i. No More Looking Back
It was a blistering-hot July day in the summer of 1976, and Germaine King hated shopping. In the end this was what caused the whole thing, Germaine would later insist, though Dorcas claimed credit of her own, and, unlikely as it sounded, Vernon Dursley deserved accreditation too. The summer had been one long heat wave thus far, made worse by Petunia and her boyfriend. A more immediate cause for Lily’s annoyance was that the night before, the Evans women had hosted said boyfriend for dinner.
“How can you possibly fancy someone who so clearly thinks himself superior to you?”
Unable to ask Petunia this directly, Lily spoke to Doe instead. The girls were in Madam Malkin’s in Diagon Alley, mindlessly strolling down the aisles as Germaine argued with her older sister Abigail some distance away from them.
(“Those are vile! Why have they got lace everywhere!”
“It’s fashion, Germaine, for heaven’s sake—”)
Doe looked up from the robes she was examining. “Oh, was that last question rhetorical?”
Lily sighed. “Yes. No. I don’t know!”
“I know what you need. Ice cream helps everything.”
“We can’t get ice cream. We’ll have eaten it three days in a row.”
This was true; it was also their third straight day in Diagon Alley shopping with the King sisters. Germaine would be turning seventeen in late September, the first of the girls to come of age, and her parents were insistent on throwing her a belated party in the winter hols. Germaine knew exactly what kind of party they meant — a boring dinner with their friends at which she would have to dress uncomfortably and suffer in silence. It was partly her abhorrence of the party itself that made her so difficult during these shopping excursions.
But Abigail, who was small and blonde like her sister and just as stubborn, knew they had to find her an outfit before Germaine escaped to Hogwarts, lest she find a way to wriggle out of the whole event. Anticipating many, many arguments, Germaine had asked her friends to come along to act as a buffer against Abigail. But the most effective buffer — fashion-conscious Mary — was visiting her grandparents, and Lily and Dorcas were so drained by the heat that they were little help. Germaine was throwing evil looks at the pair of them in between her dismissals of Abigail’s suggestions. Despite the hostile environment, Lily and Doe were glad to have Side-Along Apparated with Abigail to the shopping street, if only for the magically-cooled shops.
“Come on, Lily,” wheedled Doe. “Eventually this awful heat will pass and we’ll wish we had an excuse to have ice cream three days in a row!”
“I’m sure you’d be able to come up with something,” Lily said. “But all right, let’s go.”
Grinning, Doe called out to Germaine and explained the plan. Their friend looked immensely relieved at the prospect of a break and promised to be along soon.
Florean Fortescue’s parlour was right across the street. Though the shop’s indoor section was full, the tables outside were all empty — thanks, of course, to the weather. Ignoring Lily’s insistence that she was going to get sunburn, Doe chose the table closest to the doors, so that when a customer walked in or out the Cooling Charm washed over them pleasantly.
“I’ll pay today,” said Doe. “The usual?”
Shading her eyes, Lily squinted at the trickle of shoppers who had chosen to brave the outdoors. She didn’t often get to visit the magical parts of Britain during the summer holidays, unless she was seeing Germaine, who lived in a Muggle country village that was half-populated with witches and wizards. And that was nothing compared to Diagon Alley, where people were so openly magical. But Merlin, it was too hot to people-watch — sweat was pooling under her arms, and she probably looked hideous…
Doe returned and collapsed into her chair. “Here you go, honeyed oats and lavender. God, I could never get tired of this.”
Lily murmured her agreement. Any longer and the sun would be melting her brains, she thought.
“I wonder if Germaine’s coming, or if we ought to go rescue her— what?”
Doe had gone very still, peering at something over Lily’s shoulder.
“What is it?” Lily said, more insistent this time. She started to turn around, but Doe grabbed her hand.
“Don’t look now, but the bloke from the shop is watching you.”
Lily laughed. “That doesn’t sound creepy at all. Is he the right side of fifty?”
“Ha, ha. You know that’s not what I meant. It’s the bloke from the shop, the one our age. You said he was cute yesterday.” Doe gave her a meaningful look.
“Oh!” Lily fought off the urge to turn around again. They had been served by the boy the day before; she reckoned he was a year above them at Hogwarts. He was certainly not a Gryffindor. Oh, what was his name?
“Is he really looking? And not in a strange way?” said Lily, her heart quickening.
“No, in a cute, I’m-interested way. You should go say hi!”
“Absolutely not. It’s hilarious that you think I would do that.”
Doe punched her on the shoulder. “I am going to talk you into doing that. Nothing matches my instinct for when a bloke is interested in my friend. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I don’t know his name!” Lily protested.
“So ask, you dunce!”
“I don’t think—”
“You need to stop thinking,” said Doe. “Just go!”
“Rich coming from you, Walker.”
“If you’re trying to change the subject, it’s not working!” When Lily opened her mouth to argue, Doe clapped her hands over her ears. “La-la-la-la I can’t hear you!”
“You are five years old,” laughed Lily. I might as well, she told herself, just to get Doe to shut up. No, I am definitely not doing this because I fancy this boy. Smoothing down her hair and adjusting her floral blouse, she stood up and stepped into the shop.
She spent a few seconds blinking while her eyes adjusted to the light. The cute guy had indeed been looking in their direction — was still looking in her direction, apparently shocked that she was looking back at him. Lily gave him a little wave and went up to the counter behind which he stood.
“Hiya, can I help you?” He had recovered from his surprise.
“Er, no — I mean, yes. Well, not exactly,” Lily stammered out, cursing herself all the while.
“Say more, Lily Evans.”
His smile was so wide and open and friendly. She felt her heart skip a beat.
“You know my name!” she said without thinking. Bad to worse, Evans.
“Sure I do,” said the boy, flicking his wand so that a knife on the sideboard near him began to chop fine slices of almond. “You’re at Hogwarts too. Gryffindor, going into sixth year. You’re a prefect. I know you.”
Lily’s aflutter heart sank at this. “Oh… You know my whole introductory thing.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” He snorted. “I’m not a terrible person.”
“Well, you see, the thing is…” Lily looked away from his honey-brown eyes. “I don’t know your name. Or what house you’re in. I think you’re a seventh-year but now I’m beginning to question that as well.”
His friendly demeanour faded. “That’s incredibly awkward. Now I feel like a bit of a stalker.”
“God, I’m sorry! I’ve really put my foot in my mouth, haven’t I?”
“No, you — what? What does that even mean?”
“Sorry,” Lily said again, feeling more and more of an idiot. “It’s a Muggle saying — you know what, I should just go—”
“Please don’t!” The boy’s grin returned. “I’m only messing. Your friend gave me your name.”
“Of course she did.” Lily was so relieved, she almost didn’t want to shake Dorcas by the shoulders for her scheming.
“Yeah, I knew you looked familiar, but I’d hardly remember that you’re a prefect. Is that what you’re used to from blokes who’re chatting you up?”
“Is that what you’re doing? Chatting me up?”
He winked. “Trying to, yeah. Is it working?”
Lily laughed. “Just about. What’s your name?”
“Is Florean your father, then?”
“Nah, my uncle. And my cousin. I mean, I’m related to two separate Floreans. None of this is information you care about or asked for, so I’ll stop.”
She laughed again. Struck by a sudden rush of daring, she said, “Do you want to come sit with my friend and me for a bit? We’ll share our ice cream.”
Dex winced. “Sorry, my shift doesn’t end for a bit. And to be honest, I’m quite sick of ice cream.”
“Oh…” Lily wondered if she ought to just say goodbye. What a nightmare this whole conversation was turning out to be.
But Dex continued, “I wouldn’t say I’m sick of you at all, though. Maybe you can stop by again before you leave?”
“I think I will. But I have to warn you…”
“That’s the last time you toy with my emotions, Fortescue.”
Saturday mornings — or, indeed, weekends at all — were James’s last choice for Gryffindor’s Quidditch tryouts. But that bloody Lucinda Talkalot had beat him to the weekday spots. So he headed to the pitch at the pleasant, agreeable time of four o’clock, far before the sun showed any inclination of rising. The moon was still a pale blot of wax in the dark sky.
“I have to say, this is up there on the list of your worst ideas ever,” grumbled Germaine, still rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“Coming along is up there on the list of our worst ideas ever,” Sirius said. "Or mine, at least. I'm not even on the fucking team anymore." The two of them were lugging the school’s spare brooms in addition to their own.
James ignored them both. He focused instead on measuring out distances for sprinting drills on the already-dewy pitch, marking them with little red flags. His mind was mercifully, blissfully clear — all that existed was the crisp smell of night and the friendly nip of the pitch’s air. He looked up at the goalposts standing silent sentinel over the hushed grounds. They made him feel small, insignificant — and as powerful and infinite as the stars.
“Hello, you,” he breathed.
Behind him, Germaine said, “Oh, good, he’s talking to the goalposts now. As if we don’t already worry he’s lost his mind.”
“Oh, stop complaining,” James told her. “You’re excited about the start of the season too.”
“The start of the season is exciting when it means flying. Not daggers.” She eyed the cheery flags with great dislike.
The sprints she referred to were so called by the Gryffindor players because they caused horrible, stabbing pain the next day. Daggers were James’s favourite ground drill — not coincidentally, his team’s least favourite since the day he had first instituted them as practice mainstays.
James grinned. “Don’t worry. We’ll warm up with daggers, and then you and Sirius can demonstrate them for whoever shows up.”
They groaned in unison.
“I suppose we should start on laps,” said Sirius.
“No use putting it off,” Germaine agreed.
“And I didn’t even have to ask! You’ve learned so well,” James said.
“Shut up,” they chorused, before jogging to the pitch’s perimeter.
Setting down his broom and the trunk of equipment, James stretched and let out a long, satisfied breath. The day before had been a nightmare of a tryout — Gryffindor’s slot had been after sunrise, and James had spent more time telling off cackling Hufflepuffs than actually evaluating candidates. And then, when things had just started to settle down, the Ravenclaw Quidditch team had come by to heckle, scaring off everyone who showed promise. He’d spent all morning resisting hexing Stephen Fawcett, their captain, into the next year.
But that had only been the first day. He had a good feeling about it this time. With this thought in mind, James began his own laps.
“Faster, you two!” he called to Germaine and Sirius.
Lily was not a morning person.
The symphony of her daily routine was all too familiar to her roommates. “Shit,” she’d mumble as she scrambled out of bed and silenced her alarm. “Merlin,” she’d say, as she stubbed her toe on whatever book Sara had left on the rug. “Fuck,” she’d groan as she caught sight of her pillow-creased, blotchy face and her tangled hair. So on days when the sound of Lily waking up was mysteriously more cheerful, the other Gryffindor sixth-year girls knew something was up.
“You’re looking awfully pleased today,” Dorcas observed, stifling a yawn. She could see into the open bathroom doorway from her bed, so she had the perfect view of Lily dancing as she brushed her teeth.
“Fank oo,” said Lily, doing a little spin. She spat out toothpaste and examined her teeth in the mirror. She absolutely had to have minty-fresh breath today. Assuming all went well, there would be a great deal of kissing in her near future.
“No prob. That weird hopping move of yours makes you look like you’re doing a gremlin mating dance, though. Don’t try that in front of Dex.”
“Up yours, Walker.”
“That’s not very nice.”
Lily waved her away and shut the door. The shower water was just perfect — a perk of being the first to use it, which she did not often get to enjoy. She allowed herself to linger there longer than she needed to, combing through her long hair with her fingers until there wasn’t a single knot left in it. She was still humming when she stepped out and scrubbed her fist over the fogged-up mirror. Her cheeks were pink and her hair was dripping onto the floor, but she grinned at her reflection.
“You, Lily Jane, are a knockout,” she told herself.
Someone pounded at the door. “Can the knockout hurry up so I can use the loo?” Dorcas shouted.
Rolling her eyes, she put on her robe and padded out to the dormitory. Mary was still sound asleep, and Sara and Germaine had already left. Lily knew that very little could wake Mary Macdonald on a Saturday morning, so she flipped through their shared record collection. It was a Waterloo sort of day, she thought. The cheerful guitar-and-string opening of “Honey, Honey” filled the room.
In that mood, it took her a great deal longer than usual to get ready, what with all the breaks she took to sing into her wand like it was a mic and strike silly poses in her mirror. Mary woke up just as Lily had finished magically drying her hair and applying her mascara. The two of them fussed far more than necessary on her outfit before finally settling on a long-sleeved black turtleneck and a sunflower-yellow skirt of Mary’s.
“Perfect,” Mary pronounced. “Chic.”
“He’ll die,” agreed Doe, who had emerged from the bathroom to watch the costuming process. “He’ll die on the spot the moment he sees you.”
“I should hope not,” said Lily, but she beamed at herself. It really was a good look, and it went well with the deep red of her hair.
“Maybe a different kind of death,” Mary said innocently. “A little death.”
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” said Lily, flushing.
Dorcas threw a pillow at Mary. To Lily, she said, “You should go before you’re late.”
Lily checked her wristwatch. It was five minutes to ten, which would be cutting it close… But the spot Dex had mentioned to her wasn’t far from the Fat Lady’s portrait. Waving goodbye to her friends, she skipped down to the common room.
Now that the fun of getting ready was behind her, a cloud of nervous anticipation had descended. She had walked down the corridor they were supposed to meet in last week, confirming that there was nothing by the funny little tapestry. If she were seeing anyone else, Lily might have wondered if it was all an elaborate joke. But surely Dex wouldn’t do that — he had a sense of humour, but he wasn’t cruel. No, that could not be it. How could she have missed a whole room, though? Damn, she was going to be late.
Turning the corner into the all-important corridor, Lily stopped short. There was a door set into the wall opposite the tapestry, and Dex was holding it open.
“Lily! Come on!”
Deciding to save her questions for later, she grinned and ran to her boyfriend.
Shit. Merlin. Fuck. Fucking hell.
His first instinct about the Saturday morning slot had been right after all.
It had been six bloody hours since James, Sirius, and Germaine had first arrived at the pitch. Only one incredibly nervous flier had shown up before sunrise, which ought to have been a sign. The way James saw it, his absurd tryout times were only preparation for practice. If people couldn’t handle the former, they were certainly not cut out for the latter, let alone playing time. He had even wondered if his stubbornness would cost him — a remarkable feat of self-awareness, for which he congratulated himself — in the time before the real candidates arrived.
But his hopes had quickly been dashed once more. Everyone he had seen so far that morning was just wrong. Too weak, too unsteady on their broom, too bad. Part of the problem was that James’s point of comparison, the Keeper who had just graduated, had been a captain’s dream: easy to work with, driven, competitive. She had been on the same page as him, and that was high enough praise.
With her example in mind, James could be forgiven for reacting poorly to the stringy second-years who tried out.
“Do you think we’ll ever leave?” Germaine said. She and Sirius, in addition to helping run the ground drills, had been enlisted to toss Quaffles at the prospective Keepers. (The latter was not an official member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, but none of James's actual players had argued when Sirius had volunteered to take their place that morning.) When even Germaine — a Seeker — was scoring with ease, James’s outlook grew pretty grim.
“Do you think we’ll ever see a decent option, is more like it,” James said. He wanted to pace. Perhaps he ought to land his broom just so he could pace.
“What do you reckon our odds of winning the cup are if we just stick a second-string Chaser in front of the goalposts and hope for the best?” said Sirius.
Germaine scowled. “Ravenclaw are good this year. We need a decent Keeper.”
“Thanks, I’m aware,” James said curtly. "And we don't have a second-string Chaser anymore, remember?" He had not meant to sound cutting — to remind Sirius that he had been the first-string Chaser until certain events the previous year — but it came out sharp anyway. He sighed, and turned away.
“Wait, look, someone’s coming—”
James turned towards the castle. Someone was indeed coming — three someones. Two of them had brooms.
“They brought their own brooms. They should be all right,” said Germaine, sounding as though she didn’t dare hope.
Fucking finally, thought James.
“Fucking finally,” Sirius said.
The three of them flew towards the newcomers and dismounted.
“You know any of them, King?” Sirius whispered.
“I don’t think so,” replied Germaine. “But I’m awful with faces. And names.”
“So, people in general. Got it.”
The two with brooms were both fair-haired and fair-skinned, though one was stout and the other was gangly. Gangly had a stubby ponytail that James immediately disliked. The third, who was hanging back a little, was black and broad-shouldered, with thick-framed glasses. He wished his friends good luck and started towards the stands, which made James deflate a bit. Never mind, two options were still good enough — and if Gangly showed promise, James would come around to the ponytail eventually.
“Names?” he said.
Gangly was called Laurence, and Stout was Richie.
“How long will this take?” Laurence wanted to know.
James stared at him until he flushed. “Why, have you got somewhere to be?”
“Then you’ll stay for as long as it takes. Obviously you came despite whatever horror stories you’ve heard about me.”
With that, he strode towards the sprint flags. The others followed.
“I thought Potter was supposed to be fun,” he heard Richie say, his voice hushed.
“What can I say? He’s a good bloke everywhere but the pitch,” responded Sirius. “It’s a curse.”
“I can’t believe you did all this,” Lily said, not for the first time. “And that you found this room!”
Adorable pink spots appeared in Dex’s cheeks at the compliment. “It was really nothing. What’s frustrating is that the door doesn’t always appear — I have to concentrate really hard on summoning it. A smarter bloke than me would have a field day analysing its magic.”
“Yes, I suppose it’s intent-based,” mused Lily, tapping her chin with a finger. “Although, how can you concentrate on making the door appear before you know it’s even there? It’s an odd thing, hiding the entrance to a common room. Perhaps it’s like the prefects’ bathroom, and the secret of how to call it up has just been lost over the years… That might explain why more people don’t simply stumble upon it… Oh, what are you smiling at me for?”
“A smarter bloke than me,” said Dex, smiling, “or a smarter bird.”
The room in question was cozy and circular, its stone floor covered in warm, plush rugs. A fire blazed at one end and bookshelves lined half the space’s perimeter. The other half was a little kitchen, with cabinets full of utensils and bowls and magical cookbooks. Dex and Lily were seated across from each other on high stools at the kitchen counter. It was lovely and domestic, in the best of ways.
The whole scene was made even better by the butter-and-sugar aroma filling the room. Dex had brought his own baking ingredients — “there’s never any food here but I wouldn’t dare eat it anyway, who knows how stale it’d be” — and he had coached her through the steps to make shortbread.
“Are we making millionaire shortbread?” Lily had asked when she’d seen the chocolate he’d brought.
But Dex had looked confused. “What’s that? No, this is something my mum makes, it’s called a Galleon biscuit…”
Lily had learned that the Galleon biscuit was not all that different from millionaire shortbread, substituting peanut butter for caramel. The real magic of the biscuit, though, was in the way Dex stirred the chocolate, adding a strange essence so that it fizzed in the mouth like champagne. The sensation had so startled Lily that she’d jumped backwards and knocked into him, for which she then spent ten minutes apologising.
Dex was an exacting baker; he told her that he much preferred this sort of cooking to the family’s famous ice cream. There was such a thing as wizard culinary school, too, in France, and Dex had told her with a touch of shyness that he wanted to attend it after Hogwarts.
“You must be terrific at Potions,” Lily said now. The baking biscuits were making her stomach grumble, though she had eaten a good portion of the other food Dex had brought: soft breads and sharp cheeses and juicy grapes.
“I’m all right,” Dex allowed. “But not nearly as good as you. Slughorn adores you, you know. He tells us seventh-years about how you’re a prodigy — you and that Severus Snape.”
Lily felt as though he had doused her in cold water. Dex must have seen her expression change, because he took her hand, regret clear in his eyes.
“Merlin. I forgot that was a touchy subject — I shouldn’t have—”
“It’s really all right,” said Lily, smiling to show him she meant it. Then she sighed. “You heard about that too, did you?”
“Well… it was tough to miss. I was at the lake that day too.”
“So you saw the whole thing.”
“Not the whole thing, but enough, I reckon.” He let out a long breath. “I’m sorry that happened, Lily. I’m sure this isn’t the first time someone’s said that to you, but…”
“It isn’t,” Lily said, “but I appreciate it.” She squeezed his hand; he began to trace her knuckles with his thumb.
“Snape was out of line. But Potter too — there’s better ways to solve problems,” Dex said, his brow furrowed. “A little civility would go a long way.”
Lily smiled. “You know, I am so glad you said that.”
“All right, time!” James called. “Give us a moment.” He beckoned Germaine and Sirius over, and the three other fliers — another having arrived since Laurence and Richie had begun their tryout — sagged in relief.
Lowering his voice, James said, “What do you think?”
Sirius eyed the boys. “I mean...they’re all right,” he began.
“Ponytail’s probably the best,” said Germaine. She chewed her bottom lip. “But with the luxury of choice I wouldn’t have any of ’em.”
“Do we have that luxury, though?” Sirius said.
“It’s only the second day,” James reminded them. “We might find someone else.”
“I dunno, are you expecting the perfect Keeper to wake up on Monday and realise they ought to try out? If the right person were at Hogwarts they’d have shown already.”
James considered this. “Let’s keep these three in mind, but I think we’re done for today.”
He repeated this to the three younger boys, who didn’t look too pleased at the prospect of waiting to hear back. Tough, James thought. Germaine had been right — Ravenclaw were really good, with all their players from last year’s Quidditch Cup-winning team returning. Gryffindor had come close, but close was not good enough. No, it was best to hold tryouts all week as planned and then see where to go from there, though a niggling voice in the back of James’s mind told him Sirius had a point too.
Sirius and Germaine went to put away the Quaffles and remove the flags from the pitch, but James hovered in mid-air for a few minutes. The wind ruffled his hair in every direction — it would probably look a right mess when he was done… His train of thought careened to a stop, however, when he spotted the boy in the stands. It was the kid who’d come with Laurence and Richie. He had apparently sat through all of the drills his friends had run, and he showed no sign of leaving now. Hang on, is he taking notes?
James shot towards the stands. If this boy was a spy for Ravenclaw, he’d hex him. And then he’d hex Stephen bloody Fawcett until that godawful smirk was wiped off his face for good—
“Oi, you!” James shouted. “What d’you think you’re doing?”
The boy’s eyes widened when he saw James. He looked so terrified, James almost felt sorry for him. “I-I was just leaving—”
“You’re not going anywhere.” James brought his broom to a stop mere feet from him. “Not until you tell me who paid you to spy on my tryouts.”
“Spy? I’m a Gryffindor!” All fear forgotten, the boy sounded genuinely indignant. “What would I be spying for?”
“Money. Fame. Whatever Stephen Fawcett promised you.”
“What? Stephen Fawcett— I’m not spying! I just wanted to see what drills you ran!”
James arched an eyebrow. “Is that so?”
“Honest. I live near a Quidditch team and I watch them practice sometimes. I-I wanted to see what you do.”
This piqued his interest. “Really? Where do you live?”
“Dorset — River Piddle,” the boy said. “That’s where—”
“—Puddlemere play,” James finished. He hopped off his broom onto the stands, making the boy start. Running a hand through his damp hair, James sat down and peered at him. “I reckon we got off to a bad start. What’s your name?”
“Percy, I’m James Potter.”
“Right. You can forgive me for being cautious, yeah?”
“I suppose. Do you get spies often?”
There was a pause. “No,” James allowed. “But that’s why I was being cautious. Expect the unexpected. So, you’re a Puddlemere fan and you take notes on my drills, but you don’t want to try out yourself?”
Percy looked away. “Well, I normally play Chaser, but you don’t need one of those.”
“No, we don’t. We’re always on the lookout for second-string players, though.”
“Yeah…but Laurence and Richie said you’d think I was too young.” He was clearly embarrassed by this confession, but James noted the set of his jaw. You’ve got pride, Percy Egwu, he thought, with more than a spot of respect.
“What year are you, Perce? Do you mind if I call you that?”
“Fourth. And that’s all right, it’s what my mum calls me.”
James nodded. “Fourth year isn’t too young — we let second years try out.”
“Yeah, but when was the last time a second year made the team?” Percy challenged.
James didn’t have to think to answer. “Me.”
“Do you have a broom? One of your own, I mean?”
“Yeah — it was a birthday present.” He glowed at the very thought. “It’s a Comet 220.”
James was duly impressed. “Wow. Smooth ride, that.”
“It is.” Percy’s eyes went to James’s still-hovering broom. “How does your Nimbus fly?”
“Like a dream.”
“Look, let me be honest.” James looked right at Percy. “We desperately need a good Keeper. But Quidditch isn’t all knocking heads and whizzing about — you know that. And we need a Keeper who can think the game, not just play it. Now, I haven’t seen you fly, but I reckon you think the game pretty well.”
Percy blinked owlishly. “But—”
“Just bring your Comet to tomorrow morning’s tryouts, right? Give it a shot. At the very least we could have you as a second-string Chaser, like you wanted.”
Percy looked like he was fighting a smile. “You sure?”
“Me? What matters is if you’re sure. Are you?”
He laughed, shaking his head. “All right. I’ll be there.”
“Brilliant. See you tomorrow, Perce.”
Percy picked up his notebook and walked away. James sat in the stands for a little longer, smiling to himself. Yes, he was rather shit at a lot of things, he reflected, but not this. This, he was good at.
“Captain dearest,” a sarcastic voice called. Germaine flew into view, her hair tousled and her delicate features scrunched into a scowl. “Any reason you got to laze about while Sirius and I cleaned up?”
James grinned. “Consider yourself freed from tryout duties on Monday. And for your information, I was hard at work here.”
Her frown gave way to curiosity. “Doing what, exactly?”
“Only finding our next Keeper. Call it a feeling.”
It was nearing noon when Lily and Dex emerged from the room, wearing matching grins. Her hair was rather messier than before, as was his. His lips were rather redder than before, as were hers. Overall, Lily reckoned it had been a very successful date.
No doubt these stolen moments would be scarce as the year went on, what with homework and Dex’s N.E.W.T.s. She was glad that he hadn’t waited until the first Hogsmeade weekend to ask her to see her. Ever a promoter of solidarity among her gender, Lily now allowed herself the briefest pinch of smugness. Other girls would have to content themselves with unromantic study sessions until November. She had a little nook in which to enjoy her boyfriend’s company...and she had enjoyed it a great deal.
“I had a lot of fun today,” she said as they approached the common room’s entrance. The Fat Lady met Lily’s gaze and said nothing, but raised her eyebrows at Dex. Lily chose to ignore this. Someone was whistling a Bob Dylan song; the sound echoed through the corridor as she smiled at Dex.
“Thank you for showing me the room — and for the biscuits. My friends will love them.”
Dex chuckled. “I won’t say I’m trying to bribe them for their affection… but I’m not not doing that.”
“They’ll be getting an extremely complimentary report after today,” she assured him.
“Is that so.” He leaned into her, his hands finding her waist.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Full marks. Outstanding.” Cupping his face, she pulled him down to her for a long, slow kiss.
The Prefects’ Bathroom was a long walk from Gryffindor Tower. James had made it even longer, half-humming and half-whistling as he ambled up the North Wing stairs. It wounded his pride a bit to use anything meant for prefects, but he contented himself with the knowledge that a shared bathtub was the closest he’d be getting to real authority at Hogwarts. Besides, it was a great bathtub. He smelled like marshmallow.
James had to briefly break into a jog to catch up to the next staircase before it moved out of place. That very nearly made him frown — the castle was a finicky creature, but he felt as though he had come to know it, had befriended it, even. It was hurtful, honestly, for it to inconvenience him.
But his good mood was more powerful than moving staircases. James alighted on the seventh floor, putting his hands in his pockets. He had been whistling without paying attention to what, exactly, he was whistling. He now recognised the tune: “Like A Rolling Stone.” The thought pleased him. Even his subconscious was doing well today.
The Fat Lady was watching a kissing couple with disturbing interest. James took in the boy’s blond hair and the girl’s auburn plait. If he were being honest with himself, he took in more than that. He knew, of course, that the girl was Lily Evans. But just as he processed this information, he noticed what hung above them. He stopped whistling abruptly.
Lily had never thought she was the kind of girl who could shriek. She didn’t think she had it in her. But the unholy sound she emitted when something wet and mushy fell on her head was definitely a relative of the shriek. A close cousin, perhaps.
Lily jumped back from Dex, groping for her wand. “Oh my God—” A horrible voice in her head was telling her the substance had to be bat droppings. Please, anything but batshit.
Dex was in a similar state, spluttering and trying to brush the stuff off himself. But that couldn’t be bat droppings — no bat could let loose that much at once, could it? Gross, Lily.
“Scourgify,” she gasped, finally locating her wand. The awful sensation finally vanished. She raised her wand to cast the spell on Dex too, but he was...chewing? Oh, Merlin. She was going to be sick.
“It’s...pie,” said Dex, sounding puzzled.
A sneaking suspicion came over Lily. She looked up — and there it was, an upside-down plate, bobbing up and down as if cheered by its success. And down the corridor, staring at them, was James Potter.
“Dex,” Lily said with quiet fury, “you should leave.”
The boyfriend registered James a moment after Lily had.
“For fuck’s sake, Potter,” he spat.
James put his hands up in surrender. “I just got here. If you’re suggesting I had anything to do with that—”
“Yeah, I’m suggesting that! I’m not thick, all right?”
“Could’ve fooled me,” said James, shrugging. “What part of ‘I didn’t do anything’ is too complicated for you to grasp?”
By his own reckoning, James was a fairly quick draw. He’d needed to be in the past, having made enemies of so many Slytherins alone that he had to be able to fling back a hex of his own with little forewarning. He considered reaching for his wand at this point, though he was unsure if Fortescue would go that route. Merlin, duelling Evans’s boyfriend had not been in his plans.
But if he looked angry, she was positively murderous.
“You should really leave,” she said. “I’ll handle this.”
Fortescue looked between the two of them. Apparently deciding he liked Lily’s chances, he retreated down the hallway.
“Really heroic boyfriend you’ve got there,” Potter said, watching Dex go.
“I don’t need protecting,” retorted Lily. There were several feet between them in the empty corridor. Lily was reminded of Edgar Bones and Aprylline Thorpe facing off — except she was a great deal less fond of the person opposite her.
“I didn’t say you did. All I said was—”
“Shut up!” Her shout made the Fat Lady jump a little; the woman in the portrait was apparently too riveted to chastise them. Showing excellent self-preservation instincts, Potter closed his mouth.
Lily clenched her hands into fists. “Was it me you were trying to hit? Or Dex?”
Potter worked his jaw. “Who’s to say it wasn’t a two-for?”
“Don’t test me, James Potter,” she warned. “I’ve had a bloody short tolerance for you since that day by the lake.”
He grew very still. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Lily knew she was red with anger — and embarrassment, she realised. She did not want to reminisce about that day with him — not like this, not ever.
“If you’re — obsessed with me, or-or in love with me, this is a terrible way to show it! And you can be absolutely certain I won’t return your — fucked-up feelings!”
He gave a short laugh. “Right, because everyone’s in love with Lily Evans. Get over yourself. Not everything that goes on around here is about you, or any of your business.” Lily scoffed. “You heard me.”
“I’m sorry, I thought I was the one you dropped a pie on! Are you now the victim here?”
“No, I see you’ve got that part well covered,” he bit back.
An incredulous laugh bubbled up her throat. “Oh, fuck you. Just stay away from me, all right?” Striding up to the Fat Lady, Lily barked, “Stop eavesdropping! Gossamer!” The portrait swung open, though the Fat Lady looked terribly offended — Lily supposed she’d have to apologise later. But she wasn’t feeling particularly apologetic just yet.
James watched Lily disappear through the portrait hole, leaving him alone in the corridor.
“Will you be going in as well?” the Fat Lady said snippily.
“Not yet, thanks,” he said, equally cool. With a harrumph, the portrait swung back over its hole. Shoving his hands back in his pockets, he walked on. He wasn’t going anywhere specific, but he knew he did not want to be near her anytime soon. Of course, he didn’t need to be. His mind had a spectacular ability to replay the sound of her voice. Fucked-up feelings, fucked-up feelings, Lily sang in his head.
“Oh, shut up,” he said aloud.
At least it would be easier to avoid her now that she had expressly commanded him to.
Saturday mornings were a bad idea after all.
ii. Sweet Birthday Baby
Germaine’s birthday was on a Monday, so it was a good thing she wasn’t superstitious. If she were, she would think it a terrible omen for how her year would go on. As it was, she sat in the greenhouses for their morning Herbology lesson and thought her bones were going to jump right out of her body. Your flesh-prison, her awful brain supplied.
This was why she hated classes that gave her time to think.
Germaine hadn’t always been averse to the quiet. But as much as she loved Hogwarts, her time at school overlapped with winter too much for her to consider it a wholly positive few months. Nothing made her stir-crazy like the cold — and her late-September birthday heralded days of being cooped up inside the castle for warmth.
Her sister Abigail worked at the Ministry of Magic, secretary to some fuddy-duddy in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The prospect of a job like Abigail’s was sheer torture to Germaine. She didn’t know what sort of career she would pursue — she would like to travel, she thought, but she had no particular destination in mind. Another witch might’ve panicked at this uncertainty, but not Germaine. The open-ended possibility of her future both excited and comforted her.
At least, that was what she reminded herself on days when it felt like she was dreaming of running away.
She was not like Dorcas, who was principled and sweet and outraged by injustice. She was not like Mary, who was flamboyant and self-assured and certain of her dreams. She was not like Lily, who was passionate and vivacious and believed in good. Germaine saw herself as a happy medium, flexible enough to stretch sympathetically between her friends. But— What does it mean that I define myself in comparison to them?
Nothing. She was only seventeen and she was finding her way. She had tried to be a Gemma a week ago, but she had already discarded that nickname with ease. And that was all right to Germaine.
At lunchtime, having successfully wrangled enough Snargaluff pods to satisfy Professor Sprout, the girls savoured their food and their upcoming afternoon off.
“I won’t ever get tired of free periods,” Doe said happily.
“Mmm.” Germaine was picking at her own lunch. The jittery feeling had stayed with her all morning.
Lily put her hand on Germaine’s arm. “Are you all right? Is it the Germaine blues?”
Germaine smiled at her concern. “A little, yeah. It doesn’t quite feel like my birthday.”
Her friends all immediately looked remorseful. Germaine hurried to add, “No, it’s not your fault. It’s the trouble of having a birthday so early in the school year—”
Mary was shaking her head. “I knew we should’ve thrown a party… Germaine, do you want a party?”
“You want a party,” Doe said dryly.
Germaine sighed. “That’s not it. Really, don’t worry. So long as you’re all coming for afternoon Quidditch?”
Rather than a party, which Mary and Lily preferred, or a small get-together, as Doe would have it, Germaine’s birthday celebration of choice was a Quidditch scrimmage. They had kept up this tradition since their third year, when the four girls had properly become friends. Despite the various levels of Quidditch experience between them, the game was always a welcome break to September’s flurry of activity. Germaine had enough vague acquaintances to fill two seven-a-side teams.
“Of course we’ll be there,” Doe said.
“Even though I’ll get my arse kicked, as always,” said Mary with a sigh.
Germaine turned to Lily. “You too?” Hesitantly, she added, “Potter will be there…”
Lily made a face. “I can deal with him for one afternoon.”
“Are you positive? I can un-invite him.”
“Oh, don’t bother. It’s your birthday, love.”
The others had heard a blow-by-blow account of that weekend’s argument between Lily and James by then. The two had managed not to be in the same room since, barring classes, in which they sat as far apart as physically possible. Germaine studied Lily but her friend was impassive — there was no way to tell how much she actually minded having to socialise with him.
“I think I’m going to head down to the pitch,” Germaine said, the words leaving her mouth before she had fully processed her intention.
“Already?” Mary said.
“Yeah, just to… fly around, I dunno. I need to shake off this weird mood.”
The others exchanged a glance.
“Sure, if that’s what you like,” said Doe. “We’ll have lots of fun playing Quidditch, and then after dinner we can have a dance party to ABBA, all right?”
Germaine laughed. “You really know me well.”
She could feel the ennui burning out of her system as she bounded to the pitch, her Cleansweep in hand. It was a warm afternoon, but not so sunny that being in the air would be unbearable. Just a few lazy laps, and her friends would join, and everything would be all right again… Germaine had just about erased the memory of that morning’s post from her mind. Just about.
When she got closer to the pitch, though, she saw that someone else was already there. Germaine felt a twinge of annoyance — she’d asked James to book their scrimmage with Madam Hooch, so the pitch was theirs by rights. And yet a tiny figure soared above her. Germaine recognised the pattern to the stranger’s flight after a moment: from the goalposts to the edge of the scoring area then back, then to the central circle and back, then to the opposite scoring area… It was an aerial shuttle run. Whoever this person was, they were flying with purpose.
Germaine held her irritation at bay for a moment and simply watched. The stranger was fast and had remarkably fluid turns, which was a more difficult feat on a broom than it looked to be. She didn’t have a stopwatch at hand, but she guessed that she herself flew at that speed — the breakneck pace every Seeker had to have control over and comfort with.
All of a sudden the flier dipped out of their drill and carved a lazy arc through the air. The change reminded Germaine that this leisurely flying had been her aim today.
“Hey!” she shouted, waving her arms. “Hey, I’ve got the pitch booked!”
But the person did not seem to hear.
Oh, for fuck’s sake. Mounting her broom, Germaine sped towards the stranger. Once she got closer, she realised it was a girl, her dark plait rippling out behind her.
“Hello? I’m talking to you!” Germaine said.
Perhaps she wasn’t close enough. Clicking her tongue in annoyance, she caught up to the girl and copied her slow loop-de-loop. At the peak of their circle, Germaine and the girl hung mere feet apart for a handful of seconds, their gazes meeting. The girl’s eyes were wide with surprise. Germaine arched her brows. And then they spun downwards.
Germaine expected the girl to stop, or to pull up into the same loop-de-loop again. Instead, she reached the nadir of her trajectory and then shot upwards in a near-vertical climb. Germaine could do nothing but follow. She had forgotten to tie back her hair, and its tendrils whipped at her cheeks.
“Would you slow down?” she tried to say, but the roaring wind swallowed her words easily.
The girl pointed the nose of her broom downwards once more and Germaine did too, feeling her stomach drop and her head grow pleasantly light. She was concentrating so hard on predicting what the girl would do next, she forgot to think of anything else at all. They zigzagged side by side for a time. Then the girl lurched aggressively towards Germaine, who jerked away just in time to stay parallel with her.
Now flying the breadth of the pitch, the girl and Germaine were gently descending — and then the girl turned inwards, so she was flying a tight spiral. Enough games. Instead of just tailing her, Germaine shot down the middle of her helical flight pattern, and then braked sharply. The girl had to execute a barrel roll to avoid a collision — though she made even that look graceful. She and Germaine were finally still, their brooms nose to nose, breathing hard.
The girl’s tight plait had unravelled, and damp strands of her hair framed her heart-shaped face. She looked familiar — Germaine was positive she knew her — but she had no idea who she was… Her tie was off and she had discarded her robes, so Germaine couldn’t say what house she was in.
“What are you playing at?” the girl demanded.
Germaine blinked. “Me? What am I playing at?”
“You’re the one who wouldn’t stop when I called out to you! You led me on a wild goose chase!”
The girl’s flint-grey eyes flashed. “You followed.”
Germaine was so incredulous at this line of questioning that all she could do was splutter in disbelief.
“What do you want from me, then?” the girl said. If they had been on the ground, Germaine imagined she would be tapping her foot in impatience.
“I want,” said Germaine, enunciating through clenched teeth, “you to leave the pitch. I have it booked, so you’re not supposed to be here.”
Whatever the girl had expected her to say, it clearly wasn’t this. She sniffed.
“Could’ve said so earlier.”
But the girl was already turning away, speeding off towards the stands. Germaine watched her go, shaking her head. She had no idea what to make of this bizarre interaction. If the girl’s skill was any indication, though, Germaine had a feeling she would be seeing her on the pitch again.
Distant voices caught her attention: three little figures stood some distance away, waving. Recognising Lily, Mary, and Dorcas, Germaine flew towards them, still puzzling over the strange girl and her brusque manner.
“We’re ready,” said Doe, huffing and puffing. The girls had carried in the trunk of equipment, though they hadn’t thought to bring brooms of their own. Germaine swallowed a smile — her poor, Quidditch-averse friends. “And we brought your presents!”
Germaine dismounted, pulling them all into a hug. “You’re all so sweet and you know I love you—”
“Germaaaine, you’re sweaty!”
She accepted the three gifts. It was abundantly clear who had given her what. One was wrapped in shimmering gold paper and tied off with a red ribbon, in what had to be Doe’s handiwork. Another was wrapped in brown paper, but tied in the same red ribbon — Lily’s, obviously; she must have started her wrapping and only then realised she had no ribbon… Mary’s was not wrapped at all, but in a gift bag stuffed with glittery crepe paper.
“I love them so much.”
“You haven’t even seen what they are!” Lily laughed.
But this was also Germaine’s way: presents were to be opened in the last hour of her birthday, on her bed. She had even saved the parcel her parents had sent her that morning, though she could already guess what it was — a watch, as was wizarding tradition. Germaine put all thoughts of that aside, though, because that reminded her of the letter…
Mary was peering over Germaine’s shoulder. “Oi, who was that person you were talking to?”
Germaine blinked. “Oh… I didn’t actually ask her name. I just told her to leave, since we were going to be using the pitch.
“You could’ve invited her to join,” Lily pointed out. “It’s not like this is a proper practice.”
The thought hadn’t even occurred to Germaine. Based on the girl's attitude, the invitation would have gone over poorly. Rather than get into all that, she said, “We already have enough people for two teams. It’d be weird.”
Lily gave her a searching look but didn’t press the matter. “Well, never mind. Can we get me on a broom before anyone else shows up? It’s been a year and I’m probably going to be terribly rusty…”
iii. Thorpe the Elder
The evening after Germaine’s birthday, the girls had carved out a space in the common room by the much-coveted record player. It was currently blasting the new record Mary had bought her; though they had all heard the songs on Abba on the radio by then, there was a special thrill in letting “S.O.S.” warble through Gryffindor Tower. The Wizarding Wireless Network was awfully lacking in Muggle hits, as Mary frequently complained.
In fact, Abba had kept them up late the previous night too — much to Sara’s dismay — and had resulted in a rushed breakfast that morning. Doe simply would not be late to Thorpe’s class, and she had been so agitated at the prospect that the others had hurried too just so she would calm down. So Doe and Lily had missed their morning perusal of the Prophet, and only then did they spread out the paper to see the massive headline on the front page.
TAVISH’S EMPTY SEAT FILLED: CROUCH TO HEAD DMLE.
“Wow,” murmured Doe. “So they’re finally doing something.”
Lily gnawed at her lip as she read. The craggy, stern face of Bartemius Crouch looked back at both of them from his photograph. His eyes were disturbingly bright; his mouth was set in a grim line below his moustache. He certainly looked capable of shutting down Death Eater activity…
“He talks big,” Lily said. “Look here… I believe we must fight fire with fire to protect witches and wizards everywhere… Gosh.”
“Old news,” called Sirius from where he and James were sitting, at the other end of the common room. He had to raise his voice to be heard over “Mamma Mia.” “Crouch was a gimme the moment Minchum became Minister, they’re the same type. Besides, all the Ministry hardliners have been singing his praises for months.”
“You read the papers?” snorted Germaine. “What has the world come to, indeed?”
“Do you think he’ll do as he promises?” said Doe.
Sirius shrugged. “All I know is his mum was a Black, but he’s far from a blood purist. Prongs would know better.”
He nudged James, who had clearly been trying to stay out of the conversation. Lily looked down at the carpet when James lifted his head, silly as she felt doing it.
“What? Oh, Crouch. Mum and Dad run in the same circles as him, though they don’t particularly like him. He’s not very friendly. But…”
Lily chanced a glance upward. James’s brow was furrowed in thought.
“...I mean, he’s forceful enough for the job, I suppose.”
“Hold on,” Germaine said, loudly. “Hold on. What’s his name?”
She had scrambled to her feet to turn down the record player.
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Barty Crouch. Blimey, Germ.”
Germaine clapped a hand over her mouth. “Big news soon,” she mumbled. “Big news soon, that’s what Abigail said, only she didn’t say what big news…”
“You’re being weird, Germaine,” Doe said. “Spit it out!”
But Lily thought she could guess where this was going. “Is Abigail — your sister — Bartemius Crouch’s secretary?”
“I-I think so.”
Mary whistled, dropping her head onto the carpet with a thump. “That’s a big promotion, if he’ll keep her around. Abigail can tell us all the insider info.”
Germaine scoffed at that, though traces of shock still lingered on her face. “Please. She didn’t even tell me her boss was going to be named head of the DMLE. She isn’t telling anyone squat.”
“Well, give our congratulations to Abigail,” said Doe, reaching for the paper to skim it again. “And time will tell how Crouch does. We’ll have to wait and— what the fuck.” She slapped a hand onto the Prophet as if to pin it in place. “What the fuck! ”
“What is it now?” Mary said, rolling over to face her.
“They’ve interviewed a bunch of people about Crouch’s appointment. Lots of Ministry folks expressing approval — just like you said, Black. But listen to this.” Doe cleared her throat.
“Mr. Crouch is not unique to the DMLE in his failings. Those failings all stem from a refusal to accept a fundamental truth about magical society: the greatest danger posed to us is not by the so-called Death Eaters, but the dilution of magic caused by the influx of non-magical peoples into our world. Until this concern — shared by well-bred, upstanding families across Britain — is adequately addressed, I have little hope that the DMLE, Minister Minchum, or anyone at all at the Ministry is in fact working for us, witches and wizards of Britain.”
An uncomfortable hush fell over them. Germaine smacked a hand on the record player, cutting off ABBA with a loud click. Doe pushed the paper away from herself and sat up.
“How could they print that?” said Lily, her throat tight with anger. “How could they put that bigoted bullshit on the front page — and all that rot about upstanding families! That’s-that’s—”
Sirius and James both walked to where the girls were, their expressions dark. Lily did not even remember to be angry at the latter as they sat down on the carpet.
“Who said that,” said James quietly. “Who’d they quote?”
“Let me see — in a written statement to the Prophet…” Doe trailed off, her eyes growing huge.
Sirius was scowling. “Well, who is it?”
She handed them the paper as she spoke, looking around at each of the expectant girls.
“Someone named Marcel Thorpe. Radio personality.”
Lily shook her head. Her mind was struggling to keep up with all these developments. First Crouch, then Abigail… now this drivel in the Prophet…
“Thorpe as in the professor?” she said.
“Odds are they’re related, I guess,” Germaine said. She had gone pale, and was fidgeting with her hands. “She was so blunt in class too…”
“This might shock you, but family isn’t everything,” said Sirius dryly.
James was squinting at the article. “They’re practically giving him free publicity. I mean, who is he? His show isn’t even on the WWN.”
Doe was still wide-eyed, staring into space. Mary scooted closer to her and took her hand.
“What’s his show called?” she said, her voice icy. “I’ll bet the fucker is irrelevant.”
“Creatively enough, it’s just The Thorpe Hour. And you’re in luck,” said James, getting to his feet. “Apparently his show starts...five minutes ago.”
They all watched in silence as James strode over to the common room’s radio, bringing it to their spot on the carpet. He spent a few seconds turning the dial; snatches of news broadcasts and music faded into static. And then, there was a pleasant chime.
“Welcome back, listeners, you’re tuned in to The Thorpe Hour,” said a deep, velvet-soft voice. “I’m Marcel Thorpe. It’s been a big day at the Ministry, what with Crouch’s DMLE promotion. I’ve already wrapped up my thoughts on the matter, but for a quick summary the Daily Prophet has my quote. I want to get at the planned topic of the day and take your calls.
“For first-time listeners, I mentioned last week that I wanted to touch on an often-overlooked issue when considering the problem of Muggleborns—”
Lily let out an involuntary hiss, though she resisted saying anything. She wasn’t sure there was a good way to end that sentence, but she didn’t want to miss what Thorpe said next.
“If you’re unsure how to feel about the presence of Muggleborns in wizarding society, you have only to consider Hogwarts,” Thorpe was saying. “Now, unless you’ve been schooled in magic at home or you were never told this while at school yourself, you'll know that Hogwarts does not charge its admits a flat fee. It has operated this way since it was founded, so as to allow disadvantaged students a fair shot at magical education.”
They all flinched at his derisive pronouncement of the word “disadvantaged.” Sirius swore softly under his breath.
“The Ministry of Magic endows the school, of course. But Hogwarts is pay-what-you-can. I know, folks — pay what you can! The cream of the crop of wizarding Britain educates their children at Hogwarts, and of course donates generously to the school. For less well-off families, well, the Hogwarts name still means something — it’s still where Grandfather and Grandmother were taught, you know, and it’s a point of pride for such families to pay for their children’s education.
“My family has been educated at Hogwarts for generations. I sent my daughter to Hogwarts, a decade or so ago, and I bloody well paid! I didn’t have to, see, but I did. It’s about shared responsibility. Now, do you think Muggles — completely non-magical folk, who have no idea how our world works — are going to pay to send their children to Hogwarts? Do you think they do?
“I hate to say this, but they do not. They don’t know a Knut from a rat dropping! I don’t mean to be crude, but it’s a fact! That’s right, they are benefitting from magical education that we are paying for — that our Ministry pays for — and all the while their children are simply not as talented as ours. That’s a fact, studies have been done on the subject.
Thorpe’s voice had mostly remained steady so far, but it rose in passion now. “Think about that again for a moment. They are stealing — look, I have the greatest respect for professors at Hogwarts, the utmost respect for Albus Dumbledore no matter how much I disagree with him. But those extremely well-connected, qualified professors are being drawn away from your children, who deserve their attention, in order to help struggling, barely-magical Muggleborns who don’t pay a—”
“Turn that off,” said Germaine loudly. The others looked at her, surprised by the force in her voice. Two bright spots of colour had appeared in her cheeks. James obeyed without argument, and the common room was silent again.
“He’s a liar,” Germaine went on.
Mary sat up slowly. “We know, love. We all know that—”
“No, listen! Mum and Dad have never...have never had a lot, and I know that. If they’d had to pay tuition for Abigail and me they wouldn’t have been able to. We’d have learned magic from Mum. I know they don’t pay at all now, and it makes them feel so awful. All that bullshit about what a point of pride it is for people to pay Hogwarts — my parents don’t pay, and they’re both magical! Mum’s pure-blooded! It’s just — bullshit and people are lapping it up — all to excuse their prejudice—”
“Oh, come here,” Lily said, and Germaine sagged into her arms. Feeling terribly cold despite the heat of her friend’s body, Lily smoothed a hand over Germaine’s hair in comfort. “People know better than to follow his twisted logic.” She hoped she sounded convincing enough. The truth was, Lily was hardly sure what people believed; she met Mary’s gaze and saw her grim feelings reflected there.
“Yeah, he sounds like a nutter,” said Mary, giving Germaine a quick, reassuring smile.
“I’m going to listen every fucking week and call in,” Doe said furiously. “And when I’m through arguing with him he’ll be sorry he ever started a stupid radio show.”
“I’m sorry you had to sit here listening to this trash,” said James, his voice oddly hoarse. His Adam’s apple bobbed visibly as he swallowed; his jaw was clenched. Lily looked at him, surprised. She had never seen him so serious — angry, yes, but not quite so outraged. He glanced from Lily to Mary and shook his head. “If I ever caught sight of this prick, well. I don’t know what I’d do.”
I know what you’d do, Lily thought suddenly, the memory flitting into her mind’s eye. “Apologise to Evans!” he’d shouted, the tip of his wand pointed right at Severus. But to go down that road was to invite pain… Lily blinked the thought away and inhaled shakily.
“Well, we have a pretty good idea of how he might be related to Professor Thorpe,” Mary said. “He said his daughter went to Hogwarts around a decade ago; that fits with her career. God, I wonder what their family dinners must be like.”
Sirius snorted. “I never thought I’d have this much in common with a professor.”