From Lily Evans to Petunia Evans, discarded drafts:
No, that’s too rude, isn’t it?
How are you doing? I’m well. School is fine. We’re learning such interesting things now that we’re in the sixth year. For instance, we’re preparing to brew the Draught of Living Death in Potions, which is supposed to be extremely challenging. Professor Slughorn says he has faith in me, which isn’t as reassuring as he’d like it to sound.
Severus and I were paired up in Charms, and he’s really good at nonverbal spells all of a sudden. I asked him if he’d been practising. He told me not to ask him questions, since we’re not friends anymore. I’m so tired.
But of course, you don’t care about any of this, do you? I’ll start over.
I hope you and Vernon are doing well. How is work? I hope you are working on something interesting. I hope Mum is doing well too. She looked a bit tired towards the end of the summer. I hope she’s okay.
From Mary Macdonald to Ruolan Li Macdonald and Clyde Macdonald:
Dear Mum and Dad,
Kisses, I hope everything’s all right! Thank you so much for the flowers. We’ve put them in a vase in the dorm, they brighten things up beautifully. You weren’t kidding when you said the garden is coming along well. (Dad, make sure Mum isn’t working too hard.) Honestly, I couldn’t have grown better ones myself, even with magic.
Classes are all fine. I know all the details go over your heads, but our lectures have become fairly advanced now. I’m keeping up, though. And the girls are all doing well too. They send their love.
Say hi to waipo and waigong for me. Take care!
From Mary Macdonald to Andrew Macdonald:
Mum says you’re saving up for the new Queen record. PLEASE get me one too. I will love you forever and ever and ever. And I’ll get you something from the wizard joke shop near school, so long as you promise not to show anyone. PLEASE.
Your favourite big sister
From James Potter to Euphemia and Fleamont Potter:
Dear Mum and Dad,
As you know, everything is absolutely fine here. I am extremely well-behaved and continue to impress the pants off all my professors. Well, at least part of that’s true. Quidditch starts up again soon, and we play Slytherin first. They tried to get it postponed — some tosh about two of their players being injured, which is convenient — but they were shut down. Accidents are part of the Quidditch season, Hooch told them. I wish I’d photographed their faces.
I hope all’s well with you. How about Crouch at the DMLE, eh? Not that I’m ever interested in your society hobnobbing, but if there’s a dinner he’s going to be at over the winter hols, I will maybe be all right with coming along. No promises. But I’m curious.
Take care, you crazy animals.
From James Potter to Mélanie Deschamps-Gill, discarded drafts:
Dear? Is that too much?
How are you? Have you and Shruti started on your round-the-world trip yet?
Fuck, what else do I even say?
From Alphard Black to Sirius Black:
I am glad to hear that you had a good summer and are back at Hogwarts. Perhaps it’s for the best that you kept away from home as much as possible. I do think you are far more grounded when you are with your friends rather than Walburga and Orion. Although I know “grounded” isn’t a flattering description to a boy like you!
In any case, I must be the bearer of bad news. Though I’ve had a relatively good few months, my illness has taken a turn for the worse. By the time you get this letter I will have already been to St. Mungo’s for another evaluation. I will write to you again with an update. But considering how much convincing it took for them to allow me to convalesce at home this summer, I expect I will be shifted to the hospital shortly.
I know hearing this will distress you, but I want to reassure you again: I am a very old man and I have lived a long, fulfilling life. My only wish is that you can do the same. Even though you consider your differences with your parents to be irreconcilable — a feeling I respect and agree with — I urge you to reach out to Regulus once more. He hasn’t written me in a while, and I worry about your mother’s influence on him. More than anything, Sirius, I see in him what I saw in you: the potential for real good despite years of hurt and loneliness. You have your friends to help you stay in the light. Please, try to be that help for your brother. Indulge an old man his fancies.
Sending you my very best,
From Germaine King to Abigail King, discarded drafts:
What the fuck? Why didn’t you tell me sooner? And don’t give me your excuses, I know they told you first
I AM ANGRY
Congratulations on the promotion, which I found out about from the Daily Prophet! Funny how you don’t tell me things. It’s become a pattern of late. And I DON’T LIKE IT
ii. Speaking in Tongues
“Every week,” Dorcas said, shaking her head as she put away her notes. “Every week I walk into this classroom and think, ‘You know, today’s the day Anderberg lets us off without ridiculous amounts of homework.’”
“Yeah, well,” said the boy next to her, mirroring her despondence. “Repeating the same mistake over and over and expecting a different result is supposed to be the first sign of madness.”
Doe laughed, shoving him gently. “And who are you calling mad, Michael Meadowes? The cheek of you.”
Michael grinned back at her. “Then I take it back, Dorcas Walker. Will you let me make it up to you by walk ing you out of class?”
“For that joke, I should say no and never speak to you again.”
Rolling her eyes at him, Doe made for the door, with Michael at her heels.
“Oh, I don’t think I can work on the essay this afternoon,” he said.
“But you promised!” Doe groaned.
He sighed. “I know I did, and I feel awful about it. But I’ve put off Transfiguration homework for far too long, and then there’s Charms too…”
They had not moved from the corridor right outside the Ancient Runes classroom. The other students had all trickled out; the hallway was quiet now, and Professor Anderberg, muttering under his breath, peered at them suspiciously before slamming the classroom door shut.
“I can help you with Transfiguration,” Doe said.
Michael gave her a look. “You said you finished that over the weekend.”
She coughed, embarrassed and pleased at once. “Well, I did…”
“I don’t want to hold you back, Dorcas. You’ve probably got loads of other stuff to work on.”
“Well, I suppose I do.”
“How about after Charms tomorrow?” Michael said, flipping through his notes to produce his schedule. “I think we’re both free then. We’ve got until next Tuesday to do this essay after all.”
Dorcas laughed. “You carry your schedule around?”
Michael blinked at her. “Obviously. Don’t you?”
“I’ve probably lost mine. The information’s all up here.” She tapped her forehead, grinning.
Michael rolled his eyes. “All right, go ahead, brag about that big brain of yours. Some of us have to try hard, you know.”
“No, you just enjoy being a swot.”
“Team swot pride, that’s me.”
Doe joined in his laughter. “I think after Charms works, though. Library?”
“Always. It’s a plan.”
Dorcas spotted a familiar figure making her way up the corridor, looking rather lost. “Mary?” she called. “What are you doing here?”
Infinitely relieved, Mary hurried to Doe’s side. “Looking for you, in fact. This classroom is in the middle of nowhere.”
She peered at the Ravenclaw standing by her friend. He was a little above average height, with a mop of dusty brown curls and a smattering of freckles. Cute, she decided.
“Who’s this?” she asked.
“Oh! Gosh, how rude of me — Mary, this is Michael Meadowes. He takes Ancient Runes too.” Doe gave the boy a sly smile. “Ever since Germaine dropped it, I’ve had to make do with his company.”
Michael shook his head, feigning offence. “And to think that just minutes ago, you were pleading with me to work on our essays together. Fie.”
“Hush. Michael, Mary is my roommate and most chaotic best friend.”
“Such high praise,” Mary said, elbowing Doe.
She appraised Michael once more — yes, he really was cute. Mary was as a rule sceptical of boys who supposedly grew on you, but she could believe such a thing about him.
“I’ll let you two catch up,” said Michael. “Dorcas, see you tomorrow after Charms?”
“Yes, bye, Michael!”
As he retreated down the corridor, Mary linked her arm with Doe’s.
“Dork-ass, that boy’s quite dishy. Where have you been hiding him?”
Doe looked genuinely surprised. “What? Michael? You really think so?”
“Yes, of course. How long have you been friends? You need to make your move, darling.”
“I don’t think we’re friends, Mare.” Doe was frowning slightly. “I mean, we’re friendly. But we only ever hang out in class or in the library.”
“Well, that’s how friendship starts,” Mary pointed out.
Doe seemed unconvinced. “I guess so…”
With unspoken agreement, they began to walk towards Gryffindor Tower.
Mary said, “How come I’ve never seen him around?”
This was one of the reasons Mary was intrigued by this Michael. If she hadn’t seen him around, she definitely hadn’t snogged him before. She probably hadn’t seen him at an unsavoury social event. Ergo, he was more likely to be a nice boy. All promising signs.
“You definitely have,” said Doe. “He’s the Quidditch commentator.”
“Oh, is he? Yes, that makes sense. He has very pleasing enunciation.”
Doe burst into laughter. “Never change, Mare.”
The castle had grown noticeably more chill, announcing October’s arrival. The grounds were studded with reddening trees, Mary’s favourite schooltime sight. Not long now until the entire Forbidden Forest was a blaze of orange-red hues…
“So, this whole nice boy scheme,” Doe said suddenly as they took the stairs to the seventh-floor corridor.
This subject was not an awkward one to Mary, but something in her friend’s voice made her pause before she responded.
“Yes?” she said, a touch cautious.
“What’s really behind it?”
Mary tried for a laugh. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Doe held her gaze. “I’m not dense, Mary. We’ve been friends since our first year. Yeah, you like boys, but this is excessive even for you. What’s going on?”
Mary stifled a sigh. Of course Dorcas’s bullshit meter had caught on to her. But she couldn’t have gone to Germaine, who only knew annoying Quidditch-playing boys, and she couldn’t have gone to Lily, who was, well, Lily.
She decided to make one last attempt at innocence. “I don’t know—”
“Mary. Are you thinking of one, specific boy?”
They were now in the Fat Lady’s corridor, which was remarkably empty for this time of day. Yes, everyone would be at lunch… But Mary would quite literally have died than have this conversation in the Great Hall. As it was her appetite was fading fast.
She had hesitated too long; no doubt her real reaction was written all over her face. “Doe… just don’t tell anyone, all right?”
Doe’s eyes were round as saucers. “You know I won’t. But now you have to tell me more. No one will be in the reading room, c’mon. Gossamer,” she said to the Fat Lady.
Mary held her tongue as they made their way to the little library area. A lone seventh-year was studying by the door, her head bent over a book. Perhaps they could go to the dorm instead — but no, what if the others came in?
Doe noticed her uncertainty. “Just follow me.”
But Doe held a finger to her lips and beckoned Mary over to the far wall. Aside from a bookshelf and a portrait of an imperious-looking witch on some kind of Arctic expedition, Mary couldn’t see anything of interest here. Then Doe bent her head to the portrait and whispered, “Aventine.”
The witch, who had until then been standing quite still, straightened and smiled. Her portrait swung open.
“Oh my god,” Mary whispered. “What the hell?”
“Shh, just go in!” Doe had one eye on the studying seventh-year, who hadn’t yet looked up.
Making a face, Mary bunched up her robes and squeezed into the crawlspace. It was a mercifully short passage; by the time Dorcas slid in and the portrait swung shut behind her, Mary was already standing up in the room it led to. It had clearly been a bathroom some years back. Thick spiderwebs covered the higher sconces, but the immediate surroundings were fairly clean.
“How on earth did you know how to get in here?” Her voice echoed through the space. It was quite drafty; Mary took out her wand and cast a simple heating spell.
Doe hopped onto the counter, looking very pleased with herself. “I saw Peter going in here sometime last year, and I cornered him when he came out. I made him show me the room. In exchange for me not telling anyone he keeps me updated on the passwords.”
“You’ve told me now.”
“Valeria Myriadd, she’s the witch in the portrait — I reckon she likes me a lot more than Peter. She was grinning while I was getting the information out of him. She’d tell me the password even if he doesn’t.” Doe patted the space on the counter next to her. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten what you have to tell me. Who’s the boy?”
“He’s nothing to write home about,” Mary mumbled, suddenly shy. She was not in the habit of having these conversations. Heartbreaks were for the brief reminder that life was short and love was hard, and then she moved on. And this wasn’t quite heartbreak…not yet.
“I’m sure that’s not true. You have high standards,” said Doe with a laugh.
Mary felt a lump in her throat. “Well it doesn’t matter because I’m not his type and he’d never go for me so all I can do is make him jealous but it doesn’t make me feel any better!”
Doe’s smile had faded at her tone. She took Mary’s hand.
“Tell me about it, love.”
Mary shook her head. “I don’t want to tell you who he is. It’s...embarrassing.”
“Well, tell me the rest of it, then.”
“All right… I’ve always known who he is but we really met at Evan Wronecki’s holiday party last year…”
iii. I Think We’re Alone Now
Mary had come alone to Evan’s party, but she hadn’t thought that would be a problem. Now, standing in his cavernous house surrounded by seventh-years she didn’t know, she was beginning to regret that decision. Lily and Germaine were spending Christmas at Hogwarts, but she could have convinced Dorcas to come with her. Well, it was too late now.
Evan, a sixth-year Gryffindor, had greeted her warmly and introduced her to the friends of his she hadn’t already met. She’d said hi to Sara, thinking she could hang around with her roommate, but Sara was chatting with Amelia bloody Bones, and Mary didn’t want to go there.
So she had spent some time wandering from room to room. And of course things got worse: that awful Alec Rosier was there, and he gave Mary the shivers. He was in Ravenclaw, and was probably friends with a lot of Evan’s friends. Perhaps he was an all right bloke himself. But he was always hanging around Mary’s least favourite Slytherins, like Mulciber. And then she thought of Mulciber, and she was really on edge. She’d broached the subject with Evan, who assured her he hadn’t invited Rosier, but he didn’t want to make a scene and throw him out just yet.
Butterbeer in hand, Mary looked around for something to distract her. There was a wireless in a corner of the sitting room — perking up at the sight, she wove towards it through the crowd. There was no music playing, which seemed like terrible party planning to her. Mary flipped it on and tuned into the Witching Hour, the WWN’s music channel. Immediately she made a face; they were running some kind of jazz hour, and jazz was fine but simply not the right mood.
“I suppose I couldn’t hope for A Night at the Opera, but at least Sheer Heart Attack !” she grumbled.
“Who’s having a heart attack?”
She looked up, startled. The boy who’d spoken was leaning against the wall a few feet behind her, hands in his pocket. She had met him before, though she couldn’t remember where. He’d been wandering around the party too, looking bored as hell. Mary had noticed him and hoped she wasn’t quite so obvious.
“No one,” she said. “It’s a Muggle record. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of Queen?”
The boy shook his head.
Mary sighed. “Just as well. Then we’d both be wishing we were listening to Queen right now.”
He scooted closer to her. “Why don’t you describe it to me?”
“What? Why on earth would you want me to do that?”
He shrugged. “Clearly you think it’s cool. I want to know more now.”
“Oh…” Mary wondered if this was some complicated kind of foreplay. The boy was definitely handsome; she’d always thought so. She supposed she would go for him, if that was what he was getting at. But it was all very unclear…
Talking about Queen was easy enough, though. If he really meant to hear her out, she was happy to get started. “Are you certain? I could go and on.”
He gestured at the party around them. “I’d rather talk about this than pay attention to anything else going on right now.”
Mary arched an eyebrow. “Well, since I’m the best of a bad lot… Sheer Heart Attack is this band Queen’s album from a year ago. They’ve had another one since then, but it only just came out, so I haven’t had a good listen yet.”
“Does it take you a whole year to have a good listen?”
The boy grinned. “Of course. Carry on. Tell me about your favourite song.”
Mary did not have to pause to think. “Definitely “Killer Queen.” It’s incredible.”
“Sounds like a riot. Wait — let me get us drinks, and then you can tell me what the song sounds like,” the boy said.
“It’s nothing like listening to it,” Mary warned.
“It’s the best I can get now, though, isn’t it?”
This bloke was so odd.
She waited in the corner as he headed in the direction of the kitchen, tapping her fingers absentmindedly on her thigh. After a moment she realised she was tapping along to “Killer Queen” — and she was running through the song in her mind, as if to prepare for this conversation.
She had certainly listened to it enough times to summon up the music, and many a holiday morning her brother would pound on the bathroom door as she sang it in the shower, telling her to shut up. She had been humming with her eyes closed for a good few minutes when she sensed someone next to her. The boy was back, a cup in each hand.
“Sorry, you seemed like you were having a moment. I didn’t want to interrupt,” he said, the sincerity of his words lightened by his smile.
Mary blushed a little and took the drink from him. “It’s all a part of the process.”
He gave her a mock-serious nod. “Walk me through it.”
“Well, it begins with this snapping. Like, just snapping, one two three four, for six beats before the vocals come in. And then Freddie Mercury goes, ‘She keeps her Moet et Chandon—’ that’s, er, a kind of alcohol—”
“Wait, wait, wait,” the boy said, holding up a hand. “The singer’s name is Freddie Mercury? Is he a wizard?”
“As far as I know he’s a Muggle.” Mary imagined a magical Freddie Mercury for a moment, infinitely amused at the thought. “It’s a stage name, obviously. Keep up. Now the piano’s in the background too, and they do the verse with just Freddie, the piano, and the drums. But then you get to the chorus—” Mary waved her arms, trying to capture how the song seemed to open up. “—And his voice becomes this whole layered harmony, and he’s singing about the woman in the song. She’s a high-class escort, apparently, so she has all these expensive habits—”
To Mary’s pleasant surprise, the boy was nodding along, his face scrunched up in thought. He really is listening.
“Okay, why don’t you sing it?”
“I just told you, it’s a whole chorus of voices,” said Mary with a half-laugh. She was a good singer, a former church choir girl, and she enjoyed picking out Freddie Mercury’s highest harmonies in her clear soprano. But she wasn’t used to doing so on command — and certainly not for boys.
“You don’t have to do all the voices at once,” the boy said. “Just do the main melody. Look, aren’t you supposed to be fearless or something? Mary Macdonald, she who dares to go where no witch has gone before?”
Mary had heard this last part before, but she thought the person who’d said it to her meant it as an innuendo. No need to mention that… There was something flattering about hearing it from this particular boy, whose smirk was itself a challenge, who wasn’t the type to ever give her the time of day but had just listened to her ramble about her favourite band.
“Fine, I will,” she said.
Another person might have sung in a low voice. Not Mary, who after all dared to go where no witch had gone before. She straightened her spine, looked the boy right in the eye, and began to sing. This was a song that required sassiness and a hint of scandal. After a while performing no longer took effort; Mary simply hit every ooh and every teasing note as if she couldn’t have sung it any other way. Some of the other partygoers had given her strange looks, but no one else approached, and no one told her to stop.
“...and then it goes off into a short guitar solo bit, and fades out,” Mary finished, a little breathless both from excitement and exertion.
The boy raised his eyebrows. “To be honest, I didn’t think you’d actually start singing it. Or that you’d sing all the way through.”
Mary laughed. “You challenged me! What was I going to do, say no?”
“Well, you’ve got a great voice. I don’t know what I’d have done if you’d done three minutes of that, but terribly.”
Mary’s jaw dropped. “You’d bloody well have listened and clapped at the end!”
The boy laughed and put his hands together in supplication, cup sandwiched between his palms. “Forgive my insolence! But now that I know how it goes, you can describe the rest of the song too, can’t you?”
Was this some sort of joke?
“I can,” Mary said dubiously. “If you want me to.”
“It sounds like a good song. Besides, I reckon you’d actually do the guitar solos, and I really want to hear that.”
Eventually she had gone over every minute detail of “Killer Queen” — or at least she thought she had, because she had also been drinking. Her mind was pleasantly fuddled. Very possibly she had been talking in circles for the past few minutes.
But the boy looked pleasantly fuddled too, and he was still listening. If this had been a prelude to getting in her pants, he was making no move to speed things up — and Mary found she was all right with that. Many boys were immediately, obviously shallow, and whatever mystery they held was easily solved. This boy was unlike any puzzle she’d handled before.
“You know,” the boy said, when Mary’s explanation lapsed into silence, “I definitely haven’t understood anything you said in the past five minutes. I swear I’m listening, but alcohol makes me stupid, apparently.”
Mary giggled — a tipsy tendency of hers that she normally hated. “That’s all right. You didn’t tell me to shut up at any point, so that’s more than I was expecting.”
He snorted. “Are your standards for conversation that low?”
“If I didn’t lower my standards, I’d never speak to anyone,” she replied airily. “Look, I kept the conversation going for ages. Now you tell me something you’re unhealthily obsessed with.”
The boy rolled his eyes but thought for a moment. “I don’t know about unhealthy obsessions. All that’s coming to mind is that I brewed what we’re drinking.”
“You did?” Mary eyed her cup with new suspicion. It was only her second drink, though she found the taste more pleasant than most alcohols. It was sweet and earthy at the same time — and not too dry. “Do I want to know what it’s made of?”
“Mainly fermented barley, so that’s nothing to be worried about,” said the boy. “The bit I’m proud of is just a minor ingredient. A cousin of mine got me some Chortle extract, which is supposed to have euphoric properties. That’s what they say, anyway. I had to test it on myself at first, which meant I spent an unfortunate number of days literally lying on the floor laughing at the shape of my fingers.”
Mary snorted. “I would never have pegged you for an experimental moonshine brewer, you know.”
“Wait,” Dorcas interrupted. “Was that a clue?”
“Was that a — what d’you mean?”
“Were you trying to give me a clue, so I can figure out who the guy is without you telling me directly?”
“This isn’t twenty bloody questions, Doe! And no, that was not a clue! How would that have helped, anyway? Oh, now you know to search for a bloke who doesn’t seem like the type to brew his own alcohol?”
“Hey, we’ve all got our hidden depths.”
“Hmm. Yours are making me wonder if I should worry about Chortle extract.”
When he smiled, the corners of his eyes wrinkled in mirth. She was close enough to notice this about him. It was a funny thing to take in, because she could probably count on one hand the number of times she had seen him smile — not simply level a cool, superior stare at whoever dared to speak to him — outside of this room.
“I don’t know, should you?” the boy said. “Do you feel euphoric?”
His eyes were such a nice, cloudy grey.
Mary heard herself say, “Are we going to kiss?”
He shrugged. “Why not?”
And his voice was blasé but then he smiled, and slid his arms around her waist. Mary met him halfway, her own hands tangling in his hair. For all of his apparent lack of interest in flirting with her, he kissed like he meant it. She could taste the notes of his weird barley drink on his tongue; she wanted to pull him even closer. Do you feel euphoric? Honestly, in that long, toe-curling moment, she did. When they came up for air, their faces were still inches apart.
“Well,” Mary said, grinning, “that was rather worth the wait.”
But of course, it was at that very moment that Evan called out to the boy. The boy released Mary. Evan came over — apparently too agitated to notice what he’d interrupted — and said Rosier was having an argument with someone in the kitchen, and it was getting heated, and would he come help? The boy and Mary both realised it must be serious. She had never known Evan to back away from a fight, in true Gryffindor fashion. The boy agreed to go help. He told Mary he would find her again.
She waited for fifteen, then twenty, then thirty minutes. The fight was surely over. Evan had returned to the sitting room. But the boy was nowhere to be seen. Feeling miserable, she made a beeline for the front door, summoned the Knight Bus, and went home.
“One kiss?” Doe said, once Mary had finished speaking. “One kiss and you’ve been mad for this guy since January?” The whole story was so unlike Mary, she was tempted to ask if her friend was pulling her leg.
But her expression was genuinely sombre.
“Who’s the sceptic now, Doe?” said Mary unhappily. “I’m just telling you what happened.”
“Well, didn’t you talk to him when we got back to school?”
“I tried to on the train! But he brushed me off.” She looked away. “I really thought he wanted to get to know me. That he wasn’t just going for me because...I’m me. I’m more than legs and tits, you know.”
“I know, love. I just can’t wrap my head around it.”
Doe resolved to consider all the information Mary had given her later. Evan Wronecki’s friend...presumably a now-seventh year… There weren’t quite so many boys at Hogwarts that she couldn’t figure out who the mysterious boy was. But what would she even do with that information? For whatever reason, Mary seemed unwilling to approach him again.
“It must be because I kiss like a slag,” said Mary.
“I must kiss like a slag, and it turns people off!”
“Don’t be stupid, Mare. There’s no such thing as slaggy kissing — and you’ve every right to kiss how many ever boys you like — and why don’t you just talk to him again?” Doe tried to meet her friend’s eyes. “It doesn’t seem fair to see someone else when you’re obviously torn up over him.”
Mary huffed out a breath. “I just want a proper rebound. Then I won’t feel so pathetic.”
This seemed terribly misguided to Doe. But Mary did as Mary wished…
“Okay,” she said finally. “Okay, I’ll help you. You’ll get over him, no problem.”
iv. More Letters
From Lily Evans to Doris Evans:
I hope you and Petunia are doing okay. Classes are in full swing, and I’m so enjoying the advanced-level stuff we’re covering now. We’re preparing to brew the Draught of Living Death in Potions — it’s only a sleeping draught, don’t panic — and it’s really tough going. Slughorn expects me to do well, so I have to give it my best. All my other classes are great too. Lots of nonverbal magic. At Easter I can show you how that works, since I’ll be of age by then!
The girls say hi and send you hugs. And remember the boy I told you about over the summer? I’ve been seeing him, he’s such a sweetheart — and a laugh too. His name is Dex. I know you’ll be dying for more information now, but a girl has to have her secrets. (I’ll tell you at Christmas.)
Please take care of yourself. And Petunia, I suppose, though she’s less important.
From James Potter to Shruti Machado:
All’s well at Hogwarts. I hope our crazy family hasn’t driven you up the wall yet — that’s my job. Have you and Mélanie left Mangalore yet? I swear I’ll only know when your owl takes six months to get back to me and you say you’ve been in Siberia or something.
Say hi to Mel for me. And no, I don’t want to talk about it.
From Germaine King to William King:
Thanks so much for the watch, I love it. Don’t have much time to write. Things are busy here. Doing fine. Love you.
From Dorcas Walker to Joseph and Ruth Walker:
Dear Mum and Dad,
Please stay safe. I’m always reading the news and thinking of you. Hope the shop’s doing well — have you added any security like you said you were thinking of doing? Write back soon.
To Sirius Black, sender unknown:
YOUR LAST CHANCE
v. Golden Slumbers
Lily couldn’t sleep.
This was par for the course for her, really. It was the reason why her mornings were so painful, and why she spent so much bloody money on concealer. She had been plagued by night terrors for months after the death of her father, when she was thirteen. Though the terrors had eventually faded, they had been replaced by insomnia — a change Lily was grateful for on most days. Until she found herself lying in bed and unable to do anything but toss and turn, even though she could feel the exhaustion heavy in her bones. This was one of those nights.
She sighed and sat up, figuring she might as well send the letter she’d written that morning to her mother with her owl, Peppermint. The Owlery was not that far from the Fat Lady’s portrait. Lily knew that Filch did not usually poke around the West Tower — guessing, perhaps, that the school’s chief troublemakers had better places to be — and, well, if anyone did come across her she could always point out that she was a prefect, and make up some important-sounding business she had to attend to.
Shucking off the covers, Lily slipped on a dressing robe and slippers, and put the letter in her pocket. Her roommates were all asleep; when she cracked open the door, only Germaine stirred slightly and mumbled something. Lily squeezed her way to the staircase and bounded down to the common room.
It was quite cold in the corridor. She paused for a moment to draw her robe tight around herself, and shivered a little.
“And why are you out and about at this hour?” the Fat Lady said.
Lily tried to look pious and innocent. “Just some prefect stuff. I can’t sleep, so I might as well help keep the peace in the corridors…”
The Fat Lady looked deeply suspicious. But Lily had already begged for her forgiveness after she’d been so curt with her, and she knew the woman was fond of her. Fond enough to prefer sleep to questioning her, at least.
“Well, all right, if it won’t take long.”
Allowing herself a small grin, Lily took off towards the West Tower.
She was greeted at the Owlery by a chorus of soft hooting. Peppermint, a small screech owl, nipped at her finger affectionately when she let him out of his cage.
“Hello, dear,” she said, rubbing his head. “Take this to Mum, won’t you?”
He stuck out his little leg for her to tie the letter to; with that job done, Peppermint happily took flight. Lily watched him until he was no longer distinguishable from the night sky. The moon was a nearly-full orb above her, bathing the Owlery in a silvery glow. She leaned into the gentle breeze and watched the moonlight shimmer on the lake’s surface, her mind blissfully empty. Soon the autumn would properly give way to the winter, and the moonlight would bounce flatly off the frozen lake.
At last she straightened and headed for the corridor. As much as she wanted to stay and watch the moon, it was simply too chilly to stand there for any longer. But Lily was now wide awake. She was certain that she would not be able to fall asleep if she went back to her dorm. Oh, I’m back where I started!
The Fat Lady was asleep in her portrait, her small mouth hanging open slightly. Without thinking, Lily tiptoed past the portrait, going further down the corridor. The reading room where she’d baked with Dex was in the next hallway — if she could make it there without running into anyone, she was certain she would be able to sleep amidst its cozy pillows. And with the fire crackling in the background too…
Lily felt a little thrill at the prospect — and at the feeling of being out and about Hogwarts at night. She was not normally one to sneak around past curfew, of course. But she was beginning to understand the appeal. The stone corridors were all the more majestic in the silent torchlight, making her feel as if she were queen of the whole castle.
Probably that was the sleep deprivation talking.
Didn’t Dex say you had to concentrate really hard for the room to show itself? Lily conjured up thoughts of the space as she rounded the corner, moving with purpose. But she rounded the corner to find that she was not the only one in the hallway.
“Miss Evans,” said Professor Thorpe, rather wearily, “what are you doing out of bed too?”
“Er — prefect business,” Lily blurted out.
Thorpe just looked at her, dressing robe and all. “Right. Of course. Were you headed back to bed?”
Lily recognised an opening when she was offered one. “Y-yes…”
“Perfect. I can walk you to Gryffindor Tower.” Thorpe gestured for her to lead the way.
Shit. Lily didn’t bother making excuses; she reckoned she was lucky enough to have escaped losing points, or worse, detention. Thorpe had been standing right opposite the tapestry too, where the door to the reading room had appeared… What if the professor had been trying to summon it too? If only she’d made her way inside first. But if Thorpe had found her inside the room there would be no room for even her transparent white lies.
“Having trouble sleeping?” said Thorpe.
Lily jumped a bit at the sound of her voice. “Yes, professor.”
Thorpe nodded. “I know what that’s like. Have you tried counting Hippogriffs?”
She struggled to not roll her eyes before glancing at Thorpe and realising the witch was joking. Her mouth was tipped in a half-smile that softened her sharp features.
“No,” Thorpe sighed, “there’s nothing to do but close your eyes and hope for the best.”
Lily snorted. “I’ll try that, professor.”
They were in front of the still-sleeping Fat Lady now; Thorpe cleared her throat, and she startled awake, scowling.
“Oh, it’s you,” the Fat Lady said irritably. “Times really never change.”
For a moment Lily thought the Fat Lady meant her, and she was very confused.
But it was Thorpe who responded, smiling slightly. “It’s lovely to see you again. Miss Evans, go ahead.”
“Gossamer,” said Lily, wishing she could stay and hear whatever the Fat Lady and Thorpe were about to say to each other. Did this mean Thorpe had been a Gryffindor? But she had been nosy enough for one night…
Stepping through the portrait hole, Lily thought she might sit by the fire in the common room for a bit. Perhaps she could listen to the radio, and head upstairs when she actually felt tired. Or, hell, maybe she could count Hippogriffs on the sofa. But all thoughts of rest and solitude screeched to a halt when she registered who was already sitting in her favourite squashy armchair, staring at nothing.
The first thing that came out of Lily’s mouth was, “Oh, it’s you.”
Lest we forget, this is still a love story — even with disappearances on the rise, and Death Eaters at large, and Hogwarts growing ever more shadowed. Lily and James fell in love in 1978. They were married the same year. But it was a long, winding journey to that point from October, 1976, longer than two-and-change years should be. That was their way, of course. Because before they were married they were frequent foes, then reluctant allies, then friends, of a sort. Before they began dating, they argued with each other and cried to each other — and they kissed, just once. (They argued some more too, before, after, and during.)
You see, Lily was not a romantic. She was just a sixteen-year-old girl. She believed in love only in the vague way all girls like her did — girls who were clever and knew it, and were raised to focus on the right thing, instead of fooling around and wasting your smarts. It was only natural that Lily saw love as a far-off prospect, the stuff of novels, something that would make its way to her in time after she'd embarked on a high-flying career.
That’s not to suggest that Lily was too practical for romance. She did think she was destined for true love, after all. Witch or not, she had still been raised on stories of Prince Charmings and star-crossed lovers and the moment the slipper fits. But she thought herself too young to seek it out — what did she know about love, really? She was content with it being a mystery for the future, one she would unravel eventually.
It was closer to her present than she knew, of course, but when it did hit her she would wonder how she hadn’t seen it coming all along.
James had a more immediate belief in romantic love. This was because James never did things by halves, and so he was intimately familiar with the overwhelming, all-consuming rush that warned of love. Love was like Quidditch. Love was like running through the Hogwarts grounds until your breath grew ragged and your sides burned but you felt alive at every painful step.
But that was only one facet of love, and James did not quite grasp the rest of it. He had grown up with an example — his elderly parents were quietly, comfortably in love, in the way of couples who had spent decades together and memorised each other’s every gesture. That was also love, that warm knowing. James didn’t know that yet, and so he viewed the riotous love he knew he was in as something to be cured of.
He knew that love was real — he felt it. But he was a sixteen-year-old boy, and his faith in such embarrassing concepts was easily tested. How could this be true love when it seemed impossible, frustrating, so bloody difficult? Perhaps love simply wasn’t for him, and he would need to accept it. James thought his near future would be filled with unlearning how to love. Instead he would discover a whole new vocabulary of love, as if he’d picked up a book in a foreign language one day and realised, all of a sudden, that he could read it.
When it happened, he would look back on all the times he had doubted — had cursed at walls; had stared at ceilings, unable to sleep — and know he never would again.
It’s difficult to say when James and Lily took the first steps to love. Perhaps it was in April, 1977, shaken by tragedy. Perhaps it was all the way in September, 1971, when they met on a train. Perhaps they had always been walking this road, unaware of the person they were walking towards until the mist cleared. They would fall in love eventually — but we would be remiss in ignoring the hiccups along the way.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said, and wished she had thought of something more clever.
James Potter, leaning back in the armchair and staring at the wall, arched his eyebrows and met her gaze. “So it is.”
Lily would almost have rather run out into the corridor and begged Thorpe for detention, right away, than try to navigate this conversation. They hadn’t spoken since the pie incident, not really — save for when they had all listened to that awful Marcel Thorpe on the wireless, which had been a moment of unspoken truce.
She’d found that her anger had cooled since then. She had jumped to conclusions, no matter the evidence. And… well, she had spoken in anger, and regardless of what he thought of her, she did not like the version of her that had said what she’d said. Be a big girl, Lily.
So she took a step closer to him, and tried for cheerfulness. Hadn’t Thorpe asked her why she, too, was out of bed?
“Did Thorpe catch you in the corridor too and walk you back?”
James gave her a sardonic smile. “If I were out of bed and caught by a professor, I would get detention, not an escort.”
Lily supposed that was true. She didn’t like the undercurrent of criticism in his voice — how could she help that she had a better reputation than him? — but given her quest of magnanimity, it was best she didn’t press the subject. He saved her having to think of a response, though, by speaking again.
“No, I just couldn’t sleep.” He leaned back, drumming his fingers on the chair’s armrests.
“Me neither. What kept you up?” Lily crossed towards the fire, moved by an impulse she couldn’t name. She plopped onto the sofa nearest him, turning so they faced each other.
James half-laughed. “To be honest… I’m starving. There was fish for dinner today.” He made a face.
“Do you not eat fish?”
“Not at Hogwarts, on principle. It’s so bland. Mum makes the best fish curry. It’s ruined all other kinds of fish for me.”
Lily laughed. “Poor you.”
“Poor me, indeed. Why are you awake — and more importantly, roaming around past curfew?”
There was only a light note of mirth in his voice, no real criticism. Lily allowed herself to relax.
“I sleep terribly,” she admitted. “I honestly can’t remember the last time I slept well.”
James looked genuinely shocked at this. He seemed to be struggling to formulate a response; the effect was a series of comical facial expressions that made Lily snort with laughter.
“Is that so hard for you to process?” she said.
“Yes. How can you just not sleep?” He shook his head. “I sleep like a fucking log. It’s the best thing about me, and there are a lot of great things about me.”
“It’s that big empty head of yours. No worries to keep you up at night.” She snuck a glance at him, suddenly afraid her joke wouldn’t land. Oh, why did you have to say that?
But he nodded solemnly. “You’ve guessed it. Honestly, I’m not even thinking right now. I just open my mouth and say whatever I fancy.”
Lily snorted again, which made him grin.
“You know, Lily Evans, you’re a snorter,” he said.
“It’s just a fact. My condolences.”
The very phrase — and the gravity of his expression — made her laugh again, which of course made her snort again. “What is that supposed to mean?”
James shrugged. “You snort when you laugh. It’s ridiculous and absolutely graceless, which is what—” He cut himself off, looking sheepish. “Sorry. That’s the hunger talking.”
“Huh,” Lily said. She found that she didn’t mind the beginning of that sentence — but she was suddenly curious as to how he’d meant to end it. Don’t push your luck, she thought. She uncrossed her legs and slid off the sofa. “Look, I have all the ingredients for hot chocolate in my trunk. It’s not food, but it’ll fill you up a little, at least.”
James perked up at that. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, seriously. I’ll go get it right now, if you like.”
He took his time thinking about this. “Yeah, that’d be nice. Thanks.”
Lily ran up to her dorm and quickly fetched the supplies, along with the mugs she kept for such occasions. Levitating her supplies in front of her, she made her way back to the fire.
“When you said all the ingredients, I had no idea we were growing the cacao and milking the cow ourselves,” James said dryly.
“Oh, hush. It’s only good if it’s done right.”
She’d brought with her a slab of dark chocolate, a slab of milk chocolate, a grater, a saucepan, a carton of whole milk, and a carton of cream, along with a little pot of brown sugar stirred together with ground cinnamon. This, she considered the very basic chocolate recipe. She handed him the grater and the dark chocolate and told him to make himself useful. Shaking his head, James joined her on the carpet and began to grate.
“You know, you could just do this with magic,” he said.
She shook her head. “I already preserve the milk with magic — and I replace it whenever we go to Hogsmeade. But the actual preparation needs to be by hand wherever possible. You’ll value your hot chocolate when you’ve worked for it, Potter.”
“All right, fearless leader.”
They worked in silence, Lily heating and stirring the milk in the pan with her wand while James grated chocolate into it. Once all the lumps in it had disappeared, she added more milk and a dollop of cream, then a light sprinkling of sugar. She stuck in a fingertip to taste it — and realised James was staring at her.
“What?” she said.
“Nothing,” he said, smiling. “’Cept, you bloody heathen, you dunked your finger right into it.”
“My finger is clean!”
“That’s what they all say…”
“Shut up, I’m giving you hot chocolate. Take it or leave it.”
She poured them each a mug and then pushed the supplies aside. Blowing on the drink, she crossed her legs and leaned back against the sofa, a smile already beginning to push at the corners of her mouth. Lily just knew the hot chocolate would be perfect.
She watched James as he took a tentative sip. He blinked, then hummed in appreciation.
“All right,” he said, “I think I have to concede.”
She grinned. “I know my chocolate.”
“I should’ve known the moment you brought out half the Hogwarts kitchen supplies.”
“Stop it.” Her smile faded a little. “My dad always loved hot chocolate.”
She could see him process the past tense. But he said nothing, perhaps sensing — correctly — that she had more to say.
“He always made it for my sister and me before bed. God, it was way too much sugar — no wonder I was a demon of a child. Of course, that stopped when he...died. He left us the recipe, though. I try to drink it on nights I can’t sleep — like, really can’t sleep.”
James nodded. “And then… does it makes sleeping easier?”
“I wish. Sleeping’s just as hard. But at least I have hot chocolate.” She smiled.
“Damn good hot chocolate, at that.”
How strange, to sit there and talk with him about her father and her insomnia like — like he was Dorcas or Remus. But no, that wasn’t an accurate comparison. No matter how friendly they behaved around each other, they were still James and Lily. There was always something between them, like a lump in her throat she couldn’t quite swallow past.
So, despite the part of her that wanted to carry on talking about anything but them, Lily said, “I’m trying to be the bigger person.”
Something in him shifted, as if he too registered that the conversation was about to take a turn.
“It rarely ends well when you have to announce it,” he said.
She ignored that. “Well, I’m trying to do it. And that’s why I want to say sorry for what I said to you the other day. I don’t know the — details of your prank, and I shouldn’t have assumed it was because… you know…” She could feel her cheeks reddening. If there was a way to apologise without actually acknowledging what she had said, and what he had said by the lake, she was going to find it. She didn’t care if it made her a coward.
“Thank you for your apology.”
She waited a beat before saying, “Now it’s your turn.”
“You have an interesting understanding of what being the bigger person means.”
“You dropped a pie on me.” They were locked in a staring contest for a few moments, neither looking away. Lily finally relented, curiosity overpowering her stubbornness. “Honestly, though. Was it Dex you were trying to get, or me? You owe me that much.”
James sighed. “All right. I’ll tell you. When we decided to target specific people, we thought we ought to throw in some random victims so the targets wouldn’t be certain we were coming for them. We wrote down a bunch of names we could think of — all you girls were on there too.”
“Thanks a lot,” said Lily sarcastically.
“It wasn’t you, though. It was Fortescue. Sirius was throwing darts at the list and one landed in between him and ‘that second-year with the weird haircut,’ and dropping food on a second-year just seemed cruel. So.” James shrugged.
James wasn’t quite sure why he’d told her the truth. True, it made him look a little less of a villain. But it had felt wrong to lie, especially after she’d said all that about her dad. God, having a conscience was the fucking worst. He watched her closely for any reaction. She was chewing on the inside of her cheek, but she did not look angry — yet. James just waited and drank his hot chocolate.
“Okay,” she said at last. “Thank you for telling me. I suppose that’s better than any of the alternatives…” She trailed off, looking away.
It amused him — in a dark, self-flagellating sort of way — how she avoided the issue of his feelings for her, so plainly embarrassed at the very thought. This is where you say something rude, a voice in his head prodded, and keep your bloody distance.
He opened his mouth to follow this impulse.
“I’m glad we’re having a mature conversation, for once,” Lily said, cutting him off. “Like normal people.”
Taken aback, he searched for an appropriate answer. “Er — yeah, I suppose.”
She was tracing the pattern in the rug: little prancing lions, the medieval sort, which looked more like the unholy imaginings of a twisted toddler than the actual big cats. James followed the sure movements of her finger with his gaze. They were both silent until her hand stilled, and she looked up.
“I don’t think we can be friends, you know,” said Lily.
Now she’d done it. Again James thought of something cutting to say and it sat on the very tip of his tongue. Again she forestalled him.
“I know you’re about to say something shitty, so at least hear me out first,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I think we’re too used to being — Lily Evans and James Potter around each other. We’re too used to arguing or being snippy or what have you, and at just the sight of the other—” She snapped her fingers. “—we fall into those roles. But… I do think roles can be unlearned.”
James did not trust himself to speak. Wisely, he kept silent.
“Over time, that is. And… we have so many friends in common, and we’re constantly around each other, and it’s exhausting to be at each other’s throats.” She was beginning to talk faster, as if she wanted to get it all out before she thought better of it.
“What are you getting at?” he said, guarded still.
“I’m asking for a truce. We don’t have to be friends. We don’t have to — get along, even.” She laughed a little. “I just hate fighting. We didn’t always fight. Can’t we go back?”
He knew what he thought of that. “You can’t go back, Evans.”
Her smile turned sad. “No. No, I thought you’d say that.”
Two impulses warred within James. It would be very easy to now say the terrible things he had held off on saying, and watch her sad little smile turn sour. He could also say something genuine, and tactful… But what was the point? What was the point in expecting Lily Evans to have expectations of him?
“Just consider it,” said Lily. “A truce.” When he said nothing, she said, more urgently, “We only have a year and a half left at Hogwarts. I don’t want to spend it worrying about what I said to set you off, or saying something to set you off, or telling myself I was right to say it to you.”
“So are you bringing this up because you believe we can be vaguely decent to each other, or because it’ll make you sleep better at night?” James said wryly.
“Does it matter?”
Instead of answering her question, he said, “I’ll try.”
She was watching him so intently. “You’ll try — to think about it?”
“No, I’ll try out the truce.”
Happy now? he almost added, before reining himself in. He supposed he should’ve felt something like relief — he didn’t like arguing with her either. But a part of him couldn’t believe this was happening now, of all times, after he had sworn off her completely. The universe must really have it in for him.
He would be polite, he decided, but nothing more. No more bloody hot chocolate at midnight. This was a truce, not an alliance.
James rose to his feet and stretched. “I’m off to bed.”
Lily smoothed away a frown. “Oh. Okay.”
Standing above her now, he might as well have been miles away. He had been so attentive, so genuinely interested, when she had told him about her dad, explained how she made her hot chocolate. Now he was unreadable, unreachable. If she understood him better, she thought morosely, she might not have felt the urge to fight him — or throttle him — so often.
“Thanks for the hot chocolate. Night.” With a little salute, he walked away.
He always walked the same way, she noticed: hands in his pockets, head tipped back. As if he didn’t need to look where he was going. Tripping was for other people.
Lily cleaned the mugs and the saucepan with a spell. Truthfully, his abrupt exit had left her off-kilter. Why couldn’t she have let well enough alone? But no, despite his less-than-enthusiastic reaction, she was glad she’d brought it up. It had to be done, at least for her peace of mind.
There was still a strange lump between them, but she thought it had lessened just a little. It no longer hurt her quite so much.