"Alright, everybody line up alphabetically in order of height," Lily directed, and the Potters, with some confusion, lined up and stood in front of her. Harry and Ginny looked at each other, grinning. Ginny had speculated recently that Lily had reached what would probably be the most adorable stage of her childhood: She was old enough to understand things well enough to be part of a conversation, but she was innocent, and small, and had not yet outgrown playing House and School…
A game of School had just commenced, and Lily had eagerly taken the part of the nasty dictator of a schoolteacher. She sometimes played a kind-hearted, sweet professor who showered praise on her students (except James, of course, who insisted upon playing the "bad student" every time), but it was her day, her game, and that day she would milk it to the fullest extent.
Harry and Ginny stood seriously at attention, while Albus fidgeted and James glared at his mother—he was on Christmas break from Hogwarts, and had been surprised to find upon coming home that he was not exempt from the game. James would have been content to do nothing but play Quidditch with Harry in the yard for the duration of the break, but Ginny insisted that the family adhere to Lily's request once more, especially after the previous day's conversation:
"Mum," Lily had said sweetly, wearing her Weasley sweater on Christmas day. "I've just been thinking, it's rather nice to have James home. I mean, seeing as he isn't, ever." She had just left her siblings and cousins, who happily and noisily passed their presents around, waiting for the Christmas dinner. "And I had a thought, well, it's almost like before, only better, 'cause it's the holidays. And I know he doesn't want to, but I'd thought it'd be nice, just once more, to play one of my games. And then I'll play his games, only I don't want James to be a grown-up, 'cause Albus isn't any fun!"
Ginny had been touched by the monologue, except for the part about Albus not being any fun, and even after it had served the purpose Lily had wanted it to—Ginny had agreed without hesitation—it did not vanish into the celebration. Ginny had made the same observations about James growing up, but she reflected then that it was James at all who was growing up too fast—it was Lily. James was the oldest, working hard at Hogwarts, and was embarrassed by every move his parents made, but upon deep inspection he was still immature. Ginny was stunned by the change in Lily—wasn't it the week before that she'd whined her way to getting what she wanted? She was proud and impressed, but wanted to cry. And now here they were, preserving Lily's childhood, under the guise of preserving James's.
"Now sit down as I place you!" Lily screeched, pulling Albus back into the line. "There will be no talking, no joking, no note-writing, and no fun!"
Ginny caught Harry's glinting eye and was reminded of a certain teacher with remarkable similarities to Lily's character. Distracted, she smirked.
Lily slapped a ruler on her desk. "Did I not say," growled Lily fiercely, "no smiling?"
"Actually," noted Albus, "You didn't say no smiling." He looked to James for approval. And then James did something surprising.
He glared, and gave the slightest shake of the head.
Lily didn't notice. She slapped Albus's desk with the ruler as well, then, seeming to vent real anger, hit it a few more times for good measure.
Ginny blinked. She had been wrong about James once again. Did she even know her children?
And so the game continued, with the four students using sticks for wands and soup bowls for cauldrons, performing pretend magic and receiving insults and threats whenever they failed. Lily chose someone to fail each task, and Harry sometimes helped this process along with a comment such as, "Oh dear, is that supposed to be magenta?"
Lily was possibly more brutal than ever before, but the students were patient. And then Transfiguration came, and no matter how many times Harry hinted, James was chosen to be the failure. James patiently completed the imaginary assignments, and took his blows solemnly, with nothing but a word or two of defence here or there. Finally, he was called out.
"Dimwit," snarled Lily (her character had changed the last names of every student), "I'll give you a last chance. If you fail again, you'll receive worse punishment than you've ever had in your wildest nightmares. Your task is to transfigure me. I certainly hope you've got more confidence in your abilities than I do."
She spread her arms and titled her chin up, waiting. James slowly drew his real wand from his robes, and, for lack of a better spell, cast "Lumos" with all his effort. A glow surrounded Lily briefly, and as the light faded, she dropped her arms.
"You broke the curse!" Lily said delightedly, and kissed James lightly on the cheek before running from the room. Albus looked around, confused, but Lily returned, arms full of popcorn bags labelled with her students' names, and suddenly Ginny understood. The whole thing had been staged by Lily. Perhaps she had wanted to go out with a bang, but she suspected something more.
Then Albus stood up, and accepted his bag of popcorn, and said, "I for one would just like to say that I liked you the whole time, and I could see your real personality underneath the whole time, Miss Potter."
"Thank you, Mr. Potter," said Lily, changing his name back from Moron, "but I can understand if you disliked the person I was—I was cursed, and the spell could only be broken by a student."
"I think it's time we all did a little more understanding," said Albus.
Ginny was speechless. That made three of them, all of them, that she had underestimated, misunderstood. They were growing up, all of them. Too fast, but in all the right ways. She was overwhelmed, and tears formed as she received her bag of popcorn.
Lily noticed, and said gently, "There will be no crying."