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i. The Amelia Bones Book Club

Mary stared down at the book in her hands with a grim resolve. “It’s a good day to face your nemesis.”

Dorcas and Germaine exchanged glances. The two of them had no real opinion on Amelia Bones, but they had spent the better part of two years hearing Mary’s. Never mind that in Doe’s mind Amelia had sort of had the moral high ground to start in this feud. At this point the bad blood was so complicated that neither was blameless.

It had begun in fourth year, when Amelia had been seeing Chris Townes — until Mary kissed him. Amelia had never forgotten the grudge, even though she didn’t even like Chris that much. Mary grumbled that it wasn’t her business to keep track of other people’s relationship statuses, and in any case, it was awfully convenient that Amelia had forgiven Chris, who’d actually made a commitment to her. And the rest was history.

Germaine said, “Nose goes.”

Doe’s jaw dropped. “You’re not allowed to nose goes this!” Turning to Mary, she said, “Sara’s going to be there. Do we have to come?”

“Sara actually likes Amelia. Come on, just back me up for one afternoon.”

Germaine was shaking her head fervently. “No, no, I really can’t be there. Really, really, really.” Emmeline Vance was Amelia’s closest friend, after all. Germaine knew she was not ready to face her — not so soon after her embarrassing blow-up on the train.

“Three reallys,” Doe groaned. “You know I can’t say no to an invocation of three reallys.” But keeping the peace between Mary and Amelia was too big a job for just her. “I’ll come, but I need backup.” She glanced around the common room.

Lily, who had not looked up all this time from her Potions essay, did so now. “I wish I could be your backup, really, but—”

“But Dex.” Doe gave her a pat on the arm. “I understand. I will eventually find it in my heart to forgive you.”

Lily pursed her lips. “Are you certain? I can tell him we’ll meet after Duelling Club instead—”

“No, honestly, don’t cancel on my account—” Mary said.

She gets a choice?” Doe protested.

“Oh, no, if you’re not meeting Dex we are doing homework together,” Germaine cut in. “Get in line, Mare.”

“Lily is meeting her boyfriend,” said Mary with an air of finality.

Though the details of what had happened hadn’t yet been discussed, the girls were not blind to the strange mood Lily had been in of late. If it took a conversation with Dex — Mary used a phrase more choice than conversation, and was shushed by Germaine and Doe at once — to return things to normal, her friends would make sure it happened.

Lily looked between them, frowning. “If you’re sure.”

“Sure as eggs,” said Mary cheerfully. “Come on, Doe, the clock’s ticking.”

Dorcas sighed — then brightened. “I’ve got my backup.” She bounced to her feet and wove through the common room to where Remus Lupin sat in an armchair, nose buried in a textbook. “All right, Remus?”

In her estimation he looked tired, but when did Remus not look tired? He offered her a faint smile. “Right as can be. Did you need something?”

Oh, dear, was she that transparent? 

“I have an exciting offer for you, actually,” said Doe. 

From the next chair over, Sirius straightened and peered at her. “What’s the offer?”

“It’s not for you, Black, so stop eavesdropping.”

“That only makes me more likely to eavesdrop.”

“Ignore him,” said Remus, rolling his eyes. “What’s the offer?”

“You get entertainment for one afternoon, and all you have to do is come with me and Mary!” Doe held out her arms, as if to say ta da!  

Remus frowned. “That’s a very vague offer.”

Doe let her hands drop. “All right, Mary wants to go to some ridiculous book club Amelia Bones does, and she wants me to go along as referee, but I can’t do it alone. You’re very diplomatic. So…”

“What’s in it for Moony?” Sirius interrupted.

“Sirius!” 

“Really, what’s in it for me?” said Remus, smiling wider now. Sirius whooped.

“Entertainment?” Doe said again helplessly. “Oh, that isn’t good enough, is it? You get — er—”

Remus snapped his book shut, laughing. “Only messing. I could use an interesting afternoon.”

“That’s offensive,” said Sirius.

Dorcas rocked back on her heels, immensely relieved. “Thank Merlin. You’re the best. Come on, we can’t be late — although, we can’t be early either, because Mary does not need the extra time to stare Amelia down—”

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There was no need to be nervous. None whatsoever. Hadn’t Dex said things were fine between them? She ought to take him at face value. But Lily Evans was a worrier. She’d had about five minutes of peace, she thought — the length of their journey back up to school from Hogsmeade Station, when she’d been able to convince herself that something had been irreversibly changed when they’d slept together.

Or, that was a lie. She’d felt surprisingly at peace on the train too, talking to James of all people. And the chocolate had been a help. Standing outside the Hufflepuff common room, wand poised over the right barrel, Lily wished she could have gone back to the train compartment. Things had been by no means simple — but resolving her problems had been a task for future Lily. 

Of course, today she was that future Lily.

Well, there was nothing to do but plunge ahead. She tapped her wand to the barrel and pushed through the door. 

Dex was sitting at a table, barely visible over stacks of books. Lily slid into the seat opposite him, pulling out her own essay. It was a solid minute before he looked up and noticed her; red splotches of embarrassment blossomed in his cheeks.

“Lily. Sorry, Merlin, I honestly didn’t see you.”

She smiled, though a small, bitter part of her added this insult to everything else. It did seem like he honestly didn’t see her, of late. 

“It’s all right. There are worse things to come second to than—” She leaned forward, reading what he was working on. “—Golpalott’s Laws. I’m guessing the N.E.W.T. homework hasn’t let up, yet?”

Dex set aside his parchment and ran a hand over his face. “No, and I don’t think it will until we actually sit the bloody exams. I underestimated the pressure.”

She rested her chin in one hand, studying him. “You’ll do well. You’re working so hard.”

“I wouldn’t care half as much if not for—”

“—culinary school. I know.” Lily put a hand over his and squeezed. “There’s no point worrying about it constantly. You’ll do what has to be done.” What sage advice, she thought, and she couldn’t even take it herself.

Dex returned her smile. “Sorry, I’ve started us off on such a bad note.”

“It is a study date. Complaining about studying is always on the agenda.” Lily found she could keep her tone light. She could feel her anxiety ebbing away, as it so often did in his presence. She was overthinking after all. Conjuring problems where there weren’t any. 

“Well, I’m about to make it worse.” Dex made an apologetic grimace. 

Lily sat up straighter. “Don’t leave me hanging.” The lightness was definitely forced this time.

Still grimacing, he said, “Sprout’s giving us a test and a load of assignments to turn in for the first week of February.”

“The first week of… Oh.” She tried not to sound disappointed, but there was no hiding the flatness in her voice. 

“I want to be around for your birthday, I really do,” Dex went on, in a hurry now. “Believe me when I say the last thing I’d rather be doing that weekend is studying. But I can make it up to you? After?”

Lily forced herself to smile and nod. “I’m already looking forward to it.” 

She thought, suddenly, of how he’d asked her to be his girlfriend, at the start of the school year. We don’t have to be around each other all the time and kiss goodnight… Hadn’t she been relieved, and excited, to have something fun and low-commitment? They’d grown more serious since then, but maybe it was all happening too fast. Maybe that night at Evan’s had underscored that fact for him just as it had for her.

Dex shouldn’t feel obligated to do things with her, or rearrange his life for her. She liked spending time with him. Surely that didn’t entitle her to make demands of him. Where did they stand? She hadn’t the faintest idea what she wanted — and it felt as though the moment to ask what he wanted had passed.

The worry in his expression smoothed away, and he pressed a kiss to her mouth, startling her out of her reverie. “Enjoy your N.E.W.T.-free life while you can,” he said, rolling his eyes.

She laughed a little. “I will.” She picked up her quill and touched its tip to her parchment — then stopped. “I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get into that secret room on the seventh floor.”

Dex cocked his head thoughtfully. “No, it’s been difficult for me too lately. Maybe it moves — or maybe someone else is in it?”

Someone else? Lily thought back to Severus’s warning. Between the Christmas holidays and her own relationship, she'd entirely forgotten it. Stay away from the seventh-floor corridor. It was them — it had to be. And she had the sinking feeling the Slytherins weren’t baking Galleon biscuits.

But even if she knew when and where they were meeting, what use was it to anyone? If they couldn’t get the door open, she’d never know what they were up to. And Severus was never going to tell her. 

“Lily? Are you all right?” Dex was watching her with furrowed brows.

“Just thinking. Do you know how to get inside, if it’s locked?”

He shook his head slowly. “I’ve only ever gone by myself — I mean, I’ve never gone inside and found someone else in there before me. I think only one group of people can enter at a time. That’s the only explanation, isn’t it? Otherwise someone else would’ve found me in there, at some point or another.”

Lily let out a soft huh. Whether or not Dex’s theory was true would require information neither of them had. But his words made her think of something else. Or, more precisely, someone else — because odds were that if Alec Rosier had found the room, someone else had too. And she had four classmates who seemed to know the castle better than Dumbledore himself.

“You might be right. I’ll ask James Potter about it.”

Dex made a face. Lily knew he hadn’t quite forgiven the Marauders for the pie incident, and she regretted even mentioning James. But it was too late to take it back, of course.

“What makes you think he’d know?”

Lily shrugged. “He and his friends know plenty, once you get past the general...hooliganism.” She stifled a smile, picturing exactly how James would react to being called a hooligan.

“I didn’t think you got on.” 

“We have our moments, but we get on well enough for me to ask him a casual question.” Lily cringed inwardly at this; it felt like an unfair rendering of the circumstances, given how friendly James had been on the Hogwarts Express. What was it about him that made her so thoughtless?

Dex didn’t seem to know what to say to that. He shrugged too. “Well, hopefully we’ll be able to get into the room again.”

“Hopefully,” Lily echoed, and turned back to her essay before she could say something else she might regret.

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The book club met in an empty classroom in the Charms corridor. Remus and Dorcas trooped in after Mary, who had the air of a general walking onto the battlefield.

“It’s still unclear to me why we’re here at all if Mary doesn’t like Amelia,” Remus whispered.

Doe gave him a sympathetic smile. “Please don’t try applying logic to anything about this situation, or those two girls.”

The classroom had been transformed into a cosy sitting room. Desks and chairs were pushed aside to make way for armchairs, and the round table in the centre of the ring bore an elaborate tea set. Doe was reminded of the little plastic set she’d played with as a child, a fantastically detailed forty-piece set her mother had complained about for months. Dorcas had lost half the pieces within weeks.

More interesting than the setup were the girls — for they were all girls — seated at the table. Amelia Bones sat in the biggest armchair, a teacup and saucer in her hands. Her brows rose at their entrance.

“Mary. Dorcas,” she said, her voice cool and even.

“Amelia,” Mary replied, equally frosty.

Dear God, Doe thought.

But the girl sitting next to Amelia saved them all. Sara clapped her hands together in glee and crowed, “Mary! I’m so glad you could come. Sit, sit, all of you — and Remus, what a lovely surprise.” 

Amelia looked a touch disgruntled at Sara greeting her guests. She conjured two more armchairs, putting them at the opposite end of the circle from her where another empty chair sat. Doe and Remus exchanged a glance and sat down; Mary took the third spot.

Doe scanned the faces around her: Lottie Fenwick, she knew, and the two Gryffindor fifth years both named Lisa. Then there was a bored-looking Emmeline Vance, a decidedly unhappy Florence Quaille, and Cecily Sprucklin, stirring sugar into her tea. Last of all Doe’s gaze landed on the girl she was sitting next to — and she nearly leapt out of her seat at the sight of Thalia Greengrass. The Slytherin rolled her eyes at Doe’s surprise, but said nothing.

When Amelia began to talk about the book she and Remus had not read, Dorcas took the opportunity to lean towards him and whisper, “What’s Thalia doing here?”

Remus had been wearing an expression of faint confusion since the moment they’d walked through the door. 

“You’re asking the wrong person for gossip. I don’t know the first thing about her.” He paused. “Well, I know that she’s a Slytherin. And a sixth year. And a prefect. I don’t know the fourth thing about her.”

“I’d rather not know the fourth thing about her.” 

Doe didn’t fancy making enemies the way Mary so relished it — but Thalia Greengrass figured high on the short list of people at Hogwarts she actually took issue with. But a more generous part of her wondered if she ought to give Thalia the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the crowd she ran with wasn’t a reflection of who she was. After all, Lily had been friends with that Severus Snape. 

Doe bent her head towards Remus again and said, “Was that a rude assessment?”

“I don’t think so. Although...anyone can disprove expectations?” he offered.

“Maybe,” Doe said, unconvinced. 

When Thalia opened her mouth to speak, Doe was certain she’d overheard them somehow, and was about to respond directly to their speculation. What the girl did say, though, was, “He’s my friend, so it’s weird to say, but the dishiest seventh year is Alec Rosier.”

Wait, what?

“Weren’t they talking about the book thirty seconds ago?” said Dorcas.

“I thought so,” replied Remus.

“Dark horse,” said Cecily Sprucklin, “Cassius Mulciber.”

They couldn’t be serious. This was going from bad to worse. Doe was certain she’d misheard. Her gaze flicked to Mary, who was staring into her teacup, uncharacteristically quiet.

She couldn’t have said when she made the decision to speak, but suddenly she had made it, leaning forward to stare directly at Cecily. “Do you not know, or are you just that dense?”

The circle fell silent. Amelia set down her cup with a clink. Cecily blinked owlishly.

“Not know what?”

Doe didn’t want to call attention to the fact that her best friend had been attacked by the wizard in question — not when she knew Mary hated being seen as an object of pity. Instead she said, “That he’s a disgusting blood purist, obviously. Haven’t you noticed the way he talks about Muggle-born students?”

Sara’s face was pinched with worry, but she said, “She’s not wrong, Cecily. You don’t have to know him to know that about him.” 

Doe shot her a grateful smile, and knew they were both thinking of the same thing: those nights the previous year that Mary had spent in the Hospital Wing, and then the weeks afterward she’d tossed and turned for. 

“Watch those accusations.” This came from Thalia, whose relaxed posture had changed into something still and alert.

Dorcas fought to keep her temper under control. “I didn’t say anything untrue — and you know that just as well as we all do. I don’t have the time or the energy to argue with you, or anyone, about people like him. Come on, Mary, Remus. Let’s go.” She set down her tea, and, after a moment’s hesitation, grabbed a biscuit. 

“No need,” said Thalia coldly. “I can see I’m not wanted.” She slid out of her chair and strode for the door; its click was audible in the silence that had descended in her wake.

Doe was still standing, biscuit in hand. She gestured impatiently for Mary and Remus to follow; the latter looked entirely out of his depth, and the former was frozen in place, her expression far away. Slowly, as if a spell were breaking, they both straightened and rose to their feet.

“I’m sorry,” said Amelia suddenly. “She was only here because she’s my cousin.”

Mary blew out a breath. “Thanks. For the apology. It’s — really all right.”

Doe was about to say that no, it was not all right, but Amelia said, “Mulciber and Avery are awful. I’ve written them up for some horrible things — hexes, curses — and I’ve even asked my mum to speak to Dumbledore about them. But it’s above his paygrade, she says—”

“Because Avery’s mother’s on the Hogwarts Board of Governors,” Mary supplied. “I know.”

Doe frowned. At no point after last year’s attack had Mary shared this information. How had she even found that out in the first place? 

Amelia sighed. “Yes. Well. I really am sorry.”

“We really are leaving,” said Doe, skirting around the chairs.

Remus followed her, still wide-eyed; after a long moment, so did Mary. When they were in the corridor, a safe distance from the classroom, Doe slipped her hand into Mary’s, who squeezed her fingers in silent thanks. She wanted to ask about the Board of Governors, but now was not the time — not when Mary was still subdued, gnawing her lip and staring at the flagstone floor.

On Mary’s other side, Remus put a hand to her shoulder, briefly. “I have a better way to spend this afternoon. Have either of you been to the kitchens before?”

“No,” said Mary, after glancing at Doe. 

“You have to swear not to spill the beans to everyone at school.”

Mary cracked a smile. “Remus Lupin, are you calling me a gossip?”

Doe laughed, her heart suddenly full of gratitude. She felt no remorse about standing up for Mary, but anger was exhausting sometimes. Far better to fight for moments like this: quiet, warm, bright.

 


ii. Surely Not Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

As students gathered in the courtyard, huddled together for warmth, Lily wondered if Hogwarts was even more magical than it seemed at first glance. The school’s quirks were necessarily on her mind — she’d not yet managed to pull James aside and ask him about the room on the seventh floor. She wasn’t certain how to lead up to it, anyway.

If she brought up Dex, would he say something sardonic about young love, as he’d done in September? She hoped things were more comfortable between them now. But thinking of Dex and James in the same moment reminded her of the pie, and what she’d said to him, and what he’d said to her… Drat, Lily thought, rubbing her gloved hands together. 

On the other hand, if she told him she thought the Slytherins were practising Dark magic there, it would no doubt prompt a very foolhardy expedition. She had only to think of the first time the Marauders had caught them at it. James, Peter, and Sirius had tried to take on five Slytherins at once, and he’d actually protested Remus’s coming along with Sprout and McGonagall. And that wasn’t even counting Alec Rosier, whom Lily feared a good deal more than Regulus Black. And — well, who knew how many others had joined since? 

There had been no Severus, last time.

She shook off the gloom and nerves this line of thinking brought on. It was just Potter. Just James Potter, whom she’d spent five and a half years speaking to without much care for how he’d react. (Strictly speaking, that was not true. Lily’s problem was that she did care, consistently, and much of her frustration with James had come from the fact that he never seemed to care what she thought of him. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that sort of self-assurance?) No, she would speak to him after Duelling Club.

She scanned the crowd for him and his friends, and her gaze landed on him just as he turned in her direction. Some faint amusement crossed his face; he quirked an eyebrow at her, as if to say, well? What are you staring at?

Lily coughed and looked away. Just her luck. Now she would probably have to take even more cheek from him. All in a day’s work — she would endure it if it meant figuring out if Rosier and the others really were using the hidden room.

What had she been thinking of? Her worry about James had derailed the quiet excitement of the morning. Yes — the courtyard, full of sixth and seventh years, was surely bigger than it normally was. Lily didn’t think that was her imagination. It seemed to have grown to accommodate them all, and then some.

The students were joined by the four Auror trainees and Professors Flitwick and Thorpe. The professors were engaged in what looked like a very serious conversation, but there was definite anticipation in the Aurors’ expressions. 

“I can’t believe I had to cancel Quidditch for this,” grumbled a voice some distance away — Lucinda Talkalot, Lily realised; the group of students around her looked none too pleased at spending a weekend morning on mandatory schoolwork. Lucinda’s voice carried; across the courtyard, Thorpe looked up, her eyes narrowed.

“This will be a learning experience, and you will be tested on what you learn — but duelling can be fun, if you do it the right way.”

“She’s not wrong. That demonstration at the start of the year was better than Quidditch,” Doe murmured.

“Swot,” Germaine whispered back.

“I know you’ve all had a demonstration in class,” Thorpe went on, “but maybe another one’s in order.” She glanced at the Auror trainees, who all straightened and smiled.

“Professor Flitwick, you ought to show us,” Marissa Beasley called, grinning at her head of house.

Flitwick went beet-red. “Oh, Miss Beasley, it’s been years — I’m sure my style is terribly outdated.” But his feeble protest only garnered more agreement, particularly from the Ravenclaws.

“I’d duel you, Professor — I’d be more than happy to.” The Auror trainee who’d spoken was freckled, fair-haired Alice St. Martin; she stepped forward and beamed at Flitwick. The students around them began to back up, freeing a sizeable circle of space for the duel.

Definitely magic, thought Lily.

Flitwick chortled. “I can’t say no to a former student. Very well, Miss St. Martin, take your place.”

They stood several paces apart, facing each other. The crowd buzzed with anticipation; from among the Slytherins, Anthony Avery shouted, “How does it work, Professor? First to draw blood?” His friends sniggered at this, clearly sceptical of the Charms professor’s ability to wound anyone.

Flitwick took this in stride. With a dry smile, he said, “In my day we went to the death, Avery, but we’ll do best of three. Why don’t you give the students some advice, Alice, before we begin? I’ll need every moment I can get to prepare.”

Alice St. Martin laughed. “Please, Professor, you sell yourself short.” Turning to address the students, she said, “Duelling is like a very elegant fistfight — though I hope none of you have been in one of those either.” A few students chuckled at this. “We’re learning defensive stuff only, of course, but the point is that the best duellists aren’t necessarily the most knowledgeable, or the best at magic. They think on their feet. They’re the ones who use every advantage they can get. Does that sound right, Professor?”

In response Flitwick smiled and flicked his wand; at once Alice threw up a Shield Charm, but another wand wave from the professor and the shield shattered. Alice was knocked off balance by his jinx. As she fell, though, a rope shot from her wand and looped around Flitwick’s wrist. A sharp tug, and Flitwick tumbled to the floor, his wand falling from his hand. The professor stood up once more, laughing to himself.

“Strike one,” said Alice. Lily noted the happy flush in her cheeks; the witch was clearly in her element. 

“That was quick, wasn’t it?” whispered Doe. “Do you think he let her win?”

But the next round proved that theory entirely false. Flitwick moved so quickly that Lily had hardly registered the start of the duel before Alice’s wand sailed into his grip. She regained her advantage, however, in the round afterwards, throwing a rapid combination of hexes that broke through Flitwick’s shield. 

To start the fourth volley, Alice spun a ring of fire towards Flitwick, who tutted even as students leapt backwards. 

“Flashy, flashy, you ought to know better—”

And lightning filled the sky all of a sudden: a single raincloud blossomed over the duellists, dousing Alice’s flames at once. Alice shrugged, grinning, and dismissed the rain with a wave. Light crackled between them, the heat of their spellwork turning the winter morning suddenly warm. Lily forgot to worry about James. She was too busy watching. When Flitwick’s shield disappeared in a haze of smoke and Alice gave a happy whoop, some students broke out into applause.

“That’s the match for me,” she said.

Flitwick looked at his wandless hands, still smiling. “Didn’t you say duellists use every advantage?”

And he raised his arms, making a gesture utterly foreign to the magic system Lily had learned. Alice was thrown backwards. Both her wand and Flitwick’s reappeared in his outstretched hands.

“That’s the match for me,” Flitwick said amidst gasps. “Now, don’t try that yourselves, students — and let me have a seat, my heart isn’t what it used to be—”

Alice looked positively thrilled to have been bowled over. She clapped as she stood. “You really do undersell yourself, Professor. Let’s have half the students watching and half paired up to duel, Professor Thorpe?”

At Thorpe’s acquiescence the Aurors began to divide the crowd into onlookers and duellists. Lily realised this was her chance — if she made sure she was paired with James, or, better still, if she and James both sat out the first round, then she could find a way to innocuously bring up the room. 

“I hope I’m paired with someone good,” Dorcas said, bouncing on her toes. 

“I hope they sit me out and then forget about me,” said Mary.

“Yes,” said Lily, “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

But Lily didn’t answer; she began pushing her way towards the Marauders. Before she’d made it even halfway across the courtyard, Thorpe appeared in her path.

“Oh, good, Evans. You’re sensible enough to duel first, I think. Or at least I can trust you not to take someone’s head off. You can go with—” Lily saw her turn to the Marauders, hoping her plan would succeed against all odds. “—Black.” Thorpe waved Sirius over.

He eyed Lily with what she thought was unnecessary wariness. “Yeah, Professor?”

“You’ll duel Evans. Tell the rest of your friends to have a seat.” She frowned at him. “Exemplary behaviour.”

Sirius sighed. “Right. Professor.” 

Lily had no idea what to make of this exchange, but she hadn’t the time to consider it. Sirius was already walking towards an emptier part of the courtyard; she hurried after him.

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The Duelling Club let up only at lunchtime, but by then even the students who had been complaining about the time suck had mellowed out. Practical magic, Lily thought, appealed to everyone on some level. Or, at least, most people.

“Great. I can’t wait to be reminded every two weeks, in addition to classes, that I don’t have the head for spellwork,” Mary grumbled. 

“You’ve got the head for it. You’ve just decided already that you’re bad at it,” said Doe.

“Ha. Head,” said Germaine, which earned groans all around.

“Lily, are you going to tell us why you’re a hundred miles away and staring at James like you want to burn a hole in him with your eyes?”

Lily jumped. “Huh?”

“Yes, pay attention to us,” Mary said. “I thought the days of complaining about him were safely past.”

“No, it’s nothing like that. I have to ask him something.” 

Lily was still trying to think of an angle. She had considered asking Sirius, while they’d been practising, but it turned out that he was a sharp duellist when he put in the effort. Lily had been wholly engrossed in besting him. If only she’d asked him after all — it would have been strange and out of the blue, but at least she wouldn’t have needed to anticipate his every reaction.

“Ask him what?” said Germaine.

“About—”

Too late, Lily registered that she had a similar problem with her friends. Telling them her suspicions about the room might not lead them to break in and investigate, but they would have plenty of questions. And plenty of opinions too.

She didn’t yet know what she wanted to do with the information, if her hunch was proven correct. The smart thing to do would be to tell a professor, but she did not want to waste McGonagall’s time.

“Nice work, you lot,” Alice St. Martin called as she passed by.

There was an idea. Maybe she could tell one of the Aurors — Edgar Bones seemed approachable, and he was technically there to guard against any threat to the castle. Yes, Lily resolved, she would certainly escalate things if the situation demanded it.

“About what?” Dorcas was asking her, her dark eyes round with concern.

“About Dex,” she said absentmindedly.

Mary snorted with laughter — until she realised Lily was being serious. “You’re asking James Potter about your boyfriend? Do they even know each other?”

“What? No — look, I’ll see you at lunch.”

Lily lengthened her stride to catch up to the Marauders. The four boys were walking with their heads down, engrossed in quiet conversation. If they were speaking in undertones, they were planning something — but for once Lily truly did not care to figure out what, exactly, it was.

“James, can I have a word?” she said, stopping all four of them in their tracks. Honestly, it was a bit unnerving, how in sync they were.

James detached himself from his friends, hands in his pockets. “Er, sure. What about?”

Lily could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. “It’s a long story. Walk with me to the Great Hall?”

Peter, Remus, and Sirius exchanged a look of some significance.

“Don’t forget,” said Sirius, “we have the—” He raised his eyebrows, apparently unwilling to say more in front of Lily.

“See you at lunch,” Remus said, seeming to making a decision for all four of them. The other boys trooped off.

James still hadn’t moved; he was looking down at her, brows slightly furrowed. “This is all very serious.”

“Oh, no, it’s much less dramatic than it seems.” She let out an awkward laugh and started towards the Great Hall. 

He fell into step beside her. After a few paces of walking in silence, Lily realised she was pumping her legs faster than usual to keep up with him. James seemed to realise this at the very same instant, slowing his walk.

“So?” he prompted.

Lily reached into her bag and pulled out a slim hardcover. Her copy of Persuasion was crisp and unworn, a far sight from her Pride and Prejudice, but it was still Austen, and therefore a cut above any other offering she could give. Wordlessly she held the book out to him.

James glanced at it but did not reach for it. “Are we doing a gift exchange? Christmas is over, Evans.”

Lily gave him a pointed look. “Out of the goodness of my own heart, I’m lending it to you and not expecting a gift in return.”

“Out of the goodness of your heart, you’re forcing your taste in books on me, for reasons I haven’t yet figured out but are certainly in service of some ulterior motive.”

She scoffed and waved the book at him. “Fine, then—”

“Only joking. Give it here. With a title like that, I can't help but be curious.”

Lily smiled, gratified, as he tucked the book under an arm.

“Now, get to the real reason you’re slowing me down for lunch.”

“The — slowing you down!” she repeated, laughing. 

“Yeah, you’ve got—” James waved a hand “—short legs.”

“I’m not short.”

James gave her a look of immense disbelief. “You can’t be a smidge taller than five-foot-four. On a good day.”

“I am not short. You’re just overgrown,” Lily shot back.

“Overgrown.”

“Yes. You know when an animal or a plant is unusually small, they call it a pygmy? You’re the opposite of that.”

James stared at her in openmouthed silence. Lily was very pleased to have gotten in a dig that he could not respond to.

Then he laughed so hard his glasses slid off his nose.

“God, James,” Lily said, but despite her exasperation she was smiling. She didn’t quite know what she was smiling at. She bent down to pick up his glasses, inspecting them to ensure they were undamaged, and handed them back to him.

He’d stopped laughing quite abruptly, though traces of amusement still lingered in his expression. Lily didn’t think she’d seen him with his glasses off — or at least, she’d never looked closely at him with his glasses off. He could be so unreadable, she thought, but James Potter really did have a face for laughter.

James took his glasses back and slipped them on. “You still haven’t told me what you’re here for. Any minute we’ll be in the Great Hall and then you’ll spend all day fretting about whatever you didn’t get to say to me.”

“I don’t fret—” Lily began.

“Christ, Evans, get to the point.”

Lily sighed. She couldn’t delay any longer. “Don’t say something embarrassing, please.”

“Embarrassing to you, or to me? I have a very high shame threshold.”

“That explains so much about you.”

Ouch. So the novel was a bribe after all.”

She flapped a hand to shush him. “The seventh-floor corridor with the funny tapestry — you know it?”

James frowned. “Am I familiar with Barnabas the Barmy? Obviously. Were you going to ask a challenging question?”

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “There’s a place — a, a room opposite the tapestry.” Was she blushing? She definitely was. God, give me strength, she thought fervently.

“Yeeeeah,” James said, still confused. “It only appears sometimes, though.”

Relief eased some of her nervousness. So he did know of the room.

“That’s the one, exactly.”

He did not share her enthusiasm, apparently. “I don’t know if I’d call it a room.”

“No, it’s definitely a room.” Lily frowned too. This was a complication she hadn’t foreseen.

James opened his mouth to say something, then appeared to think better of it. “Never mind, go on. What about the room?”

“Well, Dex was the one who showed it to me, but neither of us has been able to get in for some time. So I thought, if anyone knew how it worked, it’d be you and your… James? Why are you making that face?”

He looked as though she had just handed him gold he did not want to use: torn, a little bit sheepish. “I — sorry, it’s nothing. I didn’t think you were the sort. But, er, no judgment. Free love.”

“Now I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.” Had he read some kind of sinister, scandalous intent into the question? She burned at the thought — not that she would let herself be shamed, not by him or anyone, but how embarrassing that anyone had made that assumption so close upon the heels of the actual sex she’d had. 

But James, for his supposedly high shame threshold, looked just as embarrassed as Lily felt.

“It’s a broom cupboard. That’s what you’re talking about — the broom cupboard opposite the Barnabas the Barmy tapestry, yeah?”

Oh. “No, no, it’s not a broom cupboard — it’s a common room, it’s got an oven and a bookshelf—” LIly stammered. 

James’s obvious scepticism did not help her regain her confidence.

“No, that’s a broom cupboard, all right. It’s the Betty Braithwaite cupboard.”

“The—” Lily mouthed Betty Braithwaite cupboard soundlessly, trying to decide if she wanted to ask more questions or not. “The—”

James scoffed. “Rich of you to take that tone with me when you and Fortescue have obviously been putting the cupboard to good use since Betty left Hog—”

She needed to nip this in the bud. “James, for God’s sake, shut up. It did not look like a broom cupboard when we met there, and we weren’t — we didn’t — there was no—” Lily coughed and stopped speaking to collect herself. Realisation struck. “The room must change size. Like — like the courtyard today!” It felt as though a puzzle piece had slid satisfyingly into place. 

Thankfully James took this as an excuse to move on from the question of what Dex and Lily had done in the room. “Well, that’s not the only unusual thing about it,” he said, growing thoughtful. “It — doesn’t appear on maps of the school.”

“What maps?” Lily frowned at him, but he would not meet her gaze. “I’ve read Hogwarts: A History, and there’s no maps that I could remember.”

“Not in Hogwarts: A History. Er, my point is, it’s hard to find. Hard to summon, conjure, whatever it is. Although, Betty was decent at it.”

“James.”

“Decent at summoning the cupboard, Evans. I don’t kiss and tell.”

Lily smothered her instinctive laugh, doing her best to look stern. “So, the room — you don’t know how to get in?”

“I didn’t say that,” James said immediately. “I only said it was hard. I could figure it out.” A dramatic sigh. “If you really want me to, for your romantic getaways.”

“Oh, would you drop it?”

“Since I’m doing you this favour, I should get something in return. Like getting to poke at you about said romantic getaways.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Friends don’t quid pro quo, Potter.”

James held up his hands in surrender. “Friends? Slow it down, Evans. Take me to dinner first.”

She was saved from responding by the Head Girl, who was passing by them in the corridor.

“Hiya, James,” Marissa said. “Lily, could I have a word? The bloody patrol schedule — everyone and their mothers wants to swap this month— Oh, sorry, was I interrupting?” She looked between James and Lily, her bright blue eyes wide in apology.

Lily wasn’t certain the issue was resolved, but before she could think of what to say, James cut her off.

“No, we’re done. Mar, have at her. Evans—” he pointed Persuasion at her as he backed away “—sit tight on the cupboard.”

“Thank you,” Lily said, rolling her eyes. To Marissa she said, “Sorry, he unlearns his manners within days of leaving home. Something about the patrols, was it?”

Marissa laughed; the mirth remained in her expression even after she’d pulled out a notepad and quill. Lily smiled back automatically. She hadn’t let herself consider the position of Head Girl next year, and how very badly she wanted it to be hers, but she did so now as Marissa paged through patrol schedules. She wanted to be approachable and fun, as the older girl was.

The sensible part of Lily knew she had a less laid-back leadership style than Marissa and shouldn’t mould herself to be someone she wasn’t — but she wished for it nevertheless. Marissa always seemed unflappable, like a girl out of a classic boarding school novel: shiny blonde ponytail swinging behind her, cool enough to joke with the popular students but responsible enough to be trusted by their teachers. 

“Lily? Are you listening?”

“What? Oh. Yes. Very much.”

Marissa gave her a knowing smile. “I was saying, Singh and Vance are on for the last week of January, but Vance doesn’t want to patrol the weekend Ravenclaw plays Quidditch.” She rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “Any chance you and Lupin could do it? It’s Filch that week too, unfortunately, but at least the two of you haven’t outright fought with the man.”

Lily didn’t need to ask Remus to know there would be an issue. “Well — that Sunday’s my birthday, but if you—”

“Oh! You’re off the hook.” Marissa waved a hand to dismiss any more protests. “I’ll just get...yes, Greengrass and Snape can take it.”

She did not want to sacrifice the week of her birthday, but Lily felt as though she should press the case just a little.

“I mean, if you really need someone to fill in—”

“Lily,” Marissa said, firm but not unkind, “don’t be ridiculous. The Slytherins will do it, and if they don’t Colin and I will.”

“Okay, if you’re—”

Marissa squeezed her shoulder. “Positive. Sorry, I’ve delayed your lunch, haven’t I? We’ll catch up later.” And the Head Girl sailed away.

Lily let out a sigh at this abrupt departure, starting towards the Great Hall once more. When she arrived at lunch the other Gryffindor sixth years were already seated: her friends at one end, talking loudly and enthusiastically about something or the other, and the Marauders much further down. Her gaze fell upon James’s dark, messy hair. Sit tight, she thought, dropping onto the bench.

It was quite nice of him to have agreed to help her when there was really nothing in it for him. No, nothing at all... For once she was looking forward to seeing what James Potter would come up with.

“Oh, she’s back,” Mary said. “So? You were asking Potter about Dex?”

Normally Lily admired her friend’s tenacity. Today was not one of those days.

“It’s complicated,” she said after a long, expectant silence.

Dorcas laughed. “With you and him, of course it is.”

Lily sighed once more, though not entirely unhappily. “I’m not going to touch that.” With an air of finality she reached for the roast potatoes, and the conversation turned to something far simpler.

Icon of a quill drawing a line

Several seats closer to the teachers’ table, James was facing the reverse of this interrogation.

“You’re helping Lily Evans get to the Betty Braithwaite cupboard, for use with her boyfriend?” Sirius said, looking at his friend as if he’d lost his mind.

“Yeah, so? It’s what...acquaintances do for each other.” James felt he was being honest, but in the face of his mates’ scepticism even he began to question himself. He shook off this train of thought. Doubt was for other people.

“I think it’s nice of you,” said Remus. (Sirius groaned.) “What? If you want to move on, that’s how you do it.”

“That’s not moving on,” Peter pointed out. “That’s when you like a bird so much you’ll help her with other blokes, just ’cause you want her to be happy.”

“Been at the Mills and Boon, have you?” Sirius said drily. 

“You’re the one who hasn’t shut up about Mills and Boon since you read Dragon Bay—”

“Yeah, because it was a hilarious yet telling example of Muggle culture, for which Atkinson gave me a big fat O, if you’ll recall—”

“Maybe I just wanted to solve a castle mystery,” James interrupted. “And Evans doesn’t factor into it. I mean, don’t you want to know where the cupboard gets off to?”

“I still think you’re lying about it,” Peter said. “That corridor’s empty. Maybe you were imagining it. Maybe it was a group hallucination.”

“Betty was diverting, Wormtail, but not that diverting.”

“Honestly, Prongs,” said Remus.

Anyway,” James said, “if you see the cupboard, do me a favour and let me know, yeah?”

Sirius assumed his sceptical expression once more. “Do you a favour and let you know so you can tell Lily so she can—”

“All right, you’ve made your point,” Remus said. “Merlin. We have other things to deal with, don’t we?”

“That we do.” Sirius shot a regretful glance at the Slytherin table. “Give them my love.” The sarcastic comment was far from out of character for him, but his friends registered the extra bite to it, and how his gaze landed on — and then bounced away from — his brother. (No, not his brother. They weren’t brothers anymore.)

“I’m sure they’re waiting with bated breath for that,” Remus said.

James followed his gaze. When Cassius Mulciber and Anthony Avery realised they were being watched, both scowled. James lifted a hand in a friendly wave.

“Do you think they’ll take the bait yet?” Peter whispered.

The pair were muttering to one another now. 

“Not...yet,” said Remus in an undertone.

They were now getting up from the Slytherin table, meals unfinished. The students around them inched away from their plates.

“Oh, do they think we put something in their food?” said Peter, positively gleeful.

James had his wand out; he was idly twirling it in one hand. “There’s something to be said for the straightforward approach.”

Still looking mournful, Sirius pushed away from the table too. “How sad that I had nothing to do with this idea. I mean, how awful of you three to hurt dear Mulciber and Avery.” He said this loudly enough for the students seated around the Marauders to hear.

“How awful,” Remus agreed, something unusually steely in his voice. 

As Sirius sauntered away, Mulciber and Avery approached.

“Whatever stupid trick you’re planning—” Avery started.

“Trick? Oh, no. This is simple stuff.”

James waved his wand, and at once the Slytherins’ hands sandwiched together, palms first, so that both boys looked as though they were praying. 

Mulciber let out a frustrated yell, trying to wrench his hands apart. “What the fuck — you’ll pay for this, Potter, I swear—”

“If you ever get unstuck,” said Peter.

Avery, meanwhile, was doing a funny sort of hop as he shook his folded hands. “Ow — don’t move, it hurts if you move too much—”

The Marauders stood from their seats and started for the exit, as though nothing had happened at all. Avery and Mulciber watched them go, glaring, their matching gestures of supplication comically at odds with their thunderous expressions.

“Try begging for forgiveness sometimes,” said Remus coldly, and with that, the boys headed back to Gryffindor Tower to await their detention summons.