Chapter 50 : Chapter Fifty
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Although this chapter was hard to start with, I actually like it now. A lot happens. It's sort of like a climax of a sort.
And man! It's Chapter FIFTY. Can you believe it? Fifty chapters...that's so incredible. You know, Lily and James finally started dating 13 chapters ago.
Well, enjoy! And for all of those who are STILL with me, you are the most patient people in the world and I love you. :-)
Thanks, guys! Happy belated anniversary! After all, it's congratulations to you too.
Unfortunately, Henn’s last days in London were not the happiest. Most of us were already immersed in our own melancholy and Jeremy’s death was still a fresh wound, unable to be soothed just yet. I wandered around James’ house for days, wondering vaguely why I still hadn’t shown any emotion towards Jeremy’s death. While our friends constantly fell under silences that we all knew were consumed by thoughts of what had happened at Hogwarts, I was wondering why I could not feel what they were feeling, and what I would need to do to feel it. I felt so cold and devoid of emotion; no matter how much I tried to let those gates inside me open and let the tears come, I could not do it.
I came up with this ridiculous notion in my head that I had to cry to finally get closure over what had happened at Hogwarts. And when I realized that with every day it was becoming harder for that to occur, it scared me.
And then there were other scares, like what was happening between James and I. James always got over things so fast. The day before Jeremy’s funeral, he was filled with doubts and worries. It killed him inside that he who had always been there for me, his mother, and his friends, had not been there when we had most needed him. However, my reassurance that we did what we had to do and we knew that he would’ve done the same helped him immediately. He was soon cheerful and energetic with Sirius again. I admired him for that. After all, life had proven to be very short even for the young, and the time we were blessed with should not have been wasted on sadness.
Unfortunately, sometimes sadness and disappointment could not be avoided. After realizing on the night before Jeremy’s funeral that I had deliberately pushed him away James was beginning to see that I was no longer interested in his kisses or attentions. Actually, I mistake myself. I was interested—I really was. But I was terrified of the prospect of what could happen next. I watched Henn with Aaron, who we had begun to see more and more of as Henn’s departure drew closer, and wondered how she could already be so open with him, so free, and think nothing of it. I envied their smiles solely for each other, their secret touches that they thought were so discreet; even though I knew James and I had had that too. Now I wasn’t so sure. His kisses were now gentle and rather chaste, which frustrated and relieved me at the same time. What was wrong with me?
And then I found myself constantly touching my wrists, for the guilt was finally catching up to me as I realized that I had not been completely honest with James. He did not know the torture I went through with myself, and how some months ago there were days that I felt like lying in my bed and never waking up. I did not treasure life then; I could see that now.
But I do now, I would tell myself as I lay in my bed, staring up at the ceiling. But even as I said it, it seemed that my voice, rather than reassuring, was trying to convince me of something. It is often like that with people who have gone through terrible moments of darkness—sometimes we believe that time is over, that we are born again anew, yet we had merely delayed the moment of reaction, and put away our troubles. But it doesn’t stay that way for long. Without closure, it comes back. And then you’re under the tide again, fighting for what you have left.
Henn looked absolutely radiant even as the people around her grew more and more somber as time passed. It was her last day in London. In the morning she would take a train to Sweden, where she was starting her internship program at their Ministry of Magic. I stood to the side, watching as she unwrapped the several presents we had gotten her. She grinned as she opened an enormous box full of Honeydukes sweets, courtesies from Sirius Black. It was a proof of how much we knew Henn that we also knew what it meant to her—Henn had an infamous sweet tooth.
“Oh, Sirius,” she said, giving him such a genuine smile that could’ve broken anyone’s heart. “You shouldn’t have.” And despite Sirius’s mutterings of “It’s all right, no big deal,” she got up and embraced him. Everyone laughed, except for me.
As Henn proceeded to furtively tear at the wrappings of Grace’s gift, James went to stand by me and offer a butterbeer. I took it and drank silently, knowing I looked moody even as I did it.
Finally, James said quietly, “She feels guilty. You know that, right?”
“I don’t know why she would be,” I said crisply. “She’s so happy, look at her.”
Henn laughed exuberantly as Aaron gave her a kiss on the cheek. It was true—there was no denying it. Henn was excited about moving. She welcomed it and felt a thrilling exhilaration for change—unlike me. It was something I always envied of her; how she could accept whatever came at her and make the best of it.
“Still,” James said. “You two are best friends. She’s worried about you. Especially after what happened.”
Especially after what happened. That’s how many of us referred to the Hogwarts incident. What happened. The incident.
I knew I sounded harsh, but I didn’t care. James, being James, didn’t back down or drop his steady gaze. “Lily,” he said. “What’s going on?”
“Lily!” Henn said, beaming. “I’m opening yours now, come over here!” Despite her cheery tone, her eyes told me a different story. I’m sorry. Really. Please come here so I can make it up to you.
Henn or James—I weighed the two in the balance and debated who I’d rather be with. My conscience told me I should be with my best friend as much as possible before she left. So, despite myself, I walked over and sat by her.
She squeezed my hand as if to say thank you, and I felt a slight pang of guilt. I knew I shouldn’t be so harsh and cold with her. James was right, after all—I was her best friend.
“Did you like my gift?” Grace said, her eyes twinkling in a way that was so unfamiliar in her the past week that I was startled to see that she was being playful. She had been under the weather, we all had—but I felt that her pain was a bit deeper than ours. Something else was happening to her, although none of us knew what.
“I loved it,” Henn said, holding up the Zonko’s bag. Inside of it was an alarm clock that screamed out rather profane things to wake one up. It was very uncharacteristic of Grace, who I had expected to get Henn a book or something.
Henn was admitting the same. “Although it wasn’t what I imagined you’d get me,” Henn said, grinning widely.
Grace shrugged as we all laughed around her. “I won’t lie—I went to Flourish and Blots first. But I knew whatever I got you would be stashed away on the bottom of your trunk along with the other books I had given in the past—so I got you something I thought you’d enjoy more.”
“I will enjoy it. I’ll laugh every time I wake up and think of you,” she said, giving Grace a big kiss on her cheek.
Henn was now opening my wrapped box, where I had stowed a beautiful gold and scarlet covered album, filled with pictures of all of us. On the cover there was an enlarged picture of the eight of us—the four boys and girls—one we had taken on Graduation where we were all grinning, the boys hitting each other playfully in the back with their diplomas. Then there were other photos—a few of the Graduation Ball, where we were all dressed up and laughing; others of regular school days where we were just fooling around with the camera; more personal ones like a snapshot of Gaby and Sirius, arms around each other when they were still dating (even then in the picture they were wrapped around one another); a couple of just us girls, looking ridiculous in our pajamas in our dormitory with green beauty masks; two or three of the boys playing Quidditch; another of James and I laying down in the courtyard on the grass, giggling over something stupid as we were caught unawares by Henn with the camera; and finally a few pages of Henn and Aaron at the Graduation Ball dancing.
Everyone was silent as Henn turned the pages, her eyes brimming with tears. In the back cover all of us had written her a message, of how much we’d miss her and how much we cherished her as a friend. Feeling a bit uncomfortable at the sudden saddened mood, I cleared my throat and said, “It’s actually from all of us. We all contributed with the pictures.”
Apparently that was all it took—after a moment Henn started sobbing. She put her face in her hands and cried something about not wanting to leave us, but having to, and she was so sorry—finally Grace came over and gave her a hug, bringing her face up.
“It’s okay,” she said. “We know you have to go. We’re all probably going to leave someday—you’re just the first.”
“I mean, Gaby’s going to Venezuela,” Sirius said as lightly as possible, even as his eyes darkened because of it. “I mean, at least you’ll still be in Europe.”
“Thanks,” Gaby sniffed, pushing him playfully as her eyes filled with tears.
Finally Henn turned to me and gave me a tremendous hug. “Thank you,” she said, hiccupping.
“Well, c’mon,” Aaron said suddenly, startling us all. “We’ve only got tonight. So…let’s just have fun, while we can.”
It took a moment for all of us to process this, as we all stared at Aaron, the newcomer, who surprisingly was the first to point out the obvious. Somehow I still couldn’t believe what was happening—that we were all separating and beginning to live our own lives away from one another. But it was Henn who was the first to leave. It was Henn who had started all of this. And I couldn’t help but resent her just a little for that.
“The new guy’s right,” Sirius said. “Let’s get out while the night is young.”
“I’m in,” James said.
“Me too. But it’s up to Henn,” Grace said. We all looked at Henn, as she blew her nose heavily on her handkerchief. “Henn? You want to go out?”
Henn’s red and blotchy face expanded as she broke out into a grin. “Of course. But where to?”
“How about a pub? The Leaky Cauldron, maybe?” Remus suggested.
“That’s right!” Gaby exclaimed. “We’re legal now, aren’t we?”
Sirius snorted. “Like that stopped us before.”
“Too true,” James said, grinning. He went over to the fireplace and jingled a little tin box full of powder. “Floo good for everyone?”
Apparently we were not the only Hogwarts graduates who had had the same idea. Predictably, many of them were somewhere near the bar drinking in abundance now that they were allowed. Sirius was the first to let out a shout to Tom, the bartender, and ask for a firewhiskey. James was the second, of course.
I walked over to a long, rectangular table where I thought everyone would fit and sat down moodily. My aloneness was short lived for Grace came over only a moment after.
She looked around, raising her eyebrows. “Perhaps this wasn’t the best place to come to,” Grace said.
Gaby was coming towards us, a drink already in her hand. “What’s up?” she asked once she saw the look on our faces.
“Look around. Everyone’s miserable,” Grace said. Being immersed in my own troubles, I had not noticed the small amount of people in the pub and how somber they looked until Grace pointed it out. My heart sank.
Gaby’s face immediately fell. “I guess it’s too soon. It was only about a week ago.”
“Not a good place to have Henn’s Going Away party,” Grace sighed.
“Maybe she won’t notice,” I added unhelpfully.
Obviously she did. As we all turned around to look at Henn at the bar with Aaron and a few other Ravenclaws, she was no longer smiling or happy. It wasn’t hard to guess what they were talking about; I had seen them all hanging around with Jeremy at Hogwarts and they all looked devastated.
James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter all sat down around us. They too no longer looked cheerful.
“So. Whose bright idea was this anyway?” Peter asked as the other three boys looked at Remus.
“It was the first place that popped in my mind,” Remus said tiredly. “I thought the place might be a little bit livelier.”
“Maybe we should go somewhere else,” James suggested.
Grace was skeptical. “Where? I bet everywhere is like this.”
“We could go to a muggle pub,” Sirius said.
“Not all of us are legal in there. Besides, it’d be boring,” Gaby pointed out. All nodded in agreement.
“Well, then. What can we do?” Remus asked.
Henn and Aaron had apparently said their goodbyes to the boys at the bar and were now coming towards us. “About what?” Henn asked, sitting down and putting up a strong face. “It’s fine. We can stay here. It’s fine.” She looked up at us, waiting for agreement.
“Right,” Sirius said belatedly. “We can still have fun.”
“Yeah, of course,” Gaby added.
As they said this a woman who had been sitting alone in the corner burst out in tears. We all looked at each other as her sobs filled the room.
“Let’s go,” Henn said finally.
“Right behind you,” James said as we all got up to go. “But where?”
“I don’t care. Anywhere but here,” Henn said. She then made her way to the back of the pub, where it opened up to Diagon Alley. We all waved goodbye to Tom, who had a radio up to his ear and was listening to a broadcast.
Diagon Alley at least was empty. All the stores had closed long before and the streets were oddly desolate at night. I noticed that all round there were new Ministry of Magic signs, with tips for you to be safe at times like these.
“‘The Ministry of Magic advises all to never walk alone or at night,’” Grace read out loud from the sign that was in front of Flourish and Blotts. She kicked the sign down in response.
There was a fountain still running by Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor, and we all sat around it.
Henn was the first to talk, and what she said was by no means cheerful. “At least Sweden won’t be so sad.”
It reminded us all that she was leaving yet again. All hope of having a good, fun night out together was lost forever. Especially when all remained silent, except for me who turned to her and snapped, “Oh, really? Good. That makes it fine then.”
I stormed away with my friends stunned into silence.
There was a flurry of movement and then Sirius saying, “No, wait. Give her some time.” No doubt he was talking to James.
I dragged my feet against the cobbled streets, kicking loose stones as I went. And then all of a sudden, as if gravity no longer wished to avoid me, I fell to a heap on the floor. I most certainly scratched my face and side, but I found that I didn’t care. Instead of moving out of the way, I pushed my wrist against a jagged rock, feeling the rawness of my skin. I closed my eyes and heard my own breathing, loud against the stones.
Again, I waited for my eyes to well up and my vision to fog—for my breathing to turn ragged and suppressed. Emotions that were not only mine were cluttered in my chest, and I felt heavy. Crystal’s despair, Henn’s guilt, my friends’ sorrow were too much to bear. Not too long after contemplating this I heard hurried footsteps behind me, knowing it was James.
I sat up, brushed the dirt off my face and arms and sat down on the ground with utter calm. James soon came into view, the streetlights reflecting off of his hair and making a silhouette of his tall frame. As he approached and sat in front of me, I watched his pants ride up his legs, exposing his ankles.
“You’re sitting,” he said. He didn’t look surprised.
He sat there, staring at me in a way that inexplicably angered me. It made me want to scream and hit his face, and at last my breathing labored. I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself. “Yes.”
He didn’t ask me why. By the look on his face he knew precisely why. He would not say it though, for he knew how vehement it made me. This time was no exception and I forced my nails into my palms to prevent myself from saying something I’d regret later. I wasn’t stupid. I knew James was one of the few people who actually put up with me because he loved me. It was a strange concept that I could not for the life of me figure out why. Although I knew all of this, I still wanted him to go away. Even his love at the moment was too much.
“I know you’re upset,” James said softly. I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t. He wanted me to take my own little steps, like a parent coaxing their child to walk towards them. In a way I was being the child, with my head and eyes turned down so that I wouldn’t look at him.
When I didn’t reply, he exhaled slowly, as if preparing himself for something. I knew then that he was going to try and get closer, something he hadn’t done for the past few days.
“We shouldn’t leave them waiting,” I said suddenly, still not looking up. But my instincts told me that his hand had left his knees and was reaching for my face. I heard the thump as he let go and it dropped back onto his jeans. At last I looked at him—no…more like confronted him—and pushed my hair away from my face before he could do it first. “I’m okay.”
I got up to leave, only to see that James was still sitting there. Then I heard it as he said, “Lily, why are you doing this?”
For a moment, I was going to answer, and then thought better of it. I started back but was stopped again as he stood up and held onto my arm. It was a light touch, one barely to hold me back, but nevertheless I stopped. I looked up and saw myself reflected in his eyes and wondered if he could see himself in mine. Probably not.
“Lily,” he said quietly. “Don’t push me away.”
“I’m not pushing you away—” I started.
“You are,” he interrupted. His gaze seemed to be looking right through me, so I backed away. He didn’t let go. “I know you.”
I looked at the floor. “You don’t.”
“Lily.” I did not see his face, but I could tell from his tone that he was smiling in a way that he hoped would be comforting but wasn’t. “Of course I do.”
I broke away from him before he could hold on tight and finally reeled around to glare at him. Then with absolute finality, I said, “You don’t.”
James looked as if I had slapped him. Maybe in a way I had. My voice had been louder than I thought, for I could still hear its faint echo around us. Suddenly, I felt as if this fight had surpassed our other, smaller fights. It was different somehow, and as I looked at him I felt that I couldn’t stand to see his face.
The silence stretched around us. Finally, I said, “We shouldn’t move in together.”
Apparently, this was not what James expected. “What?” His voice was faint, but I heard it clearly in my head as if he had screamed it at me.
“We shouldn’t move in together,” I said, this time my voice louder and stronger. “We shouldn’t—we shouldn’t even be engaged.”
It was unfair to say that when he hadn’t even recovered from my first statement, but I felt like I couldn’t hold any of it back any longer. “We’re too young—and now, it’s just…it’s such a bad time—” To my frustration, I felt my voice choking up although still, no tears came. “In fact, we shouldn’t—shouldn’t—”
Finally James strode towards me, seizing my arms on either side of me. This time his grip was strong, almost viper-like. “Lily, don’t say it,” he said, his voice quiet.
“We shouldn’t even be together.”
I thought he’d let go of me, but he didn’t. Instead, his grip tightened. I still didn’t look at him. “What? You mean break up?” He said in a way that told me he couldn’t quite believe what I really intended.
I felt his fingers against my arms, where a few minutes ago I had scraped them against the cobbled stones. I could feel him staring and waiting for me to meet his gaze, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
There was a silence. It seemed that James was still absorbing everything I had just said. Finally, after what felt like millions of moments: “I know this is a hard time for you, but you can’t—” He paused, his voice shaking slightly as he continued, “I mean, it’s us.” He uttered the word us as if it were the only explanation needed. Before, it had been all I needed to hear.
“We were going to marry,” he said quietly.
“I’m sorry,” I repeated.
Apparently, this recurred statement was all it took for James to finally let go of my arms and stride away. For a while, he didn’t say anything but merely just paced away from me. Somehow this silence was even more uncomfortable than his questions. As I begun to wonder if I should just go, he whirled around and said with startling venomousness, “You’re sorry? You’re sorry? Then why don’t you show it, Lily? Look at me. No, don’t look to the side, look at me.”
When I didn’t, he said, “Of course you won’t.”
It was my turn to be stunned into submissive silence. He was still pacing about; his hand was in his hair to shake his tresses irritably. Then, when I was sure he had nothing else to say, he let out a mirthless chuckle. He turned to me, his eyes flashing with anger. It was one of the few times I had ever seen him angry; the first time that I had ever seen him directly angry at me.
“You know, this is typical Lily Evans. Shun and hurt all the people you want and walk away without even thinking about picking up the pieces.”
“That’s not true—” I started, no longer able to remain silent.
“Of course it is!” James practically yelled at me. Startled, I stepped back and widened my eyes. What I saw scared me beyond thought. His eyes—a part of me that I so carefully guarded—were clear with pain and hurt. “It’s what you did to me for the past seven years! And that’s what you’re doing to Henn right now.”
“It’s what you did to both your parents!”
For a moment James did not fully realize what he had said. His chest was heaving up and down as he pointed an accusing finger at me. His eyes flashed behind his glasses just for a second before his mouth opened and he stared speechlessly at me.
A few days ago, if I had been at Hogwarts, still a student and young, I would’ve let my normally cool exterior break just a little. I wouldn’t have felt so self-conscious to break down in front of James. But that was then. I felt older now, and I pretended that his words had less of an effect on me. I stared at him, my face impassive even as I felt my throat constrict with unshed tears, and waited for what I knew he’d say next.
“Lily,” he breathed. “No, that’s not what I meant—I don’t know why I said that—”
He shut up as I came towards him, my hand outstretched. I took his palm and set mine on it. His eyes light up—he thought he was forgiven. Then I let go of our engagement ring and dropped it in his hand. The emerald at the top of the ring slowly turned back to a small, clear stone. Just like our relationship, with its continuous change, it was descending into its normal and duller—yet safer—state. He widened his eyes at me as I backed away.
“Wait,” he said. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry, Lily. I’m sorry.”
“I know. Me too,” I said softly. “But I think it’s better this way.” In my head I heard, Liar, hissed. The same voice clawed at me desperately, asking, Why are you doing this? Why?
But now there was a different voice, saying, He shouldn’t have said that. He knew he shouldn’t have.
As I turned and walked away, instinctively I braced myself for his following footsteps. When I realized that he wouldn’t come after me, I waited for the feeling of relief and unburden, but it never came.
When I arrived at the Potters’ again, I saw that everyone was already there. They all turned towards me as I walked right past them and up the stairs into my room—or rather, the guest room. As I disappeared from sight I heard Peter murmur, “Where’s James?” and could not summon the strength to answer.
Gaby and Grace came into the room shortly after. As they opened the door they found me standing up against the wall, staring at my trunk at the foot of the bed.
“What’s going on?” Gaby asked. “Where’s James?” They were at the door, waiting for me to either shoo them away or ask them for comfort. Uncharacteristically, I waved them in and they shut the door.
My friends sat at the edge of my bed. Soon they noticed that I wasn’t looking at them. “Why are you staring at that?” Grace asked, pointing to my trunk.
“I’m trying to figure out where I’m going to put it.”
They exchanged confused expressions. Gaby raised her eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that I can’t stay here anymore because James and I aren’t together. We broke up.”
“When did this happen?”
They were not stunned into silence like James had been. In fact, they looked downright incredulous.
I slid down the wall and sat down. “Just now,” I replied stonily. “So, as you can see, I need to move my things…” I trailed off, not knowing what else to say.
“You’re going back to your dad’s, then?”
I looked at Gaby and laughed weakly. “I guess so.”
Finally, we were all silent. I set my head in my hands and tried to think of what I was going to do.
Grace suddenly spoke up. “Come and live with us.”
“Oh, that’s a great idea!” Gaby exclaimed.
I lifted my head and looked at them exasperatedly. Gaby for some reason was beaming, and Grace looked like she had just found the solution to all my problems. “What are you talking about?”
“We bought a flat,” Gaby replied ecstatically. “We meant to tell you all after Henn left so that she wouldn’t feel so left out.”
“But the thing is,” Grace continued. “Gaby’s leaving in a month. And I won’t be able to pay rent by myself.”
As I opened my mouth to say something, Gaby interrupted. “And don’t say this is out of charity, because we were going to invite you to live with us anyway, but you were already making plans to live with James and Sirius. But now…”
“Everything’s different,” I finished. Apparently this they had nothing to reply to. “Okay. I’ll do it.”
This was obviously a surprise. “Really?” Grace asked.
“You’re actually saying yes?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Unless you don’t really want me to live with you two and were expecting me to say ‘no.’”
Grace rolled her eyes. “Of course we weren’t.”
“Can we leave now?”
They both stared at me. Finally, Gaby started tentatively, “Are you sure you want to?”
“It might be better if you stay here and talk with James,” Grace suggested. “Maybe things aren’t as bad as you think. Maybe he’ll change his mind.”
They thought that James had broken up with me. Well, I didn’t blame them. I had been such a bitch lately that not many would put up with me.
“It’s bad,” I said as an explanation. “And nothing’s changing.”
After shrinking my luggage yet again and placing it in my pocket, we went downstairs to Floo to Grace’s house. Green smoke was coming out of the fireplace, which meant that someone had either arrived or departed. My heart stopped as I looked around the room for James, but was surprised to see that the number of people had actually lessened.
“Where’s Henn and Aaron?” I asked once noticing who had left.
“Gone,” Sirius said simply. The boys were all sitting down on the couches and chairs of the living room, drinking the remaining firewhiskey that was left. “She said her train left tomorrow at nine in the morning if you wanted to see her.”
Remus turned to me. Even he had a bottle in his hand, which was rare. “So, are you going to tell us where James is? Or what happened between you two?”
“Lovers’ spat,” Sirius slurred, hiccupping slightly. Peter nodded sagely, sliding off his chair.
“This night sucked,” Grace said, surprising us all with her language. We all looked at her as she shrugged. “Well, it did.”
Gaby sighed. “Henn didn’t even have fun.”
“Hey, we tried, right?” Sirius said, draining the rest of his bottle. He dropped it to the ground along with at least half a dozen others. He raised his wand and summoned another one from the cooler in the corner. As he opened it, he added, “That’s what counts, I guess.”
“I guess,” I said quietly.
“So are you going to tell us what happened?” Remus asked again.
Grace was already reaching for the box at the top of the mantelpiece. As she threw the powder into the fire and yelled, “Lawsons’ Manor!” I said, “Ask him when he gets home. He’s still at Diagon Alley if you want to get him.”
Immediately Sirius set his bottle down and staggered up. “Let’s go,” he said, nearly falling back onto the couch.
“I’ll go too,” Remus said. He glanced at Sirius, who laughed for a minute for no reason whatsoever, and Peter, who was trying to hoist himself up from the floor to no avail. “Clearly I’ll be the most help.”
As I waved them goodbye I heard Peter distinctively say, “Do you think they’re all right?”
“Of course they are,” Sirius said, watching me as I walked into the fire and let the flames engulf me. “They always are.”
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