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Chapter 12: Bittersweet
“Ben, mate?” Fabian whispered tentatively. “You doing alright?” The blonde tugged at his bowtie anxiously. Of course not. She’s gone.
“I’m grand,” Benjy said flatly, emotion absent in his voice. He sounded so empty. He was a mere shell of his former brilliant self. Marlene dying seemed to have killed him as well. There was nothing left but this uncharacteristic anger, and a thirst for revenge.
Fabian patted a comforting hand on his shoulder before turning back to the other groomsmen. Sirius, Frank, Gideon, and Arthur were scattered about the room speaking with their significant women (with the exception of Mary of course, as it was bad luck). Almost instantly, Fabian spotted Lily entering the room hesitantly, clad in a beautiful gold dress, a large jeweled clip in her auburn curls. She had a false smile etched across her lips.
“You look smashing Miss Evans,” he said sincerely as he approached her. The smile dropped from Lily’s face.
“Well don’t you look smashing today Miss Evans!” a cocky voice rang from across the Great Hall. She turned, seething.
“Shut it Potter, I’m really not in the mood,” she hissed at him, turning back to her mountainous N.E.W.T. Level Ancient Runes book. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the hurt look on James’ face, but chose to ignore it. He took a seat beside her, far too close considering the Great Hall was nearly empty, with plenty of places to sit. After nearly a minute of him staring relentlessly at her, she finally slammed her book shut and glared at him.
“What?” she asked hopelessly. James furrowed his brow at her and sighed.
“You’re upset,” he said simply, tilting his head to one side. “I was just trying to make you smile.” Lily rolled her eyes.
“Sorry I don’t enjoy being mocked,” she retorted hastily. “I know quite well that I look a right state. I’m stressed, my sister hates me, and now you’re mocking me. Not something I need at the moment.” James looked a great deal like a sad puppy at this.
“I’m sorry Lily,” he said suddenly. “I really am, you just haven’t smiled in a while and I miss it.” She met his gaze at this. “Honestly.” She smiled briefly.
“It’s alright James,” she said shaking her head. “It’s not like you can help it.” To her surprise he laughed loudly.
“I’m hurt by your words,” he said in mock sorrow.
“Lily?” She blinked her eyes rapidly from her own memory and saw that she was looking into the face of Fabian.
“Sorry about that,” she mumbled quickly. “It’s about time to start seating people right?” Fabian nodded, a look of concern still clear in his eyes. Lily waved her hand at him and led the way out into the main room of the Order’s headquarters.
It was lavishly decorated with dark mahogany chairs draped with white cloth. Enchanted flowers glittered along the walls. It was the perfect Christmas wedding. The stairs had been transfigured into a regal marble staircase. Every guest was waiting in the downstairs ‘bookstore,’ now transformed into a lovely waiting area, disguised from the outside, as a very dark, very normal closed Muggle bookstore.
Lily poked her head around the corner at the top of the stairs, taking in the sea of color below her. The front door chimed as it swung open. It was Albus, leading in a rather nervous looking woman. Lily gasped audibly, gaining the attention of the rest of the wedding party.
Benjy remained behind in Lily’s old room, staring at his reflection in the mirror, relentlessly attempting to straighten his bowtie. He tried so hard to steady his breathing, but all he could picture in his head was Marlene in that damn dress.
“Woman what are you trying on? We have to get to the meeting,” he had said impatiently, letting his head hang backwards over the back of the couch in exhaustion. He heard her sigh in frustration.
“I’m sorry I just can’t find a dress for this dinner party of Lily’s,” she mumbled. She swung the door open, causing him to pop his head back up and look at her. She was wearing a long silky white gown that clung to her thin frame. It was low in the back and haltered at the front in a high neckline. Her long dark blonde hair framed her face beautifully. She was beautiful.
“Too formal?” she asked, still critically gazing at her reflection. “Almost looks a bit like a wedding dress eh?” Through the mirror she caught his wide-eyed gaze. “What’s wrong?” He continued to take her startling beauty in. They weren’t really a couple, but such close friends. They were always each other’s dates, always attached at the hip, but never really together. Why did I wait too long? He finally spoke.
“So when we get married, you should probably wear that,” he said simply, still slightly in a daze. The two met each others’ gaze for a few moments, before simultaneously bursting into a fit of laughter.
“I’ll keep that in mind Benjy,” she said with a chuckle, pulling the dressing room door closed behind her.
“STOP IT!” he roared at his reflection, gripping his hair tightly between his fingers. “She is gone,” he hissed in a quieter voice. “Stop thinking about her.” He found himself filled with such a rage. She had died, and he wasn’t there to protect her. He hadn’t really said goodbye to her. It was as much his fault as it was the wand that had shot that final spell. A knock suddenly woke him out of his reverie.
“Benjy?” He turned to see Fabian stick his head through the slight opening. “Dumbledore needs you in the kitchen, mate.” He was grateful that his friend clearly chose to omit any question about his outburst. His eyes were filled with the oddest amount of mirth. Of course, it was his brother’s wedding day.
He followed the redhead’s path down the corridor when he froze, hearing a familiar light laugh ringing in his ears. That laugh. Her laugh. Time seemed to stand still. The looks on the faces of the entire wedding party and guests were unreadable to him. They were silent. He was in a trance, walking for what seemed like miles to the kitchen where he was summoned.
He pushed open the swinging door to the kitchen. It can’t be. Finally, he saw her. How could he not? Her red gown. Her blonde hair. Her bright hazel eyes glistened with tears. Her wide smile. He couldn’t seem to remember how to inhale at that moment. Apparently in complete shock, he looked to Albus in disbelief, begging with his eyes that this wasn’t a hallucination. That she wasn’t an imposter. Albus gave him the smallest nod but that was all he needed. He moved across the large room so quickly it seemed like he had flown, and pulled her into his arms, holding her like she were his lifeline.
“Tell me this is real,” Benjy whispered hoarsely. The blonde could only nod, as tears were streaming so rapidly down her face, it was clear that she was distressed. Benjy pulled away from her, only to hold her at arm’s length so he could look at her. Up close he could see how much thinner she seemed. Battered even. She had just barely healing bruises covering her arms.
“What happened?” he asked quietly, his relief now being replaced with confusion. “You were d-dead. I saw you.” Marlene looked fearful, her tears stopping. She looked back to Albus who nodded slightly, prompting her to speak.
“That night,” she said flatly, “they captured me almost minutes after we had arrived. Everything was so chaotic that no one noticed.” Her eyes seemed to be glazed over at the horrifying memory. “I’m not sure who it was, but I know that one minute I was dueling, and the next I had been apparated to a holding cell in the basement of Malfoy Manor. Two of the Death Eaters held me against the wall, and the third pulled out a strand of my hair. That’s when I realized there was another girl in the cell. She looked like she was only fif-fifteen.” Her bottom lip trembled as she spoke.
“And then they forced polyjuice potion down her throat, and she turned into me,” she finished lamely, her voice so helpless. “Then they apparated her back to the Riddle House, knowing that she would be killed, so it would look like it had been me.” She looked to the floor suddenly, as though ashamed.
“She was a muggle,” Marlene gulped. “There was no way for her to defend herself. She didn’t stand a chance.” She was nearly trembling now. Benjy swallowed thickly and hugged her again, as though shielding her from her own guilt.
“How did you get away?” he asked tentatively, trying to calm her. She looked back up to him with dazed eyes.
“It was Regulus,” she said quite clearly. “He’s been plotting against Voldemort for months. Since long before that last battle. It took time, but he set me free.” Benjy asked no further questions, and pulled her close to him again, never intending to ever let her go.
The actual exchanging of vows had been beautiful, but Lily could hardly recall most of it. Her focus was lax. She now sat at a table at the back of the room, choosing to only observe the activity of the reception before her. Her heart physically hurt, despite the cheerful atmosphere. Someone could have Crucio-ed her right then and there, and she was fairly sure that she wouldn’t feel a thing. She was truly feeling the loneliness that had dwelled in the back of her mind for the past near month.
Mary and Gid strode lightly onto the floor for the fourth or fifth time that evening. It was clear that Gid was just a tad buzzed, but neither of the newlyweds seemed to care. He wrapped his arms around Mary’s waist tightly as they swayed to the music. She giggled lightly at the sweet nothings he always seemed to be whispering in her ear.
Remus sat at a table in the corner with a lovely brunette woman that Lily had never seen before. Even he, who had been so worn and tired and down for the past few months, laughed and smiled with her. He was happy. They all were. Just not her.
The thing that probably tore at her the most, was the unexpected reunion of Benjy and Marlene. It was as though the moment she had been wishing for for the past month had come true, just not for her. James was right there. Right there in St. Mungo’s. And yet, he still was gone. Marlene had been dead. Completely gone. And suddenly she had reappeared, almost as shockingly as she had left. She was happy for the two, but she still felt something deep down. A bubbling mixture of jealously, envy, pain, and sadness, all rolled into one cluster of emotion that ripped at her very soul.
Sirius and Maggie were sitting at the makeshift bar, Maggie laughing loudly at Sirius’ wild drunken stories. He was waving his arms dramatically, saying something or another about the giant squid. His face seemed to freeze however, when he caught Lily’s gaze. His face suddenly paled. Lily tilted her head to one side in confusion, when out of the corner of her eye she spotted an owl sitting just outside of the window, tapping its beak fervently against the frosty glass. Tied to its leg was a clearly navy blue envelope. No, no, no, no, no.
Instantly, her breath caught in her throat. Her lungs seemed to stop working entirely, as did her heart. She glanced back to Sirius, who was staring glassy eyed at the owl, before standing slowly and moving towards it. She clicked open the window slightly, allowing the snow-covered owl to hop inside and shake itself off. It stuck its leg out, revealing to Lily her worst fear. The envelope bore the St. Mungo’s emblem.
Their eyes met and instantly Sirius was reminded of everything. As happy as today was supposed to be, he was reminded of James, and his noticeable absence. Then he saw the owl at the window, and the light that left Lily’s eyes. No, no, no, no, no.
He left Maggie at the bar, right in the middle of a story, and moved slowly towards the scene before him. Lily moving towards the window. Lily letting the frost-covered owl in. Lily untying the letter with shaking hands. Lily turning to him, her eyes filled to the brim with tears.
She ripped the seal open with such violently shaking hands that she was honestly quite surprised that she hadn’t ripped the entire letter in half. She recognized the stationery. The familiar silver seal. The bone and wand crossed emblem.
The very same letters she had sent out for two straight weeks when she first began to intern at St. Mungo’s. Attack after attack had left almost one hundred witches and wizards injured. Almost one hundred deaths. Almost one hundred letters drawn up to send to the families.
James didn’t have a family anymore. They were his family.
“Lily?” Yet again, she was shaken from her thoughts. She looked up and met the concerned grey gaze. “Lily, what does it say?” Lily blinked rapidly and looked back down at the letter in her hands. She hadn’t dared to look at the loopy black letters across the page until now.
Dear Miss Evans,
We regret to interrupt your holiday celebrations, but we must inform you that your presence is required at St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, with regards to James Charlus Potter.
Lenora Wood, MH
Head of Spell Damage Department
Letters seemed to always deliver defining moments in her life. An invitation to the wizarding world in a letter. The last of her father in a letter. What she thought was the last of her sister in a letter. Now the last of James. Damn letters.
Lily hadn’t even noticed tears spilling down her cheeks and onto her hands. Without looking up from the letter, she spoke.
“You should go Sirius,” was all she said.
“What?” he sputtered out. “No Lily, you have to come with me. I—I can’t do this alone.” She shook her head, and spoke again, in her flat, emotionless voice.
“You can,” Lily said, still looking down at the letter in her hands. “I can’t come with you because I said goodbye.” Sirius shook his head in confusion.
“What are you saying?” he asked quietly. Lily didn’t meet his gaze.
“Yesterday I said goodbye and because of that, he gave up. I can’t come with you Sirius.” With that, she handed him the letter, and turned quickly to the coat rack where her thick sweater coat hung. She slipped it on over her dress and silently left the room for the snow covered balcony.
“Sirius, what’s wrong?” a voice whispered in his ear. He would have turned, but he could not move as he reread the words meant for Lily etched across the navy paper. He felt two hands turn his head. He found himself gazing into deep blue eyes. Maggie. Her smooth voice that sounded like velvet, seeping into his every pore.
“You’re crying,” she said suddenly, her eyes widening. “It’s not… It’s not James is it?” He couldn’t speak, he only kissed her, in such a way it was as though that kiss had saved him.
“I have to go,” he said quickly, turning on the spot and disappearing entirely, leaving a confused Maggie behind.
He reappeared across London, directly in front of a deserted closed up Department store. Several muggles were violently startled at his sudden appearance in the center of the sidewalk, but he didn’t seem to notice, as he wasn’t exactly thinking much at all. He didn’t even acknowledge the strange looks he was getting, and took one long stride through the glass window, stepping into the main lobby of St. Mungo’s. He hardly had the chance to open his mouth, when Healer Wood rushed over to him.
“Mister Black, I didn’t expect you so soon. Where is Lily?” she asked hurriedly, looking over his shoulder as though expecting her to appear out of thin air. Sirius shook his head solemnly, but again, Healer Wood didn’t give him a chance to finish his thought.
“You should follow me Mister Black,” she said quietly, leading him by his elbow to the lift. Sirius barely took notice of this action, as he felt his stomach drop to the ground, and his lungs empty entirely.
There is this feeling you get, like the calm before the storm, when something has affected you so greatly, that you know you will never be the same after that moment. It starts with shock. It was the feeling she experienced when she first arrived at Hogwarts. When she denied any further friendship with Snape. When she stepped onto that stage and accepted her diploma. When she spoke at her parents’ funeral. When James kissed her, said he loved her. And right now, this moment.
Lily strode out onto the snow covered balcony, the hem of her dress growing damp. She was in a trance, so out of tune with the cold air around her, and the shuddering breaths she let out in a foggy mist before her. She seemed to collapse into the nearest patio chair and could do nothing but stare out onto the London skyline, lit up brightly by holiday lights. Such a contrast to her sorrow. She could hardly tell that she was shaking so hard, her hands gripped the cold iron armrests of her chair, numbing her fingers. Numbing her to the core.
“Lily?” She didn’t respond. She couldn’t. She stared straight ahead blankly, but could tell by the voice that it was only Mary. She had moved around to the chair opposite her and sat.
“Lily?” she repeated. “What happened? Maggie told me Sirius took off with a letter in his hand.” Lily could only shake her head as several tears dropped from the lids of her eyes.
“It was from St. Mungo’s… James… They never send letters with so little information unless…” she said brokenly. She knew she made little sense, but she could hardly think straight, let alone speak. Mary grimaced deeply and leaned forward to embrace Lily, but she would not let her.
“Please Mary, this is supposed to be your day,” Lily said quickly, forcing a clearly pained smile. “I’ll be alright I promise. Just need a bit of time to myself is all.” Mary bit her lip, but only nodded, knowing that Lily was a stubborn woman, and would not give in to her attempts at comfort. She stood to leave, and comfortingly gripped her shoulder tightly, before stepping back into the celebratory interior, unknowingly giving Lily permission to breakdown.
She sobbed painfully, feeling her every sorrowful emotion from the past year pouring out of her. She sincerely had nothing left. Her family. Her dearest friend. And now nothing.
She saw no hope for her future now. There was nothing. Though the wizarding world seemed safe, there was still nothing. Nothing left at all. She cried for the future she had lost. The man she had lost. What was she supposed to do now? The Order would not continue to fight, as there was nothing left to fight. Everyone around her were getting together and marrying and having children. And now she would be alone. She supposed she would continue in Healing school. Become a healer. What was the point of that? Save thousands of lives for the one that she couldn’t. But then what? What was left for her in this world?
As the crowd inside cheered, probably due to the throwing of the bouquet, it hit her. There truly was nothing left here. Not in this world. She needed to leave. Go back to the muggle world. Despite her fight for the past eight years to fit into the Wizarding world, because of her muggleborn status, maybe this was exactly where she shouldn’t be.
Lily looked back to the glass doors behind her, unable to see through their frost-covered panes. A dark figure moved towards the doors inside. Her heart seemed caught in her throat when she realized Sirius must have returned. She couldn’t stay for this. The door clicked open, but she was gone in a swirl of snow, leaving him behind.
That was when everything changed. The very next week, after her total breakdown. He was sitting at the dining room table (the one she had convinced him to get… it expanded for your needs, which he was oh so grateful for), looking over mountains of papers detailing security assignments. He refused to let what happened to her happen ever again. The front door opened, but he didn’t jump from his seat, knowing that more than likely it was Sirius.
“Mate, don’t you know how to knock?” he shouted cheerfully, shuffling through another stack.
“’Course I do, doesn’t mean I will,” an unexpected voice chimed. James glanced up suddenly with a confused look, catching sight of a particularly chipper looking red-head. “Expecting Sirius?” He laughed.
“Yeah, though it’s lovely to see you,” he said, putting his hands behind his head. “How’d you know?” She rolled her eyes and dropped her bag on the chair closest to her.
“You had that tone,” she said simply, making her way into the kitchen. As James was about to retort he heard the banging of pots and pans.
“What tone?” he asked with a frown, though a smile twitched on his lips. He watched, amused, as she started pulling an assortment of things out of the pantry. “What are you doing?”
“Making pancakes,” she said, in that “isn’t-it-obvious?” kind of way. “I know they’re not nearly as good as Mary’s, but I’m hungry, and you look like you haven’t eaten or slept in days.” James waved this off distractedly.
“Your pancakes are much better than Mary’s actually,” he said quickly, without a bit of hesitation. “What tone?” She chuckled.
“Oh you know,” she started coyly, “that one that’s subtly begging Sirius to love you more than he loves the women.” He glared at her for a moment before taking a seat on the counter across from her.
“I resent that statement,” he said, crinkling up his nose. She shook her head.
“Yes and you also love my pancakes,” she retorted, crinkling her already flour-tinted nose up just as much, imitating him. He gazed at her for just a moment, and for once she didn’t look away.
“You keep making that face it’ll stay like that forever you know,” he said in a completely serious tone. Lily frowned.
“Aw Jamsie would you not love me anymore?” she asked with a pout, before laughing loudly. James just shook his head with a smile.
“You know I still would,” he said quietly, before snatching a pancake from her and fleeing from the room.
She couldn’t even see straight. She was blindly throwing everything she could into her suitcase, her eyes filled to the brim with tears she refused to let fall. She had changed from her dress into jeans and her sweater coat, hoping to go as unnoticed as possible. She would write her friends… in a few weeks time perhaps. She wasn’t all too sure about any of this. She started going at her picture frames, when she heard one crash behind her. What one simple spell could have fixed couldn’t fix the pain that was filling her heart rapidly. That day by the lake… her last photo of him, shattered in half…
“Lily you have just graduated, and you honestly don’t feel the need to do anything spontaneous?” he shouted over the noise of the crowd. She shook her head fearfully.
“Don’t even think about it James,” she said quickly, backing away slightly. Too late. In seconds she was over his shoulder and going headfirst into the lake. Much to his surprise, she came out of the water laughing hysterically.
“You’re going down Potter,” she growled with a mischievous smile, grabbing his tousled black hair and dunking him under the water.
She didn’t really know when the tears began falling, or when she began shaking uncontrollably and sunk to the ground. How could this have happened? After everything… why?
There was a knock on the door, shaking her out of her tears. Dammit. Should have gotten out of here sooner.
“Lily!” a voice called. “It’s Sirius, Lily please open up.” She couldn’t breathe. This is it.
She stood slowly and walked down the corridor, wand in hand. Fear filled her eyes, though they did not replace the already present tears.
“What does James call you?” she called back.
“What?” She slammed her palm against the wall with angry tears.
“I’m doing the damn security thing Sirius, just answer the bleeding question,” she shouted hoarsely.
“Padfoot,” the voice said. Lily ripped the door open, tears still streaming down her face.
“Well?” she whimpered, choking back a sob. “Go on and just say it so I can leave.” He frowned.
“Where are you going?” he asked quietly. Lily frowned in confusion. Something was off about all this.
“Where the hell do you think I’m going Sirius?” she practically bellowed at him in agony. “Do you honestly think I’ll be able to stay here now that he’s…” Her voice trailed away at the thought, as did her body it seemed. She turned silently, in a daze, and walked back down the corridor, leaving the door ajar. She returned to the broken picture frame and placed it back on the dresser, before continuing to calmly pack her suitcase.
How dare he? How dare he stand there and wonder why she wouldn’t stay. Why she couldn’t stay.
“Lily… Please don’t leave.” She froze, her hands gripping the shirt in her hands so tightly that her knuckles were white within moments. She turned, towards the voice that she had wanted to hear so dearly for the past twenty-nine days, not daring to fully look at the figure in the doorway.