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i. Bad News

“You had the telephone all morning yesterday,” Petunia said, her eyes narrowed to slits. “You shouldn’t be allowed to rack up the bill!”

Lily held back a sigh. This was becoming a near-daily argument in the Evans household, it seemed. The girls and Doris Evans would wake up and eat breakfast, Lily would cast the most casual of glances at the telephone, and Petunia would be off to the races. 

“Mary and I like to talk about the news,” she said, fighting to keep an even tone. She held up the Daily Prophet, waving it in Petunia’s face. Her sister made a sound of annoyance and tried to bat it away. “As it happens, there’s new news every day. And there’s important news today, so I’d like to speak to her!”

Petunia gave a prim shake of her head. Her long blonde tresses hung unbound around her face: she needed to let them breathe, apparently, first thing in the morning. “Yvonne and I need to discuss—”

“You and Yvonne can dissect your date with Vernon after I talk to Mary.”

Doris set down her cup of tea with a quiet but pointed clink. “Really, girls. There’s so many waking hours — can’t one of you have nightly phone calls with your friends?”

Lily glanced at her mother, cowed. “Mum, I’m only here half the year,” she began.

Petunia scoffed, throwing her hands up in the air. “Oh, not this again. As if you’re being sent to — to reform school!” She stormed away; Lily heard the creaky bathroom door slam shut, and the shower hissed to life.

Doris sighed. “There goes our hot water, I expect.”

“I’m sorry,” said Lily, knowing from the look on her mother’s face that this was what was expected of her. “I really am, I shouldn’t have let my temper—”

Her mother’s expression softened. “No, you shouldn’t have. But I’m not the one you should be apologising to.”

Lily groaned. “She’s in the shower anyway — I’ll speak to her once I’ve called Mary.” Before Doris could give her any other reproachful looks, she hurried to the sitting room and dialled her friend. 

Though her sister’s ability to get on her nerves was unparalleled, Lily was on a short fuse that morning for unrelated reasons. Her copy of the Prophet had arrived on time, and she’d scanned the headlines as usual before poring over each page. This was her routine over the hols — reading every bit of the paper, and finally settling down to do the crossword, which would sometimes reshuffle itself if you dwelled too long on one clue.

That day she hadn’t got that far. She turned to the opinion page, sipping her own tea and humming absentmindedly to herself. There really was nothing like her mother’s tea: just the right splash of milk, and just the right amount of sugar. Lily had the teacup in midair when her gaze landed on the first column on the opinions page. The erasure of pureblood heritage, read the headline, and beneath it, the author’s name: Marcel Thorpe

Lily swore and sloshed half her tea onto the Prophet.

“Language,” Doris called.

She muttered a halfhearted apology, trying to blot out the tea with her palm. A small headshot of Marcel Thorpe accompanied the column. His severe features and dark hair were remarkably like Professor Thorpe’s; there could be no doubt, thought Lily, that the two were related. The column was exactly the sort of drivel she’d expected from Thorpe, but it still made her blood boil — a reaction exacerbated by the words in small print beneath his byline.

Not contributing writer, but staff columnist. Lily’s heart was somewhere in the back of her throat. Or perhaps that was her gag reflex kicking in. The very bottom of the column confirmed it: Marcel Thorpe is the host of the popular radio show, The Thorpe Hour. His column appears every other Tuesday.

“Popular radio show!” Lily had repeated, half horrified and half disgusted. Rolling up the paper, she’d gone right for the telephone — and Petunia had pounced.

“Pick up, pick up, pick up,” Lily murmured into the receiver now, curling up in the saggy armchair by the phone and drumming her fingers on her knee. 

“Yes, hello?” said a polite, wavering voice at the other end.

“Oh, Andrew, hi. It’s Lily.”

A long silence. 

Lily suppressed an impatient sigh. “Mary’s friend. Could I speak to her, please?”

A cough. “Right. Sure. I’ll get her—” A muffled sound, then Andrew shouting, “Phone for you, Mare!”

This too was par for the course on holiday mornings. Lily had been phoning Mary quite regularly since their fifth year, but Mary’s little brother Andrew seemed determined not to remember who she was. Lily was convinced Andrew did not like her for some reason. Mary assured her that Andrew was like any other thirteen-year-old boy, and did not enjoy surprise interactions with girls.

Finally Mary appeared at the other end, sounding slightly breathless. “You read it too, then?”

Lily felt her shoulders slump. “Just now. I can’t believe —”

“I can,” said Mary tersely. “But I thought Doe said Lavinia Clearwater seemed…sensible!”

Indeed, Dorcas had returned from her Slug Club conversation with the Daily Prophet editor-in-chief frustrated, but not entirely without hope. The woman had been elusive, but overall well-intentioned. (This was even after the dinner’s interruption by the Marauders; Doe said that Clearwater had taken the prank rather well, all things considered.)

“Maybe she’s good at putting on a front,” suggested Lily. “Or — she’s not in charge of opinion content, somehow? Gosh, I wish I knew more about how the Prophet functions.”

“Yeah, well, you’ll have to hang onto your questions until we get back to school. I’m sure Sara knows someone who knows someone who works there.”

“I’m almost glad magical folk don’t have the telly. Or we’d need to deal with this on there too.”

They made identical sounds of frustration, then lapsed into silence. Now that the initial burst of annoyance had faded, Lily regretted diving right into the issue of the day. It had put something of a damper on the conversation. 

“Anyway,” she said, “how have your holidays been so far?”

“Oh, same as always. Visiting my grandparents, shopping with Mum…” Mary trailed off. “Yours?”

“Same as always,” Lily echoed. She looked around the familiar sitting room: the faded photographs on the mantel, her father’s face smiling out of them. Herself and Petunia as children, laughing in another one. The wobbly stack of faded paperbacks that the telephone rested on. One of Petunia’s magazines strewn carelessly across the coffee table. 

Yes, everything was as it should have been, and it ought to have lent Lily the exact sense of comfort that she had sought in the past month of term. But the nagging unease had only followed her from Hogwarts. Everything was still uncertain and strange, and leaving the wizarding world momentarily had not changed that. It made her want to shut herself up in her bedroom with a nice book and a mug of hot cocoa.

“Lily? You there?”

She was jerked back to reality by the sound of Mary’s voice. “Oh, yes, sorry. Daydreaming.”

“Look — how much have you told your mum about...well, magical politics?” 

There was an uncharacteristic uncertainty in the other witch’s voice that took her by surprise. Even Mary did not want to return to small talk, apparently. Lily wished she’d refilled her tea so she’d have something to hold onto while she spoke.

“Not much,” Lily admitted. “The bare minimum, really. I don’t want to—” She glanced up. Through the sitting room door she could see her mother at the dining table, still drinking her tea. Doris did not look as though she were listening, but Lily didn’t want to take the chance. 

She lowered her voice, and continued, “I don’t want to worry her.”

“Not even what people say about Muggleborns?”

“Especially not that.”

Lily only offhandedly mentioned bits of magical news to her mother: she had told her about Harold Minchum’s election as Minister for Magic last year, for instance, and would occasionally read her funny things out of the Prophet. She didn’t think she had ever consciously made the decision to keep anti-Muggleborn sentiment from her family. She’d simply continued to do it on instinct, until it was far too late to casually bring up without years of omission also coming to light.

What could her parents have done about it, after all? They’d barely understood how the wizarding world worked — and Lily couldn’t blame them. It would be hard for anyone to fathom from the outside. No, to them Lily might as well have been their personal miracle, the only magical girl in the world. The bureaucracy and history of magical politics were too far beyond what they’d seen. 

The closest she’d come to it, in fact, had been last summer. Petunia had been quick to notice the change in her, and when Lily had explained she did not want to see Severus again, her sister had, miraculously, refrained from making any snide comments. 

Did you two have a row? Petunia’d asked instead, her nose scrunching up. Something like that, Lily had replied. He called me — well, he said something really awful to me. Just the thought of it had brought tears to her eyes again. Petunia had hurriedly changed the subject, but not before taking Lily’s hand in her own perfectly manicured ones, squeezing tight.

“Why do you ask?” Lily said into the telephone.

“I don’t know if I should. It’s — a rather large part of the life I’m going to be living, after I leave Hogwarts. The life I’m living now, too.”

With a start, Lily realised that if Mary’s parents did not know anything about prejudice in the magical world, they wouldn’t have known why Mulciber and Avery had hexed her in their fifth year. A lump rose in her throat. She remembered seeing Mary in the Hospital Wing afterwards, how small and defeated and un-Mary-like she’d looked. How awful to think Mary had never explained the details of it to her parents. How cruel, how horrid of those bastards to have put her in that position, Lily thought, momentarily carried away by her fury.

She’d been silent for too long. Mary said, “Hel-lo, Lily?”

“Here, sorry,” Lily said quickly. “To be honest, I’ve never thought about it. Maybe after we’re done with Hogwarts…” She checked the door again. “We’re as safe as we can be at school, at least.”

Belatedly, Lily realised this must have sounded rich, considering Mary had been attacked.

But her friend only hummed. “I suppose. In any case I don’t know how to go about telling them, so I won’t anytime soon.”

Lily nodded to herself. “Me neither, I don’t think.” The conversation at last turned to happier things, but her discomfort stayed with her long after she’d hung up the phone.

 


ii. The Potters

“Feet down, James, and don’t make me tell you twice,” Euphemia Potter called as she bustled past the dining table.

James, who’d had his feet propped up on the chair opposite his, sat up straight and rolled his eyes, even though his mother could not see. 

“I thought the tablecloth hid my feet,” he said to Sirius, who was busy wolfing down his own breakfast as if he’d never seen food before.

“Your mum’s got a sixth sense,” Sirius said, his mouth full. “I don’t even live here and I know that.”

Euphemia had vanished from sight, but she shouted, “You do live here!” from down the hall. James and Sirius exchanged amused looks.

“Sixth sense,” said Sirius again.

“Wait until the honeymoon period’s over,” James said, stabbing his fork into a sausage. “Once Mum and Dad start treating you like their son, and not a visiting dignitary, you’ll be sorry.” 

“Mate, you’re the most spoiled fucker I know,” Sirius replied, grinning. “If they start treating me like their son, the worst that could happen is my head finally getting as big as yours.”

In response James kicked him under the table.

Euphemia reappeared almost out of thin air. “No kicking at the breakfast table, boys.” This comment was directed at James, not Sirius, whom Euphemia patted absentmindedly on the back as she walked past. James gave her an affronted look.

“Why are you pacing the length of the house, anyway? It’s making me dizzy,” he said.

“I’m reacquainting myself with the dimensions of the hallway and the dining room. Karen comes in at noon and we’ll go over the menu then, so I can’t waste her time thinking about decorations. I’ll have to do them this morning — or perhaps after she leaves.” Euphemia frowned thoughtfully. “Yes, why not, the party’s at night anyway…”

James sighed. Not for the first time did he wish his mother actually had the temperament of an elderly woman. His father was, at this very moment, having a lie-in, which amounted to doing the Prophet crossword in bed because he felt he deserved the extra rest with a social engagement around the corner. The social engagement in question was Euphemia’s Christmas party, which she threw not every year but “when I feel like it.” As far as James could tell, she felt like it on Christmases when James and Fleamont were particularly lazy. 

The party always turned out splendidly, though it was an effort of merely two minds and wands: Euphemia’s, and Karen the housekeeper’s. Both viewed James’s infrequent offers to help with deep suspicion, and instead charged Fleamont with completing any complex tasks they could not manage themselves. Only the most menial of jobs would be given to James — and, he supposed, Sirius now. James comforted himself with the knowledge that Karen, a plump, middle-aged witch who’d kept the Potters’ house since he was a boy, would fawn over him as she always did, and he could then tell off his mother for being rude to him. 

“James? Sirius?”

The disembodied voice — for once, not Euphemia’s — made both boys startle. 

“Christ, I forgot I had it on me.” James pulled the two-way mirror from the pocket of his robe, gesturing for Sirius to come closer so he too could see. Remus appeared in it, frowning and squinting like Fleamont attempting to read without his spectacles. “You all right, or has the castle burned down?”

Remus rolled his eyes. “With you three away, the castle’s breathing a sigh of relief.”

Sirius snorted. “Yes, a good Christmas Eve to you too, Moony.”

“Is that Remus? And Peter?” Euphemia said. 

“Just Remus,” said James. “Peter’s with his parents.” 

The Marauders preferred to split two and two for Christmas and Easter if not all of them could go home for the holiday. The full moon came early enough in January that Remus had opted to stay; Peter would have stayed with him, but his mother had insisted, and Euphemia had insisted too. 

In the end Remus had told them he’d be fine on his own — and, privately, had added to James that it might be best for Sirius to settle in at the Potters soon after his very public disowning. The compromise had been leaving Remus with Sirius’s mirror. Peter had a habit of being sequestered at home over Christmas and Easter, so James did not expect to see much of him, but they would at least be going to Evan Wronecki’s New Year bash. 

Euphemia beamed, gently but firmly pushing James out of the way so she could peer at the mirror. “Next year, all four of you boys are coming here for Christmas,” she said, the invitation sounding remarkably like a threat.

Remus flushed beet-red. “That’s really kind of you, Mrs. Potter.”

“Nah, Mum, we’re staying at Hogwarts next year. Last one, after all,” said James with the utmost confidence. 

Euphemia looked so disappointed, James almost regretted it. He reminded himself that his mother had a lifetime of pampering his friends and teasing him ahead of her. 

“Well,” she said with a sigh, “the one after that, then.” And she was off again, striding down the hallway and eyeing the ceiling critically. 

Belatedly, Remus called, “We’ll be there!”

“She’s gone,” said James, laughing. “So, who is at Hogwarts for the holidays?”

“None of the other Gryffindor sixth years. In fact, not many of the sixth years at all.” Remus grew thoughtful. “I expect many of them are thinking like you, Prongs, and agreed to go back this Christmas so they can stay next year.”

“Sounds boring,” said Sirius. “Please tell me you aren’t shut up in Gryffindor Tower doing homework.”

Remus smiled. “Give me a little more credit than that. We’ve had a great load of snow — Lottie Fenwick and Gaurav Singh and I had a snowball fight last night.”

“Who?” said Sirius.

“Last night?” repeated James.

“Ravenclaws, both of them. And yes, at night — more fun than during the day, isn’t it?”

James’s eyebrows rose. “I hope you didn’t give away all our secrets to a couple of Ravenclaws.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it. I did enchant a permanently-frozen snowball to follow Bertram Aubrey around, though,” Remus said, the picture of innocence. James guffawed with laughter.

Sirius was still frowning. “Singh, I know. Who’s Lottie Fenwick? Is she the brunette, with the—” He mimed something that James identified, at last, as plaits.

“No, you’re thinking of the Duckling,” supplied James.

“Oh, don’t call her that,” Remus said, frowning. 

“So Lottie Fenwick isn’t the Duckling?” said Sirius.

Don’t call her that! Who came up with that nickname, anyway?”

“Lottie’s blonde,” James said, ignoring Remus. “She’s got, what d’you call ’em, ringlets? She’s very energetic.”

Sirius sniggered. “That sounds rude.”

James rolled his eyes. “Not in the sack. I wouldn’t know what Lottie Fenwick’s like in the sack.”

“You’re both awful,” Remus declared. “Lottie’s really quite nice, and so is the Duckling.”

James and Sirius exchanged gleeful glances. Then they burst into laughter.

“You called her—” Sirius half-gasped.

“—the Duckling—” choked out James.

“I’m going away now!” said Remus loudly. “I hope your gifts get lost in the post.”

“Ah, Remus, don’t be like that—”

They were both still chuckling when Remus vanished from view. Euphemia swanned back into the dining room, giving Sirius and James a look that did not bode well.

“Whatever you want us to do—” James began.

“The city will be terribly crowded, it’s true, but I still think you two ought to go to Diagon Alley. Sirius needs more clothes than he’s brought back! Well?” Euphemia looked at James, who just shrugged.

His best mate had left the vast majority of his things in his childhood home, where, Sirius had informed him with a dark sort of humour, they were probably even now being burned in a fireplace. 

“If she can get the posters off the walls, that is,” Sirius had added. "She'd set fire to the cat if she could. I was the only one who took care of her anyway."

“It can wait until after Christmas, I think,” said James now, glancing at Sirius. The other wizard was pointedly looking at his empty plate. 

Euphemia wisely let the subject drop, but gave James a meaningful look that suggested the two of them would be discussing this at a later point. 

“Well, Sirius, we’ll alter some of James’s dress robes to fit you, then. Shouldn’t be an issue.”

“Dress robes?” James repeated. “Oh, Mum, do we really need to—”

“Did you think you could stop by in your pajamas, say hello, grab a tray of food, and leave?” said Euphemia.

“Well, I was hoping.”

Please, James. You know, I’m getting old—”

“Here it comes,” James said to Sirius.

Raising her voice as if James had not spoken at all, Euphemia carried on. “—and the least you can do for your aging mother is speak to her friends at a Christmas party—”

“You won’t like half the people there.”

“Not true!”

“You complained about Alfred Fawcett for a whole day after the last party,” said James.

Euphemia gave a long sigh. “One person who was being quite rude isn’t half the people at the party, James. Don’t be unreasonable. Besides, I was sticking up for you!”

“Me!” James cast Sirius a bewildered look. For his part, Sirius seemed to have emerged from his momentary awkwardness, and was watching the proceedings with unconcealed delight.

“Yes, you! Alfred was going on and on about his perfect grandson’s perfect marks and perfect Quidditch matches — pah!

James grinned at last, shaking his head. “Ah, Mum, you’re getting soft.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Euphemia lightly. “Didn’t you say you wanted to meet Barty Crouch? He ought to be coming.”

James sat up straight at that. “Oh, really? Good, there’s at least one adult I’ll say hi to without yawning — only joking, don’t give me that look—”

Sirius made a face. “That means we’ll need to avoid his son, though.”

This had not occurred to James; he shuddered. “You should’ve seen his face at the Slug Club party. He looked more upset than Slughorn.”

Euphemia sighed. “The boy’s fourteen, James. At least he’s polite and well-behaved.”

“And I wasn’t, at fourteen?”

She gave him a look. “Now, I know it’s a holiday, but please get dressed sometime before the afternoon, or Karen and I will waste precious time talking about our good-for-nothing children.” She flapped a hand at them.

“We’re not finished eating!” James protested.

“Sirius is! Hurry up, don’t keep him waiting.” She left the dining room abruptly once more.

James once again rolled his eyes, not without fondness. “Can you believe her?”

“Ridiculous,” said Sirius, shaking his head. He was smiling. 

 


iii. Christmas Correspondence

From Dorcas Walker to Michael Meadowes:

Dear Michael,

As promised, I am writing you! Happy Christmas in advance. Your present is our Ancient Runes homework.

Joking. Mum reads for fun a lot more than I do, so I asked for her advice in picking this out. She says Cymbeline O’Shaughnessy is nearly as good as Agatha Christie. I don’t know about that, but I do want to hear what you think about magical mysteries and if they’re as good as Muggle ones. I quite like the inventive ways the detectives solve them, but considering what I want to do after Hogwarts, that’s not as high a recommendation as it could be.

I hope you and your family are doing well. Tell them I say hello. Well, they don’t know who I am, but tell them I say hello anyway.

Sincerely,

Dorcas 

P.S. I do actually want to ask about the Ancient Runes essay, but I’ll refrain until after Christmas Day.

 

From Michael Meadowes to Dorcas Walker:

Dear Dorcas,

How did you manage to send me a Christmas present and use the phrase ‘Ancient Runes’ twice in your letter? In any case, thank you for being so punctual with your gifts. I was worried I’d have to send you yours and then a different letter replying to yours, and then you’d send me a different letter replying to mine — you get the point. 

I promise I was going to send you something normal, like a novel, but my dad waylaid me before I could. Something about the best gifts being personal, and all that. (No offence to you and your gift-giving practices, of course.) So here’s the Agatha Christie I promised you along with a jar of our honey. Yes, Dad keeps bees. Yes, I’ve been stung before. Yes, it’s annoying every single time. 

Dad says hello and wants me to point you out to him when we’re at King's Cross next week. Mum says hello and wants you to know your name is pretty. Gosh, that was more information than I thought this letter would contain.

As for Ancient Runes, I declare that subject to be taboo. You and I both know we’re going to do fine on our holiday homework, so there’s no reason to discuss it at all. Tell me what you’re doing for fun instead.

I will preemptively give you my news. I mentioned my ex-girlfriend, Katie, to you and your friends earlier. Her mum throws a yearly Christmas party, which my family will be attending. Mum and Dad insist that it’d be rude not to. So...wish me luck.

Sincerely,

Michael

 

From Mélanie Deschamps-Gill to James Potter:

Cher James,

Joyeux Noël from Marrakesh, Morocco! I wasn’t convinced when Shruti said we should spend December in a warm country, but I’m glad I listened. I’m sending you a photograph of us in the carpet souk (that’s like a bazaar). Shruti dared me to try and ride one. It was a Muggle carpet, as it turned out, and we both looked very foolish. Proper presents for you and your mother will follow.

I was waiting for you to write in September, but I know how to take a hint. No hard feelings. Just don’t be weird, all right? Some unsolicited advice: talk to the girl you fancy. You gain far more by being straightforward about your feelings.

Grosses bises,

Mel

 

From Mary Macdonald, sent to Germaine King, Dorcas Walker, and Lily Evans:

Girls,

I will not accept no for an answer: we are going to Evan Wronecki’s. I really had a blast last year, and I want to share it with you! Happy Christmas, by the way. I hope you all like your presents.

Mary xx

 

From Dex Fortescue to Lily Evans:

Dear Lily,

I’m so glad to hear your mum liked the treats. I want to send you more creative things than just Galleon biscuits, if you’ll only let me! Sorry to hear you’ve been arguing with your sister. Is her boyfriend still as bad as ever? 

I should have been more proactive finding a time for us to meet, I’m sorry. The Christmas holidays really go by so quickly. But I hope I’ll see you at Evan’s? I realise I never asked if parties are your thing, but even if they aren’t, it’s a big house, and I’m pretty good company.

Yours,

Dex

 

From James Potter to Mélanie Deschamps-Gill:

Dear Mel,

Happy Christmas. Marrakesh looks unbelievable. I’m going to need a running list of all the places you’ve been. I hope you didn’t steal the carpet before you realised it wasn’t magic? Thank you for the spices — Mum was positively glowing when we got them.

I’m sorry I didn’t write earlier. I know I’m a git. You know I’m a git. It’s a fact of life. I’m sorry. And I won’t be weird. My mother raised me to be absolutely shameless. On the subject of the girl, I don’t think I will be telling her. Before you get all outraged, we’ve been getting along all right this past term. I don’t want to fuck it up, not when I’m getting over her. Thanks anyway.

James

P.S. I had to ask Sirius — the best mate I told you about — what “grosses bises” meant. I thought it was something rude. 

 

From Lily Evans to Dex Fortescue:

Dear Dex,

I would like to try things other than Galleon biscuits, yes, but they’re just so good. Why fix what isn’t broken? Never mind my sister and her silly boyfriend. I’m being a brat. At the end of the day I’m glad to be home.

Really, you don’t have to apologise. It’s a busy time of year, and I know your family must want you to themselves. As for Evan’s, Mary Macdonald has talked my mum into letting me go, so I think you’ll be seeing me there after all. Parties are my thing, I’d say, but I will withhold judgment about this particular party until I'm there. The stories range from daunting to outlandish.  

Love,

Lily

 

From Sara Shafiq to LIly Evans:

Dear Lily,

How are the holidays treating you? I'm in London staying with my aunt for a few days, only she's constantly glued to her desk — a side-effect of not celebrating Christmas, unfortunately. (I'm still making her go shopping with me.) Anyway, I thought I'd send you some tea, since I know how much you love it. My aunt also said to let you know that she was serious about the Ministry summer programs, and that she and her coworkers are always happen to take on promising young aides! How exciting, you and Doe really do seem to have impressed her. You simply must tell me all about your conversation with her.

I'm seeing you at Evan Wronecki's, aren't I? Mary says she's going to make you lot come.

Love and kisses,

Sara

 

From Dorcas Walker to Michael Meadowes:

Dear Michael,

The honey is wonderful. My parents have been finding ways to use it in everything, but we’re far from sick of it. We would like some more personalised gifts! Also, how kind of your mum. I’d love to say hi. 

As for what I’m doing for fun, hm — my family tends to have boring holiday traditions. On Christmas we visited my grandparents and ate our way through Nan’s rock-hard fruitcake, and I tried really hard to be nice to some of my less bearable cousins. The fun really starts on New Year’s Eve, when Dad’ll get mad drunk and sing “Auld Lang Syne” non-stop.

But look, don’t keep me hanging. What happened with Katie? WRITE BACK.

Dorcas

 

From Michael Meadowes to Dorcas Walker:

Dear Dorcas,

I’m glad you liked the honey. I’m going to conveniently forget to tell my parents, or they’ll come to King's Cross with a cartload for you.

Less bearable cousins? I’m shocked to hear you don’t actually have infinite patience. Or, I suppose they must be pretty bad if you have more patience for the rock-hard fruitcake. 

What happened with Katie was...a load of nothing. Which is what I’d prefer, I think. She did make a pass at me, but I hadn’t snuck enough of the wine to make that mistake again. It just seems silly to slide back into all that.

Was that juicy and detailed enough for you?

Michael

P.S. Do you also get mad drunk and sing “Auld Lang Syne”?

 

From Dorcas Walker to Michael Meadowes:

Dear Michael,

I could do with a cartload of honey!

Didn’t you once tell me you seem like a nice bloke but aren’t, actually? I seem like a very nice girl, but even I have my limits.

That was not detailed enough, though certainly interesting. Look at you, standing strong despite the festive spirit and the wine and your tempting ex. I’ll have to ask you for more information in person, then. Mary’s been trying to get us all to go to Evan Wronecki’s holiday party, which should be...an experience?

Dorcas

P.S. Some secrets are mine to keep.

 

From Michael Meadowes to Dorcas Walker:

Dear Dorcas,

I’ve yet to see these limits, so I remain sceptical.

You’ll just have to ask in person, yes. And blimey, Wronecki’s party — don’t come back with alcohol poisoning.

Michael

P.S. How rude.

 

From Sirius Black to Regulus Black:

Regulus,

Bring Heathcliff with you to King's Cross. I'll keep her with me from now on.

Sirius

 


iv. The Potters, Again

The long marble halls of the Potters’ Virginia Water estate were, for a change, full of people and conversation. They’d had a white Christmas — the snow was still falling in little tufts outside, which delighted Euphemia to no end. The lights and silvery decorations looked even brighter against the snowy scene through the windows, and several well-placed charms kept the chill away.

Euphemia had deliberated longest over the music, partly because Sirius and James had nagged at her all day to leave them in charge of it. She’d protested, saying her guests would keel over listening to the noise they preferred. In the end they’d won out, and Sirius had chosen Lesley Gore to be funny. James was certain that sort of cheek would have earned him a powerful glare, but he’d caught his mother wiggling her shoulders along to “It’s My Party” — honestly!

Every now and then they slipped out of the hall and into the kitchen instead, restless. Karen was bustling around there, sending enchanted platters off through the crowd every minute or so. Still, she found the time and energy to shoo James and Sirius away anytime they tried to hide inside. The hiding was because the less interesting guests had arrived first — less interesting in James’s estimation, at least. 

“We need to get Gerald Pucey roaring drunk,” he told Sirius as they skulked in a corner of the hall. “Then we can have him tell us weird stories all evening, and Mum can’t fault us for not socialising.”

Sirius looked as though he would have preferred to stay right in this corner. “She wouldn’t fault me,” he pointed out.

“No,” agreed James, “but you still suffer if she spends all of tomorrow scolding me.” 

“Fair point,” Sirius said glumly.

Any other occasion of this kind would have had the pair plotting a disruption. But such plans had been set aside for Euphemia’s sake — and the price they knew they would pay for the rest of the holiday if they tried anything funny. Squabbling and dramatics aside, James wouldn’t have dreamed of getting in his mother’s way. Euphemia had a youthful brightness in her eyes as she flitted from guest to guest; even James and Sirius, teenage boys though they were, watched this with affection.

“Frank Longbottom,” said Sirius suddenly.

James arched an eyebrow. “Are we naming random people? Mine’s Bertie Bott.”

“Fuck off. I mean Frank Longbottom’s over there, and we ought to go talk to him.”

Indeed, Frank was standing by his imposing-looking mother, looking just as helplessly bored as James and Sirius felt.

“Thank God,” said James fervently, and they started off towards him.

Frank looked just as relieved to see them as they had him. "Oh, good, I didn't know if you lot were home for the hols."

"We didn't know you'd be," said Sirius. "Who's guarding Hogwarts in your absence, eh?"

Frank sighed. "Some of us drew the short straw — Alice, unfortunately—" Mrs. Longbottom sniffed "—it helps that the castle's all but empty anyway."

"I'll bet. I can't believe they gave you a day off but not your dad," said James.

"Alistair has urgent paperwork," said Mrs. Longbottom. "I did tell Euphemia, having a party the day after Christmas means Ministry personnel are back at their desks already—"

James resisted the urge to point out that many of the guests were Ministry personnel who seemed unbothered by the date of the party, and that paperwork didn't sound particularly urgent.

"—in any case, Frank, why haven't you introduced me to this young man?" Mrs. Longbottom's steely gaze fell upon Sirius. "The elder Black boy, if I'm not mistaken?"

Frank flushed and introduced Sirius to his mother, who seemed altogether unimpressed by his existence, and the wizards then set off in search of appetisers.

“Karen will let us sneak the best stuff before the old men get their grubby hands on it,” James assured them. 

Unfortunately for him, Euphemia had walked past at that very moment; her eyes went wide with horror, and before they could protest or even process what was going on, she’d saddled them with a vaguely familiar older wizard who seemed intent on consuming all the Potters’ brandy. There was nothing to it — they found themselves answering questions about Hogwarts and coursework. James could only look longingly in the direction of the kitchen. 

Euphemia had not introduced the man to them; she’d called him Mick and pushed James at him, saying, “My son!” before disappearing once more. James had mentally started calling him Mick Jagger, though he sounded a great deal more Scottish. He almost reminded him of—

“And Longbottom, how’s the Auror program?” Mick Jagger asked.

This took James by surprise. He’d told Mick his name, and Sirius’s — Mick had squinted at this and said “Hum!” — but Frank hadn’t introduced himself, had he? James sniffed at his own drink, wondering if he’d been accidentally drinking brandy too.

“Gruelling,” Frank admitted with a laugh. “But it’ll be worth it in the end.”

Mick let out a big belly laugh of his own. “Oh, yes! I nearly failed Hit Wizard training, back in the day. Twice.” He chortled. “Couldn’t get rid of me, though.”

Sirius stared at him, wide-eyed. “You’re a Hit Wizard?”

“Retired,” said Mick, sighing. “Never have an opinionated daughter, boys. She’ll keep you at home for your own safety, and all sorts of nonsense like that.”

All of a sudden Mick was shoved to the side, hard enough that he sloshed his brandy. 

“Jesus, save us!” he shouted.

“It’s Christmas, Da. You’re supposed to keep the Lord’s name out of your mouth,” Marlene McKinnon said piously. “Oh, is that brandy?”

“Marlene!” James blinked at this sudden appearance — and the revelation that followed. “Wait—” The senior McKinnon appeared even less frequently than Alistair Longbottom at James's parents’ get-togethers — a side-effect of the man’s career. “Mr. McKinnon, I didn’t even recognise you.”

“I’m not that old yet, Potter. And my first name isn’t Mister,” said Mick.

“It isn’t Mick either,” said Marlene, rolling her eyes. “Hello Frank, Sirius. Da hasn’t been telling you anything stupid, has he?”

“Only not to have opinionated daughters,” Sirius said, grinning.

Marlene scoffed. “Please never reproduce at all, Black.”

“But Frank and I can reproduce?” James wanted to know.

“Don’t push your luck.”

Mick boomed another laugh, slapping his daughter on the back. James preemptively winced, but Marlene did not twitch in the slightest.

“Sit down, you old drunk,” Marlene said. “I don’t want to have to Apparate you home.”

Mick pressed his hands together in a gesture of supplication. “I’m going, Marly, I’m going.”

As he retreated, Frank said, grinning, “Marly?”

“Don’t you dare, Longbuttocks,” Marlene sniped back. “What were you all doing, socialising without me?”

“I didn’t know you’d be here,” said James honestly. “I definitely didn’t think Old Mick would be here. Since when is he retired?”

“He isn’t that old, is he?” Sirius was watching Mick go; he was bulldozing his way through the crowd, really, his impressive height and build easy to spot even from a distance. 

“He didn’t stop going to work because he’s old. Don’t let the bluster fool you.” Her expression softened. “He’s taken his fair share of spell damage — more than his fair share. Technically it isn’t a full retirement. He does administrative work. He just claims that doesn’t count.”

Sirius shook his head. “Now that I’ve met your parents—” this directed at James “—your mum—” this to Frank “—and your dad, Marlene, I understand you three a lot better.”

“I’m taking that as a compliment,” said James.

“You know what, yeah, that’s not fair to Fleamont or Euphemia. I rescind it.”

James rolled his eyes; as he did, he caught sight of a pale, fair-haired figure some distance away, and ducked on instinct.

“Who are we hiding from?” Frank said, amusement colouring his voice.

“I thought I saw Crouch Junior,” said James, peering around Marlene. “I’d rather not speak with him. Weirdo.”

“Barty Crouch’s son?” Marlene turned and craned her neck, ignoring James’s attempts to shush her. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Ostensibly, nothing,” began James.

“He’s — intense,” said Sirius, squinting in the direction James thought he’d seen him in.

“Well, as the Crouches aren’t coming, it’s definitely not him,” said Frank.

James straightened. “What d’you mean, the Crouches aren’t coming? Mum said—”

“No, when Mum and I arrived and said hello to yours, my mum asked about them. Apparently Crouch sent a last-minute owl saying something had come up.” Frank shrugged.

“Something had come up? Those were Mum’s words?”

Frank held his hands up in surrender. “I’m paraphrasing, I don’t know. Point is, they won’t be here.”

James put his hands in his pockets, frowning. “Damn, I wanted to talk to him.”

“Cheer up,” said Sirius, “at least this way we know we’ll avoid Junior.”

Icon of a quill drawing a line

It was nearing nine o’clock, and James, Sirius, Frank, and Marlene had finally sat down, claiming one little table for their own and giving blank-eyed stares to any adult who attempted to come closer. (The exception to this was Euphemia, who’d stopped by early on to ask if Frank and Marlene wanted anything. She’d called it the kiddie table, to James’s absolute mortification.) 

“Do you think they’d notice if we started playing Exploding Snap?” said Sirius.

“Mum would notice,” James said darkly. 

The others did not argue this point. Euphemia did seem to have eyes in the back of her head.

“We should go outside,” said Marlene, peering out a nearby window. 

“Outside!” repeated Frank. “It’s cold!”

“Are you or are you not a wizard?”

“I don’t want to move,” Sirius announced.

“Fresh air would be nice,” James said thoughtfully.

“Yes, it would be!” said Marlene.

“All right, you don’t have to knock on the window like a toddler,” Frank said, sounding a touch cranky.

“I’m not knocking on the window.”

At once they all turned to said window. A huge, handsome eagle owl was rapping insistently at the glass.

“Jesus, all right,” said James, getting to his feet to undo the latch. “Any harder and you’ll break the bloody thing—”

The owl breezed right past him and into the crowd, followed by a chilly gust of night air. Marlene shivered; Frank muttered something that sounded like I told you so

“If the owl leaves any droppings in the hall, I’m finished,” James said, trying to spot who the bird was headed for.

Sirius was waving frantically at him. “Oh, Merlin’s tit, shut the window!”

“What—”

James turned back to the open window, but it was too late. A barrage of owls flew straight through; the sound of beating wings was nearly as loud as the voices and the music. As the guests realised something was happening, the owls’ rustling became the only noise in the hall. James’s stomach turned to lead. The guests were important people — Ministry officials, influential wizarding families. Owls pouring in at this rate could not mean anything good.

The others had come to the same conclusion. Grim-faced, Marlene jumped out of her chair and vanished into the crowd; she returned moments later with parchment clutched in her fist.

“Da got one,” she explained. “He’s Apparated off. I expect Frank and I will get them too, but—” The letter had already been opened; she unfolded it, and the other three read over her shoulder.

From the Office of the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement

 

DMLE NOTICE: URGENT

DATE AND TIME: 26 December, 1976, 8:17 p.m.

 

Dark Mark above Hogsmeade. Two dead. Aurors report to J. Fawley. All personnel stand by. Await further instructions.

 

Bartemius Crouch

Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement

 

James swallowed. His throat was very, very dry.

“Dark Mark— Hogsmeade? What the fuck?” said Sirius hoarsely.

Two dead. Two dead. The words were swimming before his eyes. 

“Mum,” James said, “I have to find her — Everyone needs to get back to their own homes—”

“Are there wards around the house, James?” Marlene said, seizing him by the shoulder before he could run off.

“What? I — yes, there are, but—”

“No Anti-Apparition,” Frank said, latching the window shut once more. He and Marlene had become suddenly businesslike; if James had had the capacity, he’d have marvelled at this change.

“There’s probably at least one other Auror here,” said Marlene. “C’mon, Longbottom. James, go find your mother.”

He didn’t need telling twice. With Sirius on his heels, James pushed through the crowd. Euphemia, true to form, was at the very centre of it, Fleamont at her elbow. He relaxed a little at the sight of them — they would know what to do. He could almost hear his mother telling the crowd to settle down, not to worry… But then he caught sight of her expression. She looked — distraught was the word that came to mind, and the one that followed was tired. Old. It wasn’t right. Euphemia Potter never flagged. James suddenly felt very, very young.

As though he’d sensed this train of thought, Sirius forced James past the last few guests standing between them and the Potters. His friend was visibly angry, James saw, and resolute. He drew in a breath, shaking off his fear, and then he was taking his mother’s hand.

“It’ll be all right,” was the first thing he said. The words tasted strange in his mouth — no, strange to say it to her, his mother. “Dad, can you get people into the library? People can Floo home. I think Frank and Marlene said something about the Anti-Apparition Jinx—” 

It dawned on James why, exactly, they’d thought of it. They were worried that someone — Death Eaters? — would come here

His father startled into action at his words. “Yes,” Fleamont said, straightening his spectacles. “Yes, quite right, good thinking—” Raising his voice, he called for guests to follow him. Already the hall was full of the cracking sound of Apparition — tight-faced Ministry workers vanished, though their families remained. 

Mere minutes passed before Frank Longbottom told the remaining guests that they’d cut off Apparition, but he could take anyone who didn’t have a Floo connection to the main road and Side-Along if need be. A clump of people followed him out the front door; Euphemia drifted close to watch them go, still looking shocked. 

In the middle of murmured farewells, she started and said, “Karen— She won’t have heard, she ought to go home too—”

“I’ll go tell her,” Sirius said promptly, jogging towards the kitchen.

Euphemia squeezed James’s hand, still clasped in hers. “I didn’t think…”

“No one could have,” he assured her. “The Aurors will sort it out.”

“They will,” she said, though she did not sound as though she fully believed it. 

James felt a hard burst of anger — not at her, but at the faceless figures in his mind he associated with the Dark Mark, with You-Know-Who. 

“You should go lie down,” he said. “Dad and I will see the last of the guests off.”

Karen, looking pale and frightened, hurried towards them before James could press the issue. Euphemia embraced her briefly. 

“I’ll walk you to where it’s safe to Apparate from,” said Sirius, ushering her out the door. Karen did not even pause to coo over this chivalry. They continued into the snowy night.

“Mum,” James said again, this time more forcefully, “go lie down.”

“I can’t.” Some of the iron had returned to her voice; relief filled James at the sound of it. “Your father’s had too much Firewhisky—”

Fleamont had looked quite sober, James thought, but his mother had a point. “Then Sirius and I will do it.”

“The lights — the food, the decorations—”

He put his hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye. “Mum, just go. We know how to clean up.”

Euphemia pressed her lips together, and nodded. “Send your father up, please, he shouldn’t overexert himself—”

“Yeah, got it—” James had started towards the library already.

“James,” said Euphemia suddenly.

“What?” He swivelled around, almost expecting to see a new host of owls swarming through the door. Parliament, he thought dimly, it’s a parliament of owls.

But there was nothing. Just his mother, looking at him with an unreadable expression on her face. She pressed a hand to his cheek and kissed his forehead. “Go on, darling.”

James waited for her to disappear up the stairs before heading off to fetch his father; it took far less convincing to dispatch Fleamont. Not long after, the front door thudded shut, and Sirius appeared in the library doorway as the last guest had vanished in a blaze of green fire.

“Frank and Marlene are gone,” Sirius said, panting. “Fawley’s summoned them all, trainees included — but they said it’d probably be safer to keep the Anti-Apparition Jinx overnight anyway.”

James nodded, momentarily numb. Hogsmeade. What if they delayed the start of the next term? What if the — two dead were people they knew? Faces flickered through his mind: the young, chirpy assistant in Zonko’s, the bored-looking woman who worked in the post office, Madam Rosmerta. 

“You all right?” said Sirius quietly.

“I will be,” James said after a moment. It couldn’t have been later than ten, but it felt like the dead of night. “C’mon. Let’s put all the food away.” They trooped back into the dining room; with a grimace, Sirius lifted the needle off the Lesley Gore record, and slipped it back into its sleeve. 

 


v. Worse News

Lily had woken early on the morning of the 27th, not by choice. But once awake she could not fall asleep again; annoyed, she wandered into the kitchen, where her mother had already put the teakettle on. Doris kissed her good morning.

“Would you mind watching the kettle, love? I slept so poorly.” Doris lowered herself into a chair at the dining table with a wince.

“Yeah, ’course,” said Lily, brow furrowing in concern. She looked at her mother, really looked at her. Her blonde hair, once long and buttery like Petunia’s, was in a bob now, and had lost some of its lustre. Doris was a bad sleeper, just as Lily had become. There were always faint indentations under her eyes; today they were a little more purple than usual. “You should rest this afternoon.” 

Doris smiled. “I will. Get me my first cuppa, and I’m sure it’ll fade.”

“Or...you could rest this afternoon.”

Her mother only smiled wider, putting on her reading glasses and turning to the dog-eared book she’d left on the table: Mansfield Park

“Of all the Austen to reread,” said Lily, laughing.

Doris gave her a stern look. “You’re the one who keeps stealing away my Pride and Prejudice! What am I supposed to do?”

“Read Emma, obviously. And, pardon, your Pride and Prejudice? Dad bought them for us both, if I recall correctly—”

Lily pulled out a battered biscuit tin and poured the tea — just enough milk, just enough sugar, just as her mother had taught her — into two cups. She was setting them down when she heard a familiar tap at the window. 

“That’ll be the Prophet,” she said, straightening. “Good, I’ve been dying to check my crossword answers—” 

She thanked the owl with a biscuit, unrolling the paper as she walked back to the table. As she always did, Lily shook out the Prophet and turned her attention to the front page headlines — and then she froze. Her body seemed to react even if her brain could not process it; she let out a soft cry, a hand going automatically to her mouth.

“What? What’s wrong?” Doris appeared at Lily’s shoulder, her expression anxious. “Lily?”

She lowered the paper and drew in a shaky breath. Her mother prised it from her hand, frowning.

“Oh, heavens, the poor things,” said Doris, putting her arm around Lily and giving her a comforting squeeze. “The — Dark Mark? What’s that?”

The question, so innocently asked, made Lily want to cry. She had been foolish, she realised, thinking she and Mary could have avoided this conversation for another year and a half. Not with things as they stood. 

She cleared her throat, avoiding her mother’s gaze. “Sit down, the tea’s going to get cold.”

“Lily Jane, don’t be evasive with me.”

“I’m not. Please, Mum, sit down and I’ll explain.” 

Doris was still watching her with worry, but she returned to her chair. Lily sat down beside her, staring into her own teacup. How to begin? 

She took a deep breath. “I might have mentioned, at some point, that there are some magical people who — don’t like people like me.”

Doris blinked. “People like...you?”

“People with non-magical parents.”

“Muggleborns?” Her mother stumbled slightly over the word. Lily smiled a little, touched that she had tried to remember the terminology.

“Exactly. People who have only magical families, they’re purebloods. They feel threatened by us, and the Dark Mark is…the symbol of a particular group of people who’re vocal in that belief.” Lily’s voice was steady through this explanation; it felt strangely impersonal, as though she were reciting from a history book. She took a sip of her tea.

“How long has this been going on?” Doris was shaking her head, looking stunned. “How long have there been— What are they—”

“They call themselves Death Eaters.”

In hindsight, this was not a very reassuring thing to say.

Death Eaters?” Doris repeated, her voice rising in both volume and pitch. “How long have they been around?”

“Not long — as long as I’ve been alive, maybe. But their beliefs are...really old, Mum.”

Her mother’s fear was being replaced by something else — anger, Lily realised.

“They bring you into their world, and then they tell you don’t belong?” Doris gave an incredulous laugh. “It’s preposterous — it’s heinous!”

“It’s my world too,” said Lily softly. “Flaws and all, it’s my world.”

Doris jabbed a finger at the Prophet. “The people who died, were they like you?”

Lily scanned the article once more, though she’d read enough earlier to know the answer. “One of them, yes.” The other had been from a well-known blood traitor family, apparently, though not one that rang a bell for her. Explaining this was more than her mother needed at present, she judged.

Her mother was peering at the paper. “And this — this place is near your school, isn’t it? Hogsmeade? That’s the village you visit.”

Lily felt sick all of a sudden. The words could not come out fast enough. “Yes, but there’s no safer place to be than Hogwarts. It’s, it’s so heavily warded, Mum, there’s a whole book about it and I can lend it to you if you’d like to read— Our professors are incredibly powerful witches and wizards, and they wouldn’t let anyone hurt us, and Dumbledore is the greatest wizard of his generation, and maybe the generations before and after too, and we’ve got the Aurors—” Abruptly she cut herself off.

Doris watched her with narrowed eyes. The word meant nothing to her, of course, but she latched onto it with the focus of an angry, worried parent. “What is an Auror?”

She had walked right into that one. “A… Someone who works in law enforcement. They’re stationed at the school for our protection.”

“Your school needs police protection?”

“No,” Lily said desperately, “it’s a precaution that the Ministry’s taking, that’s all—”

“Do Mary’s parents know about this?” Doris demanded.

“No! No, and please don’t tell them, Mary wanted to speak to them herself—”

“I’ve half a mind to telephone right now.” Her mother had her hands braced against the tabletop, as if to stand.

“Mum!”

“Don’t you Mum me. This is serious, Lily. Do you appreciate that?” 

“Of course I do!” cried Lily. She had never seen her mother so angry: not when her accidental magic had caused mishap after mishap, not when she’d had a physical altercation with a girl in her primary school, not when she and Petunia fought. Lily had always thought her mother did not have an angry sort of voice. She did not tend to shout; her scoldings were tinged more with exasperation than anything else. But the fact that she did not, Lily realised, didn’t mean she could not. 

Doris’s cheeks were bright-red, her face pale. She looked nearly feverish with fury. “I don’t think you do! How could you keep this from me — and from your father?”

Those words were more powerful than any spell; at once the anger seemed to fade from both women. Tears rose to Lily’s eyes. She could not fathom how things had gone so wrong. The injured look her mother wore was too much to bear.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice barely above a croak. “I didn’t want to worry you, that’s all.”

Doris pursed her lips. “I’m worried anyway.”

“I’m sorry,” said Lily again. “I won’t keep anything else from you, honest.” She tried to take her mother’s hand, but Doris withdrew it.

“Please, Lily. I’m tired. Let’s just — continue this conversation later.”

“No, wait—”

Doris rose, clutching Mansfield Park to her chest. “I think I’ll go lie down. Can you and Petunia manage breakfast by yourselves?”

The conversation was over. Lily sniffed and nodded miserably, fighting to keep her voice steady. “Do you want us to bring you something? Eggs, or toast?”

“No, I’ll be all right.” And her mother was gone, leaving her mostly-full teacup on the table.

Lily’s vision blurred until she could no longer read the letters on the Prophet. She had no idea how long she sat there for, tears dripping into her own tea. Finally the stairs gave their telltale squeal; wiping her eyes, she looked up, ready to beg for her mother’s forgiveness if she had to.

But it wasn’t Doris. It was Petunia, her pink robe drawn tight around herself, curiosity written all over her face.

“Is everything all right?”

Lily finished drying her tears and slurped some of her cold tea. “Fine.” She snatched the Prophet from the table before her sister could read the headline too; the last thing she wanted was to have to explain everything again.

Petunia was frowning, but she did not press the issue. “Where’s Mum?”

“She said she slept badly. She went back to bed.”

“Oh, well.” Petunia sighed and made for the kitchen. “Two slices for you?”

Lily had lost her appetite entirely, but she muttered a vague yes. Collecting the teacups, she followed her sister into the kitchen and hovered by the sink.

“Mum looks a bit ill,” she said, rinsing out the cups. “We should take her to a doctor — or if we can’t before I go back to school, you should take her to a doctor.”

Petunia hadn’t looked up from the eggs she was cracking, but her spine had stiffened. She took her sweet time responding. The eggs were sizzling in the frying pan before she turned around to face Lily, her expression blank and unreadable.

“What are you going to do when I get married?” 

Lily blinked at her. “When you — what?” For a panicked moment she wondered if her sister had been engaged without her knowing. But no, she was speaking of a more distant future than that.

“When I get married,” Petunia repeated with exaggerated patience, “are you going to live here? Or will Mum have to manage on her own?”

She was sure she was gaping foolishly, searching for an answer that eluded her. At last Lily said, “I thought...I’d be working in London, maybe, and Mum could come stay with me. Maybe, during the week, at least.”

Petunia smiled without a trace of humour. “Maybe?”

Fresh tears threatened to take over — tears of frustration. Lily wanted to scream. She was all of sixteen, and she had over a year of school left. Why did her sister have to act as though she would be graduating tomorrow, with no plans at all?

“I’m not going to decide everything myself, am I? I have to talk to Mum about it.” Lily set the cups down in the sink with a too-hard clunk.

“So you’re going to — work with your sort of people, is it?”

“You can say magic,” Lily snapped. “Of course I’ll work with my sort of people, Petunia. It’s what I’m going to school for. I can’t go to university — I can’t even take a typist course!” 

The phrasing of this clearly rubbed Petunia — who’d done a typist course herself after school — the wrong way. “So you’re going to involve Mum in this nonsense!” she spluttered.

“She’s already involved. By virtue of being my mother!” Even as she said it, Lily wondered if this was true. Did having a witch in the family put her mother at the same amount of risk she’d be in if she lived with Lily in, say, a magical part of London? 

“I can’t believe you,” Petunia was saying. “You’ve always been so selfish—”

She scoffed. “I’m selfish! You’re the one acting as if getting married to a ghoulish man like Vernon Dursley means you’ll never be around to take care of Mum!”

“Don’t bring Vernon into this.” Petunia’s cheeks were hot with anger.

“I will,” said Lily obstinately. She clenched her hands into fists. “When are you going to tell him about your freak sister? Or do I have to do that myself too?”

That silenced Petunia. Very softly she said, “Was that a threat?”

Lily could not stand to be there a moment longer. With a little scream of frustration, she turned on her heel and marched out of the kitchen. She stomped up the stairs and into her little bedroom, dropping the needle on the record in her old player without checking to see what it was. “—still my guitar gently weeps,” George Harrison warbled; Lily choked out a laugh. She turned the volume up, dropped onto her bed, and squeezed her eyes shut.