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Chapter 48: Chapter Forty Eight
Mrs. Potter and I sat in an uncomfortable silence with James lying between us. I made sure I kept my eyes glued at anyone and anywhere but her, even though I felt her gaze slide over to me more than a few times. She would do this often, before she realized what she was doing and lowered her head. From the corner of my eye I could not tell if her eyes were narrowed in hate or blame; pity or compassion.
Mr. Potter had suggested that we all go back to our homes shortly after I returned from the hall. With a grim, pale expression, he mentioned that none of us had gotten much sleep or taken a shower—also that he was needed at work and James wasn’t conscious anyway, therefore wouldn’t notice that we were gone.
Mrs. Potter and I immediately silenced him with a vicious look.
After realizing that he wasn’t going to convince his wife to go with him (even though from her look she seemed to desperately need some rest), he left with a brief kiss for his wife and a hug for me. If I hadn’t been in the state I was in, I would have realized that this was the first time my future father-in-law had ever embraced me, however awkwardly. Given the circumstances, though, I hardly reacted.
For the first time in two hours I looked away from James and glanced up at Mrs. Potter. She was fluffing James’s pillows with the obviousness of a woman who wanted to escape her thoughts by involving herself in some sort of physical action. She was pale and sweaty; her black hair looked lank and damp against her face. She was clearly exhausted and painfully anticipating for the moment her son would wake up. I thought about it for a moment and could not imagine feeling worse pain—to see that her son was in danger but not being able to save him, or do anything to help him.
I closed my eyes and prayed that I would never feel that way, if I were ever to become a mother.
When I opened them again I saw Mrs. Potter looking at me—and for a moment her brown eyes locked with mine. It looked like she was about to say something, but before I had the chance to ask her what it was, she dropped her gaze.
Thankfully, Vivian was there to break the tension.
“Here we are,” she said, handing us both glasses of Strengthening Solution. After we had both reached the point past hysteria she had quit giving us Calming Draughts and had proceeded to Strengthening Solutions—or else we wouldn’t be able to last any more hours in the hospital. I noticed that even the kind-hearted, energetic witch was looking sickly—it had been a long day at the hospital. Apparently even more patients were coming in, hit by curses at Hogwarts but only noticing side-effects afterwards. The woman who had been placed next to us had apparently gone completely rigid as if in a Full Body-Bind, but her eyes had turned to the color of charcoal and her lips blue. I overhead one of the Healers inferring that she was in the process of turning into an Inferius, but no one could be sure yet.
After a weak, “Do you need anything?” Vivian turned on her heel and left, moving slowly and heavily to the chair in the corner, where she could temporarily rest until she was called upon again. Merely a few seconds later a bell was rung and Vivian stood on her feet, treading over to whoever was calling her.
I heard a gasp behind me and noticed that I had been unconsciously watching Vivian run from patient to patient, checking consciousnesses and feeling temperatures. I turned around and saw Mrs. Potter standing up with her hand clamped over her mouth, her eyes widened and brimming with tears.
“Are you—?” I began, but was interrupted.
At his voice I closed my eyes abruptly and clenched my fists in front of my eyelids. Please, don’t let this be a dream. Let it be real. Please, let it be real. I did not hear Mrs. Potter’s sobs anymore. For a moment, I could hear nothing as I readied myself for what I had to confront.
I slowly opened my eyes and lowered my hands. James was on the bed, his eyes closed. I felt my stomach clench as I realized I was hearing things. My hope had left me with nothing but exasperation and the excruciating agony of having to wait yet again, for him to—
My thoughts came to a halt as James’s eyelids fluttered open, his hazel eyes looking momentarily delirious. I saw his enlarged pupils slowly shrink as he blinked and his eyes cleared. He turned his head and looked at me, and his lips moved to the tiniest of smiles.
Immediately I scrambled towards him, reaching blindly for his hand. My other hand reached for his face as his mouth opened and closed, his breath ragged.
“Oh my God…are you okay?” I asked hoarsely, my fingers finally finding and grasping his and nearly dying of relief upon feeling a squeezing response. I heard Mrs. Potter’s hysterical cries in the background and fought against my own tears that were struggling to break through.
James closed his eyes, and for a heart-clenching moment I thought that maybe he was unconscious again. But then he looked at me, a painful expression on his face. “I feel stiff all over.” To demonstrate he tried lifting his head a bit and groaned loudly.
“That’s because you haven’t moved in hours,” I said. My lips moved in a half-smile. I was torn between my feelings of having to grin and show him just how happy I was, or to break down and start sobbing right there. “The longest hours of my life,” I added, not able to believe that we had been here for merely hours and not days or weeks.
James squeezed my hand a little tighter, and then turned to his mother, who had stopped crying but still remained utterly silent. I could not imagine how hard it must’ve been for her, for she had suffered just as much as me, or perhaps even more.
“Mum,” James said, his voice hoarse and weak from not using it for the last long hours. “It’s all right.” The hand that wasn’t clutching my own he lifted a bit with his palm up, waiting for her to grasp it. Slowly Mrs. Potter reached for it and held on, only to start crying again. I watched as she covered her face with trembling fingers and pulled away from James, grabbing for her handkerchief in her pocket and dabbing her red, blotchy face with it.
Not knowing what to do, I reached for the bell and rang it, and soon Vivian was rushing over, her face steady and braced for what she might find. As she glanced at Mrs. Potter’s shuddering form, she seemed to guess the worse and was soon reaching towards James, only to find that his eyes were open and he was trying to sit up.
She jumped, laughing probably a bit too loud for a ward with so many sick patients. “Goodness! Finally there’s some good news!” She looked near to tears herself. “Wait, don’t move. You must be really weak right now and I need to get you something. Stay there. Don’t move.”
She reached for her wand and conjured a glass full of a potion that I recognized to be the same Strengthening Solution that I had taken earlier. James took a sip and grimaced. “Do I really need this?” he asked.
“Yes, it’ll help,” I said soothingly as he tried handing it back to Vivian. His hand stopped in midair and after seeing my reassuring smile, he took the brim to his lips. This time he gulped it all down, and Vivian swept it away with a cheery, “I’ll be right back!” Apparently James had been the first to recover out of all her patients.
I couldn’t stop grinning at James, who smiled weakly back at me. His whole body was slick with sweat and he looked extremely pale, but otherwise he was all right. Some of the color was returning to his cheeks as I started to see the effects of the Strengthening Solution. As James turned to his mother and saw that she was still sobbing, he smiled warmly to her and reached over to touch her arm.
“Mum? C’mon, look at me,” he said.
As Mrs. Potter turned she gave him a watery smile, lifting his hand to her lips and closing her eyes. I felt my own eyes water a bit, so I blinked rapidly. I suddenly felt that it was inappropriate to cry myself—James’s mother was doing that enough for the both of us.
James held onto both our hands and then looked around, his eyes widening as he just realized who was missing. “Where’s Dad?” I felt my heart clench at the levity of his tone. He must’ve thought that his father was merely getting some coffee or talking to a Healer, and would be back soon.
I tried not to look at Mrs. Potter but could sense her expression tighten, her voice coming out suspiciously casual.
“He left about two hours ago, James,” she said. I felt his grasp on my hand loosen so I preoccupied myself by pouring a glass of water for James. From the corner of my eye I saw Mrs. Potter sit down and avoid her son’s gaze. “He was here the whole time…but he was really exhausted and was needed at work.”
I handed James the glass of water, feeling James squeeze my fingers a little too hard as he took it from me. His expression changed for only a split second, and then he turned to me, reaching for my hand. “Thanks for being here. Both of you.”
Mrs. Potter’s eyes brimmed with tears again as she reached for James’s other hand. Without warning she came forward and planted a sloppy kiss on her son’s forehead, crying again.
James wrapped his arms around his mother, wincing a bit at the movement. Over Mrs. Potter’s head he gave me an exasperated smile, which I returned with a forced chuckle—pretending that I hadn’t been so worried, so insanely relieved as she was.
Instead of feeling exasperation or annoyance, I felt a sudden compassion and sympathy for her.
“So, Viv, when can I go home?”
James asked this as if he hadn’t asked it a thousand times before in the last hour, but Vivian merely smiled as she had before.
“James, you already know the answer to that,” she said as she handed him another glass of Strengthening Solution. “The Healers just want to make sure you’re completely fine before you go.”
“But Viv,” he groaned, as if he were a little boy and his mother was preventing him from playing outside. They had become fairly acquainted already, Vivian and James, and he already felt at liberty to call her by a nickname, probably to soften her up so she’d let him leave. I grinned as I realized this and he winked at me. Although still shiny with sweat he no longer had that sickly pallor that had worried us so much. His glasses were back on and he was grinning and joking around like his old self again, and even though Vivian had scolded him, he had already tried leaving the bed so he could stretch his legs. “You’re a Healer and you know I’m fine. So I’d say I’m good to go, wouldn’t you?”
Vivian laughed, shaking her head as she left to deal with her other patients. I could see that she was enjoying having at least one lively patient around, for it helped her recuperate her energies to deal with the others.
James sighed loudly, turning to me. It was just us now, for Mrs. Potter had decided to Apparate to the Ministry and tell her husband the news. James hadn’t been upset, but relieved—Mrs. Potter had been fretting over him every other second and leaving him hardly any room to breathe.
“Don’t pout,” I said, smiling. “You know it’s only precautions.”
“Useless precautions,” he said, raising his eyebrows at me. “I hate being here.”
“I know. Me too,” I said. I sat on the edge of his bed and rested a hand on his knee. “We’ll be out soon.”
“You don’t have to stay, though,” James said for about the hundredth time. “Lily, go home. I bet you haven’t even slept yet.”
“I have,” I lied. “And I’m not leaving until you leave. So stop insisting.”
James smiled. “You’re so stubborn.”
“So are you.”
“Not nearly as much as you, love,” he said, chuckling. He reached for my arm and beckoned me towards him. I scooted closer. “Does your dad know you’re here? Does he even know what happened at Hogwarts?”
“Henn told me she’d tell him,” I said casually.
“Henn was here?”
“Everyone was here.”
James settled himself on his pillows again. Surprisingly, he was frowning a bit, when I thought he’d be happy that everyone had come to see him. “They were all here?”
“Yes,” I said. Then realizing that he was concerned for worrying so many people, I said more softly, “They all love you.”
“I know,” James said. For a while we were silent. I reached for a stray lock of hair that covered his face and pushed it over his ear. It swung back, unmanageable as always. Finally, James looked at me. “I scared the hell out of all of you, didn’t I?”
It was pointless to lie about this one. “Yes.”
“I’m sorry,” James said earnestly.
James sat up again, ruffling his hair nervously. “I can’t help it. I mean, you needed me, and I was just—”
“No, listen to me,” James said. I had never seen him so serious. “If that ever happens again—no, it won’t happen again. I won’t let it, okay? I won’t let it.”
Something about his gaze unsettled me. I knew that he was completely serious, and that unnerved me. I forced a laugh. “James, it won’t ever happen again.”
He didn’t answer me. We were interrupted by Vivian rushing in again, along with three other Healers in lime green robes.
“All right, James,” she said, grinning. “Let’s go see if you can go home, shall we?”
After many long evaluations and tiring examinations, which were slowed down halfway through when Mrs. Potter Apparated back along with Mr. Potter, ready to fret some more, James was ready to leave and looking forward to it too. Not only did Vivian have to check the basics (temperature, blood pressure, etc.) but three other Healers had to do the same exact tests. Then there was the paperwork, which was long enough alone.
“‘How long were you in said condition?’” James read aloud from the parchment in front of him. He rolled his eyes and sighed with exasperation. “How am I to bloody know? I was unconscious.”
“About eighteen or so hours,” I answered quickly before James could curse at the Healers and cause a scene familiar to the one Sirius had started. The witches and wizards in their lime green robes were looking exhausted and I’m sure they wouldn’t have the patience to deal with one of James’s tantrums. I took the roll of parchment from James and wrote down our response, proceeding to the next one. “‘Who was with you when you were in your condition?’ Well, I was—”
“And so were we,” Mrs. Potter added while fluffing James’s pillow for about the hundredth time.
“Actually, only one of you was,” James said in a would-be-nonchalant voice, glancing at his father who pretended not to hear him.
“‘How many Healers attended you while you were in your condition?’” I asked. “There was—”
“For the last time, I was unconscious!” James burst out, throwing his arms into the air and huffing loudly.
Vivian forced a smile. “James, you want to get out of here, don’t you?”
“Does he really need to answer all of this?” Mr. Potter asked, looking exhausted himself. He probably had gotten as much sleep as me.
“You don’t have to stay, Dad,” James said in that too-casual tone again.
This time Mr. Potter met his look with his own irritated one. “Yes, I do, James,” he said slowly and deliberately, as if speaking to his eight-year old son again.
One of the Healers was tapping his foot impatient; the same one who had tried to prevent Sirius from seeing James. “Can we just get this done? There are other patients here who probably need more of our attention.”
“Hey, buddy, do you think I want to answer all of this?” James spat.
Before the Healer could retort, I intervened. “You know what, Vivian? I’ll just answer all of this, you can help James get his things together so he could leave, and the rest of you can go on and help those other patients who need you. Sound good?” I was surprised that in this situation it hadn’t been me to explode first, which is usually what I tend to do, but it had been me to set order in the place. The three Healers and Vivian exchanged looks and conferred in quiet voices. It did not take long for them to do exactly what I told them to do. The three Healers left, assuring us they would be back as soon as we were finished, while Vivian and the Potters helped James get out of his bed, which James didn’t appreciate much, and gather his things together.
I set the clipboard on my lap and answered the questions quickly. I had been with James the whole time so it made sense that I should put down the responses; James had, with much reminding, been unconscious.
By the time I had finished James was already dressed in his clothes again, which had been washed and mended, and they had even forced him to brush his teeth and clean up a bit. Vivian was now moving her wand over the bed sheets so that they piled up in an empty chair, ready to be taken to the laundry room, and Mrs. Potter was trying to smooth down James’s hair, ignoring James’s protests.
“Here you go, Vivian,” I said, rolling up the parchment and handing it over to her. “Is he all set?”
“All set,” she said, grinning. Then to my surprise, she stepped forward and embraced me tightly. “Oh, I’m so glad everything is all right.”
“Me too,” I said as she pulled away and proceeded to hug James and the Potters. I smiled as James awkwardly patted her back, looking a bit embarrassed at being taken care of and worried over so thoroughly.
Vivian stepped back and smiled at all of us. “Good luck,” she said, and then left upon hearing yet another bell. She tucked the parchment into her robes and waved to us as we finally left the ward, James practically running out of there.
We hadn’t even left the building when we were ambushed by Sirius, Remus, Peter, Henn, Gaby, and Grace in the reception area.
“Oh my God!” Henn exclaimed, running over, hugging James, and forgetting all awkwardness. “You’re okay! I mean…you’re awake, you’re not—”
“Unconscious,” I replied, since James was now being jumped on by Sirius, Remus, and Peter.
Gaby was grinning, jumping up and down. “This is so wonderful! I can’t believe you cured so fast!”
James smiled devilishly. “Are you kidding?” he said, finally able to break away from his friends and tapping his chest smugly. “It’ll take more than one bastard to finish me off, thank you very much.”
Nearly everyone’s smiles faded, except Sirius’s, of course. Instead he whopped loudly and jumped on James again, ruffling his hair and knocking his glasses off his head. “Damn, right! He’s my first mate and won’t die that easily.”
“Boys…” Mr. Potter said, looking about. “Quieter, all right?”
Only a few people, not immersed in their own worry and grief that was inevitable in a hospital, were paying attention to the racket we were making. Still, I understood what he meant. Only then did I realize how everything would change now, not just in my life, but in our entire community. Lord Voldemort had begun killing in the open, and had entered Hogwarts with its very students’ help. You could trust no one anymore, and we would have to be more cautious of what we said, especially in public.
James rolled his eyes at our seriousness. “Cheer up, will you? Listen, I have an idea…let’s all go to my house and celebrate my consciousness, shall we?”
Even as our friends all whooped and cheered, Mrs. Potter said, “James, dear, you’re not yet recovered—”
“C’mon, Mum. Don’t you want me to live a little?” James asked, raising his eyebrows. I thought this funny since I had always seen James enjoying his life to the point of recklessness and imprudence. “This ordeal has taught me that life is too short, and I need to live it with the people I love.” He said this half-jokingly, half-serious as he wrapped his arm around me. “Don’t you think?”
The Potters had always had difficulty in saying ‘no’ to their only rather spoiled and pampered child. This is why Mrs. Potter eventually gave in with a tired smile, her only request that he would put a Silencing Charm around his room so that his parents would be able to sleep.
To my utter shock and surprise, she then turned to me. “Lily, dear, I hope you’ll be there as well?”
I must’ve looked completely dumfounded that Mrs. Potter, who initially had held me grudgingly, was now openly being kind and her usual self again to me. James, not noticing my tension, said easily, “Of course she will, Mum. She’s my girl, isn’t she?”
I chuckled nervously and avoided Mrs. Potter’s eyes. Instead I focused on Sirius, Peter, Henn, and Gaby, who were jumping around giddily like little children at the prospect of having James back. “I’ll be there, but first there’s something I have to do,” I said as Mrs. Potter turned to her husband and discussed the necessary charms and spells they would have to implant on their house tonight before they went to sleep.
James planted a big kiss on my lips, smiling. “What’s that, love?”
I forced a smile, although I was dreading what I had to do. “I have to see my dad.”
“Ah,” James said, nodding understandably. He didn’t have to say anything else, for he already knew what I was probably feeling.
“All right, who here needs to Side-Apparate?” Mr. Potter called over our heads. Just as we all gathered near him and Mrs. Potter I noticed that we were short of a few people. I looked around and saw Grace standing by the door, her back to me. I saw that her arms were crossed and noticed that she had hardly talked upon seeing us, even though she looked extremely happy to see James fully recovered. Wondering why she had isolated herself from our group I looked around and soon saw the source of her discomfort. Remus, also apart from us, was smiling as he talked to the receptionist—a very pretty witch, with full, curly blonde hair and sparkling eyes. She was laughing at something Remus had just said.
“Grace, Remus!” James yelled, waving them over. “C’mon!”
Remus gave one last smile to the Healer and then came towards us, avoiding Grace’s gaze as he moved towards Mrs. Potter. He didn’t have to though, for Grace was looking at anyone and anything but him, and as we both held onto Mr. Potter to Side-Apparate to James’s house, she gave me a defiant smile, as if to say, it’s no big deal.
Whatever. I had neither the patience nor the stability to deal with such a problem, so I merely held onto Mr. Potter, closed my eyes, and felt the pull of Apparition as we all landed in James’s house.
But it turned out that all of my constant caution to avoid any sort of problem was to no avail, for when we arrived in the Potters’ living room, stumbling with a faint dizziness, I found that we weren’t alone at all. In fact, my father was sitting in Mr. Potter’s very arm chair.
For a moment I just registered his face, which was wrinkled as I had never seen before. He looked inevitably tired, as if he had spent the whole night awake. Then I realized that he probably had.
There was a silence as he stood up with an expression I couldn’t quite read. Something mingled with relief, and perhaps a bit of exasperation. “Lily,” he said, moving towards me, and before I knew it I was being embraced by him tightly.
I heard Henn behind me let out her breath, as if she had been holding it in with tension. I looked over my shoulder and said, “I’ll be right back,” then left with my father, somehow feeling that I was the one holding him up instead of being held by him.
It was awkward moving across the street into our own house, especially with the manner of still being attached to my father, who had in all my years hardly shown any sort of affection for me. Opening the front door we crossed the threshold and found that Carrie was in the living room, watching television and momentarily looking up as we closed the door.
Instead of ignoring me or shooting a nasty remark, which was what she usually would’ve done despite my dad’s presence or not, she got up, but on a big, teary smile, and ran over to me to hug me, saying something about what a huge relief it was that I was okay.
Before I could push her away in disgust, I saw that my father was already doing the job for me. He stood up taller and narrowed his eyes, looking rather more how I had seen him before, when he hadn’t become all crumpled and defeated. “Get away from my daughter,” he said in a voice which I had frequently heard as he was on the verge of screaming at me.
To my utter shock, Carrie actually retreated back into the living room, throwing one last loathing look at me before we rounded the corner into the kitchen. My father sat on the table and motioned for me to close the door, and that’s when he said, also to my utter shock, “You have no idea how relieved I am.”
For some reason, in the last twenty-four hours, it had never really occurred to me that the version Henn had told him of the events could’ve somehow worried him to the point of entering the Potters’ home and waiting for me there. Not knowing how to express my surprise yet relief that my father wasn’t as cold-hearted as I thought, I instead opted to sit in the chair across from him.
“I thought you hated the boy,” he said flatly. I opened my mouth to explain but he interrupted me. “But I suppose you don’t. Your friend—Henn—she told me that now he’s your boyfriend…no, your fiancé…but he had been your boyfriend for quite some time now.”
So that explained why he assumed I would first be at the Potters’ than in my actual home. I swallowed, readying myself to say something, but was held back once again.
“Lily…why didn’t you tell me yourself?”
I wasn’t sure if he was talking about my relationship with James, or if he was asking me why I hadn’t told him myself about the incident at Hogwarts. And then it hit me how insensitive and cowardly it was for me to ask Henn to call my father; Henn, who barely knew him and couldn’t possibly comfort him about his daughter.
I didn’t know how to explain that I didn’t want to deal with him at such a stressful time, that we had never been close and had never openly acknowledged that I was different from him and my sister, and therefore would never completely understand what had happened. I didn’t know how to tell him that I thought it would be easier, perhaps not for him but for me, to ask my friend to inform him of my near-death experience, even though it might cause him to feel hopeless and utterly terrible because he couldn’t help me in any way.
I was planning to soften this up for him, as I always did, and tell him that I had been too busy with James, who had been closer to death than me. But instead I found myself saying, “You wouldn’t understand.”
He stared at me, and I realized again how much he had aged, how much everyone had aged because of this. I remembered the last time I had seen him, at his own wedding in February, and how even though I had loathed him for most of it, he looked happy. And somehow I felt guilty for bringing him to this, even though it would be impossible to prevent it.
He cleared his throat and looked at the table, unable to meet my gaze. Somehow he finally seemed to know that he had failed me in every way as a father. “So…you’re marrying this boy?”
“Yes. But we’re moving in together first.” Before he could say anything in protest, I said, “We have a flat ready for us in London. Sirius Black will be living there too.”
He continued not to say anything, and I realized that he had recognized the fact that he no longer had control over me, and perhaps never would again. I reached over and touched his hand, and forced him to look at me. I tried smiling, but instead my eyes got all wet as I blinked rapidly. “I’m okay now. I’ll still be okay.” Then I voiced something that I had thought about but hadn’t said up until this point. “And this way,” I said softly, this time unable to stop the tears from sliding down my cheeks. “I won’t be a threat to you.”
What broke my heart was that he didn’t contradict me, he didn’t say, No, I want you here, so we could fight this together, or I am the father and you needn’t worry about me, daughter. Instead he broke his gaze away from me again, and I knew that he was afraid of what had happened at Hogwarts—whatever Henn had told him had apparently been enough to frighten—and didn’t want to fight against anything.
When he continued to say nothing, I said, “I’ll go get my stuff,” then left to go upstairs. As I came into my room I shut my door and sank to the ground. I looked about me at all my belongings that I would take to the Potters’ until James and I were ready to move to our flat with Sirius. There wasn’t much for me to take across the street, and it would be easy considering how now I was of age and could practice magic outside of school.
I heard my father’s treading footsteps downstairs as he moved into his room and also closed the door. Neither of us would be ready for a while to face all the things we had left unsaid—about Hogwarts, Petunia, Virginia, and everything else.
After a while I stood up and went over to my dresser by the window, where I started to take out all the clothes I hadn’t brought to Hogwarts and set it on my bed. For a moment I glanced across the street, where all the lights were on and where my friends were inevitably celebrating. I then noticed that the Potters were outside, examining the outside of their house and no doubt contemplating what spells they could use for protection. James was out there with them, looking at my house where undoubtedly he was wondering what was going on.
I waved, which caught his attention, and he waved back, smiling at me. We stood like that for a moment and I felt the complete compassion and understanding we had between us, which I then realized I had with no one else in my life, not even with Henn. What was I ever going to do and be without him?
After a while he turned back to his house and started talking in hushed tones with his parents. I too turned back to my packing, and smiled as I felt the ring on my left hand, knowing that after everything that had happened, I would never be without him.
It was the one thing in my life I would never again have to worry about, and it comforted me like nothing else.
A/N: I know it's been a while...but I'm working on 49 already and hopefully it'll be done before all the Christmas business begins. I want to write a shout out to my fan, Krystina, who put me a few weeks ago on her top five, which I think caused a lot of people to come and read this. Thanks!