Chapter 1: Fighting and Losing, in Two Very Different Ways
I suppose it’s odd that, after a day when I was almost murdered and kissed Al’s best friend, what I was thinking about when I woke up in the morning was a fight with my brothers.
To an outside observer, it wouldn’t even have seemed like a particularly epic fight. My brothers had done many worse things to me. James turned a spoonful of my cereal into maggots just before I took a bite when I was eight, and called me a slut when I held hands with Preston’s muggle friend when I was ten. Al caught me sneaking out to a party in July after third year, promised he wouldn’t say anything, and then told Mom five minutes after I left. He apparently woke her up by crashing a chair into the wall while trying to levitate it and wanted a distraction. I got grounded for the rest of the summer and all of my friends got in trouble too.
I was good at getting my revenge quickly and moving on. As much it pained me to admit it, I loved my brothers and never really wanted to stay mad at them. But this time, as benign as the whole thing was, I couldn’t just let it go.
They really got to me.
We were at the Burrow. Rose had just become Head Girl. Grandma, in her typical fashion, invited everyone to dinner to celebrate. James, Al, and I came up early because we were bored of London and wanted to play Quidditch in the orchard.
I persuaded Hugo and Preston to come. Uncle Ron took the day off and tagged along, because he never would pass up an opportunity to pretend he was a teenager again. Somehow, even though they are both aurors, Uncle Ron seems to take ten times as many days off as Dad. Or more.
Rose told Al the whole gathering sounded like her idea of hell. She was going to stay home for the afternoon, she said. She couldn’t wait to have the house to herself, and she supposed she would try to get to the Burrow just in time not to miss the food.
If I had to put up with Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron’s cooking all summer, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss Grandma’s cooking either.
Al normally would have laughed at Rose’s amiable bitterness – Rose was the only one who reliably made him laugh – but he was still bitter he wasn’t Head Boy and so just scowled.
Our three-on-three Quidditch game would have been fun except for Al’s sulking. He ended up on a team with Uncle Ron and Preston. Uncle Ron thought he was a much better keeper than he actually was. Preston was very good considering that he’d just started playing two years ago, but still not as good as the rest of us.
Preston is my second cousin and is in my year, but his parents are muggles. His father grew up with Dad. Apparently they hated each other as kids. They get along pretty well now, though, and since Preston got his Hogwarts letter Dad and I had basically made them part of the Weasley clan. Preston appreciated it. Preston’s parents gradually learned to tolerate it.
Regardless, James, Hugo, and I won the Quidditch game easily.
And James, of course, proceeded to rub it in Al’s face.
“Hey, golden child,” he sang, with a little more edge than usual, “not such a big star any more when you’ve got the real talent” – he gestured to himself and me – “on the other side, huh?”
“The real talent?” Al snapped back. “What talent is that?” He paused, feigning deep thought. “A talent for living off daddy’s money?”
Dad had spent several hours the night before reminding James that graduation had been two months ago and he still didn’t have a job. In the morning, Mom had picked up where Dad stopped, threatening to cut James off if he didn’t “at least make a bloody effort to pretend to apply yourself.”
James tried to interrupt Al’s rant but failed.
“It must be some ‘talent’ you have if you can’t find a single person out there willing to pay a knut for it. Or have you convinced Auntie Muriel to give you a sickle of lunch money every time you win a backyard Quidditch game?”
Uncle Ron laughed.
“Well, we can solve my money problems easily enough.” James smirked, but I could tell he was faking it. “Run it back for 50 galleons?”
“Sure, if we switch the teams,” Al grumbled. “I need a real keeper.”
I glanced at Uncle Ron, who gave no indication of having heard Al’s last comment.
I’m not sure that Uncle Ron even realized that Al didn’t like him. Al made little effort to hide it. When Rose was younger, Uncle Ron had fought a lot with Aunt Hermione, and then he’d fought with Rose when Rose sided with her mother. Rose had forgiven her father, or at least did a good job of pretending. But she had told Al what happened, and Al was far too protective of her to forgive that easily himself.
Regardless of how willing Uncle Ron was to ignore Al’s cold shoulder, though, he would never tolerate a slight on his Quidditch ability. If Uncle Ron found out that both of my brothers wanted his son as keeper over him with money on the line, he would be livid.
And so I intervened before he could figure it out.
“As much as I’d love to support some good old fashioned Potter family gambling, I think I’ve had enough.”
That was a white lie. I loved Quidditch. I loved it far more than either of my Quidditch star brothers did. James played because he was so naturally talented that no one would let him quit. Al played because it was another thing he could be the best at. I played because I felt at home in the air – comfortable with myself in a way I hardly ever was on the ground.
I happily would have played until dinner. But not at the expense of an Uncle Ron temper tantrum. I had seen way too many already.
“Liiiily,” James whined. I don’t think he even cared whether we kept playing. He just wanted to do something – anything – that would distract him from the rest of his problems for a few hours.
And possibly to make some money off of Al in the process.
I plastered a frustrated look on my face and glared at James over my shoulder as I started back towards the house. “I’m going inside to see if Grandma needs anything.”
“C’mon, Lil! We can’t just play one game!” He sounded like a petulant toddler.
“I’m sure you all are perfectly capable of entertaining yourselves.” I sped up, eager to get away before Hugo started trying to back James up in the whining. Hugo always whined.
“We took the entire afternoon off to come up here!” James was yelling now, and walking after me.
Al laughed cuttingly.
“The entire afternoon off? Off from what? Hitting on muggle waitresses? Counting your chocolate frog cards? Drinking half a bottle of firewhiskey before dinner?”
James didn’t fake a smile this time. “Oh, screw you, you smug asshole,” he muttered. He didn’t stop walking after me and he didn’t look back at Al, but he was trying to keep his voice low enough that only his brother would hear.
I glanced back. Al looked uncomfortable. He had assumed James would simply brush the comment off again. With a feckless sigh, Al made to follow us up the hill.
Preston wisely decided that he wanted no part our family squabble and loudly asked Hugo to help him practice for a few more minutes. Uncle Ron looked torn between feeling obligated to keep us from pissing off his mother and wanting to fly with his son.
Unsurprisingly, obligation lost out. He jumped back on his broom.
“Grandma!” I yelled as soon as I reached the side door. “Do you need help with anything?”
“Lily, dear, is that you?” She was just around the corner in the kitchen, making my shouting quite unnecessary. “Thank Merlin one of you came back. I need to get some of the extra dishes out of the hutch in the sitting room, but I think there is a boggart in there. Could you come with me to check?”
I nodded and gave her a warm smile. Boggarts were hardly scary – we had learned how to deal with them in third year – but this was a welcome departure from having my brothers and Fleur and Dom treat me like I was helpless.
It didn’t last for long.
“What’s going on, Grandma?” James had made it up to the house. He’d been being as nice as possible to all of the adults in the family for last few weeks. I suspected he wanted to get them to side with him against my parents when they railed on him for not having a job. Or for breaking up with Paige again. Or not getting enough NEWTs.
Grandma gave a small smile, but looked tired. “Oh, Lily and I were just going to deal with a boggart in the sitting room.”
“A boggart?” James made it sound like a much bigger deal than it was. “You two shouldn’t have to do that. Here, Al and I will take care of it.” He said his brother’s name lightly, but shot a dirty glare over his shoulder as Al entered the room. Grandma didn’t notice.
“Could you, dears? That would be wonderful. Then I can get back to the cakes.” James’s charm offensive clearly was working on her.
She walked back to the kitchen, and I turned to James. “Apparently it’s in the hutch,” I said casually. “I’ll open it and take the first crack, you finish it off?”
James gave me a puzzled look. I should have known what that look meant, but I didn’t pick up on it right away.
James opened his mouth to say something. Al cut him off.
“No, you won’t. You’re not allowed to do magic outside of school.”
“Oh, and that mattered so much to you when you were 15.” I figured he must be at least half joking. Al hadn’t washed a dish the muggle way since he was 11. He had started apparating around the house when Mom wasn’t home before he even started his fifth year, after somehow teaching himself.
“That’s right,” James said, ignoring me and responding to Al. “Besides, you’re not really 15, Miss Lily Bean. You’ve got to be more like five. Don’t worry, we’ve got this.”
Apparently teaming up to pick on me was enough of a reason to forget that he was mad at Al.
“Oh, shut up,” I answered. “I’m opening the door in three seconds, get ready.”
The next thing I knew, Al had grabbed me by the hips and yanked me backwards. Apparently he wasn’t joking at all.
“What the hell, Al?” I snarled.
He grunted in response and didn’t let go. He was stronger than me, of course, but I was doing a pretty decent job of holding my ground.
“No, seriously, Al. What – the – fucking – hell?” I swung my right elbow into his rib cage. He yelped and put me down, but kept his arm wrapped around my waist.
“That’s a great way to show how mature you are, Lily,” he said patronizingly. “Trying to beat me up when I stop you from doing underage magic for no reason whatsoever. Shows tremendous responsibility.”
“Oh, right, I’m the immature one,” I snapped back. “It’s not immature at all to be so horrified by the idea your sister might actually be a real person who can take care of herself.”
“That’s rich, Lily – ” Al started to respond, but James cut him off.
“Oi, calm down, Lil! We’re just looking out for you! You know that, right?” His tone was much softer than Al’s. He sounded like he really meant it – like he really thought he was doing me a favor.
And that, more than anything else, is why I lost it.
I was tired. Tired of being coddled and sheltered. Tired of being treated differently because I was a girl. Tired of having everyone else act like they knew better. And above all, tired of feeling like I wouldn’t and couldn’t live up to being a Potter because no one ever even would give me the chance to try.
“Stop treating me like a fucking baby!” I yelled. “Both of you! You’re being hypocritical, sexist shitheads, and I’m done with it!”
I slammed my other elbow hard into Al’s stomach, knocking him back and causing him to finally let go of me. James’s face went blank with shock, mixed with something else that might have been pity. Grandma clearly had heard me, and waddled back to the doorway to see what was going on.
I didn’t say anything to her. She would have bitten the head off of anyone who suggested that perhaps she should have left fighting Bellatrix Lestrange to someone else because she had spent the previous 25 years raising kids. But I knew better than to think she’d actually stick up for me when all I wanted to do was take on a boggart. And I didn’t want to wait to hear Al’s inevitable snide but “mature” response.
So like the brave Gryffindor that I am, I ran.
A few minutes later, I was sitting near the top of an old oak at the edge of the forest, past the orchard and the lawn. I had climbed up there as soon as I got out of the drawing room, finding a crooked branch concealed among the leaves where I could lean back and rest my head. The sprinting had burned away most of my rage, but I still had no desire whatsoever to deal with anyone.
This was one time when I appreciated being short and skinny.
Hugo and Preston came looking for me not too long after I found my hiding place, but their hearts didn’t seem to be in it. They knew I didn’t want to be found and were content to let me get away with that for once. I assumed that Grandma put them up to searching in the first place.
James came after that and walked right underneath me. I think that he, unlike my cousins, actually wanted to find me and talk to me. He seemed genuinely confused about why I was so angry.
Maybe he was as clueless as Mom always said.
I spent my time in solitude thinking, trying to figure out why they treated me differently. Was it really because I’m a girl? Sure, saying that is an easy comeback, and it usually is enough to get Mom on my side. Sometimes it even makes James shut up and look ashamed of himself.
But no one treats Dom or Victoire the same way. Or Rose. Or even Roxy.
Of course, that’s because Dom would beat up anyone who even suggested that she wasn’t fully capable of taking on the world; Victoire has such an above-it-all air about her that it would take a lot of guts to try to get in her way in the first place; and Rose is talented enough that all the boys routinely shelve their pride and ask her for help.
As for Roxy, maybe the difference is that she doesn’t object. When someone offers to carry her bag or walk her to class or deal with a boy who had treated her badly, she smiles and accepts. And so they conclude that it isn’t worth the time to guard her like sheepdogs, thinking she’s not going to overextend herself and get into trouble anyway.
(That is a load of hippogriff dung, by the way. Roxy is far more likely than me to end up Stunned in a ditch or pregnant at 16. She has no common sense. And, notwithstanding what you might think of me after you hear what I did for the rest of the day, I usually do.)
Regardless, I can’t make myself be like Roxy. I’m just not wired that way. Maybe it’s Dad’s pride, or Mom’s stubbornness. Maybe it’s that, despite never really getting the chance, I’m sure I can look after myself a hell of a lot better than anyone has ever looked after me. Or maybe I’m just incapable of disconnecting my mouth from my brain. I can’t pull of a damsel-in-distress charade, even temporarily and even if it would do me a whole lot of good if I could.
At some point, my self-analysis must have given way to exhaustion, and I fell asleep.
A loud crack woke me up. By the time I realized where I was, I heard voices, and I realized the crack was someone Apparating in. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be Apparating into the forest, instead of to the driveway or the lawn.
The sun was starting to go down, meaning I had slept for at least an hour. Mom was probably at the Burrow by then. Dad wasn’t going to come because he was working. Someone would make a more insistent attempt to find me soon. I decided it was time to head back on my own, which might minimize the awkwardness.
And I was curious whose the voices were.
I decided that, when I got back to the Burrow, as long as Al and James left me alone, I wasn’t going to yell at them. At least not until we got back home to London. But Merlin help them if they decide they want to have another go at me. It wouldn’t take much to counteract the calming effects of running and thinking and sleep.
After a few tender steps down the tree, I got impatient, cast a Levitation charm on myself, and jumped.
As soon as I landed, I saw the people who must have Apparated in. There were two of them, and they were the length of the Great Hall at Hogwarts away by then, sliding through the shadows at the edge of the forest, out of sight from the lawn or the house. They didn’t seem to have noticed me. I decided I’d rather keep it that way. Ducking out of the clearing next to the oak and behind a clump of trees, I made to follow.
Most of my brain recognized that this was stupid. I was alone. I’m a natural target for anyone who opposed to what happened during and after the war, because of who my father is. I had no idea who these people were. There were plenty of fully qualified witches and wizards up at the house, and they all would want me to tell them that someone was in the forest, so they could follow instead of me.
I did not care.
I was no longer furious, no longer driven by anger at Al’s condescension and James’s carefree snobbery. But at that moment, the only thing I needed to do was to show them that I’m not helpless. I’m not scared. I’m no longer Little Lily who needs to be protected.
James dealt with being Harry Potter’s son by making everyone laugh.
Albus dealt with it by being perfect.
Starting today, I was going to deal with it by being brave and taking my own risks and fighting my own battles. Just like Dad.
I heard muttering. The people seemed to have stopped to have a whispered conversation. When I first began following them, I had rationalized that, notwithstanding whatever they were doing, they probably were just cousins or friends. That all I really wanted to do was spy and pick up some gossip. I’m not sure I ever had really believed that, but it had been a comfortable excuse to give to the sensible part of my brain.
Now, I was sure they were strangers. The voices were male. The first one was clear and calm, but with an edge of fear that made me shiver. The second was indistinct, harsh, and excited, and my overwhelming instinct said that it was not innocent. I couldn’t make out what either was saying.
The fact that they still didn’t seem to have noticed me made me more confident, and helped me stifle the logical but traitorous urge to run. I needed to figure out who these people are. To prove to myself that they shouldn’t be here.
And to do something about it. To prove that I’m a talented witch who can take care of herself.
I took a deep breath. The men were still talking. They still hadn’t moved any further along the tree line. I couldn’t see the house, which was blocked by the hill on the side of the orchard, but I assumed that they were far ahead enough that they could see it. I darted forward, doing my best to stay hidden behind a dense copse of trees.
I was close enough now to see that they were both wearing hooded cloaks, even though it was the hottest part of summer. They were facing away from me. The one with the clear, calm voice was the taller of the two by a head. The other one looked quite overweight and was gesturing animatedly in the direction of the house.
I strained, trying to make out what they were saying. I still couldn’t. I bit my lip in frustration. The only big trees left in front of me were far too close to them to comfortably hide behind. I wished I knew how to do a disillusionment charm. I tried to remember a spell to improve my hearing, or to make their words louder. I couldn’t think of any, but I did recall the Muffliato charm and cast it just in case I stepped on a twig.
And it was a very good thing, because a few seconds later, the tall one turned around, and I let out an involuntary, horrified gasp.
He was wearing a mask. A mask like the ones the Death Eaters used during the war.
I wanted to run. I should have run. But I couldn’t do it. Not because I was afraid, but because on some level this was exactly what I wanted. A chance to face something that was actually dangerous, instead of just a practical Defense exam, or Hugo trying to prove that he was a better dueler, or even a boggart. And I knew I couldn’t back down, and I certainly couldn’t tell my brothers or my uncles or Dad that I backed down, because it would just confirm everything they already thought about me.
I tried to clear my head. Use your advantages, I thought. I’d heard Dad say that to Teddy once. There were two of them, both were considerably bigger than me, and from the depth of their voices they were more than twice my age. I probably was faster than them, but if I wanted to face them instead of racing away, that wouldn’t help much. I was probably a better flier, but I didn’t have a broomstick. I almost had picked one up as I raced out of the Burrow on my way to the oak tree. That seemed like days ago.
The advantage I could use, I realized after a few moments, was surprise. I needed to strike before they realized I was there. If I could get a line I through the trees, I could hit one of them with a stunning spell. Hopefully, the other one would take a second to react and another second to figure out what happened, and I could Stun or Disarm him too.
I took another deep breath and inched to the side. I was almost entirely concealed behind two poplars growing close together, but I had a clear view of both men.
I raised my wand, waited half a beat, and fired.
The taller man lurched to the side and fell to his knees. I felt a wonderful surge of adrenaline.
The short man, who was closer, wheeled around to face in my direction. I shot another stunner through the trees at the same time that he cast a curse that sailed at least twenty feet to my left, blasting over a small birch tree. Seeing that I too had missed, I fired several more spells at him in rapid succession.
The adrenaline hadn’t worn off. I felt like I owned the world, and that the man had no hope of hurting me.
That illusion didn’t last for very long.
The tall man got to his feet, and I realized I was wrong to think that I’d Stunned him. It looked like he simply had fallen over something when he blocked my spell. In my momentary distraction, I stopped worrying about the short man until –
His voice was a piercing shriek. The killing curse missed me, but not by that much. He clearly knew where I was now. He was moving closer.
For the first time, I realized just how completely screwed I was.
My brain suddenly felt foggy and slow.
The short man was about to fire again when the tall man, in two long strides, caught up to him and grabbed his arm. The tall man was hissing something that I couldn’t understand. The short man stumbled, lost his balance, and snarled something equally unintelligible back.
Without thinking, I fired another Stunning spell. It was a foolish thing to do. The short man was distracted – if his face had been visible, I imagine he would have looked crazed – but the tall man was poised to block it again, and every second I waited to start running slashed into my already long odds of getting out of there alive.
But for some reason the tall man didn’t even try to block it. Instead, he pointed his wand back at me. “Expelliarmus,” he said in an entirely flat voice.
My Stunning spell hit the short man, who crumpled to the ground, unconscious. An instant later, my wand flew out of my hand and landed well out of my reach in a clearing between the trees.
I froze. It was too late for running now, and I had no hope of retrieving my wand. The tall man was close enough that my hiding place was useless.
It was over.
“Lily Potter,” the tall man said. His voice sounded oddly empty, but suddenly it seemed familiar too. I had heard it before, I thought, although I had no idea where.
I wanted to ask how he knew who I was, or what he was going to do to me, but my mouth refused to work.
“I’m glad to see you’re just as much of an arrogant idiot as your father. He always fired first and asked questions later too." He laughed mirthlessly. "I guess it’s comforting to know that at least some apples don’t fall far from the tree.”
He walked over to where my wand was lying and kicked it into a thicket of bushes.
Then he turned and walked briskly back to where the short man lay on the mossy ground.
“I would have expected at least a ‘you’re welcome,’” he said, with no change whatsoever to his tone, “but that would be optimistic to the point of foolishness.”
I struggled to process his words.
“Don’t think for a second that this over, Ms. Potter.”
Grabbing his companion roughly by the shoulder, he Disapparted.
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