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Come Together

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i. Same Old Worries

“I’m so sick and tired,” Germaine announced at breakfast, “of seeing this prat in the papers.” She jabbed a finger at Marcel Thorpe’s latest column. 

“If only the Prophet had offices in Hogsmeade,” Lily said, moodily stabbing at a sausage. “Doe was listening to his horrible show last week, and I overheard him saying that though he doesn’t condone violence, he isn’t surprised that some purebloods feel the need to respond to Muggleborns’ encroaching on their space. Can you believe it? I mean, if you have to say it with that many euphemisms, you can’t really think you aren’t condoning violence.”

“I hope that Clearwater bird reads Doe’s owls eventually.”

The sixth year girls had seen Dorcas furiously scribble letters to the Prophet’s editor every other day in their free periods. Doe had yet to receive a response, but she did not seem deterred by the result.  

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Lily said, dropping her fork. She’d planned on finishing her breakfast as quickly as possible so she could take her sweet time reading her mother’s latest letter, but as usual she’d been slow to rise. She stuffed the note in her pocket, deciding she could look at it on the way to Potions.

“Going already?” Germaine folded up the Prophet and made to stand with her.

“Oh, take your time. My mum’s written me, so I thought I’d take a long walk to the dungeons.”

With a last wave at her friend, Lily slipped out of the Great Hall and withdrew the note from her mother. All is well… Tuney's driving up to take me to the doctor's, how kind of her... Are you excited for your birthday… present headed your way by Sunday… Lily smiled, tracing Doris’s curling script with a finger. She hadn’t yet decided how she wanted to spend her birthday. In years past she’d had quiet days in with Severus — the memories stung — and once, a Hogsmeade outing with her friends. 

She supposed she’d become a more social creature now. She wouldn’t have minded a party, but was utterly at a loss for whom to ask about the things that went into one. For instance, who would she have invited? Lily was not friendless, but if she thought about it, she was friendly with more people than she was friends with. And the next Hogsmeade visit was two weeks away, so she certainly did not have any Butterbeer or treats to share.

No, it would be a quiet birthday, but she didn’t mind that thought much. The point was, she’d need to spend it with people, lest she consider who was missing from the celebrations. Like Severus...and Dex, who was indeed mired in N.E.W.T. homework. And her father, who would not have been here at Hogwarts in person anyway but whose death anniversary was just two weeks off.

Lily remembered, for a brief moment, the homesickness that had washed over her in December. It had been unlike her then and it was unlike her now to wish she were home instead of in the castle. But home, despite Petunia’s frustrating behaviour and horrid boyfriend, was so uncomplicated. Petunia did not live at home anymore, and if Lily were with her mother she’d only have to deal with her sister on weekends. She could do that. They’d parted on good terms at the start of the month anyway.

She shook off this daydream. It wasn’t as though she could go home — and she didn’t want to, not really. This fugue could not, would not spoil her seventeenth birthday.

Aloud, she said, “I mean, this is the birthday they write songs about.”

“Planning on going full ‘Dancing Queen?’” a quiet voice, suffused with mirth, said from behind her.

Lily started, but gave Remus Lupin a warm smile. “Don’t tell anyone I’m talking to myself in the corridor.”

He smiled in return. “I’ll keep your secrets. And I’ll walk you to Potions, so you can talk to yourself and pretend you’re speaking to me.”

“Have I ever mentioned you’re my most thoughtful friend?”

Remus laughed. “I’ll be sure to keep that secret too. Doe would have my head.”

Her morning blues faded a little with company. See, Lily? You don’t want to be at home after all. She glanced at her friend, trying to think of the last time she’d properly talked to him and coming up short. That gave her a stab of guilt. She had been so preoccupied with her own problems, she’d near forgotten to check in with the mates she didn’t live with.

“Are you all right? I feel as though I haven’t seen you all month. I’d hate to think we only talk when we patrol together,” she said.

“Never mind me,” said Remus, the warmth in his eyes tacit forgiveness. “I’m not the one with a big day coming up. Do you know how you want to celebrate?”

Lily opened her mouth to vocalise all the meandering half-made plans she’d just been thinking up, but stopped short.

“Did they send you to ask? Doe and the others?”

Remus looked mildly indignant. “Can’t I enquire after a friend? Or do we only talk when we patrol together?”

“No, I didn’t mean that,” said Lily hastily. “God, I’m insensitive, that’s not what I meant at all—”

To her relief, he chuckled. “You caught me. I did have ulterior motives, but I’m honestly curious.”

Lily relaxed and shrugged. “I’m not sure yet. And I’m not sure I have the means to carry out anything I decide.”

At that, he arched an eyebrow. “Lily, you know who my mates are. We always have the means.”

She laughed. “So if I told you I wanted a house-wide Exploding Snap tournament, you’d organise one?”

“I’d wonder at your choices, considering you’re rubbish at it — don’t give me that look, we both know it’s true — but I would see what we can do.”

Her mother’s words flashed before her eyes: do enjoy yourself, dear, I hate to think how hard you must be working… if anyone deserves a day off it’s you. Lily trusted just about everything Doris said. And there was a small voice in her head that sounded like her father, reminding her she would sleep easier after an evening with the people she loved, that good company was like hot chocolate.

“Exploding Snap it is,” she said, smiling.

Remus gave her an incredulous look. “You’re not serious.”

“I am, though I’m sure I’ll regret it. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn and end up the winner.”

“Peter’s brilliant at Exploding Snap,” said Remus. “No offence, Lily, he’s fond of you, but he likes winning loads more.”

They were at the dungeons; students were filtering into the classroom. The pair had to wait in the corridor a moment before they could enter.

“I’ll just have to remind Peter it’s my birthday weekend, and that a little leniency is owed to the birthday girl…” Lily batted her lashes innocently.

Remus laughed. “Yeah, good luck with that.”

“You can give me tips on how best to flatter him.” She sat down in her usual spot in the first row, and, on impulse, patted the empty seat beside her. “C’mon, we haven’t sat together in ages.”

“You want Mary to kill me too, don’t you?”

“Ah, she’ll find someone else to sit with — maybe it’ll be a nice boy, and she’ll get to flirt with him. She’ll forget about little old me in no time.”

Remus snorted. “Flirt with who, a Slytherin?” But he took the spot beside her and began unpacking his things, dropping his battered Advanced Potion Making next to her own. “At least you’re making your motives clear at the start.”

Lily grinned. “I have ulterior motives, but I’m honestly curious.”

Icon of a quill drawing a line

Three words, strung together, struck fear into Dorcas Walker’s heart. She did not think them often, but instead of that being a reassurance, they were all the more daunting to consider. Indeed, she couldn’t even remember the last time she’d thought those words… She wasn’t even thinking of them now, not really. She was sort of passively wondering about them. In only the most distant of senses. And simply because their Ancient Runes homework was impossible.

“Michael,” she whispered. 

Anderberg hated them. There was simply no other explanation. There was no plausible reason for these translations being so utterly incomprehensible… And yet Michael’s quill was skating smoothly across his parchment.

Michael,” Doe said, more insistently this time.

He looked up, his brow furrowed. “Yeah?”

She meant to ask about rehwa, and if there was a conjugation she wasn’t considering in the twelfth line of the passage they were working on. What came out instead was quite different.

“Are you seeing Florence Quaille?”

Michael blinked at her. She blinked back, almost equally surprised. Seeming to realise the question had been asked in earnest, he said, “No?”

“Right,” said Doe. “Because, you know, she’s—”

“—in love with Chris Townes,” Michael finished. “I did know.”

“Okay. Well, Mar— someone saw her kiss you at King’s Cross, so, I just thought she was your rebound…” She was glad that she could keep a straight face through this.

He laughed. “She’s definitely not my rebound. I’ve been her shoulder to cry on, figuratively speaking, about Chris. Really it’s funny that she hasn’t—”

“—told Cecily yet, right.” Doe frowned. This was quite the neat little resolution to what had happened at Evan’s. “You’re not seeing Cecily, are you?”

At this Michael looked truly flummoxed. “No? She’s seeing Chris?”

“Right, good, because she thinks Cassius Mulciber is...dishy, except Mulciber is a bigot, and what with you being Muggle-born it would be a bad idea to go with anyone who thought that was a forgivable offence.”

Some of his confusion gave way; he smiled. “Nice of you to be so concerned for me.”

“Right. A concerned citizen, that’s me.” She twirled her quill in her fingers. Another thought niggled at her. Common sense dictated she hold it in, but she’d asked two embarrassing questions already. What was a third?

Just as Michael had returned to his homework, Doe blurted out, “And, you’re not seeing Marissa Beasley, are you?”

He laughed and set his quill down. “I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.”

She mumbled, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

“You would, actually,” he said, sounding almost apologetic. “They gave thirty days’ notice.”

“Oh.” Doe was momentarily blindsided. “I didn’t know that.”

“Blame it on Monty Python. I spoiled the joke, didn’t I?”

She smiled, glad despite herself for the conversational detour. “You did, a bit. But I forgive you.”

“Well, if you want updates on who’s seeing whom…” Michael tapped his chin with a finger, assuming a thoughtful expression. “Steve Fawcett’s taking Amelia to Hogsmeade next month, Lottie Fenwick’s seeing this Hufflepuff — it’s very sweet, she talks about him in the common room non-stop — and I actually reckon Marissa’s seeing—”

Doe laughed, reaching across the table to shove him. “Stop it, you know that’s not what I care about.”

“Then can I know why you’re really asking?”

There was something there, in the answer to that question — something Doe wasn’t ready to say to herself just yet, let alone to him. 

“It’s a long, stupid story. Mary’s — well, I shouldn’t say—” this after she remembered Mary didn’t want people knowing about her and Doc just yet “—but, anyway, I guess you could say Mary’s been trying to piece together who slept with whom after Evan Wronecki’s party.”

Michael’s curious smile turned into a wide grin. “That’s how it is, eh? Tell Mary Macdonald that if she wants to see me she ought to ask me out. She doesn’t have to pretend we’re going to Hogsmeade as friends.”

Was he joking? Doe was quite certain he was joking. But one could never be sure, not where Mary was concerned. Some of her confusion must have shown on her face, because he burst into laughter.

“Your face, Dorcas. I’m having you on.”

“Oh.” She resurrected her smile. “That’s rude of you. Mary’s a catch, Michael Meadowes. You’d be lucky to have her.”

He clasped his hands together in apology. “You’re absolutely right. Don’t say a word.”

Doe giggled at his pout and waved her homework at him. “What I really wanted to ask was, look at this rune here—” 

And though the afternoon returned to its designated course, her thoughts did not. Because there had been a telltale swoop in her stomach when Michael had laughed at her…and Dorcas thought those three words, those three awful words. Was Mary right?

Icon of a quill drawing a line

That weekend the student population headed down to the Quidditch stadium once more. Germaine King lingered on at breakfast, staring at her porridge. Ravenclaw versus Slytherin had been moved forward, much to the two teams’ dismay — and Gryffindor’s delight, of course. She’d spent the morning overhearing her teammates eagerly discuss how this could cost Ravenclaw, their biggest competitors.

“The bottom line is,” James was saying, “whether or not they’ve had less time to practice than they normally would after the holidays, they’re still good. And no matter who wins our job is still the same. We’ve had our schedules messed with too.”

But even he could not deliver this lecture sternly; there was a wide grin on his face. It did make a difference, because if Ravenclaw lost — Germaine automatically knocked on wood at this thought — then Gryffindor would have an easier path to the Quidditch Cup. They could lose a match and still win. But James would have killed her if she’d pointed this out. 

“Sure, sure,” Isobel Park said. “I just want to know who I should thank for this. I’d like to send them flowers.”

“Apparently it was Lawrence,” said Evan Wronecki.

“Lawrence?” Germaine glanced up at the professors’ table, where the wizened Divination teacher was tucking into her eggs. The woman had a healthy appetite, but somehow always looked to be on the brink of death. “I didn’t know Lawrence cared this way or that about Quidditch.”

James was rolling his eyes. “She told her sixth year class that a flier would have a terrible accident in the castle at the end of February, and Vance and Fawcett persuaded Flitwick to have the match moved. If they really think some half-baked prophecy is worth less practice, that’s their prerogative.”

The Gryffindors exchanged glances, knowing full well that had this vision concerned their team, James would probably have told them to make sure the terrible accident did actually happen — to their rivals, on the pitch. 

Germaine alone did not share in their bemused looks. The name Vance stung still. She’d come down to breakfast late on purpose so that she did not have to see the other witch. The choice had paid off — the Ravenclaw team had already headed down to the stadium — but it had been silly, in retrospect, to think she could have escaped hearing about her.

Her teammates rose but Germaine stayed sitting. As they ambled for the exit, a shadow hung over her. She looked up to see James, hands in pockets, still waiting.

“You’re not watching?” he asked, like he already knew the answer.

She shrugged. “I don’t really feel up to it.”

“Well...whatever your reasons…” 

He looked at his feet. Germaine thought he was remembering the afternoon, weeks ago, when they’d argued on the pitch about Emmeline. She didn’t quite feel like apologising yet. 

James seemed to feel the same way, because he continued, “Percy takes notes, and they’re ridiculously detailed. You can always read what you missed.”

She liked this better than an awkward apology. Better to move on, she thought, than to pretend things could be different.

“You were probably right about her,” she mumbled.

He winced. “Then…I wish I wasn’t.”

With that he left too. Germaine sighed and dunked her spoon into her congealing porridge once more.

Icon of a quill drawing a line

After dinner on Saturday the mood in the Gryffindor common room was surprisingly festive. You might be forgiven for thinking it was them, and not Slytherin, who’d won a Quidditch match that day. Granted, some of the excitement was for the same reason the Quidditch team had watched the morning’s game in high spirits.

Ravenclaw had lost after all, and Gryffindor had breathing room now in its quest for the cup. But the more immediate occasion was an impromptu Exploding Snap tournament, scheduled to start at eight that evening.

Well, impromptu to most of the house. Someone had prepared by putting up posters that morning, as if it were a surprise circus arrival. Lisa Kelly, a fifth year, practically vibrated with delight as she read off the poster for about the tenth time in the space of an hour. 

“It’s the Marauders’ doing,” she said. “It has to be.”

Lisa Kelsoe, her best friend and fellow fifth year, nodded. “You’re probably right. But there’s no point getting excited when it’s in honour of another girl.”

This too had been discussed at length.

Lisa Kelly sighed. “Sure, he doesn’t still fancy her. It’s just a coincidence that it’s her birthday tomorrow.”

“Right, just how it’s a coincidence that her name’s on the poster?”

They glanced at it in unison. It was the inaugural Lily Evans Gryffindor House Exploding Snap tournament. Or so the poster said. 

“Yes. Exactly like that coincidence.”

Lisa Kelsoe laughed. “You’re my best mate, but you can be so thick sometimes.”

At that very moment, Sirius Black appeared behind them. “Bets on the tournament, Lisa? Lisa?”

“Sacred Circe,” Lisa Kelsoe breathed, once she’d recovered from the surprise. “Don’t sneak up on me.”

Sirius did not apologise; he only grinned. This had the desired effect of charming both girls.

“I don’t think I’m going to play,” said Lisa Kelly. “I’m not very good.”

Sirius waved a dismissive hand. “You shouldn’t play if you’re betting, strictly speaking.” He held out a drawstring pouch, already half-full with clinking coins.

Lisa Kelly was caught between the desire to impress an older, good-looking student — and one of the Marauders, no less — and the desire to save her gold for Hogsmeade. Lisa Kelsoe noticed her indecision, and, rolling her eyes, dropped three Sickles into Sirius’s bag.

“It’s her money,” she said. “I owe Lisa a new hairbrush anyhow. Put it on Peter Petti—”

“Put it on James Potter,” Lisa Kelly said firmly.

The Lisas exchanged meaningful looks. Sirius shrugged, backing away. Birds so often spoke without speaking. His mind was more on the betting than on figuring this out.

Upstairs in the Marauders’ dormitory, only Peter and James remained. The former, as reigning Exploding Snap champion, was giving himself a pep talk in the mirror. If he went down too soon, he was certain, he’d be thrown off his game. James was pacing the carpet behind him while pretending to not pace the carpet — that is, by stopping whenever Peter frowned at him and feigning casualness.

He had never given Lily Evans a birthday present before. They had never really been on those terms. He supposed to some extent the tournament was his present to her, along with her friends and his. But it wasn’t a proper gift, not in the way a one-to-one present would be. Not the sort of present her boyfriend would be giving her, certainly. 

Comparing himself to Fortescue was dangerous territory. James backed out of it at once. 

But thinking of Dex Fortescue made James remember the Betty Braithwaite cupboard, and his — possibly misguided — promise to Lily. He had made the occasional nightly excursion these past few weeks (to think, he’d told himself) that had ended in front of the tapestry and the blank wall. But no door had shown itself. He couldn’t at all figure out how it had in the first place.

It made him wonder if they were going about this all wrong — if, perhaps, the cupboard-slash-room moved around, and that was why they hadn’t been able to map it. But they only had the information they had, and so the seventh-floor corridor was all he had to go on. Besides, the Trophy Room was alternately on the third and sixth floors of the castle, and that still showed up on the map just fine.

The corridor in question was empty, as the map showed. Dissatisfied, James searched the parchment for any other points of interest. Most Slytherins were in the dungeon, probably celebrating… Some seventh years were ensconced in the library still — cutting it quite close to eight o’clock, when Pince would unceremoniously toss them out… James noted the dot labelled Dexter Fortescue among them with some satisfaction. 

Right outside the library doors was Lily Evans, probably having just said hello to her boyfriend. James checked his watch. It wasn’t like her to run late, but if she didn’t literally sprint to Gryffindor Tower, she would probably be late for the tournament’s start. Then he noticed the dot some way along the corridor from her, getting closer. Severus Snape. He waited for Lily to walk away. But Snape got closer, and closer, until they were obviously in conversation. 

James felt a hot spike of annoyance, and wished he didn’t. 

“Is Lily here yet?” Peter had turned away from the mirror at last, watching his friend with some concern.

“I think she’ll be late,” James said grimly, and tossed the map onto his unmade bed. “C’mon, let’s go.”

The two boys trooped down to the common room in silence.

Icon of a quill drawing a line

Lily stopped outside the library to catch her breath. Pince often left the circulation desk ten minutes before the library closed in order to throw out lingering students, and she had only just made it in time to return the book she’d borrowed to the sour-faced librarian.

“This,” Pince had said, “is due tonight.”

“Yes,” Lily said hurriedly. “That’s why I’m here, returning it to you.”

Pince scowled. “Don’t you give me cheek, young lady.” But she’d taken the slim volume, a reference Lily had needed for a History of Magic essay. “You’d best be out of the library in...six minutes. I won’t go looking for you.”

“Right! Of course not—”

But Dex was in the library, and she wanted to say hello before her birthday...even as a part of her complained that he ought to seek her out before her birthday, and then another part of her protested at this whining. Acting on impulse, Lily hurried further into the library, deciding she would take three minutes to search him out.

He had been nowhere to be found, though, and she’d beat a hasty retreat just in time to avoid Pince. If she waited until eight she might run into him on his way out — but her better sense did win out this time, because she was already going to be late for Exploding Snap, after all the trouble her friends had gone to for her last-minute whims… Thirty more seconds, she promised herself, and then I’ll run to the common room.

As it turned out, her aspirations ran ahead of her reality. 

“Lily.”

How could she not know that voice? It was a voice that made her feel nine years old again, full with the delight and novelty of magic. But all the years of good memories had been layered over with the new and ugly ones...suspicions, fears, resignation.

For once, when Lily Evans turned to look at Severus Snape, she did so thinking of the latter first and then the former. Maybe that was what it felt like to move on, to really say goodbye to a broken friendship.

His mouth quirked into a half-smile before returning to a thin line, as though his instinctive reaction to her was still joy.

“Severus,” she replied, nothing more than polite. 

He noticed the change, of course; his expression grew shadowed. “Thrilling birthday plans? I hear your new best mates have been hard at work.” As if she hadn’t guessed who he meant, Severus added, “Potter and company, that is.”

Lily made a sound that was half-laugh, half-sigh. So much had changed this year, but she was still caught in this pattern — this circular conversation she’d been having for years. Except, perspective fundamentally altered how she approached it.

She pressed a hand to her forehead. “You really are obsessed with them, God.”

Severus’s face hardened even more. “I didn’t expect you of all people to fall under their spell—”

I’m not the one under anyone’s spell.” The words were more tired than heated. “I’m going to go now. I have somewhere to be, and you have patrol tonight.” 

She’d only taken a few steps before she stopped once more. Half-turning, Lily looked at her former best friend again. He hadn’t moved an inch. She’d always thought she would come of age with him. 

“I’m going to find out what’s going on in the seventh-floor corridor,” she said. She meant it as a promise, and she knew he knew what her promises sounded like. “And you can’t stop me.”

For a moment — just a moment — he looked afraid. But then Severus was cold once more.

“On your own head be it,” he said softly, and left the way he’d come.

 


ii. The Inaugural Lily Evans Gryffindor House Exploding Snap Tournament

It was precisely nine minutes after eight. A horde of Gryffindors — from lanky, grinning seventh years to thrilled second years — were gathered in the common room, where a fire blazed in the hearth. They stared, rapt and attentive, at Remus Lupin, who stood in the centre of their circle.

“Any questions? Remember, we’re playing Bavarian rules.”

“The superior rule system,” Peter cut in.

A third year raised her hand. “Yes, um, I didn’t pay the tournament fee? Can I still play?”

Remus looked taken aback. “There...isn’t a tournament fee.”

“Sirius Black said there was.”

Remus gave Sirius a look of chastisement. “He’ll give your money back. And anyone else who paid a tournament fee.”

“It wasn’t an entrance fee. It was a bet, as you know full well, Polly,” Sirius said, not looking ashamed in the slightest.

“Any other questions?” said Remus pointedly.

The portrait swung open at that moment, revealing a panting Lily Evans. 

“It’s not too late to join, is it?” she said.

James Potter did not want to look up at her from where he sat, in an armchair at prime distance from the fire, but he found himself doing it anyway. 

“No, not at all,” Remus said, beaming at her. 

“Sorry, sorry—” She pushed her way through the assembled students, plopping down on the carpet beside Mary not far from where James sat. “I was returning that blasted book Binns made us use and Pince was awful as usual—” James heard her say.

“Bitch,” Mary said, rolling her eyes.

Mary.”

“What? Pince is a bitch. My feminist card doesn’t get revoked by my saying so.”

“Round one brackets are—” Remus called “—group A, Isobel Park, Dorcas Walker, Andrew Stevens, and Peter Pettigrew—” 

Peter bowed; Doe narrowed her eyes at him in warning. “You haven’t won yet!” she called, to much hooting.

“—and group H, whom I’m obligated as a friend to tell should play to lose so Lily Evans can advance—” Remus was saying, grinning in Lily’s direction “—Eddie McKinnon, Lisa Kelsoe, Lily herself, and James Potter.”

His friends had made these brackets, so James supposed this shouldn’t have surprised him. It was a multipurpose choice, and part of him appreciated the efficiency of it. If he really was getting over her, then this would be another way to test himself. He saw this logic in the challenging arch of Sirius’s brows. If he wasn’t over her...then this would help him face the facts. Peter wasn’t bothering to hide his small, satisfied smile. 

But James was nothing if not stubborn. If his mates wanted to promote — introspection, or whatever the fuck, he would determinedly avoid it. They exchanged glances, all four of them, and he saw them all clock his decision at once. Come on, Peter mouthed. James took the deck of cards from Remus with a pointed look and joined his group. 

“I hope you’re all ready to lose,” Lily was telling Eddie and Lisa, rubbing her hands together gleefully.

Jamea was definitely not charmed.

“You’re the one who’s shit at Exploding Snap,” he said, sitting down.

Lily gave him an affronted look.

“What? Remus told me so.”

Lily gave Remus an affronted look.

Several onlookers clustered around their circle. A very giggly Lisa Kelly said  “Good luck, everyone!” and gave her best mate a wide, meaningful smile. 

“Thanks, Lisa,” James said, and she dissolved into still more giggles. Across from him, Lily coughed but did not quite succeed in hiding her own laughter.

Grinning despite himself, James fished out his wand as the cards began to shuffle themselves. He was all right at Exploding Snap, thanks to Quidditch reflexes and years of playing against a shockingly good Peter. But it was clear that of their group Lisa Kelsoe was bound to win — her wand shot out seconds before James’s time and time again. A smug smile had begun to creep across her face. 

Remus had not been lying; Lily was honestly abysmal, muttering to herself like a batty old woman as she played and fumbling for points after they’d passed with a soft “Drat!” As the deck dwindled, James was careful to target Lisa’s points so as to close the gap between them.

He thought he’d have a decent chance at it too — until, with a massive, game-winning set waiting to be collected, Lily hovered her wand hand over the cards and hummed to herself for a solid twenty seconds. James thought, I should just push her arm away, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. The same indecision was written all over Lisa’s face, though, if James were being honest, it was probably not for the same reason. 

“Hurry it up,” Lisa said through clenched teeth.

“What? Oh!” Lily withdrew her hand, and James and Lisa pounced.

The cards exploded.

“Jesus sodding Christ,” James gasped — first at the heat, which had surely singed his eyebrows, and then at the jet of water Lily shot his way.

“Oh, sorry, I was trying to help,” said Lily, sounding unduly pleased. James scowled at her, taking off his glasses to wipe them.

“Match, here!” one of their audience members called, and Remus came over to confirm that the cards had indeed all been used up.

“Group H, Lily wins,” said Remus.

“What?” said James and Lisa Kelsoe.

Lily grinned at them both. “Well, you forfeited points equivalent to the ones you set off — which was quite a lot, by the way — and I was beating Eddie already. So I win.”

In the silence that followed, Lisa said, “Bloody Bavarian rules.”

James looked down at the cards, gobsmacked. “You planned it,” he said, pushing his glasses back up his nose.

“Me?” Lily rose to her feet, dusting the residual ash from her jumper. “But I couldn’t have. I’m shit at Exploding Snap.” With a final smile she stepped out of their circle.

He followed; of course he did. (He missed the crestfallen expressions of both Lisas — the one having taken in the look James had given Lily, the other realising her three Sickles were lost along with her hopes of winning the tournament.) 

“Enjoying yourself, now that you’re going to cheat your way to victory?” James said.

She was smiling; her green eyes shone. He wished he could look at something else, but his gaze was drawn to her, again and again. 

“I didn’t cheat. It was a bit of gamesmanship, I’ll admit, but you’re no stranger to that.”

“I win fair and square, every time I win. Which is a lot of the time.”

“Somehow your bragging feels hollow after you just lost.”

“I’m reminding you of the way things stand, normally. Tonight’s an exception.”

She leaned closer to him. He registered the freckles on the bridge of her nose.

“Why’s that?” she said.

With effort, James leaned away and remained impassive. “I was told to let the birthday girl win, and I’m a gentleman.”

Lily snorted a laugh, then covered her mouth. “Which one is it? Did I cheat, or did you throw the game?”

He shrugged. “Maybe a little bit of both.”

An arm was thrown around his shoulders — Sirius, his drawstring pouch clutched in one hand. “Care for a bet, now that you’ve been knocked out?”

“Let the pain fade before you come over trying to extort me,” James said, rolling his eyes.

“Never,” said Sirius with cheer. “Now that I’m no longer wealthy—”

“Your uncle left you a small fortune.”

“—now that I’m no longer wealthy, I need the profit margin.”

Remus appeared out of nowhere, grabbing the pouch. “The profit margin is the prize money, Sirius.”

“The fuck? What do I get for calculating odds all evening?”

“It’s all right, James,” Lily cut in. “You can bet on me, and you’re sure to win. Who knows, maybe I’ll spare a bit of the prize money for you as thanks.”

“There’s no prize money,” said Sirius pointedly. “The prize is a trophy.”

“A trophy? Oh, can I see it?”

“No,” said James. “And you’re very confident for someone whose strategy was to be in third place for most of that game.”

“You’re a sore loser, aren’t you?” Lily laughed. 

She patted him on the arm and joined the group A onlookers. James did not watch her go.

“Christ, you needed rescuing,” said Sirius, rolling his eyes.

He had watched her go, a little. 

Try and stick to your friends resolution, yeah? Everyone can see you making eyes at her.”

“I’m not making eyes at her,” James said.

“All right, James,” said Remus.

In her absence, he tried to remind himself of the frustration he’d felt not so long ago upon seeing her and Snape on the map. Maybe her sunny mood had come from patching things up with him.

But it was so difficult staying angry with her. Tonight was a prime Lily Evans night: her red hair shone in the firelight, mirth gave her face a glow. The word James was carefully avoiding was beautiful. It was terrible to know that befriending her hadn’t changed that — had made it worse, somehow. 

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It was half past ten when Mary, Doe, and Germaine cornered Peter.

Well, maybe cornered was putting it strongly. The crowd had stuck around to watch the final match of the tournament; someone had broken out bottles of Butterbeer, which were now being passed around before the game began. The girls hovered pointedly around Peter, Butterbeers in hand.

“You’re here to tell me to throw the match,” said Peter.

“No!” Doe said.

“Not at all,” Germaine said.

“On the contrary,” said Mary. “Lily needs to win the honest way, although I can’t for the life of me understand why.”

“You wouldn’t understand honour if it bit you in the arse, Mare,” Germaine said fondly. 

“What we mean to say is,” Doe went on, “make sure you put up a good fight.”

Peter glanced between them, indignant. “Of course I will! I don’t plan on losing. I haven’t lost a game of Exploding Snap since I was eight.”

“Famous last words,” Lily called.

She and Peter joined Bert Mallory, one of the Gryffindor Beaters, and a fourth year named Evelyn Waspwing in the final circle. A round of cheers went around the audience. Looking at her grinning housemates, Lily wondered that she had felt homesick at all just the day before. Even when school was difficult — and Merlin, it so often found new ways to be difficult — it was still Hogwarts. It was magical, it was welcoming, it was home away from home.

“No elbowing, no spitting, and certainly no non-verbal hexing,” Remus told the players. He held up the deck of cards and it floated towards them, shuffling itself as it went. Lily gripped her wand tight in her clammy hand, and tried not to look at Peter’s serene expression.

The cards flipped face up. Lily’s hand shot out almost of its own accord, nabbing a pair of Hebridean Blacks. 

“First blood,” muttered Peter. Evelyn shushed him and took the second point.

For all the friendly ribbing the previous matches had contained, this one was played in deathly silence — on their part, at least. The audience cheered at every point, yelled and ducked when Bert Mallory’s cards exploded, and quieted as the deck wound down. It was a terribly close game but—

“That’s...the match for Lily,” said Remus into the hush. (“Sacred Circe,” whispered Lisa Kelly.)

Lily leapt to her feet and whooped. The sound of it was almost enough to obscure Peter’s moaning. She seized the first person at hand — Dorcas, thankfully — and hugged her. 

“I won!” she crowed. She detached herself from Doe and pointed at Peter, who was watching her glumly. “I beat you, and you actually wanted to win!”

“Why are you so shocked?” said Peter with profound bitterness. “You strategised your way to the final round anyway.”

“Oh, it was a fluke, really. I’m awful at Exploding Snap. I just did what I could and hoped for the best.”

His jaw dropped. Lily burst into laughter, hauling Mary and Germaine into her arms as well.

“It was so lovely of you to do this. It’s really taken my mind off — everything.”

Germaine, whose arms were wrapped around her waist, gave her a squeeze. “Of course, silly. Now, our gifts are ready to be opened tomorrow morning, but by request this one is supposed to get to you early.”

“What?”

Mary tugged her to a quieter corner of the room. They squeezed onto a sofa, and she pulled a little velvet box and a letter from her pocket. At first Lily looked at the box and thought Dex? But it didn’t look like a jewellery case, and she’d have been quite mortified if he’d spent real money on her. She took the box, anticipation rising in her chest, and worked it open.

Inside was a slim gold wristwatch, with a pearlescent face and a clasp that made it look more like a bracelet than a watch. It was delightfully impractical — Lily didn’t think she could wear it for fear of breaking it — but it was gorgeous. The hands were set to midnight, frozen and waiting for her to start them.

“Oh,” Lily breathed, “it’s beautiful. It’s — who sent it?” If her friends had cobbled together the gold for it, she would cry at once. She wouldn’t have been able to accept it.

Mary laughed as if she were being dense on purpose. “Your mum, stupid. Here, the letter goes with it.”

She took the letter in shaking fingers, uncomprehending. But it couldn’t be — hadn’t her mum said to expect her present on Sunday? And the watch was clearly too expensive… The letter, though, was in her mother’s familiar hand. 

 

Dear Lily,

Happy, happy birthday. I know you’ll expect to hear from me only on Sunday, but I thought you deserved a surprise. Petunia reminded me that the traditional magical gift when you turn seventeen is a watch, and when I saw this one I knew it was perfect. Don’t you worry about the how of it — that’s your mother’s concern. I am so proud of the lively, intelligent, caring young woman you’ve grown into. As much credit as I want to take for it, most of it is your due. I couldn’t be happier to call you my daughter. 

I think of you every day. I think of how proud your father would be to see you now — how proud he is, wherever he’s watching us from. Wear this watch and start it at midnight, so it can keep you company as you walk into adulthood.

All my love,

Mum

 

“Oh,” Lily said again, and found she was crying.

“Don’t cry,” Doe said, swiping away her tears with a thumb.

Lily gave a shaky laugh, drying her cheeks. How had Petunia even known about watches? She couldn’t remember mentioning it. But she must have. And her sister had remembered. For all that Severus reminded her of her childhood, she had someone else from back then too. And Petunia was complicated too, of course she was, but she was her sister, and this was proof that things between them weren’t altogether irreparable.

She took off the worn watch she had on already and fumbled with the new one, trying to do the catch one-handed before Germaine leaned over and put it on for her. 

“Doris really has taste,” Mary said admiringly, making all four of them laugh.

“She does,” said Lily, unable to contribute anything more meaningful to the conversation just yet. For this shining moment, everything was good.

The girls sat in silence for some time, the festivities continuing around them. Finally Lily stood, needing something to do — and it was almost eleven, the youngest students ought to be ushered to bed soon… She collected her friends’ empty Butterbeer bottles, ignoring their protests, and moved through the crowd to dispose of them. 

“Cleaning up before the party’s even over?” James said, appearing beside her.

Lily gave him a small smile. Now that the adrenaline of the tournament had worn off, she was the slightest bit embarrassed by how she’d acted around him. Somehow the gusto and cheek of her summer self had come over her — or the energy of a far younger, left-behind Lily. It was probably too much. Too annoying, or laughable, or downright bizarre.

Instead of answering his question, she asked one of her own. “Are you going to show me the trophy yet?” 

“I don’t have it. But you should stop by the Trophy Room tomorrow.”

“The Trophy Room?”

Yes, the Trophy Room. Stop fishing.” He handed her a pouch — the very same one that Sirius had been toting around all afternoon. “Your winnings. Remus and I had to wrestle them away from Sirius, so I’d steer clear of him for a while.”

Lily laughed, taking the pouch. She saw that the posters around the common room — previously announcing the start time of the tournament — now read Congratulations, Lily Evans, winner of the inaugural Lily Evans Gryffindor House Exploding Snap Tournament in Doe’s flowing script.

Her friends had done this...for her. She had been distracted and secretive and distant and they had still done this for her. And Remus was certainly her friend, and Peter was a sweetheart, but Sirius was Sirius and James was James. If you had told her in September that the latter would have a hand, at all, in making her seventeenth birthday special, Lily would have been shocked.

“Thank you,” she said, fiddling with the pouch’s strings as she looked up at James. “You didn’t have to do all this. I mean, it was very good of you.” Not nice, or kind, or sweet, Lily thought, but good. Wholly well-intentioned and reflective of an innate something. 

James sighed, rocking back on his heels as if her words were a burden to bear — though his smile didn’t entirely fade. “I didn’t do much.”

“It isn’t like you to deflect praise.”

“It isn’t like you to be late, but you were late earlier tonight.”

Lily frowned. Had she said something wrong? “It isn’t like you to keep tabs on me.”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s really like you to argue.”

“Are we arguing? Because I don’t know why.” Wrongness was puncturing her good mood, like a needle to a balloon.

“We’re not arguing,” James said after a moment. “Sorry. Happy birthday. I’d better go see what that’s about.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, where a seventh year was arguing with Sirius and Peter. 

Lily wasn’t sure what to say — thank you? I’m sorry? She didn’t know what she felt like apologising for. But the easy way they’d had while playing Exploding Snap had vanished. Things were simple with him until they weren’t.

“Right. Thanks,” she said once she’d found her voice. 

He gave her a wave and sauntered off. Lily turned around just so she would not watch him go, and so she was in the perfect spot to see the portrait swing open to reveal a flustered, breathless Colin Rollins.

“Prefects!” he shouted.

At first, people did not hear him. Lily moved towards him automatically, guiltily — it was late, and they were probably being noisy, and her name was plastered all over the common room walls. Perhaps that didn’t account for the Head Boy’s frazzled look, but Colin had his peculiarities. Maybe he couldn’t stand the idea of the Gryffindors having this much fun. 

“I’m sorry, we’ll send the younger students to bed,” she said.

He gave her a grim nod, but raised his voice once more. “Everyone! Get to your dorms, right now. Professor McGonagall will be by to ensure the common room is empty. And it’s past curfew, but let me remind you that no one is to leave the tower. No one.”

Only then did Lily wonder if this panic had an entirely different cause.

“Colin, is everything all right?”

His gaze snapped to hers; he swallowed. He was afraid, she realised. A chill crept into her veins.

“Yes. No. I mean— Look, I don’t want students going off to investigate, so I’d rather not talk. Merlin knows everyone will find out by tomorrow anyway.”

She didn’t understand any of it. “Find out what? Is… Has someone been hurt?”

Colin looked away. This was enough confirmation for Lily, who felt a weight drop like a stone in her stomach.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get everyone in bed. I’m sure the prefects can wake up every now and then to make sure…”

She glanced over her shoulder; the other prefects had realised this was serious, and were shepherding students up the staircases. Her friends were waiting by the foot of the girls’ staircase wearing identical worried expressions. Lily gave them a smile and a thumbs up, but her heart was not in it. It seemed as though the evening’s merriment had been just an illusion, shattered by the real world.

“Right. As long as things are under control, I should head back.” Colin gave her a terse nod. “Thanks, Evans.”

He was gone before she could say no problem. Lily burned with the need to know what had happened — but she was no idiot. Leaving was a very silly idea, given how worried Colin had looked. The last few stragglers were headed up to their dorms, but Peter and James still hovered nearby. She did not want to scold them, but she couldn’t in good conscience go off to sleep and pretend she didn’t know what they were thinking of doing…

“You should both be in bed,” she called as she walked in their direction.

They exchanged glances. 

“You should be in bed, now that you’ve done your job,” James said. He was holding a piece of parchment in his hands; he angled it away from her.

“Colin said someone was hurt. Whoever hurt them could still be—”

“—around, with all the Aurors and professors out of bed?” James shook his head. “Just go, Evans. We’re not planning anything.”

Lily bit her lip, wondering if she ought to call him out on such a baldfaced lie. But he had that mulish look on his face, the one she knew would not budge for anything. Given how tenuous their friendship had felt just minutes ago, she was afraid that pushing now would lead to a break. 

So she shrugged and walked up the stairs, knowing she would lie awake for hours. Moving on autopilot, she took off the new watch and set it on her bedside table before sliding under the covers. She would not remember to start it, as her mother had told her to, until past noon the next day, the twelve nervous, restless hours in between like a waking dream. So this, she would think as she fiddled with the knob and set the watch to match Doe’s, is adulthood.

 


iii. The Way Things Stand

It took eight minutes for James Potter, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew to disobey Lily’s directive.

Sirius could not be caught out of bed, and at first a whispered argument had ensued on the subject. Finally Remus had conceded (thrown up his hands and said, “Oh, do you what you want!”) and James and Sirius had ducked under the Cloak and slipped out of the portrait hole. Peter followed in his rat form. The excitement of a nighttime excursion was muted; the boys were alert, as close as they could be to worried, as they studied the map. 

The point of disturbance was in the armour gallery, it seemed. They had never seen so many professors’ dots clustered in one place before, save perhaps the Start-of-Term Feast. All four heads of house were present, as were Professor Thorpe, Edgar Bones and Ethelbert Fawley, Marissa Beasley and Crollins, and Filch and Mrs. Norris. Pomfrey was bustling around the Hospital Wing, though more than one student was in the infirmary for the night and it was unclear who exactly had been hurt. Most significant of all, though, was the dot labelled Albus Dumbledore in the Hospital Wing. if the headmaster himself had been roused from bed, things were really serious.

James searched the map, as he so often did when confronted with a mishap at Hogwarts, for Snape. He and Thalia Greengrass were moving towards the dungeons; only one other student was out of bed ahead of them, one Olivia Nott. He frowned, distracted enough that he nearly tripped over the hem of the Cloak.

“Christ, watch out,” Sirius muttered.

James mumbled an apology as they entered the Trophy Room. The Protean Charm placed on the trophies there earlier had already taken effect; the shields and plaques read Lily J. Evans, Winner, Inaugural Lily Evans Gryffindor House Exploding Snap Tournament (1977). The idea had been Germaine’s — since the trophies would celebrate Lily regardless of who won — and James had executed it. What a laugh it had seemed before; now the trophies looked too cheerful by far. 

“Here, squeaky squeaky!” a voice crooned in the darkness; Peeves, hanging from the chandelier, swooped down upon Peter, who did indeed squeal and dash out of sight. Sirius swore quietly. The boys finally slipped through to the armour gallery — and stopped short. 

It was always amusing to see professors in their dressing gowns at nighttime — McGonagall in tartan, Sprout in paisley, Flitwick in chintz, and Slughorn in stripes — but it seemed like a unique horror now. Like laughing at a broken bone, because it seemed too wrong to be real. Splashed across the wall in bold black letters was the phrase BLOOD WILL FIGHT BACK. Flitwick and Thorpe were waving their wands at the message, but it did not budge.

“We’ll have to get it off the old-fashioned way, I expect,” said Edgar Bones grimly.

“I’ll sort it out,” said Flitwick, his face set in determination. “I’ll sort it out if it takes me all night.”

“Filius—” McGonagall began, but the Charms professor shook his head.

“Impervious or not, there is a way around it…”

Turning to Marissa and Crollins, McGonagall said, “The prefects have been gone too long. Would you—”

“Go after them?” Marissa finished. “Yes, Professor. We’ll bring them right back.”

“I should come with you,” Slughorn said, though he looked incredibly reluctant. “They’re all my students, after all… Oh, terrible, terrible…”

His students? James’s frown deepened. Maybe Snape was involved, the great prat… 

“I don’t understand,” Sprout said as Slughorn, Marissa, and Crollins disappeared in the direction of the dungeons. “I simply don’t understand how, with all the people patrolling tonight, this could have escaped our notice.” She looked askance at Filch — not exactly accusatory, but certainly questioning.

“Having spoken to Peeves—” McGonagall looked incredibly weary at the thought of the poltergeist “—I think some of the blame can be placed on the itinerant Trophy Room. It may have bounced between the sixth floor and the third tonight—”

"I told you, Professor McGonagall, I told you it was the Trophy Room — the poor things, with that blasted poltergeist spoiling them—" Filch cut in.

McGonagall gave him a quelling look. "I am sure you're expressing sympathy for the victim, Filch, and not inanimate objects."

The caretaker looked cowed. "I only meant — I was on the sixth floor, Professor, and heard a ruckus in the room, came rushing right back to investigate it only the room was gone — had to walk down three floors—"

"If Mr. McIlhenny had wound up on the wrong floor having gone through the Trophy Room," McGonagall began thoughtfully.

“He could have been ambushed,” Thorpe said, nodding. “Although, Minerva, it would take a stroke of good fortune to be waiting on the third floor just as the Trophy Room moved.”

“Are you suggesting that there were — multiple conspirators involved?” said Flitwick, turning his attention away from the wall.

Thorpe shrugged. “One on each floor, ready to catch him wherever he landed up. Honestly, having taught Nott, she’d need the help. I can’t imagine her taking McIlhenny down very easily.”

Sprout scoffed. “But why would Olivia Nott want to attack him so badly? Why would she know where he was going?”

“I expect we’ll have more answers when Poppy revives him,” said McGonagall, putting an end to the speculation.

James exchanged a glance with Sirius, who mouthed revive?  

“We can go over curse shields at the next Duelling Club,” Fawley said; Bones nodded agreement.

Thorpe sighed. “I’ll give everyone a short lesson in my classes next week. Merlin knows I shouldn’t have to teach that to first and second years…”

James felt a pressure on his foot; he looked down to see Peter, still in rat form, standing on his toes pointedly. What? he tried to convey with his gaze. The rat pointed along the corridor. Mrs. Norris had gone very still, save for her twitching tail, and was staring in their direction. That was their cue.

For a moment James wanted to suggest they visit the Hospital Wing and find out what had happened to McIlhenny, but getting around Dumbledore was too much risk. He jerked his head towards the Trophy Room — which seemed stable for now — and the three boys scuttled back to Gryffindor Tower, none but Mrs. Norris the wiser.

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Colin Rollins was wrong about most things, but he had correctly estimated the pace and zeal of the Hogwarts rumour mill. By breakfast the next morning everyone did know what had happened. Gerry McIlhenny, a burly fifth year Muggle-born student in Hufflepuff, had been hit with a curse and left in the armour gallery on the third floor.

Any worse and he’d have had to be sent to St. Mungo’s, apparently, but the prefects on patrol had found him in time, and he was recovering in the Hospital Wing. They’d even caught the culprit, who hadn’t been able to get back to her bed in time. 

The Great Hall was abuzz with discussion. Sprout, Slughorn, and Dumbledore were absent from breakfast, but McGonagall gazed down at the students sternly, seemingly caught between hushing them and staying silent.

The Aurors walking up and down the aisles looked worn and sleep-tousled. Kingsley Shacklebolt was shaking his head as he paced — recalled temporarily from the Hogsmeade investigation, or so rumour claimed — and across the hall, Marlene McKinnon muttered, “Oh, seven hells,” as she gave a weeping Ravenclaw a handkerchief.

“No way was it Olivia Nott,” said James as he took a swig of pumpkin juice. “I’d bet my bloody broom on it.”

“Well, betting your broom won’t save her,” Remus said, sighing. “Supposedly her wand cast the curse. They’re suspending her — I saw her parents in the Entrance Hall earlier.”

Undeterred, James jabbed a fork in the air. “That’s proof of nothing. Anyone could’ve taken her wand and cast the spell. Anyone could’ve — Confunded her, even—”

“She remembers doing it,” Peter said in an undertone. “Least, that’s what I heard.”

“Imperiused, then!” 

“Come off it, Prongs…”

“You heard Thorpe last night.” James’s voice dropped to a whisper. “She taught Nott Defence Against the Dark Arts. If she thinks she couldn’t have cast that curse, well…”

“Thorpe also said she might’ve had help,” Sirius pointed out. “And, really, mate, it’s not like Olivia Nott is this shining paragon who deserves your defence. She’s Avery’s first cousin, and she holds her nose when she walks past Muggleborns in the corridors.”

“Who she’s related to is hardly an indication of her guilt,” James said, but he sensed he was fighting a losing battle. “I just think something isn’t right. I mean, Snape and Greengrass—”

“—found him.” This came from Lily, a short distance down the table.

James met her gaze coolly. “Oh, yeah? Is that what he’s saying?”

A crease appeared between her brows. “I don’t talk to him, so I wouldn’t know what he’s saying. But he and Thalia were the prefects on duty. Prefects found Gerard McIlhenny. It’s a simple two-and-two.”

He relaxed, despite himself, upon hearing I don’t talk to him. Stupid, stupid. More importantly, he did not think Snape discovering the victim saved him from suspicion at all. If anything it put him in the right place at the right time...

“Anyway,” Lily sighed, “I’m sure the additional Aurors will figure out if Olivia Nott had help, and who helped her.” There was a drawn paleness in her face; James regretted snapping at her. He too would not have wanted to wake up to this news on his birthday.

“The additional Aurors are supposed to be solving a murder,” Sirius grumbled. “No offence to McIlhenny, because whoever cursed him should get fucked, but — seems as though the bigger concern is the Dark Mark someone cast over Hogsmeade just a month ago.”

Had it already been a month? Lily turned away at those words, wishing she could block out the conversation. But everyone around her was talking about what had happened. Several more sleepless nights were in her purview, it seemed. 

It did not help that she and her friends had seen the message on the wall on their way to breakfast. Mary had suggested they go through the Trophy Room so Lily could be cheered up, even a little, by her name on all the shields in it. All four of them had sensed that once they arrived in the Great Hall and heard the details of the previous night, they would not be in the mood to enjoy anything.

And Lily had laughed a bit, until they came through to the armour gallery and saw Filch scrubbing at letters on the stone wall. He was only halfway through, but the meaning was quite clear: BLOOD WILL FIGH, it read. 

“That slogan sounded a bit Thorpe to me,” Doe said. “Marcel Thorpe, I mean. Lily, Mare, I don’t think you two should walk around the castle alone anymore. Someone should go with you to the common room on Monday mornings while we’re in Herbology, Mary, maybe a seventh year has a free period—”

Lily groaned — but not because she disagreed. Her friends looked at her, frowning.

“What’s the matter?” said Germaine. “Well, what specifically is the matter, I mean.”

Everything. There’s so many little things to worry about, constantly, and now I have to be on my guard against curses in the corridors?” Danger was getting closer and closer, it seemed. First Hogsmeade, now the castle itself… 

“Lily, love,” Dorcas began.

“It’s — it’s all right, I’m all right.” Lily sucked in a deep breath. “Dex and I are...in a funny spot right now, and having that on top of life and death concerns is frustrating.”

“Well, we’ve...noticed,” said Mary delicately. “We saw he wasn’t at the tournament yesterday. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Oh, how stupid to talk about boys and not—” She waved a hand at the Great Hall.

“We’ve talked the message to death. At this point the conversation isn’t reassuring,” said Doe.

Germaine added, “You have to tell us things if you want us to help, you know.”

Lily looked at each of them in turn. The secret room, the duelling Slytherins, Severus, James, Dex… The duelling Slytherins, James, the secret room, Severus, Dex… James, Severus, I slept with my boyfriend, the secret room, the—

“I don’t think you can help,” she said. “It’s just something I have to...consider and sort out.” This was something of a fib, but Lily did not want to spend what was left of her seventeenth birthday crying to her friends. 

“When you’re ready to talk about it, you let us know,” said Germaine, smiling hopefully.

Lily nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Mary, with her preternatural ability to sense when a change of subject was in order, straightened in her seat.

“In the interest of discussing trivial things,” she said, “Doc is going with Marissa to Hogsmeade next month. For Valentine’s Day. So I suppose that’s that.”

“Did you speak to him after Evan’s?” Doe frowned. “I thought you said he didn’t sleep with her.” 

“Well, no, I didn’t,” Mary confessed. “I was hoping he’d speak to me.”

“Oh, Mare—”

“He and Marissa do have history,” Germaine said, shrugging.

The three other girls looked at her, astonished.

“They don’t,” Mary said, eyes wide. “Do they?”

Germaine was herself stunned to know something they didn’t. “I thought so. I mean, I saw them at Hogsmeade last year, I think, and they were holding hands… I mean, maybe they were friends who hold hands. I dunno.”

“How did I not know?”

“He strikes me as being rather quiet about relationships,” Doe said. Her eyes were full of worry.

Lily chimed in, grateful to have something to add. “And they’ve been friends for a long time, so people might not have noticed when things changed.”

“What month, last year?” said Mary urgently.

Germaine frowned. “It was cold, I remember that. February, maybe?”

Lily and Germaine did not know the significance of the timing, but Doe and Mary exchanged a glance. If Doc had been seeing Marissa in January too… if he had kissed Mary while he’d been dating her… Well, that explained why he’d been so cold with her afterwards. But surely Marissa didn’t know, because they were still friends.

Mary thought of Amelia Bones and Chris Townes. She’d learned her lesson since fourth year. Getting in the middle of other people’s relationships was a dreadful idea. To have done so unintentionally… She felt a bit cheated herself. To think he might have used her that way, and she’d been chasing a cheater for a year… 

“I’m sorry,” Germaine said, noticing but misreading her concern. “I just assumed you knew — I mean, when we saw them together last term… I didn’t think it was worth mentioning.”

Mary breathed out through her nostrils, trying to steady herself. “I suppose it’s in the unexpected details.”

And though they had tried to divert the conversation to easier subjects, the girls fell once more into worried silence. Outside the Great Hall's enormous windows, snow began to fall.