Author: flybbfly PM
Summary: The first war with Lord Voldemort is constantly getting worse; people are dying left and right, dementors are attacking people on the Death Eaters' orders, and nobody knows who is trustworthy anymore. Lily Evans, in her seventh year at Howarts, does not want to be a part of the war - but some things are unavoidable. Book 7 disregarded.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Lily Evans P. & James P. - Chapters: 35 - Words: 146,248 - Reviews: 42 - Favs: 23 - Follows: 31 - Updated: 10-23-12 - Published: 07-03-12 - id: 8282006
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
None of us were surprised when our professors seemed to have reinforced the notion that the upcoming N.E.W.T.s were the most important exams we'd ever take and began assigning us insane amounts of homework every night, but it was something of a hassle.
"Blimey, as if I need this class," Sirius whispered from beside me in History of Magic one Monday morning. "Who even needs a History N.E.W.T. for their jobs..."
"I do," Marlene replied. "As does anyone who wants to do anything at all related to law or diplomacy."
"It makes perfect sense. You're just bitter because you're lazy."
"Homework," Professor Binns drawled from his usual spot hovering several inches above his desk, "will be two rolls of parchment on the war tactics of any three wizarding war leaders...I recommend Wizarding Wars and Horrible Holocausts for your research..."
"Too soon for awful alliteration," Remus whispered across the desk, and I had to contain my laughter.
"Due in three weeks, along with the other two on half-breed discrimination and important technological advancements in the Wizarding World. I'll see you all next week."
"Merlin," Sirius said as we left the classroom. "Six rolls of parchment in two weeks? You'd think that was an important class..."
"I still don't know why you convinced us to take it," James said. "It's absolutely unnecessary in every way..."
Sirius blushed a little and Marlene grinned, poking him in the ribs. "He took it because Ihad to take it, didn't you?"
"And dragged us with him."
"We're a package deal!" Sirius said.
"We should have said no. I should have put my foot down, but no, Moony said I should indulge you because he always makes up our schedules and it'd be good to have someone else do it for a change..."
"Let's go find the first years," I said to Remus. "We'll meet you up for dinner in a bit..."
Remus and I headed for Transfiguration, where, sure enough, a group of wide-eyed first years, including the one we'd met the other night, were waiting for us.
"Why are you taking History of Magic?" Remus asked.
"Well, I had an empty slot at that time, and I sort of wanted to go into law for a bit, too...then I thought maybe journalism...or I could be an Auror...but now mostly I think I'd just like to do potion development."
"Yeah, that'd suit you. Medicinal?"
"Maybe. Caradoc Dearborn said he might be able to get me an apprenticeship with his mum...Blimey, do they have Aurors at the end of every corridor?" I added as we passed one.
"Only the high traffic ones...I think the rest are just security wizards or trainees."
"How'd Dumbledore manage that?"
"I think he probably pulled some strings or threatened some people," Remus said. "But, no, potions development...That'd be great. You'd be brilliant at it."
"What about you?"
"I-" Remus looked away. "I dunno. It's not-it's not easy for-for people like me to find jobs."
"Oh," I said. "Right."
Filch glared at us as we passed him, mumbling something under his breath about "dirty children" who should learn how to "clean the soles of their shoes."
"Look on the bright side," I said. "Once Filch croaks, you could always ask Dumbledore for his job..."
Remus laughed. "Is that a bright side, even? Should we be paying more attention to the kids?"
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to walk backwards or something..."
"Knowing you, it would hurt."
"That's cruel. I'll have you know I am the epitome of grace."
"Er, right. How many times have you been in the Hospital Wing this year?"
"Hey, those weren't all my fault!"
"Didn't you slip on some owl droppings and sprain your ankle?"
"That was Alice. I broke my wrist trying to escape James that same day..."
Remus snorted. "Right. I'd forgotten. All right...first years, we have arrived!"
He gestured to the Great Hall, and at least two of the first years rolled their eyes.
"We know," said one toward the front. "We're not new, you know."
"Could've fooled me," Remus mumbled as the first years milled into the Great Hall in front of us. "Ah, well...can't have them all be brilliant mini-Marauders like Wood here..." He ruffled the first year in question's hair; the first year-the same one from the night we'd returned-beamed at him.
"Library," said Remus after dinner, and I nodded in agreement.
"We need to get that book for Binns' essay before anyone else does."
The lot of us headed to the library, Emmeline and Dorcas in tow even though neither took History of Magic.
"D'you want to study here?" Remus asked, craning his neck in search of an empty table.
"Nah, too many Ravenclaws," Sirius said with disdain, and he was right: nearly every table was surrounded by too many chairs, in which sat almost exclusively blue-tied students. "Let's just get our books and leave..."
"No surprise there," Alice said. "Mind you, I'm surprised you haven't burst into flames just at being in here, Sirius..."
"I know, I keep expecting to walk too far in and have Rowena Ravenclaw's ghost herself descend upon me..."
"What was that book Binns wanted us to get? Wizarding something and...Horrible Hair?"
"Holocausts," I corrected. "Here, it should be just over-here."
But there was only one left on the shelf; the seven of us looked at each other.
"Scissors paper stone," said Sirius.
"Duel," said James.
"Race," said Marlene.
"I'm thinking of a number," said Emmeline, and in the end it was decided that this would, in fact, be the deciding factor in our dilemma.
Unsurprisingly, my guess of "Nine," came in second to last, beating out only James's of "Ten."
"Two," Emmeline said. "So that means-Sirius, Alice, Marly, Remus, Peter, Lily, James. Here you are."
She presented the book to Sirius, who frowned at it. "You mean I've got to write that essay soon? Bollocks..."
The librarian glared at us from across the room, and several nearby Ravenclaws were doing the same.
"Prigs, the lot of them," Sirius said, practically marching toward the door. "Blimey..."
And so it went: each day, I'd go to class, escort the younger students to their classes, have dinner, study, and patrol. I had barely enough time to eat two meals a day-I'd started skipping my lunches to practice spells with Alice-and sleep six hours a night, let alone give any more thought to the case of the mysterious attacked Muggle-borns or my relationship with James. It seemed almost like a blessing in disguise, our estrangement, as it greatly benefitted both my amount of free time and, surprisingly enough, my sleeping patterns: there were no more late nights snogging or groping each other, and that time was devoted now to sleep and homework.
And yet their names circulated through my head, still, like a drone behind all the other thoughts: Brocklehurst. Murphy. Fenwick. Any time I stopped studying or patrolling or talking for even a second, the question of their connection returned-in the shower, in the loo, in History of Magic while I doodled glasses and stars and dogs into the corners of my notes.
It was not until two weeks after our return to Hogwarts that anything resembling news of the Muggle-borns' attacks showed up in the Daily Prophet. The headline read, "You-Know-Who's Demands of Dumbledore," and below it was a much too short article, nearly eclipsed by a portrait of Dumbledore shaking his head sadly at the camera.
"What is it?" James said, noticing me drop my paper into my porridge.
"Have you seen this yet? Listen..."
"Though the Daily Prophet has no record of recent threats made to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the so-called Dark Lord's statement seems clear," I read. "'Only the purest of blood or you will see my worst,' can only be translated one way... For Merlin's sake, do they think their readership are completely thick? Journalism at its best, this."
"Don't tell me it's the journalism that's got you all riled up," Sirius said, grinning, a little half-heartedly. "Does it say anything else about Hogwarts?"
I skimmed the article. "No...well, it does say that Dumbledore refused to give a statement, and that the Minister of Magic dismissed the matter entirely as ramblings of a madman..."
"A madman who's killed hundreds," Alice said darkly. "If there's one madman whose threats I wouldn't ignore, it's that one's."
"So you'd stop accepting Muggle-borns, then?" I said, raising an eyebrow incredulously.
"Don't be stupid, of course not. I'd just-arm the school, I suppose."
"But that's what Dumbledore's been doing, though," I said. "That's what the Aurors are here for...that's what we're here for..."
"Keep your voice down," Remus said.
"Still," I said. "Voldemort can't possibly think Dumbledore would listen to this...Dumbledore doesn't answer to threats."
"But they're not just threats," Marly said. "He did have Muggle-borns attacked."
"Still...Dumbledore would never..."
"Sure, Dumbledore wouldn't," James said, frowning slightly and looking toward the staff table as if for answers.
"What d'you mean?"
"I...dunno." He kissed me on the cheek and stood. "Come on, then, time to escort some first years..."
It was not until lunch that I had time to process any of the information in the Prophet; Alice was sneaking off to see Frank, who was stationed at the school this week, and I was left to my own devices. I could have actually eaten lunch, but I had a stash of pasties from the kitchens and a barely touched box of Honeydukes' best in my room and thought it might be best to get a head start on McGonagall's most recent Transfiguration essay.
The private common room was empty when I first entered it and walked into my bedroom, but when I left-mainly to find a more comfortable place to sit, as my spot on my bed was starting to hurt my back (and this was my strongest indication that I was indeed becoming an adult)-I found that it no longer was.
"Sirius?" I said, and the figure stretched over the couch shifted and looked at me.
"Lily," he said, rubbing his eyes absently. "Morning..."
"How long have you been here?"
"I...dunno. A few minutes, maybe. What time is it?"
"Half past noon. What are you doing here?"
"Wormtail's in the Hospital Wing...he's got flu or something. And Moony's got a girl over, so I'm giving them their privacy...which is why I'm here."
"I dunno where he is, actually...I think he may have said something about Quidditch tactics or something...bit of a nutter, that one."
"Ah indeed," he said, then, noticing my armful of pasties, cried, "You've got food!"
I offered him one and sat down across from him, setting down my box of chocolate and cracking open my Transfiguration book.
"Blimey, Evans, wasn't that box of chocolates nearly full this weekend?"
"Yeah, it's...been a long week."
"Listen, Sirius...a few months ago, when I was in the Hospital Wing, I saw...I saw Regulus."
Sirius's expression darkened immediately. "So?"
"He...Well, Dumbledore said he was being used as a sort of...diversion."
Sirius leaned forward, putting his head in his hands and sighing. "And he was probably involved in these, too..."
I nodded. "Exactly."
Sirius sighed again, not looking up at me.
"Are you...all right?"
Sirius looked up at me finally. "It's just-we used to be so close," he said, looking away again, at the fire, as though embarrassed. "Like-like best friends. And he was clever, but he's always been-I dunno-easily influenced. By our parents first, and then by Mulciber and Avery, and I guess now by Voldemort...and I know he's a right git now, and probably a little evil, but you have to know he used to be a sweet kid who was sweet to our house elves when our mum made them punish themselves."
"That's what my sister and I were like."
"I know," he said. "Have you spoken to her at all-since-"
He was referring, I was sure, to the letter Petunia had sent me months ago disowning me immediately after our father's death. I sighed. "No." I stared at the table I'd accidentally set on fire then; Sirius was eyeing it almost threateningly. "I do miss her," I said.
He looked at me again. "But there's nothing you can do about that now, is there." He said it like a statement, flat and deadpan, not like a question.
"No," I agreed. "But she's not-the person I miss isn't the same Petunia that exists now. She's-a part of history, I suppose. Even if she wanted to see me, she wouldn't be the Petunia I played with when we were kids."
"You're right," Sirius said, sounding almost defeated, but grinning and reaching for my chocolate instead. "Better lay off the Honeydukes, Evans...wouldn't want to lose your 'best legs' award."
"When did I win that?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Sometime around fourth year," he replied. "I won't tell you what the rest of your friends got, you'll think we're all misogynists."
"Indeed." He popped another chocolate into his mouth, then looked at me thoughtfully, head tilted to the side and mouth curving downward. "Why did you say no to Prongs?"
I exhaled through my teeth. "I knew that was coming."
"Course you did."
"I guess-for the same reason I refused to be with him in the first place. I just-it's obvious that the war, and Voldemort, are messing with our emotions, right? And I don't think-I know what I feel for James is real, but the war-it has to end sometime. And I'm just worried that-that we won't feel the same once there's-peace, I guess, and-I don't know. I just don't want to feel like I'm getting married just to defy Voldemort, or as a way to-to get all the important milestones of life out of the way so I'm all...set up to die. And my parents didn't married until they were in their mid-twenties...Muggles don't usually get married until after university, you see, and university starts after secondary school, which is-"
"I know what the Muggle school system is like," Sirius interrupted. "I took Muggle Studies, you know."
"Yeah, third year, it was awful, but that's not the point. The point is-you can't let fear of Voldemort influence your relationships to that extent."
"But fear of Voldemort-and the desire to stop him-has taken over most of my life. I used to want to be a lawyer, Sirius, and now all I want to do is stop the prick." But eventhat wasn't even really it, I thought, and ran a hand through my hair absently before stopping myself.
Sirius stared at me for so long I started to feel uncomfortable. "Fine," he said. "But why are you telling me this when it's Prongs that needs to hear it?"
He stared at me for another long moment. "Blimey, you two are both so bloody stubborn." He stood and stretched. "Come on, we've got Defense...let's see if Saggese's decided to be on edge or normal today..."
"I've got to escort first years..."
"I think you might be late...better hope Moony can handle a bunch of tetchy eleven year olds."
"Blimey, they are tetchy, aren't they? I swear we weren't that bad when we were eleven...well, maybe you were..."
He slung his bag over his shoulder and held the portrait hole open for me. "I'll have you know I was an extremely well-behaved first year at least seven percent of the time...and, really, you can't ask much more than that from a clever and hilarious eleven year old."
"Do you ever get sick of being so arrogant?"
"Nope. Do you ever get sick of being such a prig?"
"Nope. Shall I bother trying to find Remus, or should I just go to Defense?"
"We'll see them on the way," he said, and sure enough, we did run into the group of first years as they made their way to Charms.
"Hello, Lily. Fancy seeing you here," Remus said, raising an eyebrow but smirking good-naturedly.
"Sorry," I said. "I got-distracted."
Remus glanced at Sirius, frowning a little, and there was a split second where Sirius's betrayal of Remus seemed to hang heavy in the air between them, and I sort of wondered how I'd never noticed it, before Sirius rolled his eyes. "Relax, we were just talking...honestly, Moony, it's like you don't trust me..."
"With your track record, I probably shouldn't, especially with a girl alone in a room. Or notalone, depending on your level of inebriation."
Sirius stuck his tongue out, and the moment passed.
Their names rotated through my head again that night, as if there was some invisible line connecting them. There had to be something, I thought, some reason that these three Muggle-borns and not others had been chosen...perhaps they knew about Benjy's involvement with the Order, or perhaps they simply hated prefects...but that didn't make any sense...But why these three? Why-and this, undoubtedly, was the reason for my torment-why were they the three chosen to be attacked and sent to the Hospital Wing and not me? But that was silly, of course...I hadn't even been at the school...which brought me to the other question I kept asking myself: why attack when they did?
And thus I lulled myself into what seemed like the fiftieth straight night of fitful sleep.
"Evans. Hey. Evans."
I opened my eyes; Sirius was poking me in the ribs later that night with his wand, his face gaunt, terrified. "Evans."
"Evans, come quickly...come quickly...hurry..."
"What is it?"
"Just come..." He grabbed my hand and pulled.
"Is it James?"
"Evans, please-there's no time..."
But as I followed him out of the girls' dormitory, something changed; the world around us seemed to dissolve, and Sirius's face became his brother's, the same but completely different, a pointier chin, paler eyes, shorter hair...
"Regulus," Regulus corrected, still dragging me along by the hand.
"Where are you taking me?" I asked, realizing suddenly that I was powerless to stop.
"What do you know about Petunia?"
"Why did you attack the Muggle-borns?"
"Don't you want to see Vernon marry Petunia?"
"What's going on?"
But even as he pulled me through Muggle London, the world changed around us again; now, the man pulling me was Snape, his grip around my hand vice-like as he dragged me toward a hooded figure that turned on us, its eyes like red slits burning straight through me. I screamed; the figure laughed; there was a flash of red light, and then-
I was awake. In my bed, in the Head Girl's dormitory, at Hogwarts, alone. My heart was pounding against my ribcage, and my breath was heavy and shaky. I lay there momentarily, staring at the ceiling, before immediately rushing to the toilet and dry heaving into it for what seemed like hours.
I turned to the opposite door, which, in my haste, I hadn't bothered to lock. It was, of course, James.
"Hi," I said weakly, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand before straightening and flushing the toilet.
"Is everything all right?"
I nodded, though suddenly I rather missed the comfort of sleeping while curled against him.
"Are you sick?"
The image of Voldemort flashed through my mind, and I found that I rather wanted to cry. Instead I rinsed my mouth and spit into the sink, stared at my reflection in the mirror. James was still standing in the doorway.
"I'm fine," I said. "I just-I had a dream."
"Do you want me to take you the Hospital Wing?"
"No, I'm all right."
"What was your dream about?"
"I don't remember-Voldemort, I think...and Sirius...Petunia..."
"You dreamt about Sirius?" His voice sounded just a little higher than usual.
"Or maybe...maybe it was Regulus..."
James was watching me with a curious expression on his face; he walked toward me and hesitated for a second before wrapping his arms around me, curling his fingers in my hair. "I miss you," he said, voice still thick with sleep.
"I miss you too," I replied against his chest, and for a moment it was like it had been before, and he smelled like pineapples and sweat and James and-
And he pulled away suddenly, ran a hand through his hair, looked almost tortured. "Merlin, Lil..." He sighed. "I'm going back to bed."
It was late enough-and I unsettled enough-that I knew there was no way I was going to get back to sleep, and yet I didn't even attempt to study. Instead, I lay in bed, playing with the hem of my shirt and feeling quite badly like I wanted to cry.
The Muggle-borns who'd been attacked knew nothing of their attackers, as I discovered over the next few days once they'd all woken up.
"I wish I could remember, Lily," Andrew said when I went to visit him in the Hospital Wing (rather comically attempting to conceal a cigarette. "My mate Danny's asthmatic and Pomfrey says they'll kill me," he said apologetically). "It's all...shadowy, you know? Last thing I remember's going to have lunch the day before I was attacked."
"I don't supposed you noticed any Slytherins lurking while you were eating said lunch," I said dully.
Andrew laughed. "Nope. Sorry."
"How are you laughing? You've just been attacked...I would probably be hiding under a bed somewhere hoping to never see another Slytherin again..."
"I can't even remember feeling hurt," Andrew said. "Way I see it, I got to take a two week vacation."
I stared at him. "Bloody Hufflepuffs."
Jane was no more helpful. "Why d'you want to know, anyway?" she asked suspiciously. "Not going to have Potter take care of them, are you?"
"Course not," I said, sighing. "It's just-Dumbledore and McGonagall asked me to try and figure it out so they'd know who to punish. Because I'm-er-Head Girl."
Jane rolled her eyes. "I've already told them I don't remember a thing...all I know is my leg hurts and Pomfrey says she's already given me too much pain potion."
"Sorry," I said, not feeling it. "Feel better."
And Benjy, each time I went to visit the Hospital Wing, was sleeping, often with Kevin Abercrombie or Nora Daniels visiting, but I was sure that he, like the others, would prove to know nothing at all.
It was an awful sort of monotony, worse than the type associated with relationships when they grew old and boring or even school when it was unassociated with things like the Order and Voldemort. It was the type of monotony that came with the failure to figure out who had tried to kill students and who could still be trying to kill students, the type of monotony that came with a relationship that seemed to be falling apart, the type that came along with a set of friends who were nearly all practicing Quidditch nearly all the time or consummating (and re-consummating) their marriages or new relationships, the type that made me almost wish for a deadly struggle with some Death Eaters, if only to have a dash of excitement beyond assigning a detention or two to a student out of bed at night.
It was a monotony that made me all the more determined to figure out who had attacked those particular Muggle-borns, and why, a monotony that had me looking up their family names in old Wizarding geneaologies even though I half knew I would find nothing.
It was a monotony that had me planning half my schedule around James's so that I would run into him more often as he returned from Quidditch practice or the bathroom just so we could have some actual interaction, a monotony that had me stealing potion supplies from Slughorn and using them to brew hangover cure and Pepperup and bone-mending and sleep potions just to have something to do other than study.
It was a monotony, however, that did not last past the first Sunday in May.
"Some columnist wrote an analysis of Voldemort's threats," Remus said that morning, smirking slightly at his paper. "She says there's no chance he'll make good on them because he needs public perception of him to remain high...what does she think he is, apolitician?"
"As if he needs political power," Marly said darkly, buttering her third piece of toast. "Bit scary, isn't it? That someone can completely control the Wizarding World and not even have a seat in the Ministry?"
"That's a good thing, though...institutional evil is always more terrifying than the chaotic sort, because people can listen to the institution and not feel bad about it," Alice said. "Just look at Hiter. He was institutional evil, but Grindelwald was chaotic evil; Hitler killed twelve million people and the Germans didn't make a peep; Grindelwald killed a few hundred thousand and the entire Wizarding World descended upon him."
"Who's Hitler?" Marlene asked, just as Remus said, "That's not the same thing."
"Who cares?" Sirius said, leaning back in his chair and staring at the enchanted ceiling. "Point is, we're all royally screwed...pass the kippers, Lawr-er, Longbottom..."
Alice snorted but handed him the plate and turned to me. "What d'you think, Lily?"
"I think Hitler was terrifying but Voldemort's worse," I said, frowning. "Only because-well, he's a wizard. He could do what Hitler did in five years in five minutes."
Alice frowned, but dropped the subject as James rose.
"Spectacular conversation, mates. Off to Quidditch practice, then. Come on, Black...McKinnon...Vance..."
Peter, too, sprang up to follow him, and Remus, rolling his eyes, followed suit-though I noticed he did so only with a bag bulging with what could only be books.
"Shall we practice spells?" I asked Alice, but she shook her head.
"I can't-I'm sneaking out to meet Frank."
"Courtesy of the Marauders."
"I can't, either-Caradoc's one of the Aurors on duty at Hogwarts today and I said I'd keep him company."
With nearly everyone either at Quidditch practice or, like Alice and Dorcas, on a date, I was left to my own devices. I worked on homework until I had nearly finished everything I had due the next week, except for Transfiguration practice and the last Binns essay-I was still waiting to receive the necessary textbook from Peter, who had gotten it the week before and dashed immediately up to the Gryffindor boys' dormitories to-presumably-begin his essay but had not yet seen fit to pass on the book. There was always the option of a stroll on the grounds, but as the Quidditch pitch was the only place not currently banned for students' safety, and as I hardly wanted to watch James like one of his ridiculous groupies, I thought a stay in the castle was more in order.
Thus, it was with a heavy mind and slightly anxious stomach that I settled into my bed mid-afternoon for what I felt was a well-deserved nap.
"Lily. Hey. Lily."
"Lily. Wake up."
I opened my eyes. "Peter? What time is it?"
"Around nine...listen, here's Binns' book," he said, holding it out. "I've finished."
I sat up. "Peter, the essay is due tomorrow. It's nine at night."
Peter ran a hand through his hair, an action I felt sure was borrowed from James but which lacked his carelessness. "I know. I'm sorry, only-only Remus only gave it to me last Monday, and I had flu..."
"I'm sorry...remember, James has to write his, too, and he hasn't had it yet either."
"I'm sorry," he said again, staring at his feet.
I rubbed my eyes and sighed. "Don't worry about it. Listen, Pete, I'm going to start this essay, so if you could just..."
"Right," he said quickly. "I'll go now."
"How did you get in here, anyway?" I asked suspiciously.
"You didn't lock the door."
I raised an eyebrow. "Right."
Peter laughed. "A Marauder never reveals his tricks, Lily dearest," he said, and for the first time he sounded utterly carefree. I was almost proud of him.
Still, I glared at the book in my hand before following him out of my room, feeling rather stupid for having apparently slept through the day
Surprisingly, James was already sat in the Head's Common Room, cross-legged on the floor beside a table, sketching what looked like Xs and squiggly lines all over the place.
"What're you up to?" I asked.
"Planning Quidditch tactics for the match in a couple of weeks," he replied, not looking at me. "It's just-I think Slytherin have got a new offensive move, but I can't figure out what exactly it is from the ground, and it's risky to fly under an Invisibility Cloak because you never know when the wind'll blow it off."
"Try the Astronomy Tower," I suggested.
"I have, I'm just not getting all the angles...maybe I can add some kind of recording device to one of the hoops..."
"Like a camera?"
"Don't be stupid, Lil, you know photographs don't work like that."
"Er...right." I rolled my eyes. Bloody pure bloods.
"What about you?"
"What about me what?"
"What are you up to?"
"Oh." I bit my lip. "Peter's just given me that book we need for the Binns essay."
"Yeah, he was just here...said he was sorry for being so late." James snorted. "As if I need much time to write it..."
"Merlin, you're arrogant."
"Residual side effect of the Quidditch practice. Sorry."
"Don't be." I sat down across from him and opened the book, which, over the course of its circulation from seventh year to seventh year, had accumulated several coffee stains and now smelled faintly of cigarette smoke and what reminded me suspiciously of firewhiskey. "Listen, James-"
"I don't exactly have time for this right now."
"I only meant-listen, the essay's due tomorrow, and I pity the circles under your eyes."
James looked up. "Says the girl who bewitches the puffiness away. Don't think I don't catch that, Evans," and that stung, a little, not the insult so much as the use of my last name.
"Let's just-look, we can both use the book at once, it won't even take that long, look, I've already got a skeleton mapped out, I just need to fill it in with actual...you know...facts."
And thus began our essay-writing, with James scratching his lower lip absently with the end of his quill-he had ink on chin and there was a moment when, while deep in thought, he looked sort of stunningly beautiful and I had to look away or risk being dazzled by the prick, who wasn't even really that good looking most of the time and had really just happened to catch the light well in that moment-and me mumbling facts under my breath as I copied them down, carefully adding page citations after them.
"I don't know why I'm even still taking this stupid class," James said in frustration several hours later, after flipping through the book for a specific statistic at least twice. "If I'm going to be an Auror, the last thing I need to know is why Cedric the Brave hated giants."
"That's utterly irrelevant to this essay," I said.
"I know, but I still haven't written the other ones..."
I snorted. "Course not."
We returned to our work, both reading from the same page on Grindelwald's psychological warfare. "Ridiculous," I mumbled. "Killed a Muggle in every village he visited...mostly to ward them off but also so his threats would be more credible..."
And then suddenly, it clicked. "James, what if-"
But James was already looking at me, eyes wide. "We have to go to Dumbledore."
We practically sprinted through the deserted castle to his office, coming to a halt only when we reached the gargoyles. James looked at me, his gaze strangely piercing.
"We'll talk after," I interrupted. "I promise. Just-let's explain this first."
James gave me a long, hard look.
"I promise," I said again, and James nodded.
"Pixie puffs," he said to the gargoyles, who moved aside.
"What if he's asleep?"
"We wake him up."
I knocked hesitantly on the door. "Professor?"
"It is open," Dumbledore's weary voice said from the other side.
I pushed the door open and entered; Dumbledore was in his dressing gown, but he looked regal as ever behind his desk, gazing into the contents of a Pensieve and absently stroking his phoenix's back. Surprisingly enough, Professor McGonagall and Elphias Doge were both also in his office, also watching the Pensieve, almost as if it were a telly. I half expected McGonagall to pull out a bucket of popcorn.
"We think we've figured it out," I said.
"The Muggle-born attacks. Or at least, why they were attacked."
"It was because of a History of Magic essay we had to write-"
"And they won't be attacked again, we don't think-"
"On Grindelwald, and we thought it was really similar to this-"
"Except the Muggle-borns are the Muggles here, right, but not all of them-"
"Because that'd be stupid, and you'd catch them too easily-"
"But fear's easy, anyone can make other people scared-"
"Right, and people who are scared are bloody stupid-"
"And scaring everyone could get him what he wants-"
"And he doesn't even have to kill anyone-"
"Even if he probably wants to-"
"He can stop his Death Eaters from getting in trouble, though-"
"And that's good because it means more spies here-"
"Which he obviously wants, because of you-"
"See, Lil, I told you students could be Death Eaters!"
"I think I figured that out a while ago, James."
"Potter, Evans," McGonagall interrupted. "Do make yourselves a bit clearer...it is late, you see, and I would like to be getting to bed."
"Yes, I'm afraid I can't quite follow this," Doge said. "My mind is not what it used to be..."
"Don't be ridiculous, Elphias, you're as clever as ever," McGonagall said, and there seemed to be the slightest of winks passed from her to Doge; perhaps this was her version of flirting.
The thought of McGonagall having any sort of romantic relationship, however, was not one I had much time to linger upon.
"Well," I began. "You know how Grindelwald used seemingly random but actually fairly systematic Muggle attacks to let the Wizarding World knew he meant business? That he wasn't just some nutter who liked Muggle baiting?"
"We think that's exactly what Voldemort is doing here," James said. "Only-on a completely different scale. Because there's the lesser extent, right, which is to dissuade Muggle-borns from attending Hogwarts, which is why the attacks happened so late in the year. They won't even know yet, most of them, and when they find out they'll want to know all the information possible."
"And also why there's been an attack from each house," I said. "Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff-all except Slytherin, which is notorious for only accepting the 'purest of blood' or whatever, as if that's even possible anymore. Which, of course, is why the Prophetcan't know-but you already knew that part."
"The bigger part is that Voldemort infiltrated Hogwarts," James said.
"Think about it," I said. "Everyone needs to be able to believe their children are safe at their school, that the school is the safest place in the world, and usually, that just means there's a curfew and a set of prefects to keep kids in bed after hours so they don't sneak out, but at Hogwarts, it actually means it's the safest place in the world. You can attack people in public, even in their homes, but Hogwarts has hundreds of security measures, dozens of prefects who are all fairly good at defensive magic, the children of the Order of the Phoenix and half the Order itself, hundreds of students who can use more than their fists to defend themselves, and, of course, you."
"Exactly. And if Voldemort can break that, if he can make it seem like an illusion, it ruins the credibility of-well, you, Professor-but it also shatters people's fantasy of security. It's the ultimate scare tactic. And that's the other reason to keep it out of the Prophet-people can't have that security broken, or they start to lose faith-and Voldemort thrives on that."
"And there's the possibility that he sort of wants to discredit you, but I think that's just another scare tactic-because you're so highly respected, if everyone thinks you failed to do your job, then they stop trusting you, which means they stop trusting the most powerful wizard alive, which means they start to lose faith."
Dumbledore frowned at us. "But I did fail to do my job; three Muggle-borns were attacked on my watch. Voldemort's plan succeeded."
"But it didn't, don't you see? Because nobody knows about it except us, and even then all anyone really knows is that there were a bunch of fights and three students ended up in the Hospital Wing for a while because they were hurt so badly! And that's why that threat in the Prophet seemed so stupid!"
McGonagall snorted. "Honestly, Albus, I thought you were joking when you made James Potter Head Boy, but it seems you were right."
Dumbledore smiled a little. "At least I did not choose Severus Snape."
"Yeah, he was probably in on it, if not the mastermind," James said. "Because, right, most of the older pure blood families were all at Alice and Frank's wedding, which means the school was mostly weeded of pure bloods, at least the non-Slytherin ones. That's probably why they attacked during the holiday-"
"But it could also be for maximum impact," I interrupted. "No one has classes to distract them, and the attacks also took away everyone's distractions-other than Gobstones and Exploding Snap, that is."
"Right," James said. "But it also made for a smaller chance of screw up. But every old pure blood family knows each other, at least a bit-I can't identify all the Notts, but I can sort of say they're pure bloods because I've seen them in an old family album or family tree. So that means the person who planned all of this can't have been a pure blood-which leaves us with Snape."
"But what about Regulus Black? He was definitely not at the Longbottoms' wedding, because I helped Alice with her guest list and we certainly did not want to invite any of Sirius's immediate family..."
"Well," James said, frowning. "I s'pose-Sirius said his mum always kept them away from the blood traitor families, which I guess is why I'd met all the Lestranges by age eight but didn't meet Sirius until first year-so Regulus probably knows all the evil pure bloods, but not, like, the Hufflepuffs. So he'd need the castle to be empty of them, too. But then, how'd they know the people they were attacking were all Muggle-borns and not half bloods?"
"They probably just asked. Y'know, it's astonishing how much information people will give if you're just polite, James."
"What, just going up to someone and asking them their blood status is polite? Where can I register for classes at the Lily Evans School of Etiquette? Can I enroll as a full time student? Do save my from my barbaric ways, Professor Evans."
"Not their blood status-something simple, like what their parents do. My dad was a dentist and my mum worked at a supermarket to put herself through university, but then she just stayed with Petunia and me. See? Now you know they were both Muggles."
James frowned. "And, of course, the other bright side to the holiday is that all of us were gone, and we've been a thorn in the Death Eaters' side for at least a year. They're not thick, they know we patrol every night...maybe they think we do more than that, or that there are more of us, or something. And they knew we'd all be at the wedding. It's sort of genius, really."
"Yes," Dumbledore said at last. "Yes, I think that is probably the most accurate version of events one could come up with...But what of the random fights throughout the school?"
"I dunno about that," James said slowly. "Surely if they planned all that, they were clever enough to know we'd trace it back to the Slytherins...none of them got attacked, for Merlin's sake."
"Maybe-I don't know, maybe it was some sort of test," I said. "Because to be a Death Eater, 'Imperio' and 'Obliviate' have to be two of the most important spells, right? To bewitch people to do your bidding, and then erase it later so they can't even confess to the crimes. Or maybe it was actually supposed to be a diversion and it was just some daft prick's clever plan."
"Probably Avery," James supplied, and Dumbledore concealed a chuckle.
McGonagall, however, looked far from amused. "I'll fetch Horace," she said. "So he can punish his students."
"Are you going to expel them?" James asked, sounding almost hopeful, but Dumbledore shook his head, smiling a little sadly.
"Alas, I hardly think that would be wise...once before, I taught a wizard who I let escape my watch. I have regretted it ever since."
Doge, meanwhile, was watching us. "Blimey, Albus," he said. "You've done a terrific job on these two...never seen such deduction...Listen, Miss Evans, Mr. Potter, I run a private detective firm in London...Muggle and wizard, and you'd never believe the amount of traffic we get...if you're ever in need of a job, don't hesitate to call me."
"Thanks, sir," I said, and James nodded beside me.
"But something else is missing," Doge said. "There are dozens of Muggle-borns at this school, and though you were on holiday, Miss Evans, the Death Eaters could have attacked any...why those three in particular?"
I thought about it, but outside of prefect meetings, I barely knew Jane Brocklehurst, and in fact, could barely think of anyone that did...
And then it clicked. "It's not some huge conspiracy," I said slowly. "At least-I don't think it is. I think...I think it was just the most convenient choice of Muggle-borns at the time. Jane Brocklehurst is a prefect, but she's also a bitch-sorry, Professor-and I don't think she has very many friends." I immediately felt awful, and resolved to sit with her at lunch the next day. "So she was probably alone, maybe in a bathroom or coming back late from the library..."
"Bloody Ravenclaws," James piped up, and Doge laughed.
"Andrew Murphy's a smoker," I continued, ignoring him. "And...he's got an asthmatic mate, maybe an asthmatic roommate, so of course he goes outside to smoke...and maybe he was coming back when he was attacked. And then Benjy Fenwick..."
"Benjy Fenwick's best friend is Kevin Abercrombie, who was home for the holiday," James said. "Not to mention he's always wandering off alone at night-Lily and I have caught him at least twice a month since we started patrols."
"They are brilliant, Albus, you were right," Doge said, and I felt a rush of pride that was doused only by the stark realization that the people we were discussing were, in fact,people.
As if on cue, McGonagall returned, Slughorn in tow.
"Merlin, Dumbledore, what's this about? I was having the most lovely dream about the Prime Minister..."
James did not conceal his laughter; at the noise, Slughorn turned to us.
"Ah, Miss Evans! I missed you at the last Slug Club party, you know."
"I didn't stay at school for the Easter hols," I said. "Alice Lawrence married Frank Longbottom."
"Ah, yes, I did hear about that...genius, their child will be..."
"Brave, too," murmured Dumbledore. "Horace, I must ask you to bring me three of your students: Regulus Black, Severus Snape, and Matarus Avery."
"Really, Albus, can't this wait til morning? I've had quite a lot of mead, you know, and my bed is quite comfortable..."
"Now, please, Horace," Dumbledore said, and Slughorn sighed and, once again, departed.
Dumbledore turned to us. "The two of you had better be gone before our culprits get here...wouldn't want your, er, covers blown, as they say."
"I don't think we ever had any covers," James said. "Any chance we can get extensions on those History of Magic essays?"
Dumbledore looked at us for a moment. "No, I don't think you did," he said, almost to himself, and then, "I will talk to Professor Binns. Goodnight, Miss Evans, Mr. Potter."
"Goodnight," we chorused to the three adults in the room.
James took my hand as we walked back to the common room. "We make a good team," he said, and suddenly it was far too much like he had put a ring around my finger instead of just wrapped his hand around it, and I wanted desperately to tug it away.
"Yep," I said, a little nervously.
James stared at me when we reached the common room, as if expecting something-probably, I thought, because he was expecting something, and had every right to.
"Lily," he said, but I faked a yawn.
"It's been a long night," I said. "I think I'll head to bed."
James stared at me for another along moment before saying, "Yeah, me too."
I heard his door slam from the inside of my room and bit my lip because I had royally, royally screwed up.
Dumbledore called us into his office again the next morning after breakfast. He looked at us rather gravely, but his voice was even and calm when he uttered his first sentence: "We were wrong. Those were the wrong Death Eaters."