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A Slightly Tilted Axis

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“He wouldn’t,” James had said.

 

This had been several weeks ago, they had been in Godric’s Hollow for several months already. It had just started sinking in that what they’d assumed could only be a few months, perhaps six at most, would easily become over a year if not several.

 

What was supposed to have been a temporary solution, to go into hiding in the country and wait until the Death Eaters or else Voldemort himself lost interest, was swiftly becoming a permanent one.

 

And both James and Lily knew it.

 

Oh, they didn’t discuss it, didn’t dare. By saying it aloud they’d not only make everything that much more real, admit to their own helplessness, but also admit that they were losing the fight and that they perhaps always had been.

 

But it was in the shadow of every stretching charm Lily performed on Harry’s clothes, on every milestone they saw him take in this house from first clumsy steps to his first time babbling out a word, time was passing quickly, and they were still here.

 

Lily had started imagining having to teach Harry the basics of reading, writing, and math in this tiny cottage. She imagined her son growing up having never set foot beyond their shielded garden.

 

And in her darker moments she imagined rejecting his Hogwarts letter.

 

The trouble was that there was a solution, but it wasn’t one she ever imagined that James would take or willingly contemplate.

 

The solution was to leave the country.

 

This, of course, meant giving up. It meant no more returning to the Order, no resistance fighting. It meant changing their names and retaking foreign exams and pretending they were perfect strangers to their friends, maybe a few sparse letters from America or whatever corner of the world they found themselves in. It meant that they had to watch from the sidelines, let others fight the good fight, and admit that Voldemort had won to the point where he could chase them from their homeland.

 

And it was something James could never do.

 

He had said, more than once, that he’d rather die before bowing his head to Voldemort or his followers. He wasn’t going to be one of the many silent bystanders.

 

He would rather die, and he’d married a woman that he thought would rather die.

 

And maybe, once, Lily had believed in that.

 

Certainly, even more than James, it was personal for her. Voldemort had declared war against Lily’s very existence, against every drop of her blood, there was no place for Lily in his world and so Lily had to fight for it.

 

She had wanted to fight for it too, even if it hadn’t been about her and so many others, she wanted to fight for her right to a future in this country.

 

But it’d been easier then.

 

She hadn’t had a son whose future she was now choosing to destroy just as much as Voldemort was.

 

And as she watched as James insisted on sneaking out with that goddamned invisibility cloak, shrugging it off every time he returned, insisting that he’d done great work out there, he’d fought the good fight against this Death Eater or that Death Eater, and Voldemort would never catch him so there was no need to worry about his getting caught and leading Voldemort right to their doorstep, she’d felt something in her crack.

 

She just hadn’t been able to put it into words yet.

 

“He wouldn’t,” James had repeated, whirling towards Sirius and Peter.

 

They had taken a seat on the couch, James had been in a loveseat on the other side of the coffee table until he’d started moodily pacing in front of the fireplace. Lily, too, was in a loveseat, quietly pouring tea for each of them, wondering if they were waiting for her to dismiss herself so that old friends could talk.

 

One of the things that Lily had wondered about, when she’d agreed to marry James, was whether she was marrying James Potter or marrying the Marauders. They’d been such close-knit friends in Hogwarts, best friends that went far beyond what Lily had ever had with Severus for far longer, and it’d been just the same when they were dating.

 

Lily often found herself on a date with James only for it to suddenly transform into a date with Sirius and Remus or Peter awkwardly waiting in the wings. Dates often ended with Lily dropping James off not at his front door but instead at a pub where he would be meeting Sirius, Remus, and Peter for a round of drinks. Unspoken was that Lily wasn’t invited, and whenever she did invite herself—it got very uncomfortable.

 

Lily had married him anyway and had found that, sure enough, the Marauders survived their marriage perfectly intact and much the same as always. And Lily, as she had secretly suspected but hoped against, was still that strange fifth wheel who was never a Marauder herself but the mysterious and nearly undefined role of girlfriend then wife of Marauder.

 

This was made even more terrible in that neither Sirius, Remus, nor Peter had any serious interest in a relationship. Lily had hoped, when one of them, any of them, started dating then at least she’d have company and maybe it’d become a little less strange—it seemed that this wasn’t going to happen.

 

Sirius and Peter had exchanged a look, and as if on cue, Sirius’ eyes had met hers in an unspoken plea that she remove herself.

 

Lily had remained seated and quietly sipped at her tea.

 

To Sirius’ credit, he hadn’t looked annoyed when he looked back to James, but he had looked grim. When he had spoken, it was as if Lily wasn’t in the room, “I know, mate, but—he has no reason to stay on our side.”

 

“What are you talking about?” James had asked.

 

“Wormtail and I talked about it,” Sirius had continued, lacing his hands together as if to give them something to do, “And we both think—Prongs, what reason does Moony have to fight for us? Voldemort is promising werewolves, dark creatures, things like land and freedom and the ministry’s talking about putting them to death.”

 

Peter, as always, had flinched at Sirius’ nearly casual use of ‘Voldemort’ as he always did whenever Dumbledore, Sirius, or James used it. The wards were strong enough to keep the taboo at bay (James had been rather keen on testing that as soon as the wards had gone up) but the instinct seemed ingrained.

 

Sirius had taken a breath, as if steeling himself, “We know there’s a spy, we know it, and of everyone in the Order—I’m betting it’s Moony. And if it’s not Moony—then it’s probably going to be him soon.”

 

None of them had dared to breathe.

 

Lily for a moment, had considered pointing out that Remus had access to the house. He wasn’t the secret keeper, of course, but he had been granted knowledge of the secret. This could, in theory, be revoked at any time by the secret keeper but it would have to be explicitly revoked.

 

And if they were serious about this, then they should revoke it now.

 

But Lily had suspected they weren’t really serious about it.

 

Oh, they thought they were, but they weren’t here to put their money where their mouths were. No, some other, minor, solution was coming that would make Remus feel like he was still their friend and offer them some threadbare promise of protection.

 

Worse, if it came from her, then it’d only lead to a fight. She and James would scream at each other, sound proofing the room so Harry could sleep, and it’d be hours until they came to a resolution which wasn’t a resolution at all.

 

Lily would give up, as she always did, waiting until someone James would actually listen to like Dumbledore or Sirius or anybody said her argument for her and suddenly it was the most reasonable thing in the world.

 

James, in turn, would just resent her and bring it up in every argument as he did with every disagreement she’d ever had with him over anything at all.

 

Or, even more likely, she would be told yet again that she was an awful judge of character because one of them had been childhood friends with a Death Eater and a blood supremist and it hadn’t been James.

 

She didn’t know if Remus was a spy or wasn’t, it was true that he had little reason to fight on the side of the ministry, but on the other hand his friends were all he had. Those were bonds that ran tight and deep and Lily didn’t imagine he’d break them so easily.

 

“We think you should switch secret keeper to Peter,” Sirius had said.

 

Lily had choked on her tea. Sirius dutifully ignored her.

 

“Think about it,” Sirius had said, “Everyone and their Death Eater brother knows I’m the secret keeper. I’m your best friend, loyal to you to the end, a decent fighter, and I like to think I won’t give out under torture. Even if Remus isn’t a spy—it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who’s keeping the secret.”

 

“Peter is also James’ best friend!” Lily had interjected.

 

Peter had flinched at the sound of her voice. James and Sirius had both turned to stare at her, as if they had only just remembered she was in the room.

 

“Yes, they might go for Sirius first,” Lily had said, “But I guarantee you that Remus and Peter are next down on that list. God knows, they know I don’t have any close friends left. If we’re changing secret keepers, then it shouldn’t be any of you.”

 

“Lily,” James had sighed, “We’ve been over this, we have to be sure it’s someone we can trust, it can’t just be anybody—”

 

“Why not Dumbledore?” Lily asked, “If we’re trusting him with our lives anyway, then—”

 

“You know we can’t ask Dumbledore!” James had responded. What he had meant to say, of course, was that Dumbledore had said no, had cited something about the caster holding the secret weakening the wards.

 

But Lily had looked into those wards, with months in this damned house she’d had nothing better to do, and she couldn’t see how that would have anything to do with it.

 

More likely, she thought, was that James had just wanted one of his friends to be secret keeper and had asked Dumbledore to tell her that it couldn’t be done. She could just see him thinking to himself that some show of devotion or loyalty to his friends was needed, in case they were afraid he didn’t trust them with the life of his family and their friendship only really went so far.

 

“If we’re reconsidering secret keepers anyway—”

 

“We’re not!” James had said, only to stop and look at Peter and Sirius who were staring at him dully and meaningfully from the couch, “I mean, we are, but—No one would ever suspect Peter.”


“He’s one of your best friends, James,” Lily had repeated.

 

“But look at him! No offense, Peter,” James had hastily tacked on apologetically at Peter’s chagrinned look, “Lily, Peter’s not a fighter, everyone knows it. Now, he’s really giving his all out there, but he’s not the guy you pick to guard a secret. They’d suspect, I don’t even know, McGonagall over him.”

 

It was, she supposed, a manner of thinking about it.

 

She could see many of the Death Eaters thinking similarly. Of course, it was Sirius, it had to be Sirius. Pettigrew? That poor fellow who’d always looked like he wandered into the wrong common room? Someone like James Potter would never pick him.

 

But Voldemort wasn’t one of his Death Eaters and at the end of the day, secret keeping wasn’t who looked more impressive in a suit or who was better at dueling: it was all about who one could trust to keep the secret.

 

The list had never just had one person on it: all three Marauders had targets on their backs and there weren’t many to pick through.

 

And the thing was—

 

Lily could have said no in that moment.

 

James wouldn’t have liked it, there’d have been more fighting, but there was always fighting these days. They couldn’t sneeze without tap dancing on each other’s nerves in this house. She’d had no alternatives to suggest, nothing James would have agreed to, but she still could have said no.

 

Because they all knew there was at least one mole in the Order and that mole was close to home.

 

But she’d trusted James’ friends too.

 

Peter had already had access to the house, the same as Remus had, and while he couldn’t lead anyone else inside, he had access to their kitchen, their food and water supply, to their household appliances, anything and everything that he could tamper with into a murder weapon.

 

He’d had such ease of access, that the idea of him being the traitor, of any of them, and not taking advantage of it already was so remote it wasn’t even a possibility.

 

And just like Remus, all Peter Pettigrew had were his friends.

 

She hadn’t realized that Peter was so cowardly, so self-serving, that the only move he would ever dare to make was to open their front door to Voldemort himself.

 


 

Lily had seen Voldemort in person three times in her life.

 

Dumbledore had defined this as ‘defying’, as each time they had passed by each other it’d been in some skirmish or another. Lily wasn’t quite sure she’d call any of them that.

 

Once had been in Diagon Alley, just outside of Knockturn Alley, she and James had still only been dating then, and Lily had not yet been inducted into the Order or even known much about it beyond it being some strange club James kept saying he had to go off to.

 

Lily had been picking up potions supplies when there’d been a raid. It’d quicky gotten out of hand, turning into a full-fledged fire fight between aurors, Death Eaters, and a few stray members of the Order of the Phoenix. Making a break for it, to get out of the anti-apparition wards that’d sprung up out of nowhere, Lily had passed by a tall, dark-haired man in black robes. He hadn’t met her eye, hadn’t turned to look at her, and she in turn hadn’t so much as glanced at him.

 

Only later, upon being inducted into the Order and getting a glimpse of who was who, did Lily realize just who that must have been.

 

The second time, she had been in the Order of the Phoenix, James having deemed their relationship as serious enough that she was granted prestigious access to this secret resistance group.

 

It’d been her first mission, to interrupt Voldemort’s activity regarding werewolves, and it’d gone quickly sideways. They had expected only Fenrir Grayback and maybe a few stray Death Eaters to deal with.

 

When they’d caught sight of Voldemort, there’d been an immediate retreat, Moody having judged them not capable of taking him down on their own even when they outnumbered him.

 

Then, for a brief second, he’d caught Lily’s eye. However, she’d been one of several and likely only noted as being a new face.

 

The third time, a fire fight in West Country with seemingly no cause or purpose, their spells had at least moved adjacent to one another but they never crossed spells themselves. Voldemort had swiftly, and thankfully, been distracted by Dumbledore who had arrived on the scene to hold him off.

 

No, Lily suspected the word ‘defy’ had been supplied by Dumbledore due to the prophecy whose contents he refused to fully relay to anyone. The only part she knew, the only part he had so far told her and James, was that their son was a target for having been born at the end of July and to those who had ‘thrice defied the dark lord.’

 

Thrice defied when Lily was only certain that Voldemort knew her name, knew of her, because he made it his business to know every Order member.

 

The fourth time, though, was different.

 

On October 31st, 1981, two minutes before, Voldemort had opened her front door and walked inside. James had shouted at her to run upstairs, to grab Harry, and she’d seen green light flashing on the staircase in front of her and the sound of James hitting the floor before she’d even reached the door.

 

And now, as she stood in front of her child’s crib unmoving, the dark lord was standing in front of her with his wand drawn.

 

He both did and did not look like a dark lord.

 

He looked like an ordinary man. There was no sign of dark arts malpractice, of spells gone wrong, of humanity sacrificed in favor of some dreadful power not spoken of in your standard spell books.

 

He was tall, thin but not too thin, unusually handsome, younger than he should have been, with thick, curly, dark hair that had likely seen better haircuts, pale skin that could have seen a little more sunlight, and pale blue eyes that had to be his most striking feature.

 

His robes, too, were plain and not the standard Death Eater uniform, they were black but no different than the black robes you could buy at Madame Malkin’s if you were willing to spend a little extra money.

 

However, there was something in the way he held himself, in the way he held his wand, that let you know that this was a man who had come to murder you.


The very air held its breath as he pointed his wand towards her.

 

“Step aside,” he said.

 

She didn’t move.

 

He looked torn between irritation and amusement, as if not quite sure whether her defiance was annoying him or if it was cute that she was trying, “I’m only here for the boy, step aside, and you’ll live.”

 

“No,” Lily said, still not moving, not lifting her wand either.

 

“You don’t have to die today,” the man said, and she could tell by the look on his face that it was the last time he was going to say it, “If you step aside, I promise, you will live.”

 

“I’m not stepping aside,” Lily repeated, her voice shaking only slightly, her hand aching to lift that wand and either defend herself or else apparate before any spell of his could complete.

 

There was something the Dark Lord Voldemort didn’t know.

 

There was something that no one knew, not poor James lying downstairs, not Peter, not Sirius, and not Dumbledore either.

 

Lily had not distrusted James’ friends, but she hadn’t trusted them either. Maybe the better way to put it was that she hadn’t trusted James. She’d lost something in between marriage, in between Harry, to this moment.

 

James and she had lost each other somewhere in this house.

 

Lily hadn’t known when, exactly, but she’d become more and more certain that the Death Eaters or perhaps Voldemort himself would come.

 

James, on one of his expeditions he insisted on taking, that she was sure he’d take again even after Dumbledore had confiscated his cloak, would get caught. He would get caught and put under the imperius curse he’d murder his family on the dark lord’s orders.

 

He would get caught or Sirius would, or Remus, or perhaps even Peter and they’d tear the secret from him.

 

One of them, someday, was going to get caught and none of them were acting as though this was even a possibility. And if they came to the house—

 

Lily was a competent duelist but not a great one. She’d done very well in Defense Against the Dark Arts, for whatever that was worth, but that was only a course taught by lackluster professors. Not too long ago, she’d been a student who’d never been in a real fight, who knew a few jinxes here and there that might constitute as party tricks. She had no illusions that she was as quick on her feet as James or Sirius.

 

Whoever they sent to this house would not be someone she, or even James, could realistically win against nor run from.

 

If they came then they would all die.

 

So, Lily had decided, that if she was going to die anyway—

 

Then Harry would live.

 

There were more spells than just what were neatly, clearly, written in books. If one was willing to make a few sacrifices, if one was willing to put their life on the line to barter with—whole realms of magic opened their doors.

 

Underneath the carpet, although she couldn’t see it, couldn’t hear it or sense it at all, she knew that the runes she’d inscribed in the hardwood were now shaking themselves awake, waiting with anticipation.

 

Then it happened.

 

As he was considering her, her him, her wand slipped from her numb fingers.

 

They both watched as it clattered to the floor then rolled under the crib. Lily’s fingers twitched, her body instinctively moving towards it, only for her to freeze as she looked at the man in horror.

 

Something had changed in his expression.

 

He glanced at the wand only for a moment, then back at her, as if only now seeing her for the first time.

 

With a silent swish of his wand, he summoned her wand into his hand and the carpet vanished, revealing the layers and layers of runes, each shining brightly as they awaited the final spell that would trigger them fully. Lily staggered backwards, bumping into the crib, her heart racing even louder than before and the room beginning to tilt.

 

“Clever,” he said after a beat, then as his eyes narrowed, he continued, “Very clever, even I’m not quite sure what this is meant to do.”

 

Before Lily could move, either to grab Harry and apparate, or else to grab him and dart past the man, she caught sight of a red flash of light then nothing at all.

 


 

Ennervate,”

 

Lily found herself gasping into awareness, attempting to flail about, only to find her limbs still petrified. She moved her eyes to take in her surroundings.

 

She wasn’t in Harry’s nursery; she wasn’t in any room she recognized as being in Godric’s Hollow. After several months, she knew every room in that house in any lighting, and even the idea of being anywhere else put sent a jolt of instinctual terror through her.

 

She was in a dark room, lying on her side on a cold stone floor, the only light the remnants of a spell whose power was now fading. There was nothing to define the room, no artwork on the walls, no ceiling fans, no carpeting, and the only piece of furniture a solitary wooden chair with a horribly familiar man sitting in it.

 

Legilimens,” he said.

 

Her thoughts were wrenched from her forcibly, and she could suddenly no longer see the room. Her vision filled with events that had already happened, her mind flashing through hundreds of thousands of little thoughts she’d had every moment of every day. Her entire life seemed to pass by, out of any sensible order, so that she was looking at Severus in one moment in Spinner’s End and marrying James in the next.

 

Then she was gasping for breath, trying to force her petrified lungs to breathe properly, and the room was spinning but at least was a solid room again.

 

“You surprised me, Lily Evans,” Lord Voldemort said, still sitting in his chair, his eyes still on her, “It wasn’t a plan I would have thought of in your place, self-sacrifice isn’t something I’d ever seriously consider, but it very nearly worked.”

 

“Had you not dropped that wand, I wouldn’t have thought to wonder if you hadn’t failed to attack me out of terror or if there wasn’t some other reason behind it,” he said, even going so far as to smile at her, “Then you would be dead, your son and relatives would be protected, and I would have been greatly inconvenienced.”

 

It was a terrifyingly charming smile.

 

“For a moment, I wondered if it wasn’t in fact Albus Dumbledore’s plan,” he mused, “He’s always been the type to play fast and loose with his pawns’ lives when it suits his purposes. However, your husband did fight back, had you been instructed to martyr yourselves for whatever runes were put together then he would have meekly met his fate as well. That, or, I imagine he would have refused to have such runes installed.”

 

“And your flighty friend Peter, certainly, would have known,” he continued, “As I imagine your husband would not have been able to keep such information to himself. And while Dumbledore could have, in theory, gone directly to you and you alone—that would be a dangerous gamble for him to make.”

 

“So, even before reading your mind, I had some idea that it was you behind it,” he concluded, “Strange as it seems, that a muggleborn woman who only just graduated from Hogwarts, who has spent months now locked in a house with no resources and no books beyond the basics and what Albus Dumbledore deems appropriate to give her, could come up with something like this.”

 

He stared at for a moment, and Lily wondered if he had forgotten that she couldn’t respond or if he didn’t care. Why he was thinking aloud like this, she had no idea. She imagined to unnerve her before he murdered her, or else to try to gain what information he could beyond what he’d already scraped from her mind.

 

Though she imagined there wasn’t much left for him to find out.

 

She likely had already betrayed everything to him—everything she knew about the Order, about their safe houses, their protocols, their members, their locations—if he didn’t have everything from Peter then he’d certainly have it from her.

 

“I have a proposition for you,” he said.

 

She squeezed her eyes shut.

 

The room was silent and there was no sign of Harry anywhere. She imagined he was dead already, that he’d been killed immediately, as soon as she had been stunned, and that his body had just been left there.

 

James was dead, Harry was dead, and she could barely bring herself to comprehend it let alone grieve for them.

 

The only thing she could reconcile, for better or for worse, was that she would soon be joining them.

 

Then it would have to become someone else’s fight.

 

“I imagine you’re thinking that you’ll refuse my offer, no matter what it is, so that you might die with dignity and join your husband and son,” he cut into her thoughts, he only smiled when she glared across at him, “I think you should reconsider.”

 

With a swish of his wand an image displayed before him, Harry, in a crib in an unfamiliar room. He was surrounded by his plush toys taken from his nursery as well as several dozen others that Lily had never seen before. He was looking about worriedly, staring sightlessly at Lily for a second before continuing to peer at his surroundings.

 

Lily felt herself straining against the magic binding her, moving forward to shout at him, to tell him that she was right here, to cry with relief or else horror.

 

“In light of recent events, and after some reconsideration, I have decided to keep your son alive and, in my custody,” the man said, “And while you might wonder if this isn’t an illusion, or else some ploy, consider that I have no reason to lie. If you choose to die, then I will lose nothing, this will just have been a very strange and rather annoying night. You, on the other hand, could very well be leaving him to my tender mercies.”

 

Lily felt a pang of terror in her chest as she stared at her little boy. It wasn’t a recording, she knew that, but whether it was an illusion was unclear. Unclear enough that she couldn’t say for certain that this wasn’t, in fact, her child.

 

Or delude herself into believing anything other than that, no matter what she chose, Voldemort would do what he liked and make sure she complied.

 

“If you accept my offer, then we can arrange a time and date for you to see him in person, and confirm for yourself,” he said, still smiling.

 

An offer, she noticed, that he had yet to describe.

 

Unable to speak, she waited, bristling, and wondering what it would be.

 

He could just put her under the imperius, that would keep her docile enough, and she doubted she’d be able to break the curse if he were the one to administer it. There was no need to bargain with her, any information she had he could get with either legilimency or veritiserum. Moreover, if he wanted to make a statement out of her, then he only needed her gruesome death.

 

That he was even having this conversation felt insulting, this strange farce that they were people who could do things as mundane as bargain with one another, as if Lily had any reasonable chance of refusing whatever it was he wanted.


Or that he had any need to even pretend to hold her son hostage.

 

Even if, with the uncertainty that Harry might be alive, she no longer had any choices.

 

So long as Harry might be alive—she couldn’t choose death.

 

“You’re a surprisingly brilliant woman,” Voldemort told her plainly, a shocking and even disturbing statement coming from him.

 

Lily had not often been told she was brilliant.

 

Oh, every now and then in Hogwarts, but she tended to fade in the background despite herself. Many of her professors more easily remembered James and his friends, so while she was prefect then head girl, and while her O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. scores had been impressive, Slughorn had been one of the few professors to pay her much mind.

 

But it was even stranger to hear it from Voldemort, from a man who had made it his life’s work to exterminate her kind, and to claim that none of them were worthy of magic at all.

 

Lucius Malfoy would have rather died a thousand deaths than claimed she was even tolerably intelligent.

 

“You’re brilliant, perhaps the most brilliant witch I’ve ever seen, and you’re criminally overlooked by those closest to you,” he continued, as if he had no idea the kind of blasphemy he was speaking, “I imagine Dumbledore considers you to be charming, with a knack for Potions and Charms, but nothing all that extraordinary and on par with your husband who had a knack for Transfiguration. Peter, certainly, never considered you much at all.”

 

“I would like for you to work for me,” he then said, “You’ll live, return to your home and mourn your husband and pretend to mourn your son, and you will be able to reenter society and rejoin the fight. You’ll keep an eye on your friends, on Albus Dumbledore, for me and in turn I’ll allow you access to your son, whatever research you wish to pursue and whatever material I can gather for you to help in your efforts, and your personal safety from me and mine.”

 

With a swish of his wand, she found herself able to move again. She quickly crawled into a sitting position, breathing deeply, and trying to force her limbs to stop shaking. The vision of Harry, the spell giving it a soft golden cast, still hung in the air.

 

“You want me to become a double agent,” she clarified.

 

“Among other things,” he said.

 

“Why not imperius me?” she asked.

 

“It dulls the mind,” he responded quickly, “It limits observations, reactions, and is easily noticed by the discerning observer. Dumbledore would likely catch on within a few weeks and then you’d find yourself shipped to Saint Mungos. I wouldn’t waste your potential on the imperius curse.”

 

“You already have Peter,” Lily pointed out darkly.

 

“Yes, and he’s a self-serving rat who’d sell his own grandmother for a bar of soap,” he responded, looking perfectly pleased with himself, “One can never have enough double agents, it’s always a good idea to let them know they’re being watched.”

 

Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, “Not to mention, of course, that his cover will be blown after tonight. Even were you not to reveal Sirius’ innocence, I imagine Sirius Black will make it very well known that he was not the secret keeper.”

 

He did not note if this meant he was in need of another spy in the Order.

 

Lily imagined he was purposefully letting her wonder just how many spies he had at his disposal and just how many of her friends were actually her enemies.

 

“What do you imagine I could possibly give you?” she asked.

 

“Information, observations, a small bit of influence,” he said, “Enough to be worth my time. Enough, certainly, to be worth yours, unless you really do want to leave your son’s future to me.”

 

“You said I’d be mourning my son—”

 

“Your son is officially dead as of tonight,” he cut in, “My Death Eaters, your Order, the world at large will believe he was murdered by me along with your husband that I spared you for—a request on behalf of one of my Death Eaters.”

 

A Death Eater—for a moment Lily couldn’t even imagine what he was talking about or who would ever believe that.


Then she remembered Severus.

 

Severus, who had become a Death Eater just like all the rest, and who may have—

 

Voldemort had asked her to step aside. James, he had immediately killed, but her he had asked politely to move to the side, not just once but three times…

 

And she knew, from looking at him, that he knew exactly who she’d just thought of.

 

“Trust me in that I’m doing your son a favor,” the man said with a wry smile, silently gliding past the topic of Severus’ and whatever his request might have been, “Being a prophesied child does your son no favors, from my people or from yours.”

 

She noticed that there was no call for an unbreakable vow.

 

Of course, that would require a witness, which it seemed he didn’t want anymore than she did.

 

She also imagined he thought he didn’t need it. He would read her mind every time they met, he would be able to see any attempts she made to obliviate herself even if she tried it, and no matter what she did, he’d still have her son as a hostage.

 

James, she knew, would have died.

 

He would have said no, resigned himself to Harry’s death no matter what he did, or perhaps told himself that Harry was dead already, and fallen on his sword.

 

He would have thought Lily would do the same.

 

But Lily—evidently, she wasn’t the woman that James had married.

 

She didn’t know who she was either, if she was a Gryffindor pushed past her limit, someone who’d never been a Gryffindor at all, or if in agreeing to this she was more Gryffindor than she thought she could be.

 

She didn’t know if taking a first step into Hell, into compromising your every belief, your friends who’d put their every faith in you, who had risked their lives to protect you, and the memory of your husband who died only a few hours ago, required courage.

 

It certainly felt as if it were requiring something more than she had to give.

 

Just the same, she forced herself to her feet, and slowly walked over to the chair and through the image of Harry.

 

She held out her hand without a word and met his eyes.

 

In them, she was sure, he read her every thought and her silent agreement to his terms.