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Vague Memories and Dusty Photographs by Romina Stephanie
Chapter 1: Vague Memories and Dusty Photographs
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Disclaimer: Everything you recognize isn't mine, but J.K. Rowling's.
Author's Note: This could be seen as a continuation of Stars Shining Bright. In any case, I must say that I'm very proud of this piece and I hope you readers will like it. Lastly, a big thank you to Indigo Seas at the HPFF forums for editing.
All that I ever was
Is here in your perfect eyes,
They're all I can see
- Snow Patrol, Chasing Cars
Last time she'd sat there, by the lake, the moon had shone radiantly above her and the stars had gleamed wickedly. Early spring had been upon them, encouraging the buds to grow and to blossom. At this point though, the seasons had once again changed, the transition barely noticeable and, dipping the horizon and slowly hiding behind the monstrous mountains, was the late summer sun, scalding and brilliant. It bathed the landscape in its golden and rosy light and reflected off the surface of the restless lake, descending in a steady pace. If there was anything Lily Evans would miss, it would be the summer sunsets at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The ancient beech tree cast some shadow over her features, preventing the brightness of the sun to force her to close her eyes. She looked upon the stretching scenery before her with a wistful smile, pondering the questions of life and death, and hoping with all her might that things would soon happen for the better. She didn't know what she'd do if the looming war got worse, knowing that her worry would only weaken her, until there was no bravery and strength of her heart left in her. Wanting to forget, if only for a moment, the war and the horrors it had brought with it these last couple of months, Lily deliberately thought of James Potter. She ordered his features to the front of her mind, feeling, in that moment, that she could do anything she ever wanted as long as he was by her side.
It hadn't been long after their unintentional rendezvous under the stars had taken place that Lily, after many months (and years), had finally agreed to accompany James to a trip to Hogsmeade. Quite predictably, she had been very nervous as she'd stood observing herself in the mirror, clad in a regular tee shirt and worn jeans. Her hair had hung freely, dark auburn at the time, and she had cursed the day he had first noticed her. Doubts filling her mind and clouding her senses, she wondered why he, of all people, would actually be serious about this. But then, as she walked down the staircase and caught sight of him in the common-room, nervously biting his lower lip, her doubts had vanished. He looked just about as uneasy as she felt. In the end, to the surprise of them both, they had gone for hours without bickering (perhaps some light teasing) and not once had he made her want to rip her hair off in exasperation. All in all, a successful first date.
To be sure, after the third date – a stroll at night under the Invisibility Cloak (yes, he had a bad influence on her) – and their first lip-lock that had prevented her from getting a good night's sleep, jittery until the very next kiss and the next, there had been several quarrels and curses, but astonishingly, they would always find their way back to each other and promise not to fight ever again. Neither would quite realize that the bickering was half the fun.
But the final months had passed too quickly, and while she had never loved as fiercely in her life, she wished she could turn back the hands of time all the way back to first year, not being ready at all to take the leap into the wide world that awaited, unpredictable, beyond the walls and gates of Hogwarts.
Lily, suddenly jerking awake at the sound of snapping twigs, didn't even know she'd drifted off, and looked around herself in a disoriented manner. She was very surprised to see that the sun had vanished, and that the rosy glow had been replaced by a light shade of lilac, dusk now engulfing the grounds. When things came into focus and she realized where she was, she noticed the approaching figure and rolled her eyes. Always incredibly careless.
"Lils!" James called merrily, but the smile was wiped off his handsome features once he saw the look on his girlfriend's face. "What?" he asked stupidly, and she groaned in frustration.
"You scared me! Here I am, half-asleep and you don't even consider the dried twigs that will jerk me awake and thus scaring me half to death!" she rambled, and he looked at her with amusement.
"My dearest Lily," he grinned affectionately, and decided that it was clear to approach her by then. She had gotten her angry rambles out of her system, in any case.
Lily didn't say another word, trying, but failing, to glare at him with stern eyes. He looked so happy (and good-looking) that it was impossible to stay mad for long. His charm had, after many, many years, swept her off her feet entirely. Upon reaching her, James took his seat beside her and put an arm around her shoulders, kissing her hair and breathing her in. Lily happily leaned into his kiss and grabbed hold of his hand that had tugged at her upper arm and indicated for her to snuggle closer, entwining their fingers.
They sat in silence for several minutes, neither feeling the urge to speak, wishing instead to listen to the whispers of the wind, the chirpings of birds and the rustlings of leaves. Occasionally, they would spot the Giant Squid rest his tentacles lazily above the water and thus hear the sound that it causes when its surface is disrupted. Dusk was slowly giving way to night and as Lily glanced up at the darkening sky, she could see that the brightest star had already appeared. It was impossible for her not to remember the many nights she had sat there, and how James had with her on such a night, not long ago. It made her think of all those students, all those lovers and friends that had sat there or taken a stroll alongside the lake, as vivid to her as James was sitting beside her. Then she thought of the coming students and lovers and friends and hoped that they would feel as happy as she felt in that moment, and that they, without a war or not, learnt to appreciate the little moments and little details that would, in the end, distinguish a life. For a moment, she felt envious of the stars to have witnessed such wonder.
Feeling a bit downcast, Lily asked a question that had lingered in her head for several weeks.
"James," she began, and he hummed in response, no doubt having drifted off himself. "James, are you awake?" she continued (which wasn't the question), but when he didn't respond, she sat up straighter and pecked his cheek. "Now, wake up," she said, and James smiled.
"Nope," he said, eyes still closed, a mischievous smile curling at the side of his mouth. Lily chuckled and placed a rather cold hand on his cheek, a tiny stubble tickling her fingertips.
"What must I do for you to open your eyes then, Mr. Potter?" she asked, and James's smile became much more apparent. She knew it would come, of course it would, but she feigned surprise when he said light-heartedly, "Kiss me." She gasped and he chuckled, and then she kissed him and he kissed her back tenderly.
He, at long last, did open his eyes and when he noticed Lily's pensive expression, asked, "What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing much. It's just... This is our final day here, and tomorrow we take off..." she began, and he looked questioningly at her. She lowered her gaze and he grabbed her hand, squeezing it, letting her know that he was there for her, and would always be. Gathering her courage, she raised her gaze again and asked the one question she dreaded the answer to.
"Are you scared?"
James, taken quite off guard by her question, gazed into her almond shaped eyes, emanating so much worry and gloom that he contemplated lying to her, if only to ease her troubles. But lying to her would do neither any good; if they were to overcome their fears, they would have to face those dead on. And besides, fear was essential to find the strength that would help them defeat everything that prevented them from moving forward.
"Truth be told, Lily... Yes, I am," he began, but stopped and thought next of what to say in order to help her look upon the future more sanguinely. She had lowered her eyes, perhaps to hide the tears in them, but James, not wanting her to close herself off, stretched his hand and placed it under her chin, raising her head. "But," he continued, and Lily's eyes were filled with sudden hope, "I know that as long as we're together, we being the Marauders and us, Lils, I know we'll be okay. We'll fight until the very end, but we won't ever be alone. And I take comfort in that," he finished, and she, not being able to avoid it, allowed a tear or two set trails down her flushed cheeks.
If it was something he couldn't bear witnessing, it was her tears. Not that they scared him off – quite the contrary. He always felt the urge of wanting to protect her from her sadness, but knew that he couldn't entirely. Alleviate, maybe, but never cure. And feeling hopeless or vulnerable was not something James was comfortable with. Not knowing what else to do, or to say, he cupped her cheeks in his broad hands and kissed her forehead, hoping that things would, eventually, turn out for the better. He constantly put off the thought that their days in Hogwarts would be the best and happiest time of their lives, knowing that it was impossible to relive them, their vague memories and dusty photographs being all that they would ever have left.
Instead, he stared beyond the war – their horizon – and saw their blissful faces, a goal worth fighting for. He saw himself on a weathered porch, hands locked with Lily's, watching their children grow and learn of the beauty of life, with their uncles for visits at intervals, recounting tales and making them laugh. That was his recurring, most vivid dream.
Night fell upon them at last, some final strands of light by the horizon, but the winds had turn chilly and stars scattered across the vaults of heaven, making Lily sigh contentedly. She knew he was right – they would overcome whatever trials and tribulations as long as they were together. She looked up at James and never wanted another man to stand by her, and, without knowing what got over her, she voiced her inner question without so much as a hesitation.
"Will you marry me someday, James?"
Catching him off guard yet another time in the last twenty-five minutes, James glanced down at Lily with the most perplexed face she'd ever seen, and naturally, realizing a bit too late of the true meaning of her words, blushed a fierce crimson.
"James, I'm, I – I don't know what got -" she began blurting and pulled back from his body, the absence of it leaving her cold and insecure.
"Yes, Lily. I will marry you someday," he said, and she stopped muttering incoherent words, not knowing what to say. Her rationality had just come over her and thoughts similar to We're seventeen, we can't get married! and It'll be doomed to end before it begins! and I'll probably make one foul-looking bride! ran through her mind, her eyes seemingly far away and biting her lower lip in anxiety.
"Unless you change your mind...?" James said, making it sound less than a question and more like a fact, and looked at Lily with eyes she had no chance to interpret. She stared back, taking in his features, taking in his entire being, from the mane of untamable black hair to his hazel eyes and the sharpness of his jaw, and his fairly well-built body and lovely, contoured hands, every patch of skin being an embodiment of everything she had ever wished for in anyone: strength of heart and of mind, benevolence to the point of being overwhelmed and utter bravery, perhaps to the point of carelessness.
Of course she would marry him.
"No," she said, and James, trying his best not to show how much that word affected him, kept his cool and asked, "No to what?"
"I didn't change my mind. I never will," she said with a small smile, and chuckled when he exhaled in relief.
"Merlin, Lily, you can't drop a bomb like that and then consider the meaning of this afterward, leaving me hanging by a thin thread -" If he meant to continue on rambling or not, she would never know, seeing as she closed their distance and kissed him full on the lips, tender and loving at first, growing passionate and explorative and turning again into feathery pecks. With one hand on her cheek, the other placed firmly on her waist, he turned his kisses to her nose, eyelids, forehead, chin and jaw-line, awakening butterflies that swarmed inside her belly, spreading throughout her entire body. She put her arms around his neck, breathing heavily as he traced his lips down her neck, to her collarbone.
With one last peck, he raised his head and locked her lips in one final kiss and then said, "I love you, Lils," a genuine smile upon his lips, his eyes shining with what she detected as happiness and lust.
"And I love you," she said, turning to face the scenery which was lain under darkness and silence for one final time. "Let's go," she continued as she said a silent goodbye to the place that held so many moments, tales untold, mysteries unfolded.
James had followed her gaze, and perhaps he'd done the same thing at the end. He rose first, helping her get up and then enclosing her in a firm embrace. Lily raised her eyebrows and as they pulled back, she asked him as to why she'd had the honour.
"Ah well, we're practically engaged," he said lightly, and she still looked puzzled.
"Practically?" she repeated, and he grabbed hold of her left hand.
"I owe you a ring," he said, and she chuckled as they began their return to the castle, having all the time in the world.
"That's very considerate of you, but I don't need one. Not until we marry," she confessed, and he feigned disbelief.
"Don't need one! Lily Evans, soon-to-hopefully-be-Potter, we'll do things the right way," he joked, and she playfully hit his arm.
"Ouch," he laughed, but then went serious again and grabbed her hand. "You know I'm teasing, love," he said and she threatened in a would-be threatening voice hadn't she been so blissfully happy, "You better be, James Potter," to which he laughed.
And with hands locked, they could be seen walking up toward the mighty castle and its thousands of alighted windows, not worried of what the future was about to bring, but embracing, in that instant, all that they would have to face along their paths.
Here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
And the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
Higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
And this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)
- E.E. Cummings
"You are glowing, dear," her mother said, and Lily, for a moment, could see what she meant. She had never before in her life been so utterly nervous – not even when she had first stepped onto Platform 9 ¾, waiting for her new adventure to start. The one that would eventually lead her to James. Of course, she knew why she'd been as calm as one could be then. She'd had her best friend with her, he who knew so much and had taught her most of what she'd known about Hogwarts at that time. At the thought of Severus, whom she had successfully kept away from her consciousness the last couple of years, she shook her head, resolute on thinking on who was waiting for her to walk down the aisle probably that very instant.
"Really?" she couldn't help but ask, and her mother, along with Dorea Potter, just nodded and beamed tearfully before starting to fuss over the veil again.
Lily had been surprised when she first met Dorea and Charlus Potter, an aging couple that had been very excited at finally meeting her, saying that, "James has talked so much of you, it feels like we already know each other," causing James to go red and look at her ruefully. Dorea had the same eyes James had, she'd noticed, while James took after the built of body and features of his father. She remembered the day as though it was yesterday, and she smiled at the memory: the chatting and the laughter.
Returning to the present, Lily observed herself in the mirror. She wore a plain, but elegant dress, its layers touching the linoleum of the Potter Manor. It was tight across her bosom, a rosy coloured ribbon just beneath them, firmly holding the entire design of the dress in place. It wasn't the regular white, but more cream than anything, going well – for once – with her auburn hair, the peach-coloured and white roses in the bouquet going well with the overall appearance. She chose no veil to hide her face, never being fond it, but thought that maybe it would do her some good, seeing as she was very flushed, two pink blotches strewn across her cheeks. Lily concluded she looked like normal, expect for the dress and the mascara, make-up being something she rarely used. Her hair, longer than it had ever been, rested either against her back or against her shoulders. Having wanted something different, but not overdone, she had wished for her bangs to be plaited and drawn back from her face, attached by an old clasp in the form of a butterfly, revealing the contours of her delicate features.
"Lily, dear, it's about time," the gentle voice of Dorea Potter alleged and Lily, having been studying herself carefully for the first, and probably last, time, flattened out the dress and then grabbed the bouquet of flowers her mother had taken from her to swiftly rearrange. The anxiety returning, she tried to breathe in through her nose and out of her mouth, learning that it was to no avail. Her head was, figuratively speaking, all over the place.
"Evie, dear, where is she?" she heard her father exclaim stressfully, and Lily, hearing the first song begin to play, let out a yelp and called, before her mother could answer her father, "I'm here, I'm here!" and rushed past her mother, who looked indignant.
"Lily, you'll ruin your dress," she chastised, but when Lily dared look at her mother, the expression softened immediately. "My baby is getting married!" she simply stated afterwards, and kissed her daughter on both cheeks.
"I'll see you out there," she said, and then waited for Dorea to kiss Lily's forehead, and together, they walked down the stairs hurriedly and walked out the back doors, where the little gathering of their closest friends – mainly the Order – had gathered to see her be wed to James, once and for all.
"Where is Dorcas?" asked Lily when she noticed the absence of her only bride's maid, but Graham Evans didn't have the opportunity to reply, seeing as Dorcas Meadows turned up as if on cue. Dorcas, a frivolous girl turned into a merry woman, looked exceptionally beautiful with her short, brown locks framing her face, the golden dress she wore knee-length, revealing tanned legs. Lily felt, for a brief second a stab of jealousy, but which vanished when the marital song began its first chord.
She literally lost track of everything – the music in the background, what month it was, the worry in her heart – as she stepped out into the early autumn afternoon, overwhelmed by the sight of people and the sheer beauty of the orchard. And then, naturally, her eyes sought James, who looked quite dazed next to the Ministry employee who would, in less that forty seconds, finally tie the knot between the two. James was clad in black, elegant dress robes, the ceremony being a magical one, since she hadn't invited any of her relatives besides her parents and her sister (who, as expected, never showed).
But nothing mattered as she took him in, tall and glasses a little lopsided, his hair an impossible mess, but with such an ardent expression on his handsome features that she fell in love with him all over again. Next thing she knew, James was taking a step or two in her direction and was followed by her father, embracing her and shaking James's hand warmly, soon after allowing James to grab hold of his bride's hands, leading her to stand in front to the Minister employee. His hold on her was all that kept her from not falling.
The frail-looking old man was speaking but she wasn't entirely listening, looking with a joyful smile up at James, equally joyous, with eyes gleaming with disbelief.
And before she knew it, James lowered his head to kiss her and she happily kissed back. They were officially declared bonded for life.
While the war raged beyond the walls and protective charms of Godric's Hollow, James and Lily fought with any means possible alongside the Order, trying, and mostly failing, to keep evil at bay, all the while handling married life. Therefore, it came as a shock to the two of them when Lily revealed that she was pregnant with their first child, seeing as they were both careful with contraception, neither comfortable with bringing a child into a world so unsafe and unpredictable.
Still, they wouldn't have it any other way, thinking that maybe having a son or a daughter would be just what they needed: a pinprick of light break through the thick darkness to lead them. Lily could, when James had finally wrapped his head around becoming a father, not decide who was more excited about the baby that, with each second, grew inside her womb: the father or the godfather. In any case, it made her happy to see him, them – both Sirius and Remus, and Peter too, she guessed, because he hadn't been around much as of late – cheerful, reassuring her to no end. She had never before felt so terrified and vulnerable in her life.
One evening in particular, when she sat in her flowery couch in front of the fire, feet propped up on a stool, the baby kicking mercilessly, she was remembering her times at Hogwarts, feeling as though it had been a different lifetime, absentmindedly caressing her nearly eight-month worth of a belly. She remembered the first time she laid eyes on Hogwarts, the first time she and Severus had their initial class (Potions), the very first time James actually noticed her (not for being friends with Severus this time, but for being a girl, apparently), amongst many. She thought back, her memories vague, as though seen from a filthy looking-glass and wondered about her place in this existence, her meaning in life. She wanted so desperately to make her mark upon this world, this place full of magic and wonder that went beyond complicated spells and incantations. There was so much more than that, rooted into the very roots of the earth.
Her musings were interrupted by the merry, crackling fire turning green in the hearth, revealing a fully materialized James dusting soot off his travelling cloak. Lily's face brightened without realizing it upon his arrival, relieved that he had finally come home to help her chase her philosophical thoughts away.
"James!" she exclaimed and made an attempt to rise, but James wouldn't hear of it.
"No, no, don't get up, love," he reprimanded softly, and took off his cloak and threw it on one of the armchairs as he walked to where his wife was seated. He kissed her and while he was still close enough, Lily took her chance to wipe off a stain on his – for once – smooth cheeks.
"There," she said and James smiled coyly. He took his seat beside her and she snuggled happily against his chest, the warmth and security he emitted being enough to send her demons away.
He hugged her closer to him and said, "So tell me... What's bothering you?" a rueful smile curving at the corner of his mouth, his glasses a little lopsided and eyes behind the spectacles concerned.
Lily simply sighed, not feeling like talking about matters of life and death, especially not death, since they had lost so many dear lives already. If there was something they tried to not mention at Godric's Hollow, it was death, doing all they could to leave it behind at Headquarters. So Lily chose not to answer his question, knowing that he would not press the matter (he had learnt that much over the last three years they had lived together) and certain that if it would keep troubling her, she would come to him. She decided instead to reply with a question herself.
"Why won't you go and get the photographs we have stored, James? I've wanted to see them all day, but I've been too tired to get them myself. The baby is really kicking today," she finished, and glanced at James with what she hoped would be a pleading and cute expression.
"Has he now? Well, yeah, sure, I'll be right back," was his response to that, and soon after he returned with a familiar box. She clapped her hands in excitement, scooting over some more to allow James to place the box in between them. She opened the dusty lid and put it away on their coffee table, hastily. Both she and James removed a stack of moving photographs, dusty and a bit withered at their sides. Lily, feeling her heart swell as she took in a picture of the Marauders right before graduation, gave it to James, who accepted it with not so much as a word.
"Wow... It feels like another lifetime," he said as he observed the four young boys, seemingly carefree and excited about what was to come. His heart sunk when he realized that they hadn't laughed like it appeared they were doing in the picture in ages. Hell, they didn't even look the same: no constant frown on their foreheads, no tiredness, not this worn face they wore day in and out, fighting without getting anywhere in the bloody war.
Lily noticed the sudden silence and looked up from a picture of Dorcas and her. When she noticed James's pensive expression, she said, "We should frame it. Perhaps it'll make you remember those days more clearly and you could take it from there."
James was unsure if he knew what she meant – the take it from there part – but he agreed wholeheartedly that they should frame it. If anything, it was a picture that represented freedom. And that was what they sought every single day.
There were photos there dating back to their second and third year at Hogwarts, and even pictures dating back to when they were but babies, some moving, the others not. They would sit in front of the hearty fire and either tease each other, or try to guess how their baby would look like by drawing conclusions from their own baby pictures, or discuss the coming raids and reports of the Order, a topic which they held off as long as possible, but that could never be entirely avoided.
"I can't wait to see him," said James after several minutes of silence, wanting to distract his wife and erase the tension of the war that hung heavily above their heads. What better way than to mention their baby?
"Or her," Lily reminded, and glanced up at James. Their eyes met and next thing they knew, they were chuckling.
"But yeah, I know what you mean. Can't wait to meet our baby," she concluded.
Lily – her hair a bright auburn and her cheeks flushed – and James – glasses lopsided and hair on end – remained seated on their couch into the late hours of the night, and slept until the wee hours of morning, neither having had the stamina or wish to leave the warmth of their sitting room. Of course, when Lily's sudden contractions would increase, the time in between them minimizing, there was something that wasn't entirely right. It took for Lily's water to break when the realization finally dawned upon them. They were about to become parents, neither one of them ready.
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
What they left behind that fateful date, 1981, was more than either could've hoped for. While James's dreams of a big and chaotic family had been shattered the instant he saw the green light shoot straight at him, and Lily's dreams of seeing little Harry grow up and build his own family with a beautiful woman one day were torn apart the minute she heard the curse leave His mouth, the legacy they would leave behind was more than they ever could have imagined.
They realized this as they would gaze upon their son and the life he led from the other side, knowing that, as much as they hated having missed hearing his first actual sentence and seeing him head off to Hogwarts, or marry and become a father himself, they wouldn't have changed a thing. For their son's sake, who grew to be, despite the horrors of his childhood, the best of men.
They would spend hours or minutes or weeks (hard to tell because the concept of time was a bit foggy there in the afterlife) listening to Sirius and Remus and Nymphadora Tonks, Dumbledore and Alastor Moody tell their stories of their son, and the couple would smile at each other, feeling the same thing. They were proud. They would spend their time – or whatever it was that passed in the afterlife – keeping themselves occupied with everything there was to do – and, contrary to popular belief, there were a lot of things one could do to keep the passing of... whatever it was – waiting for their son to join them, reunited at last. What they were waiting for couldn't come soon enough, they agreed.
James and Lily would pass eternity skimming through their vague memories and scan the dusty photographs and they would laugh together, knowing that their time on earth had perhaps been short-lived, but had never been in vain.