In which Slughorn finally starts to clue in that there's talented people and then there's Ellie Potter, Lily has detention, and Lily and Neville finally have their tête-à-tête.
It had been a long first week of Hogwarts and not simply because Lily had managed to get so much and yet so little done.
After her meeting with Dumbledore the week had seemed to stretch out into eternity.
She'd feed Pettigrew and listen to his desperate pleas for mercy, go to breakfast, go to class, actually sit down and do her homework, go to dinner, go meet with Malfoy and assure him she hadn't blown anything up today, go with Rabbit to his tutoring sessions, hijack those tutoring sessions to get the tutor to help her with her own essays, go to quidditch tryouts, go meet with Slughorn, and the list went on.
All with the sad, fragile, hope that Wizard Trotsky would live up to his word and find her a contact to help with Pettigrew. Because after Dumbledore's flat refusal, when Wizard Trotsky had been eagerly waiting for her in the common room wearing Ginny's face, Lily hadn't had the energy to do anything but bargain with the devil.
No matter what kind of a price he might enact upon her.
To both her infinite relief and trepidation, she'd seen no hint of him in Ginny's face since. Ginny, for her own part, never brought up their midnight meeting or her own possession. Of course, she didn't bring up Scabbers anymore either.
No, if you asked Ginny Weasley, then the most important thing in her life right now was quidditch and then more quidditch. Practices, she'd told everyone the morning after their lackluster tryouts, began next week at the ass crack of dawn.
Saturday morning, however, brought Lily to a room filled with mounted china dishes featuring pink mewling kittens. They watched her with dark eyes, prowling in the confines of their china plates, and let out small adorable squeaks. The china dish cats were accompanied by pastel pink wallpaper, Pepto-Bismol pink carpeting, and decorative white lace as far as the eye could see.
Just the sight of all of it brought Lily back into the past, to a time and place before she'd even heard of Hogwarts. Mrs. Figg hadn't been quite as big on pink, but she'd loved her lace and her doilies, and she'd certainly loved her cats. These cats might be confined to mere paintings, but they prowled and watched just as much as Mrs. Figg's had.
Standing here, out of time and place, Lily felt so far removed from the girl she'd been not so long ago…
"Hem hem," an obnoxious, high pitched, and unfortunately familiar voice interrupted Lily's thoughts.
There sitting at her desk with a straight back, polite smile, and dark glittering eyes was Umbridge. She was in yet another pink getup that looked as if it should have died a good death in 1959 with a necklace of pearls barely fitting around her thick neck. Umbridge was proof that you didn't have to be Albus Dumbledore to have terrible fashion sense.
Umbridge nodded her head, ever so slightly, towards the seat in front of her desk. An unspoken command for Lily to sit her ass down.
Lily hadn't seen too much of Umbridge in her first week of Hogwarts.
Her only meaningful interaction with the woman had been when Lily interrupted the third-year lecture. When it came time for Lily's turn at Defense, Umbridge had spent most of her time "hem hemming" whenever Lupin tried to add any commentary to their ministry approved textbook.
She may have given Lily a smirk, narrowed her eyes a bit, and made some passing comment at the start of class about focusing on the dangers of true dark creatures rather than made up dark wizards, but kept most of her focus on keeping Lupin on his toes.
Frankly, Lily had seen far more of Slughorn, which Lily supposed was understandable given the whole head of house thing. Not to mention that Slughorn actually took his job seriously.
Snape always seemed just on the verge of shouting "Fend for yourselves, children!" and most of his interactions with Lily consisted of point loss and handing out detentions like there was no tomorrow. Dumbledore's intervention had started and ended at handing them schedules, giving them a dormitory, and making Lily quidditch captain. Slughorn though, he actually seemed to be invested in each and every one of his student's futures.
And Eleanor Lily Potter's future was driving him up the wall.
"What do you mean you lost your wand?"
This was after Lily's third day of classes, when she'd had her first Potions class of the week, and he'd watched in horror as Lily completed the potion that was supposed to take two weeks in under a minute with no wand.
"I mean that I haven't seen it in almost a year," Lily said, after all, she'd pawned it off to Wizard Lenin ages ago and thus far he hadn't given it back.
She wondered if he was just too lazy to go and find his own wand or if it had been burned to a crisp along with his original body.
Slughorn stared at her, first in shock, and then with a dawning sense of horror as he recalled just Lily probably lost her wand. Well, she would correct him, but his was a far more convenient explanation than trying to find some other way to wiggle out of the truth.
"Look, I don't need it," Lily reassured him, "I never needed it."
That seemed to get him out of his horror filled stupor and back to his flabbergasted state, "But surely—"
"Did you or did you not see me complete the potion without it?" Lily asked.
She may have done it in a lot less time than she was supposed to, but she'd also been hoping Slughorn would let her out early because of it. Snape never had but that was because he was a petty asshole who refused to give Lily what she wanted. As it was, Slughorn hadn't let her out early either, as he'd demanded she sit there and wait for him to a) double check the brewing process of the other students and b) test her potion to make sure it actually was the potion he expected.
Then after he'd double checked it three times, then sat at his desk looking like the universe just hit him over the head, he'd demanded she stay behind after class.
"Well—" Slughorn stopped, just stared at her as he fished for words, and finally said, "There's talent, Miss Potter, and then there's bending the very rules of magic. Potion making simply cannot be done without a magical conduit, without a wand that is."
"I thought that's what magic was," Lily said responded flatly, "Bending the rules of reality to suit your whims."
It wasn't Lily's fault everyone else was so bad at it.
He didn't say anything to that, didn't seem to know how to react, so Lily added, "If it makes you feel better, you can always take house points. Snape loved doing that."
In the end he hadn't taken house points or made Lily replace her wand. Probably because that would involve visiting a wand maker in the middle of the week.
By the time their first end of the week discussion had actually rolled around he hadn't had much to say to Lily except that instead of discussing her various essays he wanted her to write him a paper explaining all she thought she could and couldn't do. Forget, for a moment, all her textbooks and all the limitations of magic everyone told her about, and just tell him what she thought was possible.
She just handed him a blank paper and titled it "My Magical Limitations: A Personal Essay".
He'd stared at it a moment, stared at her, then asked her to attend some dinner party he was throwing at the end of September. A plus one was highly recommended.
"Miss Potter," Umbridge's voice cut into Lily's reminiscence, "A seat, if you please."
God, Lily hoped this detention was short. She had neither the time nor the energy for this.
Lily sat down and Umbridge's polite, and slightly smug, smile returned.
"Was that so hard, Miss Potter?"
"Sorry," Lily said, "I got distracted."
Umbridge didn't look impressed by the admission, "Yes, you often seem… distracted."
Umbridge looked Lily up and down, taking in her worn muggle clothing, "Distracted, insolent, self-absorbed, lazy, and a liar on top of all that. I'm beginning to wonder, Miss Potter, if there isn't anything that isn't wrong with you?"
Wow, that was a lot more than she had expected.
She knew Death wouldn't warn her about Umbridge for nothing, and Lily had tried to keep an eye on the woman all week (well, in between keeping Pettigrew hidden and alive, keeping an eye on Rabbit, and steering clear of dementors), but it hadn't seemed like there was much to keep an eye on.
The woman was certainly distinctive looking and extremely obnoxious, if Lily heard another "hem hem" in her life she just might rip Umbridge's vocal cords out, but she'd hardly seemed dangerous.
Now was the first time Lily had a hint that Umbridge was different at least in one respect. Even Snape, who loathed her and her father, who had been pushed past all human endurance by Lily and her hijinks, had never said anything like that to her.
And if he ever had, then he certainly hadn't looked at her with polite impatience, waiting for Lily to give some kind of a response.
"Well, people say I'm great at magic," Lily finally said.
"Hm, yes," Umbridge said, looking as if she'd just stepped in something awful, "But we're not here to discuss what other people have said, Miss Potter. We're here to discuss your repeated misdemeanors."
"Repeated?" Lily asked, eyebrows raising, "I thought I just had one detention."
She certainly hadn't managed to top falling out a window after chasing a rat all week. At least, not in public. Really, Lily had been on her best behavior. She'd even done her bloody homework!
"Make that a second detention, next Saturday at ten, for back talk," Umbridge said with a prim smile.
She fell silent, as if just waiting for Lily to open her mouth again, practically begging her to do it so that two detentions could become three. Unfortunately for Umbridge, Lily was wise to that game. She'd goaded Snape into a lifetime's worth of detentions in her first year.
Umbridge's eyes narrowed as she realized Lily wasn't taking the bait. Her polite smile disappeared, replaced by a small frown and a harder edge to her voice, "You see, Miss Potter, our world is in a fragile state these days. Fear is running rampant, imaginations are getting out of hand, and you, my dear, have taken particular delight in fanning the flames."
"I have?" Lily asked.
That sweet, saccharine, smile, "Make that a third detention."
Lily winced. Goddammit, she should have seen that coming.
"Not only have you shown no respect to your professors, your school, and your fellow students by abandoning your own class at the first opportunity and then having the gall to disrupt others', but you have been spreading dangerous lies."
Lily didn't remember that. She didn't remember spreading anything of importance to anyone recently let alone a lie. She hadn't even bothered to announce that Rabbit was going to doom them all, eat Scotland, and the stray Hufflepuff where he could. It was already too late for that, he'd invaded with dementors.
Apparently, this time Umbridge had wanted her to respond, "Well, Miss Potter, do you have anything to say for yourself?"
Well, Lily had burst into the third year Slytherin-Gryffindor-Default Defense offering, and Umbridge had been there to witness it. There was no talking her way out of that one. Except, from the way Umbridge spoke, it was as if she didn't even care about that.
"Which dangerous lies would those be exactly?"
Umbridge's smile hardened, "Surely, Miss Potter, you must remember."
No, Lily really had absolutely no idea.
"Oh dear, it appears I'll have to jog your memory," Umbridge said with a small cluck of disapproval, "You, Miss Potter, sought to terrorize your fellow students and the country at large by announcing You-Know-Who kidnapped you, that he has, in fact, returned."
Lily opened her mouth, closed it, not quite sure what to say. Finally, she said simply, "But he did kidnap—"
"And it appears you will be spending a fourth Saturday with me in detention, Miss Potter."
Lily promptly cut herself off. Apparently, with Umbridge, the less time she opened her mouth the better.
"Do you truly have no remorse for your actions, Miss Potter?" Umbridge asked sweetly.
Lily fidgeted in her seat, trying and failing to think of something to say.
This was a trap, she knew it, she could smell it and whatever came out of her mouth would just be used against her. Wizard Lenin might have been able to think away out of it, to use his words and his wits to win Umbridge's impossible game, but he was no longer whispering the answers to all of life's questions in her head.
It was just Lily now, as always, desperately muddling her way through life and she hadn't a clue what she was supposed to say.
So, she decided to just go for it, "Nope."
Umbridge's smile just became ten times sweeter.
"Well, we'll see how your attitude holds up after today," she said, reaching into her desk to remove a quill as well as a stack of parchment, "Today, Miss Potter, you are to write lines."
Oh, good, Lily would be out of here in two seconds.
Umbridge didn't seem to notice the triumphant look on Lily's face as she moved the parchment and quill over to her, "You are to write the words—"
Lily beat her to the punch. In the blink of an eye the parchment was filled with a hundred iterations of "I will write lines" in identical handwriting.
"Great," Lily said standing from her seat with a smile, "I'm so glad we had this talk. I'll see you next week."
Lily didn't even have a chance to fully stand up before Umbridge hissed, "Sit down, Miss Potter!"
Lily sat back down and Umbridge cleared her throat again, "Hem hem."
"Miss Potter," Umbridge said chidingly, as if she'd just caught Lily with her hand in the cookie jar, "You are to write the lines by hand with this quill."
Lily almost asked if she had to or if that wasn't a little pointless, but she didn't want a fifth detention added onto the pile. Besides, Lily had figured out that was the point of detention, to do dull tasks that made you never want to be in detention again. It was why Snape had eventually given up and stuck her with Quirrell for all her first-year detentions.
Instead, with a sigh, Lily picked up the quill, "What am I writing and how much of it?"
Umbridge's sweet smile became a shark-like grin, "For you, Miss Potter, 'I must respect authority', one-hundred times."
Lily felt her eyebrows raising of their own accord but Umbridge didn't say anything else or even add an extra detention for silent insolence. No, if anything, she looked anticipatory.
As if Lily writing bullshit for an hour was going to be exciting for anyone.
Well, there was no time like the present.
Lily picked up the quill and looked around for the ink jar. However, there wasn't any in sight, "Ms. Umbridge, I think you forgot the ink—"
"I haven't forgotten anything," Umbridge cut in, "The quill will provide its own ink."
So, some wizard had finally invented a fountain pen equivalent. That hadn't taken them a sad amount of time to work out or anything. As it was, Lily had always stuck to ballpoint pens, writing with a quill was going to be such a pain.
Lily removed the previous lines from the parchment, put the quill down on the paper, and wrote out her first scraggly "I" only to immediately drop the quill.
"Mother fu—" Lily hissed, barely caught herself, and glanced at her hand. Her eyes bulged as there, carved into her skin, was a solitary, legible, "I".
Lily looked back down at the page where, staring up at her, was the letter "I" written in a liquid red ink.
Lily looked silently up at Umbridge as the cut in her hand healed over leaving only slightly reddened skin as a reminder.
"Well," Umbridge said, "These lines won't write themselves."
Lily slowly, carefully, set down the quill and stood from her chair. Without a word she made to walk to the door.
"And where are you going, Miss Potter?"
Lily stopped in her tracks, turned her head to look at Umbridge, and said with the sweetest smile she could manage, "If you don't mind, I think I'd rather take this detention with Professor Snape."
"Students cannot pick and choose which staff member they'd prefer to spend detention with," Umbridge responded.
"Just the same," Lily said coldly, "I think I'll pass."
"And what do you imagine will happen next?" Umbridge asked, "You know I will take this not only to the headmaster but also the board of directors. Students can't simply refuse detentions, Miss Potter."
"Do Dumbledore and the board know that detention is carving lines into the back of my hand?" Lily shot back but Umbridge just smiled sweetly.
"My dear Miss Potter, the minister himself has put his full faith in me to supervise Albus Dumbledore's performance as headmaster and to correct subversive behavior. Your behavior, Miss Potter, has always been not simply erratic but subversive. Softer methods of punishment have failed with you for two years now, I believe the board would agree that stronger methods are now required."
She almost shouted "And the headmaster?" but she caught the question before it could get out.
Dumbledore. She remembered his cold, tired, eyes from their last meeting. She remembered the way he'd looked at her in both suspicion and contempt. How he had so easily dismissed both Pettigrew and Black without a second thought, without even bothering her to bring him the evidence that was right there.
Dumbledore wouldn't give a damn that Lily was going to be cutting her hand open for the next month for this witch. He certainly hadn't given a damn about the fact that Sirius Black might have had his innocent soul nibbled on by demons for the past decade. Umbridge could hang Lily out the window, leave her to be eaten by the dementors, and he wouldn't even blink.
She could bring him her freshly bleeding hand, a pile of blood-soaked parchment, and he'd ask her to come back with proof next time.
And somehow Umbridge knew it.
Lily felt rage climbing up her throat, demanding she scream, that she tear this office apart and burn it to the ground.
Let Umbridge go to the board of directors, let her go to Dumbledore, Lily didn't have to put up with this. What was the worst they could do, expel her? Great, then Lily didn't have to party with the dementors anymore. She'd just go back to Malfoy Manor and—
And what would Wizard Lenin say?
What would he say when he found out that Lily had been expelled over a paper cut?
What would she say, "Sorry, Lenin, I wigged out at the sight of my blood, a scratch that healed over in two seconds, and I just couldn't take it anymore?"
Slowly, Lily turned back around and sat down in the seat, shuddering with rage as Umbridge's smile returned.
This woman had no idea how easily Lily could dispose of her. Not even a snap of her fingers and this woman could be cut in half, pulverized, diced, dissected, you name it and it would be done. As Lily had so casually told Slughorn, she didn't have limits.
Except that despite all of that she was still sitting here with the black quill in her hand.
Lily looked down at the paper, at the solitary "I", now in a darker and dryer red.
She set the quill down onto the parchment, about to start on the "must", when she paused.
She glanced at her reddened right hand and imagined another hand in its place. Instead of this pink, cat-filled, office she was in a train station that didn't exist. She was drinking tea, looking down at her hand joined with another's. Hers was pale and unblemished, his covered by a glove, but when it wasn't the words "I must not tell lies" stared back.
Lily started writing, paying no mind to the sharp pain in the back of her hand, one word following the next. She paid no mind to Umbridge, who stood to make herself tea, and returned to her desk to alternate between reading through papers and watching Lily with sadistic glee.
Lily shielded the parchment from Umbridge's view, bent over it and hurriedly wrote down each sentence, gritting her teeth with each cut into her skin and willing herself through the pain.
It probably would have taken most of the day if she'd stopped to catch her breath and let the wound heal over each time. As it was, she finished in just under two hours.
She dropped the quill instantly, letting it fall into the parchment, and tried not to wince as she withdrew her bleeding right hand.
"There," Umbridge said with that nauseously sweet voice, "Do you feel as if you've learned something, Miss Potter?"
Lily just grinned and started to laugh, feeling lightheaded with both the blood loss and her secret triumph. Umbridge wasn't in on the joke, not yet, but she would be in about two seconds. She lifted her right hand up, turned it around to face Umbridge before the last of the words could heal over.
"I'm afraid I must not tell lies," Lily said through her own laughter, "I can't respect the authority of fascist toads."
Umbridge grabbed the parchment and looked through the hundred lines of "I must not tell lies".
Umbridge's smile returned, but it was strained and brittle, "These are not the lines I asked for, Miss Potter, I'm afraid you will have to write a hundred more."
"Why not?" Lily said, still laughing, shaking with the force of it, "I'm here all week."
"Do you think I'll let you leave without completing your detention?" Umbridge asked ever so politely, but she was trying too hard, that polite mask was straining.
"I think you're going to die before you get those words out of me," Lily shot back with her own grin.
She stood and held her arms open wide as if in a gesture of peace, "With that, I think I'll take my leave, and I will see you next Saturday."
Lily slowly walked towards the door, keeping her eyes on Umbridge and that wild grin on her face. Umbridge seethed all the while but said nothing, just hid her own anger behind that ever-present smile.
When Lily reached the door and placed her hand on the handle, she said, almost as if it was an afterthought, "Oh, by the way, Voldemort really is back and he's just as good looking and evil as ever."
Before Umbridge could say a word to that Lily opened the door and slammed it in her face, crowing with laughter as she collapsed against it in the hallway.
Lily hadn't walked into that office knowing there'd been a battle, but she'd played by Umbridge's rules and won it all the same.
Her hand might still feel like it was burning, might be covered in drying blood, but goddammit she'd won against that bitch and she'd win every single time Umbridge wanted to play this game. Let her go to an indifferent Dumbledore, let her go to the board, let her go all the way to the minister himself. Let her tell them that Ellie Potter was a subversive element, a menace and danger to society, for daring to write the wrong lines in her own blood in detention.
Oh, that had just been too good.
Lily started, looked down the hallway, and found herself staring at Neville. She scrambled to her feet, dusted off her clothes, only to wince when she tried moving her right hand. Right, victory might have tasted sweet, but it came with pain.
"Neville," Lily started only to pause.
She'd tried to talk to him this week, tried to find a moment to catch his eye, but it seemed like she never could. In the great hall he disappeared into the crowds of Gryffindors, they no longer shared classes, and every time she looked for him there was always someone else with him.
Finally, after a week, here he was on his own.
He looked just as surprised to see her as she was him. Funny, it shouldn't seem so strange, they did attend the same school after all.
Her words caught in her throat, she shifted awkwardly on her feet, and then asked the first question that came to mind, "What brings you here?"
And the surprise on his face was replaced by a stony and unreadable expression.
"Detention," he said shortly.
"With Umbridge?" Lily asked and he just offered a small, curt, nod.
"Good luck," Lily said, shaking her head in pity, "If she tries to give you lines just turn around and run as fast as you can."
He didn't ask, didn't even smile, just looked flatly across at her. Suddenly, Lily could feel every single second since last year between them.
"So, what'd you do to get detention?" Lily asked, "You remember how I got mine. I also have several more now for back talk."
Which, Lily suddenly realized would probably be the same thing as this time around if not worse. Lily's gloating might force Umbridge to start getting creative. Lily probably should have thought of that beforehand.
"I said You-Know-Who was back in Defense," he said, shifting into an aggressive stance, eyes just daring her to disagree.
"Yeah, apparently that's a taboo topic," Lily agreed with a smile as she glanced down at her aching hand, "I got nailed for that one too."
"You do agree then," Neville asked, but it wasn't a question, more a statement, "That he's back."
Lily paused, feeling the truth, all of it, stuck on her tongue. She suddenly remembered what Malfoy had told her that first night back, that Wizard Lenin didn't want to be found yet. For all that she'd already spilled the beans, Lily had always lived in a world filled with half-truths and deceit…
It took her a second to find her voice again, "Yeah, I guess I do."
He looked almost contemptuous at that, like Lily's answer was just what he'd expected from her. He made to move past her, to push her aside and enter detention with Umbridge but Lily stopped him.
"What happened to us, Neville?" she asked, "We were always friends—"
"Move, Ellie," he said shortly, trying to move her out of the way of the door. Even lightheaded as she was, Lily didn't budge.
"Neville," Lily insisted, "I told you I didn't do it! I never touched the chamber of secrets—"
"Right," he said shortly, "Because it was Ginny or Lockhart or anybody else but you."
"What's that supposed to mean?!" Lily asked.
"It means that 'not opening the chamber' means a lot of things," Neville said, finally looking her in the eye, "It means that even if you didn't open it, even if you swear on your magic, I know—"
He paused, sucked in a breath, and shook his head, "Forget it, it's fine."
"It's fine?" Lily asked because it clearly was anything but fine.
"Please move," Neville insisted, "I'm going to be late for detention."
"Screw detention," Lily spat back, "It's not fine—"
"It's fine," Neville said, "It's all in the past anyway, isn't it? After all, didn't you tell everyone you destroyed Slytherin's monster?"
He finally managed to push her aside and offered her a thin smile, "Who cares who opened it? According to Umbridge, You-Know-Who is dead as a doornail anyway."
And just like that he walked inside, where he would undoubtedly write his own personalized warning on the back of his hand, and left Lily standing just outside the door.
Lily looked down the empty hallway to the distant window and the afternoon sunlight filtering through. Through it, at this distance, there was no sign of the dementors roaming the grounds in search of the elusive Sirius Black. Each and every one of them unaware and indifferent to the fact that Lily was keeping Peter Pettigrew beneath her floorboards.
"Well," she said to herself, "At least Rabbit didn't eat anything yet."
Author's Note: Why have filler when we can have character development with Umbridge?
Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter