Disclaimer: Don't own, don't profit.


Mercenary

By starsteller


Once, she had been a good girl. Once, she had a mother, to tuck her into bed, to whisper sweet nothings and wonderful stories into her ear as the safe warmth carried her off to sleep. Once, she had a father, to kiss her on the cheek, turn off the light, and whisper "sweet dreams" as he eased the door to her room, her sanctuary, shut. Once, she had a family.

Not anymore.

Now, she had nothing but a sorry, straw-filled excuse for a mattress and the thinnest, scratchiest wool blanket, which managed to be both too hot during summer and too cold during winter. And two sets of threadbare, patched robes that she had spent hours sewing and resewing, attempting to convince the cotton to provide more of a barrier against the chilly wind pouring down from the mountains. And the Watchers, the cold witches and wizards, led by a girl she had once considered a friend...the Watchers, who were always there, with their eyes of death and souls of ice...their words of pain and songs of despair…


"Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned, forgive, and ye shall be forgiven."

~Luke 6:37~


Prologue: The Letter

Part 1: Lily


Late February, 1975.

Immediately after she did it, Lily knew it was a stupid idea.

She didn't even have a way to send the letter. Not when she had no clue where the hell she was, or where the hell the tower was, either. She didn't even know what country it was located in. And even if she knew where she was, it wasn't like she could find postal service. Or owl service. Or even a fireplace connected to the Floo network.

She hadn't really considered any of this—she didn't really think at all, to be honest—when she swiped a single sheet of parchment from the stack Morthia had helpfully abandoned on the desk. Twenty minutes later, when Morthia retrieved the stack of parchment and laboriously counted each sheet, Lily held her breath, waiting for the onset of pain. They weren't supposed to have parchment, and the Watchers punished each transgression seriously. But apparently the Watcher was too scatterbrained to count properly, as she failed to notice the missing sheet.

And now the missing parchment lay on the desk again, along with a quill and a half-full bottle of ink. Her friends were asleep, and for the first time in months, the Watchers weren't around, leaving Lily to stare at the blank parchment.

She didn't know what to write. Hey, how's life, oh-by-the-way-we-aren't-dead? Long time, no see, eh? Did you get a haircut? Oh, no, I have absolutely no clue what's going on; nor do I know who's a Death Eater and who isn't. Or who's under the Imperius Curse. No, I really have no clue what Voldy is up to. My day? Excellent, except for a certain-half dozen witches and wizards charged with making my life hell.

Lily knew she was blabbering in her mind; she rested her forearm against the cool wooden surface of the desk and her forehead on her forearm, breathed deeply, sat up again, dipped her quill in the ink and placed it against the parchment.

Dear…

She didn't even know whom to address the letter to. Dumbledore? McGonagall? Definitely not Slughorn. Not Tuny, either. It was kind of sad, she thought, that she couldn't even find one more person to address…or not address…this hopeless stupid letter too.

She scratched out the heading, rewrote it, scratched it out again, and finally wrote a generic heading: Dear whomever it may concern, before using her wand to remove the scratched-out words and move the heading to the top. She wasn't going to risk stealing another sheet of parchment. Morthia generally wasn't loopy enough to fail to count to twenty properly. The Watchers wouldn't be happy that she had a single sheet of parchment, anyway. Two would risk too much.

Now what?

The first few months, there had been a million things she wanted to tell Hogwarts. A detailed description of the tower, of the Death Eaters, of the small bit of the hierarchy they had let her see…all of that had faded as time went by, as winter melted into spring which metamorphosed into a summer falling into autumn which froze into yet another winter…winter with its arctic winds colder than even a Watcher's eyes….The warning flashed through her mind, and she knew why she risked her life to steal the parchment.

They must be warned.

If you see Syvanna Lawson, capture her. If that's not possible, kill her on the spot.

Syvanna Morthia, née Lawson. Historically, the first Gryffindor in nearly a hundred years to turn to the Dark Arts. And, in Lily's mind, one of the top three Darkest humans alive today, the other two being Bellatrix Lestrange and Lord Voldemort. A psychopath, probably. Possibly a sadist. Why else would a fifteen-year-old girl join the Watchers, whose sole mission was to steal the lives and innocence of youngsters?

It seemed strange to Lily that only two years ago, she would have considered Morthia a friend of sorts. Now, she could barely remember the girl the Watcher once was. The bookish and withdrawn Lawson didn't make friends easily, and it had taken Lily nearly a year to coax the other girl out of her library-class-library-meals-library-sleep-library routine. Only, of course, to writhe under the Cruciatus Curses cast by the Lawson…no, Morthia…two years later. Some "friend".

She is deep within Voldemort's inner circle…

They didn't actually call themselves the "Watchers". It really was a stupid nickname, but it fit, since typically there were at least one of them around, watching to make sure Lily and her friends didn't try to escape. Five Death Eaters and their underaged leader, who shared a singular lack of empathy and innocence, and a sadistic streak a mile deep. They were given only one order from the Dark Lord: to make sure Lily Evans, Alice Prewett, Dorcas Meadows, and Marlene McKinnon didn't escape. And to break them down, tear apart their morals and their spirit, destroy their minds. All to turn them into the perfect little Death Eaters Lord Voldemort wanted…

Lily suddenly felt tired. An ache began to throb behind her eyeballs. She wanted to go to sleep badly but her eyelids had yet to develop that sandpapery feeling, so she couldn't sleep yet. Sleeping now would mean nightmares. Nightmares might lead to screaming, which would definitely lead to the Watchers dragging her away from sleep, with the only method they knew: pain. Pain so penetrating and dark that Lily didn't know what she preferred; the pain, or the nightmares? Pushing her thoughts away, Lily quickly attached the letter to the underside of the desk with a small sticking charm and put away the quill and ink, before standing up and walking towards one of the tower's few windows.

Below, she could see the complex Lord Voldemort had erected God-knows-where. Seven towers shaped like talons gripping the sky, six on the perimeter and one dead center. She knew the Dark Lord lived in center tower. She was kept in one of the perimeter towers—one of the windows even looked out to the mountains surrounding the complex. Escape, however, wasn't possible. The perimeter towers were connected by walls at least twenty feet tall, and the windows were reinforced with a charm Lily had yet to break. The entire complex was Apparation-proofed, and the fireplaces were connected to what appeared to be a separate Floo network, set up and used only by the Death Eaters. The fireplace in this tower was connected to no network. There were few buildings between the towers; few places to hide or dodge from the Death Eaters in the towers. The complex was well built to resist an attack by ground; Lily was sure that it was equally well equipped to resist an attack by air.

It was nearly full moon. The moonlight illuminated the courtyard below the window. It was generally deserted by this time of night, but tonight, two dark figures occupied it, their cloaks fluttering in the arctic wind. One figure appeared to be considerably taller than the other, but from the way the shorter moved, it was obvious it was on its knees. Lily watched the shorter remove its cloak, fold it and kneel upon it, before bending forward and removing its shirt. Moonlight reflected off of the unnaturally pale back of the figure as it bent its head forward, brushing its unevenly cut hair over its shoulders.

Lily instinctively turned away before she heard the soft crack of the whip. Out of sight, out of mind, and perhaps it didn't happen.

She returned to the desk and unstuck the letter, running her fingers over the parchment before leaning in to sniff it slightly. This piece didn't have that fresh-parchment smell, that smell that reminded Lily of the quiet peace of the library. The quiet timelessness, where wars and celebrations, inquisitions and discoveries were reduced to penstrokes on parchment...where both evil and good were nothing but statistics rendered carefully with black ink and gold filigree. A single death was a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic, as the saying went. In the library, there was no uncertainty. People lived and died, civilizations rose and fell, but there was no maybe. The decisions had already been made, consequences already obvious. There was no maybe.

Irregular footsteps on the stairs outside. Lily hastily stuck the parchment back under the desk and slammed the quill and bottle of ink back in the drawer with more force that necessary. The door clicked open as Lily tried to rearrange her features into something resembling a tired innocence.

Despite the Watcher's even footsteps and carefully upright posture, Lily could tell Morthia remained upright on willpower alone. Her left boot left bloodstains on the stone floor, and Lily knew it was likely that she would be scrubbing them away tomorrow. Morthia walked over to the desk and leaned on it in a way that seemed casual, but really kept the Watcher from falling over. "It's three in the morning," she snapped. "Why the hell aren't you asleep?"

"You're up."

"I'm only up because the Dark Lord is seriously pissed at me at the moment." Morthia pulled a set of keys out of her back pocket and fumbled with them for a minute before inserting one into a locked desk drawer. "Get to sleep."

"No." Lily didn't know why she picked tonight to argue with the Watcher. Perhaps the incident with the parchment had given her undue courage. Still, she cringed when she saw Morthia reaching for her wand.

"What's your excuse?" the Watcher asked, replacing her wand in her sleeve holster.

"What?" Slightly surprised that she hadn't gotten hexed over her insubordination, Lily ran her fingers around the borders of the parchment stuck to the bottom of the desk. If the Watchers found out about the letter, she knew she would be dead, but she couldn't help reassuring herself that it, her only lifeline to the outside world, was still there.

"What's your excuse for being up so late?" Morthia opened the drawer and started searching through it. "Oh, and by the way, go to sleep," she ordered, removing a small Bible from the drawer.

Lily could feel her eyes widen slightly. She hoped her mouth wasn't gaping open; if it was, she was in for another session of pain, courtesy of the Watchers. For some reason, she never thought that Morthia could be religious. "Nightmares," she admitted, hoping the Watcher would leave her alone if she told the truth.

Morthia stared at the door leading to the staircase for a moment, opening her mouth and then closing it, before finally shaking her head slightly and speaking. "Go to sleep," she ordered again.

"No."

Lily watched the Watcher glare at the staircase before slamming open the Bible and extracting a small vial from it. Figures. The Watcher probably felt that hiding something in a cut-up Bible was ironic. "What's that?" Lily asked.

Morthia stared at her for a while before speaking. "Not an opiate. Not a painkiller either," she said, shaking a few pills into her palm. She tipped two back into the vial and dry-swallowed the third before replacing the vial in its hiding spot and locking the drawer. "Not a word to anyone, especially not Voldemort. 'Cause he'll kill me," she smirked, before walking quickly to the stairwell and slamming the door shut behind her.

Lily stared at the door for a while. She unstuck the letter and read through it again, running the fingers of her right hand across the edge of the parchment. For the first time in months, she saw a glimmer of hope.


Psychopaths are "intraspecies predators who use charisma, manipulation, intimidation, sexual intercourse and violence to control others and to satisfy their own needs. Lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse."

~Robert D. Hare, Researcher of Criminal Psychology. Psychopaths: New Trends in Research. The Harvard Mental Health Letter, September 1995~


It was the same old dream.

The same old nightmare.

It began in another dream—it always began that way. Always with happier days, better days. This time, the trip to Paris she had made with her family, when she was eleven or twelve. The gorgeous weather, all blue sky and warm yellow sun. Ancient buildings, the Louvre? Yeah, she can see that infamous glass pyramid, a jewel rising from the ground, refracting the light from the glorious sun...

She remembered Tuny, beside her. They were skipping, laughing, running, shrieking. Happy. Maybe. Lily knew that by this time, Tuny had already begun to resent Lily and everything about the magical world, out of jealousy. Tuny wouldn't truly, deeply hate Lily for a while still.

They entered the glass pyramid, Lily and Tuny, alone. Lily couldn't remember where her parents went off to, although they should have been there. She felt a cold breeze whip through her hair, sting her eyes. Escalator ride down, the bright sunlight fading. The air felt chalkier and more bitter the further they descended. God, was the escalator really this long? The world so dark?

Long corridors with light at the end. Lily felt herself moving through one of the corridors, feeling like she was floating, almost, moving along with the minimum of effort. She heard a voice that sounded suspiciously like her own, whispering "Don't head towards the light..." but she could't stop herself. It felt like the Earth had tilted and she was falling, now, down the corridor, but slowly, drifting towards the light at the end of the hall. She realized Tuny was no longer beside her. "Òu es-tu, Tuny?" she tried to scream, but it came out as a broken whisper. Where are you, Tuny?

She wasn't in control, no, some force pulled her further and further towards the light. She felt her feet moving along the ground, and strangely she felt herself rising upwards as she got closer to the light. Floating, almost. She got closer and closer, the light growing to claim her visual field. A blink, another blink, and suddenly, she found herself back on the ground floor, sunlight pouring through windows, Tuny laughing next to her. The air felt like hospital air, all sterile and clean and impersonal. Ancient architecture, beautiful paintings, peace and tranquillity in delicate oils, art capturing the heart perfectly. She and Tuny were alone, here, in the most famous art building in the world. Lily heard the delicate notes of a cello, echoing slightly through the still building. She followed the sound, drawn to it like a moth to a candle.

The music darkened as Lily rounded the corner. A delicate melody taking on a lethal edge. Tuny wasn't beside her. Nor behind her. She was gone, again. Missing, again. Lily felt her heart beat faster. Fight or flight response. Adrenaline in her veins. She was walking faster now, now running, her feet desperately pulling herself towards the music, but it was fading away, pulling further. She rounded another corner, noted a small splatter of blood. A bloody footprint—she had seen those before, both in dream-world and reality, way too many times. Cold, cold, cold. A whisper of insane laughter, Bellatrix. "Don't head towards the light," she whispered, again, her heart sinking. The corridor was long and dark; she raced down it, following the ghost of the music. It was undeniably dark, now, cruel and sorrowful and filled with an unexplainable pain.

A turn, a flight of stairs upwards, more blood now, flowing down the steps. Lily nearly lost her footing once, twice. A cold laughter, not Bellatrix. It wasn't insane or bitter, it was just cold, emotionless, almost forced. Lily was at the top of the steps, she was wearing her Hogwarts robes, torn and shredded and soaked to the knees with blood.

Tuny, her eyes dead and lifeless in their disbelief. Her white nightgown was not splattered with the blood that flowed around her. She looked pale and almost angelic, like Venus de Milo. almost. Cold, cold marble. Tuny blinked, once, and her eyes lit up with rage, righteous anger. Lily remembered the last time she had seen her sister. That same rage, that same anger that was both so dark but yet so justified.

A delicate line of blood tricked down from Tuny's neck. There was a knife there, now, bright and sharp, held by a slender hand at the end of a long black sleeve. The hand drew the knife delicately across Tuny's neck, severing the carotid artery. The cello music hummed. Blood, more blood, gushed out of Tuny's wound, each systolic beat causing a new wave of blood to slop out, dripping down her slender frame, staining white fabric mahogany. Mahogany? Tuny smiled slightly, a smile of cold anger and revenge. Her form wavered; a pair of S-shaped black marks appeared on her skirt. Wind picked up Tuny's long blonde hair, whipping it around her frame, hiding Tuny's accusatory eyes. The hum of a cello; the knife was no longer a knife, but a bow. The same haunting melody. Tuny's hair faded away, and suddenly Lily realized that her sister wasn't standing in front of her any more. In her place, a cello, played by Tuny's murderer.

"You're just as guilty as me," the murderer whispered. She had red eyes, eyes the color of the jewel Lily instinctively hated. That teardrop-shaped gemstone, set in white gold, that vortex of evil.

"Don't wake up! Don't come back! Go through the curtain!" Lily screamed. "Head towards the light!" She was babbling now; her own words made no sense in her mind.

The murderer smirked, lightly. "Don't deny your sins."

"I won't embrace them! I won't embrace you!"

"Pity." A crooked-half grin. The murderer pulled an orange prescription bottle out of her pocket. She dry-swallowed one of the little white capsules. Something different, something that didn't usually happen with these dreams. "You could have lived."

"You're not okay with it either. You didn't embrace it yourself!"

The murderer locked Lily in her bloody, icy gaze. "That's what you would like to believe."

"You can't judge me!" Lily screamed.

"That's what you think," the murderer whispered. "We're not so different, after all."

Lily woke, fighting back screams.


"We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell"

~Oscar Wilde~


Early April, 1975.

He backed into the bedframe, feeling it squeak in protest of his weight behind him, staring at the six females standing in front of him, all brandishing long, thin sticks that held ominous auras. Witches, he thought. He had never really believed in their existence, but now he had actual evidence standing before him. He crossed himself, feeling his hand go through the motions he hadn't made for so long. Yet none of them flinched; the one with blue eyes even snickered coldly, raising that long, thin stick of hers and pointing it right at him. He gasped. He'd never thought the sign of the cross would fail. He'd hadn't done it in so long, yeah, but he'd gone to church, sang during Mass, dropped a good percentage of his income on the plate, believed like a good Christian. How—why—had God abandoned him now?

The cold breeze that slipped in from the broken windows toyed with the hems of their long black gowns and their cloaks, spinning the cloaks back from their shoulders, so that they looked like a gathering of some sort of bird—vultures waiting for his death. A black-eyed one left her cruel face and raven hair uncovered, and the rest wore veils over the lower half of their faces and hoods over their hair, concealing them completely, other than their haunted, dull eyes. Five wore loose, long sleeved dresses too; the blue-eyed one wore a loose tunic over loose pants. Their garments hid their identities completely. The Queen could be standing among them, and he'd never know.

He looked from one face to another, trying to grab any amount of hope from those eyes. Any amount of humanity he could, perhaps, plead with. The black eyes held a sadistic joy, and more than a touch of insanity. He looked away as soon humanly possible. The blue ones were cold, but oddly lifeless, soul-dead, and reminded him of ashes, of fires snuffed out. Something in those cold eyes seemed predatory, however, and he shivered when she met his gaze. It was much like looking into the gaze of a lion or a tiger, knowing that the owner of the eyes would gladly destroy him for her survival. The green ones…

Were almost apologetic, as if she didn't want to be there. Please, please, take mercy! he tried to plead with his eyes. She looked at him and he could tell she understood, but then she shook her head slightly and he knew she meant: I'm sorry; there is nothing I can do.

He looked over to the next face, one with stormy grey eyes that too were lifeless, but thankfully not predatory. Next one, brown eyes that lacked a sparkle or any other sign of life. The last woman had hazel eyes that seemed almost to pity him. Please help! A small shake of the head was again his only answer.

Please… he begged again. But the thought didn't go far before the black-eyed one screeched a word he'd never heard before. "Crucio!"

He felt as if red-hot thumbtacks were being pressed into his skin—at the same time the harsh syllables of that word bounced around in his head—at the same time he was being dunked into the Arctic Ocean—at the same time lava was flowing through his veins, burning, melting though each one of his cells, the neurons franticly begging help from a central nervous system that was quickly shutting down…This was hell. He knew it. He didn't know what he had done to deserve this—or actually, he did, he knew. But it had been so long ago, and he had repented so much. Why had God abandoned him? Why had God sentenced him to this? Why am I in hell?

He loved his wife, didn't he? Had a good nine-to-five job, three kids he was willing to take bullets for. He went to church, donated money every quarter, hadn't gotten arrested for twenty years now…hadn't done anything stupid for that long.

Unbidden, his eyes looked up, caught the eyes of the green-eyed woman. I'm sorry, those eyes were saying. I wish I could help you, but I can't.

Suddenly, he felt a blaze of pain around his spinal cord and his legs collapsed, useless. He heard the word—non-word— 'Contrectare' penetrate his mind and he knew the blue-eyed one had said that word. Compared to the previous non-word, it seemed calmer, more merciful, but the air of cold darkness it carried could not be ignored. He turned his head, looked at those lifeless blue eyes, pleading, Why, why?

I'm sorry. I have no choice, the blue eyes replied. She stepped forward slightly, and he noticed she was limping, slightly favoring her left leg. She whispered something else and suddenly the pain died away, and his mind cleared slightly.

He thought of his wife, his daughters, and his son. They were in the next room, he knew. His gun was there, too, but a three-year-old son couldn't fire the gun, and he hadn't thought to teach his wife and teenage daughter.

Hadn't thought to…

So many things. He'd yelled at his teenage daughter, just yesterday, for wearing an inappropriate shirt. He hadn't known it at the time, but it would be the last things he'd ever say to her. The gun he'd brought for protection. He'd stored it in the closet, unloaded and clean, just like a responsible gunowner. It was absolutely useless to him, now. You wouldn't be able to fire it anyway, an unknown voice whispered in his ear. He had the strange feeling that the voice belonged to the girl with blue eyes. You've never fired a gun before. You'd miss.

So many things…the tickets he'd bought for the football game this weekend. They had cost a whole week's salary. He'd planned to take his whole family—his toddler son, who'd just learned how to walk, his little daughter, who loved the game as much as he did, his rebellious older daughter—but now, facing his own death, he couldn't remember what had separated them so much—and his wife, who he loved more than he loved himself. Perhaps what he regretted most was not his own death, but the fact that he couldn't protect them…He knew once they were done with him, they'd go to the other room and finish his beloved family off. So many things. So many things that were left unsaid, so many things that were left undone…

"Crucio!" screamed the black-eyed one and his pain reappeared, surging through him, a tsunami roaring through his veins, waves pounding against his skull. He felt like he was caught in a million currents and riptides—and they were pulling him this way and that, bashing him against sharp rocks, squeezing the last gasps of air from his body. Collapsing, he swept his eyes across their faces. Green, hazel, grey, brown, black, blue…

Those blue eyes pitied him. She whispered the word again, "Contrectare," and this time he felt no pain, heard nothing but the merciful syllables whispering in his mind, simply saw a wash of red that faded into the darkness of death. He was falling away now, but slowly, numbly, as if his mind couldn't register what was happening.

And as reality faded, he heard a cold voice murmur, "Morsmordre" before a shrill scream—his wife's—registered in his failing consciousness.


The complex is well defended…

Lily had been working on the letter for a while now. She was actually quite surprised that the Watchers hadn't discovered it yet. But, then again, they had been leaving her—and her friends—alone for longer and longer periods of time now, giving Lily more time to think and write.

And write.

She had been forced to steal another sheet of parchment. She had covered both the front and back sides of the original sheet of parchment with miniscule writing detailing everything she knew about the complex, the Death Eaters, the hierarchy, the increasingly paranoid defense system. She'd actually been quite surprised when Morthia failed to notice yet another missing sheet of parchment. This time, the Watcher had even counted the entire stack twice, but still failed to notice any discrepancy.

Lily scanned through the entire letter, trying to figure out if she had left anything out. Morthia, Lestrange, Voldemort, the tower, the complex, the hierarchy, all the Death Eaters she could recognize. Everything, of course, but herself and her fellow prisoners.

Am I evil?

She didn't realize she'd added that question to the letter until after she finished writing it. She siphoned off the ink, of course, as soon as she realized what she had done. She didn't want to think about it. Hadn't thought about it. Kept it suppressed, somewhere, in the back of her mind, for maybe a year now…

She doesn't remember them, much, anymore. Their names she had never known; their faces blurred into each other one by one. She was thankful that she never had to participate, only watch. Lestrange always tortured the victim or victims of the week, and Morthia always finished them off. She'd really only been forced to participate once, but once was enough, and she doesn't want her mind to go there again. They were trying to break her through guilt, a guilt she shouldn't feel, because they had forced her to do so, and she had tried her best to resist them…

She still felt unclean, corrupted, guilty. The children were the worst to watch; she absolutely despised standing there, watching silently, as Lestrange and Morthia tormented the innocent. Their large pleading eyes, asking her to do something to get the out of the worst pain they ever felt. But there was absolutely nothing she could do. Any protest and she'd be the one cringing on the ground and whatever Muggle she'd tried to help would still be dead…

They had gotten back from the most recent murder less than two hours ago. A happy little suburban family: the parents, three kids. The youngest still a toddler. Five lives, cut short to fuel the antics of an insane Death Eater and an increasingly psychopathic Watcher. And she hadn't lifted a single finger to help them.

In a way, she was glad when Morthia stormed into the room, allowing the stairwell door to ricochet off the wall. The noise distracted her from her increasingly morbid thoughts.

She didn't like being alone with the Watcher. It was rather like being in the same room as a wild lioness, an unpredictable predator with no sense of right or wrong, just survival. It didn't help that the Watcher now towered over Lily, even without the help of heels, and somehow managed to limp with a feline grace. Thankfully, the Watcher didn't stay long. She just grabbed an unmarked bottle and a length of bandage out of a locked cabinet and stormed away, slamming the door shut behind her like a melodramatic teenager.

Only afterward did Lily realize the letter had been sitting on the desk, in open view. And that either the Watcher had failed to notice, or failed to care. Lily sincerely hoped it was the former. The later meant that the Watcher had some sort of scheme. As much as she despised the other girl, Lily could not deny that Morthia was extraordinarily intelligent and more cunning than most of the Slytherin house. Combined.

Still, Lily reasoned, either Morthia failed to notice the letter, or she was trying to get Lily to write a letter to Dumbledore. She couldn't seen how a letter to Dumbledore would benefit the Watcher, so she guessed the Watcher was in too much pain to pay much attention.

She took a long last look at the letter and then trifolded it, placing it into a Muggle envelope she'd found in a desk drawer a few weeks earlier. A simple Muggle-repelling charm, to keep the wizarding world separate from the Muggle one.

Lily was quite surprised to hear footsteps coming down the stairwell. She hastily stuck the envelope to the bottom of the desk again. She wasn't surprised to see Marlene open the door from the stairwell. Generally, when Morthia retreated to the rooftop with a handful of bandages and rubbing alcohol, she stayed for a while. And provoking an injured Watcher was about as wise as provoking an injured lioness. With cubs.

"Hey." Lily tried to act nonchalant. Not that Marlene would willingly betray the existence of the letter to the Watchers, but sometimes it was hard to control what leaked out under torture. Under the Cruciatus, Lily would have admitted to being a hermaphrodite if it got the pain to stop.

"How's your day?" she tried, cringing as she realized how stupid it sounded. How's your day? Really? She'd might as well asked about the weather.

"Fine," Marlene replied, stretching the meaning of the word from "It's sunny out and aren't the roses pretty and I don't have a worry in my life" to "Well, the hurricane took down the house, drowned my family, and swept my dog out to sea, but at least I'm still alive, amirite?" She looked blank, lifeless, but without the predatory look Morthia had—the predatory look that came from the psychopathy and millions of years of evolutionary history that allowed Lily to subconsciously realize the psychosomatic damage to her former friend's limbic system.

"They haven't gotten to you yet?" she asked.

Marlene sighed, looking left and right. "No," she finally admitted, with the smallest tremor that told Lily that the other girl wasn't sure if she was telling the truth or not.

"That's good, right?"

"Yeah." Marlene sunk down into the couch and rested her forehead on her hands. "I just want to go home."

The same old conversation. Never any easier. "So do I," Lily replied, knowing as she said the words that they wouldn't be enough, that they couldn't be enough, that nothing she said would ever be enough.

"I used to hope that this was all one big nightmare." Marlene shook her head sadly. "Now I'm just hoping I went crazy."

For a time, Lily had hoped so too. After all, if she was crazy, none of this had actually happened. If it was all one sustained delusion, they would still be here, perhaps hovering over her bed in some hospital or another. It really was the best possible potential situation.

Lily knew that it wasn't a delusion. An entire year was a bit too long for a delusion. A hallucination couldn't trap her here, couldn't trap her in hell for so long.

"I've wondered…" Marlene was saying, "if it would be better if we…if I…you know….just…ended it."

Ended it? It took Lily a while to comprehend the words. She inhaled sharply. "You seriously mean..."

"I will keep them from harm and injustice," Marlene whispered.

"Hippocratic oath?"

Marlene nodded. "I don't...want...to cause harm." She sounded broken. Lily wondered what else the Watchers may have done recently.

"Que sera, sera, Marlene."

Both Lily and Marlene jumped at Morthia's voice. They hadn't noticed the Watcher's entry. For a girl with a limp, Morthia was a expert at avoiding notice. The Watcher slammed the door shut and limped across the room, her posture unusually stiff. She shut the bottle back into its cupboard; Lily noticed that Morthia's fingers were covered in some sort of yellowish-brown substance up to the first knuckle.

Lily translated for Marlene's sake. "What will be, will be," she whispered. Finding the courage, the strength somewhere in her battled soul, she continued, "It's not over, Marlene. Please don't admit defeat yet." She walked up to her friend and wrapped her arms around her. "We will get out of this."

"It's not over until it's over," Morthia added another clichéd platitude. "Just give me another month." She checked her watch, pulling out a water bottle from a cupboard under a bench. With a muffled curse, she got down to her knees and rooted around in the cupboard.

"Voldemort hasn't broken me yet," Lily reassured her friend. "I don't think he's gotten to you either. And..." she paused slightly, looking at Morthia, remembering the warning: Not a word to anyone, especially not Voldemort. 'Cause he'll kill me. "And...I don't think he's gotten to Sy either."

Marlene followed Lily's gaze, towards the Watcher, who conveniently helped Lily prove her point by removing a blister pack of pills from the cupboard. Fourteen little blisters; half were already empty. Morthia popped another pill out and chased it down with a swig of water. Lily caught a symbol on the back of the blister pack: a oddly birdlike shape around a group of smaller symbols. She committed it to memory. If...no, when...she escaped, she'd ask somebody about it.

"He got to Sy," Marlene whispered. "I don't think we can deny that. But I don't think she's okay with it."

Sy locked the cupboard. "Don't give up hope." She walked over and placed her hand on Marlene's shoulder. Lily could feel the dark presence of the Watcher on her back. She protectively tightened her grip on Marlene. "Don't become me," the Watcher added, before turning, striding quickly across the room, through the doorway, letting the door slam shut behind her.

"It's not over, Marlene," Lily whispered into her friend's hair. "We still have a way out."

Marlene untangled herself from Lily's embrace and walked over to the nearest window. "Hopefully."

Lily thought about mentioning the letter, but decided against it.


AN: I don't even want to know how many times I've taken this down and revised this. I don't even want to promise that I can finish this, since I don't know if I can keep that promise. So I'll say this: I will try to finish this. I will try very hard to finish this.

Reviews are greatly appreciated, especially constructive criticism. I am always trying to improve my craft, and I'll try to respond asap.

This is still a WIP, so I do appreciate suggestions. I may not take them, but I do appreciate them. Especially since this story is, in part, a Lily/James romance and let's just say that romance is not my specialty.

As for the preview for the next part of the prologue: The girl pulled a letter out from under her cloak. "Madame me told to you to deliver the letter," she said, proffering the aforementioned letter.