Disclaimer: This chapter was brought to you by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks, COVID, for being a bro and rendering all of our excuses completely invalid (including being co-writers on opposite sides of the world). Also, kindly gtfo.


Chapter Fifteen

Aquila


"Okay, let's go over what we have so far."

The last bits of light had faded behind Lily's drawn curtains as she stood propping up a corkboard on the windowsill. With her free hand, she pressed her eyelids shut briefly as if to reset her brain. When she opened them, the jumble of coloured post-its in front of her was just as familiar, and just as hopeless, as ever.

"Operation: Marauder Redemption" was the focal point at the centre of the board, with several sharpied arguments pinned around it. "Show them the file?" read one of them. "Appeal to Mum's inner fangirl" suggested another. "They helped with the washing and things" lied another, in a flimsy testament of character. "I don't know, stuff" was Petunia's only contribution, which Lily had scrawled down and jabbed into the board in a fit of frustration.

She'd employed the colour-coding entirely in an effort to get her sleuthing partner more invested, but it was no use. Petunia sat primly on the edge of the bed, methodically chipping off her manicure.

"Petunia."

"Hmm?" Petunia didn't take her eyes off the now-maimed butterfly on her thumb.

"You said you'd help me convince Mum and Dad."

"I am helping."

"You're—" Lily inhaled the retort that was about to fly off her lips. Now was not the time to piss off her only ally. "Right, well. I reckon they'll be getting to bed soon, so we should really get our shit together."

"Whatever you think is best."

"I…" She wanted to shake her sister, to ask her what the citizens of Marauderland would think of her handing the boys' fates over to A and E Girl. But Petunia's words rang in the back of her mind: Just go. Go and find him and live happily ever after or whatever. I don't even care anymore.

"I give up," said Lily, retiring the corkboard against her closet door, post-it side in. "You handle Mum; I'll handle Dad. Alright? Let's just… tell them the truth, and hope for the best."

"Wait," said Petunia. Lily stopped halfway to the door, mildly shocked. "The whole truth? With the... games, and the concert, and the— the liquor…"

"Oh blimey, no. No." Lily saw Petunia relax a bit at this. Apparently, they were on the same page regarding at least one thing. "Just the parts about how they got here, what we found out about DeMort, and why we can't leave them to deal with it on their own. And… maybe leave out my little excursion to Knockturn, yeah?" The words hung in the air between them, heavy with all that that excursion implied.

"Trust me." Petunia's voice was stone cold. "I'm trying to delete it from my memory."

"That's… good."

"Shall we?" said Petunia, getting up off the bed.

Teresa was in the sitting room when they came downstairs, her slippered feet propped up on an ottoman that had likely last been used as a launching pad during the quidditch game. She peered at her daughters over wire-framed reading glasses. "Are you girls going somewhere?"

"Nope," they answered far too simultaneously. Teresa's eyebrows shot up.

"Er, where's Dad?" asked Lily.

"In his study, last I checked." Teresa looked as though she might add something, but closed her mouth.

"Thanks," Lily said, and cast one final good luck, don't screw this up look at Petunia as she turned down the hall.

Bob's door was closed. Lily knew her father too well to take this as anything less than a warning—even when he was working, he left it open at least a crack. (He secretly loved when Harry interrupted his conference calls.) She raised one hand to knock, had a thought, and quickly backtracked to the kitchen. Muted voices filtered in from the sitting room. "Is everything alright, Petunia dear? You don't seem yourself."

Lily blocked it out as she quietly opened the pantry and started rifling through each shelf. Bags of wild rice, steel cut oats, lentils, and several cartons of almond milk were all that greeted her. Dammit, Sirius, she cursed as she threw an empty bottle of gummy vitamins in the bin. How was it that—even with two interim grocery trips—they'd managed to burn through everything even slightly resembling junk food?

The basement freezer, she suddenly remembered. Lily had deliberately not mentioned its existence to the Marauders, but would they have found it and raided it on their own? Please, please, please, she prayed as she tiptoed downstairs. Success—she unearthed two mangled chocolate ice lollies from under a small hoard of soups in tupperwares.

Armed with the peace offering, she returned to the hallway.

"Nothing like I'd imagined, to be honest," she heard Petunia say. "But… a pretty decent guy, in the end."

Trying not to dwell on that rather bleak choice of words, Lily inhaled and knocked gently on Bob's door. There was a drawn-out pause, and then: "Teresa?"

"Er, it's Lily."

Another pause, just long enough to make things mildly awkward.

"...Come in, then."

The last time she had been this hesitant to approach her father, Lily had been six years old. She'd broken her promise not to climb the huge oak tree at the cottage, and he'd come out of the shower to find her putting Disney Princess plasters on a broken wrist. Even then, he wasn't angry—"best not let your mother see this" was all he'd said.

Now, she lamented, Petunia had the easier task with Teresa. Boys were new territory for Bob; until now, his daughters' dealings with them had been nonexistent—in Lily's case, platonic, and in Petunia's, imaginary. To bridge the gap between the last time they'd spoken ("Bye, Lilybeardon't stay sick too long, eh?") and now, she would have to explain how Petunia's fantasy romance had become her own startlingly real one, and that was all, well…

"Hey!" Indignation replaced Lily's thoughts when she saw what her father was watching on his computer. "Is that Brixham 999?"

Bob hit pause, looking guilty in the red and blue lights of an onscreen police chase. He was wearing a tracksuit (probably the only thing left at the bottom of his ravaged clothes drawer, Lily thought with some remorse) and drinking a bottle of Heineken. "Matter of fact, it is," he said gruffly.

It was their show. Lily had been holding off for weeks, and the betrayal stung. She wanted to take him to task about it, but instead she listened to the rain pinging against the window, reminded herself that the Marauders were probably roasting rats under a dumpster somewhere, and remembered her offering. "I brought you a Mini Milk," she said.

"Where did you find that?" With some awkwardness, Bob set down his beer and reached over.

"In the freezer. Er, mind if I join?"

"If you insist."

Lily flopped onto the futon Bob kept beside his desk. Allegedly for guests, it often accommodated an assortment of car parts, dusty free weights, and stashed snacks. She pulled an empty bag of Minstrels out from under her elbow and wondered if the Marauders were to blame for its decimation. Unexpectedly, she felt a flare of protective annoyance on her dad's behalf.

For twenty minutes, they watched in silence. There was another police chase at a ferry dock, a drug trafficking scheme involving conger eels. All the while, Lily found herself putting off the inevitable. 'After this scene' became 'After I finish my ice lolly' and then 'After I chew through the end of this lollipop stick and thoroughly tear it to shreds'.

When her Mini Milk was just a pile of slivers on the arm of Bob's futon, she cleared her throat. "Dad," she ventured. "Can we maybe just… talk?"

Bob didn't press pause. "Maybe tomorrow. Bit late," he grunted. "Bit tired."

"Can you just listen, then?"

Lily didn't expect him to hold his ground, but he did. "If it's all the same, I don't have the energy tonight," he said. "Quite frankly, I'm still coming to terms with the fact that Jimmy Black's been running around in my underwear."

"He didn't—!" Lily, unsure whether she was instinctively defending James or Sirius, was forced to confront some grim logistics. Surely the Marauders hadn't been wearing the same pants since the day they'd found them in the barn.

"Why do you think they invented going commando?" Sirius' voice swam into her head, and she cringed.

"We didn't loan out your undies," she said feebly.

"Well, that's something, then."

There was a beat of silence which Lily hurried to fill. "How was the cottage?" she tried.

"Fine," Bob said. "Your mum took the canoe out a few times." A short pause. "We're thinking of buying the Kerrigans' Ribcraft."

"Oh, are they selling it?"

"Yes."

"Were you able to get out fishing?"

"Just the once," he said. "Your mother outlawed live bait so the carp weren't too keen. Takes all the fun out of it."

"Worms are people, too, I suppose, " Lily said absently. "That's so mad. Last year I was fishing at the lakehouse and now that horrible photo of us is in the Daily Mirror. They cropped you out," she assured her father, and sighed. "I miss the cottage."

"Do you now?" Bob challenged. "Might've fooled me."

Guilt settled warm and heavy as Lily recalled her phoney illness. She had fooled him. Lying to her father hadn't felt good at the time, and it wouldn't feel any better now. "What would you have done then, Dad?" she asked. "If your favourite band showed up and needed a place to stay?"

Bob looked over. "Favourite band, eh? I thought that was Tuney's schtick."

"It still is," Lily said quickly. "And, I'll have you know, I did everything I could to get rid of them at first. Really!" she added when Bob looked sceptical. "I even dumped a bucket of water on Potter's head! They were persistent. And… well, pretty genuine, as it turned out." She sighed, digging her toes into the edge of the futon. "They're in a lot of trouble, Dad."

At last Bob relented, reaching forward to click pause with a great sigh. "All right, I'm listening." When he turned to face Lily, he looked tired. "What's all this rubbish about?"

Lily took her opportunity. In an artless plea that wavered between over-sharing and under-explaining, it all came pouring out.

Bob drained his beer while he listened. "So you're telling me these four… prancyboys with guitars are on the lam from the CEO of Val-Mart."

"Yes."

"And they just so happened to wind up in our barn, of all places."

"That's what I said, yes."

Bob shook his head. "In our barn…"

"Yes, Dad, I swear." Lily was sitting up on the sofa now, on her knees. "I realize it's ridiculous—"

"Ridiculous…" Without a shred of humour, Bob laughed. He reached behind his glasses to scrub circles into his eyes. "I'll say it again: Something doesn't add up here, Lilybear."

"What doesn't add up?"

"I don't know what these lowlifes led you to believe, but they're well-equipped to take care of themselves. There are plenty of guest houses nearby."

"They're people, Dad. They're not some sort of… celebrity holograms." Lily was getting riled up again. "Like, you put them out on the street! Of course they haven't got somewhere to go!"

"If the situation were that dire, they'd have come back."

"Yeah, or they're sleeping in the barn again."

"Our barn? I have tools in there!"

"Why do you have to assume they're criminals?"

"Oh, go on!" he scoffed. Lily recognized the possessed look in her dad's eyes that meant a rant was coming. "Whatever lies they fed you, whatever infernal—" He took a sharp breath through his nostrils. "Look, they've used you girls, whether you want to see it or not. Cashing in their stardom to impose on two young ladies... That is just plain wrong."

Lily's tear ducts prickled. Even if most of his anger was aimed at the Marauders, it still stung to hear it put that way. And the longer she went without seeing James, the more dream-like the whole thing became... the more she found herself entertaining Bob's perspective. "Do you not think I realize that?" she said, unable to look him in the eye. Her gaze stayed fixed on the bulletin board beside his desk. "I hated watching them manipulate Petunia. But... we really got to know them."

Bob kneaded his forehead as though to ease an oncoming migraine.

"We did! You can think whatever you want, but seriously, give me a little credit here."

"I'm sorry," Bob acknowledged. "I know you've a good head on your shoulders."

Tears threatening, Lily couldn't look away from the bulletin board. There was a sign pinned there: "Wurld's BEst DaD!", courtesy of toddler-Petunia. It was a perfect frame for her moral dilemma.

Despite her insistence that this was about Val and the bigger picture, she was beginning to acknowledge the real reason for that panicky time-bomb feeling in her chest.

It was James, wasn't it? She'd gotten so used to having him around that she hadn't considered what might happen when the Marauders inevitably left Privet Drive. Now that they were gone, she felt scared and untethered, and a frightening reality loomed: one where Lily never saw James again. She didn't even have his phone number.

Was this how eliminated contestants on The Bachelor felt? she wondered, almost incredulously, as the tears welled up and started to spill out.

"What's wrong?" Bob sounded afraid; he never saw Lily cry. The shock of it seemed to be appealing to some fatherly instinct to which he had no immunity. "Come on, now…"

"I'm—" The word caught in Lily's throat. Oh, this was horrible. She was going to have a full-on meltdown. "I'm trying to explain it to you. I'm just… sad, Dad. I really liked him, and I'm bloody sad."

Standing up and ducking her head, she left Bob stupefied with his empty beer bottle and his freeze-framed television show. Only when she was halfway down the hall did she allow herself to cough out the sob that had been wedged at the back of her throat.

Shit. This wasn't going to plan at all. And nobody could see her crying. She wouldn't be able to make it to her bedroom without being accosted by Teresa and Petunia, so she did the only thing she could think of and snagged her raincoat off its hook in the front hall.

Outside, rain snapped down against the driveway. The sky had a strange lightness to it despite the hour; it was almost orange. Lily sniffed and pulled her hood all the way up, drawing the strings tight. She walked to the end of the road with no real purpose.

At the end of Privet Drive, she turned around, scrutinizing Vernon's place out of habit on the way back. Lights flashed video-game-ishly against the upstairs curtains, and Lily allowed herself a moment of deep envy.

When she looked away, she was surprised to see a pair of silhouettes power-walking in her direction. It was Petunia and Teresa, both of them wearing floral rain jackets and huddled under Bob's big plaid golf umbrella. Petunia looked like she might say something as Lily approached, but seemed to notice the tears and came to an awkward halt instead. They stood there in silence for a second.

Teresa gestured to the empty spot under her umbrella. "Room for one more," she said gently.


In the kitchen, Teresa pulled three mugs out of the cupboard and filled them with licorice tea. "There. Put some colour back in your cheeks," she said, passing one to Lily. Behind them, Petunia was setting a laundry rack over the register and spreading their coats out to dry.

Lily lifted the mug to her mouth and grimaced. "Smells like moss," she said. "Can't we have Earl Grey?"

"Caffeine before bed? Absolutely not." Teresa opened the fridge and stood in the little rectangle of cool light. She pulled out a mason jar covered in Vernon Dursley's handwriting.

Lily expected her next stop would be the rubbish bin, so she was astonished when her mother fished the last two pieces of brioche out of the bread box and started slathering them in strawberry jam. Only when Teresa sandwiched the slices together and began cutting them into bite-sized squares did Lily realize she was making jam sarnies. They'd been a staple at Lily and Petunia's tea parties once, before Teresa had discovered superfoods and replaced their finger sandwiches with spirulina crisps.

"Are those for us?" Lily asked, baffled.

"Best get this white bread out of the house as quickly as possible," said Teresa, popping a tiny sandwich into her mouth and chewing as she dumped the cutting board into the sink. "I don't know what might have possessed you girls to buy something as nutritionally void as brioche."

"Lily bought that," Petunia said unnecessarily. She joined them at the kitchen island and picked up the strawberry mug that was waiting for her.

"It doesn't matter who bought it." Exasperated, Teresa turned the tap on and began scrubbing jam off the butter knife. "Remind me to sit down with you both tomorrow and discuss your grocery bills, please. Our Visa statement makes a lot more sense if those Tesco runs were feeding six of you."

While Teresa dried the knife and cutting board and put them away, Lily stewed in remorse and stared at the lumpy grey tea bag floating in her mug. A few extra loaves of bread in their cart at the start of the summer had undeniably spiralled into extortion thanks to Sirius' bacon addiction and Peter's general enthusiasm for eating. Feeling guilty, she ate a sarnie and absconded into sugary nostalgia.

"All that money and stardom and they can't afford a loaf of bread?" Teresa carried on, giving the dish towel an indignant shake and hanging it back over the oven handle. "Really..."

"All their accounts had been frozen," Lily explained, realizing how stupid it sounded. "I'm sure they'll pay us back…"

Petunia snorted. "Not likely, if you ask me."

"I didn't," snapped Lily. "Whatever, I'll pay you back then, Mum. We shouldn't have put it all on your card, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking."

"Clearly," said Teresa, "nobody's done much thinking in this house since the start of summer."

The words had plenty of time to sink in while the three of them considered their tea in doleful silence, rain scattering against the nearest window.

"I'm sorry we lied to you," Lily said, feeling in her gut that this was their biggest betrayal. "I'm really sorry, Mum."

Teresa nodded, taking a sip of tea. "Petunia's explained. I can't say I don't know why you did it, but you should have told us the truth."

"We were afraid you'd kick them out." Lily hesitated. "Would you have?"

"I can't say for sure. Your father certainly would have."

"Was it really that horrible that we took them in, though? Dad's acting like they're convicted felons, but we thought we were doing the right thing. What if Petunia had the Quartet staying over while you were away? Would that be so bad?"

"Those girls are practically family, Lily, it's very different. Petunia, have a sarnie."

"Well then… What if it'd been Gilderoy?"

"Gilderoy would never…" Teresa stopped, pink-cheeked, and Lily wondered if she'd played the scenario out in her head already, replaced the Marauders with her own golden-haired teen idol, no doubt painting him up to be the perfect gentleman by comparison.

"Really?" Lily said disbelievingly, and something about the situation was suddenly amusing. She proceeded with caution. "I mean, I reckon Gilderoy would..." She made accidental eye contact with Petunia, who clearly shared her sentiments. "Go on, Mum. He'd be demanding a feather bed and silk pyjamas and you'd be right there bringing him tea and biccies, just like us."

"Well, if he needed a place to stay…" Teresa was forced to concede. "But your father and I own this house. We wouldn't be sneaking about, hiding him in the basement." An afterthought followed: "And your father would never have it."

Lily, feeling she had made her point, ate another sandwich.

"The Marauders know him," Petunia said, sounding bored. "Gilderoy."

"They do not!" Teresa choked on her tea. She looked flustered, with a hint of awe.

"Yeah, their bodyguard used to work for him."

"Did they have much to say?" Teresa asked probingly, not bothering to sound casual. "Is it true he just bought a townhouse in Finchley? I read that in the Mirror last month."

"They didn't tell us too much." It seemed even Petunia, in her rankled state, did not dare inform their mother that the Marauders thought Lockhart was a total fraud.

"Well," said Teresa, somewhat overcome. "Well then. Small world, isn't it…"

They finished their tea on a much lighter note. Lily helped Teresa with the remaining dishes while Petunia scrubbed down the benchtop and switched off the essential oil diffusers in the sitting room. At last, Teresa held her arms out for a hug, taking Lily and Petunia each into one arm.

"Love you both," she said, squeezing them. "Sleep well. We'll all feel better tomorrow."

"Love you, Mum," mumbled Lily, unable to ignore the niggling disquiet in her stomach.

"And don't tell your father those boys are friends with Gilderoy," were Teresa's parting words as Lily and Petunia headed for the stairs. "I'm really not sure he'd cope."


As Lily pulled her door shut and turned to face a darkened bedroom, she realized she was right back where she'd started. Only this time, she was alone. 10:27pm: the clock on her nightstand burned the numbers into her eyes.

Not bothering to turn on a light, she shuffled dazedly toward the closet with a mind either to fetch some PJs or crawl into it and cry – she wasn't sure. "Bugger it." She'd stubbed her toe on the bulletin board full of plans. She picked it up and, suddenly hit with how foolishly juvenile it all seemed, shoved it into the back of her closet. It thudded against James' guitar case.

"ARGH!"

Her pillow caught the scream just in time as she sprawled, completely devoid of will, onto the bed. She'd never had this much trouble convincing her parents of anything, barring the time she'd petitioned to put Petunia up for adoption (she was seven; there were flashcards). Lily had won literal awards for debating topics she didn't even care about. What was it about this case that was so hard to make?

For a moment, she humoured the thought that she might indeed be delusional. Swept up in the Marauders' charms, convinced of a threat they'd concocted in order to shirk their contract and take a nice summer break. Keeping them in bacon and booze while they smirked to each other; "Isn't it brilliant, being this attractive?" Becoming the latest lock on the bowing chain link fence that was James Potter's love life.

She saw herself six months from now, plunging all her uni savings into a front row concert ticket. Desperately waving a banner in James' face: "It's me, your Firecracker!" while he sang her song into hundreds of lovestruck eyes. Sneaking backstage and begging him to remember the night in the pick-up truck. James looking pitifully at her and clicking his fingers for security. Lily winding up in St. Mungo's muttering to herself about Dark Marks and Golden Snitches.

"No."

She said the word out loud as she sat up. It bounced off the wall between her room and Petunia's.

St. Mungo's. She could still smell the place—could still see Morfin Gaunt's burned face when she closed her eyes. The hissing dialect he spoke to himself. His abacus rattling across the floor. And the words he'd shouted: "HE SENT YOU! To finish… disgusting business—

MURDERERS!"

James Potter or no James Potter, the things she'd learned wouldn't evaporate with the haze of summer. Lily was in too deep to abandon what she'd started. In fact, who was to say DeMort wouldn't send his henchmen here after interrogating the Marauders? Her picture was in the tabloids, after all. The fans had already tracked her down.

She could hear Teresa's stern warning. Lily, you are seventeen. It's not your job to catch criminals. And… she was right, but she also couldn't sit here with cold, hard evidence in her closet and do nothing. Wasn't she putting James, the Marauders, and even her own parents in more danger if she stayed?

Lily got to her feet and switched on the light. Yes. It was all clear to her now. She knew there was no stopping what she was about to do, but it was only right that she told someone first. The next second she was across the hall, knocking quietly but furiously on the door opposite hers.

"Petunia. I need to— whoa."

The door, already slightly ajar, opened on the aftermath of a war. Posters, cracked CDs, and a sea of trashed Marauder paraphernalia littered the floor. Petunia's bed was unmade, her closet spilling out in a tidal wave that ended in scissors and a sad pile of former concert tees. The door bounced off a box that rattled like broken glass.

It was heartbreaking.

"You… you killed them," stated Lily.

Petunia blinked up from a bin bag half-full of boyband debris. "Sort of."

"No, you've fully massacred them," said Lily, stooping to pick up a quarter of Peter's ear. "Eww."

"Don't— oh, for goodness' sake, give it here." She snatched it and added it to the trash.

"I ought to take a picture of this," said Lily.

"Yes, I'm sure this is very amusing to you."

"Only for next time Mum says to ask you for cleaning tips."

"As if. You just want to show it to them."

"To who?"

"You know." She rolled her eyes and gestured lazily at the floor in general.

Lily felt the corners of her mouth perk up in a smile, and the next thing she knew, she was laughing. Oh god, she's going to hate me, she thought, but then she noticed that Petunia was fighting laughter as well. She bit her lip hard and shook her head.

"This is truly demented," said Petunia.

"Yes," said Lily. "Only…"

"What?"

"You still think there's a chance we'll see them again."

"I never said—" Petunia started, and then met Lily's eye for a long time. "I don't know."

Lily looked down, meeting the eye of a nearly-decapitated James plushie instead. "Oh god." She picked it up gingerly by its black yarn hair. "Can I have this?"

"Be my guest," said Petunia flatly. She tied up the bag she was filling. "Anyway, what did you want?"

"What?" Barely thirty seconds ago she'd been on a mission, but walking in on a mental breakdown had briefly stalled her resolve. "Oh. Right. I'm." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "I'm going to sneak out."

Petunia's brow knotted. "Lily, Mum said no."

"I know."

Another bout of prolonged eye contact. Seriously, had they ever looked at each other for this long? Had Petunia's eyes always had so much green in them?

"Do you actually reckon you can find them?" asked Petunia slowly.

"Maybe. I don't know. But I have to try, don't I?"

"No, you don't. You don't have to do anything."

"But… I want to." She knew she sounded childish and unconvincing, but she was done trying to debate her way out of this one. She'd already made up her mind.

Petunia's expression was guarded. Lily couldn't tell if she was angry, judgmental, or even a little worried.

"Anyway." Lily put her hand on the doorknob. "I thought I should tell you. I'll have my phone, but please don't tell Mum and Dad until tomorrow?"

Petunia folded her arms and looked down.

"Well… alright. Bye then."

"I'm going with you."

"What?" Lily stopped halfway out the door.

"Not for them," Petunia said. Seeming to realize the implied alternative, she hastily clarified. "I just know you're going to end up in some stupid, dangerous situation just like when the two of you went off to Knockturn," she said. "Plus, you're a legit celebrity now. Do you think you can go up against this fandom on your own?"

"That's… actually a really good point."

"So gracious of you to realize."

"Sorry."

She wasn't sure what she was apologizing for. Probably a number of things. Whatever the reason, she meant it.

"So when are we leaving?" asked Petunia.

"Er, I hadn't thought."

"Well, obviously we wait until Mum and Dad are asleep."

"Right."

"And we'll need to pack some things just in case."

"Yeah, I reckon so."

"Shall we meet in your room at one thirty?"

"I… sure. Right then. See you."

What a bizarre sequence of events, Lily thought as she returned to her room—but there was no time to question it. She felt the familiar thrill of adventure rising up in her veins, accompanied by an unshakable guilt. She had to suppress the image of Teresa preparing breakfast for four in the morning, and of Bob knocking on doors to no reply. It choked her up, but it wouldn't do any good to dwell on it now.

She wasn't getting a wink of sleep, that was for sure. So she started piling things on her bed. Luckily, she'd never really unpacked from the Knockturn expedition. That in itself had been a recycled packing job, so her rucksack was mostly still set with what she would've taken to the cottage. She added a few more essentials and tucked the Riddle file, carefully wrapped in a sweater, into the back compartment. She pulled out James' guitar and made a mental note to sneak downstairs for snacks and water.

A knock on the door caught her elbow-deep in the rucksack, last-minute packing a top James had complimented once.

She froze. "Petunia?"

A head peeked in. It was Bob.

In that moment, all natural instinct forsook her as she yanked the top out of the bag and threw it on the floor. There she stood, every trace of running away in the night clearly written on her face—and neatly packed in a bag right in front of her.

"Can I come in?" said Bob.

"Er, yeah. Of course."

It was too late to try to hide anything. She just stood there dumbly, fiddling with the zipper on her rucksack.

"What's all that for?" he inevitably asked.

The obvious lie occurred to her, at least. "I'm, er, finally unpacking this thing. Thought it was about time."

"Ah," said Bob. Was he buying it? If not, he wasn't letting on. "Er, listen. Lilybear."

She looked up at him, though he was determinedly studying everything on her shelf. He picked up her Beanie Baby lion and absently patted its mane. "I've just been thinking, and I reckon I was… er, hasty. To say some of those things. You oughtta know, it's not that I don't trust your judgement."

Lily nodded. "I know." God, was she going to cry again?

Bob cleared his throat. "And, well, forgive me for sounding like a big fat cliche here, but I think my Lilybear is growing up a lot faster than I'd like."

"Not that fast." She said the words quickly so they couldn't catch in her throat.

"You really like this… Potter… bloke, then?"

Lily made a face. "Somehow, yeah. I do."

"And you really chucked a bucket of water over his head?"

"Yeah. It was pretty brilliant."

"He must've done some real atonement after that, then."

"You have no idea."

Bob leaned against her doorway, still holding the Beanie Baby. "I stand by one thing—we can't have them back in the house. S'not appropriate."

Lily swallowed and nodded.

"But I won't… I won't keep you from him."

She hadn't quite been expecting that. "Really?"

"Course not. Just, don't go getting mixed up in anything too dangerous, alright? Let them handle their own business."

"I… I'll try."

Bob's jaw tensed. "Promise me, Lily."

Lily didn't know that she could. But, seeing her father's eyes full of worry with that tiny lion in his big, weather-worn hands, she felt her wave of determination ebb a little. The point of catching up to the Marauders was to keep them out of trouble, right? Even if she were willing to go to the ends of the earth for them, she wasn't about to let anyone jump.

"I promise."

Bob breathed in and out, reading the honesty on her face, and nodded as he replaced the lion on the shelf. "Right then. Well, get some sleep. Or…" his eyes lingered on her backpack "...finish… whatever it was… you were doing." There was something odd in the way he said those last words.

Lily's heart pounded. Was that a hint, or was she reading him entirely wrong? Surely not—she knew Bob better than anybody. She froze in complete astonishment as he made his exit.

"I love you, Dad," she blurted out.

"Love you, Lilybear."

The door clicked shut.


The next knock came at precisely the agreed-upon time, so quiet Lily wouldn't have heard it if she hadn't been leaning against the door for the last fifteen minutes.

She stepped back as Petunia tiptoed in with her luggage, making an impressively small amount of noise.

"Ready?" Petunia whispered.

Lily felt like she'd had about twelve espressos. She was shaky, oddly sweaty, and she kept checking the latches on James' guitar case to make sure it wasn't about to twing-twang-crash down the stairs and foil the whole plan.

"Ready," she said. "Wait, you're bringing that?" She'd just noticed the wheely suitcase at Petunia's feet. It was gold and ivory and honestly looked like it might glow in the dark.

Petunia scoffed. "This is not important enough to justify ruining my posture."

"It's going to make so much noise."

"Unlike the literal musical instrument you're bringing."

"Touche. I guess."

Lily picked up her things and gave her bedroom a quick once-over. You'll be back in no time, she had to keep reminding herself, though she wasn't sure why.

"So, what'll it be?" asked Petunia dully. "A rope out the window? Tunnel through the basement? Teleport through the fireplace?"

"I was thinking we'd just go out the front door. Quietly."

"Let's get going, then."

Petunia led the way down the stairs. She seemed to know exactly where to step to avoid the creaks—how and why she was so good at this, Lily decided not to ask. She held her breath and focused on following exactly in her footsteps. The guitar behaved itself too, and before long they'd made it to the bottom. Two little green orbs flashed in the dark, and Petunia sucked in a breath. "Christ sakes," she hissed. Harry was sitting on the bannister, watching them. Lily gave his forehead a pat as she went by.

The windows were inky black. Petunia bent down by the shoe rack, and it was only then that Lily realized she was also in sock feet. She mentally cursed their upbringing for making them such inefficient criminals.

Shoes on, the sisters shared a look. This is it, it seemed to say. No turning back. Lily put her hand on the doorknob and turned.

The porch light clicked on.

"Shit," Lily mouthed. She ushered Petunia out and cringed as she pulled the door shut. "The umbrella tree! Go, go!"

On the corner of the Evanses' lawn stood a weeping white pine with a shade cover so thick, it had been used for many a childhood fort. The tree's usage had been rife with politics and eventually taken over by the Charismatic Quartet, but they hurried toward it together now, Petunia battling with the weight of her suitcase and Lily glancing over her shoulder every few steps.

"Oh my god." Petunia dropped her suitcase, panting, as they slipped behind the tree's veil.

"How's your posture now?" Lily couldn't help but ask.

"Shut up. You should really put your shoes on properly."

She was crushing the heels of her favourite Converse. She knelt to tie them, still staring at the door. The porch light finally flicked off; so far, there was no sign of motion in the house. Thank god.

"So… where to now?" Petunia sat primly on her suitcase.

Lily reefed the last knot on her trainers. "I dunno, to be honest."

"Wait… this was your plan? Strand yourself in a dark street and just hope something came to you?"

"Essentially."

"How are we sisters?"

Lily laughed. "The eternal question."

"So…"

"Yeah." Lily sighed. "Uh, damn. I guess we put ourselves in their shoes? Try to figure out where they could've gone in the last… ten hours or so?"

"They didn't have any."

"What?"

"Shoes. They weren't wearing any when Dad chucked them out. James didn't even have a shirt on."

"Shit, you're right."

Petunia flicked her hair over her shoulder. She was on a roll, it seemed. "My guess is, wherever they ran off to, they didn't get very far."

Lily nodded. "The park, maybe. Did Dad already check the barn?"

"I dunno, but I saw him go out back with a baseball bat earlier."

"I'm going to say yes, then."

"Mmm."

They deliberated in silence. "Earlier"—Lily was careful with this one—"you said most of the fans were gone by the time they left, right?"

"Yes. They were. Why?"

"Nothing, it's just. I dunno. I'd hate to think of them getting kidnapped by a psycho tween and getting… auctioned off into marriage or something."

"Wow, excuse me?"

"Go on, tell me I'm exaggerating."

"You are. And you have an incredibly toxic view of fangirls, Lily."

Lily rolled her eyes. "Okay. Sorry. I guess the real culprit here is whoever blew the whistle on their whereabouts."

Petunia's lips twisted. Lily noticed her eyes drift toward the house across the street.

"Petunia?"

"I… I'm not sure, so don't freak out on me. But I think it could've been Vern."

Vernon Dursley. Of course. "That weasel! He gave us his word."

"I… may have ranted to him about them the other day. While you were at A and E."

Lily groaned. There were a lot of things threatening to spill out of her mouth right now, but most of them were pretty hypocritical, and absolutely none of them would be helpful. "Great. Well, I suppose we know where to start."

"Do we have to?" Petunia made a face.

"Yes. If Vern called in the mobs, he's probably been creeping like a gargoyle in his window this whole time. He would've seen everything that went down."

"Ugh."

"Plus, we were going to ask him for his surveillance tapes anyway. Remember?"

"Ugghhhhhhh."

"This just expedites things."

"Why?"

"Because I'm angry with him."

"Oh, of course."

"Come on." Lily hefted up her things.

"Lilyyyyyyyyy… It's like 2am. He'll be asleep."

"Vernon Dursley doesn't sleep."

Lily was already across the road by the time she heard Petunia's suitcase wheels grinding on the asphalt. She shot a warning look over her shoulder; Petunia responded with the most overburdened eye roll as she hoisted the case with her knee.

The girls melted into the shadows at the side of the Dursleys' house. It was odd how the outside looked so familiar, yet Lily could barely picture the inside these days. When was the last time she'd been in? Did they still have that odd portrait of an opera singer hanging in the kitchen? Was Vern's model train set still running laps around his bedroom? She had no idea.

"Do you reckon Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are home?" asked Lily.

"How should I know?" retorted Petunia automatically. When Lily raised her eyebrows to say 'Because you've spoken to him the other day, you dolt,' she cleared her throat and conceded. "He did mention they might be back in town this week."

Vernon's parents were workaholics to say the least - their jobs keeping them away from home more nights than not. Lily had always felt a little sorry for Vernon; though after the ordeal she'd just been through, she had to admit she envied his freedom.

"Which one's his window again?" Lily scanned the upper level of the house. "Wait. We're on the wrong side, aren't we?"

"No, he's taken over the master," said Petunia.

"How—" Lily stopped. "You know what, never mind."

But Petunia felt the need to clarify, apparently. "He texts me a lot, okay? I don't really reply."

"No judgement here." Lily turned her eyes to the ground. "Come on." She picked up a pebble about the size of a twenty pence piece. There was a bluish light flickering behind his curtains, but she couldn't see much beyond that.

"You're not going to—"

The stone pinged off of Vernon's window. Lily waited. She looked around for another. "Vernon!" she whisper-shouted. "Vernon Dursley, you great prune!"

She was expecting a chastising from Petunia—Who's the noisy one now?—but as she stood up to throw her next stone, another soared past her peripherals. It bounced off the window sill, but it wasn't a bad shot.

"Petunia," she said incredulously. "I am so proud."

"I've always wanted to try this," said Petunia.

"Same."

It became clear, however, that one of several things was true: either Vernon Dursley did sleep, or he had terrible hearing, or he was blatantly ignoring them. Five minutes later, there wasn't so much as a peep from inside.

"This is dumb," said Petunia, sitting down on her suitcase again. "Maybe we ought to look elsewhere."

"Not yet," said Lily, her eyes hungrily scanning the surroundings. She knew the master bedroom spanned a whole half of the upper storey, with a second window on the front of the house and a third round the back. Only a gated garden was in the way of that one. She narrowed in on the latch. So easily opened, she thought, followed by a moment's hesitation. I broke into a police station last week, she remembered, and brushed the guilt away.

"Lily, no. Why are you like this." Petunia's words followed her as she crept into the garden. The flowerbeds were completely overrun with weeds, the shrubs in dire need of pruning. The Dursleys evidently had a lot of priorities besides yard work. The cherry tree they'd planted one summer was practically trying to swallow the house now, its top branches brushing the very window Lily was so keen on reaching…

"I will not be climbing that." That was Petunia, a few steps behind her and simultaneously one step ahead.

"You don't have to," said Lily, already searching for her first foothold. She found it, and swung herself up onto a lower branch. "Just… spot me. Or something."

Petunia scoffed. "You mean catch you? If you fall? Fat chance."

"Did you just call me fat?"

"Well, if the shoe fits. Or doesn't, rather."

"Ha. Ha." Lily redirected her attention from Petunia's pinched, rain-soaked face to the tangle of branches that curled upward, glistening in the storm. She stood carefully, using the trunk for balance, and grabbed the next closest hold, which was rough and slippery. Rubbing one stinging palm against her jeans, she took a deep breath and then hoisted herself another metre or so, already scanning for the next branch.

No sooner had she found it than it gave way under her hand with a horrible snap.

Petunia squeaked, rushing forward as bark rained down into her hair. "Be careful, Lily! I don't think this is safe."

Lily, who had scrambled desperately to regain her balance and was now hunched over with a pounding heart, ignored her. She found a better handhold, climbed two more branches with ease, and now faced a reach that was just slightly too high to be comfortable in the inclement conditions. She stopped to consider. "Hmm, Petunia…"

"No," said Petunia, reading her thoughts immediately. "No way. Just come back down. We'll figure something else out."

"You're taller though, you could make it."

"No!"

"Fine, I'll try." Lily reached up, leaning disconcertingly over her foothold. Maybe if she could just...

"Stop, stop—YOU'RE GOING TO DIE, STOP!"

There was a scrabbling sound of trainers on wet bark. Lily glanced down to see Petunia hoisting herself up with the careful, starched poise of a ballerina. Within seconds, she was level with Lily. "If I die, it's your fault," Petunia said shortly.

Their gazes moved to the window, which now lay almost in reach. The light leaking out around its edges had a flickering quality that suggested a movie, or a video game. As they watched, a shadow passed across the gap and momentarily blocked its glow.

"Look at that, he's totally in there," Lily said indignantly. "Ignoring us. If we die, it's his fault."

"It's the middle of the night. He's not doing it on purpose."

"How do you know?"

"When's the last time Vernon ignored me in any capacity?" Petunia said dully.

Lily could not dispute this logic. "Can you make it?" she asked, nodding impatiently toward the branch that was just out of reach.

Petunia eyed the gap. She stretched up and grabbed hold with both hands, pulling it down to test its integrity. "Give me a boost?" she said, holding up her left foot and indicating that Lily should assist. Without missing a beat, Lily braced herself against the trunk so that her knees became a stepping stone.

There was a heavy grunt as Petunia's full weight pressed into her thigh, Adidas shoe leaving a wet, muddy patch on Lily's jeans as she heaved herself into a front hold and finally straddled the higher branch. This left her level with the upstairs window; if she were to crawl a little further out, she'd be able to knock.

"Yes!" said Lily. "Okay, now you just need to slide that way a bit and we're good!"

Petunia, who was slowly lowering herself into a fetal position, shook her head. "Need a second," she mumbled into reddish-brown tree bark.

"I'll do it then," Lily snapped. "Just give me a hand."

When she had recovered, Petunia reached down and Lily used the knobbly trunk to her advantage, crushing Petunia's thin, shaky wrist and stripping bark off with her feet as she strained every muscle in her body to heave herself to security.

Somehow, she made it. Both sisters clung to leafy branches, panting and gathering their wits. Lily felt as though she might have a hernia. Her eyes moved to the snippet of light in the window, which shone invitingly and made a pathway of the tapering branch.

"Okay," she breathed, and then began creeping forward, carefully maneuvering around Petunia and keeping her hands glued to the slippery bark. Her palms were raw and scratched, but still she clung for dear life; at this point, a thorn in her hand was just one more thing anchoring her to safety. Finally, blessedly, she was close enough to knock.

"Vernon!" she said in a voice amplified by adrenaline, banging her knuckles, and then her whole palm against the glass. "Open up!"

There was an indication of movement beyond the curtains, which jerked open to reveal Vernon Dursley's pale and bewildered face.

"Petunia!" Lily could tell what he was saying, even though she couldn't hear a thing. His mouth formed the word soundlessly, his eyes boring straight through Lily to where her sister was crouched on the branch, drenched and shivering. Frantically, Vernon undid a series of complicated latches and something that made a pneumatic hissing sound as the window swung open. "Petunia! Don't panic, I've got you. I repeat, do not panic!"

Lily didn't care that Vernon's attention was diverted, because her eye had picked up more movement beyond the drapes. She leaned forward as far as she dared, straining to see inside as some nameless intuition stirred in her gut.

While Vernon leaned out in anguish, reaching hopelessly for the apple of his eye, and Petunia squealed at him to back off, the curtain ripped open and blinded Lily with a noxious amount of computer blue light. Another figure stood framed in the window.

Grinning disbelievingly at her with a video game controller sliding out of his hand was a still-shirtless James Potter.


A/N: TEN. YEARS.

It's been ten years since we started this dumb thing. (Actually, eleven in June.)

And we've officially spent more than half of that time not writing it.

Rest assured that we have been stewing in that guilt for the last five years, and are now well-marinated slabs of pure shame and regret. Almost all of our FaceTime sessions have at some point devolved into "So hey, when are we updating Starstruck?" followed by anguished resolutions that "WE HAVE TO FINISH IT. WE'RE SO CLOSE."

That said, life happens. We also stranded ourselves on the most sluggish, uneventful, and conflict-driven chapter of the lot, which was a terrible mistake. Despite having planned it back in 2010, I don't think either of us had fully brained out how we were going to navigate the Bob-and-Teresa roadblock until now. We passed the parental confrontation scenes back and forth like potatoes that were not only on fire but also rotten and probably poisoned. Is this why most authors write parents out of their stories?

Regardless, we have returned! And are determined to repent for the mistakes of our past! We have five(?) chapters left, and with some pants-kicking we think we can knock them out in less than a decade.

Honestly, we just want to apologize and to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for continuing to support Starstruck through all this nonsense. We did periodically check reviews and were consistently floored that anyone was still reading, re-reading, or—most of all—willing to give us comments. If you're here in 2021, you did it. You officially qualify for Most Committed Readers of All Time. Congratulations. Have a Tuesday Hat.

See you in 2026! (Haha… too soon?)

Sinseerlie,

Your favourite:
-Nasties
-Swines
-Useless Paperclips
-Lousy Updaters
-Cruel Women

Liz and Sam

(SevenScribbles)