In which Rabbit and Lily discuss the inevitable end of days, Dumbledore gives an oddly potent and sober speech to greet 1993, and the new year at Hogwarts arrives with many changes.
Once again, Lily avoided most of the danger known as other people by walking across the lake before the first years could even get to it. She took her time though this year, it wasn't a mad sprint, but instead a slow stroll through the twilight.
The way the light hit the water it was no longer blue or even black but instead the same golden red as the sky above. It was so calm that each time she took a step, it rippled behind her, leaving a trail of fading footsteps.
Rabbit, walking beside her, left no footsteps behind him.
Somehow, out of all the things she'd seen him do, after all the things she'd heard him say, that made him seem the least human. That when he walked, stepped on water, he left nothing of himself behind.
Glancing over her shoulder, Rabbit's shadows, those things the homeless professor had called dementors, hovered by the shores of the lake, like great black scavengers perched on invisible branches.
"Why the concern?" Rabbit asked, "They've never bothered you before."
Lily opened her mouth, about to tell him to shut up and stop thinking already, and then closed it. That ship, for whatever reason, seemed to have sailed and this new chatty Rabbit was here to stay. At least, until the dementors left Hogwarts.
His smile towards her, it was almost fond, almost kind. Still, something about it was shallow, like he was just copying the expression from someone like Uncle Death with only the barest understanding of what it meant. Somehow, she found it that much worse than his usual expressionless eggplant imitation.
"I didn't know they existed before," Lily pointed out.
Though she supposed that was in some sense irrational. The man had said they lived on some island, hadn't he, the prison of Azkaban that Wizard Lenin had broken all his friends (and accidentally Sirius Black) out of. She hated to say it, but Rabbit had a point, they'd always been there, and it'd never bothered her before.
What she really meant was that it had never personally affected her before.
Rabbit, though, seemed to take her words quite seriously, "Yes, I suppose that does make a difference."
"It does?" Lily asked dumbly.
"If you didn't know about them, didn't acknowledge them, then they never existed in this form," Rabbit said.
He looked back over his shoulder towards them, dark eyes narrowing and a small frown working its way onto his face, "They have history, place in this world, because you made a place for them. Until you acknowledged them, they didn't exist, and when you did, they always existed."
Lily blinked, blinked again, then awkwardly laughed, "Wait, is this that theory that the universe was really made five seconds ago or something?"
The idea went that, theoretically, everything you knew and everything that ever existed could have been made only five seconds before. Before that point, the memory of human history, all its artifacts, were somehow fabricated to give the illusion of an older world.
"Perhaps," Rabbit said with a casual shrug. It was such a human motion, so graceful, easy, and filled with careless human emotion that he'd never shown before. She could even imagine him shoving his hands into his pockets after, carelessly sauntering forward, personality inscribed in every step he took.
Rabbit then sighed, staring ahead glumly at Hogwarts, "To be honest, I never kept much track of the world of your creation or its fatal flaws. I never understood it well enough to bother. I could only wait."
"Wait for what?"
Either Rabbit didn't sense her quiet fear or else it did nothing to deter him. When he answered, while his tone was soft, it was without pity or hesitation.
Lily stopped in her tracks, he stopped with her, in perfect harmony with her own steps.
"What?" she asked.
"The end," he repeated, as if it was the easiest thing to say in the world.
"The end of what?"
"The end of the world," he said, and here he tilted his head like a puzzled bird, as if she'd done something very clever and confusing that he hadn't quite figured out for himself yet.
"You know this, Lily," he said slowly, as if explaining some difficult concept to a small and willfully ignorant child, "You've known long before you were even Lily. It was a flawed, rushed, thing with too many holes to count. It doesn't matter if you cloak them in dementors and give them an island and sacrifices to appease them. It doesn't matter if you call it magic and give it mankind and call them wizards. It doesn't even matter how you transmute yourself. You've always known there was an end."
He then shook his head slightly, half admonishing and half in awe, "You've made yourself so very human."
Finally, Lily found her tongue again and blurted out the first thing that popped into her head, "That's not a bad thing."
Then, with a force of will, she found her confidence, "And what do you mean ending? I mean, sure, it's ending, you know that, I know that, everybody knows that, but that doesn't mean right this second."
"Oh?" he asked, pale eyebrows raising and lips curling in slight amusement.
"It's like a volcano," Lily said knowledgably, moving her hands for emphasis, "When somebody says it's going to erupt soon, or that it's due, they don't mean right this second. It could be one hundred, five hundred, maybe even a thousand years before it blows. When I say the world's falling apart and there's nothing we can do, it might be another million years. The sun could expand, heat death could occur, anything in the world could happen to the human race before it hits."
"True," Rabbit noted, looking unimpressed.
"There's no need to be so dramatic," Lily finished.
Rabbit had nothing to say to that, he just watched her expressionlessly, as if waiting for her next move. In that case, it was about time Lily started walking again. Rabbit wordlessly followed, like he was her own pale shadow.
Even as the castle loomed closer and closer the silence ate away at her. Funny, wasn't it, because she'd never felt the dire need to before five minutes ago.
"But I am getting rid of the dementors," Lily added.
Rabbit gave a small hum of acknowledgement that neither agreed nor disagreed.
"I'm serious," Lily said, "I'm finding this Sirius Black fellow and those things are gone."
Rabbit gave yet another noncommittal hum of acknowledgement.
"You think I can't do it?" Lily asked.
"I think, perhaps, you'll find this Sirius Black fellow and allow your wizards to send them back into exile," Rabbit said, leaving out that this was only half the problem, that when Lily said gone she didn't really mean gone.
Just conveniently out of sight.
"If they go back to Azkaban you will stop talking, right?" Lily asked dully, "I mean you'll go back to the way you were."
"Perhaps," Rabbit said.
Lily was really starting to hate that word.
Right, in order of priorities then it was find Sirius Black to get rid of the dementors, get Ron to hand over Scabbers at some point and ship him back to Wizard Lenin for a high school reunion he'd never forget, and then keep an eye on Dumbledore and maybe Snape.
That was it, right?
Actually, Lily thought to herself, compared to her first two years that wasn't so bad at all. This was clearly mostly just to keep Lily busy and out of Wizard Lenin's way, which she'd known, but she hadn't thought about how easy it was.
When you were comparing it to making a body, finding and using the philosopher's stone, murdering a basilisk, and hunting down the heir of Slytherin it was almost a vacation. If it wasn't for the whole dementor and eerie Rabbit business, she could almost take her time with all of it.
For once in her life, it felt like she was almost going to school to just go to school. She wasn't sure how she felt about that.
With that she stepped onto the shore on the other side, just underneath the bridge leading to Hogwarts' front gate.
Lily grinned, turned back to her companion and held out a hand to help him onto the shore, "Well, are you ready?"
Rabbit stared at her hand in total incomprehension. That, at least, hadn't changed.
"Come on, you creepy bastard," Lily said, grabbing his hand and pulling him up with her onto solid ground.
She scrambled up onto the rocks, pulling Rabbit along behind her, until she finally hauled them both up onto the bridge, "There we go."
And by the look of it they'd managed to come after most the Hogwarts population but before the first years could arrive. Good, that meant Lily really had staved off the worst of it, because she had a feeling that despite her intention to get it out of the way on the train, she'd only delayed the onslaught at best.
She stood in front of the grand doorway and then hesitated. Somehow, it seemed larger than usual, foreboding. As she stood there, memories of Quirrell on that final night, of the chamber of secrets, the diary, the blood on the walls came rushing back to her.
All of it and more was still waiting for her inside this castle.
She didn't have to go back.
Sure, someone should do something about Pettigrew, but it didn't have to be her and it didn't have to be now. She could leave, she could travel the world, take a real vacation for once in her life instead of running straight into a war zone. No one could force her to do this.
She could just leave.
(Rabbit's words, "You care about such little things", echoed inside her head.)
"No," Lily said, purposefully taking one step forward then another, "I'm not done with this place yet."
Lily had run away before, run to different countries even, and while it brought a brief sense or relief it brought nothing else. Lily wasn't sure if she had unfinished business here or not but certainly there was something about this castle that had to be untangled. That might not be why Wizard Lenin sent her, but if anything, that was why Lily needed to go.
She had to be able to confront the Hogwarts she'd built up in her mind.
She took a breath then another then passed under the door. Inside there was no blood, no bodies, but just Hogwarts' mishmash of medieval, renaissance, baroque, and gothic architecture. Portraits watched her and Rabbit's progression, gasping at the sight of her and whispering amongst themselves as if they had just as much right to care about her return as the living.
Lily paid them no mind as she strode through the open double doors that led to the Great Hall.
At first they didn't notice her, but then, one by one, each head turned to watch as she made her way confidently to the lonely Default table. Lily didn't even glance at them, not like last year where she slunk to the Gryffindor table and cringed every time she caught someone's eye. No, this time she just walked until she finally made it to Default, populated by the same members as the year before, except of course for Wizard Lenin, Rabbit, and Lily.
Default stared at Lily and Lily stared back.
Finally, Blaise noted dryly, "You, Ellie Potter, have absolutely no shame."
Lily grinned back, unable to help herself, "Nope, I guess not."
She sat down at the table, pulling the unresisting Rabbit down with her, "So, what did I miss?"
She glanced around the room, ah yes, it was all familiar, but in an oddly good way.
There was Slytherin, still bitter about losing her two years after the fact, glaring across at her and trying to look as if they weren't paying attention. Well, everyone except Draco Malfoy, who was chewing his fingernails and looking at her the way he might a ticking time bomb.
There was Gryffindor, outright gaping at her, always so unsure what to make of her and torn between cheering at her reappearance and being unnerved. Neville didn't look at her, instead stared down at his plate, his expression cold and flat. The Weasleys, all four that remained, huddled together at one end of the table, Ginny Weasley looking nowhere else but at Lily.
Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw looked as bewildered by her reappearance as ever, glancing at each other, back at her and wondering if there was something about the first of September and how even though Lily always left early she was somehow always on time.
Soon, as soon as the feast was done, they'd probably try to ambush her the way they had last year. Only the sorting hat, bless its dysfunctional lack of soul, and the staff's need for some kind of order was keeping them at bay now. She was a little surprised a professor hadn't shown up yet, but Dumbledore had waited until after the feast last year too.
As for the staff table—
Lily almost did a double take.
The homeless guy, Remus Lupin, she'd expected after his introduction on the train. Sure, his presence meant Hogwarts' hiring had gone a little downhill, but when your professors kept getting murdered all the damn time, she supposed it made getting top candidates difficult.
However, it wasn't just him, there were two others that were new.
One, a portly, jovial, mustached man sitting in between Sprout and Flitwick. Everyone sitting near him seemed comfortable in his presence, only distracted from the good mood by Lily's shocking and anticlimactic entrance. On her appearance she swore she could see his dark eyes twinkling all the way across the room as they landed on her and a look of glee on his face.
Second, a stout, rather plain looking woman who tried to make up for her homeliness and toad-like appearance with an entirely pink wardrobe and a string of pearls around her fat neck. Only, it wasn't the kind of pink Dumbledore would sport now and then, it was instead almost something that Aunt Petunia might wear, very muggle looking in a way that tried to scream both fashion and professionalism.
No one seemed to be enjoying her presence while she seemed to be enjoying her own presence far too much.
That wasn't what really caught her eye though. Professors came and went, Hogwarts insisted on being Hogwarts on a daily basis and made up for one dead professor with three replacements, what had Lily almost spit take was instead Dumbledore himself.
His hand, his entire arm even—
It was black, not just black but it looked as if it'd been burned down to cinders. All that was left was gnarled, blackened bones, barely an inch of skin around them and a dull, silver, ring on one finger.
"Holy shit!" Lily exclaimed, "What the hell happened to him?!"
"Honestly, Ellie," Hermione said with a sigh, "Why is every word out of your mouth worse than the last?"
Lily flushed, realizing how loud that had been, and tried to bring her volume down, "But did you see his hand?"
"That's new," Daphne said slowly, entirely unconcerned, "Since last year anyway, that must have happened over the summer."
"Looks like he was cursed," Blaise added darkly, "Badly at that, he's lucky he's still alive."
"He's lucky he's still employed," Daphne noted with a cold and amused smile.
"Touché," Blaise responded, matching her smile with one of his own.
"As for what you missed," Hermione said slowly, "You missed quite a lot this time. Right when you disappeared Lockhart was found dead on the dungeon bathroom floor, the very life sucked out of him. Then they realized that at least half the second-year girls and some of the first showed signs of extreme possession by some malevolent spirit. They sent us home early for the holidays while the board of governors decided what to do with Dumbledore."
"They sacked Hagrid," Blaise cut in, "Threw him in Azkaban even, speediest trial the Wizengamot has seen since the war."
"Somehow kept Dumbledore on," Daphne mused, "Even with you getting kidnapped twice right under his nose. Which, honestly, Ellie, who gets kidnapped then manages to show up on the first of September two years in a row?"
"A wizard is never late nor is he early, rather, he arrives precisely when he means to," Lily said dully.
"Are you sure you just don't go on holiday early and fake kidnapping as an excuse?" Blaise was joking, Lily knew that, but he was closer to the truth than Lily would have liked.
It was never exactly her idea, each time, to bail on Hogwarts but she certainly wasn't kidnapped the first time either. The first time, despite the circumstances, she had left more or less of her own volition.
"If I wanted to leave then I'd just leave," Lily said through gritted teeth, "No kidnappings or murders necessary, thank you very much."
"Well, I'm glad you're back, Captain," Luna said quietly.
Luna, she'd been very quiet this whole time. Even now she peered up at Lily shyly from beneath thick blonde hair. Luna…
Lily hadn't forgotten her, forgotten any of them, but she hadn't realized how hard this would hit them at Hogwarts. How hard Lily's disappearance would hit someone like Luna Lovegood. She hadn't realized it, but in a way, despite all her effort to protect them she'd only considered herself.
Lily tried to smile, tried to mean it when she said, "Glad to be back, Lieutenant."
Luna's uncertainty turned into a relieved grin, something in Lily's answer managing to reassure her. She looked taller, not significantly, but it was clear that she was growing just like how everyone else had grown in Lily's absence.
"After that, when they finally brought us back after extended holidays," Hermione said slowly, looking awkward as she interrupted Luna and Lily's little moment, "Not much happened. Lockhart had a funeral service at the school along with a public one in London. Default lost the cup by a mile and a half. And the heir of Slytherin, whoever or whatever it was, never returned. Then, just like that, it was summer."
So much had happened in so little time last year, and then, just when Lily left it slowed down again as it always did. Was it something about her that caused all of this? True, it always made some amount of sense. Usually, she and the Tom Riddle flavor of the week wrapped up things at around the same time, but it still seemed weird that whenever Lily left everything just kind of stopped.
Like, if she wasn't looking directly at it, it no longer felt a need to put on a show.
"Huh," was all Lily could say.
Blaise apparently found that just as pathetic as Lily did, "Huh? That's it? That's all you have to say to us?!"
"What else am I supposed to say?" Lily wondered.
"Oh, I don't know, why don't you tell us what happened to you! Hell, Potter, just start with what really happened last year at school!" Daphne added, leaning forward along with Blaise in her sudden desperate need to know the truth.
"I told you that already," Lily said, "It was the Heir of Slytherin—"
"We know it was the heir!" Blaise hissed, ignoring the crowd of gawking first years as they finally marched into the hall, "But what is the heir of Slytherin supposed to be—"
Oh, oh that was an entirely different question that Lily did not feel comfortable answering. Ratting Wizard Lenin out on the train had been all well and good but—
"Didn't you hear her?" Hermione asked, "She told us on the train, it was You-Know-Who."
Oh, right, Lily had basically admitted that already. She'd even watched as Hermione, Tequila, Daphne, and a good chunk of the Hogwarts population had put two and two together. Of course Hermione, who had seen Quirrell in action and knew what he really was, would be the first to calmly acknowledge a truth that Lily otherwise would have protected.
Lily didn't exactly regret confessing, Wizard Lenin and Wizard Trotsky had certainly deserved it, but she was suddenly having a few doubts.
Blaise snorted, "You actually believed—"
"Hey, what about them?" Lily desperately interrupted, pointing towards the staff table, "Why are there so many new people up there?"
"How the hell would we know?" Blaise asked, "One of them's got to be replacing Lockhart."
"Last year different professors subbed every lecture," Luna explained awkwardly, "Professor Snape's lectures were… violent. He's never managed to get rid of his wrackspurts."
That felt like an understatement.
"Maybe the other two are back-ups for Lockhart's back-up," Daphne said, "After all, they keep going faster and faster. Before, everyone says that they used to last at least the year, now they can't even make it to first term before they're dead."
"What are you talking about?" Lily asked.
"Oh, it's just some stupid rumor," Hermione said, "They say the Defense position's cursed."
"It's not a rumor, the post is bloody well cursed," Blaise said with a huff.
"By the ministry," Luna chimed in.
"Not by the ministry," Blaise corrected, "Nobody knows who did it. Some people blame You-Know-Who, since we blame him for everything these days—"
Hermione glared at the dig that, apparently, was pointed directly at her. As for Lily, she dimly wondered if there was any truth to that and if she should ask Wizard Lenin.
"—But no Defense Professor has lasted more than a year on the staff since 1945. Not a single one. Either they get ill, caught in some scandal, die, or sometimes just resign out of fear that they'll be next."
Blaise then pointed straight at Lily, "And you just seem to speed it up ten-fold."
Lily desperately wanted to deny that, she really did, but the fact was that both Quirrell and Lockhart had met violent ends long before the end of the school year.
"Sorry?" Lily finally said lamely.
"Don't say sorry," Hermione glared, "There is no curse to be sorry about. Zabini, stop being such a moron."
"Me?" Blaise asked, motioning to himself, "I'm not the one who thinks You-Know-Who infiltrated the school, murdered a bunch of chickens, just to kidnap Ellie Potter and then lose her by September."
"Don't be such a pig, Zabini—"
"Try not to be so ignorant, Granger—"
As the two descended into bickering, whispering threats to each other as the sorting hat began to sing about something or another, Lily had the strangest feeling that she was missing something here.
Well, at least no one seemed to think she had opened the chamber. Granted, probably some subset believed she'd been possessed with everyone else (which wasn't entirely wrong) and had opened it but at least they didn't think it was her fault.
That was kind of nice, to be out of the blame for once, and all she'd had to do was throw Wizard Lenin under a bus.
"Oh, the professors are all looking at us," Luna noted cheerfully as the singing stopped and the sorting began, "We'd better quiet down."
Hermione and Blaise glared at one another but silently agreed to put their argument on hold as they turned to watch the new first-years filter into the different houses. Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor again, a few Slytherins…
They went from A down nearly to Z but not a single student went to Default.
It looked like they'd still be a few men short of a quidditch team. Lily vaguely wondered if she was still captain or not. Maybe she could get Luna to take over for her.
Finally, as the sorting ended but before the feast could begin, Luna looked over at Lily with a small and heartfelt smile, "I'm glad Rabbit found you."
"Hm?" Lily asked.
"When we left for the holidays, I said Rabbit could stay with daddy and me, but he left to go look for you instead. I'm glad he found you."
Lily tried very hard not to look over at Rabbit. She knew he'd come for her, had taken the initiative to do so, but she'd never realized he'd been so… Clear with his intentions.
And she had the reoccurring idea that Luna had no true idea what Rabbit was. Or, at least, she assumed he was benign enough that no consequences would come to letting him do what he wished. When, really, he should never have wished for anything at all.
Before Lily could respond though, before Dumbledore could even start his annual speech of 'don't break the rule children now enjoy this collection of strange nouns', something happened.
At the Gryffindor table a single, red-headed, girl stood up with fire burning in her eyes. She ignored her brother, Ron, pulling at her sleeve as well as the surprise and affronted expressions of the staff table. She ignored everything, in fact, except Eleanor Lily Potter all the way across the hall.
Tequila Weasley wordlessly undid her tie, let it fall down onto the Gryffindor table, and proudly marched straight towards Default.
"Oh no," Lily repeated out loud.
She paled dramatically, she could feel the blood rushing from her head and straight into her churning stomach. It wasn't a familiar expression on Tequila's face, nothing Wizard Trotsky had bothered with while possessing her body, but the determination in the way she walked was reminiscent of the chamber.
Lily leaned back instinctively, edged away from the table, but Ginny Weasley didn't stop and her grin didn't falter once as she rounded the table and plopped right down next to Lily. Tequila on one side and Rabbit on the other, it was worse than a rock and a hard place.
Lily opened her mouth to object, to tell Tequila, Ginny, that she wasn't wanted here. Lily had made Default to avoid things like this. It was her house dammit, even if she'd been sorted into Slytherin and passed over for prefect.
She tried to get words out, but Dumbledore apparently decided that was the perfect time for his speech and beat her to it.
He nodded towards the Default table with a merry twinkle in his eye, "And it seems that the annual tradition of Ellie Potter returning from the ether with little to no explanation, and a Gryffindor defecting to Default, continues."
No one laughed, apparently, no one was in the mood this time around.
Their mood seemed to affect him as well. The twinkle in his eyes dimmed, his smile faded, and he suddenly seemed quite old and tired as he stood up there by the podium, "Yes, I suppose it is not the year for such jokes. In any other year, I'd simply welcome back returning students, those who left by their own will and those few who were taken against it. I'd remind you that the Forbidden forest is still quite forbidden, that there's still no magic in corridors, and that there's still a curfew."
He pushed his half-moon spectacles higher up his nose with his good hand, the blackened remains of his other hand resting on the podium, "In truth, my friends, I have never been one for speeches. Certainly, if I've ever successfully pulled one off, it has never been the serious kind. However, I'm afraid these are serious and sobering times, and even I must face that."
His eyes moved slowly over each table: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, and even lowly Default with its handful of expatriate members. For all that he claimed public speaking was not his forte, somehow, even Lily couldn't tear her eyes from him.
"One might say that in the past two years Hogwarts has faced more peril and hardships than she has in decades. In 1991, one of our professors turned against not one but three students, causing great injury to one while abducting the other two. Then, last year in 1992, we faced not only the reopening of the Chamber of Secrets but the paralysis and possession of multiple students, the kidnapping of the same student as the year before, and the death of a beloved professor. While I am glad that Ellie Potter has returned to us, satisfactory explanation or not, I know we are each asking ourselves if the third time is not the charm."
No one said a word, you could almost hear the sound of a pin dropping, but Dumbledore continued none the less, "The enemies that face us now, here in 1993 and beyond, are very clever. They hide behind our reluctance and our fear. Sometimes, they even hide among us, wearing our own skin as a disguise."
Lily couldn't quite tell, his eyes were sweeping the room pretty evenly, but she thought for a moment that he looked directly at Neville. Certainly, Neville was staring back at him with an odd, out of character, seriousness she'd never seen on his face before.
"As I'm sure most of you know," Dumbledore continued, "There has been a mass breakout from the prison of Azkaban. Some of Britain's most notorious killers are not only loose but their whereabouts are entirely unknown. I am afraid to inform you about what a good number of you have already guessed: there is a good chance that some will try to come to Hogwarts."
Murmurs started at every table, students turning fearfully to their neighbors as they wondered aloud about how he could admit it, what it might mean for them, and what was going to happen next. Even Slytherin, trying to give off airs of confidence and smugness, couldn't hide the fear in their eyes.
Dumbledore held up his single, good, hand and everyone fell silent, "The dementors are here, provided to us by the Ministry, for exactly that possibility. They have been instructed not to harm students and to keep their distance. Nevertheless, I need not remind you that staying within school grounds and respecting curfew is of the upmost importance this year."
Someone tried to laugh, but it fell flat, and turned into a series of wheezing coughs.
"On another, related yet more troubling front," Dumbledore continued, "Evidence has come to light that Voldemort has returned—"
He was interrupted by loud, horrified, gasping that he'd dared to drop that name right in the middle of the Great Hall. He didn't take it back though, just raised his hand again for silence. However, when it quieted down, before he could start again he was interrupted by a pointedly loud, "Hem, hem."
It was the pink toad woman, giving Dumbledore a pointed, almost chiding look.
Dumbledore spared her a glance, then turned back to his greater audience, "I would say more, however, I believe that I, Rita Skeeter at the Daily Prophet, and our own Ellie Potter have said more than enough for all of us."
Ellie Potter? What the hell had she even said? Lily didn't remember saying anything. She hadn't been around for over half the year! The only thing she'd said was just now on the train and that didn't really count as saying anything. It hadn't even been an opinion, just a statement of fact, that Voldemort had done it. So that couldn't count, right?
"Regardless," Dumbledore continued, "Whoever is behind this, whoever we are facing, we must remember to stand tall and stand together. We must have faith in one another and never allow fear to make us falter. Fear, alone, is what will truly destroy us."
Then, just like that, the atmosphere grew brighter as his typical dopey grandfather smile returned, "On a lighter note, we have a few new staff members to introduce this year."
He motioned to his left, towards where the homeless professor was sitting, "First, please welcome Professor Remus Lupin, who is taking over for the late Professor Gilderoy Lockhart as our new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor."
Lupin awkwardly waved, looking like he wasn't quite sure what to do with himself as he met the student's unimpressed looks and whispering. He brought it on himself, Lily mused, as he really didn't look the part.
Dumbledore gave the student body a prompting look and reluctantly, one by one, they started clapping for their new professor who would likely end up dead before the year was out.
Echoing her thoughts, Blaise noted under his breath, "Best of luck, you sorry bastard."
"Second," Dumbledore continued when the applause had died down, "I am pleased to welcome back Professor Horace Slughorn, who is returning to his post as Potions' Professor—"
Here there was an eruption of chattering as everyone looked at Severus Snape, still sitting at the table, glaring down at his plate in irritation. The fat man, who must be Horace Slughorn, cheerfully waved out at the students with glee.
"—And before you ask, our dear Professor Snape, has decided to take a sabbatical to focus on his won research for the year."
This did nothing to calm anyone's confusion, alarm, or in the case of Gryffindor rapturous joy at the thought of Professor Snape not anywhere near a teaching post.
"Before you get too upset," Dumbledore jovially cautioned, "Professor Snape will still act as head of Slytherin house and still perform most of his research in the castle. He is still to be treated as your professor and will return to his position next year."
You could almost hear Gryffindor's silent cry of despair.
"Meanwhile, Professor Slughorn, having been the previous head of Slytherin, has generously volunteered to head Default."
Lily choked on her own spit. Oh, oh that bastard. She turned her head, and yes, Horace Slughorn was staring directly at her in undisguised anticipation. Why did she have the feeling that half of why Horace Slughorn was here was just to have Ellie Potter under his thumb? And why did she have the feeling that Dumbledore, somehow and for some unknown reason, had sold her out?
Regardless, Lily joined in the clapping, quicker and easier this time until Dumbledore silenced them.
Dumbledore then motioned to the last new figure, the toad woman, "Finally, we have Ms. Delores Umbridge joining us from the Ministry of Magic at the Hogwarts' board's discretion."
Delores Umbridge proudly stood from her seat and waddled her way over to stand just behind Dumbledore. Clearly meaning for this to be her grand introduction before her own far more important speech to the Hogwarts population.
"She's here to ensure that the tragic events of the past two years never repeat themselves," Dumbledore continued, not faltering once or betraying whatever real opinions he had about her or the Ministry, "And to hold the Defense Against the Dark Arts course to its standard Ministry curriculum. As such, she will be sitting in on all Defense courses, has the authority of any Hogwarts' professor, and should be treated with the respect a Hogwarts professor deserves."
Umbridge's dark eyebrow, which looked as if it'd been taped onto her skin, rose defiantly at the children as if to ask if she was going to have any troublemakers among them. She also looked directly at Lily, as if somehow, she knew that Eleanor Lily Potter was going to be her problem child.
There was a mixture of wild clapping, mostly from the Slytherin table, and slow confused clapping from everyone else who wasn't entirely sure what she was supposed to be doing here.
"Hem, hem," the woman said, a high pitched, polite, and deliberate, clearing of her throat. At the sound Dumbledore looked back at her and then seemed to realize that was her way of saying, "get off my stage, you senile bat," and made way for her, "And now, students, a final word from Ms. Umbridge."
"Thank you, Headmaster," Delores said, nodding towards Dumbledore as he took his seat back at the table, "Now, the Ministry and Hogwarts' board have graciously allowed Albus Dumbledore to continue his role as Headmaster of Hogwarts. However, this year, things will be a little different."
Well, Lily thought as she blinked, that was one way to start a speech. She supposed, given Dumbledore's recent track record, it really was a miracle he was still employed but she hadn't thought anyone would bring it up. Or, if they did, they'd bring it up quite like that.
Looking around, no one else quite new how to take it either, except for Slytherin who appeared to be living for it.
Umbridge continued, motioning to her heart as she spoke, "I am here to personally guarantee civility, order, and truth within this school. For, without truth, there is only the anarchy of charlatans and war mongers, and I shall not stand for that. Especially not among Hogwarts' vulnerable student population."
Lily glanced around again, wondering if anyone was as confused as she was, but from the look on everyone's faces they knew exactly what she was talking about. Some appeared smug and some, like Hermione, furious. It was apparently only Lily who had missed the memo, likely due to all that time travelling.
"Should any student notice anything amiss, should any strange event occur, or should any troubling rumors about dark lords returning catch any of your little ears, they should come to me immediately and I shall rectify the situation."
She let out a small, high-pitched, and highly obnoxious giggle. She clapped her hands together, "Now then, let's dig into the next school year."
Dumbledore motioned and the welcome feast appeared out of thin air as it did at the start of every school year. Treacle tart, pumpkin pasties, roast beast, and everything in between lined each and every table including Default's.
Everyone though kept staring at the staff table, nobody clapping for a moment, until they slowly realized that clapping was expected. They all looked at each other, waiting for the other to stop, until finally the sound died out and they turned to their food.
Almost immediately, the Great Hall was filled with the sound of murmured conversations about the speech.
As for Lily, she felt as if a lot had just happened, but mostly she couldn't help but notice that between the new professors, the ominous warnings, and the recap of the past few years Dumbledore's ruined hand had never come up.
"Geez, that Umbridge lady—"
And suddenly Lily was reminded of the other problem she'd had before Dumbledore had started talking. Tequila Weasley was shoving food in her mouth, looking entirely too at home, and sitting right next to Lily.
And if Lily tried to edge away she'd practically be sitting in Rabbit's lap.
"Who does she think she's kidding?" Ginny continued between bites of food.
"Oh?" Daphne noted, "And I suppose you're joining Default then, Weasley?"
"You bet," Ginny responded with a wild grin, "Should have sucked it up and joined last year but I didn't have the nerve."
It was nothing like Wizard Trotsky, Lily reminded herself, even his reckless crazed grins hadn't looked like that. She looked nothing like Wizard Trotsky, acted nothing like Wizard Trotsky, it wasn't him, he wasn't—
"Seriously though," Ginny continued, "We all know that something of You-Know-Who lived that night, you know, in 1981. That's what infected—It's what possessed me and everybody else. Everybody knew it, even before Ellie announced it on the train, sticking our heads in the sand isn't going to do any good."
Blaise looked as if he could hardly believe Ginny's audacity, "You know, Ginny, just because people say something doesn't mean it's true."
"Oh yeah?" Ginny asked, "Then what else did it?"
"I don't know," Blaise scoffed, "Perhaps it was a ghost, maybe some evil spirit, but the dark lord's been dust for over ten years now."
"Right," Ginny drawled, idly stirring her mashed potatoes as she challenged Blaise, "And the Death Eaters all just happened to break out of Azkaban, the Chamber of Secrets happened to open, and the dark mark just happens to be floating all over the place."
"They don't need a dark lord for that," Daphne pointed out, "They can do that all by themselves if they have enough creativity. Blaise is right, the dark lord is as dead as a doornail, and thank Merlin for that—"
"He wasn't dead two years ago," Hermione cut in darkly.
Everyone turned to look at her at once, Ginny included, as Hermione confessed her own truth for the first time in Lily's hearing, "He possessed Quirrell, that's the reason Quirrell confronted Ellie Potter in the first place."
Slowly, every one of them turned to look at Lily.
Lily hesitated for far too long, then, in a moment of slight panic admitted, "Yeah, that one's also true."
If Lily wasn't going to cover for any Tom Riddle she guessed she had to stick with it.
Blaise's mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. Finally, he asked, "Why didn't you tell anyone?!"
"… It didn't seem that important?" Lily responded lamely, then hastily amended, "I didn't think anyone would take me seriously."
No one said anything for a good, long, moment. Finally, Ginny recovered first, "Anyway, it's just stupid. The Prophet's been slamming Dumbledore for months about it. They'd be slamming me and my family too, if we were important enough to even be on their radar."
She then nodded towards the staff table, "I bet you a galleon that's what she's really here for, to make Dumbledore sit down and shut up."
"Or, you know, to stop students from getting paralyzed, possessed, murdered, and kidnapped," Blaise responded drily.
"Hey!" Ginny shouted, slamming her hands on the table, "That wasn't his fault!"
"Of course it—" Blaise sighed, rubbed at the bridge of his nose, then asked, "Oh, what are you even doing here anyway, Weasley? You aren't seriously joining Default, are you? Doesn't that disgrace your Gryffindor family or something."
"Aren't you disgracing Slytherin or something?" Ginny asked, and then looking at them all, smiled shyly, "I'm Ginny Weasley, by the way, former Gryffindor. Pretty sure I'm familiar with all of you."
Lily wouldn't be surprised, shouldn't be surprised, she was sure Wizard Trotsky had memorized each and every member of Default. The question was, how much of that knowledge had passed to Ginny Weasley.
She was… She was more brash, than Wizard Lenin. Lily wasn't sure she'd ever met Ginny, ever even glimpsed pieces of her, but she was notably different. Lily didn't have to remind herself as often as she thought that Ginny Weasley was just Wizard Trotsky's victim in this and not necessarily his mask.
He wasn't here, Lily wasn't in the chamber, Lily could sit here and shut up and even let Ginny join Default if she wanted to. Lily could be gracious, she could understand that the same shit that had happened to Lily had happened to Ginny, she could take pity on a twelve-year-old girl and let her switch houses if she wanted to.
Lily could be kind.
And then Lily realized just how this might benefit her, "Hey, Tequi—I mean Ginny,"
Ginny looked over at Lily in surprise and… flushed. She went bright red, even the tip of her ears glowed, "Yeah?"
Lily forged on ahead, her smile strained, as she tried not to think of last year and those many meetings she had with Ginny, "Could you get Ron's rat, Scabbers, for me? It'd be a great help."
"Scabbers?" Ginny asked, looking uncertain and a little wary, and god she was sitting far too close to Lily for comfort, "Sure, I guess, but why do you need him?"
That was a very good question that Lily was not inclined to answer.
"That's a secret," Lily said brightly.
Ginny nodded slowly but opened her mouth, either for clarification or else to press exactly what Lily wanted so badly with Ron's fat creepy rat, when Lily was interrupted yet again.
Lily almost expected it to be Dumbledore. Wasn't it past time he met with her, with Default? Or, if not him, then maybe this new Professor Slughorn, Default's new official head of house who looked a little too eager to start his new duties.
Or, perhaps, Lily expected Neville wandering to the Default table again to ask her for the truth she could only dispense in parts. To give him something he no longer seemed able to believe in…
Instead it was Draco Malfoy.
"Oh no," Lily said as she took him in, "Tell me you're not joining Default too."
Ginny Weasley, Lily could handle (no, that was a lie, but Lily could try and do her best to ignore Tequila's presence and pretend everything was just fine). Malfoy was half the reason she'd left Slytherin in the first place.
"No!" he shouted, much too quickly, loudly, and defensively. He cleared his throat, trying to regain his composure, and then asked, "Potter, can I—can I speak with you?"
Lily stared at him for a moment then responded, "No."
Lily reached for a piece of treacle tart, now that, that she had missed when she'd been outside of Hogwarts' walls. Oh delicious treacle tart, so underappreciated by so very many—
"Potter," Malfoy hissed, "Please, this is important!"
"My eating is important," Lily shot back, "I've had a very long week."
And it was clear, Lily thought with a sigh, that Malfoy wasn't going to go anywhere until Lily gave up already and let him talk.
She turned to face him, "Well?"
He motioned towards the double doors leading out of the Great Hall, "Not here."
Lily groaned, grabbed her plate and piled it with food, and said to the rest of them, "I guess I'll be back shortly."
"Seriously?!" Ginny asked.
"Oh, don't worry, Captain does this all the time," Luna consoled her, "You'll get used to it, I'm sure whatever Malfoy has to say is very important."
"And I'm also sure it has nothing to do with his father," Blaise added with a laugh.
Lily watched as Malfoy, having heard all of that, grew bright red. He didn't dispute it though, instead hustled Lily out of the Great Hall. They walked out into the corridor several paces and then he turned to her, "I need a ward up."
"Really?" Lily asked, wondering how he got the nerve to be so demanding.
He didn't have to say anything this time. Lily sighed again and did what he asked, setting up wards around them so that even Dumbledore couldn't listen in on their conversation if he was so inclined.
Lily started to eat her tart, and, with her mouth half full asked, "So, what's all this about?"
"What's all this about?!" he screamed back at her, "This is about you getting us all killed!"
Lily chewed, swallowed, then noted, "I fail to see how I've managed to do anything like that today."
"Oh, don't you?" Malfoy asked with a laugh, "You just told the whole bloody school that the dark lord's back!"
"Well, he is back," Lily said slowly.
"Don't you know he's been trying to keep that under wraps for months!" Draco hissed, he looked to his right, then left, then leaned in close despite being under wards, "My father runs The Prophet, Potter, he has ties with the Ministry. Both the Ministry and the dark lord have been actively trying to put down any hint that he's back. We've been slandering Dumbledore for months because he dared to say that the dark lord's been back since last year. The last thing he wants or needs is for Ellie Potter, the girl-who-lived, to go backing up Dumbledore in front of the entire school!"
Lily considered that for about two seconds, "Then he should have thought about that before sending me off to Hogwarts."
The way Lily saw it, this was Malfoy's problem.
Draco looked as if he was about to explode into a thousand ferrity pieces.
He breathed in once then out again, trying to control his terror, and when he spoke again his voice still quaked ever so slightly, "Potter, don't you know what he'll do to me, to you, when he finds out about this?"
Oh, he'd certainly be pissed but Wizard Lenin had been pissed at her for months now. He'd been pissed at her for far worse than merely telling the truth for once in her life.
"I'm not afraid," she said calmly.
Malfoy didn't seem to know how to respond to that. His mouth hung open, his face grew unnaturally pale, and finally he asked, "Just what are you to him?"
That was a very dangerous question with a very dangerous answer. More, Lily wasn't even sure she knew the answer herself. Perhaps, once, she thought she did but her and Wizard Lenin's relationship was such a complicated and intricate thing. It spanned time there and back again, weaving in on itself, until she couldn't imagine a world without him.
He didn't seem to want an answer though, she just shook his head, and said, "I have no idea what's happening anymore. Potter, it's all gone mad, hasn't it?"
He tried to collect himself again, did a better job this time, as he glared across at her, "Potter, we're putting down ground rules."
"Ugh," Lily groaned out, "Are we really?"
Who did he think he was, her keeper?
"Yes, really," Malfoy sneered, "First off, everything you do, every time you sneeze, I'm reporting it back to the dark lord."
Well that would irritate the living hell out of Wizard Lenin. Lily could just imagine it, "Today, your illustrious, magnificent, dark, lordiness, Ellie Potter sneezed in Defense."
It was too bad Wizard Lenin already had his grudge against bigger pimp with mini pimp as collateral, because the way Lily saw it, Draco was begging to be squished just out of the sheer aggravation he was about to deliver to Wizard Lenin's doorstep.
Draco wasn't done yet though, "—And we'll meet every day, going over what you can, can't, and shouldn't even think about doing!"
"That sounds like a lot of wasted time," Lily noted.
"Then you'll make time!"
Draco shuddered and tried to restrain his temper, "Potter, you have no idea what situation we're in. If we make one wrong move, if we don't do exactly what he wants, then we'll wish we were dead."
He really believed that, Lily thought. For the first time in his short life, Draco Malfoy was utterly terrified. And he wasn't wrong either, at least, not in terms of what would happen to him. Wizard Lenin would swat him like a presumptuous fly for little to no reason. He was prepared to do so for pettiness alone, revenge against Lucius Malfoy was enough to fuel the destruction of Draco Malfoy.
Lily had never thought about it, her world was so small and self-contained, but the rules she played by with Wizard Lenin were very different. Even for all she'd done both for and to him, for all he'd done for and to her, she would never face this same mindless terror that Draco Malfoy did.
If Lily didn't play by Wizard Lenin's rules, then it probably was Draco Malfoy who'd pay the price. Hadn't she thought as much on the train? That Wizard Lenin would be pleased that she was giving Draco Malfoy hell just like he'd asked.
"Does six, after dinner, work for you?" Lily asked, sighing and banishing her plate and the remains of her food back into the kitchen.
Draco let out a sigh of relief, nearly collapsing on himself, "Yeah, that'll work for me."
He turned back towards the Great Hall, before stopping, pausing, and looking back at her, "Try not to do anything too stupid in the meantime."
Suddenly, Lily felt a lot less pity for Draco Malfoy and a lot more temptation to smash his face into the wall and shout Tom Riddle's glorious return from the rooftops for all of Britain to hear.
He started walking again but, while Lily had him here, a thought struck her, "Hey, Malfoy, do you know anything about Sirius Black!"
He stopped with one hand on the double doors, his back stiffened, but he didn't turn back. All he said was, "Stay away from Black, Potter, he's not like the others."
And then he walked back into the Great Hall without another word.
Author's Note: It's a new year, with a few new mysteries, a few new dangers, and a few new professors. New in the world of "Lily and the Art of Being Sisyphus" is "Tequila Sunrise" the side-fic tale of the origins of Ginny and Wizard Trotsky tragic friendship.
Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter