Summary: As the Voldemort War rages outside the castle, long standing prejudices begin to seep their way into Hogwarts. For a Muggle-born student, everyday life has become significantly more challenging as Lily Evans knows too well. And her new partnership with one James Potter isn't exactly making things easier, especially when she discovers he isn't quite the arrogant toerag she once thought he was.
Warnings: dark themes (racism, hazing, slight non-con), sexual situations
I. Soft Options
Something was different about Hogwarts this year. Not long after she sat for the start of term feast, Lily realized that these changes had happened. People were absent, people like her—Muggle-borns. Some had elected not to return—she'd received a letter from her friend, Margaret Birkett, saying as much—but others, she knew, hadn't been so fortunate. There'd been a number of deaths over the summer holidays, many of them Muggles and even more of them wizards and witches hailing from Muggle families. Despite the urge to do to otherwise for her own sake, Lily couldn't ignore those names in the Prophet, couldn't help but wonder if someone wouldn't be reading her own name in there one day.
While her peers were eagerly greeting one another as the feast drew to a close, Lily took the opportunity to slip up to Gryffindor Tower fairly unnoticed. Her stomach was queasy, making dinner nearly painful. She'd managed to eat a bit of mash and roast lamb, but for the most part she nursed a glass of water. Jane Doyle, her long time roommate and confidant, had taken notice but hadn't bothered to ask her what was wrong, for which Lily was grateful. She hadn't wanted to have to explain that a Death Eater attack took place not a week before September 1st in the town neighboring her own.
When she reached the Sixth Year Gryffindor Girls dormitory, it pleased Lily to see that none of her roommates were in. Her things lay neatly by her bed—her trunk at the foot, her cloak hanging on a post, and her cat, Diana, sleeping soundly on her pillow. Unpacking seemed like such a daunting task, so she decided to take care of it after a restful night's sleep.
Taking out the bare necessities, she slipped out of her uniform, discarding it in a heap at her feet, and put on her yellow pajamas. A wave of tiredness washed over her. Lily glanced at the clock on the wall—8:51, hardly a suitable bedtime for a sixteen year old girl. It had been a trying day though, more so than usual due to all the rushing about at the station platform, the long meetings on the Express, and that arrogant toe-rag James Potter. If someone told her she could be rid of him tomorrow, it still wouldn't be soon enough.
Lily slid in to bed, much to Diana's annoyance, and cast Accio on a few objects that rested at the top of her trunk. Two were photographs—Muggle photographs that marked her as different. One contained a picture of herself with her parents and Petunia taken at her grandmother's house the previous year. The other captured her and a young man with tidy, sandy blonde hair standing on the beach.
The young man was David, her boyfriend of just one month, who lived in her neighborhood. He was a perfectly normal boy, so perfectly normal, in fact, that he'd received the Petunia Evans seal of approval.
"And who knows, perhaps some of his normalcy will be able to fix you," Petunia had said with such sisterly affection the day she'd discovered Lily was seeing him.
It was as if she were broken, or diseased, or less than human in Petunia's eyes, and it angered Lily on levels that she struggled to understand. Then again, that frustration hadn't gone away with one long train ride to Hogwarts like she had thought it might; she didn't miss the stares or sneers or curses whispered under the breathes of some of her peers. She was "the other" at Hogwarts too.
She hated the thought of pitying herself and hated even more the idea of people thinking she pitied herself. It just frustrated her. Because of war, she had been made an outcast in a world that she was supposed to finally fit in. Lily could never be fully Muggle nor could she be fully Witch. So, she was left to straddle a dangerous line between the two.
Just as Lily opened the third object that she had levitated from her trunk—her N.E.W.T. Charms text—she noticed an owl flying through the window and landing on her bedside table. The owl was not unfamiliar to her; she'd been well acquainted with Athene since fourth year when the Toe-rag started sending professions of love via his Boreal Owl. Unlike her and Potter, Lily and Athene got along perfectly and seemed to share a mutual exasperation for that arrogant berk.
"Have a nice summer, Athene?"
The owl hooted and stuck out her leg where a bit of parchment had been tied. Lily had never rejected a letter from the bird; she was only doing her duty, after all. Potter's first letter to her this school year consisted of nothing more than: Hogsmeade?
Lily crawled across her bed to her trunk to retrieve her quill and ink pot, just as Jane and one of their other roommates, Annalise Crouch, walked in. Lily was a bit disappointed to find that Annalise was still as perfect as she had ever been, what with her blemish-free skin and perfect shampoo commercial hair. It unnerved her how someone could be so beautiful and so terribly dimwitted at the same time.
"Where's Mary?" Lily asked, finally locating the items in her trunk and setting herself back against her pillows.
"Up re-christening the Astronomy Tower with Jack," Jane explained. "What's that you got there?"
Lily held up the letter. "Three guesses."
Jane craned her neck to catch a glimpse of Athene. "Already?"
"Afraid so. Though he's taken a more minimalist approach this year."
"Good because he sure as hell was no Longfellow. Lupin must have been in on that one; there is no way Potter could have made all those historical allusions on his own," Jane said.
Lily remembered the poem as if she'd received it yesterday. It was lengthy and very much vomit- inducing in its professions. Potter had a certain skill for writing, she would admit; it just required a good deal of time sifting through the rubbish to see it. And he wasn't daft by any means that was for certain. Potter was, in fact, probably rather well read, and she doubted he would have needed Remus' help to write what he'd written.
"You should give him more credit. He's brilliant. He just doesn't use his intelligence for anything worthwhile," Lily countered.
Annalise nearly did a double take. "Did you catch fever over the summer and that scrambled your brains? Do you fancy James now? Because if you do, I need to owl everyone I've ever known right this minute."
"Me and Potter? Don't make me gag. All I'm saying is that he does idiotic things, but he's no idiot. There's a difference."
Annalise seemed perfectly content to leave things at that, albeit slightly disappointed to be fresh out of gossip. Jane said no more either, giving Lily the opportunity to pen her reply to Potter. She'd decided firmly on: Not even if you put me under the Imperius, followed promptly by a heart and smiley face. Pleased, she fastened her reply to Athene's leg and the owl flew off.
"So," Annalise began, sitting on her bed, "Black was checking me out at dinner tonight. I'm pretty sure I've got a chance with him this year, witches."
Lily resisted a snort. Annalise only had a chance with Black if she were about three inches taller, had a prick, and was named Remus Lupin. That relationship had been kept under lock and key for about a year now, but Lily had been privy to it because of her friendship with Remus. She was happy for the pair in all honesty, though she wasn't sure what Remus saw in him.
"Listen, ladies, I don't mean to be a downer, but I heard Mary say something about Wendy Millege," Jane said, sobering the mood considerably. "You know, that little Hufflepuff…"
The little Hufflepuff who was reported missing two weeks ago; yes, Lily knew well who she was referring to. She'd given Wendy a bit of Charms tutoring the year before. Wendy was Muggle-born, and apparently her parents had had a nasty run with the Lestranges at Diagon Alley. She had disappeared without a trace, not even so much as a hair ribbon left behind. It didn't take a genius to figure out what happened to her.
"Yeah, we know," Annalise said, her perky mood suddenly quashed.
"Mary's father—he works for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement—well, he told her that they've found a body."
Annalise clutched her hand at her chest. "Bless Merlin."
"It was discovered in pieces…"
Lily brought her hand to her mouth, resisting the urge to lose the small amount of dinner she'd managed to eat. So just killing twelve-year-olds wasn't enough for those people who called themselves Death Eaters? They now had to defile their victims as well? What sort of twisted world was she living in?
"I didn't mean to give you nightmares or anything, but I just thought you should know, especially you, Lily, since you knew her well," Jane added softly.
Nodding her thanks, Lily slipped down into bed. She'd been tired before, but she wondered if sleep would ever come to her now. Her dreams would be plagued by nightmares, by bits and pieces of a bright little girl who didn't deserve what had happened to her. And it all came down to her blood? Lily found herself bewildered by the idea.
As she suspected, sleep hadn't come easily to her the previous night and left her exhausted all morning. As it happened, however, her dreams weren't about Wendy Millege—but about herself being hunted down by Death Eaters. She'd woken up with a shout at 5 o'clock, startling the other girls. As she wasn't able to get back to sleep, she went for a jog on the grounds before breakfast.
Despite seeing some of her favorite dishes before her at breakfast and lunch, Lily's appetite had disappeared entirely. From across the table, Annalise oh-so-tactfully asked her if she'd developed an eating disorder over the summer. That was when Lily excused herself and headed towards Muggle Studies.
No one understood why she signed up for Muggle Studies; after all, she was a Muggle-born and surely would already know everything there was to be taught. It wasn't a popular class by any means. There were no exciting charms to be learned or complex transfigurations to be performed. And lately, enrollment had dwindled even further due to the fact that taking Muggle Studies would mark a person as a Muggle sympathizer. If she were the only person in the class, she wouldn't be surprised.
Lily had taken Muggle Studies for one simple reason—she wanted to understand why some wizards hated her kind. She hadn't gotten anti-Muggle propaganda in the class of course, but it had provided an invaluable insight over the past few years regarding wizarding opinion towards people like her and her family.
She hoped that in N.E.W.T. Muggle Studies they would discuss the current war and the source of all the contention now that the students were old enough to speak about those kinds of things in full. Lily prayed to God that her own theory would be easily be disproven, that people weren't killing simply out of hate. Surely there had to be a real reason.
Of course, a hundred possibilities for the hate came to mind every time she stopped to consider them. All of which left her unbearably frustrated after a moment of deliberation. Her reasons were often filled with illogical explanations, biased principles, and were simply fundamentally weak. What was her only alternative though? Believe that she was hated only because of the blood in her veins? Believe that wizards didn't care about who she was as a person or what she could do as a witch? No, she'd much rather continue searching blindly for the excuse that best fit this burning question in her mind.
Walking into the classroom and sitting down, Lily was happy to see a few other familiar faces—Ian Callaghan, Divyana Ghazali, and Kate Fisher. All of them had started Muggle Studies with her in third year and all of them came from Muggle or mixed families. She wasn't surprised that there were no pure-bloods among them.
The voice was deep and smooth. And obnoxious, Lily realized a second later when her brain was able to fully process it. She had spoken too soon. When she looked up, she found the Toe-rag standing in front of the chair next to her, setting his things down.
"Hope you don't mind if I sit next to you," he said with a wink.
Lily had long since come to realize that she never had a choice when it came to James Potter. He would do as he wanted and everyone else be damned. Of course she minded that he sat next to her; the mere idea of it was disastrous. But Potter wouldn't care, so she didn't even bother wasting her breath in protest. After six years of bickering back and forth with him, she had learned to pick her battles.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"What does it look like?"
"So why are you taking Muggle Studies then? You're always joined at Black's hip, and I know for a fact that he has Divination right now since I talked to Remus this morning."
"Well, I was going to take Divination, but apparently Professor Brahe had other ideas. Something about a couple of pranks that we pulled on her last year, and how we're not good for each other. Whatever that means. So, McGonagall pulled me aside and said that I had to either take Arithmancy or Muggle Studies as my other subject this year."
"And you chose Muggle Studies because you knew I've been taking the class since third year," she concluded.
"Actually, I had no idea that you were going to be in this class. That's just an added bonus," he answered, slipping her a smooth smile. "I took Muggle Studies because my only other alternative was Arithmancy, and who in their right minds wouldn't make the same choice?"
"Severus is taking Arithmancy."
"Yeah, well he would, wouldn't he?" James sneered. "Stupid git. Some of us have social lives and Quidditch to attend to. Only thing he has is his little potions book and his hand to keep him com—"
Lily immediately drew her wand and directed towards James' crotch, her patience wearing significantly thin. "Another word, Potter, and I'll permanently remove your bits."
"Don't know about removing them, love, but I do know something that you cou—"
"Enough!" she shrieked, drawing the attention of the rest of the class.
Lily was absolutely seething. Half the girls in this damn school thought of this…bastard as boyfriend material? What idiots. Complete fools. And there he was smirking at her as if he was proud of the fact that he made her hot. No, not hot. God, James Potter would never make her hot. He was proud that he could ruffle her feathers. Yes, that was it. That was a far better—truer—way of putting it.
She glared at him. "Don't talk to me."
"I wasn't the one shouting, making a spectacle of myself," he whispered.
Lily turned in her seat properly and looked straight ahead, deciding that it was far better if she just ignore him until class started. Potter, however, began scribbling things on his parchment such as "James and Lily Potter" and "Lily loves James" as well as a few more lewd things that made Lily want to gag.
"I can't believe you think acting out and being a complete idiot is going to make me like you," she muttered.
"Stop being so uptight, Evans," he whispered back.
Anger licked her insides upon hearing that word. Uptight? It wasn't as if she wanted to be. She would rather be a carefree sixteen year old girl who hung out with her friends and flirted with cute boys. She wanted go to the Muggle cinema or shopping mall without having to worry whether that would be the day the Death Eaters would decide to stage another attack and bring the building, along with everyone in it, crashing down. Not that perfect, pure-blood James Potter would ever understand what it was like to be living in constant fear for his and his family's life. No, he would ever have a reason to be uptight.
But she couldn't very well explain all of that to him. She could barely tolerate him, and it infuriated her even more to have him, Potter, who knew nothing about her, hit upon something so delicate. It would be better to lie than give him the satisfaction of knowing what that word did to her.
"I am not uptight."
"All I'm saying is that there are plenty of other birds who would die to go on a Hogsmeade date with yours truly."
"'Plenty of other birds' are apparently brain dead."
"What will it hurt? Come on, Lily. Go with me on the first Hogsmeade trip. I'll make it worth your while," he said, slipping his hand across the table to take hers.
She slapped it away before he had the chance to connect. "I'm not interested in you making it worth my while—whatever sort of innuendo that's supposed to be. In fact, I'm not interested in you at all. And I never will be. Ever."
Just as Potter was about to open his mouth to reply, the professor walked into the room. Unless Professor Jensen got into a horrible Polyjuice accident, it seemed like they would have a new instructor this year. This did not disappoint Lily, as she never particularly cared for the former professor's handling of the class. You can only listen to so many lectures on the wonders of "eckeltricity" before you want to scratch your eyes out with a quill.
"Good afternoon, class! I'm Professor Dirwint, and I'll be filling in for Professor Jensen this year."
He spoke for some time about expectations and things that Lily was only paying half attention to. Meanwhile she tried her best to ignore Potter's further parchment scribblings, which presently included crude drawings. If she didn't know better, she would guess that he was an eight year old child who had drunk an Aging Potion.
"I think you will find that my teaching methods are a little different from Professor Jensen's," Professor Dirwint continued. "I don't believe that writing essays that simply require you to regurgitate information is at all productive. In fact, I dare say it's a great disservice to you.
"That is why we will be working on a yearlong project in pairs, in which you will be writing me several personal reflection papers on a topic that is of your choosing. It is my fondest hope that you will be able to learn more about Muggle life through this project and become more well-rounded individuals because of it. Presently, I will be putting you into groups and you will be able to discuss with your partner what you would like to work on for the year. You can then set up an appointment to see me to approve your project, and we will discuss your topic further."
While she waited for her name to be called and her partner announced, Lily began to think of what might be a suitable topic for her project. There were the obvious choices, but writing reflections about those sorts of things might become too personal. Putting all of her fears and insecurities to parchment might make them far realer than she wanted.
She'd always been interested in the ways Wizards incorporated Muggle things into their lives. Then again, exploring the way in which the Ministry of Magic fit in with the Muggle Ministry might also provide for an interesting project, especially given the state of the Wizarding world. More importantly, those two topics were safe.
Lily returned her attention to the professor when her name was called. "Sir."
"You'll be working with Mister Potter. You're my only Gryffindors, and I think that given your diverse backgrounds, you'll be able to come up with some very interesting perspectives on Muggle and Wizard relations."
Her blood ran cold in her veins and an uneasiness formed in her stomach. She and Potter—partners? She and Potter, partners for a year. But partnership required cooperation. She didn't think that she was physically capable of cooperating with him. She didn't think she was physically capable of doing anything with him.
Turning towards Potter, Lily felt as if she were confronting her own death sentence. He, however, couldn't have looked more pleased and blew her a kiss. A sudden urge strangle the life right out of him seized her.
After the final set of partners were called out, the professor dismissed the class, reminding them to make an appointment to see him soon. Lily quickly gathered up her things in hopes of avoiding having to speak to Potter; however, he was already blocking her path to the aisle when she stood to leave.
"Out of my way."
"Why are you so upset about this, Evans? It's just a stupid project. Am I really that insufferable?" he asked, and Lily thought for a moment that he might be genuinely concerned about her answer.
She wanted to reply: Yes, you are that insufferable, and you have this way of knowing exactly how to get under my skin and mess me up inside.
She couldn't very well do that though. It was blatantly hurtful, and while Potter had gone out of his way to annoy the hell out of her (intentionally or otherwise) for the past six years, he'd never really said anything that he knew would really upset her. It would be prudent of her to return the favor.
"I have nothing against you. We just can't work together. We'll end up killing each other or something," she said, hoping that would placate him.
"Well we're going to have to resist the urge then. You heard Dirwint: no switching partners."
The moment that Lily thought her only saving grace would be to change partners, Dirwint had added in that little caveat. As much as she hated the thought of telling Potter that he was right, he was right. They were stuck with each other and would have to learn how to get along.
"We're going to have to set some rules in place, you know that, right?" she asked wearily.
"Yes, you know those things that place restrictions on people for their own safety and benefit? The things that you have a mind to completely disregard? Rules?"
"You're being unreasonable. I'm not a child."
"Rule number one," she began, shoving past him and heading for the corridor, "you may not ask me out. You may not ask anyone to ask me out for you. You may not even think about asking me out. If you do, you forfeit your right to your bollocks for a week."
He groaned behind her. "You know if you gave me a chance, you might actually fancy me."
"Look," she said sternly, facing him, "I don't fancy you, and I'm never going to fancy you, Potter. Some girls think you're the greatest thing to ever grace this planet, but I'm not one of them. You're not my type. And I'd really appreciate it if you backed off because I'm seeing someone right now."
He looked momentarily dumbfounded, and silencing James Potter was no easy task. He must have been taking into consideration what she said for once. Maybe they could get along for the sake of the project. It was, at the very least, progress.
"You're seeing someone?"
Lily threw her arms up in defeat. So much for that theory. She continued to walk briskly down the corridor and could hear Potter's heavy footsteps behind her. Lily was not going to talk to him any further on the matter.
"Who are you seeing, Evans?"
"No one you know," she spat.
"A Muggle then?" he said, surprised.
That did halt her progress, that horrid tone in his voice. "Yes, a Muggle. I'm sure that really pisses you off, doesn't it, you entitled berk? A Muggle dating your precious Lily Evans. You, James Potter, pure-blood big-man-at-Hogwarts, denied by a sweet Muggle boy who goes to public school and works at a grocery."
Potter was startled and probably would have been less so if she'd just slapped him across the face. This was why she couldn't stand him. One comment, one word, a simple change in intonation of his voice, and she had been reduced to shouting her insecurities to him and anyone else in listening distance.
"I'm sorry, Lily," he said, soberly. "I think you must have misunderstood. I didn't mean it in any certain way. I just…I was surprised. Not because he was a Muggle but because it's long distance. It would just be easier—"
"Nothing is easy, Potter. Not in these times," she replied, her voice quiet and even. "Let's just drop it."
"Right," he said, his own voice solemn. "Well I had an idea for our project topic, if you want to hear it."
They resumed walking, Lily trying to calm herself after her earlier explosion. If Potter was willing to let things go so easily and be productive all at the same time, she shouldn't dismiss the opportunity no matter how badly she wanted to be free of him.
"What is it?"
"Electricity. Brilliant, eh? Pete's cousin did a project on electricity once and she got the top mark in the class."
Lily rolled her eyes. "That was with Jenson, Potter."
"Yeah, well Muggle Studies professors all the same, aren't they? They go completely mental over electricity. Trust me, Evans. Electricity."
"Electricity?" Professor Dirwint said with a chuckle. "Dear boy, you'll never be able to get a whole project out of that topic."
Lily looked at Potter smugly, as if to tell him that she had known it was a horrible idea all along, which she had. Unfortunately Potter was so persistent about electricity that they hadn't come up with a back-up topic, despite her insistence.
"Well, Professor, do you have any suggestions for us?" Lily asked.
"I must admit that when I paired the two of you up, I was hoping that you might decide on your own to do a broad comparison of the similarities and differences between Wizarding culture and Muggle culture. It seems the most logical, given that Mister Potter comes from a long line of pure-blood wizards and you, Miss Evans, are from a Muggle family. I think it would lend itself especially well to your reflection essays."
Why hadn't she thought of that before? No doubt the differences between how she and Potter were raised led to some of their differences. Who knew, perhaps being an arrogant, bullying toerag was just something pure-blood wizards inherited genetically. Black certainly suffered from it as well.
"That sounds like a very interesting topic, Professor. Don't you think, Potter?"
She looked at him warningly, all but telling him that if he didn't agree she'd make good on the "hex your bits of permanently" threat from days ago. Potter, still looking defeated from Dirwint's disapproval of his topic, nodded complacently.
"Sounds brilliant," he said, his lack of enthusiasm painfully apparent.
"Well, I think that settles it then," Dirwint said. "Good luck to you both, and if you need any help or a push in the right direction, don't hesitate to come see me here or after class."