Summer of 1976, Hertfordshire
It was a night Lily would never forget.
A breeze shifted the gauzy curtains around her window. She welcomed the refreshing air on her face, although the flesh on her arms chilled. With her eyes shut, her hands reached for the sheets she had kicked to the bottom of the bed.
Suddenly her mind cleared, and in that arbitrary way, she was wide awake. Her eyes opened and searched the room. Her childhood knickknacks and furniture were all in place, like a misleading veneer of normalcy. For some reason, her room looked like a caricature of what it should be.
She felt both ill at ease and exposed, lying in her bed with only a thin sheet covering her. The night's darkness usually exuded safety, a period to close her eyes and fall asleep; but tonight, it was ominous, like a traitorous cloak, hiding – God knows what.
Lily shuddered at the brief idea that she was lying on her bed thinking all this while someone was watching her. She tried to roll her head to one side to survey her surroundings, but she felt scared.
She felt glued to her supine position, ashamedly so. If she were braver, she would run to the door, turn on the lights and forget her paranoia. But she couldn't traverse even that short distance with the fear she stirred up in herself.
A sixteen – nearly seventeen – year old, she thought in self-deprecation, with the respectable position of prefect during the school year. She was acting like a first year rather than a first year's role model. Afraid of the dark, too afraid to move!
Chiding herself, she kept her eyes closed as she swung herself to her feet to turn on the lights. Once she chased the darkness out, she took a deep breath. But she couldn't help wishing her window was shut and the curtains were less gauzy and more substantial.
Maybe she should leave her room and go downstairs. Her parents were bound to be sitting at the dining table, chatting quietly or reading on a peaceful Saturday night. The plan appealed to her, as Lily wanted to spend more time with her parents before going back to Hogwarts.
Her bare feet slipped down the burgundy-carpeted stairs but she stopped with her hand on the banister and her left foot dangling midair. The lights downstairs were off and belied any indication of her parents.
Another unbearable sensation of fear swarmed over Lily, and she shuddered. She was alone on the staircase, vulnerable in any direction. She wished she brought her wand, although her defensive magic was very limited.
Not wanting to, she slowly turned around to return to her room, but immediately froze with a strange gust of air in her throat.
A figure stood at the top of the staircase, at ease. His face was hooded but she could vaguely make out a glinting of teeth. His figure was stately, almost drawn out. His black robes extended down to his feet in voluminous ripples. Yet he made no attempt to move.
The situation seemed fantastical to her. A man who could be dangerous standing in her home, on the staircase she toddled down as a young child. Even paradoxical.
This is a mistake. A man is standing here because he made a mistake, that's all, she thought. I need to ask him for an explanation. I am in charge. This is my house.
Trying hard to remain composed in her nightclothes, she asked, "What are you doing here?"
He only stretched out his arm, she could see a wand, pointed at her. Her night shirt seemed to flutter, as though by an invisible breeze.
Now there was no mistake. Her mind immediately knew. She spun around, tried to run.
"Not yet, Lovely," he sneered. Her eyes widened at his voice. It was deep and raspy, almost not like a human. And immediately she was locked in place. Her body couldn't move, not even her face. She felt a fluttering by her side and he was next to her ear. "'What am I doing here?' Filthy slut. Trying to entice me, fool me with your wiles. Dirty Mudblood like you shouldn't be allowed to be educated."
She felt a stab of horror. A cold presence was at her leg, trailing up her inner thigh. It lingered at the hem of her shorts.
She shivered at his nearness. His voice had more insistence now as he hissed in her ear. "I came here to teach you a lesson. I should take the Freezing Charm off right now and give you what you want. And I know what you want, filthy Mudblood bitch. In a few seconds you'll be on the floor, writhing, begging for more, just like the others. I'll fuck you so hard you won't be able to walk. Then I'll kill you."
Below them the front door blew open.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" someone bellowed. The Freezing Charm was taken off and before she could think she began sprinting up the stairs and to her parents to see if they were safe. She thought she could hear a tousle ensue below her.
She flung open her parents' door to their room. It was a room she remembered from her childhood, filled with pictures on the walls, an adjoining bathroom with light blue tiles. She slumped with relief when she saw her parents tangled in the bedsheets, her mother on the left, her father right, as usual.
Someone grasped her elbow and she jumped in fright.
An unsympathetic voice at her side, different from the previous stranger, said, "Let's go."
"Go?" she asked petulantly. "Go where?"
"Your parents are dead," he said coldly, "You need to leave, or you'll die tonight too. Or suffer something even worse."
She wrenched her arm away. Then disbelievingly she went to her parents. Amidst the bedsheets, their faces stared through her, glassy-eyed. She began to sob.
Her arm was grabbed again and the room began spinning until it disappeared. The world collapsed.
She was too disoriented to think or register her surroundings and when she accidentally slumped against the man he huffed with impatience and pushed past her to a red phone booth.
It was cold, stark night. She felt chilled to death.
The man was in the red phone booth, dialing numbers. After looking annoyed, he began speaking into the phone. Lily felt like laughing. Her life was changed forever and she was waiting for a man to get off the phone. She was utterly confused.
The harried-looking man flung open the door of the phone booth. "Get in," he said.
She stepped in. The man stuck to one side to give her space. The booth began to descend.
It opened with a professional click and they stepped out of a fireplace in what appeared to be a hallway of fireplaces. A luxurious light rained down from a giant chandelier. Assorted golden statues of centaurs, beasts and wizards stood in positions around a circular fountain, spraying water.
Without wasting time, the man strode to a pair of golden gates, not checking to see if she followed or not. She hurried after him. He pulled out his wand and handed it to a gatekeeper who hovered near, greeting him like a friend ("Hullo there, Eric").
"Hel-lo! Busy night. Everyone is bustling to get in. Big something's going on. Not that there's ever a night when there isn't," Eric said, clearly hassled by the constant entrants, "And where's the young miss's?"
"Where's your wand?" the man she followed asked.
Lily stared at him.
He struggled to hide his impatience. "You left it?" He didn't wait for her to answer. "Eric, she doesn't have her wand. But she needs to get in. She's one of the ministry's cases now."
Eric seemed to hesitate, but out of the corner of his eye saw a large group of wizards and witches approaching. "Alright, alright. It's okay, this time. Just bring your wand next time, okay sweets?"
The small gate opened and they walked through a smaller hall to a row of lifts. They went on one. Her rescuer, or whatever he happened to be, pushed "2" in a set of large buttons and the lift descended.
The reality of her situation was beginning to dawn on her. Her parents were dead. Her protectors, the people she could always depend on for support and safety, they were gone forever. She was filled with equal parts remorse and fear. She began choking back tears again, to the discomfort of the man.
"You're going to have a hard night," he said grimly, "And maybe an even harder year. But you'll live. That's the reality of things right now."
The lift opened to a shabby corridor, dimly lit. They passed a set of magical windows; each window showed a different locale. She would have rather been at any of them.
Soon she felt a bustle and liveliness. They entered an open area divided into cubicles, full of wizards and witches busy working and chattering. The walls were filled with Quidditch posters, photographs, wanted posters and Daily Prophet clippings.
Lily followed the man until he brusquely turned around.
"I have business to take care of. You'll have to stay here for a while. Don't leave because you have to present your case to a panel of aurors sometime tonight. If you need assistance in any way, ask around for me. My name is Steve," he said.
Addressing a man at a nearby cubicle he asked, "Where's that nuisance of an intern?"
The man barked a laugh. "Probably wishing he were back at Hogwarts."
"Well, get him to bring her a cup of coffee and keep her company." Steve ordered, "God knows he'll be good at it."
Then he disappeared. Nobody addressed her for several minutes until a tall youth, maybe around her age, darted through the cubicles towards her with two cups. He looked up and in a flash of recognition that passed away quickly, smiled grimly. She was too exhausted to appreciate it.
"Hullo," he said, "Hot tea or coffee?"
"Neither," she replied quietly. He stood a bit awkwardly, with both cups still in his hands.
She and James Potter had never been closely acquainted at Hogwarts. For her, school was too time-consuming to go beyond an immediate circle of friends and the same went for him. In fact, she rarely saw him outside of classes, meals and the Quidditch games. He was never without three of his closest friends and was always in the periphery of her school life rather than in it.
But Lily did know that he performed well in classes and was notorious for his dueling abilities. Although most people didn't know him personally, he was admired, respected. He was kind on the most part, but he had a side that was unknown to all. His fierce playing on the Quidditch pitch belied his quiet countenance.
"Do you wanna sit down?" he asked.
Still holding the cups, he directed her through the cubicles -- "Take a right, now a left, okay, another left, now right …" – until they reached a sort of disheveled lounge with assorted couches in random positions. They sat on a plushy lavender one in the middle of the room.
"I change my mind. I do want a cup of tea," she said gingerly. He cautioned that it was still hot as he gave her the cup. She sipped at the drink, suddenly aware that she was in her nightclothes while James sat before her in the splendor of professional black work robes. Her eyes dropped as her cheeks colored as she stared at her bare thighs. How she managed to be ashamed when she had almost just been raped by a stranger was beyond her.
He cleared his throat, as though reading her mind. "You must be having a tough night."
Her eyes soaked in hot tears.
He sighed and sank back into the couch, cradling the cup of coffee. And then Lily had the most extraordinary worry right then. She nearly hated herself for it.
Looking down, she worried that he was bored.
She stood up abruptly, her mind in shambles. "I should find Steve. He said not to leave. He said something about.. some panel.. I don't know. Something. If he can't find me he might just forget. I don't even know where I'll sleep tonight. Oh God. This is strange. I don't even know if I'll attend Hogwarts anymore."
Startled, James tried to console her, "Hey, calm down."
Then she had the sensation that the air was thicker somehow, like water, or blood. She had the wild thought that she hadn't seen any blood spilt on her parents' bed. That somehow made their deaths seem inconclusive to her. They would never really be dead until she saw them dead like in the movies.
"Oh God," she said, the wind knocked out of her. Lily crumbled to the floor in a dizzying spell.
James looked concerned, blurry.
"This is really important. One last thing," she murmured. His eyes swam in her vision, orbs of warm hazel brown. "You have… disturbingly really… really nice... eyes."
He might have raised his eyebrows at that, before yelling for help.