Author's Note: I ought to have put this in my previous chapter, but I would like to say that while JK Rowling has disappointed so many of us, the fandom community is strong, and we can support each other in ways that she hasn't. So big hearts to all my trans readers. Please don't think that because I'm writing HP fanfic that I condone her attitudes. I don't. You are amazing. Everyone is amazing.

Chapter 85: Release

Severus had no excuse that would legitimise a visit to Azkaban, and his presence would be noticed and called into question. What was more, he didn't know what he would do when he got there.

He'd all but given up on the idea until one evening when the Dark Lord mentioned it to the half a dozen Death Eaters that attended upon him.

"I considered the possibility that the fault lay with me," his master admitted. "That I failed to kill her through some slip of the wand, perhaps. Yes, I've considered it, and had it been someone else I might have believed it. But this is the witch, my sources tell me, known among the Order for her power in protective magicks. She has defied my expectations twice now. No, it must be something she did, but what? You know that I have come closer to immortality than any wizard in Britain, and I doubt most seriously that she has discovered and utilized my methods…"

Severus, never at ease in his master's presence, felt a morbid chill go through him at this. He hungered for magical knowledge more than the average person, but he doubted that he wanted to know what the dark lord had done to himself or others to attain what special powers he had.

"Whatever it is," the Dark Lord continued, "We don't want any others to learn of it. I want you, the most scholarly of my Death Eaters, to look into it. Why is the witch alive? What power does this improbable muggleborn have that we have not foreseen?"

This was not just a dismissal, but an immediate order, and they scrambled, as dignified as possible, to follow it.

It was the excuse he needed, and it also brought up the very question Severus himself had been wondering for some time. How had she survived? Not that it signified much, he knew. Severus had given up hope for her. She may have lived through the spell that was supposed to rip the life from her, but she would not last long in Azkaban, and she would not be allowed to get out. She could not prove her innocence-those controlling it would manage to suppress any evidence that may come to light. They would ensure her guilt of illegal portkey use as a way of keeping her three years in Azkaban, which she would not survive. He had resigned himself to losing her, he just needed to see her one last time. He wanted to know if she blamed him and, selfishly, he wanted, no, needed, her forgiveness.

Entering Azkaban was not at all as harrowing as he'd expected it to be. He walked down its halls feeling colder, hardly noticing any other difference, for all of his dark thoughts preyed on him always, and he'd already got rid of his happy memories himself. The dementors had nothing to take, save perhaps that small hope of forgiveness.

He was not prepared for the sight of her, and even less for what she said.

Severus had begun with an uncertain, "Is it all right that I've come here? May I stay?"

She replied, "It doesn't matter whether you stay or go."

"Can I speak to you?"

"I dare say you can."

He made a few attempts at conversation, apology, but she seemed not to care at all. It was as if she were completely devoid of all feeling, not just good ones.

"What's happened to you?"

"Sirius made everything go away."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I don't care anymore. About anything."

So it had been pointless to come. She was there but she was gone.

What had Black done, other than rob Severus of his last possible chance?

Severus left the island, reflecting that with Lily insensate like that, there was no longer a soul in the world who cared about him.


James still came. Sirius didn't. Barty Crouch Jr died and they carried his body away. His mother hadn't visited for some time. Severus came once. A ministry official came as well, with the Headmaster. They gave her a paper, which if she signed, meant release from Azkaban. The witch said that she would be out in time to take her N.E.W.T.s. She also said there would be drawbacks, but that accepting a plea bargain was the best she could have hoped for, and frankly, a better deal than anyone would have expected. The ministry witch gave Dumbledore a look that made it seem that it was his doing. Lily didn't care. She was perfectly indifferent to everything. But the Headmaster told her she should. That she should go back to the castle.

So Lily signed. Signed again. Signed a half a dozen things.

The next morning, Hagrid came to get her, took her out of Azkaban.

Hagrid loved her, so she took off the necklace.

And the entire world exploded in her mind.


It was nearing the end of the lesson. James walked up and down his classroom, watching 7th years remove curses from the objects he'd given them. A box floated behind him half-full of neutralized objects: combs, apples, doorknobs, spinning needles, necklaces, things likely to carry curses.

He heard the half-giant's footfalls in the corridor long before Hagrid made his appearance. James opened the door for fear it would be knocked off its hinges. His was the only classroom in this part of the corridor, he must be Hagrid's destination.

"Hagrid. What is it?" he asked the moment the groundskeeper arrived.

"She's back."

James' heart expanded rapidly in his chest and drew in breath as if he'd just emerged from a deep plunge below the water.

"Lily's back?"

"She's in a bad way. Come quick. Hospital Wing."

"Class dismissed!" he shouted. "Nobody touch the items. Do not try to complete the assignment. We'll finish up next time. Out!" he wanted to leave immediately but couldn't leave a class full of students in a room full of dark objects unsupervised. "Come on! Move! Out! Out! Out!" he bellowed after them. "What happened," he added, agitated, to Hagrid. Once the students were out he locked the classroom door behind him as they made their way speedily to the Hospital Wing.

"Dunno rightly. One moment I'm carryin'er inter the boat, all quiet and calm like, next moment she's howlin and tryin ter throw herself into the sea. I dunno what I said to make her do it!"

"You did nothing wrong, Hagrid. I know what it was," he said, grunting this last bit as he landed from a jump of the last six steps of the staircase to the corridor. Sirius had admitted to the cursed necklace, and for the last several weeks Lily had been like an automaton. "What happened then?"

"Got'er back in the boat. Her magic was goin everywhere. Most of it bounced right off me, bein' half-giant an all, but she struck the boat. I was all I could do to keep it together and get back 'ere. Had to stun her, sorry to say."

"It's all right, Hagrid," said James, as he hopped onto the railing to slide down the next staircase.

"Good thing I had my, brolly," said Hagrid, patting the large pink umbrella he carried. "Else we might both have gone down, boat an all."

"Thank you, Hagrid. No one else could have done it better."

They burst into the Hospital Wing. Madame Pomfrey had been expecting them and directed them to where Lily lay, quiet, serene.

Her eyes were open, however.

"I'm so sorry, Hagrid," she said dreamily. "I didn't mean to put you through that."

"S'alright. What happened? How're ye feelin?"

"I was... overwhelmed, I guess is the word. Poppy has given me some extra strength calming draughts. I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"Naw," he said, smiling, taking her tiny hand in his enormous ones and giving it several pats.

James had about waited as long as he could, he wasn't sure Lily had even seen him, half-hidden by Hagrid. He stepped around just as Madame Pomfrey returned with a medicinal chocolate bar, with the paper already peeled back, which Lily bit into without complaint.

James was still in a state of shock, seeing her really there at Hogwarts. Real Lily, not just a talking husk she'd been in prison. His Lily.

He reached out and took her hand, as Hagrid had stepped away to let him through. She squeezed it in return, weakly.

"I'm back," she said quietly, addressing him at last.

"I'm glad." Which was understating the point but he seemed to have left most of his vocabulary at the door. He felt his eyes prick with tears as he knelt at her side so their faces were the same level. He put his head on her pillow. "I'm so glad."

"Roigh," said Hagrid. "I'll leave you be for now. I'm glad you're come back, Lily."

"Tomorrow is Tuesday, don't forget," she said dreamily.

"I've missed our teas while you were... gone."

He gently placed an enormous hand atop her head in a silent goodbye, and left.

"If I'd have known you were being released I would have come for you myself. How did it happen? How did you manage it?" James asked.

"I took an offer. A solicitor friend of the Headmaster arranged it. With Dumbledore as a character witness, and the fact that it was my first offense, technically, they reduced my sentence to time already served."

"Oh," was all he could say at first. "But..."

Kneeling was getting uncomfortable, so he let go of her hand long enough to transfigure a chair. "But..."

"Yes. It means I'm officially a convicted felon. I can no longer vote in magical elections, I cannot hold an official office or ministry position, employers have the right not to hire me and, businesses not to serve me and of course, if I'm found guilty of any other crime in the future, it's an immediate 20 year sentence in... Azkaban." She visibly struggled to say the prison's name, and she shuddered as if a dementor had just passed her. Her voice, up until that point, had been calm, conversational, even, but now it trembled. Her hands shook, despite that she'd been heavily sedated.

Now that the initial wonder of her actually being back had begun to fade and he could actually believe she was with him again, he could see how far from physically and mentally well she was. She might be back, but the witch who had returned from Azkaban was far from the witch who had been taken away.

She needed more loving contact, and more chocolate. More food, full stop. Ginger broomstick that she was.

"Don't you have class?" she asked.

Shit. "Yes, I do. But I can't leave you here alone."

"I have Madame Pomfrey."

"Heart, you're traumatised by over exposure to dementors. What you need…" he said, letting his voice drop, "requires a more personal touch." He kissed her temple.

"James," she whispered. "There are other people in here…"

"I don't care," he said, then turned around to address the whole wing, "I don't care!" Back to her he said, "All joking aside, chocolate isn't going to cut it. You're very ill, food joy, and love-starved. You need feeding and holding. Everyone knows chocolate is a paltry substitute for actual love. More than anything you need a cwtch."

"You don't think I know that?" She rubbed her face weakly against his hand, like a sick cat asking for more attention, and felt a tear on her cheek. "You think I need you to tell me how wretched, weak and cold I feel? I don't." As if to illustrate her point, her entire body shivered. "I could lay here all day with just your hand on my face and be content. You, however, need to remember that you have a class full of students who are depending on you to prepare them not only for the OWLs but for life outside these castle walls."

James sighed. "Damnit. You're always right."


"You're always right when I most don't want you to be," he amended, realising only after he said it how true it was. "Yes, fine. I'll go." He kissed her, pulling hard at her lips as if he could draw her inside himself and take her with him, or as if fighting against the dementor's effects by similarly sucking out all the darkness the way they had sucked out joy. His hands attempted to warm her arms, ribs, hips and back up again. She was still so chilled.

She pushed at him weakly; he stopped at once. "Wait," she said. He could tell she did a spot of wandless magic, but it wasn't until she said "okay," and drew him to her again that he could tell that she had scourgified her mouth. Now that she tasted of Lily and not fetid death, he kissed her slowly, savouring, but ever so carefully, so frail she felt he was afraid the slightest thing may hurt her. Merlin he needed this as much as she did.

"Potter!" Madam Pomfrey barked. Startled, he pulled away from Lily. Exasperated, the healer said, "Now you've done it. There are children present."

"I don't care!" he said again, near to the point of hysteria. Lily was back and so was his hope that they could win the war, and all he wanted to do was laugh.

"You're going to be late if you don't run," Lily said, her voice containing the first signs of laughter he'd heard in months.

"I'll be back at lunch! And again, as soon as lessons are over for the day." He groped inside his robes and took out the pouch she herself had given him, and removed from it the mirror. "Sirius!"

It was a moment before his friend's face appeared. "Meet me in the Hospital Wing. Quick as you can."

"What—?" Sirius began but James broke the connection, replacing the mirror.

"We'll let it be a surprise."

"Go!" she said. "Hurry!"

He jogged for the doors, turning to her once again when he reached them. "Don't you ever get arrested again, Lily Evans!"

"No promises!"

He was smiling enormously all the way back to his classroom, his cheeks aching, out of practice.


The truth was, she wanted James to go. He was so happy it was unbearable. She couldn't pretend much longer. Yes, she felt relief to be out, but happiness was, she thought, forever beyond her reach. And the tenderness she felt from him, and for him, physically made her heart ache. As much as she knew she needed a cwtch, she almost felt as if she wouldn't survive one. A man nearly starved to death would not be able to consume a feast. He'd have to start with small bites.

That hand on her cheek was the right amount to start. A touch of warmth.

And if she didn't want James there, she certainly didn't want Sirius to come. She didn't think she could face him. But he arrived at James' urgent summons with the alacrity of a true friend.

He didn't see her at first, because he wasn't expecting to.

"Pomfrey!" he bellowed. "James Potter told me to meet him here."

The healing matron, completely unperturbed at being shouted at so rudely, merely jerked her head to Lily's bed and carried on with her work.

Sirius took two strides toward her, actually saw it was she, and stopped mid-stride. Jaw clenched, fist tightening on his wand, he drew a sharp long breath through flared nostrils, exhaled, and walked directly out again.

A minute passed, then another, and Lily thought she was safe, but the moment she allowed herself a sigh of relief that Sirius was gone, he burst in again, this time storming straight to her bed, shouting in a fury.

"You monster! You horrid, selfish creature, how dare you!"

"Sirius Black!" thundered Pomfrey, "Miss Evans has not yet been back from Azkaban for half an hour and I will not allow this harmful behaviour disrupt her recovery or that of the other students. If you cannot be of medical use, then you will leave!"

With these last three words Sirius slid several metres backward, as if invisible strings attached to his shoulder blades drew him to the door. A moment later, after he'd overcome his surprise at the spell, he rallied, surging forward with a magical force that guttered the candles, which magically relit themselves.

Lily only waited, counting in her head, wondering if his anger would last five minutes, or forever.

Something must have passed between Sirius and Madame Pomfrey, because the magic swirling around them suddenly calmed. Then, as if they'd been having a polite conversation instead of a duel of wills, she said, "But one false move, Black…"

"Of course," he replied, all grace and poise now, no trace of disquiet on his features.

He approached her bed, gently drew out the chair James had used, and sat down. Having learnt her lesson already, she cast privacy charms about her bed but could not draw the curtains, probably because Madame Pomfrey insisted on being able to monitor Sirius.

"You deserve it, you know," he said.

"I don't deny it," she rasped, feeling dangerously close to passing out. But at least he was no longer angry. And, even more fortunately, at least he wasn't happy.

"And when I've thought up a proper revenge, and when you are healthy enough to withstand it, I will certainly let you know. But as it is, you look quite done for. Why didn't Prongs tell me you were back?" He had said this all in the same careful tone as before.

"I expect he thought it would be a pleasant surprise. Little did he know," she muttered. She wiped the cold sweat from her forehead with her blanket. Sirius held out a handkerchief and she accepted it thankfully, but Madame Pomfrey bustled over and took it, giving Sirius a pointed look and wiping Lily's face herself. Lily was touched by this protective kindness (though at this delicate stage, she felt all kindnesses as if they were beams of sudden light in a room long shrouded in darkness. It was so painful that it made one to shut one's eyes wishing for the darkness again. She needed kindness to creep slowly upon her like the dawn.)

"Thank you, Poppy," she said, trying to hold back tears and failing. Poppy wiped those away too, before Sirius could see.

"Not at all, dear. Eat your chocolate."

Once she'd gone, Lily said, "If she's any kinder to me, I feel I shall go to pieces. If you are too cruel to me I think I shall go to pieces. I think if nothing at all were to happen I should still go to pieces just the same."

"Merlin," he whispered, pulling down the blanket. "You aren't wearing it," he said, clearly surprised. "If I'd known I wouldn't have acted… I thought… I thought…. How are you even speaking coherently? I was rolling about the floor in anguish for hours after I took the necklace off." This time when he reached out it was to take hold of her hand.

"Poppy has me heavily sedated with calming draughts. I was a bit… agitated when Hagrid brought me in."


"Yes, poor man. I remembered your directions. I was on the boat with Hagrid when… when it happened."

Sirius hunched over and muttered a few swear words under his breath. "The man deserves an Order of Merlin."

"He saved my life," she admitted. "You both did." He didn't respond, so she took the plunge. "Sirius, I am so, so sorry."

"What if I hadn't had the necklace, hmmm?" he asked, pointedly, would have been angrily if he weren't behaving for Madam Pomfrey.

"I would have done exactly what I did. What would you have done?" she asked, though she thought she already knew.

Sirius hung his head and, shockingly, ran his fingers through his hair.

"I've asked myself that every single day since I put that accursed thing around your neck. Every hour, and I've hated you, yes, hated you for putting me in that position. You ask me to kill you at the cost of my own soul? That's a torment I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."

Unbidden, Lily's mind jumped to Severus, whom Sirius hated more than anyone.

"Your soul wouldn't have been at risk, Sirius. It would have been a mercy."

"Do you think that would have made it any easier to live with myself afterwards? With less of a soul at least I wouldn't feel it as badly."

"I was out of my mind, Sirius. At my wit's end. I couldn't bear it any longer. But... it turned out alright, didn't it?"

"No thanks to you," he growled, squeezing her hand almost too hard.

A moment of silence passed, during which he continued to stare at his own knees.

"I would have done it, you know," he whispered. "Merlin help me, I would have done it. Damn you."

"I know," she said, awed and oddly grateful to know she had a friend who loved her enough to kill her in her hour of need, to save her soul.

He collapsed forward, exhausted, his forehead resting on her ribs.

"I hate you," he said. She began stroking his hair, and he didn't protest.

"I know."

Author's note:

After posting the previous chapter, I started working on a novella that I hope will appeal to EOM readers. It's the first in a modern fantasy trilogy called "Relearning Magic: a Witchy Novella" by Kathryn Amonett. It's available only on Amazon for now, but after 90 days it will let me post it on other places.

I know some people in UAE and India have had some issues getting it, so it might not be available everywhere, despite my setting it to the international market. Just be sure to go on your own country's amazon page.

If you do get it and read it and like it, well, that would already mean so much to me. But if you do enjoy it, please review so that it boosts me up the algorithm chain?

Thank you.