It started innocently enough.
Lily Potter was only three when she realized that Uncle Ronnikins did not hold her favorite stuffed toy, Octopus (named oh-so inventively because it looked like an inflated purple spider and at three, Lily was as unacquainted in her spic n' span house with spiders, crawling in cobwebs, as she was with octopuses) in the same regard as she did. He always shifted and looked a little uncomfortable when she'd march into the living room, announcing to the adults that Octy wanted a biscuit – "No more biscuits for Octy or you," Mum would invariably say but Lily kept it up because it was her job to be a hopeful little ray of sunshine. But she never thought to connect Uncle Ron and spiders until the day they all visited the Haunted House of Horrors in Paris and a spider fell on top of his head.
"Your uncle has arachnophobia, darling," Aunt Hermione smiled kindly and patted her head. "Don't worry he'll be fine – it's sweet of you to worry."
But little Lily wasn't convinced. Nothing in the Haunted House of Horrors – not the pickled toads leering out at her from the glass jars or the shriveled hand that had stretched out to grip James' wrist or the stuffed werewolf that looked so alive – had scared her as much as Uncle Ron's scream. He was the grown-up. Grown-ups didn't get scared. They weren't supposed to.
Afterwards, while James and Al and Rose wandered, squealing ecstatically, through the souvenir shop – "Look Rosie! Grr, I'm a zombie!" "James, I know that's a mask. You can't scare me" – Lily sat on a stool next to baby Hugo's pram, sucking her thumb and ruminating gravely.
Uncle Ron tucked her in at night sometimes and assured her, that nice, strong, brave smile on his face, that zombies couldn't get her in the dark ("Whatever Teddy tells you is bull, baby"). If he could get scared, then what about Daddy? What if he was too scared to save her? What would happen to her then? Would she… would she die? Like Grandpa Arthur?
She shivered, even in the balmy spring air, as she remembered his funeral. She only remembered bits and pieces because it had been ages ago, three whole months, but those bits and pieces were enough. Everyone so sad 'nd wearing ugly black clothes, even beautiful Auntie Fleur, Mum slapping her for the first time ("Mummy what's the Solar System?" "Lily Luna Potter I'm warning you" "But Mummy!" and then a stinging slap), Grandma Molly her shoulders drooping in exhaustion and worst of all, Grandpa lying so still in his coffin, shriveled and small like he'd been in the bath too long… Funerals weren't very nice.
It was that day, that beautiful spring day, while the grown-ups were – innocuously enough – discussing the Stock Exchange, blissfully unaware of what the little girl was thinking about that Lily decided that the enemy was spiders. They had to be – unconsciously she connected them with death and funerals and things that grown-ups screamed at even though they weren't supposed to. They were dangerous. They had to be gotten rid of.
"Can portraits die?"
The question had popped out impulsively from four-year-old Lily's mouth, addressed to no one in particular. Uncle Ron heard. He turned from the tapestry which he'd been De-Doxy-Fying (an annual task for the Weasleys and the Potters who still hadn't decided what to finally do with the house) and smiled gently as he caught her looking at Walburga Black's portrait. Over the years, 12 Grimmauld Place had changed. It was as gloomy and foreboding – particularly to a four-year-old, which was the reason Lily wasn't scrambling around the place playing hide-and-seek with her brothers and had chosen to stick close to the grown-ups – as ever, but somehow it seemed bereft of its spirit.
The Blacks were all dead and now even Walburga's eyes, still and unmoving in her portrait, wore the chill, glassy look of the dead.
"Maybe they can," Uncle Ron said slowly. "I never really thought about it."
Lily traced the ornate gilt frame of the portrait. She brought back a finger perfectly grey with dust. Uncle Ron tsked and walked over, conjuring a handkerchief. "Your mother won't be pleased at all, you know."
It was just at that moment, just as she'd put out her finger for him to rub the dust off with the clean white handkerchief – over the years his skill at conjuring handkerchiefs had improved vastly – that a spider toppled off from the edge of the frame, right in front of Uncle Ron. Before he'd even opened his mouth to yell, Lily took action quickly. The sound of the spider being crushed to death under the soles of her converse was very satisfying. Very.
"Thanks a million, Lilabee," he said gratefully, patting her head and using the petname normally only Grandma Molly got away with using. But today she didn't mind Uncle Ron using it – she felt very happy with herself. Uncle Ron was grateful – grateful, it was such a big word, but Teddy had told her what it meant – and that was nice. It was nice of her to kill the spider. Killing the spider was a good job, and you had to do good jobs if you wanted to go to Heaven and end up with God. She wanted that.
She'd always been entranced by fire.
"Lily Luna Potter what are you doing?"
Ginny's shriek was loud enough for the seven-year-old to drop the magnifying glass. It clinked on the red terracotta tiles of the terrace. Sunlight glistened, shafts of the rainbow sparkling through the thin lens of the magnifying glass. Pretty.
"Are those spiders? Lily!"
It was Mummy's white-hot-mad voice. Not red-hot. White-hot is hotter than red-hot, James had told her and James knew almost everything. "Sorry Mummy," she whimpered, knowing that it was the only way to appease her mother. Apologizing – profusely – always made Mummy happy.
Ginny breathed hard through her nose. Her nose looked red, Lily noted with interest. Her nose was just like Grandma's nose – it turned especially red whenever she was trying to not be angry. It made her look like a tomato. "Who taught you this?"
"I'll show you a magic trick, Lilabee. A Muggle magic trick, beat that. But don't ever tell Mummy that I showed you. You have to keep the omerta."
"It's a code of honor – you have to obey it."
"The magic trick is an omerta?"
"No, ugh…never mind. Just watch this."
The corners of Ginny's mouth tightened. "I'll write to him." Lucky James, he was at Hogwarts. Or maybe not lucky, if you thought about Howlers.
"Teddy taught him."
"Well really. I'll have a few words with him."
"He taught James ages ago. He's probably forgotten."
Ginny frowned. She hasn't considered that possibility. "Well be that as it may…" she shook her head and narrowed her eyes. She was trying to forget the Pygmy Puffs bludgeoned to death, the dragonflies, their wings torn off, left to drown in chipped mugs of boiling water, doxies dissected while still alive for Fred and George's experiments… it had been fun at the time. Children are as cruel as they seem innocent.
"That's a horrible horrible thing to do, Lily." Hypocrites never look more virtuous than when they're dispensing advice.
"I'm really really sorry, Mummy." Downcast eyes. Sincere regret. Apparently.
"You should be. You should be." Wise shake of the head. Motherly concern. Genuinely. "Don't ever let me catch you doing something like that again."
"Okay, Mummy. I'm sorry." Profuse apologies all the way rule.
"Good. Good. Come out of the sunshine, it's too hot for you to be playing out now." Retreat with the honors of victory.
"In a minute."
Don't ever let me catch you doing something like that again.
If I catch you, you're dead.
If I don't catch you…
She's seven. Children are as innocent as they seem cruel. The advice of the virtuous, of mothers, must always be followed.
There's always good fun to be had at The Burrow in summer. Especially at 'The Annual Tactical Sessions of the Clan' as James dryly calls them. Lily doesn't understand and when she tells it to Rose – the most readily-available cousin who's smart enough to understand stuff like that – she says he's been reading too much about the War against Voldemort.
Aunts, uncles, cousins, their friends, their friends' friends assemble from all four corners of the earth – and soon, as Grandma optimistically says, if NASA manages to turn its talk about 'colonies on the moon' into reality, then from outside the earth too.
It's a charmed time of endless ice-cream cones – the crowd at The Burrow is so big these days that they have a special contract with Fortescue for the three summer months when school's out –, no studying, lazing out on the warm sunny lawn with your best pals or sweating it out playing Quidditch under the harsh glare of the afternoon sun (real Quidditch, with seven players per team, too), watching the older ones flirt and betting on who'll end up with who by the end of the summer…
When she's nine, Lily makes up her mind that Victoire and Teddy should get married. Why? Oh because they look good together and will probably have the cutest babies together. That's as good a reason as any for a schoolgirl and a bloke still in Auror training to be thinking about tying the knot… hey, if it worked for her parents…
Oh, wait there's another reason for them to get married! Teddy teaches Victoire dueling! True love!!
"Sure," Rose says dryly when Lily pours out her dreams of hearing the pitter-patter of babies with turquoise-and-blond hair soon. "It has nothing to do with the fact that she's horrendous at Transfig and dueling is a quick way to bring her up to scratch for her N.E.W.Ts." Lily ignores her. Rose is just a realist and what's life without romance?
Romance, glamour, beauty… that's all that life's worth living about.
It's beautiful, Teddy's Flagrantia spell. Not Flagrate, the standard second-year spell, Flagrantia, a spell he developed by himself as part of a project in sixth-year.
It's beautiful, the way the tongue of hot white flame, streaked so prettily with rainbowy flecks, leaps out from the tip of his wand, it's target Victoire until she deflects it neatly with a fire-proof shield she conjures out of thin air… it has all the excitement of a real battle. And Lily loves reading about old battles, her parents', her grandparents'. Uncle Ron is such a good storyteller that she doesn't mind that half of the things he tells her not true (or as he says, with a dismissive wave of his hand and a short laugh, embellishments). It's enough to curl up on his lap and listen to the tales of chivalry and treachery, of pain and beauty, sin and redemption that he weaves.
The first spell she makes her brothers teach her when she gets her first wand is Flagrantia. The Fire Spell.
She likes watching things burn. Not just spiders anymore, spiders who deserve it just because. People who've been mean to her. Spiteful people who laugh at Al's Quidditch. They're completely unjustified and they deserve to be punished.
"She's her mother's daughter isn't she?"
Long streaming red hair, like a lion's mane. Velvety brown eyes, beautiful with the fire of defiance. Yes she's her mother's daughter. But more fragile, more delicate, and oh-so breakable, with the dainty, flower-like face spied in countless, sepia-tinted photographs of a pretty young woman with emerald-green eyes. Lily. Lily.
In more ways than one. Ginny Potter doesn't remember Zacharias Smith but there are some that still do. Of course they're all spiteful. Completely unjustified. Of course Mummy isn't violent. No, not at all. Sure her slaps can hurt a bit but that's just caring. All mothers do that. Of course.
She likes watching things burn. People, who deserve it just because.
Morgana deserved it. She dumped Al. Besides she was alright in the end wasn't she? Three nights' stay at the Hospital Wing was enough. Lily had expected – and hoped – that it'd be St. Mungo's. Still three nights isn't bad. Eighty percent burns? Well she deserved it. Of course.
She flunked Herbology. After she'd worked so hard on it, after Scorpius and Rose had both tutored her for hours and hours. How unfair. How mean. Nepotism, turned the wrong way. Yes that's what it was. Professor Longbottom's beloved Mimbulus Mimbletonia, in Greenhouse Three caught fire. Yeah, the one he'd had since fifth year. Well so what? He deserved it for – so unfairly – flunking her.
And the best part was, no one ever thought of pointing the finger of suspicion at her. Sweet twelve-year-old Lily Potter, the wizarding world's poster boy's little golden girl. Fragile. Delicate. Breakable. And if James does suspect something, anything he keeps it to himself. Omerta. Besides, he understands her. They're their mother's children.
"Don't tell me you're hooking up with Dolohov."
"It's none of your business, Al."
"Honestly, Lils, I couldn't care less if you were hooking up with Snape's portrait. I don't care but if James finds out…"
Dolohov isn't James' type. He's not the type any loving, irritating brother would want his baby sister to date. His acquaintance with Salazar's Whiskers has been more than the limited curiosity of a schoolboy, his school essays proudly proclaim that he counts Falloforma Caligoas his favorite spell. Hardly an engaging young lad – to some people. Lily isn't one of them.
Sure he's not exactly the Prince Charming on the white horse she'd once dreamt about, but unlike her mother, she's not going to sit around waiting for her knight in shining armor. In some ways, Dolohov, despite his tough talk and all the drugs (Lily's tried Salazar's Whiskers but she's frightened of their effect on her, the powerful hold, the over-dependence) is actually a very sweet kid. And useful too.
They sneak out of Hogwarts sometimes, not to light bonfires and drink confiscated Firewhiskey in the Forbidden Forest like other students, but to pore over the dusty manuscripts with fading letters and tarnished gilt in the library in his crumbling manorhouse. Rose taught Lily to Apparate while she was practicing for her license, so it's not much of a problem to sneak out of the Gryffindor dorms at night. In the morning she just uses more make-up than usual and takes a good, hard swig of Firewhiskey – the recommended remedy for a rough night out.
And they are rough. It's not all reading. Lily is fascinated, simply fascinated by the spells she learns – some of them bordering uncomfortably on Dark – and she can't rest until she practices them for herself. Dolohov, with his typical contrariness, refuses to help her by enacting the role of victim and so she's forced to turn to the usual – spiders, mice, lizards.
But of course it's all educational – really she'd never imagined that an animal could live through so much pain, and then well, survive. Educational, educational… yes Aunt Hermione would approve. Well not directly, maybe, but in her heart of hearts she'd be happy her niece was learning so much, so quickly. Naturally.
"Quite the lioness isn't she?"
Lioness. She likes the sound of that. Daddy loves it, it makes her sound so very Gryffindor-y. It's a relief to him to have two beautiful children so like himself and his wife. Though to be on the safe side of Political Correctness he pretends that he doesn't mind Al's being sorted into Slytherin.
Fiery and vibrant she's never had to control her temper. Others always bear the consequences of her anger. She's still young enough to think that they always will.
And then suddenly, in one clean sweep, her world changes.
It begins with a bet and ends with a Quidditch Game and later Lily isn't quite sure what happens in the middle. A small, silly little bet, but on which hinges the fate of thousands. Of course no one quite knows about the thousands that crisp spring day when Lily Potter hurls herself off her broom, white as death, half-convulsed with fury and aims with deadly accuracy at cocky young Jacob Wood's throat. Flagrantia. Her rage fortifies the spell and suddenly the tall Scottish boy in the yellow-and-black Quidditch robes is a mounting tower of white flame and an agonizing scream that those who hear will never forget. The first casualty.
There's no body to send to Oliver and Margaret Wood.
Lily is left to cool her heels in Azkaban, too proud to rage and scream and bang her head against the bars as she wants to at this injustice. It was an accident. She's sixteen and beautiful – she doesn't deserve eight goddamn years in prison! Ginny visits her only once, her anger and humiliation at her daughter, at the monster who demolished her idyllic little world, terrible. She says little but there's a steely look in her eyes that tells Lily, You'd be better off dead.
And Lily knows that, to her mother, she would be better off. Mother is not tolerant of failures. The correct attitude of course but hell, she's not a failure, she just made a miscalculation, it was a rash, typical sixteen-year-old thing to do, not manslaughter!
She rots – or so it seems to her – in Azkaban for a month, before he arrives and simply hands her the key through the bars, waiting to see what she'll do with it. Literally. She doesn't hesitate a moment, doesn't worry about how she'll live as a fugitive… after all, she's in the right isn't she? She should break out. Of course.
His black cloak whips around his tall figure, blown by cold sea-winds. Her own long red hair slaps her face and cheeks. Down below she can see the foam-white crests of waves breaking on black rocks. And then he wraps her in his arms, the cloak folding around her body and she leaves Azkaban forever.
A/N: Exams are oveeeeeeeeeeeer and if I get good marks I'm getting my own laptop FINALLY!! Review peeps… oh and this is sort of an open plot bunny as well as part of a series of 'why-shots'. You can resume the story and do whatever you feel like with Lily and Mystery Man, just tell me when you publish the story. And yeah I know the ending is a bit messy and melodramatic, sorry, my Muse is being lazy today. I might edit the ending later.