Petal in the Rain
Chapter 26 – Marauding
Touch me I'm cold, unable to control
Touch me I'm golden and wild as the wind blows.
And tumbling, tumbling, don't go fascination.
If just for tonight darling, let's get lost!
It was late—nearly midnight. Though the vista outside of her dormitory window was tranquil, glass stars bursting against a navy sky, Lily felt distinctly agitated. Enfolded in her luxuriant bed, awaiting the sand man's charm, she tossed and turned irritably, eventually shaking off the linen dressings constraining her. Following the petulant battle, she wiped away the sweat that had manifested along her brow-line, willing autumn to swoop in and replace the irrepressible summer heat.
Truth be told, Lily had slept fitfully all day since James' departure, spooning food into her mouth out of sheer boredom and staring out of her dormitory window, craving for something exciting to transpire. It was hard to imagine that only the night before she had been breaking into the Ministry of Magic and battling bizarre beasts—what had been the biggest adrenaline rush of her life—now that she was being treated like a sickly invalid by the castle's hoards of house-elves. Though she found Mimi to be a delightful little creature, Lily thirsted for some human interaction; specifically the sweet kisses and mischievous petting of her handsome suitor.
How can he kiss me like that and then just leave? Villainous man…
Sighing pitiably, the thought of James' beautiful face a cruel tease, Lily changed into her satin bedgown and unfurled her wavy brunette hair from the tight braid she had fashioned earlier in the day. Aching for the night's cool breeze, Lily coiled up on her dormitory's stone window-seat with a volume she had nicked from the library only a week before—Magick Moste Evile by Godelot.
After fingering through the first pages of Godelot's book, Lily could immediately understand why it had been shelved in the Restricted Section—a division of the library she by rights had no business being in: The body of work was thoroughly disgusting, most of the magical concepts beyond any sane person's sick imaginings. But, though the subject matter was stomach-churning, Lily was unable to put the book down, a mixture of morbid fascination and self-preservation gluing her eyes to every repulsive page.
I need to know what I'm up against…
Opening up the book to a random, mottled page, Lily immediately grimaced, her eyes growing wide as she absorbed the chapter's contents. Feeling queasy, she clutched at her chest nervously, perturbed by a particularly gruesome description concerning how to revive a decaying cadaver—what the book classified as an inferius.
Necromancy…is such a notion really conceivable?
Consumed by the ghoulish idea, Lily placed the book on her bedside table, hoping to never witness the result of such dark magic. It was disheartening to realize how sinister and grisly magic could be; that a wizard she had never met before could harness such dark powers. If Voldemort could amass an undead army with a simple wave of his wand, what chance did she have of escaping him? How could she possibly be fated to defeat him?
If I can barely tolerate reading about dark magic, how can I conceivably overcome it?
Abruptly overwhelmed by her own ignorance, Lily dashed across the room toward her little writing desk and dipped her quill into a black inkpot. As she artlessly scribbled across a piece of dappled parchment, her thoughts hurried and desperate, a knock suddenly sounded at her door. She violently flinched mid-sentence, taken aback by the unexpected noise, causing the glass inkpot to tumble onto the floor and smash into thousands of tiny shards. Lily gasped loudly as the slivers scraped against her ankles.
"Lily, are you awake?"
Lily instinctually hurried across the room and slipped her still-wet letter between the pages of Magick Moste Evile, shoving the tome under her bed as her nerves transformed her bowels into water. Flustered by her unforeseen visitor, she accidentally neglected to put on a proper robe as she rushed to crack open the door to her room: "Who's there?"
When she came face-to-face with a tall, spectacled lord—the very man she had been romanticizing about all day—her cheeks immediately became inflamed, embarrassment welling as she realized how immodest her attire was.
James did not answer her curious inquiry straight away, his gaze sweeping across her carefully, observing her from head to toe. His eyes lingered for a long time on her bare arms and shoulders, consequently slipping down to her cleavage and finally the fleeting hem of her nightgown. His expression—initially one of happy disbelief—only reformed when he spotted blood dripping from shallow wounds on her feet and ankles.
"What's happened? Are you hurt?"
Without invitation, James slipped into Lily's room and shut the door behind him, momentarily trading arousal for worry. Lily was at a loss for words as he dropped down to the floor and delicately traced the outline of her wounds with his fingers, his face a mask of concern. Though the cuts on her feet were tender, all she could focus on was how his slightest touch made her knees feel wobbly…
"It's nothing…I knocked over an inkpot as I crossed the room to answer the door. You woke me up, you see…and it's dark in here." Lily lied apprehensively, feeling self-conscious as James stroked her legs soothingly. As the room was indeed steeped in darkness and her bed remained dishevelled from her on-and-off naps throughout the day, James was easily convinced.
"I didn't mean to startle you." James breathed softly, pulling out his wand and automatically pointing it towards Lily's wounds; he muttered a spell that instantly laced the broken skin back together and cleaned away the blood, "There…all better."
I must learn how to do that…
"Thank you…" Lily whispered shyly, hugging her shoulders as James climbed to his feet and met her stare; the heaviness of his longing—easily deciphered even in the pitch black—made her heart pound with anticipation.
"I'm sorry to wake you, I know it's late…perhaps it's inappropriate of me…it's just…" James murmured, abruptly stopping as if unsure whether or not it was suitable to proceed.
"Just what?" Lily echoed half-heartedly, doubtful of her ability to formulate coherent sentences under the circumstances.
"The truth is…I just can't stop thinking about you…about kissing you…but I know I'm being improper by coming to see you so late; I don't know what I was thinking…" James rambled bashfully, delighting Lily in the process; Lord James Potter very seldom appeared insecure.
"Well…I suppose I always was a bit of a rule-breaker." Lily whispered coyly, attempting to hide her amusement as she sensed James' heightened excitement, "Now that you're here…would you like to lie down for a while? You must be tired."
"If you're sure…" He murmured quietly, settling onto her lavish bed. Unbeknownst to one another, both Lily and James' nerves twitched with a mixture of expectation and agitation, neither confident they could employ self-restraint while in the presence of the other.
"How are you feeling? Your bruises look like they've healed nicely…" James said kindly, cupping a hand over one of Lily's cheeks, his thumb brushing her jawline as he examined her injuries.
"I'm feeling much better…but I've been terribly bored without you." She divulged, holding James' hand as it fell from her face and into her lap, "I'm cross with Dumbledore for whisking you away from me so soon."
"The headmaster has certainly thrown a wrench into our plans, but he means well." James sighed, his keen eyes tracing her moonlit features, "As much as I hate to admit it, he's right about everything—even this daft plan for you to continue to court Longbottom—but it won't be for much longer."
"I wondered what you thought about that…" Lily whispered, her throat going dry at the thought of poor Frank and the strange kiss they had shared at the Hogwarts Gala.
When am I supposed to bring that up with James?
"I'm sure you can imagine how I feel about it." James replied tersely, though he meant none of his irascibility for her, "The sooner we can end this farce, the better…don't you agree?"
"Of course." Lily responded stiffly, feeling suddenly guilty; he bit back a relieved grin: "Did that war addle your brain, Lord Potter?"
"No…I just don't want to make any presumptions; you already have enough people trying to make decisions on your behalf."
"Thank you for saying that." Lily whispered sincerely, uncaring of her attire as she wrapped her arms around James' neck and kissed him lightly, causing his breath to catch.
"And thank you for wearing this little number." James tantalized throatily, playing with the strap of Lily's camisole, which was begging to slip over her shoulders and down around her waist.
"If you're going to be naughty, I'll have to ask you to leave." Lily whispered coquettishly, pushing James onto his back and trailing her fingers up and down his chiseled chest. She wasn't sure if it was the summer heat or the relief of his return that fueled her desire—all she knew was that she wanted him.
"You are such a torment…" James groaned huskily, his eyes clouding as his hand slid down Lily's neck and rested cautiously on one of her round breasts. When Lily did not react indignantly, as James had fearfully imagined she would, he slowly sat up—like a child afraid to scare away a small animal—and began to gently massage her, his thumb rubbing against her sensitive skin. As he continued the sensual motion he studied her vigilantly, wary of pushing his luck. His pants tightened achingly as he watched her girlish reactions to his touch; her flushed cheeks, barely-audible sighs and firming nipples. Feeling both encouraged by her pleasured reaction and eager to indulge his own unanswered excitement, James pitched forward and kissed Lily deeply, his hands gracefully releasing the thin straps of her nightgown from her shoulders. She gasped naively as the silk fell away—exposing her naked torso—and gathered neatly at her hips, leaving James' predatory eyes to freely roam her porcelain skin.
"Merlin, you're so…so…" James murmured zealously, his voice quivering with desire as he finally tore his gaze away from Lily's figure and kissed her benevolently, pulling his hands through her hair and up and down her soft bosom.
Lily submissively sank down onto the bed with him, his fondling making her dizzy with desire. His greedy touch made her skin tingle all over, his throaty whispers sending waves of exhilaration pulsating throughout her body. As James showered her with kisses, pinching her to reap her verbal affirmations of pleasure, she precipitously began to wonder what gratification she should give him in return.
What do I do? What if I'm no good at…it?
The horrifying thought of being an inadequate lover suddenly crushed Lily. She suspected James had done…things…with countless other women before her, and concluded that he would therefore compare her performance to theirs. What was she going to do? She had no experience with men…what if she was awful at the whole endeavour and James realized what a mistake he was making with her? Would he still fancy her if she was a terrible lover?
"Lily, you're trembling…" James pronounced, becoming apprehensive due to Lily's sudden change in body language.
"W-What? N-No, I'm fine." Lily stuttered implausibly, only confirming James' disquiet.
"No you're not…I've gone too fast, haven't I?" James fretted, removing his hands from her and delicately pulling her slip back over her shoulders, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to rush you into anything—"
"I-It's not your fault! I wanted you, too." Lily replied feebly, trying to regain her composure as James insisted on wrapping a blanket around her shoulders to further cover her from his peeping eyes; she found his attempts almost laughable, "James, you don't have to do that…"
"The more I clothe you the less I'll be tempted to touch you again." James explained bashfully, sexual frustration colouring his voice and blurring his expression, "Lils…you look so lovely…I lost myself and forgot to be a gentleman."
"James…" Lily breathed quietly, placing her hand over his heart, imploring him to look at her; she blushed artlessly as she began her confession, "I…I liked what you were doing…quite a lot. I didn't mean to ruin it; I just started to panic…"
"Panic about what? I would never force you into anything—"
"Of course, that's not what I meant…it's just…I've never done this before…I'm worried I…I might not be good at it…"
James blinked at her stupidly—as if the notion was an impossibility. Lily continued to blush violently, her admission thoroughly mortifying her.
"Lily…you'll be exquisite. Of that I am certain." James responded attentively, his fear melting away at her chaste profession; if possible, his love for her deepened even more, "I'm crazy about you…it will be the most cherished moment of my life, when it happens."
"Really?" Lily asked uncertainly, some of her insecurity dissipating.
"Really. We'll take things slow until you're ready; let's see if I can't prove myself a gentleman after all. Obviously I have failed miserably at that tonight." James frowned sheepishly as he wrapped his arms around her, planting a kiss on the top of her head, "Don't take those blankets off though, promise?"
Lily snuggled her head into the crook of his neck, smiling seductively: "But James, it's so hot—I can't possibly promise that."
"Then I can't possibly be held accountable for my actions…" James mused innocently, slyly slipping his hands under the blankets and tickling Lily's sides.
"JAMES…STOP…IT!" Lily shrieked girlishly, her uncontrollable giggles instantly plastering a grin across his stubbled face. When he discontinued his tortuous tickling, Lily tiredly collapsed on his chest, her breathing laboured, "You're wicked, you know that?"
"If you continue to tease me with that beautiful body of yours, then I will continue the depravity." James replied puckishly, yawning wearily as he rested his chin on top of her head and possessively entwined her in his arms, "You don't mind if I stay until morning, do you?"
Not soon after Lily gave him her permission, James' eyes fell shut, his heavy breathing filling the dormitory, indicating he had finally succumbed to his sleep deprivation. Feeling satisfied, Lily closed her eyes too, secretly revelling in the intimacy of his embrace. She knew he was going to be a hard man to say no to in the future.
I wonder if I should tell him about what I intend to do?
Lily's thoughts drifted back to the letter she had drafted and haphazardly hidden in her restricted book. She suddenly shifted uncomfortably in James' arms: Why had she instinctually hidden both the book and letter from him? Would he understand her need to both comprehend the dark arts and learn how to defend herself against them? A part of her thought not—that he would cite the irrelevance of self defense now that he was there to protect her.
I need to be able to rely upon myself.
Lily sighed heavily, a lump lodging in her throat. Though she could happily remain in James' embrace forever, she would have to figure out how to slip out of his snug grasp in the morning in order to send the letter to its intended recipient.
Desperate times call for desperate measures…
I must urgently speak with you; it concerns a delicate matter which we discussed when you first began tutoring me. I am desperate for your help—I can't wait any longer.
Please meet me by the lake before breakfast.
Lady Aurora Rockford was a living and breathing paradox—of that Severus Snape was certain.
The potions master had spent many hours chewing over the riddle of a girl. She was a creature of high society, a golden girl related to one of the most—if not the most—powerful wizards in Britain. She virtually had the "world on a string". Any young debutant in her position would be devoting her time to shopping at the best international boutiques, attending extravagant, haughty parties, and riding the coattails of well-heeled bachelors who could—through matrimony—bequeath upon them even more prestige and fortune. Yet—as evidenced by her letter that bright morning—Aurora was clearly not cut from the same cloth as the other maidens sharing her age and position.
Through careful observation, it was clear to Snape that Aurora lacked the arrogance and girlish tomfoolery that most society girls possessed. She did not treat those below her station coolly, superiority colouring her voice and posture; rather, Aurora was open and curious—a girl with her feet buried firmly in the sand and her eyes turned toward the sky. Furthermore, she seemed generally disinterested in the materialistic pursuits and fancies that most young ladies shared in—namely fashion, dancing, parties, and gold-digging. It was hard for Snape to imagine that a girl who possessed all the elements needed to effortlessly maneuver the upper class—beauty, grace, wealth, and a powerful family—wanted to so fervently break her mould.
As he furtively slipped onto the Hogwarts grounds that morning, dewy mist swirling about his dark cloak, he realized that the girl who secretly rebelled against her own circumstances was causing him to also mutiny against his own nature. Traditionally, any risk-taking he engaged in was carefully calculated; everything he did was purposeful and to further his own needs and wants, rather than for the benefit of others. Very seldom did he disregard rules, structure or authority, for within a pre-established framework he thrived; yet, there was he was, prepared to bend the rules for someone else.
What am I doing?
When Snape found Aurora curled beneath the gnarled willow tree that feverishly knotted its roots into the fertile banks of the Black Lake, her back arched up against its solid wooden frame, the orange sun was beginning to break against the horizon, its fiery light enlivening the vista. He noticed that upon hearing him trudging down the grassy slopes towards her sly location, she slipped a textbook she had been reading behind her back, purposely concealing it from him. The volume's title did not escape his whetted attention.
Cunning girl…stealing books about dark magic from the restricted section, are we?
"Professor Snape…" she started uneasily, the plucky young girl gazing up into his sallow face; her anxiety was conspicuous despite her best attempt to mask it.
"You summoned me?" Snape greeted icily, brandishing her letter irritably.
"Thank you for coming…I'm sorry about the improvised invitation." Aurora replied cordially, seemingly unaffected by his cool response, "If you're not busy…will you sit with me awhile?"
Snape skeptically regarded her for a prolonged moment, one eyebrow raised in question, then sunk onto the moist ground, his curiosity outweighing his indignation at being called upon: "Shouldn't you be in the Hospital Wing? Word has it you encountered some trouble in the…Forbidden Forest…late last night."
He watched as she squirmed uncomfortably due to his veiled interrogation. He certainly wasn't a believer of the tale Dumbledore had spun in order to account for her rather strange injuries. After eavesdropping on James Potter and Frank Longbottom's conversation that night, it was apparent to him that something was amiss.
"I know my uncle has cancelled my lessons for the next couple days, but I've decided I'd like to go ahead with them. I'm recovered enough to proceed." Aurora asserted resolutely, skirting around an explanation of what had conspired the night before, "There's also a matter I'd like to discuss with you."
"Is that so?" Snape questioned lightly, regarding her suspiciously, "Am I to guess that you have arranged this little meeting without your uncle's knowledge?"
She grimaced: "Yes, he likely believes I'm resting up in my room—and I'd like it to stay that way, if you don't mind. I don't want him—or anyone—to have knowledge about what I'm about to ask you. Can you keep a secret?"
Snape remained still, his black eyes betraying nothing, before finally uttering in a deep, sonorous voice, "Perhaps."
Aurora smiled despite his neutral response: "The truth is, the other night has only further augmented my desire to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts. I can no longer bear not knowing how to defend myself from what's out there…wizard or creature alike. Professor Snape, I am asking you—no, begging you—to teach me the subject in secret."
Snape leaned forward incredulously, his face wrinkling with cynicism. When her resolve did not waver as he had expected it to, her mouth fixed in a determined line and her eyes beseeching, he suddenly felt awed by her audacity: "Are you really serious about this? About betraying the trust of your uncle to learn a subject that many—if not most—believe a woman ought not learn?"
"I'm utterly serious. I have no intention of being at the mercy of any dark wizard or creature—having to rely on competent men to protect me. I want to take my life into my own hands, Professor Snape, and I have a feeling you are the only one who can help me do that." Aurora recited inflexibly, grim-faced, "Question is…are you willing to take the risk with me? Will you help me?"
Snape scoffed, turning away from her heatedly: Was he really going to jeopardize his position at Hogwarts and go out of his way to help a society witch he barely knew? Considering he disdained the upper class, it was inconceivable that he even entertained the idea: "You know that learning Defense is no easy feat, don't you? Charms may come naturally to you, but I guarantee this will not. There is more to defending against the dark arts than mere spell-work; I can assure you of that."
"Of course, I understand!" Aurora reacted immediately, climbing to her feet as she fluttered her eyelashes beseechingly at him, her face flushed pink: "I am dedicated to this, Professor Snape; I will put in the work. Whatever it takes to be successful—I promise."
Incorrigible girl…if she wasn't so appealing…
"I will not go easy on you; the training will be grueling." Snape warned, his mouth betraying his mind, which screamed for him to turn her away.
"There is nothing you can say that will dissuade me." She replied indomitably, though a smile suddenly broke across her once-stern face.
"We shall see about that…" Snape whispered, perplexed by his internal storm.
"Does this mean you'll do it?" Aurora breathed anxiously.
Snape frowned austerely, "If you are serious about this…we will begin tomorrow morning at eight o'clock sharp. Meet me at the gatekeeper's hut with your Care of Magical Creatures text and your wand….and don't be late."
"Care of Magical Creatures…?" She echoed disbelievingly.
"Do as I say. You have asked me to trust in you…so now you must trust in me."
Aurora suddenly thrust herself against Snape, her arms encircling his frigid, thin frame in the most sincere hug he had ever received, "You don't know what this means to me…thank you, Severus!"
Once she let go of her him, Aurora scooped up the book she had laid to rest at the base of the willow tree and scurried off, visibly eager to get back before anyone realized she was missing. Snape clutched at his chest, bewildered, watching her tear into the depths of Hogwarts castle, his heart pumping hot blood into his veins so vehemently that he worried he might stroke. The internal war he had been waging with himself had been won by an organ he often doubted he possessed.
Lily pushed open the Dining Hall's grand double-doors, brilliantly emblazoned with the school's proud emblem, to an area which appeared much different than it had two days earlier. The Dining Hall was abuzz with activity, a small battalion of house-elves darting about the deconstructed space with wooden brooms and large orange buckets. The stage which once housed the jazzy ghost band had been taken apart, large planks of wood leaned up against the walls, while the cozy tables and chairs had been removed and replaced with four slender house tables. Lily smiled, immediately noticing a collection of good-looking wizards crowded around one of the long tables—namely James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Frank Longbottom.
There he is!
Her relief at spotting Frank quickly dissolved as the scene before her suddenly began to unfold: None of the men appeared to notice her arrival, for all were too preoccupied with quarrelling with one another about an unknown, heated matter. Lily's throat went dry.
"—well I don't know why you and Dumbledore think you have the right to control her life." James snapped viciously, his anger evidently aimed toward a red-faced Frank Longbottom.
"Just because you happened to stumble upon her at a garden party before the rest of us doesn't give you the jurisdiction to dictate what is right for her either." Frank retorted, rising to meet James' anger with equal ferocity.
"Do you honestly believe this is some petty fling between her and I? Obviously you don't have a damned idea what you're talking about, Longbottom."
"You make it sound like you and her have some epic romance, yet you have only known her for mere months! Are you sure you even know her at all?"
"Better than you ever will." James growled menacingly; Sirius and Remus—stern as statues— exchanged cautionary glances behind his back.
"Is that so? Did I fail to mention that it has been I who has been here for her throughout this whole ordeal? That it was I who saved her? Question is, where the hell were you when she really needed you, Potter? Off gallivanting in some misguided muggle war?"
Sirius and Remus threw their arms around James and Frank before the two testosterone-laden wizards could lunge across the table at one another. Angry veins sprouted at James' temples; he was struggling so hard against Sirius that it appeared he would soon overcome him.
"What's your problem, Longbottom?Have you fallen for her?Is that why you are so fucking adamant that she parades around with you? You're really going to make her and I miserable so you can live out some pathetic delusion that she's yours?"
"Your ego just can't stand the thought of us together, can it? Do you really admire her, Potter, or is it that you cannot tolerate another man touching what you believe to be your property?"
"YOU TAKE THAT BACK!"James bellowed in outrage, swinging a fist toward Frank but missing by a long-shot due to Sirius' presence on his back; a group of nearby house-elves cowered in fear: "LET GO OF ME, PADFOOT!"
"Enough!" Dumbledore bellowed authoritatively, causing Lily to nearly hit the roof as he suddenly appeared at her side. The doors to the Dining Hal magically sealed shut as he raised his jagged wand and pointed it toward the pile of wrestling wizards, enunciating: "Immobolus!"
Lily gasped, the four boys suddenly frozen mid-action; James' face was petrified in rage, his fists aggressively balled before him, ready to connect with Frank's jaw; Sirius seemed determined yet slightly amused, his knuckles wound tightly around the fabric of James' shirt; Remus looked worn-out and weary, his muscled arms wrapped firmly around Frank's neck and chest; and Frank, features contorted in sardonic indignation, appeared to be simultaneously attempting to unleash his wand from his pant pocket and to throw Remus from his back. Though Lily was horrified by James and Frank's quarrel, she couldn't help but find their helpless, fossilized states strangely comical.
"This behaviour will not be tolerated within these walls." Dumbledore uttered gravely, his tone forbidding as he approached the group of motionless wizards, "If the four of you are not capable of civility, I will have to ask you to leave the premises. I strongly suggest that you—Lord Potter and Lord Longbottom—put your differences aside before I personally escort you out."
With a flick of Dumbledore's wand, the four boys resumed motion and collapsed in a heap on the floor, tangled in a mess of limbs.
Sirius groaned, Remus accidentally kicking him in the gut as he maneuvered into a standing position. Staring daggers at one another, James and Frank also managed to ascend into upright positions, both fiercely angry and embarrassed about their encounter. As the two rivals began to put themselves back together again, Sirius and Remus—bruised after their attempts at breaking up the skirmish—continued to eye the two gentlemen guardedly.
Upon hearing her voice, James' face softened slightly; he turned away from his opponent and headed toward Lily, causing the fuming lord to glare even more injuriously. Unlike James, Lily's presence only seemed to exasperate Frank more.
"I was looking for you this morning. Are you alright?" James inquired urgently, gathering up Lily's hands in his own; heat rose to her cheeks despite the subtleness of his affectionate gesture.
"I'm fine…but James, what's going on here?" Lily asked apprehensively, her face betraying her consternation as she bore into James' purple-flecked eyes, "What could you and Frank possibly be fighting about?"
"I'm sorry you had to see that." James murmured darkly, side-glancing Dumbledore, "I apologize, Lord Dumbledore. I suppose you could say that Lord Longbottom and I…are having trouble seeing eye-to-eye."
"So it appears." Dumbledore responded regrettably, peering at James from above the rim of the half-moon spectacles slipping down his crooked nose, "We best put our differences aside for now, don't you agree? Aurora is not yet fully recovered from her tribulation the other night; I think it would do her well to have some breakfast."
"Undoubtedly." James agreed decorously, slipping his arm behind Lily's waist and swiftly guiding her away from Dumbledore toward one of the slender house tables set with china and silverware, "Come on, let's get some food into you."
As Sirius and Remus moved to join them at the table, Lily noticed Frank pull Dumbledore aside to exchange a quick word; after presenting the headmaster with a manila-coloured envelope, he furiously made his exit from the Dining Hall. Feeling an overwhelming need to speak to him, Lily squirmed out of James' arms, culpability twisting her stomach into webs, "Frank, where are you going?"
The lord did not stop to answer her. Distressed, Lily chased after him toward the exit, uncaring of her fellow diners. As James jumped to his feet to follow her, Dumbledore rested a withered hand on his shoulder. Though the idea of Lily having a friendship with Frank was distasteful to him, he obligingly sunk back onto the bench, feeling surly.
"Frank Longbottom! Stop pretending you can't hear me!"
Just as he reached the double doors, Frank stopped, heaving a sigh as he continued to look toward the exit. Lily was taken aback by his short and angry reply: "What is it?"
She frowned dejectedly, her voice quivering slightly due to her sudden upset; she did not know why the prospect of Frank being cross with her disturbed her so: "Frank? What's wrong?"
Though he angled his head to look at her over his shoulder, Frank did not meet Lily's eyes; rather, he stared at the floor coldly, "Everything is just dandy, Aurora. Now if you'll excuse me—"
"Frank, please listen: I'm so sorry for causing so much trouble for you, for making you worry the night of the Gala…I felt like I didn't have a choice—" Lily started beseechingly, her eyes becoming glassy.
"No choice?" Frank fully revolved around to meet her eyes with his own icy ones; Lily cowered remorsefully, "You could have told me what was going on…you could have asked for my help. I've been there for you since the beginning—we've worked together and trusted one another. I have dropped everything to keep you safe. I even lied to my own parents in order to protect you…and that's how you repay my loyalty?"
"Frank…I wasn't thinking…I couldn't take the chance—" Lily tried to explain, her voice cracking ashamedly.
"You were thinking, Aurora—but only about yourself." Frank said sombrely, turning on his heel and thrusting the double-doors open in a burst of resentment, "Save your apologies for someone who is willing to accept them."
"Frank, please—" Lily begged, though her plea fell on deaf ears as Frank uncharacteristically slammed the door behind him, leaving her shrinking in his devastated wake.
I've completely ruined our friendship…
"Longbottom was born with a stick up his arse…try not to take it personally." Sirius said smoothly, having traversed the Dining Hall to come to her aid, "He'll lighten up eventually."
Lily looked up at Sirius forlornly as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and smiled, "It doesn't sound like Frank will ever forgive what I've done…"
"Trust me; he'll forgive you, though perhaps he'll never understand why we did what we did. How could he? He doesn't care for James like we do. He's more likely to box him in the face…as you so evidently witnessed only a moment ago."
Lily sighed, resting her head on Sirius' shoulders as her eyes befell James, Remus and Dumbledore sharing a whispered conversation at one of the long tables. James appeared to be half listening; though he nodded at the correct intervals, his worried gaze was glued to her and Sirius.
"You're right, Sirius…what's worse, I'd do it all over again if I had to." Lily murmured, wiping away the un-spilled tears that had collected in the corners of her eyes and forcing herself to smile, "Preferably without the blast-ended skrewts, however."
"Oh, come on; where's the fun in that?" Sirius grinned impishly, leading Lily back to the dining table.
"What was that all about?" James instantly probed, his hand finding Lily's once she had scooted down the bench to sit comfortably beside him, "Did he upset you?"
"It seems Frank and I are also having trouble seeing eye-to-eye." Lily muttered despondently, consoled by James' close proximity to her. As he stroked the top of her hand with his thumb she blushed, her thoughts drifting back to the previous night's activities.
"I assure you, my dear, Lord Longbottom just needs some time to reflect. Your disappearance at the Gala scared him dreadfully; once he has adjusted to our new situation, he will begin to calm. Please do allow him some time to acclimatize." Dumbledore advised wisely, taking a sip from his goblet as he suddenly changed his demeanour: "Might I offer you some hog's pudding?"
The once-empty silver platters tastefully arranged before them suddenly populated with an assortment of breakfast foods: poached eggs, grilled bacon, white and black pudding, chips, fruit, pancakes and oatcakes—a full English breakfast. James immediately took command of Lily's plate, exuberantly filling it to the brim with buttered breads, eggs and sausage. After topping up her goblet with saccharine pumpkin juice, he attentively stopped to watch her eat, his own plate bare.
"You know, I do believe I am capable of eating without supervision." Lily smirked at James, halting in the middle of cutting a sausage to chastise him.
"I know…I just want to make sure you eat so you fully recover." James countered stubbornly, glaring at Sirius as he sniggered into his pancakes, "What are you chortling about, Black?"
"Are you going to cut up her meat for her too, Jamsie?" Sirius snorted mockingly, "Perhaps you can help me with mine once you've finished with hers?"
"Who invited you to join us, anyways?"
"Li—Aurora and I—" Sirius started before quickly correcting himself, Dumbledore having bestowed upon him a cautionary look, "—are now partners in crime. It wouldn't be right to separate us."
James rolled his eyes, further adding to the table's amusement, "If she knew you half as well as Remus and I do, she'd be avoiding you like the plague."
"Why do you think I fled to Scotland?" Lily jested, making Dumbledore chuckle good-naturedly.
"Sirius is quite like a fungus; annoying, sort of slimy—but he eventually grows on you." Remus remarked playfully, causing Lily and James to nearly spit out their food due to laughter.
"I resent that, Lupin!" Sirius bellowed indignantly, "I'll have you know, Li—Aurora, that I was the most popular boy at Hogwarts in my day. Wouldn't you agree, Lord Dumbledore?"
Dumbledore smiled mischievously, politely dabbing the corners of his mouth with a linen napkin, "There is no doubt that you and your merry band of rule-breakers were beloved by the school's female population, Lord Black—though I imagine they very seldom had the chance to speak with you as you spent most of your time in detention."
"Really?" Lily questioned eagerly, quirking a smile at her handsome suitor and his friends.
James grinned impishly: "I suppose we did have a proclivity for mischief in our hay-day. I'd like to think we are somewhat of a Hogwarts legend—The Marauders, we called ourselves."
"It was the three of us and another friend, Lord Peter Pettigrew." Remus continued, smiling serenely, "To Dumbledore's chagrin, we spent our spares playing pranks on unsuspecting students. I think the Hogwarts staff heaved a sigh of relief when the four of us finally graduated."
Dumbledore winked at Lily as if to affirm Remus' assertion; she smiled in return, feeling like a mysterious accomplice, "Hogwarts has never been quite the same without the four of you. I daresay our caretaker, Mr. Filch, may even miss you."
As the four friends began to swap stories about Mrs. Norris, the caretaker's cat, the white wizard gracefully arose from his seat at the table: "I have some business I must attend to this morning; therefore I must bid you all adieu. Lord Potter, Lord Black, Mr. Lupin…you're all unexpected in London this afternoon."
Lily covertly looked between the three friends, hoping to discern from their facial expressions a secret or plan; she suddenly wished she too was a member of the Order of the Phoenix, keen on sharing in their experiences. She wondered if women were permitted to join.
If I am meant to defeat Voldemort, wouldn't it be reasonable to ask me to join them?
"And Aurora: Won't you join me for a late supper tonight in Gryffindor Tower? There is something I would like to speak to you about." Dumbledore inquired pleasantly, though he nearly caused Lily to choke on her pumpkin juice—the product of a guilty conscience.
He knows what I did this morning.
"That sounds nice." Lily replied simply, not daring to reject the headmaster's cordial invitation.
"Excellent—I will leave the four of you to your breakfast then. Au revoir." Dumbledore concluded benevolently, sweeping past the house table and toward the double doors. As he disappeared behind the matured mahogany, Lily's stomach instantly dropped: What did Lord Albus Dumbledore have in store for her tonight?
As soon as the overbearing gold-leafed doors closed behind Lord Dumbledore, Sirius conspiratorially leaned forward in his seat, his sable eyes twinkling, "Looks like we won't be required in London for another couple of hours…what do you say we treat our friend Aurora here to an afternoon in Hogsmeade, eh Potter? Give her the official Marauders tour."
James frowned thoughtfully, noticing Lily instantly perk up beside him. Though he was eager to begin introducing her to the wonders of the wizarding world, he was wary of exposing her too quickly and potentially jeopardizing her disguise—something he and Frank had idiotically disregarded that very morning by having a shouting match about her love life. Magical society was indeed comprised of many marvels, but he knew well that it was also a place where sinister wizards roamed in the shadows. He intended on shielding her from the darker elements of their world as much as possible, especially now that he knew the most infamous dark wizard of them all was intent on apprehending her.
Over my dead body he will.
James took a pontificated gulp from his goblet of pumpkin juice: "I'm not sure that's a good idea. Aurora is supposed to be recovering from her ordeal following the Hogwarts Gala."
I'm never going to get used to calling her that…
"Pish posh! Look at the girl; she's in fighting form." Sirius retaliated zealously, earning an appreciative smile from Lily. It appeared to James that—despite his kidnapping attempt months ago—she was beginning to consider Sirius a genuine mate.
Like Remus said…he always grows on people.
"He's right, I'm perfectly fine! Can't we just go out for a few hours? I'm feeling terribly bored, cooped up in here while you're all out attending secretive meetings and fighting various wars." Lily appealed to him, waving her hand dismissively when she referred to the innumerable conflicts currently transpiring.
Remus cheerfully supported the idea: "Hogsmeade won't begin to fill up until the afternoon. The chances of us running into anyone we know at this hour would be slim; most of the shops are just opening up."
"Is that what you're worried about?" Lily turned toward James curiously, the hope draining from her blue eyes; he felt a pang of guilt for disappointing her, "You think if the four of us are spotted by a member of high society, we'll appear questionable?"
As he opened his mouth to speak, Sirius impatiently cut in, "Oh, don't be ridiculous, Prongs! We can come up with a plausible story, surely…"
"And what will that story be, exactly?" James humoured his best friend.
"If anyone asks how we know Aurora we'll tell them we met her earlier in the summer, when she first "arrived" in England." Sirius suggested, looking to Remus for assistance, "We'll say we bumped into her at the train station in Hogsmeade."
"And what will polite society think when they see her out with three men—none of whom is her phony boyfriend?" James pressed sourly, irritated by the mere thought of Frank Longbottom.
"Listen: Aurora is going to appear in public with us sooner or later—she can't stay locked up in Hogwarts for the rest of her life. We might as well start familiarizing everyone with our friendship now, whether Longbottom is with us or not." Sirius articulated intelligibly, causing James to further retreat into his contemplation, "And since when do you care what society thinks, Potter?"
"Since the life of someone I care about hangs in the balance." James replied steadily, squeezing Lily's hand beneath the table; she smiled woefully, touched by his gallantry: "If we allow Aurora's reputation to be tarnished, it will not only madden Dumbledore, it will affect the legitimacy of her camouflage."
Sirius grumbled to demonstrate his annoyance at being thwarted, trading an exasperated 'I tried' look with Lily, which James did not fail to catch.
"Well, I would argue—" Remus began serenely, finishing the remainder of his eggs benedict, "—that Lord Dumbledore is an unconventional sort of fellow. He is very liberal-minded, and often his ideas clash with high society's traditional paradigms; for example, was it not Dumbledore who went against the wishes of the Hogwarts Board of Governors in order to allow students from the lower class—students without pure blood—to attend Hogwarts?"
"I'm missing your point, Mooney."
"My point is this: it may be more inconceivable for the niece of such an unconventional man to be conventional, rather than a little avant-garde. Somehow I doubt that anyone who knows Dumbledore would question why a relation of his is also refreshingly progressive." Remus verbalized cleverly, causing James to raise an eyebrow, "Aurora is seen out in public with some male companions—so what? Her status as a society darling will only be further solidified by being spied in your presence; not only will the young ladies be instantly jealous of her, any potential enemies will see she has powerful allies."
Lily smiled brightly at Remus, positively charmed by his intellect, "I would have to agree with Remus' line of reasoning—and might I add, Dumbledore never explicitly told me that I wasn't permitted to leave the castle."
"See, Jamsie! Let's give Aurora a little tour of our world—what do you say?" Sirius encouraged animatedly.
Confronted by the pleading faces of his best friends and lady love, James groaned, relenting to their petitions for entertainment, "Fine, we'll go—but Sirius Black, so help me God, you are to be on your best behaviour. We do not need Lady Aurora Rockford on the front page of the Daily Profit, understood?"
"You worry too much!" Sirius dismissed shrilly, suddenly bounding to his feet and swinging around to Lily's side of the table, "It's time you got a real taste of the magical world, my lady…shall we?"
Lily squealed with excitement, Sirius' enthusiasm contagious, and allowed him to pull her to her feet, "Should we call for a carriage?"
As James and Remus slipped off the bench to follow Lily and Sirius, the spectacled boy slipped a folded piece of diaphanous silk from his back pocket, winking at his pale friend when he noticed the rare object, "I think I have a better idea."
Once Lily had outfitted herself in a tailored summer dress meant for afternoon shopping trips and quaint café pit stops, she hurried back down to the Great Hall to meet up with her three companions. She was thrilled by the prospect of exploring the village again, especially with James in tow. A day in Hogsmeade was exactly what she needed to cheer up from her unpleasant encounter with Frank.
The last time I was in Hogsmeade, he was with me…
"You look sharp." James announced genially when she crossed the hall to join them; she quelled the desire to kiss him to show her gratitude, aware that the Great Hall was still a relatively public place, "You're sure you're well enough to travel?"
"If I get tired I'll ask Sirius to carry me—after all, it was his idea to take me out." Lily kidded, causing Sirius to roll his eyes dramatically, "Are the carriages ready?"
"Actually, we'll be taking a bit of a…different route to Hogsmeade this time around; should help us to keep a low profile." James explained mischievously, his voice lowering to a whisper, "Remus, won't you lead the way?"
Puzzled, Lily obligingly followed the boys as they made their way toward the carpeted stairs, their backs to the front door.
Why aren't we heading outside?
"What secret passage will it be, then?" Remus inquired casually as they began to ascend the moving staircases toward an upspecified location, "There's the one behind the mirrors on the fourth floor, the one behind Gregory the Smarmy…"
"Secret passages?" Lily questioned feebly, though her inquiry fell on deaf ears, the three men consumed by their scheming.
"Let's go with the one-eyed witch—I heard a rumour that the passage behind the mirrors collapsed recently." James directed, casually saluting a portrait that shouted, "Ho ho, Lord Potter, Sir!" as they walked by. Lily suppressed her mirth.
"Are you sure we shouldn't use the passage beneath the Whomping Willow?" Sirius suggested shrewdly, coolly running a hand through his cropped hair, "It'll get us there faster."
"I don't want Aurora using that passage." James responded without offering an explanation as to why; Sirius and Remus did not press the subject, leading Lily to believe that—though the threesome worked as a team—James was the kingpin.
It appeared that their destination was concealed on the third floor, for once they arrived at the landing they stopped. Before plunging down the shadowy corridor dotted with suits of tarnished armour and aged tapestries, Sirius peered around the corner suspiciously, apparently keen to avoid detection. Lily wordlessly followed the three men as they expertly maneuvered themselves around the bend, curious as to why they were creeping about the place like crooks about to hold up a bank.
"Why are we…?"
"Shh!" Sirius hushed her rudely, pressing a finger to his lips.
Lily glared at him, frustrated by their cloak and dagger quest. She whispered irritably: "Why are we sneaking around like criminals?"
"In case Filch or his tatty feline happens upon us." Sirius responded tersely, as if the answer were an obvious one.
"You mean the custodian Dumbledore mentioned at breakfast?" Lily raised an eyebrow, skeptically looking to James for answers, "Why would he concern himself with us?"
"You obviously haven't met the man." James smirked handsomely, checking that the coast was clear before slipping his hand into Lily's and pulling her further down the hallway, "Mr. Filch's greatest passion is to thwart mischief—something we took great pleasure in creating during our years at Hogwarts. You can imagine he therefore wasn't a member of our fan club. If he stumbled upon us now, he'd surely follow us—and the last thing we want to do is give away our most prized secrets."
"We'd be failing future generations of mischief-makers if we alerted Argus Filch to our ways of exiting and re-entering Hogwarts undetected." Remus reinforced, winking.
"You mean you've unearthed a secret passage in and out of the castle?" Lily whispered in admiration, earning a proud grin from James and a self-satisfied chuckle from Sirius.
"Not just one—four or five." Sirius bragged, pointing at a statue ahead, "And you're about to use one of them. Welcome to the inner circle of mischief makers, Lady Everard."
The group of four stopped in front of a large statue depicting a misshapen, hunch-backed witch with one bulging eye and a balding scalp. Lily grimaced, the grotesque stone figure an absolute eyesore compared to some of the beautiful oil paintings and Arabian textiles adorning the ancient castle. Though perturbed by the effigy, Lily leaned forward to examine a brass plate screwed into its base; it read Gunhilda of Gorsemoor.
"Gunhilda of Gorsemoor…wasn't she the 15th century healer who discovered the cure for dragon pox?" Lily inquired thoughtfully, squinting as she examined the witch's unnerving visage.
While James and Sirius appeared dumbfounded by Lily's knowledge—neither expecting a girl who had only discovered she was a witch a month ago to discern such things—Remus' face instantaneously lit up, "Quite right! I see you've been doing some reading since arriving at Hogwarts. Very good indeed!"
Lily smiled weakly, refraining from announcing that she had read and virtually memorized seven years' worth of History of Magic textbooks—"Yes, you could say that…where is this secret passage?"
"I'll do the honours." Remus instructed to a still-silent James and Sirius, removing his slender wand from his coat pocket. Lily observed him as he lightly tapped the top of Gunhilda's hump and mumbled "Dissendium"; she gasped reflexively when the hump suddenly swung open like a turtle discarding its shell to reveal a hole just large enough to squeeze a broad-shouldered man through.
"That's brilliant!" Lily whispered gleefully, stepping forward to examine the opening in the statue, "We drop down into here?"
"Yes…it slopes to form a slide and deposits us in an underground tunnel that leads into Hogsmeade." James explained quietly, acquiring the use of his vocal cords again, "The drop is quite far, and the tunnel quite narrow…are you sure you're up to it?"
"If the girl can fend off a blast-ended skrewt, she can drop down a slide." Sirius interjected peevishly, rebuking James for his over-protective nature. Smiling daringly, he whispered to Lily, "What do you think, Lils? Up for the adventure?"
"I think—for once—you've got it right." Lily replied mockingly, causing Sirius' grin to grow even larger, "Shall I go down first?"
"No. I'll go down first and catch you when you land." James said decisively, his tone inviting no negation as he climbed atop the statue and dropped his legs over the edge. As he prepared to fall, Lily thought he seemed suddenly cheerier, their adventure seemingly animating him: she was glad some of his apprehension concerning her well-being had been dispelled: "See you at the bottom, beautiful!"
Lily smiled as he smoothly disappeared through the opening in the witch statue. She vaguely listened to Sirius jest about appreciating James' compliment of his beauty as she climbed atop the statue and duplicated James' agile perch. Just as she was about to ask Remus if it was advisable to plummet into the dark void so quickly after James, a loud crash sounded at the end of the corridor, snapping their attention away from the passage.
"What was that?" Lily peeped timidly, watching Sirius and Remus exchange a look of trepidation.
Out of the darkness, a mangy-looking cat nimbly prowled down the corridor towards them, her yellow eyes reflecting in the gloom. Sirius swore under his breath as the scabby creature neared them, meowing loudly to alert her owner to her findings.
"Well if it isn't Mrs. Fucking Norris." Sirius chided bellicosely, glaring daggers at the cat as if he had a personal vendetta against her, "I see you've only gotten uglier over the years, you retched little beanbag—"
"—Is that you I hear, my sweet?"
Remus and Sirius went rigid as the sound of Mr. Filch's haggard voice echoed down the unlit corridor. Judging by the echo, in less than two minutes he would stumble upon them, mid-escape.
"Forget the bloody cat, Sirius—what do we do?" Lily hissed as quietly as possible, her legs still dangling over the hole in the statue.
"Remus and I will find another way into Hogsmeade—we don't have enough time." Sirius murmured fanatically, Remus' eyes widening in shock as he suddenly lunged at Lily, "Sorry about this!"
Lily cried out in indignation as Sirius brusquely pushed her, causing her to pitch forward and free-fall down the narrow channel. As cold air whooshed past her, causing her long hair to splay upwards and the hem of dress to consume her torso, she felt the channel begin to angle, seamlessly transitioning her from plummeting to sliding. Though the journey was exhilarating, Lily breathed a sigh of relief when the slide eventually began to bottom out; however, she had built up so much speed from the ride down that when she finally reached the end, she came barrelling out of the passageway like a cannon ball. Lily could not contain a distressed scream as she was flung out of the opening at an alarming rate.
"I've got you!" Lily heard James roar valiantly, catching her body against his own. Though he was able to hook Lily against his chest upon her arrival—thereby saving her from slamming against the passageway's stone floor—the speed of her travel into his strong arms knocked him off balance, causing him to fall backwards into the flooded gangway with her still cradled against him. Whiffy water splashed up around them dramatically.
"Sirius...bloody...pushed me." Lily sputtered furiously, slow to push herself up off of James so she could look into his face; he looked breathless from their physical encounter, his head half-emerged in the murky water pooling around them: "Oh, I'm so sorry! Are you alright?"
"Just a little winded..." James struggled to say, wriggling from beneath her to prop himself up on his elbows; he winced, thinking his ribs bruised, "Not that I don't enjoy you on top of me."
"Does your seduction know no bounds?" Lily rolled her eyes in amusement, climbing off James and helping him to sit up; though they were both covered in wet dirt, James was clearly worst for wear, filth smeared across his forehead, "You really are relentless, aren't you?"
"Look at you…all covered in mud, soaked to the bone…how am I supposed to resist that?" James joked roughly, leaning in to kiss Lily despite the throbbing pain in his chest. He was pleasantly surprised when she returned the kiss eagerly, straddling his lap and lacing her fingers into his wet hair to deepen the embrace.
"Whoa...slow down there doll, we'll have company in a moment..." James warned half-heartedly, continuing to devour Lily's soft lips despite the fact that any moment his friends were going to come shooting down the passageway and spoil their sensual moment.
"You want me to stop?" Lily pouted, planting a chaste kiss on James' neck; her teasing was getting him all riled up, which she found strangely thrilling in the less-than romantic environment.
"The very opposite actually…I'm trying to protect your honour." James crooned alluringly, a look of agony then crossing his face—either the product of his aching ribs or unfulfilled desire.
"How noble of you…come on, let's get you up." Lily chuckled affectionately, helping an injured James to his feet and brushing some of the dirt off of his face, "How can we possibly go into town now that we look like this? My dress is in ruins…"
Lily wasn't exaggerating; her once lovely dress was ripped in multiple places—including a particularly nasty tear across her abdomen—and noticeably stained due to the muddy water. Her hair was also wet and tangled—though it was less disastrous than James' chaotic mop of tresses.
"If I had known this passage was flooded, it certainly wouldn't have been my first choice." James groaned, taking in Lily's appearance and suppressing a grin, "Well, we can't waltz into the village looking like paupers…we'll have to head back up the passage once Sirius and Remus get here…where are those two?"
"Mrs. Norris stumbled upon us just as you dropped into the passage…Sirius pushed me in and they raced to close it before Mr. Filch caught us in the act. Sirius said they'd meet us in the village shortly."
"Great…that means we can't go back up because Filch is likely snooping around." James heaved a mighty sigh, scratching his head, "I suppose that means we can either wait here until Filch is gone, or head into the village and see if we can't get cleaned up."
"How are we going to manage that? You didn't want us to draw any attention—this will certainly earn some stares." Lily gestured toward her odd appearance, frowning.
"Have a little faith in me!" James grinned roguishly, trailing his hand over the exposed flesh on Lily's stomach; she shivered pleasurably: "I've got another trick up my sleeve."
"Why does that not surprise me?" Lily extracted her wand from her wet dress, smirking as James inquisitively watched her wield the wooden instrument, "Lumos."
The end of her wand suddenly burst into light, the magical glow throwing the crumbling stone walls and leaky ceiling into sharp relief. She smiled coyly, noticing James' reverence, and began to lead the way down the newly-illuminated corridor.
"You never cease to amaze me." James laughed in disbelief, shaking his head as he followed her into the passage.
After wading through a flooded stone passageway that twisted underground like a complicated rabbit's burrow for nearly an hour, Lily and James finally reached a large, dilapidated staircase that sharply ascended toward the channel's dark ceiling. Breathless, Lily watched as James proficiently located a hidden trapdoor in the ceiling—what would have been nearly impossible for a newcomer to discern. Placing a finger to his lips to compel her silence, James then slowly popped the wooden door open, peering through the crack to determine if anyone lay in wait on the other side.
"Good, the cellar is empty…watch your head on the way up." James whispered, climbing out of the passage and chivalrously helping Lily out.
Though it took Lily's eyes a minute to adjust to the muted brightness of the cellar, she could immediately distinguish that they were in a candy store, the smell of melted chocolate and syrupy bonbons bombarding her nostrils in the best of ways. She took in the appearance of the basement with subdued interest, the dusty floors and timber crates far less fascinating then the lustrously-coloured treats located in the confectionary upstairs.
"How do we get past the shopkeeper?" Lily whispered curiously, looking to James for direction, "I've met him before—I'm sure he'll recognize me if he gets a proper look."
"This is where my second trick comes in." James breathed, flashing Lily his perfect teeth as he dug into his pocket and pulled out what appeared to be an old travelling cloak.
"What's that?" Lily raised a cynical eyebrow.
"Why don't you take a look?" James suggested, handing the light-weight fabric to Lily.
Lily observed the exceptional cloak carefully, admiring its intricate, Arthurian design, as well as how it rippled like water as she gently stroked it. She couldn't quite decide on its colour; it seemed to transition from maroon to amethyst to russet as it moved between her fingers. Though it appeared to be an antique, there was something strangely enduring about it, making it even more exquisite than Lily had previously surmised.
"It looks ancient…but its condition is flawless. Where did you get it?"
"It's an heirloom…it's been in the Potter family for as long as any of us can remember…my father passed it onto me when I turned eleven. No one is certain why it has persevered for so long." James explained poignantly, watching her examine it; his eyes sparkled impishly, "Why don't you try it on?"
Lily shrugged and threw the cloak around her frame, though she imagined it would do nothing to heighten her appearance. She twirled babyishly, attempting to earn a chuckle from James, "What do you think? Is it my colour?"
"What do you think?"
Lily puckered her brow, annoyed James wasn't playing along, then looked down at her form; she inhaled precipitously, her eyes widening as she realized her body was missing, the magical cloak completely concealing her and blending in perfectly with their surroundings.
"This is an invisibility cloak, isn't it?" Lily breathed worshipfully, peeling the cloak off and wrapping it around James' shoulders to see the effect replicated; he grinned merrily, thoroughly enjoying her incredulity: "Amazing…I've read that these cloaks are supposed to be really rare. They're spun from demiguise hair…"
"I'm impressed you know that." James remarked, taken aback by her knowledge once again. He pulled the cloak off of his shoulders, "I really must meet this superb tutor of yours…who is he?"
Frank doesn't like him…what are the chances James doesn't either?
"Let's talk about that later—are we using the cloak to sneak out of the shop?" Lily deduced, brushing aside any discussion about Snape for the time being.
"That's the plan. We'll both huddle under the cloak and sneak past Mr. Flume into the street…but we'll have to crouch down low or the cloak won't cover our shoes." James explained, pulling Lily close and tossing the cloak over their heads, "This used to be so easy when I was twelve…"
"I really am getting a firsthand account of what it's like to be a Marauder." Lily whispered happily, syncing herself with James as they began to climb up another staircase leading to the main shop.
As Ambrosius Flume and his wife were busy magicking freshly made fudge into glossy cellophane packages at the back of the shop, preparing for their first customers of the day, neither noticed the basement door creek open, an invisible witch and wizard stealthily creeping across their confectionary toward the exit. They also didn't notice a bodiless arm suddenly appear out of thin air and reach into a glass jar of ice mice before suddenly disappearing again…
"James!" Lily chastised him, giggled as he popped the sweet into his mouth once they exited the shop, the little bell at the top of the door ringing prettily.
"I couldn't help myself." He grinned, chewing the candy happily as he led Lily down High Street, the couple still veiled by the invisibility cloak.
"Remus was right…the streets are empty." Lily commented, taking in the familiar—albeit empty—appearance of Hogsmeade's thatched cottages, warped signs and cobblestone pathways. The village seemed just as comely to her the second time around, the cloak tower glistening in the sun and thick pots of red and yellow flowers dotting storefronts.
James scoffed, mocking exasperation, "He usually is, the sodding intellect. Sounds like you're well on your way to giving him a run for his money, though."
Lily swelled with pride, taking his comparison as a compliment, "And you'd willingly court a sodding intellect?"
"We all have to make sacrifices sometimes."
As the concealed pair continued to inconspicuously wind down the flagged streets, it eventually dawned on Lily where they were headed: Gladrags' Wizardwear.
"James, Madame Gladrags knows me too. The last time she saw me I was with Frank." She started hesitantly, noticing James cringe at the mere mention of her fake beau, "If we both head in there together, looking the way we do, she's going to question it."
"That's not my strategy." James replied, more curtly than Lily would have liked—it was apparent he was not thrilled to hear that she and Frank had visited Hogsmeade together before, "You're going to stay under the cloak and pinch something off the racks while I distract Madame Gladrags. Use the loo at the back of the shop to clean yourself up; once you're done, knock something over to signal that you're ready to go. Sound alright?"
Lily nodded, slightly shamefaced to be tiptoeing around Madame Gladrags' dress shop like a thief. James then removed himself from underneath the cloak and opened the front door. Lily slipped in behind him, careful to get out of his way as he moved to close it.
"Lord Potter, what an unexpected surprise!" Madame Gladrags expressed exuberantly upon their arrival, rushing toward the door to greet him; the clothier immediately stopped in her tracks, her mouth hanging open in surprise as she absorbed his dishevelled appearance, "Merlin, what has happened to you, my lord?!"
"Ah yes…I'm afraid I had a bit of an accident with my carriage on the way into the village. I had hoped you could help me get straightened out—I'd hate to be caught looking like this by one of those silly Prophet photographers." James replied convincingly, flashing Madame Gladrags a disarming smile.
"You've come to the right place!" Madam Gladrags announced jauntily, the plump woman swiftly locking the door behind him, "I'll lock up so you can have my full attention. What can I show you today? Are you looking for a more casual look, or perhaps a pant suit?"
Lily watched as James lead Madame Gladrags toward a rack of finely-pressed suits, thereby providing her with ample berth to cross the store and submerge herself in the ladies' apparel section. Careful to be discreet, Lily began to peruse the racks, looking for any dress that was in her size. She grabbed the first one she stumbled upon, uncaring of how fashionable it was—an indigo-coloured day dress with yellow trim and oversized buttons. Quickly stuffing it beneath the cloak, she headed for the lavatory at the back of the store.
Once she closed the door behind her, Lily quickly went to work on herself, pulling off the invisibility cloak and turning on the silver-plated facet. Unsure of where to begin, she wiped the grim from her face and hair and slipped out of her spoiled dress, discarding it in the corner of the pristine restroom. She did her best to fix her gradually-curling hair into an acceptable up-do—something she had relied on Mimi to accomplish up until that point—then pulled on the dress she had nicked from the shelves. Relieved her make-up was still relatively intact, Lily took one final look at herself in the mirror before throwing the cloak back over her head and exiting.
When Lily re-entered the main room, she found James balanced atop a pedestal in front of the store's main display mirrors, looking a whole new man. Dressed in a crisp new suit, his unmanageable hair styled and his face tidy, he was being circled by Madam Gladrags, who was skilfully hemming the sleeves of his jacket and bottom of his pants with her wand. Lily rolled her eyes in amusement, thinking he looked quite comfortable being fawned over.
"I've heard the Hogwarts Gala was a smashing success the other night…did you attend, Lord Potter?" Madame Gladrags chit-chatted as she worked on customizing his expensive attire.
"No, I'm afraid not. I had some business that kept me away." James replied flawlessly, fiddling with the cuffs of his sleeves, "Lord Dumbledore always puts on quite the show…I'm sure it was a remarkable event."
"Perhaps you've already heard, but Lord Dumbledore's niece, Lady Aurora Rockford, debuted at the Gala." Madam Gladrags gossiped cheerfully, causing Lily's ears to burn, "Such a beautiful young witch…have you happened to make her acquaintance, Lord Potter?"
Lily watched James grin clandestinely, "Funny you should ask; I'm about to go meet up with her and a few friends for a drink. I encountered her earlier in the summer."
"How lovely!" Madam Gladrags exclaimed, her cheeks rosy with glee, "You know, I only just met her myself—she buys almost all of her clothing from me. Do you not think her a pretty girl?"
Lily wasn't sure how, but as James looked up into the mirror his chocolate eyes seemed to find her concealed location; he smiled impishly in her direction, "She is quite possibly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen."
Her face bloomed like a flower, James' romantic profession making her heart flutter irregularly. Madam Gladrags cooed gladly, apparently receiving the answer she had hoped for, "You know, I think you and she would have made for a famous couple, Lord Potter. A pity you did not meet her before Lord Longbottom did."
Lily suppressed a groan as she watched James harden, once again reminded of her faux relationship with Frank Longbottom. Though the clothier did not notice his sudden change in mood, Lily could certainly distinguish his aggravation, his once playful eyes losing their patina.
Perhaps I shouldn't tell him that Frank kissed me…
"I doubt that Lord Longbottom will be able to hold Lady Rockford's attentions for much lo—"
Lily hurriedly tipped over a large vase of cerise roses that were arranged at the check-out counter, causing the vase to explode in a show of terracotta and puncture James' speech. Madame Gladrags shrieked, distracted from James as she hastened to charm the vase back into one piece.
"I apologize, Lord Potter—I'm not sure why the vase leapt off the counter like that!"
"It's no trouble." James mumbled, the smashed décor his cue that Lily was ready to depart, "I best get be on my way so I'm not late for my next appointment. Thank you for your help today, Madam Gladrags"
Without a second glance, James plunked an enormous bag of glittering galleons onto the check-out counter and headed for the door. Lily watched as Madam Gladrag's eyes swelled to the size of saucers; she spilled the coins onto the polished surface and gasped, "But Lord Potter, your suit didn't cost nearly this much!"
"Consider it a tip for your excellent service." James replied suavely, holding open the door as he flashed the shopkeeper one more beguiling smile. Realizing that he was waiting for her to make her inconspicuous exit, Lily quickly brushed past him and plunged into the street, secretly pleased that James had thought to pay Madam Gladrags for her dress as well.
Once he had shut the door behind them, Lily watched as he discreetly headed down the lane—which was now sparsely strewn with shoppers—and ducked into an alley that blotted out his location. Curious as to what his plan was, Lily turned down the backstreet in hot pursuit of him, eventually finding him loitering near its dead-end.
"Time to take off the cloak, my dear." James directed charmingly, folding his arms as he awaited her advent.
"Are you ordering me to disrobe, Lord Potter?" Lily returned mockingly, circling him: she was having a devilishly good time, sneaking about in her magical camouflage.
"Saucy little minx." James clucked his tongue, reproaching her for her unjust teasing, "Flout me for much longer and I'll have to take it off of you myself…something I will take great pleasure in."
"Now who's being cheeky?" Lily questioned idly, smirking as she pulled off the cloak and pressed it into James' hands, "I look forward to using this again…perhaps you can lend it to me?"
"Not a chance." James taunted light-heartedly, folding up the antique silk and slipping it into the inside pocket of his jacket. When he noticed Lily's cleaned-up appearance he whistled, causing her to roll her eyes in amusement, "You look lovely—I suppose I can withstand being discovered in your company now…"
"Hey!" Lily yelped, poking James between the ribs; he chuckled, swatting her hand away.
"Let's go find Sirius and Remus—something tells me they went straight to the pub." James ribbed merrily.
Before they exited the alleyway, James scanned the street, checking to ensure that no one nearby would notice their departure from the rather questionable backstreet. Once he was convinced their entrance would go unnoticed, he cracked a smile and formally offered his arm to Lily, "Ready to masquerade about Hogsmeade with me, Lady Rockford?"
"If I must." Lily taunted vivaciously, allowing him to escort her into the open air.
It wasn't long into their stroll into the hub of Hogsmeade that Lily and James encountered the ever-mischievous Sirius Black. Their luck at going all but unnoticed by morning pedestrians seemed to instantly expire once his boisterous presence singled them out.
"There you two bloody are!" Sirius exclaimed dramatically, nearly sending the door of Zonko's Joke Shop flying off its hinges as he burst into the street, his arms cradling brown paper bags overflowing with an assortment of strange items. Lily raised a brow when she noticed an inflatable tongue poking out, "Remus and I practically did a loop around the village waiting for you to show up!"
James frowned as the faces of people passing by turned toward them inquisitively. He laboured to keep his cool and refrain from berating Sirius for his rashness: "It's a long story; tell you over drinks. What's all of this rubbish?"
"Rubbish?" Sirius snapped, regarding his best friend as the worst of blasphemers, "This is high quality prank product, Potter! You and I made a career out of dungbombs and Dr. Fillibuster's fireworks! Shame on you…"
James rolled his eyes, though Lily watched their exchange in amusement: "That may be true, but we already own half of that shop…isn't this overkill? As you may also recall, we are no longer students at Hogwarts."
"One bag is for me, and one bag is for Aurora." Sirius retorted, earning a gleeful exclamation from Lily, "Now that she is living at Hogwarts, it is up to her to exact revenge on that twaddle of a tomcat intent on ruining my life."
"It would be my pleasure!" Lily answered giddily, itching to thumb through the contents of the shopping bag, "Although I think you give Mrs. Norris a bit too much credit…"
"I loathe cats."
"You really shouldn't encourage him. Sirius is liable to land you in Dumbledore's bad books." James warned Lily, though his attempt at dissuading any bad behaviour was lackadaisical.
"No more than you are, Lord Potter." Lily pointed out coyly, turning toward Sirius, "So where has Remus gotten to?"
"He's waiting for us at the Three Broomsticks. Let's head over there now—I'm dying for a butterbeer."
As Lily followed Sirius and James down the rue, she observed that customers and shopkeepers alike had paused to watch them. James and Sirius appeared unruffled by the attention; Lily attempted to mirror their air of triviality, conscious of appearing like she belonged in their regal presence. It was difficult for her not to squirm under the inspection of so many curious bystanders.
"Isn't that Dumbledore's niece?"
"I heard she wore a dress made of diamonds to the Hogwarts Gala!"
"What's she doing with Lord Potter and Lord Black?"
"I heard she's courting—"
"Try not to let them get to you." James murmured in her ear, holding her arm tighter within his own as he caught a glimpse of her strained facial expression, "You'll get used to the whispers."
"All a part of high society I'm afraid." Sirius added, stepping forward to open the heavy door of a slightly crooked building, "Here we are—ladies first."
The Three Broomsticks was much more comfortable than Lily expected. Upon arriving, she immediately felt like she had entered the cozy home of a cherished friend; the front room was crowded with dark chairs and tables, while the bar near the back of the room was encumbered with half-empty glass bottles and polished pewter tankards. The space was warmly lit, a smoky haze seemingly hovering above the mostly-empty seats, and it smelled of rich cinnamon and red current rum. It seemed a traditional English tavern in every way—though Lily noticed the mugs at the bar appeared to be magically wiping themselves down, and the leaves on the thick ivy that coiled around the room's wooden beams appeared to be dancing gaily. It wasn't a posh public house by any means—which added to the reason Lily loved it so much.
Nestled quietly at a booth near the back of the pub was Remus Lupin, his eyes acutely trained on a black-and-white newspaper. He greeted Lily, James and Sirius blithely when they joined him, immediately passing the wrinkled tabloid to James: "Remember when you made Padfoot promise not to land Aurora on the front page of the Prophet?"
Lily and Sirius craned their necks to read the paper over James' shoulder; they exchanged an uneasy look when their eyes scanned the front page headline:
Break-In at the Ministry of Magic has Minister Mystified
Andy Smudgely, Investigative Reporter
Whitehall – The Ministry of Magic has been impenetrable to break-ins by kleptomaniacal wizards and creatures alike for more than one hundred and fifty years—that is, until two days ago.
When Ministry of Magic custodial workers arrived on Monday morning to prepare for the influx of workers normally expected to floo through the building's fireplaces at the beginning of each week, they found the place in ruins. As Reginald Cattermore reports, the Ministry's atrium was flooded with water and the famed Fountain of Magical Brethren had been disgracefully maimed:
"I could 'ardy believe me eyes when I first got 'n…I wus standing in nearly a foot o' water, right up to me knees…a big 'ole had been blown in one o' the walls…'ere was debris everywhere." Cattermore explained, appearing visibly traumatized by the sight, "And ter boot, the 'ead of the fountain's centaur 'ad been severed clean off 'is neck!"
It is clear that this bizarre display of vandalism has the Department of Magical Law Enforcement thoroughly puzzled. Minister for Magic, Lord Faris Spavin, reported during a press conference that aside from the damage done to the building's foyer, nothing appears to have been tampered with or taken. When asked whether or not he believes that dark wizards were involved in the incident, Lord Spavin had this to say:
"The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has no reason to suspect that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or any of his misguided followers have anything to do with this happening. We believe this is the work of small-minded delinquents who—by fluke—entered the Ministry of Magic on a day when our security system had not been properly activated—"
"Small-minded delinquents?!" Sirius interrupted vociferously, slamming his fist down on the table; James glared at him: "Somehow I doubt that a bunch of senseless teenagers could easily overcome a hoard of blast-ended skrewts and a bloody monsoon. Not activated my arse!"
"I'd like to second that!" Lily added indignantly, unconsciously scratching one of her nearly-healed burns.
"Don't take it personally—clearly they are trying to downplay the incident to save face." Remus explained, taking the paper back from James.
"I have a feeling Moody had a hand in this—likely fed the Minister faulty intelligence about the security system not having been triggered in order to avoid a formal investigation. The debacle will likely be pinned on that uppity Ministry official who set up my fireplace last night—Louisa Edgecomb." James surmised, feeling slightly guilty for her bad luck.
"Well if it isn't my three favourite patrons."
Lily's attention turned to the curvy woman confidently sidling up to their table. She had crimped blonde hair and warm hazel eyes which regarding James, Sirius and Remus with gratuitous affection. Lily guessed she was fifteen years their senior, for though her smile glowed with youth, lines had begun to form around the edges of her eyes and across her forehead. Apparently this difference in age did nothing to dissuade the boys from perking up in her presence, her racy neckline enough to evoke their devotion.
"Looking lovely as ever, Madam Rosmerta." Sirius cooed charismatically, swooping on the bartender's hand to bestow a kiss, "I'm still waiting for your answer concerning my marriage proposal…you've kept me waiting since fifth year, you know! A man can only pine for so long."
Rosmerta dissolved into raucous laughter, her cheeks flushing pink; Lily stifled a jealous eye-roll: "I'm sure your family would be thrilled with the match, Lord Black. Me, a lowly bar-owner who's probably old enough to be your—well, let's say sister."
"To hell with my family! You're gorgeous and you make a mean butterbeer—you're practically the perfect woman."
"You'll have to pardon him today, Rosmerta. He's a little high-strung after a visit to Zonko's." James interjected easily, exuding charm as he flashed her a mesmeric smile, "I'd like to introduce to you Lady Aurora Rockford, Dumbledore's niece."
As Rosmerta's surprised eyes befell her, some of her forbearance seemed to dissipate, replaced with what Lily perceived as apprehension: "Lady Rockford…so kind of you to visit my humble tavern. Your uncle has not stopped by in a long while…I hope everything is still to his liking. Might I bring you a drink?"
"I'm sure it is—your bar is remarkably warm and welcoming." Lily replied kindly, unsure of why the friendly barkeep betrayed her nature to address her so ceremoniously, "A drink would be nice after the journey into the village."
"Right—let's have four butterbeers, Rosmerta." James ordered promptly, attempting to dispel the formality, "Extra foam on mine, if you please."
"Yes, Lord Potter: I remember your order." The bartender smiled alluringly, her supple hips swaying as she sauntered back toward the bar to fill their steins; the boys watched her departure enthusiastically.
Lily frowned, "Should I order some extra napkins so the three of you can wipe the drool off of your faces?"
"I don't know what you mean…" James immediately spurned, colour rising to his cheeks.
Rosmerta returned to their table shortly after with four silver tankards of velvety butterbeer. As the boys struck up a conversation with the magnetic woman, Lily examined her beverage, sniffing it experimentally before eventually relenting to try it. Just as she was about to exclaim how she had never tasted a more flavoursome drink, Rosmerta turned to her and remarked casually: "I must say, that was quite the dress you wore the other night, Lady Rockford. If it wasn't for that Ministry break-in, you undoubtedly would have made the front page…though I suppose page 2 of the Prophet is nothing to scoff at."
Two patrons suddenly walked into the bar, drawing Rosmerta away from their table. James brusquely turned to pry the newspaper out of Remus' hands; however, Sirius had already snatched it up and spread it open to page 2.
High Society's Newest 'It Girl'—Lady Aurora Rockford
Lily balked, horrified to see that an entire page had been devoted to a moving picture of she and Dumbledore at the Hogwarts Gala. The photographer had snapped their arm-and-arm entrance into the Dining Hall; they wore tight, formal smiles, the finely-dressed crowd surrounding them clapping and staring. Beside the picture on page 3 was a lengthy article seemingly dedicated to her.
"Well apparently Aurora doesn't need my help to make the paper—she's bloody monopolizing it at this point." Sirius whined, though a grin mushroomed across his face, "She's on page 1, page 2, page 3…"
"Would you belt up already? Read it out loud, I can't see it from this angle—"
"You're being quite contradictory, Prongs—"
"Sirius." Lily hissed in warning, straining to read the article.
"OK, OK!" Sirius threw his hands up in defeat, huffing melodramatically.
High Society's Newest 'It Girl'—Lady Aurora Rockford
Betty Braithwaite, Society Correspondent
Hogsmeade – Magical Society has a new 'It Girl', and you won't believe who she is related to.
Lady Aurora Rockford, cherished niece of none other than Lord Albus Dumbledore—Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, and Headmaster of Hogwarts—debuted on her uncle's arm at the Hogwarts Gala on Sunday. Wearing a purple dress designed by couturiers in Paris, Lady Rockford's surprise introduction dazzled party-goers, most of whom were unaware that Lord Dumbledore had a niece.
"We were all shocked to learn of Lady Aurora Rockford—no one had heard of her until her grand entrance." Lady Laurentia Fletwock—6th year Hogwarts student—explained to reporters zealously, "The only person aside from Headmaster Dumbledore who seemed to know of her was Lord Longbottom."
To the great disappointment of many lords at the party, it instantly became apparent that Lady Rockford was courting society-favourite Lord Frank Longbottom, sole heir to the Longbottom estate. Several guests have reported that the couple spent the entire evening dancing together and very rarely left one-another's sides. When reporters caught up with Lady Augusta Longbottom as she was leaving the Gala, she had this to say when asked if Lady Rockford and Lord Longbottom were romantically connected:
"I can confirm that they are indeed courting—my son was one of the first people Lady Rockford met when she first arrived in London at the beginning of the summer. Though their romance is young, it is clear they are already very fond of one another—"
"—I think we get the point, Sirius." Lily interjected desperately, yanking the paper out from between Sirius' fingers and setting it aside: James was scowling so hard at the crumpled newsprint that she thought it might burst into flames, taking down the entire pub with it, "Please tell me I won't have to put up with this rubbish all the time…"
"This is only the beginning." James murmured, taking a large gulp of his butterbeer and staring daggers at the floor. She sighed.
Lily was comfortably nestled by the fireplace in the Gryffindor Common Room, the naughty Zonko's items Sirius had purchased for her spread across the surface of the coffee table before her. She wearily picked through each item, her initial excitement concerning the goods gradually diminishing due to the late hour.
James, Sirius and Remus had dropped her off at the castle before heading off to an Order meeting around mid-afternoon, thereby abandoning her to her own anxiety. Lily had rejected her dinner, too apprehensive to eat, and hadn't the patience or focus to read in order to help pass the time, preoccupied with thoughts of Dumbledore berating her for secretly appealing to Professor Snape for Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons.
If Dumbledore tells me I can't learn Defense, how am I going to defeat Voldemort?
As the mantelpiece clock began to methodically chime, indicating that 10:00PM had arrived, the portrait of the Fat Lady concurrently swung open with a swoosh, revealing the silvery form of Lord Dumbledore. Lily climbed to her feet as he approached her spot near the fire, a peaceful smile warming his withered face.
"Good evening, my dear. I'm sorry to have kept you up waiting—our gathering ran longer than I had originally anticipated." The old wizard explained cordially, settling into a claret-coloured chair as Lily curled up on the couch, "I see you've had a productive day?"
Lily cracked an uneasy smile: "Sirius is determined that I exact revenge on Filch's cat on his behalf…though I suppose I shouldn't be telling the headmaster that."
"I'll pretend I didn't see the paraphernalia…after all, you aren't an official student at Hogwarts, and therefore do not have to prescribe to Mr. Filch's banned items list." Dumbledore said kindly, fixing his wilted hands in his lap, "Alas, this leads me to our main topic of discussion."
"…Oh yes?" Lily managed weakly, her pulse quickening as she prepared to be disciplined.
Why do I always have such a difficult time following the rules?
"How would you like to be an official Hogwarts student?"
Lily blinked in response. The fire snapped pleasantly.
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PS, Lily is going to Hogwarts…no big deal?