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i. Endgame

A bone-grinding burst of pain. James Potter was suddenly very certain he was about to die.

Death was a far-off thing for boys like him. James hardly ever looked two feet in front of himself. But this horrible, burning pain could only end in darkness. What could come after it? 

It — slowed but did not fade, all of a sudden. That is, it no longer felt like being set on fire, but it still hurt, like his body was being weighed down— down— down… Someone was shouting, and the echoing noise of it made his head throb. Someone else was kneeling beside him, the feather-light ends of her hair tickling his face. He really didn’t want to die. He closed his eyes.

Dorcas Walker cast a spell. Lily Evans realised it was her fault. Severus Snape wished it had been him, on two separate counts.

Icon of a quill drawing a line

Nearly ten hours earlier, Dorcas Walker and Lily Evans were walking back from the greenhouses after the morning’s Herbology lesson. As usual, Lily had been late to breakfast, and so had missed the proper morning routine. Her stomach growled in protest as they trudged through the snow. Doe had a folded-up copy of the Prophet, from which she was currently reading to her friend.

“They’ve got another break in the Hogsmeade murders,” said Doe, frowning at the newspaper. “The compulsion spell, it might be tied to magical objects—”

“The compulsion spell that didn’t kill either of the victims?” 

“That one, yes.”

“I wonder what that has to do with anything.” Lily stripped off her mittens when they entered the heated castle, sighing in relief. “The Death Eaters...compelled them to do something, then killed them?”

Doe shrugged. “I’d imagine so. They wouldn’t report it if it wasn’t important, right?”

They sat at the Gryffindor table, where the Marauders were already tucking into lunch. Lily frowned; she was certain she and Doe had left before them. 

“Or,” Sirius suggested, overhearing them, “they’re reporting it because the Aurors need to show they’ve found something out.” 

“I really don’t think—” Doe began.

“Just wait. They’ll cancel the next Hogsmeade weekend or something, because of objects.”

“Considering what happened during the last Hogsmeade weekend, maybe people should be more worried!” said Doe hotly.

Lily put a hand on her arm, hoping to draw her attention from the boys. When she did at last turn to her, Lily whispered, “Was Michael all right?”

Doe shrugged. “He seemed...irritable, I don’t know. He was tired, probably. Maybe I shouldn’t have seen him, maybe he wanted a proper friend—”

“Doe, darling, please. You’re a proper friend. I’m sure he appreciated having you there.” 

She only shook her head, setting aside the Prophet and ladling herself some soup. “It’s so bloody awful, Lily. I—” She shook her head once more. “I just feel like I have to do something. Only, I don’t know what I can do, short of shaking the truth out of Olivia Nott.”

Lily bit her lip. She did not disagree...except that she had been trying to do something for weeks now, via James, and she wasn’t certain it had done any good either. For a moment she considered telling Doe her suspicions about the secret room. But there was no point in having another person frustrated by their helplessness, was there? No, when she or James knew what was going on then she would tell Dorcas, and maybe that would take the teachers one step closer to knowing who’d done it all.

In any case it couldn’t have been Olivia Nott this time. The girl had been sent packing to serve her suspension only days after Gerard McIlhenny’s attack. Lily wondered if the school would walk back her suspension, or if the assumption was that this was a copycat — or a companion — at work.

“The teachers must have some idea,” she said lamely.

Doe ignored this halfhearted comment. “Anyway, I heard Michael’s Ravenclaw mates went to visit him over the weekend, so he had that, at least. But I can’t imagine being Lottie right now.”

Lily’s mind had drifted back to the room and how to enter it; this remark jerked her back to the present.

“Lottie? As in, Fenwick?”

Doe nodded. “Our year, Ravenclaw. She and McIlhenny started going out only last month, and then he got attacked. Michael said she was so excited about it too, wouldn’t stop talking about him. He was going back after seeing her that night. That’s why she’s been so cut up about it all—”

There was something there. Lily frowned, trying to puzzle it out in her head. But she could not find a neat little hole to fit it in… This detail would simply have to sit in the back of her mind until she knew why it struck her as relevant. She murmured something in sympathy, and turned back to buttering her roll. Maybe if she sat down and wrote everything out… Severus and Thalia Greengrass patrolling, Gerard McIlhenny on his way back from Ravenclaw Tower, someone waiting for him… The moment she thought she had it, though, it slipped out of reach.

Lily looked up, searching for the Marauders. Perhaps James knew something. But they were gone, all four of them, as if they’d never been there at all. She frowned. If they were planning a prank, it seemed like poor timing. The whole castle was on edge. Then again, maybe people needed something to laugh about. She’d certainly been happy to laugh at Peter doing a jig with leprechauns last weekend. All while Michael Meadowes was being cursed in the corridor. Who was next? They had only hurt older students thus far, but how long until some poor eleven-year-old caught the attacker’s attention? Just the thought made Lily queasy. She set down her uneaten roll.

“Are you all right?” Doe said.

“Fine — I think. Not very hungry.” But she had missed breakfast, and so she couldn’t skip lunch. Lily picked up the roll again.

Doe’s expression twisted into sympathy. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I stress you out? I shouldn’t have gone on, I — I did it with Mary too, and—”

Lily shook her head quickly. Her friend was on the verge of tears.

“No, no, it’s not you. And you know…” She lowered her voice. “It wasn’t you with Mary either. I mean, she found Michael. Of course she’s frightened. And she knows you’re worried for her. That’s all.”

Doe nodded, apparently mollified by this. 

“I don’t fancy sitting here anymore,” Lily confessed. “I feel as though everyone’s talking about what happened.”

“Common room?”

“I should go fill out some point deductions, actually — but you can come with me if you like?”

This was a mutually beneficial suggestion: Lily did not want Doe to dwell on what had happened to Michael, and Doe did not want Lily wandering the castle on her own. The girls bundled rolls into napkins and left the Great Hall. The nearest prefect office was, in fact, the Head Office; Lily couldn’t fill out any forms there unless Colin or Marissa was inside. But on impulse she went that direction anyway, biting into one of her rolls.

“So,” Doe said slowly, “Dex.”

Lily sighed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You’ve been saying that for weeks, Lily.”

She had, of course she had — although, she’d confided in Germaine, hadn’t she? In the days that had passed she’d felt quite confident in her decision. Dex had respected her space, but they smiled at each other in the corridors and had on one occasion held a lengthy conversation in the library aisle about magical water plants. It was mundane, yes, but it was friendly. It was normal. It seemed now that the pressure was off, they could get along just fine. Lily wasn’t certain what that boded for her proposition — being serious about each other — but she thought she remained willing to try. 

There was something about firsts, Mary had once informed them, in the context of her first snog (a boy from home, who was still in love with her), her first shag (a different boy from home, who was still in love with her), and her first I-love-you (well, the first time it’d been said to her, by a third boy from home, who was...you get the idea). Lily hadn’t been sure if she ought to put stock in that, but at least while she was in her first she thought Mary might have known a thing or two after all. She wasn’t yet ready to let go of the summery happiness Dex brought her. And, well, dramatic as the consequences had been, she didn’t think having sex with him had been a wholly bad decision either. Perhaps a choice made too soon. But...not a bad decision, all things considered. 

“I suppose this makes another week when I’ll say it,” Lily said, not entirely without humour. “I’m sorry, Doe, I’m just — talked out, I suppose.”

Doe arched an eyebrow. “I can’t see how, since you never seem to want to discuss what’s going on. But — all right, I trust you’re talking to someone.”

Lily swallowed and smiled. Suddenly it seemed as though the teetering reality of her life had only been momentarily steadied. Another little mishap and it would all come tumbling down… She shook that away, surprised by the bout of pessimism. It wasn’t like her to expect the worst.

The door to the Head Office was ajar; Lily was glad for her gamble. She knocked, and both Colin and Marissa called, “Come in!”

Dorcas whispered “Oooh” as they entered, and Lily smothered a laugh.

The two offices the prefects used — one at either end of the castle — were rather mundane. They didn’t look much different from unused classrooms. But the Head Office was well-lit and cosy, with rows of perfectly organised shelves and files and records kept by previous head students, apparently going back years. Her heart stuttered when she entered it still, as it had since she’d been a newly-minted prefect at fifteen. Colin and Marissa were seated at the round table, poring over what looked like a report.

“Sorry, just got deduction forms to—” Lily began.

“Don’t worry about it,” Marissa said, smiling at them both.

Some of Lily’s enthusiasm must have been clear on her face, because Doe was grinning.

“Can’t wait until this office is yours, can you?” she said, voice low.

Lily flushed. “There’s no — I mean, it’s not certainly going to be mine. Emmeline Vance, Amelia Bones.” She shrugged. “Either of them would make a good Head Girl.” She meant it. They were both talented students, of course, and Emmeline played Quidditch, and Amelia had a sort of inherent authority that only rude people called bossiness. She’d have been happy to lose the post to either of them.

Doe was rolling her eyes now. “Yeah, okay. I’m only surprised your false modesty bit didn’t include Thalia Greengrass as well.”

Lily suppressed a laugh. “Had to keep it believable.”

“The only question is, who’ll be your Crollins?” Doe whispered.

Lily’s eyes went wide, but the Head Boy hadn’t seemed to have heard. She busied herself with the point deduction form for a while, while Doe suppressed laughter behind a book. 

“Bertram Aubrey?” Doe said.

Lily made a face. “He would be my Cro—” She coughed before she could finish the sentence, glancing nervously at the Heads. Dorcas was very poorly swallowing her laughter.

“—have the Hufflepuff fifth years with Filch four weeks from now?” Colin was saying in an undertone to Marissa.

“No, Filch is tonight, remember, so it’s three from now—” 

Lily gave Doe a warning look. “It isn’t worth speculating about, because I don’t know that it’s going to happen.”

“All right, I’ll back off. But I’m going to have this conversation with you again in August, I’ll have you know.”

She forced herself to put the thought entirely out of her mind. She shouldn’t get her hopes up already — and as for the worrying question of who her partner would be, well. That was a problem for a future Lily. 

 


ii. Smoke and Mirrors

“Polishing with no magic.” James held up the rag the prefect had given him. “What a classic punishment.”

“Sorry,” Annie Markham said, sounding like she really meant it. “Filch’s been in a terrible mood lately. I swear he’s more bothered by the vandalism part of these attacks than anything.”

He snorted, mostly to himself. “If he’s this off his game no wonder he hasn’t caught the attacker.” 

That is to say, James didn’t think he deserved this detention, on a technicality. There were certain times of the year when Filch gained an anti-Marauder sense, if you will: late October, late February, mid-May, just before the boys’ birthdays. Now, he had a sense, not a keen one. The caretaker hoped to pinpoint the Marauders’ mischief before it happened. This would have been difficult for even a more skilled adversary than Filch, and if one was to keep score — as both he and the Marauders did — one would know he was on the losing end of the war.

But whether or not all this was fair was irrelevant. On that February day, James Potter — and Peter Pettigrew — were going to learn a great deal about cause and distant effect, action and consequence. Or, as James would think of it later, the cool shit you did that came back to bite you in the arse

Because if the Marauders didn’t believe in loyalty, then they would not have decided, at the end of their fourth year, to become Animagi and help Remus Lupin through his...health condition. If the Marauders hadn’t failed spectacularly at the Animagus process over the summer hols, they wouldn’t have had to try again during the school term. If they hadn’t been trying to avoid McGonagall’s notice — because if anyone would catch them at it, it would be their eagle-eyed head of house, already suspicious by how quiet and secretive they were being — then they would not have had to think up a distraction prank. The distraction in question concerned Filch’s filing cabinet, in which he meticulously stored his reports on students’ wrongdoings. 

Inspired by a Transfiguration lesson gone wrong, the boys performed an incomplete spell on the cabinet to, in effect, convince the thing that it was actually a teakettle. When Filch least expected it, James would slip hot water and tea leaves into the cabinet from under the Cloak’s cover, and watch it screech and jabber. A simple charm gave the cabinet motion, and so it shrieked up and down the castle corridors, on one occasion getting all the way to the fifth floor before Filch recaptured it.

Now, one could argue that this distraction did not need to be as elaborate and detailed as it was. But the Marauders did have a flair for dramatics. Besides, they had to convincingly suggest that the cabinet was the only trick they were playing, so that McGonagall did not realise their oddly thick speech was the result of carrying Mandrake leaves in their mouths. Why did they custom-order Delphine Delacroix’s Sinful Aphrodisiac Tea Leaves for the Amorously-Minded Diviner by owl, you ask?

Well, Filch hated tea. And the dried tea leaves made rude shapes sometimes.

It was partly the detail and dedication of this prank that persuaded Filch to (quite correctly) assume the Marauders were behind it. But he could never find proof. These were the days before the Marauder’s Map, when the boys had memorised patrol schedules and hoped for the best. On several nights James only narrowly escaped the caretaker, which he counted as more successful for how thrilling they were. On one of these nights, he was locked in a broom cupboard and avoided Filch’s wrath only by the grace of a certain sixth year Ravenclaw prefect. But you already know that story.

In any case, Filch could not bring anything but vague suspicion to McGonagall, and so the Marauders got away with it. His files smelled vaguely of tea for months thereafter. And once the boys completed the Animagus process, the cabinet mysteriously stopped screaming. They eventually forgot what they’d done. They forgot, even, to undo the spell. Filch did not forget, and was so in a sulk with the deputy headmistress that he was too prideful to ask that she fix his cabinet for him.

He received a potent reminder in the week after Michael Meadowes was attacked. One James Potter had crept into his office, guessing that Filch might have written up a report about both attacks. Perhaps the second one would connect Severus Snape to the crime too… never mind that James recalled seeing Snape in the Three Broomsticks on the day of the second attack. He found no evidence of that sort; the report was unfinished, and Filch had spent more time speculating on the nature of the vandalism than the spells involved in the attack.

But he did learn Filch had been patrolling in the vicinity of Ravenclaw Tower on the night Gerard McIlhenny was attacked. And on the day Michael Meadowes was hurt, Filch had been the one guarding the west wing’s sixth floor. The culprits depended, then, on Filch’s relative incompetence. And they knew to strike when and where he was around. That indicated a certain knowledge that might implicate a prefect. It wasn’t the smoking wand he’d hoped for, but it was something.

With satisfaction, James had replaced the file and made to leave the office. But he noticed, then, that one specific filing cabinet bore a little sign that read no hot water. The effect the sign had on him was profound and immediate. It was a bit of a character flaw, really, one of the few James would openly admit to. Requests like do not touch, no entry, and authorised personnel only evoked in him the powerful urge to disobey. (A particular favourite was trespassers will be prosecuted. It warmed his heart.) So of course, when he saw the sign that said no hot water, he opened a drawer, muttered a spell, and filled it with hot water. 

No sooner had he slammed the drawer shut than the cabinet let out an ear-splitting whistle. “Fuck,” James whispered, stifling laughter and legging it right out of the office. Armed now with the map, he was able to evade all patrollers and safely return to Gryffindor Tower, where he reminded the boys of the teakettle cabinet to much laughter.

Filch was most displeased to see the return of his cabinet’s screeching tendencies. He remembered now how his complaints had been unfairly dismissed — how those pesky boys had got away with their mischief — how his files smelled like tea, and still did with the application of hot water, even though they were bespelled to be impervious to water damage. He renewed his investigation into the prank, and finally, he achieved a breakthrough.

Because the boys had made the mistake of leaving the label to Delphine Delacroix’s Sinful Aphrodisiac Tea Leaves for the Amorously-Minded Diviner in Filch’s office a year before, so that the caretaker would know what sort of tea they were using. (“In case he wants to order some himself,” Sirius had said, laughing.) And though the mail order service had been terribly slow to answer Filch’s inquiry, he learned in November of 1976 that the deliveries had been made to the Hogsmeade post office, a box owned by one Humbert Northrop Anglesby. Certainly an alias, he thought. A dead end, perhaps, and so he had let the matter rest for some months. 

But just then, in February of 1977, having just quieted down his rogue filing cabinet again, Filch was motivated to unmask Humbert Northrop Anglesby. Copious combing through his (tea-scented) files revealed a Dungbomb order, confiscated in April 1974, from the possession of James Potter but addressed to Humbert Northrop Anglesby. It was no wonder Filch hadn’t put the facts together earlier. James’s file was the size of a hefty reference book.

But here it was: the connection. James Potter was Humbert Northrop Anglesby, therefore James Potter had ordered the tea left in his teakettle cabinet, therefore James Potter knew, at the very least, that Filch’s cabinet had been badly Transfigured, therefore! James Potter could plausibly be accused of organising the whole thing. The caretaker had happily slapped James with a detention for that Monday evening, forcing him to reschedule Quidditch practice so that he might polish shields — some of which still bore Lily’s name — in the trophy room.

You might think that this was a fair ending, then, to the whole story of Filch and the teakettle cabinet. James would disagree. He considered that battle closed and won — by the Marauders. Filch coming back and giving him detention for a year-old prank seemed like a violation of the rules of engagement. Actions had consequences, but James didn’t like this one, not one bit. 

Of course, if Filch hadn’t solved the mystery and given him a detention, then that night would have gone very differently indeed. That, however, is getting ahead of ourselves.

“If he’s this off his game no wonder he hasn’t caught the attacker,” James said presently, swiping at a dusty award for services to the school. Considering how often Filch doled out this particular punishment, the trophies really ought to be cleaner.

Annie Markham, the seventh year Hufflepuff prefect, made a noncommittal sound. She too was examining a trophy.

“Was this you lot?” She pointed at a plaque, which congratulated Lily on her Exploding Snap victory.

James grinned. The Protean Charm persisted, it seemed. Whoever had undid it had done a half-arsed job. Very possibly Flitwick had left a few there out of respect for them.

“It was,” he said. “If we’d had it my way, it’d be my name up there, but someone cheated at Exploding Snap, so—” He shrugged.

“You don’t still fancy her, do you?” There was an uncharacteristic suspicion in Annie’s expression. 

James did not know her well, but he hadn’t expected this. “No,” he said, casually and not too quickly.

“Okay. Because Marissa’s my friend, you know.”

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “You don’t have to do the protective mates thing. Marissa’s a big girl, and it’s not as though we’re getting married tomorrow.” 

In retrospect, that was a bit Sirius of him to say. He did like Marissa Beasley, and did not want to hurt her. But he also knew this was a fun sort of thing for them both. That it was rather like being caught in a broom cupboard with Filch round the corner, and putting your finger to your lips, and having the pretty girl who’d caught you smile back and keep your secret, again and again. 

Annie frowned at him, apparently not appeased. “All right.”

Silence fell, and James turned his attention to a huge trophy awarded to some bird who’d led the Slytherin Quidditch team in 1892. Annie wasn’t watching him very closely. James fished out his wand, executed another Protean Charm, and changed the trophy to read for avant-garde clownery on broomsticks. Then he amused himself for a minute imagining what that would look like. Then he realised he was wasting a valuable source of information in Annie Markham, who was a prefect and also a—

“Hufflepuff,” James said aloud. Annie frowned. “You’re a Hufflepuff.”

She laughed a little. “Well spotted, Potter.”

He pushed the altered trophy out of sight so that she would not deduct points from him. “I mean, you’re a Hufflepuff, so you must know Gerry McIlhenny.”

Her smile faded. “I do, yeah. Nice bloke, Gerry. Not too chatty — to be honest, I didn’t even know he was Muggle-born. I don't think many students in his year knew either.”

That took James by surprise. The Muggleborns he knew well — Lily and Mary — seemed quite public with their blood status. Or perhaps that was because both had been targets of vitriol from blood purists, so it would be impossible not to know… Which had come first? No, Lily often spoke of her non-magical family, and Mary had explained some Muggle nursery rhyme to him — it had gone way over his head, but he didn’t tell her that…

Even Michael Meadowes, he’d known was Muggle-born, because the Ravenclaw had begun explaining the rules of football during one impossibly boring Quidditch match in their fifth year — a Hufflepuff versus Slytherin snoozefest, that one, McGonagall hadn’t even stopped him. 

So if Gerard McIlhenny wasn’t so open about his blood status, how had the attackers known to target him?

“You don’t say,” James said, watching Annie closely. “It seemed pretty planned, though. What happened to him.”

She shrugged. “Maybe. I suppose that Nott girl had to have had help.”

“Oh, yeah?” He wanted to hear her theories on the matter, and see where they fit into the picture he’d half-assembled. If Sirius was right and the curse they’d used was Snape’s curse — well, they’d guessed it was Snape’s curse, which was a lot of guessing… 

“Yeah. He was Stunned first, but the stunner didn’t come from her wand.”

James wheeled around to face her. “Did they check the prefects’ wands?” he said urgently.

Annie blinked, taken aback by the shift in tone. “Did they — who?”

“The prefects who found him. Snape and Greengrass, d’you know if they checked their wands?” He couldn’t remember what Filch’s stupid report had said on the subject — which meant that the caretaker had probably not noted this detail at all.

“I don’t imagine why they would? They were the ones who saved him, after all. Any longer and he might’ve bled out.”

James sighed, defeated once more. Of course playing the heroes would have put Snape and Greengrass above suspicion, never mind that they’d been at the right place at the right time to carry out the attack themselves. 

“Was Michael Meadowes Stunned, do you know?” 

Annie shrugged. “I don’t know the details. If you’re so curious, you should ask Marissa. I think she said she and Crollins wrote a report about both attacks for Dumbledore…”

He felt very foolish indeed. He had been on a date with the Head Girl, and had a few happy broom cupboard excursions with her in the past few weeks, and had not once thought to ask her what she knew about the attacks. Those two parts of his life had felt separate: the one trying to ignore Lily Evans, the other trying to piece together what was going on at Hogwarts. Of course, given that Lily Evans was trying to piece together what was going on at Hogwarts, this had always been a doomed quest.

He turned away from Annie and fished out the Marauder’s Map. It was after dinner but not yet near curfew, and Marissa Beasley was in Ravenclaw Tower. There were seventeen minutes left in his detention. 

James suffered through another row of trophies, charming some of the names into innuendoes just because he could. Finally, Annie let him go; they strode out of the Trophy Room only to find that they were now on the third floor. Annie brightened. “Shortens my walk back.”

She started down the staircase. James went up. If one was headed to the Hufflepuff common room from a higher floor, the room’s movement would have indeed constituted a shortcut. Except the room was unpredictable, and the only reason they knew it had moved at all on the day McIlhenny was attacked was because of Peeves. But presumably Peeves hadn’t seen McIlhenny or his attackers…

He stopped short. Why did the Trophy Room matter anyway? What the fuck would McIlhenny want with rows of dusty shit on a Saturday evening? It all seemed useless… You wouldn’t need to keep watch on either side of the Trophy Room if you just knew where McIlhenny was coming from and followed him. The armour gallery presented many hiding places for an ambush.

No, the only one who cared about the Trophy Room was...Filch, who’d been patrolling this part of the castle, and had been so insistent that the attackers had come through there — because he’d been caught by the moving room as it bounced between floors, and was too embarrassed to admit that it had delayed his finding McIlhenny. Just as he’d been too embarrassed to get McGonagall to fix his cabinet, or Flitwick to change back all the trophies. 

James continued walking, still frowning to himself. It was a piece, but it was still conjecture, and it was still not the most important detail. If he considered the Trophy Room irrelevant, then he’d only need to know where McIlhenny had come from to know who’d followed him. He climbed the spiral staircase to the Ravenclaw common room and came face to face with the eagle door-knocker.

“What makes a man?” it said when he’d knocked.

Ah, fuck. “His parents?” James said hopefully. It was the first glib thought that came to mind.

The door swung open. He thanked every higher power he could think of that the door had a sense of humour.

Marissa was hunched over a desk, her classmates around her, poring over an essay. James approached, feeling quite awkward. He hadn’t thought through how it would like, him barging in to see her. But there was no use overthinking it now.

“Er, hi, Marissa,” he said.

She jumped a little, sitting up. “James? What are you doing here?” One of her friends tittered.

“I had a quick question—” He pulled up an empty chair and sat down, lowering his voice. “D’you know if Michael Meadowes was Stunned before he was cursed?”

She blinked, then smiled. “Save the preamble, why don’t you?” But she set her quill down. “I shouldn’t be telling you this—”

“But you will.”

A brief smile. “He wasn’t. The Aurors said it was quite sloppy, really… They’d been only a few corridors away. Mind you, they didn’t see anyone running off, but they could have caught them.” Marissa gave an unhappy sigh. “I wish the attacker had been a bit more careless.”

James nodded. “Yeah — I reckon everyone does.”

“Why do you ask?”

“Just trying to think some things out.” She still looked curious, so he stood. “Sorry to bother you — I’ll see you around.”

He bade her goodbye and started back for Gryffindor Tower, mind whirling. So the attacks had gone from a confusing, well-planned scheme, complete with a scapegoat, to a mess that the culprit had only just escaped. He might have said they were done by different people, except that the messages were of a similar nature and there was the Filch link. But perhaps… James thought back to the Slytherins he’d seen in the Three Broomsticks the day Michael had been attacked. Snape, Greengrass, Rosier, but no Mulciber, Avery, or Selwyn. If anyone was sloppy, it would be those buffoons.

His feet took him towards the seventh floor corridor with the tapestry. He could have another crack at the room, he thought, try and see if he could figure out how it worked before bed. James did not expect to succeed, at this point, but he would rather have frustrated himself trying.

He rounded the corner and found that someone had beat him to it: Lily was staring at the wall, frowning, chewing on the inside of her cheek.

“Come to solve a mystery?” he called out to her.

She looked at him, still frowning. “Severus told me to avoid this corridor. He said Rosier knew — maybe he knew how to get into the room?”

“Save the preamble, why don’t you?” James said, sauntering up beside her. “I reckon Rosier helped get McIlhenny, by the way.” He wasn’t sure why he’d shared his suspicions with her and not Marissa. But if McIlhenny had been roaming that end of the castle after dinner, well, Rosier lived there. “Only question is how Rosier knew he was Muggle-born.”

Just as he’d taken her random statement in stride, she did not remark on this trading of theories. In fact, her eyes went wide.

“Lottie Fenwick is dating Gerry McIlhenny,” Lily said. “She — she couldn’t stop talking about him in the common room, in the Ravenclaw common room, and Rosier’s—”

“A Ravenclaw,” James finished. 

“And he was coming back from seeing her! So he could’ve been followed, and—”

“Attacked in the armour gallery by Olivia Nott?”

Lily grew uncertain. “I don’t know.”

James reined in his impatience. “C’mon. Snape and Greengrass just happened to be patrolling there?”

“I really don’t know, James—”

He all but threw up his hands in frustration. “Christ, Evans! It’s his spell, d’you know that? The curse?”

“How do you know?” She was not defensive, he noticed, but worried. 

“He’s the one who invented a horde of Dark spells—”

“Right, like your favourite Levicorpus—”

Why are you arguing with me on his behalf — maybe he mentioned it to you, because you’re such great pals, Sectumsempra—”

“What?” Now Lily was definitely fearful. 

James stopped short. “You know it. You do—”

“I don’t know what it does, I — I might have seen it in his notes somewhere—”

“Then how can you defend him?” His voice had risen in volume until it echoed through the corridor.

Her shout was louder still. “Because I don’t want it to be true!”

Silence.

“I don’t want it to be true, and I don’t expect you to understand — don’t expect you to know what it’s like, having someone you knew so well become so unfamiliar to you all of a sudden—” She sounded near tears; she turned away from him.

James bit back something cutting. Instead he said, “Friends make mistakes, yeah. Mine have made them too. But you can’t stop them from facing consequences for — for real shit.” He thought of Sirius and Snape and Remus’s wolf form. Those consequences lingered. “That’s their lot.”

Lily’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t understand. Was there something I should have done?”

“You can’t save everyone,” he reminded her. “You can’t.”

“Maybe,” she mumbled, a defeated little admission, swiping at her eyes.

On impulse, he put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her into an awkward sideways hug. She did not push him away. On the contrary. She let out a sigh and wrapped her arms around his waist, and he could feel the dampness of her tears through his shirt. For a moment he didn’t think. Then she was stepping away, looking very embarrassed and drying her cheeks.

“We ought to tell McGonagall,” she said at last, and he realised he was watching her perhaps too closely.

He shook his head. “Are you mad? What would we say? ‘Oh, Professor, it’s Alec Rosier, on account of Lottie Fenwick talking up her new boyfriend in the common room and Severus Snape saying he knows something about a secret room?’ She’d laugh us out of her office.”

“Then Edgar Bones—”

Please, Evans, they need to be caught in the act.”

She froze. “The act of—”

“Not the act of attacking a Muggleborn, maybe, but someone needs to overhear their plans. The plans they quite possibly make in this room.” He pointed at the bare wall. “Except if they meet in the Slytherin common room—”

“They don’t. Remember? Because Rosier isn’t a Slytherin, and they used a classroom to practice magic in…” The misery on Lily’s face had given way to thoughtfulness, though her cheeks were still pink from crying.

“I suppose Snape shares the patrol schedules so they know when not to meet,” James said, scuffing his toe against the floor. 

She’d gone still again. “Filch is patrolling tonight. Filch was patrolling on—”

“—the night McIlhenny was hurt. And the day Meadowes was. Blimey, you should’ve said about Filch at the start—” He needed to check the map. He needed to get his mates, who would help him ensnare the attackers once and for all—

Lily seized his arm. “You’re planning something stupid, aren’t you? Don’t you dare.”

He shook her off. “If you didn’t want me to do something, you wouldn’t have mentioned Filch. You wouldn’t have come to me about the room. Aren’t I right?”

She grabbed him once more. “Don’t be thick. They’re using dangerous magic on people, and don’t think your blood status means they won’t hurt you—”

“They won’t hurt me, Evans. But I’m glad you care.” The joke was halfhearted; he was already starting towards the Fat Lady, his mind on the night ahead.

“James!” she shouted after him. He did not slow.

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Lily was left alone in the corridor, debating what to do next. She could have followed James, and perhaps forcibly restrained him. But she found herself in two minds over the whole thing. What if the Marauders did stop the attacker, and no one else got hurt? No more nervously walking in twos, no more jumpy patrolling, no more tossing and turning.

She was standing there, still thinking, when Doe sidled up to her.

“When were you going to tell me all of that?” she said quietly. “The secret room, or whatever it is, and Filch patrolling, and that you and James have clearly been discussing it?”

Lily sighed. “I didn’t want—”

“Me to do something I’d regret? But Potter and his friends can?” Doe shook her head. “Come on, we’re going with them tonight.”

She met her friend’s gaze, alarmed. “You’re not serious? Doe, we’ll—”

Dorcas grabbed Lily’s wrist and began pulling her to the portrait hole. “I don’t care if we get in trouble. I’m the fastest draw in our Defence class and I’m sick of seeing bigots get away with bullshit.”

Maybe this was the compromise, she told herself. She could not in good conscience let the boys go off on their own...but she could help.

 


iii. Helter Skelter

As the common room emptied after curfew, Doe and Lily lingered in two armchairs, close to the windows to avoid notice. They needn’t have worried. It was a weekday, and the mood was sombre in Gryffindor Tower. No one seemed to want to stay up, even for a game of Wizard’s Chess. The girls were the only two people in the room when the Marauders trooped downstairs, heads close together.

“All four of you?” Lily said before she could stop herself. “All four of you are going to — risk yourselves by running about—”

James turned towards her, face set in grim determination. “We need four people, thanks. It’s the Aurors on patrol tonight.”

She frowned, too confused to argue. “No, it’s — it’s Filch. I heard Marissa and Crollins say so.” She looked at Doe, and the other girl nodded agreement.

“Well, maybe the Aurors aren’t idiots and noticed the attack patterns too,” James said, shrugging. “So they’ll randomly join patrols on nights you expect Filch.”

“I don’t understand. How do you know?”

The boys exchanged glances and seemed to come to some silent agreement.

“If we tell, will you let us go?” Sirius said.

“No,” said Doe. “We want to come too.”

This startled the Marauders visibly. 

“Well, it’s not going to be—” Remus began.

Doe scoffed. “Easy? You know I could take any of you in a fight. Don’t waste our time. Right, Lily?”

After a split second, James said, “Fine. As long as you do what we say. We’re the ones who know our way around the castle at night.”

“Fine,” the girls said together.

Peter and Remus left first, the latter bearing a Disillusionment Charm. (“Why doesn’t Peter need one?” Doe said. This question had been summarily ignored.) A brief, quiet debate ensued between James and Sirius, but finally Lily was presented with a cloth bundle.

“You’re smaller anyway,” James said, which explained nothing. “Both of you will fit under it.”

“Fit under what?” Doe said.

Lily shook out the cloth, recognising it for the supple cloak he’d given her to rest her head on during their journey back to the castle. Dubiously, she wrapped it around herself; the material dragged on the ground a little. Dorcas let out a muffled scream.

“What?”

But it was quite apparent what. From the neck down, Lily was invisible. She looked at James and Sirius, jaw dropping.

“How long have you had this?” she said.

Sirius made a noise of impatience. “Questions later, Evans.” He cast a Disillusionment Charm over himself and then James; the portrait hole swung open. Lily could do nothing but pull Doe under the Cloak with her, and follow.

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The details of the plan had been briefly explained to Lily and Dorcas. Had the night ended differently, Lily might have walked away with a profound appreciation for the Marauders’ thoroughness. (But it did not, so the feelings she felt were quite different.) 

Remus, bearing a mirror of some import — they’d been vague on this detail — was headed via shortcut to the east end of the castle. Ethelbert Fawley was patrolling the vicinity of the Trophy Room, now on the third floor. He was two floors down from the entrance to the Ravenclaw common room, but that was too close for comfort. Fawley needed to be thoroughly distracted so that Alec Rosier would leave Ravenclaw Tower unseen. (The seventh year lingered in his common room, according to the map, which James had shown Lily and Doe.) 

Remus’s distraction of choice was fairly complicated magic, and so he set off with both a sense of duty and a slight flicker of excitement. He would never have admitted it, of course, save perhaps to his friends in a moment of weakness. He was in the armour gallery after a twenty-minute sprint. 

Winded, he ducked behind a suit of armour and pulled out his wand. Frowning in concentration and muttering a spell, Remus watched as one suit of armour, then another, then another peeled away from the wall, and began walking, with all the stiffness of mummies, away from Ravenclaw Tower. They made a terrific racket, so Remus didn’t even have to worry about quieting his footsteps. He merely followed, like a reverse Pied Piper, and waited for Fawley to come after him.

Peter took a different shortcut to the castle kitchens. Edgar Bones and Frank Longbottom were sweeping through the dungeons and kitchen level, and needed to be drawn away quietly and efficiently so that the Slytherin contingent would not know the patrols had changed. By lucky chance, Snape and Mulciber — for they were the two who’d left first — had done so without Peter’s intercession. They were safely on the second floor by the time Bones and Longbottom returned to the dungeons. 

James watched on the map as Sebastian Selwyn and Anthony Avery paused in a corridor round the corner from the Aurors, and scuttled back to their common room. The numbers had winnowed down. 

Peter, hiding in the kitchens, transformed back into his human form and paced the quiet hall. He could not animate suits of armour like Remus, and momentarily lamented his passable Transfiguration skills. But he had a sack of Dungbombs, courtesy of James and Sirius’s Christmas shopping, and sometimes simple plans worked best.

Having confirmed their targets were moving, James, Sirius, Dorcas, and Lily waited on the seventh floor. They were round the corner from the Betty Braithwaite cupboard, as Sirius insisted on referring to it. They would wait until Rosier arrived to open the room, then slip in behind him unseen. And then they would be eyewitnesses to whatever they discussed. 

Lily found herself hoping against all hope that it was a knitting circle, or something similar. Her heart still lurched at the thought of Severus’s involvement in all this. You can’t save everyone, James had said, and maybe he was right, but she wanted to try, and maybe she hadn’t tried hard enough… She searched, automatically, for James before remembering they were both invisible. Doe squeezed her hand briefly.

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Rosier, Snape, and Mulciber met up on the fourth floor. They heard some distant clanging, but assumed it was simply Peeves. (It was, in fact, Remus’s suits of armour. He had been directed via the mirror to lead Fawley further downstairs.) Rosier glanced around expectantly.

“Where are Selwyn and Avery?”

Mulciber snorted. “Old Sluggy’s supposed to be patrolling the dungeons, which means he’s sleeping in his office. Maybe he woke up and they had to wait for him to fall asleep again.”

Rosier frowned. “We can’t wait.”

“We don’t have to,” said Snape. “They’ll catch up.”

For a moment Rosier considered the younger boy. Snape had come into his own, planning the McIlhenny attack. He’d been the one to pilfer the patrol schedules and suggest they use the Trophy Room as a cover. Rosier was nothing if not fair. He’d spoken highly of Snape to his brother in exchange. Marius had been at Hogsmeade on an errand the previous weekend; meeting him had helped provide their alibi for the second attack. Yes, perhaps he’d underestimated Snape’s usefulness, what with his infatuation with that Gryffindor girl. Half-blood or no, he was capable.

“Fine,” Rosier said at last. “Let’s go.” He wanted to plan the next one more than he wanted to babysit Selwyn and Avery, after all. 

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Peter took refuge in the kitchens once more, having set off some Dungbombs by the Hufflepuff common room. Panting, he braced his hands on his knees. He had to be alert, because if the Aurors came in he’d need to become Wormtail again. But just a minute of rest...

“It’s you,” a soft voice said, and Peter’s eyes flew open once more.

He managed to bite back a strangled yell. “I’m sorry, I’m not—” 

He broke off. It was only a house elf. Relief washed over him — until the house elf stepped into a puddle of light and and he saw that it was Pansy.

A creepy smile spread across her face. “Hello, young worm.”

Peter’s heart sank. “Er, hi. How are you?”

“Pansy is excellent, young worm, because Pansy soon tells Madam McGonagall about a student out of bed!” She let out a cackle.

“Please don’t,” said Peter quickly. “Look, I’m sorry for all the times we’ve bothered you, I promise we — we aren’t breaking any rules—”

“Oh, no, no, no!” She wagged a long finger. “You promised. You promised Pansy that the next time you were out of bed she could tell. Pansy believes in promises.”

So he had. Peter cursed his own idiocy — or, rather, the idiocy of his September self, thinking the next time he’d have to contend with Pansy he could get away safely. Because there he was, no map, no Cloak, and no mirror, at the whims of a house elf. He could flee, as a rat, and he would probably be safe. But his friends expected him to play his part in tonight’s plan, and running away was not part of the plan. 

“Pansy, I’ll give you — a-anything,” he said, though he couldn’t think of anything he had to offer that she might want. Which of course had been the problem in the first place.

“You already have, young worm.” She Apparated with a crack.

“No!” Peter cried, grabbing the Dungbombs and rushing out of the kitchen. He careened to a halt. He could hear voices right down the hall: Pansy, squeaky and smug, talking about students out of bed with evil plans, Edgar Bones, low and concerned.

Evil plans? What if they thought he, Peter, was going to attack a Muggle-born student? Fear struck his heart. He picked up a Dungbomb and flung it as hard as he could in one direction. And then he ran in another.

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“Hang on,” James whispered into the silence, “something’s not right.”

Lily jerked to attention. “What d’you mean?”

“Peter’s on the ground floor now. I think the Aurors are on to him — they’re following.”

Sirius swore. “Why’d he take them out of the kitchens?”

“I dunno—”

“Is it such a bad thing, if they caught Rosier?” Lily whispered.

She could not see James and Sirius, but she imagined they both turned towards her at the question.

“Yeah, because he’d only get in trouble for being out of bed,” said Sirius. “And then they’d know the Aurors are secretly changing the patrols. And then it’d be ages before we caught them doing anything.”

“You have a map showing the locations of everyone in school,” Lily argued. “Surely you could—”

But they weren’t listening to her. “Remus Lupin,” Sirius said, and before Lily could ask what the hell he was doing Remus’s breathless voice filled the corridor.

“Not — a good time!” he said.

“Wormtail needs help,” James said.

“Sorry — Fawley’s better with the suits of armour than I’d expected.”

“Well, he’s good at something, then,” Sirius muttered.

“Sorry!” Remus said again, and his panting cut away.

“One of us should go help Wormtail,” James said.

A brief silence ensued. 

“Lily should go,” Dorcas said.

She started, looking at her friend in reproach. “What? Why me?”

Doe looked entirely unapologetic. “Because you’re the only Muggle-born, and you shouldn’t be trapped in a room with blood purists even if we’re spying on them.”

Lily knew she meant well, but she felt a bubble of resentment at this. “I’m going to be fine, Doe.”

“Nah, I’ll go,” Sirius said. “I know the castle’s shortcuts anyway, and I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve.”

“Take the Cloak,” said James.

“What? Don’t be ridiculous—”

“You can’t be caught out of bed, and charms can be undone—”

“Prongs, come on—”

“Take it!”

Before Sirius could reply, Lily pulled the Cloak off herself and held it out in the vague direction of his voice. He reappeared with a murmured spell and took it from her with great reluctance, casting Disillusionment Charms on the two girls before he set off. 

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Doe muttered.

“He knows what he’s doing,” James replied, and they fell into silence again.

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You see, Sirius Black had a talent for improvisation. Peter had outlandish ideas, James had the technical execution, and Remus had the attention to logistics. Certainly they all had some ability to think on their feet — it would be impossible otherwise to evade Filch, Mrs. Norris, and Slytherins galore as they had for years. 

But Sirius was the improviser among them. It was his idea to involve Peeves in the fourth year Butterbeer pool incident, his detour that had discovered the Dodgy Lodgings, and his well-placed jinx that had brought down a chandelier with Filch on the boys’ heels back in third year. As he slipped into a secret staircase and cut down to the third floor, he was already thinking. 

By the time he’d left, Rosier and Snape and Mulciber had made it to the fifth floor. In minutes they’d be inside the secret room. If he brought the Aurors towards the corridor and not away from it, he and Peter would have the Gryffindor common room to take refuge in. Then, Bones and Longbottom would be in the vicinity when Rosier and his cronies tried to leave the room, so James, Lily, and Doe could shepherd them right to the authorities.

It would take some finagling and some guesswork on his part, with the timing of it all, but he trusted that James would take care of his end. Besides, Sirius was good at the guesswork.

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James glanced at the map and cottoned on to Sirius’s plan at once. 

“The Aurors are going to come this way,” he whispered. “We need to get Rosier and his cronies into the room as fast as we can.”

He supposed the girls agreed, but he couldn’t see them. They all fell silent, though, soon after. There were voices at the end of the corridor.

“—can’t believe it,” Mulciber was muttering. “Avery jumped the fucking gun.”

James stiffened. Say it, he willed, say what you did

But all Rosier said was, “Yes, well. Be more careful next time.”

Well, there would be all the time in the world once they got into the room. James felt the pre-Quidditch tension in his limbs. Just a few steps further…

Crack.

What the fuck? That sounded like Apparition, except that no one could Apparate within the castle—

“More students out of bed?” a squeaky voice said. “Oh yes, oh yes, Madam McGonagall will hear — but you’re not the young worm, are you?”

Shit, James thought. That voice, he knew. That was fucking Pansy.

“It’s none of your business what we’re doing,” Rosier said coldly. “Get out.”

Another crack

“Young worm,” Snape said softly. “That’s Pettigrew. Potter and his friends are sneaking about.”

“Well, they can’t get into the room,” said Mulciber.

A pregnant pause. In the distance, the soft pop of an exploding Dungbomb could be heard. James didn’t have to check the map to know that was Sirius and Peter, and that their time was running out.

“We should split up and go back,” said Rosier. “I don’t want to be trapped inside the room.”

Mulciber scoffed. “You don’t think they know?”

“They have a habit of poking their noses where they’re not wanted,” Snape said. 

James gripped his wand in one pocket, and his last distraction in the other. He shifted one step to the left, bumping up against someone. “We can’t let them leave,” he whispered.

A sharp intake of breath. “Whatever you’re planning—” Lily hissed.

He didn’t know what he was planning. But he knew he had to move fast — he had to somehow provoke one of them into revealing what they were up to, lest they lose their chance...and someone else would get hurt if they did. His indecision hardened into a determined knot.

“Did you hear something?” Mulciber said suddenly. “The house elf again?” 

Homenum revelio,” Rosier muttered. James felt as though a shadow had swooped over them. “There’s someone round the corner. Wands out.”

That settled it. James dispelled the Disillusionment Charm cast on him. “Trust me and don’t move,” he said, and darted into the corridor with a wide grin on his face. “Oops. Caught me snooping, did you?”

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Lily reached out to grab James before he could go running headlong into Rosier and the others, but her fingers closed around empty air. She cursed under her breath. On her other side, Doe clamped a hand around her wrist.

“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “We can surprise them.”

But she didn’t want to surprise them. She wanted to go throttle James Potter.

“Oops. Caught me snooping, did you?” he was saying, all bravado. 

Oh, she really wanted to throttle him.

A quiet exclamation, from Mulciber. Then— “Expelliarmus,” came Severus’s voice, and the clatter of a wand hitting stone. Lily drew in a breath.

“I’m not here to duel you, relax,” James drawled. “I’m just curious. What’re you lot up to? Planning to Stun another Muggle-born student from behind, curse them, and set up a fourteen-year-old to get suspended for you?”

“What happened to that boy was the work of that Nott girl, Potter,” Rosier replied.

“What about the second boy? You know something about that, Mulciber? I didn’t see you with your mates in Hogsmeade that day.”

“Shut up,” said Mulciber.

Lily made as if to move. Doe held her fast. “Wait.”

“Well, whatever you’re doing, I’ll get proof.” James’s tone was quite pleasant, but Lily found she believed this promise. She could hear the truth of it in his voice. “And you won’t lay a wand on anyone else.”

“Unlikely,” Snape said. “As fascinating as your empty threats are—”

James spoke over him. “What say you, Cassius? It’ll take loads of penance when they catch you.”

“Penance,” Mulciber repeated, as if he didn’t quite follow what James meant.

“Yeah, penance. You know? Begging for forgiveness? Seems you didn’t learn much from the lesson we taught you, eh?”

She almost laughed — not because anything about the situation was funny, but because James sounded no less confident for the fact that he was unarmed, and one against three. She really, really wanted to throttle him. But Lily didn’t get the chance to reflect on the violent impulses she felt for James any longer. 

Mulciber let out a low growl. “I’ll have you begging, Potter. Crucio!

Lily was quite sure she screamed. Everything happened all at once — she remembered it only in fragments afterwards. James yelled. Doe was darting around the corner, shouting, “Stupefy!” Something exploded. More strangled yelling. Lily hit the floor forcefully enough to bruise her knees, one hand landing too hard on James’s chest, and he made a weak sound of protest.

Her brain was cycling through stages of panic — it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, the curse, but he looked as though he was struggling to stay awake — Sirius, angrier than she’d ever seen him, and he was saying, “I’ll kill them, I’ll fucking kill them—” and then Edgar Bones was prising Lily away from James and someone was saying, “No no no no, he has to go to the Hospital Wing—”

Oh, that was her. That was her. 

“I know, I’ve got him,” Bones was saying.

There was a horrible stench in the air and Peter was waving it away, and Doe and Frank Longbottom were physically restraining Sirius. Mulciber lay still and Stunned. Rosier and Snape had been knocked to the ground by—

A Dungbomb,” Lily said, her voice strangled. She finally stopped resisting Edgar Bones. “He threw a Dungbomb at the boy who Cruciatused him!”

“I’m fine,” James croaked, and Bones left Lily to help him up. “I’m fine, I was only under for a second—”

“Black, get it together, help Bones get him to Pomfrey,” Frank snapped. 

Sirius at last stopped trying to charge Mulciber’s prone body and went to James’s side. Rosier was staring at the stone floor, so obviously in thought that she could almost see the gears in his head turning. Beside him, Severus was looking at her, eyes glittering. 

Doe took her by the arm. “Let’s go — we can get to Pomfrey first, warn her—” And Lily was too grateful to say anything else just yet because her friend had anticipated her question: what can I do? Peter was dispatched to fetch McGonagall. 

As they walked, Lily found herself saying, “I’m angry at you.”

Doe gave her a calm once-over. “If you want to be angry at me for keeping my Muggle-born friend away from a trigger-happy blood purist,” she said coolly, “be my guest.”

If Dorcas had only let her go after James… If she’d only done something to stop it… Doe had thought like an Auror. But they weren’t skilled Dark wizard catchers, they were students, and how stupid could she be, holding Lily back… 

But Lily had done all this in the first place. She’d told James about the room, she’d told him about Filch, she’d let them all break curfew tonight. She was angry because she knew it was her fault.

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The next morning both Dorcas and Lily were pulled out of first-period Defence Against the Dark Arts to meet with Professor McGonagall. It was a good thing, Lily thought blearily, because she had spent so much of the previous night tossing and turning that she would surely have fallen asleep in class. 

After they had gone to the Hospital Wing and Pomfrey had given them both something for shock — which both girls tried to protest — James, Sirius, and Edgar Bones had followed. Frank Longbottom and Peter took Mulciber to McGonagall, apparently, with Rosier and Severus in tow. Lily tried, as Pomfrey fussed over a weak but cavalier James, to forget her former friend’s hand in all this. He’d disarmed James — he hadn’t stopped Mulciber — he hadn’t cast the spell but he hadn’t done anything to stop it, that was all Dorcas…

Sirius had come over to them, his face set in fury. “Happy now that your best mate got at him?” he snarled, and Lily realised he was talking to her. She didn’t have the energy to respond, but she was saved from doing so.

“Give it a rest, Sirius,” Doe said wearily. “It was Mulciber, not Snape.”

He rounded on her next. “But you let him—”

“Let him?” Doe scoffed. “Instead of pointing fingers at each other—” Lily did not miss her emphasis here “—let’s remember who cast the fucking curse, all right? Besides,” she added, more subdued now, “Mulciber will get what he deserves.”

“We still don’t know,” said Lily suddenly. They both turned to look at her. “We still don’t know if they — if they actually hurt Michael and Gerry McIlhenny—”

“Oh, that’s rich, Evans, you don’t actually think they’re innocent!” said Sirius. Pomfrey hissed at them to stop shouting.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Lily snapped, hating the tears rising to her eyes. “I meant we didn’t get proof.”

“So it was all for nothing.” Sirius rocked back on his heels. 

“Stop acting like James is dead,” Doe interrupted. “Okay? And stop acting like Lily killed him. You’re angry at Mulciber, not us.” She gave him a warning look that made even Lily flinch. “Back. Off.”

Underneath the anger and the guilt, Lily felt a sudden rush of affection for her friend.

“Doe was the one who stopped him,” she whispered. “Look — I’m sorry.”

Maybe he hadn’t expected her to apologise. Maybe it was the look on her face or the tremor in her voice. But Sirius went quiet, and sat down on Lily’s other side.

“I’m still fucking pissed,” he said.

“Join the queue,” said Dorcas quietly. 

It took until the next morning for Lily to say the same words to Doe. They’d been brushing their teeth in the bathroom together, jostling elbows. The other girls had still been sleeping, undisturbed by Lily and Doe’s late arrival and early awakening.

Finally Lily muttered, “I shouldn’t have snapped at you.” 

Doe said, “Yeah, you shouldn’t’ve.”

“You were doing what you thought was right.”

Their gazes met in the mirror. “I was.”

And though they were a little cool, a little uncertain around each other as they went to breakfast, things between them felt less like fractured ground. First fight, Lily thought dully, spooning porridge into her mouth — she and Doe had never really come into conflict before.

McGonagall had summoned them not long after, and the girls had related last night’s events to their head of house. They left out their motivations for seeking out Rosier, Mulciber, and Snape, figuring that it would only serve to make them look bad. In any case their theories seemed moot now that Mulciber had used an actual Unforgivable Curse. They did not say how Peter, Sirius, or Remus had been involved, despite all three having obviously been out of bed — Doe had recalled the fact that Sirius seemed to be on some kind of probation, and the girls had agreed over breakfast that the Marauders could tell their own version of events. 

To McGonagall’s credit, she did not immediately tell them how extraordinarily stupid they’d been. But after the whole tale had been related, the professor sat back in her seat and fixed each of them with a stern stare.

“You’re sensible girls,” she said briskly. “You don’t need me to tell you what a harebrained scheme that was. Running about in hopes of — what, catching the attacker?”

Lily sat straighter. “How did you—”

“Please, Evans, I know my students, and even the most foolhardy ones—” she gazed heavenward, which the girls took to signify the Marauders and not them “—behave in certain patterns. Well, you will lose twenty points each for your breaking of curfew, but I suppose you are owed thirty points each for what you did.”

“What we — did?” Doe said timidly.

“Mr. Mulciber has confessed to attacking both Mr. McIlhenny and Mr. Meadowes. Apparently he used the Imperius Curse to compel Miss Nott to act on his behalf.” A brief twist of disgust crossed McGonagall’s face. “That’s that.”

“Oh,” said Lily. “But he must have had he—”

“He was acting alone, he says.”

“With all due respect, Professor, do you believe that?” Lily said, with a glance at Doe. 

McGonagall’s lips thinned. “It’s not a question of what I believe, Miss Evans. I expect the headmaster will be able to answer your lingering questions at an address later this week. Now, if you please, I have to collect Mr. and Mrs. Potter from the Entrance Hall.” She stood, and the girls took this to be their dismissal.

As they filed out of the office, Doe whispered, “I have Ancient Runes.”

Lily squeezed her shoulder. “Lunch, after?”

Doe nodded, and was gone. Lily realised she had a free period, but she couldn’t imagine sitting down to get a head start on her homework. Nor could she imagine finding Germaine and Mary and explaining what had happened. She was headed towards the Hospital Wing before she knew it. 

Pomfrey was by the doors; she eyed Lily with suspicion, but allowed her to enter.

“I’m going for two minutes to see the Potters. You are to be quiet and considerate with my patient for two minutes while I am gone,” she said. “And don’t wake the other one.”

Michael Meadowes was still in the Hospital Wing, Lily realised. His bed was behind a partition, across from James’s. She spared a glance for the sleeping Ravenclaw, then sat down in an empty chair by James’s head.

His eyes were closed, his glasses on the bedside table. He looked much younger, asleep. She could see the little indentation in the bridge of his nose left by his glasses, and the fan of his thick eyelashes against his dark skin. A faint scar, marring one side of his upper lip. There was probably a story there — everything about James came with a good story. But the few seconds he was under the Cruciatus would leave no visible marks.

His eyelids fluttered open. He smiled, not the crooked grin Lily was used to but a tired, small one.

“You should see the other bloke,” he said, voice scratchy from sleep.

It took Lily a moment to find her voice. When it arrived, it was tight with anger. She’d thought herself too exhausted for it, but that was not true.

“I can’t believe you,” she whispered. “I can’t believe you — threw yourself at them and let them disarm you, and you told us not to follow so that you could — what, interrogate them? And Doe listened to you because she was worried about me, and then you got yourself tortured, and all you had was a Dungbomb—”

His smile fell away, replaced by a frown. “I didn’t—”

“Why,” she said, the word almost a plea, “did you have to go and play the hero? You’re so selfish—”

He snorted. “I’m selfish? It was selfish of me to get cursed?”

Yes! It was thoughtless — what if, what if—” Lily struggled to keep her voice even. “What if Mulciber had tried a different Unforgivable? McGonagall would be explaining to your parents that you’d been killed—”

James shook his head slowly. “He wouldn’t have.”

She let out a helpless little laugh. “Do you even believe that yourself? God! You’re so pigheaded and idiotic—” 

She was aware she was doing to him exactly what Sirius had did to her and Doe the previous night, but she didn’t care. Every angry word was so much better than I’m sorry. So much easier than knowing it was because of her, and maybe she really ought to keep people at arm’s distance, because people were so breakable.

If James Potter could be here, in a hospital bed, then anyone could fall. And not everyone could bounce back. Not everyone could bounce back if her foolishness hurt them.

“Excuse me,” he said hotly, now trying to sit up. 

Good, Lily thought savagely. Fight back.  

“You heard me!” she said. “I told you this would be stupid—”

“I seem to recall you telling me you wanted to come along—”

“—and I just don’t understand why you would put yourself in harm’s way—”

“Well, if you don’t understand then there’s nothing I can explain to you!” James said, now sounding just as furious as she felt.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Lily.

“I just said I can’t fucking explain, didn’t I?”

She did laugh then, loudly and properly. 

“I know what’s going on here, anyway,” he said. “You feel guilty, so you’re taking it out on—”

“Of course I feel guilty,” she snapped. He fell silent. “It’s my fucking fault, isn’t it?”

He sighed, a long expulsion of breath. “Don’t make this the boohoo Evans show.”

Her jaw dropped; she pushed back her chair. “Fuck off—”

“I’m serious, did you come here to shout at me—”

“I don’t want to hear it—”

“I get it, all right? But I didn’t fucking die, and it’s not like what happened with your dad.” 

His hazel eyes were bright, angry; his jaw was set firm. For the first time in a long time, Lily thought I hate him, but this time it was because she knew he was right. 

“And please don’t cry,” James went on. “It was three seconds under the curse. Pomfrey says I should be fine — no nerve damage or anything, even.”

She wanted to say I’m not crying, but she lifted a hand to her cheeks and found that she was. But it was too much. It was all too much. She was strung tight and certain she would snap like a too-stretched rubber band. Not everyone could bounce back, and maybe she couldn’t either.

She drew in a deep breath and said, “I just—”

“Please,” James said, “please, Lily, the shouting’s giving me a headache.”

And all the words were sucked right out of her. She wiped away the last of her tears and stood.

“I should go,” she mumbled.

He looked at her for a long, silent moment. “Yeah, probably.”

The Hospital Wing doors opened just then. In strode Madam Pomfrey, McGonagall, and an elderly couple Lily vaguely recognised as the Potters: a slim, elegant Indian woman, her silver-streaked hair in a twist, and a balding, genial white man, with spectacles like his son. 

“Please tell me you haven’t had a shouting match with my patient, Evans,” Pomfrey said drily.

Lily gave a weak laugh. She must have looked a mess: face blotchy and red, eyes still brimming with tears. 

“Nah,” James said, startling her. That was all he said in her defence.

Mrs. Potter’s brows had shot up at the sight of her. “Well, if you give us a minute, dear, you can go back to shouting at him.”

“Oh — oh, no, I was leaving anyway.” She supposed the polite thing to do would be to introduce herself, seeing as how she’d never formally met them before, but she didn’t want to get in their way at a time like this. 

So Lily beat a hasty retreat, slipping out of the infirmary and heading downstairs. But she didn’t want to eat just yet, it was too early for lunch… Her feet took her down the stairs again, past the fruit bowl painting, until she came face to face with the stack of barrels. How often had she done this in the past few months? 

She reached out with her wand, eyes still blurry, and tapped, Hel-ga Huff-le-puff. The door opened. Through the passageway, into the bright, plant-lined common room, and there he was, sitting at the same desk as he always did, chewing on his bottom lip and leafing through a textbook. 

She walked towards him, and he looked up. The concentration on his face melted into concern.

“Lily? What’s happened — are you all right?”

Yes. No. She couldn’t say. McGonagall had told them not to share what spell Mulciber had used, and Lily was not about to break that directive. She thought James would tell people whatever he saw fit. Mulciber would probably be expelled — possibly even be tried — and everyone would have guesses then.

But most of all Lily felt so vulnerable, so horribly seen, like something had brushed against a bruise she’d forgotten about. I didn’t fucking die, and it’s not like what happened with your dad. Funny how she could suddenly feel ripped open and thirteen again, hearing those words. 

She gripped the edge of the table for support. “I’m sorry — I know I said I, I needed space, and I’m sure you’re busy—”

“Hey, no—” Dex was pulling her to a sofa, sitting her down gently. “Can I get you something? Water?”

She shook her head. “Just a hug. Just — a hug.” He obliged, wrapping his arms around her. Her head settled onto his chest, and she closed her eyes, and she breathed a little easier.

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James knew things were bad because of Lily Evans.

Well, to be precise, he knew things were bad because of his parents’ lack of reaction to Lily Evans. They had certainly registered it was her, because he saw his mother arch her eyebrows, but then Lily was gone and the focus was back on him. Pomfrey and McGonagall went into the Healer’s office to give them some privacy.

James sat up, wincing as he did, while his parents sank into chairs by his bed. He hadn’t been lying about the pain — it really had faded, though the memory of it still burned. The weakness in his muscles persisted, but Pomfrey had assured him that too would pass. He bloody well hoped so. Quidditch practice was tomorrow.

“Did she really shout at you?” Euphemia said, having smoothed out her pantsuit. Her tone was perfectly calm, which was how James knew she was angry.

“Er, a bit,” said James, flummoxed. He was in no mood to defend Lily — in fact, he could have quite happily have launched into a list of complaints just then — but it felt wrong, somehow, to badmouth her with his parents agreeing.

But his mother only said, “Good. I hate to yell, and someone had to do it.”

“What the fuck?” James said.

“Language,” said Fleamont, properly glaring.

“Yes, well, what were you thinking?” Euphemia went on. “Gallivanting about trying to catch little demons — oh, don’t give me that look, Fleamont, I’ve met that Cassius Mulciber — didn’t you stop to think you’d get hurt?”

He opened his mouth to protest, but truthfully, he hadn’t thought. Not very much had been going through his mind in the moment he walked out into the corridor, except for stall, James, stall. And then he’d provoked Mulciber because, well, he was the weak link. Rosier and Snape wouldn’t crack with a few well-placed questions. Mulciber might. 

He had, technically. Only, James had hoped he’d crack and tell them about the attacks, not crack and use an Unforgivable Curse on him. Well, at least the fucker would be in Azkaban soon.

He very nearly pointed out to his parents that he’d taken out a future Death Eater and ought to be thanked. But then, unbidden, Lily’s words came to him instead. McGonagall would be explaining to your parents that you’d been killed… She was right.

She’d come in there to shout at him, which was awfully fucked, and he was already thinking of how he would complain about her saviour-slash-martyr complex (he hadn’t yet decided which sounded worse) to his mates, but Lily Evans had a goddamn point. 

When he looked at his parents he didn’t just see the years of care and warmth and incessant nagging. Nor did he see just this moment, with Euphemia quietly furious and Fleamont quietly disappointed and both of them concerned. He saw the evening of the Christmas party — the Hogsmeade murders — and he saw them as an outsider would. Doting, but aging.

They had, the three of them, always had one another, a harmony he’d taken for granted. It would break them to see him hurt. On some days that meant shouldering his responsibilities without complaint. On other days...that meant not getting hurt

It was a realisation with the sort of depth that stunned you into silence — even if you were James Potter. Which was why he stayed quiet long enough for Euphemia to finish her controlled lecture. 

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry,” James said. 

Both of them looked surprised.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that. I’ve got some maturity in me.”

“Then you’ll respond maturely when you hear you’re being punished,” Fleamont said after a glance at his wife. 

“I’m — what?” My God, James thought, was this what other people’s parents did to teach them lessons?

“You’re being punished,” Euphemia enunciated. “Professor McGonagall is overseeing your detentions for two weeks once you’re out of the infirmary, you’ve lost forty points for your house—”

Forty?” Oh, he would be having words with McGonagall on that subject. 

“—and Quidditch practice will go on without you for as long as you’re in detention.”

His jaw came unhinged. “Mum, that’s bloody unfair. That’s — I’m the captain, they can’t practise without me! You’re acting like I’m the one who cast the curse.”

“Oh, no, James, if you’d cast the curse you’d have been expelled and slapped with a disciplinary hearing, and you’d never again go beyond the four walls of our home,” Euphemia snapped. 

Pomfrey coughed politely. Euphemia took a moment to gather herself. 

“And you’re coming home for Easter. I don’t care if your friends come too, God knows you get up to too much nonsense in the castle.”

Aghast, James looked to his father for sympathy. Fleamont shook his head infinitesimally. 

“I’ll start acting out if you place restrictions upon me,” he said, mostly as a joke. The expressions on his parents’ faces told him they did not think this was the time or place. “Come on, if I’m joking it means I’m fine.”

Fleamont squeezed his shoulder. “You frightened us,” he said, his voice low. 

James swallowed his many other complaints. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “I really am.” He saw the tension in his mother’s shoulders ease ever so slightly. So he said, “Did you bring me something other than lectures?”

“Don’t cheek me,” Euphemia warned him, but withdrew a packet of Cauldron Cakes from her purse. 

“Ah, cheers.” James tore it open, handing one to each of them. Then the Potters ate their Cauldron Cakes and talked about much happier things. 

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In the Slytherin dormitories, Severus Snape watched Mulciber collect his things. The seventh year did not seem to care that he was being dismissed from school. Better him than me, Severus thought. The very idea of slinking back to Spinner’s End early made him cringe. 

Then again, Mulciber wasn’t going to Spinner’s End. No, it was the hallowed halls of the family manor for him — where he would be congratulated, probably, on having followed the Dark Lord’s directive, and would take the next step sooner than any of the rest of them. 

Severus supposed he ought to be pleased. With Mulciber’s confession no shadow of suspicion would hang over him or any of the others. It was so neat, he almost suspected Rosier of planning it. But his gut still twisted at the memory of the previous night. Not at how Potter had strutted in, and poked and prodded at Mulciber, not at how quickly Mulciber had reached for one of the Unforgivables. 

No, he’d watched James Potter fall and wished, for a fleeting, scornful moment, that he’d been the one to cast it. To finally put the Gryffindor golden boy in his place. Then Potter had flung a Dungbomb at them, and blurred shapes were shouting spells. It was disorienting at first, until he realised they were simply Disillusionment Charms at work.

One of the shapes spoke with Lily’s voice, and the charm wore off to reveal her kneeling by Potter, telling him to stay awake, her face blanched by fear. And Severus thought, I’d take the Cruciatus for that. She’d barely looked at him before setting off for the Hospital Wing. He thought that this was the beginning of the end. 

Severus Snape was a clever young man, but he was particularly dense where Lily Evans was concerned. The end had begun long before that day in the seventh floor corridor.