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The Art of Surviving. by AC_rules

Format: Novel
Chapters: 26
Word Count: 140,233
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: General, Romance, Angst
Characters: Lupin, A. Longbottom, James, Lily, Sirius
Pairings: James/Lily, Sirius/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 02/20/2011
Last Chapter: 04/10/2016
Last Updated: 04/10/2016

Summary:
Grief, war and love: surviving is an art.

SEQUEL TO THE ART OF BREATHING.

 

Dobby winner 2012: Best Romance and Best Angst! 


Chapter 1: Average.
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A/N -sequelsequelsequel :O

Nuff said. More at the bottom :D

September first.

I stared out of the window as we entered London and hugged my arms across my chest. We always did the journey in two parts, stopping at the half way point to stay the night – and this year was no different, even if everything else was.

Petunia was sat in the back, much to her dismay. Mum had insisted that she had to be there to see me off this year, and she had thought it prudent to agree. She hadn’t talked for the past two hours of the journey, and instead was mirroring my actions – glaring out the window in silence.

I risked a glance at my mother. She had her fingers clenched around the steering wheel and her breathing was laboured. She looked tired. I wondered... was the exhaustion on her face, and the emotions, because she hadn’t been able to have a drink this morning?

I bit my lip, and turned back to the window. I had thought she was coping well, and she might well still be. We’d had plenty of guests over lately, and those accumulated bottles of wine could simply have been bottles that others had polished off. It didn’t have to mean that she was drinking. Surely, she was fine.

So I turned back out of the window and tried to avoid thinking about the thought that was dominating my mind, through all the thoughts about my dysfunctional family and all the thoughts of returning to Hogwarts after such a long period of absence – Mary McDonald.

Mary would not be coming back this year, and it seemed as though this thought had only just registered in my brain. I hadn’t been thinking about Hogwarts, I hadn’t wanted too, and... and now I was going back, and it had lost its magic somehow. For the first time it felt like just a school – teachers, homework and lessons. It didn’t feel how it had done before, full of magic and newness and this fabulous journey into becoming something I’d dreamed of for years – magical.

The buildings fell away behind me as I began to consider Hogwarts without Mary, and how that would feel. Of course I had experienced it for a little while last year, but now it was different. Things had moved on, this was seventh year, and I hadn’t been there myself for what now felt like a lifetime, even if it had only several months.

“Right,” My mum said in a falsely bright voice which didn’t fool anyone. I swallowed and got out of the car. Petunia was already out, as if being in such a forced small space was too much for any of us to deal with. I dragged my trunk out of the boot; Petunia had gotten a trolley and now mum had gotten out of the car, closed the boot and locked it. Pad’s was placed on top of my trunk. Simple. Efficient.

I should have apparated. 

Of course Mum was having none of it and I wasn’t about to argue with her. Maybe the normalcy of our yearly pilgrimage to London was something she needed to convince herself everything was all right. Or maybe she wanted us to act like a proper family for a little while longer, it didn’t really matter, but it hadn’t worked.

She looked worse than ever, and Petunia resented me from dragging her away from her stupid fiancé for so long, and it had been unnecessary. And it was hard.

We kept close together as we moved smoothly through the station, but did not speak. We all knew the way; we’d made the same journey six times before when there were four of us, and not three, and it was essentially no different.

We reached the barrier between nine and ten and stopped. “Together?” Mum asked, and we both nodded. Petunia took her left arm and I took her right, so that she was sandwiched between us. I hoped that our presence told us that we loved her, and that she didn’t feel alone. I manoeuvred the trolley with my other free arm (which was a little more difficult than it sounded) and we walked towards the barrier together.

Dad had always come up with amusing ways of crossing the barrier, but without fail we always crossed it together. We had to, because I was the only one who could pass through it alone, and Mum refused to leave without a glimpse of that scarlet red train and a glance of witches and wizards – a word that was not her own.

The station appeared with shocking familiarity. The train was already there, the September sunshine glinting and winking at me – taunting me.

Last year I had greeted Mary with a squeal and had thrown my arms around her. This year there would be no squealing, no hugging, no Mary. I had forgotten how raw that felt.

I glanced around, and found far too many familiar faces for it to be comfortable. They were all over, and they were all looking at me. Well, that’s what it felt like. I felt exposed stepping back on to the station and throwing myself back into the world I’d ignored for months.

I hadn’t seen any of them except James. James had caught me up on the happenings at Hogwarts well enough, and had explained the events of the summer until I almost felt like I was part of them again, but the fact remained that I had left Hogwarts early last year. And no one knew why.

I searched on the platform for James, feeling that at least he would be protective enough over me that I’d stop feeling like my heart was being presented to the whole station like an open target, like at any second someone was going to shoot a bullet through my over-exposed heart, or a green light would connect with my chest and I would feel no more.

Instead, I found Sirius and he was walking towards me.

He looked exactly like James had said – like he’d recently been run over by a bus, but was pretending like it hadn’t been a big deal. He met me with a grim smile and I knew that he felt exactly the same as I did to be back here, at Hogwarts, without its key component. Mary.

“Evans,” Sirius muttered, and I suddenly felt a wave of affection towards him. No matter how much my younger self would protest to hate it, Sirius Black and I had something in common, and a new found understanding of how the other worked. I cared about him, and I was pretty sure that he cared about me too.

I threw my arms around his neck, and found my eyes welling up again.

It shouldn’t be like this. I should still be able to hate Sirius for being a prat and I should be able to greet my best friend properly.

I stepped back away from Sirius and took in his appearance properly, the differences were not complimentary, but I understood them.

“Are you all right, Evans?” He asked seriously.

I nodded.

“Lily, dear,” Mum said, “Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Mum’s normal eagerness to know everything about this new world has dissipated slightly, but I was sure she still wanted to put names to faces as much as ever. Petunia was impassive, but I saw her gaze travel across Sirius for the briefest second – she was wondering if this was the infamous James, and if it was possible I had managed to socially interact with someone so attractive.

Sirius smiled politely, considering everything he seemed to be quite good at dealing with parents. “This is my mum, and my sister, Petunia,” I told him. They were still stood with their arms linked together tightly. “Mum, this is Sirius Black.”

She sent me a look and I nodded.  “I... I’m sorry for your loss.” She said, and Petunia stayed stony, perhaps with the tiniest trace of relief that this was not James.

“Lily,” A voice called, and over walked the man himself. He was all ready in his robes, but I noted he’d neglected to pin either his Head Boy badge, or his Quidditch captain badge onto them.

“James,” I breathed in relief. I didn’t bother to think about how I felt much safer now he was here, or bother to consider my emotions more deeply. It didn’t matter, and I didn’t care. I was glad James was here, and that was that. I hugged him too, and my eyes welled up again.

“James Potter?” My mother asked eagerly, and James sent a grin in my direction.

“At your service, Mrs Evans,” and he half bowed in her direction. Mum flushed slightly, and looked more gleeful than she had for weeks. Petunia looked as if she was about to throw up. “Petunia?” James asked holding out his hand.

Petunia looked startled and glared at the hand as if it were poisonous or repugnant.

“Maybe not,” James said. “Who’s this, Lily, if not your delightful sister that you’ve told me so much about?” The normal way he was acting made me feel like Hogwarts was all right, and that this – returning, was doable.

I smiled. “No, this is Petunia.” I smiled.

James waved his hand about a little more.

“Does she not understand English, Lily?” He asked, tilting his head and examining her as if she was strange inanimate object that he couldn’t quite work out. “Or is the concept of a handshake a little beyond her?”

“Leave her be James,” Another voice spoke, and Remus walked over and smiled in Petunia’s direction. “I wouldn’t touch your hands if you paid me; I don’t know where they’ve been, not that I particularly want to.”

Sirius’s lips made a movement that was almost a smirk. “Lily knows where they’ve been.”

And there was the old prat returning – was it entirely necessary to make these types of joke in front of my mother and sister? Thankfully my mother seemed to have missed the mildy-sexual reference, because she was glancing around the platform, but Petunia had definitely picked up on it and was now looking malicious.

“You’ll pay for that Black,” I said, and then I dragged James away from my sister. “Let’s get a compartment or something.”

“Who said you could sit with us, Evans?” Sirius smirked. Ahh, back to repressed emotions. Fabulous.

“Well who else am I going to sit with?” I snapped. There was a couple of seconds of silence where I realised just what I’d said, and who I’d said it too and then I decided it was best if I just shut up.

“Why don’t we get a compartment then?” James asked softly. I mentally thanked him for breaking the awkwardness.

“Yeah,” Remus agreed. I turned back to glance at Petunia and Mum, I gave mum a brief wave and she smiled. I wondered exactly how she’d be once I’d left.

“How come you didn’t apparate?”

“Mum wanted to come,” I said stiffly. I didn’t want to talk, I wanted to hide away from everyone and go home. This was a little bit harder than I expected it to be. The tone of my voice seemed to take James back a bit.

“This looks like a nice compartment,” Sirius commented.

“They’re all the same, Black.” I said stepping in and throwing my coat on the side. “I’m going to grab my trunk.”

“I’ll come with you,” James said hastily. I swallowed but allowed him to follow me back off the train. “What’s up with your sister?” He asked. I didn’t answer. “Lily? Don’t ignore me.”

“She doesn’t like magic,” I replied. “And I don’t think she appreciated being talked to like she was some kind of monkey.”

“I tried to be polite,” James countered. I found my patience for him slipping. Why was it only last week I had truly enjoyed his company? We’d spent the whole day together and I’d had a perfectly lovely time?

Petunia glared at me as we approached.

“I’ll get this,” James said smoothly, grabbing my trunk off the trolley and sending a smile in Petunia’s direction.

“Thanks,” I replied, grabbing Pad’s cage off the top, and I’d half walked away when I realised James Potter was no longer at my side.

“- I’m sorry if I seemed impolite before,” He was saying to Petunia with a winning smile. “I’m James Potter, a friend of Lily’s.”

I stepped forwards, sensing Petunia was about to blow. I grabbed hold of his arm again, and tried to get him to move away. “No Lily, I want to introduce myself properly – I don’t want a first impression counting against me.”

“Get away from me you freak.” Petunia spat, stepping backwards looking horrified. James was speechless. “I will not shake your hand.”

“I’m, one of Lily’s...” James began again, looking utterly confused at being treated as though he was worthless piece of shit.

Precisely. You’re freaks, both of you.”

“Petunia,” I warned, stepping in front of James slightly. “Can’t you just -”

“No, I hate -”

“There’s no need too -”

“I don’t care about -”

“Lily,” Mum’s voice said, floating through my consciousness. We both fell silence. I closed my eyes briefly and turned towards her. She looked vacant and spaced out.

“Yes Mum?”

“Are you going to be home for Christmas?”

“If... if you want me to be,” I said. She nodded. “Look, Mum, I’m just going to put my bags on the train then I’ll come, erm... back.” Then I grabbed James’s arm, feeling irrationally angry at him for being witness to that embarrassing display of what my family were like, and pulled him away. Then I relinquished my hold on him and tried to walk faster than he could manage.

He increased his walking speed to match my own but didn’t say anything until we’d boarded the train for the second time. “You left Hogwarts early last year, to go back to that.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” I snapped back, knowing I was being entirely unfair to him. He had a perfectly fair point.

“She just...” He stopped, shook his head. Grabbed my trunk off the floor and carried it back to the compartment.

“Thank you,” I said after he hauled my trunk up to the shelves, and gently placed Pad’s cage up there too.

“You don’t seem particularly thankful,” He commented, leaning back on the edge of the compartment and looking at me seriously. “What’s wrong Lily?”

“I don’t want to be here.” I answered through gritted teeth.

“So you’d rather be at home with your bitch of a sister?”

“Get your nose out of my business, Potter.”

“It’s my business too.” He interjected.

“Why? What gives you the right to go introducing yourself to my family -?”

“I’m you friend Lily.”

“Neither of us want that, Potter.” I snapped before I could stop myself. I didn’t want to be horrible to James, but it seemed to be coming out on automatic – a manifestation of my bitterness and my desire to run very far away from this place.

“And how do you work that out?” He asked darkly.

“You want much more than friendship and I want –”

“Yes, what do you want?” James said, stepping forward so that he was millimetres away from me. “Because that would clarify quite a few things.” He was angry. I didn’t blame him. I was being a bitch and... and he was standing so close that I could see every single detail of his angry face, and then I realised I was supposed to be answering his question...

What did I want?

“I...” I began then I stopped and looked at James properly. His anger seemed to have evaporated a little more. I wanted to cry.

“Lily!”A voice yelled, and the compartment door was flung open. Alice seemed to take in our close proximity with wide eyes. “Your family!” She exclaimed.

“What?” I asked turning round to face her.

“They’re... I mean, the Slytherins...”

“They’re muggles.” James muttered, sounding mildly horrified and then we were all dashing out of the compartment and back on to the platform. My head was spinning. I wasn’t ready for this – it was bad enough returning to Hogwarts without factoring in James and Sirius, and just... everyone.

My brain didn’t seemed to be processing any of this new information, and the whole day seemed like some kind of bad dream that I was entirely detached from.

Mum and Petunia, though, they were in trouble. And why? Because they were muggles.

I stepped back off the train, feeling that everything seemed to be going round in circles with all this boarding and unboarding, and then my eyes found them.

It seemed like nothing had happened yet, but a group of the worst Slytherins were there sending looks at each other, their hands in their pockets talking in undertones. I could feel the danger, and obviously Alice had done too if she’d thought to warn me... Even mum and Petunia were looking significantly uncomfortable.

Prevention. I darted over. “Mum, Petunia, I think maybe you should -” And then the rest of my words were cut off.

“Oh, they’re yours are they Evans? We were wondering when the owners of this filth would show up.” Avery. “Should have known they’d be yours, that one’s got the same dirty nose as you,” he said gesturing towards my mother’s face.

“And this one’s got that same pathetic expression,” Mulicber said, stepping forward and roughly grabbing Petunia’s face. He squeezed her cheeks between his fat thumbs and laughed in her face. Petunia didn’t know what had hit her; she was visibly shaking, shocked, and unable to move. It looked as though she wasn’t breathing and my blood was suddenly boiling.

“Keep your hands off,” James snarled, pulling out his wand. I vaguely registered that he’d been behind me and now...

“You’re right.” Mulciber said with a grin. “I’ll never get rid of the smell, will I Potter?”

“You should know,” Avery added. “You’ve been hanging round this one for long enough to know.” He said gesturing at me. They all laughed – a huge chorus of malicious laughter that made my brain buzz with anger.

“Leave them alone,” I spat, pulling out my wand too and pointing it in Avery’s direction. Then Alice was with us again, and her wand was out too. She was just behind me, backing me up...

“What are you going to do, mudblood, throw it at me?” They all laughed again.

“I bet her throw would be a lot more effective than any spell you attempted,” Sirius said, stepping into the fray with his own wand out. Things were getting out of hand, everyone was staring, and my heart was thudding in my chest. I couldn’t think straight. “I’m a little shocked they let you back in,”

“Likewise,” Avery returned, “I thought even this place wouldn’t let in a dirty bloody traitor like yourself,”

Then Remus and Peter appeared, pulling their wands out. Then Frank. Their words muddled around in my head and I couldn’t quite make sense of them.

“Evans,” Sirius muttered in my ear. “Get them out of here all right,” I nodded, and grabbed their arms.

“Mum, Tuney, get out of here.” I said and for what felt like the millionth time this morning tears were welling up in my eyes. I bit my lip and led them towards the barrier as quickly as I could.

Mum seemed to have woken up from her daze and stepped back through barrier quickly, Petunia lingered.

“Lily,” Petunia said, and it was the first time she’d said my name for months and her voice was uncertain and scared. I wanted to reach out and do something momentous, but there was no time. They needed to get through the barrier where they were safe, and where none of them could so much as draw out their wand for fear of being dragged away by the ministry officials. “Mum,” She whimpered, and I grabbed her hand finally understanding – she was just as scared about Mum’s state as I was, and terrified of being left alone with her.

“I’ll write to you,” I promised, and then I shoved her back through the barrier and to safety. I was shaking. 

How could this happen at Hogwarts? How could this be allowed to happen on platform 9 ¾, meters away from the muggle world?

It only cemented my belief that the magical world was no longer mine, and increased my uncertainty that I actually wanted to return.

I turned around and suddenly Alice was in front of me.

“Let’s get on the train,” Alice said quietly steering me from the confrontation that appeared to still be continuing, and onto the train. “Are you okay?” She asked looking at me warily.

“I’m fine,” I told her bitterly, trying to look out over her shoulder and make sure that everything was okay. I disliked the fact that I was being treated as though I was made of glass, and I disliked the fact that they were right even more. I was so... fragile. It was sickening.

“No one’s expecting you to be,” Alice replied. “Anyone would be shook up,”

“Well I’m fine. I want to go back out.” I was in the mood for pulling out my wand and hexing the lot of them. I was feeling recklessly hopeless, and a little blank. I didn’t want to be safely stuck on the train away from the action.

Alice glanced out through the open door. “Well, James’s parents are there now, and the others seemed to be scarpering. Look, here the others come now,” And she was right, they all came filling in, each of them sending me an encouraging smile that made my stomach clench and fill with bitter acid. “One more thing,” Alice said with a smile. She held up her hand and wriggled her fingers at me.

I raised an eyebrow. She shoved her hand in my face.

“A ring.” I commented flatly.

“I’m engaged!” Alice exclaimed.

What?”

“Frank asked me to marry him on my birthday last week,”

“You’re engaged?” I questioned.

“Yes!”

“You’re seventeen.”

“So?” Alice asked, suddenly defensive.

“It’s a bit young isn’t it? I mean, you’re still a teenager.”

“Aren’t you even going to try to be happy for me?”

“Well, yes, I’m delighted.” I said quickly, “I’m still shook up from the thing, but really, great about the marriage thing.”

“Right,” Alice said, because the whole conversation had suddenly got mildly awkward. Then she turned towards our pre-saved compartment.

“Look,” I added quickly. “Don’t be too lovey-dovey in front of Sirius,”

“I know, Lily.” Alice said with a sudden hard expression across her features. “I know what I’m doing, I’m not incompetent.” And then she stalked into the compartment, slamming the door in my face.

Great. I’d already managed to piss of half of the people who still liked me, my family had been attacked and this was turning out of be, without a doubt, the worst September first in the history of the world.

I took a deep breath, and then I pulled the door open and entered. I slumped into the only available seat – next to James, and was unable to stop myself resting my head on his shoulder and closing my eyes. I was exhausted, my head hurt, and I hadn’t even managed to say goodbye to family properly. Now I wouldn’t see them for months, and although for a second Petunia had shown a rare display of affection by the time I was able to write an explanation down on parchment her vulnerability would have changed back into loathing, only worse because this time she had foundation for it.

Finally, after holding back for half the morning, a tear rolled down my cheek and fell onto James Potter’s shoulder. Then I scrunched up my eyes and tried very hard not to think. The others were taking about the summer, and one of James’s arms wrapped around my comfortingly. I needed it and thus no longer felt the edge to tell him to keep his hands to himself, and start yelling at him. What did it matter that this was James Potter, arrogant git of the century and all round arse, who I’d been pissed at only ten minutes previously? I was drawn towards him, part of me knowing that he was the only one who was able to offer me that small scrap of comfort.

“Lily,” James said in my ear after a good ten minutes where I tried to ignore the idle chatter that the others seemed happy to engage with.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I muttered.

“Well I’d worked that out myself,” He returned. “But, I didn’t think you’d want to be late to the prefects meeting considering you’re Head Girl.”

“Congrats, Lily.” Frank said, offering me a smile. I tried to smile back but it came out a little more like a grimace, but I decided it was good enough.

“Bad luck,” Sirius said. “Remus managed to avoid it,”

I glanced at James... he hadn’t told them?

“Oh really?” I asked, feeling a sudden renewed surge of confidence due to this knowledge. “Who’s the new Gryffindor prefect?”

“Rachel, I think,” Alice said she still sounded a bit stiff about the whole marriage thing.

“Anyway, I should be getting along.”

“I’ll walk you there,” James said quickly. I placed a hand on my hip and smirked at him. “Shouldn’t you get your badge first?”

His eyes widened slightly. “You mean my Quidditch captain badge?” He asked hopefully.

“That, James, and your shiny new Head Boy badge,” I said sweetly.

“You’re kidding.” Sirius said gleefully – and it was the first time I’d seen him look so happy for about six months (not that I’d seen him at all for three of those months). “You’re Head Boy, Prongs?”

“Yes he is.” I put in.

“Will you be keeping me in line James?” He asked, “I mean... giving me detentions and stuff?”

James rolled his eyes and reluctantly pulled out both badges from his bag.

“Let’s put it in clear view, shall we?” I asked taking it from his hand and pinning it on the centre of his chest. “There now, you look nice and smart.”

“Head Boy,” Sirius repeated happily.

“Well... almost smart enough for Head Boy-dom,” I said and then proceeded to straighten his tie. 

“You’re not even wearing your robes yet,”

“Keep your badge on, there in my bag.”

“Bickering like an old married couple,” Remus commented with a fake tone of nostalgia.

“Well, you know what they say about the Head Boy and Girl?” Sirius said ambiguously.

“All those evenings working together...” Remus added.

“At it like rabbits.” Sirius finished.

I managed an almost laugh at that, and my newfound confidence seemed to be here to stay. I didn’t feel like I was going to collapse at any second, or like I was standing on top of a tall tower waiting to go falling down to the bottom of a deep pit.

“Come on, James,” I said with the trace of a smile. They all seemed slightly thrown by my sudden change of mood, but I decided that it was no use considering whether it was normal to have such a mood swing or whether I should be worried about being taken in to St Mungo’s after having a nervous breakdown. Instead I should just appreciate the fact that I no longer felt like an avalanche waiting to happen.

“Coming,” He said, sending me a slightly confused questioning look that I decided not to attempt to decipher.

“Look,” I said, “Sorry about earlier, I’m just... I don’t know,” I finished, shrugging, and then leading my way down the corridor.

*****************************

“Oh, crap,” I muttered rummaging through my bag in the hope that it would magically appear... but the fact remained. I simply just couldn’t find it. “James, I can’t find my badge,” I said, looking up at him hoping he’d come up with some grand suggestion. “Should I just nip back to the compartment or...?”

“No, they’ll be here soon,” James said. “It doesn’t matter – it’s only a badge,” I nodded, and sat myself down next to him. Although I no longer felt the need to rest my head on his shoulder, I did notice that I was sitting a lot closer to him than I normally would have down. I frowned internally and corrected my sitting position in a subtle way, hoping he didn’t think I was being rude.

Remus was the first to get here, along with Rachel who did indeed seem to be the new Gryffindor prefect, and then people from the other years filed in until I was sure everyone was here. I glanced at James and he nodded.

“Right everyone,” I began, keeping my voice level and even. “We’re just going to go over -”

“Weren’t you involved in the fight on the platform?” An obnoxious sounding Ravenclaw girl said. At first I thought the question was directed at James, and then I realised that she was staring right at me.

“Well...” I began.

“You were, I saw you. How come you’re Head Girl, if you can’t even be here ten minutes without getting into a fight?”

I was speechless. This girl was what... a fifth year? And yet here she was undermining my new found authority, when I’d only been in possession of it for about fifteen minutes.

“I -” I began, glancing at James unsurely.

“Didn’t you get with Diggory at that party last year?” My face flushed pink. The party... it had been a month after Mary, and I’d drank a little bit too much... but I hadn’t done anything too terrible. People did those types of things all the time and I hadn’t slept with him or...

“Lily?” James question sending me a peculiar look, I had done my very best to keep the whole thing a secret from James.... Sirius had found out about it of course, and he’d agreed to keep that knowledge hidden from him.

“Diggory told all of us Hufflepuffs about it,”

 “So she’s all round a good candidate for Head Girl,” One of the Slytherin’s sneered. “And she’s a mudblood,”

“She hasn’t even got a Head Girl badge.” Said the Ravenclaw girl who’d started the whole thing. “How do we even know she is Head Girl?”

“Of course she’s Head Girl!” James declared. “Honestly, she’s Lily Evans – who else would be Head Girl? Now, it would do you all well to show some respect.”

“Sorry I’m late,” Amanda Brocklehurst said slipping into the compartment with an apologetic smile. She looked slightly concerned but sat down quietly enough.

“Like Lily said, we’re just going to go over the basics for those new prefects, throw round some ideas about how the system could be better – the general.” James said. His confidence was shocking, and everyone in the compartment seemed to be looking at him with a certain degree of respect. Even the younger Slytherin’s weren’t eyeing him with the same distaste that they did everyone else in the world. I suddenly felt very inadequate. “Have you got anything else to add Lily?” All eyes turned to me. My face burned and I shrunk down on my chair.

“No,” I answered, my voice coming out as a pathetic sounding squeak.

 

 

“Lily?” James asked glancing at me worriedly. “Are you okay?” I nodded and didn’t meet his eye. Instead I buried my hands in the folds of my robes and examined the tiled floor. “Look, I just need to talk to Amanda – I’ll be two seconds.” I nodded again, still not looking up. “Then I’ll be back.”

I had frozen up right there in the middle of the prefect’s meeting. I’d managed to speak twice more – both coming out as garbled and nonsensical, causing me to flush a fantastic shade of scarlet. James had tried his best to get me talk, by continually asking me if I had anything to add, which unfortunately only made me into more of a joke for everyone else present. Then, mercifully, he stopped, and I’d just sat there marinating in my embarrassment silently.

The tears were welling up again, and I knew this time they were definitely going to fall. I reached for my bag and into the pocket where I usually had a packet of tissues – might as well be prepared for all eventualities, especially today, when everything was going wrong.

My finger pricked against something sharp, and I drew it back quickly as a tiny blob of blood appeared on my finger. I cautiously went in with my other hand, finding... my Head Girl badge.

Which had been there all along.

Then the tears burst out, and I was sobbing like a baby. I hugged one of my knees to my chest and just let myself cry. It was okay, there was no one here – no one to see me and I had every reason to cry... Mary was dead. My Dad was dead. Mum was... a widow. My remaining family had practically been attacked on the platform. Alice hated me. Petunia hated me. James most probably hated me. Mary was dead, so she couldn’t hate me – but she probably would hate me if she was alive and I was the worst Head Girl there’d ever been.

I was a shaking crying snivelling mess.

James stepped back into the compartment. “Turns out that Ravenclaw bitch was Amanda’s sister, and I reckon she thought Amanda should have been Head Girl. Little stirrer. She said she’d make sure she dropped it,”

My head was clouding up with nonsense, and my heart was pounding, and I was crying and sobbing and generally acting like a pathetic fool, but James hadn’t noticed that yet. I wanted to yell, stomp and curse at the world for nothing being fair, because it wasn’t fair. Why did Mary get to be dead? Why did I have to come back to Hogwarts and face everyone, and why did I have to deal with all these people who so obviously hated me? It was bollocks, and I was bollocks, and I wanted to go back home into my tiny box room and hide where I could just send jinxes at the walls and at spiders, where Petunia would just ignore me and where mum would bring me up biscuits and keep asking me if I was okay.

I wasn’t ready for this – to be back at Hogwarts. Or any of it. Or anyone. I needed more time, but I didn’t get time – just like Mary didn’t get time and like Dad didn’t get time – and the world was closing in and I couldn’t get a grasp on anything anymore. It was speeding by, much too fast, and I had no idea how long it would be until the next person fell, and whether I could survive loosing everyone else and...

James was kneeling down in front of me looking more than slightly alarmed.

“Lily,” He said, but I barely seemed to hear him.  I was on a different frequency, unable to sort my head out, chocking on my excessive tears as they rolled down my cheeks. “Lily,” He said again, and pushed his hand away, vainly attempting to wipe away the tears with the back of my hand and look like I wasn’t crying.

“Go away James!” I exclaimed, bringing my hands to my face and trying to hide. I was so spectacularly hideous when I cried, and in some twisted way that seemed to be the biggest issue at that moment... that James couldn’t see me at my ugliest and most pathetic... “Leave me alone!”

James pulled my hands away from my face and stared at me. His eyes said it all – he was scared of me, as if I was some terrifying monster that was about to eat his head hole or something horrible like that.

Then he said, and the words that reminded me of another occasion – months previously – when he’d looked at me with the exact same expression in his eyes, “What’s wrong with you?”

And, as if it was possible, I cried even harder.

A/N - This is going to be a bit different, as you'll see from the next chapter. Hopefully you appreciate the parallels with taob, because I felt they were entirely appropriate, if a little sad... but hey! I've written quite a few chapters. I have a plan. I have inspiration. I do not, as it stands, have any readers or reviewers (hinty hinty hinty hint :D).

This is up quite a lot sooner than I expected it would be. Thank your reviews on the last couple of chaptersof taob. <3

This is all for now, thank you and GOOD NIGHT.
 
 
 


Chapter 2: Concern.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N - Noow... hopefully it will be obvious that we have moved back in time slightly. There was a lot of stuff that I needed to fit in and... this seemed to be the way to do it. Please review and stuff :D

 

I pride myself on someone who is good at being in control. I like control. Control makes me comfortable in a world that doesn’t really make sense. See, magic really threw me off. I was old enough to know that magic wasn’t real when Sev approached me and so that the fact all of that magic stuff could actually be really was a bit too much for me to deal with. But that was okay, as long as I understood the rules and limitations of magic... I just liked control.

And I had it. Most people do have control of their own lives to an extent – they decide when they wake up, they decide what they eat and they decide what they do. I decided who I talked to, when I went to bed, how much work I did – and that worked for me, and then...

And then Mary died, and nothing made sense anymore.

And then, I didn’t make sense anymore, and I did stupid things that didn’t make sense, because I wasn’t quite sure what else I was supposed to do.

Which led me to here, April, where I was slowly ruining my reputation for being a mildly stuck up and uninvolved yet respectful Gryffindor female. To just being a stuck up slightly more involved Gryffindor female who was also completely messed up.

“Lily?” James asked softly. I dragged my head off the desk and looked at him through my bleary eyes. I was exhausted. I’d been eternally exhausted since... well, you know. I just hadn’t been sleeping properly – instead my mind had been conjuring up vivid and complicated dreams that kept my mind thinking even when I did sleep, which meant I was slowly becoming more and more tried. “Is... is it the horned slugs now?” he asked unsurely, looking at the liquid in the potion as if it was something bizarre and beyond comprehension.

“Hmmm...” I said trying to focus my burnt out brain on the potion in front of me. It was on these very rare occasions that I wished I hadn’t been to see Slughorn and demanded that he allowed me to move seats, away from Snape and to... where else? Mary’s old seat.

It had almost felt insensitive when I’d placed my bag down, where hers used to be, and the slightly pained expression from Sirius in front had made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. Yet, surely it was better to have me there, than a gaping space? And there was no way I could have stayed sat next to Snape without pushing him into a cauldron of poison, or drowning him in hate potion so that he knew how I felt about him.

Still, James was – slightly adorably – unconfident about potions. Somehow he’d managed to bluff his way through the year with Mary as a partner, who is – well, was – hardly a potions genius, but now I was hardly doing anything better.

“No,” I said quickly, I’d read the potion before, and no... “James, why is the potion electric blue?” I asked slowly.

“Well, I added the shredded fluxweed and then...”

“No, no, no,” I interjected. “You’re supposed to; well… you have to shred half of the fluxweed, but the rest should be finely chopped...”

“What’s the difference?” James asked, screwing up his forehead and running his fingers through his hair.

“Well it doesn’t matter now,” I said in frustration. “Because it’s supposed to be orange, and it’s electric blue – and that’s irrecoverable.”

“But what’s the difference between shredded and chopped?”

“Shredded is stripped, chopped is like, chunks. But, James, the point is you’ve ruined the whole damn potion! Why didn’t you ask me before screwing it up?”

“You were asleep!” James defended. “And I didn’t think there was a difference between shredded and chopped, okay!”

I sighed and took a deep breath. “Sorry,” I said, “I... I can see what you’re saying with the shredded/chopped thing, and I might be able to fix it.”

“You’re an angel,”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” Remus interjected from the table on the left, I turned and gave him my best attempt at a smile which was a relatively poor effort.

Upon turning back I caught Snape’s gaze, he was sat for once with his back straight, and stirring his perfect orange potion with a slightly smug expression.

It was stupid for me to be effected by this small dig given it was the only way he could score points nowadays, but the idea that he could possibly think that I was only ever good at potions because of him sickened me... and I suddenly needed to sort this failure of a potion out.

“Can you get me some potions ingredient stuff?” I asked James. “Just basic stuff – a variety of things.” I told him beginning to bend over and read the instructions for a second time. What had Sev always said? Trust your instincts.

James returned a couple of minutes later with armfuls of potions ingredients that he probably couldn’t even name, and I began chopping, shredding and squashing various things that could potentially save this little disaster before the end of the double period.

James leant back on his chair and began to watch me, which made me feel ever so slightly uncomfortable – but I could deal with that. James knew well enough to shut up, especially when I was fully equipped with a knife, not to mention a wand and a cauldron full of boiling and, currently, indefinable liquid.

Slughorn was walking around again, and I heard him pause at Sirius’s and Sarah’s cauldron in front. “Not bad,” He said. “You’ve added a little too much shredded fluxweed it seems...” He said. “Ah, Lily, now...” Then he stopped, looked in the cauldron and passed without further comment.

I looked up, my face flushing, and Snape caught my eye again. He smiled. I felt myself visibly stiffen. I couldn’t stand him – even being in the same room as him made it hard to resist throwing the knife in the direction of his head, or sending a spell that would knock his stupid orange potion all over his greasy hair.

“I could hex him, if you want.” James said softly.

I ignored him and began chopping up the frogs legs with more vigour before throwing them into the cauldron and stirring so frantically that some of the potion sloshed over the edges. James moved back quickly, good – he’d been getting too close anyway. Pushing his luck.

“It’s red,” James said, “How did you do that?”

“It’s the blood from the frogs legs,” I muttered, stirring it a little more so that the red colour disappeared slightly and it faded back to a purple colour. It said add wormwood, but I could cancel that out by adding...

“So Sirius, are you going to the party tonight?” A voice asked in front of me. Sarah Bones. My whole body seemed to freeze. How could she? How could she attempt to flirt with him? When Mary had only been gone for two months!

I glanced up, and saw that Snape was still watching me.

Well.

The potion was now turning crimson, the colour it should have been at the second stage, which meant... Fairy wings. Crushed. Right.

“Probably,” Sirius answered. There was nothing flirtatious in his tone at all, but it still made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in anger. “Given my best mate has organised the whole thing.” The celebration was in aid of Quidditch, which I really could not fathom. We hadn’t even played a game, but Hufflepuff, against all odds – had beaten Slytherin. Which was good for us, and thus James had decided that we needed to throw a party.

There hadn’t been a party after the Gryffindor/Hufflepuff match, all things considered.

Still, James reasoned a party would do all of us good.

I doubted it.

“Will I see you there?” Sarah asked him. My stomach clenched.

Focus, Lily, Potions. I glanced back at my potion which was getting darker by the minute... I added the next ingredient on the instructions from the book... and it turned orange, but a pale lofty kind of orange that was not quite worth of an O.

“Well,” Sirius said impatiently. “If you’re going, and I’m going, the chances are I will probably see you there at some point during the evening.”

Go Sirius, I thought, whilst trying to refine the potion by adding an extra clockwise stir.

I looked up, and saw that Snape was looking a little less smug, but his potion was exactly the right shade of orange, and had those little swirls rising up from it in perfect spirals....

Add essence of...

“Well, where will I find you?” Sarah asked, and with an upwards glance I saw that she was leaning very close to them. My hands were shaking. Sirius wasn’t moving away. Why wasn’t he moving away? It had been two months... two freaking months! Why wasn’t he moving away!

“I’m normally by the drinks table.” Sirius replied, and I suddenly wanted to throw the knife in my hand at his stupid face. He should have told her to piss off. He was in mourning for god’s sake – we all were! There was no room for her to come... barging in with her silly flirting.

I stole a glance at James, and he didn’t seem remotely enraged, and was merely regarding the scene with mild interest. Remus too was carefully watching the back of their heads and...and Severus was still looking in my direction, sneering.

The potion.

It had been simmering for much too long now, much too long, and... and... I needed to fix it. It was even paler now, practically white, and the supposed scentless fumes had a vague cranberry smell to them which made no sense.

My eyes widened, and I quickly threw in a few more ingredients. It darkened. See, I thought – I’m still in control. I can still do it. Does it matter that I haven’t paid attention to it for months? No. It can all be regained, sorted, and I could – and would – fix it. And it would be better than Severus Bloody Snape’s. Follow your instincts. I’d follow my instincts all right.

“Are you excited, about the party I mean?” Sarah asked.

I’m in control. I added a sprinkle of bat wings into the mixture, glancing down at the instructions.

“Hey Lily, you’ve sorted it.” James declared, just as Sirius said,

“Not really,” in response to Sarah. I stirred the potion again, suddenly realising with a flash of inspiration that what I really wanted to do was add some puffer-fish eyes, which were well know for producing exactly the desired type of corkscrew spiral... 

“Lily,” James said warily as I grabbed the jar of the desk and began having the eyes. “Don’t you think you should stop now – it’s the perfect colour and everything?”

I ignored him, quartering the eyes for extra measure – the finer the better, as was nearly always the case.

“Lily,” James said again, “You’re looking slightly manic...”

I ignored him. I was in control. I was going to produce a better potion than Severus Snape.

I was in control. I was going to add the puffer-fish eyes.

I threw them into the caldron. The mixture seemed to flash a startling shade of white. And then the whole thing exploded.

Bullocks.

 

 

“Hello Sirius,” I said throwing myself down on the sofa next to him and turning to him with a vague smile. My head was buzzing presently and the hum of the party in the background felt like a good distraction from my thoughts. Despite being a Gryffindor party, there were Hufflepuffs to spare and a fair number of Ravenclaws which meant that the common room was packed.

“Evans,” He returned with a good-natured look that was quite unusual for him, these days. “You’re slurring.”

“It’s your name, it’s difficult,” I returned, tightening my grip around my bottle. The expression on his face, which for once didn’t seem contain great physical pain, looked alien and weird after these months of fixed on stares, and dead-looking eyes, but it was always the same at parties.

“Well, then,” Sirius replied, rearranging himself so that he was facing me with his legs crossed. “Are you enjoying the party?” He raised his eyebrows at me slightly.

“Yes, it’s just a shame the Susan Bones couldn’t make it... after James accidently tipped my cauldron of burning shite over her,”

“Yes,” Sirius agreed. “Such a darn shame.”

“Still, life goes on,” I said sweetly. “And as Slughorn said, his quick thinking did mean that nobody else was damaged in anyway – and she’ll be fine by tomorrow.”

“Hero of the day,” Sirius agreed, taking another swig from his own bottle. Last time I’d looked his eyes had been slightly unfocused, and he’d been on his second bottle. Now, I was a little too tipsy myself to tell what level of intoxication Sirius had reached, but he was drinking something else, and he was safely sat on the sofa.

I expected James might have subtlety placed him there and cast a permanent sticking charm on his arse.

My head lolled to one side of its own accord a little bit, and it took a great effort to stay in the conventional upright position. Instead my body seemed to want to be as close to the floor as possible. I rested my head on the sofa and gripped hold of it tightly.

Sirius took all this in expressionlessly, but politely looked away as I wrenched my skirt down a little. It had risen up. Again. “So, Lily, how are you?” Sirius asked. I lifted the bottle to my lips again, drank a little, then smiled at him in what I’d intended to be a winning and carefree expression.

“I’m good thanks, how are you?”

“If you’re good,” Sirius said, “Then I’m good.”

“But how are you really?” I asked, nodding meaningfully towards the bags beneath his eyes, resulting in me unbalancing myself. I grabbed Sirius’s arm for support and forced myself to sit up straight again whilst Sirius asked “Well, how are you really?”

I glanced around. Someone, who looked far too young to be drinking, was swaying along with their arms wrapped around the neck of someone who was definitely much too old for her – one of the Ravenclaw Seventh years... “I’m fine,” I replied, returning my gaze to Sirius impassively.

He raised another eyebrow at me, I kept my face straight. He was quite for a few seconds.

“Oh sod this,” Sirius said. “Let’s get out of here – no one will miss us, James is busy,” And then he staggered up into a standing position and presented me with his hand. “Coming Miss Evans?” I glanced around and saw James serving drinks. A Hufflepuff girl with an undignified low-top was talking to him, bending over slightly as she asked about the various different bottles.

“Most definitely.” I agreed, grabbing hold of his hand and hauling myself upwards. I was less smooth than I’d expected – the alcohol must have gone to my head whilst I was sat down – but I managed not to spill any of my drink which, after all, was the most important thing. “Why?” I questioned as an afterthought.

“I think its best we keep intoxicated Lily away from all the little shits who’d be so happy to take advantage considering what happened last time.” Sirius commented as he opened the portrait for me.

“Last time?”

“Diggory.” Sirius prompted.

“Oh yeah,” I said, then giggled. How could I forget? I tried vividly not to think about that excellent display of a complete lack of dignity, and yet vague images of it regularly returned to haunt me.  “You’ve made sure James doesn’t know, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” Sirius conceded. “Although I doubt he’d believe it anyway. Hell, I wouldn’t have done.”

“That’s a good thing isn’t it?” I asked, concentrating on not falling over my feet. Sirius, in front of me, stumbled. He took a swig of his drink

“I’d imagine so, yes.” He replied. “Shit,” He muttered. “This wasn’t such a good idea – I haven’t got the cloak or the map or anything, if we get caught...” Everything seemed to be happening in snap shot images, and I wasn’t completely aware of the time passing properly – but that was fine, it was nice actually. And I was buzzing pleasantly. And my chest felt warm, and I no longer felt like I had a weight resting on my shoulders.

“I’m a Prefect.” I added, laughing at the very idea of it. I hadn’t patrolled for months, and they’d stopped telling me about the meetings because I’d missed so many. Me? Prefect. That was a complete joke. I was surprised they hadn’t taken the badge of my yet....

“You’re also a little bit pissed.” Sirius pointed out, turning round and raising an eyebrow at me. I stopped. My head spun. He was right; I was a little bit pissed. I don’t know why that was so surprising. I had been drinking, after all.

“You are too,” I accused and Sirius laughed, the noise echoing around the corridor loudly.

“Shush!” I exclaimed, putting a finger to my lips. Sirius mimed zipping his mouth shut, which, for some reason was very funny and then I was trying my very hardest to laugh quietly.  Sirius grinned, and the expression looked so demonic and wrong that I paused and looked at him. The expression faded slowly, before disappearing completely.

“We should go back,” I said.

“Bullocks on that.” Sirius replied, leading me through another corridor and to a flight of stairs. “I’m not going back there.”

“I don’t think I can manage the stairs,” I hissed. Sirius laughed at that and continued walking up without me. Damn. I grabbed hold of the banister and pulled myself up the stairs. “Where are we going?” I moaned, with no choice but to follow him now. It’s not like I could remember the way back.

And then I stepped into the room. The owlery.

“The owlery isn’t exactly quiet Sirius,” I said, a little scared to let go of the banister encase I fell in some owl crap or something.

“It is at night,” He replied, and he was at the window looking out over the stars. I walked over, having issues with my feet cooperating, and joined him at the window.

“The stars,” I commented, looking upwards at the great expanse of sky that stretched above us. “This could almost be romantic,” I laughed. Sirius stiffened. I mentally hit myself for being such a complete drunken fool and for everything coming out all wrong and strange... “Oh, relax Sirius – I could never think of you like that.”

“What do you think of me as, then?” He asked, looking out at the sky rather than turning to look at intoxicated little me.

“Well,” I said, looking upwards for inspiration. “You’re like a brother, only one that I don’t like very much. I mean... I care about you, and yet most of the time I don’t particularly like you.”

“That’s exactly it,” Sirius agreed with a slight smile. “You’re an annoying bitch, you know Evans?”

“And you’re an arrogant bastard.” I returned, leaning on my elbows and looking out over the sky. “But you are okay, aren’t you?”

“Peachy.” He replied, and then his expression was all morose as he stared out over the forest. “What about James?” He asked. “How do you think of James?”

I considered this for a moment and took another swig from my bottle.

“I have no opinion.” I decided. “I’m just... indifferent.”

“Sure?” Sirius asked, turning away from the window.

“Not a bloody clue,” I admitted. Closing my eyes and swaying slightly to the left. I opened my eyes again. “Did you ever look at the stars with Mary?” I asked, before instantly regretting it. Maybe that was the downside of being drunk, my brain didn’t seem to have the same control over my lips as it normally did... Mary was the taboo word that no one mentioned. She existed in her absence, but she was not to be mentioned.

Sirius nodded but didn’t say anything.

“Did you, I mean...” I stopped. I had another drink.

“What?” Sirius asked, drinking a little out of his bottle and looking at me again.

“Do you think of her a lot?” He was silent. “I keep... I keep thinking of like, well, what she’d say. Like, if she were here – and if she’d been at the party, and...” He still didn’t say anything. “And then sometimes I can’t imagine what she would say, and... and that really scares me.”

Then I went for another drink, having to tilt the bottle all the way back and accidently spilling some of the stuff on my top. I attempted to wipe it off and only succeeded in unintentionally rearranging my top. I blinked. “I’ve finished my drink.”

Sirius silently handed me his own bottle, turned around and slid down the wall so that he was sitting. I did the same, taking a swig of his drink – which was much stronger than my own –before handing it back to him. We sat in silence for a long few minutes in which I tried to focus my thoughts, but found that there weren’t actually many thoughts. Instead my head was a glorious stage of not working at all, and I smiled and let myself be content.

“You can talk to me about it, you know.” Sirius said, breaking the silence and my strange state of... peace. “I don’t mind.”

I nodded, and rested my head on his shoulder – unable to hold it upright any longer.

 

 

“I still think...” I said, grabbing hold of Sirius’s arm so I didn’t fall over, and finding that it didn’t work exactly as I had planned it to. “That James would look better with a moustache than you do.”

“Ah,” He said wisely, gesturing around with his finger. “But sh...Surely that’s cause you think James is better looking, in general.”

“No,” I countered, pausing to try and think of a counter argument but finding that my head was still spinning and a little more than it had done before.  “What I think, is that... well, I think James is very good looking, yes, but I wouldn’t, I mean – I don’t know if I’d say he was better looking than you in general, I might do.” I reasoned. “I very well might do,”

“So that’s a yes.” Sirius said triumphantly.

“No,” I countered. “I just think that, he’d suit a moustache more than you. Not that I think that either of you could grow a moustache without looking absurd, and in actual fact, I think I probably doubt your ability to grow a moustache in any case – so it’s all mostly irrelevant, if you know what I mean.”

“You know, Evans,” Sirius said. “I honestly haven’t got a bloody clue what you’re rambling on about.”

I giggled in a horrifically girly manner that I seemingly couldn’t control. “Me neither,” I decided as we reached the fat lady.

“What about... a beard?” Sirius asked, and I was still giggling when the portrait door flew open – without either of us uttering the password, not that I could really remember what it was anyway, and we were face to face with James.

For a second I stopped to think about how this would look from his point of view... I’d grabbed Sirius’s arm to hold me up and hadn’t let go, my hair was a mess after the unfortunate incident of the bird coming back from hunting early and decided to use my head as a nesting spot, and my skirt had once again risen up. We were both slightly flushed from our state of not-so-mild intoxication and I’d been mid giggle when he opened the door.

“Your lady, good Sir,” Sirius bowed – obviously sensing the awkward moment of tension as readily as I did.

I curtsied, overbalanced, grabbed onto Sirius again and began laughing again.

“Where have you been?” James asked, as we both stepped through the portrait hall and into the trashed common room which was now empty. That was hardly surprising though, it had begun to get light when we’d finally decided to call it a night.

“Owls,” I answered, biting my lip. There was another awkward pause.

“I’m going to bed then,” Sirius said.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s a good idea,” and then I leaned forward, kissed James on each cheek and smiled a slightly drunken smile “Night Jamsie.” I said sweetly. He looked slightly alarmed. “Sirius,” I said with a salute, and then I made my way towards the stairs.

They were watching me, so I did my best to walk with dignity and poise, at least until the banister stopped and I fell, sliding down a few steps in an undignified manner that sent my head spinning.

“Shit.” I muttered, grabbing both banister rails to haul myself up again, whilst laughing like a lunatic.

“Night Evans,” Sirius smirked. James was just staring.

I removed one hand off the banister to lift up my middle finger in his direction, and then I pulled myself around and managed the rest of the stairs without further embarrassment. At least, I thought I had until I arrived in the dormitory and realised that during the fall, my skirt had risen to a level that was slightly above my underwear.

Fabulous, I thought, and then threw myself into my bed and went to sleep without bothering to get changed.

 

 

I sat down on the bench heavily. Sirius placed a fried breakfast in front of me. I gave him a look that clearly expressed my amusement of what I hoped to god was a joke, before reaching for the toast and pouring myself a mug of coffee.

“How are you feeling, Evans?” Sirius asked with a smirk. I was glad at least that he was still happy, but decided it was best if I did not speak. I didn’t feel too awful, all things considered. It just felt like there was a knife embedded in the left part of my brain. And the idea of food made me mildly nauseous, but it was nothing compared to the last party – when the so called ‘Diggory incident’ happened.

My nausea just doubled.

“Lily woke up with her shoes still on this morning,” Rachel announced conversationally. We’d all sat together since... since Mary.  I still didn’t say anything, and instead concentrated on chewing my mouthful of toast slow enough that there were no repercussions.

“Covered in some kind of dirt, no less,” Charlotte added.

“Not dirt,” Sirius corrected. “Owl shit.”

Rachel laughed.

“And she was still wearing last night’s clothes,”

“What time did you come in?”

“I was still up at three.” Alice said quietly.

No wonder I felt so tired. My hangover appeared to be getting worse, if that was possible, so that now the idea of eating anymore toast was actually repulsive. Still, it gave me an excuse not talk. So I stayed facing downwards and eating toast.

“Now, be fair – it was only quarter to four,”

Nice,” Charlotte laughed.

“How much did you drink?” Rachel asked.

“And where were you all night?”

“Lily?” James asked.

“Yes,” I answered inadvertently, looking straight up at him. It was an entirely unintentional move, and everyone seemed to take in a breath and be staring at me. My face burned. James himself seemed taken aback by the whole thing.

“Can I... Can I talk to you for a minute?” His hazel eyes were full of an adorable mix of conviction and determination that made me think I was not going to enjoy this conversation, but I’d already inadvertently nodded, and then I was standing up and following him out of the hall.

 What had I said to James in that last conversation? Whist Mary was unconscious? I’d said that our date was off.... because, what was it?

“Lily,” He said seriously, turning around and looking at me intently. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” I returned. He’d said that Mary would want us to be happy... And I’d said... what had I said?

“Because, this... I mean, it’s not like you,”

I’d said that I wasn’t going to happy, irregardless of what he said or did. Harsh. But it had been true at the time...

“I mean, the rumours,” James said.

“What?” I asked, suddenly distracted. “Rumours?”

“You disappeared from a party, whilst drunk, for at least five hours with Sirius sodding Black.” James hissed angrily. “You walked out hand in hand, and didn’t return for the rest of the night – of course there are rumours.”

“James,” I said, feeling my head ache harshly. “If that’s what this is about -”

“Of course it’s not,” James said. “I’m not thick. Sirius can’t stand you and, well – It would never happen, I know. But it’s not about that, it’s about you.”

“Me?” I questioned, folding my arms. I no longer regretted what I’d said to him before – about him not making me happy. In any case, I’d qualified it after that. What had I said..? It was some great poetic line that had taken me all night to think of, but it had been better than thinking of Mary – unconscious in the hospital wing, or reliving the moment when she fell... instead I’d spent nights in a row thinking of the perfect line for when James called me up on it...

“Yes, Lily. You’re blowing up cauldrons, falling asleep in lessons, getting so dunk you can’t control what you’re doing...”

I’d said... when I’m with you, nothing makes sense. And I like the sense.

That had been it. Night’s worth of thinking of the perfect line, and it was frustratingly not what I’d meant to say at all, and yet –at the same time – it summed it up.

I liked control, I trusted my judgement and James... he turned everything I believed in on its head.

“I’m fine James!” I snapped my head spinning. Because nothing was the same anymore, everything had inverted. I wasn’t in control. My judgement was worth nothing now, after being proved wrong so many times, and now, anything that made no sense was preferable to my vague attempts at making sense out of nothing.

My eyes were suddenly welling up.

“Lily,” He implored. “I... I care about you Lily,” James said.

James cared about me, and was staring me with his adorable hazel eyes, and my head was spinning and I didn’t know what I was doing. I bit my lip.

“I don’t like seeing you like this,” He said. James cared.

“James,” I sighed.

“No, Lily, I mean it, I know you’re, I mean... after everything with M -” he began. I needed him to shut up. I didn’t want to hear her name. I just wanted to make things different – a little less sense maybe, and before I had time to really think about what I was doing, I’d grabbed the front of his robes and then I was kissing him.

I reached one hand up to his neck. He kissed me back for a split seconds and I was reminded of just how many times I’d kissed James Potter and how it always managed to make me feel full up with something indefinable.

Then he pulled away. I dropped my hand. He started at me his eyes wide.

“What’s wrong with you?”

I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move.

It had finally happened. James Potter was fed up of me and by the look on his face – he hated me.

I stared at him for a long moment before my instincts kicked in. Then I turned, fully prepared to sprint down the corridor and get the hell out of here. He grabbed hold of my wrist.

Lily,” He said.

I pulled my wrist out of his arm, and had an urge to get the hell out of here that was so strong nothing in the world could have stopped me.

“Shit!” I exclaimed, walking straight into a tiny first year with alarm. “Get out my way!” I exclaimed, James’s hand was on my shoulder and my head was spinning.

“A...are you Lily Evans?” The first year asked, stammering.

“Yes,” I said dropping my voice when I saw how startled the poor kid was. “Yes, sorry – I am.” James was behind me.

“You need to go to the headmaster’s office.” He stammered.

“Okay, fine,” I said, feeling my resolve tremble slightly. “The headmaster’s office, that’s great.” I concluded. My heart was thudding. I took a deep breath, and turned around to face James with a grimace. “Where is it?”

 

 

Dumbledore sat across from me, his normally twinkling blue eyes looking flat. The gravity of what he appeared to have to say was beginning to sink in. He leant over the desk and looked at me seriously, his look piercing right through me and seeing everything – how lost I was feeling, how desperate, how bloody confused.

“Miss Evans,” he began, “I am very sorry to have to tell you this...”

And just like that, the world inverted – again.



A/N - This is a bit drama-y, but that's only because it's going back and filling you all in. Soon you will know all and it will be less drama-y, anyway, please review. :)
 


Chapter 3: Alienation.
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A/N - I love having such a short queue! I've literally updated everything, it's been so great. Aren't the staffers amazing? And wasn't the April Fools Prank fabulous? I loved it. It's the reason April fools is april fools for me.... Anyway, rambling! So heres a new chapter (yaaayy) with a bit more about the summer and such. As I've now updated everything I believe, I'm debating what to put in the queue next (because I have now returned to thoes days when I eternally have something in the queue) soo... if you have any preferences, tell me :D

 

I wondered if this September 1st was more emotional than Mary’s September 1st last year... My last September 1st (at Hogwarts, I mean), her last September 1st... except she hadn’t know that then. I cried a little bit harder. “You’re scaring me a little bit,” James admitted a hand round my waist and one hand knotted up in my hair as I cried.  I rested my head on his shoulder and sniffed. I finally stopped crying and instead wrapped my arms around his neck. I inhaled deeply, and then let it out shakily. It seemed as though everything was different now, and I wasn’t really sure what to do with that knowledge.

“Shit James,” I muttered. “I’m sorry,”

I sniffed, and I’m pretty sure his lips brushed against the skin of my forehead, but the sensation disappeared as quickly as it came and then he just hugged me. Strangely I didn’t feel self conscious in front of him, and I wasn’t all together when that had happened (or what I had caused it) but I supposed... after everything James had seen me at my worse.

Far too many times.

“Just, Mary and my family, and,” I paused. “Then the Head thing, and stuff.”

“You don’t have to explain, its fine,” James said but he didn’t understand – I did have to explain, just maybe not to him. “Just, next time tell me when there’s something wrong,”

“It’s a deal.” I muttered. With another deep breath I stood up and brushed myself down.

“You sure you’re okay?” James asked, also standing up. I wrapped my arms around his neck again, and hugged him tightly for strength.

“Yeah,” I said, blinking again. “I’m sorry about being a bitch earlier,”

“Look, Lily; I’m sorry about the prefect meeting –”

“- Yeah, me too -”

“–And I’m sorry about the stuff on the platform with your family and, and...about somehow winding up your sister.”

“I’m sorry for being gone all summer,” I put in.

“I’m sorry for letting you, until last week again.”

“I’m sorry about all the apologies,” I joked weekly.

“Me too,” James said, half smiling. Then we both stopped and looked each other for a long moment – vaguely smiling and half just looking – and I suddenly considered everything for a minute. When had it become normal for me, Lily Evans, to allow myself to me comforted by James Potter? And when had I become so... comfortable in his presence.

We’d held each other’s gaze for what felt like an absurdly long time now, and I dropped my gaze and looked at my hands. Then I challenged myself again, forcing myself to meet his gaze again.“Let’s make a pact,” I said my voice sounding far too loud, and far too bright. “No more apologies – automatic forgiveness for all wrongs. Let’s... start afresh.”

“I suppose I can live with that,” James agreed, his lips twisting into even more of a smile and I blinked and looked at the floor. I felt like my emotions had been mostly cried out now, and was now a stage of almost-peace, without that safe feeling, I just felt... flat.

“Let’s go see the others,”

 

 

 “Hey Lily!” Rachel grinned, and I noted she had regained some of her beauty that she’d lost last year. She was tucked in the corner of the compartment next to Remus, and opposite Alice, and smiled warmly in my direction. I supposed it wasn’t unusual that Rachel was here, given ever since the events of last year all of the Gryffindor sixth years – now seventh years – had stuck to each other like glue, but still... somehow I hadn’t expected her to be there.

“How was your Summer?” I asked politely, stopping in the doorway.

“Oh,” Rachel said with a telling little smile, “Not bad – we went on a cruise, mum reckoned we deserved it.”

“Wow,” I said, “You’re tanned,” I added. She smiled again and flicked her hair in a way that I’d definitely never manage. “You look good,”

“Thanks,” She said, and for a second it seemed as though she was going to return with ‘you look good too’ before she realised that I didn’t look at all. Then she closed her mouth quickly, then realised I was still looking at her, then she apparently felt obliged to say something because then she was going on and on... “I wasn’t looking forward to coming back this year,  Charlotte’s parents won’t let her come back, so she’s being homeschooled this year – and Jeremy’s graduated, I suppose he will still be up in Scotland – with some up and coming Quidditch team, apparently – but still, it won’t be the same.”

“As much as I like standing in the door way...” James said from behind me, very close behind me – why hadn’t I noticed that? “That’s your queue to move, by the way Lily,” James informed me.

“Oh,” I said, “Right,” Then when, for reasons unknown to me, I still hadn’t moved he gave me a strange look, physically picked me up from around the waist and moved me a few inches to the left so he could get passed. Sirius, who was the only one outwardly watching this, winked at me.

James slid past me, sat down and put up his feet on the opposite side of the bench. Considering I’d taken such a long time to move, I felt I should stay where I was – as if there was some reason for me to remain standing to retain my dignity.

“You all right Lily?” Remus asked, and I suddenly remembered he’d been in the prefect meeting and that, actually... so had Rachel.

“Yep,” I said, leaning against the door frame and glancing at everyone. It seemed like such a monumental step backwards to be here, amongst my old friends, whose features all seemed to have aged and matured, but were achingly familiar at the same time.

Rachel and Alice was chatting, Alice occasionally glancing down at her ring and smiling wildly. Frank was obvious in his absence, although I doubted he’d been away for a particularly long period of time. Remus was half reading a book, but occasionally adding in bits to whichever conversation he felt needed something. Sirius had been talking to Peter about something or other, but now he appeared to be ignoring him to favour James, leaving Peter sitting in between two conversations looking slightly put out.

I looked at Sirius himself for a moment, and it seemed that at least he seemed to be glad about going back. Occasionally it looked like he was enjoying himself and being reunited with the others definitely seemed to have lightened him up a little bit – and of course he was still delighted that James was Head Boy.

“Not going to sit down, Lils?” Sirius asked with an almost-smirk as he looked up (probably noticing I’d been looking at him).

“Erm, no,” I said decisively.

“How was your summer then?” Rachel asked, looking up from Alice. Suddenly all attention seemed to be fixed on me again. I raised my eyebrows as I thought back to the days of summer stretching themselves in front of me...

How was my summer...? What an odd question, how utterly absurd and...

************************************

The May sunshine reminded me of last year’s exams, and I didn’t want to think of that, so mostly – I stayed indoors.  It would have been this time last year when we’d been in the heart of our OWL’s – before Snape’s betrayal, before Mary was even dying (to my knowledge) and long before my Dad’s heart attacks.

And we’d complained last year, about the sun – about how it was so gloriously sunny whilst we had to be inside, revising, and the second our exams finished it disappeared, and the hot summer we’d been promised had failed us. Then it had rained, and rained, and rained – almost all summer. But that was then, and this was now – and now I was at home, and I’d left Hogwarts early, and Mary was dead, and Snape was as good as dead, and my Dad was buried last week.

I was so pale, that whenever I looked in the mirror it reminded me sharply of Mary. So today I thought, screw it, and I ventured out under the hot may sun in a strap top and an old pair of shorts. Then I wondered around the tiny garden for a few seconds, before stopping at the vegetable patch and staring.

The vegetable patch was a testament to how little time Dad must have had recently.

My father used to grow tomatoes. Well, not just tomatoes – all kinds of things, really. Once upon a time he had his own shop and sold his home grown fruit and veg. That was his dream since he was tiny, which I only found out at his funeral, and as Charlie Evans said, it’s rare for someone to achieve their lifelong dream even for a little while. He continued the speech by saying that he thought perhaps his father’s dreams had changed when he met my mother, who wept silently throughout the whole service, and that his new dream was simply to live his life with her.

 He did, Charlie said, and with his two beautiful daughters there was no way anyone could say his life wasn’t a success.

Who cared if he lived in some crap town with a crap job which stressed him out much it caused him to have a heart attack at such a young age? He had a wife, and he had kids. Who cared if his lifelong dream fell through because of some big sodding supermarket? He had a minuscule vegetable patch. Did it matter that now we were completely skint? No, it didn’t, because my father had, apparently, been happy.

I’d only met Charlie Evans once before the funeral and he was what my mother used to describe as ‘a heart attack waiting to happen’ before the word heart attack became a taboo that would not be mentioned. He was very large with his fat stomach hanging over the waistband of his posh black trousers, and several chins which wobbled as he reached the climax of his speech. I couldn’t help but think, if money really mattered as little as he was making out then why hadn’t Charlie Evans given us a big wad of cash to help care for my Dad after the first heart attack?

Now I’d definitely seen too much of the bloke. He kept coming round and sitting with my mother to ‘keep her company’ which to my disgust mum seemed to find helped her a lot. Every time he invited himself over she’d start wasting all the money the life insurance company had paid out by cooking up huge lasagne’s and casseroles. I hoped that her motive behind this was to force Uncle Charlie into an early heart attack too, but I kept silent.

Petunia’s fiancé was also heart attack waiting to happen. He often popped round when these large dishes were being cooked and made loud inappropriate comments about how he thought the health risks of being overweight were ridiculously blown out of proportion. He’d start talking about how heavy his father had been, and how it had never had a negative impact on his health at all. My mother sat tight-lipped and silent whilst he rumbled on like a first class fool. It seemed Vernon Dursley was not my mother’s favourite person in the world, and I was glad that at least she hadn’t gone completely crazy.

Apart from Vernon who ignored the fact that they’d ever been a Mr Evans, and Charlie who expressed his grief by sitting with my mother and refilling her wine glass regularly, everyone else skittered around us – the family in mourning – and rarely mentioned my father’s name except for in a hushed whisper to show their grief. This was beginning to annoy me so much that I had dreams about walking through crowds with people whispering ‘John Evans, John Evans, John Evans, John Evans’ then I’d suddenly come face to face with Sirius Black who would say, quite audible ‘Mary McDonald’ and I’d wake up crying.

But I didn’t want to think about it, so I screwed up my forehead and I bent down next to my father’s vegetable patch and I ripped weeds up until my hands bled, with the May sun burning my shoulders. My bare knees were buried in the dirt, and the vegetable patch became tidier and tidier, although I wasn’t sure if I was pulling out the right things, or if I’d just decimated his potatoes, or his carrots or parsnips...

Petunia had told me repeatedly that I had no right to have anything to do with Father’s funeral, because I was never here. I hadn’t seen the way his health had been deteriorating or how stressful he’d found working on commission to the point where it literally stopped his heart from beating. I couldn’t help but agree with her.

All my memories of my father were from years and years ago, or from brief weeks at Christmas, Easter and summer which would be spent wishing I was at Hogwarts with Mary and Alice. At Hogwarts I was clever, brilliant and popular, whereas here I was just Petunia’s weird freak sister.

She’d successfully tarnished my reputation whilst I was away and now people only went near me to earn themselves ‘a bit of skirt’ or to see if I really was ‘a dealer’. Was it any wonder that I’d spent as little time at home with my family as I possibly could? I wanted to tell Petunia that and yell at her stupid bony figure that if she hadn’t been so horrible, I might have some decent memories of my father to dwell on.

Then I looked up at the sun, and I thought of the others, at Hogwarts – stuck in some class, unless it was the weekend, which it well could be – I’d completely lost track of the days – and for a second I missed them.

So I walked back to the garden and took a couple of packets of seeds from the utility cupboard, before returning to the garden. My father used to tell me which seeds should be planted when and why, and it was now I wished I had drank in every word he’d said, but I never did. So I just tore the packets open, and I planted it all – vaguely hoping that something would grow.

I’d only been at home for about an hour before the letters came. Four letters, four owls, and four more times I’d burst into tears. Sirius’s had been the shortest – We’re worried about you, please contact us – and Alice’s had been long and rambling – everyone’s talking about you... the guys say you’re not in Hogwarts... what did Dumbledore see you about...? You’re not in trouble are you?- and that one had sucked even more energy out of me, and made me desperately wish that I had simply been in trouble, and that Dumbledore had not called for me to tear my world apart for the second time in so many months.

Rachel’s, which had been signed from both her and Charlotte, had been simple – hope your okay Lily, everyone’s talking about you – we all need you here – but James’s had been... decidedly not simple. Whenever I thought about it I could hear his voice reciting it in my head, panicked and emotional with a forced state of calm as he tried not to totally freak out.

Lily, it began in a hurried messy scrawl that was unlike his own, Where are you? Look, I’m so sorry about earlier –it didn’t mean anything, honest and I just... I’ve looked on the map, and you’re not at Hogwarts. Are you okay? What did Dumbledore want to talk to you about? I’m so worried – please don’t do anything stupid. McGonagall won’t tell us where you are, she says it’s up to you to tell us, so... please, just answer this – James.

I didn’t answer them immediately, and I didn’t even make a big deal when I felt Petunia and Mum read the letters over my shoulder. “I left in a hurry,” I said quietly – in my funeral voice – “I didn’t say goodbye to any of my friends,”

“Go back,” Mum had implored, resting a hand on my shoulder. Petunia’s glare told that she half wanted me as far away from her as possible, and half wanted me glued to her side. Mum had been on her second glass of wine.

“No,” I’d said, staring at the wood of the table. “I need to stay here,”

So I’d written my response on the kitchen table, helping myself to my own glass of wine, and cutting off my contact from my friends. I couldn’t tell them yet. It was too raw. It wasn’t physically capable of putting the words down onto parchment – it was far too hard. Don’t worry about me, I’d written, tears silently falling down my cheeks in our shitty kitchen, Dumbledore offered me the chance to go home and visit my family for awhile – he said he thought it would do me good. I think he’s right. You all know I’ve been a bit strange recently, and I really feel I need to be away from Hogwarts for a period of time. I’m sorry for not answering your letters sooner, I’ve been trying to settle back home.

And then, I don’t know what possessed me to do – but it felt important, it felt like the right thing to do...

Please don’t contact me for awhile, I really need to get my head straight and I need to do that on my own. I’m sorry.

Then I’d sent it, along with another letter informing Dumbledore of my decision to stay at home (to which I received a polite letter of response telling me I could have all the time I needed) and they had listened to me, and they had not written to me anymore.

I scrabbled around in the soil until the last of the seeds were buried, and then I felt back onto my bum and stared up at the May sun. My shoulders were burnt red and scattered with freckles, and I was covered in mud, and I cried for a long time.

“Lily dear?” Mum said, emerging from the house when the sun began to dip below the row of houses behind ours. In her hand was a glass of red wine, and she looked at my position in the dirt worriedly. “It’s nearly time for dinner, Lily,” She called, “Are you okay?”

I nodded, pulling myself off the ground and rubbing my hands together.

“Charlie and Vernon are here,” She said, “We’ve been watching you from the kitchen,”

“I’ll just go and wash my hands then,” I said, stepping into the house and taking my cardigan off the hook. The material made my burnt flesh smart as I pulled it on, but I ignored the sensation. “What’s for dinner, Mum?” I asked.

“Tomato soup,” She replied, and my heart sank in my chest.

My father used to grow tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

 We were eating shepherd’s pie, tucked around our tiny table in our tiny kitchen, trying not to move our elbows too much in fear of knocking our neighbours out. “Top nosh, Mrs Evans,” Vernon said, smiling heartily at my mother. She smiled politely and did at least seem slightly gratified by Vernon’s compliment, in fact – Vernon had grown on all of us, mostly because Petunia seemed to be so much of a better person when he was around. Yes, he was a rambling pompous fool, but that could be forgiven by the way he looked after my sister – making sure she’d didn’t have to walk anywhere alone, offering to buy groceries for mother, and genuinely being quite amiable.

It was hard to really like him, but I couldn’t find that much about him which I strongly disliked. Since Charlie had gotten bored of hanging around our house like a pesky fly, it was good to have... if not a man, a male presence, hanging about – offering to do any of the jobs that Dad had normally done.

“Thank you Vernon,” Mum smiled, delicately wiping the corners of her mouth and barely touching her own shepherd’s pie. “How are you getting on at your job?” She asked politely.

“Oh, very well.” He said, puffing up his chest slightly. “You know it was my Uncle’s business,” he began, “but since his unfortunate death it’s been in new hands, still – when they heard my name they offered me the job immediately,”

“How long have you been working there now?” Mum asked.

“Oh, well,” Vernon said, eating another forkful of shepherd’s pie and chewing deliberately, “I started in February, so it’s been nearly six months now,” He nodded.

“Goodness,” Mum said, “And you’re being promoted all ready – you’ll be plenty qualified to look after my daughter then,” He nodded seriously.

“Mum,” Petunia piped up, “About the wedding...” She began.

“I thought we said we weren’t going to talk about that yet?” I asked, butting in deliberately. Petunia narrowed her eyes at me but said nothing.

“No, no,” Mum said, shaking her head, “It’s quite all right Petunia – do go on,” I felt slightly betrayed, and the look Petunia sent me only reinforced it, but I ignored the feeling and carried on eating my own shepherd’s pie.

“It’s about my wedding fund...” Petunia began slowly.

“Oh no, Pet,” Vernon interrupted. “No – there’s no way we can take that money now,” I suddenly found myself liking Vernon even more. “It wouldn’t be right, it wouldn’t be decent,”

“But how else are we to pay?” Petunia asked, her voice rising slightly. “It’s what Daddy would have wanted! That’s what the money was for.”

“No, Petunia, I have some savings -”

“Which is for the deposit on our house!” Petunia exclaimed.

“Tuney,” Mum said, “I rather think he was going to put some more money into the fund,” She said quietly, “There wasn’t half as much as you might have thought – but of course your welcome to have it,”

“Mum!” I exclaimed, looking up at her in shock. “We don’t have any income! You have to pay for food, and for the mortgage -”

“And for your school books and food for your stupid pets!” Petunia interrupted angrily. “And for anything your little heart desires.”

“Petunia,” Vernon said in a voice that I supposed was meant to pacify her, needless to say it didn’t work.

“Of course all of that stuff is essential, but my wedding can just be -”

“Paid by my savings,” Vernon said, “Petunia, dear...”

“Lily,” mum said. “Your sister has to pay for her wedding somehow.”

“And you have to pay for the house!” I exclaimed, standing up. Petunia did the same.

“What does the house matter to you – you don’t even live here?”

“I’ve been here all summer!” I exclaimed angrily.

“Oh yes,” Petunia said, “You came back for three and a half months because out father died. That’s all we ever get you’re for – summer, and Christmas if we’re lucky...”

“Dad wouldn’t want Mum to starve!” I yelled.

“What would you know what Dad would have wanted, you haven’t seen him for six years!”

“That’s shit!” I yelled.

“Lily!” Mum exclaimed, shocked at my use of relatively mild (in my opinion) language.

“Get out of my house!” Petunia yelled, banging her bony fists on the wood of the table. “You’ve been nothing but a nuisance since you got back here – you haven’t helped around the house, you haven’t done anything – if you were really worried about Mum’s money you’d have stayed at your freak school where she wouldn’t have to feed you!”

“Petunia,” Mum said, also standing. “That is enough.”

“And what about your precious wedding fund?” Petunia spat, ignoring my mother’s protests. “You’re not volunteering that money are you? Yours is safe.”

“She can have it!” I exclaimed. “I’m not going to need it!”

 “Of course not!” Petunia yelled. “No one would marry a freak like you!”

“No!” I yelled back. “Because I’m going to marry someone who has the money to afford my wedding!” And then she threw her glass of water at me, and then I stormed out of the kitchen, slamming the front door behind me as I exited onto the pavement.

“It’s the Evans chick!” Someone yelled after me, as I rounded the corner between the streets of houses and headed for the place that had become my permanent summer refuge – the park. “Evans,” Someone yelled, and an empty can of larger collided with my shoulder. I resisted the urge to turn around a pull out my wand on him.

I hated Petunia even more, maybe if she hadn’t spent most months of the year spreading crap about me to make the summer months as horrible as possible. The guy yelled something obscene, and I swallowed down the torrent of insults that I was burning to throw at him, put my hands in my pocket and kept my head down.

I hated the god damn summer.


*************************************

 

“Lily? Summer – how was it?” Alice repeated, and she still sounded slightly irritated from my comment about her newfound engagement, let alone factoring in my long months of absence from their lives. I frowned and wondered why exactly they hadn’t thrown me from the carriage for being such a horrible friend. And why exactly I had decided to lie.

“It was okay,” I said.

“Ah,” James said. “Any elaboration?” He suggested. I decided to forget my pride issues and sat down on the bench opposite him as I tried to think of some elaboration that didn’t reveal how completely dreary my summer had been – from start to finish.

“I spent most of the time trying to avoid Petunia’s wedding plans,” I replied truthfully. There had been so many arguments about the damn wedding fund this summer, it almost wasn’t worth the bother – but it was the principle of the thing.

“Is her fiancé as charming as she is?” James asked. I sent him a look. “Seriously though, what’s he like,”

“He’s, er...” I paused for a second. “Tall.”

“So you don’t like him?” James asked. I raised my eyebrows at that. “Well, you’d normally say something good, and if all you can come with is ‘he’s tall’ then obviously...”

“I don’t dislike him,” I countered. “I just don’t like him. He looks a bit like a whale,” I carried on. “Or like when he was younger he walked into a window, and his face stuck like that – but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with him.”

“Rich?” Rachel asked with a wicked smile.

“Not exactly – but he has a good position at this company, so I think the idea is he could be rich in a couple of years, so really, that’s gold dust for someone in our area,”

“What do you mean?” James asked curiously. I glanced at Alice.

“It means that most people in our area are living off unemployment benefits with no prospects.” I replied.

“It’s not that bad,” Alice returned – she’d visited last summer, with Mary, and I’d visibly felt their shock about how scummy it was, but had quickly recovered and pretended it was just as quaint as Mary’s village.

“You saw the nice part – that’s the part we live in,” I said, “We’re the ones who get gardens, well,  a few square inches of grass. There’s no need to look so shocked, James – everyone knows I’m dirt poor.” I said slowly.

“I’ve never thought about that,” James returned.

“I live three blocks away from Snape, for God’s sake,” I muttered. “Anyway, Vernon – that’s her fiancé, fancies himself as a bit of a handy man – we’ve had our pipes cleared, gutters fixed, roof re-shingled or something, so that’s always nice...”

“He’s sounds like a right laugh,” Sirius commented.

“He’s not really the laughing type,” I said, “But neither is Petunia – so I’d say they’re pretty much perfect for one another.” It felt bizarre to be with these guys again, talking about thing, and to have people listen to what I said... “The rest of the summer I spent trying to avoid the beer boys,”

“The beer boys?” Alice questioned.

“Well, the guys who hang around on the street, drinking an endless supply of beer – god knows where they get it from – and throwing things at people. Petunia managed to convince everyone at the local secondary school – where I should have gone – that I’m a drug dealer/ bit of a slut, which means that I’m one of their favourite targets for throwing things at people, or making comments, or trying it on or whatever.”

“Wow.” Rachel said. “So.... a good summer all round?”

“Yeah,” I sighed, sinking back in my chair. “Brilliant.” 

Yet, I’d suffer through it time and time over if it meant I didn’t have to return here, to Hogwarts – my old home.

 

 

Thestrals were ugly. I remembered reading some book that said they had a sinister kind of beauty, but they were wrong. Everything about their presence was ugly. Their bones gutted out from their dark bodies and there was something sickeningly hypnotising about watching the way their muscles moved when they walked, dragging the carriage up to the castle. They shone slightly.

I was pretending they didn’t exist.

I wondered if the others had talked about them on the carriage back to the train... I’d gotten a portkey... they’d seen them before. It didn’t seem like the sort of thing you’d discuss but we’d all been there. We’d all watched Mary die. We could all see them now.

I tore my gaze away knowing full well that the horrible skeletal creatures were going to reappear in the heart of my nightmares. I looked at Hogwarts instead.

It was frustratingly ironic that my place of escape, had become the place I wished to escape, and I felt a familiar irrational fear as I stared at the entrance. It was stupid, and I wouldn’t have considered such a notion in several million years – that I, Lily Evans, could be absolutely terrified of going back to Hogwarts. And yet, I was.

And there Hogwarts was, towering above me and being impossibly huge and imposing and welcoming at all the same time – it seemed to smile at me, the towers and turrets serving as a reminder that I used to love this place.

Now I hadn’t to gather the strength to be able to exit the carriage and draw it up from some reserve deep within me.

“Are you okay, Lily?” Remus questioned from behind my left shoulder. I wanted to turn around and yell at him – no; of course I’m not okay, because people keep sodding dying and disappearing and changing – but instead I forced myself to smile (even though it made me want to cry so badly that my eyes started prickling) and stepped off the carriage.

“It’s good to be back,” Sirius said, shoving his hands into his pockets and smiling slightly at the castle. If Sirius, who had also lost Mary, could be positive about returning here – where half the time I was practically longing every single ghost to take on Mary’s face, and where the rest of the time I was dreading that they might... and where everything and nothing reminded me of her at the same time.

I’d become too comfortable at home, that was it, I’d wrapped myself in a little bubble of safety – as if our little town was the only place in the world, and I was away from death and Voldermort and prejudice. Where arguments with Petunia made me feel like a kid again, and I didn’t have to think about the fact that soon, all too soon, I was going to be pushed into the adult world – made to look after myself.  Hogwarts was complicated. Home was different, even though the lack of Dad made things solemn.

There weren’t so many people, at any rate. And now these people were pushing around me at all sides, rushing up to the gates as the heavens opened and the September rain started to fall. “Come on,” Alice implored, grabbing my arm and pulling me up the stone steps and into the castle. And last year’s feast had been such a long time ago, and it had been drizzling then, and Mary had sworn loudly, and Dad had been on the platform telling me to have a little fun, to enjoy myself. This year was supposed to be the difficult one – NEWT’s.

“Hi Lily,” Amanda Brocklehurst said, appearing out of nowhere. “You haven’t seen Marlene have you?” I shook my head. “Sorry about my sister...”

“Congrats on Head Girl!” A Gryffindor girl said from the year below. Her name was on the tip of my tongue.

Amos Diggory raised an eyebrow at me as he passed. I flushed.

“Hi Lily,” A Hufflepuff said with a smile, and then another girl passed – who I used to sit next to in Charms and she smiled too.

“Mudblood,” A young Slytherin hissed, making a point to bump into me.

“Good summer?” Frank asked, appearing from nowhere.

I nodded my head spinning. Then there was a girl ahead with purple hair, and my heart stopped.

“I got drenched!” A second year Gryffindor was declaring to anyone who would listen. Then the others appeared, and Alice exclaimed “Where did you get to, Lily?” and then she noticed Frank, and her ring glittered, and Peter said “Pity there’s no prank this year,” and the others shrugged – unperturbed. Then the girl with purple hair, a little to the left in the corridor was laughing and Sirius had noticed it too, and everyone was going into the hall, and, and, and...

“Lily...?” James began.

“I’m fine!” I snapped, shaking myself out of it as I tried to breathe steadily. “Let’s just go in,” I said, grimacing and using up the last of my energy to get myself through the door, and into the great hall.

“Welcome!” Dumbledore exclaimed, but even he didn’t sound very convinced. His voice was laced with worry; an acknowledgement that the whole world was looking grim. “Welcome students – back to Hogwarts!”

And I thought, yeah right.

A/N - Remember to tell me which story you want updates for next, and please review! I may not always answer these days (because there's so many!) but I swear to you I appreciate every single one. Also, I'll always reply on my MTA page... so come talk to me there :D  It'd really cheer me up as I've been having a rough week (today I saw this kid get run over, he's fine now - thank god - but it was honestly a horrible thing to watch and I spent half an hour with him waiting for the paramedics and the police and stuff. It was so strange). So yeah... Thanks for reading!
 


Chapter 4: Companionship.
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A/N - So this is now a very long chapter (which was actually orginally two, but there we go) and it's a super-quick update (as you asked for! Your wish is my command!). Sorry about all the flashbacky-ness at the moment. It's only because this is the beginning, and I either started here, in september, or in April. I thought this was the best way. Anyway, please review! After all... that update was verrryy fasst. Non?

 

“Lily,” Alice began on the forth night. It had been eerily quiet in the now rather small dormitory... now that there were just the three of us. Alice had made a point of discussing wedding plans with Rachel every night before we went to sleep, and so I listened to them talk about flowers and napkins and tried my very hardest to allow them to bore me to sleep. It seemed Alice, being Alice, was about ready to drop her annoyance at my comment, and I was perfectly content to let her – it hadn’t affected things much. “What’s the deal...” she began, and I supposed this was my comeuppance – say something negative about Alice’s absolutely ridiculous wedding, and have to dish the dirt about something or other.

She must have been pretty angry too, because she’d barely spoken to me for the past couple of days. Toady she’d bitten the bullet and had tried talking to me, but the awkwardness that settles over a friendship when you haven’t spoke for months meant that I almost wished she hadn’t bothered.

“I mean, what’s with you and James?” She asked, sitting up and looking towards me with an inquisitive look on her features. The beds had all moved now, and were organised in a simple straight line – with Rachel on one end, Alice in the bed where Mary’s used to be, and me as close to the door as possible – just in case I needed to make a run for it in the night.

With questions like ‘what’s with you and James’ it seemed very likely that making a run for it in the night was a highly probably action course of action.

“Yeah,” Rachel said, also sitting up in her cheque pyjamas, crossing her legs and looking at me. “I wondered about that.”

It seemed they practiced how to bring this up in conversation.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I said lightly, because I didn’t want to think about it – because it was confusing and made my head hurt.

“Well, for a start – he’s just gone ahead and sat himself next to you in most lessons,” Alice began.

“He sits next to Sirius most of the time,” I interjected.  I now sat next to a Marauder in every single lesson – like they’d picked up my new vulnerability and were trying to be around me constantly. The result being I felt like I was about to be swallowed up. As much as I loved Sirius, James and Remus (Peter didn’t sit next to me in any class – the other three had covered all lessons before he got a turn, I bet he was gutted), there was only so much of their boyishness that I could stand.

“I’d say it’s fifty-fifty,” Rachel said fairly. “But on the train he like, picked you up,”

“And several times in the past week I swear to Merlin he’s been this far away from kissing you,” Alice said holding up her fingers to gesture what a small distance it was. You’d have thought, if James Potter was approximately two millimetres away from my lips I would have noticed. “And you looked as if you were going to let him,”

“It’s not like we haven’t kissed before,” I said, also sitting up in my bedcovers and looking at the others feeling half curious, half defensive.

“You have?” Rachel asked. “When?”

“I...”

Multiple times,” Alice grinned. “New year’s last year, Peter’s seventeenth...”

“Enough,” I said, and they both laughed. I edged forward a little bit. “We’re friends now, anyway,” I said.

“You and James could never be friends,” Rachel said. I couldn’t help but almost agree. It did seem a rather strange notion, James and I – friends. But how else could you define it?

“And,” Alice said eagerly, “He stole some of your toast the other day,”

“So?” I asked.

“And you didn’t slap him! You smiled at him.”

“So I’ve mellowed.” I said, folding my arms over my chest. “That’s perfectly natural.”

“You have not mellowed, if anything – you’re angrier. We all saw that duel between you and Sarah Bones in defence, she was terrified of you – and you could tell even Professor Tyron was impressed.”

“That wasn’t anger,” I countered. “And I’ve been practicing magic over the summer,”

“And that’s another thing,” Alice lamented eagerly – clearly passionate about this particular subject. I had no doubt she’d been dying to quiz me since the moment she’d seen my new way of interacting with James Potter. “What happened over summer?”

Nothing.”

“He wrote to you!” She said, and Rachel was nodding behind her – they’d discussed this. “Or you met up or something. You must have!”

I wanted to prove them wrong so very badly, but as is normally the case – they were right.

****************

It was a hot summer. Petunia and her friends used to go down to the park and lie about in flowery skirts hopping to tan, but I stayed up in my room and practiced NEWT magic with the door shut. I’d turned of age a couple of weeks after Mary died but I hadn’t appreciated how useful it was to be able to do magic at home until mid July. Now it was late August and still things weren’t looking up.

Petunia was avoiding me completely, and Mum was too busy cooking up large fatty dishes that I couldn’t eat because everyone one of them seemed to contain tomatoes, and I couldn’t bare the fact that they weren’t my Dad’s tomatoes and never would be again. Occasionally she’d knock on my door and I’d make a big show of demonstrating what I’d taught myself that day. I’d grin at her as if I was thrilled about the whole thing and she’d smile back sadly. I came downstairs for mealtimes only, and then I talked little.

The truth was I couldn’t deal with another death when Mary’s was so prominent.

“Lily!” My mother’s voice floated up into my room. “Breakfast!”                                   

I’d been up since the first light of dawn had made it past my curtainless windows and woken me up from my fitful sleep. I had gotten dressed around seven so the idea of breakfast, hours afterwards, sounded obscure and strange.

I pulled myself up off my bed and exited my room.

I sat down in my usual seat round the tiny table and buttered my toast. When Dad was alive we never used to be able to afford real butter, and I wondered how big this insurance pay out was and how long it would last before we were even poorer that before. “Morning.” I said in the direction of mum, who was bending over the sink, and not Petunia who was sitting opposite me.

“Morning, Lily.” Mum said sounding if not cheery, upbeat and positive. She was doing well and I wished I could be slightly more useful. She wasn’t the same Mrs Evans as she had been before, but she was taking things in her stride and other than the few times I’d come downstairs to use the loo in the middle of the night and found her, with her wine glass still in her hand, crying and pressing the cool metal of her wedding ring to her face, she seemed to be fine. “I’ve been thinking, you should have one of your friends over. I’d love to meet them.”

 I had animatedly told my parents all about the people at Hogwarts and all about magic. They could probably name all my friends without ever having met them. I was always one for talk, and I loved magic so passionately that for those first few summers they couldn’t shut me up. I told them everything; a portfolio on each of my teachers and each of my subjects; the names of every single person I sat next to; the exact sleeping habits of the girls in my dorms; the names of all the boys in my years; an explanation of Quidditch; how to get around Hogwarts and a list of every spell I’d learnt... It was no wonder that Petunia ended up so insanely jealous that she started calling me names.

By third year I’d grown up a little and didn’t offer the information so freely, but my parents were as interested in magic as I was. They were good parents and kept asking me the questions... What had happened to that boy I used to sit next to in transfiguration, whether I was still top of the class at potions, the results of the Quidditch matches... So I told them everything.

My parents had always found magic just as exciting as I did and would always beg me to demonstrate to some magic to them. To hell with the rules, Dad had always said, I want to see what you can do! It saddened me to think that he’d never actually seen me do Magic. He’d been a couple of months too late.

“No, Mum, really,” I answered lamely.

“Why?”

“Does it matter?” I asked a little snappily I have to admit. I suddenly felt a little defensive – as if she was invading my own private stash of emotions. I’d never really felt the urge to conceal things from my mother before but now I didn’t want her to know how I was feeling. It wasn’t comforting or reassuring it was just... annoying.

“Well, I’ve been worried about you, with you sat up in your room all day on your own. I’m not stupid, Lily, you haven’t had much post like you normally do. You’re seventeen and beautiful, you should at least have a couple of blokes writing love letters to you or something. Your... father wouldn’t want you to be like this.” She paused for a few seconds. “Miserable.”

“Mum, I’m not.” I protested but she gave me a knowing look before turning back to her dishes. Petunia rolled her eyes in my direction before returning to her grapefruit slices.

I sighed and looked wistfully out of the window over the sink. Through it you could see Dad’s tiny vegetable patch - the seeds I’d planted in May had grown a lot in the past three months, and it looked alive again, even if it was no longer thriving like it used to be.

“There’s an owl.” Petunia said. “Hey, maybe that’s one of your admires with a love letter.” She taunted. Her brown eyes, which she’d inherited from Dad, glared at me – harsh and unwelcoming.

I ignored her and got up from my chair to open the window. I could tell from the second I saw it that it was a school owl and I was sure that Petunia knew that too. Despite her protests that she didn’t want anything to do with magic, she had an uncanny way of remembering everything I’d ever said about it. I took the letter from its leg.

“Oh no,” She said glancing at the Hogwarts crest. “Guess it’s just the school writing to you again. Funny, isn’t it Lily? How the only letter you’ve received all summer is from your freak school.”

“I told them not to write.” I said through gritted teeth.

“Girls!” Mum reprimanded. We both rolled our eyes in her direction in a moment of unity before realising out mistake and stopping mid roll. I focused on my letter. I pulled the piece of parchment out the heavy envelope and out tumbled... a badge.

For a second I wondered whether they’d sent me another prefect badge knowing that I’d lost the old one but then I turned it over in my fingers and realised something startling...

“Head Girl.” I muttered out loud. Petunia snatched it out of my hands and muttered something about me being ‘queen of the freaks’ which I barely heard. Even after the disaster that was last year, they were making me Head Girl? Really? Dumbledore was definitely one of a kind.

“Head Girl!” Mum said smiling a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Lily, that’s wonderful!”

“Look there’s another owl, probably here to take the badge right back again.” Petunia said, scowling as I passed the badge to mum so she could look at it too.

There was indeed another Owl heading for our little kitchen. An expensive proud looking owl that I didn’t recognise... for a second I thought that Petunia might have been right and the badge was going to be ripped from my mother’s fingers, but instead it landed smoothly on my left shoulder and nipped my ear with its beak affectionately.

“Hello there, what do you want?” I asked running my fingers over its beautiful head. He seemed to roll his eyes at me and stuck his leg out as if to say, I have a letter for you, obviously. I reached up and gently detached the parchment from its foot and to my surprise, it didn’t fly away immediately. It stepped down onto the table and began pecking away at my toast.

Petunia shrank away from it and turned her nose up in disgust, whilst I busied myself trying to work out where I recognised that handwriting from...

“Who’s it from?”

“James.” I said, realising. “James Potter.” Petunia’s scowl deepened.

“He must be rich to afford a bird like that,” Mum said approvingly. “I should think so too, you only deserve the best.”

“Mum.” I said. “It’s not like that.” But I was considerably more interested in opening the letter as quickly as possible than defining the platonic relationship between James and I. I breathed in deeply to fill myself with strength before I began to read.

Lily,

The other’s told me not to write like you said, but I’ve been really worried about you so I thought I’d write anyway. You can ignore this, if you want, but I’ll probably write again. I think the others are all really worried too and they’re just not writing because they think that you abandoned them. I said it wasn’t like that and that you’d have a reason, but they wouldn’t listen.

Alice and Frank are closer than ever. You don’t see them apart now a days, which I think Remus is finding tough. Sirius had brought his own apartment (his uncle died and left him some money) and only comes out when he’s being forced too, which I do – regularly. You haven’t missed much, really.

My excuse for writing to you is that I got my letter from Hogwarts this morning. I am going to assume you’re Head Girl here because really, who else could do it as well as you? I wondered if you’ve though about who’s Head Boy yet? Well, I’m ending your suspense and wonder by telling you that it’s... me (I think Dumbledore is completely mad too). I just thought you should know so you don’t get such a big shock on September 1st.

If you were wondering, it’s my family owl. His name is Harold (after my grandfather) and he’s an excellent judge of character, if a little arrogant. If he likes you it probably means you’re a good person. I’m only rambling because I really wanted to talk to you and I know you probably won’t answer this letter. I’ve missed you, Lily.

Don’t be a stranger

James

I took in the way he curved the ‘L’ of my name as if he was savouring it. It made a much greater indent on the paper than any of his other words. I rung my hands and thought about it for a good few minutes. Suddenly I needed to reply.

 “What does it say?” Mum asked but I ignored her and half sprinted up to my room to grab some parchment. I hastily scribbled my response before taking the stairs two at a time and attaching it to Harold’s leg. He flew out of the window elegantly and beautifully.

I sat back down at the table and saw that now Petunia had the letter and was scanning over it with a scowl on her face.

“He sounds like a freak.” She commented before skidding it back across the table towards me. I smiled properly for the first time in what felt like forever at the expression on her face.

She didn’t stop scowling all day especially as, twenty minutes after I had sent my response, Harold returned with another letter.

Lily,

I’m so glad you replied! I honestly didn’t think you would. Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you avoided mentioning why you’ve been uncontactable all summer, but I’ll let it pass – for now.

I think you might be right about the reason Dumbledore thought I’d be a good Head Boy candidate and of course you’re Head Girl. I’m not surprised about that at all.

You would be able to tell instantly if the owl didn’t like you, and as you managed to write the letter back without losing a finger or any blood it’s fair to say that he likes you a lot. On the subject of pets, how are Prongs and Pads? I hope you’ve been looking after them well.

Is there any chance that I get to see you before September 1st? I want to make sure you’re still alive. We could get our books together or something? I’ll be on my best behaviour – promise.

Love James

The letter induced another smile and Mum nodded at me approvingly. She’d been busy baking a large apple crumble for pudding later but came back into the room when she heard the owl’s hooting.

“I think I remember you talking about a James Potter.” She said leaning with her back against the doorway, clutching her glass of red wine and surveying me as I ran my hand over the parchment and considered my response. “Is he good looking?” She asked with a ghost of her younger self portrayed on her features.

“Mum,” I said with a roll of my eyes. It was strange. For the first time since I’d come home I felt like a real human again, and like this was a normal family. The absence of my father was still hanging over our heads, but it didn’t feel so thick that I couldn’t breathe.

“Are you going to meet up with him then?” Petunia asked in a bored voice from behind me. I was sat with my legs crossed on the floor of the living room as I poured over my potions book. I’d decided to continue Petunia bating, something which I hadn’t done for awhile, by sitting in the same room as her with my spell books muttering to myself, and occasionally setting things on fire.

Obviously she’d read the whole letter of my shoulder.

“Don’t read my letters!” I complained folding it away and slipping it between the pages of my book where I knew she’d never go hunting for it.

“He’s asked you to meet up with?” Mum questioned excitedly. With the prospect of me having a love life she seemed to have more colour in her cheeks than normal. There was a glint in her green eyes that had been missing before. Petunia must have noticed this too because her scowl deepened. “Tell me all about him then, Lily.” She urged.

“What’s there to tell?” I asked begrudgingly. James and I weren’t like that, or at least I didn’t think we were at the minute, and I didn’t need her banging on about it.

“You should invite him over!”

“Vernon’s coming over for dinner today, Mum.” Petunia said.

“Yes, dear, but I haven’t met Lily’s boyfriend, yet.”

“He’s not my boyfriend, Mum!” I protested.

“Oh! You should invite him over for dinner too!” She declared loudly, ignoring my comments.

I was about to tell her no way when there was a loud squawk and a shriek. Harold took off into the air and flapped around wildly whilst a high pitch squeal of pain was being emitted through Petunia’s lips. “OW!” She yelled holding her fingers.

“What is it Petunia dear?” Mum asked her gaze drifting back to Petunia somewhat reluctantly. She was holding her right hand in her left and a trickle of dark red blood was running down the side of her index finger.

“He bit me! That bird bit me. That beast bit me!” She yelled. I watched the blood bubble up and drip before snapping into action and pulling out my wand. “No!” She shrieked jumping backwards and tripping over the edge of the sofa. “You...! You Freak, I’m not telling you anywhere near me – I swear I -”

“I can heal it!” I protested.

“No! No! It’s all your fault! You and your stupid ugly freak friends and your freak school! I bet this James bloke doesn’t even like you! I bet he just feels sorry for you because you’re the biggest freak in the -”

I silenced her with my wand before grabbing a piece of parchment from my pile and writing my second response.

James,

Your bird is definitely a good judge of character. Is today too early to meet up?

Lily

 

****************

“So, Lily?” Alice asked, practically bouncing with excitement.

“Yes we met up over the summer – once, in the last week, he wrote to me when he was given the Head Boy position – we got our books together. It was nice.”

“And now?”

“I don’t know,” I said, bringing my knees up to my chest and hugging them around me. “I...I’m not really thinking about it,”

“Why not?” Rachel asked a shrewd expression on her face.

I considered this for a moment. I had two options – lie, or tell the truth. I thought of Mary, I thought of her lies, and I decided that considering the grief I’d given her, I had no choice but to be truthful. “It really scares me being back here,” I answered.

“Scared? Why should you be scared?” Alice asked. “We’ve only been back a few days, and already your top of every class, everyone likes you – bar the Slytherins, and we’re safe here.”

“I know,” I said, gathering the folds of my fleece pyjamas between my fingers. “It’s irrational,” I agreed, trying to find words to voice my feelings out loud. “But it’s like, so suffocating, and it reminds me... of Mary,” I said my voice stumbling over the words a little, “And with Voldermort, and with all these people which is so horrible, because I spent so much time on my own this summer, and I just feel so vulnerable.”

“Vulnerable,” Rachel repeated softly.

“Like at any moment, I could just die,” I said so quietly I wasn’t sure if they heard me, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted them to have heard. “And James,” I said a little louder. “James makes me feel safe.”

Alice smiled a warm comforting smile that I realised with a jolt I had missed. Rachel grinned too, her lips twisting upwards as she let out a small sigh. “So, if he asked you out now, what would you say?”

“He wouldn’t ask me out now,” I said, remembering with a jolt the way he’d looked at me the last time I’d kissed him...

“What if he did?”

“Well he wouldn’t,” I said, before suddenly realise how bitch-like that had sounded. “Sorry,” I said, before laying back down on my bed and pulling the covers up around me.

“Lily?” Alice said as she turned out her bedside light. “Don’t be a stranger, yeah?”

I smiled into my duvet, my loneliness suddenly being halved somewhat – no matter what anyone said, I needed girl friends. “Yeah,” I replied, smiling into my covers as I shut my eyes tight.

“And Alice?” I whispered after what felt like a short time, but what could have been about twenty minutes in real terms. My head was full of sleepy drowsiness and, for once, I was utterly relaxed. “I’m sorry about the engagement thing,” I said.

“Hmm,” she replied, in just the same sleepy state that I was in. “S’okay,” She muttered.

“I’m happy for you,” I said. “Maybe a little jealous,”

“I know,” She returned.

“But,” I said, “It’s a very nice ring,” Then I dreamt of engagement rings all night, large glittering diamonds, shiny red rubies and emeralds – shinning like my mother’s eyes – framed in gold banding, in circles – round and round and round. 

 

“Lily,” James said sitting down opposite me at breakfast. I looked up from my book and realised how exhausted I felt. It may have felt like a good idea to get up when I woke at five this morning, but I definitely hadn’t thought about how this might drain me for the rest of the day, and it was only an hour further on into the day.

“James,” I returned, turning the page in my book and continuing to read. It was very early – not even seven yet – and the Great Hall was almost empty, so it was a complete wonder as to why James Potter was up or awake.

“You’re coming to the Halloween party tonight, aren’t you?” He asked.

“Sorry?” I said, looking back at him. “Halloween party...? It’s not...” then I realised with a jolt that it was Halloween, and somehow I’d drifted through two months of being at Hogwarts without really registering the time passing. I frowned. “I’m not very good with parties,” I replied.

“Diggory?” James questioned, leaning on his elbows and looking at me intently. I frowned at him a little more and returned my attention back to the book.

“We’re Heads James, we shouldn’t be attending parties.”

“Well, I organised the party.” James said.

“Well, you definitely shouldn’t have done that,” I said, turning over another page and buttering another slice of toast. “Anyway, I don’t have a costume,”

“Dress as a muggle,” James suggested.

“What are you dressing up as?”

“Sirius.” James said with a grin. “He’s being me. We tried to convince Remus to go as a werewolf, but he didn’t see the humour. Peter’s going as a house elf.”

“Frank?”

“He’s being Dumbledore apparently. Please come Lily,”

“I don’t want to,” I said, tripping over the sentence of my book and having to backtrack.

“Yes you do,” James countered, causing me to lose my place again.

“How would you know what I want?”

“I know exactly what you want.” James said with a grin. He raised his eyebrows suggestively. I rolled my eyes.

“I’m busy,” I said, pointing at my book pointedly.

“I’m not going away,”

“I’m not going to your party.”

“Why?” James asked, and I looked up at him and shut my book.

“Are you purposefully trying to annoy me?” I asked slowly, glaring directly at him and feeling my familiar annoyance at him creeping back upon me.

“Maybe,” James said, “But you have to answer my question first.”

“I don’t want to go.” I said stiffly.

“Why?” James grinned.

Because!” I exclaimed gesturing wildly.

“That’s not a reason.” James said cheerfully. I considered him for a second, then reopened my book and continued to ignore him. If he was going to focus all his energy on frustrating me then he was wasting his time – I had far much more control over my temper these days. “Honestly, I just want to know why,” James carried on. “I’ll shut up if you tell me,”

“Drinking, slutty costumes and loud music.” I said, giving up attempting to read and instead just pretending to read it – it served the same purpose, and the book was rubbish in any case.

“Precisely,”

“Well, not all of us enjoy that sort of thing,”

“What do you enjoy?”

“Reading,” I said gesturing to my book.

“What kind of books?”

“You said you’d go away,” I accused.

“Well,” James said with a grin. “I lied.” I sighed in frustration and sent him one of my best glares. “Anyway, what’s the problem – I’m just trying to get to know you.”

“You already know me.” I said through gritted teeth.

“Nope,” James said. “Because the Lily I knew did like parties and participated in drinking, moderately slutty– but still decent naturally –outfits and dancing along to loud music, so I guess I’m going to have to start over.”

“Hilarious.”

“I do my best.”

“You can’t tell.” I retorted, bending over my book a little more, and letting my hair fall between me and James, so I didn’t have to look at him. Which made it much easier to concentrate on my book.

“Nice,” James said with another grin. “There she is – the old Lily.”

“Go away James.”

“Not quite as feisty,” James said, examining me. “I expected you to yell by now.”

“If I yell, will you go away?”

“No, probably not.” James replied. “So what’s the book about?”

“I have no idea anymore,” I snapped irritably, shutting the book pointedly and shoving it in my bag.

“Can’t have been that great then,” James commented. “How come you’re up so early?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” I answered blankly.

“Why?”

“Because I couldn’t, James!” I exclaimed. “Bloody hell, why did you get up so early?”

“Why not?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” I snapped. “You’re such a prat!”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re bloody lucky I’m in a good mood –“

“-  This is your good mood? What’s your bad mood like then?”

“SHUT UP!”

“Why?” James asked, grinning. My blood was boiling and he was being bloody annoying. Of its own accord, I swear, my hand snatched my glass of pumpkin juice of the table and threw it at him.

It hit him in the face before he could attempt to cover it, let alone to reach for his wand and protect himself that way, which meant he got a face full. It dripped down his face, and flattened most of his hair onto his head – although, of course, it still wasn’t completely flat, he’d spent far too much time fluffing it up for it to ever reach that state –and best of all, dripped off his glasses.

He spluttered, blinking furiously behind his juice-covered glasses.

I bit my lip and watched as another drop fell off his glasses.

Then I burst out laughing.

The soaking James leant forward across the table and asked “When was the last time you laughed?” and it was the first of the questions which wasn’t so annoying that I had to resist the urge to punch him. It sobered me up a little, but I still found myself smiling at him. He didn’t expect and answer this time, and instead pulled off his glasses and began trying to wipe them on his robes.

“Here,” I said, reaching out and taking them. I pulled my wand out of my pocket and tapped them lightly – then I held them up to the light, and I had to admit it had been a great spell. His glasses had probably never been as clean as this – they glittered. “There you go,” I said, handing them back to him. He put them on his face, which looked even more bizarre with the juice that was still running down his forehead.

“Come to the party, Lily,” James implored.

“Why?” I asked, narrowing my eyes.

“I’ll make you laugh again,” He said, leaning forwards over the table. I barely realised that at some point, I’d started leaning over the table too, so that the wood of the table was digging into my stomach – and despite the great stretch of table, we were very close together. His hazel eyes really were very charming.

“Morning,” Peter said, causing me to have a mini heart attack and to move backwards so that I was simply sitting straight again.

“Do I want to know why James is, erm... soaked?” Remus asked, sitting down on James’s other side.

“Evans,” Sirius said, ruffling up my hair before taking a seat to my left. I didn’t even bother snapping at him for ruining my hair, not that he’d really achieved much – I’d given up doing anything much with it. Nowadays it was a matter of how it dried.

“He pissed me off, okay,” I said, unable to stop myself smiling. In any case – why couldn’t I smile? So I did. I smiled, in James’s direction because – even if he was a complete prick – he was right, he’d made me laugh.

“James,” Amanda Brocklehurt said, approaching the table. “Who exactly is invited to this party?”

“Sixth and seventh years from Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw,” James replied. “If a couple of fifth years slip in, that’s fine. What’s the problem?”

“Some forth year Ravenclaw boys are determined to get in, dressed as death eaters.”

“Ravenclaws?” I questioned.

“The sorting hat had a bad year,” Amanda sighed.

“I’ll sort it,” James said with a smile. Amanda nodded and turned back to the Ravenclaw table.

“Did we find out what happened to Marlene McKinnon?” I asked, leaning over the table to talk in a whisper. James shook his head.

“She’s either joined,” Remus said grimly. “Or I expect her body will turn up soon,”

“No,” I said, shaking my head – partly because I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else being dead, but partly because it didn’t quite make sense. “She’s been gone too long, and her family are safe – what would Voldermort want with a seventeen year old girl?”

Frank wondered into the hall and sat down on Peter’s left, listening in to our conversation.

“Get the kid, control the parents.” Remus said.

“But, her Mum’s a nobody – she doesn’t have a job, from what... Mary said, I don’t think her mother was exactly straight in the head.”

“But her brother,” James said, “He’s a genius,”

“Daniel McKinnon would have done anything to get his sister back, surely,” Peter added. “If they were after him, and they’d given him the choice – he’d chose her,”

“But Peter,” James said, his forehead scrunching up adorably. “It’s not just about her, there’s loads of lives at stake...”

“I’m sure she’s fine.” Sirius said his expression stiff and humourless. “If she was dead, we’d have heard about it by now.”

“Not necessarily,” Remus said, “Look at the Jacksons; they were missing for weeks before their bodies were found,”

“But the ministry’s on high alert now,” James countered.

“The ministry can’t do jack shit,” Sirius interrupted loudly. “Alice,” He said as she approached, sitting on my left with Rachel. “How are the wedding plans coming along? This summer isn’t it?” Then I knew something was wrong, because even though Sirius hated talking about the war, he hated talking about anything to do with up and coming wedding more than anything else.

I looked at him curiously, and found James looking at him with the same intrigued expression.

Interesting.

 

 

 

“Scared, Lily?” James asked, nudging me with his shoulder.

“Not likely,” I returned, grinning at him and suddenly feeling all the more at home here, at Hogwarts. It was fine when we were joking and laughing, but things had a habit of becoming undeniably serious and solemn now. There were no more pranks, not now, because every morning more people were dead or missing. But sometimes there were jokes. “With my costume, James, you should be the one who’s scared.”

“You’re going as a muggle,” James laughed, and I laughed too – arms brushing against each other.

Then a body slammed into me. It had happened on multiple occasions since the beginning of school. Having any trace of muggle blood in you meant you were a clear target for pushing, trip jinxes and having things thrown at the back of your head in lessons time. They were little petty things – nothing too serious – but it was enough. I noticed that many of the muggle borns, like me, who’d normally been in the spotlight a lot were disappearing slightly, becoming quieter – as not to draw attention to themselves. I did my best to do the same, but given I was Head Girl and friends with the Marauders... I got a lot of it directed at me.

Given we’d been talking about muggles in the corridor it was to be expected, but it had never happened to me in front of James before and I had a suspicion that he would take it as more than just a simple push.

“Mudblood,” The pusher hissed, and the shocking familiarity of that voice changed everything.

Snape.

My head snapped up and I stared at him. I vaguely registered that James had his wand out, but that seemed unimportant now.

The thought of Snape made me feel physically sick. My whole body rejected the idea. I hadn’t caught his eye, hadn’t looked at him, barely spared a thought in his direction since we were back at school. I didn’t want to think about that moment, at the top of the stairs, with Mary, tipping backwards... over the edge.

His black eyes were staring into my green ones, and his eyes were swimming with emotions that I didn’t want to think about. He wasn’t supposed to be a human to me – I didn’t want to think of him still having emotions like he did when he was my friend.

I hadn’t even looked at him since summer.

*****************

There was a slight breeze coming in through the open window, but it wasn’t enough to reduce the stifling heat of the room. The suffocating mid June heat that refused to ebb away, it hung around like an unwanted smell and refused to disappear.

Mum had reprimanded me so much about getting burnt out in the vegetable patch, so I’d stayed in – practicing spells and brewing potions, partly to annoy Petunia but mostly because I could now.

Petunia had worked out I couldn’t practice magic in the sitting room – which was by far the nicest and biggest room of the house – when Vernon came over. So every morning over breakfast, which Mum insisted we ate together, she would declare that Vernon might pop over, at some point. He did, quite often, but not half as often as she said he would.

So I stayed in my box room, with its pale green walls and left sugar in the corners to attract the ants. Then I’d enlarge them, practicing jinxes at them until I’d perfected most of the ones in our text book.

The doorbell rang. Vernon, I suspected, glancing at the door to make sure it was shut. I re-shrunk that ant I had been stunning, and then reviving all morning just in case he decided to burst into my room unexpectedly.

“Lily!” Mum’s voice yelled from downstairs. “It’s for you!” She exclaimed.

My heart sped up. Could it be James? Or Sirius? Or Alice? Fed up of my months of silence and determined to get me out of the house. I smiled slightly – because who else would visit me? I didn’t know anyone in this crummy town, and surely – surely – they wouldn’t honestly let me spend the whole summer incommunicado. They cared about me too much, surely? They were worried about me?

Or, more likely, it was one of the beer boys deciding to take a different approach to test the dealer theory. Or the slut theory.

I shoved my wand in my pocket and made for the stairs.

The door opened the wrong way, one of the many faults of our tiny house, which meant my mystery visitor obscured by the door. I took the steps two at a time, finally side stepping my mother and the door to see...

Snape.

I was frozen on the spot. The nerve of him. The nerve.

“I’ll just be in the kitchen, Lily,” And she smiled at me as if she loved me having visitors. But Snape, Snape was probably a murderer, a death eater and a dirty blackmailer.

“Lily,” He said stepping into the house and closing the door behind him hastily, as if he was still welcome here like a friend. “Lily, I’ve just heard about...” He stopped, and looked up at me with his black eyes swimming with sympathy. “Your Dad,” He finished. His hand reached out, trying to touch my arm.

I stared at him.

He dropped his hand.

“Lily,” He said in that horrible familiar way of his. “Lily, if you need to talk or...”

“Why would I talk to you?” I demanded, my voice coming out stronger and louder than I thought it would. I was almost sure I’d lost the ability to speak. I hated him. I hated him so damn much.

“I... I... lost my father too.”

“Lost him? You probably fucking murdered him, that’s what you do to our kind, right?” There was a long ringing silence. He didn’t deny it. “What are you doing in my house?” I demanded, every inch of my body shaking. “What are you doing here!?” I yelled.

“I needed to see you,” he implored, shrinking back into a corner – the shocking little coward. My wand was already in my hand, pointing at him – at his chest.

“Lily...?” Petunia questioned, peering over the top of the stairs. Her mouth dropped.

My distraction was enough time for him to reach for his pocket, and grab his wand.

No.” I yelled, sending one of the particularly nasty jinxes I’d learnt at him. He blocked it, sending something else – an orange light – straight at me. I side stepped it, throwing something else in his direction.  Mum stepped out of the kitchen, staring. 

Then, suddenly, it was a duel. Not a ‘work in pairs to practice the spell class’ type duel, but a genuine intent of harm, on my behalf anyway. My heart was racing. My head was pounding and I had no idea what spells I was sending at him anymore. Instincts.

A spell shot over my head. My spell hit a picture, sending it crashing down. It hit the top of his head with a loud and unhealthy sounding ‘crunch.’ A vase of flowers exploded behind me. Smashing glass. Wands slashing. I’d never duelled before – not properly – and the pure anger I was feeling made me both clumsier and faster. 

We were about as good as each other and it looked like no one was going to get hurt. But I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to break his legs and make him bleed. I hated him, and I was god damn angry.

I yelled something, the words exploding from my lips. Until now we’d only used non-verbal spells. Then he yelled something back, a spell I didn’t recognise, but it was strong and I could feel its weight against my well timed shield spell.

“SECTU -!”He began. I hit him in the chest; he stumbled backwards – against the wall. Then he reached up to his arm and winced slightly.

A terrible thought suddenly occurred to me.

It made me even angrier. I was suddenly moving faster than I’d ever done before, and it was all Snape could do to ward off my jinxes and hexes, and then he was in a corner, and he pointed his wand somewhere else, somewhere unthinkable. At Petunia.

There was no doubt he’d hit her if she tried. She was half way down the stairs. Staring in horror.

I swore at him, ugly words, and I think that distracted him enough for me to finally hit him properly “IMPEDIMENTA!” And then he was frozen. I roughly pushed him against the wall and pulled up his sleeve, finding exactly what I thought I would – the dark mark, red and angry looking upon his skin. And I felt sick.

Snape breathed heavily, blood bubbling from his lip. I must have hit him before then, I vaguely thought, before my anger stopped. Numb, possibly. It was worse than I’d expected.

I stepped backwards.

“Get out.”

“Lily,” He implored. “I-”

Then I raised my wand back up to the level of his chest, and I realised something. My spell... it should have frozen him. He’d been breathing. He’d let me. He’d blocked my spell and...

It was no good. He was better, much much better, at duelling than I’d ever been. He’d hardly been trying.

“I’m glad you called me a mudblood,” I hissed – knowing it was the only way I could do any damage at all. “At least it means I saw what a little piece of shit you are. James always told me you were,” I said the words coming out like vomit. “Snivellus” I spat.

“Stop.” He replied.

My wand arm, out stretched and shaking, dropped a little. “I wish I’d never met you.”

“Stop it,” His face was emotionless.

“Your father was right,” I said, and he raised his own wand. I shot the first spell and he blocked it. From then one I was just trying to shield myself from his blows. Dodging, sidestepping, and half watching in awe at the speed and precision he was sending spells in my direction.

When did he learn that...?

Voldermort.

Then one of the spells hit me in the chest, Petunia screamed, and I hit the wall. Unconscious.

 

 

“Lily?” A voice asked, and Severus’s face was looming over me, his eyes looking shocked.  “Lily,” He said. “I thought... I thought you’d block it... I mean, I’m sorry, Lily! I’d never hurt you.”

Never hurt me? Never hurt me?

I thought of Mary and I pulled back my hand and I punched him in the face. His nose crunched, and then proceeded to start bleeding. “Get out,” I whispered, not caring if there were any side effects of the spell – side effects which no one in the vicinity could put right – and not caring how it looked to anyone outside. “Get out Sev.” I repeated, and he stood up – his robes looking even more the worse for wear than they had before much to my satisfaction. He opened the door, not very far – because I was in the way – but just enough so he could slip out.

My head spun. The corridor was a mess. There was blood running down my forehead.

“Lily,” Petunia whispered later, when she sat pressing a cold flannel to my forehead, her voice laced with poorly hidden horror. “Lily what did that mark mean – that snake thing?”

“It means,” I answered. “That’s he’s dead to me.”

*****************

Snape was still there – staring at me. James had his wand out. “Half blood,” I said in return, cocking my head to the side.

His eyes widened slightly and he glanced around to see if anyone had heard my words. “Now fuck off!” I spat, reaching out and pushing him back. He stumbled. “James,” I said pleasantly, linking my arm through his and dragging him off down the corridor.

“Lily,” James said slowly, slipping an arm round my waist. I wasn’t even in the mood to push it off, and decided that I’d be good for Severus to see it anyway. I’d push him away later.

“You need to teach me how to duel.” I said. “You can duel right?”

“You can duel, Lily,” James said slowly. “You’ve been doing great in Professor Tyron’s classes,”

“They’re not real duels,”

“What would you know about real duels?”

Nothing, that’s the point!”

“Is this to do with Snape?”

Nothing is to do with Snape.” I snapped.

“What happened?”

“Nothing!” I exclaimed, pushing his arm off from around my waist. James gave me a look. I knew it was pointless. I told him, leaving out some of the details I didn’t want him to know about.

“Oh, Lily,” James sighed when I’d finished, taking my hands from my side and squeezing them. My lip quivered. Again, it seemed, I needed James to comfort me. So much for being strong and independent.

“Then he knocked me out,” I frowned, gripping James’s hand tightly.

“What?” James snapped, his change from sympathetic and comforting to angry was almost instantaneous and caused me to jump and rip my hands out of his own.

“He revived me,” I defended. “He didn’t mean to hurt me, he -”

“Why are you defending him?”

“I don’t know!” I exclaimed, a tear leaking its way down my face of its own accord. I brushed it away angrily. “I hate him, James – I hate him.”

“I wish you did.”  James said. I wrapped my arms around his neck and hugged him briefly. “But, what did your family say about all this?”

“They were...shocked, to say the least.” I said picturing how white mum had been, and how Petunia hadn’t been able to go into the hallway long after I’d cleaned everything up and returned it to it’s rightful place. “Mum said that she was surprised I could fight so well,” I volunteered. “Petunia was horrified, because there was blood and -”

“Who’s blood?”

“Both,” I said. “Not much of it,”

“I’ll teach you,” James said, taking up my hand again.

“Really? I thought you’d say it was too dangerous or something?”

“Lily,” James said slowly, stopping in the corridor for a third time to look at me properly. “If I had my way, you would safe and out of the way when the war comes – or there just wouldn’t be a war at all, but the fact remains that you are a muggle born. Other people, like me, we choose if we fight, or if we don’t. You don’t have a choice, Lily. You fight, you hide, or you die. And if you hide you’d better be able to fight, because they will find you.”

“It’s only just beginning, isn’t it?” I asked, gripping hold of his fingers more tightly in my own and shuddering.

“Yes,” James whispered, pressing his forehead against mine for the briefest fraction of a second. “And that’s why we need a party,” 
 

 

NEXT TIME: Parties, broom cupboards and spellwork.


 A/N - Reviews are beautiful and inspiring. Just saying... ;)
 
 
 
 


Chapter 5: Scratching the surface.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“Wear the skirt,” Rachel said, pulling it out my trunk and throwing it at me.

“It rises up,” I complained, throwing it back at my trunk and throwing myself on my bed. “There’s no point; I might as well just stay here.”

“Oh stop throwing a tantrum,” Rachel said with an eye roll. “You promised James you’d go to the stupid party, and it’s our responsibility to get you there.”

“Fine.” I muttered, pulling my make up bag out of my trunk and making a dash for the mirror whilst Alice was in the bathroom. “But I’m not wearing the skirt.”

“It’s a party.”

“Last time I wore that I accidently showed everyone my knickers!”

“And by everyone you mean...?” Alice asked stepping out of the bathroom in her dress.

“James and Sirius.” I said, frowning whilst trying to put on mascara.

“So wear nice knickers,” Rachel said. “Anyway, that skirt worked pretty well for you last time,”

“And what’s the supposed to mean?” I asked, rubbing a black mascara mark of my eyelid and making the general weird faces that girls make at mirrors whilst trying to do there make up.

“You disappeared with Sirius,” Rachel said.

“Nothing happened!” I snapped, whirling around to face the pair of them. “If you think for one minute that I would -”

“- of course not,” Alice cut across. “But given you disappeared the day after that is it any wonder that people were suspicious?”

“They can stuff their stupid suspicion,” I said, muttering darkly at my reflection.  I caught a glimpse of Rachel in the mirror. “What are you drinking?”

“Fire whiskey,” She said, stepping forward and handing me the bottle. I took it. I hadn’t drunk wizarding alcohol since that last party... I took a swig from the bottle anyway. It burned and warmed up my chest. Alice tutted at us. I took another swig. “So why did you leave?” Rachel asked.

“Ask me in an hour,” I said with a half-smile, before I turned back to my reflection and started applying lipstick. Half an hour later, and half a bottle of fire whiskey each, we were nearly ready. “I think I will wear that skirt, you know,” I said. I’d been wondering around in my top and knickers for the past fifteen minutes.

“I’m going down,” Alice said, dressed in her nice blue dress looking sweet and appealing ( I think her costume was supposed to be Alice in Wonderland, but I wasn’t altogether sure). “See you later.”

“Why’s she going? I asked, pulling on the skirt and staring at myself – hand on hip – in the mirror. “The party hasn’t started yet,”

“It has,” Rachel said, glancing at the clock and drinking a little bit more of the fire whiskey. “Forty minutes ago, actually,”

“Dramatic lateness,” I said. “Cept James might think I’m not coming.”

“All gone,” Rachel commented, dropping the bottle on her the bed and pulling herself upwards. “Ready to go now?” She asked. Her skirt was shorter than mine, and her top lower – it made me feel much better. I yanked my skirt up a little and grinned.

“I was born ready,” I muttered, and then we headed down the stairs, clutching hold of the banister to keep ourselves up right. I pulled my skirt down a little on the stairs – Rachel was in front and she couldn’t see me. I felt much better with it longer...

I caught James’s eye across the room, and I lifted a hand up and waved at him – almost stumbled – and had to right myself. He made his way through the people to greet me at the bottom of the stairs. “Whoever said Lily Evans didn’t know how to party?” He grinned. I hugged him.

“You smell nice,” I informed him, grabbing hold of his arm and heading towards the drinks table. “Good party?”

“It’s getting better,” James answered, and then, “I’m not sure if I want to give you anything else to drink, Evans.”

“Don’t be a spoil sport, Prongs,” Sirius grinned, making a point of clapping me on the back so hard that I half fell over.  “She hasn’t drunk that much,”

“Déjà vu,” I muttered, suddenly remembering Peter’s 17th... it was role reversal almost. With Mary staggering around, blind drunk and James had been encouraging her... and Sirius had been angry and... Everything had blown up.

The other two seemed to have caught my train of thought, because they were both immediately quiet. Sirius shoved his hands in his pockets. “She was so drunk,” I said, smiling fondly. “It seems ages ago, doesn’t it?”

James nodded. Sirius was suddenly tight lipped and refusing to speak. I frowned. I personally believed that it would be much better if we actually talked about Mary, instead of skirting around the issue. Sirius had said it himself – I could talk about her to him any time I wanted – and surely that would be better than ignoring every time her memory was brought up?

“And then she was dancing with everyone,” I said, smiling at James as I remembered. “Talking about the most random stuff and then -”

“Stop it.” Sirius said over me.

“ – And then Alice was -”

Then Sirius grabbed my wrists and glared at me fiercely. “Shut up.”

James made an involuntary movement from my side; I ripped my wrists from my grips and glared at him. “I want to talk about her.”

“I am more than happy to talk about Mary,” Sirius returned. “But not about that night.”

“But -”

“- No, Lily, I refuse.”

“You should talk about it.”

“Don’t tell me what to do Evans.” He said darkly. “You haven’t got the right.”

“I have every right to -”

“ – Prongs, do you want a drink? It’s probably best if you don’t have another one, Lily,” Then he left without waiting for answer, and I watched him leave, silently fuming.

“Don’t get mad, Lily,” James said softly, stepping forward and pouring me a glass of redcurrant rum. I took it, silently appreciating the fact that James knew my drinking preferences. “It’s hard for him,”

“Because it’s easy for me.” I snapped. “And why does he call you prongs?”

He shook his head, “I can’t tell you that.”

“I shouldn’t have come,” I said, putting down my glass and turning towards the stairs. “If you’re just going to -”

“They’re nick names,” James said. “To do with our animagus forms, but just... it’s a marauder secret, I’m not supposed to – will you just stay, Lily, and have a drink with me. I promised I’d make you laugh.”

“You’ve just made me mad,” I said, picking my glass up and leaning on the drinks table dejectedly. I was acting childish. “And I hate this stupid skirt,”

“I like it,” James said, making a point of looking at the skirt. And my legs. I rolled my eyes at him, but smiled all the same.  “Now, considering you’ve barely been talking to anyone all year – how are you finding school?”

“It’s horrible,” I said, taking a large gulp of my redcurrant rum. “Mary’s dead, Alice is mad at me, everyone thinks I’m a shit Head Girl and the god damn Slytherin’s keep...”

“Keep what?”

“Throwing things at me, pushing me, jinxes me – whatever they can get away with.” I said irritably. “And you’ve been lovely James, you really have – making all the others sit with me and stuff, but I just... it’s just horrible.”

James frowned and for a second I was almost certain he was going to come up with something profound and meaningful. “Which Slytherins?” He asked.

“I got called a mudblood by a first year last week.” I muttered angrily. “And now Sirius is mad at me too,”

“He’s not mad,” James returned, searching him out in the crowd. He was now talking, and most probably flirting, with a sixth year Hufflepuff near the foot of the girl’s staircase. Even now seeing him interact with other girls, girls that were decidedly not Mary, made my stomach turn uncomfortably. “He’s upset,”

“Yeah, he looks it,” I replied angrily.

“Let’s get a seat,” James said refilling my glass of redcurrant rum and making his way through the people towards the sofa. “Any seats going free?” James yelled over the sound of the music, which was so much louder around here.

“Sure,” A very young looking female said, grabbing the hand of her male friend and pulling him away. I frowned as their backs disappeared in the direction of the stairs, but sat down next to James all the same – crossing my legs and facing him. Very much like the last party, only last party – it had been Sirius I was sat with.

“Has he slept with anyone else since Mary?” I demanded, half yelling over the music, and half trying not to be very loud because it was rather a personal conversation. I had to repeat it, with James leaning forwards to hear.

“One girl,” James sighed. “He regretted it, a lot, but... Lily, you’ve got to understand. He can’t stay hung up on Mary forever,”

“Why not?” I demanded.

“Well,” James paused. “Maybe I worded that badly – of course he’ll always be hung up on Mary, I’m almost certain that he won’t ever feel like that again, but... you can’t expect him to never see girls again. Never to have sex, never to flirt...”

“But, it’s so soon.”

“Eight months,” James countered, “That’s a long time to not have sex for, especially for someone like Sirius.” I scrunched up my face and rested my head on his shoulder for a split second.

“Who was the girl?” I muttered into his shoulder.

“Some Muggle,” James shrugged, “She meant nothing,”

“I bet it meant something to her.” I said, James said nothing. I pulled up my head and took another sip of my drink, savouring the taste and the wonderful way it was making everything a little fuzzier. “James,” I said, looking at him seriously. “Have you had sex?”

His expression froze. He considered this for a few long seconds. He blinked.

“Yes.” He replied.

“You were going to lie to me.” I accused, half slightly annoyed, half amused as I finished my glass off and placed it on the floor.

“I thought you might be mad,” James said, taking a sip of his own drink.

“Why would I be mad? It has nothing to do with me,”

James laughed at that and wrapped an arm around me. I rested my head on his shoulder again and decided that I was very, very comfortable.  “It’s got everything to do with you, Miss Evans,” I could feel his chest move up and down with is breathing, and his warmth was delicious and comforting.

“How many girls?”

“You are mad,” James said, wrapping his arm around me a little tighter. I shut my eyes.

“I am not,” I returned, although – maybe I was a tiny little bit. Only because with all his insistence about how much he loved me and the like – not that he’d explicitly said any of that for a long time, so he’d probably gotten over it – you would have thought he’d have managed to keep his pants on. I briefly considered mentioning this, but even when drunk I knew that wasn’t a good idea. “Just curious.” I settled on.

“Two,” James said. “Two girls.” That wasn’t a small amount, or a very large amount. It was possibly an amount I could deal with.

“Okay,” I said, finding myself almost falling asleep, practically in James Potter’s arms.

“Do I get a turn now?” He asked, and his chest vibrated with the hum of his words. I made a noise of agreement, but thought it would be too much of an effort to actually speak. “What about you?”

“No,” I said, and James’s arm moved slightly. His shoulder was resting over my back, and I could feel his fingers splayed over my waist. Far too comfortable for words.

His voice dropped even lower, and if I hadn’t been essentially lying on top of him, I would have missed his next words. It seemed he was almost as relaxed as I was. “So you just kissed Diggory?”

I opened my eyes. “Not quite,”

“Ah,” James said, looking at me properly. He shifted our position so that we were looking at each other properly.  “So, hands or...?”

“The other thing,” I said, closing my eyes and trying very much not to think about it. “It was only two weeks after Mary, James,” I said ever so quietly. “And I didn’t... I didn’t mean for it to happen I just felt so...” His hand definitely tightened around me now, so that our entire fronts were essentially pressed together. I found myself welling up slightly, and I rested my head back against his chest again. “You’re not mad are you?”

“Livid, but not at you,” James muttered, and I could feel the anger in his voice. “I might kill Diggory,”

“Sirius knew,” I said, and James stiffened slightly. “I didn’t want you to be mad,”

“Why would I be mad, it has nothing to do with me, right?” James questioned. I laughed. “Mission accomplished,” He whispered and I laughed again, and sat myself upright – smiling down at him.

“This is your party James; you should go enjoy it,”

“I was enjoying it,” James said, also sitting up so that we were level again. “I don’t really want to go and talk to anyone else,”

“I’ll get you another drink,” I said, detangling myself from James Potter and the sofa, and walking towards the drinks table. Rachel caught my eye across the room, and I could have sworn she mouthed ‘it’s the skirt’ but I suddenly realised that the redcurrant rum had gone to my head now, and I was a little bit drunk. Which was probably why I’d just had a rather intimate moment with James Potter, in the middle of a huge party.

I shook my head and grabbed the drinks. I got a double shot of firewhiskey for James – because it seemed he was almost sober, along with his favourite beer. I got myself a glass of wine; optimistically hoping that wouldn’t get me any more drunk given it wasn’t very strong. It didn’t occur to me that the way to not get more drunk was simply to stop drinking.

James was now talking to Amanda near the door, I headed over there – struggling through the make shift dance floor – and sidling up to them with all the confidence that half a bottle of firewhiskey and red currant rum gives you. “James,” I said, pushing the shot and the beer into his hand. “Nice costume, Amanda,” I commented lightly.

“Thanks Lily,” She replied with a smile.

“I’m a muggle,” I added, gesturing towards my very plan attire. She laughed. James grinned at me, having already downed his firewhiskey and placed the glass down on the side.

“And I’m Sirius,” James said, wrapping an arm around my waist. I leaned into his side without much thought.  “Anyway, Amanda, I’ve been meaning to ask you about Marlene...” James began tentatively. “Do you still not have any clues?”

“Well,” Amanda said slowly, bringing a hand up to her hair nervously. “The more I think about it, the more I think...” She paused. “That Sirius is involved.”

“Yes,” James sighed. “I thought that too.”

“Wait,” I said, my head spinning. “I noticed he was acting strangely when it was mentioned but... how would he be involved?”

“He knows where she is, I’m sure of it,” Amanda said nervously.

“But why would he?”

“I don’t mean to cause offence,” Amanda said quietly. “It’s just; I always got the impression that they had a bit of a... thing.” I opened my mouth to speak. “Because Marlene made a comment, before, about him being good in bed and...” I shut my mouth quickly. “She used to talk in her sleep sometimes, and she used to say ‘Black’ a lot, and then... She told me that she had a secret boyfriend and I just... assumed.”

“He wouldn’t have.” I said, searching for him in the crowd desperately – hoping that by looking him I’d know he’d never have betrayed Mary that way... He was still chatting up the girl, and as I watched his hand casually brushed against her arm. I swallowed. “He wouldn’t, not to Mary.”

“No,” James said. “Maybe... before Mary?”

No,” I snapped angrily, pushing his arm off me.

“But Lily, don’t you remember – Sirius said he’d slept with her.” James said. “I’ll talk to him about it,” He said stiffly.

“If Sirius knows, then she has to be safe,” I said, thinking as I spoke. “Because he keeps saying not to worry and if she’s safe – then why wouldn’t she be here? So it doesn’t make sense and... and Sirius hated her.”

“Maybe it ended badly?” James suggested.

“The only person Sirius ever had a real relationship with was Mary!” I half yelled. “There has to be another explanation... and we’re forgetting something. Marlene had it too; she had to be cured this summer... along with...”

“Johnny,” James finished, nodding. “Lily, you’re amazing,” He declared. “That’s Mary’s little brother,” He explained to Amanda. “He started this year, was sorted into Gryffindor... We’ll have to ask him then, he’d know... then we can be sure whether Sirius -”

“Whether I what?” Sirius asked appearing behind us and making all of us jump. “Nice costume Amanda,” He said politely, if somewhat awkwardly – she was his ex after all (who wasn’t). We all stood there awkwardly. “I was just about to go get some more alcohol from the village – we’re almost out.”

“Hasn’t everyone drunk enough?” Amanda asked.

“Amanda,” Sirius said loudly – he was always very loud when drunk, he just seemed to feel the need to yell everything – and he clapped her on the shoulder jovially. Hey, at least he’d cheered up. “You can’t run out of booze at a party – its social etiquette.”

“How will you get to the village?”

“I have my ways,” Sirius grinned.

“I’ll come with you,” I said in my much quieter voice. “I need to get out of here, it’s suffocating.” James raised a slight eyebrow, and Amanda looked very taken aback. I was vaguely aware how this might look to an outsider –this was the second time I would have left mid-party with Sirius Black, and given I’d just be passionately defending Sirius’s fidelity... it looked bad. Which is probably why I proceeded to wrap my arms around James’s neck and whisper “I’m going to question him whilst he’s still drunk,” in his ear. Then I kissed him on the cheek and grinned at him. 

“Is this a good idea, Evans?” Sirius asked as we walked out of the common room and into the darkly lit passage. It was instantly quieter and cooler. “Because we don’t even need any more alcohol, I just needed to -”

I stopped just as we reached the end of the corridor. “Wait...” I said slowly. “What’s this?” because there was a new door, one I’d never seen before... and there was light coming through it, bright golden light...

“Evans,” Sirius began slowly, his words slurring a little (so I wasn’t the only one who’d, yet again, had too much to drink). “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” because I was reaching for the door handle.  “It’s just a broom cupboard.”

“Then why is it glowing?”

“Don’t touch it – that’s asking for trouble.” Sirius said, but I’d already reached out and grabbed the door handle. Rather anticlimactically, nothing happened. Sirius sighed loudly. I ignored him.

I pulled open the door and looked into its depths “Its dark inside,” I commented. How curious. The gold light seemed to have disappeared, leaving nothing but black. “I’m going in,” I said, stepping across the threshold. Sirius was suddenly right behind me.

“Let’s get out of here,” Sirius muttered.

“I thought you were the adventurous one? A Marauder? Anyway, like you said – it’s just a broom cupboard.”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,”

“Then go back,” I said folding my arms and turning to stare at him.

“And what? Leave you? James would kill me. Not that this is much better – willingly walking into a broom cupboard with Lily Evans, what is the world coming to.”

“I think your right,” I said, suddenly realising what this would look like to any outsider. “We should get out of here,”

“Thank you,” Sirius said with a sigh. Then there were a few seconds of silence, and he swore. “Lily, I can’t find the door,”

“What?” I snapped.

“It’s...  I just let go of it for a second...”

“Sirius!” I exclaimed. “Why did you let go?”

“Because it’s just a broom cupboard!” He exclaimed. “Lumos!” He said. Nothing happened. “I hate to scare you, Lily, but my wand isn’t working.”

Or you’re too drunk to make it work.”

“You try yours then.” Sirius snapped.

I pulled my own out. “Lumos,” I said and nothing happened. We remained in the darkness. “Shit,” I said, groaning as I stuffed my wand back down into the waistband of my skirt. “Sorry, this is all my fault,”

“Damn right it is,” Sirius muttered angrily. “I told you not go near it,”

“Okay,” I said, feeling around in the darkness, “Can you feel the door?”

“I’m not entirely sure if there is a door anymore.” Sirius answered irritably. “This was clearly planned.”

Planned?”

“An enchantment on a closet, just outside the Gryffindor common room, knowing full well that someone will be curious enough, or drunk enough, to walk straight into it. And...they got two.”

“Sirius, I’m sorry okay,”

“And now,” Sirius muttered and I heard the distinct sound of him kicking something. “I’m stuck in a bloody broom cupboard with you.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” I snapped back in what I thought was his direction. I wondered forwards with my hands outstretched, waiting until my fingers contacted with the wall before beginning to feel my way along the wall.

“Oh, nothing,” Sirius spat back.

“Really,” I said, feeling my way round a corner before walking straight into something, and that something was Sirius Black. He swore as if this had actually hurt him and bagged his fist against the wall in frustration.  I sighed, turned around and slid down the wall. Sirius followed suit, making a point of sighing pointedly. “Sirius, we might be stuck in here for awhile, so if you could just deal with it, please.”

“I’m sorry if I don’t want to be stuck in a broom closet with my best friend’s girlfriend -”

“– I’m not his girlfriend.”

“As good as,” Sirius countered.  “Especially considering you’ve been such a -”

“I get that you’re upset because I brought up Mary,” I said, “But I don’t particularly want to be locked up a cupboard with someone who knows where Marlene McKinnon is, most probably because he was shagging her the entire time that-”

“- Don’t even finish that sentence,” Sirius spat, folding his arms where he sat next to me. “Yes, I know where she is, but if you think that-”

“Are you going to explain?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Sirius,” I muttered, closing my eyes in the dark. “Do you have to be so difficult?”

“Difficult?” Sirius muttered. “I’m drunk and I’m angry and the rumours that come out of this are going to be even worse than last time. James is going to kill me.”

“What?”

“Oh don’t worry, he trusts you. It’s just me who he’s convinced can’t control myself or something. It’s nice to know what people think of me I suppose -”

“Well you did sleep with that muggle girl,”

“I suppose he told you that did he? I wonder how he’d feel if he knew about the whole Diggory business.”

“He does know, I told him.”

There were a few seconds of silence. “Well,” Sirius said – quieter this time – “That’s great.”

“Sirius, what’s wrong?”

“There’s nothing wrong!” His voice broke slightly.

“Sirius?” I questioned tentatively.

“Damn it Lily! You don’t know how hard it is to watch you and James. You don’t know how freaking hard it is, when everyone else is getting there happy ending and I’m just... It makes me miss Mary, so much.” He was crying. Shit he was crying. Bugger. I mean... fuck.

What were you supposed to do in these situations? This was Sirius bloody Black – he didn’t do tears. He barely did emotion. I didn’t even like him, and he didn’t even like me, and now he was fucking crying.

What would Mary have done? She could always sort him out. A lump rose in my throat. My eyes prickled with tears, but I didn’t want to cry. I hugged my arms around me.

“Sirius I’m sorry -” I began, near tears myself now.

“No you’re not!” He said angrily, and loudly, his voice thick with all this emotion. Where had it all come from anyway? I was used to Sirius always being an explosion of emotions and... I supposed he’d gotten a little too good at repressing it. “Don’t kid yourself, you don’t care anymore. You just want to move on and forget about it! But I can’t damn it Lily.”

“Don’t tell me I don’t care.” I said darkly. “Of course I care. I care about Mary and you -”

“Care about me?” Sirius demanded. “You’re full of shit. If you cared you wouldn’t have left.”

“What?” I asked, startled. I turned to face him in the dark – struggling to pick out the features through the lurking gloom.

“I needed you there Lily, I hated that I need you there, but I did. It’s like you said, we’re connected by it – you’re the only one who lost even half as much as me, and I just, I just needed you here.” He took a deep shuddering breath. God. It was horrible. His tears were so real and heart-wrenching. “And you freaking left. You said not to write to you, not to see you – I needed you, Lily, damn it!” He was breathing heavily, and I found tears prickling at my own eyes again. “Why did you leave?” He demanded loudly. “Why?”

“Because my dad fucking died, Sirius, that’s why!” I yelled back, suddenly angry. “He died!  I had to go back.” Both of us were breathing heavily in the darkness, and then I was crying too. “So don’t get at me Sirius, so don’t even...” And then I stopped, hung my head and scrunched my eyes up.

My eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness now, and I could just about see Sirius in the darkness. I didn’t want to see him. Not this weak crying Sirius. I couldn’t deal with it, couldn’t fix it – wasn’t in control.

“Marlene McKinnon is safe,” Sirius said quietly. “She’s...” he paused for breath. I reopened my eyes and sat up a little more. “She’s pregnant.”

“Yours?” I asked softly. I wasn’t shocked; I didn’t think I had the capacity to be shocked anymore. Not when I was locked in a broom cupboard with Sirius Black. Who said he’d needed me, and who was crying – about Mary.

“You think so highly of me Evans.” Sirius said stiffly.

“I defended you.”

“And what a loyal defender I have,” He said sarcastically. He brought a hand up to his face and wiped away his tears. “Thanks Evans,” He continued in the same sardonic tone. “I guess I owe you one. Defending me.”

“It was more than anyone else was doing.” I said fiercely.

“And you’re so great at making me feel better about myself.” He continued. “Really, knowing everyone thinks that I’m such a heartless -”

“No one thinks you’re heartless!”

“– Sex obsessed –”

“Stop it!”

“ – Untrustworthy – ”

“Shut up! No one thinks that. I don’t think that, James doesn’t think that, Remus doesn’t think that, Peter doesn’t –”

“Then why, pray, did James not defend my honour?” Sirius questioned. “He’s not as fucking perfect as you’d like to think.”

“Well neither are you.” I said angrily. “And I don’t like to think anything.”

“Right,”

“So are you going to answer my question now? All this bloody avoidance. Marlene Mckinnon?”

“You’ve got the wrong Black,” Sirius said heavily.

Regulus?”

“Yes,” Sirius said, looking up at the ceiling and taking in a deep breath. “But he doesn’t know of course, he’s a death eater so -”

“They’d all be killed,” I finished, wrapping my arms around me tightly. The world was cold these days, with darkness and death. I missed the old days where there was just fun and laughter. When Voldermort was nothing more than a barely-there shadow on our lives, instead of an immerging figure... visible. Horrible.

“You understand then,” Sirius said, “Why it has to be a secret. If Regulus knew, he’d want to be proper father for the baby; he’d want... he’s not a bad person.” I nodded and pulled my knees up to my chest in the dark. “You should tell James,” Sirius said after a long period of silence. “About your dad.”

“I know,” I said, resting my head on his shoulder and closing my eyes. We were quite for a very long time. Sirius was wearing something of James’s – it was his costume after all – and he smelt of James. It was uncomfortably comforting.

 

 

 

It was an infinite amount of time later when I realised we had a serious issue. “Sirius, I’m not being funny here – but I really need to pee. I drank half a bottle of firewhiskey, and some red currant rum, and some wine and I really need the loo.”

Sirius laughed, loud and harsh – like a bark.

“It’s not funny!” I protested.

“I won’t start talking about water then,”

No!” I exclaimed, crossing my legs (which of course made my skirt rise up).

“Well,” Sirius said, “I have a bottle here – I had it in my hand when we left, and you could always just...”

“No freaking way.”

“Well, what else are you going to do?”

“It’s all right for you – you’re male, I can’t pee in a bottle! Especially when I’m still pretty tipsy! I’ll miss, anyway – you’d be able to hear me.” Sirius laughed again, and then I found myself laughing too. “Oh god!” I exclaimed. “Don’t make me laugh, whatever you do.”

“Knowing your luck,” Sirius grinned, “Someone will find us, just as you’re squatting with your skirt up round your waist.”

Sirius.” I said. “This is a serious problem; I don’t think you’re taking it seriously. Surely you need the loo too? You’ve been drinking too. You’ve had, what? Three beers, firewhiskey shots... Even if you don’t need the loo now, you will pretty soon.”

“I have no issue with pissing in a bottle,” Sirius said.

“I suppose you’ve done it before.”

“Well, you know me Evans,” Sirius grinned. “Still, I’m much better than James is at holding his drink,”

“Really now?” I asked, keeping my legs tightly crossed and moving ever so slightly. “But I’ve never seen him...”

“He’s always on his best behaviour when you’re around, but now you’re around a lot more – I’m sure you’ll see it at some point.”

I laughed at that, and suddenly I heard something else. “What’s that?” I asked urgently. There was a scraping sound, and then a door appeared – to our left.

“Depends which way you look at it,” Sirius muttered. “That is either our rescuer, or our impending doom.” I nodded and ran a hand through my hair.

Sirius grabbed his wand from his pocket and jumped to his feet. I jumped up too – but much slower, the strain on my bladder was beyond painful. Still, I took my wand out from where it was tucked down the side of my skirt, and brandished it in front of me (decidedly not thinking of water).

Then the door, which was now glowing gold again, burst open and we found ourselves face to face with Severus Snape.

“Lose one, move onto the next.” Snape sneered. “Tell me, Black, which did you enjoy more, McDonald.... or Li...Evans.”

Sirius had his wand out, but Snape did too. He stepped forwards, sidestepping around Snape to get out of our little prison, and I followed his lead. The corridor felt incredibly well lit compared to the tiny dungeon we’d inhabited for what had felt like hours.

I was impressed at how stony and unemotional Sirius remained even after Mary was mentioned, despite crying about her about an hour or so ago.

 “One mudblood not good enough for you?” He asked.

“On the contrary,” I said, raising my wand. “This is one mudblood, who’s too good for you.”

“Don’t call her a mudblood.” Sirius said darkly, stepping backwards – in the direction of the Gryffindor common room. “You’ve had your fun,” Sirius said, stepping in front of me with his wand still trained on Snape’s chest. “Now let us go,”

“No.” Severus said, stepping forwards. I glared at him. He wouldn’t look at me. I wanted him too, just so he’d see how much I hated him.

“Let us go Snape, Lily’s about to wet herself.” I couldn’t help but smile at that despite the situation, but it reminded me of how much I needed the loo.

“I’m not allowed to let you go.”

“You can’t take both of us.” Sirius reasoned, taking another step backwards. “James has been giving Lily duelling lessons,” then, just for a second, Severus looked at me – hurt and confused, but just for a second, because at that exact second Sirius had acted, sending something dark purple and painful looking in Snape’s direction. He snarled, blocked it and then he’d knocked Sirius to the floor, wandless.

He’d hit a wall and was bleeding badly. I let out a shocked scream at the speed of the whole thing, and stared at Snape – eyes wide. How could he do such a thing?

“Leave the purebloods,” Snape muttered, “Torture the mudbloods,” And then he lifted his wand so that it was directed straight at me. I did nothing. I was too shocked. Too drunk. “Crucio.”

Then I was on the floor, writhing but not screaming, just about able to think – trying to move backwards, out of the way. Then it stopped, and I was there breathing heavily and unable to speak. It hurt, yes, but I’d expected more – much more.

Sirius was up on his feet. “You’ve got to mean it,” He said, pulling me up off the floor roughly, and stepping in front of me. “Why don’t you practice on me, huh?” He taunted, opening his arms wide. Snape hesitated. “That’s right,” Sirius said, “So why don’t you stop playing adults and fuck off, Snape.” He said pushing me towards the portrait door, which was so close it was unreal.

“Ouch,” I muttered under my breath as Sirius gripped my arm a little too tightly.

“Don’t hurt Lily!” Snape yelled, and suddenly there was another flash of light and I fell forwards, slipping.

Sirius sent something back. “That’s right,” He replied, “That’s your job,” Then Sirius whispered the password and I collapsed through the portrait hole. Shaking.

“Are you okay?” Sirius asked worriedly. “I didn’t get the shield up in time, I... I thought it had hit you.” I shook my head and stumbled forwards, my head spinning. Dizzy. Drunk.

I looked up. Bizarrely, the party was still going – though it had thinned now, to only the older Gryffindors. Alice and Rachel were gone. It was strange to think the others had walked right past where we’d been stuck inside the cupboard. But James was there. “James,” I exclaimed, running forwards and throwing my arms around his neck. And then I was crying, hysterical sobbing, and I hated to think how many times this had happened recently.

“What happened?” he asked, the question directed at Sirius. The whole room was silent now, and the seriousness of the whole situation was settling over us.

“Snape,” Sirius said darkly. You could have heard a pin drop. “He set a trap, and then... he,” He paused. “He rather thought he’d try some, er... spellwork.”

“Sirius?” James asked, an arm around my back, but looking up at Sirius – demanding the truth.

“The cruciatus curse.” Sirius said slowly. James made a strange convulsing movement, and then grabbed me, forcing me to face him with a terrifying look in his eye.

“Lily, are you okay?” He asked seriously.

I nodded. “It didn’t hurt much,” I muttered, still blubbing like a fool. James hugged me back to his chest again.

“Snape,” Sirius supplied, shoving his hands in his pockets. “We’re lucky it was him. He couldn’t... not to Lily. He tried to curse me though, and I think it hit her but... it doesn’t appear to have had any effect.”

“Maybe it was a crying hex,” I said, pulling myself out of James’s arms and sniffing. “I’m fine, James,” I said. “It just... shook me up.”

“I’m impressed Evans,” Sirius said making a point of ruffling my hair again. “After spending at least an hour desperate for the toilet... you didn’t even wet yourself.”

Shit!” I said, suddenly remembering this need, and running up the stairs, throwing myself into the nearest dorm and elegantly slamming into the door to get to the loo.

“What the -?” One of the girls asked. She was young. I felt bad. I needed the loo more.

I snuck out when I was done, facing the dorm feeling considerably better about the whole thing. More people seemed to have gone in my absence, leaving only the Marauders and a sixth year girl whose name I couldn’t quite remember. Sirius laughed his bark like laugh again, and I crashed down onto the nearest sofa and sighed. “How long were we locked in there?”

“Three and a half hours,” James said, sitting down next to me.

“Urgh,” I muttered. “The rumours.” My legs were pressed against James’s, and his presence was so wrongly comforting. I decided not to think about it. The sixth year girl waved goodbye to Remus before starting up the stairs. It was just us now.

“Forget them,” James said quietly. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“I’m fine.” I said, pulling up my knees and finding myself insanely comfortable on the sofa. “But... do you think anyone would mind if I slept here?” I asked. “It’s just, Alice and Rachel will be so... and I hate being in that dorm now, it’s so empty and up it’s up six freaking flights of stairs.”

“Let’s all stay down here,” Remus suggested. “There’s blankets and mattresses and stuff in that cupboard,” He said, gesturing to the linen cupboard I’d never even thought to look in before. It was just like the Marauders to be the ones who actually took the time to look and see.

“Bagsie the sofa,” I said, stretching my legs out across it. Peter chucked me a pillow. I caught it and smiled at him. “Back to your place, James,” I said pointing to the floor. He smiled.

“Incoming mattress!” Sirius declared, sending the mattress flying over the coffee table. “How are we doing this?” Sirius asked surveying the room (with a poorly disguised morose expression that, given the events in the cupboard, I saw right through). “We can’t sleep too close together, because then anyone who’ll come down will think we’re gay...”

James had already put his mattress down, at the foot of the sofa, and had settled down in his blankets. He took his glasses off, looking impossible cute and vulnerable as he squinted up at me. I lay down properly, pulling the blankets around me and shutting my eyes. “Lily?” James asked softly. “How exactly, did you end up in a broom cupboard with Sirius Black?”

A/N - So I thought I'd save it all for the bottom this time. I've been on such a downer with this recently... I don't know, it just feels...unloved maybe? Hmm... I think it's just because it's revision time again, and I'm in a pretty rubbish moody anyway (I'm really no fun in this mood, trust). Plus I've been feeling pretty annoyed with fanfiction in general... with all it's classic storylines and cliches and pairings - not that theres anything wrong with them, it's just... Hmm. I'm not doing very well at explaining myself. I think I'll probably just stop :P

I'm still writing this (very long) authors note mostly because I had the most horrible nightmare last night, and I really don't want to go to sleep unless it happens again but... I should probably stop. You've all probably got bored by this point (see what I mean about being no fun? Boo, Helen, stop being so depressing). Thanks for reading and reviewing guys! I've been on a review-answering spree, and have so far done NJAB, and Curiosity - this ones next :)
 

(Don't hate Sirius for the girl yet, he's going to explain himself).
 
 


Chapter 6: Awakening.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

My head hurt, when I woke up, but not in the normal hung-over sort of way, but more like a stabbing pain that stopped just below my ears. I pressed my fingers against the points where it hurt, and found that my skin was unusual hot. My head spun a little. I sat up right.

For a second, the fact that I was in the common room completely threw me, and then I remembered – and suddenly none of the night made any sense. It all seemed so illogical and strange. With James... all the strange and weird intimate moments with James. I’d barely talked him since I’d broke down on him on the Hogwarts express, I’d been avoiding it for precisely that reason – yet I’d ran to him, hugged him, told him about the Amos Diggory incident.

I shook my head.

Sirius had cried. Snape had tried to torture me...

I swallowed. This was way too much for me to deal with this early in the morning, with my head spinning and that familiar queasy feeling that comes, as I remember now, with mixing red currant rum and firewhiskey. Big mistake. Should have thought of that last night.

And staying in the common room? As innocent of an idea as it had seemed, how much worse would the rumours be now? How many people were going to talk about this? The night Lily Evans completely lost her dignity.

I glanced downwards, James was there – half asleep, reaching for his glasses, as adorable as ever. He looked up at me and mouthed something. I tried to make out the words... something about sleep. He repeated it, still mouthing. I lifted a hand to my head in confusion, but still he didn’t say anything out loud.

Then I realised something. Even when words are mouthed, you can hear something, and yet... I couldn’t hear anything. Nothing at all. “What did you say?” I asked, and I realised with a jolt that I couldn’t hear my own voice. I couldn’t hear my own voice.

James spoke again, and I realised that’s what he was doing now – I just couldn’t hear him. I stared at him blankly. Brought a hand up to my ears, which were still burning hot.

“I can’t hear anything.” I said nervously, or more, I felt my words form the lips – but I couldn’t hear them. A hand went to my throat. “James, I can’t hear anything!” I said, louder this time – except in my head there was nothing but silence. I didn’t know how I hadn’t noticed it immediately, because it was so freaking loud. So blank and empty. I couldn’t even hear myself breath.

“I’m deaf!” I was nearly yelling now. James looked panicked. He reached out and grabbed my hands wrists, looking at me in the eye. He said something again, and I managed to read his lips that time – ‘Can you hear me?’ I stared at him, eyes wide.

“Why can’t I hear you?” My voice broke, I felt it in my throat, but I couldn’t hear it. The silence persisted. I was crying now. “I can’t hear!” I wailed, James winced away from my voice- I realised I must be speaking unnaturally loud.

Sirius was coming over now, and they were all talking – all of them awake and staring at me as if I was some kind of freak, my wrists encompassed by James Potters grasp.  I could see their lips moving, words flitting back and forth between them, but they were words that I wasn’t privy too. James tightened his grip, in a good way.  I was panicking.

James nudged with his arm and pointed, Remus had his wand out – spelling words through sparks in the air. ARE YOU IN PAIN?

“My ears,” I said, “Just here,” I said bringing James’s fingertips up to my burning skin. His fingers were so cold compare to my skin, and at first I flinched away from it, and then he brushed them over my skin and it seemed like it halved all the pain right away – and he was looking at that spot of my skin so intently it scared me, and suddenly I wanted to reach out and kiss him. I shuddered and closed my eyes. I hoped to God they all thought it was from pain.

ANYWHERE ELSE? The words were spelled in front of me, glittering gold and making my head hurt. James’s fingers were still hovering over my skin. It was ridiculously tempting to make something up, just so the feel of his fingertips wasn’t about to be wrenched away from me. I didn’t.

“No.” I looked back at James. He looked at me. There was a very long moment before he dropped his hands again.

WE THINK IT MUST HAVE BEEN’S SNAPES CURSE the next words read, and I blinked at them – their brightness making my head spin even more. Although I was almost completely sure that was the hangover. I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, James was saying something to Remus that he didn’t agree with. He shook his head. James narrowed his eyes and said something else. Then Peter was heading up that stairs, and I was so confused.

James squeezed my hand. I hadn’t even noticed he was holding it.

I blinked. Snape had done this. I was deaf.

Peter hadn’t James a piece of parchment and a quill, and then he was writing... and then it was handed to me.

We’re going to take you down to the hospital wing. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Snape wouldn’t do anything that would really hurt you.

I stood up, James at my side (and realised that my skirt had risen up an obscene amount during the night, I yanked it down again – hopefully before anyone had a glimpse of my underwear) and found myself shaky and a horrible idea came to me.

“But that spell wasn’t meant for me, it was for Sirius.” James looked worried now, as we walked out of the common room. I thrust the parchment back into his hands. He sighed, scribbled something else down before handing it back to me.

You’ll be okay, trust me.

“You can’t know that,” I said, “I could be deaf forever.” Then I was shaking. “You don’t have to hold me up, you know,” I added. “I’m deaf, not blind.” Sirius ruffled up my hair, and I could see him laugh. James did not let go of my arm.

I’m scared. I wrote on the piece of parchment, before shoving it into his hands when the others weren’t looking. He opened it and I watched his expression change. He took the pen off me too, and wrote two words that changed everything – That’s okay.

Then suddenly I was in the hospital wing, and my head was still spinning, and someone sat me down on one of the beds, and a potion was pressed into my hands. “Drink it,” James mouthed at me. And I did, it tasted like fire. I wanted to throw up. “Sleep,” He said, and I pulled the cover over me and let the fire take over my brain.

 

 

I dreamt of Mary. It must have been the potion, because it was more vivid and stranger than any dream I’d ever before. I usually don’t even remember dreams, but I remembered this one. I could hear in the dream, and Mary walked out of the clouds and sat next to me. I was in a floating bed, and she sat next to me. Smoothing my bedcovers with her hands.

“Hey,” She nodded, all nonchalant and Mary like. I’d missed her.

“Your hairs purple again,” I said, and she grinned.

“I thought about going black, I thought it would be ironic.”

“Because you’re dead?”

“No, because of Sirius.” She said with a grin. “Anyway, enough about me. You’ve been awful boring recently, Lily.” I stared at her. “You know, reclusive, quiet, out of the spotlight – you’re too alive to do that. I mean shit; I was more alive when I was dying. Go sleep with someone, get really drunk again – do something.”

“I can’t Mary, you don’t understand.”

“I’m not thick,” She said lying back down on the bed and kicking her feet at the sky. “I’m a little bit of genius, actually,”

“How do you work that out?” I muttered darkly, watching with this strange remorse as she smoothed my bedcovers and kicked her feet into the air and laughed at me.

“Because,” Mary said, rolling over on to her front and looking at me with that oh so familiar expression that I’d missed so much. “Because, Lily, I know what it’s like.”

“You know what what is like?”

“What it’s like to be scared,” She said, and suddenly she didn’t look so gleeful anymore – there was a tear rolling down her face, as I’d seen so many times, and she looked shockingly beautiful and sad that it broke my heart. “To be scared of living, to be scared of dying...”

“I’m not scared Mary.”

“Didn’t you listen to James? It’s okay. It’s okay to be scared sometimes.”

“I’m not scared!”

“Oh come on, don’t lie to me you little hypocrite.” She laughed at that, leaning on her elbows and letting some of purple hair fall over her ace. “You are terrrifffieed.” She said, dragging out and savouring the last word.

“No,” I countered. “I’m Lily Evans, I don’t do scared.”

“Correction, you are not Lily Evans.”  I stared at her. “You’re right, Lily Evans doesn’t do scared – she does control and smiling and occasional burst of anger. You don’t do that, so I don’t know who the hell you are. You are self destructive, self isolating and very scared.” My eyes widened. “I don’t blame you,” She said, softer this time. She rolled back on to her back and looked up at the sky. “Things aren’t getting any better,”

“No,” I said weakly. “They’re getting worse, I’ve never seen the world like this Mary – it’s never been so... dark before.”

“Yeah,” Mary said lightly. “Guess I’m going to miss it all,”

“That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

“Don’t you dare say that.” Mary snapped, suddenly sitting up and staring at me. “Don’t you dare. You make the best of what you’re given. Are you listening to me Lily? You make the best of it. It doesn’t matter how long you live, and there’s no point living at all if you’re just going to sit on your arse all day – so stop being a sap and start being Lily freaking Evans.” She was breathing heavily, and she suddenly looked ill again. “Get up, Lily,” She said, and I did, standing up – somehow being held up by a cloud – and standing at the foot of Mary’s bed.

She slipped under the covers and rested her head on the pillow, suddenly looking pale and slightly yellow. Then she was ill again, dying, and that sudden pressure to say the right thing – to say goodbye – was pressing on my chest again. I was crying. My hands smoothed over the bedcovers without meaning to do so, and I grabbed hold of her dying hand and knelt by her bedside. “Mary,” I whispered, grabbing hold of her and digging my nails into her hands – just to see if I could be strong enough to stop her slipping away this time.

She mumbled something incoherent and understandable. I squeezed her hand tighter. She made the same horrible strangling noise – like some invisible force had gripped hold of her throat and was squeezing it, squeezing it... squeezing the life out of her.  Her hair faded to brown. Her eyes shut.

“No,” I whimpered, and hot salty tears were spilling down my cheeks. I could taste them on my lips. I buried my face in her covers. “Mary,” I said, “Mary, your right – I’m scared, I’m so scared, and I... I can’t lose you again.”

“You never had me.” Her voice croaked out, before she died all over again. The dream was too vivid, too real, and suddenly everything was so horribly quiet – silent. Pressing in on me and squeezing my brain tightly. Squeezing it, squeezing it... numbing and horrible. Then I was falling down through the clouds, and I was trying to scream, but I couldn’t hear it on my lips, and instead just felt it tearing through my throat and breaking through the air.

 

 

James shook me awake, and I grabbed hold of his shoulders and suddenly felt foolish for ever believing in the dream. My head spun. The silence remained.

“I’m going to throw up,” I told James, suddenly feeling the horrible queasy feeling in my stomach.

He called something, and the nurse woman – a new woman, I’d only caught a few glimpses of her before – came running out with a bucket. Then I was throwing up into the bucket, and became reacquainted with the taste of red currant rum. It smelt of alcohol too, and the potion I’d drank – and it all came tumbling out into the bucket. I cringed away from it, suddenly feeling much better.

James asked something. I shook my head – still couldn’t hear. He called out to the nurse. She nodded and came forward with another vile of potion. She gestured for me to drink it. I did, and it tasted just the same – fiery and vile.

I’d only just swallowed it when I had to grab the bucket and throw up all over again.

Then I was handed another potion. I shook my head and groaned, suddenly feeing impossibly hungry. She pushed it into my hands. I examined it and looked at James for support. He was scribbling something down on a piece of parchment but nodded at me when he felt my gaze.

I swallowed, and brought the vile to my lips, taking a deep gulp. This one was different, and tasted spicy and strange. It wasn’t bad though, and it was bearable to drink the rest of the flask without too much complaint.

A sudden roaring started up in my ears. I pressed my hands against them and buried my face in the covers. The now very creased piece of parchment was passed back to me...

This potion is going to fix your ears, she said it might hurt a bit and you’ll probably get a bit of a fever, but you’ll be out the hospital wing by tomorrow.

What did the last potion do then?  I wrote back, pulling myself up again and resting against the headboard.

It made you throw up.

“I know that,” I said out loud, brushing my hair out of my face, “I was there.”

He smiled at that, and I smiled too, and watch him wrote his next sentence – To get rid of the alcohol in your system.

You told her I’d been drinking? I scribbled back furiously. James, I’m head girl!

I know that, James wrote back but alcohol would have had a negative effect on the potion, and I’d rather you lose the badge than get properly hurt. I sighed and rested my head against the headboard, suddenly feeling very hot.

That will be the fever, I supposed, and I shut my eyes and tried not to think about how much I was sweating. There was no doubt I looked utterly hideous: still wearing yesterday’s party clothes, with yesterday’s makeup still somewhere on my face (location currently unknown), slightly hung over, having just thrown up and sweating up a storm due to some stupid potion. I scrunched up my face and fanned myself with my hand. I was impossibly hungry. Impossibly hot.

It was impossibly quiet.

“James,” I whimpered, knowing full well that I sounded pathetic (despite not being able to hear it), but I hardly felt much stronger at that moment. I frowned and felt myself heating up even more, sweating and finding it difficult to breathe. My ears were roaring with this horrible hot and painful silence. “I don’t like it....” I complained, resting my head on his shoulder and not caring about the implications or anything like that. I was too ill.

The silence was pressing in on me, suffocating and harsh, and my skin was flaring up into heat.

James was writing something else down, then he stopped... paused, and scrunched the piece of paper up. I frowned even more and pulled it out from between his fingers, sending him a reproachful look which I hope he took to mean I didn’t appreciate his actions. He drew back his hand at first but then let me ease it from out of his hand and straighten it back down.

Sirius was going to stay too, but he said the room reminded him too much of – and then it stopped, suddenly, when James had evidently decided I didn’t need to be reminded that Mary had died in this very room. I kept my face impassive, not wanting James to feel guilty about pointing this thought out. It would have occurred to me soon enough.

Mary’s bed had been two to the right of the one I was in, and I swallowed back the painful lump in my throat and sat up. There was no way I’d be able to sleep when I was this hot and sticky, I simply had to sweat the fever out... and then sleep.

I turned over the piece of paper and wrote you can go if you want.

James took it, and returned it to me almost immediately.

Why are you writing stuff down?

I thought about this for a second. Of course he was right. There was nothing wrong with my voice, after all, and this whole business of writing things down really slowed down the conversation –not that I was capable of much more at this point – but there it was. “It’s awkward,” I said, pulling my head up off his shoulder and leaning back on the headboard. I arched my back in a vain attempt to get more cool air on my face. “I can’t hear myself talk,” I continued. “And it’s horrible, and... it makes the conversation feel uneven,” James nodded. I threw the covers off me - no longer caring that my skirt had risen up and wiped some of the sweat off my forehead.

James was probably having extreme difficulty controlling himself when presented with my current appearance. I mean. Wow. I was pretty sure that hung-over sweating girls were his thing.

Sod it. I thought when the sweating increased up a further notch. My whole body had just become an extended and unwanted sauna. “I hope you don’t mind,” I said, pulling my top off my head and leaning back against the headboard in just my bra. The wood felt cool against my back and that tiny layer of clothing seemed to make all the difference. My skin was still hot, but it was bearable now. So I gave James one last smile before collapsing back onto the covers and falling into a dreamless sleep.

 

 

I was a better temperature when I woke, and someone had thought to cover me with the thinnest blanket whilst I slept. Sirius was here now, along with Alice and Rachel – I weakly smiled at all of them. James was not there. I didn’t like how much that bothered me. The nurse walked into the hospital wing and spoke – looking at me directly – I stared at her blankly. I still couldn’t hear.

The potion hadn’t worked. I buried my face in the covers and resisted the urge to bawl my eyes out all over again. What if I was deaf forever? What if I could never hear again?

Another piece of paper was pushed into my hands, I was fed up of them – I didn’t want to read what people had to say. I wanted to hear it. I was being childish, I knew, but I still pushed it away from me and curled myself into a ball. Another piece of paper was presented to me. I screwed it up in my hand and closed my eyes. The potion hadn’t worked.

I could imagine Sirius making some loud comment about how childish I was being in an attempt to coax me into reacting, before remembering that I couldn’t hear a word he said in the first place. Alice would try the ‘I understand you’ technique and Rachel would probably just sit there waiting for me to grow up. Mary might have slapped me round the face.

Was seventeen years old too old to act so childish?

Except I was much older than seventeen now. I’d seen far too much death.

I pulled myself up into the sitting position and found that my predictions were incorrect. Sirius wasn’t even looking at me. He was looking at the bed.... the bed that used to be Mary’s and it suddenly hit me that I’d watched my best friend die in this room.

 I suddenly hated Snape with every fibre of my being for sending me back here – every single cell of my body was just itching to cause him permanent and lasting harm – and the Slytherins too, who thought they were better than me, and all those who went along with all these ridiculous prejudices.

Who cared if I was mudblood? Who gave a shit? It had barely mattered for my first four years at Hogwarts and it shouldn’t matter now. I wasn’t going to let myself be pushed into acting cautiously, out of fear. I was Lily freaking Evans. It was about time I remembered that.

I was going to fight it. I was going to walk down the corridors laughing. Beat the Slytherin’s in every test. Do whatever the damn hell I wanted with whomever I flaming wanted to.

Who had the right to stop me?

I’d forgotten my old mantra and how I’d consoled myself in those dark weeks after Mary’s death. I’ll live because Mary can’t – that’s what I’d thought. I’ll live because she can’t. I’ll do anything, knowing anything, be anything. I didn’t feel scared anymore, I felt different – invincible and powerful. Like there was amazing... stuff inside me – filling up my chest and my head, this inspiration and power, just waiting to burst out. I was going to be somebody. Like I was meant for something.

Rachel was speaking to Sirius. He nodded. They both stood up and left. Sirius sent me an apologetic look as they exited. “It’s okay,” I said. I didn’t blame him. If I could leave, I would. I closed my eyes and balled up my fists. I was angry, passionate and full of life. It was strange... I hadn’t expected my emotions to return with such sudden severity. It was physically painful not to stand up and do something.

The nurse appeared out of her office. She handed me a neatly written piece of parchment. I turned it over in my hands and read. Don’t worry, your hearing will return in two-three hours. You need to tell me who cursed you.

“I don’t know,” I said quickly, looking up at her. This wasn’t a battle to be fought by going to the teachers. This was different. Bigger. We had to sort it out ourselves. James had to teach me how to duel properly.

The nurse sent me a reproachful look and then walked off with an exasperated expression plastered over her features. Sirius’s note was still in my hand. I opened that too feeling very idiotic about my stubborn refusal to cooperate. It had been stupid really.

James will be back soon, he’s just gone to have a shower.

I frowned at that. It was true, perhaps, that I’d been relying on James a little bit more than I should have been... but did they really feel they had to inform me of the reasons behind his absence? That it would matter so much to me that I’d need it written down? No, that was stupid. We were friends, after all, or maybe not friends... something more complicated than that.

Some sort of indefinable in-the-middle-relationship. In the middle of what though?

So many questions I’d hardly even considered.

“Alice,” I said watching as she smiled at her ring absently. “How did Frank propose?”

Another question that seemed to have slipped my mind.

 

 

You do not appreciate how loud everything is until you have been forcibly immersed in the silence of your own head. Your thoughts become so much more complex and noisy when there is nothing else to fill up the space in your mind, so my mine felt blissfully at ease again when I woke to find that I could hear.  A window was open, and an autumn wind was rushing through the trees outside – the kind of background noise that you wouldn’t even think about, and then... The nurse in some corner of the hospital wing, moving around glass... and James’s breathing.

I didn’t exactly remember him coming back because I’d had another dose of the potion and had been too feverish to really register his presence, but it was extraordinarily obvious now. It made me feel better. I hated that a little bit – but only a little.

He was sat on my bed, I might have told him to – in the midst of my fever – or he might have taken that liberty himself. I wouldn’t put it past either of us. Still... he was there, one arm leaning across the headboard as I rested amongst the pillows. My head must have been resting against his leg whilst I was asleep because I had to turn to face him. I pulled myself up a little and looked at him.

“You look better,” James said. “Sorry,” He added. “You probably still can’t hear,” I frowned at him slightly, feeling too at peace to talk. I just wanted to be still. To relax. I could hear. Everything was fine. I smiled at him. He smiled too, a lovely smile that made me feel warm and glad to be alive. “You look so... beautiful,” James said thoughtfully. “Especially when you smile,  I suppose there are a few good things you not being able to here. I mean,” He said really looking at me, “If I wanted, I could just tell you how much I want to kiss you right now.”

My eyes widened slightly.

There was a long moment when James stared at me for a second, and then seemed to realise that I could hear him, and what he’d just said... “Oh.” James said softly.

Neither of us said anything for a long few seconds – not awkward seconds, just long seconds... and then my head started to fill up with lots of thoughts again.

Did I want to kiss James?

I didn’t not want to. I wasn’t exactly resistant to the idea which, I suppose, in reverse – meant I did want to kiss him. A strange kind of in-the-middle-relationship. In the middle of what though? And too which side were we leaning, or.... a better question – why exactly was I leaning forwards?

Blame it on impulse, I decided, and then my hand was on the back of James Potter’s neck. I’d shifted so that I was sitting up a little bit more – all painstakingly slow, and James... James was meeting me halfway this time and then...

We were kissing.

Not snogging, really. Only slightly more than a peck on the lips. A goodnight kiss. Or a hello kiss. Not a snog. Better than that.

We broke away again, looked at each other carefully, assessing the situation maybe. Cautious. Like we were scared to touch each other. Definitely not how it had been before.

 One of his hands moved so that it was resting on my hip. Mine was still touching his neck, brushing over the tiny hairs at the bottom of his ridiculous hair – and the other was moving of its own accord – touching his other arm.  We shifted a little closer together.

His other hand moved to my face. I closed my eyes. The whole thing was awkward and strange... but nice all the same, definitely nice. I opened my eyes again, staring at him. A small part of me was terrified of what he was about to do next. I needn’t have been because after looking right at me for what felt like forever, he dropped the hand on my face and simply smiled at me.

I leant back against the headboard and, in doing so, James’s arm.

“I can hear,” I beamed, relaxing into James’s arm and beginning to feel practically joyous. I could hear – my own voice, James’s voice – our breathing, in rhythm because I was leaning against him, and I was infinitely comfortable.

I wondered if James was aware he was running a lock of my hair through his fingers.

I wondered why exactly I was permitting it. I frowned and thought about it for a long time, even after the nurse had returned and given James such a dirty look that he’d suggested he should probably go get some dinner, or something, and when the woman was insisting that I stayed in the hospital wing overnight – which was ridiculous, I could hear now after all, I was thinking about this new tangled and complicated relationship with James. Except, it didn’t feel complicated when he was there. Not anymore. It was just when I tried to define it... tried to have control of it... that was when it made my head hurt.

When I’d finally convinced the nurse that I should be allowed out of the hospital wing I’d come to a conclusion – James and I were going somewhere, I didn’t know where, I didn’t know why – but it seemed to have happening. It seemed inevitable that something was going to happen. I just didn’t know what.

But I was just going to let it take it’s natural course, whatever that may be.

And with that thought I met the rest of the world with a smile on my face, a new found confidence and a reunited appetite for life.

 With more than just my ears fully functioning again.

A/N - Hellllllloooo all! You know what's really helpful when you're on study leave? Having a brain-numbing cold that won't go away and randomly passing out for no reason. Wish me luck ;)

Check out my new story (although, I say new - it does already have four chapters) which I'm writing for a challenge, I really love it! I think I've managed to put my bad-feelings related to this story aside for the time being too - so all in all this authors note is much more positive than the last. Thanks to all of you still reading and reviewing! Please continue to do so :)
 


Chapter 7: Descent.
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Mudblood,” a freaking third year hissed, making a point to ram his bony little shoulder into my stomach.

I made a point of patting him on the head patronisingly. He jerked away from my hand and stared at me in shock. He took an awkward step back and tripped over his robes, landing firmly on his arse. “Bitch!” he said indignantly.

I didn’t even look and just walked past; leaving the poor kid sat on the floor. I felt a little bad. I nearly offered him a hand up. I’d never meant for him to fall over.

“Nice, Evans,” Sirius muttered falling into step beside me with a grin. “What a Head Girl,” He grinned.

“Hmm,” I muttered, folding my arms and glancing up at him through my hair.

“What’s up?” Sirius asked, raising an eyebrow at my troubled expression. I’d been feeling so much better since my brief period of deafness and thus hadn’t seen half as much of the Marauders. At first I thought they’d been attempting to give me space and then I’d thought...

“Nothing.” I returned, fixing my gaze resolutely ahead. Sirius remained silent for a few moments waiting for me. I hated that he knew me well enough that he knew I’d eventually crack. When had that happened?  Probably about the same time it became acceptable that James and I had a sort of... thing going on. Except not really anymore. I looked down agitatedly before looking back at Sirius. He was still waiting. Then, when I couldn’t physically hold onto my question for any longer...“Why is James avoiding me?”

“Ah.” Sirius said with a distinct eyebrow raise.

“So he is avoiding me? I thought it might just be in my head.” I sighed, wrapping my arms around myself and finding myself feeling utterly miserable. What had I done?  Why would James, of all the people in the world, decide to avoid me for pete’s sake? I grimaced at the floor.

I didn’t even know why it was bothering me so much.

“Sirius?” I questioned, elbowing him. “Why?”

“Awh, Evans,” Sirius muttered. “Don’t get all whiny on me. I don’t know what you’ve done. Ask James.”

“But I can’t, because he’s avoiding me!”

“If I remember rightly you sit by him in what... three, four subjects? Just poke him mid transfiguration where he can’t escape,”

“But he’s started listening Sirius, I don’t want get in the way of his education.”

Sirius look at me for a second before letting out one of those now rare barks of laughter. “Oh, Merlin Evans, never change.” Then he laughed for another few minutes (in which I looked at him with my best affronted expression, although actually I was slightly pleased with this comment – but I wasn’t going to say that). “Anyway, no, James wasn’t listening and I’ve got sixteen inches of notes that he passed me to prove it. You were just so determinedly not looking at him that you didn’t notice.”

“Oh.”

“I don’t want to talk about that anyway, it’ll sort itself out in its own time. I just wanted to see if you were okay.” He said, turning his eyes on me seriously. If Sirius Black had said something like that to me at some point a year ago I probably would have laughed him out the room, but things were different now and Sirius was fully permitted to ask these questions. It was part of our strange sort of truce.

“I no longer feel like a walking target,” I said, folding my arms in around me and smiling up at him slightly. It was true that I’d already come such a long way since the summer, or even from the beginning of the year. It seemed as though things were beginning to look up. “I feel like a target that’s going to fight back,”

Sirius smiled at that, his eyes picking up some of their old sparkle for a moment. I frowned, wishing I could do a little bit more to help him. But what was there to be done? I couldn’t bring back Mary for him. “Speaking of which,” I continued. “I’ve been thinking...”

“That sounds ominous,”

“No,” I countered. “You’ll like this. It’s very Marauderesque.”

“I’m listening.”

“So... you know how the Slytherins have obviously been practicing duelling,”

“I’m listening intently,”

“Well... I know you and James are good, I mean really good, but it couldn’t hurt to be a bit better, could it? And, well... I just really think we should learn to defend ourselves properly. Of course we have Defence but that would be nothing against really dark spells... if we... if we taught ourselves then...” Sirius nodded. “James was going to teach me anyway,” I added hurriedly, suddenly feeling nervous that he’d laugh my idea away. “But, if we all did it...”

“I’ll talk to James,” Sirius nodded, sending me a rather forced smile of encouragement. “I’d give it till next week though, Evans,” He added, suddenly taking a sharp left turn and walking away from me. Probably towards some secret passage. “Quidditch game on Saturday,” He continued before disappearing completely into a crowd of first year girls.

Quidditch? What an entirely bizarre thought. That something as mundane and ridiculous inconsequential as Quidditch could still be taking up space in peoples mind at a time when a war was beginning.

 

 

“James,” I muttered angrily, throwing myself into the seat next to him and looking at him fiercely. He looked slightly alarmed by my dramatic entrance and the irritated expression that had found its place on my face for the past two hours. “You better bloody win on Saturday.”

Remus, behind me, laughed out loud.

“What happened?” James asked, the corners of his mouth twisting up in poorly concealed amusement. The expression was so adorable that I found my own anger weakening slightly, but only slightly. It was probably for the best anyway. I’d been so tempted to start hexing random first years that walked into me on the way here. Loosing some of that anger could only be beneficial.

“Some bloody slytherin -” I began, and that was all it took for the amused looks on all of their faces to evaporate. “– Stuck a sign saying ‘Gryffindor Mascot’ on the back of my robes.”I pulled my books out my bag and slammed them on the desk. “Which was fine, I could deal with that, but then... I went the loo after potions – the one in the dungeons. And the stuff they’ve bloody written about me...”

“What?” James asked quickly.

“All sorts of crap. Mudblood whore was written a couple of times. Head bitch – very witty that one. Hilarious. Stuff about Diggory,” I said, internally cringing about even verbally admitting there had been ‘stuff with diggory’  “Stuff about you,” I said nodding to James. “And you,” I nodded to Sirius. “All of it graphic. There were diagrams. Then, at the top, someone wrote ‘Dumbledore’s advertisement for mudblood filth.’” I paused for a long few seconds to take a breath. “Is that true?” I demanded. “Am I Head Girl because I’m a mudblood and he wanted to make a point?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” James said. “And don’t call yourself a mudblood.”

“Oh why not?” I said loudly. “I’m a mudblood though and through!” Several Slytherins turned round to glare in my direction, and a ripple of anger seemed to travel across the classroom. I shook it off and turned back to the others defiantly. “Am I Dumbledore’s advertisement for the fact that blood status doesn’t matter?”

“No, Dumbledore wouldn’t do that.” James said, a hand going up to his head and running through his mess of hair. He obviously wasn’t as sure as he sounded.

“Wouldn’t he?” Sirius asked warily. “I mean...” He trailed off. “If I was Headmaster, I’d have given it to someone who would have attracted less attention. It puts you in the spotlight. If you think about it, it’s not really fair,”

“Precisely,” I said. “I’m the biggest target in the school.” No one had anything to say to that, not even James, and it was another twenty minutes into the lesson when the topic was approached again.

“That’s not the only thing that upset you is it?” James asked in a quiet voice, leaning forward so it looked like he was just looking at my notes (I felt a strange sort of thrill that he cared enough to ask me, and revelled in fact that he was no longer ignoring me. Then I chastised myself for being such a fool).

“Not exactly,” I admitted, brushing my hair out my face and looking up at him through my eyelashes. “They’d... written some other stuff too. Stuff about Mary,” One of my hands clenched itself into a fist.

“That could have been old?” James suggested warily, glancing back to make sure Sirius hadn’t heard.

“It was fresh. I accidently smudged it. There was a drawing of a... a gravestone too. Then an arrow from the bit about me to the gravestone saying... erm... the mudbloods will be reunited soon.”

James faced remained impassive for a long second as he looked at me, considering this. He didn’t seem as angry as I thought he would have been. In fact, I’d had expected him to be hexing their arses by now... but there hadn’t even been a single swearword.

Maybe he just didn’t care anymore.

Or maybe he’d grown up.

“We’ll kick their scrawny pureblood arses,” James grinned before returning to his notes with a newfound fervour.

Maybe not...

 

 

 

It wasn’t just about Quidditch, even I saw that now, it was a way of scoring points. The other Gryffindors had started wondering around with the team members for their protection, and I even heard one stupid girl lamenting how she was going to take a curse for Sirius now that he was ‘back in the market.’ There had been curses though. Not just the hexes and jinxes that had been commonplace before any Quidditch match, where people ended up with oversized ears and eyebrows that were so long the player could no longer see; no, these were dangerous curses that were flying round the corridors of Hogwarts.  Our seeker was hit with the same deafness curse that I had been – although Madame Pomfrey fixed her in about a minute this time (she hadn’t been drunk, which had apparently helped...).

A fifth year prefect had been hit with a strange curse that had made him bleed from everywhere after he tried to give the Slytherin beater a detention, and had been in the hospital wing for three days now. There were rumours that he’d have to go to St Mungos, but I had been reassured that was completely fiction.

It hadn’t helped that the day before the match there was more bad news printed in the prophet. Charlotte and her family had disappeared – their house was found to be completely deserted by ministry official. “It’s says here it looks like they’ve been gone for awhile,” Peter said warily, skimming through the article in the prophet which detailed more about the disappearance.

I exchanged a glance with Alice. Rachel was supposed to be playing today and I wasn’t altogether sure that she was up to it. “She should have stayed at Hogwarts,” Peter said. “She would have been safer,”

“She was scared, and rightly so it seems.” I said hotly. I couldn’t believe it either. Charlotte, blunt and straightforward, disappeared...

“You don’t think they’ve done this to mess Rachel up for the game, do you?” Peter asked.

“No,” Frank said dismissively. “This isn’t about Quidditch.”

“What if it is?” Remus asked, looking exhausted. “Think about it, we have the better team... and winning would really increase moral. Another advertisement that blood status doesn’t matter.”

“They’ve been missing for ages,” Alice countered. “Unless someone leaked to the ministry, but... It couldn’t be about Quidditch.” She shook her head, her eyes tearing up dangerously. “How many more people can Gryffindor lose?”

“Everyone,” A voice snarled, and the five of us turned our heads sharply. Knott, Quidditch captain. I narrowed my eyes in his direction and glared at him. “You’re next, Evans,” He spat, his lips twisting into a horrible grin.

“What are you doing here?” Remus asked. “Piss off.”

“I was coming to wish you good luck in the game,” He sneered. “But it looks like your team aren’t going to show up.”

“They’re right there.” I spat back, sitting up and glaring at him definitely. When he broke it to look over, I looked too – watching as the team walked into the room, already in their Quidditch ropes.

“Are you cheerleading for the game, Evans?” Knott sneered. I ignored him, and watched as James entered the room, his arm wrapped around Rachel who seemed to be crying. She’d been essentially crying non-stop since the news about Charlotte had reached her. James frowned when he saw Knott, gave the crying Rachel to Sirius (who looked as if he felt extremely awkward) and then hurried over. “Ah,” Knott continued. “Your guard dog.”

“Haven’t you got a team to attend to?” I asked lightly, turning around and facing him clearly. “Team is a loose term but...”

Knott stood up straight again and seemed to decide it was best if he’d left by the time James got there. “How are your parents, Longbottom?” He asked with a sneer.

“They’re fine.”

“You sure?” He asked with a grin. “If I were you... I’d be getting my best black robes washed.” Then he turned and disappeared back over to the Slytherin table, just as James arrived.

“Frank?” Alice asked quickly. “I’m sure he’s just...” Frank shook his head and stood up, disappearing out the Great Hall in an almost-run.

“Go,” James nodded, “We have enough supporters, I’d want to check too.” Alice nodded and followed him out quickly.

“What was that about?” Sirius demanded, an awkward arm still holding Rachel upright.

“Are you sure you want to play, Rachel?” I asked gently. “You don’t have to, no one would mind.”

“It wouldn’t be much of a game,” The fifth year beater said, and I shot him a reproachful look.

“I want to play,” She said, finally standing up straight and taking a deep breath. “I have to. They can’t think that they’ve won.” And thus all the emotions surrounding the war were being projected into a game of Quidditch. Gryffindor verses Slytherin.

 

 

 

“Foul!” I yelled furiously as James wobbled dangerously on his broom. He righted himself quickly enough and dived so quickly that it looked like he’d fallen out of the air; he straightened up soon though – flying upwards to escape the Slytherin that was tailing him. “I can’t watch this,” I said, leaning over as far as I could in the stands.

“Don’t,” Remus said, pulling me back slightly and staring with the same horror stuck expression that was no doubt all over my face. “He’ll be okay,” He said gripping hold of my arm tightly.

“But...” I trailed off, staring in dismay at the five red figures that were left. Rachel had only let in three goals so far, unlike the Slytherin keeper who’d carelessly let in seven – mainly because he was concentrating his energy on pulling his wand out when the referee wasn’t looking, and causing people to have to duck, spin and drop out of the air to avoid whatever he was sending at them.

The teachers had been forced to sit in the hufflepuff stands to be diplomatic (any favouritism at the minute would not be healthy for the environment), and they must have worked out the angles so that his actions were invisible to anyone but the Gryffindors. My blood was boiling. Dumbledore would have noticed... but he’d disappeared after the first ten minutes of the game.

There was a sudden scream as a bludger came hurtling in the direction of the Gryffindor stands, in the midst of the spectators. Several people in the rows below had to hurriedly scrabble out of the way, there was a sharp cry of pain, then Sirius practically skidded into the fray and sent the bludger back into the centre of the field. It was only when he was that close that you could see how much his nose was bleeding.

“This isn’t fair!” I exclaimed, finding tears of anger filling up in my eyes. “This...” I trailed off, distracted as James seized the Quaffle once more. My heart was thudding wildly in my chest. I was willing him to pass it... at least then he wasn’t a direct target, at least then he wasn’t in quite as much danger...  “No!” I yelled as a bludger collided with the back of his broom and sent him spinning, he threw the bludger to the forth year chaser and then...

Then the chaser was hurtling towards the floor, his broom falling too, and I had no idea what was happening.

It was only twenty feet, and a spell caught him before he hit the floor, but...

“How can we play with four players?” I demanded. “We have one chaser and one beater!”

“The snitch!” Remus yelled, pointing out at the field. “Look, he’s seen it,” I whirled back around to see our seeker speeding across the pitch. Sirius was desperately trying to stop Knott from sending Bludgers in the direction of the spectators, rather than the players (the little piece of shit). So he didn’t see the other bludger, the one that was haphazardly flying in the direction of our seeker... James had though.

What he thought he was doing... with no bat and no weapon, but then... “No,” Remus said, shaking his head and leaning forwards. “No James...” The he took a sharp left turn, blocking its path and...

In doing so being hit in the stomach by a bludger at full speed.

I was flying down the stairs before James had hit the floor, pushing past the other Gryffindors who had just stared to cheer... I nearly fell in my hurry, but somehow managed to tumble onto the pitch in a rush of limbs and worry. “James!” I yelled, throwing myself in the direction of the floor so that I could bend over him. That nurse woman, MadamePomfrey,  was there now, bending over him and muttering about dangerous sports, but I ignored her presence completely. “James,” I repeated, putting one of my hands on his face and looking at him seriously. He was covered in sweat and blood and mud.

“Told you we’d win,” James muttered weakly. I grabbed hold of his hand and shook the tears out of my eyes in relief.

“Oh my god,” I breathed, squeezing his hand so tightly it was physically painful. “Oh my god,” James closed his eyes for a brief second and took a sharp breath. “Are you hurt?” I demanded, reaching for his top and pulling it up over his stomach so I could see. Already it was turning a nasty shade of purple.

“Sorry, mate,” Sirius said somewhere in the background. “I didn’t see... sorry, I just...”

“Is he all right?”

“Never seen you move so fast, Lily,” Remus said, a poor attempt at humour that I blocked out completely.

“Don’t sit up,” I told him, putting my hand on his shoulder to prevent him. “It’ll hurt like a bitch,”

“It already does,” James said roughly, ignoring my request and sitting up anyway. He took in another sharp breath and clenched his fists. “How is everyone, are they all..?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, “Don’t care,”

“That’s almost sweet,” James said through gritted teeth, he squeezed my hand back tightly and took in another deep breath. “I think... I think I might need to go to the hospital wing,” I laughed, tears still bubbling up from my eyes unexplainably. “You won’t leave, will you?”

I shook my head.

 

 

 

“It doesn’t feel much like a victory, does it?” Sirius asked grimly, standing up and pacing around the hospital wing with that edgy expression that always seemed to be displayed on his face when he felt obliged to be in here. Half of me wanted to tell him that he could leave if he wanted, but I knew he would refuse anyway – so I stayed silent.

“No,” Remus agreed from his seat on one of the few beds free. Most were filled with the other members of the Quidditch players or the unfortunate few who’d been hit by bludgers in the stands.

“They’ve showed real team unity,” Rachel commented, glancing at the single Slytherin that was in the hospital, a scrawny second year boy.

“They do that,” James commented weakly. I tightened my grip on his hand.

“Hey, at least it’s a victory for Prongsie here,” Sirius commented, beginning another lap around the hospital wing. He was beginning to make me dizzy.

“What are you talking about?” I asked dryly. From my position (i.e. at his beside) it was looking like he’d come off considerable worse than when he’d started. I didn’t count that as a victory.

“The number of times James has taken a bludger to the stomach,” Sirius said with an amused expression. “One time he fractured a rib and still didn’t come to the hospital wing for a week.” I blinked at him in confusion. “Lily, the only reasons he’s here is because everyone one saw him fall, and the only reason he’s playing it up is so that you’ll nurse him better.”

I turned to glare at him.

“You’re so good at it?” James suggested lightly, pulling himself up in bed and smiling. “I guess the games up. Thanks Pads.”

I dropped his hand and shook my head in bemusement.

“You should have seen how fast you ran,” Remus said in an amused voice.

“I... well, I need someone to do Head duties with.”

“Right,” Remus added. “Head duties.”

“Where are the others, anyway?” I asked pointedly. “Shouldn’t Alice and Frank be back by now? Unless -” I stopped suddenly and swallowed. What if something had happened?

“Where the hell is Peter?”

“He disappeared before the game,” Remus said, suddenly looking thoughtful. “Something about failing Charms.”

“Failing charms?” Sirius asked, with a slightly surprised and confused expression on his face. “He’d tell us if he was failing charms.”

“Maybe he’s embarrassed?” I suggested.

“No, not Peter,” Sirius shook his head. “When he was failing transfiguration he wouldn’t stop going on about it. He talked about it twenty four seven, trying to get us to help him... no, we’d know if he was failing charms. Anyway, I sit next to him in charms and -”

“Why didn’t you just help him?”

“We did.” Sirius grinned, exchanging a glance with James. “We taught him some really advanced transfiguration. Threw him in at the deep end, got two birds with one stone – hasn’t had a problem since.”

“Ah,” I said. Animagi. Illegal animagi. “Well, good.” Then...

“Alice!” Remus exclaimed, standing up and walking across the hospital wing to greet her. She was deathly pale and alone. “Where’s Frank.” She looked strangely strong, with her shoulders squared and a strange indefinable expression on her face that I almost recognised.

“St Mungos.”

“What happened?” Sirius demanded, finally sitting down and looking at her with such intensity that it was almost painful. All playful talk about Quidditch was gone. This had suddenly, if we could have considered it possible, got a lot more serious.

“He’s not... he’s not hurt.” Alice said. “It was Voldemort. Knott screwed up – he warned us.” The impact of her words was huge and shocking on all of us. James took hold of my hand again, and I let him – only thinking about the slight comfort of his fingertips pressed against knuckles softly, and not the consequence of such an action. “McGonagall told Dumbledore that we’d gone to check... Dumbledore was worried and he followed us. That’s the only reason why...” For the first time her voice seemed to waver. “Why we’re alive.”

“Did he...? Torture you?”

“Voldemort?” She asked. “He cursed Mr Longbottom, something horrible – there was a lot of blood – and he was trying to persuade Mrs Longbottom to join him, I think... he didn’t expect us to turn up.”

“Voldemort. You’ve... you’ve seen Voldemort?” Rachel asked, her own voice shaking with awe-filled terror.

Alice nodded. “Frank distracted him, sent a stunner... then I think, I think he would have killed us right then and there but Dumbledore showed up and...”

“Shit.” Sirius said eloquently. None of us could have expected this. We were kids – teenagers. We weren’t adept at dealing with this... with curses and Voldemort and poor poor Alice. Poor Frank. Imagine what could have happened if they’d assumed Knott’s comment was frivolous and unimportant? What if Dumbledore hadn’t thought to go after them?

Charlotte... charlotte and Frank’s parents. All I’d signed up for today was a Quidditch match and that had been brutal enough. I wasn’t altogether sure how Alice was still managing to stand there. I wasn’t sure how someone had burst into tears and started dramatically sobbing – apparently we’d all grown up now. Or maybe none of it had sunk in yet.

“Frank’s with his Dad now,” Alice said, finally sitting down and beginning to look exhausted – the manic glint that was in her eye dissipating into fear and the familiar trace of someone who had seen far too much. “They don’t think he’s going to make it.”

“That’s it then, isn’t it?” James asked over the quasi-silence. “We’ve got to learn how to fight. Lily thought we should set up our own defence group. This just goes to show...” James trailed off. Sirius had wrapped his arm consolingly around Alice (who was slowly looking less and less strong, and more like any second she was going to start crying hysterically). Remus looked at his hands and seemed to be very uneasy, not that I blamed him.

“I want in,” James said. “You’re in, right Lily?” I nodded.

“Me too,” Sirius said, his eyes empty and hollow looking.

“I was there,” Alice said, her voice now beginning to shake with anxiety, “and I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t do anything... I just stood there and watched as he tortured Frank’s Dad body and... I never want to be so powerless again. I’ll do anything.” She acclaimed. “I’m in,”

Rachel shook her head and looked at her hands. “You’re all so brave,” Her voice was weak. “I’m not brave enough,” Her voice was shaking again.  Remus stood up and put an arm around her; she sniffed and rested her head on his shoulder. “How can anyone stand this?” She blinked. “This war, it’s horrible!”

“It’s so big.” I said, and although I knew how empty and pathetic sounding words may seem... the others seemed to understand.

“No victory party this time,” James said firmly. I dropped his hand – suddenly becoming aware of it, and vaguely aware that he’d been avoiding me for some unknown reason that was no doubt both stupid and unimportant. Everything seemed frivolous compared to this weighty war that was suddenly settling upon our lives, shadowing everything with its unwelcome darkness. “It wouldn’t be right.”

“So Knott’s definitely a Death Eater.” Sirius said, looking thoughtful – still holding Alice up. She didn’t fit in his arms properly, it didn’t look right... with Alice’s blonde hair it just... it made me long for that flash of purple or red, or brown hair. There was a fierce jolt in the pit of my stomach as I tried to work out what Mary would say in a situation like that, but I couldn’t place her here anymore... things had moved on, changed and...

I suddenly wanted to cry.

“Looks like it,” James said, silently taking my hand again. He was so acutely aware of my actions it was ridiculous; still... it was nice to have someone who seemed to understand me so readily. Merlin knows how he managed to read me so easily, but he did – and that was what was important.

“Snape too. He has the mark.” I said. Sirius raised an eyebrow but didn’t question it. Rachel looked like she was about to burst into tears. Maybe this conversation was better placed away from her earshot.

“Rachel, do you want me to take you back to the common room?” Remus asked, obviously thinking the same thing. She nodded.

“Try and find Peter too, will you?” Sirius called after them as they headed for the door. We all seemed to move in closer. James edged over to one side of his bed and I perched myself on the end. Alice pulled up her chair and sat silently, looking at the crevices in her hands dispassionately and in doing so excluding herself from the conversation. We let her. If I were her I’d have disappeared up to my dorm to weep right now and I was amazed by her pure inner strength.  

“I expect most of them are,” James said in a half whisper – like we’d all suddenly realised that we were in a relatively crowded hospital wing which actually had a slytherin in. “Sixth and seventh years.”

“The girls too?” Sirius asked.

“Hard to say.” James considered. “We’ll have to keep a look out. I don’t know if he’s using women.”

“My charming cousin?”

“Definitely. But she always was in a league of her own,”

“Bellatrix?” I questioned. Despite having years of getting used to the idea I still found it difficult to visualise Bellatrix, who’d left Hogwarts several years ago thank goodness, having anything to do with Sirius. Occasionally you could glimpse that darker more menacing side to him, but...

“Bellatrix.” Sirius nodded his face grim and stony – like it always was when the subject of his family came up. “Narcissa is merely a wife, as far as I can gather. Malfoy is definitely in the inner circle, however.”

“How do you know this?” I asked quietly. Sirius’s expression froze for a second and he glanced downwards.

“I’m just guessing.”

“No you’re not. It’s like the Marlene thing all over again.”

Lily,” Sirius said sharply. I shut my mouth quickly.

“You know where Marlene McKinnon is?” Alice asked.

“Evans, what did I tell you?” Sirius demanded angrily.

“If you weren’t lying then -”

“Where is she?” James asked, gripping my fingers.

“In hiding.” Sirius said stiffly.

Why?” James asked.

“Because,” Sirius hissed. “She was having it off with my brother,” His voice dropped even lower so that I was surprised even James and Alice could hear. James eyes widened slightly. Sirius looked very irritable. A lot of this irritation seemed to be directed at me. At least this time I deserved it.

“So she’s hiding because?”

“Pregnant.” I finished.

“Why didn’t she have an abortion?” James asked in the same quite serious voice.

“Because she’s an idiot.” Sirius said. “They’ll all be killed. And keep you’re god damn mouths shut or their bloods on your hands. I’m not joking around Evans.”

“I know.” I said. “I didn’t mean to... I just...” I stopped lamely.

“God I hate being in here,” Sirius said, glancing around the hospital wing and grimacing. “It’s like reliving it.”

“You don’t have to stay by my account.” James said, knowing full well that he’d be much too stubborn to move. He shrugged and glanced around the hospital wing thoughtfully – his eyes resting on what used to be Mary’s bed for a long moment before he jerked himself back into his reality of suppressed emotions and surliness.

“I can’t wait any longer.” Alice said suddenly. “I’m going to Dumbledore’s office. I need to know what’s happening.”

“Do you want me to...?” I suggested. She shook her head, stuffed her hands into the depths of her pocket and left the hospital wing in a hurried walk.

“And then there were three.” Sirius said darkly.

“Seriously, you can go mate.” James said.

“You’re just trying to get Evans on your own.” Sirius said with an attempt at a grin which left a lot of emotion to be desired.

“What are we going to learn in these... lessons?” I asked, feeling my face flush slightly at Sirius comment (was it conceivably true? Yes. Probably). “We’ve done basic duelling stuff in lessons, but... I was thinking... Throwing off the imperious curse and-”

“Throwing off the imperious curse?” Sirius questioned. “Are you, Lily Evans – Head Girl – really suggesting we practice an unforgivable spell on each other?”

“Yes.” I said defiantly.

“Excellent,” Sirius said with a real grin this time. “Because I think that is a brilliant idea. Very illegal, but...”

“How about we start with something a little more basic?” James suggested. “I’m not sure Lily’s quite up to throwing off imperious curses.”

“Scared are you?” I asked. Sirius grinned. The mood had become light hearted again. I was more than thankful. The seriousness was suffocating. I knew that it was necessary and that at any moment it could sneak back and recapture the atmosphere with all its gloom but... there was nothing like a bit of humour to lighten things up. Even when things were becoming darker by the minute.

There were footsteps. We all looked up. Remus had returned with Peter in tow – who seemed to have some sort of plant sprouting out of his ears. Remus was obviously struggling not to laugh. “You told him to go spy on the Slytherin’s before the match,”

“Oh yeah,” James said casually. I sent him an exasperated look and dropped his hand again. He grinned and winked at me. Jerk.

“And they jinxed it,” Remus said nodding towards the plant-thing – which was still growing at an alarming speed – out of Peter’s ears. “He’s been sat in the dorm trying to prune his ears with a pair of nail clippers since before the match started.”

And that was the humour we’d all been searching for.
 


Chapter 8: Perspective.
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There are certain situations that I’d never have thought I’d be in. Drowning under the weight of a war that was blossoming beyond my control, forcing myself into one of the most dangerous positions I could have been in (a mudblood Head girl) all whilst dealing with a surprising number of awkward social situations was one of them.  Most of the time the war felt so distance and huge that I couldn’t comprehend it – how could I even begin to understand that my life was in danger here? Instead my brain had annoyingly chosen to focus on things I knew full well were unimportant and insignificant. Why was it suddenly such a big deal that James would not meet my eye? Why was it such a big deal that after being back at school for such a long period of time, Alice and I had not had one girly chat? Why did I care so much that Sirius was surlier than ever, completely absent on occasions and silent on others?

I hated myself whenever I found myself thinking about those things – such silly and mundane things as friendships and schoolwork – when there was a world of things I should have been worrying about instead. I could even have done with worrying about school a little more and yet I’d be sat in the middle of my many lessons seated next to one or other Marauder and I’d suddenly find myself fixated on their truly absurd behaviour.

Remus had been looking more and more ill for a few days, had missed a day’s worth of classes, and then reappeared again looking slightly tired but relatively cheerful. I had long since given up worrying about this, as it was such a common reoccurrence, but now I found myself thinking back so Snape’s constant talk of these illnesses coinciding with full moons. I had made my judgement on that years ago: Remus was innocent until proven guilty and I would not stick my nose in his business as long as it did not concern me. Still, that dragged up thoughts of Snape and childhood summers when he began revealing the sheer magnitude and wonder of magic, conversation by conversation, sticky hot day by sticky hot day. How had Severus Snape, my Sev, turned into such a monster?

Sirius had gone from repressed emotions to out and out repression – he wasn’t eating properly, he looked as if he hadn’t been sleeping properly, he certainly wasn’t concentrating on classes properly. He was repressing friendship along with every emotion he seemed to have. The only occasions he contributed to conversations were during whispered chats about Charlotte and about where she might be now, and then it was usually a harsh comment about finding her body, or her turning up in pieces. Of course he’d retained enough sensitivity not to mention anything quite so brutal in front of Rachel (although he had reduced her to tears again by suggesting we should plan the funeral now) but I’d actually heard him tell Frank that if his Dad still hadn’t regained consciousness by now he’d probably be brain dead anyway. In short, he was being a complete arse. Half of me wanted to slap him whilst the rest of me wanted to drag him into another broom cupboard and get him to start crying again – if that’s what it’s took.  Anything for the return of the normal Sirius, who was often a bit of an idiot but was never malicious.

I’d have talked about it to James under any other circumstances but, things had been different lately. The fact was I should never have internally accepted that James and I were ‘going somewhere’ because now I found the more pathetic part of myself endlessly searching for signs of progress, closeness and  reminders that James bloody well cared. Flashbacks provided endless moments for my inner self to foolishly analyse: moments when James would watch me so intently I thought I might burst and ask ‘are you okay?’ as if it was the most important question in the world; moments when he’d seek me out if he thought anything could have upset me and worst of all, a particular moment when James Potter had said he wanted to kiss me in the hospital wing. Now though all this apparent... affection James usually displayed had evaporated and I was left desperately clinging to every moment when our gaze met to convince myself that I hadn’t been really really stupid.

Obviously I had been really stupid. He’d stopped asking as if I was okay. He no longer listened when I spoke. He walked off mid conversation. I was no longer the top priority.

Chances were, he was as preoccupied with school work and Head’s duties, and deaths and disappearance as I should have been. Apparently this time my defence mechanism was distraction, and this whole new chapter in James’s behaviour was definitely distracting enough to render me utterly hopeless in all other areas of my life.

I couldn’t help it. I really wish I could. Who would want to spend hours awake at night wondering why exactly James hadn’t so much as flinched when Mulciber had spat at me in the corridor yesterday, when one of my closest friends was missing somewhere? Rachel and Charlotte should have been my constant thoughts but my brain would simply not allow it. 

So there I was, sat with my palms pressed against my forehead as if it would be possible to massage away each individual thought until I was left with a glorified sense of blankness, waiting for the Prefects to arrive for another pointless meeting that I didn’t care about. James seemed to care: he was sat next to me on the table, pouring over Patrol timetables (again) to ensure that there would be no devastating clashes.

“Do you think Charlotte’s okay?” I asked into the silence, partially because I wanted to force myself to think of the things that were important, but another more selfish part of me was doing it to test James. That part of me wanted to give the impression that I was very concerned and deeply troubled about Charlotte’s current whereabouts, to induce that look James might give me and to prove that even if he was a little distracted at the moment we still had a chance, we were still going somewhere and I hadn’t truly messed things up yet.

James paused from his reading and took a deep steadying breath. From the look of it James was as worried about the whole situation as I thought I should be. Did this lack of concern mean I wasn’t a real human? I certainly wasn’t a nice one if I could both abuse her disappearance for my own means and ignore it to concentrate on my own social relationships. “I doubt it,” James muttered quietly.

My heart sunk.

I blinked into the table and took in my own deep breath. She had been gone for three weeks. Rachel had last heard from her four weeks ago. James was not looking at me.

“I hope so,”

“Yeah,” I finished finding it slightly difficult to speak.

The silence fell over us once more and this time it was my turn to stare intently at the wood of the desk as I desperately tried to regulate my thoughts to something which contained humanity and not selfishness. Everyone else wore the same well practice expression of grief and anguish: the same expression they had all worn when Mary lay on her death bed, talking to each of us individually and slowly fading into nothing. I could barely summon any feeling towards Mary anymore, other than the guilt which came with this realisation – it seemed my insides had gone blank leaving me with nothing but selfish and irrelevant worries that I could not voice for fear of someone turning around and calling me a heartless bitch. Which I was.

“Isn’t Amelia a half-blood?” James asked suddenly and I looked up sharply and found my heart beating very fast for no explainable reason.

“Is she? I didn’t know that... I... what does it matter?” My voice was more frenzied than I thought it would be, as if I’d just been running a very long way without breathing – but I had no idea what had come over me, or why I felt the need to grip onto the desk with all my strength.

“We’ve partnered her with a Slytherin,” James said, pointing to the column where Thursday’s patrols were listed. I didn’t care about patrols. I’d learnt to hate the way you could not partner a Slytherin with a Gryffindor, or Slytherin’s with anyone who had questionable blood status and at the same time Dumbledore had specifically instructed us to partner people in a way that would promote inter house unity. Impossible.

“A fifth year Slytherin,” my voice was more even now and my grip on reality had been temporarily restored. I wasn’t the weak Lily Evans who’d started this year in floods of tears – I was my old self, my strong old self.

Except I had my doubts about how strong she’d been in the first place.

“But he’s nasty,” James frowned, “And look, the other fifth year Slytherin is partnered with Diggory. Did you change this Lily?” He looked at me sharply.

“Yes,” I admitted, “That fifth year Slytherin is, well – she’s not like the rest. I’m pretty sure she’s not a pureblood herself. I thought if we kept her away from all the others then she might not... might not cave under pressure. Plus, she definitely respects Diggory and -”

“You mean she fancies him?” James questioned with a familiar quirk of the eyebrow that made my insides wriggle slightly.

“I think so,” I admitted.

“You do gooder, you,” James grinned. I so wanted to be mad at him for driving me crazy with his sudden change in behaviour but then, whenever I saw glimpses of the old closeness I couldn’t help but forgive him for everything he’d ever done.

“It’s not like I’m matchmaking or anything, but-”

“I’m not going to argue with you,” James said and the next moment he was back pouring over the parchment as if enthralled by the frankly rather dull document. He wouldn’t look at me properly. Why? Why wasn’t he there for me when I needed him like every other time before?

“James,” I said feeling the words in my brain before uttering them out loud – even saying James had been slightly involuntary, “I know there are bigger things going on and... it doesn’t really matter I just wondered... why you were avoiding me before?”James froze for a second and closed his eyes. He said nothing. “So you were avoiding me then?” I was suddenly pissed off, anger flaring from some deep unknown place within me. God, I was a mess of emotional crap.

Now James looked at me and I suddenly wanted to dodge his gaze. I looked at his eyebrows instead, just to escape the blazing hazel.

“Have you been talking to Sirius?”

“No.” The sudden conversation shift was startling and caught me off guard.

“The Prefects will be arriving in a minute.” James said, and then I was struggling to follow his train of thought and that made me even more irritated. I dropped my gaze back to his eyes and stared at him incredulously.

“Have I done something wrong?”

“Not particularly,” James said, and now he was irritated too. I frowned.

“I could ask Sirius you know,” I threatened.

“You probably wouldn’t get much out of him,” James said darkly.

“Why have you been avoiding me?”

“Jesus, Evans, what do you want me to do?” James demanded dropping the parchment to the desk with a grimace.

“What are you talking about?”

“What do you want me to be, huh? Your friend? Confidant? A little enlightenment wouldn’t go a miss.” I gaped at him slightly, “You tell me you don’t want anything to do with me every day for four years, fine – at least I knew where I stood. Then you need me, fine – I’m there. You don’t need me to cry on any more Evans, and I’m a little unsure about what you’re expecting from me now.”

“You’re my friend.” I hissed angrily.

“Really?” James questioned, “Because even on the train ride here you made it clear you didn’t want that.”

“I was upset then!”

“And you didn’t bother explaining why, did you?”

“I didn’t realised you required an explanation,” I said, my voice acidic.

“That’s how friendships usually work, you know. You tell me what’s on your mind; I tell you what’s on my mind...”

“Well what is on your mind then?”

“Don’t pretend you care,” James returned irritable pushing the inkwell to the other side of the desk. “You wanted me to dry your tears and sod off, and I do that and it’s still not good enough.”

“That’s not true! I want you around.”

“What the hell for? To pay attention to you?” Yes, an internal part of me was screaming, that’s exactly why I needed James around. I needed someone who cared about to the extent that they’d ignore all my screaming faults and be there for me. I was a horrible, horrible person.

You’re my friend,”

“Do you just kiss all your friend when you feel like it then?” James said. “Or is that just me?”

“I... is that what this is about?” I asked. I’d just been cursed, I’d just recovered, I’d just... I’d just kissed him. It was hardly even a kiss. Our lips had touched for the briefest of seconds and...

“No.”

It was. It so was.

“What do you want from me then?”

“Some straight answers and a bit of respect. You can’t just go messing with people’s heads. If we’re friends, fine – but that means you can’t take it upon yourself to just kiss me and...”

“You bloody said you wanted to kiss me!”

“I thought you were deaf!”

“So what, James? You still said it,” but James had stopped glaring at me and was now looking over my shoulder, his face flushing. I swivelled around in my chair and saw Remus awkwardly standing in the doorway with his hands raised as if he was just about to knock on the door, but had suddenly thought better of it.

I had a sneaking suspicion he’d been there, frozen in the doorway, for much longer than he’d ever admit. He looked shocked enough for it to mean that James was choosing not to divulge all this information to his friends. I couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or not.

But all this should be irrelevant anyway, because Charlotte was missing and Frank’s Dad still hadn’t regained consciousness.

And because I was Head Girl and the meeting was about to start.

 





 I had thought James was heading for the doorway to escape at the end of the meeting, but rather than rushing out the door he shut it, he turned around and leant on it. “Are we going to have this out then?” James questioned – I didn’t like it when he was angry. He rarely was and... the fact that I’d been the cause of all this anger made everything worse.

“It seems stupid to be arguing when there’s so much going on,” I muttered.

James ignored this. “Tell me this, Lily, what roll exactly am I supposed to be filling in your life?”

“The roll of James Potter,” I snapped, “that’s who you are in my life and it’s a bloody important roll. I’m sorry if you think I don’t care about you, or that... I’ve been, I dunno using you, but I need you and if you can’t accept that then -”

“But were not friends, Lily, whatever you might think. If we were friends you wouldn’t have disappeared all Summer, and you wouldn’t have bottled everything up, and you wouldn’t have spent months blocking everyone out before becoming yourself again without any explanation. Running off with Sirius, having that thing with Diggory -”

“I know,” I said, “I know I’ve been a shit friend, you don’t need to remind me.” And suddenly I was close to tears again. James noted this with alarm.

“Wait, Lily, that’s not what I -”

“Open the door please,” I requested, and then I exited the room at a near-run, pausing only in the girls toilets where I could allow myself to cry for a good fifteen minutes before going to dinner. It was all true and I truly was an awful excuse of a human being.

The worst thing was (even worse as this was the thing my stupid brain decided to focus on) was that I’d known all these things before, but they all sounded so much worse and hurt so much more coming from James.

 





The system had been in place for the past three weeks: we’d eat dinner as fast as we physically could before leaving and finding a spare classroom or something to practice spells. Occasionally, if we found nowhere we’d end up in the boys dorm with Sirius’s famously strong silencing charms (something that I did not what to think too much into) ensuring that no one ended up too curious about what we were doing. We’d made good progress and now we were all fairly capable in duel situations. Naturally, James and Sirius were still the best – but the gap in skill was closing quickly.

I threw myself into my normal seat at dinner and began eating furiously. Today there was the added bonus that stuffing my face would ensure that I didn’t have to talk to James or Remus. Or Sirius, actually.

“Lily,” Remus said softly. I looked up. There was something in his expression that filled me with a thrill of dread, “Mr Longbottom is...” I could feel the word coming before he voiced it, “dead.”

It still caught my breath. I blinked stupidly and found myself staring at my plate in horror.

All my emotions seemed to be rising up again from some distant part within myself. The worry, the anxiousness and the fear. If Mr Longbottom... who’d had Dumbledore arrive, who’d been saved, who’d survived the encounter with Voldemort... if he died... then what chance did Charlotte have? Charlotte only had her parents for protection and I couldn’t pinpoint anything which suggested they were particularly talented with magic or duelling. If Mr Longbottom was dead...

“Okay,” I said, breathing deeply and trying not to choke on the threat of tears. The numbness had gone and now my heart was thudding again in my chest, and a film of water blurred my vision as I tried to remain in control. I tried to reason with myself: I didn’t know Mr Longbottom, in reality I hardly knew Frank, I had no right to cry.

Rachel, too, was looking tearful but that was now such a common sight that I could hardly use it as an excuse. Sirius was looking even more like a statue with his eyes cast downwards, eating nothing. I didn’t even look at James.

“Where are Frank and Alice now, then?”

“Frank has gone home to be with his mother, Alice went with him.” I nodded again and thought about this for a long time. What would Alice be feeing now? I was sure she’d only met Mr Longbottom a few times and I was sure that she couldn’t really be grieving – she wouldn’t be missing him, she wouldn’t feel his absence like a Lead weight.

Suddenly I wanted to go home. I wanted my Dad. I wanted him to hug me and tell me that everything was going to be okay. I wanted Mary – I wanted her here, to experience this with us, to live with us. My own grief was creeping back. Frank had done just as I had done – he’d gone home. I hadn’t come back for weeks and weeks.

I did not have a father. Frank didn’t have a father and neither did Rachel. Alice’s father didn’t deserve the title of ‘dad’ and Sirius had been chucked out of his home. Mary had lost her mother. I had been so convinced that no one could understand that I’d, yet again, failed to see what was right in front of me.

I looked up to see what was right in front of me right that second, just in case this could rectify some of my previous mistakes. James was directly in front of me. And he wasn’t looking at me.

“That makes sense,” I continued, just to fill the silence.

“That’s what you did,” Sirius interjected. It took a second for the words to sink in and then... then I was furious. Sirius, god damn Sirius, who I’d confided in, and who had turned into someone I couldn’t bring myself to like as of late, “At the end of last year, I mean.” He finished as this was the casual sort of thing you can drop into conversation.

James was certainly bloody looking at me now.

As were Peter, Remus and Rachel.

“I didn’t realise your Dad died, Lily.” Peter said quietly.

“Heart attack,” I muttered, feeling my eyes welling up to a point very near tears, “I didn’t want to talk about it,”

How could Sirius? How could he just...? My brain was ticking overtime as I tried to comprehend his actions a little further. Then, suddenly, Sirius stood up and walked out of the Great Hall. I watched him until he’d reached beyond my vision feeling beyond angry. How could he do this? He was being even more selfish than I was.

I stood up.

“Lily, don’t,” James said, “he won’t talk to you,”

 “I want to murder him, not to talk to him.” Then I was up and following him as quickly as I could, ignoring James’s warning and the stares from all other directions. James could go sod himself and Sirius was going to regret the day he thought he could betray our friendship without getting fair comeuppance.  “Sirius, damnit!” I yelled, coming up around the corner and finding him sat rigidly on one of the stone window ledges just outside the Hall. “I don’t care what’s going on in your head, you can’t just do things like that!”

“Leave it Evans,” Sirius said in that same empty voice that was normally harrowing but was now as annoying as hell, “and then piss off and leave me alone.”

“Why did you do it?” I demanded.

“Because we don’t need another Mary-esque secret.”

“There’s a slight difference, Sirius – I’m not dying.”

“It doesn’t matter what it is, it always hurts when someone keeps something from you.” Then the tone of his voice evaporated my anger completely. A rolling wave of sympathy crashed into me so hard I thought I might collapse with its weight.

“Sirius, for God’s sake, what’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t want to talk about my emotions, thank you Evans.”

“Okay, you don’t want to talk about them but feeling them might be a nice start.” He didn’t answer. “Or even acknowledging they exist – that would be nice!” Nothing. He was gone again and there was nothing but his corpse staring out the window in the direction of the lake.

“Lily,”

“What do you want James?” I asked, whirling around and glaring at him. Remus was there too. “I think I’ve had enough bloody arguments for today.”

“Precisely,” James said, grabbing my wrist and pulling me away to one side, “Remus will deal with it, come on. You’re mad enough already.” Then I was being pulled off down a corridor, my eyes finally spilling over. One hot tear trailed down my cheek. I wanted to brush it away but didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that it was there in the first place.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you why I left,” I blurted out suddenly.

“Its fine,” James returned, “Sirius told me anyway he... he thought I should know,” James’s hand enclosed round my wrist seemed to drift downwards until he had my hand instead. I didn’t care anymore. There was too much going on to worry about the liberties he was taking (although really it was slightly hypocritical given our stupid argument that had happened only a couple of hours ago). “So what do you want to do?”

“What?”

“Distraction,” James said simply, “more head duties? Homework? A walk?”

“None of the above, I want to go to bed.”

“No, you’ll only get yourself worked up if you go stew on your own. Quidditch? Although I doubt you’d go for that... raiding the kitchens? What do you want to do, Evans?”

“Let’s... practice duelling,” James nodded and considered this for awhile before leading me in the direction of the stairs. “Where are we going?”

“Prefect’s bathroom – that’s big enough for the two of us, and no one will walk in and tell us off.” I nodded passively and now found myself doing the opposite of what I’d been doing for the past couple of days – trying to stop myself from thinking about Mr Longbottom and Charlotte.

“Are you still mad?” I asked after awhile.

“Not exactly,” James returned, “I just... I had this conversation with Sirius a few days ago and, well, that didn’t help.” I sent him a questioning glance. “Well you know how Sirius has been recently – he wasn’t exactly been in the best of moods. He started, well, he started listing your er... faults.”

I felt like I’d been slapped in the face. Sure, I spent plenty of time listing Sirius’s own faults in my head but that didn’t make the idea that he’d been mouthing off about me anymore pleasant. To James, of all people. As selfish as it made me, James was the only person in the world who seemed to think I was a genuinely good person and to have that stripped away was not something I would have wanted. Ever. James had to like me.

“What did he say?” My voice was stiff. We’d reached the Prefects bathroom now. I sat down on the floor with my back to the huge bath. James sat next to me, our arms touching gloriously.

“I... he said that you’re selfish. But, Lily, everyone is selfish. I don’t think you’re anymore selfish than Sirius is,” I didn’t say anything, “You’re stubborn, but I guess I knew that,”

“I don’t necessarily think of that as a fault.” I said primly.

“I only consider it as a fault if you’re rejecting me,” James grinned, but I didn’t smile. “The main thing was... that you’re not the best at dealing with things.” That was true. “And then, I just remembered... Lily, you know when Mary was stood at the top of the stairs,” a lump rose in my throat and the threat of tears was imminent once more, “you knew she was dying but you still yelled at her, you were still so angry I just... I don’t understand.”

“Well how could I begin to comprehend that she was dying?” My voice was thick now. “She wasn’t even seventeen years old and she was my best friend! I didn’t seem real, it hadn’t sunk in – what am I supposed to do with information like that, James? How was I supposed to react? I hadn’t felt it then, when Mary told me, and now I look back and I see exactly how selfish and self absorbed I was. God, what did any of matter? I didn’t know that was going to be the last time I’d ever see her on her feat! I didn’t know!”

Two more tears escaped from my eyes and a wiped them away with the back of my hand. I sniffed.

“It’s like I have a delay before my mind comprehends things like that, and until that point when it clicks I can’t... I can’t feel anything towards it. But how can I say that? Without sounding insensitive and heartless?

“Its natural,” James said, “you think the news about Charlotte hit me straight away? Sirius thinks... he thinks your worse at dealing with things because you’ve always been so lucky. Wait, here me out. People have always liked you, Lily, and things have been relatively smooth for you – with school, with friends, with yourself. You’re one of those people who comes out of life having never really hurt,”

“He doesn’t know anything about me.” I snapped harshly.

“He meant me too,” James added, “Sirius he... he grew up with the Blacks. Mary understood that, what with Becky and her Mum and, well, you know.”

“I’m poor, James. I’m muggle born. Sev betrayed me. My sister hates me. My best friend and my father died a couple of months ago. I’m the biggest target for mudblood-hatred there is. If I get out of this war alive it will be a miracle. How much do I have to suffer to meet Sirius’s standards?”

“But everyone is charmed by you,” James continued softly, “people are drawn to you,”

“Because no one’s ever been drawn to Sirius Black.” I muttered sarcastically.

James smiled. “They’re attracted to the idea of him,”

“You’re sounding especially feminine right now,” I told James. I rested my head against the back of the bath and took a deep breath. “I know Sirius and I will never get on brilliantly but, we were doing a pretty good job before.”

“It’s just a hiccup, I’m sure.”

“And our argument?”

“Not even a hiccup. An involuntary twitch.” I rested my head on his should without even thinking about it and closed my eyes for a second. “Are you going to tell me about your dark past then?”

“Hmm,” James began, “well I was lucky. There’s not much dark.”

“No strenuous relationship with your parents? No suffocating pressure on you? How very droll.”

James laughed. “I was suffocatingly spoilt, if that helps? The only child, the only heir for the sizeable family fortune? I’m nearly suffocated by my mum hugging me at the beginning of every summer.”

“That must have been hard,” I commented dryly.

“I did have to overcome the obstacle of my own arrogance, though. Had to learn that I wasn’t the most precious being in the world, that was hard.”

“I like to think I helped with that,” I returned. James grinned again.

“My parents are pretty old though. I worry about them a lot. I mean... they’re not old by Wizard standards really but, my family has a history for dying young.”

“How old are they, then?”

“My mum’s seventy two and my Dad’s eighty five,”

“Shit. So your mum was..?”

“Fifty five. I know it’s different for witches than muggles, but it’s still not young. They were trying for a long time.”

“My Mum’s not even fifty five now,” I said, and I couldn’t help but giggle. “Sorry,” I said hastily, “I just... I’m trying to imagine my mum with a baby now. Anyway, did that mean your parents were less active parents or something? Slight neglect?”

“It sounds like your digging for some jem of hardship.” James suggested and I suddenly realised that he must have taken my hand again because my fingers were grasping as tightly as possible onto the back of his palm. He’d probably have marks from where my nails had dug in if he were to ever let go again.

“Well,” I grinned, looking back up at the ceiling of the Prefects bathroom, “I always figure that a troubled childhood can explain away faults, then I can just ignore them.”

“Faults, what faults?”

“What did you say about overcoming the obstacle of your arrogance again?” James laughed and I let my head rest on his shoulder again for a long moment. I’d become so used to James that I’d began to recognise the scent of his after shave stuff, and for some reason that scent had become some comforting that I couldn’t help but relish in it.

It seemed I’d lost a lot of people in my life: Petunia (in a sense), Sev, Mary, my father. But James, James was irreplaceable. If I lost him... I didn’t know what I’d do.

“Come on,” I said quietly, “let’s practice duelling – I want to start learning to throw of the imperius curse by next week.”
 


Chapter 9: Progress.
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“So, then you add... the essence?”

“Well, you stir it three times and then you add the essence,” I corrected, jabbing my finger at the line of instructions.

“And does the stirring make a lot of difference?” James asked.

“Yes,” I said firmly, “it does,”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, “it just does – that’s how potions work, you follow the instructions and then you get the right result. Then when you get a feel of the potion you can just throw things in and –“

“As long as you don’t explode anything,” James added. I did not appreciate him bringing that up. I glared at him without feeling any real anger. There was something reassuring about the way he was now fully comfortable with teasing me without fearing the comeuppance, “it’s really nice to study together, isn’t it?”

Sirius, who was very busy glaring at the floor, snorted and flicked some of his hair out his eyes. Thinking about it, his hair had got absurdly long – and then I found myself staring and trying to work out how exactly it had grown so much. Last year it had been a pretty normal length, and now... well... it was getting stupid. “Enjoying the view, Evans?” Sirius questioned. I hadn’t even realised he was aware we were in the room, let alone realised he knew I’d been watching him. I flushed slightly.

“When did you last get a haircut?”

“I’m sorry?” Sirius asked, looking more human than he had for a week. Apparently the random nature of my question had caught him off guard, and he’d forgotten to pretend to be a surly bastard.

“Haircut – last time?”

“Dunno,” Sirius shrugged, “Last Christmas?”

“But its November!” I exclaimed incredulously. This made him wince for reasons unknown. Sirius’s behaviour was suddenly so incomprehensible that I didn’t waste my thoughts trying to get my brain to produce some sort of explanation for his eccentricities.

“Yeah, last Christmas. My hair was in the way of my head wound, so they cut my hair to get to it better.” He answered savagely, as if every word he was saying was supporting his case for being the person suffering most in the entirety of the world. Although I had accepted that Sirius was being an idiot at the minute I refused to indulge his fantasies of hardship.

“Head wound?” I questioned only to receive a loud silence, “well...anyway, next Hogsmeade weekend you need to get a haircut. Otherwise I’ll get someone to cut it off in your sleep,”

“I’ve got better things to think about than my hair, Evans,”

“What like? How little you value other people’s confidence? Your disregard for other people’s feelings?”

“Get over yourself.”

The audacity of that comment made me want to murder him. Bloody hell, I was angry. James was now glancing between us unsure of what he could do or same to make things better, for either of us. He probably didn’t even know whose side he should be on.

“I know a lot about you, you know Sirius. Plenty I could just blurt out over dinner,”

“Empty threat,”

“How so?” I asked, my eyes narrowing darkly.

“You’re decent,” Sirius said, then he stood up and stalked away again. He was like a broken record: sitting around looking depressed (attracting half the attention of all the girls in Hogwarts who considered this ‘brooding’ expression to be almost as attractive as his smirk), saying something that really pisses someone off (it didn’t matter who: James, me, McGonagall) then stalk of and disappear for hours.

Still, his last line really was the limit. Claiming that I was ‘decent’ went against everything else he’d been saying for weeks – he’d been going out of his way to ensure that I was even more aware of all my character flaws and then to reverse all of that and say I was ‘decent’ – well that was more than frustrating.  He had no right to compliment me.

“That’s it.” I said firmly, standing up an eying the portrait hole.

“You always have to go running after him, don’t you?” James asked lightly. His tone was dangerously even. My stomach twisted. It seemed I couldn’t go two minutes without upsetting someone these days – Alice, James, Sirius and random Slytherins who enjoyed throwing toxic liquids over me when I walked down corridors. 

“Look, I can only deal with one oversensitive male at a time,”

“And so you pick Sirius,”

“Fine. I pick you. Lets study – right, so you add the essence, and then no, you stir it three times and then you add the essence...”

“He’ll be in the trophy room,” James said, “I’ll be waiting to argue with you when you’re done,”

“How generous,” I said, offering him a smile, “you know his case is more desperate than yours, right? He’s much more dramatic,”

“Sure,” James agreed, “Sirius is all about the drama,”

“What’s wrong with him James?” I asked, my frustration suddenly bubbling to the surface again. “Why has he turned into a complete tosser?”

James shrugged annoyingly and I headed off in the direction of the trophy room feeling a little like I was doing some of Mary’s duties for her, now that she couldn’t anymore.

*

Imperio!” James said quietly. The classroom had been silenced and locked – as had been the practice with all our attempts at learning defensive magic so far – but... it was understandable that everyone was slightly more nervous about being caught now, practice this... because it was ever so slightly illegal.

Remus had gone a little wild and had made sure everyone signed a piece of parchment that explicitly gave everyone else the permission to perform the curse on them in the name of practicing throwing off the curse. He’d also written down a list of instructions we were allowed to give each other: sit down, poke somebody, jump and lay on the floor – menial silly things that could no way harm anyone.

No one had managed to throw it off yet. We decided it was best if there weren’t too many spells flying around the room at once: so Frank was under Alice’s curse – stupidly bopping up to a strange disjointed rhythm; and Remus was under James’s curse –lifting his arms up and down in a way that reminded me a little of the YMCA.

It was so strange how it felt to send an unforgivable curse. It felt like everything had changed all over again, and I wasn’t altogether sure if I was happy about that or not. Obviously I’d been burning to be able to throw off such a curse but in my two practices this session I hadn’t so much as managed to summon any resistance to the idea – let alone throw it off.

“My turn,” I said, suddenly determined that I would do it this time. I had to. I’d mastered all the shields, hexes and jinxes that James and Sirius had thrown my way in the past month and now I could duel almost as well as James. Sirius was marginally better still, but we were all improving. Peter could hold his own against any of us. Remus was better at defending than the rest of us but his lack of offensive meant he was always forced back into a corner. Alice and Frank matched each other exactly in terms of speed and skill – privately I’d decided that they had motivation we could any dream of given they’d come face to face with him. I shuddered.

“We agreed no more than three times a week,” James said, dropping the curse of Remus who sank to his knees breathing as if he’d just been running a marathon.

“I don’t care,” I said. “I can do this.” Remus was too tired to object to this violation of the signed slips. James was torn. I could practically hear his thoughts: as much as he wanted me to be as able as possible in case I was attacked in the corridor tomorrow, he was also worried about my health right here and now. “I’m fine, James. Sirius,” I said, “You do it.”

Sirius’s curses were the strongest. He raised an eyebrow challengingly.

Admittedly, I hadn’t so much as acknowledged his presence since our argument in the trophy room which had ended up being so loud that McGonagall had shown up, yelled at us both and put us in a detention later that evening. Not before she’d heard a good deal of, I don’t doubt. Still the maintained coolness in his gaze was more frustrating than I cared to say.

“Don’t go easy on me.” I instructed, preparing myself for the power of his spell. He raised his wand... and then there was that sleepy dreamy feeling that was so easy to slip into. Sit down.  Why not? I sat down, barely able to feel the stone underneath me legs. All my muscles were light, warm, comfortable...

Roll over.

Stand up again.

I struggled to me feet again without really thinking. A tiny voice at the back of my head tried to remind me I was supposed to be fighting this. But... why bother? It was so nice and relaxing and...

Tell me you love me. Tell James I’m the one you want.

I stumbled forwards and then... then that voice interrupted my thoughts again... I didn’t want to do that. No, I really didn’t. It was stupid. It was... it was so...

 Go on. No! Just do it. No. I wouldn’t I didn’t want to.

Come on Evans, it’s just a little confession

“No!” I said out load, the feeling washing away suddenly.  I pulled out my wand and suddenly had it pointed as Sirius’s throat, more than angry. Angrier than I’d ever been at him. “You little shit!”

He quirked his eyebrows up. Suddenly he was back to normal and that was even more incomprehensible than anything else, “Knew you could do it.”

“How dare you?” I demanded. I was vaguely aware that the others were staring – not having a bloody clue what was going on – and I still had my wand pointing at his throat. He didn’t appear particularly bothered by the fact which, to be frank, was downright insulting, “We agreed on what you could ask me to do.”

“And it wasn’t working,” Sirius said, his grip tightening his own wand. “I thought you’d need a little more motivation.”

“You’re sick.” I spat, he took a step backwards so that he was no longer in danger of death if I decided to send something at him. It was very tempting, “you’re messed up.”

“But look,” Sirius said with a grin – a grin that nobody had seen for about three weeks now, “now I can do this. Imperio!”

And then I was under the spell again, and I was warm, comfortable... practically dreaming and -

Apologise to me Evans.

It was easier the second time.

“Sod off, Black.” I said, breaking through the curse again. Then I sent a stunner his direction. He dodged it. And then we were duelling. Again.

This had happened for too often recently. Except this time I was winning.

“Stop it!” James ordered after a few minutes of spells being sent all over the place. James was probably the only person in the world I’d listen to when I was this angry, “Lily, you did it. You threw it off!”

“Twice,” Sirius grinned shoving his wand back in his pocket. It seemed that surly Sirius had dissolved away and he was acting almost as if the past few weeks hadn’t happened, like he hadn’t announced that my Dad was dead for the whole of Gryffindor to hear, like he hadn’t been even fouler than the Slytherins recently. And he’d helped me. I’d done it – I’d thrown off the flaming imperius curse.

“I...oh, yeah.” I said, suddenly feeling embarrassed and proud and confused at the same time. “Don’t think I’ve forgiven you, Black.”

“What did he ask you to do?” Remus asked warily.

“Evans, come on, everyone would have known you were under the spell!”

“Oh, whatever,” I spat angrily. Folding my arms and sending him another dark look. I clamped my lips shut feeling horribly violated and sick. I wanted to go clean. It suddenly occurred to me who vulnerable we were making each other – yes, there was no real harm that could have been caused by a confession of love, however ludicrous, but when in control they had the power to ask anything, “You’re still a creep.”

“I wasn’t asking for much,” He grinned.

“What would Mary say?” I demanded harshly, stuffing my hands in my pockets and feeling increasingly irritable the more time I spent in the room with him. The more I thought about the curse the more I wanted to shove Black in the lake. What if I’d actually done it?

“She’d think it was hilarious.” Sirius said definitely, “I wouldn’t have let you,”

“Come on,” James said. “Someone tell me what this scandalous request was before I implode.”

“Would she?”

“Bloody Merlin,” Remus muttered, bringing a hand to his head and looking exhausted, “you’ve shot my rules to hell, damn it both of you.”

“Knew Evans would be the first,” Sirius said lightly – Remus was openly staring at this new transformation in mood and no one seemed particularly scared of setting him off again by gaping – “she wants it,”

The compliment mixed with the achievement and the fact that I’d actually really bloody missed the real Sirius, my brother in pain Sirius, led my lips to spilling out into a smile, “you can’t say anything without making it sound dirty, can you Sirius?”

“Is that it?” James demanded wildly, “is he forgiven? If I did something like that I’d be in the shit for a week!”

“But you wouldn’t, would you James?” Remus was picking up his bags to insinuate that we’d broken enough of his rues now and that he literally wouldn’t allow us practice any longer. Alice and Frank followed suit, exchanging soft whispers that none of us could hear as they did so.

“What did he want you to do?” James asked, nudging me with his elbow with that adorable expression of his, “Lily,”

“Stop pouting, it’s not a big deal,”

“Thank you!” Sirius said loudly from behind me, “no one was going to get hurt,”

“You nearly did,” Peter added

“He would have known it wasn’t true, Evans,”

“It wouldn’t have exactly been helpful,”

“You can’t keep things from me,” James said, “Sirius is my best friend and Lily, well, you’re just not allowed to keep things from me.”

“You’re breaking his heart Lily,” Remus said beginning to look amused by the whole thing, bringing a weary hand up to his head subconsciously.

“S’okay,” James grinned, “I’m used to it,” he nudged his arm against mine, fingers brushing together for a moment. I turned to smile at him. For a single moment we were all existing in some suspended harmony together: James didn’t hate me, Remus was tired but didn’t look like dead and Sirius wasn’t acting like a moody shit. There was never anything to worry about as far as Peter was concerned, anyway, and Alice and Frank we’re beginning to regain their former confidence and passion after the events last month.

 “Lily,” Sirius said hanging back for just a second, “can I talk to you in a bit?” James heard the request too and took the opportunity to squeeze me hand for support. I nodded and resigned myself to the fact that, very shortly, I was either going to cry a lot or get really angry at Sirius for the third time today.

***

“Okay,” Sirius said, pacing up and down the boys dorm searching for some words that he could use to express himself. I was curled up on James’s bed, taking the liberty of pulling up his duvet around my shoulders to suppress the shiver which didn’t have much to do with the cold, “sorry about the imperious thing earlier,”

“Why? You know that James is already like... I don’t know, but he’ll get some sort of complex or something,”

“He could do with a couple of complexes,” Sirius said with the shadow of a grin, “any case, I was doing him a favour, now you can protect yourself, see? If I explained it to him he wouldn’t even punch him. It’s fine.”

“I might punch you,”

“I’d probably survive Evans,” Sirius said, then his expression turned serious again and he pushed his stupidly long hair back from his face and considered this for a second, “and sorry about the other stuff too,”

“Mary was right,” I said staring at him, “you’re terrible at apologies,”

“I hadn’t finished,”

“So that wasn’t it?”

 “No, that’s not ruddy well it,” Sirius said angrily, “let me talk will you Evans?”

“Okay,” I agreed quietly folding my arms and legs and deciding the James’s bed was comfier than my own. Sirius was pacing slightly.

“I wanted to talk to you about the girl,”

“The girl?” I questioned.

“The one I shagged over the summer!” Sirius snapped again, I decided from this point onwards I was probably just going to shut up, “because you don’t understand and... I don’t want you to think that Mary was just, I mean... I really loved her,” he took another deep steadying breath and flopped down onto his bed opposite. When he started talking again his voice was a lot calmer but the whole thing seemed to have a slightly rehearsed note to it.

“Evans, I wanted to explain it to you. It didn’t do it because I wanted to I... It’s hard to explain you see. Say if you bruised yourself on something, you know how sometimes you press on the bruise just to see how much it will hurt? Just to push yourself to your limit, just to see. It was a bit like that.”

“But I thought, for a second, that I might me moving on. There’d been a moment the week before when I’d looked at a girl and hadn’t felt guilty about it. I’d wanted to push myself, test it... sort of. I thought it would make me feel better. It wasn’t like that though, Lily, because I realised – things aren’t going to shift. They’re not going to change. I’m stagnant. Some days are better than others, and some weeks I have more of the good days than the bad.  The past couple of weeks have been shit. I realised that this is exactly a year after everything started kicking off, and Jesus it doesn’t seem like a year ago. I don’t want the time to pass. I’d rather be stuck here mourning forever than get to a place where I don’t think about her every day,” Sirius’s voice broke uncomfortably and I found myself blinking more than normal to stop myself from crying whilst Sirius was trying to speak.

“I just think of all the things I should have differently to make her time more valuable. I foolishly thought that if I moved forward and started to...feel again, then it wouldn’t hurt so much and I could leave those feelings behind. Can you understand that Lily?”

I nodded. I wasn’t sure if there was anything in the world that I could understand more and suddenly I felt guilty for internally condemning Sirius’s behaviour without even thinking about reason.

“I’m not sure I’ve regretted anything more, if I’m honest, because now I feel like I’ve lost something of Mary forever. I always knew that I wasn’t strong enough to hold out forever, but... I thought I could have been a bit stronger. I was drunk, too – though that’s not excuse. I just want to make it clear that I didn’t enjoy it.”

“She was that bad?” I quipped lightly, desperate to try and bring the tone down a level. I never could deal with seeing Sirius get like this. I was terrified of him starting to cry and not being able to do anything about it and not being able to help or change things. I hated it when Sirius cried.

Sirius smiled solemnly. “It’s nothing to do with that. It just felt like I’d betrayed her, or like I’d lost something. It felt like losing my virginity all over again, but it was worse than that – it was harrowing. And now I’ve lost that part of Mary that I can’t ever get back. She’s not the last person who kissed me anymore, and that’s the hardest thing to deal with. I... I just thought you had the right to understand. You have every right to be mad at me. I was a fool to think that anything within me could change. Like I said, I’m stagnant.”

“I’m not mad,”

“It’s different though, isn’t it Lily. You just loved her. I was in love with her.”

“Sirius -”

“And I understand her better now. I understand why she did things. She didn’t want to do this to me because now sometimes I can’t help but be mad at her. I’m going to be like this forever Evans.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “You’re not, you’ll...”

“I’ll what? Move on? Forget about it. I can try, but... we all know there’s no one quite like Mary McDonald.”

“I miss her at the most stupid times,” I said, finding my voice filled with a lot more emotion than I thought I’d felt, “just, in the morning when we’re all getting ready and... and there’s no one to fight for the mirror with,” I blinked again, “and there’s none of her shower gel that I can nick in the shower... and then sometimes I almost feel like she was about to say something and then I remember that she’s dead all over again,”

The tears were an unstoppable force now. They’d broken past the barriers I’d put up and were now falling down her my face in slow streams.

“I miss her,” Sirius began, “when she’s not sat next to me in classes anymore and it’ll suddenly hit me that Mary used to sit here and that she’d probably be arguing with me about something,”

“When I see that colour purple,” I began and then I couldn’t finish the sentence so I brought up a hand to my face and cried even more.

“At breakfast there’s no one to complain about burnt toast,” Sirius said and then I think he’d buried his head in his hands too, “but I’m glad I miss her,” he half whispered, “I’d rather hurt for Mary than feel nothing,”

Then I was sobbing and there was nothing anyone could do to stop me: loud chocking tears that were embarrassing to let out but impossible to keep in. Every so often I’d attempt speech but mostly there weren’t any words, there was just Mary’s scornful expression and her purple hair and red lipstick. There was just Mary who’d never been a brilliant friend but who’d always loved the hell out of me.

“I’ll go get James,” Sirius muttered uncomfortably.

“Don’t be silly!” I practically wailed, and then I threw my arms around his neck and started sobbing into his shoulder, “Sirius,” I whimpered, “How are you so good at this?”

I couldn’t even find it within myself to be embarrassed at my behaviour.

Sirius blinked at me for quite a long moment before he even attempted to answer, “How am I so good at this? What... Evans, Lily, haven’t you seen me recently? Haven’t you, I haven’t...”

“But you’re not crying all over the place and,” another throb of sobs took over my body for a few second before I was able to finish off my sentence again, “and you never did stupid stuff with Diggory, and I’ve been messing James around and ignoring Alice and just irritating everyone,”

“Well, everyone hates you at the minutes,” Sirius said, waving that away, “I mean stupid prejudiced people, and it equates to the same thing in the end – doesn’t it all?” One of Sirius’s tears landed on my arm. I never was good with crying men, “spilling secrets, not talking and stuff. I’ve been a right git, especially to you Evans,”

“Was that an apology?”I muttered, standing up and wondering to the toilets to pull a great wedge of tissue to mop up my face a little more. Sirius stood up and paused in the door way looking exhausted, “I’m never sure with you,”

“None of us know what we’re doing, Lily,” Sirius said, ignoring my comment completely, “we’re all just making it up as we’re going along but... it’s not heresy to move on. You can’t condemn someone for trying and I’m talking about you too,”

“What?” I asked, turning to face him properly instead of looking at him through the mirror, the tissue still waiting at the ready to mop up anymore tears that choose to come tumbling down.

“Mary was your best friend but that doesn’t mean you can’t ever have a best friend again – you don’t, I mean, you shouldn’t distance yourself from Alice and Rachel just because.... well,”

I hadn’t even realised. Was that what I had been doing? My head was spinning again. I leant against the sink and thought about this for a few seconds.

There was a tear glittering on Sirius’s skin.

“Sorry,” Sirius finished, stepping back from the doorway and sitting on his bed again, staring at some phantom spot on his bedcovers as if there were someone for him to share the bed with, “you’re so unlike Mary, it’s difficult,”

“What do you mean?” I asked, throwing the mascara stained tissue in the bin and vaguely watching Sirius’s morose way of only taking up half the space: if Mary were there too, one hand would be leaning on the pillow just beside her back and the other would be millimetres away from touching her left hip. The empty space made my heart ache.

“To understand what James sees in you,” Sirius finished. I let out a shaky laugh and shook my head.

“Well, you’re not very much like James. I’ve often questioned Mary’s taste,”

“You’d be the only one,” Sirius said with a bark of laughter – the first I’d heard for a long time – then he leant further back on his pillows. If she were there, their foreheads might be touching, “the question is, Evans, does that mean you’ve accepted that you and prongs will be together forever?”

“I’m going downstairs, coming?”

“Nah,” Sirius said, closing his eyes for a second, “early night,” If I concentrated hard enough I could almost see the intent Mary’s head could have left on the pillow, how Sirius’s arms would be loosely holding her, how her purple hair would spray out behind her as she smiled at the ceiling. Sirius smiled at nothingness and for a second I wondered if he was imagining the same spectre as I was: Mary’s form, beauty encapsulated, life personified and lying there, on Sirius bed.

“Promise me you’ll get a haircut,” I muttered finally, sniffing again as I shut the door. I didn’t want to cry anymore. I’d worn myself out. I wanted to lie down, just as Sirius was doing so, but I had too much stuff that I still had to sort out.

My legs felt impossibly heavy as I made my way down the stairs but, I was beginning to realise, it was perfectly healthy to exist in this state of confused emotions and stupidity whilst I was grieving. I was allowed to still be grieving. No one was going to judge me for still being messed up, except perhaps those Slytherin’s.

“Hey James,” I said softly, sitting down on the sofa beside him and curling up against his shoulder, “where is everyone?”

“Dinner,” James said casually dropping an arm around my shoulder and smiling at me, “you okay?” and again he was asking such a simple question as if it held all the weight in the world, as if the answer changed everything.

“Should be,” I returned resisting the sudden urge to kiss his cheek, “On Saturday – ”

“Hogsmeade weekend Saturday?”

“Yeah, can... can we go somewhere?” James’s eyebrows rose slightly but he never was to question any petty desire I ever had. James was too good.

“Do you have anywhere particular in mind?”

“Yes,” I finished closing my eyes on his shoulder, “there are some things I need to do and I’d like you to come with me,”

“At your service,” James muttered into my hair.

“Lily! Lily!” Rachel exclaimed, throwing the door of the common room open with a smile reigning triumphant over her face. I barely had the energy to separate myself from James’s arms and, in any case, Rachel didn’t seem to be remotely surprise to see us in such a... cosy position, “Charlotte!” She exclaimed, gesturing wildly with a piece of paper in her hand lost for words for a few seconds, “she’s written to me! She’s okay, she’s safe!” Alice climbed through the portrait hole behind Rachel, grinning. Remus and Peter too. Frank. All of them framed in the doorway savouring the single moment of joy we’d been granted.

I just wished that Sirius could have been there.

 

A/N - Now, this chapter is a pretty far from perfect but I've been having serious writing issues as of late... and I really just wanted to get it finished. Thats no excuse. I'll probably come back and fix it a little bit at some point soon - but things really are busy and the minute (and I hadn't updated for ages!)

 
 


Chapter 10: Tough and Powerful.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“I just needed to visit,” I told James quietly as we stood in front of my Mary’s grave together, “I haven’t, since the funeral,”

“I have,” James admitted and he took my hand. I stared at the stone until my eyes began to hurt – reading her name over and over, until my eyes blurred – not with tears this time – but due to trying to find more in the words than there were. They were emptier than I remembered and the stone was unyielding. There was nothing left to give.

“You deal with this a lot better than I do,” I muttered helplessly, “how do you do it?”

“You’re hard on yourself, Lily; Mary was never my best friend,”

“But I was never much of a best friend,”

“Flowers?” James suggested, ignoring my slight on myself and pulling out his wand. He conjured up a reef of roses. I placed them on the stone near the bouquets of Daisy’s that were already there, just beginning to wilt.

I rested my head on my shoulder and he wrapped an arm around me. We stayed there for some time, and I thought about Mary and I thought about life and, for the first time, I thought about a future.

“Does Sirius come?” I asked into his shoulder.

“Weekly,” James said, “he might be along later,”

“I don’t want to run into him,” I admitted, glancing up at James and hoping he understood. It would be a violation of his privacy and his rights to clog up the time he had, and I didn’t want to see him so vulnerable again. Seeing Sirius breaking took it out of me more than I could say, “can... can we visit my dad?”

James nodded. I gripped hold of his hand. We apparated together: that feeling of being sucked through a straw, but both of us, together. I was thankful for that. “I haven’t come here at all,” I said, blinking back down the tears as I lead James to the second grave, not letting go of his hand.

“That’s okay,” James returned, pressing his lips against my hair for a second, “no one is judging you Lily,”

“In a perfect world, maybe,” I sighed. I stared at his name this time. It was hard to believe that he wasn’t going to be around anymore, ever.  Both parts of my life had taken a hit. At Hogwarts, Dad simply seemed to be waiting for me at home. At home, Mary was sitting under a tree at Hogwarts penning me a letter full of angst and complaints. I bit down on my lip and felt my tears blurring my sight again. What are you supposed to do with grief? It doesn’t go away; it just lingers there waiting until something else reminds you, “Petunia judges me,” I added, “and... mum,” I said and the word was hard to spit out, “she worries a lot,” I was suddenly overwhelmed by how much I missed my mother.

I turned around in the graveyard and looked out towards the town. I bit my lip. I was two streets away from home: so close that I could feel her unconditional love reaching out to me and pulling me back. I glanced downwards for a long moment before looking back up at James, vaguely aware that he might be angry at me again tomorrow for pulling him into this. “Can we go...?” I began.

“Yeah,” James said with a smirk, “it’s about time you took me home,”

***

It was strange to have James sat on the floor in my living room, leaning across our coffee table and drinking tea out of one of my mugs. The strangest thing was he didn’t seem out of place and the relaxed way he seemed to fit with my life made it really hard to believe that he hadn’t been here before. James being in my house made a lot more sense than I could explain away.

James smiled at me and I found my own lips mirroring his actions, and it was suddenly difficult to be sat on the other side of the table – much too far away and physically distant.

“Sorry about the mess of on the sofas,” Mum said, entering the room distractedly and frowning at the sight of our guest sat on the floor, “if I’d known you were coming... not that it’s any bother,”

“What are all these envelopes mum?” I asked, picking one up in my hand. Both of the double seated sofas were covered in a fine layer of paper. It almost liked the living room was caught up in a snowstorm of paper – everything white.

“Christmas cards,” she said sadly, sifting through the pile of cards sadly, “so many people have started sending me them already, much more than last year, and because of seeing everyone at the funeral...”

I picked up a pile of sealed envelopes held together with an elastic band – each one had an address written in my mother’s familiar cursive. I flicked through the pile: letters from my uncle, friends she’d once had, the local butcher... all of them foolishly trying to offer my mother some support in her first Christmas as a widow, none of them even considering the fact that this might only add another pressure, as the silly woman felt the need to reply to each one.

“We could help if you like, Mrs Evans,” James volunteered, and I had to stare at him a moment and wonder why anyone would offer such a selfless service to a woman he’d only really met today, “it would be no trouble,”

Mum looked at James with encompassing warmth and then looked at me as if silently telling me she approved of my choice. I’d never chosen James though, he’d chosen me. I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was happy with his choice or not anymore.

“Oh, well... that would be such a help, but I couldn’t ask you -”

“Yes you could,” I returned, accidentally knocking a pile of stamps on the floor, “it would be a pleasure,”

“I’ll get my address book,” She said, beaming with her face flushed pink in the doorway. My mother.

“Thanks,” I told James evenly, trying not to let him know the gratitude I felt for him today. He’d just been so perfect, so supportive and just so James. James just smiled and pulled a pack of Christmas cards from near where he was sat. It seemed too early to think about Christmas and the little snowy scenes just made me feel cold rather that normal Christmassy warmth. The pack was an assortment: Christmas trees, Christmas landscapes, mini nativities, and robins that looked like they’d had their hearts ripped right out of their red breasts (I figured I could sympathise with that). I liked the nativity best – there was something real about Mary’s expression (although I suspected after child birth she’d look slightly more tired) and it wasn’t too much of a stretch to give the Mary on the card purple hair. Even the name was like a familiar hand on my shoulder, a strange comfort.

“Here,” Mum said arriving with a thick address book and a list, “I’ll just get started on dinner – you are staying for dinner aren’t you? Petunia and Vernon will be here, oh, it would be so nice to have everyone together so soon... you can stay for dinner, can’t you?”

“Of course,” James said, “we’d love to stay for dinner, Mrs Evans,”

If there were any benefits to being Heads it should be that the teachers would be a little more flexible when it came to curfew. I smiled at James again. He was good with parents.

Mum beamed before disappearing into the kitchen looking genuinely cheerful, leaving James and I alone with a stack of Christmas cards that would make the bravest Gryffindor shudder in his boots. Both James and I stared at the task for a long moment before either of us had found the strength to move and get on with it.

“What do we have to write?” James said, chucking a pile of ten cards to my side of the table.

“I’ll look,” I said, pulling out the top envelope and prising the seal open as delicately as I could. This one was a nativity scene, with baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary’s serene expression which lit up the world. I opened it carefully.

“Charlie,” I read aloud, “and then just... love from Rosemary, Petunia, Lily and John. Oh no,” I muttered, staring at the way my mother’s hand had formed my father’s name, “oh no,” I said, “we can’t send this – not, not with dad’s name on...”

“Are they all like that?” James asked quietly.

“Look,” I said, passing him some of the letters. James prized one open and scanned down the inside of the card. The grim look said it all. I did not want to look at the way my mother’s hand had formed my father’s name anymore than I wanted to write him out of the cards altogether. But what would people think when they saw his name there, arrogantly stood there as if nothing had changed from this year to all the years preceding it? I could imagine their uncomfortable expressions and their unease; the sudden wash of guilt that came with realising how lucky you were and half of me wanted to make them feel it.

It wasn’t sensible though, definitely not. So I gritted my teeth and pulled out a fresh back of cards.

“I’ll rewrite these,” I muttered, “then you wipe the cards clean and we’ll start over,”

“Okay,” James said, smiling at me.

I began copying out that first card afresh, this time the front was decorated with a quaint little village covered in snow, snowmen and branches of holly. I ignored the cheer of the scene and forced myself to continue writing; signing off our names. Three flowers.

James tapped the card with his wand and the previous declaration disappeared all together, leaving nothing but another blank slate. I was sure that we both knew enough magic to be able to just vanish that last name – but I wouldn’t do that and James would not suggest that. 

So we took the long route.

“It’s good about Charlotte,” James said after awhile, as he began addressing more envelopes and placing them beside me.  Charlotte and her mother had fled abroad and were only able to write now they were sure that the Death Eater’s believed them to be dead. She hadn’t said where they were, but the general suggestion was that it was sunny there.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “Rachel seems a lot better now,”

“Even if she has to change her identity,” James continued, “it’s amazing that she’s alive,”

“We’ll still never see her again,” I said, frowning into my Christmas card, “she won’t be able to come back for years and years,”

“But she’s safe,”

“For now,” I said, “did she tell Dumbledore like Sirius said she should?”

“Yeah, she did,” James said adding another envelope to the pile with another small smile sent in my direction.

“What?” I asked, suddenly feeling self conscious, “what are you smiling about?”

“I... I like this,” James said with a shrug, returning to writing people’s addresses on the envelopes with that same secret smile stretched across his lips and his hazel eyes glittering.

“You like writing Christmas cards with me?” I asked slowly, then looking down and finding myself flush, “don’t get any ideas – your names isn’t even on the cards,”

“Maybe you should write me in,” James said, “Rosemary, Petunia, Lily and James,”

“No one would know who you were,” I countered with an eye roll, “and surely we should really be writing in Vernon?”

“What’s Vernon like?” James said, “is he like a male Petunia?”

“Erm, not really,” I said, “he’s sort of big,”

“How big?”

Pretty big,”

“Larger than life?”

“No,” I said, “sometimes it seems like he’s larger than death but...” James grinned and threw another envelope at my direction.

“Write me in,” he said, “just in a couple –dare you,”

“James,” I said with a sigh, “I’m not writing you in,”

“Do it,” He implored, “I have written all these envelopes for you. On the next one, write me in,”

The next one was addressed to the local vicar who’d done the funeral service. I’d thought the man was almost as insolent as that one who’d done Mary’s funeral, but mum must have thought he was worth of one of the cards. Either way, I was not writing James into this one.

“No,”

“Go on, on the next one,”

“Why should I?”

“Because otherwise, I’ll... I’ll change the patrol timetable so that you’re with Diggory,”

“You’d never do that,” I said simply, “you’d be too jealous,”

“A bit presumptuous, Lily dear?” James suggested with an eyebrow raise, “Or I could put you with Amanda’s annoying sister, or with Regulus Black or – ”

“And I’d just change it straight back,” I said in return, “I have as much power as you do,”

“Well then, I’ll... I’ll tell Alice that you think get married young is irresponsible,”

“She knows I think that,” I admitted with a grimace, “apparently when I’m upset I’m not very subtle,”

“You’re usually mad and yelling,”

“Yeah,” I said, writing another letter.

“I’ll tell her that you told me you think her getting married young is irresponsible and childish,”

“Fine, James, I’ll write you into the next card,”

“Promise?”

“Promise,” I agreed, flipping over the next envelope and gaping at the name for a very long moment. Eileen Snape. My mouth went very dry for a moment before I blinked and began writing the card. Eileen was dead; I knew that, even if the rest of the world seemed to be unaware. Tobias too. And there was nothing that could piss Severus off more than me signing this particular card with ‘Rosemary, Petunia, Lily and James.’ “I don’t think you can handle wishing Snape a happy Christmas,” I said dully, tossing the envelope to the side and pulling out the next. It was be too easy and I would enjoy it too much.

The next one was to another one of our neighbours, and I signed it off with a flourish. I think I liked the way our names looked squashed up next to each other. Lily and James.

Writing him into my family wasn’t so bad after all.

***

“So what is it that your parents do, James?” Vernon said loudly as he helped himself to a large helping of lasagne with a pompous air of someone who was very familiar with dinning at the Evan’s.

“His dad owns a business,” I said quickly, glancing at him and exchanging a look, “and his mum helps out a lot,” He nodded and smiled, politely shopping up his portion of lasagne and eating it as though it tasted just as good as Hogwarts food. It didn’t.

“Ah,” Vernon said, nodding impressively as he over enthusiastically cut a proportion of lasagne and speared it on his fork, waving it about wildly as he talked about himself, “yes, business is the future,” he agreed, “so will you be joining the business after you finish at your, er, boarding school?”

“Maybe,” James said, glancing at me for support and eating his own lasagne at quite some speed. It was almost like Vernon and James were competing with each other to see who could compliment my mother most by eating the lasagne the fastest and showing the most amount of appreciation for her cooking.  Which, to be honest, wasn’t the best cooking in the world, “I haven’t decided yet,” he added, “what do you do?” James asked.

“This is really good mum,” I interrupted, wanting to do anything that would put of the inevitable rather long conversation explaining his minor role at the drill company, his father’s association with the boss and how this equated to the fact that he was going to become the manager very shortly. Mum picked up her glass of wine and smiled at me obligingly, bringing her hand to her cross necklace for a second as she smiled me. A nervous habit that she’d always had and one that I had missed a great deal. “How’s Mrs Trevors?”

Thus igniting another rather long rant about what my old school teacher was up to these days, loud enough to block out Vernon Dursley’s string of words.

James was nodding along looking very much like he was fighting the desire to laugh. He glanced at me, clenching his lips shut and having to take a temporary pause in eating lasagne to save the inevitable moment of exploding laughter.  I had to look away very quickly and take a sip of my drink to stop myself from losing control. Vernon was oblivious to this, but both my mother and my sister were well aware at how amusing we both found him. Petunia’s gaze met mine with all the warmth of an iron gate whilst my mother watched me with a smile playing at her lips.

She took another sip of her wine, twisted her engagement ring around her finger and I was very very glad that I was home. At least for a little while.

 

***

“Thanks for today,” I smiled as we walked down my street. The beer boys were beginning to appear on their doorsteps, cans of beer at the ready – but it seemed like they hadn’t kicked into the proper gear yet because this time no one was throwing either insults or empty beer cans.

“Your sister nearly seemed human today,” James smiled back. I let him wrap an arm around me because everything was warm and sensible, “and Vernon well...”

“Shush,” I said, “he’s nice enough,”

“That’s what I was about to say,” James countered, grinning at me, “that he’s nice enough,”

I sighed at him, wanting to expression how I felt but having words fail me: he was so irritating but in a way that I really enjoyed. His stupid teasing, the way we fell into such comfortable conversation and the way I wanted him to carry on with his silly predictable comments until the end of time.

“Let’s not go back yet,” I smiled, “let’s go to the park,”

“You’re the boss,” James said, squeezing a hand I hadn’t even realised he’d been holding. It was cold though. Last time I had looked we’d been in early October, but now all of a sudden the air had turned frosty and December was snapping at our heels – trying to catch up with before I was ready for it. I was dreading Christmas: a Christmas without two people I loved and missed would be an unavoidable trip to getting lost in memories and distracted by the weight of grief.

James and I walked to the park holding hands. The park always made me think of Severus, and taking James here seemed like another nail in an already buried coffin. I didn’t care anymore. I was through with forcing myself to care for a person like Snape and he should have known that the second he approached Mary McDonald our friendship had become a corpse.

“What are you thinking about?” James asked.

“Did you genuinely just ask that?” I questioned, finding myself smiling reluctantly, “really?”

“Sorry,” James grinned, “you looked pensive,”

“Snape,” I admitted.

“I hope you don’t always think about Snape when you’re with me,” I elbowed him and rolled my eyes, but I grinned too. Couldn’t help it.

“This is where Severus and I met,” I said, gesturing to the tree in the corner and sitting down on the bench. I stared at it for a little while before shaking my head, “you know – a childhood of memories. The place might as well be haunted,”

“Make new memories,” James said.

“Did you have an excess of cheese for breakfast?” I asked dryly.

James turned and pressed his lips against the corner of mine. Then he did it again. I turned to him, his face unnecessarily close (not that I meant that as a complaint) so that our foreheads were millimetres away from touching.

“You’re such a hypocrite,” I muttered, my nose touching his for a split second. He grinned at me. I loved that stupid grin.

“Never said I wasn’t,” then he kissed me again and my hands automatically went to around his face, around his neck, stopping him from leaving me. They weren’t proper kisses: they never were, with James, but instead just little ticklish pecks that we took in turns stealing from each other.

Sometimes, they lingered, and sometimes they just didn’t. I didn’t care. I’d take all I could get when it made me feel like my insides were melting, like I was becoming myself again. Nothing made sense again, but I liked it this time.

“Hmmm,” James muttered quietly, almost a hum rather than real words, still not pulling back out of my personal space. I didn’t want him too either, “what do you want, Lily?” James asked, kissing me again.

This, I wanted to say, but that was difficult and I couldn’t even decipher if that was the truth yet.

“I want you not to ask my difficult questions,” I returned. James made another almost hum and kissed me again, this one lasting but not long enough, “and I want you to never leave,” James raised his eyebrows at that, “and not to be so god damn cheesy,”

“We should go back,” James said, “or does that count as leaving?”

“Seriously,” I muttered as a piece of hair fell across my face, “I need you,”

“It’s funny,” James looked impossibly thoughtful for a moment, “I told Mary that one day you’d need me,” Then he offered me a hand, pulled me up and apparated us both away. Dissolving the lazy peace and ease between us, forcing me back into the reality of Hogwarts and School.

I think I preferred this other reality, where everything seemed that much easier.

***

 

It was duelling time again and Professor Tyron had yet again ceremoniously put all out names inside his ostentations wizard’s hat, coerced a reluctant Amanda into standing at the front of the classroom and picking two names out of the hate and was standing behind the desk and beaming.

We were all itching to get a chance to duel now – having spent so long practicing spells and duelling in our free time that we had all become adept and, more than that, good. We could all throw off the imperious curse now and sometimes it even felt easy. Other times it was near impossible. Sometimes we all failed, but we were getting there.  Slowly, but surely.

“Lily Evans,” Amanda said, glancing up at me and giving me an apologetic look – like it was unfortunate that I was going to be forced to fight.

“Let’s hope it’s one of us,” James said bracingly, again acted as though there was nothing I wanted less than to stand up there and duel. I had felt distinctly uncomfortable and nervous around James since the weekend anyway (upon realising that I had been much too comfortable to him and that my evasion of his questions had been downright rude) and I didn’t like this assertion. I hoped it was him, so that I could beat him in front of a class full of witnesses. Gloating was going to be wonderful.

“And...” Amanda paused, swallowed and looked up at me, “Mulicber,”

For a second there was a ringing silence before the Slytherins in the room began to laugh, cheer and send several insults in my direction. No one seemed to have that much faith in me. Severus was staring at the wood of his desk. James was pale.

Sirius turned round for a moment and said, very quietly, “I reckon you can take him,” and that was enough to push me confidently out my seat and to walk to the front. My legs were shaking slightly, but I didn’t care. I hated the way James looked so damn worried, but Sirius was rubbing his hands together and lazing back in his seat. Remus was expressionless; Rachel looked as though someone had just died; Peter looked excited and Frank and Alice both offered me tiny little smiles.

“You ready?” Professor Tyron asked, “bow,”

Mulciber had always been ugly and it was no skin off my back to have an excuse to look away from him for a moment. I had no idea how talented he was at duelling, but Sirius had been confident...

“Begin!”

Mulciber flashed his wand so quickly that I had no time to react, but somewhere my instincts were on my side and I’d yelled “Protego!” before I’d even really considered casting the spell. Shit. This was going to be a lot harder than I’d anticipated. Mulciber tried again and this time I was ready, silently constructing a shield before sending a jinx of my own. He had to twist his wand round awkwardly to block it and all of this had happened so quickly that I was nearly out of breath.

The whole classroom took an intake of breath. Everyone seemed to think that all it would take was one spell to be cast before I’d wind up in the hospital wing.

Red light, orange light and violet light that hit me in the leg and nearly made me fall over with the pain of it. I’d got a hit in too, although I could barely remember what I’d cast at him I could see all over his twisted face that he was in pain too.

Another spell sent him stumbling backwards into the desk, but the one after that rebounded off his shield with a sound of a cymbal crashing. I ended up having to dodge the tiny shards of light that scattered in all directions and wound up sidestepping stupidly as he cast something else.

The whole class was muttering excitedly and occasionally some yell of support seeped through my concentration (mainly James speaking under his breath and Sirius’s bark like approval every time Mulciber was left wrong footed).

He yelled a spell that I’d never heard, but it sounded nasty enough and the force of the spell left me winded despite my shield. He grinned maliciously as if he thought that this was his victory and then suddenly...

James and I had duelled only last week, and after sending so many complicated jinxes at each other and getting nowhere but tiring each other out he sent a spell at my shoes causing my shoelaces to tie together. It had been stupid, a bit of fun really, but I’d fallen over and he’d been able to disarm me.

I thought of James as I sent the silly charm and Muliber was too distracted by leering at me to really notice a spell heading for his feet. Then he tried to advance on me, stepping forward with a stupid smile – sending himself flying towards the ground and landing in a confused heap.

“Expelliarmus,” I said simply.

Then the Gryffindors went mad. Sirius jumped up and hugged me, declaring that he’d always loved me deep down; Frank and Alice were out of their seats and beaming stupidly; Rachel was dithering about excitedly; Peter was half clapping... but James stayed in his seat staring right at me and grinning.

But I didn’t feel like grinning anymore. I’d won by some stupid school boy trick. Sure, I’d humiliated him but in reality I would never have been given that chance – if this was real life the spell that had caught my leg might have been the cruciatus curse and I had no way of preparing myself for that.

And then I had an idea.

And I knew, full well, that James would hate me for it.


A/N - First update since I finished NaNo! And it's TAOS - seems fitting somehow. Anyway, sorry for the whole not updating for such a long period of time. NaNo has been keeping me occupied and with school and things too... busy Helen. I would apologise for the fact that 90%  of this chapter is pure sappiness, but... hey, I love it.
The next chapters a good un ;)



 


Chapter 11: Pain.
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The fight with Mulicber had given me new found confidence but had brought so many doubts to my mind at the same time. He’d been forced to play fair. He hadn’t been able to use the curses that was usually have been fired at me, in a proper duel, and that had bothered me. Obviously we’d practiced imperious, and now we were all fully capable of throwing of the curse- not matter what stupid menial task we were asked to do. We were fast too. Sirius managing it in under three seconds the other week. Not that it wasn’t hard: I could visibly see how exhausted each of us were after each practice session ending – but that was always mixed with a grim satisfaction which came with the fact that we were fighting back. But it seemed there was a lot more we could not imagine... and there was one spell which had fixed itself in my mind and would refuse to budge.

The cruciatius curse.

I’d mentioned it at the beginning of December but there was no way we could practice on each other. Snape had already demonstrated that you couldn’t be half hearted with that sort of thing – you had to mean it, really mean it, and none of us could really hate each other like that.

James seemed to have picked on the fact that there was something on my mind and had mostly given me quite a lot of space. I imagined he’d warned the marauders that I needed to be left alone for a little bit too –because all but Sirius had stopped asking even the basic questions like ‘are you okay’ and instead just offered me smiles when I walked into the room. Sirius, who was never one to listen to James anyway, asking very loudly and pointedly at as many opportunities as possible. James had gotten very good at rolling his eyes in the past couple of days.

Still... the thought had festered in my head until I needed to experience it. The sooner the better. There was no defence, of course, but I felt the need to experience it before I was out there. So that I didn’t come across it for the first time on the middle of the battle field. Maybe that was illogical, but I wasn’t like any of them – I really didn’t have a choice anymore. Sooner or later I was going to be put in a life threatening situation and I wouldn’t know what the hell to do about it. I needed to know. Snape’s curse had been a little teaser and now I was longing to have full knowledge of what hate personified felt like. I needed it.

It had been easy to organise. With James ‘giving me space’ (I wondered whether he thought this had anything to do with what happened when he visited my house?) and the others mostly letting me sit around brooding about things meant I had plenty of time to plan.  Sirius, who had been almost cheerful today (certainly enough to pull some stupid prank with disappearing chair legs, guffawing every time unsuspecting sixth years tried to sit down) and thus he’d been too busy being a similar person to his old self – loud, boisterous and over confident. So, I’d engineered a situation to my advantage (or, more accurately – my disadvantage).

I was patrolling on my own, wondering closer and closer to the Slytherin common room –expecting and hoping that today the Slytherin’s would be up to something. They normally were, so it seemed only right that they would be tonight... especially if the prefects informed them that I had changed the schedule so that I was the only one patrolling. I was literally asking for trouble and I didn’t want to think about how twisted my disappointment would be if they didn’t come to take the bait.

I hadn’t told anyone else, either, which would be the issue. They didn’t like me wondering around on my own at the best of times – despite me insisting that I wouldn’t mind being involved in some trouble; because that meant people might appreciate that I was standing up and remaining resilient against the torrent of prejudice.  Still, the minute they worked it out they’d been running for the map and trying to locate me. Which was exactly why I’d stolen it.

Maybe that was stupid. If I got in serious trouble I might be left rotting in some corridor until morning. I decided to head in the general direction of the hospital wing, just in case I did run into some Slytherins – I could always just crawl in that general direction.  Yes, I’d be sensible – head for the stairs. It seemed there was no Slytherins about anyway. Maybe I’d been too obvious. I should have put James down for patrols too and just neglected to tell him.

It was probably for the best. This whole thing was stupid. I’d go back to the Gryffindor common room now, have an early night (although it wasn’t that early anymore – why wasn’t James looking for me? Did he just not care?) – maybe look over my potions book or something. I’d be sensible.

“Alone, mudblood?” A voice sneered. A rush of fear, adrenaline and relief flooded through me. At least all my planning hadn’t been for nothing, and yet... I was down here, practically on the lowest floor of the castle – miles away from the hospital wing.  And I already knew that this was going to bloody well hurt.

“Yes actually,” I returned, wondering if my complacent attitude was too much. Would they assume that I wasn’t alone due to my blaze way of facing danger? Hopefully they’d just think I was being arrogant and spirited. Like normal.

I turned. Well, it would hardly have made a difference if I wasn’t alone – there were a lot of them. Mulicber. Avery. Knott. Regulus Black... looking slightly uncomfortable but still managing to sneer at me menacingly. Snape standing behind him, his eyes glittering with emotions I no longer recognised within him. I didn’t reach for my wand and instead just stared at the lot of them – there was no point. As much as I was a talented witch, even I couldn’t out perform all these people when they quite clearly had the advantage.

“Scared?” Another voice asked. I recognised the exact tone of malice and satisfaction – Bellatrix. Now that was... different. Bellatrix had left at least two years ago, and yet here she was. Skulking round dark corridors of Hogwarts in the middle of the night. I supposed that it explained the numbers but... that was scary. Uncomfortable. What was she doing?

“No,” I said but my voice gave me away slightly. Yes, it was true, I’d wanted to be tortured – which now seemed like such a stupid wish, but... it was someone like Bellatrix who would take the whole thing I step further. She might kill me.

I reached for my wand, grappling around in my pocket frantically. I curled my fingers around it and tried to count the numbers – ten? Fifteen? A shock of white hair. Lucius Malfoy?

“What are you doing?” Another voice asked someone I didn’t even recognise – they were wearing hooded cloaks.

“Counting,” I informed them, “Three, four, five.... is that... another two of you at the back or?”

Why?” Bellatrix snapped.

“So I can tell Dumbledore how many of you there were,” I continued. “Nine... ten, eleven...”

“Dumbledore!” Bellatrix laughed, stepping forward from the group and snarling at me – her teeth shockingly white in the darkness. She was horrific, and I felt a spasm of fear down my spine. Jesus, this stupid plan was going to kill me. “We’re not scared of Dumbledore, or surely... We wouldn’t be here,” She laughed – manic and terrifying. I gripped my hand tighter around my wand.

“Bellatrix Lestrange,” I said, beginning to count them on my other fingers whilst wondering if there were any ways of escape left open to me. “Reg -”Bellatrix made an alarming hissing noise, and then all the wands were drawn – including mine. “Think you have a chance, mudblood?” A man sneered.

I didn’t. Not in a million years. No one would, not against all these people.

I waved my wand and the man who had spoken’s wand flew in my direction. I let it fall to the floor, stepped on it until I felt the wood crack slightly underfoot – and then smiled at him. Apparently I am incredible idiotic in these sorts of situations.

There were a few seconds of silence. I don’t think any of them had expected me to be quite so audacious. The shock turned to anger quickly enough. Bellatrix advanced on me, with years of experience and a whole host of dark spells that were completely unknown to me. Not that I wanted to know them. Her wand flashed and I quickly erected a shield. The spell, a curse no doubt, nearly broke it completely. I just about managed to support it.

“Think you have a chance, pureblood?” I mimicked. If this was going to happen I needed to make them angry enough that they’d torture me. Otherwise the whole thing had been a pointless exercise and a complete waste of a good night’s sleep.

“You dare?” She hissed, and then with an unexpected flick of her wand I was unarmed. I decided that when I retold this story I’d say I let them take away my wand. I had a little bit. I probably could have stopped it but... now I was unarmed. Buggering hell.

And a little scared. I stepped back into the corner and smiled weakly.  “Guess I do,” I said. My back hit the wall. Bellatrix advanced a little more, her want pointing directly at my chest.

“I think it’s time we taught you some humility,” She snarled, and then, “crucio!”

It was like someone had set fire to my skin, on the inside. At first I couldn’t help but scream – the sound softly escaping through my lips before I slammed my jaw shut with enough force that my jaw felt like it had shattered, and bit down  on my lip with all the strength I had. I felt it break under my teeth, and start to bleed, but that pain almost felt soothing compared to the pain that was engulfing the rest of my body. So I concentrated on that.

It was much worse than any other pain I’d ever experienced, but that went without saying, and what made it worse was that it was no caused by any outside wound of affliction, but purely by the hatred the spell was cast with –burning your insides and eating away at your organs. That’s what was so painful about it – the hatred. Hot. Cold. Sharp. Piercing. Pain.

Then it relented and every muscle in my body screamed in protest of the pain it had just endured. I was yelling at myself for being so stupid. I wanted to wipe the blood of my lip, but I couldn’t move my hand, instead my lip bled more and dripped off my chin. I opened my eyes – barely realising I’d closed them and found Bellatrix Lestrange crouched down to my level on the floor (when had I fallen?) her expression twisted into pure evil.

“I’m going to make you scream mudblood.” She muttered. I wanted to inform her she’d missed the point of the whole thing, and that I would not scream. But I couldn’t speak. Could barely move. She pressed her wand to the side of my head – like a gun in some muggle film – and smiled manevoulantly. And then the pain started all over again, and this time I couldn’t think.

I didn’t scream the second time, although at one point a stifled groan managed to rip through my throat and into the corridor, but for that I was almost thankful – because it had been enough to make Bellatrix pause.

The third time she had told me to open my eyes. I was in too much pain to see, but I kept them open – staring her down as she tortured me.

“What should we do with her?” Bellatrix grinned after the fourth time. I blocked out their response and found my tired weary body beginning to function again – despite everything. I was reaching for the man’s wand I’d crushed under my foot, and then – miraculously – I was armed and no one had noticed. I sent two spells in quick succession that probably saved my life.

The first was to retrieve my own wand from Bellatrix left hand and the second was a spell I sent at the ceiling. It was either the adrenaline rush or the fact that the wand was partly broken, but the spell was powerful enough that it hit the ceiling loudly and with enough force that the ceiling cracked. Someone screamed and the others seemed to have realised the noise was enough to attract the attention of anyone in the surrounding areas, and they began to scarper.

I quietly opened the door of the broom cupboard door that had been just to the left of me, and pulled my body inside. I imagined that Bellatrix Lestrange would want to finish me off before she left. This move into the broom cupboard either meant that Bellatrix would assume I somehow managed to escape and left, or that she would burst in and kill me before I had a chance to force my limbs into standing up (the move into the broom cupboard had been difficult enough). The other option was that Bellatrix left but I was too weak to move ever again and ended up dying alone in the broom cupboard with the Marauder’s map uselessly shoved into my pocket.

Twenty minutes passed and I assumed that the others had all left. The corridor was silent but for my painfully loud laboured breathing. I was too scared to light my wand, and I was probably too weak in any case. I slipped in and out of consciousness for an infinite period of time and then, eventually, I pulled myself up and decided that I had to do something.

The hospital wing, I decided.

My lip was still bleeding – the only outward sign that any kind of harm had been done to me at all. I reached up and brushed some of the blood away, finding that the back of my hand was completely covered in my own blood. Who knew lips could bleed so much?

My limbs felt shaky and weak as I stepped out of the broom cupboard and into the corridor which was as dark and dingy as it had been however long it was previously. I forced myself to walk, as quietly as I could – my body wouldn’t be able to cope with anything else tonight – towards the stairs. Then up them. Step by step. All the way to the hospital wing.

Several times I had to stop and sit down, or lean against the wall and breathe heavily for a few minutes before I regained the ability to walk again. I was visibly shaking. My lip was still bleeding but the bitter and metallic taste of my own blood was motivating me to carry on walking.

I was only one floor too far down when I heard the footsteps. Brisk and purposeful – a teacher maybe? I wanted to call out, but could hardly risk it if it was yet another slytherin.

“Lily! Shit, thank God you’re all right!” James. I turned to face him and whatever relief there’d been in his voice vanished. He didn’t say anything for a few moments. “Can you walk?”

“Yes,” I answered, the first time I’d spoke since the incident – I sounded so weak and frail that it scared myself. I took a few more steps in the direction of the hospital wing before James picked me up gently. I could sense he was angry and goodness knows how long he’d been out there looking for me... but... My brain wasn’t working properly. It was too full of pain. The ghost of the pain seemed to still be humming in my bones and with every step I was reminded how I would rather have died than continued existing through it – how my brain had been screaming, begging for everything to just end.

I liked the smell of James’s neck. I’d be come so accustomed to the scent of his aftershave that I could probably recognise him before he arrived, and now I closed my eyes (because everything was so horrible blurry) and let him carry me. He didn’t say anything for the rest of the journey, but my mind could hardly comprehend the fact that he could be mad – that anybody still had the energy left inside of them to feel.

I felt myself be laid down and was vaguely aware of footsteps. A cool cloth was placed against my lip, James’s hushed voice mixed with another, “what happened?” A woman asked.

“I don’t know,” James replied, then a hand slipped into my own for the briefest second.

 “Cruciatus...” I muttered vaguely. She let out a whispered scream of shock and gathered round some more potions. If she knew, maybe, if she understood then she could fix the roaring rush of aching pain and stop it.

“Your lip,” She said, “Is it cursed or -”

“No, I...

“Then, goodness, what happened to it?” She asked, I was floating between sleep and a vague and smoggy unconsciousness.

“Trying not...not... not to scream...,” I said finally, and then she poured a potion down my throat and the final effort of swallowing was enough to make my head sink back into the darkness of my mind, only a little aware that James had let go of my hand. 

 *

My body ached horribly and I was very against the idea of waking up, but a strange sort of pain was beginning to sear in my muscles and it was too bad for me to be able to sleep. My eyelids were heavy but I wrenched the open anyway. There was a soft December-morning light coming for the window and I vaguely tried to estimate the time but... my brain wasn’t working correctly. Nothing was working correctly.

 I sat up and found that I was very nearly alone in the hospital wing, except for one bed... screened away from the rest. My curiosity wasn’t dampened by my weariness and aching muscles well... not much anyway. So I stretched as far as I could... and I saw a face I recognised. Remus.

He looked bad, pale, like he hadn’t slept for weeks and... Hadn’t James told me he was going home to visit his sick mother? What could have happened to him? And before any of my internal questions had been answered I’d forced my body into working again and I was up on my feet. My bare feet made no noise on the floor, for which I was thankful, and I padded over to his bed. Everything bloody hurt.

He looked awful. There were several bottles of empty potions on his bedside table and...  he had horrible deep cuts on his visible arm. I bent down beside him –ignoring my leg’s screams of protest – and ran my finger along the longest cut – longer than a handspan...  and there were three of them, in a row... like he’d been attached by some vicious animal or....

“What are you doing out of bed?!?” Madame Pomfrey asked – her shrill tones too much for my delicate ears.

“Sorry,” I said quickly, “It’s just, Remus is my friend and I... I just saw him there and,” I hurried back to my bed (although my attempts at hurrying weren’t especially adept considering how weak I felt), trying not to turn my back on her – she may have been small and thin but... It didn’t mean I wasn’t entirely sure that she wouldn’t throw something at me or something...

“You’ve been cursed! You must rest – back to bed!” I practically jumped back under the covers and sat down.

“What’s happened to him?” I asked. “Will he be okay? Can you heal him?”

“Rest!” She exclaimed. “You need rest!”

“But...” I began, sighing when she turned her back on me and headed towards his bed. I folded my arms over my chest and realised that I was wearing one of my nightgowns, which must mean someone must have fetched me something... which means that Alice or Rachel had been up too, and...

What if what happened to Remus was because of me?

That certainly wasn’t part of the plan. I bit my lip which was enough to break the skin of the just healed wound, and for it to start bleeding again. I was too tired to do anything to stem the flow. I closed my eyes and rested my head back on my pillows. I was in the furthest bed from Marys, and I appreciated James a lot for that. Forget it, I appreciated James a lot full stop.

Then a figure appeared at the doorway that regained my interest. Dumbledore. Dumbledore was here? With James, too, and both of them were walking towards my bed.

“What happened to Remus?” I demanded James the second he was close enough to hear me – I think the power of my demand was lessened significantly by the fact that my voice gave out half way through. I brought a hand up to my throat. Everything hurt.

“Oh, Headmaster,” Madame Pomfrey said, turning around to face the two of them in shock. “No visitors, I must insist. This girl has been tortured.”

“Which is precisely why I must insist that I be allowed to talk to Miss Evans.” James wouldn’t look at me. Was I in trouble? I couldn’t decide.

“She needs rest!” Pomfrey declared but reluctantly walked towards the door without too much complaint. She continued muttering right the way to the doorway but, apparently, being tortured on school premises is enough for even Madame Pomfrey to resign to the fact that I had to talk to Dumbledore.

“First things first, Miss Evans, how are you feeling?” His eyes were concerned. James didn’t take the seat at my bedside like normal and instead hovered awkwardly behind Dumbledore’s shoulder.

“Okay,” I answered. “Sir, is Remus okay? I mean -”

“The second thing I must ask is why you were wondering around on your own in the middle of the night?”  Dumbledore questioned, his eyes twinkling ever so slightly –it was like he already knew. I stayed silent and shook my head. I didn’t want to answer that one, it sounded even more stupid this morning. Dumbledore nodded, “could you please tell me exactly what happened?”

“It was... in the dungeons,” I began, glancing at James worriedly – and then at Remus – before turning to face Dumbledore again, “and, there was a group of them – twelve.”  James’s eyes widened, “and they weren’t just Hogwarts students, I mean... Bellatrix Lestrange was there, and Malfoy and... others. It was dark and they were all wearing hooded cloaks. Then I disarmed one of them... broke their wand and...” My gaze drifted back over to Remus and then to James. He looked like he hadn’t slept.

“Miss Evans,” Dumbledore said softly. “I know this is hard, and I am sure there a million things you would rather be thinking about just now, but if you could try and concentrate – just for a few more minutes.” I nodded.

“I broke his wand and said some stuff... and then, Bellatrix tried to curse me and I was disarmed and then... Then she used the cruciatus curse. I bit on my lip, because I was trying not to scream. Then she stopped and she pressed the wand right on my head, and she did it again... four times.” I said, scrunching up my face. I ghost of the pain was beginning to fill me up as I talked about it. “Then they were taking about what to do with me next and I picked up the wand I’d broken and then... I got my wand back and I sent a spell at the ceiling... and it cracked. Then whilst everyone was panicking I crawled into this broom cupboard and stayed there for hours... Then I made myself start walking to the hospital wing where I walked into James.”

Dumbledore nodded. James looked slightly sick.

“And that would be why none of your friends could find her,” Dumbledore nodded, “do you have any more names, Miss Evans?”

“Erm...” I said. “All the seventh year Slytherin boys, and then... Regulus Black and... some other students, older ones, that I didn’t recognise.”

“Do you still have the wand?” I nodded, and reached for my robes that were folded on the chair. James reached for them and pulled the two wands out. He placed mine on the bedside table but handed the cracked one to Dumbledore.

He ran a finger along it.

“The safety enchantments around Hogwarts will be increased. Teachers on patrol every night. And, Miss Evans,” He said taking a step towards the door. “I do not wish for you to patrol alone again, no matter how curious you may be,” Then he sent me a sharp piercing look. He knew exactly what I was doing. It was almost frightening.

He nodded at James before he left. “I will need to see you both in my office after you have recovered – Mr Black too, Mr Lupin, Mr Pettigrew and Mr Longbottom.” He paused for another second, “and Miss Prewett too, I should think,”

“That man,” I said, “is incredible.” James said nothing. He still didn’t sit. He hovered around a little way away from my bed, not looking at me. I sighed and stayed silent for a few minutes, however when, after what felt like half an hour – in which madam Pomfrey had returned and was continuing to fuss around Remus – he still hadn’t looked at me, I was beginning to feel slightly irritated. “James, will you just look at me?” I questioned, but in my weak state I was not very going at hiding my emotions. My voice cracked horrible half way through, and if I had the energy I think I might have started to cry.

“I don’t want to look at you,” he snapped back, and in doing so glaring right at me. The strength of his gaze sapped out the last of my strength. There were horrible red rings under his eyes and I didn’t think I’d seen him look so, god, I don’t know – mad? Upset? Bloody awful? – since the days leading up to Mary’s death where he’d haul himself up in his room for hours then immerge with new resolve and strength that would last for a couple of hours before it all started again.

“You always want to look at me,” I said weakly, trying to lift up my hand so I could take his hand.

“You did this to yourself,” James said roughly, “and you don’t even care,”

“James,” I muttered, letting my scrabbling fingers drop back onto the bed, “can’t we talk about that... later. I mean I, I need you here,”

“Do you just.... just never think about me?” James asked, he sat down next to my bed for a minute and stared out at the window, “do I not matter?”

I blinked.

“Of course you...” I began, struggling to find somewhere for the words to come from. Couldn’t he see that I was fighting to say conscious, that I could hardly cope with a conversation about the weather let alone something like this?

“How could you do this to me?” James muttered, running his fingers through his hair and taking a deep breath, “God, Evans – how could you... just,” he stopped, pressing his fingers against his forehead and breathing again. Merlin, he was crying.

And it was worse than when Sirius cried.

“You haven’t seen yourself Lily,” James continued, “but you look like death and... you did it all on purpose. Fucking hell, Evans, what does about how worried we all were? How we’ve been searching everywhere for you, the teachers too, but no – that would hardly bother you, would it?”

“James,” I tried to say, trying to use my arms to push me up on my bed – but my muscles seemed to be made of jelly and my body was much too heavy.

 “And you lied to me, Lily!”

“You’ve lied too!” I hissed back. “You said Remus had gone to visit his mum and... you’re hiding something from me,”

“Hiding something from you?” He questioned. He looked furious. “So we’re focusing on the fact that I have a slight secret, rather than the fact that you actively decided to go and get yourself killed!”

“Not killed!” I retorted back, “Tortured.”

“Right,” James said, a hand ruffling up his hair in frustration. He took another deep steadying breath. “Because that’s so much better.”

“I’m fine, aren’t I?”

“You might not have been fine,” James said, “and then what the hell would have happened to me then? Of course, that’s of no consequence to you – as long as I’m there when you need me then, well, what does it matter about my feelings,”

“I needed to do it,” I said, looking up at him and trying to beg him with my poor tired eyes, “I just had to,”

“Of course you did,” James said, “I’ve just been an idiot to even think... get some rest Evans,” James said, running his hand though his hair and standing up, “I guess you’re getting what you wanted – I’ll leave you alone,”

“Don’t go,” I muttered, grabbing the side of his robes before letting my hand drop back onto the bed, “please,”

“My poor wasted heart,” James muttered with a faintly amused smile on his face, “apparently I like pain too,”

Then he turned away and I was unconscious before he had taken two steps, drowning in seas of pain and hurt and being alone all of a sudden.

*

“You finally did it Evans,” Sirius said, propping his feet up on this of my bed and putting his hands behind his neck, “you managed to make James ditch you too. How many people is that now?”

“Sirius,” Alice said sharply, sending him a reproachful look that he ignored. I wanted to thank God for Alice, because every single digging word of Sirius’s brought me a centimetre closer to tears. All I wanted to do was turn away from them, wrap my arms around myself and weep. Sirius knew that full well.

“I mean, I’m actually impressed, James of all people..? I really thought he was going to persist himself into your good books, eventually,” Sirius said, watching my expression carefully. I wanted to cry. I wanted to block out his words and pretend that nothing had changed.

“Don’t worry, Lily,” Alice said, “it’ll be okay. You’re out tomorrow, aren’t you?” She asked,  and even she couldn’t bring herself to tell that James would be coming to visit any time soon. Sirius was right: I’d achieved the impossible and lost the one person in the world that I physically couldn’t lose. “I’ve packed all your stuff for Christmas, okay? So it’s all ready for you – I’ve got to go find Frank. I’ll come back after dinner,” She said with a small smile and a little wave.

“I knew how he was going to react,” I muttered to Sirius once we were left alone, “I knew James would hate it, I knew... I knew this was going to happen,”

“I hope you enjoy this little fuck up you’ve organise for yourself,” Sirius muttered dryly.

“Oh shut up!” I said wildly, “you and Mary did things like to each other all the damn time, okay? Don’t act like I’m, just, I don’t know -”

“-do you know how close you were to dying?” Sirius interrupted, “because James is pretty aware,”

“You don’t understand," I muttered, sinking back onto my covers and closing my eyes. I don’t think I’d anticipated how much James’s absence would really bloody hurt. I was so used to him being around now, and the soothing presence of the scent of his aftershave, his stupid grin and the way he quite clearly had no respect for my personal space or the usual boundaries of friendship. We had, for all intents and purposes, been very nearly dating. And now he wasn’t here and I needed more than anything for him to walk through the door, kiss m on the cheek and tell me something nice about myself. Maybe there was nothing nice left to say about me.

Did James not care whether I was okay? Did he just not give a shit that I’d been tortured and had been in the hospital wing for nearly a fortnight? Forced to spend every moment of the day locked up with the shadowy lump that was Mary in the furthest bed – as she died over and over again in my dreams.

“He’s been visiting when you’re unconscious,” Sirius added, I pulled the covers up to my  face and closed my eyes. Maybe now I would pretend to be unconscious until the moment he’d visit, then grab his hand and force him to talk to me, “he’s pretty bad,”

“Stop it,” I muttered to Sirius, turning my face to him and blinking at him blearily, “I don’t want to know,”

“How close was it?”

“Was what?” I asked.

“Coupledom,”

“It wasn’t,” I said.

“Because I was betting on it being before Christmas,”

“The holiday starts in three days, Sirius,”

“Now I’m saying about March,”

“Why?” I demanded.

“Mary died in March,”

“What do I do?” I asked, blinking up at him.

“Really, Lily? You’re asking me for relationship advice? You saw the appalling screw up that was me and Mary,”

“You were happy in the end,”

“Was I?” Sirius grunted, “I never really got that chance, everything was always too messed up. Then I knew she was dying – and how could I be happy when I already knew that, eventually, I was going to be, you know, here. You and James already have a better chance – neither of you are going to die before the end of the year’s out. That’s a great place to start, Lily. Now if you could just not go on suicide missions that’s the way that could remain. I can’t talk for anyone else, but I’d probably miss you if you got yourself murdered by my darling cousin,”

“Good to know,”

“But I wouldn’t miss you as much as bloody James, the fool.”

"Thanks Sirius," I muttered, closing my eyes and pretending that I was someone else.

 





 

Thank Mangagirl for the update! I asked the general forum-public what should be updated next and she said this one :)

(also, yay for 200 reviews!)

As of 2012 I'm answering every review as soon as I get it, so if you fancy keeping me busy at all...? :D

And happy New Year!

Oh, quick additional note - I'm editing TAOB at last! I'm going through chapter by chapter and making it well... better.  It’s been a long time coming and I'm pretty excited about it. You'll be able to tell when a particular chapter has been edited because it will say '2012 edit' in the summary, then the name of the lovely beta who has helped me out on that chapter. I'd really appreciate anyone who went back and read the edited versions of the chapter as they come out, and I'll probably weep with happiness if anyone reviews the edited versions of the chapters (as this whole editing thing is actually taking quite a long time). Thanks for reading guys :)
 


Chapter 12: Burn out.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“There are two days left before the holiday.” Alice said, once again pouring over a magazine containing stupid things about stupid weddings to bloody Frank Longbottom.

“Yes, I can count,” I returned, flipping the page of my book over feeling distinctly frustrated – Alice’s new fixation on pointing out extremely obvious facts was largely rooted in her desire to make me go and grovel at James Potter’s feet, which I was not about to do, “one, two, three, four – there you go, I have gained that ability and now feel free to shut up.”

“You sound like Mary.” Alice said, looking up at me sharply for a moment and then I was at a loss of what to return; a thank you? Sarcastic or genuine?

I looked back down at the book I was reading and sucked in a deep breath.

“Lily,” Alice implored, “Lily go speak to him before Christmas.”

“No.”

Lily,”

“I don’t want to.”

“Stop being so childish!” Alice snapped, “You’re acting like we don’t all know.”

“Know what, exactly?” I asked, my eyes desperately trying to focus on the book in front of me. I didn’t want to think about James: if he was audacious enough to think that retracting his company from me was some sort of punishment, then he was an even bigger idiot than I’d previously thought.

Anyway, I missed him.

“Jesus, Lily, James Potter is the reason you haven’t spent this whole year crying in the foetal position –it’s not like I blame you, it’s not like I don’t understand... but you can’t just do that to someone.”

“What?”

“Abandon them when things get tough,” But, I thought, swallowing back the chocking feeling that came before tears, that’s exactly what James had done.

“Everyone does it to me.” I said, and I thought of Petunia and Severus and Mary and my father. Was I just such a shit person that, like Sirius said, I couldn’t even keep someone as persistent as James around without driving him crazy and causing him to up and abandon ship?

“What exactly is the problem here?” Alice asked, getting up and placing herself at the bottom of my bed instead. “Are you upset because you’ve finally realised that you need James Potter despite your years of ranting and raving? It’s perfectly okay to be a contradiction,” I tried very hard to continue reading my book instead of concentrating on her, but I could feel her presence and her words and everything she was probably planning on saying, “or is it because you don’t want to talk to me about it all, because you just want to talk to him?”

“When did I get so needy?” I asked, looking up at her, “I don’t care that I care, I care because... because I think I care too much,” Alice raised her eyebrows slightly, enough to spur me into speech for another few moments, “I don’t want to get hurt again,”

“There is far too much irony in that sentence,” Rachel said quietly, stepping into the dorm with her hair soaking wet from Quidditch practice. “Don’t use that line on James, he wouldn’t appreciate it.”

“Rachel, will you tell Lily to grow up, please?” Alice said, sighing and vacating my bed – I felt her weight disappear for a moment, and all of a sudden I wished she wouldn’t leave. I didn’t want to be alone. “Maybe I should give up on you too, I’m sure you’d like that. So you could prove your little theory correct. How was practice?”

Rachel glanced at me, “terrible, James is just... urgh, I don’t even want to talk about it.”

I wanted her to talk about it: I wanted to absorb these little snippets about James so I could imagine them – picture the crease in his forehead and the absence of the easy smile on his face. And would that make it better? Maybe. That was the issue: at some point, although I felt as though some warning or alert should have been given to me when the moment arose, I had accepted the fact that James was James and I was Lily. I’d accepted the fact that I needed him and that I couldn’t lose him – but I hadn’t realise the extent of which the attachment had gotten too.

And not in a good way. I was a mess. I needed the constant reassurance of James’s presence to function, it seemed, and now that I no longer had the option of running to him when I needed to cry it was physically painful. I hadn’t expected that. I hadn’t thought that I could, yet again, make the mistake of becoming so dependent on somebody.

I couldn’t lose James, but surely if I was that dependant on another person then I’d lost myself.

“Where’s Mary when you need her.” I muttered quietly, ignoring Rachel and Alice’s idle chat about Quidditch. Mary would understand how I’d always scorned marriage and settling down and those girls who were happy to just exist as an extension of their boyfriend. James and I hadn’t even been dating, and yet here I was returning to reading the same books in the same way I’d done after the days after Mary’s death.

For Merlin’s sake: I was insulting Mary’s death by being in the same mindset, but it was true. It gave me yet another reason to hate myself, but there it was – I was Lily Evans, a person completely and utterly dependent on a boy. And not even a boy who even liked me anymore. Pathetic.

“I’m going to go talk to Sirius.” I muttered, shutting my book and shoving my hands in my pocket.

“They’re still down at the pitch.” Rachel said.

I didn’t have to ask who ‘they’ were.

“Okay, well, I’ll meet you for dinner.”

“You’re still going down there?” Alice asked, raising her eyebrows.

“I’m not avoiding him,” I said firmly, folding my arms, “I’d love nothing more than a confrontation.”

“Of course,” Alice said, and then she rolled her eyes and flicked open her wedding magazine again.

*

I didn’t want a confrontation.

James, God bloody James, had invested so much time into avoiding me since I’d been discharged from the hospital wing (apparently night time visits were disbanded the moment I was deemed healthy enough to walk around – although this was probably for the best, it would have turned into being downright creepy if he’d continued this new found practice) and if my death wasn’t imminent – Merlin I shouldn’t even joke about that sort of stuff in my head – then I didn’t really matter anymore.

But, that wasn’t even the worst of it. Everyone in the whole damn school seemed to know that I’d been tortured and there had been a good few people who’d had the audacity to approach me in the corridor and ask me what it felt like and the Slytherins were being worse than normal – I could hardly walk down the corridor alone without being injured, but at least they hadn’t seemed to realise that the whole thing had been intentional. Then they really would be pissed.

Still, out witting their poster-girl for violence, Bellatrix Lestrange, wouldn’t go down on the list of the smartest things I’d ever done.  

I pulled my robes around me as I stepped outside the castle. There was snow again and I was reminded sharply of the snow last year – the snow day prank and Mary and Sirius. Bugger it all.

Yet, already the snow was melting due to the onslaught of the rain, more sleet really, to the point when it was hardly even beautiful anymore – just another thing slowly crumbling.

I half ran across the grounds to the Quidditch pitch to avoid freezing to death, wondering how the bloody hell they could stick out flying in this weather. Flying: Mary in the hospital wing, not knowing whether she’d even wake up...I needed James. I couldn’t do this without him, and that was the horrifying part of all of this.

I could hear their voices mingling together as I approached the locker rooms, but only managed to catch a few words above the wind: bloody told you didn’t I?... Well, mate; you’ve always been a bloody seer at heart... Sod off...

I swallowed, “hey,” I muttered, pushing open the door and stepping into the room.

It went silent.

It looked like they were just about to head back up to the castle; Sirius seemed to be halfway through shrugging on his robes (crap that bloke must be warm blooded) and James stopped with his scarf in his hand, waiting.

“Evans,” Sirius said, looking between James and I as if he was really enjoying it. I risked a glance at James, who was rather badly feigning indifference to my presence. I flushed slightly and glanced down at the floor.

“Rachel said you were down here,” I said quietly, not unfolding my arms from around my chest and glancing downwards. “I wanted to talk to you, Sirius.”

“Fire away,” Sirius said, stretching out his arms and raising his eyebrows at me. James ruffled his hair up. Pants. I hadn’t really expected it to be this awkward, or maybe I’d half hoped James would simply throw open his arms and be all ‘never mind Lily, what’s a bit of intentional torture between friends?’

Which had been stupid given I knew James a little better than that – I had met him, after all. I’d heard his declaration of giving up, or whatever it had been, him saying that he’d leave me alone. Acting like that’s what I wanted, when only a week before hand I’d told him: we’d sat in the park and I’d told him I needed him.

“Well,” James said, putting his Gryffindor scarf on and getting to his feet slowly, “I’ll be going.”

“Okay,” I said quietly, looking very intently at the floor for a few minutes.

“Excuse me.” He added, standing up.

I needed to say something and not something stupid like ‘okay’ but an actually genuine something. Maybe Alice was right, maybe I did have to speak to him before the holidays because then, surely, everything would be so much worse?

(And how was I supposed to survive a Christmas without Mary, without Dad and without James? There were only so many missing pieces I could take, and James was central).

So, I had to speak. There was a horrible moment when I opened my mouth, just as James brushed past me to get through the door (which, naturally, I was rather inconveniently in the way of) making a strangled sort of sound – enough to make James turn and look at me for a second.

Now he was expecting me to say something. Bugger.

“I’m not sorry.” I burst out, before realising with jolt that sometimes it is best to shut the hell up. The wind picked that moment to ruffle up his already-scruffy hair giving him an almost comical expression of surprise. Then he was angry.

“I’m sorry?” James questioned, glaring at me.

“You should be!”

“...I should be sorry?”

Oh God. James was standing there being all adorable and beautiful and angry, and here I was saying all the wrong things (wouldn’t, don’t ever leave me again you horrible prat, I can’t function without you have worked much better? Yes, it scored much higher on the pathetic scales and I was going to have to try and find something really badass to counteract it, but thinking it and not saying it was just as pathetic. More, even) and then Sirius was just there hovering in the background listening.

“Yes,” I said, not meeting his eyes as I tried to save my pathetic face.

“For what, exactly?”

“You... you should work it out.”

Holy crap, what was I talking about?

“Right,” James said, leaning against the door frame for a second, “I’ll bare that in mind.”

“I... I told you.”

“Excellent,” James said, shoving his hands into his pockets, “and I’m sure it was just as easy to follow as this ridiculous spew.”

“You’re the one being ridiculous.”

“Okay, Evans – I’m ridiculous. Later, Sirius,” James said over my shoulder, and then he started walking off. I watched him for a second, his shoulders hunched over and his hands buried deep within the pockets of his robes. God, I was horrible.

“When I said I wasn’t going to give you relationship advice, Lily, I didn’t mean just start shouting random stuff,” Sirius drawled with an easy smirk, “that doesn’t work.”

“Why are you being so mean?” I demanded, closing the door with my left hand and glaring at him, “do you just not care?”

“No, I just know you’re both being melodramatic."

“You’ve got plenty of experience of that.”

“Precisely,” Sirius said, “don’t stress about it – you’ll be ‘together’ by April.”

“You said March before.”

“Yeah, then I saw that,” Sirius grinned, “Oh come on Evans? ‘You’re being ridiculous,’  ‘no, you’re ridiculous!’– please tell me Mary and I were never that pathetic.”

“You were worse,” I said with narrowed eyes, “if I fall in love with you?”

“Shit, she told you about that then?” Sirius said, pressing his fingers to his foreheads, “I’d hoped that line would just... stop existing."

He’d been about to say ‘die out.’ We could both feel the unsaid words for a moment. Sirius recovered first.

Anyway, there’s been a great deal of progress made on the James front.”

“There has?”

“Yes, Evans,” Sirius said, smirking at me again, “you seem to have accepted the fact that you’re going to marry him and have his children and what not – when did that happen?”

“I’m predictable, okay,” I sighed, giving up and sitting next to Sirius heavily, “and I don’t want to get married or have children.”

“What did you want to talk about, anyway Evans?” I shrugged lamely, tucking my knees up to my chest on the benches and looking out towards the door, “I’m your replacement James?” Sirius continued, still grinning, “well, I’m not about to kiss it better, Evans – so suck it up.”

“You’re such an arrogant shit,” I sighed, leaning on his shoulder for a minute, “why does anyone even like you?”

“Charm, intellect and good looks,” Sirius said, “and my great compassion.”

“Compassion my arse,” I muttered darkly, “I miss Mary. She’d get it,”

“You’re really not that complicated, try me.”

“I miss James,” I said reluctantly, “but I don’t want to miss him. Not because he’s James, or anything like that – not anymore. I don’t want to miss him because I’m tired of missing people. It’s stupid, Sirius, why do I just carry on putting my faith in people who are just going to disappear or die or become Death Eaters? Am I that, like, insecure that I can’t just be self sufficient and happy without depending on someone.”

“Who’s self sufficient, anyway?” Sirius questioned to the empty locker room, “You’ve got to depend on some people.”

“But people are shit!”

“Yes, Evans, that’s life. You can’t depend on yourself because you’re crap, so you’ve got to depend on other people even though they’re crap too. And thus, you are continually disappointed until you learn to live with the fact that you’re not a nice person and that your boyfriend and your best friend probably aren’t nice people either. Then, you get over it.”

“Sirius,” I muttered, shaking my head at him.

“You wanted some sort of message of hope? Look at me – I’ve got no family, not really, I’ve been disowned, I’ve lost Mary and I’m, as you said, an arrogant shit. But, I do have James,” he nodded to me, “and Peter and Remus. They’re not saints – James is a spoilt brat, Peter is a suck up and Remus just loves to wallow in self-pity – defeatist bastard. We prank people who we don’t like, we strung up Snape from a tree and took his pants off because we were bored – there aren’t any Heroes, Evans, but that doesn’t mean people can’t be heroic.”

“So you’re saying I should just accept the fact that I’m wholly and completely dependent on James and just be fine with that, even if it means I’ll just be some broken shell of a person if he ups and leaves or I somehow wind up alone again?”

“It’s not so bad,” Sirius shrugged. I swallowed.

“Sorry.” The moment hung over us for a long moment before Sirius shook his head slightly and ran his hands through his hair.

“Hey, maybe that’s how you should have started with James,” Sirius said, “let’s go back to the castle before my feet freeze off. I’m too beautiful to lose my toes.”

*

“Sirius said you ran into James and yelled at him.” Remus said with a grin, sitting down next to me over dinner and raising an eyebrow.

“Sirius said you’re a defeatist bastard, but who am I to tell tales?”

“Defeatist bastard? Coming from Sirius? Merlin – I should brush up on my optimism.”

“Why were you in the hospital wing the night I got tortured?” I demanded, folding my arms and watching him carefully.

“I got attacked.”

“Yeah, I saw.”

“By my rabbit.”

“Some rabbit.”

“It got in the way of one of James’s engorgement charms – never really quite recovered, to tell you the truth.”

“So, you’re telling me you were in the hospital wing because you got attacked by a giant rabbit.”

“Yes I am.” Remus said leaning on his elbows and looking as serious as he could manage.

“Actually, Remus, I think you just showed a fine display of optimism right there.”

“Okay, it wasn’t a giant rabbit.”

“Really?” I asked sarcastically, turning over a page in my book, “you do always surprise me.”

“Please don’t go sniffing around,” Remus asked hopefully, “please, Lily, promise me you’ll just drop it?”

“Fine,” I said and then, “excuse me,” because James was just walking into the hall – alone this time – and this time I wasn’t going to start waffling on about blame and things: I’d just get right to the point at hand. Sirius was right; James wasn’t going to give up on me just yet. I reckon I still had about half a life before I finally pushed him too far and I wasn’t planning on doing that.

“James,” I said, up on my feet and blocking his path before he could consider where about he was going to sit (a decision which I expected would be based on how to avoid me in the most successful and efficient manner) – I could feel the gaze of Alice, Peter and Remus on the back of my neck for a minute, “there’s a... a Head thing which we need to go do.”

“What is it?”

“What?”

“Tell me what it is, and I’ll sort it. You should go rest or something.”

Oh, lord. He was being snide.

“I’m fine,” I said, shrugging, “we should really work together.”

“No, Lily really I -”

“Shut up,” I ordered, “just listen a minute James.”

“Just don’t want to be accused of being ridiculous.” James said, one hand going back into his pockets and the other up to his hair.

“I’ll make a scene.”

“For God’s sake...” James began, but I’d already reached forward and pushed him hard in the chest. James stepped back for a second, narrowing his eyes in disbelief, “did you just push me?”

“Yes! Because you’re so pushy.

“People are starring.”

“That’s the point, Potter. Now give it up and talk to me a minute.”I hissed quietly

“No.”

“Why didn’t you visit me?” I demanded loudly, trying to ignore the fact that my plan at successfully causing a scene was working a little bit too well and I could feel dozens of pairs of eyes on the back of my head – how had I managed to wind up in the middle of these confrontations with James on a daily basis before?  It was impossible.

I pushed him again.

“Drop it,” James said, narrowing his eyes.

“Stop avoiding me then! I want to talk to you.”

“So talk,” James said with a cruel smile, “fine by me, let’s talk.”

“You didn’t visit me,” I repeated.

“Did you expect me to?” James asked, his own voice rising slightly. Damnit he was using my own play against me. I should have planned the whole thing out instead of just standing up and making a fool of myself.

I hated the way he was talking too. The truth of the matter was, it had caused a genuine ache in my stomach every time it wasn’t him that walked into the Hospital and I hated that he could make me feels things like that. It wasn’t fair.

“We’re friends.

“Personally,” James said in a low voice, making a point of acknowledging our growing audience, “I thought we were more.”

Merlin’s pants.

“What do I have to do to get you to talk to me?” I asked, swallowing, “what do you want me to say?”

“It hardly matters now,” James said stiffly, putting his hands back in his pocket, “but fine, let’s talk.”

“It matters to me.” I said, folding my arms awkwardly and biting my lip.

“Shall we?” James questioned with an almost smile, beginning to walk towards the entrance of the Great Hall with me awkwardly walking beside him. Everyone was still looking, “great plan,” James added under his breath once we’d crossed the threshold, “can’t wait for all the gossip.”

“You brought it on yourself,”

“Funny,” James said, “I could say the same thing.”

“So,” I said in a small voice, “are we going to talk?”

“Are you going to yell things at me and tell me that I should be sorry?” James asked, a shadow of a grin on his lips before it was gone again – I hated that he wasn’t just being James anymore, but restricting and changing things just for my benefit. I like it much better when he was just James.

“I’m not going to make any promises.”

“No,” James said, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling, “Lily doesn’t make promises, right?”

“James,” I said, half sighing and half feeling like I was begging him, “can’t you just... forget it?”

“Why should I?”

“New start?”

“Again?” James asked.

“In here,” I muttered, gesturing towards a disused classroom because a fifth year Hufflepuff seemed to be walking a little too slowly, “James,” I said weakly. He crossed the room and sat on one of the desks, waiting for me to continue to speak, “I know you’re mad but I... I don’t know where to start.”

James’ firm gaze remained unyielding. Internally I winced a little.

“I knew it would upset you,”

“So, you did think of my feelings and you just disregarded them? Well, that does make me feel better about everything. Thanks for the chat,” James made to stand up again.

“Don’t leave,” I muttered. This time, he obliged.

“I did it anyway because I don’t trust people,”

“You don’t trust me?”

“No, James, I trust you with stuff. I just don’t trust you not to leave me.”

“I wouldn’t leave you,”

“You did!” I said, feeling my eyes brimming with tears again, “you disappeared and you didn’t visit me and you left me alone. How could you do that, James? How could you just not visit?”

“How could you go and get yourself fucking tortured!?”

“I don’t know!” I said, “I wanted to understand, I thought it would make things better.  That I’d know what I was facing so when Voldemort tries to torture me I’m prepared. I thought it would be just Mulicber and Regulus – I didn’t think Bellatrix would show up,”

“So minor league Death Eaters are just play things, right?” James demanded him.

“Did you just not miss me?”

“You’re missing the point." James said angrily.

“No, you’re missing the point James.”

“And I’m being ridiculous.”

“No, I’m being ridiculous,” I said, “but not because of the torture thing, because you not visiting was worse than that,” James was silent for a minute, “the others got over it.” I said quietly.

“Maybe they don’t care as much as I do."

I was dizzy with it. I hated James. I hated the way he was so important and that he could just throw stupid inconsistent lines like that at me until I couldn’t speak. Everything would have been fine if he’d just visited. Didn’t he understand how much I needed to see him?

“You don’t care!” I said angrily.

“And how do you figure that out?” He asked coldly.

“Because I care now,” I said, “and if you cared as much as you said you would, you wouldn’t have left me alone.”

“You’re so selfish,” James said incredulously, “you’re so damn selfish.”

“I know I’m selfish, but you knew! You knew!” James sent me a questioning glance, “I told you that I needed you, and then you went away and left me anyway. Why would you do that?” The tears were welling up again now, “you knew.”

“Lily,” James muttered in a pained voice, “please don’t cry.”

“What difference does it make, I cry on you all the time.”

“I’ve never made you cry before,”

“You have,” I contradicted, sitting down on the desk next to him and looking down on the floor, “I couldn’t stand you not being there, I couldn’t stand it. How could you just..? I don’t understand.”

“I don’t either,” James said, “how are you managing to turn this back onto me?”

“Selfish, remember?” I muttered, the first tear falling from my left eye and landing on my leg.

“How are you turning me into the bad guy? You know full well about where I stand when it comes to you, it’s hardly a secret, and then you mess me around and never give me any straight answers, you let me get carried away then turn around and go get yourself tortured?”

“Carried away?”

“All this needing me shit.”

“I do need you.”

“Evidentially not, if you could just go fuck everything up on a whim.”

“I do need you; I just don’t want to need you.”

“Enlightening.”

“I wish you’d listen.

“You missed me, I get it,” James said dully, “thanks, Lily, but I’m not sure that’s going to cut it.”

“I missed you a lot.”

“Cause we’re such good friends, right?”

“No, James we’re not friends! I don’t want to be your friend!” He was so thick and adorable and, just, bloody hell – all my efforts to explain exactly what I meant through widening my eyes at certain moments seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, “we’re crap at being friends,”

“Then what the hell do you want from me?” James asked, his eyes flashing again, “cause it seems that I could love you till my back breaks and it still wouldn’t make the damn slightest difference to you, as long – of course – that there’s someone around to pat you on the back when you feel bad about yourself,”

“Not someone,” I said, “you,” James laughed humourlessly, running his hand through his hair and shaking his head, “this isn’t about me being needy and pathetic, well, not much – can’t you read the subtext here, James? Can’t you listen?”

“I usually mishear you,” James returned, “or else you just talk a lot of crap,”

“I like you a lot James,” I said, “is that plain enough? Or do you want me to elaborate further,”

“No, I got it,” James said, sending me a half hearted grin, “but that doesn’t change what you did.”

“It might explain it. Obviously, I’m not very good at loosing people. Maybe I was just, testing the waters.”

“God, you’re a bitch,”

“You did the same thing!” I snapped back, “don’t act like you’re completely ignorant, you knew how I felt and you knew I couldn’t handle it. It’s not... you’re guilty too. You, you hurt me too.”

“Stop talking like you understand,” James sighed, not looking at me again.

“Stop acting like I don’t! You made me feel like the worst person alive – not just because I’d hurt you and because, as Sirius continually pointed out I’d finally pushed you away, but because I needed you to be there and you weren’t! You made me feel like there was something missing and I hate that. I don’t want to not feel like myself when you’re not there, okay? Because that’s just, just so pathetic and I don’t know how I let it happen.”

“So,” James blinked a couple of times, “so you like me, huh?”

“Should have picked a Ravenclaw,” I sighed, letting my head rest on his arm for a second, “even a Hufflepuff could have gotten that quicker. Do you still hate me?”

“I never hated you.” James said, resting his chin on the top of my forehead and wrapping one of his arms around me.

“You must have done, to do that to me.”

“So you like me?”

“Shut up, James,” I said, leaning into his shoulder and surprising myself by starting to cry again, “I’m still upset with you.”

“Okay,” James said, “I’m still angry at you.”

“But, you’re not going to hold this against me for the rest of my life?” I asked, looking up at him. His hazel eyes were sparkling slightly and I wanted nothing more than just to stay locked in this classroom forever and never have to face everything else that was rubbish in the world.

“Just a week or two.”

“And then?”

“We’ll see,” James said.

I reached up and pressed my lips against his for a second, pausing to smile at him weakly.

“Sorry,” I said quietly, closing my eyes and kissing him again, “I didn’t mean to be so horrid, not really.”

“I’m sorry too,” James said, “I’m really sorry you were horrid.”

“James,” I sighed with an irritated smile and then he grinned and pulled me into a long hug, in which I held onto to him for a very long time – until, of course, we parted ways remaining just as angry and upset with each other as before. Of course.

*


“Ah, Miss Evans, Mr Potter – you’ve arrived,” Dumbledore said with his eyes twinkling again. I started a little when I saw the others already sat around his office, everyone but Rachel, and then it began to register that this wasn’t going to be about Head duties.

This was different.

My heart was beating my chest, vulnerable and open. It was a strange feeling. Similar to how I’d been feeling on September first. Just as scared. Just as honestly terrified, but excited too. And a little bit free. It was bloody James, who’d caused all this.

“As I have been saying... Mr Black here has been helping me out for quite some months now,”

James seemed just as surprised as I was. Sirius offered a little casual shrug before stretching his legs out and looking idly at the ceiling.

“But I think the time has come,” I stared at him, “it seems as though you have been practicing certain spells.”

 “We didn’t think you’d be mad about us using it sir,” Frank said quickly, leaning forwards “Because we all agreed, and it was for a good cause, and, it’s not illegal if... if the person consents.”

I wanted to glance at Remus for a moment, but I resisted. I’d long since accepted that Dumbledore knew everything that happened around here, but the idea that he’d known we were practising the imperious curse on each other was slightly frightening. Why hadn’t he tried to stop us? Unless he approved of what we were trying to do.

“A war is coming,” Dumbledore said, his eyes flat for a moment, “it seems unavoidable.”

“We wanted to be able to do something,” James said, “I know we’re just kids but, Sir, we wanted to...”

“Have you ever heard of the Order of the Phoenix?” Dumbledore said, folding his old hands and regarding us with a small smile.

*

It was snowing outside: flakes of white dandruff spinning to the ground and glittering in the weak December light. It was beautiful this time. I traced the frost that was creeping up the windows of the Hogwarts express for a moment before dropping my hand to my lap and pulling my robes closer around me – the train certainly wasn’t warm yet.

 “Well,” Sirius said from the opposite side of the compartment, “I’m already involved. I’m in.”

We had decided that we would discuss what Dumbledore had mentioned to us on the train, as the days running up to the Christmas holiday had been so full of catching up on homework, last minute checks on the muggleborn to Slytherin ratio of people staying at Hogwarts, James not talking to me but still sending me the most adorable glances very so often. There hadn’t been an opportunity, before right now, to weigh it all up.

“I’m in.” James said seriously. He was sitting opposite me in the compartment, our feet nearly touching in the middle. I looked back out the window.

“I think my recent mistake shows I’m in.” I said quietly. The ‘mistake’ bit was entirely for James’ benefit, of course.

“We’re in,” Frank said, “we discussed it.”

I wondered if it was nice to have somebody to speak for you, or horrible.

“I’m in.” Peter said quietly.

“Remus?” James questioned, the pause was long enough for me to turn away from the window and look at Remus instead. There was a long tense moment when he looked nervously at the floor.

“I... it’s just...” A hand went self-consciously to his hair. Such a Marauder action. It made me incredibly affectionate towards the lot of them, “it’s Mary. She made me promise not to let you fight,”

“What?” Peter asked. “How did she know?”

“She told me I had to make sure you’d all live you to your eighties and not get yourself killed and... she made me promise. She said that she didn’t care if you had a chance to fight You Know Who himself.”

Collectively, we all turned towards Sirius.

He’d gone shockingly white.

 “Okay,” He said, staring intently at his hands.

There was a long moment of silence. Remus looked apologetically at all of us.

“I’m still in,” Peter said, even quieter than before.

“Me too,” Alice affirmed. Frank nodded.

“Sirius?” James asked quietly. We couldn’t make that decision without him. This was his call. Mary... as much as she was my best friend, she was entirely more Sirius’.

“I’m,” His voice was thick with that uncomfortable emotion that made me want to run away and hide. Because this was Sirius, who I cared about, who was so... choked up, “already in, I can’t back out now,” He clenched his fists, “and, I’d say the same to her if she was alive.” His voice broke on the last moment, and he slumped down in his seat.

“I’m in,” I said, “I couldn’t be out if I wanted to be. I’m a mudblood.”

“Don’t call yourself that,” James said sharply.

“I thought you weren’t talking to me,” I smiled. James bit his lip and didn’t look at me.

“I’m not,” He said, unconvincingly.

“Really?” I asked, and then Alice elbowed me and pointedly nodded at Sirius. He looked as if he was dangerously close to tears again, or ripping someone’s head from the chest to vent his feelings.

“Let’s go for a walk,” James said quickly, grabbing Sirius’s arm and pulling him up onto his feet. “Lily?” He asked. I nodded, standing up and stepping out into corridor with the two of them.

“Why would she...” Sirius trailed off, “why would she make Remus make that sort of promise?” Sirius shook his head, “wouldn’t she have known that it was the impossible promise?”

“I think,” I said slowly, “she just wanted to make us stop and think. She wouldn’t stop us.”

“Wouldn’t she?” Sirius asked, “I don’t care if I die,” Sirius said turning round to face us, “I don’t. But... you guys – maybe you shouldn’t fight.”

“I don’t have a choice Sirius,” I said, squeezing his arm tightly and giving him a comforting smile.

James was silent for a few seconds. “You two are... the most precious people to me in the world and,” He paused again, “there is no chance in hell that I’d let either of you fight without doing everything within my power to make it safer for you.”

I nodded. Sirius nodded too. I linked my arm through his. The most precious people in the world? To James, I was precious... and they were precious to me too. Sirius was my brother in pain, precious. And James. How could he be anything but precious? They were my life. Far surpassing anybody else, or anything else.  So who cared if I needed them? Who cared if I was pathetic and crap?

“Precious.” I nodded, my heart tugging painfully in my chest.

*

The snow was even worse by the time we pulled up in Kings Cross, and I wondered exactly how many of the muggle trains were even running – a fine layer of white had settled across platform nine and three quarters, footprints scattered across it reducing the snow to mere sludge in several thick paths from the barrier.

“That term went really quickly,” I said softly, balling my hands up in my fists. The other’s were all beginning to move, collecting their belongings and chatting in enthusiastic and animated voices about snow, Christmas and having two weeks off.

“Merry Christmas, Lily!” Alice said, pausing at the doorway.

“You best be coming over on Christmas Day, Sirius, my Mum won’t take no for an answer,” James grinned, standing and pulling the last of the trunks down, “you don’t want to disappoint her.”

 “Course not,” Sirius said, “and tell her she’s free to visit it anytime.”

“Not after last time,” James said, “she was too horrified by the mess.”

“Bye everyone,” Rachel said, putting her head round the door of the compartment and offering us a little wave, “and Merry Christmas.”

“You too,” I said, and everyone offered similar sentiments. It was still snowing. Mum and Petunia wouldn’t be collecting me from the station this time; I would simply by apparating straight home. I’d written to Mum about it last week.

“Lily,” James said, pausing when it was just the two of us left in the compartment, “planning on staying here all Christmas?”

“Not quite,” I said, and then I smiled helplessly at him for a moment. James dropped the hand that was about to open the door and smiled back at me –we stood there for a few seconds, just smiling stupidly at each other, “am I forgiven then?”

“Oh, Evans you’re impossible.”

“I think you should talk to me again,” I said lightly, “Christmas spirit, and all that.”

“Fine,” James said, “we’ll pretend none of it happened.”

“Or we could just progress from the happenings and maybe reference the fact that we had a nice long conversation about things.”

“Nice?”

“Okay, not nice.”

“Am I supposed to be reading subtext again?” James grinned.

“Visit me over Christmas. I need to see you.”

“Need to see me?” James questioned with an eyebrow raise. I rolled my eyes at him and threw my arms around his neck, hugging him so tightly it nearly hurt. I didn’t care. There were a lot of things I didn’t care about anymore.

“Just visit me, soon.”

“Christmas eve? That’s in a couple of days.”

“Come to my house, I’ll write you into a couple more Christmas cards.”

“Sounds like a euphemism,” James said, taking my hand for a second and grinning at me – a proper James grin, “you could come visit me, too.”

“I could,” I said, “write to me.”

“You are needy.”

“Shut up,” I said, hugging him again, breathing in the set of his neck, before stepping back and grabbing hold of my suitcase determinedly.

“Bye, Lily,” James said, following me off the train and stepping onto the platform – sending me one last glittering wave before I had to apparate away. 

 






Next time: expect fluff. Or arguments. Or both.

Thanks for sticking with me for this story! When I'd finished writing this, I really liked the chapter. Now I'm doubtful but, well, I guess we'll see. Don't forget to review! I'm doing well at responding :)
 
 
 


Chapter 13: Inevitability.
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“When did he say he was coming?” Mum asked over breakfast.

“He didn’t.” I sighed, eating my dry cereal without much conviction. Every so often I would glance into the backyard, mainly because it was the only window in the room, but partly because I had no idea where he’d apparated to. Of course, despite the letters that had been flying from our houses in an unstoppable wave, neither of us had specified a time. Or maybe we had? The flight time between the two houses was enough that I forgot what question he was answering by the time I got his response.

I liked being back at home, but with the fact that enough time had passed for the snow to have melted away (now, all that was left was the traditional layer of Christmas-sludge and a new coating of frost each morning) and I still not seen James, nor any of my other Hogwarts friends, my patience was beginning to wear thin.

I hated that my life at Hogwarts and my life at home were so separate. It felt like Mum no longer had the strength to question me about magic – as if, now she was on her own, she didn’t have the strength to absorb a whole new world all on her own. Mary had lived amongst muggles, so she’d understood too, but with both of those links brutally cut it seemed I was isolated in a world of not-quite-being-understood. James visiting, even for a little while, had changed that slightly.

Anyway, I wanted to see him.

“Oh,” Mum said, glancing at the door with a worried expression “It’s just, Vernon’s coming over later and...”

“Yes of course,” I sighed, “he’ll be here soon.” Really, I had no idea. For all I knew James might not even be awake yet, it was only half nine – hardly early for the holidays. In my head I half wanted him to be awake and raring to go, but that was a slightly optimistic view of things. Mum turned her gaze on me, looking like she might be about to start trying to question me about life at Hogwarts.

Three times she’d attempted this, but whereas before she had somehow absorbed every little piece of information I’d given her they seemed to have all slipped away. Her previous understanding being replaced by perplexed expressions at the mention of ‘switching spells’ and ‘healing potions’ and my unwillingness to mention anything about the war meant that these conversations only reminded me of all the loss.

“I’m just going to... wrap up some presents,” I said quickly, offering her an attempt at a smile before desperately running to my room to escape. Anyway, from my box-room there was a tiny window out into the street.

I stood on my bed to crane my neck out of it, but it didn’t help. The only way I’d be able to gauge James’s arrival by looking out the window was if he’d flown here and was currently pressing his nose against my bedroom window and waving jovially. There was a fine mist accompanying the frost this morning, making it near impossible to identify any individual person on the street. Damn December.

I frowned and fell back on my bed. I’d wrapped my presents. With magic it had only taken a second and at the time I’d wanted it done as quickly as possible (it didn’t do to think too much about Christmas when there were a couple of very important people missing).

Instead, I pulled out my wand and twisted it through my fingers. Dumbledore had given us permission to take several books home from the library, and suggested some spells we might like to learn. I liked learning and the idea that there was something I could do to change things helped. All those evening cooped up in classrooms practicing spell work had helped me feel like I was back in control and the more I spent pouring through the library books and exploiting my magical skill the more I felt like myself again. Achievement reminded me of who I was and numbed the voice in the back of my head that was still mutely yelling about the dangers of becoming so damn needy.

“Expecto Patronum.” I whispered. A silver wisp of light burst from my wand. I stood up hastily, shut the curtain and locked the door. Despite having practiced the spell daily since I’d returned home (mostly after Mum and Petunia had gone to bed or before they woke up – at some point my bed at home had become the unfamiliar one, and it was difficult to sleep with the giddy anticipation of James’s next letter sitting in my stomach) I’d found the spell particularly tricky.

I bent down and reread the paragraph in the book, straining my eyes to focus on the instructions. The wand movement, the incantation and think of something happy.

That’s why. Again, the levels of pathetic that I’d stooped to was apparent, but it was much easier to feel happy with the knowledge that it was Christmas Eve and that James was coming to visit.

I’m going to see James today.

“Expecto Patronum.” I said, louder this time, and a rush of silver light burst from my wand and formed into something... a shape... a kind of horse? No, a dear. A doe... a bright silver doe.  I stared at it, standing up and watching it carefully.

“Lily?” Mum’s voice said, and then my door burst open and the silver doe burst into the corridor and down the stairs. It was bizarre to see something so inherently magical in such a little muggle house, but I liked it – my two worlds, colliding.

Whatever my mother had been about to say turned into a surprised ‘oh!’ Even Petunia poked her head out of her door and blinked stupidly at the patronus. I wanted to laugh with triumph – who knew that I, Lily Evans, still had enough happiness within me to produce a patronus? After everything, maybe I could still be strong.

And maybe that happiness had been rooted in another person, but was that a bad thing? Was it really?

The doe burst into a silver cloud as my thoughts turned slightly less positive and it was only then that I realised exactly why my mother was calling. James, adorable bespectacled messy-haired James was stood in the doorway blinking up at where my patronus had been only second before with a grin. “Hey Lily,” he said with a smile, nodding up it me.

“Hi,” I said, rather eloquently, freezing at the top of the staircase for a good few minutes before I remembered that the usual etiquette associated with these situations was to actually go and greet the person at the door. With a hug, probably.

Although this decision to walk wasn’t exactly sped up by the fact that Petunia hadn’t yet retreated to her room and my mother was still standing by the doorway blinking excitedly between the two of us, as if expecting some great romantic moment.

“Hey, James.” I said, finally walking down the stairs and hugging him tightly.

 “I see you mastered the spell then,” James grinned, “you’ve managed it quicker than Sirius and me.”

 “Do you want a drink?” I asked, leading him into the kitchen feeling absurdly self-conscious about my tiny little home. He’d seen it before, of course, but everything was slightly different now.

“I would have come earlier; I’ve been up since six, but... I didn’t know if you’d be awake.” James said, leaning against one of the kitchen counters and smiling at me as I flailed about getting a clean glass for him.

I’d gotten up at seven, not that I was going to tell James that. Just because I was a pathetic moron didn’t mean I wasn’t planning on upholding the remnants of my dignity for a little longer.

“I missed you,” I mumbled (apparently my voice box wasn’t actually cooperating with the whole ‘dignity’ thing). “Is that stupid?”

“Maybe a little,” James said evenly, “considering how many letters we’ve gotten through.”

“True,” I said with another small self-conscious smile, “we’ve probably talked more through letters than we have all term.”

“Not quite.”

“Well, if you factor in the weeks when you were avoiding me,” I pointed out, “and the other weeks when you weren’t speaking to me.”

“And the weeks when you were in the hospital wing?” James suggested, a grin with a hint of him not finding it particularly amusing at all shining through. I faltered slightly.

“Don’t talk about that,” I said, “I didn’t tell my Mum. She doesn’t need to know.”

“Didn’t want to worry her?”

“Mum’s got big plans for dinner,” I said sharply, crossing to the other side of the kitchen with two glasses, “I hope you’re hungry.”

“As always, I can’t wait for some of Mrs Evans’s beautiful cooking.”

“Vernon’s coming over again. So don’t say anything about magic, okay?”

 “Yeah,” James agreed, smiling at me over his glass, “I can probably just about manage it.”

“I don’t know if I trust you.” I muttered. James absent mindely played with the material of my cardigan, smiling up at me.

“I think you probably should.” He said carefully.

“If you insist,” I returned, loosing track of the conversations for a minute, “like I said, lot’s of food...” I nodded to the oven this time, were several large dishes were wrapped in silver foil waiting to be cooked. “You will be staying all day, won’t you?” I asked, suddenly feeling worried all over again.

“I’m here for as long as you want me.”

I very much doubted that.

*

“I’d show you the vegetable patch,” I muttered, sitting squashed up against James in the sitting room, “but it’s not much to look at right now – winter isn’t contusive to lots of carrots.”

“Maybe next time I visit,” James said with a grin, nudging me slightly with the shoulder that I was leaning on.

“Bit presumptuous.”

“Always.” James assured me with another grin.

 “Lily!” Petunia yelled excitingly, bursting into the living room looking happier than I’d seen her look since the wonderful news of her engagement to Vernon Dursley. It seemed, for a brief moment in time, she actually wanted to see me. “Vernon’s come round with our Christmas present! He drove all the way up here, just to...”

 “Our Christmas present?” I interrupted, shifting forwards slightly in my seat and blinking at her.

“Yes!” Petunia exclaimed, and then Vernon appeared in the doorway, looking more purple and bigger than ever – although it turned out that was because he was also attempting to carry in a large box which...

“It’s a television!” Petunia exclaimed delightedly. Even I sat up at that. “A television!” She repeated. By that point the huffing Vernon Dursley had placed the television on the floor and Petunia had thrown herself at him and kissed him enthusiastically.

I turned away slightly, grimacing at James for a split second until the moment was over and Vernon turned back towards us, bustling over.

“Good to see you again, Lily!” He said importantly, “and you to, James Potter was it?”

“Yes,” James said, getting to his feet and shaking Vernon’s outstretched hand, “good to see you again.” James added, looking very much like he was about to burst out laughing but just about managing to keep his face straight. I had to admit that the purple shade still tainting Vernon’s face was amusing, but I couldn’t deny that I was too caught up in the excitement about the television to find him amusing.

 Petunia looked torn for a second

She’d made it clear that she hated James as much as she hated me, and she no doubt wanted Vernon to do the same, but... “And good to see you too, Petunia,” James smiled. She visibly winced. He grinned even more.

I elbowed him.

 “Isn’t it exciting, Lily dear?” Mum asked stepping into the room and smiling at all of us. “Vernon spent all of his Christmas bonus on us,” I smiled at him appreciatively. “We used to have a television, James, but it packed it after the summer and we didn’t have enough... well, we couldn’t replace it until now.”

“That’s very generous.” James nodded.

“How are the wedding plans going?” I asked, this was big step forward for me – I had refused to talk about the stupid wedding since the conformation that it would be going ahead, and yet... It was truly wonderful of Vernon to buy us a television. Mum could watch it, maybe it would stop her missing Dad so much and... really, it was just a lovely thought.

“I still haven’t found my dress,” Petunia frowned. Vernon was lugging the television further into the room now. “But we’ve booked the church. Not the one up the road, that’s much too big – a small one. A little chapel.”

“Two of our friends are getting married, aren’t they Lily?” James said from the sofa.

“Oh who?” Mum asked excitedly. “Rachel? Alice? Ma..?” Then she realised her mistake and stopped suddenly.

“Alice and Frank, Mum, they won’t stop talking about it.” I complained, watching as Vernon huffed and puffed over pulling the television out of the box, then busied himself trying to get it upright.

“You couldn’t give me a hand, could you?” Vernon asked in James’s direction. His eyes lit up in fear.

“Oh James is terrible with electricals,” I said hastily, “they... they paid someone to install their television.”

“Nonsense!” Vernon exclaimed, “any man can set up a television, it’s part of the territory.” In that case I was entirely sure that James Potter was not a man. I was almost certain he had no idea what a television was. I’d be completely shocked if he did know. Still, he dropped to the floor and rather helpfully pocked the box containing the television as if this might help.

“If you could just plug that in the socket,” Vernon said distractedly. Petunia and Mum were now talking more about the wedding (Petunia keeping one of her beady eyes on James all the while). James turned around and stared at me with wide eyes. ‘The white thing’ I mouthed, nodding towards the wall. James looked back at it and considered the socket for a long time, and then the plug, then he decided to bite the bullet and attempt to plug the thing in.

Upside down.

I was creasing up behind him and now Petunia and Mum were paying attention to him too. Petunia looked horrified and my Mum seemed half amused and half utterly confused. I mimed turning it upside down. He sent me a bewildered expression, but managed it on the second attempt.

“I am a man then,” James said, obviously thinking that this was all you had to do. I shook my head at him, trying not to giggle. Thankfully Vernon seemed to think that James had been joking around, because he clapped him on the back and laughed.

“Your man?” James suggested in my ear, falling back on the sofa and putting his arm around me.

“Too cheesy.” I said in return, hiding my smile into his shoulder.

*

“Well,” James said after dinner, glancing out the window, “I best be off soon.”

“I’ll give you a lift.” Vernon said importantly, “where are you headed? How did you get here?”

There was a sudden tense moment in which Petunia started glaring at me.

“Train,” I said quickly, “he got the train here. It’s much too far for you to drive, Vernon.”

“I’ll give you a lift to the station. What time’s your train, James?”

“Er, half past.” James said hopefully. He glanced at me for support and I shrugged slightly and put my hands in my pockets. James looked adorably nervous but, surely Vernon was going to find out about magic at some point.

“Where are you from, then?”

“Vernon,” Petunia said loudly, “did you tell James about your new car? How you got it?”

“Oh, no.” Vernon said, “well, James -”

“But,” my Mum said quietly, taking the empty glasses from the table with a small smile and pouring herself another glass of wine, “shouldn’t you give James a lift to the station now, Vernon? Or else he might miss his train.”

“True, very true!” Vernon said loudly, “well, let’s go – are you coming along for the ride, Lily?”

“Yes,” I said quickly. It was probably best not to leave Vernon Dursley and James Potter alone together. Vernon made a big deal about putting on his large very ridiculous coat and telling James that he looked very northern because he hadn’t brought a coat (having just apparated down the street, he obviously hadn’t felt the need. To be honest, I didn’t think James owned a coat), to which James countered that we were the ones who were distinctly northern.

Petunia grabbed my arm, digging her sharp nails into my arm and pulling me into the utility room for a split second, “Lily, if your little boyfriend fucks this up for me I’m blaming you,” she muttered darkly, her nails still digging into her flesh, “if he says one thing to make Vernon suspicious then -”

“Then what?” I spat, ripping my arm from her grip and glaring at her, “what are you going to do, Petunia?”

“I hate you.” Petunia said simply, pushing past me and painting a sweet smile on her features in the corridor. I paused for a second, glancing down at my arms and feeling surprised at the crescent moon’s still present from where her fingernails had dug in. I blinked a couple of times and swallowed before following her out of the utility and back into the corridor, pulling my own coat off the hook and slipping it on.

“Bye James, Vernon,” My mum said with a smile, “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, Mrs Evans,” James returned with a beam, “the dinner was lovely – thank you for having me over.”

Mum beamed in the doorway, clutching her glass of wine with a smile.

I followed James and Vernon out onto the street. The beer boys were still hanging around, despite it being Christmas Eve – sitting on the low walls and sipping from cans. They watched as Vernon led us to his car, once again narrating the story of the work bonus and the bank error in his favour.

“James, in the front,” Vernon said with one of his impressive grins, “I want to show you the gear box – reverse is in a bit of a funny place, helps with control you see...”

“James doesn’t know much about cars,” I said helplessly, slipping into the back of Vernon’s car and watching James’s expression in the mirror as he nodded along to a conversation he quite clearly new nothing about. It was a good job that Vernon Dursley was so in love with himself that he could uphold most of a conversation on his own and the more James simply let him talk the more Vernon seemed to approve of him. Petunia was going to be furious.

“We’re here, couple of minutes to spare.” Vernon said with a grin, “nice meeting you again, James. We’ll be seeing you soon, I expect.”

“It depends whether Lily will have me over again,” James returned, smiling as he got out of the car.

He glanced at the station for a second, made a deal of checking his watch before taping on my window. I rolled it down, smiling at him.

“This was nice,” James said with a grin.

“Yeah,” I agreed, blinking up at him. The cold December air was beginning to seep into the car, but I couldn’t care less – I didn’t feel cold.

“You’re coming over on Boxing day, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Lily,” James said, leaning forwards and kissing me through Vernon’s back seat window. Before that moment, I don’t think I’d really appreciated how much I’d been leaning forwards to talk to him properly.  Before I could react he’d stepped backwards and was waving me off, Vernon was putting the car into gear and we were driving back up down the street.

“Bye,” I muttered quietly in the back of the car, unheard by Vernon’s tirade about how James was a ‘stand up chap’ and how it was difficult to find a ‘decent sort of bloke’ these days. Boxing Day couldn’t come soon enough.

*

“James is quite good looking, isn’t he?” Mum said as the three of us sat around the kitchen table, our two guests finally having gone leaving our house feeling much too empty and a little too big, despite its tiny size.

“Is he?” I asked distractedly, sending a triumphant look at Petunia who still hadn’t recovered from Vernon declaring that James was ‘awfully decent’ before kissing her goodbye and driving back into the centre city where he was currently living, “I hadn’t noticed, really.”

“His hair,” Petunia said primly, “he looks like he’s lived on the street all his life.”

“We can’t all be as smart as Vernon Dursley.” I said lightly, drumming my fingers against the table with a small smile.

“Now, now,” Mum said, twisting her wedding ring round her finger distractedly, “they’re both lovely.”

“Vernon has a car.”

“James is excellent on a broomstick,” I returned, “captain of the team, actually. Star player.”

“What, some stupid sport,” Petunia said primly, “Vernon has a job.”

“Well, slightly invalid argument considering we’re still at school. But yes, Vernon does have a job – working with drills. James wants to be an Auror, Mum,” I said lightly, “fighting all the dark wizards.” Petunia blanched visible at the words ‘dark wizards.’

“Ridiculous job.” Petunia muttered.

“Dangerous, yes. Maybe a little more noble than drills?”

“Vernon and I are going to buy a house.” Petunia said.

“James’s parents are ridiculously rich,” I said lightly, “they live in a manor.”

“A manor?” Mother asked, her eyebrows shooting upwards, “goodness, Lily, no wonder he was so polite.”

“Well,” Petunia said, her eyes flashing sharply, “this wonderful James hasn’t asked you to marry him, has he?”

I didn’t answer that, suddenly struck by how absurd this conversation was: yes, James and I had managed to sort out a lot of things but I wasn’t entirely sure that we could classify our relationship as ‘dating’ yet, but both Petunia and my Mum seemed to have taken that assumption away from the day. James. It was such a confusing and perplexing dilemma as to defining the relationship, because I had no idea what the results of our last conversation really meant. A mutual knowledge of liking the other, perhaps? Embracing that former mentioned like in the form of many letters and visits to my house? And cheesy comments, absent minded kisses and conversations.

There Petunia was talking about marriage.

We’d have to properly talk about it on Boxing Day, I decided.

Out loud I said, “maybe not, but he will.”

And that was certainly something that I wouldn’t be repeating to James any time soon. 

 




This chapter wasn't actually supposed to end here, but because I'm ill the motivation to write is lacking and I really wanted to put something in a queue soon. Thanks for all the reviews guys, I've responded to every review I've recieved this year and I'm working on the ones from before too. I've answered over 500 since 2012 started!

It's Azkaban month, so if your bored I'd love for you to check that story out. And, if not, it's TAOS month in March! Everyone get excited ;)

 


Chapter 14: Unwelcome.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

All attempts to produce a patronus on the rest of Christmas Eve and the following Christmas day resulted only in a cloud of silver mist, something which I found both irritating and confusing. I tried to emulate the excitement I’d felt before – reimagining the giddy and nervous feeling that James walking into my house seemed to create, but the feeling seemed to have lost its edge. So I tried other things: remembering going to Hogwarts (but then, Petunia had ruined that), remembering meeting friends, family Christmases and anything I could summon up – but all of it was tainted somehow.

I didn’t sleep on Christmas day and woke up late on Boxing Day, cursing myself for keeping James waiting. I took my time getting ready anyway; putting laborious amounts of effort into buttering my toast and brushing my hair until it was absurdly frizzy from the effects, pausing to try the patronus charm again – away from the window and instead in my box room – becoming more frustrated upon the realisation that I still couldn’t do it.

 I didn’t want to see James.

No, that was a lie, I wanted to see him – but all of a sudden there was a thrill of sickly dread which accompanied the excitement. After putting up with several conversations between Petunia, Vernon and my mother debating whether or not James was ‘suitable’ or whatever the rest of the spew they were spouting seemed to be about, the fact that we weren’t exactly dating was an incessant repetitive and horrible thought.

There were the doubts. Although I had spent plenty of time severely doubting that James was ‘in love’ with me (and given he hadn’t bothered with that line for awhile I suspected that he’d grown up and out of using that line too) and seemingly endless amount of time convinced that the reason James was being such an annoying git was because he wanted to humiliate me, but in recent years I’d accepted the fact that James would always be interested in me. And now, with the realisation that I’d told James Potter how I felt, not in so many words exactly, and he hadn’t immediately insisted we become a couple, well...

What if I had actually blown in? There were plenty of near misses with the end of James Potter’s patience, just as he’d had several full frontal hits with the end of mine, but I’d never thought that I had truly pushed him over the edge. Yet, Christmas Eve would have been the perfect time for James to say something about being a couple, taking my hand and then snogging me senseless. Instead, all that had happened was we had been midly-coupley and he’d kissed me goodbye. That wasn’t any different to the way things had been before!  And if he knew how I felt and that didn’t change anything then what the bloody hell was he playing at?

Plus, the number of times I’d kissed him despite the lack of official dating probably meant that I was climbing the slut rankings to the most absurd degree. For Merlin’s sake, before James the only person I’d ever kissed outside a relationship environment was Snape and, quite frankly, I tried very hard to pretend that had never happened.

“Lily, shouldn’t you be off?” My Mum asked, pushing open the door of my bedroom and glancing at where I stood suspended in front of the mirror with my coat half shrugged onto my shoulders.

“Yeah,” I said reluctantly, staring at my reflection with a frown.

“Are you okay?” Mum asked, stepping further into my room and pulling the coat over my shoulders, brushing away invisible specs of dirt and squeezing my shoulders for a second.

“Uhuh,” I said, dragging my graze from myself and taking in the lines in my mother’s face, her greying hair and how real her skin looked. I hated it that she had to age.

“Do you miss your father?”

“Yeah,” I said quietly, feeling tears prickle in the corners of my eyes, “he should have been here yesterday.”

Mum offered a grim smile at our reflection, squeezed my shoulder again before disappearing; “we all do, love. You’ve just got to remember to keep on living.”

*

I was fed up of winter. Now, icy rain was repeated whipped against the exposed skin of my face as I tried to walk through the rain to a safe apparition spot. The park again, everything seemed to pivot around this god damn park, which was deserted due to the weather. Even the usual dog walkers seemed to have stayed inside, leaving me as a lone figure crossing the grassy patches towards the collection of bushes – just in case.

The result of this was that when I arrived at the Potter’s residence for the first time I was going to be late, frozen and very very wet: none of which were things I particularly wanted for my first meeting with James’s parents.

James Potter’s parents. I knew they were old, but that was about it – I remembered Mary telling me that his Mum was nice, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on how she knew that or how it had come up in conversation. Anyway, I didn’t want to think about Mary. I was fed up of her clouding every single moment, an uninvited thought at the back of my mind, and I wanted –for once – to live through a moment without having to think about things that were missing.

I thrust my hands deep into the depths of my pocket as I stepped into the cover of the bushes, looking around once more to ensure that I really was alone.

I was so irritated and I couldn’t pinpoint why: I was angry at James for making things complicated, at Snape for existing, at Petunia for threatening me, at Dad for not being here and Mary for not being around to bitch with me and tell me exactly what to do.

I hated Mary sometimes. She’d always been like that, irrelevant as to whether she was dead or alive; she still had an impeccable ability to irritate me. She wasn’t there and I really really needed her. She’d gone through some weird, complicated relationship with Sirius that I’d always hated from afar, and now I was stuck not knowing how I was supposed to be acting or feeling and I knew that she’d have all the answers and she wasn’t bloody here. Since then, the only person I’d talked to about my problems was James and given that he was now the problem, I’d certainly screwed myself over.

I disapparated, having a degree of difficulty focus on the determination aspect.

Mary had never had a chance to apparate.

I chastised myself for being such a depressing sod and wrapped my arms around me, taking in the outside of James Potter’s most humungous house with a degree of awe and a degree of contempt. Being poor, I’d more or less spent quite a long period of my life hating anyone with more money than me and branding them as selfish but it would hardly due to explode about my views on finance today of all days.

Bent over slightly to block out the wind, I walked up the front path with my arms wrapped around me. I wished that I wasn’t so prone to getting obsessive and emotional about the stupidest thing – it seemed so ridiculous to be miserable when only a few days ago I’d been so happy.

There was no doorbell, but an ostentatious golden lion knocker with glittering red eyes. It was so typically James that I couldn’t help but smile a little as I reached up and then –

Before I could knock on the door the lion roared, the red eyes flashed slightly and the door was thrown open by two people who were, quite obviously, both waiting for me to arrive and were undeniably James Potter’s parents. Well, if he hadn’t already mentioned that they were elderly I would have guessed grandparents, but the likeness was so startling that it took me a few moments to recover.

My expression of shock seemed enough to cause the pair some concern: “oh, dear is she.... is she all right?”

“ – I told you to turn off the knocker,” Mrs Potter said, “I said it was a bad idea when we had new visitors. Lily, dear, it is Lily isn’t it? Do come in, you must be freezing.”

“Horrible weather,” Mr Potter agreed, “the fire’s on in the pantry? If you’d just like to...”

My distinctly muggle coat was stripped from my shoulders and hung up, and both of James’s parents led me through what felt like a maze of corridors and doors to the aforementioned pantry, sat me down in front of the fire and began to ask me exactly what I would like to drink.

“Just... pumpkin juice,” I finished finally, “thank you.”

“I’ll go!” Mr Potter said, offering me a wink before bustling out the room.

“Don’t mind him,” Mrs Potter said, “we’re used to having the others around here all the time, but James has never brought a girl around before – my husband is just a little excited, Magnus can’t resist any opportunity to humiliate him...”

“That’s okay,” I returned with a smile, “you’re house is lovely.”

“Thank you, dear,” Mrs Potter said with a smile, “much too big for the three of us, but Magnus won’t here of selling the family home – he’s always so bloody sentimental.”

“Well,” I said, half tempted to say ‘you also have a lovely son’ but unsure as to how weird that would sound on a scale of one to ten, or how long it would take to deflate James’s inevitably arrogance about hearing such a thing. Instead, whatever sentence I thought I might say falls rather flat after 'well', so I spend a couple of seconds looking at my knees.

I was struck by the thought that James didn't know I was here yet and that didn't make me feel any more comfortable.

Mr Magnus Potter returned holding a tray of pumpkin juice and set it down near the table. “Sorry about scaring you, Lily,” he said sheepishly, “I set the knocker to scare one of our more amusing relatives yesterday.”

“Oh don’t worry,” I said, taking my glass of pumpkin juice and taking a sip “I was just a bit nervous about meeting you, really.”

“We don’t bite.” Mrs Potter said.

“Unless you’re tasty.” Mr Potter added, sending me another wink. My bad mood seemed to be dissolving somewhat and I found myself holding back the desire to laugh – the whole thing was just so bizarre.

“Come now, Magnus, I don’t think Lily does too badly on that front,” Mrs Potter grinned in return, “James could do a lot worse,” Then I did laugh and the Potter’s seem to like that. “Oh, dear, I’ve been so rude – I’m Carolyn and this is Magnus,” She said cheerfully, her cheeks flushing as she smiled. She had such a lovely round face and would have once been very pretty, but I was still struggling to get my head around the idea that these two people, these elderly people, could possibly be James’s parents, “it really is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” I said, taking a less tentative sip of my drink – convinced, at least, that they weren’t going to poison me, “I’m Lily Evans, but I think you know that...”

“Yes,” Magnus Potter said eagerly, “James has been quite forthcoming with information about you over the years.”

“We did worry,” Carolyn said, “because he didn’t mention you for a little while after the tragedy of that poor girl, but we didn’t want to pry. Now, here we are!” I was now convinced that they had no intention to inform James that I’d arrived and I wasn’t quite sure what I thought about that. If I should have been alarmed, I wasn’t any longer.

“Carolyn,” Magnus warned carefully.

“Oh dear!” She exclaimed, “Oh, no – I’m awfully sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned Mary –”

“No, no,” I waved it away, “It’s quite all right.”

“But it was terrible to see Sirius in such a state,” Carolyn sighed, her eyes travelling to the ceiling for a moment, “it’s always... so sad.” She finished and I truly believed that she felt emotion about Mary, a girl who she’d met once.

That made me angry, though, not because of Carolyn Potter but because the reason she was sad was because Mary was young, when in reality it would have been just as horrible and just as life changing for me if Mary had been thirty or fifty, or like James’s parents seemed to be, in her seventies (or near to them): it wasn’t a tragedy because she was sixteen, it was because she was Mary McDonald and she’d been my best friend.

“James says that you’re Head Girl,” Magnus said eagerly – both of them ignoring their own glasses of pumpkin juice – “and a muggle born to boot! That’s a dangerous position, Lily,” He seemed to delight in this prospect and he seemed so much like James that I had to wonder whether this is exactly who James would become when we were old. “Dumbledore must have a lot of faith in you.”

“Mum, Dad,” James said, standing in the doorway looking mildly amusing and mildly affronted as he saw me sat with his parents drinking pumpkin juice, “did you not think to tell me Lily was here?”

“No, dear.” Carolyn said cheerfully.

“We thought you’d have heard the lion.” Magnus added, neither of them looked remotely sheepish.

“You put the lion on?” James grinned, shaking his head as he sat down on the seat next to me, “I bet you crapped yourself.”

“I was... surprised.” I admitted, my bad mood ebbing away even more as James grinned and plucked his mother’s pumpkin juice off the tray.

“Bloody liberty,” Carolyn Potter said, “no respect for your parents at all.”

And then she took her husband’s drink and sat back on her chair with a satisfied smile.

*

I couldn’t decide who was more shocked when the preparation for dinner began: me, when I realised that James was going to be the one to cook dinner, or Carolyn when she realised James hadn’t told me that he could cook.

“James!” She’d said, “I thought you’d been trying to chase the girl! What did we tell you about using what you’ve got? You could have been dating her in second year if you’d told her that you can whip up the best roast dinner I’ve ever tasted!”

“Necessity,” James had explained as he set about cooking in the kitchen, “Mum’s too tired to cook half the time and Dad is just terrible, so I guess I sort of just... took on the duties.”

Now, with much casual banter about how James had failed to get me interested for a good seven years, we were sat in another of the Potter’s many rooms talking about the future. James and I were sat on the sofa, our arms pressed up against each other, but other than that the only physical contact we’d had was when James had attempted to teach me how to mix the marinade for our chicken and that had ended when I’d accidentally flicked some onto his glasses. After that I’d been confined to a seat in the corner of the kitchen to watch.

And now, with the initial delight at James’s eccentric and wonderful parents dissipating, I was beginning to feel irritated about the whole are-we-together-or-at-least-going-to-be-together conundrum.

“So, Lily, do you want to join James and Sirius’s little Auror club?” Magnus asked.

“Can’t really,” I said, forcing myself to smile at them, “I’m a muggleborn... it’s sort of dangerous for anyone to take in muggleborn employees right now.” I didn’t say mudblood, but inside I was thinking about it.

“Did you see the article about Rackharrow’s Apothecary?” Carolyn asked seriously, “Burnt down for employing a young muggleborn girl like yourself, Lily. They’ve got a mark now, shot it into the sky for everyone to see.”

“Horrible,” Magnus said, shaking his head, “bloody stupid reason to judge someone,” he added, “ever since he employed that girl he’s earned himself a reputation for selling the best Healing Potions on the side.”

“That’s why they did, Magnus,” Carolyn said, “she was too successful, giving the others hope. You want to stay out of that, Lily. Keep yourself safe. Get your family to support you until the whole thing blows over.”

“Will it just blow over?” James asked, taking my hand.

“Eventually.” Magnus said.

“It’ll more be me supporting my family,” I admitted. “My Dad died last year and we’ve always been hopelessly poor.” I hadn’t admitted that truth out loud before and James’s grip around my fingers tightened: I’d tried to avoid thinking about a future outside Hogwarts, where there were no daily meals or protection from Dumbledore.

“No one’s going to let you starve, Lily,” James said, “and Vernon’s up for that promotion, remember?” I smiled at that, remembering once again Vernon’s continual tirade about James being a top-chap. It was the first time I’d agreed with Vernon Dursley. James was tip-top and fabulous, and I was so glad that I’d come. I almost wished that I’d come earlier, because night had already fallen over the house and at a touchable point in the future I was going to have to bid him farewell again.

“It’s snowing!” Magnus said. He pointed his wand in the direction of the window, and both James and I turned around in our seat to watch as the white flakes fell and flittered to the ground.

“Last snow of the year, I bet.”

“You want to go outside?” James asked, grinning.

“Yeah.” I answered, letting him pull me up to my feet and grinning.

“You okay?” James asked when the cool breeze hit our faces outside and I was struck by how warm it had been in the Potter’s house.

“I think so.” I answered, leaning against one of the Potter’s patio tables that had been pushed against the wall for the winter. A thin layer of frost seemed to have crept upon them and it was icy to the touch, but I didn’t care – I felt sort of toasty, actually.

James lit a floating oil lamp that I hadn’t noticed before with his wand and I stood beneath its balmy glow and watched him mess around; throwing up his hands and catching snowflakes for my amusement. He was so silly and special and precious.

“I don’t believe it.” James muttered, reaching out a hand and catching a snowflake on one of his fingers.

“What?” I asked as I turned to look at him.

“That each snowflake is unique,” he returned, holding one up under the gas porch light and inspecting it, “they all look just the same to me. At least two of them have got to have been the same in the whole history of forever.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but wouldn’t that make them pretty unique too?”

“That makes no sense,” James grinned, turning round to look at me and shaking his head slightly, “you nutter.”

“No,” I said, “like twins are unique because there are two of them, only in reverse.”

“They’re pretty, anyway,” James continued stretching a hand up to the sky and catching another, “I just want to know who examined every snowflake ever.”

 “You’ve got snow in your hair,” I smiled, reaching forward to brush it away and getting caught up looking at him for a moment before recovering and taking a step backwards. “Your parents are lovely.” I smiled.

“They got more eccentric as they got older.”

 “They make my family look like trolls.”

“No they don’t, they make your family look like wild young things.”

“I think that’s the only time Vernon Dursley has ever been called wild,” I laughed, James smiled again and brushed a snowflake of my cheek, “I’m so glad I’m here.” I muttered quietly.

“And here I am thinking you were having reservations.”

“Not about you,” I returned, “about coming here, but... consider all reserve cast away.”

“Carefully considered,” James returned, “although I suggest you keep some of it: my parents may be eccentric, but if you decide to run around my house stakers I’m sure they’d still be concerned.”

“Oh don’t worry, none of you are going to see me stakers.” I quipped back, a breeze blowing more snow into our faces.

“Ah, Evans,” James grinned, “give it time.”

I went to hit him, but I caught my hand and I didn’t mind – not really, because this was just the nice ease of conversation that sometimes we fell into. Just flirting, really. I hadn’t known I was capable of it.

“This is so stupidly romantic,” I said irritably as I looked up at the dark sky, “it’s so... annoying.”

“Might as well make the most of it,” James shrugged, pulling at my hand so that I moved closer to him – it was probably more instinct than anything else – before kissing me again.

There was something about the moment, I thought maybe it was because this two week holiday was a strange rest bite from what had been a gruelling and tough term, because the whole world seemed to have stilled over the Potter’s house and here, right now, it didn’t feel like there was anyone missing – It was always just supposed to be James and me, standing outside in the snow, kissing.

With the prickling cold advancing in on my skin, James hand warm in mine and our foreheads practically touching under the glow of the gas lamp it was difficult to remember the misgivings I’d had only this morning, but the second James broke away it all came rushing back and crushed the moment and my the blind hopefulness that a couple of flakes of snow had woken up in the pit of my stomach.

“The snow’s stopped.” James said, pressing his lips against mine again. Maybe that was why.

“Wait,” I muttered, wanting to step backwards but not wanting him to relinquish his all important hold around my waist, on one of my hands; holding me together. “James,” I muttered, losing my thread as I tried to remember how to breathe and think and articulate words into sentences, “how many times have I kissed you?”

His face twisted slightly, but he didn’t let go – that was a good sign. James was clever enough to know where I was going with this, just as I’d expected.

“Not enough.” James returned, kissing my cheek to prove the point and making me take another little step towards him. The gas lamp was no longer directly above us, meaning long shadows hid large parts of James’s face. That made it worse somehow, but the gap no longer seemed too difficult to breach.

I was Lily Evans and I could be gutsy enough to bring the damn thing up myself (if he wasn’t going to, and it looked like he wasn’t – typical male to be fine with any situation that involved him getting to kiss me without being formally attached and what not).

“Right,” I smiled, “so do you think you’re going to...ask me out, at any point?” It felt strangely unreal to say something so outright and bold out right, considering we’d spent months avoiding mentioning the issue or only bringing up things when we were angry and arguing.

“There’s an issue with that – wait! Lily, give me a minute before you freak out. I swore to you that I’d only ask you out once more ever.”

“And I messed it up?” I asked, frowning up at the sky. James was right. The snow had definitely stopped falling now.

“Yeah,” James said, “I probably helped.”

“So where does that leave us?” I asked, slipping my hand – which I had wrenched out of his a couple of seconds previously at his ‘issue with that’– back into his and looking up at him. James was so absurdly lovely, and sometimes it was difficult to get my head around exactly how any of this had happened. Me. James. Arguing. Mary.

“Here.” James said with a shrug.

“Guess we’ll just be friends then,” I said with a casual sigh, my arms around his neck.

“I have a better idea,” James said and then, in my ear, “you could ask me out.”

“Hey James,” I began quietly; “do you want to go out with me?”

“No,” James said, turning back and kissing me on the nose, “never.”

“Please?” I suggested.

He grinned again, raising his eyebrows and taking up a mock high voice; “Not in a million years, Evans, not if you were the last woman on the planet, I’d rather go out with a slimy Slytherin because you’re a bigheaded arrogant prat and... and you think you’re better than everyone else because you’re soooo arrogant.”

I pouted slightly and gave a sad little shrug, resisting breaking out into a big smile by very little, “But James,” I said, wrapping his arms around me and staring into his eyes, “it’d make me really happy if you did.”

“Okay,” James said, reaching up and brushing a piece of red hair out of my face, “because you’re so persuasive, but –“

“What?”

“Just think how much easier that would have been, if that’s what had happened the first time” and then we were kissing, properly this time; no half-arsed pecks and distracted stolen kisses, because somehow – incredible as it seemed – I’d managed to fix something. For all the times I’d screwed up and walked into situations to get myself tortured and kissed James at moments when he deemed it inappropriate (even though he did exactly the same thing – hypocritical oaf). Somehow, within a short space of time I’d managed to decided that yes, I did like James and managed to work out a nice normal manageable situation – like, a functional relationship.

I couldn’t wait to tell Sirius. March, indeed. He’d regret ever suggesting something.

We stood there, looking at each other for an embarrassing length of time in which I made a note that I probably shouldn’t be thinking about Sirius right now and wondering whether I was still concerned about being a pathetic person dependent on someone forever. I hadn’t quite got to an answer, because there was something I didn’t trust in James’s eye.

Then he was stepping backwards, dropping his hands, looking up at the sky and -

“Wait,” James muttered, “is this a good idea?”

What?”

“I think we need to talk.”

“What the damn hell is there to talk about, Potter?” I demanded, my hands finding their familiar place on my hips as I stared at him. James didn’t look at me for a minute, distractedly running his hand through his hair for a second.

“Let’s go inside.” Then James was pushing himself away from where he was leaning on the patio tabls, pushing the door open and disappearing inside without ever turning around to see if I was following him. He knew I would.

“Well that’s even more ridiculous,” I said loudly, not even bothering to regret my word choice, “you can’t say we need to talk and then just bloody walk off!” The door fell shut and undoubtedly muffled the rest of my words before he heard them, and I wondered if that was for the better.

I let myself have a few more seconds of solitude outside for a moment. Everything had seemed so absurdly perfect: stood outside beneath the sky and a levitating oil lamp, finally talk about things and sorting them out. Instead, it seemed, all I’d managed to achieve was the shortest relationship known to man.

Oh God, we’d been dating for about three minutes and he was going to dump me.

I laughed shakily: if James decided that it wasn’t a good idea, then I’d practically achieved the impossible – breaking James’s seemingly eternal commitment to our cause through one, short kiss. I didn’t even know what I’d done and that made it both more horrible and more comical in equal measures. I didn’t think this talking business had sunk in yet. After all, I wasn’t yet hysterical or screaming.

Sirius was going to have a field day over this. Maybe omit several details upon retelling.

I sighed, brushing my hands through my hair, resisted the urge to cry and finally, resolutely, followed James back inside.





James Potter: Romance killer since 1960.

It was never in the plan to end this chapter here, but I did it anyway. I hope you enjoy. I haven't had the pleasure of writing anything with such a cruel ending for quite awhile, so now everything seems to be ending in such a manner (you can tell it's late, I'm talking like a right idiot).

But, it's TAOS month! So you should expect two or three updates this month, so really it won't be a very long wait at all. So you should all get excited and join in TAOS month. Obviously, it's not going to be as good as Azkaban month... or IS IT? I guess it's all to been seen.

(stop talking AC)


Reviews are always lovely :)

 
 


Chapter 15: Sincerity.
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“So, you meant talk immediately,” I said, glancing around James Potter’s library (it really did take riches to the extreme when you have your own bloody library), “and you wanted to go inside because you actually thought it was cold.”

“Yeah,” James said, running a hand through his head and offering me one of his grins, “you’re the one making this all dramatic Lily – I’m just suggesting we don’t sit outside and freeze to death before we get anything sorted.”

“You still walked off,” I said reluctantly, “and left me outside.”

“You were supposed to follow.”

“Why should I?”

“Because it’s my house?” James suggested. “That’s what you do in people houses, right? You follow them?”

“Don’t be condescending James, it doesn’t suit you.” I returned stiffly, folding my arms and looking round the library feeling vulnerable all over again. Anger at James either resulted in an explosion of truths or blocking everything off to be exploded at a later date, and I’d more or less been preparing myself to join Sirius in the repressed emotions club... but then James had told his parents he was going to finish showing me around the house, took me to the library and repeated the sentiments about talking. Now, it didn’t seem like I quite had the right to be angry and closed off, but I was still bitter and resentful – so, back to how I’d felt this morning essentially.

“Being all superior suits you,” James grinned, “you look cute.”

“Don’t push me.”

“You can’t start attacking me or yelling at me in my own house.”

“You tricked me here to make me talk about things.” I accused, finding it hard not to smile a little bit. I turned my back on James and faced the rows of books instead, although knowing James he’d probably recognise that I wasn’t really mad at him. Not really really.

“Well you’re so bloody reluctant,” James returned, too close behind me, “I just think we should talk, that’s all. Is that so unreasonable?”

“You’re the one who gets me to ask you out, says yes and then changes your answer.”

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

“Talk about mixed messages.”

“Thought I’d follow your lead,” James continued, his head practically resting on my shoulder and his body close behind mine, “see if it’s all changes you resent, or just – ”

“I don’t see what there is to talk about.”

“Well you wouldn’t, would you?” James asked, stepping backwards. I turned around to face him, hand on hip and waiting for an explanation for all the words that he was throwing out there. He looked tired. Well, he wasn’t the only one.

“I don’t see why anything has to change, anyway.”

“It’s driving me crazy, even if you’re okay with it.” James said, taking a seat at one of the tables and gesturing to the chair opposite. I wanted to argue with that, because it was so stupid and awkward to take seats opposite each other and to be just out of arms length. I didn’t, because chances were, we were going to argue anyway and there was no need to start the yelling prematurely.

“What’s driving you crazy?”

“I don’t know what the hell’s going on in your head, Evans. I probably never will, but it’d help to have some idea of what you want from me before we start this.”

“It’s not a business contract: I don’t have bloody terms and conditions, Potter.”

“So, I was talking to Sirius – ” James began, acknowledging the wit of my comment with a small nod. Thank you very much, James.

“What did he tell you?” I asked, folding my arms over my chest and making a point of not so accidentally kicking James’s left foot whilst I stretched out my legs. James retracted his legs, cool and calm as anything. It took so much to really get under his skin. It was irritating. If I was angry, I wanted him angry too.

Then I reminded myself of how abysmal the week in the hospital wing without James had been and decided that it was probably for the best.

“He said something about you having abandonment issue.”

“Tosser,” I muttered viciously, “you can’t trust anyone.”

“Are you purposefully being ironic?”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Come on, Lily, what did you expect? He’s my best friend; of course he was going to tell me what you said.”

“Yeah,” I said bitterly, “so if I don’t want you to find out about something, who am I supposed to talk to? It seems like if you take out you and Sirius I haven’t got anyone else left.”

“Alice,” James said quietly, “Lily, if this has a chance of working out we need to be honest with each other. There’s a lot of stuff we just haven’t talked about it and I think... I just, well, it’d be a God damn waste of effort if I chased you for years then we didn’t even work out properly because we didn’t start in the right place.”

“But this is so forced!” I complained. “I can’t just bleed my guts onto the floor because you think it’ll be good for us, surely this is supposed to come spontaneously once we’ve started like... being together.”

“How much more together do you want?” James half-laughed. “Lily, we’ve met each other’s parents, we’ve visited each other’s houses, we’ve written forest-worth of letters, we hold hands, we do couple stuff, we argue... the only thing we don’t do properly is talk. Maybe you’ve been in denial or whatever, but we’ve practically been dating for awhile and then only thing left to determine was whether you actually wanted anything to do with me or if you were just -”

“How could you think that?” I asked stiffly. “You’re still convinced that I’m just messing you around.”

“Which is why we need to talk,” James insisted, “because I don’t understand you. That’s probably not going to score me any points, but it’s the truth. I mean, you know how much I like you – but I don’t have a clue what goes on in your brain. The cruciatus thing, how you could just leave at the end of last year, when you stopped hating my guts – I don’t get any of it.”

“Well who says I do,” I answered miserable, “can’t we just forget about it.”

“No, that’s the point Lily – we need to talk it out. Otherwise, in the future it’ll just cripple us.”

“I don’t care about the future,” I said, “I just don’t want to have this conversation right now. Let’s go stand outside and hold hands or something.”

“It’s sleeting now,” James said, nodding towards the window, “you feel free to stand outside on your own, but you’ll have to hold your own hand.”

“I did stand outside on my own,” I retorted, “right after you stormed inside and made me look like an idiot to your parents.”

“Do you care that were arguing now?”

“We’re arguing because you’re making this into a really big deal.”

“This is a big deal for me Evans!”

“Stop using my second name when you’re mad at me,” I snapped, “I hate it.”

“Why?”

“Because you used to do it all the time and it made me so mad that you’d prattle on about caring about me and then you couldn’t even be bothered to use my first bloody name. I was half convinced you didn’t know it for about four months.”

“Okay,” James said, “good.”

“No, it’s not good!” I muttered irritably. “Nothing about this conversation is going to be good in any way. I hate being forced to talk about things, and if you ask me why, so help me Potter I’ll –”

“You use my second name.” James pointed out quietly. I felt my face flush with a mixture of indignation and discomfort at this home truth. For a few seconds I avoided looking at him, took a few deep breathes before meeting his eyes again.

“Do you hate it?”

“No.” James said, reaching out and taking my hand. I melted slightly. “But, I’ve always liked it when you get mad, so I suppose it’s different.”

“Why?” I asked wearily. “What’s so entertaining about getting me worked up?”

“Mostly, it’s the stuff you come out with,” James grinned, “you talk some right bullocks when you’re pissed off and then because you’re all passionate and fiery and it makes me want to sit back and just watch you fume.”

“Or stoke the flames.” I added, a tiniest shadow of a smile creeping back on me.

“Or that,” James agreed, “I know you’re not right when you don’t get angry properly. Like, before you left Hogwarts last year you’d never yell or get mad or throw things –”

“I don’t throw things.”

“Tantrums?” James suggested, squeezing my hand slightly. “But I knew you weren’t okay, then. That’s why I was worried, that’s why I tried to talk to you on the day...”

“The day my Dad died,” I said heavily, remembering, “thank you. I’m so horrible, James, here you are the very picture of caring and compassionate and me...all I do in this story is yell at you and get fiery.”

“That’s not fair,” James said evenly, “you’ve always been more of the caring and compassionate type, you just happen to be the exception to your rule. As I am to yours.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” James said, “correct me if I’m wrong, but you may have muted the ‘everyone has equal rights, even Slytherins, House elves, sock puppets, Hufflepuffs, muggles and doormats’ and that all the former mentioned people should have the right to be judged on themselves and not the stereotypical associations and well.. all that crap. You know I’m an arse, Lily – it’s no secret that we continually picked on Snape, that we used to make fun of Mary years ago, that we pranked people and humiliated them and then... you, well, I’m the only person you’ve ever humiliated and, well, regarded as less than yourself.”

“You weren’t that bad,” I said, “and now you...”

“We still hex Snape.”

“Drown him in his sleep, for all I care.” I mutter viciously.

“Why do you hate him so much?”

“It’s more the fact that he exists.” I muted, sending James a look.

“Don’t lie to me, Lily.”

“He blackmailed my dying best friend, what isn’t there to hate? More than that, he manipulated me he... if he hadn’t written that stupid note then I wouldn’t have stepped forward and then –“

“Mary wouldn’t have fallen down the stairs.” James finished.

“She’d still have died,” I said viciously, balling my free hand into a fist, “but she might have lived to her seventeenth birthday. I hate that because, what he did, I get to blame myself that Mary never lived to be seventeen. I know she might have stepped back anyway, so don’t say it, I know that it wasn’t really my fault but I... it still won’t go away.”

“Yeah,” James said, his forefinger pressing into the back of my hand as he looked at me carefully, “but you know no one ever blamed you.”

“Sirius did, for a minute.”

“Sirius blamed everyone for a minute.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, taking another deep breath, “I know. I really do like you, James,” I said finally, “like... you’re the most important person... I just, I don’t know. Abandonment issues and what not.”

“So?”

“That’s Lily talk for don’t ever leave me, please.”

“Is that why you freaked out so majorly about the whole... cruciatus thing.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I tried to explain it to you.”

“Honestly,” James said, “you said you liked me and then I pretty much forgot everything else you said. Got carried away.”

“Too cute,” I said, “really. And you better start listening, if we’re dating.”

“You better forgive me for missing the point sometimes then,” James returns, “particularly if you’ve said something extraordinary.”

“Extraordinary?”

“Like, I like you or, I miss you, or it’s nice to see you James.”

I smiled at that and kissed him over the table. Even with the table digging into my front there weren’t many things I’d rather do than kiss James.

“Okay, so... tolerance? You’ll be more tolerant about... ah, you’re already pretty damn tolerant James. Why haven’t you just got fed up of me and left to go snog a blonde?”

“Honest answer?” James questioned. “Challenges are fun. And, obviously I care about you.”

“Right,” I laughed, “good addition to your answer, Potter.”

“Thank you, Evans,” James returned, “sorry, Lily.”

“No,” I said, frowning slightly, “that was okay. I’d rather you just be slightly annoying than you, like... tailor yourself around people. You do that when you’re upset and... it’s like you’re not being you anymore.”

“I’m beginning to see a fault with this talking lark,” James said, “say we’re arguing about something, we now both know exactly how to piss the other person off. I call you Evans and don’t act myself and you...”

“We are going to argue though, aren’t we,” I said, threading both hands through James’s across the table, “I mean... I think I’m glad we’re going to argue. It’ll feel more normal. I don’t mind arguing with you... I just don’t like it when we don’t talk. Yes, I know that’s a contradiction from earlier...”

“Are we going to talk about the torture?”

“I suppose we can’t avoid it,” I agreed grudgingly, “but I don’t really understand it myself.”

“Okay, try and make me understand.”

“It’s the future thing, maybe.” I said, trying not to look at James as I thought about what I’d done. Here, sitting in James Potter’s library making sure a group of Death Eaters found me with the intention of being tortured sounded insane, but it felt different at Hogwarts where I was gradually becoming aware that there were quite a few people whom I’d shared lessons with since I was eleven who were going to want to kill me. Hell, they already wanted to kill me.

“Lily,” James said quietly, “I’m not going to get mad at you again – just explain.”

“The war feels so real,” I continued, “I don’t know, I just feel... and everyone’s so mortal. I don’t want to die, James. I want to fight and I want to live. So part of it.... I just wanted to know what I was up against. And then I wanted to test myself to see what I can handle. That stupid duel with Mulciber, no one thought I could take care of myself except Sirius... and that’s probably because he doesn’t really care if I get beat up a bit, and I want to be taken seriously.”

“I guess I can understand that.”

“And then I knew you’d be mad, but I don’t want anyone to ever think that I’m just a, like, extension of you. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve always been slightly reluctant about the prospect of us getting together – ”

“Really?” James grinned.

“-so then,” I interrupted, “when it felt like it was going to happen I was all conflicted and, I don’t know, mad at myself for contradicting everything I’ve said for years. I didn’t want to... I didn’t want to hurt you I just wanted to make you mad. I don’t know, James, its complicated: all I know is that I hate the idea of the future and I can’t stand thinking about the past.”

“Lily,” James said, “you know I’m not going to let you starve to death when you can’t get a job, right?”

“I don’t want to be some silly, financially dependent girl.”

“Jesus, Evans – I mean, Lily – don’t start on some stupid feminism angle. Sirius is slowly spending his way seriously close to financial insolvency, Remus isn’t going to be able to get a job and who’d employ Peter? Chances are, the Potter family fortune is going to be split at least five ways.”

“Don’t... I just don’t like you talking like that. You don’t get it James; I don’t want to think about the future.”

“Why, Lily?”

“Because, James! No one knows what’s going to happen in the future and then you plan for it and everyone goes wrong.”

I could feel the fear creeping up on me again, what Mary’s death had ignited and what my father’s death had confirmed: anyone could die at any single moment. That we were all woefully, bitterly mortal. It was easier to push the fear of death away before the talk of the Order had crept upon us, before I’d been reacquainted with my mother and noted the new leathery quality to he hands, before coming to James’s house and seeing how truly old his parent’s were.

“What are you scared of?”

“Well what if we’re all dead?” I demanded, leaning forward on the desk and blinking a lot. “What if we all plan some great shiny future together and then you go and die?”

“Lily,”

“No, don’t tell me that’s a stupid thing to say. People die all the time. The second we’re not at Hogwarts anymore, none of us are safe – no Dumbledore to protect us, joining the order, my blood heritage. You know what? I think Mary’s right: I think we’re all going to die,” I took a deep breath, “and anyway,” I interrupted before James could talk about something else, “why won’t Remus get a job?”

“Ah, shit.” James muttered, running his hands through his head. He looked pale, but I couldn’t decided whether that was because of my ‘we’re all going to die’ comment or because he seemed to have let something slip about Remus: either way, he should have expected these sort of things before he started to get me to open up.

“Explain.”

“I can’t.”

“I thought we were having a talk?” I suggested, pulling one of my hands out of his to make a point (but not moving the other, because the point wasn’t really that important).

“Yeah, well, aren’t I allowed a little secret?” James asked lightly. “Oh, come on Lily – it’s not my place, this. I can’t... just, don’t go digging around?”

“What, me?” I questioned. “Dig?”

“Funny,” James muttered, claiming my other hand back and looking at me seriously, “please Lily. Just one stupid Marauder secret.”

“So, I get a secret too?”

“I suppose.” James said confidently.

“Excellent,” I grinned, “that sorts that out.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“Am I?”

“Definitely,” James said, leaning forward and looking at me carefully, “you’re a terrible, terrible liar...”

“If you say so,” I returned, smiling benignly as I put my hands into my pockets, “so, are we officially together now?” James narrowed his eyes at me slightly, as if half torn by continuing to try and ascertain whether I really did have a secret or to jump on the new line of conversation. “Or have we not filled your talking quota.”

“No,” James said, “I think we might be okay now... but this isn’t the end, Evans, from now on talking is of the agenda. Frequently.”

“So basically, the only difference is now you’re allowed to be annoyed when I don’t tell you things, rather than going all ‘well what do you even want from Evans!’ – yeah?”

“Sounds about right.” James grinned, and then it seemed like he wanted to say something. It was the sort of moment where you’d say ‘I love you’ if we hadn’t, moments before, just agreed to officially date (because maybe I wasn’t exactly a dating guru, but you didn’t whack those sorts of things out quite so soon – particularly when there wasn’t a chance they could really be true yet). So, not I love you, but something like I love you... but neither of us seemed quite capable of picking the right phrase so instead a quasi-awkward silence fell over the two of us.

“Thanks for waiting.” I said, finally.

And then James took his turn, “you’re stronger than you think.”

I almost believed him.

*

When James’s parents came to find us they found me sat cross legged on one of the comfier seats in the library, reading from a terrible book entitled ‘He jinxed me to love’ which I’d found on one of the lower shelves. James sat, squashed on a chair next to me and occasionally butting in to voice one of the horrifically created characters.

I’d just been laughing over James’s impression of the romantic Heroine’s Irish mother when James had looked up suddenly and then rolled his eyes at his parents and laughed a little, probably relieved that he’d noticed them before either of us had done or said anything embarrassing – which is what I expected they’d been waiting in the doorway for. I’d been more shocked to see Carolyn and Magnus Potter framed in the doorway than James and I began to wonder whether they did that sort of thing all the time.

I suspected they did.

It explained rather a lot about James.

“Lily dear,” Carolyn said, “hate to disturb you,” Magnus Potter winked, “but, well... it’s nearly nine O’clock and we didn’t want your parents to worry.”

“Lost track of time.” James said, running a hand through his hair as he placed the book back on a random shelf – ignoring the look from his mother which I could practically feel meant ‘all these books are supposed to be alphabetised, James’ – and standing up.

“I bet you did.” Magnus added in an undertone.

I laughed, biting my lip as I saw James’s expression. For the first time he seemed mildly irritated and I guess I could understand it: I could appreciate the humour from this side of things, but if I were to have lived continually with such beautifully eccentric parents I could see it getting old rather quickly. James’s jaw unclenched after a second and he smiled (possibly noticed that I was watching him).

“Funny, Dad,” James shook his head.

Magnus Potter grinned, looked straight at me and said “the old ones are the best.”

I couldn’t agree more.

*

“I’ll walk you to the apparition spot,” James said, slipping past his parents and out the door, “just to the gate.”

“Thanks for having me.” I told the Potters, smiling as they stood in the doorway and smiling at us until James shut the door on their faces (they seemed to have expected this because they were both laughing, and James rolled his eyes and grinned as he turned around).

“They’re probably going to lock me out,” James said, “probably should have brought a coat, in case they leave me out here all night.”

“Would they?” I grinned, as James put an arm around me.

“Who knows?” James returned. “Sorry for being a buzz kill.”

“That’s okay,” I said, “you were probably right.”

The walk to the point past that apparition spot was so short that it was hardly worth James leaving the house, particularly if he was going to be locked out, but he didn’t seem to care much. He frowned at me for a few long seconds – his expression so serious and un-James-like, but James like at the same time. I thought perhaps it reminded me of James in the days leading up to the funeral, or the James who’d asked me what was wrong with me at the end of last year.

“Hey.” I said, knotting my fingers up in the wool of James’s jumper as we faced each other. The sleet had stopped for a little while, a minor respite– no doubt it would resume after I’d apparated into the awaiting brush in that bloody park.

“Hello, Lily.” James said in return, so perfectly close with his stupid eyes and his half-frown.

“I don’t want to go home.”

“Stay here forever then,” James smiled, “my parent’s probably wouldn’t notice – you could camp out in the east wing.”

“You have wings?” I asked, shaking my head slightly. “You have an east wing.”

“Or you could just camp out in my bedroom.”

“You’re an idiot,” I smiled, “it’s late.”

“Yeah,” James said, his arms wrapped around my waist, “you should go home.”

“Don’t want to.”

“We’ve been here before.” James smiled then he reached forward and kissed me. We ended up spending an unfathomable amount of time tangled up in each other, kissing against the gate, me occasionally voicing the fact that I should probably go and James rather astutely shutting me up. It was strange, because considering the number of times we’d kissed I didn’t think it would be any different – but then James no longer seemed insistent on pulling away so damn quick, and I liked that. I liked that a lot.

“I’ve really got to go.” I told James. James frowned again and hit the gate irritably with his hand: it rattled loudly and the reverberations sent my head spinning. It wasn’t the only head-spinning thing about the moment though.

“See you at school.” James muttered, frowning as he kissed me once last time.

I was altogether rather surprised that I didn’t splinch myself, because the determination to leave was certainly lacking.

 




Oh HELLO everyone. This is officially one of the quickest updates of all time. I hope you appreciate it. There should probably be another update this month, because TAOS month is going very well indeed. Thanks to LWG, wait, sorry lwg (she doesn't use capitals now :S), for making sure I got to 300 reviews! Ah :D

As always, your reviews make my day and I hope you enjoyed the chapter!

(Up next: expect things to be thrown at Sirius, James and Lily to continue to talk andd.... well, you'll have to wait and see)
 


Chapter 16: Shift.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I’d half expected to fall into some sort of blissful high after boxing day, but instead of anything that dramatic it just felt like a positive haze had fallen over my vision: I was beginning to enjoy being back at home again, being with my parents and spending time with Petunia and Vernon (albeit most of the time spent with Petunia and Vernon was spent trying not to laugh, because James seemed to have taught me how to find them amusing rather than irritating). Now I was caught between wanting to stay at home forever, where there was tedium but also safety and the remaining members of my family, and returning to Hogwarts to rediscover it wasn’t the home that it had always been before this year had begun.

At least I could rediscover that with James by my side, because now his presence was obligatory and accepted rather than an added bonus. Now I knew where we stood. We were together.

And I hadn’t started freaking out about that yet.

“I’ll be back home for Easter,” I told Mum as I ate the rest of my cereal in a rush, “it won’t be that long, not really.”

“And will James be visiting again at Easter?” Petunia asked primly, her lips taunt in a pout as she regarded me.  I hated the way that she always seemed to have arranged her expression into distaste as she looked at me. It seemed like, at the present moment, my sister was the only thing stopping me from truly feeling happy.

Which is probably why I said it.

“Hopefully,” I returned, “maybe then you could tell Vernon about magic.”

Petunia let out and odd squeaky noise and my mother put down her cup of tea very quickly.

“Why would I tell him about that?” Petunia asked, turning her hawk like gaze on me. It was sort of horrible, how much she resented me – not that I ever did much to make her change her mind. “I don’t need you to ruin my life.”

“Well,” I said, “better now than later. There’s obviously something magical in our blood, what if you popped out a baby wizard? Then what would you say to him?”

“Can that happen?” Petunia sounded horrified, her voice coming out so quietly that I could barely hear.

“Oh yeah,” I said, taking another sip of my tea and smiling, “happens all the time. In fact, it’d probably be unusual for you not to have a magical kid.”

Petunia had turned an interesting shade of white and began staring at her breakfast. She looked sick. It was a mark of how truly and utterly she hated magic, because I genuinely thought that she was seconds away from fainting.

“Stop messing with your sister,” Mum reprimanded, “it doesn’t work like that at all, does it Lily? You told me and your father all about it after your second year. But, really Petunia, you should be honest with him. He is your fiancé.”

It took a few minutes for Petunia’s face to regain its usual colour.

“Take the rubbish out before you go.” Petunia spat, scraping her chair back horrible and leaving the kitchen without looking back. I couldn’t decide whether that was satisfying or not.

“Lily,” Mum said, taking my unfinished bowl of cereal and almost throwing it in the direction of the fridge, “do you have to be so beastly towards her? You know she’s sensitive about magic. Your father would hate to see you bickering like this. I don’t see why you can’t both just get along.”

I wanted to say that wasn’t fair. Our father knew that we didn’t get on, couldn’t get on, and instead continued to irritated and wind each other up. He knew that. Why would he have expected anything better in death? But the shame of being essentially told off was burning on my cheeks – I felt like a little kid, rather than an adult, and had to resist the urge to shove my hands in my pockets and stomp up to my room.

“Sorry.” I managed grudgingly, slipping out of the room to take out the rubbish like Petunia had asked. Recently, she'd taken to not allowing me to do anything around the house - as if, by not being around for half the year, I would be rendered incapable of doing so. If only Petunia wasn’t such a magical-prude then we could get along just fine, but the problem was she was so averse to everything that I was and... well, what was I supposed to do about that? Not perpetuate it, for one, I supposed.

The rubbish was kept in the utility until bin day, where one of us would drag the black bags out to the front of the house before they were collected. Petunia’s punishment wasn’t a particularly harsh one – I’d handled much worse thing that rubbish bags in potions (and I’d have told her that, if I hadn’t wanted to avoid upsetting Mum even more).

There were more bags of rubbish than usual which I mostly blamed on Uncle Charlie and Vernon’s  combined efforts to produce as much crap as possible, combined with the Christmas waste. I roughly planned out that it might be doable in two trips to the front door and back – which given the size of house was never going to be too far away – and picked up one of the bags by the next. It was heavier than I’d expected and there was a slight ‘clink’ as the contents of the bag shifted. I let it fall back to the floor, blinking at the several ‘clinks’ that had a disturbing resemblance of glass.

I crouched down and put my hand into the bin, my fingers easily curling around the neck of a glass bottle. Just a bottle of wine.

There was nothing about a few bottles of wine to be worried about, given it was Christmas there was no doubt that more alcohol had been consumed in the house. It was nothing to get stressed about. And yet I thrust my hand further into the depths of the bag and retrieved another bottle, and a fifth and a sixth and a seventh. I swallowed, testing the weight of the next rubbish bag. I picked up each of them in turn, anticipating and being rewarded with that familiar clink – as though whoever had hidden these bottles had thought that, if they were spread out across all four rubbish bags, no one would notice.

Petunia stood in the doorway of the utility, her arms folded over her chest as she looked at me – squatting in the floor with my hand elbow-deep in a rubbish bag. Her expression didn’t change. She merely looked at me for a few more seconds and then turned her back.

So that was the real punishment for teasing her, being forced into finding this – and I hadn’t even decided what this was – all because of some stupid little comment. I hated her. I pulled out bottle that I’d been clutching before I registered her arrival, my heart sinking further in my chest as I read the name printed on the label of the bottle: Sherry.

Oh, God.

*

My landing in Kings Cross wasn’t as smooth as anticipated, determination to get away non withstanding, and as a result I appeared on the platform late, lugging my trunk behind me as I headed for the train. Given the state of the wizarding world and the events that had occurred on the platform in September, I wasn’t surprise to see that it was virtually empty, but it was a surprise to see James stood hovering on the edge of the platform - waiting for me.

A good surprise though, not the sort of surprise when you’re going to take the bins out and your sister decided to throw it in your face that your mother may or may not have a drink problem. Not that sort of surprise at all.

“Lily,” James grinned, stepping off the train to meet me, “I was beginning to think you were just going to skip the rest of seventh year to avoid me.”

“Now, James,” I said with a smile, “I am a Gryffindor, don’t be insulting.”

“Hey,” James said, taking one of my hands and smiling at me. I wanted to focus on Petunia and my mother for a little while longer, but it seemed impossible to do so with the familiar giddy feeling building up in my stomach.

He went to kiss me, but I pulled back inadvertently before he had a chance. My reward was a raise of the eyebrows and a questioning expression. “It’s just... there are people looking.”

 “Hardly,” James said, smirking slightly as he took in my slightly flustered appearance, “So here I am, waiting for you to turn up and then you won’t even say hello properly to your boyfriend.”

“No... I just...”

 “Does it really bother you?”

“What, James?” I sighed, half wanting to start ranting about his new found obsession with talk about things but knowing that it would probably make the whole thing take even longer – anyway, if James had previously asked about my whole stance on this sort of thing then, well, it might have been helpful.

“People seeing.”

“People talk. Especially you. Train?”

 “Lily.” James said with a grin and I cut him off with a hug (sod people). He smelt just as comforting as usual (I decided that he must spike his aftershave with some sort of calming potion) and it reminded me that I had really missed him and how much I hated Petunia for ruining my mood and how I hated how complicated and mixed up life was, when really it should just be as simple as hugging James just because I wanted to.

“Quick, before nobody sees!” James whispered, pulling me closer and kissing me.

I grinned into his lips and decided that James was right and I really couldn’t care less if anyone did see (although I was sure that this was merely a temporary side effect than an actual cure for the problem, as I was the centre of enough attention due to being Dumbledore’s mudblood poster girl without factoring the whole James side of the equation).

“Are you okay?” James asked.

“Yeah,” I nodded, biting my lip, “Yeah I am.”

I would tell James about what Petunia had done. I’d take a leaf out of his book and at least try to be better and communicating what was going on in my head, but this second seemed to nice to ruin it by bringing that up. We could talk properly on the train. We had all the time in the world.

“Oi!” A voice called at the precise moment something collided with the back of my head, and I was just about to pull out my wand and hex whatever slytherin it was that was ruining such a nice moment when I realised that it was Sirius’s voice. Of course.

James and I turned around in unison to find Sirius leaning out the window of the closest compartment. “Are you going to get on the train?” Sirius asked loudly loudly. “Because I’m not going to be the one to explain to Dumbledore why his Head’s are still snogging in London.”

“Better go.” I smiled, picking up my trunk and hastening towards the train. All of the doors bar the one closest to us had been shut and, although I’d never heard of the train driving off without passengers; it currently didn’t seem like a completely impossible thing to happen.

“Crap.” James said, grabbing my hand.

“I blame you for this.” I returned as we half ran towards the doors. James reached the train first, pulling me and my trunk on after him a little too enthusiastically, leading to me tripping forwards on the train and regaining my balance for a split second before the train jerked into motion.

James caught me, which was a bit cliché and crap but better than falling flat on my face.

Then I wrapped my arms around his neck and James kissed me properly. I tried to pinpoint exactly why I’d been so reluctant to the idea of James for such a long time, or what was the singular event that made me change my mind, or the moment when James had become the most important person in the world but, frankly, it was easier to focus on James’s serious expression that crept on his features just before he kissed me – as if doing so was very important.

I liked that.

*

“Sirius isn’t sat with the others,” James said as we began to walk to the compartment from which Sirius had thrown something at the back of my head (bloody idiot), “he said he wanted some space or something.”

“How is he?”

“Who knows,” James said, running a hand through his hair as he glanced at the floor, “Sirius... one minute he’s fine he next...”

 “You know, sometimes I think you should worry more about Sirius than me.” I said.

“Hey, Sirius hasn’t yet deliberately walked into a torture situation.” James was smiling, so maybe that meant that he’d gotten over that now – if he could joke about then it was possible that instead of continually grating on him he might only bring it up when we were arguing. I guess there were some advantages to his bloody ‘let’s talk’ line.

“You say that,” I said, “but he did throw that piece of parchment at my head.”

“Good shot too,” James grinned, “good to know he’s been practicing, we can’t lose against Hufflepuff.”

“Quidditch,” I muttered derisively, “either way, he’s going to regret it.”

“He did stop us missing the train.”

“I wasn’t that absorbed, Potter. Don’t get all big headed on me now.”

“What, me?” James grinned, pausing to kiss me again before pulling open the door of Sirius’s compartment and entering.

“Hey Sirius.” I said, following James into the compartment and sitting down next to him. It was nice not to have to read too much into how close we were sitting and whatnot. This together business didn’t seem too bad, all things considered.

“How’ve you been?” Sirius asked, the very picture of someone who really wasn’t interested – arms folded, gaze flitting towards the window and a rather bored expression.

“I think I accidently convinced my sister against breeding for the rest of time.” I replied.

“The usual, then,” Sirius returned, with his usual blaze attitude, “how is darling Petunia?” This time he dragged his gaze away from the disappearing platform and raising his eyebrows at me. I almost found that more irritating.

“Angry,” I sighed, “my fault.”

“What did you do?” James asked with a grin.

“Told her that her children would be magical.”

“And in response?”

“She got me to take the bins out.”

“You should have levitated them,” Sirius said, “that’s the sort of thing I used to do – be as muggle as possible.”

“Well I’m not trying to get disowned, Sirius.” I snapped, folding my arms and taking my turn to look out of the window – it seemed like today was one of those days when Sirius and I were not going to get on.

“Control your woman, James.” Sirius returned with the first smirk I’d seen since before Christmas. Git. “How’s being a walking contradiction going for you? I could make badges, if you like – ‘Lily Evans: she doesn’t mean what she says’.”

“Shove off, Black,” I snapped. “You’re a piece of work.”

“Wait, but doesn’t that mean ‘I love you’ in Lily speak?” Sirius added, stretching out his arms.

The childish indignation from being told off by my mother this morning and Petunia’s revenge sparked up inside my stomach. Who was Sirius to try and ruin my good mood by irritating me to the high heavens? Plus, like normal, he was enjoying it.

I turned towards James and kissed him again (how many times was that, now?), pressing one of my palms against his cheeks and shifting closer towards him in my seat.

When I pulled away again Sirius’s jaw was clenched. I didn’t blame him; all I’d essentially done was say look at you, Sirius, look at how you’re alone.

Sirius narrowed his eyes at me, shoved his hands in his pocket and left.

Neither James nor I mentioned this. I leant back into his arms and closed my eyes.

*

“Earlier, when I was saying about Petunia getting me to take out the bins...” I began slowly, when James and I were beginning our patrol duty, pacing up and down the corridor of the train side by side, “the punishment was intended to be more than handling rubbish.”

James looked up at me, took in my gaze and then let his left hand brush against my right hand as we walked.

“There were... quite a lot of bottles.”

“Right.”

“James,” I said, pausing, “do you think my Mum has a drinking problem?”

“I don’t know,” James admitted, turning to face me with a more serious expression than I wanted to see, “before, with the Christmas cards, she was... she was drinking wine then. And I remember thinking that was strange, because it wasn’t even lunch time yet.”

“Yeah,” I said, biting my lip, “she’s always, always got a glass in her hand.”

“On Christmas Eve, I noticed again but...” James paused and ran a hand through his hair, “she didn’t seem drunk or out of control or anything like that.”

“No,” I agreed, memories of my mother in the summer running through my brain again – always drinking, never drunk. Then again, there were plenty of times when I’d crept downstairs in the middle of the night to get myself a drink and found her still sat in the sitting room – grief. She’d lost her husband, who could blame her? “But I knew about this,” I frowned, “I knew that she was drinking a lot – when we drove down on September first, I.... I remember thinking that the reason she was a bit off was because, well, because she hadn’t had a drink.”

James didn’t say anything, but my hatred for Petunia’s actions was slipping away again – not a punishment, perhaps, but a shove in the direction of noticing what was right in front of me. She was dealing with this on her own.

“James,” I said, my chest tightening, “how can I have just... forgotten?”

“Things are pretty hectic.”

“But if my own mother’s drinking and I can’t even –”

“Lily,” James interjected, “don’t beat yourself up about this.”

“How can I not?” I asked, feeling the sharp pain of not bursting into tears at the back of my throat. “Why is nothing ever simple? I’m so fed up of something horrible happening every time things start going good.”

“Well, you’re thinking about it wrong,” James said, shaking his head, “bad things don’t cancel out the good things, Lily, think of them as just... two separate stores of things. Good things happen and bad things happen.”

“You’re the only thing on the good side.” I frowned at him.

“But,” James said, “I am pretty good, right?”

“That’s a point,” I said, taking his hand and continuing walking, “why are we bothering to patrol, again? All anyone does on the train is sleep and gossip.”

“Not true,” James said, “there were a group of third years back there who’d just ‘invented’ the words Amawefansudible.”

“Sounds like a spell.”

“I wouldn’t want anyone to point their wand at me and say it.”

“Can I try it on Sirius?”

“Be nice,” James grinned, “I think he’s feeling delicate this morning.”

“Delicate, my arse,” I countered, half trying to convince myself that I hadn’t really done that much damage earlier, even though I suspected that I had. “He’s so, God, he’s so irritating sometimes – I can’t help it.”

“He didn’t really do anything, this time.” James commented lightly. I knew he was right, but that didn’t mean that I was happy about it.

“We’re at the halfway point,” I said, stopping again, “how about we split up – you take the half we’ve just done, I’ll take the other half and we’ll check that no one’s been doing anything more dangerous than coining new words. Then we can give up and find the others again.”

“Kay,” James agreed, “keep an eye out for Sirius.”

“Yeah,” I said, “okay, meet you here in a bit.”

*

Sirius turned out to be one of the last compartments I checked, so close to the point where James and I started patrolling that he’d probably have been able to hear our conversation. That didn’t make me feel much better about earlier, especially when I was reacquainted with a surly, sulky Sirius who sat in a compartment to himself, glaring out the window.

My heart did an odd sort of jump as I realised that this was probably all my fault and that rubbing the whole James thing in his face had probably resulted in an avalanche of pure unadulterated Mary.

I nearly left, resolving to find James and getting him to sort it out, but my shadow had caught Sirius’s attention and him watching me dither about round the doorway marked the point of no return.

Bugger.

“Hey,” I said, pulling open the door, “just... patrolling.”

“How are you, then?” Sirius asked, as I stood poised in the doorway and feeling the mixture of sympathy and guilt heavy in my stomach. “Happy?”

“Near enough,” I answered quietly, “it’s hard to be really happy in the middle of a war.”

“You’re naive, Evans,” Sirius returned, turning to look at me with his grey eyes hard, “the war hasn’t even started yet. Don’t worry about offending me, just be happy.”

“I think my Mum has a drinking problem,” I voiced, “and Petunia, she -”

“Lily,” Sirius said, and I thought he might start crying again, “for god’s sake, if you want to be happy about something just be happy about it.”

“I’m no good at it.”

“What?”

“Being happy,” I said, stepping into the compartment and shutting the door behind me, “you seem to think that my life gravitates towards things being good, but I’m no good at being happy. I do stuff to mess it up, or I just, focus on the wrong things...”

“That’s just you being ungrateful,” Sirius snorted, looking up up and offering me a grin that was diluted by the deadened expression in his eyes, “I wish I hadn’t wasted time finding reasons to be unhappy when I didn’t mean to be. Even when I knew she was dying, at least she was there, you know? There was no need to be so unhappy then, what a waste.”

I sat down opposite him.

“I know it doesn’t mean much,” I began, balling my hands up in my pockets, “but... I really care about you Sirius.”

“Save it for James,” Sirius said with another smirk, “go patrol or something.”

I nodded, wrapping an arm around myself as I exited the compartment again. It felt like it might be relief to be outside the claustrophobic way that Sirius’s grief still lingered everywhere.

“And Evans?” Sirius called, kicking his feet up onto the empty seats of the compartment. “It means more than you think.”

The next compartment contained a grand total of twelve first years, squashed up like sardines on the benches and seeming distinctly uncomfortable about the ordeal they were enduring.  

“What are you all squashed in here for?” I asked them, hearing James’s footsteps rejoining mine as we met at the intended half way point again. I turned and smiled at him. He joined me in peering into the packed compartment looking distinctly amused.

“Sirius Black told us to move,” One of the Hufflepuff girls’ squeaked from where she was sat on one of her friend’s laps, pressed against the compartment window. “He said he wanted our compartment.”

“You should have told him to shove off.” James said, grinning.

“What should we do?” I asked, unable to not find the thought of Sirius walking into a compartment full of First years and demanding their removal both quite funny and also slightly reassuring; some things, at least, never changed.

“Tell Sirius he’s hilarious,” James said, “there’s a free compartment three doors down on the left.” James told the first years, laughing at the expressions of relief and their attempts to disentangle themselves from the mess of small eleven year old bodies.

“Now,” James said, “we go tell Sirius he needs to vacate the compartment for the first years to return and then we can have a compartment to ourselves.”

Sirius wasn’t the only git around.

*

“Go on then,” Sirius said as we walked up to the castle, “how did it go?”

“Surely James has already ditched the dirt.” I said as we pushed through the swarms of people together. The sight of Hogwarts produced a reaction which was half reluctance and half safety, but compared to the sanctity of standing in front of James Potter’s mansion and kissing against a gate, Hogwarts could no longer compete for the title of my safe haven.

“There was dirt? I must have got the clean version.”

“Rightly so,” I said, “get your nose out, Sirius.”

“You’re not going to gang up on me as a couple, are you?” Sirius asked, making a mock face of disgust as he thrust his hands in his pockets. He seemed a lot better now. Maybe the rest of the train journey was all the time he needed.

“Probably,” I returned, “but I like to think we did that anyway. Your prediction was way off.”

“Well, how was I to know that you’d ask James out?” Sirius grinned. “Remus will love that, just you wait. Rachel will have a field day...”

“You’re going to tell everyone?” I sighed, biting my lip as we entered the great hall. “You are, aren’t you?”

“Can’t wait to tell Snape,” Sirius added viciously, “although I won’t be sticking around too long afterwards. Have you shoved it in his face yet?”

“Snapes?” I asked, a grin forming at my lips.

“Now, this isn’t something you’re going to hear me say a lot when it comes to you and James – but when you do, can I watch?”

“What, you think I’m just going to... make out with James right in front of him?”

“Yes, I do,” Sirius beamed, “and it’s going to be the best thing that’s happened for a very long time.”

“Sorry about earlier,” I said as we sat down. James was reappearing from the crowd of fifth years where he’d been trying to corner one of the members of the Quidditch team to talk about extra practices now that the Hufflepuff match was a visible distance away, and both Sirius and I watched as he came closer, “I didn’t think.”

“Oh, don’t worry Evans, I’m going to get plenty of revenge. Hey, Moony, Wormtail, have you met James’s new girlfriend?” Sirius declared loudly, throwing an arm around my shoulders and nudging me repeatedly. My face flushed slightly as several pairs of eyes began boring into my skin.

Remus grinned and shook his head in Sirius’ direction.

“Hands off.” James said, slipping into the seat beside me.

“Finally?” Remus questioned, smiling at me.

“Apparently.” I answered.

“Hey, Alice!” Sirius called, beckoning them over. “Did Lily tell you about how she asked James out?”

“Control your best friend, James.” I said, exchanging a smile with Sirius and James in turn.

Already, everything about returning felt that little bit better. Not a massive change, not really, just a minor shift.

 

 

 






So, less than a week after the last chapter went up there's another in the queue? Not bad, right? I have this all planned and my muse is working overtime, so there may or may not be a forth chapter this month (it is TAOS month, after all) depending on other things that need updating. Also, I finished another story just yesterday! Azkaban now has all 10 chapters up on the archives and I'd love it if anyone fancied checking it out. Other than that, reviews are lovely and I've been on top-responding form :)

What more could you want?

Don't answer that.

Next time: James and Lily have to visit a hospital.
 
 
 


Chapter 17: Chaotic.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

My books were splayed out across James’s bed as I tried to focus on the transfiguration essay that McGonagall had set us in our last lesson, whilst James was supposed to be attempting his Potions essay that was already a week past it’s deadline; instead, what was really happening was James was propped up on his elbows with the potions book open upside down and I was sat with my back against the headboard getting angry at persistently blank pieces of parchment.

“Potions is unforgivably dull,” James said, shutting the book completely and looking up at me, “can’t we do this later?”

“Prefect meeting,” I sighed, “there’s not enough time in the day.”

“Time Turners.”

“You acquire it, I’ll just come along for the ride. Did she talk about this at all during class? Or is the information just supposed to have spawned in my head?”

“You’re supposed to read the textbook, I think,” James said with a derisive shake of his head, “at least that’s the impression I get.”

I slumped downwards so that I was more lying, rather than sitting, and held the textbook over my head so that I could read it. I managed a few lines before I let my arms drop and instead found myself face to face with the textbook.

“Trying to absorb it?” James suggested, peeling the textbook away from my face and pressing his lips against mine instead. He might have been aiming for a half-arsed peck, but my hands automatically went up to his face and held him there. Unfortunately, having one participant staying up right via their elbows and the other half lying, half sitting isn’t helpful when snogging, and thus James sort of fell in my direction and his potions textbook fell off the bed.

“Sod it.” James said, shifting into a similar position to mine and kissing my properly.

“James! Studying!” I said, reluctantly reclaiming the textbook and once again attempting to read it.

“That was your fault, anyway.” James said, not bothering to retrieve his textbook and instead simply propping himself up on his elbows again and watching me pretend to read.

“Don’t do that.” I muttered, holding up the book so that it blocked out his face.

“I know you’re not reading.”

“You promised me we’d do our essays,” I complained, setting the textbook down, “we’ve got the Prefects meeting later, then you’ve got Quidditch practice, patrols after that and at some point I’ve got to sleep and do a million lesson’s worth of homework and we’re not getting anything done.”

“I never get anything done,” James commented lightly, shifting so that he was lying on his back and looking up at the ceiling of his four poster bed, “I don’t really see the issue.”

“You should really try and be a better example.” I said, feebly turning to the right page in the textbook and looking at the title.

“Lily,” James said, grinning towards the ceiling, “you’re lying on my bed, pretending to study and lecturing me about being a bad example.”

I pursed my lips.

“Stop being pedantic.”

“Has Petunia written back yet?”

After spending far too much time stressing out about the situation with my mother I’d ended up writing a long, lengthy letter to Petunia full of appologies and explanations and more heartfelt words than I’d thought I possessed until I started writing it. I’d forced James to look at it, and then I’d talked about it with Sirius and Alice too for good measure. Then after spending even more time with the letter in my pocket, I’d actually sent it.

“No.”

“How do you feel about that?”

“You’re my boyfriend, not my therapist,” I said, hitting him with the textbook and turning to face him properly, “maybe we should just give up.” I concluded, letting the textbook fall to my side and joining James at looking up at the ceiling.

“Yeah.”

“Studying was your idea.”

“I thought it was a euphemism.”

“Shut up, Potter,” I laughed, “you have met me, haven’t you? You’re taking up all my essay time.”

“God, I am sorry,” James grinned, “hey,” he sat up and glanced over at the window, “that’s an owl, Lily – maybe Petunia’s written back after all.”

My heart froze for a second as I sat up. Part of the reason I’d been so scared of sending the letter was because I’d know idea how she’d respond – part of me expected something scathing, part of me expected her to at least try and reply properly and the other part suspected that she simply wouldn’t write back at all. But, one thing was for sure, I definitely was not ready for it.

James opened the window, “oh, no,” James said, “it’s from my parents – sorry, Lily. She’ll reply soon though.”

“Hmm.”

I picked up the book again and turned to the right page, forcing myself to read through the long, wordy paragraphs whilst James read his letter by the doorway – it was impossible to concentrate on anything properly when James was being an idiot, but with him occupied I might as well at least attempt to read.

“Mum’s sick,” James said eventually, not moving from the window, “she’s in St Mungo’s.”

“What’s happened?” I asked, the familiar panic creeping up inside me. I pictured James’s Mum: round face, James’s eyes and laugh lines etched around her mouth. I swallowed.

“Just hippogriff flu,” James said, “but... because she’s so, you know, old. Dad’s cleared it with Dumbledore for me to go and visit.”

“Will you?”

“Yeah,” James said, folding up the letter and putting it back in his pocket, “so I guess you’ll get your essay done after all.”

That didn’t seem like much of a consolation prize.

*

“Petunia not answered yet?”  Sirius asked as we walked down to dinner without James – something which felt slightly strange as he’d been more or less attached to me since the beginning of term, but mostly because all this business about James’s Mum being ill made me feel uncomfortable and James was supposed to be there when I felt uncomfortable. I was so pathetic it hurt.

“I wish people would stop asking,” I said, “I’ll tell you when she does.”

“If she does.” Sirius corrected, smirking.

“Hey,” Peter said, glancing up from the table as Sirius and I approached, “heard from James yet?”

“He’s not back.” Sirius said, helping himself to dinner and shutting Remus’s textbook ceremoniously.

Remus rolled his eyes and didn’t reopen it, instead choosing to focus more on his dinner.

“You look tired, Remus,” I said, “too many essays?”

“You lot are obsessed with work,” Sirius said, “you and James spending all this time ‘studying’, Peter and his private tuition sessions and Remus with your working over diner. Where’s the fun of this place gone?”

“NEWTS, Padfoot,” Remus said, “they’re sort of important.”

Sirius shook his head slightly and flicked a piece of rice in Remus’s direction.

“Have you got more scratches?” I asked Remus, staring at the exposed bit of his arm. “You must be being really cruel to that bloody giant rabbit.”

Peter squeaked slightly and Remus flushed, pulling his robes over his arm opening his textbook.

“No digging, remember.”

“And that looks fresh, too. Where is this rabbit?”

“Where’s James when you need him?” Sirius muttered. “Give it a rest, Evans. Marauders business.”

“You look tired too, and you sure as hell weren’t up all night doing homework.”

“Hey, guys.” Rachel said, appearing with Alice and Frank. I shut up and returned to my dinner, sending one last curious look in Remus’s direction before giving up and resigning myself to forever being in the dark – everyone was allowed their little secret, after all.

“You’re a saviour, Rachel,” Sirius grinned, “officially my favourite person today.”

I was suddenly acutely reminded that Rachel had dated Sirius once. I shifted in my seat uncomfortably and set down my fork.

Peter looked tired too.

Everything felt wrong today.

“I think I’m going to go work on the transfiguration.”

“Carolyn’s going to be fine, Lily – there’s no need to worry.” Remus said quietly, looking up from his book and looking right through me. Peter nodded.

“I’m not made of glass,” I muttered irritably, “I’m just not hungry. I’ve only met her once.”

“And what a woman.” Sirius added, flicking a piece of rice in my direction for my efforts. God, he was irritating.

*

It’d become a more common occurrence to have someone slam into me and call me something foul whilst walking down the corridor recently, as the Slytherins seemed to think that the only thing worse than a mudblood Head Girl was a mudblood Head Girl in a relationship with a pureblood. Sirius had once or twice suggested that they should put shield charms around me whilst I walked, but I was more than capable of fighting back even if it did simply stretch to me tripping them up or throwing a return insult in their direction.

Now everyone was at dinner, so I was granted the freedom of being able to not expect to be thrown against a wall or cursed. But, it was probably more dangerous – no witnesses.

What I wasn’t expecting was for Snape to emerge from the stairs to the dungeon, do a double take and then look away quickly. I hadn’t been alone with my ex-best friend for a very long time. In a place as humungous yet deceptively small at Hogwarts, it wasn’t particularly surprising to come face to face with him – but I still hadn’t expected it. I swallowed.

 James, Sirius and Peter had been merciless in their attempts to get a rise out of Snape, using the Map to casually run into Snape whilst discussing me (I’d been assured by James that only nice things had been said, but I didn’t exactly trust the shake of Remus’s head and his refusal to comment), rather obvious displays of public affection and just generally throwing it in his face. Other than the first occasion where James had done nothing more than kiss me on the cheek in Potions and Snape had turned an interesting shade of white and ruined  his potion, he’d been nothing but impassive.

Snape was walking toward the hall and I was walking towards it which meant, at some point, we were going to cross paths and I had no idea how I was going to react when the moment came. Already both of us seemed to move further away, as if being repelled by giant magnets, to the point where I couldn’t walk any further to the left without my shoulder brushing the stone wall of the corridor. I suddenly really wanted to talk to him, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to demand an explanation or punch him the face. Half of me wanted to make out with James in front of him and the other half wanted to explain.  I was torn, and every second we were getting closer to each other and I still had no idea what to do.

Not look at him? Smile at him? Swear at him?

We were level with each other, the wide expanse of the corridor separating us. I’d done nothing. The moment was over and I hadn’t done a damn thing.

“Where’s the blood traitor, then?” Snape said, the split after we’d passed each other on opposite ends of the corridor. I stopped and turned slightly. Mostly, I was surprised by his audacity. I thought I would have been the one to talk.

“James?” I asked, and then I hated him all over again. I did, I really did hated him. “He’s visiting his mother.”

“Not joining him?” Snape asked, his list twisting into an uncomfortable expression; the sort he’d use when talking about Petunia, or, like now complain about James.

“Not this time.” I countered, trying to find something familiar in the cold black of his eyes: like when we’d sat by the lake and talked about blood purity, or when we’d gotten the train to Hogwarts together, or when he’d called me a mudblood and he’d begged me to forgive him.

“Doesn’t it bother you?”

“What?” I demanded, my lips twisting into an uncomfortable sneer. I hated being horrible to people, but every time Snape came into the vicinity I thought about how he’d called me a Mudblood, how he’d blackmailed Mary, how he’d tried to torture me and about how he couldn’t do it. He’d left me in the corridor after I’d been torture, like the rest of them, as if our friendship had never meant anything. He brought out the worst in me.

“The type he’s friends with.”

“You can’t talk,” I spat, “piss off, Snape.”

“You said you hated him,” Snape said, “you’ve always said you hated him.” That was the first glimpse of the Severus I knew peeking through the craps, the first reference to the past...

“I love him.” I said, even though that wasn’t true. I wanted a rise out of him too. I wanted some penance for the agony he’d put me through, whilst he’d felt nothing and just existed from afar. After all the pain, I wanted him to hurt too.

That blow hit the mark.

Severus’s lips curled into a pained expression and he didn’t move for a few long moments. He looked as though he’d just been cursed, or had been stabbed, and didn’t want to move for fear of the knife embedding itself deeper into his gut.

Then I felt horrible. I wanted to reach out, do something, tell him that it was okay. Forgive him, or something. Anything.

But there was nothing left that I could say, so I paused there for a second – taking in his expression and wanting to pull my insides out – and then I walked off as quickly as I could, pulling my arms in around me and heading for my dormitory.

Severus, my old best friend, was stood in the corridor hurting because of some stupid thing I’d said. Something that wasn’t even true. And I’d made him hurt.

And if anyone knew he still cared, they’d kill him.

*

“Are you sure she said she wanted me to visit too?” I asked, threading my fingers through James’s as we walked through St Mungo’s. “I’ve only met her once.”

“You obviously made an impression,” Sirius commented, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking around the room with an expression of distaste, “I hate hospitals.”

“Who likes them?” James made a face. “Here.” He added, pushing open a door to the left before I had a chance to read the name of the ward and walking across the ward towards his mother.

She looked bad. James had seemed fine when he came back from St Mungo’s late last night, but then James always had been better at handling his emotions. I still didn’t see how anyone could see the transformation from how healthy she’d been only a few weeks ago to how she looked now and not be scared about her dying. Because I was.

“James,” Carolyn croaked, her lips curving up into a smile, “and Sirius and Lily. Magnus was just reading that book you brought me for Christmas -”

“- did you know it had saucy bits in it?” Magnus asked, conjuring up more seats with an expert flick of his wand.

“James,” Sirius said with a mock expression of surprise, “what have you been buying for your mother?” He reached down and kissed Carolyn on the cheek. These were Sirius’s substitute parents and yet I’d barely given a thought to how Sirius was coping. I internally berated myself for being in the habit of getting so many things drastically wrong.

“- Janette Primplerossen,” Magnus began reading, raising his eyebrows at the ridiculous name and nodding at James, “paused, her body alight with passion – searing touches – careless caresses – and then, Jarvis Blueberry takes off her panties with his teeth.”

“They’re not even married.” Carolyn added hoarsely, her chest heaving up and down as she laughed.

“God James,” I muttered, “Jarvis Blueberry?

“What did you expect from a book called The Baker’s wife?” Sirius asked, taking it from Magnus and turning it over in her hands. “A timeless love story that lingers in the mind.”

“Too right,” Carolyn added, coughing for a few moments, “I’ll be having nightmares about Jarvis Blueberry running off with my knickers for weeks.”

“Mum,” James said, “don’t talk about your underwear in front of Sirius, you know what he’s like.”

“Oh, get on with you,” Carolyn laughed, talking hold of Sirius’s hand and squeezing it for a moment, “don’t you listen to James, Sirius. I blame his parents.”

“You look like you’re feeling better,” James said, sitting on the char opposite and taking hold of his mother’s other hand, “more colour.”

“She’s just blushing,” Magnus countered, “I don’t think she was expecting to hear that much detail about Janette Primplerossen’s breasts.”

“Maybe I should borrow this book.” Sirius grinned, causing Carolyn Potter to start laughing breathlessly again.

“How are you, Lily dear?” Magnus asked, looking a little tired and ruffled but otherwise no worse for wear. Compared to his wife, who’s wrinkles seemed to have deepened, who’s skin seemed too baggy and skin seemed so pale, he looked the very picture of health.

“I’m good, thank you.”

“She’s been worried about not getting all her homework done.” James said, slipping his free hand through my fingers and turning to smile at me.

“He hasn’t been distracting you from your studies, has he Lily? Because I’ve told him time and time -”

“Oh no,” Sirius grinned, “they’ve been doing lots of ‘studying’ together.”

“Don’t worry, Carolyn,” I interrupted, “James isn’t half as distracting as he’d like to think.”

“Mum, they’re ganging up on me.” James whined, sending us both winning smiles.

“Oh, baby.” Carolyn said, lifting up one of her old leathery hands and messing up his hair. “How’s your sister, Lily? James said that she’s an interesting character.”

“He’s being nice,” Sirius said, “she’s horrid.”

“Misunderstood,” I corrected, “I don’t know, she hasn’t written back yet.”

“Oh well,” Magnus said bracingly, “they all come round in the end.”

James squeezed my hand in a way that seemed to say you did.

*

“I need to talk to Remus about something.” James said once we’d returned to Hogwarts and having laughed more with James’s parents than I’d laughed for a very long time. If anything, that only made it worse.

“I’ll just go grab my textbooks from your room.” I said, kissing James on the cheek and heading for the stairs, feeling more and more vulnerable with every step.

It wasn’t fair for me to be taking this badly when James was fine, but I couldn’t get rid of the image of her coughing and coughing into her handkerchief, her breathless empty laugh and her dead looking skin out of my mind. She’d been laughing and joking, but she’d looked almost corpse like – and if she looked better today then I could hardly imagine how she’d looked yesterday.

Death was everyone. It was suffocating and surprising and it could grab you at any moment and closes its fingers around your throat.

I stepped into the boys dormitory and crossed it to James’s bed. My books were in a haphazard pile by his pillow, but I couldn’t face going back downstairs and facing everyone. The horrible vulnerability and emptiness was creeping up my chest once more. I felt sick. Mary. Dad.

Why did people have to get sick?

I lay down on his bed and pulled my knees up around me, letting my head sink into the pillow and closing my eyes.

James came up the stairs ten minutes later, took the books of the bed, and lay down beside me.

“Lily,” he kissed my shoulder, “you need to talk to me.”

“I can’t,” I muttered, bunching up James’s blankets in my hands and not turning to look at him, “it’s not fair, I should be... I should be comforting you.” The tears chocked up in my throat, I hadn’t cried for awhile, and James was right behind me pressing his lips into my neck.

“Lily.” James muttered, wrapping one of his arms around my waist.

Neither of us said anything for a long time. I couldn’t, the words were stuck in my throat and every time I thought of voicing them another hot tear seemed to bubble up in my eyes. I could feel James breathing behind me, his chest pressing into my back whenever he inhaled. His breath on my neck. One hand pressed into the skin of my stomach. He was waiting for me. It seemed like James Potter would always be waiting for me.

I could have stayed silent for a lifetime, but I owed it to James to be stronger than that. It was his mother in St Mungo’s. It was his mother with the wrinkles and the look of someone who’d lost a lot of weight very quickly. My mother was much further north than London, drinking continual glasses of wine with Petunia for company. James had wanted me to talk.

“It’s the abandonment thing,” I said, shifting around on the bed so that I was facing him, my voice thick with my sobs, “that Sirius mentioned. Because Mary died and then my Dad died and it’s like, I just feel like anyone could die at any moment and I can’t stand it. Then Petunia, she didn’t want anything to do with me anymore, and then Sev... Snape, too, he... I’m just. I never thought, James, I didn’t think that I’d be able to need someone anymore James, because I thought that I didn’t have it in me. And then I’m so scared about my Mum and about the war any then, your Mum she just...”

“She’s going to be okay,” James muttered, the serious I-might-kiss-you-expression surfacing again, accept he didn’t – he just hooked one of his feet round mine and kept my gaze, “it’s just a bad case of flu, Lily – it’s nothing.”

“But,” I said, sitting up suddenly and wrapping my arms around myself, “it’s not just that. It’s you, I just... God, James I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to fall apart if something happens to you. I don’t want, I don’t want to be scared of dying...”

James sat up too, watching me as I worked myself up into a frenzy as I tried to explain exactly how it was that I felt, sometimes: the delicacy, the lack of independence and the fear of everything slipping away from me. It wasn’t me.

“You don’t have to beat yourself up about these things,” James said quietly, “stuff happens, I mean, you wouldn’t be human if you weren’t scared. Just, Lily, I wish I could make you see.” James pressed a kiss on the corner of my lips. I liked slipping my hands underneath his shirt and using the warmth of his hips to make my fingers feel less numb, but now the simple movement on my behalf seemed much more intense – with me still crying, with James looking at me so seriously and with all those things just flying around. But, it wasn’t bad; it was the sort of moment I wanted to pin down forever so I could always remember how vulnerable I felt. And how being vulnerable didn’t necessarily feel like a bag thing.

“See what?” I asked quietly, because it seemed James had forgotten how to form the words.

“How well you’re surviving,” James muttered, “Lily, everything been so intense this year, you... you’re still alive and you’re still kicking and you’re still you.”

“I’m not the same.”

“Neither am I,” James countered, “and you don’t seem to mind that.”

“I wasn’t ready to lose that part of me yet,” I said, the tears beginning again, “it was... it was ripped from me.” James pressed closer. I didn’t want him to leave.

“No one’s ready to lose their innocence.”

“Surviving,” I said, pressing my fingers into his flesh and thinking about James – about how he was a bit of an idiot, and how right now his glasses were lopsided and his hair still wouldn’t lie flat, “is that enough?” One of James’s hands on my back. Natural, really. His eyes sparkled slightly, as if he’d just heard a joke.

James pressed his lips against mine, curled a hand around my hip and kissed me until I couldn’t think.

“We’re doing better than that,” James muttered, “we’re living.”

*

I’d always gone to the library when I needed to escape from something, except this time it felt more like a retreat than an escape. I just needed a chance to breathe and a chance to think.

The reality of everything had suddenly come crashing round my head and I felt like I was waking up from a strangely vivid dream, except some parts had been true and I was only now managing to grip hold of things.

 It had seemed so innocent to study in the boy’s dorm, my books spread out across James’s bed and kissing, and talking and joking around. Now, suddenly, there was something deeper in it and I wasn’t sure about how I felt about that – about thinking of James kissing me, my back against the headboard and my legs automatically wrapping around his waist like some saucy moment in The Baker’s wife.

It wasn’t like I disliked the memory (a very recent memory, at that), it was just new. I’d never exactly had someone really want me before – ignoring, of course, the bloody Amos Diggory incident – and it had felt so real and unfamiliar and... different. Good, but different.

Then we’d stopped kissing. James had looked so heart wrenchingly serious and had assured me that it was okay, then I’d cried again and he’d wrapped his arms around me and I’d fallen asleep on his shoulder, just for a second, and dreamt of Mary falling down the stairs over and over.

But waking up and having James still there had make everything feel okay again. Manageable.

Which meant that we were serious.

 My gaze ran along the edge of the bookcase as I selected something to read, anything, everything that had been spinning around my head for the past couple of days intensifying and filling my mind with pointless clutter. James’s Mum, Severus, James.

When Severus had said the type he’s friends with, I thought he’d meant Sirius. But that made no sense.

I selected the book of the bookshelf and felt its weight in my hand. It should have been heavier, for all it contained.

It reminded me of one of the conversations I’d had with Severus, once upon a time, as he was trying to dissuade me from talking to James. From falling for James, I expected.

I turned the first couple of the pages of the book and stared at the diagram and the title.

“I thought James told you not to dig.” Sirius said, sliding into the seat opposite me and raising his eyebrows at my choice of book.

“We need to stop provoking Snape,” I said quickly, “he’s really hurting.”

“Evans,” Sirius said sharply, “don’t change the subject.”

I didn’t say anything and glanced down at the page title Werewolves: the most vile of all the beasts.

Sirius snapped the book shut, narrowly missing slamming my fingers between the pages. He didn't look like he cared about that much.

“So,” Sirius said, “I guess this leaves us with a dilemma. Either you tell James you’ve been nosing around, or I tell him.”

So that was that. Confirmation.

Shit.








It's official. Four updates in a month. Boom. It feels good, actually. I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter as it's pretty dramatic and such. Reviews are always lovely and I can confidently swear that I'll answer them all within a couple of days :)

Next time: Lily turns eighteen and celebrates in style.
 


Chapter 18: Empowerment.
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 “Quidditch,” James said suddenly, glancing at his watch and sighing, “this bloody essay.”

“If you hadn’t got detention,” I said lightly, pulling his essay over onto my lap and glancing at it, “then you’d have finished hours ago.”

“Sirius’s fault,” James countered, digging through his trunk to pull out his Quidditch robes, “his boredom is going to kill him one day.”

“Or you,” I returned, correcting one of James’s spelling mistakes and placing his essay down, “if you’d ignored him, you could have finished this after Quidditch practice, instead of cleaning the Great Hall. Again.”

“Peter was dropping mash potato on the floor on purpose,” James complained, “although, it was pretty funny to see him fall over it.”

“Until you got another detention for laughing and throwing food at him whilst he was on the floor.”

“Details.” James shrugged, pulling his school robes off.

I’d seen James shirtless before – given we’d spent seven years at the same school I was entirely sure I’d seen all of them at least half naked before – but never in such close proximity. He was pale and a bit weedy, for a Quidditch player, but he was so very James.

“Oi, stop undressing in front of me.”

“Stop watching then.” James countered.

“You’re pretty.” I said, shooting him a grin.

“True, but you’re prettier.”

“Are you going to put your robes on then, you pretty idiot? Or just stand around half naked.”

“I’m weighing up the options,” James grinned, “Sirius is a shithead for dropping me in it. Now I don’t have any time to pretend to study with you.”

“So romantic.” I said, pushing the books of my lap and kneeling on the bed so I could reach out and kiss him. I’d defiantly never kissed him whilst he was shirtless before. Fine by me.

Three times after the incident right before I’d found out about the Remus thing, a similar sort oh-shit-this-snogging-is-getting-pretty-intense-now situation had arisen and each time something had come up before we’d talked about the whole thing (ironic, really, considering James was such a fan of this talking business) and then I hadn’t wanted to bring up later in case it resulted in an awkward conversation that I didn’t want to happen. It was fine, though, because the ratio of occasions when we were just kissing to the occasions when it felt like something might happen was still pretty small.

But James being shirtless probably didn’t help.

And I probably knew that.

And I didn’t have be a Ravenclaw to know that there was a high possibility that things would wind up like this: all tangled up and heated.

Someone knocked on the door of the dormitory. Sirius. He made a point of knocking whenever we were supposed to be upstairs studying, his own ‘subtle’ way of implying that we weren’t studying at all. For once this was actually a good thing, as his taunts if he’d walked straight in would be ridiculous and long lasting. And the whole thing would probably be retold in acute detail in hearing range of Severus Snape.

James hitched my left leg up and pressed a kiss against my collar bone. Shit.

Sirius knocked again.

“You should put your Quidditch robes on,” I said, pulling back away from him, “I don’t think Sirius is going to wait forever.”

“Two minutes.” James yelled towards the door, kissing me once more before snatching his Quidditch robes off from the top of the trunk and pulling them on. I frowned, gathering up my text books and trying to look as though I’d just been engrossed in some rather thrilling Transfiguration.

“Shame you’ve got detention later.” I said, running a hand through my hair distractedly.

Did I really just say that?

James looked very irritated when he finally let Sirius in.

“I need to get changed.” Sirius smirked.

“You’re going to be late for Quidditch practice, then,” James countered with a grin, “really mate.”

“I’ll be sure to offer my full apology and explanation when I arrive,” Sirius said, “enjoying your homework, Evans?”

“Sod off,” I muttered, shoving my text books back into my bag and trying not to flush, “I’m going to go talk to Alice, then.”

“Are you and Sirius arguing again?” James asked, grabbing his broom and following me out of the dorm.

“Aren’t we always?” I asked, pulling my bag onto my shoulder and offering James a smile. “Just knock him out with a bludger for me, will you?”

“What are we going to do about your birthday?” James asked. “It’s this weekend.”

“I was going to ask Dumbledore if I can go visit home,” I admitted. James’s face fell slightly. “What?”

“I figured we could have a bit of a party. Eighteen is the big one in muggle terms, right? So I thought we should celebrate it properly. And then I could cook you dinner to appease my mother. But, if you want to go home then -”

“-that sounds lovely, James. I’ll go for a bit, you can start the party without me and I’ll just join you for the end.”

“And dinner?”

“Its Valentines days next month,” I grinned, “you don’t want to use all your cards up in one go.”

“Do you want me to come with you?”

“No,” I said, “no, I need to talk to Petunia – given she still hasn’t answered. Anyway, we spend far too much time together.”

“Do we?” James asked, frowning at me with his eyes glittering.

“Yes,” I countered, “your friends are going to get needy and start thinking you’ve forgotten about them. Sirius is already a needy twit, and when Peter and Remus start making puppy eyes at you too we know we’ll have a problem. You need to do some of that strange Marauder stuff.”

“Didn’t know you cared, Evans.” Sirius said, skipping down the final steps to the Gryffindor Common room in his scarlet robes. “You decided to wait for me?”

“Thought it might keep your mouth shut.” James said, elbowing him. Sirius raised his eyebrows.

“See you tomorrow.” James said, grabbing my hand and kissing my cheek.

“Just don’t get another detention, yeah?”

*

James didn’t know.

More importantly, neither did Remus.

Sirius, well, Sirius was not happy. Nor did I expect him to be really, because the more I thought about the things the more things started to make a lot of sense – Charlotte had always used to say that the whole ‘Marauders’ thing was definitely a sign that they were a part of some strange cult, and that they’d be some dark secret at the centre of it. Not that it stopped her fancying one of them on regular intervals, in fact, it probably helped. I missed Charlotte.

Avoiding Sirius was easy enough. Before, he’d just continued with his teasing whenever James was being particularly mushy (and I was reciprocating in an almost identical manner), but now the very sight of James and me together seemed to send him into another of his bloody sulks and then he didn’t talk much or found reason to stalk away, much to James’s confusion (although, that was probably Sirius’s plan – bloody Black tendencies). It was worse when James wasn’t there, when the continual dirty looks were worse than the ones from the Slytherins.

So I hadn’t expected him to seek me out.

“Evans,” Sirius muttered, grabbing my wrist and pulling me down one of the corridors that was hardly ever used and therefore completely empty, “you’ve had enough time to think.”

That’s how I’d brought myself time.

“Have I?”

“And if you can’t handle it then I want you to break up with James right now, because I’m not letting you break his heart because, Evans, he actually thought you were better than this.” Sirius’s face twisted into an uncomfortable sneer, looking more like his brother than himself and in doing so far less attractive.

“What?” I demanded. “You think I should send him some stupid line and act like I don’t know forever.”

“If that’s what it takes.”

“Sirius,” I said, “I’m a mudblood. I wasn’t brought up with all these prejudices.”

“Well.” Sirius demanded.

“All I know about Werewolves is what we learnt in class, when Higgins spent three hours telling everyone that Werewolves weren’t really people. I don’t understand. Will you just explain.” I implored, folding my arms back over my chest and considering citing the line I’d use to buy myself a little extra time; I don’t understand and then, we should wait until either Remus or James tells me in person, it’ll do more harm than good otherwise.

“I don’t see what there is to explain.” Sirius spat back, folding his arms over his chest and glaring at me.

“Higgins said that they were monsters.”

“And?”

“And I don’t think Remus Lupin in a bloody monster, okay Sirius? That’s all I was ever taught about werewolves, so I don’t know what to think. If you’d just explain instead of telling me to dump your best friend then -”

“Later,” Sirius muttered, looking upwards and freezing for a second as his gaze jerked upwards, “and keep your voice down, this is a little bit of secret.”

“Don’t be so sodding patronising, Sirius. I understand the magnitude of things if nothing else.”

“No, Evans,” Sirius said, backing out of the corridor and shaking his head at me – the worst thing about all of this was the disappointment, but I honestly didn’t believed I’d earned it, “I very much doubt you do.”

Werewolves were the stuff of fairytales, not something really real. Even when we’d covered them in class they’d seemed like one of those magical things that I’d never experience, never come into contact with, as if they barely existed at all. And he’d said that they tore children apart and purposefully bit others, and then there was Remus who’d always seemed so wholly good, and well... nothing fit together.

All I wanted was an explanation.

I let out an irritated sigh before rejoining the corridor, stopping in my tracks as I saw that Sirius and James were talking where the two corridors met. There was something wrong in James’s face – his lips weren’t in their usual curve, his eyebrows not at their usual angle perhaps, but I was nearly convinced that Sirius had told him that I knew.

“No,” Sirius retorted in his usual irritated fashion, “I haven’t managed it yet. Not through lack of trying, mind.”

“Lily managed it,” James said, nodding towards me, “the patronus charm.”

“Yeah,” I breathed, trying to shake of the feeling that something wasn’t quite right with James – I sent him a questioning look, but he didn’t meet my eye, “I didn’t catch what form it was, though. Did you see?”

“No,” James said, as the three of us began to settle into our usual walking pace, “just a flash of silver and then it sort of dissolved before I got a proper look. Have you not managed it again?”

There was some weight in the question. I supposed it was quite a question: have you been happy enough to do it again, Lily? Or is there something wrong.

“I haven’t really tried, everything’s been so busy.” I replied, slipping my fingers through James. He squeezed my hand in return, so maybe it was just my imagination after all.

*

James decided to commemorate my eighteenth birthday by cancelling Quidditch practice to sneak out of Hogwarts to buy muggle alcohol – apparently, being the big muggle age the entire celebration was to be kept as strictly muggle as possible, right down to the muggle birthday card and the present all wrapped up in muggle wrapping paper.

Sirius decided to commemorate my eighteenth birthday by accosting me again and demanding to know whether or not I was going to break up with James.

“For f...”I muttered, catching my breath and closing my eyes for a second, “what do you want me to say Sirius?”

“That it doesn’t matter.” Sirius returned an angry glint in his eye.

“Of course it matters!” I exploded. “This is a big deal, Sirius! It makes a lot of bloody sense, of course, but it still takes a bit to take in, okay? And given all I fucking know about Werewolves was from someone who was quite obviously very prejudiced and everything about Remus contradicts what he was saying, then what am I supposed to think?!”

“That it doesn’t change your opinion of Remus.” Sirius prompted. I hadn’t seen him look so wholly animated since Mary died – even when he was crying or yelling, he didn’t seem quite so alive or quite so fierce as he did then. Every so often I was struck by how much they all meant to each other – Sirius, Remus, James and Peter – and it felt strange to be in the middle of that, to be separating James from them slightly.

“I don’t understand. What is it supposed to have changed my opinion of? It’s changed my opinion on that bloody rabbit story.”

“Evans,” Sirius spat, “I’m only going to ask you this once and I’ll make you break up with James if you... if you’re so bloody prejudice that you can’t even... You think Remus is some kind of monster? That he doesn’t’ deserve to be here? That you should be scared of him?”

“That’s what you think I think?” I demanded. “You don’t know me at all, Black. Of course I bloody don’t! I mean, Jesus, Remus has always been lovely and caring and kind thus far, but I suppose now that I know he’s going to rip me apart in my sleep. Yes, Sirius, that’s why I don’t want him to know that I know – what if he gets angry and bloody bites me. For God’s sake! I don’t want him to know because obviously it’s something he didn’t want to tell me, okay? And I wanted you to explain because I’m an ignorant little mudblood who doesn’t know anything about it and I’d like to be able to understand what he’s going through. But, no, you immediately think that I’m the sort of person to... what? Disown him? Great. Thanks a lot, Sirius. I’m late for my portkey, so just fuck off will you?”

“Evans...”

“Just forget it.” I muttered, stalking off in the direction of Dumbledore’s office.

“Happy Birthday, Evans!” Sirius called after me.

I was going to kill him.

*

“Lily!” Mum called, placing her glass down on the side and pulling me into a hug. “Happy Birthday!” With the knowledge that my Mum was okay, I’d been unconsciously pining to see her and everything felt that little bit better with her arms wrapped around me. She had that usual motherly smell and the familiarity about her that made me want to never let go, in case I lost her somehow, in case she slipped away in the night. “You should have said you were coming!”

“Sorry,” I beamed into her arms, “I wanted to surprise you.”

“Goodness, but... I sent your birthday present with Prongs this morning.”

“I’ll get it later, don’t worry. I just wanted to come and see you.” I assured her, sitting down at the kitchen table and watching as my mother busied herself making me a cup of tea and pulling out some homemade cake.

I’d sent her a letter last night, but I knew that if I told her my intention to visit then Petunia would make sure that she was busy. The fact that she’d ignored my heartfelt letter was a very clear brush off. She didn’t want to talk to me.

“How’s your birthday been?”

I could tell that it had been crap. That Sirius had made me angrier than I’d felt for ages that the reality of Petunia not wanting anything to do with me hurt. James was being lovely as ever, of course it was, but he was tired and I was tired and all I really wanted was to curl up in my bed upstairs and sleep.

“Good,” I said, “James has decided to celebrate muggle the way.”

“That’s lovely of him,” Mum said, pushing the mug towards him and giving me a small smile, “how is James?”

“His Mum’s really sick,” I answered, “he’s been visiting them a lot in hospital. Me too. He’s good though. James is strong.”

“Yeah?” Mum asked, sitting down opposite me and picking up her glass of wine again. “He seemed lovely.”

“He is,” I returned, taking a sip of my tea, “he really is lovely, Mum. He’s much too nice to me.”

“That’s good,” Mum said, “I think you should always feel like that.”

“Is that how it was with Dad?”

“All relationships start like that. Have you argued yet?”

“No,” I answered, taking another sip of tea, “we’re too damn exhausted to argue.”

“School tough?”

I nodded. She reached out and brushed her fingers on my hands. I close my eyes for a split second.

“Mum?” Petunia’s voice asked from the doorway. She stepped into the kitchen and he froze, her gaze fixed on my face.

“Lily’s home!” Mum said, standing up and beaming. “Lily’s come back home for her birthday!”

*

The second mum left the room Petunia’s eyes narrowed and her thin fingers curled around the edge of her cup (coffee, not tea, it was like she relearnt all her habits to be as dissimilar to me as possible). I swallowed. It was now or never.

“You didn’t answer my letter.”

“I don’t want to talk to you.” Petunia spat back, her voice hushed as to not get the attention of her Mum. Neither of us particularly enjoyed upsetting her and as much as we liked to score points of each other, verbally abusing each other within her earshot was not something we were prepared to do anymore.

“If she’s drinking then it’s my right to know about it.”

“No, Lily, no it’s not! You disappear off to some stupid school for the half of the year transfiguring rats, or whatever it it’s you do that freak school and you come home and expect the world to have stopped and waited for you. It’s nothing to do with you anymore.”

“Petunia,” I retorted, leaning forwards and glaring at her, “she’s my Mum.”

“I don’t care,” Petunia spat in return, “you’re never here.”

“I’m here right now.”

“And?” Petunia retorted. “So you want to play happy families because it’s your birthday, fine. But the second you’re out of the damn school do you think you’re going to come back here?”

“Yes.”

“And if you do then you’ll probably get us all killed by those bloody maniacs you’ve told me about. Go marry that bloody James Potter and leave us alone.” Petunia bent her neck down that we were both on the same level, glaring at each other over the kitchen table.

“I want to be involved.”

“You just mess everything up,” Petunia returned, “always making it more difficult for Mum by disappearing for months at a time -”

“That’s not my fault!”

“Well it’s not mine either!” Petunia’s voice increased in volume. “But that doesn’t stop it from being me who has to listen to Mum rambling on about bloody charms, or whatever is you’ve mentioned in your last letter for hours on end because she’s so worried about you. Falling apart every time you leave again, because she can’t stand the thought of loosing you. You didn’t even notice she wasn’t okay!”

Yes I did.” I said, feeling moisture and anger build up in my eyes. I had been worried. I could stand to look at the way she was aging, the way she seemed to have gotten smaller since my father had died and maybe I hadn’t known why, but I’d known something was wrong.

“Save your excuses,” Petunia said primly, setting up straight and taking a delicate sip of her coffee, “but I’m not going to respond to your letters just because it eases your conscience.”

“I wanted to know if she was okay!”

“Well, so do I.” Petunia said.

Mum’s footsteps were coming back down the stairs again.

Please, Petunia.” She shook her head, pulling her arms around herself and closing me off. “For God’s sake, just because you’re jealous that -”

“Oh, fuck off.”

“Here we go!” Mum said brightly, pushing open the door and stepping back in the kitchen with the photo album she’d left to retrieve. We forced smiles back onto our faces and poured over my baby photos, but my heart was still beating loudly in my chest.

I couldn’t’ remember Petunia ever swearing at me before. Not really. She’d call me names, make me look like an idiot, even given me Chinese burns but... the words felt so loud and harsh and... I swallowed.

I needed to do something to prove her wrong. I needed something to go right today.

I left half an hour later and apparated into town. My head was still rushing with the sound of the swear word (it seemed almost ironic that I’d used the same line on Sirius only this morning, but it sounded a million times worse from my sister’s pristine lips). I needed to do something on impulse. I needed to celebrate my eighteenth birthday properly.

I caught sight of the sign out of the corner of my eye. And then I was wondering why I’d never thought of it before.

*

By the time I pushed open the door to the Gryffindor Common Room my eighteenth birthday party had subsided to the Marauders, sans James, sitting a little too close to the fire with multiple bottles of near-empty alcohol and looking to be in some transitory phase between being tipsy and acting like first class idiots.

“Lily!” Remus declared as I arrived, holding up a bottle of something suspicious and nodding at the empty spot on the floor. “Happy Birthday.”

I walked over and took the bottle, taking a swig and sitting down with my legs crossed.

“Hey, Lily,” Sirius muttered, nudging me with his shoulders to catch my attention, “sorry.”

“Whatever,” I muttered, taking another drink, “no, really Sirius it’s fine. Forget it. Let’s just move on. Where’s James?”

“Wasted,” Peter said appreciatively, “went upstairs a bit ago to sleep it off before you got back, I think.”

“You weren’t as long as we thought you’d be.” Remus said, with that normal knowing expression across his features. It was still hard for me to connect my perception of werewolves – usually from muggle novels – to Remus Lupin and I found myself staring at him for a few seconds too long.

“Oh, yeah,” I added hurriedly, looking down at the bottle in my hands and forcing a slightly smile, “I had a bit of an argument with Petunia and then... stormed off, a bit. I only lasted a couple of hours.”

“Stuck up bitch,” Sirius said, stretching out his feet and leaning back on his elbows, “why does everyone have such shit relatives?”

“Not everyone does.” I countered. I was thinking of James. Of his mother, still in hospital slowly recovering – and doing pretty well, actually – and his father sleeping on the most comfortable seat he could conjure up for three days straight so he didn’t have to leave her bedside.

“We do,” Sirius said, taking another swig out of his bottle, “got a lot in common, you and I.”

“Don’t get all sentimental on me, Sirius. Save it for my thirtieth.” I answered, draining the last of the bottle and placing in back on the floor, “birthdays are sort of shit, aren’t they? They’re supposed to be good, then people just act like their normal shitty selves -”

“Hey, Evans, it’s not often that I apologise. Accept it and move on, will you?”

“The world doesn’t revolve around you, Black,” I muttered with an eye roll, “I was more referring to my bloody sister. And my stupid mother. Eurgh, nothing’s ever simple.”

“Don’t get all angsty on us now,” Sirius said, now lying back completely on the carpet and not bothering to open another bottle, “save it for James.”

“Yeah, I think I will.” I said, taking another bottle and taking another drink, “did he at least hang out with you guys for a little bit?”

“Don’t sweat it, Lily,” Remus said, again with the usual way he just seemed to know things, “he’s been staying up late so we all still talk, anyway. James is far too loyal to push anyone out. He’ll just wear himself out by trying to find time for everyone.”

“Sounds about right,” I agreed, placing the bottle back down, “I’m going to go talk to him, then.”

“Don’t take advantage,” Sirius piped up from the floor, “he’s young and impressionable and too damn drunk to know any better.”

I kicked him. Hard.

I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to not want to murder Sirius for a long period of time, but quite frankly it wasn’t worth the argument. He was a surly, judging bastard but, well, the rather abstract concept of his heart was in the right place.

Anyway, I didn’t have enough time or energy to be really mad at anyone at the moment. Petunia was using most of that up, right this second. I didn’t think I was even mad at Snape anymore.

 I pushed open the door to the boy’s dormitory pondering on the fact that it was so damn natural now. This time last year I don’t think I’d ever been in the boy’s dormitory – maybe once.

“James,” I muttered, “Peter said you were wasted.”

He was asleep. He looked all sweet and angelic and I stopped for a minute and watched him. All of this was certainly too much for us to handle: the war, Head duties, school, trying to make time for each other and our friends. It was strange. The unquestionable need to balance made me feel old.

I sat down on the edge of the bed and kissed James on the cheek, adding a poke for a good measure to wake him properly. He started slightly reaching out for my hand and pulling me towards him slightly.

“I did something that might make you mad,” I told him, “so, if you’re really drunk I might tell you now.”

“I’m not drunk,” James said, opening his eyes and pulling me onto the bed next to him, “I’m just exhausted. I wanted a nap. You’ve been wearing me out, Evans.”

I sighed, slipping my hand through his and looking up at the canopy of his bed: with NEWTs, learning spells on the side with the others and Head duties I certainly wasn’t having trouble sleeping, and I could only imagine what extra Quidditch Captain duties on top of that might be doing to James.

“I stopped to enjoy a couple of minutes of my party,” I added, “thanks, James.”

“So, what did you do to make me mad?” James grinned, turning over onto his side and leaning on my shoulder.

“Just...”

“Ah, Evans – don’t keep things from me.”

“I thought everyone was allowed a secret.” I countered, the shame of the fact that I knew his secret and he didn’t know I knew creeping up my flesh.

“You were going to tell me before.”

“You’d probably find out eventually,” I sighed, sitting up and biting my lip, “so, because it’s my eighteenth birthday... I got a tattoo.”

“A tattoo?” James asked, sitting up and blinking at me. A grin slipped onto his features.

“I wanted to make a statement,” I said, slipping my hands round his neck, “and well, like you said eighteenth birthdays are supposed to be the big ones for muggles so, well, I wanted to mark that and then Petunia pissed me off so I just...”

“Got a tattoo?”

“Yeah,” I breathed, my face flushing slightly, “and I love it.”

“Good,” James muttered, “because otherwise you’ve got a bit of a problem.”

“I still think you’re going to be mad,” I said, standing up and pulling off my tights. James gave me a look, “don’t get excited; I’m not undressing.”

“You look like you’re undressing.” James countered.

“You want to see it, right?” I asked, pulling my skirt down over my hips and beginning to feel self conscious. “Wait, I’m scared you won’t like it.”

“No complaints so far.” James grinned.

I dropped the skirt, feeling even more ridiculous.

“That was anticlimactic,” I said, “I forgot about the bandage.” I sat on the bed, unwrapping the bandage off my right thigh. James distracted me by leaning forwards and kissing the side of my lips, and I got caught up for a moment with one hand pulling him closer and the other still hovering over the bandages.

James paused and took away the rest of the bandage, and having his gaze son concentrated on my upper thigh was slightly strange, but then I looked too and the feeling of strength that I’d felt as I’d walked into the tattoo place stirring up in my stomach.

Mudblood.” James read, twisting his hand into the material of my shirt as he strained forward to take another look.

It was simple. Just the one word, plain black font: mudblood.

“Are you mad, then?” I asked. James had always hated my acceptance of the name, but I liked it being seared onto my skin: a brand that I could wear with pride.

“No,” James said, as I flipped my legs fully onto the bed, “I like it.” James said, glancing up at me for a second before reaching out, almost tentatively, to touch the swollen skin. Half of my body wanted to cringe away from the touch and the rest wanted to fall into it, but the slight sting made me clamp my jaw shut. “Sorry,” James added, “does it really hurt?”

“Not really,” I swallowed, “it’s like a sunburn.”

James kissed me again, holding me up with the hand on my hip and pushing me down with the weight of chest pressed against my body.

“You’re incredible.” James muttered into my skin and I was becoming acutely aware that I was only wearing pants – something which, really, I should have thought about before I let him start kissing me. Perhaps we were taking it in turns to be slightly underdressed in silly situations. Except this time, James didn’t need to go anywhere and Sirius wasn’t about to walk in.

And I only had my freaking pants on.

When the tension between James holding me up and pushing me down was resolved by me being fallen on by the former mentioned James Potter, and in doing so pinned down on his bed (and, honestly, I don’t know how I ended up in these sort of situations), he pulled away and looked at me seriously.

“So, what did Petunia say to make you go and get a tattoo?”

I looked at him: beautiful James Potter with his eyes and his messed up hair, his stupid sense of humour and his pratness – and I realised that I didn’t want to think about Petunia, or the Slytherins, or Voldemort, or anyone, really, because I could be quite content just thinking about him for the rest of forever.

“We can talk later.” I muttered, wrapping my arms around his neck and bringing his lips crashing back towards mine.





Oh hey everyone, how's it going? I hope you all enjoyed the chapter and stuffs... and thanks once again for a really lovely TAOS month last month! And thank you so much for being such incredible reviewers and, yeah, I love you guys to pieces.  We're nearing the end of Saving Grace month right now. Muggle Studies/All the Abstract Nouns up next, so you should check them out if you're bored or something. I like you all a lot. And reviews. I like those too :D


Chapter 19: Disintegrate
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Hello! Just wanted to say that I've messed around a bit with chronology in this chapter. Hopefully it's obvious what I've done (although if it's not feel free to tell me it's a bit crap; wont' be offended I promise!) but just... bear that in mind. Also, I feel the need to apologise for some of the fluff in this chapter. I'm quite disgusted with myself for all its cuteness and feel the need to write a good solid angsty novel to recover from its fluffy effects. AND another sorry - this isn't edited as much as I would like but I've got two exams this week and I wanted to update so... yeah.
 




  “Morning.” James muttered, kissing me on the cheek.

“What are you doing, Potter?” I asked sleepily, wrenching my eyes open and blinking around the dark of the dormitory feeling the usual dazed confusion that came with having just woken up and finding my damnable boyfriend hovering ominously in front of my bed.

“Valentine’s day.” James said, as if that explained anything. Which it didn’t. Not at all.

“What?” I muttered, sitting up slightly and kissing him properly. “We said,” I yawned, “that we weren’t going to do anything until Hogsmeade on Saturday.”

“That was a lie.” James said. He didn’t look half as sleepy as he should do; as anyone should do, in the middle of the bloody night. I frowned at him slightly.

“They destroy a relationship, Potter.”

“Hmm,” James said, “my bad. Like your bedroom, Evans.”

“Join me,” I said, reaching up and kissing him again before turning over in bed, “it’s warm.”

“Don’t you want to hear about my plan?”

“Don’t you want to get in my bed?” I countered, feeling him slip under the covers and wrap his arms around me, smiling into my neck. I was too tired to ponder on how nice it was to have him there, all I really wanted to do was turn over and go back to sleep… but evidentially James had made alternatively plans.

“Now can I tell you about the plan?” James breathed. I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. I wanted to bottle the moment and live in it forever. It was nice to feel safe and protected and so very not alone.

“Is it going to be really cute?”

“Unforgivably cute. So, can I tell you?”

“Definitely.”

“I figured if we’re going to Hogsmeade on Saturday then I can’t cook you dinner.”

“So you’re going to cook me dinner?”

“Nope,” James said, “it’s already cooked. You hungry?”

“Considering Peter spilled that damn potion all over the table and everyone had to be evacuated then yes. Wait, James, you didn’t –“

“-you can’t prove anything.”

“You’re an idiot.” I said affectionately, deciding against chastising him for the fact that the entirety of Gryffindor had gone slightly hungry and Peter had been quite, well, unpopular for the rest of the night. It was tempting to tell him he had to cook for everyone, but I’d just been woken up in the middle of the night by him being particularly cute – so it was hard to stay too mad.

And I was so very, blissfully comfortable.

“I’m not wasting cooking efforts if you’re not even going to enjoy it.” James muttered, wrapping his arms tighter around my waist. It made me feel more solid. I closed my eyes and felt that, with this new found knowledge of James’s somewhat elaborate dinner plans, some of the groggy exhaustion had been replaced by a giddy nervousness.

“Can we not just sleep?” I asked hopefully. “Save your undoubtedly lovely food for breakfast?”

“No,” James said, detangling his arms from around me and throwing back the covers, “you’ll enjoy it, I promise.”  The dormitory room was freezing cold but with James being how he was it wasn’t necessary to wake me up properly. I was beginning to become more aware of how hungry I actually was. Damn, lovely, adorable James.

“What time even is it?”

“Two,” James said, “we’re two hours into Valentine’s Day and we haven’t started celebrating yet.”

“It’s a stupid holiday,” I retorted, groping around the dark to find my duvet again, “we already agreed that it was commercial and pointless and we were just going to have dinner in Hogsmeade and have done.”

“Lily,” James whined (in the whispered voices we were both using, for fear of waking everyone else up), “we’ve never been on a proper date.”

“So?” I asked, giving up my cause of wrapping myself in my duvet and sitting up right.

“So, we just spend time studying together, or over lunch, or patrolling, or in prefect’s meeting and I think we should have a date. So I’ve cooked you dinner and I have it all set up. You can sleep in Transfiguration tomorrow!”

“Okay,” I agreed, pulling myself up properly and smiling at him slightly, “just give me a minute to put on some clothes.”

“You can just wear your pyjamas; no one’s going to see you.”

“Yeah, I don’t wear bras in bed and I’m not wondering around Hogwarts without one. Two minutes. Entertain yourself. Look through my trunk or something.”

James sent me an amused smile and sat down on the edge of my four poster.

*

“A girlfriend?”

“No,” James said dismissively, “just a date.”

“And that’s okay, is it?” I asked, feeling the confusion and shock hit me slightly as I blinked at him. “And we’re... okay with that.”

“Lily,” James said, “as much as I’m glad you’re thinking of us as a we, I’m entirely sure we’re going to have different opinions about this. I think it might be good for him.”

“I don’t,” I muttered, glancing at Professor McGonagall at the front of the classroom wondering why he’d decided to spring something like this on me in the middle of the lesson, “he’s not...ready.” I wanted to have a chance to freak out about this accordingly. Perhaps that was why. Even though he’d promised me I could sleep in transfiguration. More irritatingly, he’d known about this last night and just had negated to tell me until I was quite literally the walking unconscious and couldn’t even react properly.

“No, Lily,” James countered, “you’re not ready. Sirius has to make his own judgement about that. I don’t think he wants to spend all Saturday crying in a ball on his own.”

“Maybe we should have cancelled our plans.”

“Lily, don’t be ridiculous.”

“We already celebrated Valentine’s day last night anyway! We don’t have to go out on Saturday if -”

“He’s going on the date now.” James said, sounding reasonably put out by the whole thing. I nudged him with my shoulder with the intention of reminding him that I very much didn’t mean I’d rather spend time with Sirius. James rolled his eyes and began doodling distractedly on his piece of parchment. “He’s going with the others, anyway. Remus, Peter and two other girls.”

“Hope you don’t feel left out,” I added, “if you ever feel like I’m driving a wedge between you and your friends –“

“Do you just not listen to the stuff I say?” James asked, an amused sparkle in his eyes as he turned to look at me. “After all that bloody cooking effort yesterday and then you don’t even remember.”

“I remember perfectly,” I countered, wanting to pursue the Sirius can’t date part of the conversation as much as I wanted to let my mind switch off from transfiguration and real life and messy complicate things, to just think about the dream-like date that had been last night. “I just think that you’re being slightly kind about the whole thing. I know my presence makes general marauding more difficult for you guys and that you’re worn out, James, and don’t deny it.”

“My picnic plans probably didn’t help.”

“No,” I agreed, grinning at him, “but they were a bit lovely.”

*

“I decided against looking through your trunk,” James whispered when I remerged from the bathroom wearing an old T-Shirt and at my pyjama bottoms, “wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to find that would be so entertaining.  I was a bit scared, really.”

“Right,” I said, stepping forwards and letting James wrap his arms around my waist, “how did you even get up here?”

“Balancing act.”

“On a slide?”

“No,” James grinned, “I’m not that good; bit of transfiguration, does the trick. The balancing was the whole invisibility cloak issue.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“Keep insulting me all you like, Evans, but you know you’re secretly thrilled I’ve crept up to your dorm in the middle of the night to whisk you away for a romantic picnic.”

“Picnic? Outside? That’s going to take a lot more dressing.”

“No,” James said, smirking slightly, “don’t get dressed, Evans.”

“Shut up.”

“We’re not leaving the castle.”

“Not much of a picnic then.” I said, raising my eyebrows as James reached forwards and kissed me.

“You brushed your teeth.” James commented. I wasn’t entirely sure what the appropriate response to that was. I raised my eyebrows. James grinned.

“Won’t our fabulous dinner be getting cold?”

“Point,” James conceded, letting me pulling him up into a standing position and pulling me closer to him, “ever been under an invisibility cloak, Evans?” James threw the cloak around my shoulders, making a point of circling his arms around me and generally being a prat.

“You’re not going to transfigure with both of us under the cloak?” I asked, dubiously stepping towards the stairwell with a James attached to me.

“No,” James agreed, sounding much too amused,” I’m not.” Then, James stepped over the door to the dormitory, pulling me with him and suddenly the floor wasn’t a floor anymore and we were both flying down the staircase-slide, under an invisibility cloak.

God, my boyfriend was an idiot of the first degree. Then again, that wasn’t exactly anything new.

 *

James had fallen asleep with his arms round me, his head had since lolled against my shoulder in a way that wasn’t all that comfortable and was altogether making it slightly more difficult to talk to Alice about her wedding plans whilst trying to do this stupid set of questions about the history of unforgivable spells (the effects had been easier, given I’d had two out of three performed on me and the description of the third wasn’t exactly complicated – there’s only so much you can really say about instant and immediate death).

James had been looked tired for a while and it wasn’t difficult to see why: he was still regularly visiting his Mum in hospital – all though she was due to come out soon and last time I’d went, she’d been complaining about the food and looked completely healthy – and then there was the school work which had increased tenfold, the Head duties, the Quidditch, a full moon (which finally made sense to me), practicing the Defensive spells that Dumbledore had told us about and trying to find time to spend with me and the others. When you added in the fact he’d been up till two in the morning cooking me dinner, then abducting me from my dorm for a picnic which had lasted until it started getting light… it was no wonder he was exhausted. In fact, if he hadn’t been dropping off continually I’d have started to think he wasn’t human. Still, this was the third time he’d fallen asleep today and I was very close to visiting Professor McGonagall and asking her to relieve him of his Head Duties for a while so he could catch a break.  

He’d cooked me dinner; the least I could do was ensure he didn’t collapse due to over exertion.

“So,” Alice said, looking up from the bundle of pieces of parchment and muggle pieces of paper in her wedding planner and glancing up at me, “have you started believing in weddings yet?”

“What?” I asked her, feeling slightly startled.

“Lily,” Alice said with a slight sigh, “you’ve been saying for years that you never want to get married or have children and I’ve always wanted to see someone melt your perspective.”

James shifted in his sleep, pulling my body closer towards him and pressing his face into the base of my neck. My body’s instinct to tense away from his arms around my waist was beginning to lessen, and it was much easier these days not to notice his breath against my skin as he slept, or his hair tickling the bottom of my chin – I was used to him, in a nice way.

“No,” I said, just as James inhaled deeply, “it’s only been like a month and a half, it’s going to take a bit longer to break me.”

“Hmm.” Alice said, not sounding entirely convinced as she returned to her organising the lists of potential wedding guests.

“James,” I muttered, poking him gently, “it was cute, but now you’re drooling on me,” James remained perfectly unconscious but lessened his hold around my waist. “This is stupid,” I declared, frowning at him. It was horrible to see him look so damn tired: I wanted to tuck him up in bed and let him sleep, but it was only a free period and there were still another two lessons to get through and then Quidditch practice. No Prefects meeting, given it was Valentine’s Day, but that also meant it had fallen to the pair of us to patrol. “I’m going to go see McGonagall,” I said finally, working my way free of James’s vice like grip and giving up my role as teddy bear, “he needs a break.”

I was quickly replaced by one of the pillows. Poor James. He looked adorable.

Alice looked at James for a few seconds, smiling slightly, “good job Sirius’s got Runes,” She said, “you know he’d charm something obscene across his face whilst he was unconscious.”

“He’ll probably still find a way.” I sighed, kissing James on the forehead, smiling at Alice and heading for the Portrait hole.

*

“You’re not actually serious?” I asked quietly, blinking around at the huge expanse of the Great Hall before turning back to James. “We’re having a picnic in the Great Hall?”

“Yup.” James said, smoothing the picnic blanket on the floor in one of the far, empty corners of the hall. “The House Elves are sending up the food in the usual way and... I figured there might be a nice atmosphere.”

The Hall looked even bigger in the dark with only two, tiny people in it. The sky stretched up above us and heightened the impression of insignificance and the sublime that the place seemed to produce. It wasn’t a particularly cloudy night. You could almost see the stars.

“Yeah.” I agree, sitting down quietly and leaning into his arm – I half wanted to cry, half wanted to laugh, mostly wanted to wrap my arms around James’s neck and never let him go. It was oddly perfect. A picnic for two in the great, vast, empty space of the great hall.

*

I knew that James was irritated. He wasn’t exactly hiding it – more, making it as obvious as possible with his continual sighs and running his hand through his hair – and it’s not like I couldn’t understand why he was annoyed... sure, spending your Valentine’s day stalking your best friends probably wasn’t top on the list as far as romantic executions went. But, still, there was part of me that wanted him to continue to be understanding Mr Perfect and just go with it, instead of making it so abundantly clear that if he had his way he wouldn’t be watch me strain my neck to see how Sirius’s date was going.

So, with one successful Valentine’s related picnic under our belts our second attempt was quickly disintegrating to absolute shit. We’d ordered food and neither of us had eaten it, James was growing gradually more irritated and blocking my view of the others (no doubt on purpose) with his head and I now I was beginning to get annoyed too. We were both exhausted and tired and frustrated and, really, we shouldn’t have bothered at all.

“How’s Quidditch going?” I asked, even though I didn’t really care all that much. We’d talked about Quidditch plenty before, but now talking about anything was marginally better than talking about nothing at all because the silence was painful and awkward and a stark reminder that this wasn’t going very well.

“Okay,” James shrugged, hands in pockets, “we should win next week.”

Sirius’s date was a fifth year Hufflepuff called Joanna. I didn’t know anything about her other than her name, but from what I’d seen of their date she was neither exactly slutty nor particularly prudish. Her two friends, Pete’s and Remus’s dates, seemed okay too. Joanna was the classically pretty one, but didn’t seem to be the most confident. I’d skimmed some basic information by nagging James – that apparently Sirius had been talking to her for a while (which, obviously, he’d been keeping from me on purpose) and that she was quite lovely.

I hated her.

“Lily,” James sighed with an irritated glance behind him, “why are we here?”

“It’s the fifteenth of February and we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day.”

“No, we’re not,” James countered, “we’re sat in a crummy restaurant so you can spy on my best mates date. Believe me when I say this is not celebrating Valentine’s Day.”

“We already celebrated Valentine’s day.”

“This is our second date ever,” James deadpanned, “it’ll be a great story to tell the children.”

“Oh fine,” I said, folding my arms over your chest, “if you don’t want to be here, you don’t want to be here. Let’s just go.”

“Please tell me you’re serious.” James said pointedly. There was no point to this, really. I didn’t have the slightest bit of control over Sirius’s actions and me making it clear that I thought this was a terrible idea would probably just encourage him further, so irritating my boyfriend – who was always unquestionably lovely – was illogical and pointless.

“Sure,” I said, sending one last look to Sirius and his date before forcing myself to look elsewhere, “let’s go.”

*

“So, the others know about your picnic plans?” I asked after we’d cumulatively finished the glorious picnic (James was an even better cook than I’d previously realised; I needed to marry him immediately).

“Not exactly,” James said, “I just told Peter I’d give him five galleons if he spilt the potion, but Sirius woke up just as I was sneaking out the dorm and from what he said, I think he knew it had something to do with you.”

“What did he say?” I asked. James was lying down and I was propped up on my elbows, watching him. The picnic blanket was twisted around our feet, forming a sort of cocoon enclosing both of our ankles. Everything was sort of perfect.

“It was crude.” James grinned, reaching out and brushing a lock of hair behind my ear.

“He thinks you’re going to get laid.” I grinned, reaching down and kissing him. James’s hand automatically went to my hip and the next few minutes were spent caught up kissing James on a picnic blanket, with the fake-sky stretched above us and it felt so wholly perfect that the idea that life wasn’t always going to be precisely like this moment made me want to grieve all over again.

“You’re a tease, Evans.” James grinned when I pulled away, wrapping an arm around me as we returned to lying next to each other and looking up at the ceiling, or there lack of, above us.

“Valentine’s Day is much too cliché.”

“Precisely.”

“You don’t really think I’m a tease, do you?” I asked, turning onto my side and resting my head on his shoulder.

“No, Lily. Of course I don’t.”

*

Sneaking out past Sirius and the others had been mostly unsuccessful and I’d accidently made eye contact with Sirius who, upon seeing the pair of us leaving the restaurant, sent me such a malicious glare that it reminded me he had an actual blood link to Bellatrix Lestrange. Then my brain started trailing off down the dangerous path of being tortured and a dull echo of the pain accompanied the thought. I half wanted to mention this to James, but given the circumstances it didn’t seem like the wisest move.  The torturing incident was always going to be a sore subject and considering James was already mad at me… Damn, I’d really messed this up.

“You want to go somewhere else?” I asked once we were out on the street and the silence between us still hadn’t lifted.

“Honestly?” James asked, one hand distractedly messing up his hair. “I just want to go back to the castle.”

“Okay,” I answered coolly, wrapping my arms around myself and frowning at the floor, “look, James, I’m sorry about wanting to spy on Sirius’s date. I just really think it’s a really crap idea for him to start dating again.”

“Yeah, well,” James said, shoving his hands in the pockets of his robes and not looking at me, “it’s not just about that, is it?”

“Isn’t it?” I asked heatedly. “Because I’m pretty sure there was nothing wrong until a couple of hours ago.”

“Well that’s bullshit.”

“What are you talking about, James?”

“It doesn’t matter.” James said, his shoulders hunched slightly and an expression that didn’t suit him across his features. He didn’t looked like himself. James didn’t suit being unhappy. No, discomforted. Something was bothering him.

“Obviously it does,” I said, pulling on his arm to make him turn towards me, “James, just tell me what’s wrong.”

James looked as though he was seriously considering clamming up and not speaking. Then, maybe he remembered his previous lamentations that talking was the way forwards or maybe it was the Gryffindor courage but he didn’t stay silent for long.

“You and Sirius!”

The silence that followed that was so sharp and painful that it actually hurt.

“You’re not... please tell me that’s some kind of joke.”

“No, I know that there’s nothing... I just...I heard some stupid conversation –“ James said, not looking at me again. That irritated me more than what he was saying; why couldn’t he just look at me?

“What conversation?” I demanded, feeling my confrontational nature kick in without really wanting it to.  I hadn’t had a proper argument with James and apparently my instincts were sparking up again. If in doubt, call him a big headed prat.

“You said... you said that Sirius had told you to break up with me and I just...”

“Jesus,” I muttered, my mind racing back to that conversation with Sirius in the empty corridor,  finding James talking to Sirius about patronus charms, the strange look on his face, “I knew there was something wrong with you.”

“And then Sirius said there was some secret.” James said finally, turning back to me looking pained. This had really been bothering him which was understandable, but why the hell hadn’t he just asked what it was about? Why play happy couples with that bloody picnic if he was really bothered by some conversation he’d heard?

“James, it’s not what it seems like.”

“I know, I know, Lily. And I wasn’t eavesdropping either; I was looking for you... I had the map. I thought you might be talking about Mary so I just... and then you want to go about stalking his bloody date, and what am I supposed to think?”

I was no good at any of this. None of this relationship stuff... James had made it all seem so easy, had lulled me into a false sense of security where everything felt just fine and okay and then, all of a sudden, he was angry and of course he was angry and I didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to do.

“Will you just explain,” James muttered, his voice had a strange hollow quality that I didn’t like, “if you can.”

“Well, you’ve got it all wrong about the Sirius thing,” I said. My mouth felt dry. “Obviously... nothing like that. Neither of us... we wouldn’t.”

“I know that,” James said, pausing in our walk, “I don’t doubt you I just... I feel like you’re making me look like an idiot. That everyone thinks you and Sirius are having something and... That’s what bothers me. But, that’s not important... what’s going on, Lily?”

We were nearly at the castle now and I was beginning to realise with an accompanied sense of dread that there was literally no choice but to tell him everything.  Our second date was going to end in me telling James that I knew Remus was a werewolf and it was most definitely not going to be comfortable.

“I...” I frowned, “I ran into Snape the other day and he reminded me of something he used to say and then I couldn’t stop thinking about, so I went to the library and Sirius found me reading this book... about werewolves.”

James recoiled. The lump in my throat seemed to double in size. It was very, very likely that I was about to burst into uncontrollable tears.

“So, despite everything I said, you still -”

“I didn’t know, James, it was just a thought. Then Sirius found me with the books and he was so mad, so then I knew.”

“So it’s Sirius’s fault?” James asked challengingly.

“Of course not!” I said, throwing my hands up in air in frustration. “It’s not his fault in the slightest, it just –“

“Snape’s fault?” James suggested, his lips twisting.

“I know how much you enjoy blaming Sev,” I countered, “but it’s – ”

“Back to Sev again now?”

“For God’s sake, James! If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine.”

“I know.” James snapped irritably, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking up at me, “so you decided to stick your nose in my business -”

“- it wasn’t like that.”

“-and then not tell me about it?” James asked. “After everything I said about how we need to talk to each other?”

“I know, James. It was stupid... but, I wanted him to be able to tell me when he was ready. He didn’t want me to know, so I didn’t... I thought it would be better if I pretended I didn’t.”

“And what about me?” James asked. “You could have still told me, Lily.”

“You didn’t want me to know either!”

“Because Remus wasn’t ready for you to know. It’s not like I was purposefully keeping you in the dark.”

“I knew you’d be mad.”

“So you thought I’d be less mad if you lied about it?” James asked. “Like you thought I’d be mad when you decided to go and get yourself fucking tortured.”

“James,” I said, grabbing hold of his hand, “please, it wasn’t like that. I didn’t find out on purpose.”

“Then what happened?” James asked, not closing his fingers around mine like he usually did.

“Sirius.... Sirius thought I’d taken it badly,” I continued, feeling the worst constrict in my throat, “so he told me to break up with you, like you heard. He was mad at me. But, I haven’t... I mean, I don’t care and so he’s not... he’s not mad anymore. James, please, I’m sorry. It was just bad judgement – I didn’t mean to...”

“You never mean to, do you Evans?” James asked. “Remus is like my brother.”

I nodded. I knew that. Even before I’d liked James I’d had to respect the Marauder dynamic – idiots, they may have been, but they were also entirely and wholly a family. Anyone could see that they were crazy about each other. Anyone could see that they loved each other more than an outsider could really comprehend – and ever since I’d started this relationship with James, I’d been acutely conscious that I was weakening the bonds between them slightly. Taking up James’s time with them. Shifting his priorities slightly.

Now, though, with Sirius keeping things from the two of them, with me keeping things from James and James failing to keep things from me... I’d thrown a grenade in the midst of their perfect relationship and it looked like I might be the first thing to get blown up.

“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” James said heavily, “I don’t really want to talk to you right now.”

“Okay,” I said, deciding that I was definitely going to burst into tears the second he disappeared, “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” James said, fluffing up his hair, “you said. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, or something. I need to think.”

“Well,” I said, my shoulders slumping downwards, “happy Valentine’s day.” I finished, leaning forwards and kissing him on the cheek before shoving my hands in my pockets in a very Jamesesque way and walking the rest of the distance back up to the castle on my own.

*

“James,” I muttered, rolling over so that I was lying on my front, propped up by my elbows, “this is a really lovely picnic.”

“Yeah?”

“And you’re really, really lovely,” I said, resting my forehead against my shoulder. “I’m almost glad that you woke me up.”

“Why d’you change your mind about me, Lily?” James asked quietly, looking me with his most beautifully intense I’m-just-about-to-kiss-you-expression that made me want to pre-empt his movements and initiate the kiss myself. “I mean, I guess I’m not the worst person on the planet anymore?”

“I think you might be the best,” I said, reaching out and kissing his cheek, “you didn’t really give me a fair chance to judge you, James. With all your arrogance and such. But then, I’m… I’m not exactly perfect. I don’t know, James, but I don’t think my mind has ever processed such a dramatic change about my view of a person.”

“Snape?”

I didn’t answer that. I didn’t want to talk about Snape right now. I wanted to talk about James and me and the future and the past and all the murky grey areas in between. It was incredible to think about where we’d been and where we now stood.

“I think you’re the best decision I’ve ever made.”

“You know how I’m a chaser?”

“No,” I said, closing my eyes, “don’t use that line, it’s too cringey for words.” James grinned, the smile transforming his hole face so beautifully.

“We’re good together,” James said, lips brushing my cheeks, “then again, I’ve been telling you that for years.”

*

“Lily,” James said hotly, “why has McGonagall relived me of Head duties for the rest of the week?”

I hadn’t talked to James yesterday. He hadn’t wanted to talk to me and, given that I was most definitely in the wrong, I thought it was probably best if I let him not talk to me.  Still, now he was approaching me in the corridor with all guns blazing and this time it wasn’t my fault. I’d been doing the right thing.

“You were tired,” I said, “come on, James, you’re exhausted. I just... I asked her on Friday. I thought you deserved a break so you could concentrate on Quidditch...” I trailed off, folding my arms over my chest and suddenly feeling defensive. I had, after all, done nothing wrong.

“Right,” James said with his usual irritated posture; one hand in the hair, one in the pocket of his robes, his lips twisted downwards, “whatever.” James said eventually, looking far from pacified as he pulled his bag back up his shoulder and stalked off in the direction of the dungeons.

“Well,” Sirius commented, stretching out his arms, “that was awkward.”

“Oh shut up,” I spat venomously, “this is all your fault.”

“Is it?” Sirius asked lightly, “don’t blame me for your shit, Evans.”

“Don’t screw things up in my life then!”

“Feel free to continue with the projecting, but if you remember I gave you perfectly sound advice that you ignored.” Sirius said, his irritating air of nonchalance doubling my levels or irritation instantaneously. How Mary had ever been able to stand him I did not understand.

“Shove your advice.”

“Quit with the damn accusations, then.”

“Oh go shag fifth year Hufflepuff girlfriend.” I spat, folding my arms and glaring at him. Sirius’s eyes narrowed slightly. He took a step forward.

“Have you ever considered, Evans, that I didn’t want people to know about that? Actually, let’s widen that – have you ever considered anyone, ever.”

“Have you ever considered anything but your -”

“-don’t even finish that sentence, Evans,” Sirius said, sending a look at Remus as he tried to pass off his irritation as amusement, “I don’t want to disappoint you with my answer.”

“You perpetually disappoint me, Black.”

“Good,” Sirius said, raising his eyebrows at Peter, “are we done, then?”

“No.” I said firmly.

“I think we are.”

“I want to talk about this, Black.”

“No, Lily,” Sirius countered, “you want to justify your stupid actions by making them seem acceptable. It’s bull. I’m not getting involved. James told me you’d be looking for a fight and he told me not to fight with you. So, Lily, that’s exactly what I’m planning on doing.”

“Oh, don’t act so high and mighty Sirius. If you didn’t want to argue with me then you’d just have shut up.”

“Want some more advice? Don’t mess in my life, Evans, and then everything will work out just fine.”

“Well if you weren’t such a perpetual screw up then I wouldn’t feel the need to interfere,” I said starkly, taking a step forwards and narrowing my eyes at him, “if you stopped repressing all your emotions all the time and acting like a moody git then maybe -”

“- don’t give me that. You don’t control me, Evans. And you know what? Mary didn’t control me either. So just leave it out,” Sirius never mentioned Mary first. My throat constricted slightly, “thanks to you ridiculous spying, James is mad at me too. I suppose it doesn’t matter to you that I’m implicated, huh? That, thanks to you, I was lying to him too? And frankly, you’re not worth it.”

“You could have told him.”

“And so could have you! I know driving people away is instinct for you, but I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t mess things up for me.”

“Don’t be a bastard.”

“How many people is it we’re on now? Your sister, Snape -”

“Don’t you dare!”

“Why the hell not?” Sirius demanded. “You want a fight, well let’s bloody fight Evans; you know I can’t stick you so don’t push me.”

“Why don’t you just face up to your emotions, Black?”

“Oh, go sleep with my best mate in the middle of the Great Hall!” Sirius said. I was suddenly acutely aware that given this argument was in the middle of a semi-public corridor, this was going to spread through the castle so quickly that by the end of the next lesson everyone would know. And it wasn’t true. And the worst part is, given I’d brought up Sirius’s date with Joanne that hateful Hufflepuff, it was an entirely fair thing to say.

And everyone would believe it. And I hated Sirius Black.

So then I slapped him round the face.

(In retrospect, given James’s bizarre belief that everyone believed Sirius and I had something going on, having a loud, public argument ending in me slapping him round the face wasn’t exactly helpful towards my cause... but the time I’d realised that I was fuming with anger at the back of a Charms class).

*

“We going to be like this forever?” James asked; hand in mine, foreheads pressed against each other, feet hooked around each other in a small, quiet corner of the Great Hall.

“Are you gonna break my heart, James?” I countered, closing my eyes for a second and listening to how silent the place was with just the sound of our breathing and our soft, sleepy voices. I wasn’t entirely sure how long we’d been talking, but the sky above us was beginning to get lighter.

“Could I?”

“You could crush it,” I muttered, pressing a kiss on the corner of his lips, “easily. Daily. Permanently.”

“Do you trust that I won’t?” James said, grinning.

“That’s a little irrelevant, at this point.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah, I think so.” I admitted, closing my eyes and trying not to think. It was almost easy, with James here and the lack of sleep beginning to take it’s effect. But, it was okay.  I liked not thinking. I liked James. I liked this.

And I could only wish that it would last forever.





Thanks for reading! Reviews are always lovely, just saying ;)


Chapter 20: Drifting.
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 We were not arguing, we’d just reached a point of disagreement. We would talk, but not properly: a lot of the talk all around the castle seemed to be largely centred around the Quidditch match on Saturday, which was a safe easy conversation that both Sirius and James could talk about when prompted for extended (very extended) periods of time. We sat next to each other at meal times, but didn’t continually nudge each other’s toes under the table. We patrolled together, but didn’t hold hands. Everything was the same, except it was slightly different: my goodnight kisses were on the cheek, the way James always seemed to excited to see me had dulled and there were no study sessions.

It was easier than arguing but it took a surprising amount of effort to follow James’s lead in terms of not throwing my arms around him in the corridor or going up to the boy’s dormitory to read my book whilst waiting for him to return from Quidditch practice.

There was nothing stopping me from talking to the others, but it seemed that with James and Sirius deliberately not talking to me properly it was easier to install a bubble of silence around me –  it was almost refreshing, actually, to re-familiarise myself with my thoughts again. I spoke to Alice sporadically, but for the most part I’d spent the week almost utterly silent or in the middle of some inane and mundane conversation about nothing much, really.

Bizarrely, I quite liked it. I missed talking with James, but it didn’t seem entirely like the end of the world – he would forgive me, I knew that, and we would talk about it, it’s just we weren’t doing it right now and that was fine.

 *

By Wednesday, things had gotten a little worse. I’d spent half an hour trying to study in my dormitory before giving up and walking down the stairs feeling oddly dejected. The Marauders were there, as usual, and I decided that it might be a little too awkward for me to go sit with them – instead choosing a sofa by one of the windows, pulling out my books to give the impression of working.

Really, I had no intention of doing anything but listening and watching their conversation.

“Just wonderful,” Remus grinned, “even better now Sirius is making an idiot of himself.”

“Hey,” Sirius returned  with his old, slightly less melancholy, smile stretching across his face “who are you calling an idiot, moony?” It was fairly likely that, given the Marauder’s weren’t exactly talking to me at current that I’d probably never know to what they were referring to, but it was still nice to see Sirius laughing and joking around with the others like he used to.

James, too, was looking pretty cheerful and less stressed than he had done for quite some time. Internally, I tried to remind myself that it wasn’t because we were currently at a stalemate: McGonagall had maintained that James did need to take a short break from Head duties (at least whilst there was a Quidditch match so nearly upon us) and so she’d told him, categorically, that if he didn’t both return his transfiguration grade to its normal high and win the Quidditch match with a top notch performance, then he was to be given an honourable discharge and his position given to someone who had less responsibility. Knowing James, he was determined not to lose his position despite not wanting it in the first place, and was sure to be determined to convince McGonagall that he was full capable of managing all his responsibilities and having much more fun than most of the population of Hogwarts.

James always had done things in style.

I smiled fondly at the four of them. Whilst I’d been distracted watching James, they’d started a game which essentially involved exchanging cheesy chat up lines. My focus just about returned as Sirius delivered something about falling into James’s eyes (and, if things had been okay between us I would definitely have chimed in with the ‘ I sympathise with your problem entirely’ because James’s eyes were just so darn expressive, but being in the dogs house I decided it would be best to remain a spectator).

“Chat up lines about eyes are especially corny.” Peter interjected.

“I know some that are even cornea.” James grinned.

“Teach us, we’ll be your pupils.”

“Nah,” Sirius countered, “we’d know all his secrets.”

“That’s something iris… I’ll-risk? Iris? Poor effort, sorry guy.”

Over on my arm chair, I smiled slightly.

“Eye, eye,” Sirius grinned.

“Sirius,” Peter put in, “what have we told you about overusing puns. I mean, Siriusly?”

“Patronuses in Defence on Monday,” Remus said, “reckon we can use Quidditch victory as inspiration?”

What struck me as nice about that was that Remus genuinely meant it. It didn’t matter that Remus wasn’t on the team, they still all celebrated their victory as if they’d all played on equal share. Before recently, I’d never considered the delicacies off dating a part of the four. They were all so very finely balanced that adding another person to the equation was always going to be tricky. Mary’s presence, and later absence, had affected their dynamic a lot; with Sirius continually oscillating between carefree repressed emotions and out and out grief (although, for the first time, his cheerful mood seemed genuine) and as a result Peter seemed to have been pushed out ever so slightly. Then there was me, and in taking up so much of James’s time along with everything else, had really made their relationship more distant.

I made a note that, when James and I were on better terms again, I should try harder to talk more to Peter and Remus.

Which was where the revelation came in: I had to tell Remus that I knew. And I had to do it before I was instructed to do so by James. And hopefully he wouldn’t hate me for making that decision without him.

“What do you call a Slytherin with a sense of humour?” James questioned the room at large. “A weird slightly hallucinogenic dream.”

“What do you call a sarcastic Hufflepuff?” Sirius bit back, “confused and probably not actually being sarcastic – just more idiotic than normal.”

“What do you call a sly Ravenclaw?” Remus muttered, beginning to sound tired through the obvious jubilation that came with the four of them hanging around together, “a Slytherin.”

“Hufflepuf with a death wish?” James grinned.

“Amos Diggory.” Sirius interjected with one of his trademark smirks. The others burst into a round of raucous laughter and, for a split second, James caught my eye.

I didn’t mind spending time apart, not really, I didn’t mind the fact that he was having fun with his friends – was glad, in fact, but there was something oddly striking about being in the Gryffindor common room, sat at not quite opposite ends of the room but not all that close either, both of us knowing that I was listening to his conversation and secretly enjoying the Marauder’s casual banter. But I wouldn’t just laugh openly like I almost wanted to.

Instead I sat with my small inadequate smile aware that James was still too mad to talk about it properly without an argument sparking up. And, well, we were both a little too good at arguing for that to be a good idea.

I wasn’t the least bit worried about this being an actual end, because that just wasn’t going to happen, but it was strange to be so distant when not so long ago we’d been near inseparable.

James was still looking at me. Suddenly, it was all a little bit too much. It wasn’t like I’d spent the whole week crying in a hole, because I hadn’t cried at all, and now – for no good reason – I really wanted to. My expression faltered slightly.

I decided I had to get out of the room. It was just so suffocating. I grabbed my bag off the floor and got the hell away from there.

*

As soon as I heard the portrait swing open behind me I knew that James had followed me – I hadn’t exactly been expected it but it wasn’t much of a surprise either. James took a further step out of the portrait hall before turning and seeing me standing there, knuckles pressed against my lips, face scrunched up slightly to stop me from crying. Then before I’d really registered what was happening he’d taken one of my hands, wrapped an arm around my waist and kissed me. We stayed like that for a few long moments, wrapped up in each other kissing just to the right of the Fat Lady: the closest we’d been since Valentine’s day was a kiss on the cheek and I don’t think I’d anticipated how lovely it felt to have James’s arm around me again.

It wasn’t real.

Just because James was too lovely to let me drown on my own, that didn’t mean he wasn’t still far too mad at me. And I couldn’t even be annoyed at him for it – because I’d messed up really bad and then I’d made it worse by messing things up with Sirius. Not that I exactly regretted slapping him round the face, because the rumour after Sirius’s lovely corridor announcement had been brutal – now I was the Dumbledore’s slutty, mudblood puppet which was a definite step down – but that was part of the problem in itself. I was too good at justifying my own actions to myself.

Of course it had been a good idea to walk into a situation when I might accidentally get myself killed, because later I’ll be prepared and I’d know what it felt like to be torture. I was increasing my chances and, maybe I hadn’t expected it to hurt so damn much, but I wasn’t ashamed of it. The only reason I’d had to pause to feel guilty was because James had been so distraught.

And the reasoning behind keeping the fact that I knew Remus was partially selfish. It wasn’t wholly selfish, because it had been easy to justify the fact that Remus would tell me when he wanted to know because that was true… and I hadn’t intended to dig any of that up. It had been an accident. I should have told James, yes, but that didn’t mean I would do if I had to start over.

It made my head hurt.

Recently, I’d felt like I was dependent on James and at the same time had been acting as selfishly as ever – not factoring him into decisions much and just expecting him to be okay with it, or at least deal with it, and the idea of changing that about myself hurt my head.

Relationships weren’t something I had a lot of experience with: sometimes you were told that it was all about compromise and then sometimes I was told that you shouldn’t change who you are for someone else. There was probably a line between those two options, but it seemed like a pretty skinny line and I had no idea which side I wanted to stand on.

James was vastly and inarguably very important. At the moment he was the most important thing in my life which was terrifying – being a teenager who barely believed in settling down and having children and being so firmly convinced that things had to work out wasn’t a position I’d ever thought I’d be in. I’d thought Mary was an idiot for having such a serious relationship with Sirius, especially after finding out that she was dying – it had seemed pretty idiotic to go falling in love when it was only going to result in Sirius ending up like this.

Apparently these things weren’t planned out with the help of logic and reason.

Instead, I was Lily Evans and having an argument with my boyfriend had resulted in me internally revaluating everything about my life.

And it wasn’t pretty.

I had a lot of things to sort out. In the name of James Potter. It was such an awful, terrible realisation that had been hovering around my head for the past couple of days like some sadistic vulture.

James had his arms locked around my waist, still, and our foreheads were just shy of pressing together: I couldn’t keep hurting James like this, when it was theoretically such an easy fix.

“You can go back inside now,” I muttered quietly. 

This was akin to the ‘we need to talk’ moment as ever a moment had been – by the look on his face, he very much thought that I meant a lot more than what was said. Relationship politics were complicated, too, back then James had literally just meant let’s talk right now and I just meant I’m okay on my own but there were all these implications and suggestions and subtext which was difficult to pin down. Why was communication so bloody difficult? Were all relationships this hard? It was a wonder anyone managed to stay together at all.

“Lily –”

“No,” I breathed, “that’s not what I mean. I just mean… I know you’re still mad. And that’s okay, James, but neither of us are very good when we’re mad. We’ll say things we don’t mean and bring up things we don’t really care about and that’s how I ended up yelling at Sirius and I don’t want to argue with you, James. So just… you need more time so, let’s not talk now.

See, that wasn’t so bad. But we could hardly put of the eventual discussion forever and the more I thought about it the more I realised how royally I’d screwed up: it wasn’t about the actual decision, which James could forgive me for easily, but it was my whole mentality which James must be aware of. Lily first, James second; Lily does what Lily wants because Lily wants to.

That was his problem with me walking into the cruciatus curse in the first place. Beyond the fact that it had been idiotic and I hadn’t cared about my own personal safety – that was bad enough – but the fact that I’d known James would be upset and I’d damned well done it anyway. And then I’d said ‘I’m not sorry’ and I’d been utterly truthful – I wasn’t sorry.

I couldn’t care so much about James and not care about how my decisions would make him feel. It was illogical and unnecessary and I was so bad at relationships it was unreal.

“Okay,” James said, one arm still around my waist, “Lily, you – ”

“I don’t mind,” I said, biting my lip and pressing my forehead against my chest, “I miss you but… I think maybe we both needed a little space anyway and I understand. I won’t hold it against you.”

“Are you okay? You don’t hate me?”

“I think I hate myself a little.”

That was true. James had been right. I was quite obviously not a functional enough person to be in a relationship with someone else. I was selfish and so wrapped up in myself. It was beginning to hit me how utterly human James was – not some perfect, pretty boyfriend who could cook really nice food. I’d actually hurt his feelings.

“Don’t do that,” James said, an almost trace of a grin and then he kissed me, “I don’t hate you.”

“Yeah, good,” I said, trying for a smile and falling a little short, “you can go back to Sirius and the others now, I’m okay.”

“You’re not going to run off and disappear whilst I’m trying to forgive you?”

“No,” I said, “I’m right here, James. I’m not going anywhere. However long you need.”

“I’ve only just got you,” James said, seriously again, “I’m not going to lose you.”

“But that’s just it,” I said, looking up at him again, “it’s just… soon we’re going to talk it out and it’s all going to be fine. We’re not going to lose each other.”

“Precisely.” James said, pressing another kiss to my lips. “You’re okay?”

“Yeah. You’re okay?”

James nodded, kissed me again and then he made for the portrait hole, hesitated, kissed me again, and then disappeared inside the Common Room.

*

I had also hurt my sister’s feelings.

Thinking of James, the lines of stress etched onto his face as he worried about his mother and the utter relief  once she’d finally been released from St Mungo’s and was allowed home, and the horrible panicky feeling in my gut whenever I thought of my own mother should have pointed that out to me weeks ago.

I’d been so completely offended by Petunia swearing at me that I’d lost sight of the real issue here – that Mum just wasn’t okay. And Petunia, at home without me and resenting me for not having to deal with it and barely noticing, distracting herself by planning out her wedding to Vernon Dursely and pretending that her life was all kinds of normal and conventional.

I’d hate me too.

“Sirius,” I called, watching him turn around and send me a curious look. That was fair enough – he hadn’t realised that I’d been walking in the same direction as him, a couple of feet behind in the corridor, and I’d barely spoken to him since our argument. In all the conversations we’d had since then, the same mundane fake conversations I’d had with James, we’d pretended that I hadn’t slapped him round the face (easier after the day after, when I’d had a hard time not looking at his slightly red cheek) and that he hadn’t fed the whole castle some story about mine and James’s sex life.

We were probably never going to ever mention the fact that, in James’s view, the whole castle thought we were sleeping together.

“Evans,” Sirius acknowledged. His eyebrows raised curiously for a second, waiting for me to catch up if I wanted to, and not entirely knowing what the hell I was going to say. Sod, it wasn’t like I knew either.

“I’m going to the owlery.”

“Probably shouldn’t let you wonder round the castle at night.” Sirius said, half shrugging as he continued walking, me now in step with him.

We’d ascended to floors of the staircase before I’d worked out that I needed to say something to break the ice. I could hardly claim remorse about slapping Sirius round the face and given how often we were at each other’s throats I hardly thought he was actually upset about what had happened. Alternatively, I’d been pretty damn upset when Sirius had carelessly mentioned my Dad’s death over breakfast and he had at least given me an explanation – as shoddy as that had been.

“Look,” I said, frowning slightly, “I don’t think you should be dating.” Sirius looked mildly impressed at that, regarding me with a highly sarcastic smile that seemed to cry ‘really Evans? You’re actually giving me dating advice?. “And not just because it makes me uncomfortable, but because I think that you don’t want to – you just want to want to. So you’re pushing yourself unnecessarily and, anyway, you don’t really like this Joanna girl and she’s not really your type but she’s not like Mary so you’re going with it anyway. And I think that you’re going to hurt her and yourself, but…. I should have told you that instead of going a bit psycho and stalking your date. So I’m sorry, I guess.”

“Okay,” Sirius said, nodding with an unreadable expression on his face, “a convincing an apology, I’m sure.”

“But it is my business, because you’re my friend. I know that we get on terribly and that, well, we’re a bit rubbish – but you’re like the unwanted brother I never had and, well, I worry about you.”

“Are you… okay, Lily?” Sirius asked, his forehead creasing slightly. “That’s not a suicide note, is it?” He asked, gesturing towards the piece of parchment in my hand.

“I’m… writing to Petunia again. And my Mum.”

Sirius seemed to take a few moments to take this in and decided not to comment – Sirius was aware of the situation regarding my parents and Petunia, but went to great efforts not to get involved with any of that stuff. Exactly as I wouldn’t get involved with any of the business going on with his family. We were, after all, only friends to a point.

“Did you sort it out with James?” Sirius asked, seeming to digest this information slowly, “when you were talking outside the other day?”

“He didn’t say?”

Sirius sent me a withering look. “He denied he’d talked to you,” he added with an eye roll, “pretended he’d just made a mad dash to the bathroom. I’m not getting involved, Evans, so if you’re looking for relationship counselling…”

“- then I’m unlikely to ask you anyway. No we didn’t sort it out,” I said, shrugging slightly, “he’s still mad. We’ll talk at some point.”

“Because, frankly Evans, I know exactly why you did what you did. There’s no point wasting your apologies on me.”

We fell into silence for a long few moments, enough to reach the floor below the Owlery, when Sirius paused to start talking again. “James doesn’t really think there’s something going on, Lily,” He continued, falling into step beside me with a trace of the light-hearted smirk that had been returning over the past week or so, “he just thinks other people think there’s something going on.”

It struck me as quite strange that Sirius and I hadn’t had such a serious conversation in such a long time and near remarkable that Sirius was almost being semi helpful.

“Why does that make a bloody difference?” I asked with the first traces of frustration working their way back into my stomach. “Honestly, who cares?”

“Evans,” Sirius said, smirking properly this time, “why was it you publically slapped me in the face, by the way?” I didn’t answer that. “Oh, that’s right – because the rumour that you and James have been sleeping with each other in random parts of the castle is thanks to me.”

“But,” I said, trying to find my argument, “that’s a worse reason to be mad than if he actually thought – ”

“- no it isn’t,” Sirius countered, “it’s not like he doesn’t trust you, me, us whatever – he just doesn’t like the idea that everyone thinks that we’re having it off behind his back. Pride, rather than lack of trust… which is why he didn’t mention it to you before you pissed him off utterly about the date-stalking thing, Lily, because it’s not really much of a reason and he knows it’s stupid.”

“It’s still stupid.” I countered, shoving my hands in my pocket and sighing. “And it’s not the same as you spreading that rumour, Sirius.” Sirius grinned at that. “And it’s not even true!”

“I know,” Sirius grinned, “and yet it’s so believable – that’s the great thing about it.”

“You’re such an arse, Black.” I said, folding my arms but finding I wasn’t really mad anymore. The week had more or less mellowed all my anger, even about the goddamn rumour. Anyway, I’d been a bit of a bitch and I had slapped him round the face – so it probably all balanced out in the end.

“James wasn’t mad about it.”

“Right,” I said, “so that rumour's fine but the other isn’t?”

“Well, it doesn’t make him look like a prat. See, pride Evans – no one is exactly going to think any less of James because of it. Probably the counter, really.”

“God,” I said, “well that’s just charming.”

“Precisely,” Sirius grinned, “I’ll leave you to post your letters, Evans. “

“Wait,” I said, “do you think… do you think James would be mad if I talked to Remus?”

“What does it matter to you?”

“Sirius, come on,” I said, frowning slightly, “I need to talk to Remus before this escalates, but… I just want to make sure I’m not making anything worse.”

Sirius gave me a slightly strange look before sighing deeply and closing his eyes for a long time.

“I don’t think he’d be mad. As long as you’re doing right by Remus, James isn’t going to hold it against you. But, Lily, you should really talk to James soon.”

 “I thought you weren’t giving me relationship counselling?” I asked pointedly. “Look, Sirius, we’ll talk when he wants to talk. It’s not like we’ve broken up or anything – it’s just a temporary blip.”

“If you’re sure.”

“I am.” I said defiantly, turning towards the stairs and trudging up the steps on my own.

*

Remus’s face instantaneously drained of all colour.

“I… I didn’t mean to pry,” I muttered weakly, “and I don’t care.”

Remus didn’t say anything.

I know I was supposed to be Dumbledore’s Gryffindor mascot, or something, but I didn’t feel particularly brave right now. This was going to go horribly wrong and Remus was never going to talk to me again. And then James was going to hate me. And Sirius already hated me in that special way of his, so that wouldn’t make much difference.

“Remus,” I said, reaching forwards and stopping short of resting my hand on his arm, “I’m really sorry. I can’t even imagine… I don’t know much about it,” I admitted, “but, I read some books… a lot of the weren’t particularly flattering but they all agreed about… about the pain. You don’t deserve that. No one does.”

“Really?” Remus asked, his expression turning slightly dangerous. “So, a werewolf who supports You-Know-Who, positions himself outside children’s houses to punish families he… doesn’t deserve to hurt?”

“I’m not an expert on ethics, Remus. I know you’re a good person.”

Remus still hadn’t moved. He was still ashen faced and barely blinking. And, still, I’d never been frightened of him before now – I hoped to hell that was because of the glint of anger in his eye, rather than the fact that I was aware he turned into a ruthless monster once a month.

“I could kill you, easily.”

“I could kill you easily,” I returned, “I could accidently tip a vat of poison over you in potions class. I could hit you with a hex that makes you fall off a building.  People are pretty fragile.” Remus sent me a look that was almost sarcastic. “I should have told you the minute I found out,” I said miserably, “but I thought maybe I’d wait until you told me yourself, but… I don’t know, Remus, I just…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Remus said, tersely, “these things make for awkward conversations.”

“Are you…?”

“Sorry, Lily, I don’t want to talk about it,” Remus said, frowning.

“Do you… ever talk about it?”

“I talked about it with Mary,” Remus said, closing his book and taking a deep breath, “there’s not much to say. It’s just there.”

“That,” I paused, “I’m sorry.”

“You said.”

“No, look, I’m handling this all wrong,” I sighed, biting my lip, “I’m a muggleborn, Remus, I don’t know that much about it. Sirius was mad at me because he thought I’d taken it badly and thought you were a monster of some sorts but that hadn’t even crossed my mind! And now you probably think it’s your fault James and I are arguing but it’s not it’s because I was an idiot and I didn’t tell him.”

“Lily,” Remus said, his forehead creasing into a frown; he looked much older than he should do. God, poor poor Remus. “Thank you.”

“I... if you ever want to rant about it or talk about it to someone, well, someone who’s not James or Sirius, who can be a bit useless sometimes.”

“ – or Peter.” Remus interjected, closing his eyes as if caught in a thought.

“Right,” I agreed, “well, yeah. I guess, I’m here.”

“Excellent.” Remus said, in a way that was probably only half sarcastic.

I looked at him for a few moments and frowned again. It hadn’t exactly gone how I’d wanted it to but, then again, I didn’t know what I was expecting. I could hardly imagine Remus to be pleased that I knew, or for him to suddenly open up and tell me about all his werewolf related angst.

“Just, Lily,” Remus said, “promise me you’ll tell Peter that you know. He hates being the last to know.”

“Sure, anything.” I said, reaching forward and touching his arm just for a second before getting up and walking away.

It seemed like he really wanted to be alone.

*

Everything had gotten steadily more awkward as the week progressed. I wasn’t sure whether Remus had told James that I’d told him about the whole thing or not, so I was half scared to face either of them and ended up lying awake all night wondering whether Remus thought my avoidance of the Marauders was because he was a werewolf or because of the James situation.

Petunia hadn’t replied to my letter, not that I expected her to, although my Mum had replied to mine and the carefully written lies weren’t the least bit comforting, but there was something in her handwriting that made my eyes well up.

Sirius was acknowledging me, the whole of Hogwarts still believe that blasted rumour, James was still acting as though we were acquaintances (although now that was with added long, deep looks) and Remus was looking pale and lacking sleep. I had yet to find Peter alone to talk to him about anything – plus, I didn’t really know where to start with Peter. I knew Remus through Prefect Duty, Sirius through the Mary debacle and James through… well, that was a hell of a story to condense. But Peter was just a boy in my year that my path had never really collided with – I hadn’t got a clue how to engage him in a conversation.

Anyway, I’d come to the conclusion that I needed to talk to James or I was going to go crazy. He must have had enough time to vent by now and if not I wasn’t entirely above gargled apologise and the like – I just wanted James back properly.

Alice had reported that he was in detention for vanishing a seat Snape was about to sit on in view of McGonagall (typical James), so since it had turned twelve I’d been sat in the Common Room waiting for him to come back. That way he couldn’t escape the conversation.

Not that he would, James was just too lovely for that.

I was just falling asleep next to the fire when the portrait hole opened and James stood, framed in the doorway, looking more pensive than he’d seemed all week.

“Lily?” James asked.

There was no one else in the Common Room now, thank God.

“James,” I muttered, standing up, “look, I’m sorry James. I never meant to just disregard you like that or make you look like an idiot or anything it’s just that I’m so rubbish at…” I paused, “what?” James was smiling slightly, a hint of a smirk playing at the corners of his lips. He took a step into the common room.

“I was about to say forget it, Lily,” James said, taking another step forwards, “I don’t like arguing much.”

“You seemed okay,” I muttered, sitting back down heavily on the sofa (consciously leaving enough room for James to sit next to me).

“So did you.”

“I think I was,” I said as James sat down next to me, “I… it wasn’t worth it though.”

“No,” James agreed, “Sirius said you wrote to Petunia and talked to Remus. He warned me that if I left in another couple of days you’d have gone to apologise to Snape.”

“Unlikely,” I laughed quietly, “what… what changed your mind?”

“I’ve just been in McGonagall’s office,” James admitted, “She wants… she wanted to ask me to do a speech at Mary’s memorial feast.”

“Mary’s –?”

James looked grim for a moment, “for the year’s anniversary of her death.”

I felt like I’d been winded for a moment. Surely, surely, it hadn’t been a whole year since Mary had died? That couldn’t be possible.  Except, it was late February so that meant… next month; it had been over eleven months since Mary McDonald had died.

“And I just thought sod it,” James said, closing his eyes for a second, “I’m not thrilled, obviously. But… talking to Remus, writing to your sister I guess… Well, Lily, there’s a lot bigger things to get upset about.”

I nodded.

“So we’re good?” I asked, threading my hand through James’s.

“Lily,” James grinned, “we’re perfect.”

We sat there, next to each other on the sofa for a long time. Our shoulders were pressed up against each other, hands clasped together so tightly it was bordering on painful and our knees touching. We didn’t kiss or talk. We just sat there, connected again, until I ruined it all by starting to fall to sleep.

And somehow, in the middle of it all, I forgot I still had to talk to Peter. 




Hello there! Was this a long wait? I feel like it was. Sorry about that, guys. The problem with this story at the moment is I always want to write the next but one chapter. All through the last chapter I wanted to be writing this one, now through this one I wanted nothing more than to write twenty one. But, woah guys, twenty chapters! This is officially how long TAOS was originally supposed to be but, well, things don't always go to plan... the current plan is thirty chapters, whilst we're on that topic. Thanks for reading and reviewing as always guys! Lily starts to really grow up from this point onwards and its exciting (for me, anyway). Hope you guys are still enjoying this :)


Chapter 21: Forgotten.
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Hello guys! So, I normally usually save the authors notes for the end but I just couldn't resist because OH MY GOSH DOBBYS GUYS I LOVE YOU GUYS SO MUCH THANK YOU AHHHHA. I'm so excited. I ran and told my flatmate (who I've known for less than a month, and who was very confused but please for me all the same) and i'm so thrilled so as I treat this chapter has more than your average amount of fluff and romance stuff and a little angst (although not too much, really). So yeah, on with the chapter :)

IN AN ADDITIONAL NOTE there is now a Sirius-centric spin off that just happened all out of nowhere. I blogged about it on the forums and it's hit my authors page so, yeah, if you want some Siriusness go check it out :)

Edit: Thanks so much to Mutt N feather's for betaing this chapter for me! She's amazing and I'm so greatful!





“James?” I asked, blinking up blearily as James slipped into my four poster next to me. “I don’t remember inviting you.”

 “Hope I’m not interrupting anything,” James said, stealing most of my duvet to wrap himself into a cocoon. 

“Only my sleep. It’s not like that’s important.” I shuffled closer to him in an attempt to have access to the bed covers, which seemed to have been his plan anyway because I was suddenly wrapped in my own slightly stifling (in a nice way) cocoon of James’s arms and the duvet combined. “What’s up?”

“Sirius was talking in his sleep,” James muttered, pressing a kiss into the back of my neck.

“About Mary?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you normally do?” 

“Silencing charm.”

“Oh, that’s a point,” I said, sitting up and reaching for my wand, uttering the spell under my breath before placing it back on the bedside table. “h, don’t give me that look, Potter. Now we can talk without worrying about waking the others up.”

“Oh good,” James said, burying his face into my pillows, “I was worried.” 

“Shut up,” I said, scrambling round so that we were face to face, “and kiss me.”

“You’re a bad influence,” James said, smiling as he reached forwards and followed my instruction.

Having been in a state of semi-argument (or at least disagreement) I felt like I hadn’t quite achieved the usual quota for snogging my lovely boyfriend this week, and given James was likely to spend the whole of tomorrow banging on about Quidditch and celebrating the inevitable win with the others I didn’t see much of a chance to rectify that in the foreseeable future. So really, this was a golden opportunity. 

“Do you normally sleep in so little clothing?” James questioned after a few solid minutes of snogging. 

“Well, if I’d known you were coming,” I said, “this is becoming a habit, James, disturbing my sleep.” 

“You’re cute when you’ve just woke up,” James shrugged, “and I like your nightgowns.” 

“Do you usually sleep in so much clothing?”

“No,” James grinned, “just didn’t fancy the mad dash to your dorm without my shirt.”

“Well, feel free to make yourself comfortable.”

“Quit trying to undress me,” James grinned as I kissed him again, burying my hands underneath the bottom material of his shirt. James raised an eyebrow at me but dutifully let me pull it off over his head.

“Shouldn’t you be trying to sleep, what with the big Quidditch match tomorrow morning?”

“I was going to,” James said, “and then my girlfriend started undressing me.” 

“I like you, Potter.” 

“How much?” James grinned. 

“Enough to instruct you to go to sleep now. Wouldn’t want to be responsible for a Gryffindor loss.” 

“Tease,” James muttered into the back of my neck, grinning as he pulled me into his arms. 

“But feel free to come visit me any time,” I muttered, not entirely sure whether James was asleep or not.

*

Although, largely thanks to Sirius, James and my relationship wasn’t exactly secret, there wasn’t a great deal of PDA either. Mostly, we sat opposite each other at meals times, a little too close together when we were sat in the common room and perhaps walked with hands or arms linked when we walked through Hogwarts. The amount of time I spent in the Marauder’s dormitory was really a mark of this lack of public-relationship – because, really, we could have studied downstairs but there’d be less of the flirting and the kissing the general relationship stuff. 

Still, it didn’t account for how interested everyone seemed to be about our relationship. I’d mentioned it to Alice – half curious if it wasn’t me being slightly paranoid – and she’d said that because our arguments and apparent dislike of each other had been so public before, everyone just wanted to know how it turned out. Internally, that’s how I explained the eyes I felt on the back of my head as James and I stood at the foot of the girls staircase as he kissed me goodnight, or if he’d drape a casual arm around my waist on one of the comfy armchairs, or when Prefects would turn up a few minutes early – as if expecting to walk in on some sort of moment (when in actual fact, the half an hour or so before Prefect meetings were usually spent cramming our head duties into a concentrated period of time – there wasn’t any time, by that point, to descend into any sort of fluffy moments). 

It was a good thing, particularly because no one but the other seventh year Gryffindors seemed to have picked up on the fact that we’d been arguing and so excused us from most of the gossiping, and, anyway, it just seemed that it was the way we were. I liked it like that.

Which was why it was startling to come down to breakfast on Friday morning and be turned into some sort of display object.

“Lily!” James declared, pulling me (slightly clumsily) into the seat next to him and wrapping an arm around my shoulders, “the weather conditions are great for this time of year!”

“Excellent,” I said, feeling slightly bemused as I helped myself to breakfast, “really, really pleased for you, my Quidditch star boyfriend.”

“Exactly,” James grinned, “Hufflepuff is going down. Ready to publicly scream my name?”

“Ecstatic.”

“Is that sarcasm I detect?” Remus questioned, looking slightly less demonically pleased as the others (except Sirius, of course, who was instead giving off an air of almost lazy calm – other than the flushed quality to his cheeks).

“Be supportive, Evans.” Sirius grinned.

“Eat some food, James,” I said absently, pushing a plate of sausages towards him before realising I’d turned into his mother. It was most definitely not my duty to tell James when to eat.

“Incoming,” James said, nodding towards where Joanna was approaching the table. He pulled me further under his arm, as if physically restraining me from murdering her or something. I sent him a look which he very pointedly ignored.  

“Good luck,” she said, reaching forwards to kiss Sirius quickly. My stomach turned over slightly. Wrong.“You’re going to need it.”

“Why?” Sirius asked. “Your team suddenly and inexplicably produced some skill?”

“I’ve been assured you’re going to lose by at least fifty points.”

“Strange,” Peter piped up, “as your Seeker has never caught the snitch.”

“In our first year,” James said, “your old seeker caught the snitch when playing against the Claws. The first year I was on the team you Puffs managed to score twice against us. Hoping for a repeat performance of those moments of majesty?”

“Now now,” Remus smiled, “let her hope. It’ll only make the victory sweeter.” 

“Exactly!”

“Bet still on?” Sirius grinned, swinging his legs round to face her. Joanna nodded, blushing slightly. “I look forward to winning, greatly.” 

I looked pointedly at my breakfast as she kissed him again before disappearing, wandering back towards the Hufflepuff table. Sirius watched her go.

Wrong wrong wrong. 

“So it seems Gryffindor needs to score for Sirius to score,” Remus said, raising his eyebrows slightly.

“You can’t sleep with her,” I said wildly. The other members of the Quidditch team – eating together in true team spirit – glanced over at our corner. There were a long few moments of silence before Sirius sent them a look which clearly told them to mind their own business and turned back to me looking distinctly unimpressed. 

“I thought we agreed you weren’t going to be a psycho?” 

 “Not because of that. You can mess up your own life, but she’s so young.”

"She’s sixteen.”

 “Exactly!”

"I’m not debating maths with you, Evans.”

“Sirius! Grow a moral compass! She is a child.” 

“Evans,” Sirius said in his most frustratingly arrogant drawl, “if I win the bet she’s buying me dinner.”

“And if she wins?” I asked, picking at my breakfast feeling slightly mollified. 

“Madam Puddifoots.”

“Ouch,” James said, “don’t worry, mate, we’re going to win.”

“I know,” Sirius said, sending me one last look before returning to his cool expression and his black coffee. Sirius didn’t eat before Quidditch matches. James insisted upon it for the rest of the team but let it slip with Sirius – there was probably some reasoning behind it, but I never cared enough to ask. Maybe I would. James, for all his faults, was usually a little more discreet about his blatant favouritism towards his best mates.

“You haven’t slept with her?”

“No.” 

 “Are you going to?”

 “Probably,” Sirius shrugged, “quit nagging me, Lily.”

It would have been all too easy to start an argument, but I swallowed my comment back and instead rested my head against James’s shoulder for a second. As much as I liked Quidditch, days like this always seemed to be very tiring – too much adrenaline, too much screaming from the stands, then there’d be the after party. Given Hufflepuff’s genuinely poor form I very much doubted that they would win but even if they did the Marauders would probably crash the party. 

“Why haven’t we made a bet?” James asked.

“Because I have utter faith in you,” I said, ruffling up his hair distractedly. 

“Extra incentive?” James suggested.

“If you lose, I’ll dump you.”

“If I lose I’ll be dumping myself off a great height. What do I get for winning?” 

“What do you want?” 

“Hey,” Sirius interjected loudly, “let’s keep it clean. Remember some people are trying to eat breakfast here.”

“You’re not. I could try and cook you dinner, if you like,” I smiled, “but that depends how much you like eating charcoal. Kiss for every time you score?” 

“I’ll take it,” James grinned, glancing at his watch, “better go warm up. Anyone else coming?”

“No,” Rachel said, rolling her eyes, “game doesn’t start for ages yet, James.”

“Captain,” James corrected, “fine, be down in fifteen. Remember to drink at least two glasses of liquid. Lily?” 

“Hmm?” I said.

“Good luck kiss?”

“Oh, right,” I said, feeling oddly self-conscious as I reached up, wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him in the middle of the great hall. It didn’t help that Sirius lead Peter and Remus in jeering very loudly, resulting in a rather excessive amount of attention towards us. Then, of course, Sirius threw a piece of bread at my hair. Just about bloody typical. As was the slightly crude comment I barely heard about how James probably could do with a cool down rather than a warm up.

“See you later.”

“Exactly,” James grinned, giving the others a mock salute before vaulting out of the Great Hall. I had to admit that James was utterly adorable when he was this over excited. 

*

Fighting against the mass of cheering Gryffindors heading back to the common room was quite the challenge, but I was somehow managing to clear a path through and work my way – slowly – across the pitch towards the locker room. 

“Lily!” Rachel called out once I’d pushed open the door, “Lily we won!” 

That was more or less stating the obvious. In fact, I don’t think a Quidditch match had every been won by a greater margin (although James would probably be glad to tell me more about the history of winning by such a significant amount later), meaning that unless Ravenclaw beat them by over four hundred points or something stupid in the final match then we were guaranteed the cup – which more or less explained the deafening roar from outside and the fact that my ears were still ringing from it all. 

“Lily!” James grinned, still in his Quidditch robes as he beckoned me over, “put on something pretty, I’m taking you out for dinner!”

“Oi, Potter,” I muttered, “you are muddy and sweaty and horrible, keep your hands off.” Naturally, this meant that James did his best to get me as muddy as possible by hugging me and pulling me into the seat next to him. 

“Did you count how many times I scored?” 

“Lost count,” I smiled sardonically. 

“Eleven.”

“You are such a prat,” I said, rolling my eyes as I reached out and kissed his cheek, “but fair is fair, I guess.”  

“We’re going out for dinner,” James said.

“Hope it’s not a double date,” I said, glancing towards Sirius. Sirius was probably looking not quite pleased enough about everything – he was making a couple of inappropriate comments about me being in the locker room to one of the other guys, but he didn’t seem as gleeful about it as he normally did. I supposed this was a stark reminder of the first Quidditch match last year without Mary. 

“No,” James said, “Sirius and Joanna are going out for dinner. We’re going out for dinner. Everyone should go out for dinner. Rachel!” James said, turning around. “You should go out for dinner with Remus.”

“I have a boyfriend?” Rachel suggested. 

“Yeah, but, Remus isn’t interested either so it’s perfect,” James said, “and hurry up and get your miserable arses changed guys! As captain I can’t leave until you sods have all cleared off and you’re cutting into my time with my girl.”

 “Please never refer to me as your girl ever again,” I said, shaking my head slightly, “whilst I understand that Captain James Potter is a Quidditch superstar, you don’t have to talk like a prat.” 

 James genuinely pouted. 

 Dear God, a James high on Quidditch was a completely different experience all together. He hadn’t seemed this carefree for months, dammit and it was lovely. I wanted to absorb this happy James and lock him away so that he never ended up stressed about the war and You-Know-Who and his Mum still being frail despite being discharged from St Mungo’s and back at home. 

“All right,” Sirius said, throwing his robes over his shoulders, “see you later.”

“See you later, Captain,” James corrected.  

Sirius swore at him, laughing, as the others followed suit and grabbed their stuff, heading towards the direction of the door. 

“Where are you taking me for dinner then?” I smiled as the last dregs of the Quidditch team – plus a couple of extras like me – took off towards the door. 

“No idea,” James grinned, reaching forwards to kiss me. 

“James,” I said, pulling away slightly, “I mean it about the mud.” 

*

 Of course, thanks to my mud comment I was forced to sit and wait in the locker room as James took a shower and was then subjected to James wondering around said locker room with insufficient amounts of clothing on. And naturally after James had pointed out that I owed him eleven kisses and had taken it upon himself to claim some of them, Sirius had turned up declaring he’d ‘forgotten his wallet’ and ‘thought we’d have gone, already’ raising his eyebrows at James’s wet hair and current state of toplessness.

And by the time he’d left with a ‘so that’s how James’s hair gets so messy’ I wanted to get as far away from the locker room as possible and get on with this whole dinner lark – rather hoping that it would turn out better than the last date. 

Although considering everything, I thought it would have been pretty damn impressive for it to have ended up worse.

 *

The restaurant was completely empty. I suspected that was, for the large part, because it was definitely past lunch time and not dinner time in the slightest. 

 Quidditch never did fit in with the constraints of normal meal times, but then there were the added shenanigans of James acting like a gloriously happy prat and me just lapping it up because there was a few rare moments of actual happiness which weren’t tainted by something big and scary from the real world, and because James grinning like an idiot made me smile, and because I wanted to remember this day for a very long time afterwards. 

So I went along with the rather meandering route to Hogsmeade, which kept being held up by James counting up how many kisses I still owed him, and getting caught up snogging in a bloody secret passage – it was nice to feel like a silly teenager for once, rather than feeling like we were on the edge of fighting something that would probably kill us all. I liked it. 

“About last week,” I said, alone in the restaurant with James’s hands intertwined through mine. 

“We don’t have to talk about it.”

“I thought you liked talking about things,” I said, raising my eyebrows at him.

“We don’t have to talk about it now,” 

“Because, James, I think the reason you don’t want to talk about it because… look, James, we know that I’m the problem here,” I said, sighing.“Lily does what Lily wants.”

“- Lily,” 

“And,” I interrupted, “you don’t want to talk about that because you don’t want to get to the point in the conversation when I say that I’m not sorry and you have to make the decision whether to put up with that forever or… well, not.” 

One of James’s hands was ejected from mine and instead went up to ruffle his hair slightly. Of course, I was messing up a perfectly lovely dinner by bringing this whole thing up but I wasn’t going to do the same thing as last time – play happy relationship with James before bringing the whole thing crashing back down around our ears. 

“And I’m not sorry,” I said, frowning, “I’m not sorry for me. But, I’m sorry for you.”

“Can we not talk about this now?” James suggested, his voice tight.
 
“Hear me out,” I said, “I’m an idiot for thinking that I can rely on you so much and then walk all over you. So, no more stupid mistakes, James. No more selfishness.”

“So?”

“So,” I said, grinning, “you’ll have to think of another excuse to ruin us.”

“Hey,” James said, with one of his smiles, “I don’t think I have that much imagination.”

“Good,” I said.

“Good?” 

“Yes,” I said, “I mean… I was scared James because I thought that if I… if I lost you then I’d just fall apart.”

“Is it just me,” James said, “or is this dinner conversation getting a little heavy?”

“It’s hardly dinner conversation,” I grinned, “we haven’t even placed our orders yet.” 

Every time the waitress came over she seem to decide that given we had yet to look at our menus and were instead wrapped in a conversation that looked more than slightly serious that there was no point asking us whether we’d decided what we wanted to eat. Instead, she flicked her quill impatiently and sighed quite loudly before wondering off again.

“Well, by all means continue in that case.”

 “But this week was… it was okay. It wasn’t great. But I didn’t fall apart. So now I think I can stop fighting it and don’t stupid things and messing things up.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” James said, a genuine smile diluted only a little by that bloody mischievous Marauder streak. 

“So now I can just let myself…you know.”

“I do?” James asked, his eyes questioning.
 
“Don’t make me say it, Potter.” I said, the corners of my lips twisting upwards. “I care about you a lot,” I said, “that’s all you’re getting out of me.” 

“Well,” James said, beckoning over the waitress in a way that, considering everything, definitely fell under the category of rude, and sending me one of his loveliest smirks, “keep me posted.” 

*

 “Not attached to James’s hip?” Alice asked, halfway through the victory party. The whole thing smacked of the potential to be as messy as ever, particularly as Sirius seemed determined to drink himself incapacitated (and was doing quite a bloody good job, too) and Rachel had gotten somewhat emotional and had started crying about missing Jeremy to a rather confused and sparingly sympathetic Remus. 

“Well,” I said, glancing over to where James was stood with the members of his Quidditch team that were still capable of standing and watching as they all drank a shot of something which turned their skin an odd shade of blue, “I’ve had him to myself all day,” I shrugged, “if he wants to turn himself blue for a bit, that’s fine by me.”

“Oh how the mighty have fallen,” Alice grinned. 

“Sorry?” I asked, turning back to look at her feeling my face flush slightly. I didn’t understand exactly what she meant, but it made me feel oddly uncomfortable.

“Oh, come on Lily, let’s dance.”

That suddenly seemed like a wonderful idea. 

Alice’s hand threaded through mine and she pulled me towards the makeshift dance floor – where all the sofas had been kicked a few feet backwards to ensure there was enough space for more than one person to stand up and dance (providing that person wasn’t that slightly odd third year, who’s wild dancing took up half the space all by himself). 

“Where’s Frank?” I asked, yelling slightly over the highly concentrated volume of the music in this section of the Common Room. 

“He’s with his brother,” Alice said, grabbing two drinks off one of the floating trays and pressing one into my hands, “trying to convince him to come to the wedding.”

“He doesn’t want to come?” I asked, frowning. 

“No,” Alice said, “and Augusta, Frank’s Mum, thinks that -”

But the rest of her sentence was interrupted by a rather sloppy James wrapping his arms around my waist. 

“Sorry,” I mouthed to Alice, turning around to face a somewhat unsteady James and raising my eyebrows, “quit interrupting my conversations, Potter.” 

“I think,” James said, frowning, “that someone spiked my drink.” 

“Oh dear Lord,” I muttered, turning around to face Alice feeling slightly alarmed. 

“He’s your boyfriend,” Alice shrugged, “your responsibility.” 

“Let’s get you some water,” I suggested, placing down my drink before James could drink it and heading towards the table with the glasses, “now, are you slightly green because you’re about to vomit or because of the colour changing shots?”

“Shots, definitely,” James said, grinning madly. 

“Sirius!” I hissed, hooking my elbow through his arm and dragging him in my awake. “What is the usual procedure with such a…” 

“EVANS!” Sirius yelled. 

“Oh, bloody hell,” I muttered, releasing Sirius. Naturally, they would both decide to drink their body weight in alcohol on the same damn day. I didn’t think I’d ever seen James this drunk before.  

“James,” I said, pushing him into a chair and passing him a glass of water, “drink up.” 

“Lily,” a voice said, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Remus! Thank God!” I said, hugging him without really meaning too (it was then that I realised I’d been drinking a fair bit too, although not even a fraction of what my idiot boyfriend seemed to have drunk). “What do you normally do when James gets this shitfaced?”  

“Take photos,” Remus admitted, shrugging his shoulders slightly, “it’s a Marauder rule.” 

“Please don’t,” I said, frowning at him, “I’m taking it he’s not always so handsy with you guys?" 

“No,” Remus said, smiling, “I imagine not.”

“Lily,” James said, “Liilllyy,”  

“Oh, hell,” I said, facing him hopelessly. 

“Two choices, Lily. Leave him to fend for himself at the risk of a lot of photos, or put him to bed.” 

“Up you get, Potter,” I said, dragging up him with my arm and immediately dreading how hard it was going to be to get him up the damn stairs.

“I thought,” James said, “we agreed on James.” 

“Okay, James,” I said, hauling him towards the stairs, “it’d be really helpful if you regained the use of your legs right about now.” 

After ten minutes of hard graft, I’d navigated a very drunk James up the stairs and towards his bed. 

“For such a weedy guy you’re bloody heavy,” I commented as James half fell at his bed in a way that was definitely not graceful.

“Not weedy,” James said, scrambling to sit up and look at me better. I sat down the edge of his bed and was subsequently tackled so that I was lying next to him, “who are you calling weedy?”  

“What the hell did you drink?” I asked, yawning and resisting the urge to just fall asleep. 

“Too much,” James declared, burying his face in my shoulder, “Lily, don’t leave.”

“Oh dear,” I said, “You’re a needy drunk.”

“Stay with me.” 

“If you mean like, on a forever basis, then fine. If you mean tonight, then no thanks. I don’t want to wake up with you throwing up on me,” I said, wrapping my fingers through James’s and finding myself quite surprised that I actually fully meant what I said (particularly about the vomit). 

“Now.”

“I like you, James,” I said, closing my eyes, “but not enough to scrub vomit off my favourite dress when it’s,” I yawned “your own fault for drinking so much.”

“Sirius spiked my drink,” James declared, turning onto his side so that I could feel his eyelashes against my cheek, “promise.”

“With idiot potion?” I suggested. 

“Lily,” James complained, snuggling even closer to me, “I’ve waited for you for ever.” 

“Bet I’m not worth it,” I said, opening my eyes and watching him, “always thought you’d built me up into this great… idea and then if I gave in you’d just be so disappointed with what you got.”  

“That,” James said, “is utter shit. You…” James appeared to have lost the train of his thought slightly, “you, Lily Evans. You’re like… you’re everything, Lils.”

“Thank you.”

“You,” James began again, circling his arms round my waist, “you are like, you know, really bad at date conversation.”  I laughed at that. “But, but Lily – there’s a but -” 

“- speaking of which, get your hands off mine.”

“ – but, Evans Lily woman, I am utterly utterly –“

“- drunk?” I supplied. 

“– crazy about you,” James finished, “and you should just stay and live in the boys dorms with me.”

“I’m sensing a few impracticalities.”

“Lily,” James said, “Lily please don’t leave me.” 

“I don’t see how I can,” I admitted, closing my eyes, “ignoring the fact that you’ve literally got be trapped in your arms right now, when you’re being so damn cute...” 

“You’re cute.” 

“You’re drunk.”

“Maybe,” James conceded, “but I’m not too drunk to know –“ I detangled myself slightly and took off James’s glasses, and placed them on his bedside table before curling back into his arms. “– that you are the most beautifuliest Lily Evans and, and, and… you definitely belong in my bed.”  

I laughed, reached out and kissed him. 

“Goodnight, James.”



“Sorry,” Sirius said with such flippancy that one greatly assumed he wasn’t, “but I don’t want to.”

“What’s going on?” I asked, walking over and sitting on the arm of James’s armchair.  Head duties without James were undeniably rubbish, but he’d been staring bleary eyed at his transfiguration homework all morning so I assumed he’d be reinstated soon enough. 

“Sirius doesn’t want to go to the memorial feast.”

“Mary’s memorial feast?” I questioned, glancing between them. 

“I’m not going and that’s that,” Sirius said, moodily glancing around the room. 

“ – Sirius…”

“No, James,” Sirius said forcefully, “I’m not going to some stupid feast full of people who don’t care. I don’t want to be sit there while you talk about Mary whilst people are bored and gossiping or talking amongst themselves because they couldn’t give a rats arse that Mary is dead and that she’d been dead for a year. Or first years looking at each other going ‘who the hell was Mary McDonald’ and the Slytherin’s sitting there all smug and satisfied that there’s another half-blood dead and rotting. I’m not sitting in a room with a bunch of fake mourners like the people who turned up to her funeral and cried even though they’d never sodding talked to her and everyone saying ‘oh, poor Sirius’ and acting like they understand me and what it’s like to lose the love of your fucking life.  No one fucking cares about Mary any more, okay. And I am not sitting through some crappy feast that no one wants to go to!”

“What are you going to do then,” James asked, “visit her grave?”

“No,” Sirius said shortly “that’s what her family will be doing. I am going to do absolutely bloody nothing.” 

“Need company with that?” I asked quietly. 

“Lily,” James said, glancing at me looking slightly betrayed. Normally I would have sided with James for just about everything – particularly against Sirius – but there were something things that went beyond pettiness. And Sirius was right. 

“He’s right,” I said, quietly, “I don’t want to go. That’s what she never wanted… to be forgotten. And now…”

“It’s happened,” Sirius shrugged, “life happens. Shit moves on. Everyone is forgotten.”

“Well I have to go,” James said, “I have to make a speech. Come on guys, please.” 

“No,” Sirius said. 

“You need to ask Johnny,” James said, sighing. “If he doesn’t mine you guys not turning up then… fine. But he has to know. You can bet he’ll be going.” 

Either Sirius was too hung over to argue, or he had to concede that this was a valid point, because he shrugged his shoulders and considered scowling around the room.  James wasn’t look that bright eyed and beautiful either this morning, but that was to be expected. 

“Didn’t see Joanna at the party last night. Too sore about losing?” I asked. 

“Dumped,” Sirius said, “excuse me.”                                                                                                           

And then he got up and walked out the common room, shoving his hands in his pockets. I guessed angsty Sirius was making a comeback. 


*
 
The first Defence class after we’d made up was the Patronus charms. James made no qualms of loudly telling half the classroom that I’d already done it, resulting in Professor Tyron insisting that I give everyone an example. I’d then countered that I’d only managed it once, ended up sending James a withering look and we’d had one of the normal flirty-argument in front of everyone, and I’d come away feeling slightly pleased and slightly embarrassed by the whole thing. 

“Need a hand with thinking of something happy?” James suggested, raising his eyebrows in that playful way of his.

“I’m sure I’ll manage,” I returned, shaking my head and smiling at him slightly. James really was sweet.  

“Well, when you need me,” James said, shrugging back in his chair and watching me. The look I sent him did nothing. So I dug up the warm memory of lying next to each other on the floor of the Great Hall, looking up at the charmed ceiling and talking about a whole future. 

Expecto Patronum.”

“Not bad.” Remus said, squinting slightly at my formless mess.

“More than is expected for NEWT level,” Professor Tyron said.

“It was better last time,” James said, “tell me when you want that memory.”

“What memory were you going to suggest?” I countered; hand on hip and feeling amused by his easy grin. James looked good. Having his mum back at home, me in the knowledge about things and our relationship more than back on track suited him.

 “Which were you using before?”

“Who says I was thinking about anything to do with you, Potter.” 

 “I know you too well, Evans. So, which memory was it?”

 “Well, either way, it didn’t work properly.” 

 “You know how to crush a man, Evans,” Sirius said appreciatively. “What about your Valentine’s day jaunt?” 

 “Bit cruel to bring that up,” Alice suggested from the desk next door, shaking her head at him, “they’ve only just made up.” 

 “I was talking about the midnight-picnic.” 

 “Shut it, Sirius,” I said. “Let’s see if slapping you round the face is a happy enough memory, shall we?”

 “Let’s not,” James countered, “I’d rather not know that slapping my best mate has made you happier than whatever memory you were thinking of before.”

“You try.” I instructed, this time concentrating on the reconciliation of our argument – James professing that he didn’t much care, really, whatever the hell I did and the he didn’t think anything was worth us not talking. I pictured the two of us, sat next to each other, clasping hands and just talking. I forced the resigned joy in my stomach back to the forefront of my mind. “Expecto Patronum.” 

 This time the silver mist had a form: a bright silver, shinning doe that burst into life and galloped around the classroom. I was caught up for a moment in how beautiful it was, with all the faces that turned to see who’s patronus it was and then James looking completed and utterly delighted.

 The lapse in concentration in looking at his very pretty expression caused the doe to dissipate into nothingness.

  "It might not have even been a memory of you, prat,” I said, casting the spell again.

 “No,” James said, shaking his head, “I think...” then he stopped, frowned (the sort of I’m-going-to-kiss-you-now-frown, except he didn’t now), then pulled out his wand and cast his own attempt at the spell. He managed it first time – of course he did, the prat – and I sent a cursory glance at his patronus and saw, of course, a stag.

They galloped half a length of the classroom together, before I lost concentration and sent James a half sort of smile.

 “You know what that means, right?” James asked softly, because a fair proportion of the classroom was looking at us now. The word “soul mates” was half whispered in my ear, then I looked at James – beautiful James – then I kissed him. Right in the middle of the classroom. In front of everyone. For an excessive amount of time. 

 And, dammit, I didn’t even care.

 "A rat?” A Ravenclaw asked, loudly. “Pettigrew is a rat.”

I tore my gaze away from James to catch sight of the silver form of a rat just before it faded to smoke. 

“Wants some cheese, Peter?”

 “Oi,” Sirius said loudly, “what about you Stebbins, too depressed to produce anything at all?”

 “Not everyone’s an arrogant little show off, Black,” Snape’s voice cut through me slightly, flaring up that familiar feeling of annoyance in my gut.

 “Some of us have got things to show off, Snape,” Remus interjected, “not attempting the spell yourself?” 

 Snape raised his wand, closed his eyes for a second before saying ‘expecto patronum.’ As much as I wanted to shut my eyes and pretend Snape didn’t exist, there was a morbid curiosity associated with my once best friend. I glanced over, trying to make out a shape in the first lot of spacious mist. 

Sirius lead a chorus of mockery at his failure. I bit my lip and watched his second attempt.

 It was something like a horse, I thought, then something twigged inside my brain. 

 The whole classroom went silent.

 It was a doe.

 








Chapter 22: Closure
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 It seemed a bit too soon to be having another argument, but apparently relationships didn’t have argument quotas that were filled after a certain extent – instead, the scope for disagreement was just about endless, a fact which I’d definitely been well acquainted with this month.

“Are you about to start snapping again?” Sirius asked, glancing up from where he was playing Chess against Peter on the floor of the boy’s dorms. Remus looked up from his book and sent a glance in our direction, before returning to the text looking unmoved.

“Probably,” James said, rolling his eyes and flicking through his textbook without reading it, “largely because -”

“- not getting involved,” Sirius said, “come on, Wormtail, Moony, last time I was involved I ended up being slapped round the face -”

“- oh, sod off Sirius.”

“- she’s getting angry already. Abandon ship, folks.”

I rested my head on James’s shoulder as Remus picked up his book, Peter forlornly abandoned the game of chess and the three of them headed out – I expected the only reason Sirius had bothered being an arse was because he was losing the chess match, but that didn’t make the situation any less awkward.

Apparently one sure fire way to creation tension in a relationship is your ex-best friend having the same patrnous as you, for bizarre reasons unknown, just after it’s been concluded that you and your boyfriend are soul mates. Add in the fact that Sirius was still determined not to turn up to Mary’s memorial dinner, and I was heartily agreeing with him, and our weekend of harmony had well and truly been flushed down the pan.

“We could just not argue,” James suggested, kissing my forehead distractedly, “there is that option.”

“Is it?”

“Sure,” James said, “just live with it and move on.”

“James,” I said, sitting up and crossing my legs, “all I want to do is ask Snape what the deal is.”

“And you think he’ll have an answer for you?”

“Yes,” I said, “he has to, because you forbid me from asking him.”

“I can’t forbid you to do anything, as you have proven,” James said, still looking at his textbook, “I just asked you not to.”

“You’ve made it into this really big deal.”

“No,” James said, “you’re making it into a big deal by fixating on it.”

“James,” I said, frowning, “I just want to know…”

“But you don’t, Lily. You’ll dig around and you’ll find out why and you’ll have a complete break down and it will ruin things. Lily,” James said, looking strained, “after the Quidditch match, you promised me the end of Lily does what Lily wants.”

“But – ”

“What James wants is for you to forget about Snape and for Lily to want what James wants.” James interrupted.

“I do want what you want,” I said, frowning, because I did. It was just I wasn’t sure how I could possibly ignore something like Severus Snape having the same patronus as me without researching or thinking about it or at least asking Snape about it.

“You said it Lily, I can’t conceivably continue to date you if you keep completely disregarding my feelings so completely.” I bit my lip. “The fact that you’re even considering it clearly shows that you just don’t care – ”

“ – James, can I stay here tonight?”

“What?” James asked, his forehead creasing into a frown.

“I don’t mean like that,” I said, “not that we could really do anything with Moony, Padfoot, Wormtail and Frank as next door neighbours, but I mean, you snuck into my room the other night and then after the party when you too drunk to let me go…”

“A sleepover?”

“Yes,” I said, “that.”

“So we’re not… arguing?”  James said, sitting up slightly with a smile beginning to play across his lips.

“No,” I said, “because Sirius is being an idiot and, right now, will be warning anyone against coming up the stairs because we’re having a raging argument.”

“So?”

“So,” I said, reaching forwards to kiss James properly, “we have time which could be better spent not arguing.” James looked extra nice today because, in frustration, he’d been running his fingers almost continually through his hair to the point where his hair was adorably frizzy and ridiculous, and because he was never capable of being properly angry at me, but was doing his best to be unhappy. I suppose it didn’t harm matters that I most definitely hadn’t been filling up my James quota; in between various arguments and still being as busy as ever, time wasted flirting and kissing and talking wasn’t as readily available as I would have liked (and as readily available as I would have liked was a level that I wasn’t going to admit to another individual, either, because I hadn’t anticipated James withdrawal being so distracting).

“But Snape?” James said, wrapping his fingers around mine and letting me pull him into a proper kiss.

“Don’t want to think about him. Particularly when I’m trying to kiss you till you’re incoherent.”

James grinned and curled his hand around my waist.

“But you’re not thinking about asking him about it anymore?”

“Lily does what James wants,” I said sardonically, “now, would you prefer to continue rehashing a dead argument or would you like to, perhaps, make use of the first ten minutes alone we’ve had for ages?”

“Hmm,” James said into my lips, textbook discarded and arms around my waist, “I think,” James kissed me again, “I’m going to vote for,” and again, “the latter.”

Not exactly an original or surprising decision, but definitely a welcome one.

*

James was just as aware as I was that the reason I had suggested a sleepover was due to the significance of the oncoming date: it struck suddenly, coming out of nowhere and then hitting all with the full force of its power. The ninth of March.

And I woke up on the ninth of March, a year after the day we watched Mary slip away, with one of James’s arms wrapped around my torso and our feet twisted around each other. We were much closer than we had been on previous occasions I’d frequented James’s bed for the whole night, and I suspected that was something to do with the fact that neither of us had slept well so had just spent the night feeling for each other in the dark – squeezes of hands, arms, brief whispered conversations and hugs.

At some point I had properly fallen asleep though; coaxed into dreaming whilst pressed up against his chest, his breathing filling up my mind with that steady, reassuring rhythm.

“Lily,” James muttered, quietly, “I’ve got to go.”

“Where?” I asked, reaching out and running a hand across the curve of his shoulder, still half a sleep and blinking up at bespectacled James feeling like I’d never been this comfortable or felt this at home.

“Sirius,” James said, reaching forward and kissing my forehead, “I’ve got to take the invisibility cloak, so if you want I can take you back to your dorm now or – ”

“- couldn’t care less if anyone sees me exiting your dorm,” I countered, watching as James shrugged on his robes – still watching me – and smiling vaguely. “Everyone thinks we’re shagging in random parts of the castle,” I pointed out, twisting my fingers through James’s hand, “thanks for that, Sirius.”

“Pleasure.” Sirius’s rough voice interjected. I closed my eyes slightly feeling privately amused.

“The fact is, I’d rather stay in your bed than leave.”

“All right,” James said, “sorry for waking you up, then.”

“It’s okay,” I said, smiling at him.

“You’re cute when you’ve just woken up,” James said, leaning over the bed and talking quietly enough that Sirius probably couldn’t hear, “and I’ll see you later.”

“Look after him,” I said, sitting up enough to kiss him goodbye.

“I’m going to look after both of you,” James said, grinning, “Mary’s orders.”

 Then the curtain was pulled back and I curled back into a ball in James’s bed, the weight of barely sleeping all night catching up with me. James’s bed was still warm from the both of us sleeping there, and had that wavering scent of James around the pillow and under the curtain. I thought back to exactly a year ago, when I woke up knowing that my best friend was going to die. I’d never have thought that I’d be able to fee so content again – could never have predicted how lovely it would feel, just to be able to curl up in James’s bed and block out the rest of the world for a few more hours before I had to deal with it.

*

I didn’t much feel like James was looking after me after four lessons without either James or Sirius. Thanks to the feast that was being organised in her honour, the population of Hogwarts seemed to be filled with an uncomfortable sort of static that was focused on me – people seemed unsure about how I would be or should be reacting which, admittedly, was a feeling I was entirely sympathetic with, but with sorting out how I actually felt about the year anniversary of my best friend’s death I didn’t want to have to deal with the furtive looks too.

Sirius used to sit with Mary during transfiguration and now neither of them were here, James was supposed to sit next to me and now he was absent,  and the big gaps in the room just made the unpleasant people who were there even more obvious – Snape, for one, and Mulciber – and the whole lesson seemed to drag out and take a disproportionate amount of time to be over and done with.

The bell rang.

I dawdling putting my books and belongings back in my bag to ensure that no one waited around long enough to talk to me, and maybe give me a chance to walk to my next class without being ogled at for being that dead girl’s best friend.

Better than for being a mudblood, maybe.

“Lily,” James said, grabbing my hand as I stepped out the classroom and pulling me towards him. From walking out into the corridor I was suddenly pressed up against his chest, with one of his hands wrapped around my waist, pulling me into one of those sorts of almost-going-somewhere kisses which definitely weren’t appropriate in the middle of the corridor. After a few seconds of being well and truly snogged, I was released for a second.

Professor McGonagall, who had apparently been exiting her classroom just after me, has stopped on the spot, lips thin, eyes wide as she stared at us.

“Hullo, Professor McGonagall,” James said, before threading his fingers through mine again and pulling me off down the corridor.

“What the hell was that?” I asked, following after him and trying to get my head around what had just happened. There was an edge of embarrassment that was beginning to creep up my stomach, so I assumed that the fact Minerva McGonagall had just seen us making out in a public corridor was beginning to sink in. Oh god.

Hazard of dating a Marauder, I suspected, but it certainly wasn’t something that I was pleased to be able to add to my repertoire.

“Missed you,” James said, squeezing my hand.

“Where’ve you been?”

“London, mostly,” James said, turning around and offering me a grin, “I need to go back and work on my speech, but Sirius is waiting for you outside.”

“Outside?” I asked, frowning as we started down a flight of stairs. “James, what -”

“You’ll see,” James said, “Lily,” James grinned, “you look very nice today.”

“If you’re trying to get in my good books after abandoning me all day,” I said, folding my arm over my chest and glancing at him over my shoulder, “try cooking, not compliments.”

“Are you mad?”

“No,” I admitted, sighing, “but I wished you’d given me some warning.”

“Okay,” James said, “Sirius and I are going to disappear all morning, then you’ll be skipping the final lessons of the day to go off on a jaunt with Sirius. I’d have suggested you take the full day off, but as the Head Girl I assumed you’d want to retain some reputation, therefore the official line is I kidnapped you and Sirius took you hostage.”

“So what McGonagall just witnessed was a kidnapping, was it?”

“Cohesion,” James grinned, pausing to wrap his arms around my waist again, “I know it hasn’t been the best year,” James said, “but…”

“I’m happy,” I said, glancing up into James’s hazel eyes and realising how true it was with a jerk in the stomach. “I’m really happy.”

“Good,” James said, his breath hot against my skin, “that’s really very good.”

“Isn’t Sirius waiting?” I asked pointedly.

“Hmm,” James said, stepping away and starting back down the steps, “I guess so. Bit annoying that my best friend gets to spend the day with you, whilst I have to – ”

“- deliver a speech about your girlfriend and your best friend’s singular common denominator?” I suggested, sighing again.  It was strange. In some respects, the date was just a date… but a year felt like such a long time, and it seemed to be a marker of a date where we should have some form of definite closure.  A whole year since Mary had died.

James didn’t answer that one and we walked in almost silence until we reached the front doors.

“Are we going to get into trouble about this?”

“I highly doubt it,” James said with a slightly grimace, “given the date, I should think you could do whatever the hell you wanted and no one would tell you off.”

“Well,” I said, thinking of Mary and her purple hair and her frankly terrible attitude problem, “There’s always that.”

“Sirius said he was going to park behind Hagrid’s hut,” James said, stepping out across the grounds with his shoulders squared slightly against the onslaught of the horrific day.

So much had changed in a year that I could barely recognise the Lily Evans that blinked down at dying Mary, who didn’t think it was possible to give James Potter any more chances (and, more remarkably, didn’t think he deserved any), who hadn’t yet lost her father or realised the scope of which she failed her family. A Lily Evans before the war began to diffuse into our lives and taint everything with fear and prejudice. Lily, before James was my best friend and Sirius was my brother in pain.

And what the hell was Sirius parking?!

“James,” I said, turning to face him with my eyes flashing slightly, “is this going to be dangerous?”

“Sure,” Sirius said, sidestepping Hagrid’s hut to face me with a grin plastered across his face, “but so’s throwing yourself so a crowd of bitter Slytherins to get some first-hand experience of being tortured, so we didn’t think you’d mind.” I blinked at him. “Or is it not self-destructive enough for you?” Sirius asked, chucking me a helmet with another grin.

I felt like I was staring at a Sirius before Mary, or during maybe, with his boyish grin and the sudden bark of laughter at my expression.

“I’d forgotten about this.” I muttered, taking the helmet in my hand and taking a step forward. “It was so bloody ridiculous that I blocked it out my memory.”

“But Evans,” Sirius said, taping the bodywork of that bloody bike looking so pleased with himself that it was difficult to argue, “it flies.”

“I know,” I said, stepping over towards the bike feeling more than a little nervous, “I remember.”

“She only rode it once,” Sirius said, throwing his leg over the machine and grinning at me.

“You’re not wearing a helmet.”

“No,” Sirius said, “but I’m not going to fall off.”

“And I am?” I asked.

“Well,” James said, “given how you two bicker, I’m not entirely sure I trust him not to push you off.”

“No promises,” Sirius grinned, “well, Evans, are you coming?”

“Sod it,” I said, throwing my leg over the back of the bike fighting the mad idea to start laughing.

“Evans,” Sirius grinned, looking over his shoulder to grin at me, “I know we don’t really like each other, but you are going to have to hold on.”

“To what?”

Me.”

“I’m blaming you for this,” I told James, edging forwards and grabbing hold of Sirius. I sucked in a deep breath as he revved the engine unnecessarily. I swore. Both James and Sirius laughed at me.  I held on tighter.

“Don’t kill each other,” James said, offering Sirius a half-hearted salute and a raise of an eyebrows and one of his cutest smiles for me before turning around and heading back to the castle. It felt strange to watch James walk away from us, but given he was leaving me with Sirius and a motorcycle that was definitive proof that James did trust us. And, apparently, didn’t really care if everyone thought we were having it off behind his back, so that was nice.

“Ground rules,” Sirius said, revving the engine again, “we’re going to talk about Mary. I’m talking full on emotional chat territory, Evans. And you can ask about what you like and say what you like, and I sure as hell will. And then, Evans, we’re going to draw a line under the whole thing and walk back up to the castle.”

“A line under what?”

“Mourning,” Sirius said, “we’ve had a year, now we need to get the fuck on with living.”

“You’re allowed to still miss her,” I said.

“I’m counting on that,” Sirius said, as he kicked the kick start and the bike jittered forwards, ever so slowly, “but, Mary’s had her time. Now she can stop being such a selfish – ” the bike engine made a very loud, unhealthy sound that worried me quite a bit, “- dead bitch,” Sirius finished, tensing his arms on the handle bars, “and let me think about other things.”

The bike shot forwards and suddenly we were moving: the wind rushing past, half of Sirius’s words being lost by the wind, and the edge of the forest rushing past us.

“It is time, Lily, to move on.” Sirius said. Hearing his mouth form my first name felt strange, but oddly welcome, because I had this sneaking suspicion that Sirius was right. Over a year ago, Mary had fallen down the stairs and we hadn’t known what to do. We were just kids trying to make sense of something that made no sense, so we drank alcohol and tried to fly brooms to distract ourselves and we’d been making up our own rules to grief and mourning ever since, but we were much older now. Much more put together.

And life kept going and coming at us, and we were the survivors who had no choice but to carry on and deal with what we were given.

“Okay,” I agreed, tightening my grip around Sirius.

And then we took off.  Flight.

*

March was warmer this year.

I was sure that, back then, frost had still been creeping around the windows and snow might have fallen, a few weeks before, but this year was unnaturally warm and spring had kick started a little sooner.

“So,” I asked, looking up at the sky under the tree, “what did happen with Joanna?”

“You just want me to tell you that you were right,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes, “which isn’t what happened.”

“But…” I prompted.

“But,” Sirius conceded, turning to glance at me, “the ninth of March was coming up soon, and I wanted to think about Mary for a bit. Get my head sorted.”

“Is it?”

“God, I don’t know,” Sirius said, “feels sorted, right now.”

“That’s good,” I said quietly, sitting up and glancing at the castle. From here, you could see the window to the hospital wing. I remembered Sirius holding Mary up to an open window, and Mary’s almost rapture and feeling fresh air; in those last few weeks, she’d been really suffering. “I’m happy, Sirius. I didn’t think that was possible and… I thought I’d feel guilty, but I don’t.”

“Life is shitty,” Sirius said, “might as well make the most of the occasional good thing.”

“Sirius,” I said, wringing my hands self-consciously, “I think we should go,” I said, glancing up at him. I ran my hands through the grass whilst I waited for him to answer.

“To the feast?” Sirius asked, sending a doubtful look in my direction before turning back to the motorcycle with a mixture of strange affection, “why?”

“Because,” I said, “we’re not the only people in the world to have lost someone.”

“And?”

“Because we’re Gryffindors. Because we lost Mary and I lost my dad, and you were chucked out by your family and your brother’s probably a death eater and my old best friend is probably a death eater. My Mum is somewhere drinking herself to death and yours hates your guts, and your homeless and my sister’s a bitch, and one of our best friends is a werewolf and is going to have a shit time… and because there’s a war coming and we’re probably going to die, Sirius, and you’re no doubt distraught about the recent termination of your ridiculous relationship with that… Joanne was it?”

“Sod off,” Sirius grinned.

“And everyone hates me and they’re definitely going to want you dead, you blood traitor,” I grinned, pulling up the grass with my fingers, “but it takes more than that to break a Marauder and a Gryffindor mudblood poster girl.”

“Right,” Sirius said, “what does it take then, Evans?”

“That’s the thing,” I said, standing up, “I don’t think we’re ever going to find out.”

“You want to crash the feast? Late? To make a point?”

“She loved the dramatic,” I said, hand on hip as I looked down at him, “you can’t say she wouldn’t have loved it.”

“Guess not,” Sirius said. I offered him my hand and he took it, straightening up and letting off a bark of laugher, “you’re completely nutty, Evans.”

“Thank you,” I said, turning towards him and grinning. “To the end of time.” I said.

“And the end of our miserable lives,” Sirius agreed, “let’s interrupt James’s speech to make your point about girl power, or whatever you’re trying to achieve.”

“Gryffindor Power,” I corrected, linking my arm through Sirius as we walked back towards the castle together.  “Thanks for today, Sirius.”

“I’m drawing a line under the emotional right now.” Sirius grinned, nudging me with his shoulder as he hid the bike behind a tree and locked it with his wand.

“Wait,” I said, “give me five more minutes, all right? I have a couple more things that I want to say.”

“You have until we get to the Hall,” Sirius said, falling into step with me.

“Okay,” I said, “when she was dying, Mary told me to take care of myself.”

“And you did a pretty shitty job of that,” Sirius said, “what? You got yourself tortured, Evans.”

“She dared me to fall in love,” I said, weighing up the words in my head as imagined her there, challenging me.

“How’s that working out?”

“I know you’re ready to move on,” I said, “and I’m really, really pleased, Sirius. But I’m not sure if I’m there yet,” I said, “I think I’ll be ready then.”

“Then?”

“When I’m sure,” I said, as we walked back into Hogwarts, “when I’ve fulfilled her last instructions.”

“Evans, I’m no guru on romance,” Sirius said, an expression of thinly veiled disgust curling his lips into a frown, “but I know I really fucked stuff up with Mary, and a lot of that was down to being a bit too… tight lipped in terms of what I felt. And James isn’t about to die, but –”

“I think I’m there,” I said, glancing up at Sirius, “but I want to be sure. Then I’ll tell him and I’ll tell Mary that I’ve done what she said, and then I’ll let her go.”

“Sounds like over sentimental crap to me,” Sirius said as we reached the doors to the Great Hall, “but, good luck. Ready?”

“Always,” I said, squeezing Sirius’s arm for a second before he pushed open the door.

“I’m not about to turn Mary into something she wasn’t,” James was saying at the front of the Great Hall. He faltered for a second as he glanced towards the door, then smiled at the pair of us, “Mary McDonald wasn’t a martyr or a saint. She isn’t a symbol of anything more than what she was – a teenage girl who got sick and died before anyone wanted her to.”

James wasn’t eloquent, but death wasn’t either. Death was brutal and sudden and incomprehensible. It wasn’t something that happened to a person, either, but it was something that happened to those who were left behind. There was no rhyme or reason to it, it came out of nowhere and infected your life and your worst fears until there was no moving past it. And grief didn’t follow a pattern, and you made up the rules yourself and you dealt with it the best that you could, then one day you’d decided that you didn’t want to hold onto that weight anymore.

It wasn’t like you stopped missing a person, but you stopped feeling like you should miss them every day. You never forgot, you just didn’t remember with every second that you lived without them. Mary McDonald marked the end of my childhood and a loss of innocence, but life went onwards.

I just had to deal with it.

“She was bitter,” James said, staring right at me, “sarcastic, had an unfortunate like of stupid hair colours and a disposition that didn’t lend itself to truth telling.”

Alice was crying silently into Frank’s shoulder. Peter stared at the blank wood of the table. Remus folded and unfolded his hands. Rachel wiped her eyes. Johnny McDonald sat further down the Gryffindor table, sitting straight up and proud of his sister.  Sirius was almost entirely still, gaze fixed on James or the teacher’s table.

“She changed our lives.”

Yes, she’d certainly done that. Filled it with drama and instances of blackmail and Sirius’s emotional repression… and Sirius begging for her forgiveness… and yelling at the top of the stairs, and Mary stepping backwards and teetering over the edge.

A whole year without Mary.

“As does every individual we meet,” James said, his shoulders squared as he turned his gaze to the Slytherins, “every life is precious. Every person is loved. It doesn’t matter whether a person dyed her hair purple, or colour skin, or sexual orientation, or who their parents were,” James was staring straight at Snape, and Mary had gone right from my mind. My heart was thumping erratically in my chest, “or whether they have the ability to perform magic, or whether they’re hideously and unforgivably ugly and anyone who thinks otherwise is a bigoted, prejudiced and can barely claim that they’re human.”

The whole Hall had gone silent.

James had turned Mary’s memorial speech political.

Oh my god.

“To Mary McDonald,” James said, grinning despite the toxic atmosphere in the hall, “who was irritated by everyone indiscriminately and who we will most definitely never forget.”

“I’m going to kill him,” I hissed to Sirius, my hands tensing on the table. But there was a part of me that was so stupidly proud that I couldn’t help smiling at him when he caught my eye.

Mary would have hated it. Mary hadn’t wanted us to fight. But then, Mary McDonald wasn’t here anymore and… had she been alive, we certainly wouldn’t have been so worried about carrying out our lives according to her wishes.  And he’d certainly made a point. Mary couldn’t argue about that.

Johnny McDonald had stood up to clap. Sirius rose to, grinning as he pulled at my arm so that I was standing too.

“I wouldn’t worry about murder,” Sirius grinned, clapping as loudly as he could, “I think McGonagall will cover that.”

“Dunno about that,” Remus said, standing up to join us, “she looks a bit proud.”

“I hope he checked with Johnny first,” I sighed, as several more Gryffindors rose to clap with us. There were a few older students standing up on the Ravenclaw table. A loan group of Hufflepuff’s had stood up.

“He’s going to start a riot.” Frank grinned, holding hands with Alice.

“Hope so,” Sirius grinned, “up you get, Peter. We have to show solidarity with these things.”

James was walking back to the table, grinning and waving like the arrogant prat that he was. They Slytherins seemed unable to react at their table.

“Lily,” James grinned, “am I in the dog house again?”

“No,” I said, reaching forward and kissing his cheek, “most definitely not. But this cancels out the torturing thing.”

“It doesn’t.”

“Oh, come on,” I said, “you’ve just advertised the fact that you’re a blood traitor. You are now a walking target. You might as well have stood up at the front and yelled down with Voldemort.”

“Great idea,” Sirius, said, cupping a hand round his mouth as if to start yelling at him. Remus elbowed him in the gut.  “Oi, stop repressing my passion, Moony.”

“Lily,” James grinned into my ear, just as Dumbledore stood up to announce the beginning of the feast, only to be drowned out by the sheer levels of noise, “I’m very glad that you came.”

“Let’s eat!” Sirius half yelled, before falling back into his seat and helping himself to potatoes. “To Mary McDonald and power to the muggles.”

“You’ve unleashed a monster,” I told James, grinning as I reached for a plate of roast parsnips.

Nearly time to move on then, because life was certainly doing so. 




Merry Christmas all! Hope you enjoyed the chapter, because I had heeepps of fun writing it. Let me know what you thought! :)


Chapter 23: Acceptance.
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 “Evans,” Sirius said, falling into a seat at my table and raising his eyebrows.

“Did you ingest the map?” I asked, looking up from my Transfiguration text book. After weeks of practice being cancelled due to the snow (which came suddenly and all at once after the anniversary of Mary’s death, then hung around for much too long), the Quidditch pitch had finally defrosted enough to allow the Gryffindor Quidditch team several hours to bat around balls and actually fly (which was a relief, as I think James was having withdrawals if his restlessness was anything to go by). Peter had wanted to watch the practice and had somehow persuaded Remus to go along too, although if his sighs were anything to go by he wasn’t too happy about the prospect. “Only this is a library, Sirius, and you informed me last night that you planned to never set foot in one again.”

“Amusing, Evans.”

“How was practice?” I asked. Sirius had evidentially just got out the shower and it had to be said that Sirius definitely improved with hydration – although how anyone could put up with someone so insufferable was still beyond the range of my comprehension, Mary notwithstanding, given she’d been just as irritating.

“Long,” Sirius said, “James is still out there.”

“Hmm.”

“Have you and James had sex yet?” Sirius asked.

“Sirius!” I hissed, glancing at Madam Pince who had definitely heard that question and was definitely not happy with such a conversation happening in the middle her library. On that note, neither was I.

“What? It’s just a question,” Sirius shrugged, “no need to get defensive about it.”

“This isn’t defensive, Black. This is we’re in a library and are about to get kicked out.”

Sirius tried to send one of his smiles in Madam Pince’s direction, but was met with utter indifference. Good; it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one unimpressed with his so called charm. Especially given, in the past few weeks, he’d been starting to flaunt it about again.

“Damn,” Sirius said, “should’ve bought Remus with me, Pince loves him.”

“She doesn’t love you,” I said, depositing my books in my bag and sighing, “damn you, Sirius, I was trying to revise.”  Madam Pince was squinting at the pair of us and setting down her books. Mostly thanks to my association with the Marauders, I’d been chucked out the library more than enough times to know when she was raring for a fight. Last time I’d gotten half an hour speech about inappropriate behaviour after James kissed me on the cheek when she was in range.

“Let’s just get out of here,” Sirius said, pocketing my quill for me and standing back up, “after a two hour practice with James I do not need anyone else to yell at me.”

“I hope he gave you hell,” I said, pulling my bag on my shoulder and quickly heading for the door before Pince could start screaming about inappropriate conversation.

“Oh yeah,” Sirius grinned, running a hand through his half wet hair (classic Marauder trait – blatant evidence that they were all much to close), “mostly because I tried to have this conversation with James beforehand.”

“You mean about getting kicked out of the library or your completely unwarranted invasion into our personal lives?”

“The latter,” Sirius grinned, “oh come on, Evans.”

“What did James say?”

Sirius looked at me for a few minutes. “No,” Sirius said, slowly, “because James would say what you told him to say whether or not it was the truth.”

“And why would he do that?”

“Because, Evans, he’s smitten. I miss you arguing. That, at least, was entertaining.”

“So you think I’ve told James what to say?” I asked.

“You might not want me to know.”

“Surely not!” I said, rolling my eyes at him.

“You’d have told him to say no even if the answer was yes –”

“So he told you no?”

“Or,” Sirius said pointless, “the answer could be a definite yes and you just don’t want to admit it.”

“What did James say, Sirius?”

“Nah, I’m not dumping my best friend in the shit.”

“Is he really your best friend, Sirius, if you can’t even trust him on an important detail like that?”

“Don’t wind me up, Evans.”

“That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” I asked, stopping in the corridor to look at him, “Sirius, I’m sorry. I never meant to get in the way of your relationship with James – ”

“Oi, Lily,” Sirius grinned, shaking his head at me, “I’ve had it up to here with you invading my life. Your little sleepovers in my dormitory. Not knowing when it’s acceptable to sleep naked -”

“- okay, I did not need to know that you did that.”

“All I want to know,” Sirius said, “is one little thing. And frankly, I think have the right to know.”

“You want me to tell you whether I’ve slept with James?”

“James knows all about who I’ve slept with.”

“Everyone knows who you’ve slept with.” I said, rolling my eyes and beginning to walk again.

“Look, Evans, I usually get an update about these things within twenty-four hours. This silence is very unusual.”

“What do you think?” I asked, raising my eyebrows at him.

“I don’t know!” Sirius said, holding his hands up in exasperation. “I mean, you’ve stayed over enough but I doubt you’d do anything with us in the room – or at least that’s what helps me sleep at night. Definitely not as innocent as your Head Girl good little routine.”

“How do you work that out?”

“I’ve always known that,” Sirius said. “Call it a good judge of character. Even before your indiscretion with Diggory and that tattoo thing. Merlin, Evans, will you just get your shit together and tell me?”

“Okay.”

“Seriously?”

“That joke got old in second year, Sirius.”

“Are you just … no. Lily, you’re just going to lie. Or you might be telling the truth, but either way I’m not going to know.” Sirius face had crumpled and he looked like he was thinking about all of this a little bit too hard. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and just tell him because this had the potential to be greatly entertaining.

“Well, that’s always a risk.”

“Damn you,” Sirius said, “well, even if you haven’t, your innocence has got an expiry date on it.”

“Hmm.”

“By the end of the Easter holidays,” Sirius said, “definitely.”

“If you say so.”

“Oh come on,” Sirius muttered, turning to the Fat Lady and delivering the password with a grimace. “Dragged yourself away from your broom then?” Sirius asked, throwing himself down into one of the spare sofas opposite James.

James has just got out of the shower too. James definitely looked better when fresh out the shower; his hair wasn’t quite so unforgivably messy when it was soaking and his eyes were lit up with the whole Quidditch thing (a mixture of the fact that James just really loved Quidditch and the self-esteem boost from getting to boss people around for a few hour). I liked James.

“Hey,” I said, sitting down on the arm of James’s chair and feeling his hand brush against the edge of my back, pulling me closer instinctively, “I was just having this really interesting conversation with Sirius.”

“Oh really,” James said, glancing at him and brushing some of my hair out of my face. James raised his eyebrows.

“He has some interesting theories on my innocence,” I said, “he seems to think we’re playing mind game with him.”

“That’s a great idea,” James said, “why didn’t we think of that before?”

“God,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling, “what’s a guy got to do to get some straight answers around here?”

“Have you packed yet?” I asked James. He narrowed his eyes slightly and shrugged. “James,” I sighed, “we’re practicing defence spells after dinner, then a prefect’s meeting, then we’re patrolling. When are you going to pack?”

James seemed to think about this for a few minutes.

“Before dinner?”

“In the next ten minutes?”

“Yes,” James said, “exactly. Come on, Evans, if you help me I’ll be done in five.”

“This is my problem,” Sirius said, loudly and to no one in particular, “how am I supposed to know if packing is a euphemism for sex or not?”

Remus threw a cushion at him. Peter, along with a large proportion of the Gryffindor Common Room, seemed to find the whole thing exceedingly funny. I was not part of the larger population.

“Either way,” I said, taking a few second to send Sirius a look, “I’m not helping. If you’d packed when I told you to pack then this wouldn’t be a problem. And Sirius got me chucked out of the library.”

“That’s not my fault,” James said, pouting slightly.

“Well, it’s certainly not mine.”

“Lily,” James said, lips tracing my hairline for a second, “you are helping me pack, whether you like it or not. If you don’t come voluntarily I’ll just carry you.”

“Lovely,” I said, twisting around on the arm of the chair to smile at him, “you’re threatening to carry me to your bedroom in the middle of the day, in lieu of your best friend speculating about our sex life.”

James grinned.

“If it helps, it’s really not a euphemism.”

“Sadly,” I said, “I know. You’re hopeless, Potter. Fine.”

“You are my favourite person,” James said, grinning at me.

“Yes, yes,” I said, slipping my hand through his to pull him up to his feet, “and you’re great too. But, if you make me late for dinner, I’m really not sure how long this can last.”

Halfway up the stairs James slipped his hands around my waist, and by the time we actually got into the dorm I’d been turned to face him and was stood much too close for efficient packing.

NEWTs were coming up fast and, after all the distractions (meaning James, really), I’d suddenly realised that I’d barely learnt anything all year and had been hitting the books big time. James had been obsessing about Quidditch and the millions of many responsibilities he seemed to have landed himself with. The world outside the walls of Hogwarts was getting darker, and thus our attempts at learning how to defend ourselves had been kick-started and our efforts doubled. In the middle of all of that, I wasn’t entirely sure when Sirius thought all these euphemisms would be occurring.

“This is rubbish,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck, “this is like a long distance relationship.”

“Hmm.” James said, reaching forward to kiss me.

“You need to pack.”

“Lily,” James said seriously, “I’ll just levitate it all into my trunk tomorrow morning before we leave.”

“I can’t say I’m not pleased,” I said, grinning, “didn’t really feel like sorting out all your dirty underwear. But, seriously, your poor house elf.”

“If it makes you feel better,” James grinned, “I’ll fold it all after I’ve gotten home.”

“That’s acceptable,” I said, reaching up to kiss him properly.

We were, in fact, late to dinner.

*

“All I’ve got to go back to is my empty flat,” Sirius said, “that’s worth serious depressing points.”

“Sirius,” James said, “you’ve been invited to dinner with my parents every day.”

“Yeah,” Sirius said, “but not for breakfast. Think about how lonely that’s going to be.”

The compartment was quite clearly not big enough for all of us. Frank and Alice were squashed into one corner, practically on top of each other, and I didn’t think I’d ever been wedged so completely under James’s arm before. Sirius seemed to be taking up a disproportion amount of space, but then again he always did, whilst Remus and Peter seemed slightly uncomfortable about their close proximity.

“Frankly,” I said, “that’s nothing compared to the prospect of a week with Petunia and Vernon. I’d take the lonely breakfasts.”

“They can’t be that bad,” Alice put in.

“They are,” I assured her, “although Vernon just loves James. They set up the television together.”

“Is she ever going to tell him you’re a witch?” James asked.

“She hasn’t talked to me since I left for Christmas,” I said, resting my head on James’s shoulder and taking a deep breath, “and then … well, my Mum… I have no idea how she is either.”

It’d been all too easy to once again leave behind my family problems whilst I was at Hogwarts, and it would have been even easier to stay at Hogwarts for the Easter Holidays and not have to deal with it until summer, but I knew that definitely wasn’t the right thing to do. That didn’t mean I hadn’t been dreading the prospect of leaving the castle and stepping out into the real world since the 9th of March, though.

“What about you, Alice?” Sirius asked. “Anything to out angst us two?”

“I’m staying with Frank,” Alice smiled, “don’t fancy seeing my family all that much.”

“Does anyone?”

James slowly raised his hand, grinning.

“Oh, that’s right,” Sirius grinned, “James Potter, the loser of our whose-going-to-have-the-worst-Easter-holiday, because he lives in a mansion with the two best parents the planet’s ever seen. Share some of the luck around, would you?”

“You’re all invited over, you prat,” James said, “stop complaining and get excited. Sleepover at the Potters.”

“There’s no denying it’s going to be a highlight,” Sirius grinned, “but I don’t think it’s going to quite eclipse the weeks of being alone in my flat.”

“Hours upon hours with the most hideous Muggle to have ever accidentally stumbled across magic.”

“Full moon,” Remus piped up, “alone. With my mother fussing continually.”

Remus didn’t often make reference to the fact that we all knew about his so called furry little problem, but James assured me that it was sometimes the subject of jokes between the four of them when no one else was around. I thought that the fact he was willing to bring it up was progress and definitely a stamp of approval.

I tried very hard not to grin.

“Ha,” Sirius grinned, “she does do that.”

“It’s ‘Remus honey, did you sleep well?’ and it’s like, no mother, I turned into a wolf and ripped up your hydrangeas.”

“Actually,” James said, through the laugher, “that was Peter. We just couldn’t tell Mrs Lupin that without serious explanations needed.”

I wasn’t sure whether I was permitted to join in the laugher or not, but I couldn’t help the fact that I was smiling slightly. Honestly, I was still privately horrified about the fact that Remus had been putting up with that level of pain for his whole life and would continue to do so forever.

“Over summer, the morning after she asked me if I was feeling tense.”

“Tense?” Sirius repeated, beaming. “Tense. Fucking hell.”

“What did you say?” Peter asked.

“Well,” Remus grinned, “I snapped at her.”

“Delivered a few biting remarks,” James added, his whole face lit up with the amusement of it all. Sometimes I wanted to freeze his expressions and keep them forever, because he looked so truly happy and it was stunning.

The Marauders, when they were together like this, were beautiful and it reminded me just why they were so magnetic: people who accepted each other so wholly were always attractive, and their friendship was the most beautiful thing about them.

“Course,” Sirius said, “I bet she was howling with indignation after you lost your temper.”

“Oh yes,” Remus said, “really expected me to be sheepish -”

“- which is illogical,” Peter said, “given circumstances.”

“Exactly. She was dogged about getting her apology, though. My mother positively transforms when she’s angry.”

“The problem still remains,” Sirius said, “that there are endless jokes about wolves and rats and dogs, but there’s still no decent stag jokes.”

“Other than the obvious.”

“I mean, of course, there were a lot of joke about James going stag.”

“Until Doe-eyed Evans steps in,” Sirius said, grinning, “and ruins the only joke we ever had.”

“Antlers?” I suggested, “You’ve got to be able to come up with something about antlers.”

“You’d think,” James said, turning to smile at me, “but they’ve come up with nothing decent.”

“Before we leave Hogwarts,” Sirius said, “we’re going to come up with something so good, that you won’t be able to keep your antlers on.”

“Challenge accepted,” James grinned, “if not, you owe me unlimited fire whiskey.”

“I’ve got a question,” Peter said, “if we’re all – except Prongs – dreading going home so much, then why didn’t we just stay at Hogwarts?”

“Sleepover at the Potters,” Sirius deadpanned, grinning as he nudged me with his foot, “Evans can’t wait.”

*

I arrived at my so called home with the high of James’ goodbye having not quite worn off (ten minutes of solid kissing, James being lovely and Sirius gagging very loudly in the background; no more than I could expect, really) which pushed back some of the dread of entering my house after such a long period of time.

Mum answered the door. And she was drunk.

I could tell that straight off from the hazy way she smiled at me, even without her stepping forward to envelope me in a hug and the sweet, sickly taste of alcohol hanging around her.  Oh God.

“Lily,” Mum said, quietly, “There’s a bit of an issue…”

“Issue?” I asked, my voice emerging my throat all wrong. I sounded much too bright.

“Petunia told Vernon,” Mum said, “that you’re a witch.”

She whispered the final word, ushering me in through the doorway. I blinked at her. My mother had never acted even slightly ashamed of the fact that I was magical before – it had been all I could do not to have her telling all our family friends – and suddenly she was whispering about it in our own house.

“Mum,” I said, placing my trunk in the corridor and straightening up, “so what if I’m a witch?”

“Shush!” Mum said, her fingers closing over my wrist as she pulled me towards the kitchen. “Petunia’s only just stopped crying.”

“What?” I asked sharply. “Did he leave her?”

“No,” Mum said, pulling me into a seat in the kitchen. There was a bottle of wine open on the kitchen table. I wanted to pull out my wand and smash it into a thousand pieces. “Petunia had gotten it into her head that he would leave her if he knew, but I insisted…” Mum glanced at the wine bottle. My hands reached out and clenched the wood of the table. “Anyway, Vernon didn’t really know what to say, apparently, but he’s told her it’s not her fault that her sister is a -”

“Is a what?” I asked sharply.

“Well, a witch,” Mum said, glancing at the door again, “but he won’t have any of it mentioned in front of him again, and now Petunia won’t … she won’t let me talk about it in front of them. I only said that you’d be apparating to the train station but she…”

“She’s got no right,” I said heatedly, “to not let you do anything. Where is she? Is she in the living room?”

“Lily,” Mum said, eyes wide, “please.”

“No,” I said heatedly, standing up and reaching for my wand, “that’s not fair.” I pushed back the chair and found myself stalking to the living room, wand ready in my hand. Petunia had, indeed, just stopped crying.

Normally seeing her so pathetic would have produced some rise out of me, but I guessed our relationship was now so minimal that it only made me angrier. She sat facing the television Vernon had bought us, engagement ring pressed to her mouth and her eyes rimmed red.

“Petunia,” I said, “I’m home.”  Petunia didn’t react. “You know,” I said, loudly, “your witch sister with her trunk and her wand and her pet cat that her wizard boyfriend bought her with wizard money, back from her magic school were she learns how to transfigure tables into pigs and jinx you until you don’t even know your name any more,” Petunia was shaking slightly, “or maybe someone’s performed some sort of memory charm on you. Maybe you’re not just being a bitch, then, maybe this is dark magic that’s making you forget that I’m your sister and you wanted to come too.”

“Lily,” Mum said, crying. Her fingers reached out and gripped hold of my arm, “stop it.”

I pulled out my wand and ran it through my fingers.

“Maybe you’ve forgotten how after first year you used to beg me to show you magic even though it was against the rules, and the fact that you seem to remember everything I’ve ever said about Azkaban and Herbology and potions. But that’s fine, Tuney, you feel free to write me out your life because Vernon doesn’t like it. Fine by me. I’m only your sister.”

“You’re not my sister.” Petunia spat, turning to look at me. Her eyes weren’t green like mine. She didn’t look anything like me. If you put us in a room together you wouldn’t guess that we were related.

Apparently, we weren’t anymore.

“Fine,” I said, “I’m going for a walk.”

“No!” Mum said, holding a hand up to her face to try and stop herself crying. “Lily, it’s late, it’s dark, it’s not safe –”

“It’s fine,” I said, “I’ve got my wand.”

Then I was out the house less than half an hour after I’d entered it.

Later I wrote both Sirius and James short letters. Mother drunk and sister decided to disown me. I’m winning on angst points this time, Sirius.  And, to James, I really, really wish that you were here.

*

“It got worse from there on in,” I said, sat crossed legged on a sofa in one of James’s many sitting rooms facing the rest of the Marauders, “Vernon came round on Thursday. He tried to tell me that he’d be able to accept me into his family if I renounced magic. I think he was about to suggest an exorcist.”

“Nah,” James said, squeezing my shoulder as he re-entered the room with a tray of butter beers, “he’s far too uptight for any of that.”

“I kept making magic jokes,” I said, “he didn’t understand most of them, but Petunia started shaking every time. In the end, Petunia stormed out, threatened to break the statute of secrecy or have me sectioned. Mum cried a lot.”

“What a bunch of Muggles,” Sirius said, shaking his head as he took two bottles off the tray and placed them next to him.

“I think we might have collectively broken my mother’s heart.”

“My mother,” Sirius said, contemplating his bottle, “did not have a heart. If you like, Evans, you can join the disowned club – at least in part.”

“Do you have badges?” I asked. James paused at the edge of the sofa, and I relaxed into his shoulder. James was like an external source of strength whenever mind seemed to be running dry; that no longer seemed to be such an issue.

“No,” Sirius said, “but we could make some.”

“I’m partially disowned,” Remus put in, taking his own butter beer, “if you count the extendeds.”

“They can count,” Sirius ruled, nudging Remus with his foot and offering him a deep look that they probably never intended me to see, “you can be treasurer. Evans, secretary?”

“No,” I said, “I’m in too many depressing clubs as it is. Mudblood club. Ginger club –”

“- worst Head Girls ever, club,” Sirius interjected, “if rated on number of times chucked out of the library for indecency.”

“There is that,” I agreed, “god you guys are a terrible influence.”

“Damn straight,” Peter said, grinning.                                          

“Where are we sleeping?” Remus asked.

“Ah,” James said, “right. Well, due to slightly differing circumstances this year… we’re all sleeping here.”

“Instead of in any of the hundreds of bedrooms.” Peter finished.

“Well,” James said, flushing slightly, “my parents seem to think that if we were in bedrooms, then some of us might be tempted to … oh, sod it, my parents have gotten it into their heads that if we’re all sleeping in the same room – in true sleepover style – then there won’t be any -”

“Shenanigans,” Sirius grinned, “so it’s Lily’s fault.”

“Apparently, my parents have archaic views about their teenage son’s sex life.”

“Maybe this is why it took them so long to have you,” Remus interjected, “archaism.”

“I’m entirely sure the lack of fertility was a more pressing issue,” James said, “but, I believe they’re levitating mattresses down the stairs right now.  Apologies in advance for any conversation they try to make, guys, they’ve been missing you.”

“Excellent. Carolyn and Magnus with concerns about their son’s honour,” Sirius said, sitting up, “this is sure to be hilarious.”

“Behave, Sirius.” James warned. He leant against the arm of the sofa and I wrapped my arms around him without really meaning too, breathing him in and closing my eyes for a second.

“Always,” Sirius grinned.

*

“Don’t tell my parents,” James whispered, climbing over Peter and onto the sofa.

I smiled and shifted over to make room for him.

The world was so crazy and horrible; I hadn’t realised it was possible for my family to fall apart even further after my Dad died, or that best friends could die and other best friends could be ordered to kill you, that the world could hate you because of how you were born and that teenagers could murder and hurt.

I’d thought I was going to be a downer on the whole sleepover (an apparent Marauder tradition, that I was now allowed to participate in), but I’d found myself being sucked into their fun and edgy happiness that existed despite everything.

James was so lucky, but I thought that even if he wasn’t this lucky, he’d still have his own source of happiness that he could fall back on. A private generator fuelled by their friendship, I guessed.

“James,” I said, closing my eyes and feeling him breathing behind me – his chest rising and falling and his breath against the back of my neck – “James, I love you.”

James’s arms tightened around me for a second. Then, he was sitting up slightly and leaning over me. His eyes were impossibly bright considering how dark it was. James was dazzling.

“Are you serious?” James asked, not quite smiling, but very nearly.

“Yes,” I said, my stomach turning over slightly. Love was scary and unpredictable and, seemingly, could happen to just about anyone, but apparently James Potter could make me happy even when there were a million reasons not to be happy, and I felt like there was a chance I could be happy forever if he didn’t leave. And I didn’t think he was going to. “I’ve missed you a lot this week,” I breathed, “and it doesn’t seem so shitty now that you’re here.”

“Lily,” James said, properly grinning this time, “I have been waiting for you to say that for years.” James’s nose brushed against mine for a second. “Obviously, I love you too. But we both knew that.”

“Hmmm,” I said, and then he kissed me. “I’m scared.”

“Advice,” James said, “don’t deal with the fear by turning into an idiot, levitating your object of affection’s best friend and trying to blackmail them into a date. Sadly, it’s a largely disproven method of wining someone over.”

“I think you’d definitely be won over if I did that to Sirius.” I smiled.

“Already there.”

I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead against James’s chest.

I’d told Sirius that a line would be drawn under my grieving process with those words, but I was surprised with how okay that felt all of a sudden. It wasn’t like Mary or my Dad were going to be forgotten or that they didn’t matter anymore, but life just didn’t stop and I’d changed so much this past year… I almost didn’t recognise myself.  And I was so unbelievably tired of being broken and feeling unfixable, when all I wanted to do was wrap my life and James and be okay. It still hurt that people had died and there was a war and my sister hated me, but I was a survivor. I could deal with this. It didn’t define me anymore.

I’d said goodbye to Mary in my head over and over, each time believing it would stick, but now was the time for one last repeat.  It felt good to be done with it.

I did what you challenged me to do. I fell in love. I loved you. I miss you. I let you go. I grieved, I lived, I moved on. Goodbye, Mary. Thank you for everything. 




The update too longer than I planned... but, this is a chapter so full of fluffy bantery goodness (and a bit of drama) that I hope you forgive me? This chapter has been beta'd by the lovely mutt n' feathers! Thanks for reading guys, you're great!



Chapter 24: Comfort.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

It was the prospect of leaving the Potter’s the following morning which made me realise how much my life had changed in recent years.

Ever since I had discovered I was a witch, things had been different. Mum and Dad were both extremely supportive and excited when I talked endlessly about magic and spells and my classes. It was no wonder Petunia hadn’t been able to stick me after those first years; I was a child who’d just found out that magic was real, and Petunia had discovered the same thing and had yet been told she was not ‘special’ enough to be a part of it. She’d been upstaged by her little sister.

By then, things had always been heading on a down spiral with Severus. That relationship was doomed from the start, because I challenged everything he’d formerly believed in but, apparently, not enough for him to renounce it all together. Instead, I’d unwittingly thrown Snape into a year’s long internal battle over whether or not he actually hated Mudbloods or not. All the while, my other primary friendship – with Petunia – was steadily growing more strained too. With both friendships doomed to failure, I’d started to develop a bit of a complex about the whole thing, which had only made everything worse.

Now, Severus had tried to torture me and Petunia had denounced me as a sister. I believed that both of them were utterly serious in their conviction of hating me, and that didn’t exactly make me feel good about anything. Dad was dead and I was no longer allowed to mention magic in the house. We’d broken my mother’s heard irrevocably, and the more I was in the house the more I made the problem worse. I didn’t have a home anymore; I was just locked in a purgatory where I was forever screwing things up a little more.


“Hands out of the jam, James,” Carolyn Potter said, slapping her son’s hand away with a scowl, “and wait your turn.”

“May I have some jam, Mrs P?” Sirius smirked, sending James a wink as he began to butter his toast. It didn’t seem to matter that the Potter’s had the biggest house I’d ever seen, we were still all crowded round a dining room table so small and so covered in food that I could barely see the table cloth between all the plates. There were glimpses of red and gold gingham, though, and I suddenly had a vivid flashback of meeting James for the first time on the train...

So bloody Gryffindor. 

“Of course,” Carolyn said, beaming, “Remus, dear, would you like any Jam after Sirius?”

“No, thank you,”

“Peter?"

“Please” Peter grinned as Sirius passed the James over James’s head, “Lily?”

“No thanks,” I said, grinning.

“Please may I have the Jam, mother?” James said, his politeness so sarcastic that I could barely understand him. I grinned. 

“That’s right,” Magnus said through a mouthful of toast, “you teach him manners.”

“Magnus,” Mrs Potter sighed.

“Carolyn,”

“You’re voiding my point with that fine display of half chewed toast.”

“Please,” Magnus said, waving this away.

“And thank you,” Sirius winked, reaching across the table for another stack of toast.

“Exactly, Sirius.”

“Can I have the Jam yet?” James asked, flicking a crumb in Sirius’s direction with an easy grin.

“I call in a vote,” Magnus said, “Yes from me.”

“I vote no,” Carolyn said. 

“No,” Sirius added.

“Abdicating,” Remus piped up. 

Peter turned his beady eyes towards the pair of them for a second, considering both Sirius and James from a moment before delivering a concise “Yes.”

“Bloody suck up,” Sirius said, sending Peter a look, “and you bore, Moony.”

“I think you misunderstood democracy,” Remus said lightly, “and this gives Lily the deciding vote.”

“Hmmm...” I said, grinning at their expressions. Carolyn Potter mouthed ‘say no’ and sent Sirius a conspiratorial wink. There was something lovely about home domesticated and familiar this was. I didn’t feel like an add on; it felt like everyone sat around the table actually wanted me to be there. 

“Don’t turn my girlfriend against me too, Mum. This is crap.”

“That’s no way to talk to your mother, James,” I said, “show some respect.”

“Atta girl!”

“Ganging up on me,” James whined, “Muuum, all I want is some Jam,”

“Fine, you cry baby,” Carolyn said, using her spoon as a catapult to fire a spoonful of jam at James’ face.

The whole table erupted with laughter, and I found myself laughing too. James made a big deal of wiping the jam off his chin, nudging my food under the table. I belonged here. I felt great here amongst the Potters and the Marauders, bickering about jam.

“Showing off in front of my friends,” James accused, “not cool, Mum.”

“We only come to visit your Mum, James,” Remus said, his expression serious, “didn’t anyone tell you?”

James arranged his toasts crusts into a sad face and pouted. 

“Don’t play with your food, James,” Magnus reprimanded, and suddenly everyone laughing again. 

I felt strangely light. I’d forgotten what it was like to sit and eat as a family; handing the jam from hand to hand, passing toast across the table, making jokes and poking fun. I liked the teasing and the laughter, a stark contrast to the silence Petunia and I had eaten in since I returned home.

It made my heart ache slightly. I hadn’t realised how much I missed having a family.

*

“Is it always like this?” I asked Sirius as I stood near the lion knocker, pulling on my coat.

“Oh hell yeah,” Sirius said, “breakfast at the Potter’s saved my life last summer. The morning after... well, actually you probably don’t want to hear about...” 

“ – when you slept with that Muggle, you mean,” I put in. It wasn’t often that Sirius voluntarily offered information like this. Since the 9 March, neither of us had mentioned Mary or grief or emotional trauma. Sirius was the poster boy for repressing emotions and dealing things either privately and silently, or loudly but in a way you weren’t supposed to mention to him. This... this offering information as certainly new.

Besides, they’d all been right. Sirius had the right to sleep with whoever he liked whenever he liked. Somehow, my concern for Mary’s honour had now twisted itself into concern over Sirius... and, well, whilst I still didn’t think he was particularly ready for a relationship himself, the sleeping-with-a-Muggle-incident had been a long time ago. And maybe it was something he needed to do at the time.

Grief wasn’t necessarily always comprehendible. 

“Bloody James,” Sirius muttered, rolling his eyes at the ceiling, “yes, Evans, after that. Anyway, James turned up at my flat bitching about me missing breakfast... I wasn’t really in the mood, frankly, but I dragged myself along and it was the first time I’d laughed in months.”

“I don’t want to go home,” I half laughed, hugging an arm around my waist as I glanced at the door. I really meant it. There was just nothing left for me at that house, and it seemed I was just dragging the disintegration of our family out for no reason but my own guilt. I wanted to stay with James and his parents, and Sirius, and Remus and Peter, who’d somehow become mine too.

“Yeah,” Sirius said, glancing up at the lion locker, “does that,”

“They’re so...”

“Merlin, Evans,” Sirius said, voice gruff, “just, I get it, okay? But I can’t talk about family shit so just...” Sirius shifted uncomfortably for a second, before dropping his gaze back to my level, “you need a hug?”

“I think I do,” I admitted, stepping forward and wrapping my arm around Sirius’ neck.

I didn’t think I’d hugged Sirius in months, but – god knows when it had happened – he’d become irreplaceably important to me. I think, in part, it was Mary, but maybe loving James meant you just had to love Sirius (Remus and Peter, too), because James sucked me in to see the best of people.

Pretty ironic considering the lectures I used to give him about treating people like people. 

“Oi, hands off my girlfriend.” 

“Like I’d dare,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling for a second, “I’ll skip the saliva swapping thanks…"

He stepped back into the corridor, exchanging a loud joke with Remus and Magnus Potter in the corner of the corridor. Sirius was different here; less serious, more barks of laugher and sarcasm and playfulness. 

Sirius’s animagus was a dog. It was easy to forget, with all that was going on, that Sirius’ soul was a playful creature.

“You okay?” James asked, stepping forwards, hands brushing over my hips.

James’s soul was a stag. Proud, majestic, beautiful. And I was a doe. 

“Yeah,” I said, although I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not that was the truth.

*

“Everyone’s out,” I said, nearly crying, pacing the length of my room and ringing my hands, “Petunia ripped up my invite for the wedding, Vernon keeps talking about holy water and my mother will not stop crying!”

“What did you say?” James asked, sat on my bed with his hands folded over his knees. He’d been listening to my rant for the past twenty minutes, which was only slightly different from the rant I’d offered him in paper form for the past three days solidly. “To Petunia.”

“Vernon said I was an unnatural object.” 

“Mmm.” 

“So I a levitated a tea cup and told him that was unnatural, and then he couldn’t speak because he was so outraged. And I thought it would be funny to tell Petunia I’d put a spell on him too.”

“Lily,” James sighed, “what did you expect?”

“You’re supposed to be supportive!”

“Well, Merlin, stop pushing then!” James exclaimed. James sucked in a deep breath, obviously regretting his slight outburst, before he distractedly ruffled up his hair. “I’m not saying this isn’t difficult, Lily, but you don’t help yourself. You keep pushing people to see how far until they break, and…”

“So, you think I push people away?”

“Don’t argue with me, or you’ll prove my goddamn point,” James said, holding up his hands, “I’m not the enemy here. In fact, there are no enemies here.”

“You-know-who?” I suggested.

“Fine,” James grinned, “look, just stop pushing them for a bit, okay? Maybe a bit of distance is for the best now, anyway.”

“What? Why?” 

“It’ll make it easier when you move out,” James said.

There was something odd about the words coming out of his mouth that I couldn’t put my finger on.  I stopped pacing the length of my doorway and sat down next to James on my bed. There was silence for a few seconds.

Although I was stressed out and I was livid at my sister, it wasn’t the kind of deep rooted stress that permeated the surface and made feel sick; this was just superficial annoyance, an almost regular occurrence. Things went a little deeper, but James’s flyaway comment seemed to smack of something a lot more earth shattering.

“Move out?”                   

My voice was supposed to sound calm and level, but there was an edge of hysteria to it that I hadn’t realised I felt. Oh God oh God oh God…

I could feel the serious nature of the conversation seeping in through the cracks and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it one bit. 

“Lily,” James’s voice had dropped slightly, his expression softened, “Lily, you can’t live here after we finish Hogwarts.” The words stuck in my brain, incomprehensible. “We...we’ve joined the Order of the Phoenix, Lily, we’re fighting. You need to live somewhere with magical protection... you can’t live with Muggles. I’m sorry, Lily, but that’s just how it is.”

I think I might have spoken, but I’m sure it wasn’t words. I leant forwards on my bed and dug my fingers into my stomach.

“You... Lily, you’re not going to be able to get a job,” James’s voice was the only thing in the whole world. I squeezed my eyes shut. “You’re a Muggleborn. That’s... that’s why we’re fighting.”

“What am I...?” I was trying to grapple around the air for words, or something solid, or something that made sense, but everything was convoluted and up in the air and too far away for me to hold onto. “What am I going to do?”

James’ hand was on my knee. I didn’t remember him putting it there. 

“You’re going to live with me,” James said, “I know... I know it’s not ideal, Lily, and obviously if you don’t want to then... then we’ll work something out with the others and set you up, but I thought that might be best.”

“Live with you?”

“If you can stand it.”

“How long have you been thinking about this?” I asked, opening my eyes and sitting up enough to look at him. The tears seemed to have come out of nowhere.

“Since your Mum was nearly attacked on the platform,” James said, his voice still that low apologetic tone that almost didn’t suit him. “See, this was a big year. If I hadn’t.... if you weren’t with me then I wouldn’t be able to help you, Lily, and that was inconceivable. I... I love you.” 

I was crying. I thought there was a chance that I had a right to cry, really, because I’d been pushing back my fears about the future for months and suddenly it was laid bare and I had to deal with it: I had nowhere to go and no way to support myself, whichever way I thought about it I was going to become dependent on someone. My family – or what was left of them – weren’t my biggest fans at the moment, but maybe that would be better for all of us. Maybe they just needed time.

“James,” I said, my hands reaching out, fighting the distance, just wanting to hold  him. My fingers, slightly blinded by the tears, settled on his chest. I gripped hold of the material of his shirt and cried. “James you can’t argue with me and be mad, you just can’t anymore because everything is such a mess and then if you’re mad at me then nothings right and I just love you and I need you to be okay and... and I need -” 

James pulled me into his chest, an arm curving around my back as my forehead pressed into his heartbeat. 

“Its okay, Lily.”

“- arguing just not worth it I don’t care anymore, James, I just don’t think I can deal with all this if you’re not... and I know I might die or you might die, but as long as you’re alive will you promise me that you’ll... that we’ll be okay.”

“Lily,”

“Promise me.”

“Does this mean you do want to live with me?” James asked. I looked up from his chest to find the grin sliding onto his face. James. He was so much better at smiling than everyone else and I wasn’t sure why, but on everyone else the expression was irritating or patronising or somehow false  but James always grinned even in that second before I turned him down and with the prospect of a future of hell.

I reached forwards and kissed him.

I’d began to feel like I was somewhat acclimatised to James. Not that he was in any way boring, just in that it was easier to relax into his touch and kiss him and know which kisses ran the risk of turning into other things and which wouldn’t. I knew him. I knew what it felt like when his arm was round me, or on the few occasions we’d slept next to each other, and how it felt when his lips pressed into my neck.

And then there was this startling desire to grab hold of him and never let go and kiss him until I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be alone.

This feeling of needing him so much wasn’t new, but the few occasions I’d felt it I’d instantly taken a step away. I couldn’t need people because then they might leave, and certainly not how I needed James. It had never occurred to me to push closer.

“I promise, Lily.”

But I knew that. Of course I knew that.

“Okay,” I said, nodding and pressing my lips against his. “Okay,” I said again, and again, gripping hold of the material of his shirt and holding tight. “James,” I muttered, forehead pressed into his chest, “I really think... that you should probably take off your shirt.”

“I’m not used to you propositioning me, Evans,” James grinned into my lips as I shuffled closer. 

Push closer. 

“And maybe,” I said, dropping a kiss on the corner of his lips, “maybe the rest of your clothes too,”

James caught hold of my wrist and quirked up his eyebrows.

“This sounds like something we should talk about,” James said, fingers still encircling my wrist, looking uncharacteristically serious. I blinked. “Lily, I don’t want to fuck this up.”

“James,” I said, “the whole god damn world is fucked up. Petunia wants me to die, my Mum wants herself to die, my ex-best friend probably wants to kill me, You-Know-Who wants to kill everyone and I’m never going to get a job and I’m never...”

“Lily,” James said, silencing me with a kiss, “this is my point. We haven’t talked about this previously and you’re ever so slightly emotionally vulnerable right now,”

“I am emotional vulnerable permanently!” I protested, “James, I purposefully got myself tortured. I am emotionally messed up. That’s not going to change.”

“I appreciate that, Lily,” James said, hands curling at my waist, “but, I just think that maybe this isn’t the best time.”

“At school,” I said, “we sleep in dormitories. Your parents are liable to stumble in on as at any moment and my whole family are out, probably plotting my murder. When is this situation going to arise again?” James smiled slightly. “I’m not saying this is perfect,” I said, “but, none of this perfect. It’s good enough and that’s a damn site better than everything else we have to deal with and...I love you,”

“Mmm,” James said, hands sneaking up my sides, “you’re forgetting that I, in fact, am perfect.” 

James was grinning again, that grin that I wanted to freeze and hold onto forever. There wasn’t much that I had complete faith in, but I had complete faith that – through all the crap that was no doubt coming our way – James would still have that beautiful smile. 

I hummed slightly, twisting my hands up through James’s hair and grinning. 

“I am prepared to remind you, though,” James grinned, pulling my t-shirt up over my head.

“You arrogant prat,” I returned, laughing as James kissed me again and again and again.

Sometimes I felt like I was drowning. It felt like the weight of the world was going to fill up my lungs until they collapsed in on themselves. I felt like there were no happy endings, and only endless tragedy and loss. But sometimes I felt like I was much more than just a survivor.

Sometimes I felt like I was living.

*

“Bloody hell!”  James hissed, his voice muffled due to the fact that I’d accidentally Apparated on top of him. I struggled to sit up slightly, to avoid accidental suffocation (which didn’t sound very romantic). I pressed a finger to his lips to quieten him, blushing slightly in the dark.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I muttered, “I wasn’t concentrating properly... I didn’t land on anything did I?”

“Apart from me,” James said, his voice quieter this time, amusement evident, “No, Evans, you missed most of the vital organs. I’ll live. What’s up?”

“Another argument,” I said, “couldn’t sleep. Wanted to see you. Okay?”

“Great,” James said, “nothing like waking up in the middle of the night to find your beautiful girlfriend straddling you.” 

“Hmm,” I said, reaching over to his bedside table and putting his glasses on for him, “don’t get used to it. I’m too scared of Carolyn and Magnus.” 

“Some Gryffindor.”

“Sushh,” I hissed, replacing the finger on his lips with my own for a split second. “I might have pushed Petunia too far this time,” I muttered miserably, sitting up in James’ bed, “she said she never wanted to see me again.”

“Has she never said that before?” James asked. His voice was soft and warm in the dark, and he looked all sleepy and gorgeous. I shifted over to lie next to him and curled into his side. He wrapped his arm around me.

“Yeah, sure,” I said, “When we were little, all the time. She’s probably said it more recently too, but I don’t think she ever meant it.”

“And now?”

“Too many broomstick jokes,” I said, closing my eyes and breathing in James. It wasn’t completely and utterly terrifying to consider moving in with James when we were all wrapped up in each other’s arms, but the rest of the time it was. In a good way. 

“Lily,” James sighed.

“I know,” I muttered, “you told me to stop. I couldn’t do it.”

“I know you said you couldn’t sleep,” James said, “but are you going to keep me up all night too?”

“No,” I said, “goodnight, James.”

“That’s not the answer I was looking for,” James smirked, kissing me briefly.

“Goodnight,” I said, laughing and curving myself around him, “love you.”

The world’s still felt a little foreign on my tongue, but I was beginning to decide that I quite liked them.

*

I had a nightmare that my Voldemort killed my mother, Petunia and Vernon whilst I watched. In the dream, Mary hovered in the background and I was screaming at my family to run but they couldn’t because magic was trapping them there, sticking them to the ground.

And in all three of their eyes was the accusatory awareness that none of this would have happened if you weren’t a witch, Lily, we’d all be safe and free and happy. 

I woke up crying which would have been embarrassing enough if I’d just had James to face, but it quickly became apparent that my subtle midnight-apparition into James’s room hadn’t gone unnoticed. 

“Morning, Lily dear,” Carolyn Potter said, hovering in the doorway and waving. 

“Urgh,” James muttered, reaching for his glasses and instinctively pulling me closer, “are you okay, Lily?”

“Nightmare,” I managed, glancing back up at James’ parents feeling my face flush a rather unattractive shade of pink. It’s not like we’d done anything, as our state of fully dressed (in pyjamas) clearly showed, but there was still something a little embarrassing about waking up to find my boyfriend’s parents cheerfully hanging around in the doorway. 

“Coffee?”  Magnus suggested, just as the Potter’s wizened old House Elf appeared in the middle of the room clutching a pot and two mugs. 

“Was the nightmare about my parents looming over you when you woke up?” James asked, absently playing with a lock of my hair as he glanced – slightly nervously – over at his parents, “uh, Lily had an argument with her family and she just…”

“That’s quite all right,” Carolyn interjected. 

“What about my bloody honour?”

“Oh,” Magnus said, grinning, “I didn’t realise you actually believed that business. I told you, Carolyn.”

James flopped back down onto his bed and muttered a series of swearwords into his pillow, as well as something that sounded a little like ‘worst parents ever.’ I laughed despite the fact that I was still near crippled with embarrassment, and brushed one of the lingering tears off my face. 

“Sorry for just appearing in your house,” I managed, smiling as James threw a cushion at his mother’s face, “and… thank you for the coffee.”

“Why are you in my room?” James whined.

“I wanted to talk to Lily,” Carolyn said, “before she snuck off this morning.” 

I blushed again. 

“Maybe I could steal you for breakfast?” Carolyn suggested, mischievous smirk and all. 

The more time I spent around James’ parents the more I felt I understood the beautiful enigma that was James. It was easy to see how he started Hogwarts slightly spoilt but with a wicked sense of humour, held little prejudice towards werewolves and purebloods but plenty towards Slytherin’s… why he wasn’t used to getting exactly what he wanted, why he sort to be popular and adored.

“Okay,” I said, nodding. 

The prospect of breakfast with Mrs Potter was infinitely better than the prospect of breakfast with my family. 

*

“Lily,” Carolyn said, after we’d eaten our first slices of toast, “I wanted to talk to you about your family.” Usually her expression was all wit and humour, constantly on the edge of the joke, but it had morphed into something a little more serious over the course of breakfast.

“James said… about us moving in together?” I asked. No doubt, Carolyn was going to ask me to be more mature and responsible. She was going to say I needed to reconcile with my family and that I was too young to move in with James. All those things were true. 

“Yes,” Carolyn said, “he did. I think you’re beginning to understand how hard this war is going to be, and I wanted you to know that – if you need someone to talk to about it – you can talk to me, Lily. I understand war and I know war. You can’t tell your mother and your sister how things are, because they’ll be scared and upset and it makes that vulnerable. Lily, I know that this… this is difficult, but it’s best if – until the brunt of this over – you have as little contact with your family as possible.”

I gaped at her.

I knew… I knew that it was going to be the case, but it felt strange to have it said so starkly. Say goodbye to your Muggle family, Lily, if you keep writing them letters they’re going to get murdered. 

“In my nightmare they were murdered and… and it was my fault.”

“I thought as much,” Carolyn nodded, “my son has talked about you for half his life, Lily, and I don’t want you to be without a family for the duration of this war. You can have us, Lily.”

My eyes were suddenly watering slightly. I could burry myself in with the Potters and still have some semblance of a family. I could have breakfast with Carolyn, Magnus, James and Sirius. Maybe… maybe things with my family were broken and shitty now, but they’d be time to fix it up when I knew I was endangering their lives. There would be time. 

“Just promise me,” Carolyn said, “that you will keep giving James a reason to survive.”

“He has lots of reasons,” I said, quietly.

“You all want to fight,” Carolyn said, looking older than I’d ever seen her (even when she was ill and in St Mungo’s), “but none of you want to survive. I’d like you to do both… but all of you, survival is an afterthought. You’re all so ready to throw yourself on your wands so someone else doesn’t have to. I don’t want my son to be a martyr, Lily dear, I want him to grow old – do you see?”

“James is brave.”

“Of course he’s brave,” Carolyn said, “he was bought up believing bravery is better than sanity. His bravery is selfless, but it lacks perspective. You are all young and lucky, and so ready to surrender it all at a moment’s notice. It’s not that illness that has made me old, Lily… it’s knowing that you all might die, and I understand… I understand that someone has to stand and fight, but I wish with my whole being that it wasn’t my son, and you, and Sirius, and Remus, and Peter.”

“You don’t think we’ll survive.”

“I think it will break you,” Carolyn said, “but I think that if my son knows that he has you, then his desire to keep living might outweigh the desire just to fight till the death.” 

“I’m… thank you,” I said breathlessly, because here was so much information being delivered and I wasn’t sure whether I could process it. 

It was certainly true of Sirius… Sirius had no future plan but to fight in the war… and we didn’t talk about any other kind of future but the near present. James and I had never talked about marriage or children. We’d only talked about what was going to happen right after Hogwarts. We didn’t talk about the future. I hadn’t realised that was because none of us were very convinced that we were going to get there… there was only now, and the war, and You-Know-Who. 

That was all we’d focused on since Mary died. 

“I think that you should move the rest of your belongings from your home before the end of the Easter holidays,” Carolyn said, her voice low and gentle, “you are family, Lily Evans. When the war’s over you may reconcile with your mother and your sister, but James is right. If you have made the decision to fight rather than hide then you are in danger. You will never forgive yourself if you are the reason they are hurt, Lily, and until the day we are your family.”

I nodded. It was only when I dropped my gaze to look down at my toast that the tears came, but then they were flooding down my face and Carolyn Potter was reaching forwards – towards me – and pulling me into a hug. 

Family.

*

On the day before the end of the Easter Holidays I wrote a letter to my sister and my mother to say goodbye. I wrote another two to be delivered on the event of my death and hid those at the bottom of one of the drawers. 

I put everything I owned into my trunk. I hugged my mother whilst my sister watched with pursed lips and refused to touch me. I could not stop crying. 

And then I left home, and my family, and the last scrap of my childhood at the front door.





Okay first off, I AM SO SORRY THIS TOOK SUCH A LONG TIME FOR ME TO PUT UP. There are no real excuses, but I’m going to give you a few anyway… I’ve had two sets of exams since I last updated (ouch) and, um, university, and I went travelling around Europe for a month… and I’ve making lots of progress on ‘mission: let’s be able to write forever’ so it’s all GOOD STUFF but I am very sorry. It’s never taken me this long to update this story before and the GOOD NEWS is it won’t ever take that long again.
This, I can promise because there are going to be approximately four more chapters and I’ve written at least 50% of every single one. So I’m going to try and have this whole thing written and posted by the end of my summer holidays (which is the end of September… but I’m in china for most of September… so let’s call it the beginning of September).


Once again, I am very sorry. Thank you to anyone who’s still with me!

-AC

PS. to my beta, I'm locked out of my email address and could think of no way of sending this to you. If you're still around, I'd still like your betaing services?

Edit: this chapter has now been beta'd by the lovely Mutt N Feathers. Isn't Amy awesome? :D


Chapter 25: Good Day?
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One of the most remarkable things about my relationship with James was the fact that we always seemed to be arguing about something.

Even when I woke all curled up in James’s bed (which was a bad habit I was going to stop just as soon as I stopped having nightmares about my family dying), it could take as little as two minutes before we wound up bickering. James would want to stay in bed even though classes started in ten minutes, or he’d wake me up to go to early morning Quidditch practice, or James would try to kiss me even though it was too hot… and we’d wind up having a whispered argument until Sirius threw something at us.

It was good, though.                

We’d fall into the pattern of a relationship properly now and it only seemed natural to keep on arguing.

“James,” I hissed, “let go of me.”

“Never,” James returned, all sleepy and gorgeous and buried in my shoulder, “if I let go you might leave.”

“That’s the idea,” I said, trying to untangle his hands from my waist, “girl day with Alice, remember?”

“No,” James said, “I don’t listen to a word you say, Evans, you know that.”

“Quit with the surname, thing.”

“You know, if you married me I’d have to quit with the surname thing.”

“James,” I sighed, finally pulling myself free, “that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

“You’re the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

“I’m leaving,” I said, making to sit up. I James’ hands snuck round my waist again, giving me about enough leeway to grab my dressing gown off the floor… but that was it.

“You can’t leave,” James said, opening his eyes. He buried one hand in the material of my t-shirt as he grappled around for his glasses with the other. I put them on his face for him with a shake of my head. 

“I’m meeting you for lunch at the Three Broomsticks,” I said, “if you guys manage to make it out of bed by then.”

“I resent that,” James said. “Do you have to have a girl day?”

“If I don’t let the others have you for the afternoon they’ll probably kidnap you, anyway,” I said, “you and Sirius can get in a stupid fight and throw things at each other. You could prank someone or hex Snape and I might even pretend not to be mad about it.”

“Sacrilege! I never hex Snape.”

“Maybe you don’t cast the actual spell,” I said, “but you certainly watch whilst Sirius does it.”

“Lily, you know I would never –”

“ – oh shut up,” I laughed, eventually detaching myself and pulling the curtains back. “Do whatever you like, as long as no one gets hurt and you get to the Three Broomsticks on time.”

“Half one, yes?”

“Twelve, James.”

“That’s so early,” James complained, “can’t we do half one?”

“We agreed twelve.”

“Well, I wasn’t listening.”

“I know,” I sighed, “because Sirius cast a shrinking spell on Marissa Brown’s shirt, which was sexist and immature and exactly the sort of thing I’d expect from Sirius…which is why I said twelve, to punish you.”

“Urgh,” Sirius muttered from the bed next door, “can you both go be whipped elsewhere? I’m trying to sleep.”

“Half twelve?” James suggested. “I did stop Sirius shrinking your shirt.”

“Thanks so much.”

“He speaks the truth,” Sirius said, “and much too loudly for this early on a Saturday.”

“It’s nine,”

“Exactly,” Sirius said, “no Quidditch means no consciousness before midday.”

“Padfoot, we have to be at the Three Broomsticks for half twelve.”

Sirius groaned. The hangings round his four poster bed opened and a pillow came flying out, hitting me in the face. James sat up and threw his back… and I’d been in this situation enough times to know that a full frontal clothing fight usually ensued. I’d wound up with a mouthful of dirty sock far too many times to want to stick around any longer.

“That’s my cue to leave.”

“Okaaay,” James whined, sitting up and pulling me into a kiss. I pulled away two minutes later when a pair of boxers landed on my head. I wasn’t going to ask whether or not they were clean, because I wasn’t entirely sure whether I could handle the answer.

“You’re all disgusting,” I said, pulling on my slippers, “enjoy having a pillow fight in your underwear, you prats. And if you’re late, James, I might kill you.”

“Half twelve!” James said, offering me a salute before sending a pillow-missile in Peter’s direction.

I decided it probably wasn’t worth arguing the twelve, half twelve point.

*

“So,” Alice grinned as we walked up to the Three Broomsticks, “what you’re saying is… after all the crap you gave me, you’re going to move in with James at the end of the Seventh Year?”

“Yes,” I admitted, grudgingly. Alice laughed at me, “but things are really good right now. They shouldn’t be, because You-Know-Who is attacking more and more Muggles every day, and they’re saying the Ministry probably won’t hold up for much longer… and I’m not entirely sure they’re reporting everything right in the Prophet, but I feel…”

“Happy?”

“Right,” I said, glancing at the Three Broomsticks. This time last year, I’d been at home mourning the death of my father. Now, I was barely welcome at home… was about to move in with my boyfriend (almost entirely because it was the only safe option), I was part of a resistance movement and Sirius Black was probably my best friend. The world was absolutely crazy. “Frank’s probably going to be on time, right?” I said, glancing at the Three Broomsticks. “Because I don’t think James is going to turn up till one.”

“The great Lily Evans,” Alice beamed, “fallen from grace.”

“Hmm.”

“Waiting around for a boy.”

“It’s James,” I said, feeling slightly self-conscious, “he’s definitely got a monopoly on the waiting around.”

“True,” Alice said. “How is everything?”

Honestly? It was all brilliant.  Somehow, crossing over all those final steps – the I love yous, sleeping together, starting to plan a future – had short circuited my brain away from all the things I’d been worried about previously. I was still scared of losing James, but that seemed pretty natural.

Especially after the conversation I’d had with Carolyn.  Now, the idea of James fighting in a war was utterly paralysing and made me feel all the more guilty about the getting-myself-tortured thing. Not because I didn’t think I shouldn’t have done it to myself, but because I couldn’t imagine how I’d feel if James had done that.

“You look positively gooey,” Alice said, smiling, “it’s adorable.”

“Shut up,” I said as we stepped through the entrance to the Three Broomsticks. To my great surprise, the Marauders were already there (James Potter hadn’t been early to anything but a Quidditch match in his life. It used to really irritate me back before all of this stuff happened, now I’d just come to factor it into our plans). They were crowed round one of the tables in the far corner, gathering around something that James seemed to be showing them.

“Lily!” Peter said, loudly, and suddenly whatever-it-was James had been showing them was stashed in a pocket, and the four of them were drawing back looking marginally guilty. James looked slightly more flustered than normal, a hand going up to his hair without his permission.

“Er, hi Lilykins.”

“I won’t ask,” I said, “only because you’re early. It better not be dangerous.”

“Dangerous,” Sirius said with a bark of laughter, “positively deadly.”

“Shut up, Padfoot.”

“Make me.”

“Girls,” I said, sliding into the seat next to James, “stop bickering.”

“Sirius has been bullying me,” James said, “never leave me unprotected again, Lily.”

“That’s good advice for life. Protection is important, children.”

“The sex jokes aren’t funny anymore, Sirius,” I said, nodding at Alice to sit down and join us.  Frank was sure to turn up in a few minutes.

“Ignore him,” Remus said, “he’s only teasing you because he’s not getting any.”

Watching the expression on Sirius’ face shift was positively hilarious.

“Too many things are changing round here,” Sirius said, moodily, “Remus is growing a back bone, James and Lily are having sex, and Peter’s busying studying for NEWTS like they actually matter. What happened to the good old status quo, huh?”

“Would it help if I gave you all permission to use whatever-it-is James has in his pocket to prank, Snape?”

James glanced at Sirius, then at Remus and then to Peter in turn. Remus had a small smile pulling at the corner of his lips. Sirius’ moody expression dissolved slightly. Peter’s watery eyes widened in amusement. James was slightly flushed again.

“Brilliant idea,” Sirius grinned, “God, can we?”

“No,” James said.

“Help yourself.”

“I don’t think you’d say that if you knew what it was,” Remus said, still smiling.

“I think I know what it is,” Alice said, eyes widening, “oh my God.”

“Please, just don’t kill anyone,” I said, glancing between them.

“The only person who might wind up dead is James, here,” Sirius said, clapping him on the back. “Who doesn’t want a butterbeer? James is paying.”

James rolled his eyes but dropped a few galleons into Sirius’s hand all the same. I curved into his side and allowed him to curl an arm around my waist. I liked the feeling of James’ feeling splayed out across my hip as if it was natural and normal for us to be in this position.

“About what Sirius said – ” I said, quietly.

“ – ignore Sirius,” James interrupted, “I always do.”

“No,” I frowned, “I mean… about you winding up dead. Your Mum was talking to me about… some stuff and I wanted to talk about the Order a bit.”

*

A quiet conversation at the corner of the Three Broomsticks had turned into a full blown argument by the time we’d eaten, drank a couple of Butterbeers and left the pub.

“Do you even realise how hypocritical you’re being?” James demanded. “I’m not the one who likes to get myself hurt for some stupid experiment –”

“– can you stop bringing that up?” I demanded.  “I’m not saying don’t fight, James, I’m just saying that maybe we should have priorities.”

“I’m sorry,” James said, expression twisting, “I didn’t realise there could be a higher priority than some maniac trying to kill hundreds of people.” His voice dropped, because this wasn’t the kind of conversation you were supposed to have in public these days.

Still, there wasn’t much chance of us being overheard. The advice issued by the school for this weekends Hogsmeade trip was to travel in groups where possible, and since meeting up for lunch the plan was to all stick together. Unfortunately, that meant all the Marauders and Alice and Frank were baring witness to our stupid argument.

“I don’t want you to get yourself killed!”

“It’s not the top of my to do list,” James hissed back, “but if that’s what it takes…”

“This is what I’m talking about!” I said, grabbing his sleeve and forcing him to look at me. “I’m not saying I’m any better, but your Mum’s right. We’re… we’re building a life together.” James’ expression softened slightly.

“Lily, can we talk about this later?”

“If you promise me you’re not going to be a martyr.”

“We’re all going to be sodding martyrs,” James said, “If I can die so you don’t have to, you bet that I’m going to do it.”

“James,” I hissed, tears springing up to my eyes without my permission. He was telling the truth, I could tell that. He was scowling and his hair was messy and his glasses had slipped down his nose slightly. He was James Potter and I loved him and he was right… the chances were, we were all going to die. I hadn’t cared and then suddenly James made me care and I was suddenly struggling to work out whether it was all worth it.

Of course, I didn’t have a choice. I was a mudblood. James, though, he was a pureblood and he could just take a step back and survive but, no, he was always going to throw himself in front of a curse because he was a stupid, brave, noble, Gryffindor. “Don’t say that.”

“This is the world we live in.”

“Well, it sucks,” I said, blinking at him as I took a step forward, “can you just promise me that you’ll be careful?”

“You wouldn’t make that promise to me.”

“I could,” I said, “I could do it. If you asked me to.”

The moment, hung, suspended as James seemed to consider whether or not he wanted to ask. My heart was thudding in my chest… maybe he would. Maybe we could run away. We could live abroad, away from You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters and the Muggle attacks… it would be difficult to persuade Sirius to come, but maybe it would be possible. Remus wouldn’t stay behind without us. Peter would follow them everywhere. We could all just get out and be a family somewhere. A safe, messed up little family circle...

Then someone screamed.

We all seemed to step forward in unison. I pushed past a group of fourth years, stumbling off the pavement.

My heart stopped.

They were wearing masks. I’d heard them described in the Prophet, but that didn’t compare to seeing them in practice; the skeletal masks and the dark black robes. They looked like grim reapers. They brought death. Death Eaters.

And they were sending flashes of light at a bunch of kids, and my heart was in my mouth, and I couldn’t breathe… and I knew that Carolyn Potter was right, because I couldn’t walk away from this anymore than James could. I couldn’t have that safety when things like this were happening. I just couldn’t do it.

“I’m a Mudblood!” I yelled, running out onto the pavement as I pulled out my wand. “I’m a Mudblood you bastards!”

James was going to be so mad at me.

“I’m a Black,” Sirius said, right behind me, “Sirius Black.”

I could almost hear him winking.

“Pureblood Blood traitor,” James said. I wanted to take a moment to look behind him and smile, but there wasn’t time. We’d certainly successfully got their attention, but that came at the price of thirty or so hooded figures turning to look at us.

And holy shit that…

That was Lord Voldemort.

*

Sirius stood in the centre of the Hospital wing, re-enacting the moment Remus was hit with a stunner for the seventh time. He, once again, brandished his wand stupidly before letting out an ‘oh’ of exaggerated surprise and slipping to the floor again.

I was trying very hard not to laugh.

“Sod off,” Remus said, now conscious once again, throwing one of his pillows feebly in Sirius’ direction. “What did you expect me to do? Fall with grace and dignity?”

“Always, Moony,” Sirius grinned.

“You weren’t quite so bloody arrogant when you broke your arm, prat.”

“Shattered,” Sirius corrected, nodding to him seriously, “the curse shattered my arm.”

“Bite me.”

“Isn’t that your job?” Sirius grinned, picking the pillow off the floor and throwing it back in Remus’s direction with a bark of laughter. 

The hospital wing was nearly full and every conscious person was watching Sirius’display, smiling as though Hogsmeade hadn’t just been attacked by a bunch of Death Eaters; as much as I half wanted to protest against his behaviour, it seemed to be honestly distracting those who’d been hurt. And I had to admit, the aftermath of nearly dying and left me finding everything a little bit too funny.

If this raw feeling meant laughing or crying, it was probably better to laugh.

“Leave it out,” I said, pulling myself into more of a sitting position and nearly bursting into tears as I did so. The pain shot throw my stomach and I caught a breath of air, tensing my shoulders until I found a position I could stay in once again, “I can’t even say how inappropriate this is.”

“I’ll stop when you stop laughing,” Sirius grinned, “and you’re right, Evans. Your downfall was a thing of beauty. One minute, you’re having ago at James for wanting to be a martyr… and the next second you’re throwing yourself at a bunch of Death Eaters as a willing bit of meat. God, the timing.”

I let out another huff of laughter.

“Bloody stupid,” Remus said, fixing a stern glare at me for a moment.

“Oh, don’t you start,” I grinned, “I’m sure I’m going to have this argument with James plenty.”

“I’m a Mudblood!” Sirius mimicked, his voice taking on absurdly high proportions. “How long was it before you went down after that? Thirty seconds? Twenty?”

“It was at least five minutes,” I protested.

“Two,” Remus interjected. “I’d say two minutes before you were hit. Another ten before you passed out.”

“How would you know?” I asked, grinning. “Didn’t you only last seven in total?”

“You sent a stunning spell at Lord sodding Voldemort,” Sirius beamed, half laughing as he turned to me. “A stunning spell!”

“I missed.”

“Yeah,” Sirius said, “but the sheer audacity. All right, everyone… round of applause for Evans, possibly the dumbest person you’ll ever meet. Peter,” Sirius said, pausing over Peter’s bed and poking him with his wand, “join in the applause, Peter.”

Peter had lost consciousness a few minutes after reaching the Hospital Wing.  All I remembered after being hit in the stomach (and I wasn’t sure what with or who by, but the Matron had described it as ‘nasty’ and suggested I didn’t try to move much for the next few days), was light and adrenaline and pain; there were wands flashing and spells flying, anger and panic.

Next thing I knew, Sirius was reviving me. He looked scared for a moment, before the grin stretched out across his features and he told me my collapse had been ridiculous. James had carried me back to the hospital wing, his grip slightly too tight, but Dumbledore had pulled him away to his office before we’d had a chance to talk.

Peter was bleeding from the head the first time I saw him and it had permeated Sirius’ default setting of amusement, resulting in an angry silence until the matron declared that he’d be fine and would wake up in the hour. Remus had just passed out. Sirius had shattered the bone in his arm Frank was swimming in and out of consciousness, occasionally adding a few breathless words to the conversation before he was back under. Alice was shook up but unharmed. I was hit with something ‘nasty.’ James had a bloody arm, but nothing more.

No one died. There would be no lasting injuries.

So, although the Hospital Wing was full to the brimming point and the mood should have been sombre, Sirius was acting the clown and loudly debating what colour to jinks Peter’s hair whilst he was ‘having a lie in.’

“Pink?” Sirius said, “it’s always a classic.”

 I couldn’t help myself. A giggle un-lodged itself from my chest and burst out into the room, sending a ripple of pain through my gut.

“Sirius...” I said, biting my lip, unable to finish my reprimand.

“Evans.”

“Stop making me laugh, idiot, it hurts too much.”

“Budge up,” Sirius said, stepping away from the centre of the room and towards my bed, still with that bloody smirk.

Sirius had given up his bed the second his arm was fixed, grimly insisting it go to someone who needed it more. That had been one of the few moments of seriousness that had snuck through and it reminded me, once again, that beyond Sirius’ series of personas, he took this war more seriously than anyone.

“Fine,” I said, shuffling to one side of my bed, wincing as I did so, to give Sirius enough room to sit down next to me. Sirius acting like such a colossal idiot was keeping me grounded whilst James was still absent, no doubt going over what had happened with Dumbledore (who’d arrived in the last few minutes, effectively ending the battle with what I’d be told was an ‘awesome display’). “But stick to your side of the bed, prat.”

“The bickering. God, you’re like –”

“– if you say an old married couple, Remus, I swear I will smite you,” I interrupted.

“I was going to say siblings,” Remus said.

“Gross,” Sirius said, “there’s no way I could ever be related to something so orange.”

“Right,” I laughed, “ginger jokes, Sirius. Is this really the time?”

“Well, screw you. Wait…”

“– you say one more word, Black, you’ll regret it.”

“Please,” Sirius grinned, “you can barely sit up. Whatcha gonna do?”

“I’ll set my big bad boyfriend on you.”

“You must be talking about your other boyfriend,” Sirius smirked, “because the last time I was scared of James was… oh, never. Show us your battle scars, Evans.”

“Fine,” I conceded, balling up the material of my shirt and lifting it upwards. My stomach was a black mess, highlighted with hues of green and purple and eventually fading out to yellow. I winced looking at it. It certainly wasn’t pretty.

“Evan’s is stripping!” Sirius declared. I elbowed him, our shoulders pressing together for a moment as I tried very hard not to laugh. “Can I see your tattoo?”

“No,”

“So,” Sirius said, glancing at Remus, “first impressions on bauldy-Voldie?”

“Sirius,” I said, meaning to be stern but dissolving into hopeless giggles again, “you can’t just – ”

“ – he looks worse than last time,” Alice said, quietly.

“Right,” Sirius said, “I forgot you already had the pleasure of meeting his Lordship.”

“Sirius,” I said, “stop it. You’re killing me.”

“No,” Sirius said, “that’s Voldemort, the one killing you.”

“Sirius,” I said, laughing. The movement sent another wave of pain through my stomach, leaving me blinking back the tears. I shut my eyes for a second, trying to regulate my breathing… but with Sirius still cracking jokes and making those comments it was hard to take anything seriously.

“It’s not… s’not funny.”

“Face it, Lilykins,” Sirius muttered, “it’s god damn hilarious.”

“James not back yet?” Alice asked. She was clutching Frank’s hand, worry etched onto her forehead (Sirius’ magic hadn’t worked on her, but I think if James was unconscious I wouldn’t have found anything very funny either… and, besides, Alice never did find Sirius that funny).

“No,” I said, glancing at the door.

“He’ll be back soon, Lily,” Sirius said, “everything’s fine… ignoring, of course, the fact that you’ve just printed a bull’s eye on your forehead and that little thing where we’re probably all going to die. Also, James is going to be pissed.”

“Are you?” I asked, curiously. “It was stupid.”

“It was a thing of beauty,” Sirius grinned, “I’m a Mudblood’ And, I think Evans, you probably saved those third years lives… James knows that too.”

“Yeah?”

“Sure, why not? If it makes you feel better,” Sirius grinned, “now, do you think Peter would wake up if I put Ingleton’s irritating itching powder down his knickers?”

“Is this just an excuse to get in Peter’s pants?” Remus asked, and then I was laughing all over again.

The laugher died in my throat when I saw James and Dumbledore stood in the entry to the hospital wing, giving way to sheer relief. I’d wanted to wrap my finger’s around James’s wrist since the first hooded figures showed up, wanted to fall into the feeling of safety that only James seemed able to conjure (although Sirius was a second best, obviously); I wanted one of his smiles and his arms and that gaze of his.

I let out a breath I didn’t realise I’d been holding, before the tension started to rebuild again.

Dumbledore looked grave and serious, which made sense… but James didn’t look right. Before he’d left, he’d look stoic and angry… but it had been different from this.

There was something round about the lines of his shoulders, because I found myself unconsciously trying to rise to greet him. I barely felt the stabbing pain in my stomach, but I couldn’t move past it, instead falling back into my sitting position with a grimace.

“James,” I questioned, as he walked towards us.

He stopped at my bed and sat down. Except, it seemed more like he was no longer capable of standing; he just dropped onto the bed with this steely expression that made me blink.

“Lily,” He said, and his voice sounded so broken and wrong that it nearly winded me. I reached out and folded my fingers through his, all traces of the humour that had accompanied us before vanished.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, my throat suddenly tight. “What’s happened?”

“There…” James stopped short, swallowed, “there was a fire… at…at my house.”

I could feel the sharp way his throat constricted around the words and the pure concentration involved in getting the words out. I could see the Potter’s mansion at the forefront of my mind, burning and ash; a lifetime of memories, turned to dust. I tightened my grip on his hand.

“The House Elf… he was old and… there was a candle and…it… it got to the potions ingredients and… it’s gone. All of it.”

My belongs were there, I thought absently, and all of James’s things… a whole life time of memories burnt out and gone. I glanced towards Sirius, but his expression had frozen… I knew that Sirius had spent most of the last few summers at the Potter Mansion, but there was something wrong with his expression too. Maybe it was his home, but he seemed a little to pale and –

“Your parents,” Sirius said.

My head snapped round to face James again, heart beginning to thump in my chest

James didn’t answer.

 Oh god oh god oh god.

“Carolyn and Magnus,” Sirius repeated, forcefully.

“Mum’s… in St Mungos,” James managed.

“Dad,” Sirius demanded.

And oh god he said ‘Dad’ not ‘your Dad’ and I could feel the pain already bubbling up in my chest, threatening to spill over. No, don’t not James, we’ve lost too much we’re too broken no you can’t… I closed my eyes.

Except it wasn’t my right to block this out. James deserved more than that.

I opened my eyes just in time to see the slight shake of James’ head, and it hurt like a stab wound. 

 






Um, yeah. As a warning, if you're looking for any kind of happy ending LOOK AWAY NOW. Actually, there's a little bit of happy in the next chapter... but then we're done with happy.

And also surviving.


Sometimes, I really hate JK for making me write this ending, but it has to be done. Next chapter is half written so should be up very soon. Thanks to all who are still reading! I can't believe how quickly we're heading towards the ending now. It's been an age since I started writing TAOB... well, I'll save the emotional A/N for a few more chapters.

This chapter has now been beta'd by the lovely Mutt N Feathers! Isn't she wonderful?


Chapter 26: Hope
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Remus jerked awake the second I hobbled back into the Hospital Wing, standing up in a rush to grab my arm. All the candles burning in the brackets had been dimmed to almost nothing, turning all the figures in the other beds anonymous. At least some were empty now.

Remus led me over to my bed.

“Hey,” I said, weakly, “I didn’t… I didn’t want to wake the Matron.”

“What’s going on?” Remus asked.

“She’s not going to make it,” I said, tears welling up in my eyes without permission, “she’s still weak from… from when she was sick before. She’s unconscious. Remus, I don’t think she’s going to wake up.”

“Shit,” Remus said, sitting down and swallowing.

“They’re holding off on the funeral,” I blinked, “Until… I think there’s going to be a joint service.  They… they didn’t want to let us stay, but Dumbledore talked to the Healers.  I didn’t want to leave him, Remus, but…” I swallowed and took another deep breath. “They said two could stay as the absolute maximum, and Sirius… he needed to be there.”

“Yeah,” Remus said, looking down at his knees, “I can’t believe it.”

“She said I could be part of their family,” I said, balling my fists up against my things. I hadn’t cried yet, because that wouldn’t have been fair to James – he’d never depended on me for anything before and I wasn’t about to let him down. “They were so kind.”

“Had to be, to bring up someone like James.”

“It’s not like with Mary,” I said, “it’s so sudden.”

I was thinking of my own family, too. I wanted to draw them in close but I wasn’t allowed. After the events of today, it was now even more important than ever to keep away from my family at all costs. I was thinking of my dad dying; a heart attack, just like that.

A magical fire, a flash of green light… it’s so easy to die, it’s remarkable anyone lives at all.

“I want him to be okay,” I said, and then the tears came too, “I want him to be okay so badly, but he won’t be. That’s all the family James has left… and, I know, losing a parent it’s… and there’s no pictures or anything it’s all just gone. I just want him to be okay.”

“He’ll survive,” Remus said, but his voice sounded hollow, “and he’s got us.”

“Yeah,” I said, wiping away the tears furiously, “Yeah.”

“Lily,” Remus said, “We’ve been through a lot, you know. Peter’s Dad died right after his first year… and when Sirius was disowned, and Mary, and... well, then there’s me. I… I never thought I’d fit in,” Remus looked wistful and sad, “and then James bought us all together.  We’re not alone, here.”

“Thank God for that,” I said, into the quiet of the hospital wing, “If I couldn’t trust in you four I don’t know what I’d do.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Remus said, “because that’s not going to happen.”

It was a stupid thing to believe in, but friendship was what made James beautiful. Despite his pureblood heritage, Carolyn and Magnus bought him to be compassionate and loving and to have the most infuriating sense of humour I’d ever come across.  He accepted Sirius despite his heritage, which meant nothing to me but would have been infamous to him – Carolyn and Magnus, too. He accepted Remus, wolf tendencies and all, when prejudice against werewolves was printed across wizarding culture. He accepted Peter, too, even though he was just slightly awkward and lost without a group of people to fall in with. He accepted me even though I was a Mudblood and sure to bring him nothing but trouble.

He pissed over all the expectations and became the prankster Head Boy.

Maybe I could believe that even death wouldn’t be so cruel is to tear apart such a pure friendship.

*

Death changes people.

James was beginning to look a little better, but not the same: when you lose someone you’re not the same. He was still James, but he was different.  I think there were edges to James that might have been lost forever – youthful, positive, naïve edges – but we were all on our way to being jaded.

 I no longer had faith in youth protecting you from death. I’d lost faith in my childhood best friends, my sister and my mother. I was beginning to understand that people weren’t fundamentally good and that maybe people could be truly evil.

James didn’t smile as much.

I’d become so accustomed to sharing things with James it was difficult not to share the full extent of the grief, but I didn’t have all those memories and affections.  Carolyn and Magnus Potter were not my parents.

It’s was strange to be sitting on the other side of grief, watching as it ate up someone’s insides. Now, when James had his arm around me, it didn’t feel like he was holding me together – it felt like he was holding onto me for support. A reminder. Look, here we are, we’re still surviving. No, better, we’re living.

“Hey.” James muttered, pushing a piece of hair from my face and pressing a kiss on my forehead. We were sitting under the tree in front of which Severus Snape had called me a mudblood and under which Mary had overheard Sirius and the others talking. Well, more lying than sitting; stretched out across the grass, with James’s possessive arm around my waist and the early summer sun beginning to shine. It was too perfect, really, when the rest of the world was so awful.

“Hey James,” I muttered in return, propping myself up with my elbow and curving my body towards him, “You look pretty today.”

James’s lips stretched into a smile, which meant maybe today, would be a better day. Carolyn was still hanging on in St Mungos, just about, but she hadn’t woken. We were all holding our breath waiting for the day she passed. James wouldn’t visit.

I think he didn’t want to say goodbye. I could almost understand that, if I hadn’t missed my own chance at a goodbye before.

He took hold of my hand, running his fingers over my hand before capturing it.

Both James and Sirius had been permitted time of class, and I considered skipping classes more important than leaving James to suffer through it alone – at least, when he wanted me there I was to be there. He’d held me up so many times it was only right that I should do the same.

I lay back down on his shoulder, hooking my feet around his legs and kissing the side of his jaw.

James closed his eyes.

“Lily,” James said, so quietly I could barely hear him, “Marry me.”

“Are you pregnant?” I asked, pressing one of my hands against his stomach. James grinned, one of his old unblemished grins, and then rolled over so that he was facing me –pulling me into his arms.

“I’m serious,” James smiled, pressing his lips against mine, “let’s get married.”

“James,” I said, wriggling out of his arms slightly so that I could look at him properly. My stomach clenched. My head spun. James looked as James-like as ever, eyes crystal clear and <em>serious</em>, “You just... I don’t think this is a very good time,”

“I know,” James said, sitting up and stuffing his hand in his pockets, “but, I’d have asked you anyway.”

“We’re pretty young.”

“I don’t care,” James said, shrugging his shoulders and looking at me with that serious I-want-to-kiss-you-expression, “I just don’t give a shit.”

I smiled without meaning too.

“Come on, Lily,” James said, his eyes sparkling again, “let’s get married: we can get a little house and cat and we’ll have children and grow old together.”

“It sounds great,” I muttered, reaching forward and wrapping one of his arms around me, “I just don’t know if this is a good time to be talking about it.”

“What, because my Dad died?”

“That,” I said, squeezing his hand. It was one of the first time he’s said the words out loud. I knew how that felt. We were broken in some of the same ways, now, but that was a bitter realisation. It was selfish of me, but James had always been concentrated light and I’d wanted to hold on to that for as long as possible, but… the world was a dark place. “And, James, we’re in the middle of a war.”

“I don’t give a crap about some stupid war!” James said, holding me much too tightly. “Voldemort can get stuffed, the Death Eaters should go get laid and the Order of the Phoenix can just leave me alone for a minute – that’s all a back story, Lily, it’s irrelevant. I don’t care about that. I care about you.”

I blinked at him.

“Lily,” James implored, “I want to marry you before anything inconsequential can stop me.”

“Like getting killed?”

“Yeah,” James breathed, his forehead touching mine, “I wouldn’t care if I died, as long as you married me first.”

“I’d care,” I muttered, reaching out and touching his face, “I’d care if you died.”

“It’s like you said,” James said, “there is no perfect time for things like this, because everything is really messed up. You’re messed up and I’m messed up. We’re eighteen years old and we can’t scrape together more than two family members to invite to a wedding, and if we invite them they’ll probably wind up murdered, but I don’t care because I want to marry you.”

“James…”

“And I don’t want you to think you have to say yes just because my Dad’s dead and my Mum’s dying, Lily. I can take another no from you if that’s what your answer is. I didn’t mean to do it like this.”

“James,” I said, “I couldn’t say no to you anymore if I tried.”

“I’ve got a ring,” James said, his hand drifting up to his head, “but it’s, uh, in my dormitory. Before, I was going to cook you dinner and ask you properly but then you just looked really pretty and… you must think I’m a right prat for throwing this on you right now, look…” James’ hair was steadily getting messier and messier, “I’ll just… I’ll just go and we can pretend I never mentioned it, if you want.”

I reached out and put a hand on his chest, to stop him rambling or leaving or whatever else he was about to do.

“James, shut up,” I said, “I need a minute.”

“Put a guy out of his misery, one way or the other Evans,”

“You prat,” I said, “I already said I’m not going to say no, you just didn’t listen.”

“Lily,” James said, eyes beginning to shine again, “if you’re not going to say no, then there is only one other answer. It’s a multiple choice question with two answers.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Is that a, yes I’ll marry you, or yes there’s only two answers.”

“James,” I said, pressing a finger to his lips, “shush. The other answer is not yet. I’m working through that one, understand?”

“Not yet,” James said, cheerfully, “talk me through it some more. They both sound like yes to me.”

“I… I had thought we might get married,” I said, finger still over his lips, “but, I didn’t think it would be now.”

“We’re not getting married, now, Evans. I may be a saint, but I’m not actually ordained. And I hope we don’t have three witnesses at current, lest they go tell the Matron that curse has given you brain damage.”

“Will you stop being a git for a moment?” I laughed. “James, this is serious.”

“I bloody hope it isn’t Sirius –“

James,” I hissed, tackling him to the ground so I could slam my whole hand over his mouth to shut him up. “What I think is that I don’t feel as though I am old enough to get married, although I have every intention of marrying you at some point in the future.”

James licked my hand.

I withdrew it, quickly. It was pretty remarkable that we having this kind of conversation with me half sat on his chest… then again, this was James Potter and James acting like a child. I supposed this was potentially to be expected. I had fallen for <em>Potter</em>, of all people.

“Okay, Lily,” James said, “but… that still seems to me a hell of a lot like getting engaged which is actually what I was suggesting in the first place.”

“But –”

“– there’s no point this ring getting dusty, if we’re basically engaged anyway.”

“James…” I said, rolling off him. James sat up.

“Lily,” James said, “I feel old. I’ve never felt tired like this before… I’m bone tired and you make me want to keep playing pranks and tease you and act like we’re kids, even though the whole world is crumbling around us. I know… it’s going to get better, but right now I just… Lily, I don’t see a way out right now. There’s just Voldemort and the war and a whole future of pain. The whole time I watched you and Sirius last year, I just wanted to shake you both and tell you to grab hold of the things that you feel happy and just have those without guilt,” James says, looking at the floor, uncharacteristically and horribly serious, “I know it was horrible, Lily. This is horrible. It’s <em>horrible</em> that there’s a war and… and my Mum isn’t going to get better, but death has become part of our lives. We can’t… we can’t stop living because we lose people, because then we really lose. We’re in danger. You were in danger. It terrified me, Lily, and I still haven’t told you how mad I am that you put yourself in danger like that, but that’s our lives. That’s who we are. It’s inevitable,”

“Yeah,”

“And I love that about you, Lily,” James said, “I’m more madly in love with you than I am mad. And I think that, rather than putting off living we have to live right now, to say to the Death Eaters and to Voldemort that the fear he’s trying to bring won’t win. He won’t stop us from throwing a party and getting married and he won’t stop us from fighting and laughing and living and surviving.”

“Yes,”

“I’m not saying I want to marry you just to suck it to the Death Eaters,” James says, quickly, running his hands through his hair again. “There’s the practical stuff. If I die, you should be looked after financially. My Mum wanted it, too. She wanted you to be a part of the family. It’d just be… making it official,”

“Yes,”

“Bugger, this isn’t as romantic as I thought it would be. I had a plan, but it…”

“James, yes,” I said quietly, “I’ll marry you. For all of those reasons. Because it’s sticking a middle finger up at Voldemort, because I want you to be the first to be told if something happens, because I love you.”

“It’s going to get worse,” James said, voice still quiet, “But it’s backstory, right? Our life isn’t about some stupid war. I just…damn, I just want to marry you.” James cleared his throat, fixed up his hair, sent me one of those cocky smiles. “So, you wanna be my widow?”

“No,” I returned, “but... I could be your fiancé, if it makes you happy.”

“Would it make you happy?”

“Yeah.” I whispered, and I meant it. I didn’t think I could ever really mean it.

“Then,” James said, grinning as he faced me, “Lily, will you marry me?”

I nodded.

*

James looked radiant. It seemed like a stupid way to describe a guy, but every time I glanced at him he seemed to be glowing with some sort of inner joy – and then he’d catch my eye and I’d grin back without even wanting too. I felt wrong for this to be our reality; for James to be mourning his father and subconsciously preparing to mourn his mother too, for a war to be brewing under the surface of our lives and yet to feel so utterly happy all at the same time. To sit under a tree and decide to get married and then disappear into the forbidden forest together, walking and walking because we still could.

I felt guilty, sometimes, because I was living whilst too many people I loved died. I felt like I should be mourning even though there was nothing left to mourn – I guessed sometimes people died, and you just had to accept that and move on. To keep on living. To survive.

“Lily,” James grinned – it almost sounded like he was about to start laughing – “Lily Evans.”

Potter,” I corrected, catching a hold of the sleeve of his robes and pulling him round into a kiss, “Lily Potter.”

Then we really were laughing; desperately clinging onto the material of each other’s cloaks and watching the other’s glow.

“Lily,” James said again, pulling at my wrist. I tripped over slightly in my effort to get to him. James grinned – with only a hint of that haunted look lurking in the bags under his eyes – “you’re not supposed to believe in marriage.”

“No,” I agreed, “I’m not. I guess that was stupid.”

“You really want to marry me?”

“I do,” I said, and then we were both grinning again, “look, James. If… if you die, if I die… we’ve watched Sirius this past year and… this isn’t just some kid relationship. Or maybe it is but… the point is... I want the world to take us seriously.”

“I take this seriously,” James said, “I’ve always taken you seriously.”

“I know that,” I grinned, “And, well, it’s not that I care what people think. But the truth is, James Potter, that I love you.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah,” I nodded, “Very good. The world should know that.”

“I brought you a ring,” James said, running a hand through his hair, “it’s in my room somewhere.”

“Excellent start,” I smiled, reaching out and removing his hand from messing up his hair, threading my fingers through his and pulling myself closer with his arm.

“I was going to cook you dinner, or something. But you just looked really cute sat there.”

“When did you buy a ring, James?”

“That Hogsmeade weekend,” James frowned – the weekend when Hogwarts was attacked and James lost his father – “Hope it fits.”

“You’re hopeless,” I grinned, resting my head against his chest. So, this wasn’t some spontaneous decision made because his Dad had died, James had been planning this already – he wasn’t about to retract the proposal. Which meant this was real.

Which meant that I was going to get married. That I was engaged. That the Lily Evans who was so sure she’d never get married was going to have a wedding before I exited my teenage years. Sirius was going to be beside himself with it all. Alice was no doubt about to highlight the fuss I made when she got engaged.  Hogwarts was going to explode with it all. Petunia would be sick with her jealousy.

And I didn’t think I really cared. James was right; that was all backstory.

*

“Lily,” A voice called. It wasn’t a voice I was expecting to hear, but it was familiar and nostalgic enough to have me stalling in the middle of the corridor. There was no one else around. I was patrolling alone, because James was visiting his mother and I hadn’t told Sirius I was going.

“Snape,” I said, hand on the wand in my pocket.

“I heard,” He said, out of breath from trying to catch up with me, “What happened… to the Potters,”

“What does it matter to you, Snape?” I snapped. Snape’s gaze drifted down to the hand on my wand, then his expression twisted into a sneer.

“Has it really come to that?”

“You picked your side, Sev,” I said, temper raising despite myself. I was worried about James. I wished I’d accompanied him to St Mungos, but he’d wanted to deliver the news alone. “You put us on different sides,”

“Are you…” Severus began, then his jaw clenched. “Is he okay?”

“What?” I asked, throat tight, “What does it matter to you how James is?”

“It doesn’t,” Severus said, through gritted teeth, “I – ”

“What about everyone who was injured in Hogsmede? What about your friends showing up?”

“But you, you were fine,”

“I was knocked unconscious, Snape. I was cursed. Sirius’ bones were shattered. Peter was unconscious for days. This is a war, Sev. It’s a war and we’re all caught up in it,” I said, as Snape rang his hands, looking distinctly uncomfortable. He looked younger than I had seen him do for some time, like my kid-best friend who’d welcomed me into the Wizarding world. Snape taught me so much in those weeks before Hogwarts.

I let go of my wand.

“It’s not too late, Sev,” I said, through the lump in my post, “If you spoke to Dumbledore, I’m sure –”

“ – what’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“On your hand,” Snape snapped, then he was grabbing my hand, cold fingers digging into my flesh. I grabbed my wand with my other hand, brandishing at him before I realised what had caught his attention. The ring. “You’re marrying him.”

“Yes,” I said, face flushing.

“The Potter boy you professed to hate for years,” Severus said, expression twisting into a sneer. “That arrogant –“

“ – Shut up,” I said, “Shut up, Snape.”

“You’re going to lose,” Snape said, dropping my hand and disappearing into the darkness.

*

Sirius laughed for five minutes straight when we told them. He threw his head back and let himself be consumed by it and, as much as I was aware he was laughing at me, it felt good to be able to bring a little laughter, especially to Sirius. Somehow, Sirius had become impossibly precious to me. Perhaps, as Remus had suggested, like a brother. Siblings in grief. Siblings in losing Mary and loving James Potter. Siblings in war. Siblings in survival.

Remus hugged us both and Peter smiled his congratulations. Sirius disappeared to their dormitory and returned with a bottle of Firewhiskey and few glasses. James made a raucous, overly loud toast in the Gryffindor Common Room.

I tried not to think about Snape, or James’ parents, or the funeral we had yet to plan, or finishing school, or my family, or what Mary would think if she knew that I was going to marry James.

Once upon a time, my best friend died of a terminal disease. She fell in love with a guy and broke his heart, and I always thought that was so dumb. She challenged me to fall in love. I thought that was dumb too. But death and love seem to be those things that just happen, and you just have to keep breathing, keep going. Keep surviving. 







 

A/N - OH MY GOD HI. It's been years. I'm so sorry. Due to recent events and the HPFF funding issues, I guess I'm trying to make a comeback to finish this story and Curiosity. The daft thing is most of this was already written and has been for years. There's going to be one more chapter left. 


http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com