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Chapter 6: Of Swings and Freaks
Of Heart and Home
The nervous anticipation that flooded Lily the previous morning was replaced with pure dread when she awoke. How was she to face her sister, whom she had not heard two words from since she moved in with Vernon? A small part of her wondered if maturity had set in, and if Petunia had moved past their petty arguments, but she knew that this was wishful thinking.
What’s more, she hadn’t thought much about what her sister would say in front of James until very recently. After all, it wasn’t until very recently when her feelings towards James began to change, and suddenly, something like a catty older sister seemed much more paramount.
Her mind raced from the moment she got out of bed, and her frantic thoughts did not dissipate as she went to breakfast. In fact, they only seemed to mount as the day wore on, and she and James tried to pretend that disaster wasn’t imminent. It wasn’t until the evening when she and James were sitting on her living room floor playing chess when the subject was broached.
“So, your sister is coming tonight then?” James asked casually, though they both knew very well what the answer was.
“Yeah—I’d expect her to be here soon,” she replied in an equally nonchalant tone, though her heart instinctively began to beat faster. “Again, I apologize right now for any names she calls you.”
“Does she not interact with magical folk much, then?” he asked tentatively, eyeing her over his glasses for a moment before looking back at the board with interest.
“Magical folk? Oh, no, she’ll call it, ‘your kind’ or ‘those freaks.’ She’s never had any fondness towards the whole idea.” Never before had Lily been so thankful for the chess board in front of her that she could stare at contemplatively; she would do anything to avoid making eye contact with James.
“Is she jealous?” he asked plainly as he moved his rook.
“I think she was when we were younger, and it’s possibly she still is now. I think it terrifies her more than anything—Severus made a branch drop on her inadvertently once, and she’s never forgiven him it. Not to mention all the times he described dementors to her…I think she thinks we keep them as pets or something,” she snorted, rolling her eyes. When James didn’t respond for a second, she let out a slow sigh and continued. “And so, I am deemed the freak of the family, and I’ve given up on acquiring a new title.”
“I’m sorry,” James said, and the genuine tone to his words made her breath hitch.
“Every family has their problems, right?” Lily gave a half-hearted laugh as she finally looked up at James. Their eyes had only met for a moment, though, when the doorbell finally rang, and Lily reluctantly packed away their partially finished game. “I feel like I’m walking into the lion’s den,” she smiled, hoping that this attempt at a joke would loosen both of them up before Petunia walked through the door.
“Hello mother,” came a stiff voice from the adjacent room, and both of their heads turned quickly to take in the newcomer.
She looked the same as she always had—blonde and abnormally horse-like—and her demeanor was as terse as ever. Lily plastered her best attempt at a smile on her face as she neared her sister, arms out. Petunia did not reciprocate this hug, though, and merely stiffened underneath her sister’s embrace, her jaw clenching perceptibly.
“Great to see you, Tuney,” Lily said, hating the false cheerfulness in her tone.
“It’s Petunia,” was all her sister said as she did her best to avoid Lily’s eyes. As she looked everywhere else in the room, though, her eyes eventually fell upon James. If possible, she became even more rigid.
“Petunia dear, this is James,” Lily’s mother piped in quickly, gesturing to him with a warm smile.
“Oh, I see. You have a freak boyfriend now, do you?” Petunia asked, her voice remaining eerily calm.
“He’s a friend of mine. He goes to school with me,” Lily said simply, all but ignoring the snide edge that Petunia’s question held.
“Nice to meet you,” James smiled, holding out his hand for Petunia to shake. When he only received a cold and rather disgusted stare, he withdrew it and glanced at Lily in uncertainty.
She saw Petunia’s mouth open for a retort, but her mother began speaking once again in order to quell the tension. “Well, your father is waiting, so why don’t we join him at the table!” It was painfully evident just how accustomed Carol was to playing mediator between her two daughters.
Lily thought she heard her sister mutter something about ‘getting it over with’ as she walked into the kitchen, James right behind her, but she chose to ignore the comment.
There was a chorus of greetings between Petunia and her father as they all sat down. Lily motioned for James to sit next to her while her mother and sister sat across from them and her father took up the head of the table.
“Please, dig in!” Carol insisted immediately, and the five of them began to pass around dishes, scooping various food onto their plates. It wasn’t until Lily was passed the potatoes when she realized that Petunia was all but glowering at James as she spooned out her food.
Clearing her throat, Lily looked at Petunia apprehensively, wracking her mind for something to say. “How’s Vernon?” she said finally, hoping that her sister would break her death glare at James.
“He’s wonderful,” she snapped, her eyes not breaking from James.
For the first time, James looked up, and Lily could plainly read the alarm in his eyes as he saw Petunia’s stony stare. “What does he do?” James asked, feigning interest, after taking a small sip of water.
“He works with drills.” Her words were clipped, and Lily could see James trying to maintain his charismatic air. Of course, Lily was well aware that Petunia was not about to be won over by James, no matter how charming he was, but she didn’t want to be the one to break his spirits.
“What do you want to do once you’re out of school?” Lily’s father asked as he cut through his chicken. Lily swallowed and looked at James anxiously, for she knew that her father was still in the process of evaluating him.
“I’ve always wanted to be an Auror, like my dad,” James replied confidently, though when he saw the bemused looks on their faces, he clarified. “It’s a group of people who work to suppress and capture Dark wizards and witches.”
Lily’s father examined James for a moment before a rare smile crossed over his lips for a moment. “That sounds like a very admirable career path.”
“It sounds stupid to me. You should all be locked up if you ask me,” Petunia said defiantly, her eyes finally moving to Lily with malice.
“Well, Aurors are actually trying to help Muggles as well as witches and wizards; after all, many who study and perform Dark Magic also believe in the inferiority of Muggles,” James said kindly, his eyes flitting to Mr. and Mrs. Evans for a moment, who were watching him in interest, before landing back on Petunia.
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Petunia demanded, slamming her fork down loudly as she narrowed her eyes on James.
“It means they want you to be locked up,” Lily finally said, and as Petunia met her eyes, she faced them with equal boldness. “You should be thankful that there are witches and wizards out there ensuring your safety.” She could feel the tranquility of her voice beginning to waver as she tried to control her temper.
“I should be thankful?” Petunia all but shouted incredulously. “I should be thankful that a bunch of you weirdos are flying about with your little sticks?”
“Petunia,” Lily’s mother breathed, placing a hand on her daughter’s. Petunia merely pulled it away roughly, though, daring Lily to retort.
“Yes, you should! And frankly, I’m tired of you calling me names simply because you’re jealous or scared or whatever else you are! I’m your sister!” Lily exclaimed, having completely forgotten about her food and about James, who was watching her closely.
“You’re no sister of mine,” her sister spat, a cruel smile coming to her lips.
“Petunia, you will not say such things in this house,” Mr. Evans said, carefully controlled fury in his voice. “I will ask you to leave if you cannot behave civilly.”
“No, really—I’ll go, since I’m the freak here” Lily insisted, her hands balled into fists as she scooted her chair back and marched out of the room. She could only hope that James would think better than to stay and would simply Apparate somewhere. Any place but here.
It wasn’t until she had slammed her front door shut and began to trudge blindly through the dark when she thought of just how humiliating it was to have James witness such a thing—James, whose family understood magic, and whose siblings (if he indeed had any) probably supported him wholeheartedly. Without knowing what was happening, she felt her eyes begin to well up with tears, a sensation she hadn’t felt in some time, and she let out a useless sob as she made her way through the park.
Before she knew it, she was sitting on one of the abandoned swings, not thinking twice about the deserted park or the foreboding dark. Wiping furiously at her tears, she ran her shoes through the dirt, kicking up little clouds of it in frustration. And to think that less than ten years prior, she and her sister had swung here, carefree and loving, unknowing of the disputes to come.
With these thoughts running through her head, she didn’t hear the running footsteps coming near her until the figure was just a few feet away.
“Lily,” James breathed as he came to a stop before her. She could feel him watching her, but she refused to look up to meet his eyes; what could be worse than seeing the pity written in his face?
“James, just go,” Lily muttered as she trained her eyes on the scuffs in the dirt.
“She should never have said those things to you,” he said quickly, and she looked up suddenly. Her eyes, having begun to dry, pricked with tears once again.
“It’s not that she said it to me—she says things like that all the time.” She pushed herself up from the swing, watching him for a moment before turning and crossing her arms. “It’s that she said it in front of you… I’ve never been more embarrassed—,” she muttered under her breath, but was interrupted.
“Don’t be embarrassed for my sake—,” he said, not hiding the dumbfounded tone in his voice.
“And I just feel so stupid,” she continued easily, not daring to turn back to him. “And Lindsay likes you—,” she said bitterly.
“Lindsay?” she heard him echo, but she didn’t acknowledge his question.
“And she’s so much prettier than I am,” Lily grumbled, shaking her head in hopes of ridding herself of the emotions she was surely betraying.
“Prettier?” James sputtered, finally coming around to meet her face to face. “What’s this about, Lily?”
Her expression softened as she dropped her arms and met his gaze. “I like you, James,” she said, not sure whether to be ashamed of the vulnerability of her voice.
Before she had a chance to elaborate, though, he moved forward, placing a hand against her neck with an almost indiscernible touch. She opened her mouth slightly, as if to question him, when his lips met hers for a brief moment. When they broke, neither averted their gaze from the other and after a few seconds they both broke into smiles.
They didn’t say anything more—they didn’t need to. And as if on cue, they slowly made their way to the swings just a few feet away and sat down, swinging back and forth gently until the small hours of the morning.
Well, another chapter done! I believe there will be two more chapters to finish off the story, but I don’t expect to get them done for a few weeks. Thanks for all the reviews!