Lily tugged her skirt straight and stared into space for a moment, her throat dry. She had bid her parents goodbye outside the station, and now she stood and stared at the barrier, steeling herself for what was to come. It wasn't going to be easy.
Finally she patted the badge on her chest with one hand and made her way through to Platform Nine and Three Quarters. It wouldn't do to worry about it – at least not much. She yanked her trunk behind her, trying hard not to think about the meeting in the prefect carriage.
It wasn't that she didn't want to be Head Girl – she did, and she couldn't, even now, restrain a surge of pride at the thought that she, a Muggle-born, had been chosen as one of the finest students in Hogwarts. But for that very reason, she was filled with doubt – she could see the meaning of Dumbledore's gesture as clear as any. In a world that was growing increasingly dark, he was signalling that he would not be cowed by Voldemort and his cronies. He had faith in Muggle-borns and their ability to succeed, and she was his way of sending that message out loud and clear to all who would listen.
Of course, he wouldn't have appointed her if he wasn't sure she could succeed, and Lily had no doubts that she could be a capable Head Girl. The jibes and snubs of members of her year notwithstanding, she had learned long ago that blood counted for almost nothing – at least, not when it came to talent. She had only to think of Eric Munch, whose blood was as pure as could be found, and who was either too lazy or too stupid to learn spells of any complexity.
To be the symbol of Muggle-born success, of their capacity to equal if not exceed purebloods – she wasn't sure if she could do it. And she had to do it – for everyone who, like her, had come to Hogwarts knowing nothing. She had to succeed. No wonder she felt a weight pressed across her shoulders whenever she thought of it.
She had to go into this meeting now and make it quite clear that she was not going to be timid, or ashamed, or let the Head Boy handle the difficult Slytherins – she would do it herself, and heaven help anyone who questioned her authority.
With that, Lily squared her shoulders, and set off down the platform. She'd been thinking about all of this ever since she'd received her badge – time to stop thinking about it, and do it instead.
Remus Lupin spotted her and waved from his carriage. He came out to the door as she approached, and helped her pull her trunk up onto the train. She smiled at him in thanks, thinking he looked very well, considering the full moon had been only three days before. But he didn't have a badge on his chest, and she looked at him curiously. He grinned, and said, "It's not me, I'm afraid, Lily."
She groaned and said, "Damn it. I was really hoping it'd be you – I don't suppose you know who it is, do you?"
His mouth twitched and, instantly surmising the worst, she said, "Oh, God. It's Buckley Cooper isn't it? Oh Remus, what am I going to do?"
She heard the plaintive tone in her voice and winced – how could she deal with Buckley for a whole year if just thinking of him annoyed her so much? Buckley wasn't as bad as Snape or Wilkes, or, heaven help her, Rosier – but he was still one of the pettiest human beings she'd ever had the misfortune to know. He managed to overawe most of the school through good looks and an astonishing memory – Buckley Cooper never forgot a slight or insult (even those which he imagined) and he used his power as prefect to avenge them to some degree.
Remus laughed and said, "No – it's not Cooper; I know that much."
She smiled again. "Phew! I'd rather work with a Puffskein."
Remus offered to take her trunk and she thanked him, and made her way to the prefects' carriage, nodding at people she knew as she went. She didn't see Dorcas; Marlene, of course, had left the year before (she was now training as a Healer in St Mungo's), but she chatted briefly with Roisín and Kumar (who, if anything, were more attached than before) on her way.
When she finally reached the carriage, only one other prefect had arrived. She hoped it was someone she could have an actual conversation with (not, for example, Grugwyn Rufford who suffered from monomania about gobstones).
Still, she entered with a smile, which vanished as her mouth dropped open in sheer surprise. "Potter!"
Her hand was still on the doorknob as he turned to face her, grinning, as usual. "Hello, Lily," he said. "Have a good summer?"
She stared at him, desperately trying to figure out how this was possible. She accepted that Dumbledore was making a point in having her as Head Girl, but what possible good could result from having James Potter as Head Boy?
He seemed uneasy and said, "Don't look so surprised, Lily – it borders on insulting."
She closed her mouth and the door, and sat opposite from him. "I'm…sorry, James. I was just surprised…you weren't a prefect. That's all."
She knew she wasn't doing a very convincing job of lying, but, damn it, how was she supposed to feel? She couldn't be jubilant about this – she wanted someone she could depend on, someone she trusted, and he wasn't either.
Though, perhaps she had been unfair to him. After her experience at the end of last term, she had changed her mind about him, a little. She had thought she was completely over the horror and torture of that night, until one swelteringly-hot evening in July, her parents had been discussing the use of torture in Northern Ireland, and Lily had had to run to throw up in the toilet. Even now, the memory bothered her more than she cared to admit. Something about Voldemort's voice; seeing death staring at her from the tip of his wand, had changed her more than she cared to admit.
Later that evening, she had told her mother about the Death Eaters, and their insane 'cause.' Perhaps she had hoped that her mother would ask her to stay at home, ask her not to involve herself – but Lily's mum had just looked sad. She knew Lily would involve herself because that's what she had been brought up to do – fight prejudice wherever it was to be found. And what they both knew, although neither said it, was that even if Lily did stay at home, she would not be able to defend her parents against a determined attack by Death Eaters. Better that she learn what she could while she could.
She looked at James and said, "You know Buckley Cooper is a prefect, right?"
He shrugged, "I do now."
"Great…just…don't antagonise him okay?"
"What? Lily… Do you think I'm going to let him get started?"
"No. It won't come to that – I can handle him, but not if you start…"
"All right…I get the point."
"Thought I was going to have to browbeat you a little longer."
"Oh I know by now to give in to your infinite wisdom."
"And it only took you seventeen years to gain such valuable knowledge…"
"Oh. Well, perhaps there's hope for you after all. Hang on…how are you eighteen?"
He ran a hand through his hair, more as a habitual gesture than anything else, and said, "Well…it's my birthday tomorrow."
"Oh. I see. Does that mean I'm going to be picking party poppers of the floor on Wednesday morning?"
Lily sighed, reminded once more of her responsibilities – it came as something of a surprise when he said, "What kind of Muggle thing?"
"Oh. They're shaped like small plastic bottles, and there's a string coming out of the top, and you pull it, and streamers and things sort of explode out."
He leaned back in his seat. "I see. Clever, really."
She looked at him carefully, and saw that his interest wasn't feigned. Taking a chance she said, "James?"
"Look, I know, we don't always…" She cut herself off, trying to think of the best way to say it. "Could we…I was hoping that this year, if we fight or whatever, we could do it, in private. I mean, we have to work together and everything, and if people see us arguing about duties and stuff, it won't look good."
He eyed her, and said, "Okay?" She must have sounded rather odd, for his tone suggested he was questioning her sanity.
"It's just…it has to look good. I mean, there's a reason why Dumbledore put me here, and… it has to look good."
She knew she was babbling – this would have been so much easier if the Head Boy had been Remus. Remus knew how to be serious, while Lily was waiting for James to burst out laughing any second.
Instead, he nodded his head and said, "Fair enough. Care to offer me something in return?"
She tensed for a moment, but there was no look of mischief in his eyes, so she nodded.
"It's just, as you noticed coming in, I'm a bit new to this. Don't expose my ignorance if it's at all possible?"
The words sounded unsure, but as he sat back in his sit, a cocky smile on his lips, Lily found it hard to believe he was as insecure as his words seemed to suggest. Still, she smiled and extended her arm – she didn't expect him to pump it so vigorously, but it was what he said next that really surprised her.
"Don't know what you were so worried about anyway."
"We don't fight that much."
"Oh. We don't?" She found it hard to keep the sardonic tone from her voice.
"Oh come on Lily – not actual fighting. We just fight cause…we do. It doesn't mean anything."
She nodded slowly – strange as it might sound, she agreed with him. Though no one, no one in the whole world, was more efficient at driving her round the bend; there were few people who she would prefer to have with her in a crisis – thanks to Voldemort. Despite his gracelessness, and occasionally astonishingly bad sense of timing, when things were truly desperate he could be counted on – it was the rest of the time that was difficult.
She shook herself out of her reverie as the first of the prefects arrived – start as you mean to go on, she reminded herself.
The meeting ran fairly smoothly in the end, and Lily laughed at herself for worrying so much. She walked back down the train with James, considering the change that had come over him. She had seen it during the meeting – he could still toss off a joke faster than anyone she knew, and his smile bothered her beyond all reason, but she could sense the change; it was subtle, but it was definitely there. Perhaps, she reflected, he had grown up at last.
Eventually they discovered Dorcas sitting with Remus and Peter – Sirius was 'off somewhere.' From the pinched look around Dorcas' eyes, Lily guessed 'off somewhere' meant chatting up some girl, and, since friendship is the best balm for pangs of disprized love, Lily settled down to a good comfortable gossip.
Dorcas had been in Paris all summer with her half-brother John, so there was plenty to catch up on. In an attempt to keep the peace with her sister, Lily had made sure she received no letters by owl post, and so she and Dorcas had had few opportunities to communicate. Now they sat together in a snug huddle by the window, exchanging news and chocolate frogs.
Dorcas leaned forward, curls tumbling down her shoulders, and Lily felt a pang that she had worked so hard only to be ignored. They talked about many things, not least of which was Marlene's new boyfriend. "So," Dorcas said, "is he as wonderful as she said? She made him sound like…"
Dorcas' voice trailed off, and Lily could guess why – Marlene had a colourful turn of phrase. Lily giggled and said, "I know, but he actually is. I met them a couple of times over the summer."
"How did you?"
"Well to the next town over. There's a pub there I can Floo from. Anyway, he's great. They've had a whirlwind romance, and apparently he's talking about getting married."
"This is only in the last week of course, and not immediately – not until she's a good way into Healing training."
"What does he do – that's the only thing she didn't mention!"
"He does something in Nimbus – I think he works on braking charms or…something."
James looked at Lily accusingly, and she wanted to bite off her tongue. Remus had always fancied Marlene – everyone knew, though it had never gone anywhere. Lily thought it was because Marlene was so peaceful, so comfortable with herself, that it must be really attractive to Remus.
James, however, was not being incredibly sensitive – rather their conversation had touched on his favourite topic. "What did you say his name is?"
"Dermot O'Hare! He was part of the team that designed the Nimbus 1000."
"Devlin Whitehorn recruited him right out of Hogwarts, Lily! He's one of the most important wizards of the last decade."
"I'm sure he is – and he buys all the drinks."
Dorcas laughed. "That means you must like him. I always knew you'd sell your soul eventually."
Lily slapped at her, laughing. "How many hearts did you break in Paris, cold-hearted cow?"
As Lily spoke, the door of the compartment slid open and a drawling voice said, "You two are really sharp with each other."
Dorcas stared challengingly at Sirius. "It's our way of expressing affection."
Somewhat thrown, Sirius sat down beside them, resting an arm lazily over Dorcas' shoulders – she shrugged him off angrily and looked at Peter. "What did you do for the summer?"
"I went to Norway with my mum."
"Where – were you in the fjords, or Oslo or what?"
Peter's face looked gloomy. "It was a small village on a fjord – my mum has family there."
"Was it very quiet?" Dorcas asked sympathetically.
"Dull as ditch-water. I was an exotic attraction in the place."
Lily laughed. "It can't have been too bad, Peter – all those girls gawping at you all the time."
Peter snorted. "You're funny, Lily."
She stared at him, taken aback for a moment, and then said, "Please, it can't possibly have been as bad as my summer."
Dorcas smiled at her, and pulled a sheaf of papers from her bag. She handed them to Lily. "Here. Time for you to catch up."
They were all the major news stories from the Daily Prophet from the last two months. Dorcas had cut them out and glued them down for her. It was perhaps a sign of the times that there were nearly ten pages of major news stories, most of them referring to Death Eater activity. Lily shivered when she saw a reference to the murders of three Muggles in a town only forty miles from where she lived. It had been talked about on the news, but she hadn't paid much attention, because she had been caught up in the news of her sister's engagement over the summer.
Vernon Dursley reminded Lily of a rhinoceros, or perhaps a walrus – swollen and truculent-looking, but what annoyed her most about him was the effect he had on her sister. Whatever else could be said about Petunia (and Lily could say plenty); she was a formidable woman – nasty, bitter and resolutely narrow-minded, but formidable nonetheless. Yet whenever she was around Vernon Dursley, she simpered.
Lily found it repulsive. The thought that Petunia might actually want Vernon Dursley baffled her. She could only guess that between their mother's political involvements (ranging from feminism to the anti-war movement to trade unionism) and her status as witch-slash-freak, Petunia craved some kind of normality. It was the only reason Lily could think of for marrying so young – and on the rare occasions when her sister's contained-bitterness exploded into a diatribe, it was never aimed at their father. He, as a quietly contented science teacher, fitted all of Petunia's definitions of respectability.
Most of the news was fairly bog standard tales of Muggle murder and clashes between Death Eaters and Aurors, but one article gave Lily pause. She couldn't quite believe it, and had to reread the article twice. She looked at Dorcas and said, "Is this true?"
"This." She thrust the pages at her. "They're really letting Crouch do this?"
Dorcas glanced at the pages. "Yes. They are."
Lily felt as though the key to understanding all of this lay just beyond her reach and she stared at her friend and said, "But, how could they…don't they know it's wrong?"
"I don't know, Lily."
"Don't tell me you think this is a good idea…do you? What possible reason could there be for torturing someone?"
Dorcas shrank back in her seat a little, bowing her head in thought. "Look, Lily…" she said, her voice trailing off.
"I think it's the right thing to do," Peter said, his face shining with conviction.
"Look at what they're fighting out there! I say let them do whatever they like."
"Those are people, Peter. They're human beings."
"So? They're a bunch of Death Eaters – better them than us. They'd kill you if they got the chance, Lily."
She stood up, knowing she might actually slap him if she had to listen to any more, and walked out of the compartment. She saw Sirius slap Peter sharply across the back of the head, and Dorcas caught his hand sternly – there wasn't any need for it.
Lily knew she shouldn't be angry with Peter; knew she shouldn't think less of him for holding a belief which, apparently, most wizards held, but it had been done to her! She had crouched in that clearing and suffered the most intense pain possible, and she couldn't believe that this could be considered acceptable!
Shakily, she walked towards the end of the carriage – there was a small space at the end where she could stand and look back the way they had come. The window wasn't very large, but the view was calming. She felt as though something she had battened down had come suddenly lose; it was an unpleasant feeling.
She couldn't see far down the train tracks – the steep hills of the landscape made sure of that. It was beautiful – rich green grass, hard rock and falling water made the landscape look like a poem – and Lily smiled, looking at it. She loved Scotland – in her mind it would always be inextricably linked to Hogwarts and the sense of infinite possibilities that the school had always filled her with. It was only in the last year or two that she had realised just how wrong her ideas had been.
The Wizarding world was no better than the Muggle world she had been in – and in some ways it was worse. She hugged herself, and sighed. It was getting dark outside, and a high wind rattled the door of the carriage. It wasn't so long ago that a small girl had nearly run down one of those Death Eaters with her trunk – Lily only wished she had actually hit him.
She heard steps coming towards her, and wasn't surprised when James joined her. She didn't look at him, but said, "It's a nice view."
She turned around and realised he was staring at her. She was probably white as a sheet. She brushed a strand of hair out of her face as he jerked a thumb back towards their compartment. "Sorry about that. Sirius bawled him out a bit – your mate jumped to his defence after a couple of minutes."
Lily laughed. "She would. What did she do?"
"She whacked Sirius on the head and told him to behave like a grown-up."
Lily let out a low whistle. "Bet he loved that." Sirius liked to think of himself as the great iconoclast, and, though Lily liked him (one couldn't really help but like him, no matter how much one disapproved of him) he did give himself airs.
"Oh, he enjoys it really. He likes anyone who'll pay attention to him. Besides, the more she rakes into him…well that just means she has been paying attention."
Lily laughed. "She'll be so flattered."
James looked at her keenly, and Lily flushed a little under his gaze, not really knowing why. Still she lifted her chin and said, "Wasn't he off with Veronica Smethley earlier – I don't think any girl would like to think she was a filler-in." In fact Lily didn't know who Sirius had been with, but Veronica Smethley (a weak-brained girl who lapped up anything said by any good-looking male) was usually a good guess if Sirius was looking to be flattered.
Again he glanced at her, his hazel eyes sharper than anyone might have guessed, and she sensed that change in him again. Lord, she wished she could put her finger on it – like so many other things, it was a confusing element suddenly introduced to a world she had thought she knew rather well. He shoved his hands in his pockets and said, "I'll make a note of that."
"Maybe you should pass it on to him."
She turned back to the window – he wasn't even smiling now, and she found it very unsettling. It was strange to think how much older he was than her – she had never thought about it before because…well, he had never acted like it, but he was now, and Lily had to admit she was thrown.
Almost a year separated them, as Lily's birthday was half way through August. It didn't usually bother her – she was well-grown for her age, and certainly she was more than a match for any of her classmates when it came to brains, but at the same time, she felt at something of a disadvantage with a boy she didn't really know that well, who was a year older and might have done…things.
Lily shook her head at the thoughts that she was carefully not contemplating, and heard him say, "So, what did you do over the summer?"
"Not that much really. I went to the Thin Lizzy concert."
"They're a Muggle group. One of my old friends from school got me a ticket."
"Was it good?"
Lily sighed, remembering just how strange and wonderful and somehow lost she had felt that evening. She'd listened to a few of their records, but it wasn't quite the same as actually hearing the music spill from the instruments into her ears.
"It was great."
"I didn't see you as a rock music type."
"Do you even know what rock music is?"
"Sure. It's what all those people with dirty hair listen to. Your hair is always clean, Lily."
She laughed at him then – it was the strangest thing in the world to hear him echo her sister's sentiments. He looked at her curiously and she said, "James, really...you sound like a Tory politician." He just looked even more confused, and she continued, "You know, 'only long haired degenerates with foul habits attend rock concerts.'"
"Well. I wouldn't call you a degenerate to your face."
"Oh – you wouldn't? You're so considerate, James."
He tugged at a lock of her hair, teasing. "But your hair is always clean – and shiny. How was I supposed to know?"
"Well, try not taking all your opinions about Muggles from Margaret Thatcher and you might find you'll make fewer of these mistakes."
"Thank you, Lily. I'll always depend on you to steer me through the Muggle world without any faux pas."
She laughed. "Do you really think you have that in you, Potter? I wouldn't give you five minutes in the Muggle world. You'd hex someone in the first five minutes."
He looked indignant. "I would not! Hexing Muggles is foul."
"You wouldn't say that if you'd known my primary school headmaster," she said darkly. "Believe me, if I could hex him now I would."
"Yes. Give him boils for a month or something."
"What did he do – make you cry or something?"
"Or something. I'm not telling you. I've dedicated years to repressing the memory. I'm not about to tell you so I can have it thrown in my face every day for the next year."
He threw up his hands in despair. "I would never! You can tell your Uncle James anything."
Lily snorted. "A less avuncular individual than you is hard to imagine." And it was true – her mother, for one, would never believe her if she said she was 'friends' with James. If she had said it about Peter or Remus or even Sirius, she might have got away with it, but not James. She could never really be friends with him – she didn't know how she knew this, but the knowledge sat in her head whenever she talked to him. He would never be happy with being friends, and…he had a certain kind of bull-headed persistence that would eventually yield results.
Not that Lily fancied him, but…knowing these things made her wary around him, though she rarely progressed so far as to admit to herself that she knew them.
He stared down at her, a wounded look marking his eyes. "I'm hurt, Lily – hurt to think you don't trust me. After everything we've been through."
"Oh please, don't start this."
"We've shared a telescope since the tender age of eleven."
"You were twelve."
He nodded. "Quite right."
"And you pulled my hair every time you thought I was taking too long."
"Well, unfortunately Lily, you weren't able to look through the telescope and write at the same time."
"I just liked looking at the stars! Don't you ever do that?"
He stared at her then, and Lily wished she hadn't said something so benightedly school-girlish. She flicked her hair off her shoulders and said, "Besides, I was looking for asteroids."
His voice dry, he said, "Flaming balls of rock that might possibly destroy life as we know it. I can see the attraction."
"Oh, don't be such a baby." He raised an eyebrow.
"I'm sorry I snapped."
She slumped back against the wall and sighed. This train ride was becoming more intense than she had hoped – it couldn't possibly be healthy. Still, there was something she did want to ask him about and so she stared at him and said, "What was that in the prefects' carriage? With Sirius' brother? Why was he glaring at you the whole time?"
He waved a hand, a look of tiredness crossing his face. "Nothing."
"It was not! I know hostility when I see it, and that was…hostility. I thought for a second he was going to hex you."
"What, worried it'll muck up your chances at being the perfect Head Girl?"
He started to walk away from her then, and she grabbed his shoulder and turned him around forcibly. "That is not fair!"
She was furious, and she had to work for a second to control her voice. "I just wanted to know, that's all. Sorry for being curious!"
James' mouth fell open, and it seemed to take him a moment to recover himself. He gave her a measuring look and said, "All right, look I'll tell you, but you've got to keep this quiet."
Lily nodded, and he continued. "Sirius ran away this summer, and he stayed with me of course; that's what he was glowering about."
James seemed so troubled that it took Lily a moment to work up the courage to say, "But, why? I mean, I've never been exactly partial to Regulus, but…"
James cut her off sharply. "It's his business."
Perhaps she sounded a little stung, for he caught her eye and said, "Bellatrix is his cousin remember. That ought to tell you something Lily. Now you mightn't think much of him, but he doesn't believe in all that rubbish, and he'd be the first to say it."
"I know James – I never thought either of you…" Lily cut herself off. "I suppose that's why he's even more dark and brooding than usual."
"You think he's 'dark and brooding'?"
Of course she did; as she'd pointed out to Dorcas many times, with Sirius it seemed that name was destiny, so she said, "Maybe a little."
He raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
James huffed and folded his arms, looking deeply annoyed and it took her a couple of seconds to figure out what he was driving at, but when she got it, she started laughing.
"You don't think I fancy him!" She was now in danger of collapsing into giggles, and loosing all ability to speak with any coherence.
James glared, and Lily laughed harder at his attempts to look fearsome. Finally, she managed to get her breath back. "I can promise you that I have never, and will never, fancy Sirius Black. Can you imagine? It would be so ridiculous."
At last he managed to crack a smile, and said, "Okay. Sorry then. But why?"
"Why do you keep asking about him?"
"I'm just interested."
They were standing by the entrance to their compartment, and suddenly he snapped his fingers. Dorcas and Peter were playing chess, and the other two were watching intently. Sirius hung over Dorcas' shoulder and she was rather pink-cheeked. "I know what it is!" he said.
"It's her…she likes him."
"What? No – God!"
"She does, doesn't she? That's why you wanted to know."
"Oh seriously, James, no you can't say that – you can't! She'll kill me – and you can't! Especially not to him! Promise. Please."
He looked astonished at her vehemence and she continued. "It's a deep, dark secret. I'm the only one who knows, and if she thinks I told anyone, especially you, she'd kill me."
"But you didn't tell me."
Lily felt like hitting him for being so dense, but continued, "Look, you can't say anything, all right. You've got to promise me. He'll just make fun of her."
"He won't…Lily he wouldn't, all right? I know him. But fine, I won't say anything, even if he would really like to know."
Lily ignored his last words, and put her hand on the compartment door. She was surprised when he put his hand on her wrist, and she looked up at James curiously.
"About before…with Peter? You are all right?"
She sighed, surprised at the question. "I'm fine."
The title comes from Sir Edward Grey's (British Foreign Secretary) comment on the eve of the First World War
"The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."