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Chapter 23: The Beauty of Someday
A clatter of voices interspersed with laughter fell in strips from the broad light of a window, pooling in the center of the kitchen in a place one wouldn’t think to look. It went unnoticed by the five friends; and as if there was a crater in the floor under the kitchen table, the sounds and anxieties rolled into a gathering heap so that they would not disturb their dinner. In the midst of these anxieties, now forgotten in light of recent events, was a newspaper article from the Daily Departed, with two paragraphs in particular standing out:
Cassandra Trelawney has admitted to experiencing a vision about the winner of the Devil’s Duel, although she is bound by the laws of the tournament to keep her knowledge a secret. She is also not permitted to bet on winners with the rest of the residents who are eyeing the Devil’s Basin. As of this morning, Nymphadora Lupin was tied with Fred Weasley for ‘most invested’, according to the diameters of their respective blood trajectories in the Basin.
Reporters for Daily Departed attempted to get a hold of Miss Trelawney for more details, but she has retreated indoors and has refused to divulge what she knows. One witness attested that Trelawney has been acting quite eccentrically since her vision, and can be heard making hysterical sorts of sounds within her house. When we enquired after a Cliodna’s Clock resident who is rather famous for her involvement with the Devil’s Duel, Lily Potter brushed us off with the response, “Doesn’t apply to me any longer.”
The Lily Potter in question was leaning over her kitchen table, pointing her wand at Sirius’s empty plate and goblet to whisk them off into the sink. The warm sun shone cranberry through the gingham curtains, its zenith level with Lily’s waist.
Sirius stretched, yawning heartily. “Fantastic dinner,” he informed her. “Mind, you should cook the noodles a little longer next time, but overall –”
James whacked Sirius in the back of the head with the salad tongs. “Thank you,” Lily told her husband, and James stuffed another hot roll into his mouth before she could take those, away, too.
“You know I’m joking,” Sirius amended with a smile. “It’s no small wonder why I’m constantly dropping by during mealtimes.”
“You should have invited your brother over,” Lily replied, sliding back into the chair next to James. Earlier in the afternoon, Sirius had rather insensitively settled himself between Remus and Tonks at the table, as a small but effective way of irritating his cousin (an opportunity he rarely passed up if he could help it), but upon seeing how hard Tonks was trying to acclimate herself with James, Lily, and himself, he’d subtly excused himself to the loo for a minute and when he returned, he’d slipped into another chair unnoticed. As much as he loved getting under Tonks’s skin, he truly wanted her to fit in well with the rest of his family.
Sirius waved a hand, shrugging. “He’s at the pub, playing cards with Phineas Nigellus – who’s a right cheat, I’ll tell you. Phineas stations Dilys Derwent directly behind whoever he’s playing against so that they can both disappear into their Hogwarts portraits and discuss card details.”
“That’s all right, I cheat, too,” James said pleasantly. “My Invisibility Cloak isn’t quite as infallible as the one I used to have, but it gets the job done.” He jutted a thumb at Lily. “And this one just changes everyone’s cards around, muttering spells under the table.”
“Not true,” she clucked, but no one believed her.
Sirius glanced around the table, his mouth turning up into in a soft smile. It filled him with a radiating warmth to witness the effort, to feel the gaps in the air knit themselves together when Lily carefully complimented Tonks’s new hairstyle and when Tonks expressed interest in James’s tales of accidentally swallowing some of his father’s prized memories when he was a child (apparently they had been very old and valuable, and once belonged to Adalbert Hufflepuff).
For the first time in a long time – since Sirius was young and whole and alive – he felt at peace. Everything was going to be okay, and not because he wanted it and willed it, but because that was the natural course their situation had taken. Despite their many differences, they had built a common ground out of midair, finding a way to salvage their friendships. Sirius did not think he would ever complain about anything ever again.
He’d forgotten what it was like to be living. After his death, he was keen to smooth over recollections of a life mostly divided between a childhood home he hated – Grimmauld Place – and Azkaban. He was shut away in small, suffocating spaces, but he’d never shut down himself.
He’d nearly gone mad. He’d wished many times that he could find a switch in himself and turn it off so that he would be immune to the ever-present knowledge that he was trapped, that his existence was one horror right after the other. But always, always, there was that undying hope. It never went out.
He’d been publicly denounced as a mad mass-murderer who killed his own friends, his reputation beaten and bruised by newspaper articles, word of mouth, and the icy glares of those who’d once been his friends. Therefore, Sirius Black did not take his freedom for granted. In Cliodna’s Clock, there was no Voldemort. There was no Grimmauld Place or Azkaban, and he didn’t have to hide inside a house that made him ill with resentment, with bitterness.
He was so ecstatic, so happy to be reunited with everyone he’d loved – except for Harry, of course – but everyone else. He was reunited not just with James and Lily but also the Prewetts and the McKinnons, and so many others he’d read about in history but never dreamed he’d meet, and actually do mundane things like share a tea with them – and he was so ready to really live again that it was easy to ignore the worries his friends kept with them at all times.
After hearing about little Teddy Lupin, Sirius was forced to recognize that Teddy was a real person, not a faraway memory. He could not expect Remus and Tonks to share the blissful verve that he was bursting with, that he treasured above anything else because he knew what it was like to lose it, and they could not claim the sort of life he’d forged for himself here. For once, Sirius was whole and happy and on his way to being young again, but his friends were not. He was starting to see that James and Lily were not, either, no matter what he would prefer to believe on the contrary.
Sirius knew and appreciated how short life on earth really was. Someday, with patience, Harry and Teddy would be with their parents again. Sirius understood that this would not bring about the sort of peace that the Lupins and the Potters craved – because Harry and Teddy would undoubtedly leave loved ones behind themselves. This idea of peace deceived them all. One generation would not be content until the next generation joined them, and the cycle would continue and continue forever.
While Sirius could enjoy the here and now, pacified with the unavoidable truth that life spans were not so very long and if they only exercised patience, they would all be reunited eventually, a little bit at a time, he knew that his friends did not yet see it that way. They were still bound to earth in ways that Sirius had learned to let go of. Their hearts were not completely present.
Sirius knew that his perspective could be misconstrued as ignorance or willful discourtesy, trodding on the feelings of others in his annoying predisposition to be satisfied about everything, to focus on the bigger picture – the inevitable, the future. In the grand scheme of things, all is well, so why make yourselves so miserable now? All you can do is live, and wait, in the meantime.
He had a habit of selectively forgetting certain bits of his past: The years between James’s death and his liberation from prison were blurry, the individual days coagulating together into one long mass that couldn’t be dissected anymore, broken down. These years, however gloomy, however painful, were essential to who Sirius had become. If it were not for those iron bars, those walls that enslaved him for so long, he would not be able to cherish his freedom. He would not be forever on the lookout for silver linings buried under tragedies. He learned this way, the hard way, that there was always room for optimism no matter what the conditions looked like.
He was thirty-six, would always be thirty-six, and he was coming to terms with the fact that this was not such a negative thing. He must appreciate those borrowed years, every single one of them, instead of trying to deny them with the delusions of youth. There were events in James’s life that Sirius had not been a part of, just as there were many events in Sirius’s life that the Potters had not been privy to except for summarized hearsay from Cassandra Trelawney’s mouth. They did not have to have parallel histories in order to still be close friends.
Sirius’s eyes locked on Remus’s and the latter offered him a smile of understanding, both of them wordlessly relishing the smiles Lily and Tonks exchanged, the incredible difference in each of their attitudes since the conclusion of Round Three. With James and Lily out of the tournament and only Tonks remaining from their pool of friends, all allegiance automatically switched to her. There was such a concentrated outpouring of affection, of hopes, support, and well-wishes, that it was impossible not to feel that vibrant new energy coursing through all of them, pulling them together as they always ought to have been.
There were moments that had passed and mattered and moments that didn’t; Sirius lived in every single one of them with the upmost gratefulness while his friends trudged along, grappling blindly in the darkness. They did not quite understand the beauty of someday as he was able to, but that did not matter. All they had was today, and Sirius was happy to share that with them.
“Best of luck,” Lily said to Tonks. Her smile was genuine.
“Thank you,” Tonks returned quietly, and Sirius could tell that she was extremely pleased.
As Tonks and Remus edged towards the front door, Sirius stood up, as well. “Hedwig’ll be wondering where I am,” he told them with an air of boastfulness.
Lily rolled her eyes. After learning that Harry’s owl was in Cliodna’s Clock, Lily retrieved the bird and tried to get her to stay with them in the Potter house. However, Sirius had visited them two days later. Hedwig of course recognized him instantly, having flown between him and Harry many times over, and took a shine to his company. She now lived in the Blacks’ cottage, where Regulus was trying to teach her how to tap dance (with surprisingly tremendous results).
Through the sitting room window, a hunch-backed figure looked on at them with longing in his watery eyes. Peter Pettigrew knew that scattered amidst the someday and the today the five of them volleyed between, there was no room for the long-lost past in their circle.
A stack of Colin Creevey’s photographs blew across the village, nestled in a basket tied to a red balloon. The balloon swept over the Lupins’ roof, unnoticed by the couple entering through their front door. It nearly turned upside down when it blew past the back door of Taffet’s Trunk, buffeted all about by a gust of hot air.
The air streamed through vents behind Taffet’s row of ovens, each of them simmering with batches of treacle tart. Taffet was experimenting with a new recipe in preparation for the thirty-first of July, Harry Potter’s widely-celebrated birthday. Treacle tart was a wildly popular pudding of choice for the past several years, after it was revealed to be Harry’s favorite.
The balloon spun in circles, temporarily ensnaring itself in a holly tree pruned into a giraffe that climbed the twinkling sky; the sky itself was an astounding shade of ultramarine, as though it had been painted by someone who had not seen the heavens in a very long time and had forgotten what it looked like.
The balloon freed itself from the tree and plowed onward, weaving its way between tombstones in the Memory Garden. Crickets hopped over each other in the hard dirt, trying to avoid touching the sunburned ground. The balloon was buoyed to the right from a sudden spray of water coming out of someone’s hosepipe, and then buoyed left again when a passing owl beat it away with the gales it left behind from the force of its wings.
It was then popped by the tip of a wand Henry Montgomery snatched from Anne Marie McKinnon’s front porch. As he watched the rubber deflate, grinning delightedly with sticky ice cream stains all around his five-year-old mouth, the basket attached to the balloon freed itself, riding on the slipstream created by air gushing out of the shriveling balloon.
The photographs inside came tumbling out, most of them blowing sideways into Anne Marie’s garden. One of them, however, leapt into a current of wind and was carried onward, flying in curlicues across gardens and porches and roads, slipping between the shivering branches of trees. It skimmed just above the cobblestones, fluttering with life, until the heel of someone’s shoe smashed it.
The shoe drew back, its owner pausing mid-step.
As he lifted the photograph to face-level, aligning precisely over the Potters’ sitting room window, Severus Snape felt a tug of resignation. Upon first glance, he thought the man in the picture was Harry, but it wasn’t. It was James.
He was grinning, of course, because anyone would be hard-pressed to capture a moment when James wasn’t smiling about one thing or another. He wasn’t carrying a wand, just like he hadn’t been carrying one on the night he told Lily to save herself and their son, that he would hold off the Dark Lord for a few precious seconds to give them time. “Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him! Go! Run! I’ll hold him off.”
Take Harry and run.
The words Severus listened to second-hand echoed in his mind, sifting like dust over the last of his feebly flickering anger. How many times had he heard the Dark Lord boast about it, rejoicing in the way James Potter was so easily defeated? How many times had Severus gloried in the knowledge that in the end, James was not as skilled as he appeared, not as clever? Severus was the better wizard, or so he had thought. He’d told himself that while Lily’s death had been an abomination, James’s was inevitable, almost deserved; he hadn’t been holding a wand. He was practically asking for it.
If their roles had been reversed, would Severus have carried his wand with him to the door? Would his mind and thoughts not have been walking up the stairs while Lily did, cradling their son? James’s first instinct was to make a human barrier out of himself, with no regard for his own protection. All that mattered was Lily and Harry, at the very end of James’s life. In his last seconds. With his last breaths.
There was a moment where Severus felt his heart constrict, and then the flame was gone. It blew away in smoke that could not be distinguished against the ultramarine sky, inhaled into a setting sun by its invisible mouth.
He watched the husband and wife’s profiles embracing through the window, just over the tip of the photograph where a defenseless James Potter was now studying Severus with a perceptive expression.
Severus died for Lily, who died for Harry. And James had been the first of them, dying for both Lily and Harry. His parting gift to her was the final few minutes that she needed to say goodbye to her son, inadvertently cloaking him with ancient, protective magic. James walked right into death’s arms, giving her what she needed.
What she needed. Time, precious time. Severus had never given thought to the fleeting moments between James’s death and Lily’s, but he saw now that it had made all the difference in the world: The difference between a third name on their tombstone in Godric's Hollow – a dead child slain in his nursery as the Dark Lord intended – and the boy with the scar on his forehead. Dumbledore was right, after all. Love was everything.
The photograph had become so blurry under Severus’s gaze that the smiling figure had come to resemble Harry again.
Feeling like he had been torn in two, something took hold of Severus’s direction and coaxed him forward, leading him across grass decorated with flowers that Lily had pruned herself, helping each little plant thrive and grow. His shoes made no noise against the stone steps, his heart strangely quiet as he raised his fist to the Potters’ front door and knocked.
When James’s face appeared behind the silver mesh, Severus halfway hoped that he wouldn’t open it; but James pushed the door open, his eyes alight with cautious curiosity rather than loathing. This might have been due to Severus’s palpable vulnerability, emphasized with the deep dejection searing throughout every inch of his countenance. And when Severus spoke, his voice was lacking its usual venom: “May I come in?”
Baffled, James wordlessly held the door open for his visitor. Severus fumbled into the sitting room, feeling his cheeks sting with ugly red blotches as his eyes found Lily’s. She stood between the sitting room and the kitchen, one foot in either room, as if she might sprint off in the opposite direction at any given second.
Feeling not at all like himself, and with no idea why he had knocked or what he was going to do, Severus waited for James to shut the door, staring at the carpet. He could feel James and Lily throwing quick glances at each other, communicating silently.
“So…” James began when it seemed that Severus had not yet found his voice. “What are…well…” His hand slid through the back of his hair, ruffling it. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?”
Severus had to swallow a hot retort, reminding himself that this was not the James he once knew. There was no sarcasm in James’s tone, and although Severus was sure he did not mistake a sort of displeasure that hung in the air surrounding James, now was not the time to reignite old rivalries. Some quarrels must stay dead. Severus had resolved to leave his behind him, buried on earth with the man who’d been bitten by the Dark Lord’s snake.
“I wanted to say…”
Severus’s eyes roved desperately back over Lily’s, simultaneously thrilled at their close proximity and horrified. She was still gaping at him, although she’d closed her mouth, and her eyes were large and unblinking. It suddenly occurred to Severus how strange it must seem, for Severus to interrupt their evening with a knock at the door, inviting himself into their home and then proceed to stare at James’s wife while not speaking.
“I wanted to apologize.”
Lily remained stationary, face unchanging, but James replied, “Apologize?” He stepped forward, studying Severus in exactly the same way that his photographic likeness had done just minutes ago.
Severus had dreamed of this, he had wanted this, to be in the same room as Lily, to be given his chance to speak to her. But now, here in the flesh, with his dreams fusing at long last with reality, Severus had eyes for no one but the man with the glasses and black hair, the vision of his son. Severus felt tears well up in his eyes – hot and ashamed. He hastened to wipe them away, hating whatever was going on inside of him, tearing his resolution apart, but he couldn’t resist the sensation that everything, everything he once knew was melting, and he would drown in it if he didn’t find a way out.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
Lily’s fixation darted between Severus and James, the heel of her left foot still trapped in the kitchen. The sight of her would’ve been comical had the situation been different, for she looked like a ballerina about to fall, but she somehow remained motionless, just watching and listening.
James’s eyes reflected the astonishment Severus felt. For a very long time, no one uttered a single word. And then, a great many ticks of the clock later, James managed to say, “It’s quite all right.” He didn’t elaborate. He didn’t have to ask what Severus meant. He already knew.
Embarrassed, Severus cleared his throat and cut his eyes over to Lily’s, heart thrumming. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, his voice so thin and small that it could have popped. “For the…” He cleared his throat. “For the prophecy, everything about it and my involvement.”
Some time went by, with James gazing at him expectantly, and with the last of Severus’s dignity dissolving, he added, “I apologize for what happened to your son, as well.” As if afraid that she wouldn’t believe him, he opened his hands toward her, forehead lined with distress. “I do not expect your forgiveness, but I am sorry.”
Lily nodded. “I know you are.”
The tension in the room was painful. “Here.” Severus cleared his throat again and dug around in his pocket, thankful for something to do besides stand there looking like an idiot, and proffered a photograph.
Lily stared at the small, unassuming thing as though it might explode, heart hurting as she reacquainted herself with the familiar papery tone of Severus’s white flesh. He was aged, and he was lined, but he was the man who helped her child defeat Voldemort and she had never once questioned his ability to keep Harry alive. Glancing furtively at James to make sure that he didn’t have any objections, Lily’s arm reached out and she accepted the photo from him, careful not to touch Severus’s skin as she did so. She feared he might break if they made physical contact.
“I’m – I’m sorry, too,” she offered quietly, unable to look at anything but the blank plastic back of the picture. “And thank you.” She tried to fill those few words with as much warmth, meaning, and appreciation as possible, since she could barely breathe through all the strain in the room, the surging emotion. “Thank you for everything. You saved my son, which is something we cannot begin to dream of repaying.”
The ‘we’, referencing herself and her husband, did not hurt as much as Severus expected.
He felt his chest relax. He knew James’s eyes were trained on him, narrowed like a hawk’s, and that this might be his only chance to say whatever he wanted, to live in this short space of time. However, none of his thoughts from a lifetime ago occurred to him, none of the long soliloquies, the impassioned speeches expressing his rehearsed love. Instead, all he said was, “Do you remember it?” He nodded at the photograph, and only then did Lily remember that she was holding something in her hands.
“Oh.” She looked at it for several seconds before truly absorbing it. “Oh.” She jerked her head back up again, face full of wonder. “Yes. How did you…?”
It was the white oak tree, the picture she had taken when they were children.
“No idea,” he responded, surprised by the casual way he spoke to her, addressing her as easily as he did when he was eleven. It felt effortless, but still not quite right. It wasn’t like he imagined it would be – she might only have been a very familiar stranger, their paths crossing naturally and without premeditation.
“I found it the other day, in a park here.” His eyes glittered, body lurching forward unconsciously while the heels of his feet lifted off the ground. “It’s here.” He sounded like a boy again, phoning Lily to discuss the witches. “Parasol Park is real, Lily. It’s just like the one we played in as children, but it has the same name as the park from the storybook.”
“That’s impossible.” Her musical laugh spilled through the air, pouring down Severus’s throat like a replenishing potion. But it didn’t rouse any romantic or wistful images; he could think only of their childhood, of the summit of happiness he had known and cherished when he was young. All of it was due directly to the young woman standing in front of him. His eternal silver lining.
“This is…” She gaped at it, marveling. “This is incredible. It feels impossible to believe, but not really, when you think about it.” She surveyed him with her lovely gaze, slipping back into their friendly pattern of long, long ago. “If anyone could recover something like this here in Cliodna’s Clock, it’s you. You always did happen upon the strangest things.”
Severus felt his eyes crinkling, a foreign smile twisting his lips. “But you do remember it, don’t you? I wasn’t sure if you would. Remember how you used to bury things there?”
Lily was still smiling, but she blinked, evidently puzzled. “Bury things where?”
His smile fell somewhat. Maybe she didn’t remember after all? “The sandbox. You used to hide things in the sandbox for me to come find later…” He gestured to the photograph. “That, for instance.”
James watched and listened, allowing them the illusion of privacy while staying put right where he was.
Lily’s eyebrows knit together, but her smile was still genuine. Severus loved the sight of it, seeing her happy – and it was all because of him. She was smiling because of him, and it didn’t matter that it wasn’t a smile of romantic love. It was a smile. Severus would take it, take it and be grateful. “Yes, I did bury stuff there all the time,” she admitted freely, “but not this particular photograph.” She held it back out for him to take, held tight between thumb and forefinger. “This was yours. You held onto it for heaven knows how long. I never did understand why you liked it so much, carrying it around all the time like you did.”
Severus’s heart stuttered in his chest. “But you…but you hid it there. You put it in the sandbox, that’s how I found it.”
She shook her head. “No, Severus. I didn’t.”
A/N: The line “Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him! Go! Run! I’ll hold him off.” is from page 343 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling, USA edition.