Greetings from Pamplona, Spain! I'm doing El Camino de Santiago with my father, so for the next two months I'll be walking the traditional pilgrimage from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees, to Santiago, Spain.

And if you are of age and British, I hope you voted today!

It's strange, I had so many people on twitter, tumbler and blogs, facebook pages debating when the pregnancy was going to come out, and I had some reviewers completely surprised by it. Here I was thinking my hints had been a bit too heavy-handed. But if you are looking for them, they begin in chapter 58.


Chapter 83: The Results of Inequality

Monday morning dawned insultingly fresh and bright. Lily felt it out to have been a gloomy grey day to match their mood, but spring finally seemed to be making its stand against the last determined days of a winter that had overstayed its welcome.

She lay in bed listening to James shower, readying himself for his morning meeting with Darlene's mother. Lily could hear him practicing his condolences under the spray of water.

Lily asked Poppy to bring some smart dress robes from his rooms, then changed her mind and asked for his auror's robes to be brought up instead, hoping it would make the better impression.

When James emerged from the bathroom, however, he ignored the clothes and crawled back onto the bed, towel and all. He threw a leg over hers, covered though it was by layers of blankets, and groaned.

"What time will she be here?" Lily asked.

"Quarter passed seven."

Lily shifted about under the covers to check the time on the bedside clock. Six thirty. She turned back to face him and noticed his breath, minty fresh.

"Did you use my toothbrush?" she asked, unconcerned either way.

"In a manner of speaking," he replied, spooning in closer. "Transfigured bristles onto the handle end."

A double-headed toothbrush, Lily mused. "I had Poppy bring up some robes for you."

James yawned hugely. "Should have asked for some tea as well."

With a small pop, the elf reappeared with a tray with teapot, cups, creamer, and toast rack. "Poppy thought master Potter might be wanting his tea," she said, ears waggling proudly.

"You're invaluable, Poppy. Thank you," said James, sitting up to take the tray. Poppy bowed and disappeared again. He put the tray down on the bed, poured a cup and took it and saucer with him, sitting up against the headboard. More tired than hungry, Lily settled in more comfortably amidst her pillows.

A tapping at the window showed Dragon the Third perched outside. James let him in with his wand, and the owl dropped the Prophet onto the bed, snatched a piece of toast and zoomed out of the room again in one smooth circle. A stately bird, Dragon the Third.

"Oh for pity's sake," James groaned.

At this Lily finally sat up. "What? What is it?"

"You've made front page," he said, tossing the paper onto the bed between them. Lily could see a photo of herself, posing as if ready for a duel. Witch Weekly must make a fair bit of money selling their photos to the Daily Prophet, Lily thought, opening the paper to its fullest.

"Looks like you have too," she said, pointing to a small series of photos of James at the bottom. One of and Lily and one of him and Darlene Dippet, but when or where that had been taken she had no idea. There was another, most baffling, with Roo, wearing his Gryffindor Quidditch kit and smiling and waving at the camera, James's arm over his shoulders. It was clear that other players had been cropped out of the photo.

Hogwarts: Traditional Education or Hotbed for Radicalisation?

This newspaper has frequently mentioned the questionable lawfulness of Hogwarts' Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore's refusal to share the automagically updated list of current muggleborns in Britain. However, the Supreme Mugwump claimed that until muggleborn witches and wizards have chosen to join our world, the Ministry has no right to impinge on the privacy of these minors, an argument which thus far has failed to be brought down in the Wizengamot. This, however, is an old argument. The new concern involving the primary magical educational institute in Britain is the alarming trend of students directly and indirectly being led into dangerous situations at the urging of radical professors. It is the wizarding world's worst kept secret that the castle is the headquarters for the organisation called "The Order of the Phoenix", a cabal of extremists whose putative leader is the Headmaster himself. The so-called Order quite literally fights on the side of muggleborns, at least, that is their ostensible reason. One teacher at Hogwarts, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of possible backlash, said to this reporter on Sunday, "The Headmaster? He does whatever he wants. The Law is for lesser witches and wizards." To many, this is a clear sign that Dumbledore has designs for the wizarding government, one that involves drastic changes on muggleborn legislation.

But it's not just the Headmaster. Professor James Potter, famous auror and muggleborn champion, is well known throughout the castle for using his position as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher as a recruiting ground and salon for spreading muggleborn propaganda and thinly veiled anti-ministry campaigning. While many students are taken in by the young professor, others are not buying it. "It was obvious he's anti-Ministry, even though he works for them," said Agnes Beauchamp, who has since withdrawn from Hogwarts. Most worryingly, is that it didn't end in the classroom. Not only does Potter involve his students in his own dangerous work, but the Head Boy and Head Girl, who Beauchamp says were "Potter's favourites", are both dead. One student who, for fear of his grades suffering wants to remain anonymous, said, "He [Potter] was always encouraging them. Any time there was some kind of commotion on campus he would grab those two." Another student said, "I saw him [Potter] bring her [Evans] into the hospital wing multiple times because of duelling with dark wizards." Granted, Evans was muggleborn, but it's incontrovertible that even if she had radical predilections, she wouldn't have been able to act on were them not for the enabling and encouraging of the DADA professor/auror. Mr and Mrs Ferris, parents of the unfortunate Head Boy, were furious. "It was because he got wrapped up with muggleborn **** that he ended up getting killed. We certainly blame the school for even letting it get that far."

Minerva McGonagal, the Headmaster's deputy, while more strict about keeping students in the classroom where they belong, has been vocal in her opinions about muggleborn legislation, calling Ministry Lawmakers "a pack of self-serving ninnies who haven't got a brain between them."

Most recently, Darlene Dippet, also killed this weekend, was the Muggle Studies professor at Hogwarts. Her students say that it was Potter's influence that changed the objective of her sixth year class "from Muggle History basically to modern Muggleborn rights," said Diarmuid Hogan. "I mean, how is that going to prepare us for the N.E.W.T's ?"

It leaves the wizarding community wondering, "Just what exactly are children learning at Hogwarts?"

Being the faster reader, Lily finished before James and banished the paper to the fire, hopefully before he reached the Muggle Studies bit. It was not the sort of thing he needed to be reading before meeting with Mrs Dippet.

"Oi, I wasn't—"

"You don't want to," she told him. "You can pretty much guess what they were going to say anyway."

James continued frowning until Lily physically pressed the wrinkles in his brow away with her fingertips.

"So we're the villains, corrupting and radicalising the little children, turning them against the Ministry?"

"What do you mean, we? I'm an innocent victim! Taken in by my beguiling professor. I'm dead because of you."

James nodded. "You're right. You were the first," he said solemnly. "But, you're a muggleborn, so you were probably already a radical. I merely presented you with opportunity."

Lily leaned against him, putting her head on his shoulder. "I don't think I ever thanked you for that. Giving me an opportunity, that is."

James tilted his head to rest atop hers. "I haven't decided if that was the best or worst decision I ever made."

"Thanks, all the same."

But it started Lily wondering: if she hadn't been so public in her fight against Death Eaters, would she have been such a target? Would Roo still be alive? Would she still be pregnant?

If I hadn't started fighting beside him, I never would have become pregnant in the first place.

She, like James, didn't know if that were a good thing or a bad thing.

James stood, courteously banishing his towel (her towel, technically) back to the ensuite instead of leaving on the floor as he done multiple times in the past, and started pulling on his undergarments. Sometimes she didn't notice the scars at all, but that morning it was all she saw. The long thick pink claw marks from the three-headed dog of Hagrid's. Smaller cuts and splotches for which the dittany and burn paste couldn't be spared.

How had she even considered bringing a child into a world where not even its parents could keep themselves safe? She felt a cry coming on; and she wondered why tears made their start that far back in the throat. No, not until he's left, she told herself. He didn't need to leave one weeping female to meet another. So she burrowed back under the covers to hide herself, pretending to go back to sleep but listening the whole time to the sound of him dressing.

A minute later she felt his hand on the back of her head. "I'll meet you back here after, eh?"

She nodded.

"Want to have lunch in London?"

For a moment Lily had forgotten that after his morning meeting, she and James were going to Head Auror's office to report what had happened that weekend, an appointment that had been postponed on account of Lily's health.

"I don't want to miss Charms."

"Might have to anyway, depending on how many questions Moody has for you. Anyway, if it chances so, I thought it would be nice to get away for a bit, just the two of us. Some place nice and secluded."

In London? Not likely. But Lily supposed that by secluded James meant away from the prying eyes on anyone who might read the Daily Prophet.

"Sounds fine."

And it did, she supposed, but she would far prefer to stay cocooned in her bedding all day and block out the world. She felt like she needed a lot more time just to be miserable.

Was it silly to mourn something she'd never even had? Might not even have chosen to have, when it came down to it?

When she heard the portrait hole swing shut she let herself grieve. She didn't wail like she had with Roo, or completely shut down as she'd done with her parents. She just cried. And cried and cried. She couldn't even pinpoint where it hurt. She had nothing tangible, no memories, no physical contact that she missed, and yet she felt like she'd been denied something: not just the prospect of being a parent (which even now she could only view as terrifying, in the current political climate). Mostly, she felt that everything, even her most intimate decisions were dictated by the war.

It was with a depressing certainty that she realised she'd never really be in control of her own life.

x

Madame Dippet looked only slightly like Darlene, James noted as he grew nearer to where she stood. The woman must be almost 90, or perhaps her grief over the recent loss of her daughter had deepened those creases, sagged those cheeks, hollowed those eyes.

Meeting her at the Hogwarts gate seemed the proper thing to do, but now he began to wonder if she could even walk as far as the castle, if he ought to suggest a transport spell, or that they stay in the village instead of her daughter's office. Was anything in Hogsmeade even open at this early hour?

When he reached her, James extended his hand, greatly unsure how to behave around someone who had just lost someone they both supposedly loved. Darlene had visited her mother every week. What had she told her mother? And why was he even worried about such selfish questions at a time like this?

"Mrs Dippet," he greeted, her hand was cold in his, cold but not at all feeble.

"James Potter," she said, and he could tell it was less a greeting and more along the lines of a roll call, for him to step forward, present himself and be inspected.

Despite a stooped back, she gave the impression of having a spine of steel with eyes to match. He couldn't lie to this woman, he was done pretending. What he really wanted to do was apologise, grovel even.

"It's my fault, Mrs Dippet. I regret… I regret everything. She wouldn't have been in that situation if it weren't for me and if I could go back and—"

"Hush, boy," she barked, and James felt himself langlocked. Out of habit, he tried to say 'yes ma'am' but it came out sounding like a strangled moan.

"You admit, you encouraged her to work for muggleborn rights?"

James nodded dumbly, his spectacles starting to slip down his nose.

She studied him mercilessly through flinty, squinty eyes.

His tongue slipped from the roof of his mouth and he had to supress the urge to smack, to swirl it around his mouth. He remained still, keeping eye contact.

"Were you in love with her?"

James wished that he were still langlocked so he didn't have to answer. He blinked once, twice, and slowly shook his head.

"I didn't think so. Neither did she."

James was tempted to forsake his vow of honesty with this woman, to claim burgeoning romantic feelings, if not full love, and perhaps in the course of time it might have grown…

But he didn't.

"We had a special friendship," he allowed. "I could see she was lonely. Sad. Unfulfilled in her work. I needed help. I thought it would be good for us both." He added after a moment of cringey silence, "She really did liven up; took to the work."

More silence.

"It still doesn't excuse the danger I exposed her to," he admitted, truly regretful.

Mrs Dippet harrumphed. "She was a grown witch. She knew what she was doing."

"Yes, but—"

"And she was more animated these past few months than she has been the last decade before. I was going to thank you for giving her some meaningful work."

"Yes, but—"

"I'm not finished!" she snapped, and James instantly fell silent. "I do not blame you for her murder. I blame her murderers, whoever they may be. I do blame you for stringing her along. She knew it. I knew it. You knew it, but no one ever mentioned it. Did you think so little of her that you thought you had to seduce her to get her to do the work? Did have no respect for her integrity?"

James had his mouth open to argue before he even knew what he'd say. In the face of this, he had to shut his mouth and think.

"Not at first…" he began cautiously, "I didn't know her well enough, then. I flirted automatically, just to get her attention, I guess. I didn't mean anything by it. "

"Your default responses are toxic," Madame Dippet said, disapproving.

He'd always considered himself well above Sirius in that respect but he was just as guilty. Why had he approached her that way? It was because he truly hadn't given her the benefit of the doubt. He had equated talent with integrity. He'd thought because she wasn't as clever with a wand as other members of staff that she was vapid, shallow. An unjust presumption. He'd taken advantage of her attraction to him unfairly, unnecessarily bringing sex (or the hint of it) into a relationship, friendship, that could have been pure and professional. There had been no need to lead her on.

"For what it's worth, I really did grow to respect your daughter. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt her."

"She wasn't a fool."

"But I was," James said.

Mrs Dippet didn't argue, she merely started walking toward the castle, a lean, silver tipped walking stick preceding each left step. James fell in beside her.

"You will do something for me," she stated. "For Darlene."

"Of course."

"Find who did it. See that they meet justice."

"I will," he promised.

"And next time you want someone's help, apply to their better nature, instead of sacrificing yours to low manipulation."

"I've learned my lesson. Learnt it a long time ago."

Mrs Dippet stopped again, and fixed James with another stare.

"She spoke about you, often," she said, and raised her stick to point clods of dirt at him. "I charge you to live up to her opinion of you."

"I'll do my best. You have my word."

x

In the first few moment's after his waking, Peter stretched, and would have enjoyed the luxurious sheets of Sirius's guest bedroom were it not for the clamorous hangover. He knew he had to get back to his mum to check in before work, change his clothes, get his lunch, but he wanted to stretch this solitary moment of comfort for as long as he could. He craved a break from the real world.

The moment he thought about that, the peace of the moment was destroyed; Sirius's footsteps sounded on the stairs as he descended, bringing Peter back to the heart-constricting stress that had been plaguing him non-stop since the night he spent with the Death Eaters. He cringed at the memory of his behaviour, not only then but just the night before.

He'd been relieved, hugely relieved that Lily had somehow survived, but the rest of the weekend Peter had been waiting for the moment when someone found out the truth. The previous night, he'd gone out with Sirius and got a little too drunk. At the time he thought he'd tried to prevent his friend from finding out his shameful secret so he'd mentioned casually just how relieved he was that Lily had survived. Trouble was, he'd 'casually mentioned' it every five minutes, repeating over and over how lucky it was Sirius had got to her in time. Peter had thought himself very sly and convincing, until Sirius lost his temper and shouted at Peter in front of the whole pub to shut his gob already, he was sick of hearing her name and even sicker of hearing Peter's voice.

Sirius hadn't been himself lately anyway, though if it had started before or after the night of the Death Eaters, Peter couldn't say. Whatever the case, his mood certainly hadn't improved, though they had both gone out drinking in an effort to gather some cheer.

A crash from the kitchen broke into his thoughts.

"Damn and blast it!" Sirius swore. "Bloody hot," Peter heard him continue, followed by angry footsteps back up the stairs, no doubt to change. Sirius was, of course, completely capable of drying his clothes and removing any tea-stains with a flick of his wand, but it was the principle of the thing. More than once, Peter had heard Sirius grumble that he needed a house elf. Instead, he bundled dirty clothes he felt worth keeping into a canvas bag and tossed it into the floo to a laundry service (no doubt with a work force of elves anyway).

For all that his friend scorned the folly of the upper class, he certainly was a slave to their status-symbols and behaviours.

Peter could hear his friend banging around in his room and wondered if he should wait until Sirius left before coming out of the guest room, of if he should quickly slip out while Sirius was still changing.

He checked the handsome wooden clock ticking away on the wall and decided if he were going to make it to work on time, he ought to leave as soon as possible. It wasn't that he was afraid of Sirius… he would just rather not run into him when he was still in such a foul temper.

Peter pitied the students Sirius was to substitute teach that morning.

As he had passed out in his clothes, there wasn't much to do. He patted down his four pockets making sure he had everything: pocket watch (dinged and scratched) identity papers, money purse (sadly light-weight) and wand (chestnut, 9¼", dragon heartstring).

"Right," he said, still feeling uncomfortable with… everything, really. His friends used to be his refuge from a harsh world, but with this secret, this awful secret pressing in on him, even they were no solace.

He imagined making a new start, maybe in Australia, where he could be a new Peter, a popular Peter in his own right, not just as a hanger-on, a carefree Peter, a less fat and less frightened Peter. In fact, there would be no need to be called Peter at all, if he went to Australia. He could have people call him… James… and no one would be the wiser. James Black, who wouldn't be bullied by his boss, would stand up for his beliefs, would try to rescue his friends no matter what the risk. This was the kind of person Peter Pettigrew wanted, so desperately, to be…

x

When James returned to Lily's rooms that morning, she hadn't moved. She remained buried under the bedclothes, head and all.

"Say… Evans…"

No response.

"Oi! Evans!" he repeated, shaking her. He pulled down the blankets to revealed a tousle-haired, puffy-eyed witch.

"I didn't want you to see me like this," she croaked.

"Oh, heart," he said, sliding into bed next to her and shifting close. "You think I wasn't bawling Saturday night?"

"Were you?"

James nodded sincerely. "Right out there on your sofa. Wailed like a mandrake."

James had staggered to Lily's rooms that night, thinking to find something that might comfort her when she woke. He looked around and found nothing that would work. James realised that he'd really been looking for something to comfort himself, but there was no solace for this. Nothing at all. He'd collapsed onto the sofa and, hiding his face in his hands, gave over to groaning, dry sobs (not the mandrake-like wails he'd claimed.)

When Snape had arrived, James couldn't bring himself to care. He made a show of throwing his hands in the air, and with them, his wand, which went flying to one side to land, discarded, useless, on the hearthrug.

He hadn't had the strength to fight. In fact, James had realised mournfully, Snape might be what she needed most. The closest thing to family she could get, as she couldn't have her parents or sister.

"We're in this together, you and I. Don't hide from me." How many times had he said that to her?

"Well in that case," she said, voice catching on tears forced back. "It's all been rather wretched."

He swept her hair back from her face, held her to his chest, and stroked her head for a minute.

"There's nothing a cwtch can't make better," he said. It certainly wouldn't fix anything, but it certainly was a balm.

"Sorry," she said, rubbing at her eyes.

"Don't be." Another few moments of silence passed before he said, "We'll get through this, eventually. Somehow. It'll take time, but we'll be here for each other, right?"

She nodded.

James wondered, was this absolutely the worst time? Or was it the perfect time? Unfortunately it seemed it could only be one or the other.

"Now, I don't want to alarm you, startle you, or pressure you in any way."

She pulled away. "What?" she asked, brow furrowed with suspicion.

Here goes.

"I was thinking, if it was alright with you, of course, that while we were at the Ministry today we might pick up marriage license paperwork."

Lily sighed, and put her hand to her forehead. "I really don't think it's a good idea, James," she said, and his heart, which had been thrashing around quite rapidly up until that point, seemed to thud to a painful constricting halt.

"I mean," she carried on, unaware she'd just crushed him completely, "Most people don't even know I'm alive still. And with Darlene Dippet's death so recent, don't you think it would cause too much speculation to show up at the licensing office together? I don't think I could handle that kind of scandal; I'm still in school and you're still teaching. Wouldn't it be better if you got them yourself while I'm with Moody? Or better still, have Sirius pick them up for us. He'd love to be the centre of speculation and meanwhile we could fill them out in private and turn them in later, at a more," she searched for the word. "decorous time?"

It took James a minute to process the rest of what she'd said.

"So, you aren't rejecting me?"

"Not you, just your notion of a joint public appearance at the marriage office. It would be tantamount to outing ourselves."

"But you do want to get married?"

A pitying smile crept across Lily's face, and she said in a measured, clear tone as if she were speaking to a particularly slow child, "I think it's a splendid idea." She leaned in close to him, touching her nose to his.

He stole a kiss; she stole it back. He began to giggle, then laugh, and as the happiness bubbled up inside him he let out big stentorian laughs as he grabbed her to him and rolled around the bed, still crowing maniacally.

"You're mad," said Lily, also giggling.

"Don't care," he said, pretending to take a bite from her collarbone.

Lily shrieked and he continued to take nibbling nips all over her face and neck. Lily made to kick him away but he only grabbed her foot and began nibbling at her ankle as if her were corn on the cob.

"Om nom nom nom nom."

He engaged in a full-on tickling assault with hands and mouth, which turned into a wrestling match, which led to them tumbling off the bed in a panting, laughing heap.

Lily and James lay there for a time, clinging to each other and catching their breath.

"So you don't think it's too soon?" James asked, playing with Lily's fingers.

"Oh, it's definitely too soon," she replied. "But we don't live in ideal times, don't have the luxury of waiting for the perfect moment. So I think we should snatch our happiness while we can."

"I say, Evans, that was almost romantic of you."

"It was, Potter, until you ruined the moment by pointing it out." She pushed herself up to a sitting position. James, who wasn't finished floor-cwtching, merely repositioned his head to her lap.

"James, I'm going to be late for Moody, get off."

Begrudgingly, he did so, and watched her get dressed in an outfit he'd seen numerous times (the only one she had for everyday use, he sometimes felt): a plain grey skirt and a pale jumper. He wondered if that was stylish in the muggle world, or if her muggle clothes were as out-dated as her wizard ones.

"You've been outside already today, will I need a cloak?" she asked.

"Shouldn't. It's only going to get warmer."

"Good. Hate wearing Hogwarts things outside the castle, somehow," she said, flipping her hair out of the collar where it had been trapped, and wrapping it up on top of her head and staying it with her wand as she made her way out to the sitting room.

Just as Lily was reaching out to push open the portrait, James grabbed her hand and pulled her to him for a kiss.

"What was that for?" she asked.

James shrugged, grinning stupidly. "Just snatching some happiness."

"Oh dear. I can see that becoming your excuse for any number of naughty behaviours," she said, her tone long suffering but her eyes twinkled with mischief.

"You set the precedent, Evans. You have only yourself to blame."

.

They used the guest entrance in London. As Lily fiddled to get the badge pinned on, she said, "What a bother. I've never had to come this way before."

"I know, but I just want to follow every protocol. Don't want to give them any excuse."

"Excuse to what?" she asked, tone multi-layered.

"I don't know, and that's what alarms me. No telling what they'll do if you turn up with no ID badge and your muggleborn band. They might take you for MAM and arrest you on the spot, who knows?"

Lily grumbled. "By the book then," she said, glaring at the little visitor's badge.

It was as if Fate had heard, and approached them in the form of a fussy-looking security wizard (a new addition to Ministry staff since the MAM attack.)

"Scuse me, miss. You'll have to leave."

"Why?" she asked, and James heard something dangerous in her voice. He squeezed her elbow to remind her to be calm. Don't give them an excuse.

"You're not dressed according to the new Ministry dress code."

"What dress code?" James asked. He worked there and he'd never heard of anything like this.

"Only wizarding robes in government buildings," he said, looking Lily up and down with obvious disapproval.

"What's the point of that?" pressed James.

"To create a stress-free, homongeneous work environment. People need to be getting on with their jobs, not worried that someone might be a muggleborn terrorist.

"That's ridic—!" Lily began but James quickly silenced her with a spell.

"She's a witness for the aurory and Alastor Moody is expecting her even now. We'll keep it in mind if there is next time," James said, hurrying her along to the lifts.

Thankfully they were alone in the lift, but even so, Lily was silent. James could tell she was fuming, and doing her best to contain her temper, though he did feel static-like shocks coming off her.

That had been too close. Shouting at a ministry official, even a lowly a peon as that one, was considered obstruction and grounds for immediate arrest… for muggleborns, anyway.

Don't give them an excuse.

.

She'd cooled off enough by the time they got to MLE floor. She went into Moody's office and James sat down on his desk to finish some paperwork. Alice Longbottom didn't even look up, but waved to them with her non-writing hand.

Once James had filled out his report, he poked his head into Moody's office. Lily and his boss turned to face him. James held up the stack of parchment and placed it in the in-tray by the door.

"Just dropping this off. I'll just… go do that thing we talked about," he added to Lily, unable to stop himself from smiling like a complete prat. Moody certainly noticed and rolled his eye. Actually, the other eye rolled as well but off in a completely different direction.

"Right. I'll be off then."

It was only after he shut the door behind him and made his way for the lifts that he wondered what part of her narrative he had interrupted. Suddenly he disliked the idea of Moody knowing private details of his and Lily's lives.

But he'd shaken off those misgivings and by the time James entered the marriage licensing office he was thinking, "I'm here. We're doing this. It's happening." And while he thought he should feel incredibly excited or nervous, he didn't. In fact, he was disappointed that he didn't feel more giddy. Rather, he felt absurdly calm, content, confident that he should be there.

The feeling didn't last. Adalbert Winkler, the clerk on shift, had a very round face with very round eyes framed by very round spectacles. Tufts of hair stuck straight out from behind his ears, giving the man the uncanny look of an owl who had only turned into a human the moment James walked into the office. And when James asked a question, the owl man only blinked slowly in response, furthering the impression.

"Hello, my name is James Potter and-"

"Who?"

"James Potter," he repeated slowly, thinking perhaps that the old wizard was either hard of hearing or a simpleton (or a combination of the two) "And there must be a paper missing." He had quite a stack, most of them to tick bokes about each person's background and fill in blanks with names of parents and grandparents (and great-grandparents.) Of course, James wasn't seeking to fill them out that moment, but he wanted to look them over in case he had any questions, and found he couldn't find the box to tick for muggleborn. It only had Pureblood, about 8 different boxes for various kinds of half-blood, and squib.

"My fiancée is muggleborn," he said, frustration blighting the pride that would have accompanied him getting to use that specific word for the first time. Instead, he turned the parchment around to face Mr Winkler. "There isn't an option anywhere on this page."

"No. No no no, of course not," the man finally squeaked.

It was James turn to blink stupidly.

"I must have got the wrong set of forms, then," he said, shoving them across the large cherry-wood counter.

"Those are the only forms we have," said Winkler.

"But… I want to get married," James said, looking around. He was in the marriage licensing desk, wasn't he?

"And so you can. Just not to a muggleborn."

"You're joking," James sputtered, but something told him this man didn't have a sense of humour, let alone on so bad as to joke about something like this.

"According to legislation 421-658-D passed February 13th of this year by the wizengamot with a majority of four to one, there shall be no issuing of marriage certificates to mixed blood couples."

"It's illegal to marry a muggleborn?" he said, finally starting to believe it.

"Not illegal, just impossible."

Dumb shock was quickly giving way to righteous anger. Although his wand buzzed from his duel belt, and his hand tingled with the desire to cast a violent spell, James knew that this petty bureaucrat could do nothing about it, hadn't passed the bill and wasn't worthy of the eyeball expulsion hex James suddenly remembered he knew. Getting angry at Adalbert Winkler was not going to solve anything.

James forced himself to at least appear to be calm.

"What are our options, then?" he asked between measured breaths.

"You can still say magical vows. And you can always get married in the muggle world." But we live in this world, James wanted to say. "It just won't be seen as a legal marriage by the government," Winkler added unhelpfully. "Which only affects how you pay taxes and how you can will your estate."

"You mean, if I die, she won't get anything?"

"No, not true. You can leave bequests up to a thousand galleons. But a muggleborn cannot be the principal inheritor in accordance with legislations 421-6—"

"Enough! I get it," James growled, raking his hair with his fingers.

"But," said Winkler, leaning in conspiratorially. "If you have a child together, it would be half-blood, and therefore qualified to be a legal heir. And until the child becomes of age, it and the inheritance would be under the care and control of his or her legal guardian. To my knowledge, the Ministry hasn't thought to pass legislation disallowing muggleborns from being parents to their own children… yet. So, better get to it, eh?"

No more, James thought, backing away, suddenly exhausted. He didn't think he could stomach telling Lily about the loophole, not so soon after. She wouldn't like it anyway, as it would only matter if James were to die first. As a matter of fact, James didn't think he would be able to tell her they couldn't get married. But he had to tell her something, what would he say to her?

When he got back to the Aurory, Lily was still in conclave with Moody.

"Do me a favour?" James said to a harried looking Alice Longbotton, hunched over a pile of reports that didn't seem to have got any smaller since he left.

"Yes?" she asked, looking as if this were the first time in hours she lifted her head and straightened her spine. "What is it?" She put a hand behind her neck and rolled her head in all directions, causing a serious of pops and cracks that made James wince.

"If Lily gets out before I'm back, tell her I've just run to Diagon Alley for a moment and that I'll be right back. Tell her to wait here for me."

After their encounter with security in the Atrium, he didn't trust the rest of the world to treat her fairly. At least she'd be safe in the office with Alice.

"Everything alright, Jay? You look like you've had your feathers ruffled."

For a moment, James wanted to tell her everything, about not being able to marry Lily, about their too-recent loss, but he stopped himself. This was neither the time nor the place.

"Oh, nothing out of the ordinary. Just horrible people getting away with despicable things."

"I hear you," she said, slapping the enormous stack of parchment in front of her. "I'll let her know."

"Thanks."

James didn't have a specific goal in mind in Diagon Alley, he only knew he wanted to do something nice for Lily, to make up if only in a small way, for the rest of the world being so inhospitable to her.

He wandered down the eerily quiet street that was usually the busiest district in the wizarding world. His first stop was the apothecary. He thought of getting her a nice cauldron, but he didn't know which to get, and it was a rather personal thing, to a potioneer. Perhaps later, when she was with him, would they choose one. Instead he looked around the ingredients. While reclaimed greenhouses had once again started to produce much needed potion ingredients, the supply was still limited, and everything on the shelves was exorbitantly priced.

James purchased a bit of everything anyway. The salaries from both his jobs just accumulated in his vault, and his parents' gold only increased with time. He had the right to do a bit of splurging. So he had everything bundled up and delivered to the castle: to the Attn of Lily Evans. And she'd always be Lily Evans, James thought. Unless they got married the muggle way. Crossing to he south side of the alley, he spied Twilfit and Tattings. Thinking of the rapid rate or destruction Lily's wardrobe had suffered that year, he decided that it was a good a place as any for guilt-induced buying. He didn't know why he felt guilty, maybe for being a Pureblood? He wasn't a bigot, but he still felt guilt-ridden for having such an easy time of it simply because of who his parents were, something he had zero to do with.

The bell dinged when he pushed the door open. He saw the owner was busy with a customer already, so he looked around at premade garments that might suit her needs and style. Did she have a style? Why didn't he know her style?

To James's surprise, the shopkeeper was at his elbow in a moment. "Can I help you?" he asked.

"Oh. I thought…" James looked round for the other customer, and seeing the wizard holding a pile of cloth in his arms, gathered it was a shop assistant.

"Yes, I just need some quick replacement work robes. Black. A pair for me and another set for a witch about your assistant's height." He nodded at the young man in the corner.

"I'm not…" the man stuttered. "I don't…"

It was only then that James noticed the muggleborn identification mark. That is, he had noticed it before but he was so used to seeing Lily's it didn't really see it anymore. When James realised he had been a customer after all, his face flushed with intense mortification.

"Indeed, I beg your pardon," James said at once. "I thought you worked here. I didn't mean to interrupt. Of course, please, carry on I can browse on my own." He did his best to give the man an apologetic, yet good-natured smile but James still felt hot with embarrassment.

"No no no, I insist," said the shopkeeper. You are in a hurry. Of course you must go first."

"No hurry. I assure you. Please, attend this gentleman first. I'm happy to wait."

The shopkeeper lowered his voice conspiratorially and said, "It's store policy, sir."

James blinked, looked at the young wizard and back to the owner. "Well in that case," he said, and abruptly left the shop.

At first he was indignant, but then, a bit horrified when he started to ask himself how many times this might have happened, without his even noticing. How long, how many times had he strode in blissfully ignorant that other people were suffering to make his life easier?

He took refuge in Quality Quidditch Supplies, breathing in the quiet scent of wood polish and leather. A snitch darted around room and James almost sighed in contentment.

"James Potter!" James looked over to see an employee coming over to him. He remembered her. Or at least recognised her. She had tried out as a third year in James' final year as captain. He hadn't taken her on, though she flew very well. He'd given the spot to a 7th year instead, who flew just as well and for whom he'd felt a bit sorry.

"Hello again. Been a while. But before we begin, you are to help every single person in this room before me," he said.

The witched frowned in confusion, but turned around to the other three in the shop and called out, "Anyone need any help?"

"No thanks," said one man, feeling the difference between the makes of two different quaffles.

"Just browsing," replied a witch with a very long ponytail, stroking a broom.

"I'm fine," said a third person, crouched over a pile of magazines.

Chaser, Seeker, Beater, James determined of the others instantly. None of them actually looked up from the items they were inspecting.

"Quick question, confidentially, between us Gryffindor Quidditch players— I take it Gwyneth after me had the sense to make you a chaser?"

She nodded. "We won the cup that year. It was two years before we won it again, though."

"Right, but that wasn't actually what I had to ask. What I want to know is if you have any kind of store policy that gives preferential treatment to certain customers."

"Not officially," she said, and James felt the disappointment rising within him. "But obviously, if a pro comes in, especially from one of the big national teams, you know, we tend to fall all over ourselves. Not just the staff, mind, but the other customers too. They don't seem to mind. Mostly they want to see what they get. We mostly sell out of those items in a day. Great for business. Ludo Bagman was in last month. Elbow pads. And don't tell anyone else, but," she said, bringing her voice down to a whisper. "He also got an elbow brace. I think the pads were to cover up the extra bulk."

"Right or left?" James whispered back, drawn into the scandal.

"Right!" she hissed, eyes alight with slight malice. She must support a team who rivalled The Wimbourne Wasps. The Harpies, perhaps?

A bad sign for Bagman… a beater with a bad elbow had a short career ahead of him. It was a common enough malady among professionals; Beater's Elbow pretty much spelled the beginning of the end.

"The Wasps still have 3 games to play this season, more, if they get to the semi-finals..." But James shook his head, telling himself to get back on track. Still whispering, he added, "But I meant do you have a special policy toward muggleborns. Do you serve them?"

"Of course we do."

"Do you serve them last?"

"That wouldn't be very sportsmanlike."

James smiled. "No, indeed it wouldn't."

.

When James returned to the Aurory, Lily was standing behind Alice's chair, giving the auror a shoulder rub. Al's eyes were almost shut, her head lolled, and she was groaning in delight.

"Quidditch gear?" she asked, seeing the sack with the store logo.

"Your new dresscode-compliant outfit to get out of here un-harassed! Your very own, brand new, top of the line set of…" He pulled out the item from the bag with a flourish. "Flying robes! Just what you didn't know you've always wanted!"

She didn't react, so he carried on. "And watch this! They are scrimmage robes so not only are they made extra durable for every day practice, but they also…" James tapped the robes with his wand, and they shifted from navy to amber. Another tap and they were oxblood red, another tap and a dusky purple.

"Ooh, how lovely." She took out her own wand (causing her hair to fall down in a way that James still had a hard time not reacting to) and tapped the robes herself, turning them a deep dark green. She smiled and attempted to slip them on over her head, much to Alice's regret, as it meant the end of the massage. She struggled getting her right arm through, and James wondered if it were hurting her again.

He tapped them again and turned them the exact colour of her mark, which seemed to disappear for the first time since it had been put on her.

She saw where he was looking and shook her head, changing them back to green.

"Red clashes too badly with my hair," she said, though her expression was of virtuous resolve, and her chin rose a bit higher in the air. "This shade suits me better."

"Matches your eyes," he agreed. "Though it looks a bit too Slytherin, to me."

She smiled but didn't reply to that. "So, will we be flying out of the Ministry, then?"

"They said wizardwear, so I bought you wizardwear. Wizard sportswear but what does it matter?" James delighted in the sight of her. "Go on, spin," he said, twirling her finger around. She did so, and the little capelet billowed at her elbows. They suited her. All that was needed was a broom at her side and the fantasy would be complete.

"Lily!" said Frank, who had just come into the office. "Looks great on you."

He approached the group, giving Alice's shoulder a silent squeeze in greeting.

"We're off, I'm afraid," said Lily.

"Let's do something soon. Something fun," said Alice. "For a change."

"I have a mind to take you all to a rugby match one of these days."

"Rugby?" they all three said.

"Fantastic muggle sport. My father used to fly for the local team in Aberystwyth."

"Fly? But you said it was a muggle game."

Lily grinned. "You'll see. That is, if you are interested in going."

"We'll leave it to you then, for the arrangements," said Frank.

"Wait, are they the ones with the…" Alice said, making little sawing motions high on her thighs, which utterly baffled James as to the meaning. Did they chop off their opponents legs?

Lily's smile turned into a wicked smirk as she nodded to Alice, who wriggled her eyebrows.

"What's this then?" said Frank, amused.

"Let's just say they won't be wearing Quidditch robes," she said, making her way to the exit and waving cheerily to the Longbottoms.

"Thanks again!" said Alice. "Feel free to give me a massage anytime!"

Once alone in the lifts again, James asked, "So what do they wear?"

"Shorts," he replied. "Up to here." She made the same gesture Alice had, and this time James understood. "I suppose by wizarding standards, it would be considered indecent."

x

The Great Hall was starting to empty when Lily and James returned. Students headed for their afternoon lessons, and if they thought it odd for her and the auror to be walking in the front doors together in the middle of they day, no one mentioned it. Or if they did, they at least didn't use the word 'mudblood' because Lily felt no new stinging. The old ache from the Ministry remained, however. She'd lost count the number of times it had burned there.

Just as they were about to mount the main staircase, Sirius appeared from below, no doubt finishing whatever foods the elves had given him in the kitchens.

"Back, then?" he asked, unnecessarily. Lily noticed that Sirius only spoke to James, only looked at James, as if she were not there. "Good. Sick of your students today. Fifth years. What a bunch of beasts. Haven't got the wits of a blast ended screwt… between them. What are you doing tonight?" he asked, again, only to James.

James looked at her, searching for a clue. Lily had no plans other than study for exams, do whatever homework might be assigned that day, and perhaps some research in the Restricted Section on the curse Voldemort had used on her. Moody had not heard of it, which was saying something, but the Hogwarts library was the greatest magical resource of information in Britain, trouncing the Ministry library by an easy 70,000 titles. There might be something there, old and long forgot, that could bring some understanding, which would be about the only consolation to be had.

James waved a hand in front of her face. "Heart? Plans?"

"Oh. Library," she said. "Curses." She glanced down at herself, hopefully indicating to James what she meant. When she looked up a again, Sirius pretended he hadn't been watching.

"I need to get my books. I'll see you later." Lily didn't say goodbye to either by name, because is she'd said "Bye Sirius," then she would obligate him to acknowledge her, which he clearly didn't want to do, or she could have said 'bye James," and call attention to the fact that she and Sirius were not interacting. She didn't know if James had noticed this. Sirius, for whatever his reasons for ignoring her, was at least trying to be polite about it. She didn't feel any malice coming from him, at least. (Under normal circumstances, Sirius's displeasure was a near tangible thing, even, or perhaps especially, if he didn't say a word.)

She needed to find out what about that weekend was bothering him. Had she done something, perhaps when delirious, that had made him uncomfortable?

.

For the first time since fourth year, Lily failed to do her charm perfectly on the first attempt in class. What made it all the more aggravating was that she had performed the Atmospheric charm perfectly a dozen times before in her own room. At first she wanted to blame Sirius for putting her out of sorts, but she knew that wasn't it. It was the other thing. But she told herself that she hadn't failed to do a charm since before her parents died. And if grief hadn't stopped her then, surely it shouldn't stop her now.

But I was given time, back then. With mum and dad, and Roo. My private despairs were public knowledge. People would make allowance for losses.

Only James, Remus and Pomfrey knew about this, and to the rest of the world she'd have to pretend that she was only relieved to be alive. She should be triumphant at having survived a Death Eater attack. There was no room for her sorrow in the public story.

Lily did manage to do the Atmospheric charm by the middle of the lesson, but she knew that didn't leave her enough time to finish the assigned homework during the class hour, making Lily feel behind, slow, and that everything was stacking up in an impossible mound of tasks that she had no hope of accomplishing. To her horror and humiliation, half an hour before the end of the double-lesson, and with only half of the essay done, she started tearing up, feeling inadequate and overwhelmed, and embarrassed for making a spectacle of herself. Though no one appeared to have noticed other than Professor Flitwick, who told her that she could finish doing her work in the library, if that would suit her, and then quietly so that no one could hear, asked if she needed to return to the Hospital Wing.

She nodded, grabbed her things and returned not to Madame Pomfrey but to her own rooms, where she planned to have a cry out for exactly 5 minutes before she buckled down, finished her assigned essay and caught up on her independent study project for Herbology, which is what she should be doing Monday mornings, when she once would have been in Defence Against the Dark Arts. Despite their conversation that morning, she wanted to be dry-eyed before seeing James again. She knew he'd understand, and empathise, but she didn't want to depress him. She wanted him to lift her up, not for her to bring him down.

She flung open the portrait hole, hiccoughing like mad from alternately crying and trying not to cry on the walk there, flung her bag to the ground, sat down next to it, and let out a cathartic wail, burying her face in the sleeve of her robes. The more she cried, the worse she felt, not better. "Why am I doing this?" she said when sobs finally started to slow. "It's not going to make anything better. So stop it, Lily. Just stop it."

A few deep breaths later, she wiped her eyes, sighed, and stood up.

Sirius stared, still and unblinking, like a cat that has spotted something it doesn't recognise, and cannot tell if it is something to hunt, or something to fear.

Lily almost laughed, had intended to laugh, but it came out like another choked sob instead. "Perfect. Just what I needed. A witness to my—" But she didn't finish the sentence, just swore and ran her fingers through her hair. They snagged on a tangle and she growled with frustration with everything.

"I thought you'd still be in class," said Sirius, clearing his throat.

"Nope. Couldn't hold it together and Flitwick sent me packing," she said with disgusting false cheeriness. Lily knew she was getting hysterical but she couldn't stop. "Because apparently I can't control myself or my magic. I've become a useless sobbing mess that can't think of anything but her own sadness. And I thought that if I lose it, might as well just do it in the privacy of my own rooms where no one could see but you've ruined that. So I guess what I'm getting at is what the fuck are you doing here after you refused to even look at me downstairs?" If she didn't want James to see her like this, she certainly didn't want Sirius to.

"I didn't think you'd be here. I'll go, if you want me to go."

"No, I want to know what you were doing here. And I want to know what the hell I did to make you ignore me. And most of all, I want to know why I can't seem to stop crying!"

Several moments of tense silence passed before Sirius asked, "Would you like some tea?"

Lily sniffed and said, "Yes please," and sat down in the armchair. Sirius called for Lettie and ordered tea before sitting down as well. They waited wordlessly until the tea arrived and by the time she'd taken a few sips, she was already feeling calmer.

"I apologise," he began. At least, Lily thought it was a beginning, but he didn't continue.

"For what?"

Sirius's face was, as usual, a complete cold mask. The only sign that he was feeling anything was that before he spoke, his Adam's apple plunged as he swallowed hard. "For not getting there in time," he said, and took a dainty sip. The cup tinkled in the silent room when he replaced it in the saucer.

"You can't mean this weekend."

"I do," he said, setting his tea cup aside.

"Sirius, if you had come sooner they'd have killed you."

"So? I would have died. I would have died rather than—" He stopped suddenly, unwilling to say the rest.

"Than what? Sirius, I'm fine. I'm alive and so are you and that's what matters. Do you know how terrible I'd have felt if you had come earlier? If I'd lived and you hadn't? I'd have that hanging over me for the rest of my life and I couldn't bear that."

She'd spilt tea all over her lap. "Oh damn," she said, standing up and started pulling out her wand but Sirius had already done so. She was clean and dry in a moment and they were simply standing awkwardly, facing one another.

"But at what cost?" he asked, quiet but intense, staring determinedly not at her but to the side at the non-existent fire.

Lily sighed. "Yes, losing the baby, and to Voldemort's stone of all things, devastated and infuriated me, I'm not going to deny that anymore, but I'd rather have you." It was the first time she'd ever used those words for her loss, first time she'd ever dared say the word 'baby' aloud, now when it was too late, but she realised in that moment, that what she said was true. She would rather have Sirius. Perhaps that made her a horrible person, and perhaps it meant that she'd have been a horrible mother, but she still wouldn't have traded Sirius for anything.

"You… were pregnant," he said, not as a question but in dawning comprehension.

"Right. You didn't know. I'm sorry. I know I should have told you sooner but with one thing and anoth— woof!"

Sirius had crossed to her in two strides and caught her in an almost violently tight embrace knocking the wind out of her.

"This is wonderful," he muttered into her hair.

Feeling uncomfortable in more ways than one, she said, combining tact and consoling pats on the shoulder, "I'm not pregnant anymore though, Sirius. I sort of… miscarried. Voldemort took it. Hence the haemorrhage, and nearly bleeding to death, which you very timely prevented. Thanks again for that."

"I know, Cariad. I know," he said, loosening thankfully loosening his hold a bit. He stroked her hair. "It's just good to know, that's all."

She pulled away enough to look up at him. "Why? What did you think happened?"

"Oh, something else. Something else entirely." His eyes, fiercely silver, scared her a bit with their madness.

She wondered what else might cause that kind of bleeding until her mind brushed up against something horrid, and skittered away from it again. She didn't know, and didn't want to know, the dark places to which Sirius's imagination had plunged.

She lifted her arms to hug him back. "It was just the one curse," she assured him, though, upon reflection, she had no idea what had happened after she passed out. She liked to think nothing, and for the sake of her and Sirius's sanity, she would continue to believe that. Besides, Madame Pomfrey would have told her about anything else, wouldn't she?

Lily cleared her throat and straightened her shoulders. "So. Why were you here and why were you ignoring me?"

"I was here to see you, of course. And I'm not ignoring you."

"Anymore…" she added.

"And isn't that what matters? Now let's have a look at what your wearing. Quidditch scrimmage kit if I'm not mistaken."

"New policy at the Ministry. No mugglewear so James got this for me."

"Of course he did. Poor boy never did have any sense of style. But if we do this…"

Lily looked down to see silk ribbons slither around the hems, and the material change from tough wool to velvet.

"And as a final touch," he said, tapping the capelet, and golden embroidery began to stitch its way into an elegant floral design. Not just floral, she realised after a moment, but fleur-de-lis.

"It's lovely," she said, ghosting over the thread with her fingertips. "Sirius, I don't think you could be any sweeter if you tried."

"Oh I could, but I'd be in danger of spoiling you."

"I think you've already spoiled me," she said, looking down at the lily pattern again.

"Well in that case," he said, flourishing his wand and vanishing a few of the designs. It was still exceptionally lovely. "By the way, Cariad, I'm going to be on a show this evening." He flicked his wand over his shoulder and Roo's old wireless came on and tuned itself to a different station. "Part of a panel. Should be interesting. I'm to be devil's advocate and general useless contributor. A pretty boy with unfixed opinions that will give unmerited backup to one or other of the real guests."

Lily put a hand to her cheek. "Oh dear, they have no idea what they've got, have they."

Sirius grinned. "Not an inklinkg. See you soon. I've got to get ready, have to find robes that don't make me look so lanky and I absolutely must do something with my hair."

"Sirius, no one is going to see you."

"You've completely missed the point, Cariad." He reached over to grab his cloak from where it lay over the back of the chair and flung it on carelessly, saying, "Besides, I can tell from a wizard's voice whether he's well-dressed or a slop in nine cases out of ten."

"Fine. Since you're going to be fixing it anyway…" She reached up and rumpled his hairs with her fingers, a strict no-no but she felt given his current mood she could get away with it.

"You cheeky witch," he said, without ranker, and with a squeeze to her arm, exactly where her mark was, and a kiss atop that same shoulder, he hurried past her and out of the room.

She sighed hugely and sat back down, having been unprepared for that emotional scene but feeling much better than when she'd left Flitwick's class. She withdrew her things from her bag, dipped her quill, and continued working on her essay.

x

Severus would never in his life thought he'd send an owl to James Potter, let alone that it would be answered, but he couldn't bear the not knowing. The next morning, Severus had asked the auror if Lily had lived. The response, when it came, was only one word long, but it was the only word he needed.

Had Severus not decided to apologise to Lily that night, had he not met Potter in her rooms, had he not brought potions to her in the Hospital Wing, and had he not received that reassuring missive the next day, Severus would have been completely unable to keep his Occlumency shields in place when he met with his master and several other Death Eaters to hear them discuss the weekend's events. It was the first time Severus heard what had actually happened.

The Dark Lord must have noticed Severus's rapt expression during the telling of the tale, for he said, "Ah, Severus, you must be wondering why I neglected to invite you to our little party."

Fear chased down his spine. He knows about Lily. He didn't want me to try to save her. And now he'll kill me in front of everyone for my treachery.

"I know how much Horace meant to you, Severus. While to many of us he was our beloved Head of House, to you, he was your mentor. Your special tutor in potions. Perhaps the closest thing to a father you ever had. I didn't want you to have to witness the destruction of someone whom you held so high, had he chosen to refuse me, which he did, alas. Perhaps it consoles you to hear that the mudblood facilitated his escape?"

Severus bowed, low and humble. "Not at all, my lord. You are the only master or mentor I need."

"Very good."

Severus knew they'd been after Slughorn. Lily had said as much. As little. Though there had to be more to it. Severus knew his master well enough that his intent all along had been to kill the Hogwarts Potions Master, but why? What could Slughorn have done to upset the Dark Lord, when the few mentions of him in the past had all been positive. Perhaps he knows something, and that information must be destroyed before it can be transmitted? Severus had no way of ever finding out. He only hoped that Slughorn hid himself well, because the Dark Lord would certainly try again.

"But at last, we've removed the Order's pet mudblood. I believe she was a mascot, of sorts. Her life is mine now, small and disappointing, though it was."

Because you didn't get it all, Severus thought, careful to be sure that he wasn't making eye contact with anyone. But Severus couldn't deny that his master had been partially successful, at least. By the way she looked, the Dark Lord had certainly managed to take some life from her. But what could have made the Dark Lord fail? Severus had seen his master use the spell many times before with total success. What about Lily had thwarted him? Severus knew that she was clever, and worked tirelessly on various protective wards. Was that how she'd protected herself?

Also, a thought that kept occurring with annoying persistence was that Potter now knew Severus's feelings for Lily. But Severus had information of his own. Potter had all but admitted to his own feelings that night in her rooms.

So he and his enemy loved the same woman that neither of them could have. There was some bitter but fierce consolation in that fact.

But there was nothing to stop Black, Lupin, and even Pettigrew. He had watched them all from the shadows, and in Severus's jealous mind all four of them seemed to be in love with her. However untrue it might be, it didn't stop Severus from hating them all the more.


"Good evening, this is WQXR, your Wizarding Wireless News Network. It's the top of the hour and I'm Conrad Blenkinsopp with News Now. Joining me today is Daily Prophet reporter Frank Tattler, Earnest Rawsthorn with the Muggle Relations Office at the Ministry and also a founding researcher at MARRG – Muggleborn Anarchist and Radicalisation Research Group, and Sirius Black who I don't think needs an introduction. Hopefully we'll have a frank, earnest, and serious discussion, about several issues on tonight's programme starting with the elections. Big big big. Coming up tomorrow, May 7, as we all know. What do you think, Frank? Crouch by a landslide? I mean at this stage, does he have any real competition?"

"Not really. We live in hard times and he's a hard man. We live in fear of Death Eaters and of muggleborn extremist hooligans. Crouch may be fire and brimstone but he's the wizard the wizarding world wants to deal with lawless elements in our society today."

"Thanks Frank. Earnest, what do you think?"

"Well, I think Bathilda is our best bet for getting society back on track. A lot of the problems we are experiencing are borne from bad policy. While Crouch is about harsher sentencing for lawbreakers, Bagshot has a plan of prevention, not reaction."

"Sirius?"

"He may be a long shot, but I think Fudge."

"Why's that?"

"I just like the name."

"Ha. But honestly, Mr Black."

"Well, Bagshot and Crouch are hardliners, and I prefer a middle stance. Crouch seems the type to bend with the times."

"But polls put him at less than one per cent."

"I like an underdog. Longer odds make for bigger winnings."

"This in an election, not a race, Mr Black," said Tattler. "We don't bet on candidates as if there were horses."

"You don't," said Sirius, under his breath but still quite audibly.

"Speaking of middle ground, your stance seems to straddle the muggleborn issue as well, doesn't it, Mr Black?"

"What a delightfully appropriate image. Straddling muggleborns."

The radio show host stoically ignored this crassness and carried on. "Your notorious paramour, a schoolgirl and a muggleborn, Lily Evans, I understand has just recently been killed by Death Eaters. Surely this sways your opinion in some way?"

"Dead? Not at all, I was with just right before I came here. She's listening to the programme even now! Everyone say 'Hello, Cariad'."

"Erm… hello, caritad."

"Hullo criad."

"Close enough!" said Sirius.

"So she's not dead?"

"Not even a little bit."

"But let us get back to the muggleborn problem."

"Is it a problem?" said Sirius. "And why not? Let's get a panel of purebloods to discuss muggleborn behaviour. We must be the experts, after all."

"As we've seen in the papers, MAM, Muggleborns Against the Ministry, is an increasingly violent group that seems to be growing, with another attack this just morning, in fact, the riot in Diagon Alley that we covered on an earlier programme, several shops had their windows broken in. Quite shocking. And of course, there are other muggleborn perpetrators of violence that are not associated with the group as well other isolated incidents. Why this sudden rise in muggleborn crime? Earnest?"

"Yes, well, one can ask why the surge in violence, why MAM, but we might also ask why the growth in groups like WWAM – Witches and Wizards Against Mugglisation, or BWAM British Wizarding Assimilation Movement. We have to ask ourselves why we are seeing this trend of muggleborn radicalisation. Is it that the muggle society they come from is a violent, unreasonable one? Or is it to do with the way they are treated by magical society? Is it, perhaps a feeling of disenfranchisement and powerlessness that causes them to act out in this way?"

"Are you saying this justifies their behaviour?" inserted the show's host.

"Absolutely not. It's dangerous and illegal, but it still warrants investigating why these things are happening. It is a symptom, not a cause."

"So you are saying that these violent muggleborns are victims?" intruded Frank Tattler complacently. "Of all the imbecilic ideas. Painting these anarchists to be the sufferers here when their actions have put honest witches and wizards in St Mungo's. The real victims are decent members of magical society who are now afraid to go to work in the morning for fear of a muggleborn attack! Clearly a curfew isn't enough. The only thing that will make me feel better is seeing more muggleborns locked up safely in Azkaban and stricter rules about letting them have wands in public!"

"Now you're being ridiculous. Not every muggleborn is an anarchist. You can't take away their wands. Those are tools that every witch and wizard needs to get through their day."

"They got on well enough without magic before they went to Hogwarts. They don't need a wand the way a trueborn witch or wizard does. They've grown up without magic. I think that bringing them out of their native culture and into ours corrupts them. Gives them dangerous ideas about power. Better to close our doors completely and leave them all with the muggles. They would be happier and we would be safer and better for it. The wizarding world for wizards, I say."

"Sirius? Any thoughts before we end our programme?"

"The only thing I can think to say is: WWAM, BWAM, thank you MAM."


It was the morning of the election. The older students would be allowed to take time off to go vote, but for whom, a great many of them no longer knew. In the Great Hall at breakfast, most all the students had their heads bent, not over their plates, but over shared copies of the Daily Prophet as they read the front page news. Crouch's own son had been arrested in the night for being a Death Eater and that the Crouch had withdrawn from the election, leaving a baffled electorate.

James and Lily had already read the article while still in bed, and so in contrast to everyone else's seriously frowning expressions in the Hall, James Potter was trying hard not to smile. After turning off the wireless the night before,they had ordered up some wine and discussed the programme in all its particulars. Wine continued to flow and they ended up getting very silly indeed, laughing until their guts hurt, then laughing some more. In their drunken enthusiasm, they'd even choreographed a dance routine that involved crazy wand movements as if casting different ridiculous and exuberant made up spells with accompanying footwork. (At first they had actually held their wands, but had had to put them away when accidental spell fire singed the tapestries on the wall.)

It was of these dance steps that he was remembering over his toast, trying hard not to start laughing at the table, when a suspicious hush that fell over the students caused James to look up.

Five witches and wizards clad in the new robes of Magical Law Enforcement (which were now a brutal black instead of the comforting light blue they had been in previous years) came marching between each House table, all five heads scanning the faces of the students. James swallowed hard, suspicion building in his mind and bile in his throat.

"Lily Evans," said one, a very tall and burly young officer stopping in front of her, taking her by the elbow, rudely forcing her to stand. "You'll have to come with me for questioning." At this James and McGonagall beside him stood up. The other officers abandoned their own searches and made for their colleague at the Gryffindor Table.

Stay calm, keep your temper, James silently begged, knowing that any form of resistance meant prison time.

"Like hell I will!" she said, for all the Hall to hear, whipping her arm out of his grasp. James's stomach clenched with dread.

"Lily Evans, you're under arrest. Put your hands on your head. You even think about going for your wand and I'll AK you. Just try it."

At this, the other officers started running, and James scrambled over table, spilling tea and pumpkin juice to try to get to Lily first.

"What right have you got to take me?" she asked.

"I said put your hands on your head! Now!" he shouted.

Slowly, she did so. "What right have you take me?" she repeated, but she got no answer. Another officer began shouting.

"HER WAND'S IN HER HAIR! HER WAND'S IN HER HAIR! SHE'S GOING FOR IT! EVERYONE GET DOWN!"

Students dove out of the way as two different spells (neither of them green) shot towards Lily.

The Dragon's Eye necklace she wore deflected them both, and they rebounded and hit one of the officers, causing him to yelp in pain and fall over.

"I didn't do that!" she cried. "I didn't! It's just a protection ch—" but she didn't finish. By that time she had been disarmed (she hadn't tried to stop it) and physically tackled to the ground, as the officers didn't dare fire any more curses that might rebound.

James couldn't see Lily through the crowd of Magical Law Enforcement officers, but saw the motions of them hitting and kicking, heard the sounds of the impact of feet and fists.

"Get off her!" he said, trying to pull away one of the four officers. "I said get the fuck off of her! She's not resisting! You're hurting her!"

"Perpetrator is contained," said one witch, levitating a bound and unconscious Lily into the air. Her face was bleeding and several places were already starting to swell.

James already had his wand out and was on the verge of doing something desperate, but he found himself frozen in place by a spell. Dumbledore appeared beside him and put a hand on his shoulder, which did nothing to calm him. To his increasing fury, he couldn't undo the spell, and he was forced to stand there, mute and impotent, as they took his fiancée away.

x

Lily was brought to consciousness with a brusque Enervate. She found herself sitting upright, bound to a chair in what was obviously an interrogation room. To her surprise, the witch across from her was wearing the robes of an auror, though she was no one Lily recognised.

Her face and body was incredibly sore. She couldn't feel her injuries as her hands were tied to the arms of the chair but she experimented with her face, which didn't have its usual mobility. One eye was swollen nearly shut and with her other eye she could actually see her cheek puffing out well further out than usual.

"We've taken your wand and have already performed Priori Incantatem," the auror began matter-of-factly. We know that you created an illegal portkey on a comb and we have requisitioned the portkey on your person. Care to tell me about this?" she said, placing her port-ring on the table.

"It was for extreme emergencies, only," she defended. "And at the time I used it I was being attacked by Voldemort." The auror twitched at the name. "So I felt it counted as an extenuating circumstance, as allowed in the law."

"Can you prove you were attacked by He Who Must Not Be Named? Any witnesses?"

"Uh, other than the dozen or so Death Eaters?" said Lily, and although she knew she sounded sarcastic, she was being completely serious. "Oh, Professor Slughorn! He—"

"Is nowhere to be found," finished the auror.

"Right, because the Death Eaters are after him," Lily explained.

"We still need a witness, Miss Evans."

"That man who wrote my obituary must know someone who saw," Lily reasoned. "He—"

"Has a right to protect his source, a right which he has chosen to exercise."

"And I suppose my memory…"

"Is not admissible evidence. You've already admitted to the creation and use of at least two illegal portkeys, which is enough for a prison sentence. Add that to resisting arrest and assaulting an officer, we're talking at least 25 years."

"I didn't resist! I didn't attack anybody. I wear an amulet that protects me from harmful spells, I have for months. I didn't touch my wand."

"We have in our records that you can do wandless magic. It's yet to be seen whether the spell was the amulet or your own doing. And many witnesses saw you reach for your wand."

"They told me to put my hands on my head!" Lily said, feeling desperate and hopeless. "I use my wand to keep my hair up all the time. Ask anyone!"

"We are making inquiries. But I must be frank with you, Miss Evans, there is little evidence to support your claims, and unless you make a deal, you are most likely to end up in Azkaban."

While her entire body went cold at the memory of the wizard prison, Lily forced her mouth to say, "What kind of deal?"

"You're a muggleborn. If you can give us any information about the MAM, or the Order…"

Lily took a deep, steadying breath. She couldn't give information about the former and wouldn't about the latter. Though she did consider it. Her last visit to Azkaban had been brief but brutal. The thought of 25 years in such a place…

"I can't tell you anything about either."

"I thought so. You've been charged. A pair of aurors will accompany you to Azkaban where you will wait until your trial on 28 September."

Rather than lash out in a panic or rage, Lily slumped in her chair, feeling defeated.

"Don't worry, you'll be all your troublemaking MAM friends," said a voice behind her. Lily twisted around to see two aurors, her escorts no doubt. She recognised them as the ones who had taken her down in the Great Hall in front of hundreds of people, and wondered how painful a trip this was going to be.

x

Peter arrived to the emergency Order meeting that afternoon slightly out of breath from hurrying up all those flights of stairs. Despite his haste, he found he had been preceded by James, Sirius, and Remus. They appeared to be the first, however. The other only members yet arrived were those that lived in the castle. Except Lily. She was conspicuous by her absence. Perhaps, Peter thought, she was still recovering in the Hospital Wing…

Peter discovered in the next moment that he'd come in the middle of an argument. Sirius was bellowing, not at Remus, as was known to happen every few months, but at James, of all people. And James, to Peter's utter shock, was bellowing back. The only other time he'd seem them going at it like this was when Sirius had tried to feed Snivellus to Moony.

"And you'd just sit on your hands like a good little auror for months while your dearest beloved rots away in prison?" Sirius roared.

"I'm not suggesting we just wait until the trial. We'll hire a solicitor. The best solicitor gold can buy. We'll do our own investigation. We won't be sitting idly by, we'll be trying to get her out the legal way! What you're suggesting would just get us all thrown in Azkaban. You think Lily would want that?"

"Cowardly milksop!"

"Reckless hardhead!"

"Lads," broke in Remus, trying to step between them but he was forcefully shoved aside.

"Look here," said Sirius, pointing a finger into James's face. "I made a promise. She knew this would happen. She made me swear to break her out when she was arrested and I'm not going to break my word!"

"It was a joke."

"You're a joke!"

James lunged at his best friend and they both went down, rolling around on the carpet exchanging blows and insults simultaneously. McGonagall, Dumbledore and Hagrid simply watched with tired expressions for a while, letting the brawling brothers carry on for a bit before separating them. McGonagall eventually stopped James, Dumbledore, Sirius, and once both were immobilised, Hagrid picked up both frozen forms, one under each arm, and heaved them out of the office where they tumbled down the gargoyle-guarded steps. "Yer friends will let you know what we decide!" he hollered down after them.

"Right then," said McGonagall, patting the top of her bun, making sure it was still secure, as if she'd been in the fight herself. "Let's get to it."

Afterward, Remus and Peter found their friends sitting at the bottom of the staircase, ignoring each other like pouty children.

"Come on," said Remus. "Let's go get a drink."

The first half of their pints were consumed without conversation, but eventually, Remus broke the stormy silence.

"Are you willing to have a civilised discussion or do you want to glare at each other some more?" said Remus.

It was still for a few moments, but James eventually reached out his hand.

Eventually, Sirius accepted it, muttering, "Pax."

"Pax," James repeated.

"The long and short of it is, we were lucky she survived her arrest. Many muggleborns haven't. The Headmaster thinks they wanted her alive to get information from her. As for the criminal charges against her, Dumbledore believes he will be able to convince the Wizengamot that she didn't attack the Magical Law Enforcement officers, however, she still needs a witness to prove she was attacked by Voldemort to get her off the illegal use of portkeys charge," Remus said. "Slughorn is nowhere to be found and I doubt any of the Death Eaters are going to be so obliging so we're going to need to get creative…"

Peter squirmed in his seat. He'd just about decided to tell them that he'd been there, that he had seen everything, that he'd be Lily's witness, and tell MLE about Polkiss and Stokeworth, how they saw it too. Yes. Do it, Peter, he told himself. And had just opened his mouth to speak when Sirius said, "What's wrong, Wormtail. Need the loo?"

And he lost all his nerve. "Erm. Yeah, I guess," he said.

"Then why don't you go instead of sitting there squirming like a child?"

"I didn't want to miss out on the conversation," he muttered.

"Go on," said Remus. "We'll wait."

Peter trudged off to the toilets, hanging his head and shuffling his feet. "Coward!" he chided himself inside the cubicle. Banging his head against the wall he continued, "Spineless, useless, goodfornothing!"A bang for every insult. Lily needed him. He wanted to help her but he was so afraid of what his friends would say. Maybe they would overlook the fact that he'd been there and done nothing at the time, forgive him that and just be grateful that he could help her now?

If, the week before the trial, there is still no evidence to help her, I'll do it, he told himself. Yes, that seemed right. He couldn't let Lily go to Azkaban. Or rather, he couldn't let her stay in Azkaban. He'd wait and see if something else came up, and if it didn't, he would step in and tell the truth, even if it meant losing all of his friends…

x

When James returned to his rooms later that afternoon, a special owl was there waiting for him. Bewildered, James let the bird go and tested the package for every evil spell he knew. Nothing. He undid the twine and had just about pulled open the paper when another owl swooped in. James dumped the package he held and dropped to the floor, hands over his head protectively. But it wasn't attacking him, merely dropping off another parcel.

James got to his feet, brushing the contents of the package he'd already opened off his robes. The rest was scattered about the floor. It was the potion ingredients he'd ordered the day before for Lily.

Damn everything. In his frustration, James kicked the other package with his foot, the one he had not yet opened, and it blew up at him, scorching his shoes and the carpet, destroying the ingredients that could have been salvaged if he'd had the patience to pick them up and sort them out. Now everything was ruined.

"Damn you!" he shouted at the letter bomb, and glared at the charred or burning herbs. He put everything out with a spell, and seeing that some of them had been spared, he quickly scooped them up and cradled them against him protectively before locking them up safely in his desk. They'd get Lily out, sooner, rather than later. And when that time came, he'd give them to her. Until then, he could give her something she'd actually be able to use.

Seized with this new idea, he grabbed his cloak of the chair and strode out of his office. He was an auror, after all. Perhaps that was enough to get him through. Granted, his and Lily's professional relationship was well known, but would that be enough to have the guards turn him away?

The island was colder, darker and even more miserable than he remembered. But his auror credentials got him through and he made his way to Lily's cell, shuddering each time a sweep of dementors passed by.

He knew which cell it was half a hall away, because he could see Sirius, already there. As he got closer he could see that his friend was lying down along the bars, and Lily lying parallel to him, empty chocolate wrappers scattered about them and a stack of uneaten provisions stood along the wall.

"Look here, Cariad, another visitor. We were just discussing Azkaban fashions. What are your thoughts? We were going to call it 'prison chic'."

Lily was smiling, but James could tell she was straining those muscles for their benefit, not because she felt it. It didn't reach her eyes.

James sat down by Sirius's head and put his hand through the bars. Lily reached up to entwine her fingers with his, and brought his hand to her busted lips and kissed it.

"I knew you'd come," she said. James tried to keep his face from showing any pity at the sight of her face. Despite his being an auror, they had taken his wand, just in case. Otherwise he would have done a charm to ease the swelling at least.

"Hello, heart," he said. He'd used that phrase hundreds of times, but now he felt that his heart was actually beaten, bruised, bleeding, and locked away in that cell. It hurt.

"I didn't get to vote," she said. "Did you?"

"No, it… sort of slipped my mind," he said.

"Sirius?"

Sirius shook his head.

"I really wanted Bagshot to win…" she lamented, as if she already knew she hadn't. "And of course Sirius has been pouting because now I'm considered more of a threat to society than he is."

Sirius chuckled. "You always were, you know." After a pause, he said, "We'll, I'll let you two have a moment. I'll come back tomorrow, shall I?"

Lily nodded, then winced in pain at the movement.

"How did you get in?" she asked James.

"I showed them my auror badge," he said, then turned to Sirius. "How did you get in?"

"I showed them my gold," he said, and was actually laughing as he walked away down the misty halls of the prison. The sounds of it echoed eerily.

Once they were alone, Lily sat up gingerly, and they shared an awkward, very gentle kiss through the bars.

"I love you," he said. She smiled, but it was a fluttering sort of smile that quickly faded. "I love you," he said again, trying to bring it back. "And we're going to get married. And win the war, and change the world, and civilise Sirius."

A longer smile, even a chuckle at the end, but it too diminished and disappeared.


Author's Note:

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If you don't feel you can make regular donations, a single one still helps. Or if you are the poorest of students, strapped for cash and unable to stray from you tight budget and you use amazon for books, items (groceries, even!) go to .com and a part of every purchase will be donated to the charity of your choice, at no extra cost to you. Again, I choose to support Refugees International, but there are a lot of great causes out there that could use every bit of help they can get.

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