It's been so long I'm afraid I've probably lost you all. To be honest, I've lost myself a bit too.
Chapter 81: In Which is far too full of Hate
James stared at the crackling fire as the sounds of Lily in the shower rained mutedly from behind him. They'd finished their patrol without incident and she had invited him up for tea or cocoa. They'd been having such a good time on patrols, just like they used to, and when she asked him to continue their (surprisingly amiable) conversation in her rooms, he'd jumped at the opportunity. He had stayed over the previous night and was hoping for a repeat. Granted, last night had been a bit of an exception, what with the Death Eaters and the fire and all the rest, but still, James hoped that it was the start of something. He and Lily had continued talking for a few hours before she declared it was late, and she was going to shower before bed.
So James sat, waiting, wondering, was that an invitation or a dismissal?
He hadn't worked out his answer before the portrait hole swung open. Instinctively, James reached for his wand, but lowered it again when he saw who it was.
"Padfoot? What are you doing here?" he asked, surprised and admittedly a bit annoyed.
"You weren't in your office so I thought this the next likely place. And what are you doing here?" he asked in return, raising an eyebrow. Sirius stopped and shook his head. "Never mind, I don't care. I've got to tell you about this healer, if you can call him that."
James, a bit tired and more than a bit confused, shook his head to clear it. "What? Why have you come to tell me about a healer at nearly three in the morning?"
"Because I'm going to kill him."
After a moment studying him, James saw that his friend was entirely serious.
"Merlin," James said, removing his spectacles and rubbing his face with his free hand.
"You've got to help me in this, James."
Help him? Help him do murder?
"Why do you think this healer needs to die?"
And so James sat and listened as Sirius described Healer Krankheit, a wizard who had been sterilising unsuspecting muggleborns at the request of wealthy purebloods. The thought did make him sick. Imagining someone doing that to Lily, to anyone, made him furious. But murder?
"Padfoot…" James began uncertainly. "I grant you, the man is despicable but there are better ways. Press charges. Send him to Azkaban. We can't take this into our own ha—"
"I've already done my homework on this cunt, all right? He's protected. You will never make a case against him; he has done too many favours for too many important people." Sirius fixed him with a determined stare. "He's immune to the law James, but he's not immune to justice…"
James sat back, and thought for several moments.
"What would you do if I refused to help you?"
"I'd do it alone," said Sirius. "Or worse."
"Worse?" What could possibly be worse, James wondered
"I'd ask the lady to help…"
James shook his head. "She would refuse, too."
"She won't," Sirius said with certainty. "Not about this."
"What makes you so sure?" asked James. "She wouldn't condone violence on a healer who's never actually harmed anyone. She might hate what he's doing but she wouldn't have him killed. I don't think she'd back you."
"It's not about hurting, it's a matter of being robbed the power of choice! Muggleborns across Britain have had their options stripped from them one by one. And now they will have this taken away from them as well? Arguably the greatest and certainly one of the last choices left to them, the sovereignty over their own body? Not even aware that the decision has been made for them, without their knowledge, without their consent? Being treated at best like a pet to spare the inconvenience of offspring or at worst being considered sub-human not even worthy to reproduce?" Sirius shook his head. "Oh, I think you grievously mistake our redhead if you think she'd stand for it."
James sighed as he rubbed his chin.
"And," Sirius went on, "I'd be grievously disappointed in you if you would stand for it."
Finally James nodded. "But we can't kill him, Sirius."
"What do you suggest then?" Sirius asked, not without a hint of annoyance.
"I don't know," James admitted. "But we can't just kill him."
"He's right," said a voice behind them. Sirius and James whirled around, wide-eyed and on the alert, knowing Lily was there but unable to see her. She pulled the invisibility cloak off. "We don't kill him."
"Told you," said James, pretending he hadn't been startled. He then turned to Lily. "I didn't lend you the cloak so you could eavesdrop on my private conversations, by the way."
She shrugged. "Then don't have your private conversations in my room," she replied. She waved her hand in the direction of the bathroom and the sounds of the shower instantly cut off. James realised she'd probably been standing there for some time. "I hadn't planned on revealing myself, but I couldn't just stand there knowing that the only idea you had so far was to 'not kill him.' Someone had to step in."
"Very well then, clever-boots, what do we do?" asked James.
Lily pursed her lips, frowning. It was the expression James had come to associate with her less pleasant ideas. "We could spread some misinformation, spread it about that he's feeding information to the Order about what his services are and who uses them. Once word gets round he betrayed his bigoted clients, they will take care of him… so we don't have to."
"Lily!" James cried, at the same time as Sirius's, "Brilliant."
"I was kidding… mostly," she said. "If we did turn his customers against him, though, I think it would put him in such a tight spot that he'd have to come to the Order for protection. We could put him to work finding a way to reverse what he's done." She nodded to herself, content with this plan. "We need to find out how he learned the sterilisation technique and where. Or, if he created the spell himself, we need his research. If we know how to do it, we might find a way to undo it. Agreed?"
"Agreed," said James.
"And while he's at it he might as well commit the offense we've accused him of and tell us everything he knows about them," she added. "Who knows what else he's privy to?"
James had to admit, it was better than anything either he or Sirius had come up with. Sirius nodded in likewise agreement.
"So…" James began, rubbing his hands together. "First thing would be to get a list of names and tell the witches and wizards who've been sterilised what's been done to them."
"Well," said Lily, crossing her arms over her chest and tossing her hair over her shoulder to look at Sirius. "We can't get the names until he comes to us. And he won't come to us until he fears for his life. And he won't fear for his life until—"
"Yes, yes, all right. I'll get on it," said Sirius, cutting her off. Lily smiled, but not in an altogether kind way. Her expression remained fixed on Sirius, waiting. "What, now?" he asked.
"We need to get this moving soon as can be."
Sirius but got to his feet. "Fine. Seems I am no longer wanted," he grumbled, pretending to be offended.
"You're wanted, Sirius," she said, winking at him. "You're just wanted elsewhere."
He rolled his eyes and headed for the portrait hole.
"Just make sure he's so afraid for his life that he goes to Dumbledore," Lily reiterated.
As he whooshed out the door, Sirius gave them both the most disturbingly excited grin.
"I don't think that was necessary," James said, clearing his throat. "We don't want him to get carried away."
"He won't," said Lily. "The fact that he consulted you in the first place proves it."
Peter Pettigrew rapped two times at the door before letting himself in.
"Anyone at home?" he called into the dark London flat. "Moony? Padfoot?"
"'Lo Wormtail," he heard Remus greet. Peter followed the sound of his friend's voice into the kitchen where he found Remus at the small eating table, book in one hand, fork in the other, the plate of food seemingly forgotten.
"Dark in'ere," Peter commented. There was only the light from Moony's wand, which was barely enough to read by. "What book 'ave you got?"
Remus closed the book over his finger to mark his place and read aloud, "Philosophy of the Mundane: Why Muggles Prefer Not to Know."
Peter tried to look interested and intelligent. "Can't remember 'oo wrote that one," he said. He thought the title sounded vaguely familiar, but had no idea about it.
"Professor Mordicus Egg."
"Oh," said Peter. The name sounded familiar too, sort of. "Any good?"
Remus shrugged. "Dunno, actually. Seems a bit far-fetched at times."
"Why're you reading it, then?"
Another shrug. "Found it lying around." It was then Remus seemed to remember his dinner and stabbed at his with his fork. "How's tricks?"
"Oh, same as usual. Work is awful dull."
Remus gave him a look that was half sympathy, half wry jab as if to say, you think your life's dull?
Remus was out of a job again, and had no doubt he'd been there all day, probably the day before that too. And the day before that. Peter suggested the first thing he could think of to get Remus out of the flat. "Let's go to the Three Broomsticks, eh? My treat."
The brief flicker of hope on Moony's face vanished almost at once. Those had been the wrong words, Peter knew. Saying things like "my treat" or "on me" instantly put Remus on his guard, and he'd beg off saying something like, "don't feel up for it, today," if it had been Sirius who'd asked, or "No need to waste your hard earned wages on me," if it had been Peter.
"Well, I'm bored," said Peter. "Haven't had an Order mission in a while."
"Can't say if that's a bad thing or a good thing," Remus remarked.
"Good, bad, I don't care. I need to have a jolly time. You don't have to order nothing if you don't want to. Come out with me, we'll go chat up Rosmerta, eh?"
"Just us?" Remus asked.
Peter considered. "Is there any point waiting for Padfoot?"
Remus pressed his lips tight together. "I suppose not," Remus sighed. "Sirius hasn't actually around much these days."
"Order stuff or something, most like."
"Or something indeed," he heard Remus mutter. Peter felt that he needed to defend Sirius, but didn't know how, not without offending Moony.
"He might be up at the castle. Or maybe he's at the Three Broomsticks already," he suggested. "Probably out bird-watching, which is what we should be doing."
"I can't in any case," Remus sighed. "Sorry Wormtail, but I need a pureblood to hold my leash if I go out after curfew."
"Bugger. Forgot about that new law. Load of bollocks that is."
"Bollocks or not, unless your plans for the evening involve watching me get thrown in prison, I'll stay in tonight."
Peter rolled his eyes, not at Remus's decision, but because he knew that he wouldn't have any fun if he went out by himself. He'd be afraid of running into more MLE, or worse, Death Eaters. Or anyone really. It was strange. He never felt afraid unless he was on his own.
Peter thought he might apparate to Hogsmeade just long enough to get to Hogwarts, see if James were up for a pint or three. Perhaps transform the moment he arrived and scurry to Hogwarts on all fours? That would take ages, though, and it was already late. Perhaps he'd just send an owl and try to arrange for something tomorrow night. Besides, it wouldn't be fair to Remus.
"Game o' chess, then?" he suggested, half-heartedly.
Remus shrugged and sighed. "Why not."
She'd been checking daily since Sirius told her they'd print her article. She didn't know which day Witch Weekly came out, but on the day she finally spotted her piece, "Confessions of a Mudblood,"there was no visible reaction. She hadn't expected there to be. People who subscribed to With Weekly hardly did so for the political opinion pieces.
The next day, Lily was sitting with Colum Davies and the rest of the former Gryffindor Quidditch team, reading a borrowed copy of the Prophet. To her surprise, there was an article on the page two about "Confessions of a Mudblood" and the response. Most students, if they read the paper at all, scanned the headlines for the grizzliest stories, then got on with their eggs and toast. Again, there was no visible reaction from the student body.
"Anything, er… interesting?" Colum asked. Lily handed him back his Prophet, fighting away a proud grin. "Not really," she said, knowing that it was Colum's way of asking if there had been any bad news (bad having long since become a relative term. Any more ghastly news than usual, would have been more accurate.)
Outside Hogwarts, however, reviews and commentaries for "Confessions of a Mudblood" appeared in the Daily Prophet with both a howl of protest and the strained silence of support.
Lily knew Sirius must have been nearby because the message she received midday told her the stir it was causing.
"They're outraged, Cariad," he had congratulated her. Part of her was glad to have infuriated the people who had been likewise infuriating her with their legislation and their propaganda-mongering. Lily was uneasy, though; a large group of people now hated her (even more than they already had) for what she'd written. She was glad for the anonymity, and thankful that Sirius Black was the only soul who knew the truth. All through Charms class, Lily wondered, worried, if the article might not have done more harm than good.
Too late now.
Lily had a Transfiguration tutoring session with a mixed group of fifth years. Their OWLs were fast approaching and more than a few students were beginning to panic about their future. Lily and her group were sitting at the Hufflepuff table after the last class of the day, as it would be clear until supper-time and there was space for all of them.
It had been going well; they'd seemed to be grasping the concepts better. In fact, Lily had been so engrossed in their learning that she hadn't paid any attention to the other students who came trickling into the Great Hall early for the meal, or their whispering. Her fifth years noticed it first, and it was only when Lily felt the first sting of her mark that she realised what was happening. Three Ravenclaws of the revision group looked around the hall, glanced at Lily's armband, and made their excuses and left. Then the four Hufflepuffs begged off, saying they understood better now, and scooted down to the other end of the table.
All around the Great Hall, people were talking over copies of the Daily Prophet, and sending Lily apprehensive looks. Not because they suspected her of having written it, but because she was one of those mudbloods the piece mentioned.
She tried to smile. "Well, no point in a group of Gryffindors to loiter around here. Best get back to our own table."
They nodded and extricated their legs from the bench, gathering up their things. The two girls said nothing, but gave Lily weak smiles in return. Antonius Arbuthnot just frowned at the room at large and asked Lily outright, "Why is everyone looking at you that way?"
"I suspect there's something in the paper about muggleborns," she answered with a deal more insouciance than she felt.
Anton tsked through his teeth. "What nonsense. Don't pay them any mind, Evans."
Lily was touched. "I'll do the best I can," she replied, smiling at the boy who had once been a brute of a bully, but had turned into a fine example of Gryffindor behaviour.
Pain lanced across her bicep again, and she just barely stopped herself from looking around the room to see who had said "mudblood." Her first reaction was to check the Slytherin table, but that was both unfair and pointless. Bigotry wasn't exclusively a Slytherin trait, nor might the muttered 'mudbloods' even meant to be rude. They might just be mentioning the article by the title.
As the hall filled her mood sank. There were no announcements, so they began eating right away. Her arm no longer felt single jolts of pain but burned continuously. Lily tried to make eye contact with James at the Head Table but he was in conversation with Dippet and didn't notice. The pain grew so bad that she could no longer lift her knife to cut her meat.
Giving the quidditch lads some excuse about having forgotten something, she grabbed up her bag with her left hand and strode out of the hall. When the doors where closed behind her, she began to jog, trying to put as much distance as possible between herself and the source of the pain.
She was pounding up the steps when over the sound of her own painting and footfalls she heard someone else hurrying behind her. She groped into her right pocket with her left hand to grip her wand, then suddenly stopped and turned, ready to face whoever it was.
He instantly put his hands in the air, looking surprised and a bit amused. "Easy, Cariad."
"Sirius," she sighed, slumping against the wall. "Help me back to my rooms."
He frowned but took the bag she was trying to hold out to him. "What's happened?" he asked, putting his arm around her, no doubt in an attempt to support her but his hand came down on her mark.
She gasped. "Not that arm," she breathed, forcing herself up the steps again. He understood and they continued up together.
Once they entered her rooms Sirius dropped the bag by the door and she began pulling off her robes as best she could.
"Let me," he said, making quick work of her robes. "Just tell me when to stop," he added with a hint of his characteristic smirk.
She tried to smirk back but it was more of a grimace.
Once in her undershirt, she poured cold water from her wand onto the red band that circled her arm. It didn't really help the pain, but it was something that she could do, and the coolness felt nice.
"Has it been like this all day?" Sirius asked, inspecting the burning glow of the tattoo.
He was silent for a time. When the ache slowly ebbed away Lily stopped the water flow and cleaned up the soggy mess she'd made of the carpet.
"So, what brings you here?" she said at attempted casualness. Sirius played along.
"Wanted to speak to Prongs. And you too, of course. Thought I'd see how you were and make my report on Krankheit."
She wiped the sweat from her forehead. "And?"
"After I left you I went back to the gathering, but he wasn't there. I've formed a plan, though. A plan which might require your participation."
She lifted her eyebrows but didn't ask for more information. It was rather obvious what her part would be. She would be the excuse Sirius had for scheduling an appointment with Krankheit, being his mudblood whore, and all.
"Well, James is in the Great Hall. If you go to his office you might catch him before he goes to London."
"He got an owl from Moody this afternoon. Totally hush-hush of course."
"Of course," he agreed, grinning.
"But they've got a raid planned for tonight. So, better see him now while there's time."
"I could wait till after. Tomorrow, even. It's not urgent. Besides, it would hardly be gentlemanly of me to leave you alone in the state you're in." His tone was sarcastic, but his eyes, Lily noted, were sincere.
"Your gallantry is noted, but I'm fine. You just surprised me in the corridor, is all. Pain will be gone soon enough; I'll be able to use the arm again in a few minutes. Go on."
His lips were pressed into a line, and he'd put a knuckle to them as if he were trying to keep from saying something on his mind. His eyes were a swirl of silver, but she couldn't read them. She thought of legilimency, but the possibility of delving into his mind, and what she would discover there, frightened her.
"Started practicing occlumency yet?" she said, hoping to distract him from whatever he'd been considering.
"No, I was thinking of starting practice today, actually," he said, turning away. "If he's up for it."
"You won't practice with me?" she asked, hurt, but relieved.
He chuckled. "No. I think not. James was co-conspirator and partner in crime for a good portion of my indiscretions; I wouldn't be incriminating myself."
Lily raised her eyebrows. "Surely there are things you'd rather keep hidden from James more than me." She didn't know why she was arguing against this when she didn't want to practice with Sirius herself. Jealousy, she supposed. Of both of them.
"I'll take my chances," said Sirius, flipping his hair. Lily frowned at him, but then shrugged herself. Flipping her own hair in an imitation of Sirius, she said, "It's just as well I partner Remus for this. He would be gentler."
Sirius turned to her, suddenly quiet and confused. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that if Remus sees something he doesn't like, the worst I'll get is one of his mild rebukes. You and James are likely to erupt in my face and make me either cry or hex you in defence. And don't look at me like I've just wounded your feelings, you know it as well as I do. You are avoiding me for nearly the same reasons, you hypocrite."
Lily realised she was working herself up into a temper, and he hadn't even done anything. She took a deep breath to calm herself.
Sirius's expression cleared immediately. "You haven't wounded my feelings," he defended, bitterly enough that made Lily certain she certainly had.
"I'm sorry," she added, even though he was being hypocritical, she hadn't meant to be hurtful.
"Don't be," he said heading for her door.
As Sirius passed he felt a tug on his cloak. He turned to see Lily, having reached over her body to grab at him with her left hand. Her right arm still wasn't working, it seemed.
"Look at me," she insisted.
Reluctantly, he did.
"I am sorry," she repeated. "It's been a rough day; I didn't mean to take it out on you. I don't know where my head is. It's no excuse, and I'm sorry. Please don't leave here angry again."
Damn her eyes.
"You needn't apologise. I mistook your meaning, that's all. No harm no f—"
"What did you think I meant?"
He shook his head. "Doesn't matter."
"Humour me?" she said. "So that I might avoid it in future."
Sirius growled, ran his fingers through his hair, realised what he was doing and shoved his hand in his pocket.
He faked a laugh. "It's going to sound ridiculous, after all this drama," he said, trying to put her off but to no avail.
He sighed again and at last admitted. "When you said Remus would be gentle, I thought you meant that you expected I would enter your mind like a rampaging cockatrice in an apothecary. That I'd—"
Sirius couldn't finish the thought aloud. It was too beastly a thing to voice, even to her. Especially to her.
Legilimency had long been crudely referred to as "mind rape", and for a moment, Sirius had thought she'd implied…
And for a moment, Sirius wondered if she might not be wrong.
The reason he hadn't wanted to partner Lily in the first place was that she'd see the way he treated people, see the way he was with women. It didn't matter if James saw; his friend had known since school the way Sirius used witches, but he didn't want Lily to witness it. There were far more instances of his everyday rottenness than there were larger discrepancies that he'd keep away from James. Lily wouldn't be able to go three paces in his head without tripping over something she'd find repulsive. She wouldn't cease to care for him, but her opinion of him would change, lessen, and he'd have to live with her constant disapproving expressions, like Remus.
Then again, she might not react that way. For all that he had never been good to women, he'd never forced one. He'd never entered someone's mind, before, but he imagined forcing one's way in could be just as traumatic. Opening one's mind to another person would be even more intimate an act than sex. It was utter vulnerability, the complete trust one would need to have with a partner in order to learn.
The fact that she would prefer Remus after all had hurt him. But what choice had he given her? He'd already told her he would practice with James, who was to say that she might not have chosen someone else if the decision had been hers to make?
"Of course I didn't think that," she said, rising, and by the way her green eyes shone Sirius knew she understood exactly what he'd feared. Sirius's hand had reached up to touch the tattoo around her arm. He had hurt her before, when experimenting with her muggleborn mark. He'd lost his temper, gone too far. What was to stop him doing it again?
"That was different," she reassured him.
Sirius couldn't help laugh. "Merlin, you sure you're not reading my mind already?"
Lily had always been better than the rest at guessing his thoughts. It was one of her more irritating characteristics.
"Want a practice round, before you go up?" she asked. "I don't mind. I trust you."
He snorted. "I appreciate the gesture, but it's not necessary. I think we've had enough awkwardness for one day."
The more he thought about it though, the more he reconsidered James. His friend was a snoop. If he found something, he'd pursue it. Lily wouldn't pry any more than the exercise required.
Too late now.
If James saw something, then he saw something.
"Padfoot," James said in some surprise, finding Sirius sitting with his feet up on the desk. "What are you doing in my office, getting mud on my paperwork?"
"If there's mud on your things it came from you, not me," he replied blandly. "These shoes have an anti-filth charm on them. Always clean and polished. As to what I'm doing here, I thought I'd take tea with the professor." He paused for a moment looking thoughtful. "I say, that sounds quite posh, doesn't it?"
"It does. Now, what do you really want?"
Sirius inspected his nails. "I thought perhaps you and I might have a spot of Occlumency practice."
"What, now?" asked James, quickly digging into his pocket for his watch and clicking it open.
"Now is all we've ever got," Sirius replied. James mentally rolled his eyes. Sirius was simply incapable of being patient. Still, the sooner they could protect their minds the better.
"I'll give it an hour. I've got—"
"A raid in London, I know."
"How?— never mind." James searched his office for something suitable to put memories in. He grabbed an old urn-like object in which ancient Egyptian wizards used to trap souls. He placed it on his desk and began withdrawing memories that he didn't want Sirius to come across. As their first attempt, James imagined that he wouldn't manage to hide much at all.
Strand after strand of silver memory pooled in the urn; James's most personal moments swirled about like a secret pond.
As James did this he watched Sirius take a blank sheaf of parchment from the desk and tap it with his wand. It turned into a tiny glass phial. Sirius placed his wand to his temple, extracted a memory, let it slip into the phial, then pushed a cork in to close it. He put it in the safest, smallest, most inner pocket of his robe.
"Just one?" James asked incredulously, removing what was probably the hundredth memory of his own.
"Just one," Sirius confirmed.
"Good or bad?" he continued, intensely curious as to what the one memory could possibly be.
Sirius, still not looking up, smiled a bit sadly. "Both."
James bit down, hard, on the inside of his cheek. There was no point in asking about it further. If it was the one memory Sirius had chosen to hide away, then a polite enquiry wouldn't likely convince him to reveal it. James would have thought, despite their being best friends since the age of eleven, that Sirius would have many things he'd want to hide. James wasn't stupid, he knew his friend had bad habits, that he might slip up on occasion, that he occasionally ran with people that didn't have the best influence on him. He trusted Sirius absolutely, but James would have sworn that he had more to hide. And this was apparently a good memory… well, good and bad. His friend had always been slippery, vague and evasive, yet he was willing to put his mind up for inspection. James felt that either Sirius truly trusted him, or he was confident in his occlumency skills.
"You'll have more in the jug than you do in your head," Sirius complained. "That's twenty minutes, already gone."
James mulishly continued to remove memories. As if Sirius knew what they were, he said, "If you're taking out each and every scandalous memory including the redhead we'll be here all night."
"Why do you never use her name?" James asked, relenting and putting the urn aside.
"Lily. You never use her name. It's always the redhead, or the lady, or the witch, or the Head Girl. You never call her Lily, even to her face."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Lily Evans, Lily Evans, Lily Evans. Satisfied? Might we finally get on with it?"
The half hour that followed was buttock-clenchingly awkward for both friends, but at the same time, tremendously amusing. Since neither of them were experienced Legilimencers nor Occlumencers, they could neither control what they saw, nor what they hid from the other.
"Well," said Sirius after a brief venture into his friend's mind. "That's interesting to know."
"Sod off," said James, embarrassed. "You stopped me before I could take that one out."
"I'm not judging."
"You'd bloody well better not. Your turn."
James poked around in Sirius's mind. Perhaps because Sirius was thinking of awkward thoughts, a memory floated to the forefront. James withdrew quickly, closing his eyes as if to block the scene from his sight. Of course, he hadn't really seen it with his eyes, and the image was already burned into his mind.
"Are you fucking joking?" he shouted at his friend. "You slept with Agatha?"
"No point in denying it, I suppose," Sirius replied.
"When?" he snapped.
"You really want to know?"
"Day you split up with her. She came over to my place and suggested it."
"Bloody hell," said James, ruffling his hair. "Bloody, fucking, buggering hell."
"It was just the once. Well, twice, actually, but you know what I mean."
James was pacing in the tiny office, disbelieving. "Are you fucking serious?"
"Want to see the memory again?"
"No, I bloody well don't! You… you…"
"Come off it, what's there really to be upset about?"
"You slept with my girlfriend!"
"She wasn't your girlfriend at the time. You'd already chucked her over for the Head Girl."
James threw his arms in the air. "You know what? I haven't got the time for this. I'm due in London," he said, shrinking the urn and locking away angrily in his desk.
"You know you're cross with yourself. Not me."
"Myself? What have I done wrong? I haven't slept with my best friend's girlfriend!"
"You feel guilty."
"I feel guilty?"
"That's right. You feel guilty because if you hadn't treated her like shit, she wouldn't have come crying to me in the first place. You want to trick yourself into thinking you actually gave a two knuts about her. But it's all retrospect. S'why you're playing it up now. Never mind that she drove you mad when she was alive, since she died she suddenly transformed into this perfect creature who's memory you don't dare sully. You are more respectful of her memory than you were of her."
"That… that's," James sputtered. "Preposterous! Coming from you of all people!"
"I don't have time to stand here and listen to this rot. This steaming heap of hippogriff shit. You," he said, pointing angrily at Sirius, "are an arse. And where do you get off criticising me about my behaviour to witches when you have zero, zero, room to talk! Don't bother coming round again. We're done practicing. Any news of Krankheit, tell Lily. In the meantime, get the fuck out of my rooms."
Sirius took a deep breath, biting down on the inside of both cheeks, making his face look harsh and hollow. "Wish pleasure," he crooned, and swept out, leaving the door open behind him.
James grabbed the door by the edge and slammed it closed, causing everything within his office to rattle.
Swiping a hand through his hair, he grabbed his wand and summoned his broom. Sirius would be walking through the castle, and across the grounds to Hogsmeade, and James didn't want to cross paths. He'd widen his classroom window and fly to the village.
He did spot Sirius far below him, and resisted the urge to spit, or worse. He would only become more frustrated if he missed.
After a furious apparation to London, James stormed up to Auror Headquarters, full-ready for a fight with anyone Moody unleashed him on.
… later ...
"James," Alice said gently, putting a hand on his arm tentatively. "Do you need to visit Burkhart?"
"No." James was shaken, it was true, but the last thing he wanted to do after all that had happened was to talk to that annoying twat. Not only was Benjamin Burkhart a useless drama-monger, offering to talk to any auror who has to use lethal force in the course of duty, but James suspected his loyalty to the department. The man tried to get people to talk too much, too deep, too personal. He wanted to know all the details, 'why' and 'how it made you feel'. That information, in the wrong hands could be critical, especially if the auror is feeling vulnerable or unsure of himself.
James was feeling both, and in his current state he was likely to pull his wand on Burkhart at the slightest start.
"No, thanks, Al," he said, riffling his hair nervously. "I think—I think I need to see Lily."
Alice Longbottom nodded understandingly, but she didn't understand, not really. No one but the Marauders knew that he and Lily were split up. His need to talk to Lily had less to do with intimacy and comfort than it did with his desperate thirst for information about the dark magic he was almost certain he had performed that night.
James was disturbed… by his own actions. Spooked. He needed to break down all the magic he had done that evening, and how it had affected him, with someone who understood. With someone who couldn't judge him.
For all that James hated Lily's dabbling, he was relieved to know she was back at Hogwarts, a mere apparition away. She could explain this to him.
"You off, mate?" Frank asked, a look of concern on his face that matched his wife's.
"Yeah," James replied, grabbing his broomstick with a shaking hand. "Want to be getting back to the castle."
Frank nodded. "Give Lily our best."
"We should do dinner soon, the four of us," Alice added. "Tell Lily I'll owl her."
James couldn't get any words to come out of his throat, as there seemed to be a great ball lodged there all of a sudden. Despite several swallows he still couldn't get anything out so he nodded and strode out of the office.
"Poor lamb," he heard Alice say as he retreated.
"He'll be fine," her husband assured her.
James didn't hear any more, didn't want to hear any more. He wanted out of that building, out of London as soon as possible.
They were wrong.
Yes, he looked shaken, and he was, but he didn't deserve their pity.
He felt wonderful. He couldn't stop shaking for all the power he felt was coursing through his body, singing to be released. Do more.
He'd already done enough, though. Too much.
James made no stops beforehand but headed directly for Lily's rooms. Part of him felt guilty for having to wake her, but it couldn't wait, and he knew that she wouldn't mind.
He was surprised to find her, awake, not even in bed but in the sitting room in front of the fire with a book in her hand.
"James!" she said, throwing her book onto the sofa and crossing the room rapidly and enfolding him in a tight hug. Oh, it was just what he needed. As he wrapped his arms around her and clung he felt the cold, fizzling energy, the dark pulsing need, dissipate slightly as if her warmth were trying to melt it away.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
James took a deep breath and prepared himself. If their roles were reversed, James mused, Lily would be hiding under the blanket to make this confession.
"I did something tonight."
She pulled back and inspected his face. "An unforgivable?"
James shook his head. "No, but…"
Thinking of it again brought another surge of desire to cast again. He stepped away from Lily and clenched his fist so tightly around his wand that the wood made a gratifying squeak.
"I was duelling. We were trying to get this muggle politician standing for the premiership and her husband out of their home. There was this… aide, I don't know, bodyguard, secretary, some man who worked under this politician. The things they'd done to him… I lost it, Lily. They were torturing him for answers to questions the man clearly had no idea about and… I've never…"
"You were angry."
"James, you've seen this sort of thing before. What made this time different?"
"Merlin." He ran his hand through his hair feverishly, looking into the fire as he tried to find the words. The flames rose to full force, sparks flying out of the grate and landing on the carpet. He stomped them out angrily and stepped away from the hearth. "It wasn't just him. I was furious before I ever got there. I think… I was taking it out on him."
"Why were you furious?"
He shook his head, not wanting to recount the botched Occlumency practice. "Furious at myself, mostly," he admitted. Sirius had been right, which had made his anger even worse. "And for the first time in my life the spell came out…"
"Yeh. I mean, I think. I mean…" James sighed, frustrated. "Merlin help me. It wasn't a dark spell, I've cast it before but this time it felt—"
"I've told you, it's the intent that matters."
"Which spell was it?"
"Just a slicing hex. But it…"
"Surged? Prickled cold and powerful, more powerful than the normal spell? Left you with the urge to do it again?"
"Yes! See, this is why I came to you. I knew you'd understand," he said, relieved.
"Well, I have done a fair bit of research on the subject, thanks to you."
"But I always discouraged—"
"Me from doing them, yes. Exactly. So I had to research the effects of the dark arts so I would recognise it if I ever crossed that line. I had to be sure that what I was doing wasn't dark."
This brought all his darting thoughts to a dead halt, like a room of pixies suddenly stunned. Everything that had been zooming around in his brain thudded to the ground leaving only one solid point to focus on.
"You… you mean you've never…?"
"James, we've had this discussion dozens times before, so many times, in fact, that I gave up trying to convince you that what I do isn't dark."
"But the surge, the prickling, the compulsion to do it again. You know it, you've felt it before. You just said!"
She shook her head. "I've never experienced it myself, but I've read they are the most common aftereffects."
James felt like he was going to be sick. He had to leave. He'd come here thinking he had a fellow, an accomplice, a person who understood and couldn't judge because she was tainted too.
But she wasn't. And she never had been.
James felt that his mere presence was contaminating her with the dark magic. Part of him was disgusted and afraid, and yet, what he wanted most to do at that moment was to shout at her. He was angry, felt like she'd deceived him. He wanted to scream in her face, ask her why she hadn't told him so before that she hadn't been doing dark magic.
But she'd tried. Over and over again she'd tried but he hadn't listened, hadn't believed her and that only made him even angrier. His wand thrummed expectantly in his fist.
James was aware enough that he shouldn't take it out on Lily. He knew he should go somewhere, the forest perhaps, to let off this steam, to cast these pent up spells.
He turned abruptly to leave but Lily stopped him before he got to the door, pinning his arms to his sides in what in another situation might have been a hug from behind.
"Get off me," he said, trying to jerk free.
"If I let you go now you'll only go off and do something stupid that you're hate yourself for later."
"I already hate myself!" he roared, peeling her off, one limb at a time.
"It's hate that got you into this in the first place!" she shouted back, putting herself in front of him, blocking his way. "More hate isn't the solution." She grabbed hold of him again, hugging tighter.
He was furious, disgusted with himself. He didn't want to be held, he wanted to break something.
But Lily clung stubbornly. "Let me go," he said.
"Get off of me, damn it!"
"Not until you calm down."
He didn't need magic to get her away. He imagined throwing her off him. The thought of Lily falling against a piece of furniture or onto the floor repulsed him. He wouldn't. Couldn't.
"Drop the wand, James." Her green eyes bore into him determinedly.
He stood there, shaking, knowing it was a good idea. He tried to let it go but his fist seemed to unable to open. Lily reached down, pried his fingers off one by one till the wand fell to the carpet. James sighed, feeling the strongest surge of aggression leave him. She kept hold of his hand, while her other slithered up his body so she could run her fingers through his hair. He leaned into her and let it happen. He'd give himself up; give himself over to her, whatever she wanted to do.
"Hate is never the solution." She lifted her head and kissed the bare skin between his collar bones, then his Adam's apple, his chin… When his eyelids fluttered closed she kissed those too.
"And what is?" he asked, letting himself be pulled to the sofa.
Though he couldn't see, he knew it was coming, had been waiting for her mouth to finally find his. When it did he put a hand behind her head and drew deeper from the kiss, as natural and necessary as breathing, his heart fluttering a moment before finding a sure and steady rhythm once more.
Love. That was Lily's solution to everything; she was convinced love would save the world one day, if anything could. While they had always used intimacy to fight back the darkness in their lives, in this instance, James knew that Lily was using it to actively fight off his dark magic.
He could feel it, even if she wouldn't speak it, wouldn't admit it aloud.
"I don't deserve it," he protested, (though feebly, he had to admit) in between her kisses.
"You need it."
He could feel her magic working. Her hands, lips, eyelashes, anything that pressed or even ghosted over him was a balm, so that some time later (minutes? An hour? James had no idea) he felt well again. He no longer itched to cast stronger curses; his temper and desire to do harm, to himself or anyone else, had been thoroughly chased away.
If it had been anyone other than Lily, it wouldn't have worked. James somehow knew that had it been a different witch, any witch, he would have taken his pleasure and made it into a dark and selfish thing. Or he'd have flung her away from the start and gone off to do worse things. But this was Lily, the exception to every rule.
He sighed peacefully, stroking her hair as she rested her head on his chest. They'd been like this for some time, neither of them feeling the need to move. James was so… 'happy' wasn't the right word. While he was pleased to have his redhead back in his arms it was more a sense of… harmony. Rightness.
"Thank you," he said, kissing her brow. "For fixing me up again."
She chuckled. "Not your average Hospital Wing cure."
"Just as effective, though. Who knew you could actually kiss it and make it better?"
"Somebody must have done, otherwise we wouldn't say it."
Huh. He'd never thought of that before.
James looked down at her, thinking of the real reason the treatment had worked. "Thank you for loving me." He'd never thanked before, not to remember. It wasn't the first time, even recently, that her love had saved him. That potion she brewed last full moon wouldn't work without love either. It boggled the mind, really, how effective it could be. James had the sudden mental image of a team of amorous aurors who were specially trained to cuddle Death Eaters into submission. Then he thought about Snape, and wished he hadn't. Lily awkwardly pulled away from him, and for a moment, James thought she had reacted to his thoughts. Then he remembered the last thing he'd said.
Hoping that a little self-deprecation would lighten the mood a bit, he added, "It's a miracle that you put up with me for so long."
Lily sat up and said something something, but her back was to him and he didn't catch it.
"I said it's not funny. I didn't put up with it. I broke it off between us, remember?"
"Not likely to forget, am I?" he retorted, though truth was he had forgot in the last hour.
"And I'm not likely to forget the near daily abuse I got from you about my magic, the degradation, the lectures, the judgement, the constant disapproval and pressure you put me under as a professor and an auror." James was startled that she'd switched so quickly to the defensive and scornful.
"Whoa, what brought this on all of a sudden? Look I'm sorry. I didn't know, all right? I was just doing what I thought was best."
"Exactly. You did what you thought best, didn't consult me, even though we were supposedly a couple."
"What do you mean, supposedly?" They had done a fair bit of coupling, how could she possibly question it?
"What kind of relationship is it when one person has all the say? Better to be alone and have agency over myself than be half of a partnership and have none."
"It wasn't like that!"
"It certainly felt like it to me!" she shouted back.
James could barely believe it. One moment they were holding one another, perfectly at peace, the next they were shouting, all over an offhand little joke about her 'putting up' with him. Even more disconcerting was that he suddenly realised that Lily was crying. Not sobbing, but there were angry tears streaming down her face all the same.
"You hurt me. Belittled me. Made me feel like your word was final and my say was worth nothing. And now you think you can just laugh it off like it never happened?"
She wiped furiously at her cheeks, annoyed by the wetness there.
"What do you want me to do? I acted the way anyone would have acted. I thought you were doing dangerous magicks and I was worried. I didn't understand."
"If you can't recognise dark arts, then what the fuck are you doing as the Defence teacher? As an auror?"
James lurched backward as if he'd actually received a blow. It stung, not just because she'd said something so specifically designed to wound him, but because it was true. Had he been wasting his and everyone else's time? He'd thought himself so clever; he'd done well in school and in training. What was that worth, though? Good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding. And it was clear he had lacked a true understanding of the dark arts. What right did he have to call himself an auror? A teacher?
Lily put a hand over her mouth. "James, I'm so sorry," she said. "I didn't mean that."
He shook his head, still dazed, still trying to work things out in his mind.
"Did you hear me? I didn't mean it," she repeated, grabbing his arms. "You're a great teacher and a fantastic auror. The school and the department are lucky to have you."
"No," he said dumbly. "No, you're right. I'm unfit. To teach, to fight, to be with you. I was narrow-minded. I see that now." He nodded, surer of himself.
"That's not true. It really isn't," she tried to protest, but James wasn't listening. It was odd, how unreal everything now felt.
"What an extraordinarily bad day this has been," he observed, somehow detached from the situation.
"Come sit down with me?" she asked, taking his hand and pulling him towards a seat again. Numbly he followed. "I want you to listen to me. You are one of the best men I know, the kindest, bravest, cleverest, the most just and reasonable. You are a good teacher and a good auror, and good lover."
James snapped back to the present; she had his full attention.
"In fact, you seem to always do what's best. Except..."
"Except… when you're involved," he realised.
She smiled a little grimly. "Right."
He didn't want to have to make that choice, but felt somehow that time would make it for him.
He thought he'd been protecting her; he had pulled rank to get her to stop, or at least curtail her research. He hadn't negotiated, only argued and ordered. It had been unequal and unfair. She was a student. She'd had to put up with it. He'd brought an authority from outside their relationship into their personal lives and she hadn't been able to stand it. Now he knew the truth about himself, about them, about the dark arts, about her lack of experimentation with them. He'd let himself be blinded by his own fear for her. Had held her under different standards, had kept her under closer guard. He really had been going about it all the wrong way. He'd wanted to pull her in, when he should have been letting her go. And it was all too late now.
"So what do we do?" he asked, drained and bewildered by the entire evening.
"I hardly know," she whispered.
So they both sat, side-by-side, staring into the fire.
"So we have an appointment, I take it?" Lily asked.
For all that Sirius tossed his cloak carelessly onto the chair and collapsed onto the sofa looking weary and put-upon, he still had an air of self-satisfaction. More so than usual. He had been to another party, and had had to hobnob in order to get an introduction and consequently and appointment with Krankheit.
"Merlin," Sirius sighed. "Being polite is so exhausting."
"You love it," said Lily. "The deception, if not the niceties."
"I never said I didn't," Sirius retorted. "Sex is exhausting too, but I'm quite the enthusiast."
Lily rolled her eyes and tried not to smile. "When do we go?"
Sirius's face grew solemn. "Tomorrow too soon?"
"Not at all. Sooner the better."
"Will you be missing lessons?"
"No. No, that's when I would have had Defense, but…"
"Perfect," he interrupted, now spreading his arms opulently over the back of the seat and stretching his legs out long. "So what shall we do with the rest of the evening, then?"
"Make a plan of action for tomorrow?"
Sirius batted the suggestion away. "We'll know better what to do once we get there. I have every confidence in our improvisational skills."
"Dinner, then? I'm famished."
Sirius stood, holding out his elbow for her to take. "Why didn't you eat in the Great Hall?"
"Busy with work. Lost track of time," she replied as they stepped out into the congested corridor. Ravenclaws and Gryffindor's were heading back to their common rooms after the evening meal. The students noticed the Head Girl and famous playboy, but no one spoke directly to them. Lily tilted her chin up and walked on, infrequently giving a nod to those too few people who still liked her. Her mark only burned once.
Sirius was laughing quietly beside her. "Lost track of time my arse. Do they always do that or is it just since the article?"
"The article, mostly. But you're not helping things, you know."
"Wouldn't want them to forget about me. High time I was talked about again."
"Not even in school anymore and still a need to be popular?" she jabbed.
"My dear girl," he said with condescension, and left it at that.
Lily rather missed being popular, but she knew that unlike herself, Sirius had never really cared if people liked him or not. He didn't care if he were famous or infamous so long as they were impressed.
"Not hungry?" she asked watching Sirius poke at his food as she devoured her own.
"You should eat something. You're looking rather gangly since your arrest."
"Bother my arrest," he said, but dutifully tore off some bread and dunked it into the stew before popping it into his mouth. "How are you getting on with your occlumency?"
"Been working on my own so far. Remus is coming up at the week-end for some practice."
Sirius snorted. "Good luck."
"Yours didn't go so well?"
"That would be understating the point."
Lily thought back to the evening Sirius had visited James to practice. James had later gone on to use the dark arts for the first time, on account of him being truly angry before he set out. It must have been on account of the occlumency practice.
Trying to delicately get more information without letting on that how deeply it had affected James, she asked, "Where was the hang-up, his memories or yours?"
"Mine. Didn't like what he saw." The corners of his mouth tightened and his lips pursed into a thin line. Lily gathered it concerned Sirius more that he wanted to let on.
Lily didn't ask or assume what had happened. "He was angry with himself, mostly," she told him.
Sirius turned to her, eyes gleaming momentarily with hope before they closed off again, granite walls. "I know."
Lily mopped up some stew with the last of the bread and was about to eat it before offering up to Sirius instead. Rather than reaching out to take it he leaned over her extended hand and took the morsel into his mouth. Lily would have assumed he was trying to make her feel uncomfortable, but his eyes were staring off in another direction, and he chewed pensively, not looking at her.
For reasons Lily refused to ask about, Sirius chose not to return to his London flat, saying he'd just linger there until time to leave for their appointment. She told him he was most welcome to stay, of course, and Sirius changed into a dog and silently curled up for the night by the fire.
Next day, Lily tried to focus on her Charms lecture but could think only of her upcoming task that afternoon. From her seat by the window she could both see and hear Sirius bark at a hare and chase across the grounds. He gave up the hunt when he got to the forest, then turned around, nose to the ground, seeking some fresh entertainment, and found Hagrid. Lily had just enough time to watch Sirius bound over to the half-giant, who greeted the black beast with joy, before she was fetched back into the classroom by Flitwick's high-pitched voice asking her a question, which she had to ask him to repeat.
She was first out of the classroom once the lesson ended, and made quick work of dropping off her things and grabbing a sandwich from the kitchens to eat on the way.
Lily didn't see Sirius anywhere when she stepped outside.
"Snuffles!" she called and waited. Nothing. "Snuffles!" she cried again, even louder.
Probably found a nice dead thing to roll in, she thought. She could easily picture Snuffles doing it, but Sirius Black, on the other hand…
Lily made her way through the now green spring grass to Hagrid's hut, unsurprised when she found Sirius in the back garden gobbling up big chunks of meat Hagrid had given him.
"Oh, allo there, Lily. Look at'im!" he said, patting the beast's glossy black coat. Sirius was so large it didn't bother him, especially with four legs to balance with. As a human, it would have knocked him over.
"He's lovely," she agreed, reaching at to stroke him as well. "Have you seen Sirius?"
"Fraid not," Hagrid replied. "What should I name him, eh?"
Lily's eyes grew wide. "You can't keep him, Hagrid. He must belong to someone. Look how well groomed he is."
Hagrid's face fell. "Only for a little while, until someone claims'im. And if they don', then he can stay wi'me."
Lily didn't want Hagrid to get his hopes up, but neither did she have the heart to spoil this dream of his. She forced a smile, sad that Hagrid wouldn't get the pet he'd been hoping for. "Well, if you do run into Sirius, tell him I've gone on ahead, would you?"
"Course. Tea tomorrow?"
"As always," she confirmed, and stepped round the back of the hut and turned her steps towards Hogsmead.
Sirius was at the gates to the village before she was; Lily suspected he'd run on all fours but he was back to being a tall lanky well-dressed wizard now. He linked her arm with his.
By the slow, careful way he'd said it, Lily knew he wasn't just talking about the apparating. By the unhurried way he waited for an answer, Lily knew she could say 'no' and he would let her go right back to the castle, no questions asked.
Lily was surprised that, rather than St. Mungo's, they found themselves in front of a small but stately home, surrounded by neat hedgerows. Looking about her, she couldn't see any other houses or other buildings nearby. It was quite isolated.
She didn't insult Sirius by asking if he was sure he'd got the right place. Of course, these sorts of purebloods would have their own family healer. They'd not lower themselves by going to a public hospital, not if they could help it. Lily made a mental note to ask both James and Sirius if this had been the case for them growing up.
"Right then," he said, striding forward. He tapped on the door with his wand, twice in quick succession and Lily heard a larger, louder matching knocking sound from within.
The door opened and a man appeared in the gap.
Sirius had been about to introduce himself but Krankheit spoke first.
"Mr Black, Miss, do, do come in." He nodded to both of them in turn and opened the door wider.
Lily had expected a sneering man, howlingly narrowmided. She'd thought she'd be able to feel his dislike of muggleborns instantly and she was prepared to dislike him in return. Instead, Krankheit was a well spoken, well-mannered, intelligent but somehow insubstantial sort of person. He stooped with age and his weak and wispy hair matched his voice when he gathered the nerve to speak. He used courtesy like it were armour, as if politeness would protect him from whatever it was that he feared.
Remember who his clients are, Lily reminded herself, and wondered if that hunch wasn't from age after all, but fear.
Sirius did his bit, talking about wanting to get her checked up, privately, of course, as she'd been feeling a bit under the weather.
"Yes, yes of course. Just, just through here, please."
He led them off to a side chamber that was obviously his examining room.
"Now, what, what seems to be the problem, miss, miss…"
"Evans," she supplied.
"Miss Evans. Could, could you tell me what—what is wrong?"
He acted like a professional healer, waiting for the opportunity to perform a 'diagnostic' that would really be a sterilisation spell. Curse. Lily really didn't know which. She supposed it had to do with the willingness it had to do on the person it was cast upon.
During this pretend speech between healer and patient, Sirius had quite unobtrusively stepped back, silently standing behind Krankheit. When the old man withdrew his wand so did Sirius.
Though she knew that this aged wizard was doing horrible things, she wanted to tell Sirius not to hurt him.
"Right. Right. Just, just going to do a few, a few tests, then."
"Before you do," Sirius interjected, speaking up for the first time since entering the room. Krankheit politely turned around to find Sirius's ebony wand in his face. He paled instantly and dropped his own wand. He wobbled were he stood.
"Oh, oh no," he wheezed, and toppled backward.
Lily, afraid for his old bones, caught him and gently lowered him to the ground while Sirius pocketed the old healer's wand.
"Is he passed out?" Sirius asked.
"No," Lily answered. Krankheit's eyes were open, and he gave off a short whine with every exhalation.
"I, I knew this would happen," the old man whispered. "I knew it. Please, please—"
"We're not going to hurt you," said Lily, before Sirius could say otherwise. "But you will tell us about the sterilising process you use on unsuspecting muggleborns… Can you stand?"
She heaved him up and sat him shaking in the upright wooden chair.
"I knew… knew the moment I saw you that—"
"We just want to know how it's done," she interrupted.
Sirius, who continued watching with eyes like silver glass marbles, never lowered his wand, belying Lily's assurance of non-violence. Perhaps it was better that way, if it got him to speak.
"You… you're not one of them, then?" he asked.
Sirius shook his head.
Krankheit, though still obviously shaken, sighed in relief at this.
"Who's them?" Lily asked at once.
"I cannot divulge patient confidentiality—" he protested.
"I'm not asking the identities of the patients. Not yet. I want to know who brought them."
"Later," said Sirius, who probably already knew. "You have two options, old man. You either tell us what you do, how you do it and whom you've done it to. Or, you can refuse, we'll obliviate you, leave now, and you'll not remember our visit at all. Meanwhile I'll tell them you've betrayed them and their secrets and you will suffer their displeasure. If you choose the first, you will be given the protection of the Order of the Phoenix. Albus Dumbledore himself will speak to you himself and explain to you your new responsibilities in reversing your sterilisation technique. If you choose the latter, you'll not remember our visit at all and you'll be dead within a fortnight without even knowing why."
Not exactly how she would have put it, but Lily wasn't complaining.
Krankheit blinked at both of them and said quite unexpectedly, "I wish I'd been presented with this decision much sooner. I choose the former, of course."
He seemed much more at ease now; his breathing was even and he had stopped stuttering.
Sirius at last lowered his wand, switched it to his left and extended his right. Krankheit reached out and shook it.
After that, they listened for a full half hour as Gerhardt Krankheit explained the process. Sirius paid such close attention, and even pulled out a small skin of parchment from his robes and took notes. He asked questions, demanded Krankheit repeat the incantation or the wrist movements.
"Are there any side-effects?" Lily asked.
Krankheit slumped in his seat, eyes downcast. "Because of the nature of the procedure, I've never had the opportunity of bringing them back for follow-up. If there are physical side-effects, they are minor. Or they take a long time to manifest. No one has ever come back with complaints, and I do give them my card," he said, looking meaningfully at Lily. "In case they needed to come back without their… to come back alone."
"How can you tell if it's been successful?" asked Sirius.
"Oh, there is a simple charm. It has been around much longer than I have. It was once common practice to test the fertility of witch and wizard before marrying, to make sure the line would continue."
"I've not heard of that one," said Lily.
Krankheit turned to Sirius and asked, "May I?"
"Please do," he replied, but didn't return the old man's wand.
Krankheit cleared his throat and held out an invisible wand and said, "Fructuari dicte."
Sirius looked to Lily and nodded at her to try.
She repeated Krankheit's every motion, even down to the throat clearing.
A green/orange light pulsed briefly between Sirius's hipbones, then dimmed out.
"Good," said Krankheit. "Now, perform it again on me."
She did. At first she thought she hadn't done it properly, but then she saw that the light that glowed was the same dim grey colour as the man's robes.
Both of Sirius's eyebrows went up a notch, not in surprise but consideration.
"I'll leave this in your front garden," Sirius told Krankheit as they made to leave, holding up the old man's wand. True to his word, he dropped by the azaleas once he'd linked arms with her again.
"Well, that was easy," he said, and apparated them away.
"James!" came a familiar voice through the door, followed by several excited but dainty knock. "Are you there?" More knocks.
He got up and opened his office door, actually grateful for the distraction. He'd been brooding about his use of dark magic, about his argument with Lily. "Darlene," he greeted, carefully looking her up and down. James conscience squirmed at the sight of those burns on her hands that had yet to heal. All the others were concealed by robes, but he knew they were still there. His fault.
"I've done it!" she said, glorying.
"Done what?" he asked, putting on a smile to match hers. He didn't want to blight her mood with his own.
"I've got enough signatures. I'm going to the Ministry today to turn it in. Anti-muggleborn legislation will be a thing of the past!"
His facsimile smile turned into a genuine one. "Really?" he asked, excited. "This, oh, this is brilliant!" His first impulse was to run and tell Lily, but he stopped himself short. How heartless would that be? It was exactly what he'd done in the fire and it had hurt Darlene deeply.
In this moment of contemplative distraction, Darlene wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. A brief burst of panic rippled through him and he stood there, still as stone, letting it happen. He couldn't encourage it and couldn't push her away.
When she finally ended it, what seemed to James an obscenely long time later but had been a few seconds, she looked at him with such uncertainty, of fear that James felt truly despicable. She had been waiting for his reaction, no doubt had been working up the nerve to do this for some time and yet she still suspected he'd spurn her.
And he nearly had.
He was such an arse.
She'd just done this, for him, because he'd manipulated her into doing it. He couldn't just drop her now, now that he had what he wanted. He'd used her cruelly, that was an unavoidable truth, but Dippet didn't need to feel that cruelty; he'd spare her that knowledge, if he could.
He had to let her down slowly, gently, but had no idea how when anything positive he said or did she took to be encouragement. He'd have to ask Lily. No, he didn't think he could stomach that conversation with her. Remus. He'd ask Remus.
Meanwhile, he had to say something.
He managed to recreate a happy expression. "When you get back we'll have to celebrate," he said, then afraid that might be construed as a private celebration, he added, "We will throw a party in the staff-room. Merlin knows we could use a bit of cheer. When are you leaving for the Ministry?" He was babbling, he knew he was but he couldn't seem to stop himself.
She nodded. "I'm off to my appointment now."
He bared his teeth, forced his voice to be light and jolly. "I'm so glad. Thank you, Darlene. You've been incredible."
Lily and Sirius walked slowly back to the school. She could see Sirius's lips moving, repeating something to himself but she couldn't make it out. They were at a point out of sight of both village and castle when Sirius stopped. She had been about to ask him what all that mumbling to himself was in aid of, when Sirius pointed his own wand at himself and cast the sterilisation spell.
"Did it work?" he asked, frowning uncertainly. "Check and see."
It was a moment before Lily could even do anything; she felt so stunned.
"Sirius!" she cried, frantically pulling out her own wand and uttering, "Fructuari dicte."
It came back grey, easily visible over Sirius's shining sienna waistcoat.
"What have you done! The whole point of this was to put an end to that spell!"
"The whole point was to put an end to Krankheit robbing witches and wizards the right of choice, of sovereignty over their own bodies. That was the outrage. What I do to my body is my business. Mine."
There was stillness for several heartbeats until a finch rushed out of a nearby tree, chirruping.
Lily tried to conjure a smile, though her heart was still beating a ragged tattoo in her chest. "Of course," she said, and looped her arm through his. He was right, no doubt, but it hurt her to know that Sirius was doing it out of self-hatred more than anything.
She squeezed his arm more tightly to her and, trying to lighten the mood, she added, "That doesn't you get you out of Godfather duty, I hope you know. You'll still have to deal with children, whether you like them or not."
Sirius looked down at her, a serene, contented smile on his face, all previous signs of irritation gone. "I can think of no greater honour," he said. Then the smile turned into a smirk and he added, "But you'll have to get back with Prongs first, for that to ever happen."
"Not necessarily," she said, nose in the air. "I needn't be with anybody to have a child. Only to make one, really."
Sirius laughed. "Trying to create a scandal, are we? Well, if you ever find yourself with child and without husband I'd be happy to claim it. How that would infuriate them!" he said, fairly bursting with glee. By 'them' Sirius meant his surviving family, she had no doubt.
"Or," he continued snatching up one of her hands in his and putting his other at her waist. "You don't get back with Prongs…" He took a step forward and Lily had to step back. Then again, then to the side, repeating it in time. "One, two three. And we live out the rest of our days as confirmed old bachelors… writing scathing letters to people who don't deserve it, and glorious articles for publications that likewise, don't deserve it. One, two, three, one, two, three."
Sirius, obviously in a good mood at the idea of infuriating his family, but probably with the success of his own sterilisation, waltzed them down the path, and they both laughed like drunken fools when either of them missed a step. It got to the point where she was laughing so hard that she was clinging to him to keep her feet. Sirius wasn't much better off.
Both she and Sirius righted themselves at once, startled by this unexpected voice. Lily had her hand to her wand before she recognised the face.
"Oh. Good afternoon, professor Dippet," she said, trying to covertly put it away again so it looked like she hadn't just drawn her wand on a teacher.
"It's not Sunday," Sirius pointed out, dignifiedly wiping away tears of mirth. He and Lily had seen her, several Sunday mornings in a row, creeping off to the village.
"No indeed. I have an important meeting at the Ministry," she told them, her tones clipped and self-important. Or at least, Lily would have thought so earlier. After the fire, Lily saw a different person, she saw a woman hiding, clutching at a façade she wished were true. Lily could understand that.
Lily stepped aside out of Dippet's way. Sirius did too, but only after an ornery moment where Lily could see he was debating giving her a hard time. Lily had had to grab his hand and pull him aside.
Dippet raised her chin and walked off.
"Merlin, what a fussy old cow," he said, glad when she was at last gone. "If I were her, I think I'd bore myself to death. A sort of unintentional but fortuitous suicide."
"Since when do I have to be kind to anyone?"
She shrugged. "It might be an amusing change for you."
"Change that doesn't benefit oneself is not worth the alteration."
"Is that a quote or an original?"
"Quote. Aristotle Mortimer, I think."
"Aristotle Mortimer. I don't think I know the name."
"Famous poet. Wrote sonnet after sonnet about the nobility of the magical soul," Sirius drawled, unimpressed, which made Lily frown. She knew from personal experience how much Sirius enjoyed poetry. Muggle poetry, in any case. How many times had she heard him casually quote famous lines?
"I'm quite surprised," she admitted. "I didn't think poet a wizardly profession."
Sirius shrugged. "They exist, but are largely overshadowed by superior muggle artists. Mortimer was a pure-blooded bigot, wrote 'loftier' poetry for the 'elevated minds of magical society.' Perfect nonsense, of course. Anything truly worth writing about can be felt by everyone. Magical and muggle alike."
Lily smiled inwardly, wondering if Sirius knew how rare and simple an opinion that was among wizards. And yet, for all he mocked magical prejudice among humans, he was just as prejudiced in other ways. She wondered, then, if Sirius weren't liberally minded after all. Rather, she suspected that he simply liked muggle culture more than his native one. How many wizards owned motorcycles and added magical flair to muggle fashion trends?
Quite a few minutes of silence had ensued, broken only by Sirius stopping every once in a while to pick up a stone to throw it into the lake with a plop.
"Hmm?" he responded, staring out at a spot in the water, aiming, then pitching the stone hard. Lily, of course, had no idea if he hit the arbitrary target.
"Do you dislike magic?"
The moment she said it she cursed herself for sounding stupid. It wasn't at all the way she'd meant to ask. Luckily for her, Sirius understood what she had meant. He usually did.
"I don't dislike it, per se. It's just dreadfully dull."
Lily's eyebrows rose incredulously. To her, magic was the most exciting thing she could think of.
"You mean magical society," she said, trying to understand answer that made no sense to her.
"That too. So closed and so boring. Given the choice, I'd choose to the anonymity of the muggle world. "
"But wouldn't you hate being obscure?"
"I wouldn't be obscure; I'd rise to prominence on my own merit. In the muggle world it would be much more of an achievement. Everything done without magic would be more of an accomplishment. Life would be a daily struggle, a challenge. Using no magic would truly test one's mettle. I imagine it's a rather more romantic lifestyle."
Lily managed not to laugh aloud. She guessed that nine muggles out of ten, perhaps 99 out of 100 would hold that a life of magic was more special and romantic.
"Oh?" she said, hoping he'd go on.
"Of course. The muggle world is so wild, unsteady. They experience more changes in their world in a year than magical society does in a century. I imagine that the muggle mind is more lively. Muggleborns' too," he added, giving her a smirk. "Magical society is intellectually feeble. We use the same magic we've always used and we hold to traditions that remain unchanged over hundreds of years. No development, no improvement. There are a few witches and wizards who are exploring, creating new things, but for the most part, wizards don't know how to think, to problem solve, to create. Our latest technology are things that muggles created long past. Wizarding society is reactionary and mentally flaccid. In short, it is unbearably tedious." Those last words were spoken with such feeling, with such bone-deep ennui, that Lily couldn't help but pity him. Sirius had such an active mind, but was trapped, in a way, by the society he scorned yet adhered to. In all the time she'd known him, Sirius had given off the air of hopeless boredom. There were times when he livened, during a good argument, a good duel, or when he made trouble for himself so he'd have something interesting to do.
She had known it all along, really. Sirius was brilliant, but quite dangerous when bored. Also, she looked back over Sirius's life, analysing his choices, seeing that he'd always tried for something that would be exciting to him, but because of his position in society, was prevented. Order work was his only outlet. Not for the first time, she wondered what he might resort to if he didn't have that. The Death Eaters would have proved a tempting a prospect to an unengaged, and more importantly unallied, Sirius Black. They knew it too, as they had tried multiple times to recruit him.
Lily was glad he was on her side; he'd pose too challenging an enemy.
"While I understand your point," Lily said, "your average struggling muggle is probably not innovating. My father worked long hours at a menial job just to make ends meet to support his family." Lily smiled to conceal the usual embarrassment of talking about this in front of someone who had never had to worry about money in his life. "Living in a castle, getting a good magical education seems a lot more romantic and desirable than living in near poverty in a grimy industrial town. Most muggles in the world live in strapping poverty. Wizarding society might be stagnant, but the quality of life is certainly higher."
Sirius shook his head. "The onus to succeed rests on the individual. I don't believe in helping the lower levels simply because they are lower."
"You can say that because you've never known it, never had to work to get to the higher level. You were born there. Success is easier to obtain when you were born within arm's reach of it. How is a child of indigent parents supposed to succeed when she dies at age four because her family couldn't afford a doctor?"
Sirius shrugged. Unconcerned.
"Or a werewolf, denied any chance of advancement because of circumstances beyond his control."
"Or muggleborns?" Sirius added sarcastically, unimpressed with her argument. "The extraordinary will still distinguish themselves." He gave her a look as if to say, 'just look at yourself.' But Lily was only too aware that she wouldn't be where she was if she didn't have pureblood friends who had connections and sway.
Lily turned away and decided to abandon the subject.
"Well, if I get my wand snapped and am shunted out of the magical world, you are more than welcome to visit me and study the daily muggle struggle. Or you could help out and even get a job, if you're feeling adventurous."
She couldn't imagine Sirius lowering himself to work in a textile mill, or a chip shop. So many luxuries he took for granted would have to be eschewed; he'd be confined by a mean wage. His ideas were romantic imaginings. He had no grasp of the realities. If he'd been born her next door neighbour she doubted he'd have the same opinion he did now. He'd probably harbour the secret envy/open hostility towards the rich than many did.
A knock sounded on his door for the second time that day. James hurried to open it, thinking Darlene was back sooner than he thought and he'd hurry her into the staffroom.
Only it wasn't Dippet at the door. "Lily," he said, relieved to see her. "Glad you're here. Come in."
She took a seat in the armchair in the corner. He saw her lift the small blanket thrown over it to see if her name still glittered there in gold thread. It did. He'd never changed it. He might have done, in his bitterer moments, only he forgot it was there most of the time. She turned to him, about to make some comment on it but he started first.
"I've had a lot of time to think," he began. "And I know I owe you a dozen different apologies, and you'll get them. But I need you to tell me that when this is all done with, if we can be together again. Tell me that I haven't mucked it up too badly. I keep going over all the things I've said to you, it's a miracle you don't hate me."
"I could never hate you."
He'd been pacing the room and avoiding her eyes, but he finally stopped to look at her. "I know that," he said, but couldn't bring himself to smile. "Your love is… implacable. But that doesn't answer the question. I have no doubt you could love me the rest of your life and yet never be with me again."
"This isn't what I came to—" she tried to say but James cut her off.
"I know, but I won't get any work done until I know." He gestured to his desk, which was uncharacteristically messy; large piles of work left undone covered half of it. "I can't concentrate on any of it. I can't get anything done until you tell me that all that stuff you said last night, those things I did, have permanently ruined us."
She sighed, and reached a hand to him. He took it immediately, crouching in front of her armchair. Lily opened her mouth to say something, but she couldn't get a single word out. She'd never been good at this, James knew. Unless she was in a rage, she generally kept quiet about her feelings.
"I don't…" she began, but didn't go on. Not the most promising way to begin a sentence, but he waited for the end, hoping it would get better. It didn't. It stayed there, a partial beginning, like an incomplete bridge, all the more isolating for the failed potential of it.
He gave up, taking her silence and uncomfortable expression for rejection. He made to take his hand back but she clung on, refusing to let go.
"I'm not trying to force confessions or promises," he said. "Just wanted a bit of hope."
"Never lose hope," she managed to say. "Especially with me, please. I know I'm…" Again, she didn't finish.
James motioned her to move over and he wedged himself into the seat beside her, though there wasn't really enough room. Eventually she slid onto her side and under his arm. He adjusted too so that they were cosily settled.
"Need all the hope I can get these days," he said, relieved that, even if things were nightmarish now, they would get better. That they could work things out, fix their own problems, if not the world's.
"I did have something to tell you," Lily mentioned after a time.
"Then tell me." Lily made to get up but he tightened his arms around her. "Tell me from here."
Lily chuckled. "I suppose I can talk and cwtch."
"What's cwtch?" he asked.
"This," she answered, snuggling into him. He rested his chin on her head, and she told him about her appointment with Krankheit.
"What happens now?" he asked.
"We've just told Dumbledore. Not sure he approved of our initiative, but he's pleased with the results. He said he will mull over what to do next, but that he would get in touch with Krankheit. So whatever the Headmaster decides, really. What about you?"
"What about me?"
James tensed, but only for a moment. "She's doing well. Beginning to forgive me for the fire, I think, which somehow still doesn't make me feel any less awful about it. And you know about the petition, of course. She got enough signatures for it. She had a meeting at the Ministry today, as a matter of fact."
"Yes, we met her on our way back to the castle."
"Hmm. Strange, though. I'd have thought she'd come tell me how it went by now."
"Perhaps she's still cross with you?"
"She didn't seem cross with me earlier; we were supposed to celebrate."
Lily pulled away and looked at him curiously.
"In the staff room," he added. "Publicly celebrate the success of putting her petition through. But that was hours ago. Where—?"
Lily got up, allowing him to do the same. "You should go check on her. Perhaps things went poorly at the Ministry."
"Right," he said, grabbing his cloak. "You don't, by any chance, know where her rooms are?"
"Haven't the foggiest" she said, trying not to smile. "Though I'm surprised at your ignorance."
"We keep our tawdry affair contained to my rooms only, on account of the safety charms around the bed. No one gets hurt during our acrobatic lovemaking."
Her smile fell. "That's not funny."
"You only say that because you're jealous. Don't apologise, it's wonderful. I glory in it." He opened his office door. "Hope, you see."
That night Lily dreamed of her parents, so vivid yet casual that when she awoke, for a brief moment, she thought it had been real. She dreamed of Roo every week, but it had been a long time since she'd felt her parents' loss so fresh like this.
"I'm being overly emotional," she told herself throughout the morning, but it didn't do any good. After a eating a breakfast she had no stomach for, and a solitary mope in one of the castle courtyards, Lily went early to Hagrid's for their traditional tea.
"Ello. Weren't expetin' ya til later," he said, smiling. Lily reflect that a half-giant's smirk is far bigger than even an average person's even widest smile. Even if it was partially hidden by shaggy beard, a smile from Hagrid was worth five from anyone else. He had so much he could complain about, and yet he always found something to be pleased about.
"So," he said as he put the kettle on. "How are classes?"
"Fine. Getting a bit dull, this close to N.E.W.T.s. It's mostly revision at this point. Nothing new. Can't say I'm disappointed though. Frees me up for other things."
"What other things?"
"Well, Order work, of course, and time in the Hospital Wing. And with Professor Slughorn. Brewing sessions might pick up soon, as the replanting has started to produce new usable ingredients. What about you, Hagrid?"
"Oh, well… fires are no small thing, but there weren't too much damage. You look no worse for wear, glad to say."
She unconsciously put a hand to her hair. "Yeah. It grew back in the night. I'm a bit embarrassed that my unconscious is so vain, to tell the truth."
"Nawww… I don't know if that's vain. Maybe it was your way of convincing yourself that their attack didn' affect ya."
Lily laughed. "I like your interpretation much better."
"How's life besides all that?" he asked. "How's Potter? Doing all right after the fire, is he?"
Lily sighed, then remembered that Hagrid-that no one outside of the Marauders-knew she and James had split up. She thought shed like to have a friend to confide in about it, but she thought the half-giant might be hurt by the news. Or worse, throw James into a tree again. Who knew, perhaps she would be the one thrown this time.
"Oh, he's doing fine." There was a pause where Hagrid waited for more, knowing there was something she wasn't saying. She slumped in her seat and confessed, "I dreamed of them last night, Hagrid."
His face softened in sympathy. How many times had they had this conversation? Or if not this exact one, how many dozen variations on this theme?
"It's all right, Hagrid. I just wanted some company, that's all."
The kettle started to whistle and Hagrid closed his mouth on whatever he was going to say in order to make tea.
"I was thinking of visiting the old house," she said, as he poured.
"Don't know if that'll be safe."
"Safe enough. We can apparate without them knowing now, remember."
"You take care, though."
She smiled and sipped her tea. "I will."
When she arrived at Spinner's End, she found the street oddly still. While it was the middle of the day, and the children were likely in school and the parents at work, still it seemed even more abandoned and forgotten than when she had lived there-when people moved there to be forgotten about, because the rest of the world had no reason to notice them. And if I hadn't been a witch, I'd probably still be here.
She pulled her cloak (transfigured to look like a coat) closer around her as she walked the length of the street, though it was getting warm enough that she didn't even need it. Towards the end she reached her old house and simply looked at it and wondered. Had it always looked that shabby? Or did the neighbours simply not bother themselves about all the chipped paint. Perhaps her own parents had not bothered about it either. Her heart began tripping in a feeling like panic. She realised, suddenly, frighteningly, that she couldn't remember what her house had looked like- didn't know if this house, someone else's house now, were different from when she lived there with her family.
Discomfitted, snatched at an abandoned newspaper lying atop the heap of rubbish, and sat at the edge of the park road across from the house to distract herself with reading.
"Oh! We've got a new Prime Minister!" she announced to no one.
Lily considered how sad it was, that she was so far removed from her muggle side, that she didn't even know when elections where on—didn't know who was standing for office, or indeed, who had been elected.
"Margaret Thatcher," she said aloud, skimming the article, hoping that the current muggle Prime Minister would do better for her country than the minister for Magic was doing for the magical community. She'd have her work cut out for her, taking office in the midst of a war she didn't even know was going on. That's bound to come as a nasty shock. Lily imagined how difficult it would be to assume that sort of position, only to learn that she also had to deal with another enormously stressful situation she had no background on and no concept of any of its underpinnings.
Lily wondered again whose job it was to inform the prime minister about the magical world. Depending on whom she got her information from, it could completely change how the new prime minister viewed the magical war.
This concerned Lily, more that she thought it would. What if Lucius Malfoy were the one to explain his view on the current magical situation? Lily thought that Darlene Dippet might actually be a great choice for it, but Lily doubted anyone would let someone with such muggleborn sympathies have such an important task. Having the ear of the muggle Prime Minister would no doubt be a nice reward for someone who tows the company line. Unless, the Minister for Magic spoke directly to the Primier.
"What are you doing here?"
Lily sat up straight, startled but not concerned; she'd recognise that voice anywhere.
"I'm reading the paper, Mr Prince," she said, primly crossing her legs even though she sat on a crumbling kerb. She rattled the paper, the way her father had done, and cleared her throat, continuing, or at least pretending, to read.
"I wasn't expecting to see you."
"I wasn't expecting to see you either."
"I live here," he pointed out, sitting next to her. He leaned over to skim the headlines and Lily had to repress a smile.
"So you do. I'd quite forgot." She continued to read.
He cleared his throat.
She ignored him.
He cleared his throat even louder.
She noisily turned a page.
"Okay. You're reading." He crossed his legs in a similar fashion to hers, and waited.
Next moment he was leant in close to her ear and whispering, "And why did you really come?"
Lily looked at him, was started by the closeness, then lay back on the struggling grass, still prickly and more brown than green.
James often wished he had a window in his office for some extra light. With no fireplace and no windows he had to rely on his wand or on candles for illumination, which was hard on his poor eyes when he was studying something as intricate as this map. He considered taking it out elsewhere, but didn't want to run the risk of it being seen. It was technically stolen Ministry property. So he laboured away, squinting over the map that was too big for his desk.
He'd spent the last hour scrutinising its magical properties, and twice he'd even seen a name light up and dart from one part of the map to another. Dorkus went from London to Glasgow the moment he'd opened the map, and Dumbledore himself, to Belfast.
"Not by business," James repeated to himself, though at the same time unable to stop himself inventing ways to ask the Headmaster what he'd been doing there.
Just after Dumbledore apparated from Hogsmeade, the Longbottoms popped over to London, and Remus Lupin popped up to Edinburgh.
Busy day for the Order, he thought.
A knock at his door.
"Just a moment!" he said, hastily fighting with what felt like (and probably was) yards of parchment, cursing at the creases in the maps, trying to get them right. Finally he gave up and picked up the whole cumbersome thing and ran with the damned thing into his bedroom, where he locked it in.
When he opened the door his mouth had half-formed an apology to the student he'd kept waiting, but it wasn't a student, and the sorry stopped dead in his throat.
"What are you doing here, Sirius."
"Thought I'd pop by."
James was about to make a snide remark about where he could pop off to, then something occurred to him.
"Pop? You mean you apparated? Didn't use the bike?"
"Apparated," Sirius answered.
"When? Just now or have you been in the village for some time?"
Sirius frowned in confusion but answered all the same. "Just now. What difference does it make whether I came astride a hippogriff on the Knight Bus, or if I've been in the village or not." He huffed, tossing back his hair. "I say, it's a very tedious subject, even for small talk."
"Not small talk. And I am still cross with you… I think."
"So why the interest in transportation? Want to damn me and the dragon I rode in on?"
James gave him a reproachful look. "I've been working on the Ministry's Map and have seen Order members popping around the country all afternoon."
"Except you didn't see me?"
"You're not on it, apparently," James said, and went back to his room to retrieve the map. Both of them leant over it, looking at the map carefully.
"So, they aren't convinced I'm in the Order," said Sirius, tapping his lip with a finger. "Old Snivillus must not be in good standing, then. He could tell them definitively. He identified me for certain that time…"
Sirius, whether intentionally or not, loosened his collar at the spot where his throat had been sliced open, the curse that had permanently changed his voice. James could see the scar just barely peeping out. He looked away, discomfited, embarrassed. He hadn't been at the battle, but had been stuck in the hospital wing.
James cleared his throat. "Well, it's an interesting insight. But tell me why you're here: you must have had a reason."
"No, not really. Bored," said Sirius, wandering away to inspect some items on a shelf, even sweeping one finger across the wood as if inspecting for dust.
"You came here, knowing that I'd still likely be angry with you, because you were bored?"
"Wanted to test the waters. See how angry you were. Give me some gauge as to how long it will take to forgive me." Sirius turned to face him. "If you were Remus you we would have had a punch-up and be over it by now."
James occupied himself by organizing papers on his desk, trying to look important and busy. "You never slept with one of Mooney's girlfriends."
Sirius went quiet and searching, as if he were trying to determine if that were true or not. James clenched his teeth, and took a deep breath. They'd never had a punch up, but there was bound to be a first time for everything. Finally, Sirius shrugged, unable to remember, or not willing to confess. James ran his hand through his hair and gritted out, "For fuck's sake, Padfoot."
"I'll let you have the first hit," his friend suggested, honestly trying to reconcile.
The thing was, James understood. It didn't excuse all the things that Sirius did, but James knew how his friend's mind worked. Sirius didn't think of it as a serious offense because anyone outside his very close group of friends was meaningless to him. He didn't quite understand that his fellow Marauders were capable of caring for other people. And it wasn't just with women, either. James and Frank Longbottom had always been friends, but Sirius never passed up an opportunity to bate his fellow Gryffindor, despite knowing that he was James's mate and close colleague.
"Can I ask a question?" said James.
Sirius didn't reply, but James carried on anyway.
"Did you ever try to sleep with Lily?"
He watched Sirius's face very closely as he asked this, but his friend's countenance gave nothing away.
"Really? Not even at the beginning?" he continued, and realised that it wasn't dissimilar to the voice he used when questioning suspects.
"I was trying to get you to shag her. I was as far removed from as a cherub, floating above the scene with a bow and arrow."
"What an appalling image."
Another name glowed and darted distractingly across the map. Lily Evans- leaving from Hogsmeade to some place called Cokeworth. He studied the location carefully until it faded away.
"Got to go," he said, hastily folding up the map and putting it in an inside pocket of his robes.
"What's wrong?" asked Sirius. "Need backup?"
"No. Get out," James said, putting out the candles wandlessly and grabbing his cloak. His invisibility cloak.
Light from the classroom gently lit the office when James opened the door. He was half way out when Sirius stopped him with a determined grip on his arm.
"I'm not going to let you risk your life just because you're angry with me," he growled. "I'm coming."
James met Sirius's determined glare and for a long, pounding moment.
"Have you got the mirror?" James asked after a time.
"Always," Sirius replied, placing his hand over his heart. Over the pocket that held the mirror, rather. James smirked, and gripped his friend's arm in turn.
"I'll let you know if I need help. Promise."
All aurors, during their training, practice apparition to get it as smoothly and quietly as possible. The best don't make any sounds at all, other issue enormous cracks whenever they leave or arrive at a place. James was proficient enough so that he apparated with only the sound of a finger snap.
He didn't know what was happening, but when he saw her name, James felt that something was off. He had no proof but why would she go off to the middle of muggle nowhere so suddenly? The street he landed on was exceptionally muggle. Muggle poverty. Whatever the situation, he was there to help if needed. If he wasn't needed… well, then he could find out what was so bleeding special about this dump.
James was glad he'd brought the cloak, though it didn't look any muggles had been around to see him appear from nowhere. Of course, it was impossible to tell who might be peeping out of their sitting room windows. He scanned the place for Lily, and spotted the red of her hair at once, just sitting on the side of the road. He started for her, about to call out but he stopped himself just in time.
Someone was approaching her. She hadn't yet noticed. Going quietly, James saw that it wasn't just someone, but Severus Snape. Was this some sort of rendez-vous? Why? And why here?
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm reading the paper, Mr Prince," Lily said, not even looking up.
"I wasn't expecting to see you."
"I wasn't expecting to see you either."
"I live here."
"So you do. I'd quite forgot."
Lily knew where Snape lived. That shouldn't have surprised him but it did. Why would she come here if not to see him?
James, walking carefully (spelling his feet to make no sound) got even closer. A mere metre away. Severus leaned in close, far too close.
"And why did you really come?"
Lily closed her eyes and moved away, lying on the ground. "Hiraeth."
What did that mean? Snape seemed to know, and whatever it meant it made his pale severe face contort in pity, before looking away at the house across the street. Then, to James's utter astonishment, Snape took Lily's hand began to sing—softly and poorly, but he carried a tune, nonetheless.
He hummed a few notes first then sang the words"… will keep a welcome, and with a love that never fails, we'll kiss away each hour of hiraeth—" Snape brought Lily's hand to his lips. "When you come home again to W—"
"Stop," she interrupted. "Please… I really can't." Lily was crying now, not that Snape paid any notice.
"Your father was a better singer anyway," Snape remarked, dropping her hand.
Lily sniffled. "He was. No offense, of course. Thank you, all the same."
For a long time they didn't speak. James's mind was an utter blank.
"Who lives there now?"
Snape stopped picking at dead grass and looked up again, through James in the invisibility cloak, at the house in front of them.
"The Simmonses. They both work at that…" Snape plucked then threw some grass angrily into the wind. "—damned mill."
"It's only been three years," she said.
"Feels like a lifetime."
Lily, still lying on her back, began absently pulling at dead grass as well. "I know it was mine, but now it looks so…"
"I don't know, that's the thing. Is it different? I mean, the garden? The paint? I can't tell. I don't remember."
Snape looked yet again at the same house and it began to dawn on James. He slowly turned around and surveyed the property before him. It was a wreck. A tiny hovel. And… it had been Lily's home… back when she still had one.
"Mostly the same. Your mother's flowers aren't there anymore, of course."
Lily sat up quickly. "How could I have forgot the flowers?" She sounded, not delighted by the memory, but agonised, angry. She was chiding herself. "She loved her flowers."
Snape smiled. "If you'd had another sister she'd have been named Chrysanthemum."
Lily huffed a laugh. "Or Daisy."
Snape laughed too. "Doubt it."
James couldn't help but think, Gardenia, Ivy, Jasmine, but he wasn't part of the conversation. He also couldn't help but notice that they both spoke differently now. The accents were more pronounced, especially Lily's. It wasn't the polished English she spoke at the castle. Was this how she sounded originally? Before she came to school? Was this how she always sounded and she simply put on a different accent to sound more respectable? James had to confess, he didn't know how he felt about it.
"Don't know what would have happened if one of us had been boys."
"Probably name him mugwart."
They both started laughing, just when they would wind down, one would look at the other and they'd crack up again.
This was a different Severus Snape, different even from the one James witnessed saving Lily in Dover. James hated the fact that she and the Death Eater were friends, but when they were there, alone in the neighbourhood where they'd apparently grown up together, he understood it. He didn't like it, but understood it.
The pair was still listing weedy names for boys. Or at least he thought so until he realised they were listing magical ingredients, most of them not weeds. James gathered it was some sort of potions game. It continued until Snape said, "Halliwinkle? No, that won't do either. You got me, I'm afraid."
Lily eyed him suspiciously.
"You let me win because you made me cry," she accused.
Snape gave a disdainful snort (finally an expression James recognised) and said, "Since when did I ever coddle you because you were crying? And when have I ever let you win?"
Lily furrowed her brows thoughtfully. "Never. In fact, I remember many times I complained to my father about how awful a babysitter you were. Never letting me win and being mean to me when I was upset."
"Once I even demanded that you never stay with us again. He actually indulged me. Hired a new sitter. She was so sweet, gave us fancy biscuits with our tea." She elbowed Snape in a friendly way. "But I cried the whole time to have you back."
Again, silence. Again, James could only watch.
Snape cleared his throat. "And… how is Petunia?"
"She's going to have a baby. I'll be an aunt, technically."
"I'll never be able to see my niece. Or nephew, I suppose. Too dangerous."
It grew so still between the two that James held his breath, feeling that the tiniest sound he made would be heard in that sudden fraught silence.
James had always wondered how Lily and Snape reconciled their differences, how they dealt with the fact they were on opposite sides of the war.
James wanted something awful to happen; the auror in him was happy to wait in secret until Snape did or said something incriminating that would allow him to intervene. Until then…
"Think she'll teach the child the old songs?"
"No, no. She completely denies that entire side of the family. You know how Petunia was. Refused to ever speak Welsh. Refused to even learn it. She was embarrassed by father's valley accent."
"What was that he always said?" asked Snape, voice warm with memory.
"And there it was… gone!" said Lily, chuckling to herself. "Or, 'I'll be there now, in a minute." She sighed, and because James was watching Lily's face when Snape was not, he noticed a fresh tear fall. "I do miss him," she whispered.
There was another long silence in which Snape seemed to be struggling with himself. James tightened his grip on his wand, waiting, hoping the Death Eater would say something incriminating that would give James an excuse to rip off the Invisibility Cloak and put a stop to this scene, this intimacy.
"I… miss him too. You have to know…" Snape said, brow knitted with uncertainty. His voice changed, as if his throat were painfully tight. "You have to know how much I regret—"
"Don't," Lily interrupted. "You don't have to. I know."
"I always wanted to be a part of your family," he confessed.
Lily nodded, fiddling with the tips of her hair. "My parents would have taken you."
"You…" Snape didn't seem to be able to go beyond that. James didn't want him to. He was afraid the Death Eater was about to say something irretrievable, something that would change everything, lock Lily somehow to his side forever.
"What?" Lily scooted closer to the kerb, trying to catch Snape's eye, though he now turned away. She placed a hand on his back. "What is it?"
Severus Snape took several fortifying breaths. Don't say it, James thought furiously. He didn't know what he was about to say, only that he didn't want it said.
Snape spoke anyway, softly, as if the speaking actually hurt. "You are the only family I have left, now. The only friend I have in the world."
Lily, to James's amazement and relief, didn't immediately melt into pitying comfort. Instead, she laughed weakly.
"You? You have a whole brotherhood of comrades."
"Who would as soon as kill me as look at me if it meant personal gain for them. The Dark Lord—"
If James had been thinking a bit more clearly, he would have at least waited for Snape to finish the sentence, find out exactly what Voldemort did, but his entire body had been a spring, coiling tighter and tighter with every word Snape spoke, and "The Dark Lord" was the trigger.
Snape reacted before he seemed to recognise even who James was. He leapt up, threw himself in front of Lily and said, "Run, Lily! Go, get out of here!" in a panic as he quite determinedly drew his wand, ready to fight.
"I'm not going to hurt her, Snape," said James, with the hint of a sneer that from sheer habit he couldn't keep out of his tone.
Lily, recognising his voice, ran out, placing herself between them.
"Please, don't hurt him!" she cried. James didn't know whom she was trying to protect. "Please, gods, just put away your wand! I don't want anyone to get hurt, PLEASE!" Her voice cracked as she shouted this last.
James had never seen her look so afraid, not in all the horrible near-death experiences they'd shared. And for a moment, he felt her fear as if it were his own. He let his auror training lapse for a moment and he lowered his wand by a few degrees.
"Severus, please, put your wand away. James, I beg you, don't duel him."
You won't win… her eyes said. She thought Snape would go directly to deadly curses.
Of course James wasn't going to fire; Lily was in the way. He couldn't get a shot at Snape without running the risk of hitting her. Snape, on the other hand, could reach over Lily's shoulder and fire away at James, so he couldn't afford to put his wand away. He'd need it to defend himself. And judging by the distorting hatred on Snape's face, he would need to.
James recognised that hatred, had felt it, had used it. It was where the Dark Arts truly came from, and for the first time that day, James felt he was now in the presence of a real Death Eater. How he had ever thought Lily had that level of malice required to channel any dark spells were beyond him now. Love and justice, that's what drove Lily. James searched his soul for what truly motivated him and came up with… loyalty. Torn between loyalty to the aurory and to Lily. Actually, it wasn't much of a struggle.
"James, please don't…"
He was just about to suggest to Lily that they both disapparate, knowing she would go with him if it meant an end to the confrontation, when Snape snapped out, "I don't need the help of little mudbloods like you."
She flinched (from the pain in the arm or the fact that he'd said it?) She almost turned to look at Snape, but couldn't manage to actually face him. Instead, she stood between them, presenting a pained profile to both auror and Death Eater.
Snape looked more horrified and agonized than Lily did. James could see him mouthing, "I'm so sorry," but no voice emerged. He could only blink, trembling, stupefied. I'm so sorry.
Lily didn't see any of that. James did. And it was then he knew.
Severus Snape is in love with Lily. And she didn't even know.
James hoped she never found out.
"Take me home," she said, holding her marked arm, defensively, as if she were hugging herself.
James still had his wand out, though Snape looked so bludgeoned, James doubted he was capable of any intelligent magic, though the basest tended to be the most powerful. Still, he approached Lily slowly, putting his arms around her. Only then did Snape seem to remember James was there.
They met eyes, and he could tell by that wild, panicked look that Snape knew James had figured it out, that he'd given himself away.
A scream ripped the park open, ripped James open and no doubt Lily too. It was like the shriek of a tortured animal, a sufferer begging the world to be put out of its misery.
Face contorted, spittle flying, he yelled, "Get out of here!" Still, Lily didn't look, but James had no doubt Snape wasn't directing this at her. "I never want to see you again! Go away!"
The words were barely intelligible; breaking high in the way when the throat is so tight it hurt from not crying.
Severus flung a slash of orange spell light that went wide by several metres.
James couldn't take it anymore. He apparated them away.
He didn't let go once they arrived in Hogsmeade, not only because he knew how upsetting that must have been for her, but because part of him, the previous part of him, the James that was still in school and hated Snape, was celebrating that Snivellus was out of her life forever, now. Had to be. That horrid link that everyone knew, but no one talked about was finally severed. That big block standing in the middle of their relationship was gone, at last. He held onto Lily like a hard-won prize, but she pried herself out of his arms and walked directly for the Shrieking Shack. James followed.
The house creaked and moaned its welcome and Lily took a seat on the battered sofa.
"That was rather horrid," she said, looking like she was trying not to be sick. "Why does my family keep abandoning me?"
A new feeling, something akin to guilt turned James's stomach. He'd been celebrating the end of that Death Eater in Lily's life, where are she felt like she'd lost a family member. James sat next to her, wanted to take her hand but she kept both trapped tight between her knees. She still clung to that muggle newspaper, he noticed, as if she feared letting go of it would mean letting go of her previous muggle life.
Guilt and Gryffindor pride prevailed and he said, "He didn't mean it, you know."
Lily turned and looked him in the eyes for the first time. They were dry, but heart-broken.
"You think I'm upset over one little word?" she said, nearly angry. "I forgave Sirius for using it, I could forgive Severus just as well."
"Sirius?" said James, aghast.
Lily waved it away. "It was an accident, just like Severus's today." She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her robes and looked into cold dark fireplace. "They are so similar, you know. Sirius and Severus."
James recalled the time he'd eavesdropped on her rant at Dumbledore, about the Headmaster's favouritism for the Gryffindor over the Slytherin.
"I don't see it," James confessed.
She sniffed. "Both raised dark. Both brilliant. Both have devilish tempers they don't know what to do with. Both dangerous. Both hateful. Both… loyal. One could just as easily turned out like the other."
"What made them different, then?" James asked.
Lily took a deep breath and looked at him again. "You."
James pulled back, confused, even nervous.
"I never really liked thinking about it, but after today I suppose I have to accept the fact that he really is a Death Eater."
This seemed such a jump in topic that James felt dizzied.
Lily went on. "I mean, I knew he'd joined but in his heart I thought he couldn't be a truly dark wizard. He'd just done it for… for research. He was so, so poor after graduating Hogwarts. Job market was bad, he could barely afford to feed himself let alone invent potions. Ingredients are expensive. Then Voldemort came along and said, "brew for me, I'll fund your research," and well, for Severus that was a dream come true. Potioneering and having a place where he belonged. I know he was bitter about his past but I still believed he wasn't controlled by hate."
James had to break in. "But he doesn't hate you," he said. He wasn't going to go so far as to reveal that Snape was in love with her. He didn't even know why he was defending Snape at all. This separation is what James had wanted, that she finally new what Snape was.
"I know that," Lily said evenly. "He loves me." She pursed her lips and searched James's face for something she couldn't seem to find. "Just not as much as he hates you."
His immediate reflex was to deny it, but some how, the disavowal never made it past his lips.
"That's the difference, I think," Lily went on. "Dark wizards hate more strongly than they love. And Sirius, while he does have a deep well of hate in him, still loves more powerfully. You especially."
James wished she'd stop talking. All this was growing too hard to bear.
"Severus… I would say loves me more than anyone else in the world. But it's not enough to overcome his hatred of you, it would seem."
James finally found his voice. "Are you… blaming me?" James asked.
"No." Her answer was so immediate and assured that James sighed in relief, though secretly in his memories he played back hundreds of cruelties, hundreds of pranks, of insults, and wasn't sure if he didn't blame himself.
"You have to choose to hate. Severus has made his decision. He will have to live with that. We will all have to live with that." She paused for a moment and her expression went distant, dreamy. "Though I've often wondered what his life would have become if you two had been friends. Or at the very least, civil. It might have made all the difference in the world. I mean, just look at what you've done for Sirius. I dread to think how he would have turned out without you, James."
He stood, remarkably uncomfortable. He… surely he hadn't had so much influence on people. He was just… James. Just James.
"And me," she said, surprising him. "You sort of lifted me up out of my own darkness, too. Not dark magic, I mean. My depression, at the start of the year. I suppose that's your gift. You… lift people up. When you choose to."
"Lily, I don't know what to say." And wasn't that the truth.
"Everything these days seems to drag me down… You know I couldn't even remember my house?"
James returned to the couch, sat next to her, still didn't say anything, didn't try to embrace her. He gave her the space to speak. He used to think he wanted her to talk to him more, but these truths were hard to hear. But she needed to say them as much as he needed to hear them.
"Tell me truly, do I lift you up or drag you down?" she asked, slumped deep into the cushions.
"Up, down and sideways but you know what, I don't care. I'd go with you anywhere," he said, slumping down too, feeling at last that here was something he could say with confidence. "And I'm not just saying this, but I truly believe I've been a stronger wizard since I started loving you. Is that mad? That I feel magically more powerful with you in my life?"
She chuckled and slumped so far down that her rear was almost off the sofa. James scooted down to match. It was almost fun, sitting so ridiculously in the middle of a serious conversation.
"It's what I've been saying all along." She tiled her head up to look at him, a few rowdy hairs getting into her face. James brushed them aside. "I know I've become stronger since you've come into my life," she said, smiling at last.
"Just think," James said, smiling cheekily, "We could make love right now then the two powers would be united!"
Lily laughed. "And there's the mood officially spoilt. Well done, Potter." Still, she was smiling. "And I think it's unfair to love in general to over-glorify eros as being superior to all others. If anything it's the most—"
James kissed her. It was a wriggly, giggly, awkwardly slumping sort of kiss, made more ridiculous because both pairs of lips were tightly tilted up with smiling.
When he pulled away he said, "I couldn't have you say anything against eros." He said, taking her hand and lifting it into the air. "You should pity eros instead of try to tear him down."
"And why's that?" she asked, bringing their hands back down to thump and bounce on the couch.
"Because his love is briefest, he doesn't last forever like others but fades in and out." The hands went up and down again. As if they were swinging their arms together while walking… only they weren't walking. "Bit sad, when you think about it. Maybe we hold eros higher because he's so… fleeting."
"Smoothly argued," she said. Whump.
"Convincingly enough to test out the old four-poster upstairs?" Whump.
"Tempting, but no. I've really got to get back to the castle. Remus is coming by to practice some Occlumency." Lily got up, groaning with the effort to straighten from her previous posture. She was walking out of the room.
James sighed. "Poor, poor eros."
"Poor, poor Potter," she mocked.
James straightened and said, feigning indignation, "Poor Potter indeed!" He trotted after her, following her down into the passage.
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder," her taunt echoed back.
"The heart wasn't quite the organ I had in mind," he said, more to himself.
She turned around so suddenly James bumped into her.
"Tonight," she said.
"We should go out. Proper out. Something nice. Once I'm done with occlumency."
James's smile fell. "Are you joking? Don't tease me about this, Evans, my heart, my organs, can't handle it."
She laughed, felt into the darkness for his face and kissed him.
"I mean it. We've got a lot to talk about, and it's so close to end of term it hardly matters, I've decided. Today has been rather revelatory."
He still had trouble believing it. "Truly?" he asked, his voice suddenly hoarse.
She ran her fingers through his hair, melting him. "Hmmmm."
Another kiss, longer, savoury. They stood in the dark passage, blind and content, nothing but the feel and sounds of the other. She must have been to Hagrid's, James thought; she tasted of mint tea. Its cool, delicate scent perfumed what little space there was between them.
"I'd say you lift me up, Lily Evans," he said, still a bit breathless. "I feel we could take on the world, now."
"Good," she said. "Because that's pretty much what we have to do." A sobering thought, that. "And don't think I didn't notice that you followed me, James. I expect you had a good reason." They continued walking down the passage. He couldn't see her face but her voice carried a serious threat under the playful tone. Her hand, holding his, gripped it a bit more tightly.
"I was working on the Map. Saw you unexpectedly appear, gone off to a place I'd never heard of and went after you. Thought something might be happening and I'd be back-up." There followed a pause where she didn't say if this was adequate or not. He went on, "And you don't think I'm pleased you ran off to meet a known Death Eater." To his own surprise, he didn't sound as cross as he thought he'd be. In fact, it almost sounded… joking. He never thought he'd see they day when he'd be able to make light of that connection.
"It wasn't a rendez-vous I was just… never mind. If you were going to be back-up why didn't you say something when you got there?"
"I was going to, but by the time I'd found you so had Snape and I was afraid that if I showed myself then…"
"All that would have happened," she finished, sounding incredibly tired and coming to a stop to lean back against him.
He couldn't help replaying the scene in his mind. Lily had said he was the main cause for the diverging fates of Sirius and Snape, but James wasn't convinced it wasn't she that made the difference. James knew, all too terrifyingly, how dark magic could hook itself inside you, like an itch that only more dark magic can soothe. But she had worked it out of him, only recently. Being loved. That was the distinction, not his school bullying. Or not only that. And it was something James was sure she would have noticed, if her own sort of love wasn't so blind.
So Snape was in love with Lily. Well, that was too bad, James thought. He wasn't giving her up, especially now that he'd just got her back. (He could still barely believe it had happened so quickly, so decisively.) Even if she did realise it that the problem was that Snape might not be loved enough, she wouldn't throw herself away on him just out of pity, to save his soul… would she?
"Forget about it. You've got to clear your mind for Remus, remember? And besides, we've got tonight to look forward to."
They continued down the passage toward the castle in relative silence.
This is for the best, James told himself. She never need know.
"The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding."
In the newspaper, Lily also reads about the first referendum, in 1979, in which the Welsh electorate voted on the creation of an assembly for Wales resulted in a large majority for the "no" vote. No-one doubted that Scotland would say Yes, in their own assembly. It had said Yes in 1979, after all, but by too slim a majority. Wales hadn't just said No. It had said No with a vengeance: 80% to 20%.
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Best of luck to all of you, whatever circumstances you may be face, be they personal, professional or political. Useless as my wishes are, I really do hope the best for you.