The day after our trip to Diagon Alley, I woke with a fever and Alex, who was reluctant to prescribe additional potions, ordered bed rest and fluids. I spent the first few days napping, reading, and 'talking' with my friends through the wax tablets. They worked surprisingly well. Neville said I should refine the idea and sell them. Hermione said the ministry would arrest me if I started selling an uncensurable communication method. Then she suggested I take advantage of magical Britain's burgeoning black market-her words, not mine.

They were really brilliant until Hermione asked if I'd decided whether to watch Pettigrew's memories yet. In her defense, we had discussed the issue several times before. She never asked what they contained or advocated one decision over another, rather mature of her in my opinion. She also didn't ask me until after Neville signed off for the night.

I had. Out of sight out of mind, which explained why I'd shoved the entire rack on the top shelf in my closet. When I replied with a terse "yes and no", she dropped the subject. Unfortunately, we were all accustomed to private letters, not three way tablets. We both forgot to erase them. I didn't know when Neville read our conversation. Maybe he read it while we were writing it or woke up in the middle of the night and decided to see if I was awake. Regardless, he saw it.

I never imagined Neville of all people would feel so strongly about the issue until I woke up to find a thick envelope on my nightstand.

Unlike most wizards, Neville didn't exchange his brain for a wand. Sirius's situation was in the notes I gave him on the train. Although I never mentioned Pettigrew by name, Neville was smart enough to realize a) Pettigrew faked his death, b) Pettigrew had compelling reasons for faking his death, and c) as a supposed member of the winning side, Pettigrew had no reason to fake his death. In the first paragraph of his six page letter, he stated his belief that Pettigrew betrayed my family. Then he bluntly told me all the reasons he thought I should watch them anyway. It boiled down to this.

His parents only made minimal provisions for his care. In the event they died or were permanently incapacitated, they left everything up to his grandmother. All they left behind for him to remember them by was a handful of pictures taken at Yule and on his birthday.

Neville's gran said his mother was young and believed herself immortal like many young people do. Even with a war going on and their comrades dying left and right, Alice Longbottom fervently believed her family would survive and her side would triumph. At least, that was the story Neville heard. Funny, his grandmother never mentioned if his father shared those beliefs. Neville assumed he did.

My mother did what Neville wished his had done. He concluded by saying even if the memories had come from Bellatrix Lestrange he would still watch them.

The source didn't matter. The memories did.

I reread his letter five times, picking up different nuances with each pass through. At first, I was vehemently opposed to the idea, but I gradually changed my mind. My mother left me with her killer for a reason I still didn't understand. Granted, she made a better choice than my father did. There was no comparison between my life as Thomas's ward and my life as Dumbledore's. Thomas won that race before Dumbledore even left the starting line.

Pettigrew's memories represented a chance to meet one of my parents. Regardless of what I discovered, it was a chance worth taking.

I stared at the swirling silver mist trapped in the basin of the small pensieve Lolly brought up after I finished my breakfast. Thomas taught me how to use one during my first legilimency lesson. It was part of his 'ten reasons why you should control your legilimency before it controls you' speech. Each reason came with an example. Some were horrible, like the girl who died from a brain aneurysm because no one realized she was subconsciously using passive legilimency on the entire school before it was too late, but I always had a general idea of what the memory contained before I entered it. Not this time.

Pettigrew's memories were numbered, starting with one, but not dated. The only way to find out what the memory contained was to watch it.

Nervous, I stretched my hand out over the basin, clenched my eyes shut, and took a deep breath. Then I dipped my finger in the first memory. My room dissolved as I entered a war zone.

Plaster rained down from the living room ceiling. Burn marks dotted the walls. Feathers from an exploded couch cushion littered the floor. The mirror over the mantle resembled a large spider web. Even the couch was overturned as if someone had used it for a makeshift barrier. Feet shuffled behind me. I whirled around and found a younger, less plump Pettigrew gaping at the destruction.

I mimicked his expression. What happened? I wondered as I tiptoed around the room, examining the broken remains of what was once a comfortable family area. The window closest to the floo suddenly broke. I jumped then stilled as I became aware of raised voices coming from another room followed by spell fire.

A black haired toddler-me, I realized-sailed through an open door unassisted. Pettigrew leapt half-way across the room and caught me moments before I hit the floor. I stared up at him with solemn eyes, but didn't cry. A pudgy hand-hard to imagine I was ever that small-gripped his robes in a death grip. After placing my middle two fingers on my right hand in my mouth, I laid my head on his shoulder and sniffled.

He patted my back. "It's okay," he whispered. "Mummy and Daddy are just having a little argument."

A crash sounding from the nearby room.

"Big argument," he amended, edging away from the door.

My eyes widened. Sirius mentioned a huge fight sometimes after my first birthday. His description didn't quite match the memory, but it was close enough. Sirius must be in the other room, trying to smooth things over. I wondered if he was the one who half-way levitated me out of the room. I squared my shoulders and marched to the door. My mother filed for divorce over this. I knew it in my bones, but Sirius wouldn't confirm it. I needed to know more. I turned the door knob. It didn't move.

I wanted to see them, but I didn't need to. A deaf man could hear them from three blocks away.

"You slept with-"

"-you, James. He's your son, your blood. You know it as well as I do."

"My son is not a fucking parselmouth."

"Your wife is. Serpensortia," my mother said. "Bind him, lovely," she hissed. "Is this proof enough, James? Our son-our perfect, beautiful little boy-is a parselmouth because I am a parselmouth as was my grandmother."

Mumbling behind me drew my attention. I turned and spotted Pettigrew expertly balancing me with one arm while he erected wards with his free hand. My eyes widened. This was the man Sirius said was inept at magic?! Somehow I missed the minor detail he mastered the animagus transformation at the same age my dad and Sirius did. Granted, Pettigrew was a bit cowardly. Based on things I'd overheard from Barty and Thomas, I gathered Pettigrew also lacked raw power. However, he wasn't inept.

Panting, he finished raising the curse and hex deflecting wards. Then he tweaked my nose. My naive self giggled and tried to catch his finger.

He sighed. "So much for dinner. What do you think, little man, Chinese or pizza?"

I clapped my hands. Pettigrew laughed. "Pizza it is." He sobered and pressed a finger over his lips, shushing me.

"Your grandmother was a muggle!"

"A squib, who told stories in parseltongue. You knew there was a chance when we married, James. I didn't hide it from you."

"Liar! You said you weren't. You knew I would never sully my ancestors by marrying a dark witch."

"Dumbledore said I wasn't, but you never asked me. No one did. Parseltongue doesn't make us dark anymore than speaking German makes you dark, but your actions do."

"I shouldn't have to ask. You're my wife, damn it! You don't keep secrets like this."

She scoffed. "Like you've told me everything. Do the Deathly Hallows ring a bell, James?"

"That has nothing-"

"-it has everything to do with this. You lied to my face about the invisibility cloak, but I never lied about being a parselmouth. All you had to do was ask me, but you didn't. Instead you asked a man who didn't even know my name until our seventh year. I admit I don't advertise it, but I would've told you if you'd asked. Get out," she sounded defeated ",before our son loses both his parents." There was a pause followed by shuffling feet. A door creaked open. "And James, if you ever point your wand at my son in anger again, by the time I'm finished with you I will make Voldemort look like an innocent school boy in comparison. I'll owl you your things."

A door slammed.

Several minutes later, my mum appeared, bleeding from multiple cuts with soot smudges on her face and torn clothes. She surveyed her damaged living room and smiled softly when she spotted me in Pettigrew's arms. "Thank you for keeping an eye on him, Peter. Sirius," she sighed and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear, "well you know Sirius."

"Not exactly godfather of the year," Pettigrew quipped.

"Understatement. He means well, but sometimes I think Aberforth's goats have more sense. Do you mind keeping an eye on him while I clean up?"

"Take your time."

"I'm sorry about dinner. We don't get to see each other nearly enough and now the roast is dripping off the ceiling."

"It's okay, Lily. Honest. Your cooking's excellent, but you know I come for the company. I'll order us a pizza and see what I can do down here."

She went upstairs. Pettigrew waited until she turned the shower on then he cracked the door open to the kitchen and peaked inside.

I winced. The roast wasn't just stuck to the ceiling. The entire room was covered in bits of meat, gravy, what probably began life as some sort of vegetable, broken crockery, and shards of glass. Pettigrew's wand began dancing in the air as he verbally incanted various repairing, cleaning, and vanishing spells. The dishes and glassware pieced themselves back together and stacked themselves in the sink. The food disappeared. After casting a few spells intended to detect broken glass and other sharp objects, he locked the door with his wand and set me down. Then he pulled a rotary phone out of a cabinet and dialed a nearby restaurant.

I never imagined my parents had a phone. I knew Thomas kept one in a small shed outside the wards because his wards fried anything electrical. Having a working phone inside the house suggested their wards weren't very powerful.

I crept closer. Stupid really. It wasn't like anyone could see me, but I felt like I was eavesdropping on something that should remain private. Still, I drank in every detail, all the little things I should've known had...Best not think about that right now.

Pettigrew transfigured a few toys and played with me until the pizza arrived. Then he set the table. By the time my mother returned, Pettigrew had me sitting in my high chair playing a game of 'here comes the snitch', which amused toddler me far more than it did the older me who recalled playing said game literally during my first quidditch game.

"You're so good with him," she said, smiling. After kissing my forehead, she sat down beside me, stroking my head while Pettigrew fed me.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked.

"No, was just a story, Peter. An innocent little story. Why can't James see that?"

"In parseltongue?"

"Yes, but it's not like James hasn't heard me speak it before. I use it nearly every night when I put Harry to sleep."

Pettigrew sighed. "Lily, you know how James is. When he finds something that contradicts his world view, he pretends it doesn't exist. I'm sure he heard you, but he probably convinced himself you were just whispering or humming. I'm guessing he heard Harry talk back."

"Harry did nothing wrong."

The toddler picked up a sliver of pizza, licked the sauce off, then held it out to Pettigrew expectantly. Pettigrew forced a smile on his lips, took the piece, and quickly swallowed it. "Thank you, Harry." Gross.

My mother stifled a snicker.

"Of course Harry didn't do anything wrong, Lily. I didn't mean to imply he did," Pettigrew, said, picking up another bite-sized piece of pizza. He fed it to me complete with zooming noises. "I wondered about it myself actually."

She looked at him sharply. "What do you mean?"

"When I kept him last week, he spilled juice all over his teddy, and I took it away to clean it. Harry kept pointing at it and hissing until I gave it back to him. I know parseltongue when I hear it, Lily."

She froze. Horror flitted across her face followed closely by relief. "Peter, will you roll up your sleeve please?"

"Please don't ask."

A split second later, she pointed her wand at his throat and said, "Imperio. Roll up your sleeve."

Pettigrew didn't bother fighting the curse or asking which sleeve. He merely gave her a sad smile and rolled up his left sleeve, revealing the dark mark. She slumped down in her chair and canceled the curse with a flick of her wand.

"Please let me explain," he said.

"There's no need."

"Lily, I haven't betrayed you or Harry. I would never." Famous last words, I thought bitterly. "If you will just let me explain-"

"-your family is sworn to his line. He called; you answered. You never had a choice. Your ancestors made it for you long ago."

"How long have you suspected?" Pettigrew's voice emerged as a hoarse whisper.

"A little over a year. Dumbledore asked me to research the Three Earls and their descendants while I was pregnant."

What did she mean by the Three Earls? Was this somehow related to the Wychwood thing I hadn't started researching yet? If so, Dumbledore learned about it during the late forties. Why did he wait thirty years to look into it?

"So what now?"

Pensive, she stared at a spot on the wall while stroking my head. My toddler-self leaned into her touch. I smiled sadly, wishing I could feel it just once. "Do you know why James joined the Order?" She laughed bitterly. "He said they're just a bunch of slimy snakes. We can't let them win. This mess is just a continuation of his school days, and Sirius isn't any better. This vendetta they have...You know it bothered me when we were in school. I refused to date James until he stopped."

"He didn't." Pettigrew's voice sounded hollow. "You know you're my best friend, right?"

Startled, she jumped in her seat then steadied herself. "I thought James-"

"-I became friends with them out of necessity. I saw what happened to Snape on the Hogwarts Express. When I sorted into Gryffindor and was assigned to their dorm, it was either join them or spend the next seven years being tortured. I know you don't like hearing this, but it's the truth. Look, the Dark Lord and Dumbledore weren't interested in the marauders because we're nice people. Dumbledore recruited James for the same traits that brought the Dark Lord knocking on his door. They recruited you because you make the rest of us look like we're standing still. You're the sort of person they like having behind the scenes, conducting research and formulating strategies."

"Peter, you're scaring me."

"I apologize, but you need to understand, Lily. This is the only way I know to explain it. The thing with Snape in sixth year wasn't an accident. It was attempted murder. Snape was always searching for evidence to get us expelled. They decided to use his curiosity against him. I got cold feet and stayed in the dorms, but James and Sirius were on the grounds that night because they wanted to see the deed done. James changed his mind at the last minute. I think he was afraid you'd hate him. They like to pay lip service to how much they hate dark magic, but magic isn't good or evil-"

"-it just is. It's how you use it that matters. My words, remember?"

"My point, Lily, is some of our so-called pranks were so far over the line the line might as well have been in China. At a minimum, the lot of us should've been expelled many times over. If Dumbledore hadn't shielded us from the consequences, we would've all been in Azkaban before our seventeenth birthdays. We never stopped. We just moved on to more politically acceptable targets."

"My son is not an acceptable target!"

"I know," he said, tentatively reaching across the table. When she didn't jerk away, he patted her hand. "I know. Do you mind if I ask what happened?"

She swallowed hard. "James came home early from the Order meeting. I know we're supposed to be in hiding and everything, but he hates being cooped up here. Besides, we're not exactly well hidden. Between Bathilda and the Order, half the country knows where we live. It's not like we're under the fidelius."

"The fidelius didn't help the McKinnons," he said softly. He turned his head, revealing premature lines etched around his eyes. He seemed so sad, broken. I wondered what about the McKinnons affected him so.

She closed her eyes and clenched her fists, shaking slightly. After she steadied herself, her eyes snapped open. "Anyhow, he finally talked Dumbledore into letting him back out in the field. I had Harry in the living room. I was telling him one of my grandmother's stories when James flooed in. Harry looked right at him and grinned. Then he said daddy just as plain as day. Oh, I was so proud of him, but James had the funniest look on his face. Then Harry said it again. When James didn't respond, he started to cry. That's when I realized Harry was speaking parseltongue and James...I thought he knew. Honestly, Peter. I thought he knew, but he didn't." Her tears turned to hysterical laughter. "He accused me of sleeping with You-Know-Who. Can you believe it? Harry looks like James's clone. How could he think...You know what I don't want to know how. Obviously, he didn't think. Then he pointed his wand at Harry and," she nibbled on her bottom lip in a way that reminded me of an embarrassed Hermione, "I think I blew up the living room."


"It's still attached to the house," she said defensively.

They looked at each other for a long moment and then burst out laughing. She reached across the table and lightly punched him in the arm. "It's not that bad."

"If you don't mind getting wet when it rains. Circe's tits, Lily, you blew a hole in the roof."

She crossed her arms over her chest. "Did not! I blew a hole in the second floor. Any damage to the roof is incidental and caused solely by James's shoddy construction skills."

"Except the Dumbledores had the roof replaced before you two moved in as a wedding present."

She blushed. "Oops?"

"Hurricane Lily strikes again! At least the house is still standing." He sobered. "So what now?"

"I'll let James stew for a few days. Then we'll talk, but he's not stepping foot inside this house until after the twenty-ninth."

Pettigrew inhaled sharply. "The new moon? Lily, whatever it is you're planning please don't. There are other ways. Safer ways that don't require the power of a new moon. I'll help you. We'll run away if we have to. Please, I beg of you don't do this."

"I'll do what I must, Peter, as will you when the time comes." A chill swept through me. She practically gave him permission to betray us. Another memory intruded.

My mother pleaded with Voldemort to take her instead. Did she raise her wand? I couldn't recall.

"But for now, I'd like you to do something for me," she said. "Odds are James and I won't survive this war, but Harry has a chance. I want you to visit during story time. I don't want my family's stories to die with me."

"I'll do it."

"Don't be too hasty, Peter. Family stories should never be told to outsiders. Even Petunia doesn't know them. My grandmother treated her like one of her own, but she wasn't blood. We'll need a vow to protect both my family history and you as it's keeper."


"Peter, when I'm gone, please ask Harry not to think too poorly of me. I love him more than anyone or anything in this world, including myself," she hesitated. "Don't give him these if you think they'll fall into the wrong hands. They're meant for family only. Magical blood family only."

He wet his lips. "I understand."

Then the memory went dark.

Shaken, I exited the pensieve. I wanted answers, but Pettigrew's memory only raised more questions. Or maybe the answers it suggested weren't ones I liked.

I shook myself until my teeth rattled. No! I was imagining things. I had to be. She wouldn't. She couldn't.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed my emotions aside as best I could. I needed to think about this objectively, analyze everything while the memory was still fresh.

My parents both died in the same place. Obviously, my mother let my father back in the house at some point. Pettigrew said the twenty-ninth was a new moon. Moon cycles influenced some rituals and potions. I didn't know of any that were particularly dangerous, but I was a beginner. Thomas would probably know though. So my mother did something on the twenty-ninth. Afterward, she felt safe enough to let my father back in the house.

I wondered if whatever she did enabled me to survive the killing curse. Possibly, but if so, why didn't more people use it?

My great-grandmother Maia-Thomas's aunt-survived long enough to pass on the family history to my mother. Maia was a parselmouth, which lent credence to Dr. Leed's theory that some squibs weren't genetically squibs. Inbreeding reduced their line's overall fitness until their magic focused on more important matters, such as compensating for physical defects, leaving very little (if any) accessible to them.

I swallowed hard. One last point, the one I didn't want to consider.

My mother knew Pettigrew was a death eater months before we went under the fidelius. She knew, and she still let him become their secret keeper. Dementor-induced memories weren't always accurate. Between that and my age at the time, I couldn't say for certain. However, I neither saw nor heard a fight between my mother and Voldemort. Pleading, but not fighting. She just stood there.

My breath sounded ragged as my mind pieced together the puzzle in a completely unacceptable manner. No. Absolutely not. I wouldn't even entertain the idea. My mother wouldn't do that.

But she knew about Pettigrew, a little voice whispered. She practically gave him her blessing. Then, instead of opening her mouth and shocking the hell out of a certain pig-headed cousin or, better yet, drawing her wand and cursing him until he couldn't see straight, she pleaded for her child's life in English and blocked a killing curse with her body.

Eyes narrowed, I dove back into the pensieve. I would watch the memory again and again, if necessary. I would prove to myself that I was wrong. One hundred percent wrong. The victim of an overactive imagination. Nothing more.

Then I would extract what little I remembered of the night my parents died and repeat the process until I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that my mother did not commit suicide via Voldemort.

No one ever warned me that when you set out to prove something wrong, you'd better be prepared in case it's right. Maybe it was obvious or maybe it was yet another lesson Petunia and Vernon conveniently forgot to teach me. Perhaps both.

After re-watching the first memory, I watched the first few minutes of the others, searching for contradictory information. I knew when the twenty-ninth passed because Pettigrew cursed the new moon under his breath before asking my mother, who looked haggard and pale with blood-shot eyes like the previous Mrs. Number One a few weeks before she died from cancer, if she needed him to take her to St. Mungo's or at least call Madame Pomfrey. She refused and began telling another story in hissed whispers I had to strain my ears to hear. Other than that and a few tidbits about people I'd never heard of, the memories were just family stories preserved for a soon-to-be orphaned child, exactly as advertised.

Then I summoned pen and paper and began studying Pettigrew's first memory and my only one in earnest. I needed to know. Working at a fever pitch, I began dissecting the memories. Watch five minutes, leave, jot a few notes, and repeat.

My mother entered the kitchen, hair still wet from the shower, a bruise I hadn't noticed before on her right cheek. Upon closer inspection, our eyes actually weren't the same color. Even as a toddler, mine were a few shades darker. I wondered at the difference. Was it lighting?

Wishing the pensieve had fast forward, rewind, and pause functions like a muggle VCR, I stalked around the kitchen, examining her appearance as best I could. She tilted her head. I raised my hand to her face and studied the bruise pattern. Not a hand print, I thought, eyes narrowed as I studied the oddly shaped bruise. From a certain angle, it looked like a tadpole. What caused it?

Suddenly, slender fingers wrapped around my wrist. They yanked my arm. The edges of the memory turned blurry. Then it fell away, revealing Lolly.

She stood on my bed with my wrist clasped firmly in her hand and a disapproving frown on her face. "When did you last drink anything?" she demanded.

"I..." My mouth snapped shut when she pointed to the half-full pitcher of juice. I knew I should've poured it down the toilet, but wasting perfectly good juice felt like a crime. "If I drink as much as Alex wants me to, I'll float away."

She bowed her head and eyed me, reminding me of how McGonagall eyed Fred and George over the rims of her glasses. "Mr. Harry," she said, sounding more like McGonagall by the second, "when the healer instructs you to drink, you will drink. The only reason you are not in St. Mungo's right now is because half the children's ward has vanishing sickness." With a snap of her fingers, she poured a tall glass of juice and conjured a straw. The glass nudged me until I gave in and accepted it. Then she stood over me while I drank it. "Better. I swear sometimes you're worse than Master Thomas."

"What did Thomas do?"

Snorting, she refilled the glass. "A better question is what didn't he do. I wasn't born into this family, you know?"

Having never heard her story, I shook my head. I'd always assumed Thomas inherited her from some distant relative.

After returning the memory to its vial and banishing the pensieve downstairs, she smoothed out the comforter and seated herself cross-legged. "My first mistress, Emilee Gamp, was a well-known columnist before she died. She was survived by a niece, a squib who had already relocated to the muggle world."

"She freed you."

Lolly shook her head. "Not in the way you understand it. We elves draw a good portion of our magic from the family we're bonded with. To us, being freed is the rough equivalent of snapping a wizard's wand, firing them, and then blackballing them in the community. Your friend Dobby is an unusual case."

"How so?" I asked.

"Let me ask you a question," she said. "At Hogwarts, who does the laundry?"

My jaw dropped when I considered the ramifications. "The house elves."

"Exactly. Touching clothing will not free a bonded house elf unless the being they're bonded with intends it. From what I heard, Dobby tricked Malfoy into freeing him," she said, wrinkling her nose in distaste. "That man is a pandering fool, who fancies himself a cunning politician. He has his uses as did his father, but you can't buy brains. Dobby wasn't freed when he received the sock because Malfoy didn't intend to free him. Dobby pretended he was freed, but actually wasn't until Malfoy accepted his statement as truth."

"I knew Dobby was brilliant."

Lolly hummed in the back of her throat. "Given time and a little polish, he could be. I wasn't like your friend Dobby. I wasn't dismissed in disgrace. No, we discussed the matter and decided I should seek a new family through a placement agency. Once I found a new family, we would ritually transfer my bond." She winced. "Finding a new family was more difficult than I anticipated because most elves aren't like me. A few are trained as ladies maids or man servants. I believe your friend Dobby was trained as such. Others, like my Nat, may learn health monitoring spells and basic potions brewing after a family member falls ill, but they stick to cooking, cleaning, and gardening."

"But not you," I said, thinking about Lolly's day-to-day duties.

"Not me," she agreed. "During her seventh year, Mistress Emilee took a tumble down the stairs at Hogwarts. No one ever knew exactly how it happened, but the stairs were changing at the time. She fell four flights, bounced off another. She survived, but the fall broke her back. Magic is a great and powerful thing, but it's not infallible. In time, she learned how to walk again, but she was never the same afterward.

"I was trained from a young age to be her eyes, ears, hands, and feet. I learned how to read, write, speak properly, and even use an illegal wand. As she aged, my mistress lost her mobility. She was afraid of how people would react if they saw her infirmity. So she commissioned a potions master to formulate a new variant of the polyjuice suitable for cross-species use. I took her place in public." She snickered. "It was really quite the hoax."

"I bet." Recalling how Barty used polyjuice to impersonate Moody, I frowned. "I thought polyjuice also recreated old injuries."

"You're thinking like I'm human. Our bodies look similar, but there are enough differences that her injuries didn't carry over."

"So Thomas picked you because you can impersonate people?" I asked, slurping the last sip of juice.

Shaking her head, she cast a cleaning charm on my empty glass and returned it to the tray. "You'd think that, but he didn't pick me," Lolly said serenely. "Master Thomas has a one track mind. When he starts working on a project, it's all he thinks about. I don't know exactly what state Mr. Marius found him in, but I imagine it was pretty bad."


"Marius Avery, Master Thomas's editor. They've been close friends since their school days. After we bought this house, I spent a lot of time over here fixing the place up. Sometimes, I'd pop back to our quarters and discover he hadn't eaten all day or woke up with what he thought was a brilliant idea," her tone implied she didn't share Thomas's enthusiasm, "and never went back to sleep. Mr. Marius sent my agency a list of requirements. I was the sixth interview."

Expecting her to be higher on the list, I frowned.

She gave me a conspiratorial wink. "There's a reason I'm not allowed in the kitchen. Back then, I burned water. Believe it or not, Master Thomas did the cooking for both of us until I espoused Nat. Mr. Marius bought my contract with the understanding I would return to the agency if Master Thomas and I didn't get along. Then he 'lent' me to Master Thomas for three months. We butted heads at first, but eventually Master Thomas realized I only wanted what was best for him." Knowing her, Thomas didn't have much choice. "Mr. Marius gave Master Thomas my contract for his birthday. I bonded with the line the following Yule." She patted my hand. "Now, why don't you tell me what's bothering you while I freshen this place up?"

"I'm fine," I said automatically.

"Do you have any idea how many times one of my boys has tried that line on me? If you were fine, you wouldn't have spent six hours watching the same memory over and over again."

I shrugged, but didn't answer. If I told anyone, it became real.

Reaching under my shoulders, she grabbed my pillow. "Sit up," she ordered. After I sat up, she fluffed the pillows and cast a cooling charm on them before letting me lay back down. The cool cotton felt wonderful against my neck.

"Thank you," I mumbled.

"You're welcome. Mr. Barty argued against giving you those memories without anyone watching them, but Master Thomas said they were your mother's legacy. He felt he didn't have the right to watch them without your permission and Mr. Barty isn't blood." Ears twitching, she stopped and folded her hands together. "I know you and Master Thomas are both determined to avoid talking about the iron belly in the room, but it's clearly eating at both of you."

Throat suddenly parched, I clenched my hands into fists. "My mother committed suicide. Was I really that bad? She didn't even fight, Lolly. She just stood there and let him kill her. And Wormtail...she knew he was the traitor months before they cast the fidelius charm."

Spindly arms wrapped around my neck. When I stiffened, she squeezed lightly and pressed her cheek against mine. "I don't know how, but I firmly believe your mother was protecting you as best she could. You and Master Thomas are going to sit down and talk. Soon as in within the week. I don't care if I have to stick you both to the floor and pour potions down your throats. This has gone on long enough. You two will discuss this before you drive yourself crazy playing what-if." Cupping my face between her hands, she drew back and looked me in the eye. "And you will get used to normal contact. If I have to hug you every hour, I'll do it."

A mirthless chuckle escaped my mouth. "Barty's right. You really are an evil little dictator."

Shooting me a blinding smile, Lolly patted my cheek. "All my boys say that eventually. It means I'm doing my job." Then she kissed me on the brow and popped out before I could protest.

Author's Note: I have a confession. I write scenes, not chapters. After I finish the scenes, I group them into chapters, which sometimes means a long wait. For instance, this time I wrote a delightful interview with Rita Skeeter that I later shunted to the next (unpublished) chapter and three other scenes that won't make appearance for at least four chapters. I also use this story as an experiment. It is a place where I can experiment with POV, characterization, voice, story construction even grammar without consequences. I love my critique group, the magazine editors I've worked with over the last few years, my sister who serves as my highly critical first reader...but sometimes when you're learning something, writing as a release or to unwind, or your mind isn't all there (I'm certain you lovely folks have noticed a few what the heck moments) the last thing you want is for someone to rip your story apart line by line.

For this chapter, I attempted pantsting. In other words, I shoved my outline aside and just wrote by the seat of my pants. This technique works wonders for some people. I am not one of them. I already knew this. In the back of my desk drawer is the first novel I ever wrote. I was thirteen. The language actually isn't that bad considering my age, but the story...Let's just say it will never see the light day. In all honesty, I really should've burned it instead of shoving into the bottom drawer of the new desk I built a few months ago. (I adore my new desk, which fits perfectly in the weird corner bounded by a closet and my front door. Seriously, I designed my desk so I can open both doors at the same time and still see out the window. Crazy, but true.)

As a finished product technique, pantsting was an epic fail. However, within my 9000 word ramble I discovered a few nuggets that truly belong in the story. These pieces caused me to tweak my outline so it wasn't a complete waste of time. It also caused me to go back and reevaluate some other projects I'm working on. For me, that's the number one reason why I write fanfiction.

There's another reason why this chapter took a particularly long time to write. Some of its underlying themes hit a little close to home. War changes people. Seeing people killed changes people. Losing friends changes people. When the war ends or the soldier returns home, sometimes it's like you're living with a stranger. Some couples come out of this stronger than ever before. Others it smashes what they had into tiny shards of broken glass that shred everything they touch. This is truth as I see it.

When writing about Lily and James's final days, I can't see a happy family blissfully unaware of their impending destruction. Even though they were in hiding, in some ways I think this is how Rowling portrays them. It is to her credit. I'm too cynical to believe the happy family image. Thus, my lenses are harsher, less rose tinted.

James and Lily were cooped up in a small house with an infant while their friends were out in the real world fighting and dying. Even though Snape is far from a reliable source, we learn enough about James over the course of the books to know James started the war with Snape and Snape's assertion that James was an arrogant bigot and a bully was true. (This doesn't make Snape an angel or misunderstood. It simply means the marauders' pranks were intended to humiliate their victims.) He was also a fighter.

We know less about Lily than we do James. Regardless, take a fighter and tell him to spend the next year hiding out with his wife and child and you have a recipe for disaster. When you think about it, it's a miracle James didn't mirror Sirius's actions in the Department of Mysteries. Between the war, Dumbledore telling them to both sit on their hands, a new baby, their friends dying or being wounded in action while they did nothing, and the prophecy, they lived inside a pressure cooker. In this story, it exploded.

Writing in first person, I can't get inside James or Lily's heads. While I will probably never write either of their perspectives, I don't think James intended to harm his son Harry. James was a soldier in a war where the opposition was led by the only known parselmouth in the UK. He heard parseltongue and reacted on instinct. It's sort of like how my best friend knocked me down and gave me a concussion because some idiot set off fire crackers in the street outside my house. For a moment, Harry wasn't his son. He was Voldemort and James reacted accordingly. Lily reacted to James and you have WWIII.

I do consider Lily's actions the night she died assisted suicide. She didn't raise her wand, push furniture against the door, climb out the window, hide behind the door with James's broom and try to bash Voldemort over the head with it, or well...anything really. She didn't fight back; she begged. She was a mother defending her child and she didn't fight back. Why?

I have a theory that I will be exploring further in future chapters. We are told on two separate occasions an unbreakable vow requires a specific ritual involving a wand. Then suddenly Harry's saved by an naturally spawned unbreakable vow?! This explanation never worked for me. It always seemed like a half-assed attempt at making Snape a likable character. I will be disregarding it because to me Lily's actions only made sense if she knew her death would ensure her son's survival.

Well, now that you know more about the method behind my madness and mindset than you ever wanted to know, I'll sign off. Once again, thank you for all the reviews, favorites, alerts, and PMs. I wish I could respond to every one of you. Sadly, I can either spend my days writing responses or writing for food. Unfortunately, food takes priority. I do read and appreciate every one of them.

On Hiatus:Beginning April 28, this story will be on a 3-4 month hiatus. I love working on it and interacting with everyone here and pinky swear I'll return (with bells on). I'm self-employed and recently took on several major projects that will be consuming all of my work time, my free time, my walking the dog time, basically any spare minute I would've once devoted to things I enjoy but don't get paid to do. I hope ya'll have a wonderful summer. See you on the other