Lily expected the sparkles to be gold dust enhanced with a feather-light spell to wring extra Galleons out of a collector of the unusual, but when she rubbed her thumb across her fingers all she felt was skin. She cupped sparkles in her hand and pressed against the side of the jar: nothing but clay.
And a tickling sensation.
Could it be pixie dust? She swirled her fingers around. Instead of dissipating, glittery sparkles covered her hand and forearm like an opera glove. Too bad she didn't like opera, unless Phantom of the Opera counted.
"Why is Miss Lily laughing?"
"Because I'm silly." She lifted her hand to display her sparkly glove, but it had vanished. Our work here is done. For some reason, that thought was funny too.
Kreacher peered into the jar. "What was you seeing, miss?"
His brow furled. "They is not there anymore."
"Maybe they're shy. I'll stir them up."
Kreacher pulled the jar out of reach. "Miss Lily has stirred enough."
"You're cutting me off?" They sounded like a barman and a drunk. Hilarious.
"And Kreacher is telling your parents."
Lily's giggles stopped. "Yes! Do that. Take me to them right now."
He blinked. "Kreacher was not told - -"
"Doesn't matter. House-elves can always find their masters because they're bound by magic. You told me that when I was little and afraid Dark wizards would kidnap my daddy and take him someplace Unplottable." She beamed. "Aren't you impressed I remembered?"
"Miss Lily always has good memory when it suits her." Kreacher sighed. "Master Harry will not approve."
"I'll make him understand."
"Is not the same." Kreacher sighed again and closed his eyes. A few seconds later, he held out his hand. The instant her fingers clasped his, he tightened his grip and they Disapparated.
Lily's stomach dropped like she was on a Muggle carnival ride- -a delight compared to the toothpaste squeezed through a tube experience of wizard Apparation. The ride through darkness lasted a few breathless heartbeats, and then they were standing on a penthouse terrace.
She took in the view of the London Eye in the distance and the glittering lights below. "You couldn't Apparate inside the flat?"
"Security wards might have hurt Miss Lily." Kreacher cleared his throat. "And they know we is here."
"How?" Lily discovered the answer as she turned from the panorama of London to the wall of glass and the three people striding across the lounge toward them.
The wall slid apart.
"Hello, what a gorgeous place you have," Lily told Blaise. "May we come in?"
"Lily," her mum said sharply.
"Oh, right, beg pardon. Blaise, this is our dear friend, Kreacher. Kreacher, this is my boss, Blaise Zabini."
"Pleased to meet sir," Kreacher said, sounding the opposite.
"Likewise." Blaise's smile was a flash of white that matched his crisply pressed shirt. "Do come in."
Kreacher tugged his hand free. "Kreacher cannot, Miss Lily," he whispered. "This is a Slytherin place." He shuddered. "Kreacher must return home."
"But Blaise is a nice . . . ." Lily's voice trailed away. She was talking to air. She looked at her dad. "What's going on?"
He said, "You shouldn't have come here."
Lily's bubbly, everything-will-work-out-if-I-just-tell-them-how-much-this-means-to-me feeling had vanished with Kreacher. She crossed her arms. "Why not?"
Her mum said, "Kreacher promised long ago not to associate with Slytherins. He did it to show us he could be trusted."
"Promised or vowed?" The vows of house-elves were as binding and painful to break as wizard handshakes - -more painful if an elf felt compelled to inflict additional self-punishment.
"Promised," her dad said.
"Forever?" she asked.
Her parents didn't answer.
Lily said, "I have Slytherin friends. Does that mean when I move out Kreacher can't visit me? That's unfair."
"We'll discuss it later," her dad said firmly. "This isn't the time or place."
"Funny, you talked about me when I wasn't around."
"Lily Luna!" Her mum's quelling tone was a reminder that Potters didn't argue in public.
Lily didn't care about breaking a family rule. She was worried about Kreacher. "I'm sorry," she told Blaise, who seemed unruffled by the drama. "I have to go."
The house was dark and silent when she stepped into the entry. Lily said, "Lumos" and used wand light to make her way downstairs. The kitchen was empty; the door to Kreacher's den locked.
"It's Lily. Let me in."
She heard a faint click and turned the handle.
Kreacher sat hunched in a chair, staring at the floor covered with clay shards.
Lily cast a mending charm. The jar remained in pieces. "Did you block my spell?" she asked.
"Kreacher must punish himself for taking Miss Lily to a Slytherin place."
"Tosh." She flicked her wand in a Verrocharm tosweep the shards into a pile and then knelt beside Kreacher. "The building isn't Slytherins-only, and even if it is, Blaise isn't the kind of Slytherin my parents meant. He didn't fight in the war. He never tried to hurt anyone."
Kreacher slumped further into his chair. "A promise is a promise."
"Not if it's stupid. They'll release you."
"Miss Lily has too much hope."
"From the jar, you mean? That left when you did. I'm as sober as Uncle Percy, I swear." She silently chanted a spell to make the room's illumination orbs glow. "I don't need false hope to believe things won't stay bleak and dark. I know they'll change- -I'll make them change."
Kreacher's eyes shimmered. "Master Regulus said such things."
"And he was right."
"At terrible cost."
Lily knew the story well. Once, she'd even held the counterfeit locket Kreacher had exchanged for Voldemort's Horcrux. It had felt like holding a sacred relic.
"This is different," she said. "You'll see."
Kreacher turned his gaze to the pile of shards. They reassembled into a jar.
Lily took that as a positive sign. "How long do you think we'll have to wait before my parents come home?"
Kreacher tilted his head as if listening. "Not long."
She heard a faint buzzing sound.
"They is on the front stoop," Kreacher said.
That explained how he always knew they were home when family never used the doorbell. She'd told James and Albus they were all psychically connected.
Lily heard the creaks of footsteps. Mum and Dad would be downstairs soon. She asked, "How fast can you make tea?"
They were perched on a bench at the table, glass teapot between them, when her mum and dad stepped into the kitchen.
"Red Flower Celebration Tea," her mum said, looking at the rose with green tea leaves "blooming" in the teapot. "What are you two celebrating?"
Lily lifted her cup so her parents could see that it was empty. "Nothing yet."
Her dad walked around the table and sat next to her. "I can't celebrate my daughter working for Blaise Zabini."
He wasn't ordering her not to. "Okay."
"Okay?" Her dad's eyebrows shot upward. "You're giving up modelling?"
"She's okay about you not celebrating, Harry," Mum said.
Lily poured herself a cup of tea and added lemon.
"Is that right?" her dad asked. "You don't care what I think?"
She hesitated to answer.
"That isn't what Lily meant," Mum said. "It's obvious that we talked to Blaise and your . . . suspicions . . . were unfounded." She smiled a little. "He showed no sign of fancying me."
"It was a reasonable concern," Dad muttered. He cleared his throat. "Still. Blaise Zabini associates with members of the Knights of Walpurgis."
Lily said, "Scorpius Malfoy is related to one. You told Uncle Ron not to hold it against him."
Her dad's face reddened. "It's easier to be objective with a niece than a daughter."
"Oh, Harry," Mum said softly.
Lily said, "You have to try. Not just for me, but for Kreacher."
"Sweetheart, that isn't the issue we're discussing." Mum's tone had firmed.
"Yes, it is." Lily looked at her dad. "You have to stop being prejudiced against Slytherins."
"It isn't prejudice. It's caution," Dad said. "Based on reason and experience."
"Kreacher betrayed his master. Kreacher lied," Kreacher hung his head. "Only with the promise can Kreacher be trusted."
"That isn't true," Lily said.
Her parents looked stricken, yet didn't deny it.
Lily cried, "I can't believe you! After everything he's done for us." She Disapparated.
Her room was a haven, decorated in black and white with splashes of hot pink. When her door was shut, she could block out the world-or at least pretend it was possible. Not today. Lily sat on the window seat and picked at the faux fur of a hot pink throw pillow. A short while later she heard a knock. "Door's open."
The faint click-click of heels striking the mahogany floor identified her visitor. Lily continued to stare out the window. "Where's Dad?"
"With Kreacher." Her mum sat on the window seat.
Lily tried to give her the silent treatment. She didn't last long. "Is Dad going to release Kreacher from the promise?"
"Not entirely." Mum lifted a hand when Lily opened her mouth. "Given the chance, the Knights of Walpurgis would use Kreacher against our family. The promise protects him from becoming a target, protects us all."
Lily focused on what was important. "Knights of Walpurgis. Not every Slytherin."
"Not Blaise Zabini," Mum said dryly.
"Or my schoolmates." Lily didn't have many Slytherin friends, but she had a few, and might even go to Hogsmeade with a certain Slytherin Chaser next term if he asked nicely. "Thanks."
"When you thank your father, consider adding an apology. He's always tried to be kind and respectful to Kreacher."
So had her mother. "Sorry, Mum."
Her mum's expression remained solemn. "Don't apologise to me. I'm the one who insisted Kreacher make the original promise. It was the only way I could live with him after what happened to Sirius . . . and my brother."
Lily's Uncle Fred died in the Battle of Hogwarts. No one knew for certain whose spell caused the wall to collapse, but almost everyone in the family believed it was Bellatrix Lestrange, the Death Eater who had murdered the "master" Kreacher betrayed: Sirius Black.
"Kreacher minded us while you were working," Lily said. "You trusted him to keep us safe."
Because of the promise.
"I don't need any promises to trust him," Lily said.
"I know, and I'm glad."
Glad somebody trusted Kreacher unconditionally? That made two of them. Lily waited for her mum to leave. Finally, she said, "I'd like to be alone, please."
"We still have things to talk about."
"Later," Lily said.
"All right." Her mum stood. "But while you're sitting there, consider this. Your choices don't just affect you. They impact everyone. Family. Friends. People who see your image in a shop or magazines." She walked to the door and paused. "Your father and I will support whatever decision you make. All we ask is that you be sure it's the right one."
Lily hurled the fuzzy pillow at the back of the door. How could anyone be completely sure a decision was the right one? And how was sitting on her arse considering going to help anything? She Apparated to Kreacher's room.
He stood by the Pandora jar, tilting it to peer into the depths.
"See any sparkles?" Lily asked.
Kreacher righted the jar. "They has not returned."
"We don't need them," Lily said. "You don't have to avoid Slytherins anymore- -the majority, anyway."
"Miss Lily is good to Kreacher."
"You're kind to me." Lily smoothed the wrinkled skirt of her dress. "I almost hate to ask for another favour."
Kreacher gave a raspy chuckle. He knew her too well.
"I need to talk to Blaise Zabini," she said. "Will you take me? I'd try to Apparate, but I was under the influence earlier, and I'm not sure where I'd end up." She looked down and grimaced. "Probably the same place I lost my shoes."
"Shoes is not lost." Court pumps appeared on the floorboards. "Miss Lily left shoes by the umbrella stand."
When she'd come home from the Beauty Test. Merlin, she'd run around barefoot ever since! The soles of her feet were dusty.
Suddenly, the dust disappeared.
She slipped on the pumps. "Thank you."
Kreacher held out his arm. "Kreacher will always help."
Lily found Blaise reclining in an elegantly curved lounge chair on his terrace. The muted glow of enchanted lanterns cast enough light for visibility without lessening the impact of the dazzling city view.
"I had a feeling you'd return," Blaise said.
"I have questions."
"Of course." He rose and gestured to a pitcher on a side table. "Sugar cane juice with lime and ginger from my mother's village in Zanzibar. Very refreshing. May I interest either of you in a drink?"
Lily looked at Kreacher. "Why don't you try some while Blaise and I talk inside?"
Kreacher nodded. "Kreacher will wait."
The glass wall doors slid apart. She entered the flat, admiring the modern furnishings. "I apologise for intruding- - "
Lily declined Blaise's offer to have a seat on the intimidatingly white sofa. "I'd rather stand."
"With your back to the terrace?"
"Yes." She wanted Kreacher to be able to tell her parents that he didn't see or hear anything.
Blaise said, "Ask your questions."
Lily took a deep breath. "All right. Here goes. Mum asked me to consider how my decision will affect others, so I need to know- -has anyone ever died of shame because a model was photographed wearing knickers?"
Blaise blinked. She wondered if he was more surprised by the question or her sarcasm.
"Anyone?" Lily asked. "Family members, friends, old schoolmates . . . ?"
"Not that I'm aware of."
She pretended shock. "Are you sure? No Granny ever opened up Witch Weekly, saw her granddaughter in an advert, and dropped dead?"
"I'm certain," Blaise said. A glint of humour lit his eyes. "I would have sent flowers."
That's what she thought. Her modelling might embarrass some people, but it wouldn't put Granny Weasley in an early grave.
"Anything else?" Blaise asked.
Lily drew in another calming breath. "One last question. Can you deal with my family?"
"The publicity? A model with established name recognition will only benefit the company."
"Deal with them personally."
Blaise shrugged. "Your parents- -"
"Are open minded compared to Uncle Ron . . .or Uncle Percy . . . or my cousin Hugo . . . ." Not to mention her brothers, who whistled over Siren's Secret models; they wouldn't like blokes whistling over their sister. And her aunts made disparaging comments about models promoting negative body image.
"If your family has concerns, I'll address them," Blaise said. "As I hope I've addressed yours."
Enough of them. "Yes, thanks. Have a good night," she said. "What's left of it."
Blaise smiled. "Good night."
A breeze drifted across the terrace, pleasantly cool against the warmth of Lily's skin.
"Miss Lily is ready to go home?" Kreacher asked.
She looked at the city lights twinkling in the distance.
"Ready as I'll ever be," she said. "Let's go home."
A/N: Sing a happy, happy, happy, happy, happy posting song (Sung to the classic Rugrats tune, which sounds a lot like the Sponge Bob C-A-M-P-F-I-R-E-S-O-N-G song-at least it does after staying up all night :P ). It's taken so much longer to finish this chapter than I'd hoped, and I'm thankful to everyone who's waited and encouraged me though a fugly case of writer's block. I do still plan to write a sequel, Lily Go Lightly, which will be a oneshot, however long it takes, so I don't leave anyone wondering what happens next.
Off to sleep, perchance to dream. :)