Chapter 32 : Chapter 32 – Dementors, Birthdays, and Sister Problems
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This is one of my favorite songs.
“Here's a toast to all those who hear me all to well.
Here's to the night we felt alive.
Here's to the tears you knew you'd cry.
Here's to goodbye tomorrow's going to come to soon.
All my time is froze in motion
Can't I stay an hour or two or more
Don't let me let you go…”
-Here’s to the Night, Eve 6
“A kiss?” repeated Frank Longbottom in horror.
“Afraid so,” Alastor said, scowling. “They’ve been taken to the permanent ward at St. Mungo’s.”
“There must be something –” began Emmeline Vance.
“A dementor’s kiss is irreversible,” Dumbledore said, gaining the group’s attention, his voice somber.
It was just past sunset, and the halls of the teacher’s lounge were bathed in pink and gold.
Attacks were happening daily now, some gruesome and numerous, others were damaging. The Death Eaters were becoming bolder. It seemed as though their resolve grew each day.
“Any reports of inferi?” asked Dorcas Meadows.
“Yes,” replied Dumbledore. “Several, though many have gone unconfirmed.”
“And what about them?” James asked angrily. “When was the last time one of the Death Eaters was brought in?”
Moody looked at them, his scowl worse than ever. “Seventeen days.”
A murmur of anger swept through the packed teacher’s lounge – the long, paneled room was large and (more importantly) enchanted to protect the secrecy of those within. All of the portraits here were feigning sleep, though Dumbledore had long ago sworn and bound them to secrecy.
James looked around the room at his friends. Nearly 15 people were absent, both Lily and Remus among them. A small assembly had been sent to see the various Ministers of Magic (and the muggle leaders too), as well as retrieve reports, and – to James’ personal horror – visit Azkaban. He only hoped Lily had not been one of the few assigned to that task. Due to the nature of their assignment, none of the chosen group had been permitted to speak to anyone before departing.
They had been gone a whole day already.
It was Fabian Prewett who spoke next. “I recently read a report that one of the closed rooms at the Quidditch stadium in Falmouth was broken into this morning.”
“Trying to attack people at Quidditch?” Sirius roared, as though the Death Eaters had blown Azkaban clean open. Several people swore.
Before Dumbledore could assuage the group before him, a loud bang from the doorway interrupted him.
Eight people strode in, including Remus.
“Moony!” James and Sirius cried in relief, jumping up. Others around the room had done the same, making their way towards their friends.
Remus, his light-brown hair a little unkempt, looked tired but pleased. He hugged Sirius, Peter, and James quickly, before taking his seat beside them.
“Welcome back,” began Dumbledore, looking content, or at least less tense. “Please, deliver your reports.”
All eight people smiled at Dumbledore. First was Elphias Doge –a wheezy old wizard, wearing a conical hat that was normal but for the small stuffed rat upon it. “Met the American Minister of Magic. Says lots of strange things have been going on there… Riots, disappearances… Would like to speak to you though, Dumbledore.”
“I can have Crouch owl him today, if you like,” suggested Moody to Dumbledore. He nodded.
“I saw the new Muggle minister,” said Caradoc Dearborn, pushing forward a roll of parchment. “She was… less than enthusiastic, I suppose. I think when she found out a lot of those weird prison deaths were magical, she sort of started to take it all in…”
Caradoc continued for several more minutes, but James wasn’t really paying attention. His euphoria at Remus’ safe return was stifled by the fact that Lily had not been among those who had returned. He was about to ask Remus if he knew about Lily, but Remus was asked to speak next.
“Minister Bagnold obviously had very little time,” said Remus, “but she said she can give you more support from the Aurors. Otherwise, I got nothing else from her. She’d see you, of course, sir” added Remus.
“An’ the French,” Hagrid said gruffly. “Only wan’ you, sir. Off ones, I tell yeh…” Nearly the entire room filled with chuckles.
The rest relayed their reports, while James whispered quietly to Remus, “Where’s Lily?”
“With the others, I expect,” Remus whispered back.
“And where,” asked James tersely,” is that?”
Dumbledore’s voice sounded before Remus could reply. “So, as most of you may have ascertained, the group from Azkaban has yet to return. If any of you meet them, please ask them to see me. I shall, in any event, send owls to each of you with the next time and place. That will be all.”
He stood and those seated began to rise as well. James, on the other hand, remained in his seat, scowling.
Azkaban? Why couldn’t she have been sent to France or Ireland?
He posed these questions aloud to Remus, who was rubbing his fatigued eyes.
“I dunno. She’ll be fine,” he added looking up at James.
“They’re just dementors,” said James sardonically, while rising.
He decided to try and put off worrying, the kiss story ringing in his ears.
Sirius, with whom he had always been of near-Legilimens understanding, patted James’ shoulder considerately.
“She’d repel one before it got within a broomsticks’ distance of her.”
James nodded again, though privately disagreeing. “Yeah.”
About to leave, James pulled on his sleek traveling cloak, but found a slightly wrinkled hand on his shoulder. “Professor!” exclaimed James, trying to smile at Dumbledore.
“Did Miss Evans leave a list of names for me, by any chance?”
James had to restrain himself from slapping his own forehead. “Yeah, she did.” He dug in his cloak, removing the scroll. “Here, sir. I’m sorry.”
“No apology necessary, James,” Dumbledore said, eyes sparkling as he took the parchment from James’ outstretched hand (James was slightly sad to see this particular piece of parchment go, as it had been the beginning of a rather interesting night, but wasn’t about to explain this to Dumbledore).
“Professor?” asked James, before he could stop himself.
Dumbledore made a gesture for him to continue.
“She, er – they…”
“Miss Evans, as you will recall from years of experience, is anything but hesitant to jinx an attacker.”
Sirius snickered from over James’ left shoulder.
Dumbledore excused himself smiling and walked, his deep ocean blue robes swaying, with Professor McGonagall and Moody out of the teacher’s lounge.
“So,” began Sirius, a low note of wickedness in his voice, “want to go down to the kitchens? House-elves must miss us terribly.”
James shook his head glumly. “I’m going to go home. I’ve got to do my potion for hom –”
“Ugh!” Sirius cried. “Do not use that word!”
“Forgive me,” James consented, laughing. “But I have to go home.”
“Why don’t we come with?” suggested Remus.
“Because, you’re tired, Moony, and Sirius has a date, and Peter is… well busy.”
Peter squeaked a little laugh. “I’m working the night shift at the Hog’s Head.”
Sirius glared probingly at James. “Are we coming?”
“No need,” said James.
“Alright. I have my mirror, if you get bored of your… h-word.”
The entire house seemed to be under a Silencing Spell.
James quickly put some water on, pulled a bow of Demeter’s Insta-Pie from the cupboard, poured in the water, and tapped it. Truth be told, he wasn’t all that hungry. He’d never seen a Dementor, but his parents had worked with some pretty hardened criminals in the past. Jack had explained how truly awful the place was (in an effort to curb James’ pranks against the Slytherins in third year), and he had only been at Azkaban for one day. James scowled.
There was little news in the Evening Prophet, and as James’ thoughts continued to drift to Lily, he gave up on his peach cobbler and hot chocolate, deciding it was time for bed.
The next morning came and went, and still Lily was not back from Azkaban.
James, for a second, thought of owling her, but realized this was pointless, since owls rarely traveled to the prison island, and he wasn’t even sure if she was still there. Still, he met Sirius, Remus, and Peter in Hogsmeade with a lingering fear.
“What’s wrong?” asked Sirius, the instant James was within earshot.
Sirius looked at James skeptically, handing him a bottle of butterbeer.
“Can we get out of here?” James asked. A large group of hags had clambered noisily into the pub. Sirius was on his feet, wand tucked into his cloak before Peter even realized they were leaving.
They walked beyond the usual Hogsmeade boundaries, to the large pasture between the lane and Forbidden Forest. Thunder cracked overhead. All four lay out on the thick grass, enjoying the breeze and the quiet.
“You know what?” said Sirius, ending several minutes of silence. “We should go into the forest. It’s been ages.”
Both Remus and James’ hands flew and whacked Sirius.
“What?” he barked indignantly.
“You’ve forgotten,” said Remus, “that I, unlike you, Padfoot, cannot transform voluntarily.”
“Oh,” Sirius grunted in remembrance. “Yeah.” After a long moment, Sirius then said, “How ‘bout some Quidditch?”
At first, they laughed. But James, who recognized Sirius’ serious face, stopped.
“We don’t have brooms,” pointed out Remus, seeing his friends’ eyes.
“Or balls, either,” added Peter.
James smirked .
“Oh, come off it! You know what I mean!”
Sirius continued, as though he had not been interrupted, “We’ve got money.”
“Why don’t we summon them?”
“Wormtail,” grumbled Sirius, “you take all the fun out of it!”
“We can go and buy them,” James suggested, sounding surprised at his own words.
Sirius rolled his eyes.
“Last one to Hogsmeade is a rotten dingbat!” yelled James, jumping to his feet.
In an instant, all four of them had broken into a sprint down the lawns, elbowing each other (Sirius even threw a tripping jinx at James, who rolled so fast down the hill that he beat the others to the bottom).
An hour, several galleons, lunch, a snack, and a long walk later, the Marauders were on the Hogwarts pitch, engrossed in a tough game of two-on-two Quidditch. Rain was drizzling down, but they barely noticed.
“Pass, Moony!” hollered James. Remus, keeping at the north end of the pitch, tossed the quaffle 15 yards, nearly falling off his new Bronze Charger 900 in the attempt.
Unfortunately, Sirius had hit the black bludger (really, it was a transfigured rock with a boomerang charm); the bludger collided with the quaffle in midair haphazardly.
“Oy!” cried James angrily, throwing his hands in the air. “You broke it!”
“Who needs it?” Sirius called back, zooming up and down in somersaults, reminding James very much of Peeves. Thunder clapped once more. The rain began in earnest, showering the Marauders with thick droplets.
“Surrender!” Sirius demanded through the downpour.
“Never!” shouted James and Remus in unison.
James took out his wand, flicking it as he would swat a fly.
“Prongs!” howled Sirius, barely audible over the gale. He was upside down, legs wrapped around his slippery broom.
“Balance is everything, Padfoot!” mocked James, quoting one similarly rainy game in their fourth year.
Within minutes, the rain was torrential, and it became so difficult to see that playing seemed rather foolish (and it was cold....); James leaned forward on his broom, and was instantly hurtling towards the hazy field. He had hardly touched the muddy ground before he saw Sirius, Remus, and Peter touch down on either side of him. They ran, shouldering their brooms, to the nearest team rooms.
“Well,” said James, ducking into the Hufflepuff stands, “since we can’t go on in this weather.”
Sirius made a noise of indignation. “How about we get –”
“Some food?” Peter, Remus, and James chorused.
They walked – aided greatly by Sirius’ Umbrella Charm (“umbra!”) – off the Hogwarts lawns, gathering mud on the hems of their robes. Once they reached the stone and iron gates, topped with boars, they Apparated to the front step of the Three Broomsticks, and entered.
Tables of witches and wizards, hags, goblins, and other magical beings sat gossiping away, over bottles of mead and butterbeer.
“Mind you watch the mud!”
“Rosmerta!” said Sirius happily, interrupting her.
The attractive barmaid, in robes of red and black, looked up from a mug of some smoking liquid. “Sirius Black!” She smiled brightly, marching over.
Madam Rosmerta, at least fifteen years their senior, had given the boys allowances like no other students (or wizards in general). All four stood nearly a foot taller (Peter was actually about even in height).
“Oh, my boys are back!” She flung her arms around each of them in turn, and Sirius demanded a kiss. “It has been so long!”
“Too true,” Sirius agreed, his voice lower than usual.
“Sorry about the mess,” said Remus. He looked guiltily at the trail of mud leading from the entranceway.
She waved him off. “Jirair, I’m taking a break!” A man appeared behind the bar, nodded, and disappeared again.
Rosmerta ushered them over to her best table and summoned up some steaming mugs of hot butterbeer.
They sat, Remus and Sirius becoming very chatty. James smiled only and spoke when spoken to, but otherwise was lost in thought. Being around a woman was only making him think of Lily more.
What if something had happened to her?
It was only when Rosmerta jumped to her feet – a large company of vampires had just taken chairs at a seat in the darkest corner – did James’ scowl lessen.
It was still Sunday. Tomorrow, James realized, was Monday. Auror training.
Maybe he could owl in sick? Visit Sirius at the… well, wherever he worked.
It had almost been four days now.
Thankfully, he had remembered to place a tiny note in her pocket before she had left. It had said simply, “I love you. I miss you. Come home soon.”
The next morning, a rather flustered owl brought a letter with a strange picture on it to the window. James had learned, from Remus, this was a sort of muggle post thing.
The envelope had no name, but did have his address. Suspiciously, it was written in an almost-Lily handwriting, though it was plainly not written with a quill.
Maybe she’s written! thought James, spilling coffee in his haste to open the letter.
He opened it. His heart fell slightly to see it was not from Lily; no, for indeed, it was to her.
I got your letter,” it began.
“Letter?” asked James aloud. He quickly glanced at the signature; he nearly fell off his chair as he read it.
He was utterly confused. Until now, he had been under the impression Lily was not in contact with her sister.
“The lawyers for our parents” – the word was written very lightly here, as though she had preferred not to write it at all – “ have a package, and need your signature for some of the banking to take effect.
The only time I can possibly see you is Tuesday between two and six. Vernon will be home after six.
Do not send a reply.
James sat, stunned. When had Lily written to Petunia?
The clock rang in the hall, and James realized he was going to be late.
“Accio!” he called. The ruffling of paper preceded the arrival of two rolls of parchment zooming into the kitchen; once in hand, he Apparated to the Ministry.
The day seemed excruciatingly long. Classes were terribly boring – work on Patronuses only made James’ scowl more pronounced as he thought more about Lily.
At the end of his first class, he was slightly burned from a Flaring Hex; this, coupled with a craving for a sundae, made each minute drag by.
“Something wrong, Potter?” asked Professor Jones in the hallway. “Where’s the wife?”
“Sick,” lied James, without knowing why.
He nodded doubtfully, then entered his classroom.
But just as James was entering his classroom, he saw a flash of fiery red. He whipped around, half ready to run over, but stopped. Penelope Groves had just tapped her long hair; it instantly changed from auburn to light blonde.
“Potter!” shouted a voice, interrupting the sinking feeling in James’ stomach that had formed
“Sorry, Professor…” He moved quickly from the doorway to his seat, scowling.
“Now that Potter has agreed to join us, we can work on some jinxes…”
Tuesday arrived, and James had half a mind to send an owl to Dumbledore. Half a week she had been gone; he had begun to search for Magical Wrinkle Remover for his fixed scowl.
“Miss her, do you?” asked Milford Boyer, early Tuesday from training.
“I just wish she’d owl me,” James said tensely.
Milford nodded sympathetically, ducking beneath a paper airplane memo. “You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”
Shrugging off James’ formalities, Milford said, “Do you know when you’re getting married?”
“After Christmas,” said James, a little sourly. He wasn’t sure why, but all this weird time away from Lily made “after Christmas” seem like an eternity away.
“Hmm.” Mr. Boyer seemed to be thinking for a moment, unfolding his memo to make it stop flapping about his head. “Well, my wife – I told her about you, you see – she said something about no good young wizards… In any case, she has a lovely manor house, hosts functions for the Flourish and Blotts Book Club. She wants you to use it,” Milford finally added, after James continued to nod without comprehension.
James stared, thrown. “That’s… that’s so generous of you.”
“Don’t be stupid!!” said Milford, smiling. “Wouldn’t dream of making you find some terrible place yourselves. No, no. Edeline has fabulous connections. Great Scot, you’ll be late boy!” said Milford with a start.
James saw he was right; a planetary clock on the ceiling showed a merely three minutes until class. Thanking Milford profusely, James jumped up, and ran down the spiral stairwell for Decoding and Communications.
Again, he saw a flash of red, and reflexively paused. Penelope Groves was not there.
Instead, a rather pale redhead was leaving the toilet.
Abandoning all thoughts of Decoding, James made for the end of the hall were she had appeared, relief filling him from toes to fingertips.
Lily looked up and smiled weakly. He ran over and pinned her to the wall, wrapping his arms around her and letting his bag tumble to the floor. “Hello,” she whispered.
Her voice was wonderful, like notes of phoenix song.
Kissing her quickly, he laced his fingers in hers.
She wasn’t dead! She hadn’t been attacked or kissed (well, up until now). He thanked as many gods and legendary wizards as he could remember, while refusing to release her from his kiss.
She shoved him away, though it was after several very long minutes.
“We have classes,” she stuttered, licked her lips.
Breathing jaggedly, he replied, “Go ahead.” He had remotely no desire to relinquish her to any person, teachers included.
“I don’t want to,” she said.
She laughed – what an amazing laugh.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said. Why couldn't he stop smiling?
“C’mon,” he begged. Her gorgeous fiery hair was taunting him. “You’ve been gone almost a week. Lily.” He said this last word softly, happy to be able to say her name without a pain in his stomach.
She grinned, letting him touch his forehead to her own. “Fine.”
In a second, she had disapparated with a *pop*. Immediately he followed.
Back in the kitchen Lily fell into the black couch before the hearth, quickly joined by a very eager James. He resumed kissing her, entirely engrossed. When he brought a hand to her cheek, and felt cold sweat,
“You’re shaking,” he noticed aloud. “And you’re pale.”
“Lets just say,” she confessed, pulling herself back into a sitting position, “Dementors are even less fun than The Dark Forces Guide made them out.”
He looked very concerned, and she smiled.
“Do you need to sleep?”
“No, I’m alright. I really need to owl Remus first.” She rose, flickering her auburn hair behind her hair.
James felt oddly affronted. “Why?” he asked sharply.
She gave him a don’t-be-ridiculous stare. “Because he was to supposed to talk to Dumbledore. About the Prime Minister. You did give Dumbledore my note?”
“What? Oh, yeah,” he remembered, trying to focus. “So, now’s a bad time to ask about Azkaban, then?”
She shivered in spite of herself. “Yes.”
“Right.” He grinned, then drew closer to her, pulling her back to the couch. “How’s your lung capacity?”
Elation was the only thing to register in his brain. Lust, a complete sense of dependency, maybe, but elation held first place. Then, for a reason he could not understand, his mind jolted. Out of the depths of his consciousness, a piece of Muggle parchment floated to the surface, and he had to break from Lily’s embrace.
She started at him, the look in her eyes completely changed. “What about her?”
“She… she wrote you a letter.” It occurred to him now that maybe he ought not to have opened it – people generally don’t like other people opening secret mail.
“When?” Lily asked, biting her lip ever so slightly.
“The other day. I, er… I opened it.” He searched her emerald eyes for anger or betrayal, but there was only clouded fear.
“Can… I see it?” she asked finally, edges of her mouth curling into a smile, though it lingered for only a second.
“Oh, right. Of course.”
Once more he rose, moved to the bureau near the kitchen door, and tapped the top. A panel unfolded in the front, becoming a flat writing surface; the cherry wood was laced with gold; inside were small separated stacks of what were presumably post. James apparently had figured a system for these long sheets of parchment, for he took the middle of the three stacks, thumbed through, and stopped at a letter about four or five in from the top. He removed it.
“Here,” he said, handing it to her, “I’m sorry I read it. I just kind of… I didn’t know where you were, or anything –”
“It’s alright, I promise.” She stared at the letter, apparently wary, as though it was asleep and might bite if handled too roughly and awoken. When she had finally read it, she looked at his hazel eyes, questioningly.
“What?” he finally asked. He had left her side, but rejoined her now.
“Well, I have to go see her, I suppose.” She looked at the clock above the sink. “It’s nearly two now.”
“When did you write her?” he asked, before he could stop himself.
“She said you’d written her.”
Her eyes didn’t lift from the paper in her hands. “Before we started school back up.”
He was stunned. That was ages ago. “One letter?”
“I only had written her one, yes.”
“And… she took all this time to write back?” This was peculiar, even by Muggle standards. He knew postmen were slower than owls, but still…
“It’s only because the lawyers and banks are involved. She would otherwise not have done.”
The clock chimed two, and the sun shone through the kitchen windows.
“Should we go sooner or later?”
“What?” She looked far more surprise than even she had done upon receiving the letter. “We? You don’t have to go. I don’t want to go, and I’m required by law.”
He waved his wand over his shoulder, and a loaf of bread began to slice itself. “I have severe separation anxiety. Got to go with you, I’m afraid. Sandwich?”
Together, Lily and James walked up the pruned garden path (James goggled at what Lily called “gnomes,” for they were far from the lumpy brown creatures he knew). Lily stepped up to the door, raised her hand as though to knock, but stopped.
“We can still go home,” she said. It was more of a suggestion than a statement.
He put a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s just get this over with. You can have treacle tart after, if you’re good.”
“Honestly, I don’t know how poor Sirius put up with you all these years.”
He sniggered. The words “poor” and “Sirius” had not been spoken within memory.
Very hesitantly, Lily knocked three times.
Barely a second after Lily’s thin hand had come away from the door, it swung open.
“Oh.” Petunia Dursley stood, looking very much as though she wanted to shut the door and continue her mopping.
“Hello, Petunia,” said Lily awkwardly.
“Yes, hello. Come in, I suppose,” she added, very stiff. James had the impression she didn’t want to let the neighbors see the odd guests in cloaks longer than was necessary.
The inside of the house was sickeningly clean. Everything sparkled, but it felt as though it was some sort of sin to step near anything spotless. James resolved not to touch or sit on anything.
The hall was narrow, covered in flowered wallpaper. Beyond it, glass doors with gold handles opened onto the kitchen, with the dining room and sitting room just off that to his left.
“You can sit over there,” Petunia said, still terse, pointing to the sitting room.
Lily made her way to where her sister had pointed.
The fireplace, she noticed, has a few pictures of Vernon – Lily now remembered how much she disliked him –, Petunia, the Evans family from Petunia’s school trip a few years before (Lily had been absent, at Hogwarts), and a photo of Vernon shaking hands with an important looking man in a nice suit.
As they passed these pictures, James silently marveled at their dormant occupants. His curiosity in the photographs got the better of him. He prodded a picture of Petunia, Vernon, and a very large woman with a mustache like Vernon’s.
“Don’t touch that!” scolded Petunia, hurrying over with a tray of tea.
“Sorry,” said James kindly. He smiled, and removed his hand.
Petunia’s brow furrowed angrily.
“Vernon with be home in about an hour.”
Lily understood. Be gone before he gets home.
“We won’t be long.”
Petunia seemed to find this, if nothing else, satisfactory; she nodded curtly.
The three sat in silence, Petunia not looking across the table at her sister or James.
“Well, er… all we wanted to say was…” Lily hesitated. Petunia looked impatient.
James was think rather seriously about just taking out his wand and Silencing Petunia.
“James and I are… having a ceremony.”
James jumped. He reached in his pocket, then instantly removed it. “Umm… I’ll be right back.”
Lily looked questioningly at him, and he removed his square mirror. Sirius waved through the tiny mirror’s face. After James had removed himself to the garden, Lily spoken again.
“We’re getting married.”
Of anything she had thought Petunia would do, smile was not it.
Unlike Lily, Petunia’s blonde hair, pallid face, and bony cheekbones did not make her remotely as attractive. Where Lily looked pretty, young, and kind, Petunia looked worn and bitter, despite her relatively young age.
“And,” said Petunia, smiling still more cruelly, “why would I come to that?” She spat the last word with such venom it was a wonder she hadn’t hissed it.
Lily’s voice trembled. “Because… you’re my sister.”
Laughing maliciously, Petunia stood and moved away from her auburn-haired sister.
“You’re not my sister.”
Lily stared at Petunia, at the hurt and anger in her narrowed brown eyes.
“You’re my family, Petunia,” Lily said finally voice still shaking; she looked much younger than James had ever seen her look.
“You killed our family.” Petunia seemed like a horrible cat, ready to pounce; anger and contempt seeped from her words. “Your abnormality cost me my parents. Whatever delusion made you think you could come back here and I would forgive you…”
Without looking up, Lily whispered, “Please.”
“Please what, little sister? Have I hurt you? Hurt your feelings? Good. You deserve to feel like I felt!” She was hissing with edge of a Venomous Tentacula, and Lily was slowly letting her sister’s words fill her thoughts. “Have you spent every night wishing they were back? Have you been haunted by the memory of seeing the police at your door, or your parents’ bodies at the morgue? Have you slept at all? You disgust me!”
Lily sat, crying silently. What did Petunia know about anything? She hadn’t lived with the knowledge Lily had. She hadn’t been woken nearly every night by pictures of their stony faces, of Voldemort’s terrible voice, taunting her! How could she possibly understand the horror Lily now carried with her, that by being with anyone, she was putting them in danger?
James returned from the back garden, tucking his mirror into his pocket. He looked between them, face grave and growing more so at the sight of Lily.
“We’re leaving,” said Lily with a sniffle.
Petunia remained standing, nostrils flared like a rhinoceros after a chase. When Lily passed her, Petunia took a brown wrapped folder and thrust it into Lily’s arms without explanation.
Lily made her way to the door, but James remained behind long enough to say to Petunia, “You hurt her. Don’t do that again, or my friends might have to come and explain a few things to you. Understand?”
Petunia, who had backed into her mantle, narrowed her beady eyes even more, but nodded.
“Great,” James said, staring just as coldly. He nodded in goodbye, making his way around the flowery patterned sofa, through the kitchen, and out the long hallway. He tried to whisper in Lily’s ear at the door. “We could call for a few Dementors.”
Without reply, Lily opened the door. “Goodbye, Petunia.” She spoke loudly enough to be heard in the next room. When no sound came, she sniffed again and walked out on the front walk, James in toe.
The Order of the Phoenix met again on Wednesday (Sirius had informed them so during their visit to Petunia). Lily, who hadn’t said much about Azkaban, had to give her report.
“Mr. Coates, Mr. Epps, Ms. Evans?” Dumbledore said quietly, nodding.
“We spent nearly a week there, Dumbledore,” said Jody Epps. It sounded like a justification.
Next to James, Lily shuddered. “They say they aren’t tempted by our offer. We tried everything you suggested, Professor. They just didn’t want to cooperate.”
“I had little hope,” Dumbledore said, resigned. “Thank you all for your trouble.”
“Sir?” asked Alice Longbottom, smiling (the only one in the room).
“Alice!” said Frank shyly.
“Yes, Mrs. Longbottom?”
“I just wanted to invite everyone –”
“To our house for Frank’s birthday!”
Everyone laughed, both at Alice’s determination and the reddened face of Frank. Murmurs of “Happy birthday!” and “Great!” filled the room.
“In that case,” said Dumbledore, “I shall not detain you any longer.”
Scraping chairs and happy laughter echoed in the room – they were in the Hog’s Head again, though they were basically alone. Frank, red still but smiling, Apparated ahead.
“You want to go?” asked Lily, rising.
“Why not?” asked James, who had never been known to turn down a party.
Alice gave everyone their address, and soon people were apparating away.
A rather large, two-level house of brick greeted the nearly 40 Order members, including Dumbledore and his brother (who had stood completely silent at the meeting). A walled-in sitting room and porch with many windows was surrounded by hovering, crackling candles; unfortunately, as Alice seemed to have noticed, they were not going to fit inside. Behind the sitting room, though, was a large lawn, perfect for a group of rowdy partying wizards.
One long table and lots of space were transformed into a bright party as the group decorated the yard together. Soon, food was out, as were many trays of drinks. James conjured up some lanterns to edge the garden; Moody made a beautiful turquoise banner, which flashed, “Happy Birthday, Frank!” It was like a great Hogwarts feast, but with firewhiskey.
Everyone sat down, and ate and drank merrily. Sirius told some of his oldest jokes, which were uncharacteristically funny (though later Lily would attribute this to the mead).
At some point, Frank was pushed drunkenly to his feet, glass raised.
“Thank you! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome!” called James. Everyone laughed.
“It’s so great to be surrounded by of you on my” – he mumbled indistinctly – “…th birthday!” More laughter filled the air. “Having friends, young, old, pompous –” he raised his glass to Sirius and James, who nodded in thanks. “To your health!”
“Happy birthday!” shouted the group in unison, clapping or hammering the table.
Lily was smiling. She seemed to be getting her smile back from the previous day. She noticed James looking at her. “What’re you looking at?”
“Do you want to get married?” he asked quickly, not losing her gaze.
She smiled, though she was plainly puzzled. “I think you’ve had too much to drink. You’ve already asked me. About ten times.”
“Why do we have to wait?” he asked. “Why don’t we get married tomorrow?”
“We can’t get married tomorrow, James, don’t be stupid.” She picked up her glass and started to walk towards a very drunk Sirius, who was passing out Pepper Imps.
“No, I’m not being stupid!” he said, also standing and following her as Sirius blew a large burst of fire and burned Peter’s nose.
“We can’t get married tomorrow!”
“How about Friday?”
She walked inside, accepting a new glass of punch from Dumbledore’s brother, who seemed quite content to be behind a counter. “No.”
“Saturday then!” he said.
“Why are you in such a rush?” she asked, turning to face him, very tempted to slap his stupid face for being quite so annoying on such a serious subject.
“What if you hadn’t come back?” he asked angrily.
“Picture!” called Dorcas Meadows. Those who had been seated drank down one more goblet of pumpkin juice and rose towards where Alice was shepherding people into a large huddle. Hagrid, in the back, looked much more ruddy even than usual; Dumbledore, his brother, and Alastor Moody, and Dedalus Diggle all stood on Frank and Alice’s left; Lupin, Sirius, and Peter had brought their drinks with them. Caradoc Dearborn, the Prewetts, Elphias Doge, Sturgis Podmore, Emmeline Vance, Benjy Fenwick, Marlene McKinnon… the entire group was happily smiling, and someone started to sing “Happy birthday!” Soon the entire group had joined in.
“C’mon,” said James sourly, taking Lily’s hand and dragging her to the front of the crowd, as Sirius finished singing, quite off-key.
“James,” Lily said.
“What?” he asked her shortly, sitting and accepting a glass as people clapped some more, and Dorcas hurried forward to shoot her camera.
“How about Sunday?”
He turned to see her grinning slyly. “Really?”
“Well, unless Sirius has more of those Pepper Imps, or else I don’t know that I’ll be able to hold back.”
“Funny,” he muttered, but he leaned in to kiss her nonetheless.
“Say ‘Firewhiskey’!” called out Sirius.
“Firewhiskey!” chorused the Order.
A puff of purple smoke exploded from the camera, followed by rounds of cheers.
“Hooray,” James said under his breath, taking Lily’s hand again and demanding another mead.
Thanks to Igraine Bailey for the best beta-ing ever. Also, thanks to Gray (again) and Jordan for the birthday wishes - the 5th is mine, the 6th is Hagrid's... cool...
Anyway, I'm sorry this is late from the other chapter. I have no idea when the wedding chapter will be out, though I can let you know via email.
Note from 20 May 2006: So, the new year has passed, my first AP test is taken, and my dad passed away. I've been insanely crazed these past few months (my dad had pancreatic cancer since October). I urge each of you to donote to any cancer research foundations. Otherwise, be as patient as humanly possible (I know it's been months and that's rather unfair to ask).