our trunks into these," she said, examining the clean old wood on the sides. "Can you imagine?"

Severus winced. "I'd rather not," he muttered, sitting down very carefully. "Personally, I think four to a boat is two too many." Of course, as soon as he said that, two girls came walking up to their boat, one of them coaxing the other forward.

"Come on, Laura," the first girl said, "you'll be in before you know it." Laura looked rather unconvinced, so Lily edged around Severus and stood carefully, holding out a hand. "Just take her hand," the other girl said, urging her friend forward. "Go on."

Laura closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and reached out. Lily caught hold of her hand and squeezed it. "Open your eyes," she said. "You'll be in the lake if you don't— just keep your eyes up, look at me."

"There's a squid in the lake," Laura said, urgently. "A giant squid. She doesn't believe me."

Lily looked at the other girl, halfway ready to roll her eyes at this new danger, and suddenly recognized her. "Winnie, isn't it? Winnie McDonald?"

The girl bit her lip. "She keeps going on about how her brother says the squid will eat anything that falls in," she said, not acknowledging her name. "I know we've seen some strange things, but I just can't believe—"

"The squid?" That was Severus, from behind Lily, his tone rather impatient. "Yeah, it's in there, so what?"

Lily wished she could kick him. "Squids don't eat people," she said, tugging on Laura's shaking hand. "And it's cold down there, isn't it? It's probably asleep."

"Yeah," Severus said. "Not very active outside of summer."

"See?" Lily said, encouragingly. "Doesn't even know we're here, I'd bet. Come on."

"Hurry up, will you?" the large man said, waving at them. "Can't be out here all night." That got Laura moving, scrambling into the boat just to get out from under his notice.

The other girl got in too, looking almost as hesitant as Laura had. "Is there really a giant squid?"

"It's asleep," Lily said firmly. "And even if it wasn't, I'm sure that man could get the better of it." He was climbing into his own, slightly bigger boat, and looking quite anxious to be off. "Don't you think so, Laura?"

Laura blushed. "I suppose that's why he's the groundskeeper," she allowed, sitting down by Severus. "Although I really don't know why they didn't just stuff us all in the carriages."

As Lily edged round Severus to get back to her seat, she couldn't help but agree. A sight of the castle wasn't quite enough to make up for trudging around in the dark with half-frozen feet, even if it had been a glorious view. And, as for boating on a freezing lake with no oars—

"Forward!" the man commanded, and the boats leaped out as one.

Lily drank in the biting breeze that stirred around them, and could not help a smile. She looked this way and that, trying to get a better idea of how large the still, silent lake was. The castle before them was throwing her off, looming larger every moment, eating up the dim lake shore with the massive bulk of cliff on which it stood.

"Almost there," the man called out. "The cliff's coming, all right? Steady... HEADS DOWN!"

Everybody ducked their heads, and the boats carried them on into an opening in the cliff that was lined with a wet, prickly curtain of ivy. Lily put a hand over her head, to save her ribbon, and she heard a few squeals from the next boat over, which was all girls. They soon came to a sort of underground harbor, where they got out onto a cold, rocky shore and were chivvied into a colder stone tunnel by the groundskeeper.

"Almost there," he said again, his voice echoing oddly in the tunnel. Shivering, Lily followed the dim light let out by his lamp, wishing for hot chocolate and the chance to sit down. The musty smell of the tunnel gave out, and still the man led them on, over damp grass and up a short flight of steps. They stopped at a large door, large enough to be taller than the man, and he knocked on the door, three times.

It was opened by Professor McGonagall, her harried expression smoothing out as soon as she saw them all.

"The first years, Professor," the man said, stepping a little to the side.

"Thank you, Hagrid," she said coolly, opening the door wide. "In you come, all of you." She pursed her lips at the man, Hagrid, but said nothing as the shivering lot of them trooped in. "Welcome to Hogwarts."

Chapter Text

The Sorting began with "Avery, William," —a pale, pudgy boy who nearly dropped the sorting hat. "SLYTHERIN!" was the hat's firm verdict, and as Avery removed the dirty thing, Lily could not help but wonder what it had seen in him.

Earlier on, the hat had sung about ambition being the thing for Slytherins, and accordingly, the older students at the nearer end of the Slytherin table looked the sort. Neat as a pin, nothing out of place, and all their green tokens discreetly tucked away. If not for the yellow-decked Hufflepuff table, Lily would have felt quite foolish about her ribbon.

Avery was on his feet now, heading toward the Slytherin table, his head held high. His new housemates gave him a polite round of applause, one that died down as soon as McGonagall began reading off the next name.

"Baddock, Veraldine!" And instead of the posh white girl Lily had been expecting, a black girl walked out and took up the sorting hat.

An odd hush fell on the hall as she put on the hat, one that magnified its every little shift and wriggle. "RAVENCLAW!" it shouted, shockingly loud, and when Baddock got up, she looked a little shocked. The Ravenclaws seemed to be clapping harder than the Slytherins just had, and Lily had no idea why.

So she watched the other sortings very carefully. "Black, Sirius," was one of the boys from the train, but he got more murmurs than applause, and while he seemed happy to be sorted into Gryffindor, no one there seemed very happy to have him. The only other person that got a better-than-usual reaction from their new house were the Potter boy from the train, which Lily put down to the fact that Frank and Tommy were both at the Gryffindor table.

Then Severus was called up. The hat didn't take long—"SLYTHERIN!"—and suddenly it was Lily's turn.

The walk up to the hat seemed to take forever, and sitting under it was just as unpleasant as Lily had thought. It was big enough to tip over her eyes, and it smelled horribly musty, and its little shifting movements were unnerving as anything.

"Brave of you to put me on, if you really do think I've never been washed," someone said, right in her ear, and it was all Lily could do not to jump.

"Don't fret," that someone added, as the hat squirmed again. "I'm almost done."

Lily gulped. "So," she whispered, wishing she could turn to make sure no one was nearby, "so you're the hat?"

It chuckled. "Yes," it said, kindly, as if it were humoring her. "Unflappable little thing. Gryffindor would be best, I think."

Lily blinked, thinking of Severus and all the things he had said about Slytherin. "But—"

"You're only loyal when it suits you, so that's Hufflepuff out," the hat said, bluntly. "And you're only a little ambitious about one thing— fitting in. Slytherin would wear you down to the bone, trust me."

"Ravenclaw, then," Lily begged. "Surely I'm—"

"No," the hat said, briskly. "You're really not on their level. Buck up, child, I know you'll do best in GRYFFINDOR!"

Lily knew she couldn't just sit there. She knew she had to get to her feet and take the mangy, stupid hat off; she had to smile, or at least not frown. It was still a moment before she could make herself remove it, rise to her itching feet, and hope that people took her wide-eyed expression for confusion and surprise.

Her new housemates were clapping for her, thankfully, and it wasn't like anyone really cared where she was sorted. Anyone except for Severus, that was. And even then, she couldn't quite make him out, because the Slytherin table was all the way on the other side of the dining hall from where she was going.

For some reason, that was what made Lily really angry. 'Unflappable,' indeed, as if that meant anything more than being good at saving face. Not sufficiently ambitious, not smart, and certainly not loyal enough to be placed one table closer to the only person she knew here.

Lily finally managed a smile, a grim one, when she saw that the only empty spot left at the Gryffindor table was by Potter and his friends. They were already laughing over something, if quietly, and the girl sitting nearest to them had gone rather pink.

"Oh, dear," Potter whispered loudly, as Lily sat down, "you don't quite fit in here, do you?" When Lily ignored him, he put out a hand, almost as if he was going to wave it in her face. Automatically, Lily leaned away, but that just worsened the pain from the sudden yank she felt at the side of her head.

"There," Potter murmured, tossing away her green ribbon onto the table. "Much better, don't you think?"

Lily bit her lip, hard. He wasn't even looking at her—he was looking at his friends, playing for their sake, poking at her ribbon with a golden fork, as if it were a snake. The girl opposite her gave her a sympathetic look, but said nothing.

And the place where he'd pulled at her hair hurt. "Give it back," Lily said, despite the very real chance that he wouldn't. "Excuse me?" When Potter paid her no attention, she elbowed him hard, in the side. "I want that back."

"You what?"

"It's mine," Lily said, distinctly, "and you nearly just ripped my hair out to take it." She felt hot and cold all over, horribly exposed, but she couldn't bring herself to stop. That was her ribbon, her mum's ribbon, and she was not going to lose it on her very first day, not like this. "Give it back."

"You can't want it back," Potter said, mock-seriously. "You're a Gryffindor now, you know." He picked the ribbon up, wrinkling his nose at it. "Can't go wearing green like the snakes anymore. Here, Sirius, catch!"

But Lily had been waiting for a chance like that, and was more than ready to rise up and snatch it back, though she felt like a royal idiot. When Potter tried to swipe it back, she slapped his hand away.

"Ow," he said, pulling a face, as if Lily had really got him hard. "That hurt!"

"Best watch out," the boy across from him said. "Looks like you've got a real viper there."

"Defending her young, eh?" Potter grinned at her, his mortal pains forgotten in favor of the stupid joke. "Did I hurt your ickle snakey wakey?"

"It's a ribbon," Lily said, coldly, wishing she dared to put it on again. She wouldn't put it past him to pull it out again, to teach her a lesson, but she didn't want to give in, either.

"Break it up, you two," one of the older boys said, from the other side of Potter and his mates. "Dumbledore's about to speak."

"Yeah, Thomas," Potter whispered. "Show some respect."

Lily ignored him as best as she could, tucking away the ribbon, checking to make sure the end of her braid was still tight.

Up at the high table, an old man— Dumbledore, most likely— had got to his feet. The headmaster, Lily thought, remembering the name that had been on the letters. He looked like no headmaster Lily had ever seen, his bold orange-and-gold robes looking severely at odds with his long grey hair and even longer beard.

The moment Dumbledore cleared his throat, the whole hall went silent. "Welcome," he said, smiling at everyone, "welcome indeed. A quick note, for the nervous among us—you know who you are," Dumbledore added, his gaze coming to rest at Lily's end of the Gryffindor table. Then, just as Lily had begun to wonder if he meant her, he smiled a little, and looked around the hall again. "Try the roast," he said, after another little pause. "It will do wonders to calm your nerves."

With that, the headmaster sat down, and gave an absent little wave of his hand. "Enjoy," he said, and suddenly the roast he had been talking about was right there within reach, along with steaming vegetables and gravy and tall jugs of odd-colored juice.

After a bite or two of the scrumptious roast, Lily abandoned her initial plan of playing it safe. She even tried the veggies that she usually avoided, just to see if being made of magic made them much nicer (it didn't). Most of all, she wondered what spell Dumbledore had used, and wished she could have had Severus there to ask.

Mysteriously as the food had come, it seemed to have the usual distracting effect on the Potter and the other boys. That left Lily able to try for some talk with the girl to her left.

"I'm Mary," she said, when asked. "Mary McKinnon. That's Georgie Hooper opposite, and Gemma—"

"Jemima," the last girl corrected. "Jemima Burrows."

"Nice to meet you all," Lily said, nodding at all of them. "I'm Lily Thomas."

"Really?" Mary said. "You don't look anything like Selwyn."


"I told you they wouldn't be related," Georgie said, triumphantly. "Really, Mary."

"Selwyn Thomas," Mary said, as if Georgie hadn't said anything. "He's head boy this year— there, at the end of our table. I was just curious, really."

Lily looked, and was vaguely surprised to see that none of the older students at the very end of the table were black. "Thomas is a common name," she said, shrugging. "There are three other Thomases in my school, and only one of them is my sister."

Georgie frowned. "In your school?" she asked. "What school?"

Lily blinked. "Does it matter which one?"

"No, I just meant, well, how could you have gone to another school?" Georgie sounded truly skeptical, and oddly impatient. "There's only Hogwarts."

"Don't be silly, Georgie," Mary said, blithely. "There's Mrs. Holloway's as well."

"That isn't really school, though," Georgie returned. "There's no exams or anything."

"Um," Jemima said, a little hesitant, "there are Muggle schools, you know."

"Oh," said Georgie, a little loudly. "No wonder!" She squinted at Lily. "You don't look it at all."

"Look what?"

"Muggleborn," Mary said, helpfully. "The ribbon made me think, well, you couldn't be— muggleborns don't know how to do tokens on the first day."

"Especially not green ones," Georgie added, as if that was self-explanatory. "Did someone tell you about it?"

"They told me which colors went with which house, yeah," Lily said. "Gryffindor's red, isn't it?"

"Yeah, and green is for Slytherin," Mary said. "Why'd you pick it?"

"Why not?" Lily suppressed the urge to check if Potter and his lot were listening— that would just draw attention. "It's got a nice color, and it's only another house."

Mary sighed, and Georgie gave Lily a pitying look. "You'll see," she said, as if Lily hadn't already been bullied right at their table. When Lily tried to catch Jemima's eye, to see what she thought of it, she found that the other girl wouldn't look at her at all.

The conversation never really recovered after that. Lily ate her treacle in resentful silence, every spoonful serving to almost distract her from the quiet. Though she couldn't quite fit it all in, she was sorry to see her half-empty plate vanish along with everything else when the headmaster stood up again.

"Now that we are all quite full," Dumbledore said, smiling at everyone, "I have a notice or two to share. Quidditch trials will be held at the end of this week, to allow for some very nasty weather we are expecting during the second week." There was some murmuring at that, most of it from the older end of the table. "All Astronomy classes during the second week will be held within the tower instead of on top of it, and there will be no flying lessons held that week."

By now, even the teachers on the high table were trading dubious looks. The headmaster simply raised a hand, and everyone went quiet again. "Fear not," he said, cheerfully. "I have it on very good authority that the weather for the rest of the year will be, and I quote, 'too good to be true'."

Lily looked across at Georgie. "Bad weather?" she whispered. "Is he serious?"

"Has to be," was the muttered, dubious reply. By now, a colossal, golden ribbon was threading its way toward the dark haze of the ceiling, guided by the headmaster's idly twirling wand, and the murmurs of the confused crowd were starting to quiet down.

"The school song, everyone!" Dumbledore swished his wand, and letters curled in all along the length of the twisted, shining ribbon. "Sing, sing! Any tune you like!"

Steam was thick in the air the next morning, rendering Lily's worries about the shared baths at Hogwarts rather moot. For one thing, they had showers— stalls and stalls of them, each one large enough for two people to wash in without looking at each other. There were sturdy bronze hooks for the large, fluffy towels, and the spray never wet the towel at all, though the shower head it came from looked ancient.

And, instead of the giggling, spying hush that had been common after PE, there was a hubbub, a constant sea of barely intelligible gossip and loud complaints. The Quidditch trials seemed to be a sore point, among other things.

"I can't wait till Malfoy's gone," someone was saying, for what seemed to be the third time. "Oh, Fanny, if you'd been there— if you'd heard what he said—"

"Nina told me, all right? I heard, and I think he's got bloody nerve trying to save Slytherin the very last spot on the schedule. You know they're only dying to know who gets picked so they can counter."

"Counter with who?" was the scornful reply. "Lords is gone, and we fly circles around Malfoy's two boulders without even trying."

Lily ducked under the shower spray one last time, then switched it off. She towelled off slowly, then stripped off her shower cap so it could drip dry without being annoying.

"We should hold closed trials," another girl insisted. "Just not even say who's in and who's not till they do. Hufflepuff would back us, you know they would."

"Yeah, over the Grim's dead body," was the sarcastic reply. "Do you really think he could seriously keep his mouth shut about their new superstar team for even a second?"

"It wouldn't even work, Meg," someone else said, glumly. "They would just hold on to their new list like we did, and then where would we be?"

"Playing the snakes' own game," the first girl said. "Ugh."

Towel wrapped around her, Lily drew back the voluminous shower curtain and made her way past the other stalls, heading for where she'd left her dormmates earlier on. Only Mary was there, her long, dark hair dripping all over the place as she hunted through a messy pile of bath slippers.

"All done?" Mary asked. "I can't find my slippers, and I don't see Georgie's— I think she's gone."

"Oh," Lily said, spotting her pair off in a corner. "What about Jemima?"

"Probably went with Georgie," Mary said. "There they are! Got you...and you. Georgie would have waited for her, and gone together— no point worrying. Let's go."

Lily obeyed, stepping into her slippers and following Mary to the shower room door. There was much less of a crowd to push through now, out in the hall. Instead, there was a steady stream of older girls heading back to their dorms and even the occasional, dressed group of girls heading out of the dorms entirely.

Back in their dorm room, Georgie was buttoning up her robes, and Jemima was brushing out her wet hair.

"We waited ages for you two," Georgie said, as soon as she saw them. "What took you so long?"

"You know how long my hair takes me," Mary said defensively, combing her fingers through it. "I can never reach it all at once, you know."

"You didn't wash your hair," Georgie said, turning to Lily. "What's your excuse?"

"Didn't know I had to have one," Lily said, feeling awkward. She could hardly say she'd been too busy enjoying the shower, even if that was true. "Are we making you late?"

"Not yet," Georgie said, sitting down on the edge of her bed. "But you'd better hurry if you want to go down together with us. You just know the boys would make fun."

Mary sighed, the sound only just audible from behind the drawn curtains of her bed. "What on earth could they say about the two of us coming down late?"

"You know how Potter is," Georgie said, pointedly. "He always finds something. I really don't know how you coped with it last night, Lily."

Behind the cover of her own curtains, Lily shrugged. "I met him earlier, on the train," she said, drawing on her robes. "He was just as annoying then, so I was sort of expecting it."

"Just be careful to keep your head down from now on," Mary warned. "He's relentless when he doesn't like you."

"Not to be a bother," Jemima said, from over by her bed, "but do any of you know if we should take our schoolbags down to breakfast?"

Ten minutes later, while heading for the Gryffindor table, Mary and Georgie were still arguing about it.

"See," Mary said, triumphantly, on spotting the pale scrolls set on each golden plate, "I told you we'd get timetables down here. Why on earth would they hand them out in the common room when everyone comes down for breakfast?"

"Not everyone is down here," Georgie said. "Look, one of the boys isn't here— Looper, or something? And if you look at any of the other tables, you can see that not everyone came."

Lily sighed, and shared a look with Jemima, and decided to try and use the other girls' distraction to sit farther away from Potter. He was sitting in the same place as last night, watching them walk up, and probably preparing some nasty comment to greet them with.

As they all got nearer to the empty seats at the end, Mary and Georgie quieted down, and made a concerted effort to get the very last two seats. Georgie didn't quite manage it— she smiled at someone at the Hufflepuff table, and slowed to nod at them about something, and so Jemima took the last seat on the opposite side of the table, and left Georgie with the one right by Potter. Lily sat opposite her, and thanked Looper, the absent boy, for the space she had between herself and Black.

"Lovely morning, isn't it?" Potter said, as Georgie reluctantly sat down beside him. "What, no reply? Kneazle got your tongue?"

"No, I still have one. Look—" and Georgie put out her tongue at him. Potter promptly copied her rude gesture, as if he were eight. "There," Georgie said. "Satisfied?"

Potter nodded at that— cheerfully, even— and went on to complain that she had an ugly tongue and an ugly face, and that he would have to endure both things with her sitting nearby. Georgie rolled her eyes and returned each insult with obvious, if hesitant familiarity. Lily, watching them, realized that they knew each other, possibly well enough to be almost friends.

Her heart sank. She could not help but think of how the girls had looked at her when she'd called Slytherin just another house. Now, it struck her that they likely agreed with Potter, that despite how sorry and sympathetic they'd looked when he had been bothering Lily, they would likely look askance at her wearing any of her green ribbons or even her new socks.

Determined not to let her new things go to waste, Lily made an effort to talk to each of the girls and ask them, separately, why they thought so badly of Slytherin. Unfortunately, none of their explanations made much sense.

"They're horrible," was Georgie's rather blunt response. "Bullies, every one of them." As if Potter didn't take great delight in laughing at Lily when she nearly failed the first Transfiguration exercise, and calling her "Useless Thomas" after overhearing her complain about the instructions for the next one.

"They don't care about anyone but themselves," Mary said, as if it were obvious. The way the Gryffindor boys put biting hydrangeas in the common tray during Herbology? That was only a lark, though Professor Sprout had been furious enough to take points from everyone in the greenhouse when not even the Hufflepuffs would say who had done it.

"They're all purebloods," Jemima had said, quietly. "They look down on us, you know." When Lily pointed out that the Gryffindor first years were all purebloods save for her and Jemima, Jemima protested. "That's different," she said, so emphatically that Lily lost the courage to try and bring up how Georgie and Mary always explained things to Lily as if she were thick.

"She doesn't know," was Mary's favorite refrain. "She's only a muggleborn."

Jemima was a halfblood, just like Severus, but no one ever seemed to talk about that. It was only Lily that was excused that way; when Jemima stammered, or showed that she didn't know something, no one gave her an inch.

Take now, for example. They were in Astronomy, the first and only class they shared with all three houses, and Madame Lissane, the professor, was berating Jemima for how badly she'd aimed her telescope.

"Wake up, Burrows," she snapped. "It is such a simple thing— the simplest! Have you never touched a telescope before?"

"No, Miss."

"No, Madame," Lissane corrected. "Oh, you silly girl, this is locked tight. There, try not to lock it again." She turned to Lily, eyeing her telescope with the same disdain. "Oh dear, I see you have been dispensing advice."

"Well, Madame—"

"Tais-toi," Lissane said, waving at her. "That is French for be quiet, French for let me speak; I hope you are listening, for I will not explain it again." She smiled at Lily then, unnerving her. "This one," she said, indicating Jemima, "does not know what she is talking about. In the future, do not take her advice, understand?"

"Oui, Madame," Lily said, in pure reflex, hoping fervently that Lissane would soon correct her mistake and be gone.

"Oh!" Madame Lissane put a hand to her heart. "An effort! You," she said, to Jemima, "may take her advice." She leaned in over Lily's telescope, fiddled with something on it, then adjusted it with precise, fluid little motions. "You may copy this exactly," she added, to Jemima, as she locked the scope in place again. "Do not change."

And finally she swept off, headed for the next group, her emerald robes billowing bright against the dark of the other students' robes. Jemima adjusted her telescope in silence, leaving Lily to try to think of something she could say that would take away from the humiliation of that moment.

In the end, it was neither of them that broke the silence; just as Lissane began moving even further away, Lily felt someone cough a little too loudly behind her. It startled her, made her look over her shoulder, only to see Severus edging his way around Georgie's telescope, his dark eyes on her.

"Just passing through," he said, more to the other girls than her. Then, when he got close, "I see you've been hit by the bat."

"The what?"

"That's what what we call her, you know. Didn't really get it, myself, till she started shrieking at the Ravenclaws."

"Madame Lissane, the Bat," Lily said, watching her berate someone else on the other side of the tower top. "That fits."

"So," Severus said, expectantly. "Do you like it here?"

"Hogwarts, you mean?" Lily asked, hoping he wouldn't interrupt and say that he meant Gryffindor. "I really don't know, to be honest. On the one hand, it's been really exciting in some bits— we had Transfig this morning, and McGonagall turned a desk into a pig! But then I remember I've got to write home about it, and I can't help but dread having to say that I'm living in a castle."

"Not just any part of the castle, mind," Severus said, a little wickedly. "You're in a tower. The Princess will be so disappointed."

Lily tried not to smile at the double edge of that comment. She was dreading having to dance around the fact that Hogwarts was a castle, and that she could very well play at being the princess in the tower in a very real, very lovely old tower. "I have considered just not mentioning it at all," she said, more seriously. "It's not like she can see it, after all, is it?"

"Actually," Mary said, rather loudly, "Muggles can see the school once they're led inside it. I don't know who told you otherwise," she went on, glaring at Severus, "but they were telling you a load of rubbish."

"Who's rubbish, Mary?" Potter said, from over by tower rim, where he and his friends had set up at the start of the lesson. "Speak up," he added, nudging Black beside him, "we all really want to know."

"Oh, look at this," Black said, once he looked over in their direction. "Are you lost, you little snake?"

"Hypocrite," Severus muttered, giving Black a brief, contemptuous glance. "His lot is all practically born Slytherin— probably be getting a Howler about it from his family soon enough."

"Now you've done it," Lily said, nervously, watching Potter and Black exchange a look, then simultaneously abandon their telescopes in favor of heading over to pick a fight. "Just go, I'll see you in Potions or something."

Severus rolled his eyes. "I didn't say anything to them," he groused, as if he wasn't well aware that a look could be enough. Then he looked round at the approaching boys, and good sense seemed to win out. "Potions, right?"

"Right," Lily said, watching him turn away, steeling herself for the ribbing that would probably now fall on her. Just as Severus made his way past Georgie, he stumbled over something, lurching awkwardly to the ground.

"Peter!" That was Potter, urging on his friend even though he didn't need to, even though he had already come up to where Severus was. "Running away, are you?"

"I wasn't running anywhere," Severus said warily, as he sat up. "I'm just going back to my telescope."

"Come on, then," Pettigrew said, reaching out a hand, obviously offering to help him up. When Severus started to his feet on his own, prudently ignoring the other boy's help, he sighed loudly, affecting disappointment.

"Is our help not good enough for you?" Black said, sarcastically. "Wait, you're a Slytherin, of course it's not." He was the one who pushed Severus down again, catching him off guard. "Snake."

"What is your problem?" Lily said, aghast. "Is it some sort of crime to walk around now?"

"Is he still your boyfriend, Thomas?" Now, watching Potter drag Severus to his feet, Lily wished she hadn't said anything, wished she had just kept her mouth shut. "Have you ever looked at him up close? Here, Sirius, take his other arm, let's make sure she gets a good look—"

"Stop it," Severus raged, uselessly, but it was already halfway done, the three boys laughing and sniggering as they brought him along. Lily felt frozen, trapped— if she tried to run away, it would make Severus look stupid. And god, if she stayed, there was no telling what they'd think to do.

Then Potter looked her way, and grinned. "See what you've done, you smelly little snake?" he said, to Severus. "She's terrified."

It was easy after that, standing defiantly still while they shoved him right up in her face. When Potter saw that she wouldn't back away, he nodded at Black, and they both pushed Severus at her, laughing as his struggling weight made Lily stumble.

Pettigrew shoved at Severus again, trying to push them both down. He miscalculated, and ended up falling along with them, crushing Lily to the ground.


"Peter, you idiot," Potter said, dragging him off, the gesture rather undermined by the fact that he was still sniggering. "Come on, get off her—"

Dazed, Lily barely felt Severus get off. All she could hear was Madame Lissane's strident, unwelcomely late arrival. "What on earth is going on?"

Severus was the only one to reply. "Professor—"

"Aren't you a Slytherin? Get back to your area at once!"

"Thomas," Black whispered, worriedly, "Thomas, get up."

"I was just going," Severus protested, from a little farther off. "Professor—"

"Five points from Slytherin," came the merciless answer. "Be off, or I will make it ten."

"Thomas," Potter said, poking at Lily's shoulder. "Are you all right?"

She tried to roll away from him, but it hurt so much that she gave up, opening her eyes. Potter was standing over her, his hand out, his expression concerned. Lily made herself take hold of his hand, though she dimly remembered that Severus hadn't.

"Right," Potter said, pulling her up. "All better now."

He didn't expect the slap. It hurt Lily to move her arm and dish it out, but not enough to stop her doing it. "Ow!" Potter cried, cringing back from her. "What is your problem?"

"Not so nice when you have to ask, is it?" Lily blew on her hand, trying to soothe the awful stinging. She was still doing that when Madame Lissane returned her attention to them, demanding an explanation.

"Madame, she slapped him."

"Because he shoved me so hard that I fell down," Lily said, correctly, faintly glad that Black had been the first one to start the snitching. "They all helped."

"It was an accident," Pettigrew said, lying outright. "He tried to help her back up, and she slapped him."

Madame Lissane gave Lily an incredulous look. "An accident, Thomas? Well then, why on earth did you slap him?"

Lily's mouth moved, but nothing came out. Hadn't the professor seen them push Severus at her? "They pushed me down," Lily repeated, finally. "Didn't you see it, Madame?"

"And then he helped you up," Lissane said, ignoring her question, "and you slapped him? That is so?"

"Yes, but—"

"Ten points from Gryffindor for your unladylike behavior," Madame Lissane said, glaring down at her. "What came over you? Your hair is dirty, yes, and your robe, but those can both be fixed without a fuss. You must remember where you are, Thomas." Lissane gave her wand an abrupt wave, sending a silent wind around Lily, making her shiver. "Disgraceful."

Lily felt the grit on her cheek scrub away on it's own, and realized the wind must be a spell. "Madame—"

"Apologize," Madame Lissane said, pointedly. "To him."

Lily wanted to scream. "I apologize," she said woodenly, instead, fixing her gaze on Potter, pretending not to see the smug triumph in his stupid eyes. "I'm sorry I slapped you."

"I forgive you," Potter said, going so far as to bow, and yet, when Lily looked at the professor, she saw she was impressed.

"Very well done," Lissane said, nodding at him. Her approving expression became uncharitable when she looked at Lily. "I suppose I shouldn't blame you; they probably didn't teach you any better." She glared round at the silent students that had been looking on. "Back to work, all of you. Immediately."

Lily made herself turn around and stare at her telescope. She felt markedly diminished, despite knowing that she had been in the right. Bat, she thought steadily, at Madame Lissane's retreating back. Blind, interfering, prejudiced old bat.

It didn't help at all.

Chapter Text

The next day, at breakfast, Lily got two letters. The first one was on her plate when she got to the table, addressed in Mum's neat, familiar hand. Lily was still staring at it when the owls started coming in, three of them diving for her end of the table all at once.

"Watch it," Black said, to the largest one, as if it could understand. It flew a mocking ring around him, neatly evading his grasp, dangling a red, smoking envelope just out of his reach.

Bemused, Lily almost didn't notice one of the smaller, quieter owls landing in front of her, and dropping the second letter. That one looked like more of a folded note, the spiky, nigh unreadable scrawl of 'Lily Thomas' the only thing on its back.

Severus, you idiot, Lily thought, turning it over, not quite before the other girls had noticed the minimal address. She didn't know anyone else here, it had to be from him.


Lily nearly jumped. She kept her head, pocketing both the letter and the note, making sure the innocent stamp on Mum's letter was more visible as she did so. Only then did she allow herself to look up to try and figure out who on earth had just shouted that out.

The large owl was struggling out of Black's grasp. The letter it had carried was on the table between him and Potter, and there was an ominous black line crawling along one edge.

"It's self-opening, Sirius, just take it and run—"


"Come on," Potter snatched up the red envelope, holding it between a finger and a thumb. "Merlin, that stings!"

Black stumbled to his feet, his face ashen with shame. "Let me have it," he snapped, holding out a shaking hand. But Potter ignored him, clambering out of his seat, making straight for the end of the table, obviously intending to leave the hall.

"INGRATE," the shouter snarled, and Lily knew it had to be coming from the envelope, because the voice sounded farther away. "WRETCHED, USELESS, UNGRATEFUL BOY! IF I WERE JUST AS WORTHLESS, IF I WERE JUST AS LACKING IN PRIDE—"

The door slammed to behind Potter, then again after Black. The voice was gone.

"Merlin," Mary breathed, beside Lily. "How awful."

Pettigrew and Lupin exchanged a meaningful glance. "I'll get breakfast," Lupin offered. "Did James leave his bag?"

When she felt something poke at her arm, Lily flinched. She felt silly and annoyed all at once when she looked over, and saw it was only Mary. "That," Mary whispered, helpfully, "that was a Howler."

Lily nodded, thinking back to what Severus had said about Black's Slytherin family. She'd thought it would be something embarrassing, not at all like what had just been broadcast about the Great Hall. People were whispering about it, eyeing up Pettigrew and Lupin as they followed in Potter's footsteps, elbowing their way out of the Hall.

"I suppose that's one nice thing about your family," Mary went on. "They'll certainly never send something like that."

Lily could barely restrain herself from glaring. "They wouldn't send anything like that even if they could," she said, coldly. "It's only a different house."

"No, Lily, it isn't," Georgie said, from across the table. "I really don't know why you won't believe us, especially after what that boy said about your mother."

"I said that," Lily snapped. "It was meant to be a joke! It wasn't even about my mum, and you're using that as an example of how awful Slytherin is?" Fed up, she shouldered her schoolbag and stood up. "Fine. Just don't expect me to agree with you."

"Lily, don't," Mary said, hastily. "He lied to you, you can't go meeting him."

"I really don't know what you mean," Lily said, straight-faced, though she'd thought of that as soon as she'd seen Severus' note. "First lesson's flying, isn't it? I'll meet you all on the pitch."

Mary started to stand up, but Georgie reached out, stopping her. "Let her go," Lily heard, as she turned away. "Really, Mary."

"She doesn't know—"

Lily walked away, blocking out the sound of Mary's passionate concern. There was something bitterly amusing about the way Mary said it, as if Lily must surely be a poor, trusting little lamb, naive to all the wickedness of men. It wasn't something she had heard a lot while growing up.

Petunia had always been the one who didn't know, the one that was thought not to. Lily had always been very careful to preserve a balance, to try to reveal only the little things Petty thought were secret. She hadn't talked about how much it rankled to go unpicked for anything, how much it hurt pretending not to hear or understand certain awful jokes.

Now, things like the gossip about the older students' indiscretions? The pointed fact that one of Severus' parents was Not Nice? That was safe to pass on, safe to tell. Lily rather thought her dormmates' ridiculous behavior might be just as safe, too.

Outside the Great Hall, students were still whispering about the Howler that had come for Black. Once Lily saw that the boys were nowhere among them, she fished out her letters, meaning to read the one from Severus to check if he had asked her to meet him.

I'm sorry you got hurt defending me. I didn't scarper fast enough, and I should have known to do it.

Please don't say anything if Potter and his lot come after me again. It's not worth it when you get hurt. If I'd known how bad they would be, I wouldn't have come over.

We probably shouldn't even speak, not even in Potions. Write me, and I'll write you back.

- Severus

Lily sighed. A bit of an apology was all right; she'd felt a bit cross that Severus hadn't left as soon as Potter had begun heading their way. Jumping to the conclusion that they could never speak, that they must carry on their friendship in hidden letters, that was a little much. Lily folded Severus' letter, already planning out her response.

Don't be silly, she eventually wrote, while waiting out on the pitch. The young, hawk-faced Flying instructor, Madame Hooch, had told her the lesson wouldn't start for another quarter hour or so, and had bluntly refused Lily's polite offer to help set out the brooms. Why should we let them force us not to speak? I won't defend you, if that's what you really want, but to stop speaking altogether would be just like giving in. We're friends; whether we speak or not is none of their business.

Just as she was deciding what next to say, she began to hear the noise of several approaching students. A look across the grass told her that it wasn't Potter and the Gryffindor boys; it was all the first year Slytherins, walking roughly as one, the girls in a tight unit on the left of the group.

"Don't be daft," Lily soon heard a girl say, as they drew closer. "We're firsties, we can't get on the team. Having one extra flying class this year is hardly an advantage."

"I didn't say it would put us ahead this year, Petra," one of the boys by Severus said, impatiently. "Next year's good enough."

"Next year, they'll have Potter," another girl pointed out. "Call him what you like, Evan, but he always won races at Holloway's. He's good."

"I don't see why it matters anyway," Petra said, pausing to look over the brooms that had been laid out on the grass. "Hufflepuff are always going to win."

Tutting, Evan shook his head. "Whatever happened to house spirit?" Then he looked over at where Lily was sitting, and grinned. "Next thing you know, you'll be like that. Alone." He ambled toward her, his pleasant expression not quite masking the condescension in his eyes. "What are you doing out here, separated from the herd?"

Lily suppressed the urge to hide her letters. "Reading," she said, calmly, looking him in the eye. "Shouldn't it be separated from the pride?"

"Come again?" That boy, she remembered from the sorting— Avery, something Avery, and Lily wondered how she'd mistaken all that muscle for harmless pudge.

"A pride," she repeated, possibly dooming herself. "Lions go in prides?"

Evan laughed. "She's a lion all right," he said, elbowing a red-faced Severus in the side. "We heard that slap clear across the tower."

"So," Avery said, leaning in, his tone becoming oddly conspiratory. "Did they turn you out, or did you leave?"

"What do you mean?"

"The ribbon," the third boy said, waving vaguely at Lily's head.

Lily made herself shrug, now rather wishing she hadn't gone out of her way to put one on. "My mum's favorite color," she hedged, hoping that would be unconnected enough. The boys laughed, nudging each other, all except for Severus.

"Hysterical," Evan said, shaking his head. "Oh bother, Potter's coming up."

"Next time you slap him, give us a bit of warning, eh?" Avery said, winking at her. "Twitch your ribbon or something."

When he and the other boys began to move away, Severus lagged behind, still a bit red in the face. "I'm really sorry," he said, one eye on the approaching Gryffindors. "I know they were stupid—"

"It's all right," Lily said, pointedly. It was all right, sort of, or close enough to it that she felt confident enough to look Severus in the eye as she said it. "Go."

He gave her another rueful look before he left, and was safely back in Slytherin territory by the time Potter and the rest had arrived.

"Are you all right?" Mary asked, putting a hand on Lily's arm. "Did they bother you?"

"I'm fine," Lily said, taking the chance to stow away her letters. "Really."

Potter gave her a skeptical look. "We saw them laughing, you know."

Lily could barely restrain herself from rolling her eyes. "You were perfectly happy laughing at me last night. Why would you care?"

"When you're all done chatting," Madame Hooch said, loudly, "I'd rather appreciate it if you could each choose a broom. Now." The way she glared at all of them got even Potter moving. "Now, then. Stick your hand out over your broom, and call out, 'up'!"

The flying lesson was exhausting. The simple controls only served to make it easier for Lily to fixate on the fact that she was flying, that the slightest shift or twist would move her in odd ways, that even the smallest gesture could take her farther above the ground. She soon saw why Hooch favored blunt, loud commands; they were easier to hear when she felt paralyzed, when all she could think of was the floating stick between her and the ground.

"Horse around on your own time," Hooch snapped, when Potter, bored, began to do midair rolls and skips instead of the simple circle turn she was putting the whole group through. "Turns only, understood?"

"Yes, Professor," was the reluctant reply, and Lily heard one of the Slytherin boys sigh and mutter about show-offs in that way that meant he wanted a chance to show off too.

As the lesson went on, the more experienced fliers in the group grew restless. The Gryffindor boys began trying to do quick loops when Madame Hooch's back was turned. When the Slytherins saw them at it, there was a string of covert nudges and looks, and a brief, whispered argument. Petra urged her broom forward, asking a loud question, obviously trying to face Hooch away from her housemates.

The moment the professor looked her way, the Slytherins behind her all did barrel rolls, not quite in unison.

"Sod it," Black whispered, from behind Lily. "We can do better than that."

Lily disagreed. Severus had come out of the roll looking rather green, and he'd been one of the slowest. He'd never had a problem hanging off the higher branches of the tree back home, so if that move had made him unsteady—

"Roll the other way, everyone," Georgie whispered. "I'll sort Hooch."

"I don't know how," Jemima said, sounding panicked, just loudly enough that Hooch looked right at her.

"Don't know how to do what? Listen, if anyone's trying to egg you on to do anything I haven't already showed, simply point them out to me." Hooch shifted her dour gaze to where Potter was hovering, oblivious to the Slytherins rolling again behind her. "This is place for solid, foundational lessons, not for tricks. All right?"

Black fidgeted, unable to restrain himself. "Professor—"

"Did I not just make myself clear?"

"You did, Professor," Potter said, cutting over his friend. "We all understand."

Hooch eyed him, and the Slytherins did another roll. "Good," she said finally, turning away. "All right," she said, loudly, "that's enough for today."

Petra smothered a giggle, and the Slytherin boys let out some rather suspicious coughs. Severus had a white-knuckle grip on his broom now, and looked like he was about to be sick.

"Slowly, now," Hooch called out, ignoring the muffled giggles. "Take it easy." Potter and Black rolled madly as soon as she turned her back to them, and Georgie followed suit. Lily forced herself to ignore them once she caught herself trying to see how they started the motion. "All right," Hooch said, encouragingly. "Brake gently, dip a little more if you need to be closer down...put a leg out."

Potter tried for one last spin, and ended up barreling into Lupin, knocking them both to the ground in a heap of flailing arms and cracking wood. "Sorry!" they both cried out, eliciting hysterical, muffled giggles from the entire class.

Somehow, Lily still managed to dismount. Her hands ached from holding on too tight, and she felt oddly unsteady on the ground.

"Five points from Gryffindor," Hooch said, wearily. "Now pick yourselves up and get on. It's nearly time for lunch."

Lily laid down her broom, already wondering how on earth she would explain the whole experience to Petunia. It was like being on a very thin branch on a very high tree; disorienting, but not exactly unpleasant, once you got your bearings. Lily rather wanted to try it again, try really moving through the air, against the wind.

"Miss," she said, as the others began to walk away, "will it be all right if I come back to practice?"

"I wouldn't bother about it if I were you," Hooch said, diffidently. "You'd have to work around all the Quidditch teams, and really, the flying lessons should be more than enough."

"Oh," Lily said, feeling crestfallen. She'd forgotten about the teams. Now, remembering the heated gossip about the tryouts and team rosters, she tried to feel glad that she had asked, glad that she hadn't ended up wandering down here and being chased off. "I see."

"Look," Hooch said, as she took out her wand. "If it's really worth the trouble to you, there's always at least one day the pitch is free. Usually a Monday or a Wednesday, depending on what the current captains prefer."

"They don't have flying lessons?"

Hooch made an expansive gesture, causing all the discarded brooms to roll into a large heap. "Only first years have flying lessons," she said, curtly. "Flying isn't the sport, understood? Quidditch is, and the teams sort the training however they like." She gave Lily an appraising look. "You mightn't make it in next year— Gryffindor's got good chasers, if I recall correctly. The year after that, perhaps."

Lily flushed. "I just want to practice a bit," she said. "I can hardly imagine being good enough for...for that."

"Suit yourself." Hooch turned away, waving her wand again. The pile of brooms rose before her, and began to float across the pitch in the direction of what Lily assumed was Hooch's outdoor office. "Go on, girl. You'll be late for lunch."

Flushing again, Lily shouldered her schoolbag and set off for the castle. Ahead of her, the other students had already reached the front entrance, but didn't seem to be going in. When she got in earshot, she found that the boys were trading insults over the silly stunts the Slytherins had pulled in the air.

"You only say it's cheating because you know we won," Avery was saying, his tone rather smug. "You're just jealous."

Black sneered. "Who could possibly be jealous of you lot? You're a lump, you two are ponces, and you're a walking slug."

"Half of you were green in the face just from doing easy little rolls," Potter added, contemptuously. "If you'd done it one more time, it would've been raining Slytherin sick."

"Hear that, Snape?" Avery said, putting a hand to his ear. "Jealousy. It's a poison."

"Yeah, like all of them were raring to go," Severus said, shaking his head. "Oh, no, I don't know how..."

The Slytherins all laughed; even Lily had to bite her lip. He hadn't sounded anything like Jemima, but the look on his face had been cruelly close.

"So she didn't know," Georgie said, hotly. "So what? You lot probably stayed up all night planning that stupid nonsense, like the snakes you are."

"Yeah, right," Evan said, opening the door. "I'm sure you'll feel a lot better, thinking that."

"Evan," Avery whispered, loudly, "I don't know how." Sniggering, he and the other boy followed Evan in, Severus hanging back to hold the door open for the Slytherin girls. He met Lily's eye for a moment, just as the last girl went through, and then he looked away, letting the door close between them.

"I'm sorry," Jemima said, faintly. "I'm really sorry."

"You've got nothing to be sorry for," Mary said, fiercely. "Really, Jem." She put her arm around the other girl, and Georgie followed suit. Lily tightened her grip on the strap of her schoolbag, trying not to feel quite so guilty and alone.

"I'll see if they're gone," she muttered uselessly, heading for the door. But Potter went ahead, ignoring her completely as he opened the door instead.

"They're gone," he announced, shouldering open the door. "Come on, Burrows. We'll show 'em next time." He ushered the girls through, then went in himself, followed by Lupin, Pettigrew and Black.

Lily wasn't surprised that no one held the heavy door for her. She was surprised at how horrible it felt to struggle with it as the others walked on. From the marked way they all looked and talked around her, she knew she was being punished.

I wasn't even there for the whole conversation, she raged, inside. It wasn't my fault. Then, as they all passed the yellow-decked Hufflepuffs at their rowdy table, Lily remembered her ribbon, and seriously considered taking it off, just to see what they said.

"Merlin, but I'm hungry," Lupin said loudly, as they all sat down. His tone was overly cheerful; he seemed to be trying to fill the tense silence of the group by sheer force of will. "Don't even know why, it's not like all that flying was hard work."

Lily didn't feel any safer sitting down in the pointedly empty seat by Potter, despite him joining in the inane, stilted conversation that followed. Trying to distract herself, she hunted out her other letter, the one from home. She felt them all looking at her, at it, and squashed the urge to hold up the envelope so they could all properly see her Mum's meticulous handwriting, and the see the wasted Muggle stamp in the corner.

Dear Lily, Mum wrote, Being rather impatient, we decided to send this letter to the Professor through the fireplace instead of waiting for your owl. She was very patient and kind, and said to apply to her for an owl when you are ready with your reply.

"Is that the letter from home?" Georgie said, as if she couldn't very well see what it was from the way she was leaning close. "I thought you'd have read that by now."

"Unless she was reading the other letter," Mary said, cocking her head to one side. "Who was that from, Lily? You never did say."

Lily had no idea what to say. She could lie and say that she hadn't got another letter, and bear up under further questioning. She could lie about it being from someone else, someone other than Severus. They would get at her either way, of course, and the way Potter was now eyeing her bag made her feel like it wouldn't matter what she said.

"It's none of your business," Lily found herself saying, though she knew that would make it worse. Sure enough, Potter reached for her bag, grabbing for the strap. Lily wrenched it back, quick and hard, only to watch Georgie pluck her mum's letter off the table, easy as pie. "What is wrong with you? Give that back!"

"Where's the other one?"

Lily pulled her schoolbag into her lap. It's only a letter, she told herself, trying to make herself do something, decide. "Give it back."

Georgie reddened, but passed the folded letter on to Mary anyway. "No," she said, firmly. "Not till you tell us who it's from."

"A friend," Lily spat, uncaring. "But let me guess, you want a name." She gripped her bag even tighter. "Are you even planning to give it back?"

"Not till I get a name, no."

Lily glared at her. "Keep it, then."

"I can't believe you," Georgie said, shaking her head. "You act like he wouldn't have made fun of you too. You think he wouldn't have giggled along with the rest of them if you'd fallen off your broom?"

Never, Lily wanted to retort. She couldn't say a word, mostly because everything she could think of would sound stupid, but also because she remembered the way Severus had said nothing as his friends essentially made fun of her. She knew she'd been supposed to shrug that off, to dismiss that as them having a laugh. She also knew how near that was to just plain having a laugh, the way Potter and his lot did it, the way they were preparing to right now.

"Look at her," Black said, leaning in, across the table. "She really believes it."

That freed her, somehow. He didn't know what she was thinking; he didn't know her that well. None of them did. "Keep it," she said again, her tone scrupulously polite. "Enjoy the read," she added, loudly, and was satisfied to see Georgie redden again. "I suppose I'll see you all in Potions."

As always, the hard part was walking away, leaving Mum's letter in their hands. Lily managed till she was out of the Hall, then let the tears start to come. She headed blindly to the girls' loo on the second floor, locked herself in, and sat on the nicely carved seat, sobbing. She thought of how she would have to tell her parents that someone had taken the letter, and how she wouldn't even have the relief of going home, of telling them face to face.

Lily heard the lunch bell, and made herself leave the stall. There was a lump in her throat when she asked one of the girls leaving the loos for directions.

"Down the marble staircase and left along the hall," the girl said, giving her a skeptical look. "Aren't you in Slytherin? It's not too far from the entrance to your house."

"Thank you," Lily said, nodding at the older girl. As soon as she had turned a corner, she pulled the ribbon out, not caring that it stung. She wished she could burn it, wished it had not been Mum's. She pocketed it, and wondered if there was a charm to make it change color, make it be red or yellow depending on who was looking at it, depending on what they wanted to see.

She saw the Slytherin boys sauntering through the door ahead of her, saw Severus hang back. This time, he held the door open for her. "All right?"

"No." She squeezed past him, angry that he would ask in front of everyone, whether it looked like she'd been crying or not. You have no sense, she wanted to snap at him, as he followed her into the classroom. Don't look at me like that, not here.

"Chop chop," the large man at the front of the room said. "Seats, everyone."

Lily made for one of the empty ones in the middle of the classroom, ignoring the looks that the Gryffindors gave her. The man in the front only seemed to notice her when she answered to 'Thomas, Lily'.

"Any relation to Selwyn?" he asked then, giving her an appraising glance.

"No, professor." He didn't look at her again after that. He smiled equally at 'Warrington, Petra' as he had at Potter, and when he announced himself to be Professor Slughorn, Lily found herself thinking uncharitable thoughts.

Fat, pompous, condescending slug, she thought, viciously, as he extolled the virtues of Potions and assured them that the naysayers that called the topic boring were wrong. I bet you don't think I can do this.

Sure enough, Slughorn leveled a meaningful look at her as he suggested they pair up to make things easier. Lily simply retrieved her stirring rods from her bag and laid them out by the cauldron in front of her, ready to be made to move. However, instead of waddling over and trying to pair her up with Mary, he went on outlining ingredients as if nothing was wrong.

"Follow instructions," Slughorn said, emphatically. "It's an extremely easy potion if you do just what the book says." He waved his wand, and large, glowing chalk numbers appeared on the board. "You have just over an hour."

There was a bit of a scramble for the ingredient room, from both sides of the class. Dazed, Lily looked down at the textbook, and made herself read the instructions to calm herself down.

You have an hour, he had said. Did he really mean for her to do it on her own?

She read the instructions again, so intent upon them that she barely noticed Severus until he was right in front of her. She glared at him, unable to help herself. "Not even in Potions, you said."

Severus went red, but did not look away. "Is that it?"

"Do you even know how this looks?" Lily wished she could sound steady, wished she could sound remotely sensible. "Just leave me alone."

"They did something," Severus said, suddenly. "Didn't they?"

They took my letter, Lily would have said. But she could see Potter heading back, see Professor Slughorn sort of considering them, and she didn't know what to do. "Go away," she ended up saying, waving him off with a shaky hand. I'm not doing whatever it is you're thinking, she thought at the professor. Look, he's going away.

"Fifty-five minutes remaining," Slughorn said, tapping the board with his wand. "And, my goodness, don't all look so afraid! This is not a marked test; it is not an assignment of any kind. I simply want to see how much you all already know, and can effectively apply."

It's like sets, Lily told herself, rereading the ingredient list. Like lower sets and higher sets, but in the same class. Looking around, she rather felt like she would be in the lower, slower set already, but that couldn't be helped. She could only get up and head for the ingredient room, clutching the notes that she had made.

Jemima and Georgie were still in there, arguing quietly over which jar of artichokes to take. "We barely have an hour," Georgie was saying, vehemently. "Pre-chopped will let us go faster." They descended into whispers when they saw Lily, and clammed up entirely when Severus came in.

Naturally, he made a beeline right to her. "Is it about the letter?"

"Go away," Lily said automatically, before she had processed what he said. She flushed then, furious, unable to help glaring down at the jars of pickled murtlap. "Really, Severus. The professor probably thinks we're trying to cheat."

He took a step back, yanking the door wide open, startling the Slytherin girl that had been waiting outside. "There," he said, impatiently. "Did they take it?"

Lily wanted to strangle him. She picked up a jar of murtlap instead. "No, but they tried. I am starting to wish that they had."

"So they took something else," Severus said, from behind her. "Got it."

Lily turned to glare at him, for the pointed way he'd said that, but he had moved away, trailing his fingers over the lids of jars. He didn't seem to notice the way Jemima shrank back from him, or feel the tense weight of the silence in the room.

"One, two, five," Severus muttered, loudly, snapping up jars and herb bundles with a sort of deft abandon. Then, balancing the load he had so quickly accumulated, he edged out of the door.

Lily bit her lip, hard, forcing her tears away. Heart pounding, she referred to her notes, ignoring everything but the labels and the memory of the instructions. When she got out into the classroom, Slughorn was going round lighting fires under cauldrons, dispensing equally useless nods and smiles to everyone. He set up her cauldron without a word, and Lily watched him like a hawk, wishing he would just tell her to pair up.

Then he was off, and all she had were herbs, jars, and the beknighted instructions.

I should have picked chopped artichoke, Lily thought helplessly, when she nearly nicked her finger. The plants were cold and slippery, and the bundled herbs had nasty little thorns. Her fingers stung, and the stirring rod the instructions told her to use was getting unpleasantly warm.

"Twenty minutes," Slughorn said, with merciless good cheer, and Lily's shoulders sagged. She watched her mixture anyway, adding the artichokes, adding the water, counting the times she stirred. "Fourteen left."

Lily peered into her cauldron. It looked the way the instructions said it should, inside. Not quite yellow, the book said. She wrapped her sleeve around the stirring rod, counting again, now starting to feel a little hopeful. She realized her face was sweating a bit, and had to do a bit of a dance to make sure she wiped it off without losing her rhythm.

"Five minutes." Slughorn waved his wand, and all the fires in the room went out. "Should be cooling by now."

The mixture— the potion, she could call it, now— was supposed to change color as it cooled. Looking down at it, Lily smiled, because it had now gone exactly orange. There was a helpful painted square in the book, for reference, and the thin, liquidy paste in her cauldron seemed to match it almost exactly.

"Well, then," Slughorn said, putting his hands behind his back. "Hands off, everyone! I shall have a look." He started for the Gryffindor side, heading right toward Mary's desk. "Hmm. Passable." He frowned over Georgie and Jemima's cauldrons, shaking his head. Lupin and Black got another murmured "Passable." Pettigrew's cauldron got a sigh; Potter's got a disappointed look.

Then he was done with them, and coming up to Lily. "Well," Slughorn said. "Well, now." He eyed her leftover ingredients, then nodded sharply. "Good."

"Thank you," Lily said, reflexively, not really loud enough for him to hear. She still felt rather beaten, if not as badly. She thought of how proud Mum would be to hear that her stringent rules in the kitchen had paid off, then remembered the letter, and wanted to cry again.

Slughorn had moved on by now, made it halfway through the Slytherins. "Good," he said, to Evan, who smiled. "Very good," was for Severus, who didn't seem at all concerned with the way the professor was examining the desk at which he and Evan had worked.

"Very good indeed, all of you," Slughorn said, even though he was only looking again at Severus. "Don't worry about cleanup, not even a bit. Only fair that I sort it, after putting you through your paces— toddle on."

There was a hesitant pause after he said that; a thoroughly disbelieving silence. Then Potter stood up, ever bold, and the rest of the Gryffindors followed suit, and there was a silent, hopeful dash for the door.

"Thank you, Professor," some of the Slytherins were courteous enough to say, on their way out. Lily merely avoided his eye, not caring if it looked at all suspicious. She was so intent on leaving that she ran right into someone just as she went through the door.

"Sorry," Lily said, aghast, before realizing that it was only Severus. "Um—"

"Watch it," he snapped, over-loudly. Then, shoving her fallen bag at her, he whispered, "Give them the letter."

Lily straightened, confused. She accepted her bag, trying to reconcile the very real scowl on Severus' face with his last two words. You don't get it, she wanted to say, as he turned away, falling in with his friends. They'll make fun for years if I give them your letter.

Then, as she walked down the corridor in the Slytherins' wake, she saw the corner of a rumpled bit of parchment sticking out of a side pocket. Stopping a bit, Lily fished it out, and saw it was a hastily scribbled note, addressed just like Severus' other letter had been.

Dear Lily, it said, over and over again, your housemates are thieving cows.

Lily smiled. He'd varied the titling and word distribution to make it pass for a real letter, so there were sentences like, "Are thieving cows your housemates, dear Lily?" and "Lily, your housemates. Are theiving cows! Dear Lily." There were hearts on the paper, small, lopsided ones that made Lily smile again at his audacity.

For safety's sake, she searched out and tore up the old letter, wedging the irregular pieces at the bottom of her bag. Then it was time to call up her most morose, defeated expression, time to hunch her shoulders and look thoroughly vulnerable.

Lily pressed and folded the note, placing it in her most visible robe pocket. The final touch was letting a bit of her green ribbon dangle out, just so.

Chapter Text

"Merlin, Severus," Lily heard Evan say, as she pushed by the Slytherins, "what did you say to her?"

"Nothing," Severus said, his tone sullen. Lily squashed the urge to glance back, all too aware of the fact that the Gryffindors were just ahead, and were occasionally looking back. She wasn't sure how far to play the wounded, beaten friend, wasn't sure whether to extend it to accusing looks back in Severus' direction.

"You were talking to her all through Potions just now," Avery pointed out, his tone pragmatic. "Plenty of time to say something, I should think."

That was part of what had given Lily the idea to mask her anger as misery, to look the victim for her housemates so they wouldn't be in a hurry to look at what she would be giving them in exchange for Mum's letter. Georgie had taken the letter because she'd thought it would be enough to make Lily fold, and it seemed only natural to pretend to do so to get it back.

Pretending out here in the corridors, with the Slytherins just behind? Well, Lily thought, it wouldn't precisely be her fault if Potter went rushing off with the letter, eager to read it to them and make a big stink. He would think it her fault, of course, as would the rest of her housemates.

Bully for him, Lily thought, as she watched him turn the corner. Bully for them, she added mentally, watching the rest of them trail after him, speeding up a bit to keep in step. Once I get Mum's letter back, they can all jump in a lake.

She wasn't expecting to turn the corner herself, and see them milling around in front of her, lying in wait.

"Look who wants to walk with us," Black said, circling round behind her, eying her up. "Ooh, look who's taken off her precious ribbon."

"You look like someone just broke your heart," Potter said, nudging Pettigrew beside him. "Anything wrong, Thomas?"

"I want to talk to Georgie," Lily said, edging away from him, trying to keep the pocket with Severus' note out of his reach. "Not to you."

"Sirius, stop it," Georgie said, admonishingly, without making a single effort to move away from the boys. Instead, she set to fishing out Mum's letter, shooting Lily a kindly look that would have meant something if Potter wasn't between them, obviously ready to put a spanner in the works. "Just hold that letter out, Lily. You can have this one back."

Lily could feel a lump forming in her throat. "Why can't I have mine back first?" she dared to ask, because she couldn't point out the obvious, couldn't say that Georgie hadn't specified when she would get Mum's letter. "I'm right here, you know. I'm hardly going to run off with it without giving you the one you want."

"I'd like to see you try that," Black said, unhelpfully. "Remus here is rather fast— he'd run you down in a minute."

Lily looked around at the other boys, incredulous, and the only one of them blushing at that bald, rude threat was Lupin. "Sirius," he said, reproachfully; he did not say he wouldn't run her down.

"Ignore him," Potter said, his tone maliciously merry. "Just hand it over, will you? I can see you've got it out." He was looking at her pocket, the one with Severus' letter in it, and Lily could see his fingers moving restlessly, as if he was already imagining the act of opening it.

Back around the corner, Lily heard the Slytherins start to laugh, just as she saw Georgie hand her letter to Potter. I'm not going to get it back, she realized, suddenly. I'm not going to get it back, because he'll keep it.

She almost gave up in that moment, almost let the whole thing go. He would read Severus' letter, and see that it was fake, and maybe raise the requirements Lily would need to fulfill to get Mum's letter back. She would have to get Severus to write a real letter, the sort Potter would like to make fun of, or she would have to make some sort of scene, to say something awful to him in front of everyone.

"Well?" Black said, impatiently. "What are you waiting for?"

Lily blinked. "Nothing," she said, automatically, putting her hand in her pocket. Then she pushed Severus' letter down and out of sight, inwardly thanking him for writing it, for being so loyal. "This is unfair," she said, looking Potter in the eye. "I'm not going to do it."

He looked—of all the things—amused. "True love," he said, putting a hand over his heart. "How touching! Really, Thomas," he said, waving Mum's envelope at her, "it's all right; he doesn't love you, and you don't love him. Hand it over."

The Slytherins were passing by now, giving Black a wide berth. Severus gave Lily a cold, resentful glance, keeping up the pretense he'd begun earlier, one that the Gryffindor girls were the first to notice.

"Did you not see that?" Georgie asked, waving in the Slytherins' direction. "Why bother protecting him?"

"Oh please," Lily said, more than fed up with the proceedings. "If you really gave a toss about how I felt, you wouldn't have taken my only letter from home to begin with." She edged off to the side, avoiding Black, meaning to go past the Gryffindors and be done, and was not entirely surprised to find Potter edging along with her, blocking her path. "Sod off, will you?"

"There's no need for that," he said, tossing Mum's letter away to Black. "Look, if you're that sensitive, we'll only read it once you've gone on." He came closer, hands extended, palm up. "You won't even have to see what he says."

"Sod off," Lily repeated, starting to wonder if they would ever leave off, if they would ever let her get away. "I said, sod off—"

She wasn't sure what tipped her off, exactly. It could have been the way Potter's hands shot up a bit, the right height to grasp her shoulders and hold her still; it could have been the click of Black's odd shoes, oddly loud behind her. Lily moved without thinking, darting off to the right, and found herself running smack into Pettigrew, who was too startled to do anything more than try to hold her.

Lily elbowed him, and wrenched cruelly at the hand that was suddenly in her pocket— she didn't care whose it was, only that she made them hurt. "Let go," Potter said, daring to give her an order, so the first thing she did once she'd elbowed free of Pettigrew was to step on his foot, and shove him. "Merlin! What is your sodding—"

Lily went after him again, cutting him off with another forceful shove. She was too angry for words, too angry to voice her outrage at him starting to ask what on earth her sodding problem was when he and the other boys had gone after her first. She felt horribly close to tears when he dodged out of her reach, circling back around to Black, who was wringing one red hand as he flicked open Severus' fake letter, glancing at her like she was crazy.

"This is fake," he said, over the whispers of the Slytherins, who had stopped short a little way away, wanting to see the show. "This is really, really fake."

"Is it?" Lily said loudly, her tone sarcastically surprised. "How sad for you, that stealing my letter didn't work out."

"You planned this," Black said, accusingly. "You were going to walk up and give us a fake." He crumpled up Severus' letter, shaking his head. "I wonder what your mother will think when you don't write back."

Lily rolled her eyes. "Unlike some people," she said, sharply, "I have a mum who'll understand if I don't write, much less if I'm late writing back because a pack of cowardly idiots stole my only letter." By then, Black had gone an ugly, satisfying red; he said nothing as Lily strode by.

Ahead of her, Avery shook his head, whistling long and low. As she got closer, she noticed him nudging Severus, murmuring something she couldn't make out. Lily walked past them without a word, not in the least inclined to stop and explain what had gone wrong in full view of Potter and the rest.

When she rounded the corner ahead, she went on walking, despite the knowledge that she could safely stop there and wait for Severus and his friends to come round. She rather thought the Slytherins had found the whole scene funny, and couldn't bear to be ribbed over it just then.

Lily thought back to the moment after she'd given up on making the exchange, and wished she had just gone off as quickly as she could. She'd lingered there, talking back to Potter just like Severus had in Astronomy, and she'd been attacked just as suddenly and unfairly as he had.

"Rule number one," Lily muttered, digging through her bag for her timetable, "when they come at you, just run." Finding it, she unfolded it and glanced at the lower right corner, the very last squares under 'Friday'—they'd just had Potions, and that was a double lesson. There was only supper after that, and that should just be about to start.

Rule number two, Lily thought, putting away her timetable, always know where next to go. She sped up her pace anyway, reasoning that she could think of where to eat once she'd got hold of some food, and made her way out of the Great Hall.

In her hurry, she took a wrong turn, and ended up going through the double doors only a hair after the Slytherins did, with the Gryffindors coming up the stairs behind her. At the table, she set herself to packing up anything she could safely take out wrapped in a napkin. Supper was roast and gravy, so that left buttered rolls and not much else.

As soon as she saw Georgie and Mary heading her way, Lily rose, stuffing the bulging red napkin into her bag. She made her way back around the table slowly, weaving round the burgeoning mass of incoming students, careful to keep them between her and her housemates.

Outside the Hall, she came to an uncertain stop, trying to think of where she could safely go. The common room was out of the question, since that was the first place her yearmates would think to look for her if they decided to skip supper in favor of teaching her a lesson. She knew there was a library in the castle, but didn't know where it was, and didn't think anyone would let her eat there in any case.

That left the classrooms, none of which were places Lily thought she could return without the professors taking note. Every classroom had seemed connected to the office of whoever taught the lesson in it— even greenhouse one was connected to Professor Sprout's office, by a door tucked away in the corner.

Madame Hooch was the only exception, with her little shack of an office next to the Quidditch pitch. Lily wondered how much Hooch could see of the pitch from there, and found herself going through the castle doors anyway, determined to make a try of it. If she was seen on the pitch, it would be when Hooch left her office to head to the Great Hall for supper, and it wouldn't necessarily mean anything the way it would if another professor spotted Lily lurking in their classroom on their way out.

It was easy for Lily to point herself in the direction of the pitch, easy for her to convince herself that the Quidditch teams probably didn't need to ask to be let on the pitch when it was their practice night. Besides, it was also early suppertime: if any of the teams was going to practice tonight, Lily rather thought they would do it after supper, not before.

Out on the pitch, Hooch was nowhere to be seen, and there was no light at her office window. Relieved, Lily sat down, taking out the rolls from the napkin. They were sadly squashed, and not quite as hot as they had been at the table, but they were good anyway, and gone very soon.

Restless, Lily got up and walked around, pacing the length of the pitch, wondering how on earth they managed to keep it so even. The wind picked up around her, whipping her robe close, forcing her to tuck her hands in her pockets for warmth. By the time she began to wonder if it might be safe to go up to Hooch's office and see if she could find a broom, she heard loud voices approaching, distorted by the wind.

"Bit late, I know," some older boy was saying, over the whip of the wind. "But you know our roster's fairly set all the same."

"Are you sure?" One of his friends had spotted Lily, and was peering at her across the pitch. "Looks like someone's been waiting for us. You there—"

"Leave it, Lucius," his friend replied, glancing her way. "She's not one of ours."

Lily could now make out the colors of their group, the neat little pieces of green not quite blending into the dark of their robes under the light of the full moon. Suppressing her dismay, she picked up her bag and the fallen napkin, folding the stained cloth with needless precision.

They ignored her at first, two of them peeling off in the direction of Hooch's office, the rest of them waiting about in midfield, mounting up on their brooms. Then one of them looked her way, and began to ease his broom over in her direction.

"Clear off, shrimp," was all he said, once he reached her. He followed Lily a good way off the pitch, too, something that frightened and annoyed her until she remembered the Quidditch gossip she'd overheard in the showers, and realized he probably thought her some sort of spy. Intrigued, Lily kept an eye on him as they approached the castle, wondering when he would deem it safe enough to abandon the watch and fly back to his teammates.

He escorted her all the way to the castle doors. Bemused, Lily paused there, making a production of digging through her bags. She was not entirely surprised to hear the boy on the broom clear his throat, loudly.

"Are you seriously going to wait for me to go in?" Lily asked, unable to help herself. "I'm only a first year, you know."

Close to, the boy looked younger than she'd thought, especially when he blinked like that, looking taken aback. "You could be in polyjuice," he said, after an awkward, silent moment. "What? It's not that hard to make."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Lily said, shaking her head, feeling even more amused. "Is that a spell or something?"

"If you were a spy," the boy said triumphantly, crossing his arms, "you'd pretend not to know."

"If I was a spy, I wouldn't be bothering to have this conversation," Lily shot back. "Seeing as your captain was just walking about, talking about how set your roster is."

The boy reddened, then sighed. "Could you please just go in? I have to get back."

"Okay," Lily said, closing her bag. "Ooh, wait a minute, will you?" She found herself running down the steps and out onto the path again, going out of breath trying to catch up to his broom. "I have a question!" she called out, slowing abruptly, feeling tired and stupid and hopeful all at once. "Hello?"

There was something very satisfying about watching him turn around so smoothly, coming back at her like a shot. He braked with a showy jolt, looking down on her with a monster of a scowl. "What?"

"I don't know where the library is," Lily said, quickly, recognizing impatience when she saw it. "Could you tell me?"

"That's—" He turned sharply, rolling his eyes. "I can't believe I'm falling for this."

"If you don't tell me," Lily said, walking around so she could look him in the eye, "I'll run all the way back to the pitch."

"Now you're a spy? Christ." He tried to ease around her, and glared at her when she got in his way. "For fuck's sake! If you found your way out here on your own, you can sodding well find it yourself."

"Could you at least give me a floor to start with?"

"No," he said, firmly. "And Merlin, I swear, if you are polyjuiced and I ever find out who you are, I will sort you." He rose up, abruptly, well out of Lily's reach, and shot away in the direction of the pitch.

Lily stood there in the cold, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Laughter won out, very suddenly, when she thought of the way the boy had blinked at her when she first said anything, as if she were a talking dog. She laughed all the way back to the castle doors, over the stitch in her side, over her aching feet, over the madness that was this place.

Then, when she got inside, and had to navigate her way through the streams of students leaving the great hall, she thought of what the boy had said about finding her own way.

I could get lost, Lily thought reflexively, biting her lip. It would be ever so easy here, with the way the stairs moved, the way the doors didn't always work how she thought they should. She found herself walking on anyway, picking a direction at random, then taking the stairs up to the second floor.

Few people seemed to be out in the corridors here— perhaps it was just like the first floor, with mostly classrooms and loos here and there. Lily spotted a pair of older girls shouldering their way into a room, one of them wearing a prefects' badge, and would have tried asking for directions if the door hadn't locked itself after them.

Shrugging, she went on, occasionally stopping to poke around an empty classroom herself. Lily wedged the door open with her bag, just in case, and went right to the big windows in the side. There was a window-seat on the middle one, dusty as anything, and the tiny office attached to the main room was mothballed and empty.

I can come here next time, Lily thought, backing out of the office and closing the door. She wondered if there were more unused rooms in the castle, more places she could retreat to when she couldn't go out to the pitch, or when this place was taken. She looked around at the perfectly serviceable, dusty desks, and wondered why they'd stopped using this room in particular, why they didn't move the desks out.

Then she checked her watch, and saw it was past time to start the trek back to the tower, if she didn't want to be late back. Lily took one look round the empty classroom, then picked up her bag and slipped out.

There was no one in the corridors now, no one to ask if she went the wrong way. Slowly, she retraced her steps, going downstairs, making sure to go right back to the room outside the Great Hall, so she could at least start her journey to Gryffindor from somewhere familiar. She didn't see any other students until she somehow bumbled her way up to the seventh floor, and the boys she saw were a pack of Ravenclaws, arguing in heated whispers just outside the stairwell.

Lily pushed past them as quickly as she could, not liking the way they went quiet as soon as they saw her. They didn't follow her, though, and her panicky caution receded as she approached the portrait that led into Gryffindor house. It clicked open just as she reached it, propelled by the trembling hand of none other than Lupin.

Lily froze, expecting Potter and Black to be behind him. She stepped back, looking up and down the corridor, just in case they'd thought of waiting around the corner, but there was no one there.

Lupin looked tired, and his skin was paler than it had been on the train. He stood there for a moment, staring at her, then shook his head and set to climbing out through the hole behind the portrait.

Lily couldn't see anyone behind him. She stayed where she was, just in case, watching Lupin fumble his way out. Are you all right? she thought of asking, if only out of politeness. He was the only one of the boys that hadn't touched her, hadn't tried to push her around.

Then again, that was an awfully low bar. Lily had known boys that were perfectly civil when you met them alone, and perfectly nasty when you met them with their friends. Lupin hadn't really said anything to her yet, but she supposed that could just be down to the fact that he was presently sick.

He wasn't saying anything now, either; just propping open the portrait for her like most of the other students did for each other. "Thank you," Lily said, because it had to be said. Then, unable to help herself, she asked anyway. "Are you all right?"

Lupin reddened, and for a moment she thought he might pretend not to have heard. Then, as she took hold of the portrait edge, he nodded at her, acknowledging the question. "Fine," he said, his voice oddly rough. "Just off for a checkup."

"Bit late for that, isn't it? It's almost curfew."

Lupin stepped back, shrugging. "I've got permission to be out," was all he said, calmly, as if that explained anything. Curfew wasn't quite the time to be traipsing off to the school nurse, especially when he could probably have gone right after supper. "I'll be all right."

"Good," Lily said, feeling awkward. She couldn't help but think that this was a conversation he'd had before, only with people that had a real stake in whether or not he was all right. "Good luck making it down there, then."

Then, as he began to walk off, she remembered the Ravenclaw boys she'd passed by the stairs, the ones that had gone oddly quiet as she went by. Lily didn't know why they'd been hanging around there, or why they'd let her pass without any trouble, but she clearly remembered how old they were, and how many. They'd been old enough to be prefects, and therefore old enough to act like they were prefects even if they weren't, just to be annoying.

"Hey," Lily called out, after Lupin. "You might want to go to the hospital wing another way, if you know one."

"What?" Lupin paused, turning to face her. "Why?"

Lily bit her lip, feeling even more awkward about warning him like this. "Older boys by the stairwell," she made herself say, to get it over with. "You know how they can get, if you're alone."

"No I don't," Lupin said, giving her a confused look. "What house are they, anyway?"

"Ravenclaw," Lily said, also confused. "Does it really make a difference?"

"Well, yeah," Lupin said, pointedly. "Ravenclaw entrance is on our floor, you know. They could just have been hanging around near the entrance."

"Oh," Lily said, flushing. "Never mind, then."

"Tell me something," Lupin said, coming closer, a curious look on his face. "What did they do as you went by, that you thought was worth warning me for?"

"They were too quiet?" Lily shrugged defensively, all too aware that that sounded like nothing. "I don't know, they gave me a weird feeling, is all."

"They didn't laugh at you, they didn't say anything—"

"Like I said," Lily repeated, "they were quiet. Have you seriously never been weirded out by silence before?"

"So," Lupin said, crossing his arms, "they weirded you out without saying anything, enough to warn me about?"

"Yes," Lily said, firmly. "Your point being?"

"It just strikes me as a bit odd, really. You're happy to make snap judgements about those Ravenclaws based on them not saying anything," Lupin said pointedly, "but the moment anyone makes the same sort of judgement about Slytherins, all bets are off."

"Snap judgements?" Lily said, incredulously. "Is that what you call shoving my friend around because he came to talk to me? Because I really don't remember saying anything about the stupid things your friends said about Slytherins till you started pushing people around."

"I didn't push anyone—"

"But you stood by and watched it happen," Lily said, cutting over him. "Yet you have the guts to stand here lecturing me when I happen to notice what house the creepy older boys by the stairwell are in."

Lupin had gone an odd, blotchy shade of pink. "I wasn't trying to lecture you," he said, defensively. "I only wanted to say—"

"That I'm a hypocrite? Go ahead," Lily said, coolly. "Not like I can't call you one right back, is it?"

Lupin gave a her a frustrated, guilty little look. "Forget it," he muttered, turning away. "Forget I said anything."

Lily rolled her eyes. "Hypocrite," she said under her breath, climbing through the portrait. "What an idiot." He'd been the one to ask which house the older boys were in, the one to point out how that information was important in that case. And then he'd tried to turn it back on her like she was the one being unreasonable, like she was the one with double standards.

That said, Lily could see why Lupin had brought the house issue up, why he'd asked about it to begin with. She wondered, now, if she would have been quite as concerned about the older boys' presence if she'd known that they weren't completely out of place, hanging about outside the stairwell. But she couldn't see how that made her a hypocrite for being upset when Severus was teased by the Gryffindors.

As she made her way up to her dorm, Lily thought about the last two days, trying to tally up each incident, to see when she might have been a hypocrite. The only time that really stood out to her was the moment earlier on today, after the flying lesson, when Severus had mocked Jemima. Perhaps that was what Lupin had been thinking of, when he talked about 'snap judgements'; perhaps, Lily thought guiltily, perhaps I mistook what he meant.

But she also remembered the aftermath, remembered how bad she'd felt for Jemima, how she hadn't even shown up till the conversation with the Slytherins was well underway. Considering everything else that had happened, before and after the thing with Jemima, Lily didn't think it fair to have it hinted that she was a hypocrite. What had she been supposed to do just then, anyway, grovel? Apologize for behavior that hadn't been half as mean as what Potter and the others had been subjecting her to?

No, Lily thought, climbing into bed. Her dorm mates were nowhere to be found— probably down in the crowded common room, gossiping about how awful she'd been so far. She hadn't apologized then, and certainly wouldn't now. The next time Lupin came up and tried to judge her, she'd simply ask him where her mum's letter was, and sodding well ignore him if he couldn't answer.

Chapter Text

On Saturday, Lily found the library after an hour of wandering the halls, listening to the quiet patter of the rain against the castle's thick walls. On Sunday, she ran into Severus there, lounging around a table with his friends.

"Be nice to him, Thomas," Evan said to her, as Severus lurched to his feet. "I'm sure he's very sorry." The curious, expectant looks Evan and the others were giving Lily made her wonder if they still thought she and Severus were on the outs.

"Yeah," Avery added, his tone not quite serious. "We'd like him back unslapped, please."

"Shut it," Severus said, glaring back at his friends. Lily blushed, rather wishing that she hadn't ended yet another scene with Potter with a slap. People tended to remember that sort of thing, and be unpleasant about it. "Ignore them," Severus said, once he was close enough. "They're being idiots."

"Are they really?" Lily asked, halfway serious. "I feel like I wasted your letter," she said. "All I got to do was slap Potter. Again."

"What happened, anyway? All I saw was how they mobbed you when you tried to walk away."

"I was going to give it over," Lily said, quietly. "Potter was too close— and then Georgie gave him my mum's letter, and I just thought, what if he keeps both of them?"

"And you walked, and they were on you," Severus said, thoughtfully. "You were probably right about them thinking of keeping it."


"Definitely, yeah. I mean, if they were okay with taking it from you like that..." Severus shrugged. "You did your best."

Lily sighed. "I didn't think," she couldn't help but add, because she had thought of it eventually, thought of how things might have gone if she hadn't been so eager to use his letter. "If I'd just thought about it, and waited till it was just me and the girls—"

"You wouldn't have gotten to slap Potter, and make Black look a giant prat," Severus pointed out. When she shrugged, he cleared his throat. "If you want," he said, carefully, "I could write another one."

"What for?" Lily stared at him. "They'd never believe me, trying to do that exchange again—"

"No," Severus said easily, cutting her off. "They'd believe me, though, wouldn't they?"

Lily did not let herself say what she was thinking, a mixture of yes and you idiot and are you mad? She opened her mouth, and found that she couldn't make a tart comment about what sort of treatment he'd get from them, compared to her. She could just see it, just see the scene that would unfold after they took the letter from him— Potter saying something about how Slytherins couldn't be trusted, no doubt.

"It wouldn't work," Lily said, finally. "Or, at least, it would work as well as it did when I tried it. Which is not very well."

"It wouldn't necessarily be the same sort of letter," Severus argued. "It could at least look real at first."


"There are spells for that sort of thing, all right? I could look them up."

"But you've never done them before," Lily pointed out, "and they might not work, and so we'd be left with a really funny fake letter, or a really embarrassing one that everyone in the entire school will think is real." She couldn't bring herself to say the sort of things Potter had, because it was awful enough to remember them, to imagine everyone speculating like that even though she and Severus were only eleven. "Look, I appreciate the offer—"

"Do you?" Severus had gone a little pink in the face, and the expression he wore was somehow scrunched and suspicious. "You don't sound it."

Lily glared at him outright, unable to help herself. "Is that a joke?" she hissed. "Is that a sodding joke?" She rather enjoyed the way the skewed suspicion on Severus' face became alarm so quickly, despite the fact that she could feel his friends' eyes on her now, watching. "Of course I do, you idiot! I'm saying no because I sodding well know what it's like, when everyone else is talking about you, and I'd rather not risk that for a letter from my mum."

Severus was rather red, now, and wouldn't quite look her in the eye. "I know that," he said, defensively, as if he hadn't just been going on like he did not. "I just..." he looked at her then, sheepishly. "It feels like letting them win."

Lily eyed him, not quite certain what to believe. Grumbling about having to give up or retreat was Severus all over, that was true. Grumbling about her not being grateful for him offering to play at being in love with her to get back Mum's letter, when everything about that scheme might go horribly wrong... "You would never live it down," she said, shaking her head. "It wouldn't be remotely worth it, and you know it."

Severus frowned at her. "All right," he said, holding up his hands. "I hear you. Not remotely worth it."

"For you," Lily added, hoping he would get the point, "you great pillock." When she saw his frown ease a little, she decided to go on. "One brilliant letter was enough, all right?"

He rolled his eyes at her, but not very thoroughly. "I still think I could do more," he insisted. "We could definitely do more."

"If you say that one more time, I will slap you," Lily said, sternly. "Really, Severus."

"In front of my friends?"

"Why not?" Lily waved in their general direction. "Look at them; they've all been expecting it."

Severus actually did look at them over his shoulder, scowling their way. "I told them we'd just been faking being angry at each other," he said, his tone perplexed. "They said they believed me, but they keep making these stupid little jokes." He shook his head, turning back to her. "One minute, they're all going on about how we'll be married, and the other, they're all making jokes about me being slapped."

"Like I said," Lily said, again, "not worth it. It's always one or the other, when people think you're too close to someone." She shrugged, careful to keep her expression neutral. "So long as it's just the Gryffindors, and your friends—"

"And the Slytherin girls and their friends," Severus pointed out. "That lot are always talking."

"So long as you don't go trying to convince them like your friends, all they know to talk about is the slap," Lily said, confidently. "Right?"

"Right," Severus said, nodding. "And I suppose you're all right with them talking about the slap?"

"Oh, yeah," Lily said, nodding back. "Anyone that hears about it from them and wants to know what really happened will probably end up talking to me. The boys might not, but the girls definitely will. Whatever they ask, I'll do my best to make Potter look even more of an idiot."

"Fine by me," was the approving answer. "Good luck."

Lily smiled at Severus as he turned away, already thinking of the sort of things she would say to people looking to find out what had really happened. She doubted she would need any luck, for those conversations.

Two days later, Lily was halfway through writing her letters for Mum and Petunia, and not even started with any of the conversations with girls from other houses. Despite the ceaseless rain that kept everyone in, she rarely found the other girls in her year in the library or the empty classes all over the castle, and when she did find anyone, they were on their way somewhere, with only time for a quiet 'hi' and a nod.

Lily began to wonder if she'd misjudged things, if she'd been too confident that anyone would care about the incident with Potter and Black. She began to stop wandering the halls with an eye out for other first year girls, began to wander around with an eye to a quiet spot to read, to finish her essays.

That was easy enough, once she gave up on the library. It was warm in there, and you could always hear the bells or see people leaving when it was time for lunch, but it was also where the Gryffindor boys went. Lily didn't spend a moment in there after seeing Black strolling through the Transfiguration section— as soon as she saw him, she jammed her books in her schoolbag and made her way out, glancing over her shoulder to make sure he hadn't seen her.

He and Potter been horrible to her since the slap, every time they saw her. If she said anything back, she was a harpy; if she stayed silent, she was a coward; if she left, she was being oversensitive, and didn't she know they were only making fun? Lily couldn't do anything about the lessons they shared together, since that was every single one. All she could do was try to eat alone as much as she could, whether by being early to meals or by carrying them off on her own.

She grew resentful of some teachers, the ones that looked askance at her as she left the Hall. Professor Sprout was one of them, a short, squat woman that still fairly towered over Lily when she found her reading by her office door just after lunch.

"Thomas, isn't it?" she said, not waiting for an answer. "No call to be here this early, you know. The greenhouses aren't going anywhere."

"I had a reading to finish, miss," Lily lied, glad that she'd had her Charms textbook open to pass the time. "I just thought I'd wait here while I did it."

"Hmph," was all Sprout said, as she waved her door open. "Come in, then— might as well."

Lily picked up her bag, suppressing the unholy urge to roll her eyes while following the professor into her crowded little office. How teachers like Sprout cared enough to notice the way she slipped out of meals without noticing why— then Lily saw the glass door at the other end of the narrow, plant-filled office, and couldn't help but stare.

"State charms," Professor Sprout said shortly, when she saw what Lily was looking at. "The longest and dreariest things to set up, I'll have you know."

Lily flushed, but couldn't look away from the sheer impossibility of what she was seeing. It was as if the greenhouse was right next door, and if she went a little closer to the door, she could hear the way the rain sounded distant only from there. "State charms?"

Sprout was rifling through a drawer in her desk, and did not look up to answer. "Most of the spell," she said, her voice slightly muffled, "involves convincing an object to be in two places at once. It takes a month and a half, and a lot of shuffling a heavy door back and forth, and some sort of poking about at dimensional fabric." Sprout finally came up with the heavy leather book she'd read their names from in the first class, and the look she gave Lily was rather stern. "Students are not allowed to meddle with the castle's geography without permission, so I do hope you'll be sensible enough not to try."

"No, miss," Lily said, easily, though she couldn't imagine how on earth Sprout thought she would go about doing such a thing. Levitating a feather was one thing; making a door be in two places at once was quite another. As she followed Sprout through the glass door, Lily thought her way through the professor's muddled explanation, and couldn't help but wonder how it had all been managed.

"Gloves on," Sprout said, pointedly. "Or actually, you'll only need one. What's your wand hand?"


"The hand you hold your wand in when you cast," was the impatient answer. "Put your glove on that one, understood?"

Lily did as she was told, flushing again, wondering what on earth was wrong with calling it your main or writing hand, like normal people. Professor Sprout set her to washing a bunch of wriggling little plants in a wide bowl in the center of the room, then putting them into a dirt-filled pan by the side.

"Separate them with your ungloved hand," Sprout had said, brusquely. "Only dip them into the solution with your gloved hand one at a time, then transfer them over." Lily could see why— the plants were wound together so tightly that she had to pry the plants apart with her fingernails, and the dipping solution hissed and reeked around her glove. It was a complicated little dance, and Lily had only just got the hang of doing it at a reasonable pace when the other students began streaming into the greenhouse.

You could tell, as they came in, who was muggleborn among them. None of the Gryffindors gave the door more than a second glance, not even Jemima. But four of the Hufflepuffs let their gazes linger on it as it shut behind them, two of the boys and two of the girls. Lily recognized one of the girls right away— the McDonald girl from Diagon Alley. She didn't quite remember who the second girl was until she went by, looking over her shoulder at the door in a way that Lily suddenly recognized.

It was the timid girl from the boats, the lake ride at the very start of term. Lily now recalled the way the girl had kept looking over at Hagrid, like a nervous bird keeping an eye on a hawk. She was looking back at the door just as carefully, as if she were afraid to be caught.

Lily caught her eye and smiled, feeling silly, wondering if the girl had remembered her as well. She was surprised to get a hesitant smile back, and even more surprised to see the girl change direction, drifting over toward the table nearest to Lily. The Hufflepuff girls tagged along with her without a thought, the two purebloods deep in whispered conversation, the McDonald girl nodding along with them.

They seemed very much a unit, settling into place near that table, making room for each other's bags and getting out their gloves. Lily watched them with growing envy, noting how the Hufflepuff boys settled in a couple of tables down without causing a fuss and laughing loudly like Potter and the others were.

"I'm ever so sorry, Professor," Black was saying now, about the tray of plants he'd knocked over. "I didn't mean—"

"Quiet," Professor Sprout said, sternly. "And put on your gloves, for goodness' sake— those shrivelfigs have been dipped, they could burn off your fingers."

"Professor," Potter said, innocently, "I don't mean to be a bother, but Thomas only has one on." That sent everyone— everyone— looking in Lily's direction, everyone except the professor, who rolled her eyes. "If it's not safe for Sirius—"

"One glove for the people who didn't knock anything over," Sprout said, firmly, "and do not need to pick anything up. I'm quite aware of how Miss
Thomas is wearing her gloves, thank you." She turned away from Potter, her eye on Mary and the other girls. "Wand hand, McKinnon, that's the one."

Lily fidgeted beneath the Hufflepuffs' scrutiny, now regretting how the girls had sat nearby. They were near enough for her to hear them whispering about her, and only catch a word or two of what they said. She didn't know whether to be glad that the girl from the boat was whispering along with them, if very quietly.

"Thomas," Sprout said, from the other end of the greenhouse, "are you finished with your first pan?"

"Not quite, professor," Lily said, pausing her struggle with the current plant so she could look around. "Should I—"

"No, keep going. Once you finish that one, you can just move on to another at any of the other tables." Sprout began to make her way down the middle of the greenhouse, peering closely at how each student was getting on. "You had a head start, so I expect you to be able to finish off a pan and a half. Everyone else, you are required to finish the pan in front of you, and do it properly. Understood?"

"Yes, professor," the others said, shooting looks in Lily's direction. The ones from the Gryffindors were not very sympathetic, and the ones from the Hufflepuffs were more curious than anything. As she worked, Lily couldn't help counting the pans on the tables on either side of her, and sighing when she saw that the only unattended one was right by Georgie.

"Be patient, for goodness' sake," Sprout said, to Pettigrew. "You don't want it torn in half."

By then, Lily was on her last shrivelfig. Once it was done, she took her time picking out an empty pan or pot, something to keep her glove from dripping everywhere while she made the dreaded switch to a new pan. As Lily positioned her chosen pot, she almost didn't feel the careful little tug on her sleeve.

It was the girl from the boat. "There's a free pan over here if you want," she said, gesturing in the Hufflepuff boys' direction with her head. "Down by Fiona."

"Laura," McDonald whispered, warning her, just as Professor Sprout swept by.

"Eyes on your work, Miss Drake," was all the professor said. "You can't be properly careful if you're not looking at your work." Then, when Lily tried to go around her, "Where are you going?"

"Moving to a new pan, miss," Lily said, careful to keep her dripping glove over the empty plant pot she'd borrowed for the purpose. "The pot's closed at the bottom, I made sure to check."

"Hmph." Sprout tilted the pot with a light touch, to check for herself. "Very well." Lily threaded her way round to the promised free pan, which was right smack between the last Hufflepuff girl and the first Hufflepuff boy. "Don't forget your bag at the end of the class, mind."

Lily nodded to that, pretending not to see how measuring the professor's expression was, how obviously the Gryffindors were staring. She simply started on the next shrivelfig, patiently unfurling it from it's neighbor and transferring it to her gloved hand.

"You're good at that," said the girl next to Lily, in a careful little whisper. "Thomas, is it?"

"Lily," Lily said, firmly, determined to get started on the right foot. "And it's only the head start. It really does take going through a pan of these to get used to it."

"I suppose," was the amicable answer. "I'm Fiona, by the way. I hate to ask, but you're not any relation to Selwyn Thomas, are you?"

Lily blinked, nonplussed. That was hardly what she'd been expecting Fiona to ask, after starting with the oh-so-polite I hate to ask. "Not at all," she whispered back. "Why do you ask?"

Fiona went silent for a moment, waiting for Professor Sprout to pass them by. "Do you know Petra Warrington, in Slytherin?"

"Sort of, yeah," Lily whispered back, hoping she didn't sound too eager. She had an idea where this might be going, now, but wasn't completely sure—

"She's been saying things," Fiona said, quietly. "Some rot about Potter stealing your letter..." She gave Lily a quick, apologetic smile. "I thought she was trying to start something, maybe get him in trouble with Selwyn? But you said you're not related, so I suppose that's out."

Lily kept her eyes on her bowl of solution, dipping another plant very carefully. She wasn't sure what to say to that, and she knew she couldn't just come out with what she wanted to, what she was aching to say. I have to be careful, she told herself. I have to do this exactly right. So she gave Fiona a guarded little glance, and said nothing at all.

"I don't suppose you know Petra that well," Fiona went on. "She's never liked James, so I suppose she wouldn't shrink at lying about that sort of thing—"

"Oh?" Lily began on another shrivelfig, working at it slowly. "You're right— I definitely don't know her that well. That said," she looked over her shoulder, to confirm that Sprout was still hovering by Black and Lupin, "well. Potter did take my letter."

Fiona looked at her. "Did he." She shot a look at Sprout as well, then leaned in a bit. "Did he not give it back?"

Lily shrugged. "Last I saw of it was when he tossed it to Black," she said, tiredly. "I couldn't tell you whether he's still got it or not."

"Less chatter, more work," Sprout said, sharply. "Thomas, I'm looking at you."

"Sorry, miss." And Lily didn't say a word after that, though she could hear Fiona fidgeting and sighing on her right. She didn't want to get in trouble for talking in class, and rather thought the gossip would be more interesting to Fiona and her friends if they heard it in small, snatched doses.

The last thing she wanted was to look like the one who wouldn't shut up about it, the one who wouldn't let it go. Never mind that that was the truth; it looked desperate, and Lily knew how damning that could be. Better to keep her mouth shut, and work away, and only answer questions when she was directly asked.

In the end, Lily dipped nearly all of her shrivelfigs, working at the pace she'd fallen into. Whispers went on around her, muffled by the pounding rain, mostly a bunch of half-intelligible complaints about the dreary task. Though Fiona did turn to the other Hufflepuff girls, Lily found it hard to hear what they said without leaning in, and so was forced to be content with nervous silence.

A bell rang softly, almost drowned out by the loud patter of the rain. Sprout stirred from the spot she'd taken by the door, muttering to herself. A ghosty set of numbers appeared before her— three pm. "All right," she said, loudly. "You'll want to leave your used glove on the rim of the bowl. Use the clean one to help you take it off, and be careful." She began to pace the length of the greenhouse again, assisting here and there. "Don't worry about the leftover plants. Potter and I can certainly finish them off tonight."


"You've been careless all lesson," Sprout said, cutting in over his feeble protest. "Pretending to splash someone can go wrong extremely quickly, and you know it." She gave Black and the others a long, narrowed look. "I will not tolerate nonsense going on behind my back, understood?"

And suddenly Lily did understand— this wasn't just about the way Potter and Black had been ribbing each other all lesson. Someone had to have told the professor who had been behind the switched up trays from last lesson, or perhaps she'd been watching them closely, and made a good guess.

"Detention will be at eight," Sprout said firmly, into the awkward hush. "Dismissed, everyone."

Lily went over to the center of the greenhouse to pick up her bag, having stripped off her used glove. Loath as she was to just leave the expensive things there, she remembered how all her potions things had turned up at the foot of her bed after class, though they'd been left in the dungeons. They obviously had a system of returning used things to students, here, and asking after her things would make her look like she didn't know what it was.

"Wait up," Fiona called, after her. "Do you mind if I ask another question?"

"Not at all," Lily said, smiling back at her. "Though you will have to hurry. We've got Charms next, and I don't want to be late." She savored the wary look Georgie gave her as she went back through the glass door, not quite arm-in-arm with Fiona, but close enough. "What do you want to know?"

"Why he took it, for a start," the girl behind them said, hurrying to catch up. "I'm Geraldine, by the way, and that's Winnie, and I think you know Laura already, don't you?"

"Yeah," Lily said, feeling a touch overwhelmed. "It's sort of a long story, and I feel a bit silly about some of it—"

"You shouldn't," Fiona said. "That's the thing about James, honestly. He's all right, but he can be ever so silly."

"And annoying, and thick," Geraldine added, winking at Lily. "Was it really a letter from your mum? Because that's what Elouise said Petra said, and I thought that couldn't be true."

Lily flushed. "It was a letter from my mum," she said, oddly embarrassed to admit it. "I should say this first— he wasn't the one that actually took it from me at first. Georgie—"

"Georgie Hooper?" Fiona asked, giving Geraldine a meaningful look. "Oh dear."

Lily bit her lip. "I'm really giving you the wrong idea," she said, feeling helpless. "She didn't just take it for no reason—"

Geraldine shook her head, cutting her off. "What reason could have made up for that?" But she was already giving Lily a sort of eager, measuring look: "You didn't slap her, did you?"

"Hush," Fiona said firmly, to her friend. She gave Lily an encouraging sort of nudge, as if she had no interest in such wild theories at all. "Ignore her," Fiona said, pointedly. "Go on, you were about to say what made her do it."

Lily wanted nothing so much as to extricate herself from the tight little group, to peel away and make her excuses. She didn't know why she had thought it would be easy to explain anything, not when they all already saw her as some sort of touchy, violent thing. "A friend of mine said something mean to one of the girls after the flying lesson last week," she made herself say, as calmly as possible. "He's a Slytherin, and Georgie wanted me to give her the note he sent me earlier on, so they could read it and, I don't know, be embarrassing."

"And then she took your mum's letter, when you wouldn't?" Geraldine shook her head, open disapproval on her face. "Then she gave it to James?"

"Something like that," Lily muttered, torn between wanting to correct the other girl's assumption and wanting to leave her and the Hufflepuffs with the best impression of how things had gone. "And my friend had to know why I was upset, and then he had to do something about it, and it all got a bit, well, out of control."

"And that was the whole thing," Fiona said, nodding, ignoring the triumphant look Geraldine was giving her. "I see." Lily flushed, well aware of what the other girl had to be thinking— Petra would certainly not have left anything out about the slap or the row.

"How awful," Laura was murmuring, now. "Not the nicest way to end the week."

Lily gave a sharp little shrug. "I'd apologize," she said, "if I thought it would fix anything. Frankly, I doubt they'd be satisfied with anything but me helping them teach him a lesson, and I won't do that." The girls were all nodding a bit now, enough that Lily felt confident enough to add, "Not to a friend."

"Yeah," Geraldine said. Fiona muttered something like, "Exactly." Lily nodded back at them, and found herself fiercely glad she had broken through with the Hufflepuffs, with people who could so obviously understand how hard it was to break with a friend.

Envy bit at her, reminding her that she could have been one of them had the Sorting Hat thought her loyal enough. Lily brushed that thought aside, forcing herself to think of here and now and the immediate future, where she could possibly grow to count on these girls for a place to sit when they shared a lesson or two. "I'd better be off," she said now, backing off, "or I will be late for Charms."

"Good luck," was Geraldine's amiable reply. And, just as Lily turned away, she heard Fiona call out after her— "D'you know the way?"

Lily turned round to reply. "Yes, thanks," was all she had to say, because the boys were well ahead of her and she really had to hurry, but she couldn't help but smile as she did it.

She really had missed having someone who cared if she knew where she was going. It was lovely having that again.

Chapter Text

It was a while before Lily was back on speaking terms with the Gryffindor girls— real speaking, not just small talk to prove them decent, and prove her forgiving. In that time, Lily learned a lot of things.

She learned, for instance, when to pack it in and pretend to forget an insult, when to let everyone tell her it had just been a misunderstanding.

"She didn't mean it," Fiona would often say, for whichever of the Hufflepuffs that needed it. When it was Fiona's turn, all of her friends would say it at once, or nearly so, while she stood back, looking stricken. Lily came to hate those moments, especially when she knew her faults would not be covered in that way, with someone else making her own amends.

It was the one thing Lily liked about Mary and Georgie and Jemima; when push came to shove, they apologized on their own, poorly or no. Lily felt equal among them, not like one of Fiona's little projects. Sometimes, she could almost forget that the former might not have happened without the latter, and that was always nice.

Today was one of those days, a mishmash of a morning that would see Lily at home in the evening, if everything went all right. She was arm-in-arm with Jemima, hustling them both upstairs in search of a magazine Georgie had left behind in their dorm. The common room was packed with people rushing around like them, trying to snatch up or squeeze in one last thing that they had forgotten, as if they were all going away for more than a week or two.

"Calm yourself, Dillon," Frank Longbottom was saying firmly, just behind them. "I'm sure we'll find your toad, he can't have gone far—"

"Ugh," Jemima said, as they waited for the chance to edge around someone's open trunk. "Hope he has lost it."

"Hope it gets squashed," Lily said, chancing a look back in Dillon's direction. He looked red-faced and uncomfortable, the opposite of how he always did when he lay in wait with the other fourth-year boys outside the girls' showers, listening for the pandemonium caused by his annoyingly lively toad. "Strike that, I hope it turns up in his trunk, twice the usual size."

Jemima let out a longing little sigh. "We wish." That was another thing Lily had learned about the way things were at Hogwarts: practical jokes against the upper years were simply Not Done, not even in retaliation. The only girls allowed to respond to Dillon's irritating pranks were in fourth year and above, and they weren't always in the showers when the lower years were.

"Git," Lily murmured, as they finally got onto the stairs. "Won't be missing his lot this Christmas." Even as she said it, she couldn't help but think of the other set of Gryffindor boys she would not miss; Potter and Black and Pettigrew too, and that sodding Lupin. "Won't be missing any of them."

"Yeah," Jemima said, pulling ahead of her. "Be nice to take a shower without looking out for toads." She didn't say anything in particular, but Lily thought she had to be thinking about the boys as well, their lot of boys, as much as they could be called that. They spread their own brand of misery around fairly equally these days, and Jem had got the brunt of it today down at breakfast.

"Buck up," Potter had said, after calling Jem a hag, and making out the rest of the girls to be a set of horsefaced pigs. "I'm only making fun."

He'd looked around at Lily, too, including her in the usual cover-up with an ease that jarred her. Back near the start of term, she had not had the luxury of them pretending they didn't mean the things they'd said about why she was talking with the Hufflepuffs.

Eventually, she'd given up on waiting for them to be embarrassed enough to return her letter, given up and finished her reply, and worked up the courage to try and send it. Black had met her in the Owlery, and proceeded to make fun of her on her way back, laughing at her every move.

Lily simply didn't speak to them now, not unless she needed to, not unless a teacher was there and looking on. At first, it had felt like she had lost, like all her defiance had been for nothing. Then Potter or Black would say something really horrible, and try to pass it off as a joke, and she'd catch the resentful expression on Mary's face, before she hid it away. Or, instead, Jemima would look her way, would send her a rueful little glance that said, I know.

"Fudge," Jemima was muttering now, tugging at the handle of the door to their dormitory. "Almost like it's locked."

"It's never locked," Lily said, shaking off the memory of that morning, that heartening little look. "Well, maybe over the holidays, but it's not like they've really begun." Lily took out her wand, flicking out an impatient Tempus. "Carriages won't be going out just yet."

"They'd better not," Jemima said, frowning at the dorm door. "Sod Georgie," she said, tugging at the handle again. "If this makes us miss the train, I swear..."

Lily watched her at it for a moment, wondering if a quick Alohomora was what was needed. She didn't know how things went here on the holidays, and had just begun to feel silly for insisting the door was unlocked when a hard twist on Jemima's part forced it open. "There," Lily murmured. "I was starting to wonder."

Jemima went in, heading straight for the cupboard by Georgie's bed. "I'll just be a minute," she said, unnecessarily, flicking back the curtains around the bed. "She said it was— there." She fished out a folded magazine from under a pillow, sighing in relief. "Got it."

"Good," Lily said, leaning back against the door. It was oddly drafty in that spot, enough that she began to edge in the direction of the low-burning fire in the hearth nearby. "Is it the right one?"

"Think so, yeah," Jemima said, paging through it as she came back toward the door. "Almost wish it wasn't, so I could tell her off."

Lily shrugged, not agreeing, but not quite disagreeing either. Georgie was the only one of them that really seemed to believe Potter when he said he was only making fun, and it could be quite tiresome having to deal with that. "Oh well," Lily said, giving the dorm one last look. "We'd better go."

The envelope didn't quite catch her eye until Jemima looked down, frowning at the dirty scrap on Mary's bedside cupboard. "What's this?" Jemima said, pausing and blocking her view of the dirty envelope without meaning to. "Hey, it's got your name on—"

"Let me see," Lily said, half suspecting that she knew what it was, half embarrassed for suspecting anything at all. She took the envelope without a fuss— Jem yielded it easily, not one for holding tight to anything that filthy.

"Not even your last name," she was saying now, scanning the largely blank back of the envelope over Lily's shoulder. "Well?"

"Well, what?"

"You're not going to open it?" Jemima backed off a step, leaning back against Lily's bed. "Not that you have to open anything that unsanitary."

Lily didn't want to open the envelope, didn't want to look inside and see the letter she'd worked and worked to get back, sitting in there like it had always been there after all. She made herself do it anyway, slitting open the rich parchment envelope and peeking inside. "Oh."

"Oh, what?"

Jemima, bless her, wasn't craning her neck at quite the right angle that would let her see the ragged Muggle paper, the easy slant of Mum's handwriting. "Nothing," Lily said, closing the envelope. She set it back on top of the cupboard, thinking furiously, wondering exactly how it had gotten there. "Nothing that can't wait."

"Really?" Jemima said, her tone broadly skeptical. "Is it..." She faltered, then recovered her voice. "Is it not from Severus?"

"What?" It took Lily a moment to parse the question, to firmly shake her head. "No, it's not, it couldn't be—" and then she saw the way Jemima was already masking her disbelief, and found that she wanted to convince her. "Jem, he can't get in here. And if he sent it by owl—"

"It would have found you," Jemima finished for her, getting up from her awkward perch on Mary's bed. "I know."

Lily could not help glaring down at the envelope, wishing that the person that had brought it was here to hand, well within the reach of a hot, hard slap. What did they mean by returning it so late, so obscenely long after she'd given up on it?

Jemima was heading for the dormitory door, as if the question of the envelope was sorted, was solved. Lily remembered how irked she'd been when the other girl had seemed to take the apology for Severus' mean comment in stride. She hadn't really understood Jemima then, had thought her a poor shadow of Lupin, another bystander who would rather look away than get involved.

"Coming?" Jemima didn't look back as she opened the door, even though she'd paused with her hand on the knob, and was obviously waiting for Lily's reply.

Lily stood there, unable to do anything but think of how Jemima had apologized as well, even though she hadn't been the one to say or do the worst things. She'd probably apologize for this if Lily gave her a chance, if she ever brought it up again.

"Lily?" Jem was worried, now, enough to risk an anxious look back. "Are you coming?"

Lily went to Mary's bed, and sat down. "In a bit," she mumbled, feeling disjointed and wrong, jittery with anticipation. "The letter's from my mum," she added, quickly, trying to get the admission over with. "Not from Severus."

It took Jemima a second or two to put two and two together. "That letter?"

Lily nodded. She was angry now, quite furious, because Jem looked guilty and concerned and Lily didn't want it to have been any of the girls that had returned it.

"You probably won't believe me," Jem said, bravely, letting go of the doorknob, "but I know it wasn't Georgie. I know it."

"Do you?" Lily glared at her, a necessary exchange for keeping her tone polite. "Don't you think you should clear yourself first, before haring off after Georgie?"

Jemima ignored her. "She can be stupid sometimes," she admitted. "I mean, my magazine..." she trailed off, wincing at the look Lily gave her. "But not that stupid, I swear." Jemima inched her way closer, to the foot of Mary's bed. "She tried to get the boys to give it back, all right? James told her that they'd lost it."

Lily did not like how those words were taking hold, how they were filling her with unwonted relief. "A likely sodding story," she made herself mutter. "Did they really say that?"

Jemima wound her hand in one of the curtains, a rueful smile on her face. "Why'd you think she got so nice, all of a sudden?" Jemima shrugged gently, her smile diminishing. "She knew you wouldn't believe that."

"As if anyone that knew them would," Lily said, bitterly. "Lost it, indeed! Did you know," and here, she couldn't help but turn toward Jemima, "do you remember when I went to the Owlery that first time, alone? Black was there, and he made fun of me."

"That's awful," was the apologetic answer, "and no, I didn't know. But I can definitely imagine it. He's very..."

"Cruel," Lily supplied. "I'd probably have believed you lot about Slytherins, if he had been one of them."

"Even with Severus there?"

"Probably," Lily said, a bit reluctantly. "He might have had a harder time, with Black there in the thick of things, teasing about everything." She wasn't positive, but had an inkling that he might be having a hard time now, even with how closely knit the Slytherin boys seemed. "I really don't know what Potter sees in him."

"Or what Georgie sees in Potter," Jemima mused, giving her a thoughtful look. "Well, I don't know about Potter's end, but Georgie's easy."

"Is she?" Then Lily thought of how Georgie was always the one teasing her about her supposed relationship with Severus, and made a startling new connection. "You don' don't think she fancies him?"

"I do," Jemima said, ruefully. "I think she likes that you can sort of win him, if he's in the right mood. If, you know, you're funny enough."

As much as Lily wanted to scoff at the idea of that, she had already seen it in play, at Halloween, when everyone had gotten masks on their plates at dinner. In the common room, there'd been an impromptu game of charades, one that had descended into people trotting out their best impressions of the teachers, or of the other students.

Black had been the center of that, in the lower years' corner. He'd had the third year girls shrieking at his pitch-perfect, well-accented send-up of Madame Lissane, and yet the only laugh that made him grin was Potter's. The fact that Potter would and often did laugh at all sorts of things did not seem to lessen Black's need to entertain him, or Pettigrew's, or Lupin's. Lily did not like it, but she could picture Georgie as having fallen prey to that.

"Even though he's an idiot," she said now, looking at the envelope, "and sometimes a right bully."

It startled her when Jemima smiled, and the look in her eyes took on a certain edge. "Couldn't you say the same sort of thing about Severus?"

"Jem," Lily said, flushing, unable to say no. "That's different, you know how he is." Jemima nodded, slowly, but Lily felt compelled to go on. "He's nothing like Potter," she said, stoutly. "Hardly got a following or anything, has he?" She regretted that last even as she said it; Severus hadn't needed a following to ridicule Jemima, hadn't needed anything but timing and the correct expression. "I don't fancy him," Lily ended up insisting, since that was the only truthful thing she could say. "I really, really don't."

"I know," Jemima said, calmly, in a way that made Lily wonder if hanging on his better insults was worse. "We'd better be off."

"Yeah," Lily said, getting up. "Yeah." She'd felt guilty back then, for wanting to laugh, and felt guilty now, thinking of the way she liked to send him the insults she couldn't quite carry off. He had a way of speaking that made even an innocent question a weapon, and there was nothing like hearing him at it on the days that she really wanted to see Potter hurt.

She wondered how it must have felt, to be on the other end of that. To stop herself from wondering, Lily picked up the envelope. "I suppose you're right," she said, to Jemima. "I suppose it wasn't Georgie."

"Do I have to clear Mary as well? Or clear me?" Lily rolled her eyes at that, and was satisfied to see Jemima smile. "Only if you're sure."

Lily let out an exaggerated sigh. "I'm sure," she said, sarcastically, to Jemima's back. "I'm positive."

"It does make me wonder," Jem said, as she opened the door. "You know, who did leave the letter, since we know Georgie didn't."

"Yeah, well," Lily said, carefully, "I think it might have been Potter, but I don't rightly know how he would have managed it."

"Oh?" Jemima gave her an encouraging look. "Does anyone else?"

Lily found herself flushing again, and gave herself a little shake. You don't actually fancy him, she told herself, fiercely. That's just what she thinks. "Severus would say he did it with a broom, and maybe an invisibility charm, or cloak. I think that's a bit much, really— a broom, well, he could borrow that, but an invisibility charm? At eleven?"

"Or a cloak," Jemima said, thoughtfully. When Lily gave her an incredulous look, she shook her head. "He's a Potter," she said, in much the same way Severus had. "You'd be surprised at the sort of thing rich wizards give as gifts."

"Oh," Lily said, oddly struck by how close Jemima's opinion was to what Severus had gone on to say. He'd had a bit more of a rant, substituting 'rich idiots' instead of 'rich wizards', but it had been much the same. "That's rather terrifying."

Jemima let out a rueful little laugh. "It is, isn't it?" She bumped Lily's arm with hers, and when they'd climbed out of the portrait, she did it again. "Do share," she said, quietly, "if you ever find a way of blocking him out."

Lily nodded, feeling almost dazed, and wondered what Severus would say in the garden, when she finally told him about this. He would be jealous— he hadn't hidden it well, when she'd taken up with the Hufflepuffs— but she knew he would come round to being glad for her, and glad to have another ally in the war against Potter.

He would be glad, eventually, that she had made another friend. And Lily would have all of Christmas break to make sure of it, hours and hours of time to talk about everything that had happened. She'd been looking forward to that, to time away from school, to time with Petunia and time with her parents.

Now, looking at Jemima, Lily rather thought she could look forward to coming back.