When the day has come,
That I've lost my way around,
And the seasons stop and hide beneath the ground,
When the sky turns gray,
And everything is screaming,
I will reach inside,
Just to find my heart is beating.
The cockroach scuttles across the wall, disappearing into a crack in the plaster.
This flat is decrepit, water stains spiraling over the ceiling like fine lines in a spider web; the sparse furniture is worse for wear, featuring lumpy, stained cushions and cigarette butts stubbed out on unvarnished wood. She can't believe this is where the most powerful woman in Great Britain lives.
The room smells like stale sweat, and she glances at the jammed windows; they're painted shut, she realizes, and she shifts uncomfortably in her chair. Accidentally, her eyes catch on the man in the corner, smoking like a chimney and staring straight at her. His hair is greasy, his face gaunt, and he sits slumped in his seat with his wand lazily held aloft between his fingers. His gaze doesn't waver.
She crosses her ankles, trying to focus on Mrs. Potter.
The woman is nothing like Caroline expected her to be.
She carries herself as though the ground beneath her feet is flimsy, ready to give way, and Caroline can't reconcile the small, tattered woman with the woman featured in the news. The woman in photographs splashed across the Daily Prophet is a strong, smiling heroine. Her face is round; her eyes are bright. She is a fighter through and through, Lily Potter, the woman who saved the world.
The woman who lets Caroline into the flat is thin, seemingly sewn together with scarred, sallow skin stretched over brittle bones, and a jagged, raised scar snakes across her throat, over her chin, reaching out to a torn, ragged ear. She wears a large, lumpy jumper over a faded print dress, her knobby knees hidden in thick stockings that disappear into her boots. Her hair falls in wispy, unkempt tendrils, her front tooth is chipped in a jagged line, and her hands are dry, the skin red, cracked, her nails cut with ragged edges.
"I put the kettle on," Mrs. Potter says.
There's a soft clicking noise, and the man in the corner puffs on a fresh fag.
Caroline decides to ignore him. She smiles at Mrs. Potter. "Thank you." She clears her throat and dips her quill into the ink. "I guess we'll jump right in," she says. "As you know, I'm asking survivors from the Menial District about their experience in the war. Could you tell me about your experience?"
She blinks, and a hundred memories flood her mind.
"Padfoot!" James roars, beckoning, "Lily needs to sit on you!"
Sirius stumbles towards them, and she giggles madly when he drops to his knees. "I'm ready," he crows, and Lily throws her head back in laughter, sagging against Remus, who catches her elbows, stands her up, and lugs her onto Sirius. "Steady," Remus says, which makes her laugh, and she pets Sirius on the head before her gaze lands on James.
His shirt is untucked, his glasses are titled on her head in a way that makes her stomach flip, and he is her husband. She crooks her finger at him, and he kneels, his hands sweaty on her calves as she spreads her legs. He kisses her knee, and she runs her hands through his hair, laughing a little when she feels Sirius shake underneath her. "Get on with it, you bleeding moose!" Sirius bellows.
James catches her garter in his teeth, tearing off the thing with a flourish.
Their friends hoot at them, cheering, and James surges up towards Lily.
She takes his sweaty face in her hands, and she kisses him. Her husband.
He wraps his arms around her, palming her ass, and she laughs breathlessly into his mouth, only suddenly he falls backwards, and he takes her with him; she lands against his chest awkwardly, elbowing his stomach, bumping her head against his, and catching his glasses in her curls.
But his kisses are sweet from wine, and she's intoxicated with it, with him. Her husband.
Two weeks after the wedding, Mrs. Potter slips away with James at her side.
Sirius volunteered to put a kettle on for her, disappearing into the kitchen, and Mrs. Potter smiled, quieted. Died.
They knew she was fading; it's why they rushed the wedding. But she seems impossibly small in the bed, and it's the second time Lily sees James cry. The first came when Mr. Potter passed a few months ago. Mrs. Potter hasn't seemed to have the heart to carry on since his death, and she claims she was ready to go. It's sweet, but Lily feels strangely alone in the world.
Her own parents are dead, killed instantly in a car accident almost a year ago, and she hasn't been close with her extended family since she was child. There's Petunia, but her sister made it very clear that she didn't care to have Lily in her life. But the Potters were like family to her, and now they are dead. There's James, though. Sirius. Remus, and Peter. Her boys.
She owls Remus, and she tells him to talk to Peter.
She cleans up the tea that Sirius splattered on the floor. "Thanks, Gail," he murmurs.
She puts a casserole in the oven for dinner. The boys need to eat.
James pulls her into his lap at the table. It's awkward, but she doesn't protest, letting him have his way, because his hand is fisted tightly in her skirt, and his eyes are rimmed with red. Nobody talks. Not James. Not Remus, or Peter, who shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Not Sirius, who smokes until the room's crowded with the smell.
Dinner isn't finished when an owl comes from Dumbledore with Order business, but it doesn't matter.
It isn't long before Voldemort tries to recruit them.
They refuse, and they escape. But Lily is a crying, shaking mess while Poppy tends to the burns that crisscross her arms, and she refuses to let James leave her sight. Poppy says she is in shock, that it'll fade. It does. The night passes, and they survived, and she calms. But he tried to recruit her.
It wasn't simply James he was after. Voldemort tried to recruit her. Lily.
He doesn't care about blood. It's power that he wants, and that knowledge strengthens her resolve to stop him.
They've shared a flat with Sirius and Remus since school, and they don't leave after they're married.
It's home, and they're comfortable in it. Besides, Sirius would likely follow wherever they moved, dragging Remus with him, and Lily is forced to admit that she likes their company. It's nice, hearing people moving in the next room over, having tea perpetually boiling in the kitchen, knowing someone is around to talk about nothing whenever she wants. She likes a crowded flat.
Someday, she thinks. In a few years, they'll move. Someday, when they have a new, different person to hear in the next room. A child, or two. Or three. She smiles, mentioning it to James.
He chokes on his orange juice, alarmed.
She pounds his back. "Calm down," she says, rolling her eyes. "I said someday, you prat."
He nods, coughing, and she flicks his ear as she circles the counter to take the eggs off the stove.
The first night she saves a life is a Tuesday in August. She feels drunk from the victory, knowing three Death Eaters are on their way to Azkaban. She helped Gideon save those two scared, cursed Muggles, and she put those Death Eaters in Azkaban. This wars is a fight they can win.
But she hasn't cracked open the Firewhiskey before James pushes up the window for an owl.
Marlene McKinnon was murdered, brutally, alongside her entire family. All that's left is bits.
Lily cries until she can't breathe, and James has to push his fingers into her mouth to force her jaw open, telling her to take a deep breath. She bites his fingers, drawing blood, and her head pounds until she is sick. It's not real. It's not, it's not, it's not. Remus must slip a potion into her tea, because she falls to sleep. It doesn't help. The nightmare tears her apart from the inside out, and she wakes.
The funeral is small. Lily tries to read a few lines that she wrote, but she can't really manage it.
James ends up reading her speech over her shoulder while she sways beside him.
She can't fall asleep that night, and she can't stop her tears, doesn't want to. James clutches her as close as he can, constantly smoothing her hair from her forehead, but it doesn't help, because the nightmare is real. Sirius climbs onto the bed to rest beside her, his forehead against her shoulders.
Remus is on the bed, too, she realizes; his head is on her thigh, and his hand finds hers.
The bed shifts. It's Peter. He reaches out, touching her calf.
She doesn't sleep very well that night, constantly jolting awake. But every time they're with her, talking in low voices that lull her back to sleep.
It takes a few weeks until she's able to function properly, but the war isn't finished yet.
Marlene owned a pearl broach from her grandmother. She loved it.
Lily fastens the broach to her robes, and she heads out to the Order meeting with the boys.
James fiddles with her hair, knotting the curls around his fingers.
She used to bat at his hand in school, telling him not to do that. But he liked to whine about how he loved her hair, please, Lily, I can't help it, please, and he would slobber all over her face with wet, pleading kisses. Eventually, she gave up, and she found spells to condition her hair.
He reaches his other hand out, tweaking her nipple. "I think your tits are getting bigger."
"What?" She pops an eye open to send him a funny look.
He shifts, flattening her underneath him, and cups her breasts, pushes them together. "Look."
"My breasts are not any bigger," she tells him. "I think I would know."
He shakes his head. "I'm pretty sure I love your tits more than you do," he argues, biting her breast affectionally before he props himself up on his elbows to look knowingly at her. He catches her hair beneath his elbow, though, and it yanks at her skull. She shoves his chest, forcing him to roll off.
He presses a kiss to her shoulder. "I love you, too."
She flicks his cheek, and she doesn't think about it.
Or, well, she doesn't until she hears at an Order meeting that Alice Longbottom is pregnant. "That's bad luck," Sirius says, and James nods. Lily bites her lip, trying to remember the last time she had her period. It's been a while, she realizes. But that isn't odd for her.
No reason to panic yet.
But she needs to make a potion to test for it.
She doesn't know how to tell him, and she doesn't try very hard.
It's easier to pretend that this hasn't happened when nobody knows.. She's gained weight, but the boys are tactful enough not to mention it, and, honestly, they aren't the most observant lot; she goes out, drinks diet coke the whole time, and, when she is sick the next day, James rubs her back as Sirius waxes poetic about the days when he was that hungover.
She needs to deal with it, but she can't bring herself to.
There's a war on. That's a bigger fish to fry, isn't it?
Plus, there's Christmas to think about. They should enjoy Christmas without one more thing to worry about. Benjy Fenwick is dead, and Caradoc Dearborn has disappeared, and Frank Longbottom is in St. Mungo's with burns that span his legs after another brush with Voldemort.
The world's in chaos, and Lily decides that Christmas is a good excuse to pretend it's not.
The potion matures a few weeks later, and she takes it. She can't not. She's tried to hold out hope that she might've been mistaken, but she needs to know. Only she wasn't mistaken. The potion proves it. She is pregnant.
Peter frowns at her over the kitchen table that night. "Do you think you have enough salt?"
She pauses. Her sausages are white with salt. "I like salt," she snaps.
He holds up his hands. "Sure, sure." But he exchanges a look with James, and Lily hates when have their silent conversations behind her back like that. She shoves her chair from the table and storms out, ignoring James while he tries to talk to her. She returns ten seconds later for the food, because she is famished, but no one says a word while she stalks back out.
"Do you want to visit a Healer?" James asks a few days later, because it's three in the morning, and she's been sick over the toilet for over an hour. His eyelids are heavy with sleep, but he looks concerned.
She shakes her head. "I could use something to eat, though," she says, and he nods, fetching biscuits. They're tasteless in her mouth, but they settle her stomach. "I'm fine, really," she tells him. She washes out her mouth while he crawls back into bed, and he is already asleep when she joins him.
Another three weeks, and she's on the brink. Her breasts ache, and she needs a drink, but she can't have one, and Sirius uses the worst shampoo. "It smells like dead, decaying fish!"
"Oi! Watch your mouth, Gail! I've used the stuff since I was at Hogwarts!"
"I know! I've smelled the shit!" Lily snarls. Honestly, she's about to tear his face off.
She doesn't know how the fight escalates, but he manages to duck when she aims a cookbook that at his head, and he looks at her furiously. "What's the matter with you, woman?" he exclaims. "I swear, you're barmier than Alice Longbottom, and at least she has an excuse for it!"
Lily stares at him, and she thinks the fury might eat her up. "Get out," she hisses. "OUT! GET OUT OF MY FLAT, YOU BLEEDING INGRATE!" She grabs another cookbook. Remus touches her arm, and she elbows him as hard as she can. "I can't stand to look at you!" she screams. "OUT, Black! Get OUT!"
She reaches for the kettle, and James pins her arms to her sides. "He's leaving," he says.
Sirius slams the door shut behind himself, but Remus follows a moment later, and he closes the door quietly with one long look at her. The kitchen is silent, and Lily struggles against James. "What is the matter with you?" he asks. He releases her, but he keeps her cornered against the counter. "What's happened?"
"It's called a war," she snipes.
His jaw locks. "Don't, Lily."
She crosses her arms over her chest, jostling her breasts. Her large, stupid, sensitive breasts. Out with it, she thinks. James stares expectantly at her, and there's a nervous look to his stare.
He gapes. "No — no, you're not."
"I am," she says, glaring. "I'm almost four months along. I took the potion."
"Okay, um, okay. How — how long have you know?" He runs a hand through his hair.
She shrugs, and her eyes start to burn with tears she refuses to cry. "I don't know," she mutters. "Since a few weeks before Christmas."
"But that's — that's almost three months!" he sputters. "Why didn't —? Why didn't you tell me?"
She curls her hands into fists, trying to keep herself together. "Because," she says.
"Because?!" he repeats, exploding, and she bristles. He doesn't have any right to be mad at her, considering his husband didn't knock him up, fuck you very much. "What the fuck is the matter with you?!"
It sets her off, and their shouts echo through the flat. It lasts until she can't hear herself think, and she stalks away from him to bed. But he follows, refusing to sleep on the sofa. Lily builds a pillow wall between them on the bed with every throw pillow she can find. She feels ridiculous as soon as her wall is built, but the lights are off, and she isn't going to cry, and that's that. She can't look at him, and she can't handle this, and she can't be pregnant.
She curls her knees up to her chest, and she presses her face into the mattress.
"Have you thought about names?" James asks softly, breaking the quiet.
Slowly, she turns. She can see his eyes in the dark through a hole in her wall.
"No," she says. "I haven't thought about — about anything. I can't think about it." She doesn't understand how he can. She takes a deep breath. "It's happening, though, and I don't know what to do about it. I don't know how I'm supposed to handle it. I'm losing my mind, James."
"We could, you know, not — not have it." His voice is strained.
"We could," she echoes. She clears her throat. "We could not have it."
But it's too late not to have it, isn't it? It would've been the smart thing to do, but that would've required her to think about the fact that she was pregnant, and she's tried her best not to think about it for the last four months. It's too late, and it's too quiet.
"I love you," he announces, abrupt. It's what he says when everything else fails, and it makes her throat close in the moment. "We could name a girl after Marlene," he adds softly, earnest.
"I —" She shakes her head, pressing her palms into her eyes. "I don't know how to deal with this!"
"Me, neither," he says. "But we have to, don't we? We'll figure everything out. We have to."
She swipes at her cheeks. "Or Lydia," she says, "after your mum. It's a pretty name." Her eyes itch with the tears, and she looks up at the ceiling, swallowing thickly. "This can't be real, James, I —"
"That's it," he declares, and a pillow soars off the bed. "I'm coming over."
She laughs while he destroys her wall, only for her laughter to dissolve into tears when he's there. His large, warm hands slip under her shirt to stroke her back, and he sprinkles kisses across her face, trying to catch her tears. "Lily, Lily, Lily," he breathes, this undeniable, overwhelming reverence in his voice, in the way her name sounds when he says it, and she clings to him.
"I don't know a thing about babies," he says, nuzzling her cheek. "But Sirius is good practice, right?" He smiles crookedly at her, and she takes his face in her hands to kiss him properly.
"I love you," she swears. "I love you, James Potter."
Sirius crosses his arms. "Huh." His gaze flickers to her stomach, and he eyes her critically. Tilts his head, purses his lips, and meets her eyes at last. "Are you sure you haven't just put on some pudge?"
"I'm going to put some pudge on your face," she replies.
Dumbledore stares at her during the Order meeting. She notices, catching his gaze and he smiles. "I was trying to recall," he says. "How many times is it now that you've faced Voldemort?"
Her chest tightens. Why would he ask that? "Three," James replies for her. "Why?"
But Dumbledore shakes his head, and his smile doesn't waver. "An old man's curiosity, that's all."
Harry is born at midnight.
He comes three weeks early, but labor lasts for almost two days, and she can't help her glare when the Healer says the little boy was eager to come out; as far as Lily is concerned, there was nothing early about his arrival. He is this tiny thing with soft pink skin, downy black hair, and big, big eyes that blink at her.
Lily laughs at Sirius, who backs away in protest when Lily tries to hand the baby to him.
James doesn't seem to notice Sirius. His eyes are locked on Harry, and he looks ready to cry after he takes Harry into his arms, only for Harry to wrap his tiny, tiny fingers around James's thumb. "Look, Lily!"
"He loves you," Lily says.
James nods. "He loves me," he repeats. He sounds like a child, and Lily can't believe they've made a child. Harry. She sighs, sinking a little into the pillows. Harry flails an arm wildly through the air. "Look, Lily!" James exclaims. "That arm is made for Quidditch!"
"Wait. Unwrap the blanket," Sirius says. "I want to see how tiny his bits are."
"Honestly, Padfoot," Remus says, exasperated.
"He's got a good, tight grip on my thumb," James says. "That's important for a Chaser."
Lily closes her eyes, drifting off while the boys chatter softly about her son.
She starts coughing, waking in the dark.
The room is quiet. She frowns, trying to push herself up; her body protests the strain, but she fumbles for her wand. What time is it? Another coughing fit seizes her, and her eyes itch. She can smell the smoke. Is that smoke? She finds her wand, lighting the room, and panic seizes her. The room has begun to fill with smoke; it's started to seep in under the door. She stumbles from the bed.
From the hall, there's a sudden, terrifying scream, and Lily's heart jumps into her throat.
She sends a patronus to James, grabbing the jacket that he left in the room.
It dwarfs her frame, but she buttons it up before she holds her arm up, holds it to her face, and she breathes into the sleeve, takes one deep breath. Takes another, and pushes into the corridor. It isn't simply one voice that screamed; suddenly, she's able to hear that a dozen voices are raised in panic, loud in the rooms around her. What happened? Where are the boys? What about Harry? He would be in the ward for infants, right? Which direction is that?
She tries to stay calm, waving away the smoke with great windy gusts from her wand. But a moment later, a purple stream cuts through the corridor, and she flattens herself against the wall to avoid it.
St. Mungo's is under attack.
The Death Eater appears, stalking through the smoke. He doesn't see Lily, and she takes him out before he does. She binds him, unable to do more. She needs to get to Harry. Her head has started to pound, and the smoke makes her eyes water, and she stumbles towards the infant ward.
Another spell spirals towards her, but she manages to deflect it.
The Death Eaters start to spill from the stairwell, stalling her. Her wand is slippery in her hand as she tries to fight them, but adrenaline pumps through her veins; it steadies her. She blasts a large, hulking Death Eater into the wall, but it's not enough. Another Death Eater disarms her, and he isn't alone. It's two to one, and they've corned her against the wall. She coughs on the smoke that billows in growing, thickening clouds around her.
But she can see the one Death Eater raise his wand to her, and she can see him fly through the air suddenly, landing with his neck at an odd angle.
She doesn't understand, and now the second Death Eater is dead.
It was a third Death Eater who saved her, and she is afraid to try to retrieve her wand. Instead, she presses herself into the wall, covering her mouth with the jacket, trying to breathe into the worn fabric that smells like James. The Death Eater stares at her; his eyes gleam behind the silver mask.
She realizes who he is an instant before he waves his hand to have the mask evaporate.
She tries to say his name, but she coughs on the words. Severus doesn't blink.
He saved her life, but he came with the Death Eaters to attack the hospital. She can't believe it, and she can't take her eyes off him. But she can't breathe either, choking as she sinks against the wall. He takes a step towards her, and a disarming spell hits him in the chest. "Lily!" Remus shouts, reaching her as she collapses on the ground.
He waves away a little smoke with his wand and starts to haul her to her feet.
"Come on," he murmurs. "We've got to get out. Come on."
She nods, letting him lead her away, but, no, she can't, because — "Harry!" she whispers, struggling against Remus. "No, Remus, I have to find Harry! No!" She tears away from him. "I have to find my baby!" she screams, and she's on her knees, grasping her wand. She looks up. Severus hasn't taken his eyes off her.
Remus touches her shoulders. "Dorcus Meadows got the children out," he says. "Harry is safe."
He doesn't wait for her to reply, grasping her waist, pulling her up, and urging her towards the stairs. The smoke billows towards them with unnatural force, and Severus disappears in the haze.
Remus manages to get them to the roof, and he Apparates with Lily tucked into his side.
Harry is safe.
She faints while the world shrinks around her.
The Death Eaters burned the hospital to the ground.
It's the cruelest terrorism they've committed, and Lily doesn't want to believe it. She didn't suffer any lasting damage from it; a simple potion soothed her throat, and James didn't hesitate to hand over her son, her tiny, helpless boy, untouched. Safe. She starts to cry before she can stop herself.
The Order is terrified, exhausted, in shock, and nobody seems to notice her tears.
Except James, who is pressed into her side. He cards his hands through her tangled, sooty hair, his own face as grimy as hers, and they doesn't sleep that night. They stay with the Order, waiting for news on the hospital to flood in. Lily sings under her breath to Harry to pass the time until they learn that the death count is at seventy two, and she pretends to doze against James when Remus explains softly to the Order that he saw Severus among the killers.
It isn't until they return to their flat that James breaks down. "The fighting started before I could reach you, and I was caught up in it, and — and I tried to reach Harry, but — Lily, Lily, I was scared —" He shudders, and she quiets him with kisses while his tears splash hotly against her arms.
Harry keeps her the next night, but she doesn't care. In fact, he keeps her up night after night in the weeks that follow, and she's glad he does; she would rather sit with him, nursing him, tickling his tiny, tiny feet, watching his tiny, tiny fingers curl, than drown in black, smoky nightmares.
They planned to move into a house with Harry the way that a proper family would. They don't.
They stay in the flat, and Peter starts to spend every night on the coach. Lily is glad; she worries about him when he isn't around. It rains for weeks, and the Order can't seem to accomplish a single thing. It's impossible to tell who in the Ministry is under the Imperius Curse, the Dementors have joined Voldemort, the deaths have racketed up to a number that's impossible to count.
Two months pass. Three, Four. Six months, and Harry is able to sit up, likes to play with the kitten, drools on her shoulder while she sings to him. She doesn't know how to be a mother, or she didn't when the Healer put her son in her arms. But she learns, and James learns with her. They blindly fumble their way through parenthood, and it becomes their whole world. They have to keep Harry fed. They have to keep him safe. They have to read him a story, to sing him to sleep.
It's something to hold onto, and Lily holds as tightly as she can.
James ties a snitch to a string, looping the string around Harry's waist.
It's ridiculous, but Lily can't help her laughter when she sees Harry rolling, crawling, reaching for the little golden snitch that buzzes around him. He pushes himself to his feet for the first time in an attempt to reach the toy. He topples over a moment later, but he is undeterred, and James whips his head around to grin at Lily, his eyes bright with clear, unadulterated pride.
James is involved in this war, too, sleeping four hours a night at best, yet he possesses unimaginable, boundless energy for Harry, and Lily loves it.
"Do you like to play with Dada, sweet boy?" she whispers, kissing his fuzzy hair while James prods stuffed animals with his wand to make them dance for Harry. "Dada loves you, Harry," she says, and Harry claps his chubby little hands when a stuffed frog starts to waltz.
James teases Harry constantly, pulling little tricks on him. He makes light disappear in one hand only to reappear in the other, and Harry is confused, amazed, thrilled. He taps Harry on one shoulder, grinning at Harry over the other, and Harry thwacks him on the cheek in delight. He runs around the house like a crazy man with Harry hiked up over his head, shouting commentary for the world's most imaginative, idiotic Quidditch match.
The first word Harry says is "play."
He likes to play with blocks; he likes to stack them, knock them over, stack them, and knock them over, and it's the most fun when James stacks them, knocks them over, stacks them, and knocks them over. Lily's on the floor with them one night when Sirius arrives on his motorcycle. The look on his face makes Lily sick to her stomach, and Harry is left with his blocks while his parents talk to Sirius, who tells them.
Dorcus Meadows was killed.
"But she was in hiding," James says vehemently; it's as though he's convinced Sirius is mistaken.
Sirius nods, his mouth a thin, grim line. "I know. But she didn't tell us who her Secret Keeper was, and the bastard must've given her up. Moldy Voldy came to her house and killed her and her brother. Left them to rot." His hands are fisted. "There's no way for us to know who betrayed her."
"It was someone in the Order," Lily whispers.
James shakes his head. "No."
"It was," Lily repeats. "It was somebody who Dorcus trusted, and she didn't tell anyone else who it was lest she accidentally tell the real spy." She rubs her wedding ring with her thumb. "But the one person she told, the one person she trusted, was the real spy — it's the only real explanation for it."
"Someone in the Order is a traitor," Sirius says, "and he's going to get us all killed. We're not safe."
"The people in the Order are our friends," James insists. "I trust them."
"Don't be stupid, Prongs," Sirius snaps, and James's eyes flash angrily before he opens his mouth to retort.
He doesn't have the chance to say a word, though. Harry's start to pout in the corner, unhappy to have to knock his blocks down himself, and he calls out loudly to them. "Play!" They're stunned, spinning around to look at him. He isn't phased. He blinks at them with large, impatient green eyes. He waves a block through the air.
The excitement hits Lily suddenly, and she's at his side in an instant with James on her left, Sirius on her fight.
"Oh, my boy! Tell Mama what you want to do. Do you want to play? Oh, love!"
"Do you want play, kid? That's my boy! Do you want to play? Let's play!"
"Listen to you, you smart little wanker! Sorry, Gail. Sorry. Just came out."
Harry is immensely pleased with himself after that, generously handing blocks to everyone as they fawn over him. "Play," he says, and they play until Harry is drooping against Lily with exhaustion.
The worry returns later that night. James toys with her hair while they lie in bed, his chest warm against her cheek, and her stomach twists with the awful, terrifying thoughts. "Who are we supposed to trust?" she whispers. "I know you don't want to believe that anyone in the Order would betray us, but. Are you willing to stake Harry's life on it?"
He doesn't answer for a long time. "Voldemort could come through the door at any moment," he says at last. "But I'm not going to let anything happen to Harry. I'm not." He shifts, looking at her.
"I know," she says. She bites her lip. "There's Sirius. We could trust him as our Secret Keeper."
James nods. "Or Remus," he says. "Or Peter."
"But could we trust anyone else?" she asks. "Can we trust anyone else?"
He turns to wrap his arm around her, and his voice is thick. "I don't know."
Emmeline Vance gives Lily a camera for her birthday.
She takes more pictures than she can count, and every single one features Harry; she's got him with his blocks, at the table, in the bath. But after the roll is developed, her favorite is the one picture with James. Harry is in his lap, and James makes Harry laugh before he kisses him wetly on the cheek. Lily loves it.
Halloween comes, and Lily knows what that means; it's the same every year, after all.
James puts Harry to bed, reappearing in the living room with a grin on his face.
She shakes her at him. "M'm too tried," she protests.
He flicks his wand, making music play on the radio. She starts to tell him that he'll wake Harry, but he isn't deterred. He bows dramatically, holding out his hand. "It's tradition," he says. She sighs, but she gives him her hand, and he tugs her off the couch. "Come on, you know you love to dance with me."
"Hardly," she says, But it's the truth. James never misses a step, and Lily loves the way he sweeps her off his feet, how she is weightless when she dances with him. He says his natural talent is behind it; she thinks the lessons he was forced to attend for six years as a child are more likely the culprit. He dips her, and she sticks her tongue out at him.
"How about a story?" he asks. She rolls her eyes, flicking her finger lightly against his neck.
He holds up their arms, circling her in some complicated wizarding dance that she doesn't know, and he doesn't wait for her to answer. "It was on this very night that a miracle happened, you know. Many years ago, this very night."
She gasps mockingly at him, but he ignores her while he starts in on the story that he loves to tell about their first date, or what he claims is their first date but what was, in reality, simply the time that they danced at the Death Day party that Sir Nicholas hosted. James tells the story every year, and it's the same every year, word for word. Lily wraps her arms around his shoulders, leaning against him while he spins his silly little tale.
He makes up dialogue, talking in a high voice to imitate her, and "obviously," he says, "it's universally agreed that decaying fish is an aphrodisiac."
She nods. "Obviously."
"Thus the rotten fish carried away their worries, and that was the moment, as they danced in that chilly, charming atmosphere, that Lily Evans realized she was madly, madly in love with James Potter."
His eyes find hers, and she winkles her nose, laughing when he dips her suddenly. But he draws her up a moment later, kissing her, and she nuzzles her nose against his. "I love you," she breathes.
"Clearly," he replies. "Weren't you listening, Lily?"
She laughs, letting him steer her towards their bedroom.
They never last, the stolen, happy moments.
The twins are dead.
They went down with a fight, but Lily can't fathom that they are gone. She can't. But they are. No one is invincible, and Voldemort is picking them off. Harry fusses, and Lily stays up through the night with him. He fusses, and it's like he understands. He is allowed to scream, and she isn't. She is supposed to be strong. She is supposed to continue to fight. She is supposed to be brave. She is supposed to take the deaths in stride.
She's forgotten how many deaths have stolen into her life.
One, two, a dozen, a hundred.
Remus reads the deaths in the Daily Prophet every morning, and Lily can't help but think that at least James isn't on the list, at least the boys aren't on the list, at least her sweet, small son is safe.
The first time Gideon held Harry, he blew raspberries onto his stomach. Harry loved it.
Harry fusses, screaming with wet, red checks, and Lily cries silently with him.
Dumbledore suggests that they hide. He says everyone in the Order needs to do it.
Lily doesn't like the idea. She feels as though they're abandoning the world to fall apart, but, well, they're being forced to hide, aren't they? She remembers Dorcus Meadows, killed after she hid, and smoky, heavy terror settles in Lily's gut as her eyes jump around the small, cramped meeting room. These are her friends, her family, but someone in this room killed Dorcus.
Dumbledore suggests that they use the Fidelius Charm.
Lily wants Sirius to be their Secret Keeper. He would die before he let anything happen to them, and he agrees immediately. They move into an old, decrepit, cottage, performing the spell to keep themselves a secret.
Hogwarts falls. James was at the battle to save the school; he watched Frank Longbottom die to defend it. In the end, he fled with Sirius, because the battle was lost, and the school was lost.
Lily tries to repair the cottage. James leaves on missions for days at a time, but she can't go with him the way she did years ago. They have to think about Harry. Some days, Lily doesn't mind.
She paints the kitchen to match the curtains that she sews, and she spells the rust from the toilet, and she scrubs the windows until they shine. It's satisfying to make a house a home, and Harry toddles around after her. She finds a place for the dream catcher that Marlene gave her in fifth year, for the novelty teapot that Sirius bought as a wedding gift, for the books that belonged to her grandfather.
That's some days, though.
On most days, she feels as though she's about to lose her mind. She wants to go out; she wants to do something, to make a difference, to fight. She leaves the house occasionally, yes. For groceries, for Order meetings, for funerals. That's it.
But she's hasn't done a thing for the war in months.
They talk a few times about the possibility that James stay at the house with Harry while Lily goes on a mission for the Order, but those conversations end the same way every single time. James can't handle the idea that she'll be out there in danger without him. "How do you think I feel?" she screams. She wants to hate him, but the best she can really manage is resentment.
Harry babbles at her while she gives James the cold shoulder.
He crawls across the kitchen, eager for her attention, and she thinks he is the reason she hasn't lost her mind yet. He is her constant companion, wanting her to read with him, to draw with him, to play with him. She sits him on the counter, letting him drool into the batter while she bakes, and she tickles him until he dissolves into giggles while they sing along with the Muggle radio. She tries to pretend that she doesn't resent her husband for leaving her trapped in this house to care for his son.
She loves Harry. He is her son, too, and she knows that James is fighting for them. But. Still.
Why is he allowed to fight for them while she stays safely at home, but she isn't allowed to do the same while he remains safely at home?
He leaves for a mission, and he doesn't return when he is supposed to. She panics. She sends word to Dumbledore, but his response is useless. He doesn't know what happened, and she waves away the smoky animal as she paces the living room. Another day, and she can't function for the worry that eats away at her.
It's two in the morning when the door slams open, and the boys barrel in.
James walks with a limp, is caked in dirt, in blood, his clothes torn, his hair matted to his head.
She hugs him around the neck and won't let go.
"I'm sorry," he breathes, "I'm sorry, we were caught, and — and we were supposed to be on reconnaissance, but they were torturing children, Lily, and raping — they overpowered us —" He trembles against her, his fingers digging into her jumper, and he tries to tell her how they escaped, but he isn't making any sense. She presses her nose into his neck, breathing him in.
His fingers dig into her sides until it hurts.
She takes her hands in his face, placing kisses along his cheek.
Remus catches her eye. There's a bloodied cloth held to his ear, but he's there. Alive. Sirius roots through the fridge, and Peter slumps into a seat at the kitchen table, and she can't breathe for the relief that fills her up.
Harry stumbles into the room at the commotion, dragging his teddy bear. His round, sleepy face brightens. "Dada, home! Dada, home!" Lily breaks away from James, who wipes at his tears before he reaches out to catch Harry, running as fast as his chubby little legs can carry him to his Dad.
"Hey, buddy," James says.
Harry squirms. "Smelly," he declares, scrunching up his nose. It makes James laugh.
The night wears on, and the boys explain the entire story to her as they eat.
They're bloodied and bruised. Between the four, Lily counts six broken ribs, three fractured wrists, a dozen nasty cuts, and too many nasty, purpling bruises to keep track. Remus is the worst off, a terrible, raised gash under his ear, and her hands shake as she makes him the potion to replenish the blood he lost.
But as soon as Lily will let him, Remus takes off to report to Dumbledore. The moon is fading, and Peter leaves to check in with his mother while Sirius claims the couch, snoring within minutes. James needs to rest, too. But the moment Lily follows him into the bedroom, shutting the door quietly behind herself, he drags her over, hoists her up, and settles her onto the bed with a kiss.
She doesn't try to stop him.
He kisses her desperately, trying to draw the breath from her lungs into his own while his hands fumble over her. He pushes a hand into her hair, squeezes her breast with the other. Suddenly, his hands are on her thighs, and he pushes her nightgown up, tears her panties down, spread her legs. His own trousers are at his knees when he thrusts into her. She hugs his hips with her legs, fisting her hands into his knotted hair. His hands bruise her thighs, and she knows there'll be marks on her skin in the morning. She doesn't care. Those bruises are proof that he was with her, that he came home.
That he survived.
He starts to cry, mumbling nonsensically into her mouth, but she understands. He thought he was going to die, and that would've been it. He would never have come home, never have seen her again, and she might never have found his body, might never have known what happened. She shifts, and he hikes her legs up to fuck her deeper, faster.
She cries out when she comes, digging her fingers into his shoulders.
He's not far behind, and his head falls to her shoulder once he's finished. She holds him there, holds him to her. She pets his back while he catches his breath, kissing his sweaty, stubbled cheek.
"It can't go on like this," she whispers. "Nothing is changing, and — and I'm trapped in this house, going mental, and you're gone for days at a time, fighting, I know, and I can't hate you for that, but I do, I hate you, because I don't know where you are or what's happening, and you could die —"
She squeezes her eyes shut, her hands fisted in his shirt.
He starts to cover her neck in wet, messy, kisses, and his nose nuzzles her throat. "What do I do?"
She takes his face in her hands. "James," she begs.
He looks at her, his eyes glossy with tears. "I know," he says. "I know it can't go on like this, but I don't know what to do, Lily. I don't — tell me. Tell me what to do, and I'll do it. I'm fighting as hard as I can, but for every life we save a dozen are lost, and I don't know what to do. Tell me what to do, Lily. Tell me, and I'll do it, love, I will."
She shakes her head, pulling him to her.
"There's nothing to do," she says, because there's not. Except —
There's fighting. There's going on like they have been. That's all they can do.
She goes to see Petunia.
Her sister hasn't changed in the years since Petunia told Lily that she didn't want to have anything to do with her. She lives in the same boring house, is married to the same terrible man, concerns herself with the same inane things. Lily surprises her, but Petunia remembers how to sneer as she puts a kettle on for Lily. Her son is in a high chair, and he chews with his mouth open while he stares at Lily.
She didn't think a two-year-old could be that large.
"What do you want?" Petunia asks. "I don't suppose you've left your husband."
"No," Lily says, sighing. "I haven't left him." She pauses. "We have a son. I wrote you about him."
Petunia nods. "I received your letters."
"Right," Lily says. "I guess you don't want to catch up. Fine. I've come to warn you. I don't know whether you remember, but my world is at war, and things have taken a terrible turn." She doesn't know how to explain. "People like me," she starts. "I mean, magical people born into non-magical families. We're being targeted, Tuney. The evil wizard who started the war hates us, and he's started to gain more power every day. Petunia, I came to warn you that you need to go into hiding, or they'll find you."
Petunia stares at her. "I'm not magical," she says.
"No, but you're my sister, and they might try to hurt you in order to hurt me." She isn't surprised at the way her sister reacts. She scowls at Lily while she snaps that she isn't an irresponsible freak who can go on the run at the drop of a hat, thank you very much. "Please," Lily says. "If you're worried about money, I can help you. I can pay for plane tickets to Australia."
"I'm not going to leave England," Petunia says. "Vernon is essential to his firm. We can't leave."
Her shoulders are squared, ready for a fight. This is what Lily expected.
She can't help how disappointed she is, though.
She nods. "Okay. But I warned you. If you change your mind, ring me at this number." She holds out the small scrap paper to Petunia, who frowns. She sips her tea rather than take the paper. Lily sets the scrap on the table. "I know you don't believe me, but I do love you. I don't want anything to happen to you. I love you, Tuney," she says. Petunia doesn't reply, and Lily sighs. "I'll see myself out."
Harry sprouts up like a weed. Suddenly, he's a three-year-old. It takes her a while to potty train him; he can't bother to stop to tell her he needs to use the potty, not when he is busy running in every direction, making as much noise as possible, and tirelessly turning every room upside down.
But he learns, and he starts to talk to her, too, really talk, saying what he wants and what he thinks. He takes the books away from her at night, pretending to read them, and he asks silly, earnest questions that make her smile. Why can't he see his nose when both his eyes are open? Why don't cats talk? Why are his teeth white? Why does Daddy get to sleep in her bed?
She's never able to answer the questions to his satisfaction. It's adorable.
He goes through phases, not wanting to eat this, not wanting to do that. Her favorite is the phase when he likes to tear off his clothes the moment she turns her back in order to around gleefully without a stitch on.
She tries to chase after him at first. "Mama is wearing her shirt!" she wheedles. "Good little boys like to wear pants!" But it isn't as though he bothers anyone while running amok without clothes, and she starts to let him have his way on most days.
Time marches on, and he grows bigger. He learns how to use the potty, starts to asks different, more complicated questions, agrees to wear pants.
But some things don't change.
No matter how much time passes, there isn't a thing that Harry loves to do more than to fly.
It started when he wasn't yet a year old, and James would hoist him in the air, running around while Harry gurgled in delight. He's too big for that at three years old, but he begs Lily to use her wand to make him float, and he won't take his toy broom out from between his legs for hours at a time; he waddles around the house with it, trying to sit at the kitchen table with it.
James talks about Quidditch with him endlessly. Harry is desperate to play, but it's too dangerous for James to take him out on a broom let alone to try to play with a Quaffle.
Someday, James says. Someday, when you're at Hogwarts. In Gryffindor.
Harry believes him, excited about someday. He puffs out his chest, calling himself a Gryffindor, and Lily wants to believe him, too. She thinks she might, in fact, at least for a short, sweet moment, insulated in their cottage, together, alive, as though as war isn't on, as thought Hogwarts isn't overrun with Death Eaters, as though James isn't going to disappear on a mission at any moment.
But, inevitably, Dumbledore needs James to infiltrate the ministry, and James disappears on a mission. Harry isn't bothered; Dada leaves, but Dada comes back, and that's how it's always been.
His whole world is in this cottage with them, and it's a perfect world to him.
The Ministry falls on a Wednesday afternoon, and Lily doesn't have any tears left to cry.
Honestly, it was inevitable. The Minister was made a puppet for Voldemort months ago.
Lily can't imagine how anything could get worse.
But, six days later, James shakes Lily awake, because someone set fire to the street, and every house is burning, including theirs. They grab Harry, and they're out the door. No one notices them appear from nowhere; she can hear the Muggle ambulances in the distance, and her innocent neighbors are gathered in the street, wrapped in blankets, horrified as they watch their homes burn.
"Do you think something happened to Sirius?" Lily asks. Harry squirms against her, wanting to be set on his feet. But she clutches him closer, terrified. James shakes his head, and they hurry from the chaos. As soon as they're alone, James sends a message to Sirius to tell him what happened.
Lily can barely breathe, certain that the message will return unheard. That the recipient will be dead.
It seems like ages, but a message never returns; instead, Sirius appears, becoming visible while he steps off his invisible motorcycle. He is panicked, stumbling towards them. He picks Lily up off the ground when he hugs her, and he closes his eyes when he embraces James. He explains that Peter is at the flat with Remus. They're safe. The fire must've simply been to harm the Muggles in a neighborhood where a famous wizard used to live.
The Potters weren't the target.
James nods, clearly relieved. "I thought they had you, and —" He doesn't finish. Sirius nods, and Lily hugs Harry a little tighter.
Voldemort rules England, but Sirius is safe. They're alive, and they survive another night.
They move into a crowded flat in London with the boys, and Dumbledore suggests another Fidelius Charm. He is insistent; there isn't any reason not to. Lily assumes that Sirius will do it.
He agrees to it. But when he comes home to perform the spell, he's about to burst with his new, brilliant idea, and he's dragged Peter with him. "They won't suspect Peter," he says, pleased as punch when he claps Peter on the shoulder. James agrees. But Lily hesitates.
It's not that she doesn't trust Peter, or love him.
But he isn't the most courageous person, is he? If he were tortured, he couldn't keep a secret.
She can't find a way to say that when the boys are looking at her expectantly, though.
"Are you sure about this?" she asks Peter, and she refuses to be ashamed at her hope that he balks.
He smiles, nodding. "Don't worry," he tells her. "I can keep a secret."
The resistance, or what's left, is coming apart at the seams. The death count has spiraled up impossibly high, claiming Alastor Moody, and there are few left in the Order who trust Remus. The bitterness starts to overtake him, and he won't listen to Lily when she argues the point with him.
"I'm a werewolf, Lily," he insists.
She crosses her arms over her chest. "I'm a ginger. But you already knew that, didn't you?"
He shakes his head at her. "I'm a creature that isn't meant to keep company with civilized people!"
She refuses to let him wallow in hate for himself. He is as fit to keep company with civilized people as anyone. He isn't the traitor in the Order, and as long as there is a traitor amongst them, the Order needs wizards like Remus, no matter what anyone else says. She tells him that she loves him, that James trusts him, that Harry needs him. She convinces herself that she convinces him.
Three weeks after Moody is killed, he offers to fetch milk.
James has eggs on the stove, Harry's taught Sirius how to play some complicated game where they clap each other's hands, and Lily's focused on the Prophet. It's the same as any other day, and they need milk. He heads out.
But Lily chases after him. "Wait!" She catches him in the street, "Here. To pay for it." She pushes the money into his hand, and she smiles. "Hurry," she says. "I'll need your help to put out the fire that James is bound to start with his eggs." She wants him to smile.
He manages it. He smiles, and he disappears down the street.
He shouldn't be gone for more than half an hour. Except he is. Gone. For an hour, a day, a week.
For good. He never comes back.
"He must've been the traitor," Emmeline says, sour. "This proves it."
Lily glares at her. "This is proof that he wasn't," James replies. "Why would the traitor disappear? He wouldn't! I'm telling you, he was caught. We need to find out where they've taken him, and we need to —"
"To what? Risk our lives to save a werewolf?" Morgan scoffs.
"No one was talking to you," Sirius growls. Morgan is new to the Order, invited to join alongside seventeen or eighteen young, angry witches and wizards who wanted to start an underground resistance and stumbled across the Order. Morgan shakes his head, slumping in his seat. His eyes dart to Harry, and his mouth thins. He hasn't hesitated to make his feeling clear, telling them that James is soft, that Lily should stay at home with her son, that Dumbledore isn't fit to lead anymore.
Morgan isn't in charge, though.
"We do not have any evidence that Remus is a traitor," Dumbledore says, calmly cutting through the anger. "But we do not have any idea where he is, or what happened to him. I'm afraid there is nothing we can do for him until we learn more, and yesterday I learned disturbing news that we must address." He carries on, changing the subject. It's how the Order works, how they're forced to work; they can't linger on a single wizard.
Lily isn't able to listen to what he says. Remus is in trouble. He needs them.
But this is a war, and people die.
Marlene, Benjy, Dorcus, Gideon, Fabian, Alastor, a thousand others.
According to Dumbledore, the Ministry under the Death Eaters has started to haul people into large, overrun fields with shoddy warehouses that were built overnight, slums where those considered inferior are herded to live, where they're marked as inferior, starved, belittled, abused, used for labor. It's twisted. They're registering people as menial creatures, and they're forcing them to live in the slums they've build.
The Menial District. That's what they call it, the makeshift shantytowns for those menial beings with inferior blood.
The Death Eaters have reserved Azkaban for the traitors, those who need to be taught to respect their bloodlines. Andromeda Tonks is in Azkaban. Sirius pales when Dumbledore says it. His cousin is in Azkaban, and her husband is in the Menial District. Dumbledore isn't certain, but he believes her daughter is in the district, too; the girl isn't yet thirteen, but she is considered to be an abomination, a halfblood who never should've been born, who deserves to starve to death.
Dumbledore explains everything in a steady solemn voice, discussing what they should do about it.
Lily leans into James, her mouth dry, and pretends to believe that the Order can do anything about it.
Remus never returns. They assume the worst.
Autumn fades quickly into winter that year, the cold seeping into everything. The skies stay stormy for days at a time, and wet, sticky snow blankets the streets, hiding the war under white gauze. Lily doesn't mind the winter until a blizzard in December knocks out the power, and the flat ushers in the cold.
They can't use magic to stay warm, or they'll have Snatchers at the door.
James seals the windows shut as best he can, and Sirius buys camping gear in town. They wear coats around the flat, gloves, too, lighting candles to watch their breath billow up in the chilly air.
"Mummy, my nose's frozen," Harry whines, wrapping his arms around her waist, pressing his face into her side, looking up at her with doleful eyes.
James clucks his tongue. "Better be careful, buddy," he says, shaking his head mournfully at Harry, "or your nose'll to turn to ice." He taps Harry on the nose. "It'll fall right off."
Harry claps his hand over his nose. "Mummy, my nose's gonna fall off!"
James promises him that they can prevent it, and they spend the evening with handkerchiefs wrapped around their faces to cover their noses, hopping from foot to foot while they pretend to be fire, because that's what you're supposed to do to keep your nose from falling off when it's frozen.
Harry sleeps that night with his nose buried in Lily's shoulder. She wakes early, and she reaches over him to touch James on the shoulder. She traces her fingers over his cheek, and she feels his smile against her palm before she sees it in the light that seeps in from the split in the curtains. She flicks the bump in the bridge of his nose. He catches her hand, kissing her wrist.
They try to find ways to distract themselves, but they are without power for days. It's unbearable.
Four days in, Sirius leaves on a mission after he declares loudly that he can't stand to live in Siberia.
Lily wakes up in a quiet house, Harry curled up like a cat against her stomach. She is warm under the sheets, and she is tempted to pull them up over her head, but James isn't in the room, and she can't spend the day in bed. She forces herself to worm her way out from under the blankets, tucking them securely around Harry. She slept in her coat, a jumper underneath with pajamas bottoms on over leggings, but she tugs on gloves, too, and grabs a wooly scarf off the ground.
She pads into the kitchen in thick socks stolen from James to find him trying to cook sausages over a little fire he started on the stove. A dozen used matches litter the counter, and his tongue is held beneath his teeth as he concentrates on the task. He grins when he sees her. "I'm brilliant."
She snorts. He abandoned a blanket on the ground, and she wraps the fuzzy throw around her shoulders, sinking to sit on the floor against the cabinets. "Boil water for my tea, and I'll believe it."
"It'll be the best tea you've ever tasted," he replies.
She closes her eyes. "This cold exhausts me." It really does, dampening whatever fight was left inside her.
James nudges her knee with his foot, drawing her attention up, and he smiles at her when she meets his gaze. "My sausage will warm you up," he says, holding up a sausage on a fork.
She shakes her head, pulling her knees to her chest to hide her legs in the blanket.
Again, he nudges her with his foot. "Aw, come on, that was worth a chuckle."
"I don't feel like chuckling at your dirty jokes, James," she snaps, but she sighs as soon as the words leave her mouth. She doesn't mean to snap at him. "I'm tired," she apologizes, "and I'm — I'm not in the mood." She feels trapped in this flat, coiled tightly but unable to spring from this cold, miserable box she's locked in. She's restless, and she wants to pound her fists into the wall.
James moves to sit uncomfortably close to her, eating bangers with his fingers.
"Have a bite," he pushes, and he holds out a greasy, split sausage with a childish, needling grin.
She elbows him. "I mean it, James."
"Okay, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he says. It's quiet. She glances at him, and his expression is absurd, contorted in his attempt not to smirk. His lips curl, his cheeks twitch with the effort to stop the smile, and he makes an exaggerated effort at a somber expression. It's ridiculous.
"Stop it," she mutters.
"I'm not doing a thing," he replies. "I don't know what you're on about."
"Stop," she insists, but she is unable to help the stupid smile that starts to tug at her lips.
He leans closer, nosing her cheek. "I'm not doing anything," he repeats, childish.
She shoves him, and he laughs, ducking away before he tugs suddenly on legs to pull her under him. She tries to wiggle away, but he blows a raspberry into her neck, making her laugh, and his hands try to slip under her clothes, coming upon layer after layer. "I'm starting to think there's not a real person under here," he exclaims. But a moment later, icy hands find her stomach, and she squeals, shoving his arm.
He kisses her greedily, laughter like a taste on his tongue.
"You're stealing my warmth!" she protests, trying to escape.
He rubs his cheek against her neck. "I can't help it," he says, and his fingers strum against her belly, tickling her, making her cry from laughter. She manages to snake her hands under his clothes, though, and she runs them along his back, dipping under his pants to palm his ass. He bucks against her. "Want it to be like that?" he breathes, playful. He grins into her neck, nipping at her earlobe.
"Anything to keep warm," she replies, pushing her breasts into his hands.
Her coat gapes open, and he pushes her jumper up to her neck, her stomach to the cold air. But he swoops down a moment later to press sweet, warm kisses against the goosebumps. "I love you, too, sweetheart."
He crawls up her while his hand slip into her pants, and —
"I want to play!" Harry exclaims, his head bobbing into view. "I want to play!" He stumbles into the kitchen, and James rolls off Lily to flop onto his stomach, muffling a groan. Hastily adjusting her clothes, Lily opens her arms to Harry, who bounds over, delighted. His messy hair sticks up in the back, his eyes bright, and she smiles at how his sweet little belly strains against his pajamas.
James is motionless.
"Dad?" Harry asks, skidding to a stop. "What're you playing?"
"Well," Lily says. She reaches forward to snag him around the waist. "We're playing tickle monster!" She slips her fingers under pajamas to tickle his tummy. His childish laughter rings loudly through the kitchen as he tries to escape her grasp.
James recovers, joining in; he chases Harry when the little boy tries to run away, swooping him up into the air when he catches him.
The next to disappear is Dumbledore.
He isn't taken, or killed. But he tells them that there is something he needs to do, a mission he must undertake alone in order to defeat Voldemort. James protests, and Lily tells Dumbledore that he doesn't need to do anything by himself. They're ready to help him, she says. They want to help him.
He smiles, thanking her. But the next day he is gone. He isn't caught, or dead. He is working to defeat Voldemort, doing something that must be done, and any day he could do it. He could end the war.
Months pass, and they don't hear a word from him. Or about him. Nothing.
As a hot, humid summer dawns, she realizes that she isn't waiting for him to return, to end the war, to save them. He isn't going to come back, and she doesn't have the heart to pretend that he is.
They host an Order meeting at their flat.
The electricity was finally restored, and their flat is under the Fidelius Charm.
Harry is in bed, and the living room is cramped with chairs dragged in from every room to seat the twenty-odd members as they discuss their allies in the Wizarding community in France, which is under attack from Voldemort. Lily sits on the sofa, sandwiched between Peter, who won't stop twitching, and Sirius, who is restless, tapping his foot, sighing, a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
James is on the ground, leaning against her legs as he snacks on peanuts.
He holds up his arm, twisted awkwardly, to offer her a few, and someone blasts open the door.
Sirius sends the sofa crashing backwards when he leaps up to fight, and Lily draws her own wand, magic warming the air as Death Eaters stream endlessly into the flat. She glances at the bedroom door behind which her five-year-old son sleeps; she needs to get to him. She needs to get him out.
But everything is happening too quickly, and she can't see James, can't see Sirius, can't — her eyes land on Peter. He is backed against the wall, a queasy look on his pale face, and sudden, smoky despair crawls up her throat as his eyes meet hers. His lips twist, and he lifts his wand, advancing.
She stumbles, and a spell brushes her cheek, singeing the skin.
She doesn't feel it, can't. Another spell catches her leg, and she stumbles into the wall; the breath leaves her in a rush, sick rises up in her throat, but she tightens her grip on her wand, and a Death Eater advances on her. His face is mangled, the skin on his forehead melted from a nasty burn to hang over his eye like a fleshy pink web. They raise their wands at the same moment, only for an explosion to rock the flat, pitching everything off; her knees hit the ground, and she scrambles to grab at the wand that sprang from her grip. Her fingers wrap around the wood at the exact same moment that a crack splits the floor, and the whole building seems to groan with it.
The Death Eaters continue to pour into the flat. This is it, their battle to take out the resistance.
Those that aren't dead yet have to Apparate. They have to get out.
But Lily can't leave without Harry, and she forces herself to her feet. Her gaze snaps to his bedroom, and she sees two Death Eaters bash open the door. In a flash, she disarms one, ducks a spell from the other, and starts to duel with him. She needs to reach Harry, needs to get him out.
But the air starts to crackle with an unnatural heat that pops along her skin, and she knows what that means; it's an anti-Apparation charm on the flat.
They have to get out before the charm is in place, or that's it. They're dead.
She is almost to him when another explosion shakes the flat, knocking Lily to her knees, and she chokes on thick, growing smoke; a spell must've set the curtains on fire.
She looks up from the floor, and she can see the air start to melt.
Time stops, and everything happens in a single instant.
James screams for Lily. She sees him, struggling to get to her. But he is across the room. He tries to reach her, and a curse strikes his back. She watches him crumple to the ground. Emmeline shouts for death as three Death Eaters surround her, screaming at them to kill her, do it, kill me, you bloody beasts, kill me! James scrambles to his feet. Morgan flies backwards when the Killing Curse hits him square in the chest; he lands against the wall, his head tilted on his shoulder. Another Death Eater advances suddenly on Lily. She hears him whisper her name, and she knows it's him. Snape.
She hates him.
She can't stop the Death Eaters from surging into the bedroom where Harry is.
She tries, rising to her feet, but a spell strikes her with a chill, freezing her, paralyzing her, and she falls. Her face smashes into the ground, and the pain blinds her, branding her skin with an agony latticework, sinking into her until it her bones splinter with it. But she hears him.
Harry, screaming. But —
Suddenly, sound pauses, and the flat is silent despite the chaos. She spots James, trying desperately to reach her. But Sirius wraps his arms around him. He drags him off, and that's it; Lily imagines she can hear the crack when they Apparate. The air is distorted; it's broken glass.
The anti-Apparation charm falls into place.
Abruptly, the air clears, and noise from the slaughter blasts her ears.
She can't count the Death Eaters that surround them. It doesn't matter.
All she can hear is the mantra in her head, and her heart beats in time with it. Harry, Harry, Harry.
Sirius took James to safety; Lily needs to reach Harry, and she'll find a way to get him out, and they'll meet up with the boys. She manages to move to her knees, but a heel jabs suddenly into her spine, forcing her flat against the ground.
The Death Eater turns her over, sending a sharp, fresh pang through her broken, sweeping nose. But she realizes the room is quiet, and she blinks up at the fact that loom above her. It's white, misshaped, cruel face with right red eyes that gaze disinterestedly down at her, and it doesn't belong to a Death Eater. It's Voldemort, tilting his head curiously at her.
Harry screams. She struggles to reach him. She can't.
Voldemort pins her down with his foot, and his heel digs into her throat. She thinks he must speak, but she can't hear what it is. Her vision swims, and her throat burns with sick. She blacks out, but laughter rings in her ears.
This isn't the end. Sirius escaped, taking James with him. Others must've fled. But this is her end.
She can't find any fear inside herself. But. Harry. Please, please. Somebody, save him. He is a baby. James, save him. He screams for her. Save him.
Her body seems to rise, and this must be what it feels like to die.
Abruptly, his screaming cuts off. Harry, Harry, Harry. Harry, Harry, Harry. She blacks out.
She awakes with a jolt when her head hits the wall. The ground is unsteady underneath her. She blinks, and the smell hits; the air is thick with it, making her eyes water. But she realizes where she is. It's a train. She's on a train, and she remembers what happened.
She doesn't know why they didn't kill her, but they didn't. What about Harry? Oh, God.
She needs to find him.
She shoots to her feet, only to stumble at the pain that crashes into her like a wave. Her whole body throbs with it. But he forces herself to stay calm, to be still, and her eyes start to adjust to the dim, damp car. She's crammed in among what must be at least two dozen people, and they sit with vacant, resigned expressions. She doesn't recognize a single person.
She looses her footing when the train lurches suddenly, but she catches her self with a hand on the wall, and she sinks back into her seat. She needs to focus on Harry. She needs to find him.
What could they have done with him? What have they done with her? Why is she alive? Who else is? James is. He survived, escaping with Sirius. What about the others in the Order?
Harry, she remembers. She needs to find Harry. He is a baby, and he can't look after himself. She'll find James, and she'll find Sirius; the resistance will regroup. The fight will carry on. First, she needs to find Harry. She needs to focus on finding him. She takes a deep breath.
It smells like a sewer. She breathes through her mouth.
She thinks her nose might be broken, and dried blood coats a nasty cut on her temple. She thinks she might've broken a few ribs, too, but the pain is bearable. She doesn't have her wand. She tries to talk to the people who are packed in around her, but they don't seem to hear her when she asks where the train'll take them. Only one woman bothers to respond. "The Menial District," she says.
The answer steals the breath from Lily, but she manages to nod. "Thank you."
She's been put on a train to the Menial District. The people with her were rounded up simply because they have dirty blood, and the Death Eaters must've seen fit to put Lily in the district with them. It's where she belongs. After all, she isn't a Pureblood that needs to be rehabilitated in Azkaban, and they mustn't have wanted to bother with her murder. This is easier, more utilitarian.
She doesn't ask anything else.
The others have luggage with them, held in their laps, pushed between their feet, whatever meager possessions they must've been able to gather. She wonders whether they'll be able to keep it or not.
It's hours before the train slows to a stop, and the door doesn't open for another hour after that. When they are herded off at last, loud, awful chaos reigns while people try to find their families. The sun blinds Lily, but she needs to find her own family. She pushes through the crowd, shouting for Harry. He has to have been put on another car, and she'll find him in the crowds. She used to claim she could recognize her boys easily in a crowd with their dark hair on their heads.
But she can't find Harry with his sweet, messy mop no matter where she looks.
She shouts for him until she's hoarse from it.
Guards in black, uniform robes yell at the arrivals, shoving them towards huge, imposing black gates. She lifts her head towards the sky at the sight; the gates are three times her height, extending to the left as well as to the right as far as Lily can see. The Menial District is gated in, a world onto itself. She isn't ignorant. She knows history, and she knows what this is.
It's called a ghetto.
The guards force them into lines, tapping people with their wands, and they must be using a spell, because people cringe at the taps, stumbling to do as they are told. Slowly, five long, snaking lines form to lead past the gate towards guards who stand with parchment. Lily can't see what it is that happens when you reach the guards, but she can't waste her time on it. She needs to find Harry. She shuffles forward with the others, but she scans the lines desperately.
Her despair starts to choke her when unfamiliar face after unfamiliar face meets her eye.
She passes the gate. The line continues forward. Lily sees a little girl try to run, screaming for her daddy, and the curse hits her square between the shoulders. It kills her instantly. Lily clenches her teeth, and a guard grabs the woman before her in line, thrusting her towards another guard. Lily is at the front, able to watch what the guards have in store for her. But she doesn't have the chance to see.
Harry races towards her, shouting, and she tries to reach him, but guards clasp her around the arms. Oh, God. They're going to kill him, and she'll be forced to watch. But a curse doesn't strike him; a guard grabs him around the waist, hauling him forward. He screams for Lily, struggling to reach her as they hold him, take his arm, and twist his wrist.
They press a wand to his palm, tearing a scream from his throat when they do it. He falls to the ground. Somebody thrusts Lily forward; another guard takes her arm, and the pain sears her palm. "Papers," the guard says, bored.
Lily can't take her eyes off Harry, clutching his hand to his chest as he struggles to his feet while the guards jeer at him. She tries to go to him, but a guard restrains her. She looks at the guard, staring disinterestedly at her. "I don't have papers," she breathes. But hands fumble over her clothes, and the guard manages to find papers that she didn't know were shoved into her pockets.
Harry reaches her. He buries his face into her hip, shaking like a leaf.
"Evans, Lily," the guard reads. "Mudblood. Twenty-five. Single." He eyes Harry. "One dependent." Another guards writes on the parchment. "Tenement sixty-seven, number eleven."
The guards shove her forward, and she drags Harry with her.
She doesn't know where to go, but they've been released into the camp as though she should.
It doesn't matter. She reaches down, pulling Harry up into her arms. She hasn't carried him a long time, but she clutches him, ignoring the pain in her hand, and takes him as far from the guards as she can. The opening ground where they were registered gives way to narrow streets, as though someone planted a city block in a field. She sinks against a brick wall in an alley, shushing Harry.
"Let Mummy see your hand," she murmurs, kissing his forehead.
It isn't bloody, or burned, but the mark is raised in the skin. It's an ugly, stretched red scar, and it's a rat. They branded his palm with a rat, and the symbolism makes her seethe. But there isn't a thing she can do about it. She cradles him against her chest, glancing at the mark on her own hand.
It takes a little while, but Harry quiets at last.
She forces herself to think. They branded them, registered them with papers that Death Eaters must've put in her pocket, and assigned them to tenement sixty-seven, number eleven. It's a place to go for now. It's somewhere to start, and she'll figured out the rest when she can.
It doesn't take more than a few weeks to adjust to the Menial District.
This is their life.
They share tenement sixty-seven, number eleven with two sisters from Yorkshire. Lily doesn't mind; she likes them. They are older, doing seamstress work from the tenement, and they are happy to look after Harry while Lily works at the factory. She is dreadful with a needle, and she isn't the sort that they put on work crews.
But she needs to work, because she needs a ration card to eat.
They have seven factories in the district, and she finds a job at one where they prepare simple, superficial potions to sell to those who aren't trapped in the district. It's a good job, and she's glad to have it. Most guards want favors in exchange for jobs, and Lily is desperate, but she isn't desperate enough to do the things they want. But the short, squat balding man who runs one factory takes pity on her at last.
He offers her a job, waving away her gratitude with a stubby, trembling hand.
His hand shake whenever guards are near. She thinks she understands when she sees the ring on his finger. He's a man trying to protect his family. He isn't a Death Eater.
The work pays enough to buy the most basic things they need, and the ration card is what keeps her alive.
It's what keeps Harry alive, and she won't let him die. She won't.
He loses weight quickly, and his clothes hang off him before summer fades. She sees the children who run amok in the streets, begging; they are as thin as rail, their skin pale with death.
She can't help them, but she can help her son.
She's able to buy clothes for him when winter creeps in, but she doesn't have money to buy a coat for herself, and she starts to keep the stove on at night. The flat is two rooms off a narrow corridor; the sisters use the small, slanted bedroom, but they give Lily blankets to line the floor in the kitchen, and that's where she sleeps with Harry beside her, soaking in the warmth from the stove.
She holds Harry as close as she can at night, yet every time she wakes up she expects to find James beside her. He likes to sleep on his back, his arm around her, and that's where he should be; he should be warm against her back, his nose tickling her neck.
She is glad she is with Harry, is glad that he is safe, or as safe as he can be. But she started to share a bed with James when she was seventeen, and she hasn't sleep without him in years. He says he can't sleep when she isn't there to snore into his ear. She used to flick his cheek, claiming she didn't snore, and he would imitate her loudly until she quieted him with a kiss.
She can't help but think about where he is now. What bed is he in? Can he sleep without her? Is he furious with Sirius for dragging him off? He is.
She knows him. He is.
They have spent nights apart. There were several nights apart over the years, in fact. He had to go on missions, and she used to think those nights without him were the worst, but they weren't. The truth is that no matter how much she missed him on those nights, or worried about him, she didn't really, truly believe that he wouldn't come back to her. She would give anything in the world to go back to those nights, to have that stupid, secret belief that he would return in a few days no matter what.
They signed up for this war together, and they've fought in it together.
Now that they're not together anymore, she feels as though she's started to drown, and the weight of the water above her is worse every night without him.
She walks around the district, sussing everything out; the gate is complete, fencing them in, and guards are stationed along it. The small, smelly city was built for them, and there isn't an escape.
It's snowing out when Lily spots the little girl digging through the slush on the ground with a stick.
Her clothes are in tatters, her hair is a dirty, matted tangle down her back, and her bony knees peek out from holes in her stockings. Lily means to look away from where she squats on the ground, to walk past, to continue on her way from the grocery, but she sees the girl dig her fingers into the slush.
The streets are littered with children, and Lily tries her best not to think about them.
But the girl tries to eat the slush.
Lily scrambles forward before she thinks about it. "No!"
Terrified, the girl spins around, her eyes wide in her dirty, emaciated face. She looks to be about three or four years old, but Lily suspects she is older. The girl stays perfectly still under Lily's gaze; she's like a frightened animal that's afraid to move lest a predator attack. Lily smiles at her.
"Don't eat that, sweet girl," she murmurs. "Or you'll make yourself sick."
The girl stares at her.
Lily tries to think, and her hand travels automatically to the potato in her pocket; it was in her lunch at the factory, and she'd saved it for Harry, but she can't help herself when she fishes out the thing. She holds the potato out to the girl, whose big, bright eyes dart to it with amazement. But the girl doesn't reach for it; she doesn't move a muscle.
"Have it," Lily encourages.
Slowly, the girl' small, grubby fingers brush against her palm, and she takes the small, shriveled potato.
Lily doesn't think she'll see the girl again; one measly potato isn't going to save her life. The girl will starve to death, and no one will remember she ever existed.
Harry tugs on her skirt.
They're out in the street, gathering snow to boil on the stove. The pipes are broken, and Lily doubts anyone will repair them for months. She can handle it in the winter, but she dreads what it'll be like when there isn't snow to melt for water. Harry presses into her side while she scoops the snow into a pot. "Mummy," he whispers, his fingers digging into her hip. "The man's looking at me, Mummy. Look."
Frowning, Lily glances across the road. The streets fill during the early hours, but people clear paths around guards, and her eyes land immediately on the man who must have frightened Harry.
Her pulse quickens, but she meets his stare.
She imagines that he loves how formidable he looks in the dirty, dingy street, standing like a statue in his black, billowing robes while those in grey, patched tatters pass him with downcast eyes, stooped shoulders. His face is carved in stone, his mouth a thin, grim line under his hooked nose.
It must've been years since someone dared to bully Severus Snape.
He takes a step towards her.
She turns on her heel. "Come on, darling," she says, grasping Harry's hand. She keeps her back to him as she leads Harry into the tenement. It's six flights to their flat, and Harry walks slower with every step.
"Mummy, when's Dad coming to get us?" He gazes earnestly up at her.
She brushes down his hair, and a few stubborn pieces stick right back up as soon as her hand passes over them. "Soon," she says.
When she allows herself to think about it, her hatred for Peter Pettigrew makes her sick.
He was their friend. He was at their wedding, held Harry in his arms moments after the boy was born, laughed with them, cried with them, called them his family, and he was the spy in the Order. Dorcus must've made Peter her Secret Keeper, and it makes sense; after all, they were friends, and nobody would've suspected Peter to be the traitor. But they should've known that he was the rat.
Lily thinks about it, and she seethes, her hands trembling with the hatred that rages inside her.
She feels sluggish for hunger. She used to think that she felt hunger. She used to think it was hunger when she shoved James from his dormitory bed to fetch her something to eat from the kitchens at Hogwarts. She used to think it was hunger when Harry fussed throughout the day, forcing Lily to postpone lunch to look after him. She used to think she was familiar with hunger.
But that wasn't hunger.
It was barely a taste. Real hunger is another animal, crippling her. Killing her.
In some ways, she adjusts to it. She becomes accustomed to smaller, meager portions, and she tries to be glad that the hunger isn't as sharp as it used to be, but she knows that's a bad thing. It's when you forget to feel the hunger that you really are sick from the starvation.
She isn't going to worry about herself, though.
She needs to worry about Harry; he's what matters. She won't worry about herself, or the others in the district. Only Harry.
Except when she sees the little girl outside the flat, her heart leaps into her throat.
The child cowers against the building across the street, unable to hide from the guard that towers over her; he screams at her while he boxes her ears, kicking her stomach when she tries to curl away from him. Lily knows that she should ignore the cruelty, should walk past as though she hasn't noticed; it's the smart thing to do. But that's her little girl.
That's the little girl that she fed months ago.
The guard brandishes his wand like he would a club, and Lily acts before she thinks, sprinting forward to slip between them. The spell meant for the child strikes Lily across the face.
"Move it," the guard snarls. Lily clenches her jaw, shifting into the slightest crouch, ready for another blow. "Did you hear what I said, you deaf cunt? Move it, or I'll move your fucking face."
Lily doesn't blink. The man grabs her around the neck, shoving her against the brick a moment later, knocking the breath from her lungs. She touches his wrist, struggling to loosen his grip, which enrages him. He smacks her across the face, pulling her forward to slam her face against the brick.
The pain steals her breath, dotting her vision, and she slumps against the wall. It satisfies the guard at last, though. He lets her drop, his nostrils flaring before he spits scornfully at her, calls her a filthy name, and stalks off. Her mouth is bloody, and she realizes she must've chipped her tooth. It doesn't matter.
Those on the street around her continue on their way as though nothing happened.
But small, stubby fingers touch her arm.
"What's your name, sweetheart?" Lily asks, squatting to address the girl. Her legs are shaky beneath her, and her face throbs. She knows there'll be a blackened, swollen bruise on her cheek.
The girl mutters her name shyly, dragging her foot through the mud on the ground.
Lily smiles, touching the girl softly on the hand. "I like that name. My name is Lily. I live in the tenement over there, and I was about to make dinner. Would you like something to eat, Hermione?"
She shouldn't take Hermione in, but the girl doesn't have somebody to look after her.
Lily gives her a bath, and she sees the cuts, the bruises, the scars, and the marks are in places that make Lily sick. Her hands tremble as she wraps Hermione in a towel. She cuts Hermione's hair at her ears rather than trying to untangle the curls. "Where are you parents?" she asks her.
Hermione shrugs, quiet.
Lily remembers when the Order talked about the district; Dumbledore said the government was actively trying to locate those with dirty blood in order to register them, to put them in the district. But the Order didn't talk about what happened to the Muggle parents with magical children.
She gives Hermione dinner, and the girl curls up contently on the floor to sleep.
Harry's excited to have a friend, and it isn't a week before Lily hears Harry whisper to Hermione under the blanket one night. He asks her whether she wants to be his best friend. He doesn't have a best friend, and Hermione says she doesn't have a best friend either. They pinky promise to be friends, and Lily smiles into her blanket.
The sisters take a shine to Hermione, using scraps from their work to fashion her a yellow, floral dress. Hermione giggles while the sisters praise how pretty she is, and Lily feels a warmth inside her empty, aching belly. She doesn't know why, but she misses James terribly in that moment.
She knows that she shouldn't have taken on the responsibility, but Hermione needs somebody to look after her, and Harry needs a friend, and the sisters are happy to have the girl in the flat. But less than a month later,, the sisters die.
They don't die on the same night; Mary dies on Monday, blood rimming her mouth, and Diane explains that she caught tuberculosis. Lily knew it. She was raised with Muggles, she knows Muggle diseases, and she wasn't oblivious to how sick Mary was. They sew a sheet from the bed around Mary, handing her body off to the cart that comes around for the dead in the morning.
Diane doesn't cry, but she talks. She talks about her life, about growing up with Mary in Yorkshire. She talks about her husband, who died in the war against Grindelwald, about her daughter, who died when the Death Eaters broke into their home to round them up.
She talks until Lily wakes up on Thursday, and Diane is dead.
She must've starved, and she lost the will to fight the moment that she lost Mary. Her skin is dry as parchment, hanging loosely off a body that lost too much weight too quickly. Lily kisses her forehead, wraps her in the very sheet on which she lies, and sews together the ends as best she can.
The man in the flat next door helps her carry the body to the cart.
Hermione watches. "She was hungry, wasn't she?" she whispers.
Lily gathers the little girl into her arms. "Yes, she was starving."
He doesn't say anything at that moment, but a little while later he tugs on her shirt. "Mummy, I'm starving, too." His eyes are wide in his face, his lips chapped. "Am I going to die?"
She crouches down beside him, smoothing his hair back, and he presses his face into her neck. "No, darling," she says. "No."
She doesn't like to acknowledge the hope hidden inside her, the belief that somehow, someway the boys will come for them. They're the Marauders, and that's what they do, break the rules, sneak into places they shouldn't be, bend the world to their whim. They could do it; they could save them.
She is afraid to dwell on the hope, to expose the wish to the world.
Her body has started to fail her. Her hands are cold, bloated, bleeding when the dry, red skin cracks. She isn't hungry, but she's exhausted; it's an effort to wake up in the morning, and she's unable to muster the strength to be angry, or to be afraid. She's too tired to feel. The noise from the factory makes her ears ring no matter where she is, and her hair's started to fall out.
This place is a sickness that's taken root in her. She's dying.
But her heart hasn't failed her yet, and she squirrels her hope away inside it.
Tuberculosis is an epidemic in the district. The Wizarding world has the ability to cure the disease without effort; a simple potion restores a victim to perfect health. But no one in the Wizarding world cares about the dirty, dying creatures in the district, and the bodies start to smell in the streets.
Mostly, her job at the factory is uneventful, and she's glad for that. She tends to large, industrial vats used to make potions in huge, cheap quantities, and it's easy, monotonous work. Except on a Tuesday in December, a mistake is made. The potion in the vats is supposed to produce a pearly sheen in swirling, pink clouds, but it doesn't. In every vat in the factory, the potion starts to bubble while dark, thick smoke rises off the surface, and nobody knows what happened.
The supervisor loses his head, screaming, and he whips out his wand.
He must be the one that's held accountable for the potion, and he flips a cask in his terror
The vats are huge, but his wand is able to flip one without an effort; it's like a scene from a nightmare when the potion splashes into those nearest, and they seem to sink, screaming, into the thick, oily liquid that spills around them, that splashes across the ground to knock over another vat, a third, a fourth; suddenly, the factory is in chaos, and the ruined, acidic potion is everywhere.
Lily tries to flee, but she doesn't get far, and the last thing she remembers is the pain.
She isn't dowsed in it, but a splash strikes her across the face, and she feels it immediately; it's torture, an awful, excruciating pain that overwhelms her. She blacks out before she hits the ground.
She wakes up in the flat.
It's light out. The weight on her stomach is Harry, resting his head on her, and Hermione is curled against her side. She blinks. Her face itches terribly, there's a dull, distracting buzz in her ears, and her tongue feels swollen in her mouth. But she's alive. She survived, and somebody must've dropped her off at the flat. She is shocked that there's a soul who'd bother to. She reaches out, brushing her fingers against that bandage that extends from her throat to her ear, cutting across her cheek. Her skin prickles painfully under the bandage.
She tries to sit up as slowly as she can, careful not to jostle the children.
She heads to the toilet, looking into the stained mirror. She looks awful, and she hates to think how terrified the children must've been. She can't believe that she survived. She reminds herself how lucky she is while she tries to unravel the bandage, but the sight that greets makes her stomach roll.
The potion must've cut through her skin like a knife, leaving a gash, and the spell used to heal her wasn't powerful enough to spare her a mark; a raised, red scar snakes across her skin. But it is healed. Her ear isn't; the lobe is a tattered, putrid scrap, hanging from her ear on a few sickly, green strings of skin. Lily can't stand to look at it.
She knows what she needs to do.
As the children sleep, she boils water to wash the bandages that she'll have to reuse, swaps cheap vodka from two rooms over to pour on the poorly healed gash, and finds the sharpest dinner knife.
She cries when she cuts off the infected piece of her ear, gripping the sink to stay standing despite the pain when she splashes alcohol over what remains. By the time Hermione wakes up, Lily is dressed for work, her face bandaged as neatly as she can manage, the pain lessened to a dull throb.
She arrives at the factory to find that that's a new, nervous supervisor in charge.
In fact, most people around her are new, and those that aren't have bandages that match her own.
She isn't sick until she goes behind the factory for lunch and sees the mass grave filled with the bloody, burned remains from the people who weren't lucky enough to suffer a single, small splash.
The district starts a school for the children, teaching them reading, arithmetic, and why they are inferior.
Lily pulls her children into her lap at night, and she uses charcoal from the factory to teach them. They write on the table, and she's able to clean it off with a washcloth when they're finished, leaving dark, dirty smears behind. They learn their letters, how to add, what the truth is.
Harry catches his tongue between his teeth as they work, and she teaches him how to write his name, Harry Potter. They told him scornfully that his name was Harry Evans, that he was an abomination that shouldn't have been born, but she whispers the truth into his ear, and they write his name on the table until his fingers are black with the charcoal.
"What's your last name?" Harry asks.
Hermione swirls her fingers through the charcoal. "I don't know," she murmurs. "Nothing."
Harry seems to think about it, sitting quietly before he leans towards her with shining eyes. "Do you want to share mine?" he asks. "I don't mind. But you can't tell anybody, 'cause it's a secret."
"Okay," Hermione says, and the smile creeps shyly into her eyes.
Lily shows her how to write the name with a thick charcoal chunk, Hermione Potter, and that night, lying in bed, Lily listens to the children whisper to each other. Harry tells Hermione that she can share his mummy, too. "She's the best in the whole world," he says, and Lily wants to laugh, or to cry, and she adores them, her sweet, kind little children.
Oh, James, she thinks. James, how you would adore them. James, they're waiting for you.
It's a Friday night when Harry starts to cough.
Lily stands at the stove, cooking potatoes for dinner, and he sits at the kitchen table, drawing with crayons that the sisters found for him months ago. Hermione doesn't seem to notice, and Harry doesn't appear fazed, but the fit that seizes him startles Lily. She frowns as she glances over at him.
"Do you want something to drink, sweet boy?" she asks.
Harry shakes his head, wiping his mouth.
But the world stops in that moment; when Harry drags his hand over his mouth, he smears blood across his cheek. He coughed up blood, and Lily sways on her feet in the cramped, overheated kitchen at the realization. He coughed up blood. He isn't frightened, which means this isn't the first time.
He is six years old, and he coughed up blood, and she doesn't have the magic to save him.
She thinks about trying to separate the kids. She doesn't want Harry to get Hermione sick. But he might've already, and he might've spread the infection to Lily. It's too late. She tries to remember everything she can about TB, but, honestly, she doesn't remember very much. She knows it lasts for months. But that's borrowed time; the ending is inevitable. It's simply slow to kill you. No, she won't think about that. The war might end. They might get out. She might find the ingredients to make him a cure.
She hums herself to sleep on Halloween. She hopes her dreams were happy. She never remembers them.
"Evans!" It's five in the morning, and somebody's at the door. Lily panics, fumbling to wake the children in order to usher them into the pantry. She isn't able to hide them before the door is kicked in, and a guard narrows his beady eyes at her. "I'm looking for Lily Evans," he snarls.
Lily swallows thickly, squaring her shoulders. "I'm she."
He nods, clearing his throat. "Evans, you've been transferred to work crew sixteen, clearing rubble in sector nine. I'll need to sign your papers to present to the guards at the gates; the transport vehicle leaves at six, and you're to report ten minutes prior." He holds out his hands for her papers.
She gapes at him. "I don't —"
"This isn't a request," he snaps, scowling at her. "You've been assigned to work crew sixteen." He holds up a parchment, reading from it. "Dated 6 March 1987. According to the Office for Distract Affairs, Lily Gail Evans is assigned to work crew sixteen to clear rubble in sector nine. Her dependent is to accompany her. Any work elsewhere will cease until she is reassigned."
Her heart jumps in her throat.
The guard glances at the children. "Which is yours?" he asks.
"Both," she murmurs. She clears her throat. "Both. They're twins."
He frowns, looking at the parchment. "Must've meant dependents, plural," he mutters at last, nodding to himself. "Fine." He glares at her. "Let me see your papers, and I'll sign off on them."
She panics for a moment, because Hermione isn't listed as a dependent on her papers, but she can't do anything about that. She hands the parchment over to the guard. But he doesn't bother to read it; he pulls out a quill that must've been spelled to keep ink in the tip, sloppily signs his name, and thrusts the parchment at her. "Report to gate entrance three at least ten minutes before six, Evans."
She nods, and he stomps out in a huff.
She looks at the parchment, and she looks at Hermione, who rocks anxiously on her heels. Lily should be nervous, too; it might've been a terrible mistake to include Hermione. But she knows it wasn't a mistake, because the guard said that her name was Lily Gail Evans, and that isn't her name.
They have to hurry to reach gate entrance three before six, and they're shoved onto a train.
Lily feels as though her heart hasn't stopped pounding since the guard knocked on the door, and the nervous energy makes her limbs tremble as she stands pressed between bodies on the train car.
They're let off after a few hours, and her best guess is that they're in Devon.
Sector nine is a bombed out street, and the place smells rancid from the dead bodies that remain littered on the pockmarked street, trapped beneath burnt, twisted cement chunks. The work crew is a mismatched set; older men, teenage girls, children as young as Harry, woman as old as the sisters. The sun glares down on everyone while they clear the debris, and Lily starts to fill a cart with bricks, eager to do anything other than pile bodies into a pit that must've been dug earlier in the week.
Hermione stumbles repeatedly, cutting her hands on the rubble when she catches herself, and Harry coughs until he's as white as a sheet. But they aren't allowed to take a break, and the guards aren't about to offer them water. Lily doesn't know what to do. All that's possible is to continue on, and she curses when she cuts her finger on a sharp, jagged cement piece. She sucks on the cut, only for her eyes to land on the guard.
He stares at her for an impossibly long moment before he turns on his heel, stalking down the steer.
She can't tear her gaze away from him, and she watches him disappear around a corner.
She waits a few minutes, trying to stay calm, before she pushes the wheelbarrow down the street. The alley is empty, and she starts to gather broken, battered debris into her arms, turning into the alley as casually as possible. She hurries down it, emerging into another ruined street.
He isn't there.
She circles the quiet street, desperate to find something, anything, whatever she is meant to find. As her desperation grows, she starts to search through the rubble, only to glance at the tall, looming building that hides her from the main street, and she spies them in the mud along the wall.
They're easy to overlook, but her throat closes when she sees them.
She stumbles towards them, dropping to her knee to search the ground, and she moves a large stone piece, crying at what she finds. Her fingers curl into the cloak, silvery to the touch. Oh, God.
She presses her face into the material. It smells like James. She'd forgotten his smell.
She tries to make herself think. She can't imagine how she would sneak past the guards who surround sector nine with two kids; invisibility isn't enough. What is she expected to do? What do they want her to do? What's the plan? Suddenly, he can hear James in her head.
He's exasperated, affectionate, a grin in his voice. "Stay put, sweetheart," he says.
There's a shout from the street, and she panics. Hiding the cloak beneath the wreckage, she grabs a few blasted, broken bricks and hurries out from the alley. Someone must've done something to upset the guards, who are gathering in a crowd up the street, shouting and waving their arms about.
This is it.
She finds Hermione, trying to drag a stone as big as she is towards another wheelbarrow, and Lily hurries to her. "Come on," she murmurs, grabbing her hand. "Quickly, darling." Hermione follows obediently, and Lily spots Harry down the street, coughing wetly while he squats against the wall.
She beckons him, and his hand is slick with blood when she takes it.
She looks around. No one is paying any attention. The boys must've planned a diversion for her.
She ducks into the alleyway, squirreling the children away from everything, and her hands are trembling as she sits them against the wall, telling them that they must try to be very, very quiet for her. She wraps the cloak around her shoulders, and Harry gasps. "Mummy, your head is floating!"
She smiles. "It's an invisibility cloak," she whispers. "We're going to hide under it."
They're thin, tiny creatures, and they tuck easily into her sides under the cloak. She makes certain that the material tucks under their feet, that nobody can spy a single toe.
Two guards sweep through the alley into the empty side street. They look around, and they leave.
The sun sets, and the cold sweeps over them. But Lily stays put, clutching the children.
It's quiet, dark, icy. Hermione squeezes her hand suddenly, and Lily sees the mangy dog, trotting towards them; the dog whines low in his throat, nervous, and he slows to a stop. Lily surges to her feet, taking the cloak with her, and the children scramble to stand up with her. Hermione hides against Lily while Harry fists his hands in her jumper, but Lily doesn't take her eyes off the mutt.
The dog leaps up, transforming into Sirius.
Lily sobs, clapping her hand over her mouth. Sirius grins at her.
"Uncle Sirius?" Harry asks, hesitant. Sirius looks at him, and Harry stumbles forward. "Uncle Sirius!"
Sirius catches him, laughing as Harry hugs him around the neck. Lily swipes at her tears, and she starts forward, too, Hermione clinging to her hand. "I'm sorry the plan took a while," Sirius murmurs, and Lily shakes her head, taking his face in her hands. "I've missed you, Gail," he says.
She laughs. "What's the plan?" she asks. "Where's James? Are you a guard? I don't understand."
The slightest hesitance appears in his eyes, stopping her heart for a moment. Sirius sets Harry on his feet. "It's a long story, and we don't want to stick around. Come on." His eyes find Hermione, who presses closer to Lily. Sirius squats to her height. "Hiya, pretty girl," he says.
Lily looks at her. "This is your uncle Sirius," she says. "Sirius, this is Hermione."
Sirius smiles, and Hermione nods, but she stays pressed to Lily.
"Come on," Sirius says, standing. "Let's get out, and I'll tell you everything."
He leads them to a car parked along the road that leads to sector nine. The drive isn't long, and they leave the car parked illegally in order to disappear into a small, quiet Muggle city where a small, warm flat waits for them. The kitchen is stocked, and Lily warns the children to eat as slowly as they can, or they'll hurt their stomach. She smears butter over bread for them, heats up mashed potatoes in the microwave, finds oranges for them to eat; Hermione tries to bite into an orange, and Lily has to show her how to peel it.
She thinks Hermione might swallow a slice whole.
Hermione hands a slice to Harry, and the juice runs down his chin while he beams at Lily.
She tries to focus on that, rather than on asking where James is. Sirius waits until after they've eaten, until Lily puts the children to bed. They need to bathe, but they're exhausted, and they deserve to fall asleep with warm, happy bellies.
"Is he —" She meant to ask it out right, but the words catch in her throat.
Sirius runs a hand through his hair. "He isn't dead."
Lily breathes out. She hadn't realized she was holding her breath.
"I think they've put him in Azkaban. I mean, that's where they put traitors to be rehabilitated."
She nods, closing her eyes. Sirius reaches across the table to grasp her hand. "We spent months trying to figure out a plan. I used to wonder when he slept, or ate. We figured out that the best way to get you out was to — to be on the inside. But it wasn't as though I could march up to them and say that I wanted to be a guard in the Menial District. I needed to prove that I was loyal to them." He pauses..
"What happened?" she asks, opening her eyes to look at him.
She doesn't know what to feel, hearing this, or knowing that James is in Azkaban. She feels tired. Exhausted, and she doesn't remember how not to be.
He drops his gaze. "I proved my loyalty when I turned over my best friend to Death Eaters." He seems to force himself to look at her. "It was his idea. I didn't want to do it, but he insisted, and I owed him. I mean, I was the guy who dragged him away from his wife in that flat, leaving her to be killed."
"I wasn't killed."
"We didn't know that. We were banking on the hope that you were in the district, but. . . ." He shakes his head, and she shifts her hand, intertwining their fingers. "There's more. Remus is alive."
She gapes. "How's that possible? He was captured. They wouldn't have spared him."
"He wasn't captured," Sirius says, chuckling darkly. "He, ah, he left. He thought that he was making things worse for the Order. For us, and he left. He was real torn up about it when he found us, though. James forgave him, but I was harder to convince. He helped us get you out, though."
Lily can't believe it. "He left us," she repeats.
Sirius nods. "Trust me, we can't make him feel worse about it than he's made himself feel."
Lily pulls her hand from his, covering her face. She shakes her head, takes a deep breath, and looks at him. "I don't care. I can't deal with that, I can't. We need to figure out how to save James. And Harry is sick. TB. Tuberculosis. It's a Muggle disease that's killing everyone in the district. There's a potion to cure it. We need to find the recipe, and get the ingredients as soon as possible."
"Okay, yeah, we can do that," Sirius says, nodding. "But I'll have to get everything; that stuff is regulated. I'll have to be careful that no one figures out what we're up to, or they'll get suspicious."
"But that means you need to head back to sector nine," Lily says. "You're on guard duty. They'll realize that I've disappeared, and they'll blame you when you're not what you're supposed to be."
Sirius rubs his neck. "Actually, about that. I'll report as I'm supposed to, but nobody is going to miss you for a little while. There's something else I need to tell you. I managed to worm my way into guard duty, but I needed help to make sure you were assigned to the work crew, and I needed someone to cross your name off the list when the train took people back to the district." He pauses.
"Who was it? Who else is left?" Nobody. No one else is left; the resistance is dead.
"Think about it," he says. "Who's a Death Eater who'd want to help you?"
She shakes her head, exasperated with him. "There isn't a soul under You-Know-Who who'd want to help a Mudblood." She steals a sip from his beer. She can't remember the last time she drank beer.
"I didn't say a Death Eater who'd want to help a Mudblood," he replies. "I said a Death Eater who'd want to help you, Lily."
She stares at him, and she remembers telling another boy that he couldn't make that distinction. "No."
"Yes," Sirius says, smiling grimly. "He came to me. I hate his guts, but Severus Snape saved your life."
He tells her everything. Snape kept an eye on her after he spotted her in the district.
He saved her when the supervisor lost his head at the factory; it was Snape who carried Lily out, bandaging her wounds as best he could, and took her to her flat. Sirius asks about her time in the district, and Lily explains everything in as few words as possible. She has more questions for him.
He doesn't know where Peter is. His face darkens when he says it.
He lights a cigarette, closing his eyes as he takes a drag only to hesitate when he opens his eyes to look at her. But she stops him from stubbing the ciggy out, and he smiles sadly when she takes a drag from it herself.
"I have a few things for you," he says. He hands them to her. There's a tattered, frayed jumper that belonged to James; she used to complain about how ragged it looked, but James loved the thing. She runs her fingers over the soft, unwashed material, her nail catching on a small hole. Sirius hands her James's wand, too, which they hid before Sirius took James to the Ministry of Magic. "I figured you could use it," Sirius says.
Lily doesn't know what happened to her wand, and she nods. The wood is pliant under her touch. She hasn't held one in years, but her hand curls naturally around the long, thin wand. It's as familiar to her as her own. James used refer to his wand as a she, and Lily would roll her eyes at him.
"There's this, too," Sirius says. The photograph he holds out is curled slightly around one edge, but she recognizes it. It's James, playing with Harry. She took it years ago, and she loved it.
"Thank you," she whispers.
She can't fall asleep.
Sirius heads out, promising to return tomorrow with everything they need to save Harry, and Lily starts a bath. She stands under the scalding spray until she can't feel it, and she uses nearly the whole shampoo bottle. She'd expected to have to use whatever Sirius had for himself, but she finds citrus scented stuff, a conditioner bottle, too, and soap that smells like lavender. That's her favorite.
She wonders whether Sirius bought everything, or James planned that far in advance.
Afterward, she looks at herself in the mirror. Her ribs peak out, her breasts are small, shrunken, and her skin is a dry patchwork canvas with scars splashed across it. She dresses in the clothes that Sirius told her were in the trunk beside the bed. The nightgown that's never been worn, that must've been bought for her, dwarfs her, slipping continually off her shoulders.
She throws out the clothes she wore, and she crawls into bed between the children.
But she can't sleep.
Harry wakes up in a coughing fit, and she rubs his back. "Where's Dad?" he mumbles.
"Dad's locked up like we were," Lily whispers, stroking his hair. "But we'll get him out."
She leaves him a few minutes later to make breakfast. Her stomach hurts from last night, but the smell of the bacon on the skillet makes her mouth water. The children stumble from the bed at the smell, and she gives them each a single slice along with bread with butter, another orange, and cinnamon biscuits that she finds.
She gives them baths, scrubbing them until their skin shines pink. She has to drain the water twice; it doesn't do any good to wash their hair with grey, dirty water. In the last round, she spills the shampoo, accidentally creating a bubble bath, and the children are delighted. When she reaches for towels, Harry sends a soapy wave at Hermione, who laughs, kicking up a storm, and Lily leaves them to make a mess. To be children.
Afterward, they practice writing with a quill and an ink pot.
Sirius returns at three in the afternoon. He isn't alone.
Dumbledore is with him, and Severus follows behind Dumbledore.
Sirius entertains the children while Dumbledore explains his efforts to rebuild the Order. "Where were you?" Lily asks, interrupting him. "I thought you left us to find a way to defeat Voldemort. Did you?" She doesn't mean to snap at him, but she can't help how bitter she feels, and Severus hasn't taken his eyes off her yet. He hasn't said a word either, but it's not as though she knows what to say to him.
"I'm afraid I didn't discover everything I wanted to find," Dumbledore says. "But I have something very important to tell you. It is something that I do not think you want to hear, but that you must." He pauses, waiting, but Lily doesn't say anything, and he goes on after a moment. "Several few years ago, I heard a prophesy about Voldemort, which I kept secret. I was uncertain how Voldemort would act upon learning it. But after I learned that the Order was attacked, I told James about the prophesy, and he shared it with Sirius. Last year, I told Severus. No one else is aware, however." Again, he pauses. "Lily, the prophecy concerns who has the power to defeat Voldemort."
She doesn't like how long he's taking to come out with it. "What is it?" she asks.
He tell hers. The prophesy is about a boy. Born as the seventh month does, parents who defied Voldemort three times, marked as his equal, and neither can live while the other survives. Dumbledore doesn't need to explain who he believes the boy to be. Lily shakes her head at him. "I'm sorry, Lily," he murmurs. "There is the possibility that your son is not, in fact, the child in the prophesy, but I believe that —"
"What do you expect me to do?" she cuts in. "Do you want me to send my son to him?"
"I don't know what is to happen, Lily. But I know that we must prepare ourselves for it."
She scoffs. "No, I'll tell you what's going to happen," she say, standing. "I'm going to make a potion to cure my son. I'm going to find a way to rescue my husband from Azkaban, and I'm going to leave England with them. I'm going to take my family, and I'm going to get as far from this place as I can. I don't care whether I'm a coward for it, but I'm finished. This war cannot be won, and I'm done with it, and I don't care about whatever cryptic plan you've devised."
The room is silent.
"Lily," Severus murmurs. She glares at him as he reaches into his robes. "I thought you might need it." He holds out a small vial filled with a creamy blue potion. "It will cure your son," he explains.
She takes the vial. "Thank you." She can't meet his eyes, and she calls for Harry.
He sits on her lip while he drinks the potion, shuddering when the last drop disappears into his mouth. "How do you feel?" she asks.
He rubs his chest. "It's like my stomach's on fire," he says, making a face. She glances at Severus, and he nods. That's what's supposed to happen. She feels weak with the sudden, overwhelming relief that washes over her, and she hugs Harry to her chest.
Sirius stands, swinging Hermione up into his arms. "Who wants something to eat?"
Dumbledore leaves after dinner, smiling sadly at Lily. Sirius needs to report to sector nine before he's missed, and he blows Lily a kiss as he leaves. But Severus stays. He sit at the kitchen table, watching Lily put the children to bed. "Aren't you going to come to bed with us, Mummy?" Hermione asks her.
"I'll come to bed in a little while," Lily promises, smiling.
It's quiet in the kitchen after that.
Lily washes the dishes.
"I didn't know you had a daughter," Severus says.
She nods. "Sirius told me that you sought him out to help me," she says. "He told me that you saved my life. He — he told me everything. Thank you." She smiles at him, and he stares at the table. This doesn't seem real, standing in this kitchen, washing these dishes, talking quietly with Severus Snape. They don't really talk, though.
He remains quiet until he leaves at last.
"Goodnight," he says, and he sweeps from the flat before she can respond.
Again, she doesn't really sleep for more than a few hours.
Sirius hasn't questioned why Hermione is with them. He didn't say a word when he realized that Lily refers to Hermione as her daughter, and Lily loves him for that, but she hates him, too, because she knows that James wouldn't have said a word either. He would've asked Hermione whether she wanted to read a book with Dad, would've called her silly nicknames, would've acted as though she had always been his. It would've been perfect, and it's what should've happened.
It might still happen. She needs it to happen. She needs him.
She cries at last that night, biting her fist to stay silent while she trembles in the bed.
Severus starts to come around to the flat. He brings ingredients for a potion that will help the scar on her face fade, and he explains curtly that he plans to look into a potion to restore her tooth. She nods, trying to catch his eye, but he avoids her gaze with concerted effort. They haven't really talked.
But Dumbledore trusts him, mentioning more than once that Snape has turned. He says an underground resistance remains in England, fighting in the shadows, and Snape is invaluable to it.
Two weeks after he helped Sirius rescue her, Severus comes to the flat with Dumbledore, lingers after the older man leaves, and Lily asks. "Why have you turned?" She stares at him. "After everything, why would you turn?" He is powerful. Respected. This is what he wanted, isn't it?
It's as though he can read her thoughts. "I never wanted anything to happen to you." He meets her gaze, and it's quiet. "May I ask a question?" Despite herself, she smiles at the formality, at the polite tone he uses. She nods. "Why is the name Gail significant? Sirius calls you that, and he said that you would know that he was behind a plan to rescue you when you heard a report refer to you as that."
"It isn't a very interesting story," she admits. "My middle name is Abigail. But you know that, right?" His nod is curt, and she continues quickly. "Well, Sirius started to refer to me as Gail after I got together with James. I'm not sure why. I suppose he wanted to get my goat. I've never liked my middle name, and Gail isn't my favorite nickname for it. It was silly, but it stuck. That's it."
"I see," Severus says.
She is about to ask whether he wants anything to eat when he moves suddenly to his feet. "I need to apologize," he says, startling her. "I wanted to do something for you sooner, but I was not able."
"It — it's fine." She smiles, hesitating, and — "I'm happy to have my friend back."
He doesn't respond, but she doesn't miss the way that his hands shake as he heads for the door.
Sirius brings another straggler to the flat. Remus.
He looks as though he's aged twenty years since she last saw him. His hair is unwashed, sweeping his shoulders, different from the neat, clean cut he used to sport. His face features new scars, broader, deeper scars, and his nose is twisted strangely. But he manages a tired smile for Lily when he sees her, and she smiles tightly back at him. He looks old to her, but she must look old to him.
"I hate you for leaving," she says.
"I do, too," he replies. "More than you can possibly imagine." He can't meet her gaze.
But she can imagine a lot; she pinned him as a martyr as soon as they started to spend time together in their fifth year at Hogwarts. Harry doesn't remember him, which Lily can see pains him, and his conversation with Sirius is stilted.
After the children are put to bed, Sirius starts to talk about how they can get James out, and every single plan is absurd. But they knew it wouldn't be easy to break into Azkaban, and the boys aren't deterred at the thought. "We'll make it work," Remus says, and his lined, worn face is determined.
Before he leaves for the night, Lily pulls him into a hug. She wants to hold a grudge against him, but she doesn't have the energy for it.
Harry reaches for a crayon from the box that Sirius bought, and Lily watches his hand land to the side. He frowns, squinting, and slides his hand across the table to grab the crayon. Lily says something to Sirius, and, to her surprise, he quickly produces round spectacles that she recognizes.
"He kept two pairs, remember," Sirius says. "I can spell these for Harry to use."
It doesn't take more than half an hour to change the lens for Harry, who is delighted with the glasses. "Mummy, there are flowers on the wallpaper!" he exclaims, and he looks thrilled with himself. Lily can see that's Hermione bursting with the need to point out that she knew already that there were flowers on the wallpaper, but Lily smiles indulgently, kisses Harry on the head, and winks at Hermione.
Harry looks disconcertingly like James.
It's not as though that's a surprise; he takes after James, and she knew he would the moment he was born with dark hair on his head. But when she looks at him with with round glasses on his long, pale face, with his untidy black hair that stands on end, with his broad, crooked grin, she can't see anything but his father.
Severus comes to the flat with Dumbledore, and it's impossible to read his expression when he looks at Harry.
Dumbledore tries to convince Lily to meet with the resistance group that formed a few months ago. She isn't interested, and her responses grow shorter as the night wears on, as her patience wears thin. She pushes her chair back abruptly when he mentions that they have contacts across Europe who are ready to join them in the fight against Voldemort. "I need to put the children to bed," she tells him. "I think you can see yourself out." She leaves the room.
Dumbledore leaves while she's in the bedroom, but Severus is at the table when she returns to the kitchen.
She recognizes the ingredients he's set out before him; he's agreed to make a Polyjuice Potion for Sirius, who thinks that he can take out a Death Eater with clearance to go into Azkaban, steal a few hairs, and sneak into the prison under an alias. He hasn't yet figured out how he'll get James out, though.
"Do you need any help?" Lily offers. Severus shakes his head.
She is about to go to bed, leaving him to have the kitchen to himself, when Harry stumbles from the bedroom with a yawn. "I'm not sleepy," he declares, pulling himself into a chair at the table.
"Do you want something to eat?" Lily asks knowingly, and Harry nods.
His glasses are on, and she can see red imprints on his nose. He needs to take the spectacles off in bed, but he loves them too much to have them away from him for a single minute.
Having gained weight quickly, a little belly protrudes from his thin, bony frame, and she musses his hair before she pulls out the bread to make a sandwich for him. "Mr. Snape," he says, kicking his legs under the chair. "Are you doing magic?" he asks. His eyes are wide as he watches Severus.
Severus doesn't bother to look at him. "I am," he says.
Harry pulls his legs onto the chair to push himself up, and he leans across the table on his elbows. "Do you need some help?" he asks. Lily's turned away from them, and she pauses at his question.
"I need to add that powder beside you," Severus says. It's quiet. "I suppose you may add it."
Lily smiles. While she fishes out the peanut butter jar from the pantry, Severus continues. "Stir slowly," he says. "Remember to count every stroke. That's three, and we need another seventeen."
She turns around to see them with their heads bent over the cauldron. Their dark hair matches.
Severus spends the night, sleeping on the sofa. The next morning, Hermione wants to help brew a magical potion like Harry did, and she looks at Severus with big, hopeful eyes. Severus starts a potion to repair dry, damaged hair, and Hermione leans against him while she asks question after question, growing bolder with every answer that Severus gives.
Lily smiles, only to see the scowl that Sirius wears as he watches them.
They're living in limbo, trapped in this flat. Lily hasn't been outside in three weeks.
She didn't have much time in the district to dwell on anything. She slept at night, worked during the day, and filled every moment in between with worry over how to keep the children fed, how to keep them safe, how to keep them alive. It distracted her; it was all she had time for. But she paces the flat where they're fed, warm, and safe, and she doesn't know what to do with herself.
Sirius comes up with a plan to break James out from Azkaban.
Honestly, it isn't complicated.
He'll use Polyjuice Potion to break into Azkaban as Death Eater, and Remus has volunteered to do it with him. They'll tell the guards at the prison that they're supposed to take James to the Ministry, and that's how they'll leave with him. Remus has invented a whole story for them to tell the guards.
All that's left at this point is to wait for the potion to mature.
Lily wants to go with them. She wants to help.
Sirius shakes his head. "I love you, Gail, but James put himself in that prison to save you from yours, and — and I'll get him out. I swear I'll do it. I'll bring him back to you." He takes her hands.
She hugs him, pressing her face into his neck, and he rocks her off her feet like he used to do.
She isn't really awake when she hears voices in the kitchen.
"— dead. I know that's what you're hoping. But he isn't." It's Sirius, and his tone is nasty, cruel.
Lily rubs her eyes, turning in bed to face the door, which somebody left open very slightly, allowing a thin, yellow line to peek through. There's another voice. Severus, she realizes sleepily.
She should get up. See what they're on about.
Sirius growls low in his throat. He does that when something really riles him; it's the mutt in him.
"It doesn't matter," he says. "She'll never love you as much as she loves him."
Lily frowns, and this time she hears what Severus says. "I don't care," he replies, voice short.
Hermione shifts against her; a door slams. It's quiet, and Lily drifts off. The next morning she mentions to Sirius that she thinks she had an unpleasant dream, but she can't remember about what.
The potion matures three days later.
Sirius leaves with Remus that same day, telling Harry to look after the girls.
They don't return.
Lily goes through the motions. She leaves bed in the morning, makes breakfast, reads with the children in the morning. There's lunch, there's dinner, and she sings along to the record player with the children for hours. But the boys left three days ago. Where are they?
Dead, she thinks. Captured, tortured, imprisoned.
She doesn't cry; the urge never overtakes her. James is dead, too, she realizes. Her heart twists, but she can't do anything about the truth, living holed up inside this flat, living, living, living while everyone else dies. The knowledge weighs on her shoulders until she thinks she'll buckle under it.
"I can get you out," Severus tells her.
He's started to come around for dinner every night, and Lily's glad for the company. He doesn't demand anything from her the way that Dumbledore can't help but do, and he is strangely sweet with the children, practicing potions with them, accepting the drawings they offer him, answering their endless questions about everything. Everything she knows in the world is lost, is wrong, but for the first time in years Severus Snape is her friend, and she clings to the comfort that offers her.
"What do you mean?" Lily asks.
Severus drags his fork across his plate. "There are people who, for a price, provide transportation from the country," he explains. "I know how to contact them. I can get you out. I have the money."
She stares at him. "I — I can't leave," she says. "I can't."
"I thought that's what you wanted," he says, frowning.
"It is, but —" She shakes her head. "I can't leave my family."
His frown deepens. "Do you mean your sister? If she hasn't left yet, Lily, she isn't alive." He dismisses the fact easily, but she isn't bothered, not really; she hasn't though about Petunia in years.
"No, Sev, I mean — my family. My boys. Sirius and Remus and — James."
"They're dead," Severus says, and the coldness in his voice is replaced with a stiffness, as though he's exerting every effort not to sound cold on the matter, yet he can't manage anything truly better.
"No," Lily argues, mouth dry. "I don't believe that. Can't. I can't believe that."
She told herself that he was, but it's not the same when Severus says it. He can't be dead. Can't be.
"What about your children?" Severus asks. What's left for them? This flat? This life?"
She rubs her temples, taking a deep breath. "I know. I know that you're right. I know that I should get out for their sake. I know. This isn't a life, and who knows how long we'll be safe. It's one thing to risk my own life, but I should think about my kids. Except — I can't imagine leaving when the smallest possibility exists that the boys aren't dead. That James —" She stares imploringly at him, but he moves abruptly to his feet. "Sev, please, try to understand." She grasps his hand. "Severus."
His fingers curl suddenly around hers, and his gaze meets hers with an intensity that takes the breath from her."Lily."
She opens her mouth, but he doesn't let her say a word.
"I'll come with you," he says. "There is nothing you can do for James, and he can do nothing for you. But I can get you out, Lily, and I can get your children out, and I'll stay with you." The desperation in his voice cuts into her, leaving her stunned, and she's left to gape at him. He steps closer to her. "We can escape together, Lily," he breathes. "I'll atone for the mistakes I've made."
She starts to shake her head, but he surges forward, slanting his mouth over hers.
It's a fast, hard kiss, and she remains paralyzed against him as his hands move to grip her arm. His lips are unpracticed against hers, needy, desperate. Her eyes close, and she responds unthinkingly, kisses him back; he softens in response. But when the kiss ends, he presses his forehead to hers, breathing her name, and she opens her eyes. He isn't James.
His hand brushes against the scar on her cheek.
"Severus," she whispers, and he must see it. She can't look, though, can't hold his gaze. She steps away from him, swiping at her eyes. "It's no use, Sev." He lets her go, lets her slip from his grasp.
His hands are fisted. She forces herself to look into his face, and she can see his defeat.
But look at me, she thinks. Look at the jumper I'm wearing; look at the wand sticking out from my left pocket, at the picture tucked into my right pocket. Look at the finger where his ring sat before they stole it. She can see it, where his ring is supposed to be. Look at my freckles, she thinks; he kissed every single one. Can't you see? Can't you see the curls that he tugged, the skin that felt his smile?
"Why?" he asks. He swallows thickly. "What is it about him? Why did you marry him?"
"Severus," she murmurs. She feels like they're back at school, but that was a lifetime ago, and she doesn't really remember that life before the war, before she found Hermione, before Harry existed.
"Do you want me to understand?" Severus asks. "Tell me. Explain. Why do you love him?" It's a demand, but the cold tone in his voice isn't enough to cover the desperation in his gaze as he asks.
"Because," she whispers, tears catching in her throat. "Because. He makes me smile."
Makes. Not made. Makes.
Severus stares at her. "He makes you smile," he repeats.
"That's right," she murmurs. "There's a thousand other reasons, but, in the end, yes, that's it. That's enough." She smiles sadly at him. "Sev, for a long time you were my best friend in the whole world. But you broke my heart until I couldn't stand it. I cried over you more times than I can count. I was miserable thinking about you, Sev. Missing you. Until I stopped. I stopped, and I started to spend my time with somebody who made me smile." She pauses. "One day I woke up, and I was in love with him."
He takes a hesitant step towards her. "I'm sorry," he whispers. "Lily, you have no idea how sorry I am. I would do anything to take back what I did. Who I became. What I became." His voice is laced with his despair. "If I could take it back, I would. I swear, I would. Just let me prove it. Prove that — that there is nothing I want more in this world than to make you smile. Please, Lily."
"Sev," she says, blinking away the tears that burn in her eyes. "It doesn't work like that, Sev. I'm sorry, but it doesn't. Once upon a time, I might've fallen in love with you. But things changed, and that isn't what happened, and I — love my husband. He's — he's — I want him back. I need him back. I thought that I was numb to it, but I'm not." She shakes her head. "I'm not. I'm stuck. I'll always be stuck until I get him back."
It's quiet, and the moment seems endless there in that cramped flat.
He breaks his gaze abruptly, and she doesn't try to stop him as he stalks from the flat.
She sways on her feet, staring at the door. He slammed it shut when he left.
She closes her eyes, breathing in. She presses her hands to her face, letting out a choked, silent sob. But she curls her hands into her fists, and she lets them drop from her face. She takes another deep breath in. She opens her eyes, breathing out. Severus is right. She can't do anything for the boys, and she shouldn't foolishly put stock in what she wants, in what she wishes, in what she hopes. She needs to focus on reality, on keeping her kids alive, on surviving for them, because they're what's left, they're what keeps the ground from truly crumbling beneath her. They need her.
She can't live in limbo like this. She can't.
She'll get them out. She'll talk to Severus, and she'll take his help to get them out.
But Severus doesn't come for dinner the following night. Dumbledore comes, and Lily tells him that she wants to help with the resistance. Startled, he smiles. "There's one thing, though," she says. "I don't care about the prophecy. I don't want my son involved. I won't risk his life. I won't."
Dumbledore hesitates, but he nods. "I understand."
"They aren't safe in England," she says. "I need to get them out. Can you help me?"
"I can, but I must ask. Do you intend to send them on without you?"
Lily fingers the wand in her pocket. "They can't stay. But I can't leave."
Dumbledore smiles softly at her in response. He doesn't ask for an explanation.
She starts to write. She puts down everything she can think. She describes her days in school, and she tells as many tales as she can about the Marauders. She writes about how she detested James, but they were stupid, immature kids until they weren't, and she fell in love with him.
She writes what she told Severus. She writes about her parents, about James's, about Sirius, about his family. She writes about the wedding. She writes about the war. She leaves out the unpleasant moments, because this is her history to write, and she doesn't need them to remember the worst moments. She writes until her hand cramps. Hermione wants to write a book, too, and Lily gives her paper. Hermione starts to write her own book, and Lily writes a lot about Hermione.
Severus doesn't return. After a week, Lily doesn't expect that he will, and the resignation is a familiar taste on her tongue. It's Dumbledore who comes to the flat daily, bringing food for them, because Lily hasn't stepped foot on the street since Sirius rescued them. She will. As soon as her children are safe, she will.
Dumbledore finds spots for them on a transport that'll take them to Norway. It works perfectly, really, because Alice Longbottom wants a spot on the transport, too. She dyed her hair, snapped her wand, and started to live among Muggles in Exeter two years ago, abandoning the resistance to keep her son safe. But she wants out, and she agrees to help Lily.
To look after Harry. "Your girl, too," her note reads. "I'll love them like my own."
Lily finishes with her book, and she tucks the photograph into the pages.
She doesn't have a picture of herself to include. She hopes they'll remember what she looks like.
She leaves bed early, staring out the window as the sun rises in a sky that's dyed a dusty, dull pink. She hasn't figured out how she'll say goodbye to them. How do you part with your children? How do you make them understand that your goodbye is for good? They'll come to hate her for doing this. For fighting to the death when she could've stayed with them, couldn't escaped with them. Could've lived.
She wonders where they'll end up. She wonders how they'll turn out.
She wonders, and she hears their soft, sweet laughter from the bedroom.
They'll have each other.
She leans against the window frame, and the door unlocks. She hears the click, drawing her gaze in time for her to watch the doorknob turn. For the briefest moment, she doesn't understand. Who wouldn't knock? For an even briefer moment, she imagines that Sirius is about to walk through the door with James.
But the door swings open, and the breath leaves Lily in a rush.
She can't move. She can't reach into her skirt for the wand; she can't try to hide the kids. His eyes find her as soon as he sweeps into the room, and an unnatural smile spreads smoothly across his face.
"I see you've managed to survive," Voldemort says.
He stands in the doorway, speaking calmly, and he's a nightmare brought to life. This is what nightmares are: the most powerful dark wizard standing in your doorway, smiling thinly at you. He isn't a stranger to her; three times she met him on a battlefield, adrenaline pumping through her veins, everything happening quickly, a hundred brilliant colors splashing across the sky from a hundred different spells as every breath from her lungs burned with bravery. But this isn't like that.
This is a nightmare, and Voldemort stares at her with a slick smile on his white, distorted face.
The panic paralyzes her, but she needs to think.
"I suppose you've come to kill me," she says, gripping the window ledge to steady herself. "I'm flattered at your effort." He must've found out that someone from the resistance was alive. But he might not know that her children are in the bedroom. She needs to make sure he doesn't find out.
"No," he says, "I'm afraid I have no interest in you." He steps further into the room, and his gaze flickers around the sparse living area, looking over the battered furniture to land on the crayons that litter the table. Abruptly, his eyes return to her, and he takes another step towards her. "Or am I to believe that Albus Dumbledore failed to share with you the prophecy that concerns your child?"
She chokes on the emptiness in her lungs, and Voldemort is pleased.
He must see the panic rise into her eyes, must feel the terror roll off her in waves.
"I see you are familiar with it," he says, satisfied. "Where is he?" He twists his wrist with a lazy grace, and the door to the toilet snaps open. "Where is the child? I do not care about your life, Lily." He says her name with a familiarity that makes her stomach clench. The closet door bursts open. "I am not concerned with you. In fact, I shall be kind to you. I shall suffer you to live."
His eyes never leave hers as his wrist starts to turn, and the movement's slow, calculated, because he knows, because —
Her words come out in a whisper. "Please," she begs. "Please, he is a child. A baby. He isn't a threat to anyone. He isn't." Tears spring into her eyes, but Voldemort doesn't blink. "Please, don't."
"He isn't a threat to me," Voldemort replies, "and I shall not let him become a threat. Where is he?" His wrist twists, and the door blows open. No one emerges from it. They must've heard the voices, must've realized something wasn't right. But they can't hide. "Harry, isn't it?" Voldemort says. Lily swallows a sob. "Harry. Mummy needs you, Harry. Come out, child." Slowly, he flicks his wrist.
There's a thump from within the room, and a strangled yelp.
It's as though an invisible hand drags Harry out.
As soon as she sees him, Lily reaches for her wand.
She isn't quick enough. Her fingertips brush the handle, and a spell hits her squatly in the chest, sending a needling pain through her that spreads across her skin, that seeps into her bones. "I do not appreciate your interference," Voldemort hisses, and Lily falls to the ground in convulsions.
"Mummy!" Harry screams, trying to get to her.
The pain stops abruptly, but Lily panics. "No, Harry!" she cries, helpless as the invisible hand tears him backwards, slamming him into the wall. Her arm is twisted under her, but she can feel the wand. She needs an instant to pull it out, that's it. But it's too silent, too still to allow her an instant.
The flat echoes with terror while Harry trembles, suspended against the wall. Voldemort seems to assess him, only to look abruptly at something else, and Lily spies her, too: Hermione.. "I wasn't aware there was a girl," he says. "Inconsequential." One silent spell, and Hermione crumples to the ground.
But it's enough.
Lily whips out the wand before Voldemort spins around, and she's able to deflect his attack.
She scrambles to her feet, firing spell after spell at him, trying to disarm him, to Stun him, to set him on fire, to flip him, trying every spell she can recall. The wand vibrates in her hand as though James means to help her, and she tries the silly, stupid spells that James liked; she tries to light his robes on fire, tries to make his limbs swell, tries to tie his legs in a knot. But every spell she remembers isn't enough.
She takes a breath, and Voldemort flicks his wrist, tossing Lily into the air like she's a rag doll.
Her wand spins from her grasp.
Harry shouts for her, but "Run, Harry!" she cries. "Run!" Except he doesn't; his arms are around an unconscious Hermione, and he's trying to drag her to safety with him, and Voldemort isn't concerned that he'll escape. He narrows his eyes at Lily, and his face distorts with an unmatched, unadulterated hatred.
All she can think about is Harry, Harry, Harry.
The world seems to slow, and she watches his mouth open to say the spell. To kill her.
But another voices comes out. "No!" It's Severus, scrambling into the flat. He falls to his knees as Voldemort turns slowly to look at him. "No, my lord," he gasps, I beg you, please, I beg you —"
"I believe I told you to wait until I was ready to deal with you," Voldemort says.
Severus shakes his head. "The prophecy isn't what you believe, my lord."
Her wand is across the room. She can't reach it.
Harry presses against the wall, clutching Hermione, and —
"My lord," Severus pleads, "please."
"Do not insult my intelligence, Severus," Voldemort says icily. "I saw the prophecy in your head. I saw your betrayal, and I spared your life." He steps towards Severus. "I have given you power, yet you betray me. You defy me You insult me!" He spins suddenly, his wand cuts through the air, and Lily follows like a puppet on a string, soaring across the flat to land against the wall with a thud that sends sharp, shooting pain up her leg as her ankle snaps under her. "Fine," Voldemort breathes. "Have it."
It. Her. The thing that Severus wants most.
Severus looks at Lily. There's a dull, throbbing pain in her head, and her ankle burns with the break; she's half blind with pain, with panic, but her heart hasn't changed. Harry, Harry, Harry. She stares at Severus, and she knows he can see it.
"Come, boy," Voldemort snarls. His gaze snaps to Harry, who's eyes are wide with terror.
Lily can't see him any longer, but she can't move, is paralyzed, yet the hopelessness that started to plague her years ago disappears, and she imagines every possible wish in that moment. James is going to rush into the room at any moment, and he's going to save them. This is a nightmare, and she'll wake up any moment to a life that is something beautiful, something brilliant, something better.
Severus surges up from his knees, lunging forward, to hide Harry behind himself.
"He is a child, my lord. "He is nothing to you."
"Do not try my patience, Severus," Voldemort hisses. "Move, you fool."
"Please, my lord," Severus begs.
A second passes, and everything happens. Voldemort raises his wand. Severus backs towards the bedroom doorway, his arms spreading as though to shield Harry. Voldemort says the words. Severus glances at Lily, and she can see the mantra that beats in time with his heart. Lily, Lily, Lily.
The green that flashes through the air blinds her, and Severus falls.
Voldemort doesn't hesitate. Another second, and he repeats the words. "Avada Kedavra!"
Lily tries to move to her feet, but it's no use. It's too late. She can't stop the spell. The whole world is tinted green, and the flat explodes.
She comes to slowly. The fire alarm is going off. She blinks, looking around. The flat is in ruins, and she realizes she must've blacked out for a minute. Ceiling plaster ground to powder rains quietly to the floor. She blinks, struggling to rise to her feet. Her ears ring, and she spots Severus.
Motionless, and she remembers what happened. He's dead.
"No," she breathes. Oh, God. She uses the wall to pull herself up. "Harry! Hermione!"
She doesn't know what happened, but she doesn't see Voldemort, and —
"Mummy," Hermione says. "Mum — HARRY! Harry, wake up! MUMMY!"
Hermione kneels in the doorway to the bedroom; Harry's sprawled at an odd angle on the ground beside her. Motionless, blood smeared across his forehead. Lily pushes herself to her feet, ignoring the hot, dizzying pain from ankle in her haste to reach them. She collapses beside Harry, and her hands flit over him, his arm, his cheek, his chest; she presses her fingers into his neck, feeling for it.
She gasps, crying. There. A pulse. She nearly chokes on her relief.
She uses her sleeve to mop up the blood that's spattered on her face, and she finds the source: a nasty cut that splits his forehead; the force from whatever cut him must've knocked him unconscious. She shakes him gently, and his eyes flicker. Lily takes his hand, kissing his knuckles.
Hermione leans into her. "What happened?" she whispers.
Lily shakes her head, wrapping an arm around Hermione. "I don't have any idea."
But when Dumbledore arrives, Lily is ready for him.
Harry sits at the kitchen table with Hermione, snacking on biscuits. Lily cleaned his cut, washed away the blood, and wrapped a bandage around his head. She took a sheet from off the bed to core Severus, and she closed his eyes, kissed his forehead, wiped her tears off his cheek. He loved her to his last.
"I saw the smoke from the street," Dumbledore breathes.
She can't recall the last time she saw his wizened face slack with surprise.
"Voldemort is dead," she says. "His body was destroyed, but I'm certain. He's dead."
She feels like laughing, or crying. Or sleeping. She doesn't know what she feels, but it's over.
"What happened?" Dumbledore asks.
He stares at her, and she stares back. "I killed him," she says. Some things are better left secret.
The world that Voldemort built crumbles quickly without him.
She discovers that the boys forgot to buy her shoes before they rescued her.
They remembered to buy shampoo she liked, but they forgot shoes.
She starts to laugh when she realizes, and the children giggle, too, because they don't understand, and she can't explain it; she doesn't understand any better than they. She thinks she might've lost her mind. It doesn't matter. She needs to focus. The world is euphoric, but Lily isn't interested in a celebration. She has things to do.
Dumbledore brings Alice to the flat. Neville is a chubby boy, hiding shyly behind her. Alice smiles tiredly at Lily, and Lily knows she can trust Alice to look after her children; she recognizes herself in Alice's thin, tired face, in the way she keeps Neville pressed possessively to her side.
The children show Neville how to play with marbles, and Lily pulls on the wellies she bought in the district. The worn soles are strangely familiar under her worn feet. She finds a coat that belonged to Sirius to wear over the jumper that belonged to James, and the cold air is biting, brisk, a sting that's lovely in her lungs.
It takes several Muggle buses, a cab ride, and she has to wait for three hours for a spot on the boat, but she reaches Azkaban. The island is crowed with people vying for their loved ones to be released, but the squat, harried man who seems to be in charge insists repeatedly hat no one is to be released from the prison until the provisional government can sort out who's guilty and who isn't.
"No, I will NOT calm down!" a woman shouts, crowding the man. "I HAVE SEVEN CHILDREN AT HOME WHO NEED THEIR FATHER, AND I WILL NOT CALM DOWN!"
Lily remembers the way Fabian Prewett used to brag about his nephews, how he'd show off pictures, and he'd crow about them like they were his.
Nobody in that prison is guilty. James isn't guilty. Arthur Weasley isn't guilty. There's nothing to sort out.
But, a moment later, Lily sees a thin, pale woman with a disgusted, disgruntled gleam in her eyes, her lips pursed in displeasure. Lily can't remember her name, but she knows that the woman is a Death Eater, and she is married to a Death Eater. She can't be at Azkaban to free an innocent soul.
It doesn't matter. Lily doesn't care about anyone else.
She spots another official for the provisional government.
He sees her approach, and he holds up his hand to silence her. "Give me your name," he says, "and tell me whom you would like to see released, and I'll have your loved one added to the list."
"My name is Lily Potter," she says. "I would like James Potter, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin released."
The moment she says her name, a hush sweeps the island, spreading from Lily like a wave that washes over every singe person in sight. But the whispers start up in the next moment; awed voices that murmur about Lily Potter, the woman who defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the woman who saved the world.
The official gapes at her, but she doesn't lower her gaze, waiting, and he starts to nod.
"Yes, of course, Mrs. P-Potter," he breathes. "I'll see where your husband is being kept, and I'll have him released. And the others that you said. But I'll need you to repeat their names, please —"
She curls her hand tightly into a fist. "Sirius Black," she repeats, "and Remus Lupin." Her gaze lands on Molly Weasley, her cheeks hollowed, purple smudges beneath her eyes, and Lily adds another name before she thinks about it. "Also, Arthur Weasley. They are innocent, I assure you."
The man hurries off, waving at another man to assist him, and Lily pretends not to notice the way that people stare. She doesn't have any idea whether James is in the prison, whether Sirius is, or Remus. But they might be in that prison. If they aren't, she'll find out where they are. She'll get them back.
It isn't long before people are unable to resist the temptation, and they flock around her.
Some want to thank her, to tell her with tears in their eyes how grateful they are. Some want to shake her hand, are honored to meet her. Some want to ask for her help, to tell her that a husband or a sister or a nephew is in Azkaban. She nods, tries to smile, overwhelmed, curling her fist until nails bite into her palm. Her heart leaps into her throat when the official returns, making a beeline straight to her.
"This way, ma'am," he says.
He talks as they walk. Remus Lupin isn't at the prison. They don't know where he is. Arthur Weasley is in debrief. He worked for the government under Voldemort for a few months, and it's procedure, but they'll have him released as soon as his debrief is finished. They have Sirius, too.
But they can't release him. "He is a Death Eater, Mrs. Potter. I'm sorry, but he'll need to go on trial with the others." Before she can respond, he continues hastily, assuring her that "I trust your word that he is innocent, of course, but we're having enough trouble sorting out everything, and I'm sure his innocence will come to light in the trial. I apologize, Mrs. Potter. I would be happy to —"
"What about my husband?" she asks. Sirius is alive. They'll get him out. What about James?
The official smiles, and her heart jumps into her throat. "We're having him brought out as I speak."
The air feels dank on her skin, pressing in on her, and she breathes through her mouth to avoid the smell. She asks the official, who tells her that the Dementors are being kept at the Ministry, because Albus Dumbledore insisted upon it. "Also, I realize I haven't introduced myself!" he says. "Albert Williams, Mrs. Potter. But, please, it's Bertie." He smiles, and Lily nods.
He leads her up narrow stairs, and the smell soaks into her skin, coating every breath she takes.
But when they reach the fourth landing, he nods at a tall, burly guard with thick blonde hair. The guard's robes are dark, swirling around his legs as he uses magic to open the thick, creaking door where he is stationed, and Lily can't help but remember the guards in the district.
She doesn't look this guard in the eye.
The room mustn't be where they keep prisoners. It's large, with long, thin windows on the far wall, and a fat, wooden table in the center, set between a plush, aging chair and a wooden chair with chains hooked to the arms. The chains aren't in use, though, despite the prisoner seated at the table.
He is hidden under hair that brushes his shoulders, a splotchy beard, and dry, sallow skin, and he looks thinner than she is, but he is James, and he stares straight at her. His glasses are sliding off his nose; the lens over his left eye is cracked, and the lens over his right eye is missing entirely. They're as broken as he is. He stares at her, unblinking, and she stares at him, and —
"He was in the cell marked for James Potter," Bertie says, frowning as he glances between them.
She ignores him. James hasn't taken his eyes off her, and he hasn't moved a muscle.
His knuckles are white as he grips the chair.
She surges forward, murmuring, but his name sticks in her throat. "James," she repeats, louder, kneeling, and she reaches for his hands. They're battered, blotted with black, purple, yellow, bruises on bruises, and dried, brown blood strains the creases in his dry, flaky skin. "Oh, James."
"Prove it," he hisses, his lips chapped, cut. "They're saying the war is over, but if this is another fucking trick —" His jaw clenches.
She takes his hands, pulling them up to kiss them, to hold them to her face. "It's not a trick, darling," she breathes. "The war is over, it's over, and we're going home." He doesn't move, doesn't believe her. "James!" she whispers, flicking his cheek. "This isn't a trick," she says, reaching out to brush his hair from his face. "But I — I am very sore with you, James Potter. Sirius told me everything was your idea. Turning yourself in. Stupid, stupid boy. My James."
His face contorts, and his fingers flex against her cheek.
"It's you," he whispers.
She nods. "Voldemort is dead. They're rounding up the Death Eaters, and —"
"And it's really you," he repeats. His thumb runs along the scar on her cheek, catching under her chin to touch her pulse point. Her heart races, and she knows he can feel it. "Lily," he breathes.
She kisses him.
His hands dig into her neck, into her arms, into her hips, and she kisses him endlessly, laughing through her tears, or he is crying, or they're crying together. He mutters something about Harry, and she nods furiously. "I've left him with Alice," she says, or she tries to say, kissing and kissing him.
She cuts his hair that night, sloppily chopping at the long, dirty locks.
Harry sits on his lap, chattering happily, and Lily can't taper her smile as she watches them.
There are a thousand things that Lily needs to tell James, starting with the truth about Voldemort's death. She needs to tell him about the Menial District, about Hermione, and she knows there is plenty for him to explain. They were apart for years, and there is too much to say. They need to talk about what happens next. They have to have find Remus, and they have to get Sirius out.
They have to talk about where they'll live after this, about what they'll do.
But Alice makes enough dinner to feed them for a week, and they stay at the table late into the night. When dinner is finished at last, Harry doesn't want to go to sleep, and Lily can't bear to be cross with him over it. Hermione asks James whether he wants her to read him a bedtime story, crawling into his lap the moment he says that he would like that very much. She was shy around him at first, but it's impossible to stay shy around James.
"I can't remember the last time someone read me a bedtime story," he says, grinning at her.
After the story is finished, the children are put to bed at last, and Lily starts a bath for James.
She ends up taking off her clothes, too, climbing in beside him. His fingers linger on her ribs, and she litters kisses across the scar that splashes over his shoulder down to his belly. He can't stop running his hands through her hair, and his lips ghost over the brand on her palm, something like a promise shining in his eyes when he catches her gaze. She is careful as she washes the red, raw skin where the chains in Azkaban chaffed his ankles, and she tries to count every mark on him, to know every terrible thing they've done to him. They stay in the bath until the water turns cold.
The children have fallen asleep in the bed, and Alice is asleep on the sofa.
But they're quiet, moving together on the floor with a damp towel underneath them. James doesn't take his eyes off her when he pushes into her, and it steals the breath from her. His arms rest on the floor, framing her head, and he doesn't kiss her until she arches up into him. His hands dig into her thighs, tilting her up, and she cries out. "I love you," he gasps, and she breathes the words in, holds them in her lungs, and she clings to his neck as he spills into her.
Afterward, they stay together on the floor, and she places her hand over his heart. It beats calmly into her palm.
"Do you remember our wedding?" he asks. His fingers twist in her hair.
Her nose brushes his. "I do," she says. "I remember that I drank a lot."
He smiles. "Lily Potter," he says, tasting the name on his tongue.
She understands. It's everything for which they've fought. It's a world where good men don't go to Azkaban. It's a world where people aren't rounded up, tagged, and locked away because somebody says they're inferior. It's a world where children don't starve, where Harry Potter isn't an abomination.
"Lily Potter," she repeats, and she kisses her husband.
They bury Severus on a Tuesday. Dumbledore arranges everything. Alice comes, bringing Neville, and a few members from the second resistance come, too. That's it. Harry holds hands with Hermione, standing beside James.
Lily doesn't know what to say, and they lower Severus into the ground in silence.
Lily told James about what happened, and he agreed to keep the secret. The world doesn't need to know the power that Harry possesses, the part that he played. But Lily tells Harry that Severus saved his life, because Severus must've done something, must've cast some spell to protect him. Harry kneels at the grave, whispering the words. "Thank you, Mr. Snape."
She feels like she could sleep for days, yet she lies awake in bed, staring at the ceiling.
It takes a little digging, but they learn that her name is Hermione Granger, and her parents are dead.
Lily explains everything to Hermione as gently as she can. Hermione nods. She is quiet, and Lily doesn't know what to do. "But you're lucky," James says, swinging Hermione up to set her on the kitchen counter, "because we're your parents, too, and you're stuck with us." He holds out his pinky, and they swear on it. The Ministry is chaotic, but James finds the person to ask, who gives him the papers to sign, and her name is Hermione Potter.
"It's over," Sirius says. "I don't know what to do with myself. I feel like I should take up a hobby. Fishing. Tenpin. Competitive drinking."
Lily leans her head on his shoulder. "How do you feel about Australia?"
As they wash the dishes, she tells him about the train ride to the district. They walk home from Tesco, and he tells her how, after Sirius dragged him from the flat, he broke his hand when he punched his friend. She spits out her toothpaste, and she tells him about the sisters in her tenement. In bed, he whispers about the things Bellatrix Lestrange did to him in Azkaban.
They talk about Severus.
"Dumbledore told me that he was caught trying to find out where you were being kept in Azkaban," she says. "That's why Voldemort looked inside his mind, and he saw everything."
James tangles his fingers in her curls. "I don't know whether I would've been able to do that. Risk everything to save the man I hated, the man that you loved, knowing you loved him more than you loved me." The words seem to stink a little in his throat.
"No," she says, "you would've done it, because you love me." She taps her fingers absently on his cheek. "He loved me, too. Despite everything that happened, he loved me. I don't know why."
James smiles, brushing his thumb over her lip. "I have a few ideas. There's nobody like you."
They talk about restoring the cottage, but Lily isn't ready for that yet. They stay in the flat, and she gives James his wand. She knows she needs to get a new one for herself eventually, but she isn't up for trying to go into town yet. "I don't mind a reprieve from magic for a while," she explains. She thinks she needs a reprieve from England, in fact. From the chaos, from the trials for Death Eaters.
Sirius is free, and they find Remus in an underground hospital that overflows with dwarves, werewolves, and goblins. Peter saved him.
"The moment they caught us," Remus says, "I thought I was dead. I thought for sure —" He looks at Sirius. "They hauled you off to try to rehabilitate you," he says, "but I knew they wouldn't bother to keep a werewolf. Peter found me, though. He found me, and he left the door unlocked, and I got out."
He doesn't know what happened to Peter. Sirius mutters that the gutter must've welcomed another rat to the ranks.
Lily kisses Remus on the cheek, and she refuses to think about Peter.
The provisional government empties the Menial District before they burn the entire place to the ground. The news bothers Lily. It's not as though they ought to preserve the place, but somehow burning everything seems like making for a fresh start, a start where the world forgets what happened, forgets how many people suffered in the district. How many people died. They can't forget.
It's through Dumbledore that she learns which schoolmates survived.
Sirius cries when he finds out the Andromeda Tonks is dead. But her daughter survived the district, and Sirius goes to visit the girl, a teenager left to put her broken life back together with her father. That's what's left. Broken lives, and they've got to find ways to plaster themselves back together. Sirius cries again that night in the bath, unable to stop the floodgates now that he's let them open after years.
Hermione leaves biscuits for him outside the toilet door.
She visits Privet Drive. The house hasn't been touched, and Lily sees Petunia through the window. She can't believe it.
She considers leaving, but she makes herself knock. Petunia gapes when she finds Lily on her doorstop. "I don't mean to bother you," Lily says. "But I wanted to tell you that the war is over."
"I — I thought you were dead," Petunia says. She clears her throat. "I haven't heard from you for quite some time." She looks almost accusingly at Lily as she says it. Some things haven't changed.
"Things got bad," Lily replies. "I'm glad you're okay, Tuney." She smiles, turning to leave.
But Petunia reaches out. Her hand hovers in the air, dropping to her side before she touches Lily.
"Would you — would you like to come in?" she asks. She looks a little pained at her own words.
Lily nods, stepping forward, and she means simply to touch Petunia on her arm in a friendly, affectionate gesture. But when she steps close, she's able to smell the cold cream that Petunia uses, and it's the same cold cream her sister's used for years. She smells the way she's always smelled. Suddenly, it's ten years ago, and Lily can't help but wrap her arms around her sister. Petunia is unresponsive at first, only to relax at the same moment that Lily starts to step away, and her arms come around Lily to return the embrace.
Her sister hugs her, and Lily gasps, tears rising up in her throat.
Petunia pats her on the shoulder. "There, there," she says, stiffening.
Lily sobs, and she can't stop, and she doesn't know why, suddenly, she can't hold herself together. She knows Petunia must be horrified at what the neighbors think, but Lily clings to her, refusing to care, because she loves her sister, and she is alive, and "we survived," Lily breathes, sobbing.
"Yes, obviously," Petunia says. "But you'll soil my jumper, and the neighbors can see, Lily."
She sprinkles a little more salt onto her pork chops, only to realize that Sirius is staring at her.
Dumbledore comes to the flat for tea.
Lily tells him that James is out to buy plane tickets for Australia. "We thought we would try living as Muggles for a little while," Lily says, and Dumbledore agrees that the idea sounds very pleasant.
He brings up the prophecy. "I suppose some prophecies remain unfulfilled."
He watches her carefully as she nods. "To be honest," she says. "I've never really believed in them."
On his way out, he mentions that a woman wants to write a book about the Menial District. "She wants to tell the story before anyone can try to revise history," he explains. "A noble quest."
Lily blinks, and a hundred memories fade into the squalid flat.
Across the room, Sirius puffs on his cigarette, and his eyes meet hers with a knowing look.
Caroline isn't sure what to do. "Mrs. Potter," she starts. "Is something the matter?"
Mrs. Potter shakes her head, rising to her feet. "My experience wasn't pleasant," she says. "But I wrote something for my children, and you can borrow it." She disappears into the bedroom. When she emerges, she clutches a thin, tattered notebook in one hand while her other rests on her belly.
Caroline stares. She hadn't realized at first, but Mrs. Potter is pregnant.
"This is everything," Mrs. Potter says, offering Caroline the notebook. "Or what I'm willing to share," she adds. "As soon as my husband returns from the bank with the kids, we're leaving for a little while, but you can return that to Albus Dumbledore when you're finished. He'll look after it."
Caroline nods. "Thank you. If you don't mind my asking, where are you going?"
"We're taking a holiday," Mrs. Potter says, and she smiles, and something from the woman in the photographs in the paper, something from the fierce fighter that Mrs. Potter must've been once upon a time, peeks through in that smile. "I was never able to go on my honeymoon, you know."
The cockroach scuttles across the floor, making Caroline jump.
Mrs. Potter sighs. "I really do hate those bugs," she says. "But I suppose there are worse things in the world."
When the hour is nigh,
And hopelessness is sinking in,
And the wolves all cry,
To fill the night with hollering.
When your eyes are red,
And emptiness is all you know,
With the darkness fed,
I will be your scarecrow.