In which Death speaks fondly of Sirius Black, Neville looks worse for wear, and an old friend makes a reappearance.
Lily decided that she hated waiting.
Oh, she'd had a feeling that she'd never exactly liked it, she knew she could be a touch impatient and that this often got her into trouble. However, she didn't think before now she'd ever realized exactly how much she hated waiting.
Sitting on her hands, waiting, for something not only outside of her control but out of sight to boot.
When it was early October, that was bad enough, now it was Halloween.
It'd been a month and there was no word from Shacklebolt, no hint of any news in the papers, no word from Wizard Lenin, nothing from anyone. Lily understood that this would take time. Shacklebolt had to first convince himself then his higher ups that this was the real deal, he'd have to move carefully so as not to alert Wizard Lenin's moles, and the whole thing was—delicate.
A lot of careers were on the line here.
It could take well over a month before Lily saw a hint of progress. More, even if there was progress, he had no obligation to reach back out to her. She'd done her part, all that was left for Lily was to read it in the papers.
Which was beyond frustrating.
Of course, there was no sighting of Sirius Black either, and this was making the castle just as antsy as no news on Pettigrew was making Lily.
Lily hadn't honestly thought about that much at all. Sure, all of this was about Sirius Black, but he'd been more of an afterthought. She'd had Pettigrew, which was what was important, and had no immediate need to reach out to Black.
If he didn't show up to make her life difficult then so much the better.
Only with the increase in fearful whispering did Lily realize that this—perhaps—was not good.
The manhunt for Black hadn't abated in the slightest since school started. His face still was decorated across the Daily Prophet (a better story to focus on than the possible return of Voldemort). The dementors were certainly still at Hogwarts, just waiting to sniff him out and devour him. But no one had caught sight of him yet.
Not even a glimpse.
Rumor had it that he'd be sure to hit Hogwarts at some point, that Ellie Potter must be his true target. That he would avoid Hogwarts so long only meant he was planning something horrendous, something that scarcely dared imagining.
And as there was no word from Shacklebolt, as the dementors kept hovering, as everyone seemed so damn certain that Black would come to Hogwarts—
Lily realized, in the middle of her treacle tart that fine Halloween night, that Sirius Black could very well get himself killed long before Pettigrew was ever brought to trial.
She'd just assumed that he'd lie low, that he'd think about this logically, or else that he'd somehow magically know that Lily was dealing with the Pettigrew problem and would have it sorted out shortly.
Black had been a problem to be dealt with after Lily had dealt with everything here. That he had his own goals, his own plans, had barely even occurred to her.
And now, sitting here watching the Great Hall descend upon the feat like flies on a corpse, it was like nothing else could occur to her.
He might not show up but—
Everyone and their brother was convinced that he would. Even if he wasn't really after Lily herself, like they all assumed, he certainly was after Scabbers. And while Lily had assumed, before, that he'd have no idea where Scabbers was—Death had implied that he might.
"He'd been given a copy of the paper in Azkaban," Uncle Death had explained over tea a few weeks prior, "Ron's family had won a trip to Egypt, see, it was printed in the Prophet. A human interest story. Pettigrew happened to be in the photo. In his rat form—of course. Sirius recognized him and found the willpower to escape for revenge."
"Wait, he recognized the photo of a rat?" Lily asked.
Those photos weren't exactly high resolution, and the blurry movement tended to only make things worse. People were alright, but to be able to recognize a rat? Sure, Wizard Lenin had, but Wizard Lenin had also been able to see Scabbers in person through Lily's eyes. He'd heard that Scabbers had been the family rat forever and a half and had time to piece it together.
(That, and even if Pettigrew wasn't Scabbers, it would have gotten Lily in Hogwarts and out of his hair. Which, at the end of things, was what he really wanted out of that. Lily hoped Wizard Lenin would remember that when the time came.)
"Peter was the sole focus of Sirius' thoughts for years," Uncle Death said with a frown, thinking back on Sirius Black's cruel fate, "You see, everything good had been taken from him by the dementors. Vengeance, rage, and Peter's betrayal were one of the few things he had left. I think he'd recognize Peter anywhere."
Death had then looked at her and said the damning words that had been on everyone else's lips, "I'm almost surprised he hasn't come to your Hogwarts yet."
"What?" Lily asked.
"Well, perhaps he escaped only because the Death Eaters did," Uncle Death mused slowly, "Perhaps he's busy following them, trying to see what they're up to—but if he knows about Scabbers... I can't remember the exact timing, it was so long ago, but I certainly spotted him hanging around during the summer and I believe he was already infiltrating Hogwarts by October."
"Seen any large black dogs anywhere?" he asked with an amused smile.
"No," Lily said, causing him to frown, which caused her to frown in turn.
Many things had happened to Lily in the past year, even in the past few months, but there had been no large black dogs to her knowledge. She felt like she would remember something like that.
"Then again, why would you?" Death asked, but he appeared to be asking himself far more than he was asking her, "You were barely even here this summer and not at the Dursleys either. He wouldn't look for you at Malfoy Manor."
She tried to think.
Would Black know about Pettigrew?
Well, if he was hanging around trying to track Death Eaters, he'd have been caught by now. Even being careful, having just broken out of Azkaban, being on the run as he was, it was too risky. He'd get caught sooner or later and Wizard Lenin—might not tell Lily.
Probably would consider it need to know, or some rot.
Except Ellie Potter would be great leverage to use against Black, and that probably meant seeing Lily in person in Wizard Lenin's clutches, which meant Wizard Lenin had to tell her something.
Then again, Black wouldn't have any useful information, and he wouldn't switch sides, Wizard Lenin had said as much to Lily when Pettigrew first came up. He might have just killed him immediately.
Lily—hoped that wasn't the case. She didn't think that was the case, somewhere in her mind, something told her that Sirius Black was still alive: this wasn't all for nothing. Not yet.
If he wasn't hanging around the Death Eaters, then per Uncle Death, his next big motivation would be finding Pettigrew. If he'd seen the Prophet issue with Lily and Weasley in it, then he'd see Scabbers. Of course, he might not have seen that exact issue, in which case he might not know about Pettigrew being in Weasley's custody (and thus at Hogwarts) at all.
So, he was probably trying to search for him—somehow. But that, too, would eventually lead him to Pettigrew and—well, not to Hogwarts anymore but to the ministry. Which was even worse if Lily thought about it.
Regardless, even then Lily had known that this wasn't good and that time was somehow running out without her even noticing.
If Black started haunting the ministry, he was a goner. If he snooped around Wizard Lenin, he was a goner. If he snooped around Hogwarts, with all the dementors, he really was a goner. And with ads running even on muggle television, he had to get caught sooner or later.
Of course, Uncle Death said he could remain a dog pretty much forever, and no one was going to arrest a dog but—
One slip up, that was all it took, and then Lily had betrayed Wizard Lenin, sold a man to the dementors, for nothing.
Weeks later and that still made Lily deeply uncomfortable.
She'd thought it might be best to let news break first, let the trial be over and done with, and then find Black in case he did something—stupid. However, the longer that took, the more weeks of silence, and the more Lily felt that waiting was the worst strategy possible.
Black had to be warned, he had to know that there was at least a smidge of hope on the horizon, and that it was in his best interests to keep his head as far down as possible. Either until Pettigrew disappeared never to be heard from again or until he was taken to public trial.
Time would tell if Lily had put her faith in the right people.
And Lily was curious.
Uncle Death always spoke so highly of Sirius Black.
"He was the closest thing I ever had to a father," he'd said one day with a nostalgic smile.
"Really?" Lily had asked dubiously, "Because everyone I've talked to thinks he's—unhinged."
Wizard Lenin had been particularly dismissive and Draco Malfoy had seemed terrified. Of course, they both had thought Black had gone and blown up a street full of muggles while not even being on their side, but Wizard Lenin hadn't thought that was particularly out of character.
A poor taste in friends, Wizard Lenin had mockingly said of her parents.
"They don't know him," Uncle Death spat, "They think he's guilty for crimes he never committed. Everything they say about him, they really mean to say it about Peter. Sirius was—he did make some poor choices, sometimes, but he's a good man."
Well, Lily had thought to herself sipping tea, that certainly wasn't ominous or anything. However, Death didn't give her a chance to ask what 'poor choices' could possibly mean.
Instead, he continued, "There was always the Weasleys, especially later after—after I married. But he was the first, the first to offer me a real home, not even prompted. The first to really look at me and reach out that way."
He laughed then, "And he was hilarious too. Merlin, he was funny. I never knew him before Azkaban he was—calmer then, I think, or so everyone said. But he always had some wisecrack regardless."
He sighed, looked away from Lily, and down into the depths of his tea, "I always wished I'd had more time with him, that he could have known freedom, that—that I could have known what it was like to really live with him."
"What happened?" Lily asked, because the way he said it, it sounded as if it wasn't just Black in hiding for several years.
"He died, due to my stupidity," Uncle Death said, "I was goaded into a trap by Voldemort, it was a disaster in which I endangered not only my own life but my closest friends'. He and others came to rescue me and my friends, he was slain in combat."
He gave her a pointed look then, "He deserves freedom, but more than that—I want you to have someone uncomplicated in your life, Lily."
Lily opened her mouth to interject, but he held up a hand to stop her.
"I'm—I'm here, and so I can't be that for you," he said, motioning to their surroundings, "And god knows your Lenin certainly is anything but that. Lily, I know you're resilient, I know you've been through so much without faltering, but you deserve someone on your side. You deserve someone who will be there for you, the way he could have been for me."
"You deserve a home," he concluded, as if it really were that simple.
Lily had always considered Uncle Death as the closest thing she had to a father, her only true family. She'd always said she was fine with that, he wasn't so far to visit, and just knowing he existed somewhere was surely enough.
But she was—tired.
She was so tired and the idea of someone, someone on Earth who cared that much, who could just be there was very tempting.
Even as it felt sacrilegious to believe in.
"You really believe that?" Lily had asked, "I mean, you really believe he'd be that, even for me?"
"Why wouldn't he?" Uncle Death asked, as if it weren't obvious.
"I work for the enemy," Lily pointed out, "I—I've aided Tom Riddle for years, I personally resurrected Voldemort, I nearly handed him Pettigrew. Sure, I might not have done the last one, but that doesn't mean Wizard Lenin's now my mortal enemy either. You think he'll approve of any of that?"
Before Uncle Death could answer, Lily continued, babbling desperately, "And I'm—I'm not like everyone else. I'm, whatever I am, it's not an ordinary witch. It's not even human. Say what you like, but do you really think he'd be fine with that? Do you think anyone, really, would be fine with that?"
Uncle Death had just looked at her, kindly, but rather than a reassurance had merely offered, "You'll never know, Lily, unless you try."
She'd never know unless she tried.
There was a damning truth to that.
And she supposed she was, in a sense, trying. She was working to free him, if that went well then they'd surely meet and—
She wouldn't tell him everything, not right away, she couldn't—she'd have to see if she could really trust him before that. Uncle Death had his own relationship with Black, that was fine, but Lily would have to see just where they landed.
After nearly fifteen years without a hint of a reliable authority figure in sight, Lily wasn't in the mood to start blindly trusting them now.
But it was starting to become clearer and clearer that she should meet with him sooner rather than later. If she was going to meet him at all then he had to stay alive first.
(And better, if Lily's hopes were going to be crushed, that she do it sooner rather than later.)
Lily glanced around the Great Hall again. Zabini and Greengrass had already taken their food and left. Hermione, picking at her dinner in miserable rage as always, would soon follow suit, slinking off to the library for the rest of the night.
Beyond Rabbit, this left Luna and Ginny, who didn't look like they were going anywhere anytime soon.
They also didn't look like they'd let Lily skip out early either.
(Trotsky, lurking inside Ginny, would certainly want to know where Lily was going and why.)
Lily supposed a few more hours wouldn't kill her.
She took another bite of tart and tried not to think about the dementors, perched in tree branches like ravens, just outside the castle walls.
"So, it's Halloween again," Lily commented, wondering if that was an acceptable thing to say. By the look on Ginny and Luna's face, it wasn't.
"I'm almost surprised I'm still here," Lily added.
That was apparently worse, as Ginny and Luna looked, if anything, even more alarmed.
"It's just that, you know, last year and the year before that I didn't make it to second term," Lily tried to explain very casually, "Last year I didn't even make it to the end of first term. So, since it keeps getting shorter and shorter, some part of me expected something to have happened by now."
They both kept staring.
"That was funny," Lily explained.
"Are you feeling alright?" Ginny, and Lily was sure that it was Ginny and not Wizard Trotsky, asked.
"Sure, peachy," Lily said, "Life is great, I mean, aside from the dementors everywhere things could not be better. It is, in fact, the best Halloween I've ever had."
It probably was, her first year there'd been a troll raging in the bathroom and Lily had gotten her head bashed in. That hadn't been very much fun at all. She was pretty sure Wizard Trotsky had done something patently horrifying and ridiculous last Halloween as well.
"Have the dementors been bothering you?" Luna asked carefully.
"Nope," Lily said, a forced grin now on her face as she pointedly didn't look at Rabbit eating next to her, "See, I no longer go outside, and so I don't have to see them and so everything's fine. They're there, I'm here, everything's great."
And if Lily had her way, if Shacklebolt would get a move on, then they'd be even further away and hopefully would not eat anything and Rabbit would go back to normal.
Neither Ginny nor Luna looked reassured, they shared a look with one another, some unspoken thought passing between the two of them.
"Maybe you can talk to a professor?" Ginny hesitantly suggested.
"I've talked to Lupin," Lily said, "I learned the—sort of learned the patronus. You know, that spell he used on the train to ward off the dementors. He said it's good enough."
It wasn't, at all, but she wasn't about to tell him or anyone else that. If the patronus worked for him, worked for everyone else, then fine, that was great. Good for them. Lily would just—she didn't know, not think about it.
Lily was great at not thinking about things.
At Ginny and Luna exchanging another look, Lily decided that enough was enough. Clearly, this was only going to get worse.
"Well, it's been fun," Lily said, standing and grabbing a hold of Rabbit's arm.
"You're leaving already?!" Ginny spluttered, "But the feast's hardly even started!"
"It's the Default way," Lily explained, hoping that sounded as sage to them as it did to her, "And I just can't have another piece of pie, I am at my mortal limit I'm afraid."
"Besides," Lily said, "You two will have so much fun without me and Rabbit around to kill the mood. You can talk about—not dementors, or something. It'll be great."
"Cheerio," Lily said, giving a small wave, then clambering out of her seat and pulling Rabbit with her. She ignored the fact that Slughorn, Dumbledore, Snape, and a good portion of Slytherin and Gryffindor had somehow caught her exit.
How could they not have anything better to do? Honestly.
Lily and Rabbit made it just outside the great hall and she turned to look at her companion, "I swear, disappearing out of school used to be so much easier."
Rabbit opened his mouth, to say something ominous and terrible no doubt, but Lily cut him off, "Nope, I don't want to hear it, don't even think it. Just—whatever it is, hold it in for the next twelve hours, please."
She could not handle tracking down Black and conversing with Rabbit at the same time. It simply could not be done.
Before she could apparate though, the thick wooden doors to the great hall opened, hitting her in the back and causing her to stumble forward.
Lily rubbed at her head, wondering what kind of asshole would open the doors that fast knowing there could be people out in the hallway, when she stopped. Staring back at her with a dull expression was none other than Neville.
He—he wasn't looking good.
He looked ill. Thinner than he'd been in September, paler too, and with dark anxious circles beneath his eyes. It felt all the more startling as Lily didn't think she'd really gotten a good look at him in weeks if not a month.
She was pretty sure the last time she'd even tried to talk to him was outside of Umbridge's office when she'd had that fist detention. Since she wasn't in class with him anymore, she would have had to go out of her way to see him.
And given the way he'd acted last time she—hadn't.
"Neville," Lily started, "Are you alright? Skipping out on the feast too?"
He didn't answer for a moment just stared at her, as if looking for something. Then finally he said in a subdued voice, "I guess you could say that."
What was that supposed to mean?
"Right," Lily said, and then a thought struck her, "Neville, you haven't been too close to the dementors, have you?"
She'd never seen Rabbit eat someone by pieces, before, she'd never really seen the dementors in action. Not like wizards typically saw them in action, only what had happened to Umbridge. However, if there was anything on campus right now that could make Neville look like that then—
"No," Neville said shortly, "I steer clear of them."
"Oh," Lily said, "Good."
He kept staring at her, as if waiting for her to say something or else do something, he didn't move away from the doors nor did he take his eyes off her.
"Did you want something?" Lily finally couldn't help but ask.
"I could ask you the same thing," Neville said, and there was—was that contempt in his voice, "Where are you off to?"
"Nowhere," Lily said, blinking in confusion, "I mean—the common room, probably."
"The common room," he said, as if he knew she was going anywhere but the common room. That he happened to be right was beside the point, it was the way he said it as if, as if Lily was up to no good.
"Does it really matter what I'm up to?" Lily asked with a sigh.
"I don't know," Neville asked, again almost mockingly, "Does it?"
Lily threw her arms in the air, "Well gee, Neville, I don't know, you tell me. Look, it's got nothing to do with you or with anyone else—"
"I'm sure it doesn't," Neville said, but the way he said it made it sound like a joke, like he knew that it somehow involved everyone here. Which, no, it really didn't. It made no difference in Neville's daily life whether Lily told Sirius Black to keep his head down.
Except that, maybe, if he was planning on coming to Hogwarts then he might not.
Finally, Lily snapped, "Is there a point to this conversation, Neville? Is there something you want me to say here?"
"No," he said, but it sounded as if he desperately wanted to say yes.
However, her question seemed to have broken the moment, he sighed and turned back towards the Great Hall. Without another word, he reopened the doors and disappeared inside, leaving Lily staring after him.
"You care about—"
Lily cut Rabbit off before he could even finish, "Such little things. I know, Rabbit, I know."
And maybe this time he was right. A year before, certainly the year before that, Lily could have run after Neville and demand a respectable answer. Now though—it'd be the same. If she ran after him, he'd tell her nothing.
"Come on," Lily said, slipping her arm through his, "Let's get to this before anyone else shows up out of the woodworks."
Without another word, Lily teleported them to wherever it was Sirius Black was. It was—hard, to try to find someone on a name alone. True names carried weight to them, power, and while Wizard Lenin said their power had diminished through the ages (a name now was not what it had been a thousand years ago), you could usually taste the essence of a person in the syllables of their name.
Lily had never met Black, but with his name, and the idea of his face in her mind, she was confident she'd be able to find him.
Or, at least, she had been two seconds ago.
On opening her eyes, Lily found herself greeted by a bleak early evening and the taste of salt in the air. Somewhere by the sea, presumably somewhere quite far from Hogwarts, Malfoy Manor, the ministry, and wherever Lily might have expected to be.
In front of her was what looked like a quaint, seaside, muggle town. Lit up by electric streetlamps and pub windows. It would be the last place Lily would have looked for him.
Of course, she had no reason to expect him to be anywhere.
He might not know about Pettigrew, which put Hogwarts off the table. He might not know Pettigrew was in the ministry, and maybe wouldn't chance it if he did. He might not know where Death Eaters Incorporated was, and might not want to be caught outside Malfoy's wards…
Why shouldn't he hide in some no-name, muggle, seaside village?
It was just as good a place as anywhere else.
Shrugging off her feeling of unease, Lily transformed her and Rabbit's Hogwarts uniforms into something slightly less ostentatious, and then started walking. Following the dim trail that her mind had labeled "Sirius Black".
Only—something still didn't feel right.
She supposed she'd never met Black, she had no idea what his soul, what his essence, felt like, but that was the trouble. Something about the pull, the trail she followed, felt familiar. Not in any way she could immediately place, it was different enough that she couldn't quite pin it down, but certainly familiar.
An aftertaste of familiarity, maybe that was the best term for it.
When asked to picture Sirius Black… this, whatever this was, wasn't what would have come to mind.
To Lily's surprise, she found herself standing in front of a crowded pub. He—she'd expected a dog in an alleyway, somewhere out of sight, out of mind, and easily passed over. Fudge had been running ads through muggle media as well for months, even if muggles weren't sure what crime Black had committed, they'd be on the lookout for him.
Even if he was using magic to disguise himself, the ministry would probably be on the lookout for that too and kept track of magic used in muggle areas. True, Black could have somehow gotten himself a registered wand, but that wand would have likely been reported missing already. In which case the aurors could surely track it down if used in a muggle area.
And an unregistered wand—he'd need good money for that.
But they didn't let dogs in pubs.
She stepped inside, letting a wave of indifference fall over her and Rabbit, such that no one would bother with two children entering a pub. There was no one immediately obvious, no dark hair against pale skin…
But Lily knew she wasn't wrong, he was in here, she knew he was in here.
Eventually, her eyes settled on a table. It was not in a corner, as she might have expected, and was in fact in the middle of the hustle and bustle. A man sat there, alone, but he didn't look unnatural for it. He looked as much a part of the scenery as everyone else here, with a pint of beer in one hand and a paper in another.
He wasn't dark haired, not at all. His hair was a striking red, almost Weasley in color, but—for all that it should look unnatural at a first glance it didn't. Had Lily not been looking for him, her eyes would have swept right past him.
At a second glance he started to look gaunt, his skin a sickly pale color, clammy with sweat. However, he was dressed for the weather, dressed for his setting in well-fitted muggle clothing. His eyes were obscured by a very muggle pair of spectacles as he looked down at his paper and beer.
One leg crossed over the other at the knee. His hands were shaking, even as he held the paper, and his foot never stopped twitching. It looked as if he was muttering to himself, his lips twitching, speaking under his breath to the paper he read.
He should have been far more noticeable than he was. He should have been immediately obvious, but no one was looking at him at all.
Perhaps sensing her attention, even past Lily's wards, the man looked up. He looked up at her with Sirius Black's silver eyes staring out from Sirius Black's thin and haunted face.
Only, it was not Sirius Black staring at her.
She knew this man.
She'd seen him before, seen him in other people's skin as well as his own. She'd seen him possessing others with an ease as if he were wearing a well-tailored suit and seen him struggle with tangled marionette strings. She'd seen him in his best and worst moments.
She'd known him as intimately as any human being could possibly know another.
And she knew him even when, with no explanation, she found him hiding behind Sirius Black's unassuming face.
And he knew her too, just as well.
As they met each other's eye, even through wards and disguises, there was no pretending that either had failed to recognize the other.
Tom Riddle smiled with Sirius Black's teeth, folded his paper, and motioned to the empty seat across from him, "Lily, won't you please have a seat?"
Author's Note: I love cliffhangers, don't you?
Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter