In which Lily is reminded that she has chosen to live in a society, reality buckles, and somebody artificially unimportant dies.
"Don't you have detention?" Hermione asked suspiciously.
This was a fair thing to ask.
First, the way things were playing out, if you guessed that Lily was supposed to be in detention, you'd probably be right. As always, Lily was collecting detentions like Dudley collected birthday presents.
Umbridge seemed to have made it a personal goal in life to assign Lily as many detentions as she conceivably could for relatively minor infractions (such as asking too many questions). Lupin hadn't really assigned detentions aside from that first one, but with Lily insistent on learning the Patronus, he had reluctantly agreed to meet with her at the tail end of his office hours for the next few weeks. Given the regular occurrence, Lupin's extreme reluctance, and the fact that they were one on one with a professor who might very well try to kill her, Lily said it counted.
Second, Lily did in fact have detention.
Every Saturday morning in September had been slated to be spent with Ms. Dolores Umbridge doing whatever she thought might teach Lily a lesson this time.
Except, after her first round with and pyrrhic victory against Umbridge, Lily had decided she wasn't showing up to this or any other detention with the woman ever again.
"I am conscientiously objecting," Lily declared as she reached for another piece of toast and the pitcher of orange juice.
If conscientiously objecting meant she could sleep in on Saturday and have breakfast at the last possible moment, then Lily wasn't going to complain about that either.
Hermione's eyes slid over to the staff table damningly.
Not that there was anything damning about it. Pretty much every professor had already come and gone already, leaving the table empty save for Trelawney, who was too busy staring into her cup of tea to eat her food. Only students ate breakfast at ten thirty in the morning on the weekends, and even then, only those who were tempting the house elves to let them starve until lunch.
Still, Lily was vaguely surprised Hermione was still here. She was normally an early bird who loathed the idea of wasting time, even on weekends. Time spent sleeping could be time spent studying and being angry with the world.
"You can't conscientiously object to detentions," Hermione said dully.
"The hell I can't," Lily shot back.
"You can't," Hermione repeated with growing irritation. "Umbridge sent for Slughorn, who sent me to find you."
"Wow, that fast?" Lily asked. It was only half past ten. That meant Umbridge hadn't wasted any time waiting for a tardy Lily to show up. Maybe she'd figured out after the last time that Lily wouldn't be making a willing appearance.
Hermione frowned at Lily's blasé response. "Are you really going to go and make this my problem?"
Lily blinked at her in genuine confusion. "How in the hell is this your problem?"
"I'm a prefect, Ellie," Hermione said firmly, motioning to her shining silver badge. "That means it's apparently my job to reel you in."
"Well," Lily said, biting into her toast, "I guess it sucks to be you then."
"And when I told Slughorn that there was no chance in hell that you'd listen to me," Hermione said as if Lily hadn't said anything, "He gave me permission to strip you of your prefect badge and suspend you from the quidditch team."
"You can tell him that I enjoyed my authority while it lasted."
"And when I told him that you couldn't care less about being a prefect, quidditch, or even house points," Hermione continued, "That you didn't care about getting suspended from classes and that the only thing that might bother you is expulsion, he said he'd take it up with Albus Dumbledore."
Hermione paused, letting her words sink in as she glared across at Lily. "Don't eat up my entire weekend, Ellie, just because you're too good for detention."
"Do you even know what detention with Umbridge is?" Lily shot back, flexing her right hand unconsciously, as if she could still feel the words itching in her skin.
Hermione didn't answer, just gave Lily an increasingly dull look, but one that made it clear she was going to sit here as long as it took to convince Lily to be reasonable and go to the goddamn detention already.
"Look," Lily said with a sigh, "You can tell Slughorn that I will take detention with literally anyone else in this castle. Snape, Lupin, you name it, and we can just forget this whole detention with Umbridge thing."
Hermione didn't seem impressed.
"If you don't want to do it so badly, why don't you just do what you always do?" Hermione asked.
"What I always do?" Lily asked dumbly.
"Overwrite everyone's memories and make all the detentions go away," Hermione said. "Isn't that how you usually deal with things that don't go your way?"
Lily's stomach dropped and suddenly she wasn't hungry at all anymore.
"No," Lily said, perhaps a little too quickly. "No, I'm not—I won't overwrite people like that."
Once, yes, in the beginning with the Dursleys and at Hogwarts, she'd erased memories left and right. It'd been easy, convenient, and like Hermione said, it had seemed to make all her problems go away. However, that Lily lived in a world empty of other people; the only other true people in her life Death and Wizard Lenin.
Perhaps she still lived in that world, one of papier-mâché people, but nonetheless she couldn't cast them off as easily anymore. Their memories, their lives, they weren't nothing.
She'd been too young, her world so small, and she hadn't been Morgan Gaunt yet. She hadn't realized how important memories, even the dull insignificant ones, were to the heart of you.
Even with Lily's memories back, Morgan Gaunt still lingered in the back of her mind, like an infection she'd never truly be rid of.
Except, she had erased memories since then, hadn't she? Dumbledore's after he first met Tom Riddle. She hadn't erased the moment, not the conclusions he'd drawn from it, but she had warped his memory and removed herself from it. She hadn't even thought about it at the time, had known it was necessary but—
It seemed different now. Lily had never made any sort of vow, either internally or spoken out loud to anyone else, but she didn't intend to erase anyone's memory again. Certainly, not if it was only for her own comfort.
Not Umbridge's, not Neville's, not Hermione's, and not Dumbledore's.
Whatever mistakes she'd engraved into their memory, they would all have to live with it. Lily would have to live with it.
"Then you're going to have to suck it up and go to detention," Hermione said flippantly.
Lily bristled. "It's not an either or—"
"Is this the hill you're going to die on?" Hermione asked, motioning around them to the nearly empty great hall. "You're really going to push this all the way to the headmaster, to the board, just because you can't handle detention?"
"I said I'd do it with somebody else—"
"You know that's not going to happen. No one's going to let you switch around detentions just because you don't like the professor," Hermione interjected. "And besides, if you're going to try to play by society's rules then you should play by society's rules."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lily asked.
"It means this conscientious objection of yours is half-assed," Hermione said. "If you're not going to go to detention, then just make it go away, otherwise suck it up and go. I have better things to do today."
Lily just looked at her critically. "Are you telling me to do or do not, that there is no try?"
"I'm telling you that the world doesn't revolve around you," Hermione said, repeating her own words from what felt like a lifetime ago. "You've decided to live in a society, Lily, so just get used to it already and go to detention like the rest of us."
Yes, that was the crux of it, wasn't it?
Somewhere along the way, this year, Lily had decided she'd attempt to do this Hogwarts thing like the rest of them and try to find her place in this world. Because the world outside of Hogwarts, the one with Wizard Lenin, seemed to be getting smaller and smaller.
Somewhere along the way, somehow, that meant agreeing to attend detentions even with Umbridge.
Lily stood, letting out a long, exhausted sigh. "Fine, goddammit, I'll go. But you have to watch Rabbit."
"Why do I have to—"
"Somebody's got to watch Rabbit," Lily interjected, "And if I'm in detention with Umbridge it can't be me."
Hermione held up her hands in defense. "Fine, he can come with me to the library, not that your detention's going to take more than a few hours or anything."
It'd only taken a few hours last time because Lily had been all too willing to saw off her own hand to prove a point. She could easily see carving up her hand taking all day.
Well, who said Lily would be carving up her hand? She'd show up to Umbridge's office, fine, let Hermione have her weekend and let Lily keep her useless prefect badge and position on the quidditch team. That didn't mean she had to do what Umbridge wanted.
Yes, Lily would wait her out.
Lily would sit her ass down and refuse to write a goddamn word and see how Umbridge liked that. And what would Umbridge say to Slughorn? Ellie Potter refused to cut up her own hand? She just sat there for hours refusing to do anything, like a lump? It might be embarrassing for Lily to get expelled over skipping detention, but whining to Dumbledore that Lily had refused to carve words into her skin had to be worse.
Besides, if she avoided the detention entirely, they'd drag this out all year. Maybe she could somehow terrify the living daylights out of Umbridge into dropping this.
She just wished that Umbridge would—not that she'd die, or anything, but that she'd just disappear. Lily had enough garbage to deal with even before Umbridge had shown her face. There was Pettigrew, Sirius Black, the dementors, trying and failing to patch up her relationship with Wizard Lenin. Umbridge, on top of all that? Forget about it. It wasn't like the woman even did anything remotely useful.
She just sat there in the back of the classroom or at the staff table, interrupted Defense, handed out detentions, and reminded people to rat out their friends if said friends mentioned You-Know-Who a little too often. Lily didn't even see the point of her except to apparently hand out the worst detentions in the world and make Lily feel like a shmuck.
If she knew what was good for her, she'd just go back to the ministry and they could both pretend she'd never come here at all.
With that in mind, Lily made her way out of the great hall, up the stairs, and finally to Umbridge's overly pink office. It was just as pink as last time; the only difference was that the kittens, instead of simply mewling and playing in china dishes, were now watching Lily with the avid eyes of budding predators.
"Miss Potter," Umbridge said as soon as the door opened, "I believe you are forty-five minutes late."
"Really?" Lily asked dully. "You're lucky I showed up at all."
"Hem hem," Umbridge cleared her throat. "Yes, I thought you might say as much. You think you're very funny, don't you?"
"And you really think that making me go through this makes me less likely to announce Voldemort's grand return," Lily rebutted. "Funny, you've just made me want to scream it from the rooftops for everybody to hear."
Lily had said more about Tom Riddle's glorious return in two weeks than she'd ever planned to say in her life…
Wizard Lenin probably was going to send her an angry letter about that eventually.
Lily sat in the seat in front of Umbridge, forcing herself to smile. "So, what are we doing today? Lines? Assigning me even more detentions for daring to be late to this one or for, god forbid, the backchat?"
Umbridge said nothing, simply kept smiling.
"You got me all the way in here," Lily said. "Congratulations, I am very impressed, I had not planned on coming in here this morning yet here I am anyway."
"Impertinence," Umbridge said slowly, relishing the very word. "Out of your many grievous flaws, I think that is perhaps your worst."
"I like to think I simply have things in perspective," Lily said casually in response. "Voldemort's returned from the dead; compared to that, what could you possibly do?"
"Oh, I think I can do much worse than your pitiful delusions," Umbridge said with a smile.
"Delusions?" Lily blinked, stared open-mouthed. "Wait a minute, are you telling me you actually believe he isn't back?"
For some reason, this floored Lily.
Granted, she hadn't had too much time to get acquainted with Umbridge yet, but she'd always assumed Umbridge was perfectly aware of what was really happening. Umbridge, just like everyone else, had to know that the dark lord really had returned. No, she had to know more than everyone else, which was why she so actively tried to push down the news. She wasn't in denial but making sure everyone else was.
But no, Lily really thought Umbridge believed it, she thought Lily was crazy for even daring to say it.
"It is only you and Dumbledore, Ellie Potter," Umbridge said with that cold, cruel smirk, "Who are so willing to manipulate the masses into believing the dead could rise from the grave."
"I… see," Lily said slowly, not quite sure what else to say.
She wasn't saying she expected more from Umbridge, something to match her sinister nature, but it all felt a little… flat. Suddenly, Lily wasn't staring at a woman, even one with some power over her, but a well-crafted prop on a stage. Despite being quite heavy, Umbridge suddenly seemed thin, flimsy, the pearls around her neck more substantial than her.
If the lights were to go out, she would easily fade into the background, never to leave this desk, as much a part of the room as any piece of furniture.
In fact, now that Lily thought on it, this entire conversation felt as if it had been scripted. It wasn't the exact same, not even really paraphrased, and yet it felt exactly like the conversation she'd first had with Umbridge.
Umbridge had insulted Lily, told her she had grievous flaws, then given her more detentions for back chat, but made it clear that Lily was really getting detentions for spreading the word that Voldemort was back in business.
There'd been no more assigned detentions, not yet, but considering Lily had shown up late to this one—
Shouldn't Umbridge have said something else by now? Something different? Hadn't she had more… presence last time?
Lily felt a chill crawl up her spine.
"I'm not writing lines," Lily said quickly, trying to reassert herself. "I'm prepared to sit here all day if I have to."
Umbridge just kept smiling. "No, you will not be writing lines, Miss Potter."
"I'm not?" Lily asked, stunned. "Oh, good, I'm glad we… agree on that."
Umbridge didn't look as if Lily not writing lines in her own blood was a bad thing, though. You'd think she'd have been disappointed, frustrated, but instead she just seemed smug. As if whatever she was about to say next, Lily would be begging her to write lines.
"No, since you objected so heavily last time," Umbridge said, "I thought we'd do something a little different today."
Umbridge stood, and Lily stood with her. "If you'll follow me, Miss Potter."
Umbridge moved to the door, but Lily stayed put. Something was wrong here, very wrong here, but Lily couldn't put her finger on it. The air wasn't cold, the shadows were where they should be, everything appeared right, but something was terribly off and had been from the moment she entered this room.
Something told Lily that if all was right in the world, her detention would have involved that quill, or perhaps Umbridge would have gone straight to Dumbledore or the board instead. Rather than a disgruntled Hermione Granger coming to get her, telling her to suck it up and do it, it'd be Slughorn or someone with actual authority.
"Hem hem," Umbridge said, looking at Lily pointedly.
Lily glanced at the desk. The quill and parchment were nowhere in sight.
"You know what?" Lily asked. "I think I'll stay. We can do detention in here, we can—talk about our feelings for an hour. I can help censor Lupin's lesson plans."
Umbridge stayed at the door, still smiling, still off and becoming more off by the minute. "That will not be necessary."
"Oh," Lily said, taking a step closer to the desk and away from the door. "I think it will be very necessary."
Lily held up her hands placatingly. "I'll help you out, our next lesson will be on how Lord Voldemort is really, actually dead and how all the prison breakouts, graffiti, and arson are just a product of the restless youth."
Umbirdge stayed at the door.
"Hell," Lily continued with a forced grin, "You can even blame it on me. Make me your restless, agitated youth who's up to no good and not keeping off anybody's lawn. It'll be a great lesson; we'll learn so much about defending ourselves from dark arts."
Umbridge stayed at the door.
Lily fell silent, backed up all the way into the desk, and simply stared at the woman.
The room hadn't changed, nothing had moved, and yet Lily had the feeling the walls were caving in. She glanced out towards the window, and she could see the Hogwarts grounds spread out beneath them as well as the early morning horizon. Yet, staring at it, she couldn't help but feel that it wasn't out there at all and instead that was nothing more than a clever painting on the glass.
"Are you quite finished?" Umbridge asked, moving her hand to the door handle.
Lily didn't say anything, just watched in silent horror as Umbridge opened it and—
Revealed a normal Hogwarts hallway. Lily breathed out, stumbled forward, and poked her head out the doorway. Yes, there was the hallway exactly as expected, exactly as Lily had left it. All the portraits were accounted for, the stone slabs making up the floor gently scuffed by hundreds of years of shoes, every door in its place.
Only… All the portraits were empty.
Lily never usually paid much mind to the portraits. She generally found them obnoxious, even more so than talking to people, and when she'd been in Slytherin had just compelled the damn thing to let her in every time rather than memorize any password. Still, she didn't think she'd ever seen every single one in a hallway empty before.
Usually, most, if not all, could be found in some frame or another.
Umbridge stepped out alongside Lily and locked her office door behind her.
With prim little steps, Umbridge made her way down the hallway and towards the stairs. Lily followed at a healthy distance. As she walked she kept her eyes on the walls, and every portrait remained damningly empty. More, there wasn't a single sound aside from their footsteps.
It was Saturday, but that didn't mean the castle should be empty. There should be students milling about here and there, leaving dormitories to go to the quidditch pitch or else the lake, taking advantage of the fading good weather.
There was no one though, not even a hint of another student or professor, and when they got to the stairs each one was motionless.
Lily was starting to wish she'd just skipped detention. Although, a part of her was wondering as she travelled down the stairs, if she even had had a choice. This, whatever this was, Lily didn't think it would have stopped if Lily had simply chosen not to go to detention.
Eventually, they made their way outside the castle. The lake, just like the castle, was empty of students. Lily was sure there was a quidditch game today, but she couldn't even hear a distant roar from the stands.
Umbridge didn't even seem to notice.
"What are we doing out here?" Lily asked carefully.
Umbridge smiled cruelly down at her, as if Lily had unwittingly set up the greatest joke at her own expense. "I thought, for today's detention, we'd do something a little more productive."
"Productive," Lily echoed.
Umbridge started to walk forward, towards the Forbidden Forest, clearly expecting Lily to follow.
"I've heard you're familiar with the dementors," Umbridge said.
Lily didn't move; her eyes instead lifted to the trees, widening in horror as she searched for misplaced shadows floating in the non-existent wind. There was nothing, not even that cold in the air that signaled their presence.
"They've served the ministry loyally for centuries," Umbridge continued, stopping to look back at Lily with that ugly smile. "Doing the fine work of guarding our only prison. However, this hunt for Black has made them restless, hungry, and they need a little something to tide them over."
"You would—" Lily stopped, shuddered. "You're going to feed them?"
"No, you, Eleanor Potter, are going to feed them," Umbridge said. "Not a full human soul, of course, but just a little of your own happiness. A small sliver of contentment, so you might know a taste of the fear and despair your lies have brought to this country."
Lily took a step back towards the castle, then another, and without a word she turned around to walk back inside. She opened the door, stepped in and—and found herself stepping back out onto the Hogwarts grounds.
Lily whirled, opened the door and peered inside. It was the inside of Hogwarts, alright, nothing out of the ordinary. Stepping inside again, though, and within the next second Lily was right back outside again.
Three more times of this and Lily realized there was no going back inside the castle.
"You're not seeing this?" Lily desperately asked Umbridge. "I mean, this isn't bothering you, at all?"
"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about—"
"Oh, so you just didn't notice that I—" Lily motioned to the door, to the tempting path to escape that apparently didn't exist, and then let her hand fall.
She looked back over towards the Forbidden Forest, still seemingly empty of dementors. The patronus, Lily didn't know it yet, hadn't even really gotten started with Lupin. She'd wasted that entire detention trying and failing to think of a suitable happy memory and gotten out only the barest hint of glowing white mist.
If Lily ran into a dementor now—
Lily moved away from the castle but didn't walk towards the forest. Instead, she left Umbridge to march ahead while Lily moved towards the lake.
Lily sat down on the rocky shore, just above the waterline, and stared out towards the horizon. She didn't look behind her.
If she didn't look at it, then it went away, wasn't that what Rabbit said? Lily gave things—gave Tom Riddle—power and importance by paying attention to them. If she didn't look, then it all would return to normal.
If she didn't look, then Umbridge, her detentions, and the dementors would disappear.
If Lily stopped believing in it then it stopped existing.
"You care about such little things."
Lily's head slowly turned. There, sitting next to her, looking as if he'd been sitting there the whole time, was Rabbit. He smiled at her, really smiled, but even though the curve of his lips was right it still didn't reach his black eyes.
Rabbit took her hands in his, squeezed them gently. His hands were cold, so cold they numbed her own and sent a cold wave straight to her heart.
And then Lily realized what must have happened, had been happening, and was going to happen.
"You ate her," Lily breathed in horror, "You ate Umbridge."
Rabbit's soft smile became a too-pleased grin. "You allowed her to be eaten, Lily."
"I—" Lily stopped, still didn't look behind her, didn't dare. "You mean the dementors? That was her idea."
Umbridge must have been eaten by the dementors. She planned this detention out, only, instead of eating parts of Lily, they devoured her whole. Lily was just close enough to the action this time that she… saw it.
"Yes, that was foolish," Rabbit mused. "I do hate when these humans of yours think they can bribe me. That she felt she could throw me your soul, your painfully crafted light, as if it were nothing more than a bone to a starving dog."
"However, that would have simply given her to the edge of me. She would have left a body behind and only the soul and memories would be mine. You gave her and her ilk directly to me." Rabbit leaned in close until he was right next to her ear and breathed, "You wanted her to disappear, didn't you?"
Lily jerked back but Rabbit was simply smiling, and as he sat there, Lily slowly noticed the real Hogwarts returning. There were birds in the air again, and the sound of quidditch played in the distance, a few older students walking out of the castle with books in hand.
Turning around, Umbridge was nowhere in sight.
Lily fought the growing panic, tried to force herself to think, to remember.
No, this wasn't like Rabbit's other meals. The others, the ghosts, that Hufflepuff student, it was like they'd never existed in the first place. They were missing, sure, but no one had ever mentioned them or even acted like they ever existed.
Umbridge was nothing like that.
Until this morning, she'd been very real.
"Hermione mentioned her this morning," Lily said slowly. "Umbridge came to Hogwarts, everyone knows who she is, she's not—"
"Did she?" Rabbit asked, "Did anything significant change because of her? Did she do anything more than irritate and offend you? Was she anything more than a petty, superfluous villain representing a human construct you barely believe in? Did she not seem entirely pointless?"
"Is it not easier, now that she's gone?" Rabbit asked.
"That's not what I said—" Lily said, but Rabbit spoke over her.
"You wrote the rules," Rabbit said. "You wrote the play and all the players. Made the suns and all the worlds. If even you don't see the point in Dolores Umbridge, then why shouldn't she simply disappear?"
Lily said nothing for a moment, just stared at Rabbit, and wondered how he could look even this human.
Finally, she said, "Is this your idea of doing me a favor?"
He didn't answer, but then she wasn't sure why she expected him to.
Until a few weeks ago, Lily would have said that Rabbit wasn't something that understood the concept of favors or gifts.
Lily stood, stared out at the woods, and now that she was back in the real world (or what counted as the real world) she could feel the dementors again. They were out there, prowling just out of sight, perhaps even momentarily satisfied with their most recent meal.
But then, maybe they were always hungry.
And now Lily lived in a world where there would be no more detentions with Umbridge, just like she'd wanted. She would never write with that quill again, nor would she even have to overwrite anyone's memories.
She was sure that if she walked back into the castle, no one would even have heard the name Umbridge.
Stiffly, without another word, Lily made her way back inside.
When she next ran into Hermione at dinner, Hermione bemoaned Lily skipping out on her detention and how Slughorn had given Hermione hell for it, even though Lily's detention was nothing more than sitting in an empty room, without supervision, writing the words "I must not tell lies" in ordinary, black ink.
Author's Note: Did Umbridge exist in this story solely to at some point get eaten by Rabbit to prove how goddamn terrifying he is? You tell me reader, you tell me. Next chapter, Lily pretends everything is fine like that dog in a house on fire.
Thanks to GlassGirlCeci for betaing the chapter. Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter