There was a knock on the door. James lifted his head from where he sat on the bed and watched as his three best friends entered the room where he was getting ready to take Lily out to dinner. Sirius, Remus, and Peter stood aligned just inside the room, feet shoulder-width apart, arms folded over their chests. Their mouths were unsmiling, flat and pursed. Their chins were tilted up in a superiorly condescending way.
James studied them warily as he flicked his wand in the direction of his shoes; the laces picked themselves up and tied into nice tight bows. Chuckling nervously, he said, “All right, what’re you three on about?”
Slowly, barely moving a muscle, Sirius lifted his arm and curled his forefinger in the come hither motion. James complied, and when he stood in front of his surrogate brother, Remus and Peter moved behind him so the three encircled him.
Sirius spoke first in a very low, no-funny-business tone. “Seeing as the Flower doesn’t have no father figure to say this for her, we thought the job come into our hands. We taking it seriously. Very seriously. We thought we’d come have a little chat with you.”
James heard low, primal growl near his ear. He turned his head slightly and saw Remus leaned close, glaring at him. He turned his head the other way and saw even little Peter wasn’t cracking up. He looked back at Sirius.
Quick as lightening, Sirius suddenly held up a finger. “First thing. When you take the Flower out, take her somewhere nice and decent.” Another finger popped up. “Thing two. You be decent, and don’t do nothing she don’t wanna do, too.” Up jumped the third finger. “The Flower comes back hurt by any means, we gonna have some sandwiches to share with you.”
There was a smack of flesh against flesh, and James turned to see Peter with a snarl on his face, one of his hands was fisted and had been thrust into the palm of the other.
Sirius pushed a hand into his chest to get his attention again. When James looked back at him, they were nose to nose. Sirius whispered harshly, “Watch yourself.”
With that the three left the room. James stood there for a second, before bursting out laughing. He didn’t even have to turn when he heard the door open to know that his friends had come back, laughing as hard as he was.
When they all caught their breath, James smiled at Sirius. “That was good, Padfoot. I was almost scared for a moment.”
“I thought I was going to burst out laughing,” Remus admitted.
“I was so convincing I scared myself,” Peter said, breathless. He was hugging himself and just getting over the shakes.
There was a companionable silence; sometimes one of them would chuckle, remembering. Finally Sirius looked up at James, sober. “But we did mean what we said, James.”
James locked eyes with him. “I know. Sometimes I wonder who’s more protective of her, you three or myself.”
“All right, how do I look?”
Although Lily was living with James and Sirius, she’d made arrangements to spend the afternoon with her best friend from school, Wynter Sniegowski.
Wynter’s light gray eyes lit up as she turned around. “Lily!” she exclaimed. Then she frowned. “You look normal.”
“Excellent. That’s exactly what I was going for. Nonchalance.”
Wynter studied her fully. “Any more nonchalant and you’d be wallpaper.”
Lily smiled hopefully. “Really?”
Wynter marched over to her and knocked her upside the head. “Lily, look in the mirror. You have bright red hair and an unusual shade of green in your eyes. Your skin’s so white and creamy someone could stick a knife in you and spread you over their toast. Darling, you couldn’t look nonchalant if you wore parchment.”
Lily pouted. “Argh! I know! And not that it’s a bad thing, but I don’t want to look like I’m expecting a lot tonight.”
Wynter looked clueless. She waved her hands in circles as she said, “A lot…what?”
Lily bit her lip and wrung her hands. “I… I think James is going to propose tonight.”
She’d expected the platinum-haired woman to gape, squeal, scream, laugh. That’s what she felt like doing. But instead, Wynter just lifted an eyebrow. “And what makes you think that?”
Lily stared at her a moment before her words registered. “Oh, well, I don’t know… I just… It’s about time, don’t you think? I mean, we’ve been out of school for, what? Three, four months now? It’s the end of October.”
Wynter shrugged. “So?”
“So?” Lily stressed, amazed. “Don’t you think he wants to marry me?”
“Oh, of course I do. But you know him, Lily. He won’t do anything until he feels the need to. Right now he’s enjoying just being with you. Don’t push him, or you might end up pushing too hard and making him crumble.”
Lily gaped at her. “What are you, anyway? Some expert on the thoughts and feelings of James Potter?”
Wynter smiled at her. “No, but I know Sirius. And if I know Sirius, I know James.”
Lily lifted her hand and brushed James’s bangs back from his forehead. He was fast asleep, lightly snoring, one arm thrown across her waist. But she couldn’t seem to fall asleep herself.
Dinner had been nice. The restaurant they’d gone to had been romantic, but not overdone like Madam Puddifoot’s in Hogsmeade. They’d talked of various things; Lily was relieved they’d found so many topics as to not have needed to resort to the weather. If they’d spoken of the war, it was only to discuss the Order of the Phoenix, nothing about Voldemort.
After dinner they’d taken a short walk around the wizard city to stretch their legs and get some air. Dark had already descended upon them, so they weren’t out for long. It wasn’t safe anymore. One never knew what—or who—could be lurking in the shadows.
Lily’d been on her toes all night, trying to catch the slightest hint of nerves, and listening to everything he said in case there was foreshadowing in his words. But all through their date he’d been casual and relaxed.
She tried not to be disappointed, but it was difficult. She wanted so badly to marry him; she practically was already, in almost every way but legally. She wanted to make sure she was together with him in every way possible should something happen to either of them. In the war, no one could be sure of anything. It scared her to pieces.
She turned onto her side to study him again. She’d always been fascinated by how such a mischievous person could appear so innocent in sleep. He looked like a little boy. Vulnerable, she realized with a frown. It wasn’t often she’d saw him vulnerable.
Suddenly he inhaled deeply and peeked his eyes open. Blinking lazily, he murmured, “Must have dozed off.”
She chuckled quietly. “Dozed off? You were out like a light.“
He grinned slyly as he shifted on top of her. Leaning down to nip at her ear, he whispered huskily, “I’m awake now.”
Lily awoke the next morning and reached for him. She frowned when she felt the sheets were cool on his side of the bed. He’d gotten up a while ago.
She rolled over when she heard someone enter the room. “The day should never start with a frown,” James said. He sat down beside to her and kissed her till her lips turned up. “That’s more like it.”
“Lily!” Sirius entered the room. Lily was thankful the sheets were pulled up to her neck. The man rushed over, took her face in his hands, and kissed her full on the lips. “Good morning, my beautiful little flower.” He kissed her again.
Lily pursed her lips to keep from smiling. Reaching up, she flicked him on the forehead.
“I love you, too,” he grumbled as he left the room, rubbing his forehead.
“He couldn’t wait to see you,” James chuckled. He never worried about Sirius liking Lily that way or vise versa. Sirius was too loyal to him to deceive him like that, and he trusted Lily’s love. He knew they did love each other, though, as did all his friends, but it was nothing like the way he and she loved each other.
“I swear I’ll never know anyone as full of life as he is,” Lily said. “It will be a shame when that flame in him stops flickering.”
“Speaking of flames,” James cleared his throat, “I, er, burned breakfast. Actually, we burned breakfast. We thought you’d like breakfast in bed this morning, but…well…” He grinned sheepishly.
Lily laughed and got out of bed. “Let me jump in the shower quick, then I’ll make breakfast.” She’d already realized that all her worries had been slept off overnight.
She put her hand over her mouth, trying to stifle her quick, panting breaths. Everything around her had gone quiet. But she knew they were still there, waiting her out.
Blood trickled down her face from the gash across her forehead. Glass had showered down upon her when that window had broken, and she was sure some fragments were stuck in her arms. She knew her ankle was twisted badly, if not broken.
James and Sirius had left for the Ministry soon after breakfast, leaving her with the breakfast dishes. That hadn’t bothered Lily; she liked doing the little domestic things. She didn’t have a job, not really; she was in the midst of writing a book of charms. It would list every charm known, how to say it, what it does, its history. She wasn’t anywhere near being done, nor would she be soon.
Only about fifteen minutes after they left, Lily thought she’d heard something in the adjacent room. At first she’d figured it was James or Sirius come back to get something, but then she wondered why he hadn’t hollered out to let her know.
She’d shut of the faucet and listened. When she didn’t hear anything else, she’d shrugged and presumed her dish washing. Then she’d glanced up at the window above the sink, thinking to see if any of the neighbors was outside on this beautiful morning, and saw the reflection of a figure draped in black. She ducked—turning too sharply on her ankle—as a curse sailed past her, shattering the window.
She’d overturned the table and was presently using it as a shield. She didn’t know how many were attacking, she’d only seen one in the window, but she knew there were a good handful of them.
She wondered how they’d gotten inside. James or Sirius always locked up after they left. Always. They knew the Death Eaters would jump on the opportunity of getting at Lily Evans alone and vulnerable.
Just then the table burst into flames. Lily scrambled away from it, and by doing so making her an open target. Thinking fast, she figured she was better off as a moving open target than a sitting one.
She dashed out the back door—marveled briefly that it, too, was unlocked, and at the same time thankful it wasn’t. The backyard was fenced in; she sent off a Patronus while she ran for the door, dodging curses all the way.
Fumbling with the latch had lost her precious time, but she hoped she regained some of it when she retaliated and sent some curses of her own over her shoulder. She heard shouts and vulgar language, so she figured she’d hit someone.
As she tore down the street, she wondered frantically where all her neighbors were. Surely they couldn’t all be off somewhere? But she didn’t have time think on it, however, because her bad ankle gave a jolt of pain and she stumbled, rolling several feet on the pavement before coming to a halt.
Instantly she felt invisible ropes bind her, but she was too dazed to panic. Feet thundered toward her; she heard someone shout “Crucio!” Her foggy mind immediately cleared as the pain washed over her. Someone screamed and she sensed vaguely it was she.
But suddenly it stopped. Someone was calling her name, sounding heartbreakingly terrified; the ropes disappeared, but she was too weak to move. She laid there in the middle of the street, pale as death, blood slowly pooling around her. Seconds before she blacked out, she saw a blurry image of unruly black hair and wide hazel eyes.
Fevers wracked Lily’s system for forty-eight hours after she left St. Mungo’s Hospital. Her injuries had been healed, but she’d caught influenza being outside when it was twenty-one degrees. Her temperature rocketed up perilously high; James and Sirius did everything they could at first, but finally admitted that it was more than a bug. Seeking professional help so as not to lose the woman they loved most, they took her back to the hospital.
When Lily entered consciousness again the morning three days after the attack, the first thing she saw was James, slumped in an armchair next to her hospital bed, sleeping fitfully. She turned her head and saw Sirius in the same exact situation on her other side.
With a small smile, she buzzed for a nurse. The nurse followed procedure, and, cautious to be quiet, helped Lily out of bed. For a while, Lily walked around the floor her room was on, stretching her legs and getting some strength back. She went to the bathroom down the corridor so the flush wouldn’t wake her men, and then returned to her room to shower, hoping it wouldn’t wake them. It didn’t; Lily crawled back into her bed and fell asleep.
She woke again just after lunch. She was alone in the room; Sirius and James must have left to get something to eat. She wasn’t particularly hungry herself; her stomach rolled at the thought of food. Maybe dinner, then, she thought.
The nurse was just leaving to acquiesce her request of retrieving something for Lily to read when James and Sirius walked in. The two men exchanged polite greetings with the nurse before Sirius walked over and kissed Lily on the forehead. “Good to have you back,” was all he said. He turned and left the room.
James stood just inside the door, staring at her blankly. She smiled and held out a hand. Slowly, hesitantly, he came to her and took her hand in his own.
“How—“ He cleared his throat because it was rusty. “How are you feeling?”
“Much better. I was thankful to get all the dry sweat washed off this morning in the shower.”
“Yeah, the nurse told us you’d been up.” He swallowed and looked down, seemingly immersed in his own thoughts.
Lily’s brows furrowed. Giving his hand a reassuring squeeze, she asked softly, “James, I’m all right now. What’s the matter?”
He was silent a moment. Then he burst, “It was my fault. I’d… I’d…”
He reached into his pocket with his free hand and drew out a little velvet green box. “I’d been too busy thinking about giving this to you, and forgot to lock up. It’s my fault you were attacked. My fault.”
When he neither withdrew the box nor gave it to her, Lily took her hand from his and opened it. The diamond inside solidified her suspicions. “Oh James…”
“I was going to give it to you that night. Ask you. I had it all planned out. But when Dumbledore came to the Ministry saying you had sent a Patronus and were in trouble… I knew even before I Apparated home what had happened and that it was my fault. I was praying so hard as I ran down the street toward you. ‘Please don’t let her be dead. Please, not at my hands.’ “
In the silence that ensued, Lily stared at the ring. Slowly she took it out of its casings and slipped it on the proper finger. She sighed. “It already feels like it’s been there forever.”
She looked at James. “It’s as much mine and Sirius’s fault as yours, James. Sirius should have made sure you locked up, as I should have. I take it for granted that one of you does.” She again studied the ring. “I wonder what the record is for shortest engagement.” She side-glanced at James.
He smiled mischievously. He’d already gotten over the guilt trip. Why cry over spilled potion? “Whatever it is, we can beat it.”
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