A few days later, I was in our living room, watching television and staring at the blank piece of parchment in front of me. Lying on the end table to my right was an almost equally blank application that I had picked up on the day of our Apparition test at the Auror Headquarters when we had gone to the Ministry. The questions were simple, asking merely background information and other obvious necessities. But the parchment was for the required essay, with the ever formidable question: “Why do you believe you are qualified to be an Auror?”
I had started on the application first, since evidently it was the easiest to complete. But after reaching the “family background” section, I gave up. I did not want to think about my father or mother at the moment or anyone else I had disappointed.
As if my preoccupied thoughts were hanging around me visibly in midair, Gaby poked her head from behind the open refrigerator door in the kitchen, asking for what seemed like the umpteenth time, “Are you absolutely sure that we can invite him?”
There was no need to ask who she was mentioning. The both pitying and apprehensive expression was clue enough. “I thought that you had already invited James.”
“Well yes, but I can always make up a little excuse.”
“It would be unfair to invite Sirius, Remus, and Peter, who are basically the only people he ever sees, and then exclude him,” I said, raising my eyebrows. “I think I’ve been bitch enough, thank you.”
Gaby closed the refrigerator door, scowling at me as she leaned against the kitchen counter. “You are not a bitch.”
I laughed. “Thanks.”
There was a knock at the door. As I got up from the couch to let whoever was outside in, we heard a “sod this,” and a pop! in the middle of the room. It was Grace, holding at least four bags of groceries and nearly toppling down to the floor.
“A little bit of help please?” she snapped as Gaby and I giggled.
I reached out and took two bags, walking over to the kitchen. “I thought we had agreed not to Apparate when it isn’t necessary?”
“Especially since there are four Muggle families living on our floor and the one beneath ours,” Gaby said, opening the refrigerator yet again.
“I’ll tell you what’s not necessary,” Grace said, slamming a bag down on the counter. “All those stairs. We’re only two floors for Merlin’s sake, why do we need all those steps for?”
“It’s a tall building,” I reasoned.
“A tall building with Muggles.”
“Keep your knickers on, no one was around. It’s not like I’d be stupid enough to do magic in front of these people,” she said, pointing her wand at the contents of the refrigerator and expanding the shelves to fit the rest of the groceries in plain sight of the open window.
“That’s the third time you’ve done that,” Gaby noted. “I don’t see why we need all this food. I know it’s our housewarming party and all but we’ll only have a little more than ten people over.”
“Yes, but Sirius is coming,” I pointed out.
There was a silence as we all contemplated this. “Maybe I should go to the supermarket again,” Grace said doubtfully.
“No, don’t exaggerate,” I said as we all proceeded to slide drinks and food on the oversized, magically enlarged refrigerator shelves. “Did Henn write back?”
“No, not yet,” Grace said, looking out the window at the owl-free sky. “I suppose that means she won’t come tonight.”
“She’s forgetting us already,” Gaby said half-jokingly, half-resentfully.
“No, she’s not,” I defended. “She’s just busy, like us. And she’s coming.”
“If Henn’s not coming why did we invite Aaron?” Grace asked, completely ignoring my rebuttal.
“Henn is coming,” I repeated, annoyed at their lack of faith. “And Aaron is our friend too.”
Grace raised her eyebrows. “He is?”
Gaby was studying me again. Already I knew that she was thinking of one of the other guests who would also be attending the party. “Are you sure James can come?”
“Yes,” I replied exasperatedly.
“Really?” Grace asked skeptically as Gaby nodded vigorously, widening her eyes in what she probably thought was a helpful expression but which only served to annoy me further. “Because I can make up a little excuse—”
“It’s fine. Really,” I said tersely. Before they could pester me any further, I stood up and moved out of the kitchen towards the door. Both of them poked their heads above the refrigerator door, still putting away all the groceries. “I’m going out. I just remembered that we need—” I looked around the room, my eyes setting on the bathroom. “Toilet paper. I’ll be right back.”
I closed the door behind me, knowing I should’ve thought of a better excuse.
The grocery store was only a block away, which was why we frequented it so much. I walked inside and went to aisle nine, finding the cheapest package of a dozen rolls and paying for it with a few of those rare pounds that I kept in my pocket. As I walked back home, I saw Mr. Livingston, our landlord, out on the steps speaking with a young man with dark hair.
For a heart wrenching moment, I thought it was James, even though I had convinced myself these past few days that his presence no longer affected me. But as I came closer, I saw that this man’s hair was no where near as dark or as messy. My breathing slowed down a little and I relaxed.
“Good morning, Mr. Livingston,” I said as I paused by the steps. I had met him the day we moved in and introduced myself as the “two young girls’ other roommate.” He was a nosy, old man who apparently sold shoes at his own store about two blocks away and rented out flats as a living. Not exactly friendly—and suspicious for the various times we encountered him in the morning when he did not hear any of us coming up the night before.
It was the young man who spoke to me first. As he turned around I noted vaguely that he was quite handsome with deep brown eyes and a warm smile. “Hello,” he said, and I smiled for politeness’ sake and turned to our landlord, who was speaking to me.
“’Morning, Ms. Evans,” Mr. Livingston said gruffly, his eyes narrowing. “Didn’t hear you ladies arrive last night.”
“You must’ve been sleeping,” I said sweetly. “We came back pretty late.” Last night we had taken a trip to Diagon Alley so that Gaby could look for a temporary job. Later we had gone to the Leaky Cauldron and Apparated home considerably early, but obviously Mr. Livingston had been up late waiting for us to arrive through the steps.
“I was up late also. What time exactly did you three show?”
I was really not in the mood to think up of a convincing lie for this sour old man. Luckily, the guy came to my rescue. “Honestly, have you ever met an old man as interested in other people’s lives as my grandfather?”
I realized that he was talking to me. I also realized that he was making a joke to distract Mr. Livingston from his annoying questions. “Oh, this is your grandfather?” I asked, while Mr. Livingston muttered something about “making sure his guests arrived home safely.”
“Yes. I’m Ray,” he said, outstretching his hand.
“Nice to meet you. Lily,” I replied, suddenly aware that I was holding an embarrassingly large package of toilet paper while talking to someone particularly good-looking. Apparently, he also noticed.
“That’s a lot of toilet paper,” he noted, smiling humorously at me.
I blushed. “It’s for a party.”
“Sounds like an interesting kind of party,” he said, raising his eyebrows.
“I hope you’re not inviting too many people,” Mr. Livingston barked. “There’s a limit at this building you know and I don’t want any sort of ruckus—”
“I should get going,” I interrupted. “Bye, Mr. Livingston. Nice meeting you,” I said to Ray.
He smiled again. “Pleasure.”
I started up the hellish stairs. Grace was right, there really were too many.
It was eight o’ clock, and I was still getting ready for the party when the door bell rang. Grace, who had officially taken charge of the party, was currently stressing out over her artful food arrangements on the table as she snapped, “Can one of you who is not busy as I clearly am get that?”
Gaby was in the hallway, hanging up streamers. As she levitated the rolls of streamers up so that it could twist itself, she turned around and looked at me exasperatedly. “I’m starting to regret our living arrangements. Was she so neurotic at Hogwarts?”
“I am not neurotic!” Grace spat from the kitchen. “This is the first time our friends are seeing our place and I want it to be—” She paused as the door bell rang again twice, this time more insistently. “Can someone please get that?”
As I set down my mascara and moved towards the living room, Gaby quickly shooed me away. “I’ll get it,” she said as I raised my eyebrows. “It might be James,” she explained. “And you probably don’t want him to see you with only one eye with mascara.”
“Really, I don’t care—” I started, but it was useless. She was already moving towards the door, which had rung for the third, fourth time, leaving a half-hanged streamer in her wake.
“Calm down, I’m coming—oh, hi guys!”
Even though I had told Gaby that I didn’t care, I still worked hurriedly to apply mascara to my left eye. I couldn’t help but feel my stomach tighten as I checked my reflection in the mirror above my vanity table. If it was James, it wouldn’t matter, I told myself. But as I looked through my drawers for some blush and heard Kat’s voice, I visibly relaxed.
“It’s Kat, Leah and Marcus,” Gaby called out from the living room. “And—oh. They brought food.”
“Just some chips and dip,” Leah said brightly.
Everyone went quiet. Grace, who had been absolutely determined to deem the night the best housewarming party ever, had spent the whole day making complicated and exotic dishes ranging from sushi to roasted duck. “Well, thanks,” I heard Grace say after an extended pause.
“Where can we put it?”
“Just try to—er—actually, the table is kind of full,” Gaby said, intervening. “Just set it on the table by the couch.”
“Okay. Hey, where’s Lily?”
“She’s still getting ready. She’ll be out in a second.”
The doorbell rang once more. Once again, I checked my reflection. I knew I looked pretty good, which wasn’t completely unintentional. I was wearing a low-cut, forest green spaghetti-strapped top, and my best pair of jeans. I looked perfect for an encounter with the ex.
But the ex still hadn’t shown up. Apparently it was only Remus who had arrived.
“Hey,” Gaby said as she let him in. “Wow, what’s that?”
“Oh, just a little something I brought,” Remus said. “Looks good, doesn’t it?”
“Is that lasagna?” Marcus asked in his slow, quiet voice.
Grace was clearly indignant. “You brought lasagna?”
“You’re welcome,” Remus said coolly. “Here—what’s all this food for?”
“Just set it over there on the end table!”
“Now I feel bad wasting only $3.50 on our chips and dip,” Kat laughed.
“Actually, I made this,” Remus said. Of course the perfect man also was the perfect cook. “Real easy recipe, I’ll hand it to you later—”
“I should get that,” Gaby said uneasily as the doorbell rang again. “Hi Peter!”
“Hi guys, I brought you something—”
“Oh, you didn’t have to—”
“More food, perhaps?” Grace muttered loudly from the kitchen.
“No, actually,” Peter said, surprised. “It’s your own set of Exploding Snap. I thought we could play later.”
Everyone murmured assent as I added some eyeliner. And then, as I took out my wand and pointed it at the half-hanged streamers in the hallway so that they could arrange themselves again, the doorbell rang yet again, and for some reason, this time, I knew it was him. After all, he was the only one left who hadn’t come, besides Aaron.
It was obvious that I was right from the way Gaby opened the door. “Oh,” she said significantly. “Hi.”
“I brought firewhiskey,” Sirius said in way of a greeting.
“Thanks,” Gaby said. “I’ll just set it—”
“End table!” Grace barked.
“Hey Grace,” Sirius said, apparently unperturbed by her aggressive manner. “Wow, is that baklava?”
“Yes, and thank you for being the first to notice my hard work.”
“Nice food,” James said, uttering his first words of the night. My stomach clenched.
“I know it is.”
“Yes, Grace, you really outdid yourself,” Leah said kindly.
“And so did Remus!” Kat exclaimed tactlessly. “I mean, look at this lasagna!”
“Remus made his lasagna?” Sirius said with the excitement of a two-year old when he sees a new toy. “Hey, can we eat that now?”
As everyone appreciated Remus’s apparently famous lasagna, James asked the inevitable question. “Where’s Lily?” I tried to listen to see if I could recognize hurt or depression in his voice, but it was hard to tell.
“Probably dead,” Kat snorted. “Hey Lily, you coming?”
I was still sitting in front of my vanity, adding some last-minute touches to my makeup and delaying my entering into the party, although I wasn’t going to admit to myself that last bit.
“I’ll go get her,” James said. “She’s in her room, right?”
“Uh, actually—” Gaby weakly protested, but I could already hear James’s footsteps on the floor coming towards my room. He would know which one was mine. He knew me better than anyone and would instantly recognize it. Quickly I checked my reflection one last time and went for my brush, trying to obtain an expression of complete nonchalance as I touched up on my hair.
There was a short pause as the footsteps came to a halt. I knew he was at the door and he knew that I knew. Still, he remained silent, and even though I knew it was cowardly I didn’t want to be the first to turn around and speak. Luckily, I didn’t have to.
“Should’ve known you’d paint your room green.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t see him in my mirror to check his expression, so I set my brush down and turned in my seat. Instinctively my heart jumped at the sight of him leaning against the door, looking very nice in a pair of black jeans and a button-up navy blue shirt. I couldn’t help but notice that he looked very good. In fact, if it weren’t for his somber eyes, he wouldn’t have looked like a person who had just been dumped at all. I forced a smile, trying to forget that it was because of me that his eyes wore such a forlorn expression. “Hi, James.”
He walked into the room, studying it and smiling to himself as if my bedroom was exactly as he had pictured it. Then he turned to look at me. “You look great.”
I blushed, although it was not from pleasure but from shame. Suddenly I felt petty about worrying about my appearance when I knew that James would’ve thought I looked beautiful no matter what. “Thanks,” I said awkwardly. “So do you.”
He shrugged. “I put up a good act.”
I would’ve forced a laugh if it was a joke, but he wasn’t smiling.
“Do you mind if I shut the door?”
I swallowed. Yes, I did mind, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. “No, go ahead.”
He did, and then pointed to my bed. “Can I sit here?” He was asking for permission, just like he had when he wanted to shut the door, and I hated it. I suddenly realized that he felt like he had to now, since we no longer shared the intimacy we once had. Pretending not to notice the sudden awkwardness between us, I responded to his request with a nod, not willing myself to speak.
I should’ve known that James wouldn’t have beaten around the bush—he had always gone straight to the point. “I’m not going to pretend that I don’t have feelings for you anymore,” he started with such blunt honesty that my face grew hot again. “But I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day at Kings’ Cross. If it’s the best I can do, then maybe we could be friends.”
I could tell he had rehearsed this several times from the way he talked so slowly and deliberately. I pretended not to notice. I knew that I too had things to say, but didn’t want to bring myself to say it. “I’d like that,” was all I said.
He was staring at me as if expecting me to say more. We hadn’t seen each other for more than week, after all and clearly there was much to catch up on. When I remained silent, he got up and went to the door. “You coming then?” he asked, not looking at me but at the ground again, just like he had that day we had talked at King’s Cross. I knew that he couldn’t bear to look at me anymore, since even I sometimes couldn’t. Suddenly I realized that this whole time that I thought I was over our breakup, and therefore, over him, was actually just an illusion I had created during the time I hadn’t see him. Apparently it was much easier to pretend when I wasn’t facing him.
“Yes,” I said finally. When I got up I added, “Oh and James—”
I meant to say, thank you for coming, but when I left my chair and looked up, I saw that he had already left.
When I finally left my room and entered the party, Remus’s lasagna was almost half eaten, mostly because of Sirius. Even Gaby, who had tried for the most part to direct everyone’s attention to Grace’s extravagant feast, had her own plate where she smiled guiltily at me from.
Trying not to get Grace even more pissed off, I first went to the kitchen, smiling at her. “You know, this pudding looks really good.”
“I know it does,” Grace snapped, glaring at Remus as he cracked a joke that everyone laughed at. “Look at him. He did this on purpose.”
I raised my eyebrows. I hardly thought that Remus, who was possibly the most gentleman guy I knew, had brought the lasagna because of some sort of sinister plan that Grace clearly thought he had concocted. “I think he was just trying to be courteous,” I said reasonably.
Grace rolled her eyes and then looked at me, widening her eyes as she suddenly realized what I was wearing. “You look nice.”
She glanced over my shoulder at James, who had just started an Exploding Snap game with Peter, Kat, and Marcus. “Dressed for anyone in particular?”
“No,” I said defensively. I glanced at her blue top and white skirt. “You look just as nice.”
Grace scoffed. “Not likely. I spent hours doing the food instead of my hair. Food that no one is even paying attention to,” she added sourly, glaring peevishly at the kitchen table where all her hard work was going to waste.
“Soon Sirius will finish that lasagna and make sure we have no left overs,” I assured her.
“Hello girls,” Gaby said, coming over with Leah. Grace, who apparently thought that her betrayal was unforgivable, narrowed her eyes at her, causing Gaby to clear her throat uncomfortably. “Your pudding looks great,” she said in way of an apology.
“You’re too late. I already complimented it,” I said.
“You think it looks good, do you?” Grace asked with a bit of a challenge in her voice. “Would you two like some then?”
“Oh, no thank you,” Leah said, not taking the hint. “I’m full from Remus’s lasagna. Lily, did you try some?”
I glanced at Grace, who looked like she would chop off my head if I mentioned the slightest affinity to Remus’s cooking. “No, I didn’t,” I replied carefully.
There was an uncomfortable silence. “Well I’m not nearly full enough. And your roasted duck looks delicious,” Gaby said, going over to the kitchen table as Grace glared daggers at her. She started cutting a piece, but when it wasn’t done quickly enough and the pressure was clearly mounting, she added, “Well, I’ll just get some later then,” and hurriedly made her way back to the couch where Remus and Sirius were sitting.
“Someone’s knocking on your door,” Leah noted.
“Who else isn’t here?” Grace asked, looking around the room.
“Aaron isn’t. I’ll go get it,” I said, walking to the door. As I crossed the living room I noticed that James, who had been clearly looking at me, lowered his gaze and forced a laugh at something Peter had just said. Feeling worse by the minute at what my presence did to my ex-boyfriend, I turned away and opened the door, which halted forcefully when I realized that I had forgotten to unlatch the bolt. Peeking at Aaron through the slight crack, I said, “Oh, hey. Hold on just a second, okay?”
He grinned at me. “No problem. I brought something, by the way.”
“Hopefully, not food,” I laughed as I closed the door, unlatched the bolt, then opened it again. Aaron was there all right, but he wasn’t alone. “Henn?”
“Surprise!” she exclaimed as everyone turned around to look at her with looks of complete astonishment. “You didn’t think I’d miss your party, did you?”
Immediately, everyone screamed and whooped, hurrying to the door and covering her in hugs. As she embraced me, I grinned at Aaron and said, “You said that you brought something, not someone.”
“Actually, I also brought chocolate cake.”
Grace was so ecstatic to see Henn she didn’t even say anything. Still hugging everyone, we finally sat her down on the couch. “You look different,” Kat finally said.
“Well, I cut my hair,” she said brightly as Aaron set the cake on the very crowded end table and tried to find a seat.
“No, that’s not it,” I said after studying her for a bit. She did look different, but only later did I realize it was because like James, I hadn’t seen her for more than a week, which felt strange since I was used to seeing her everyday.
“You guys look a bit different too.” She paused for a moment, looking around. “And the flat is marvelous. Can I see the rest of it?”
“Here, come with me,” I said, and led her past the kitchen, where she was quick to notice all the food.
“Food!” she exclaimed as if she had never seen it in her life. “This is great. I’m so hungry I could eat a hippogriff. And this looks delicious,” she said, and Grace couldn’t have looked happier.
I tugged her hand and led her into the hallway, eager to show her the rest of our flat. “There’s not much, but we did a lot of repairs. You should’ve seen it before,” I boasted as I showed her the bathroom, Gaby and Grace’s room, and finally mine.
“Looks great,” Henn said impressively. She then turned to me with a quizzical look on her face. “Just one question though—you were going to move in with the boys, right? With James and Sirius?”
For a moment I didn’t understand what she was saying. Then it hit me—Henn didn’t know. As I looked at her, so happy and fun just like I had remembered her, she looked for some reason misplaced in my room. Her home wasn’t England anymore, and somehow I felt that she was drifting farther and farther apart from our lives as she asked me that question. She didn’t even know that James and I had broken up, which seemed so surreal since everyone knew by now. Before she had been the first to know about something that bothered me, and now she was the last.
“We broke up,” I said finally. “James and I.”
Henn, who had been inspecting my bed, suddenly turned around and stared at me, her green eyes widening in disbelief, which had been the usual and expected reaction. “What?”
I nodded. I was sick of telling the same story over and over again, which was why I was relieved when she asked me, “When did this happen?” instead of “Why did this happen?”
“Your last night here, when we were at Diagon Alley.”
Henn furrowed her eyebrows at me. She was obviously hurt. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was a bad time to tell you. I wanted you to have fun before leaving. And this isn’t exactly a thing you should tell with Owl Post,” I explained.
For a moment, she didn’t say anything. Then she sat down on my bed, looking around my room which was so unfamiliar to her. Then I realized that my room wasn’t the only thing that was unfamiliar—I was unfamiliar. “You still should’ve told me,” she said, bringing herself to look at me. Lately, a lot of people couldn’t face me. “And you still invited him to your party.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. “I’m not going to just avoid him. We can still be friends.”
“It’s hard, though,” Henn said, as if I didn’t know already. “Especially with James.”
I told her what I had been continually telling myself lately. “He’ll get over it.”
“Will he?” I didn’t say anything. “Lily, I don’t want us to drift apart just because I moved away.”
“I know,” I said softly. “I don’t either.”
“I thought things were going so well,” she said. “What changed?”
I had debated over this question thousands of times after we had broken up. “I did,” I said simply, and as soon as I said it I knew it was true.
Henn gave me a scrutinizing look. No doubt she was thinking the same. “How are you taking it?”
“Good,” I said immediately. Before I could stop myself, I added, “If you think about it, we weren’t together for so long.”
I didn’t know why I said it. Apparently saying hurtful things helped me believe that I was over what had happened. This time I couldn’t look at Henn as she gave the expected answer. “That has nothing to do with it.” Maybe she was thinking of Aaron, whose relationship with her was even shorter than mine had been with James, and yet it was stronger and more enduring that many other couples’.
“We obviously have a lot to catch up on,” she said suddenly, and as I looked up it was clear that she was afraid of that possibility. “Could I stay overnight?”
“Of course!” I said, surprised that she even asked. “You’re welcome here anytime, you know that.”
Henn beamed, and for a moment it seemed that we were back at Hogwarts, inseparable again. “Great! Let me just go tell Aaron…”
As we reentered the party, we saw Aaron playing Exploding Snap along with nearly all of the other guests. Remus’s lasagna was finished, and only Sirius and Gaby were over in the kitchen still eating—Sirius out of pure hunger, and Gaby out of a chance of redemption.
Grace watched in satisfaction as Gaby ate laboriously a roasted duck wing, clearly full from her expression. As I raised my eyebrows, she said, “Oh, good! Do you two want to eat too?”
Henn went straight for the table, immediately digging in to whatever food she could find. On a normal basis, she had a stomach to rival Sirius’s, but today, she was apparently on the border of starvation.
“Do you eat in Sweden?” I asked, point blank as she stuffed nearly the whole tray of sushi down her throat. Sirius watched her in something close to admiration.
“I’m so glad you’re back,” he said seriously, and she grinned at him, pieces of rice in between her teeth. We all laughed.
“It’s that the train didn’t have a very decent meal,” Henn explained, pushing the sushi tray aside and going for the baklava.
“Train?” Grace asked, raising her eyebrows. “Didn’t you Apparate here?”
“Apparently, I can’t,” she said, shrugging. “It’s too far, I guess. I tried and nearly splinched.”
“So you’ve been taking the train instead? Henn, you can just use Floo powder or something, can’t you?”
“I don’t think I can do that from a different country either.” She paused, looking around. “And you don’t have a fireplace, do you?”
“And the ship was even worse,” Henn continued as she passed the tray of baklava to Sirius and put a piece of steak on her plate instead. “All the disgusting train food left me then.”
Grace and I exchanged looks. “We didn’t realize how much trouble it is to come here,” I said finally. “Maybe it’s better if you don’t stay the night then.”
Before Henn could open her mouth, Gaby swallowed the pudding she had in her mouth and said, “Hold on! Henn’s staying over? No, no, no you can’t go back tonight then.”
Henn smiled. “Well, I don’t want to.”
“But Henn, it’s so far! I mean, it would be different if you were Apparating, but this is just a hassle, isn’t it?” Grace asked.
Henn’s face fell. “Well, if you don’t want me to stay—” she started hotly.
“Of course we do,” I intervened. “We just don’t want you to go through so much trouble to spend time with us.”
“Am I saying that it’s so much trouble?” Henn asked, raising her eyebrows. “It’s no trouble for me to go on a little trip so I can see my best friends. Besides,” she interrupted as Grace opened her mouth to say something. “I’m tired from the trip and am not looking forward to sleeping on a hard bed which sways back and forth all night. So let me stay here where I’ll sleep loads better.”
We all looked at each other. “Okay! So Henn’s staying!” Gaby exclaimed, glaring at us just in case we decided to argue again.
“If it’s okay with you guys,” Henn added. “But if it’s not, then I could always sleep at Aaron’s—I was planning to anyway if it was too much of an inconvenience for you three—”
“Don’t be stupid,” Grace said, rolling her eyes. “You know that we want you here.”
Henn grinned. “Perfect then!”
As she said this Sirius groaned loudly. We all looked at him, raising our eyebrows. “What is it, Sirius?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing,” Sirius said. He was looking at his plate of food as if he suddenly had lost his appetite. “It’s just that word—you know—‘perfect.’”
“What?” I asked, amused. “You don’t like it or something?”
“Maybe it’s because you’re the complete opposite of it,” Gaby joked, laughing as Sirius threw her a sarcastic look.
Grace couldn’t help but smile. “What is it then?”
“It’s just Remus’s new girl. She says it all the time. She’s driving all of us nuts.”
It was obvious that Sirius had not realized the impact of his words. The three of us all looked towards Grace, who had suddenly looked like Sirius wasn’t the only one without appetite. She leaned against the kitchen counter and looked over at Remus, who had just let out a whoop as he won the Exploding Snap match, oblivious to Grace’s intense stare. “Oh?”
“Yeah, that chick from St. Mungo’s. She was—”
“A Healer at the receptionist floor,” Grace finished. “Yes, I remember her.”
Suddenly, I remembered her too. The day James had been released from the hospital, and we could all leave, we had been waiting in the reception area and Remus had been talking to a pretty blonde witch.
“Oh yeah,” Henn said. “Wasn’t she the one who allowed us to go visit James in his ward?”
“Didn’t she reject you?” I asked Sirius, smirking as he turned slightly pink. It was the closest he ever came to a blush.
“I’m glad she did!” he said forcefully. “She’s driving everyone crazy.”
“I thought that he was supposed to go on just one date with her?” Grace asked quietly as she continued to stare at Remus.
“He did,” Sirius said nonchalantly. “And she hasn’t left him alone since. She only didn’t come here tonight because Remus told her not to and—” He halted, suddenly realizing who he was talking to. I mentally punched him for bringing her up. “She’s really—yeah. Annoying,” he finished lamely.
As Grace left the kitchen and went to sit down on the couch with Marcus and Leah, who had given up on Exploding Snap, Sirius said half-heartedly, “he doesn’t even really like her, you know,” although it was pointless to say so since Grace was already gone.
“Nice one, Sirius,” Henn said.
“You’re the one who reminded me of her!” Sirius said defensively. Studying Grace, who was apparently trying to escape our conversations and appear nonchalant, he said, “You don’t reckon she still has feelings for him?”
“Who knows?” I said helplessly.
Sirius looked at me as I said this. Suddenly his tone became very cold. “You wouldn’t. You’re oblivious to other people’s feelings.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Sirius said sarcastically. “Maybe I’m talking about a certain brokenhearted guy who is sitting in your living room right now and pretending that he’s perfectly fine just being your ‘friend.’”
Gaby gasped. “Sirius!”
Sirius ignored her. “You had no reason to break up with him,” he said, pointing his finger at me accusingly. “You were insane to and everyone here is thinking it, but I’m the only one saying it.”
But Sirius wasn’t letting me talk. Apparently he thought I deserved the tongue lashing he was giving me. “Tell me, Lily, where are you going to find someone like James? That’s the thing—you won’t. And don’t try to defend her Gaby,” he said as Gaby opened her mouth and let out a feeble protest, “because you know she’s wrong! Do you know what I had to do to get him to come here? He’s been moping around at our flat ever since we left Henn at Kings’ Cross and it’s because of you that he’s so miserable. Well, I wasn’t going to let him stay home. You would’ve liked that, wouldn’t you, Lily? Having the upper hand and all, I bet you’re loving the state he’s in now—”
“Sirius,” Henn said suddenly. “That’s enough.”
Finally, Sirius shut up. Not because of Henn, but because he was waiting for me to defend myself, so that he could just insult me some more. He crossed his arms and looked at me expectantly, daring me to say that it wasn’t true.
“You don’t know me at all if you think that,” I said finally. “I don’t want James suffering.”
“Well you sure as hell don’t care that he is!”
“That’s not true,” I said defensively. “I do care about James. I care about him a lot. That’s why—that’s why he’s better off this way.”
I could feel Henn and Gaby both looking at me, but I kept my eyes on Sirius’s grey ones—which right now were staring at me coldly. He shook his head, clucking his tongue loudly and disbelievingly. He leaned forward. “I agree with you. I think he’s way too good for you. But you’re completely stupid if you think that he’s ever going to stop suffering.”
That hurt me more than anything else. For a moment I closed my eyes and felt my heart beating slowly in my chest—it had apparently given up the fight. I thought of the words I told Henn, he’ll get over it, and wondered if it was actually true. Perhaps I was lying to myself in order to feel better. I looked up at Sirius, who was still waiting for me to refute. “No one suffers forever, Sirius. And James won’t either.”
Sirius narrowed his eyes at me. It was clear from his expression that he did think I was completely stupid. He didn’t say anything else as we continued to eat, and when he left with James he gave me a cold look instead of saying goodbye. He continued down the stairs along with Peter, who apparently was staying the night at their flat. James paused by the doorway, raising his eyebrows.
“What’s wrong with him?” he asked me.
I shrugged unconvincingly. James scowled. “Did he say something to you?” When instead of answering I made a strange, noncommittal noise, he said, “Don’t listen to him. He’s just—” He paused, unsure of how to continue the sentence honestly. Pissed. Angry. Hating you right now.
“He’s just being a good friend,” I finished for him. “He cares a lot about you.”
“He’ll get over it,” he assured me, and I grimaced as I heard the very words I had told Henn about him.
“Yeah. I guess.”
Suddenly, we both looked at each other. It had rather a dramatic effect on me as I looked at his eyes and he looked at mine, which we had both avoided continuously the whole night. I cleared my throat and looked at my feet again, cutting off the sudden connection. “So, are you sure you don’t want to Apparate home?”
“Nah, we’ll like to walk. Besides, from what Gaby told me, your landlord will get even more suspicious if he doesn’t see your guests leaving.” He paused, ruffling his hair as we both became silent. I felt my stomach tighten painfully at seeing his old habit. “Well, then,” he said finally as we remained mute for about another minute. “Thanks for having us.”
“Oh, no problem,” I said, waving my hand so forcefully that it seemed like a fly had just flown near my face.
There was another silence. How were we supposed to say goodbye now that we were broken up? Finally, James leaned awkwardly and kissed me on the cheek. For a moment I imagined that his lips were lingering there on my skin, but before I could confirm it he was already out the door, not looking at me. “See you,” he said, glancing at me as he stopped in the middle of the hallway. I waved weakly and he went down the stairs, leaving my sight.
I closed the door behind me and looked around. Aaron was now saying goodbye to Henn, and Leah had already Disapparated with Marcus, who was still underage. Kat, whose birthday was later in the summer, was going to Side-Apparate with Remus, who was still here, helping clean things up.
“Really, you can go,” said Grace, unable to keep the sourness out of her voice.
Remus raised his eyebrows. “I’m trying to help. What’s your problem?”
Grace apparently did not want to tell him what was her problem, so she left the kitchen and proceeded to take the streamers off the walls with her wand, away from Remus. Remus looked both confused and irritated as he opened the refrigerator rather forcefully and started to put the leftovers onto the shelves.
Gaby was suddenly at my side. “It went well, don’t you think?” she said excitedly. “I think everyone had fun. And Sirius and Henn ate almost all the food, so Grace must be happy.”
“Not so much now,” I said in a low voice as we both glanced at Grace, who was now pulling the balloons off the walls with such ferocity that one would think they had done her a personal evil.
“All because of Sirius,” Gaby said, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, he can be completely tactless…I still can’t believe what he said to you!”
“I deserved it,” I answered truthfully.
“You did not! I mean, you have your own reasons to have broken up with him—and we certainly shouldn’t—well, you know…interfere—”
I did not remind her that when I had told her about our break up, she had continuously tried to change my mind about it. Nevertheless, I smiled at her. “Thanks.”
Gaby was looking at Grace again. “Do you think she’s all right?”
“Probably less so than she shows,” I said, and couldn’t help but think the words referred to me too.
“Well, I’m about to take off,” Aaron said, approaching us with Henn. “Thanks for the invitation, ladies.”
Gaby beamed. Aaron did have that effect on most girls. “Anytime,” she said cheerfully.
“Are you leaving, Aaron?” asked Kat, who had been sitting on the couch.
“Yeah, do you need a lift?”
“If it’s all right with you. I told my mum I’d be home soon, and—well—” We all glanced behind us, where Grace and Remus were now bickering across the kitchen counter. “See, I was supposed to go with Remus…”
“It’s fine. I’ll drop you off at home,” he said. He turned to us again. “Thanks again.”
With a last, quick kiss for Henn, he turned on his heel with Kat holding onto his arm, and Disapparated.
“How long do you think they’ll be at it?” Henn asked, glancing at them in the kitchen again.
“Pretty long. Grace has been looking for any excuse to yell at him ever since he brought that lasagna—oh, leaving already, Remus?” I asked innocently as he finally left the kitchen, glaring at Grace as he approached us.
“Yeah, thanks for having me,” he said. But he said it so angrily that he might as well been saying, “I hate you, Grace.”
“You’re welcome!” Grace said sardonically from the kitchen. “Come back anytime!”
It was rare for Remus to have an outburst. Which was why when he turned around and said, “Don’t think that I will!” Henn, Gaby, and I all exchanged shocked looks.
“She’s impossible,” he said to us, and then Disapparated before Grace could come up with a retort. Instead she threw the plate she had been washing at the spot where he had been. I quickly had to say a spell so that it wouldn’t hit us instead.
“He’s infuriating,” Grace snarled as Gaby repaired the plate with her wand and brought it back to the kitchen.
Henn and I decided not to respond to that. “So, where should I sleep?” Henn said, changing the subject.
“My room,” I said. “Here, let’s go conjure up a mattress for you.”
We left the living room, hearing Gaby approach Grace hesitantly and try to cool her down. As we reached my bedroom Henn took a few things out of her pocket—apparently it had been her luggage which she had shrunk—and proceeded to enlarge it and keep it tidily in a corner.
“Hello, Jinx,” she said cheerfully as the amber tabby finally left his basket, deeming it prudent now that there weren’t so many people in the apartment. He purred at the sight of her, rubbing himself against her legs to show that he too, had missed her.
I conjured up a cot and a mattress and assembled it by my bed, adding one of my pillows and a few blankets at the foot of it.
“Need anything else?” I asked her, but when I turned around I saw that she was sitting on the floor with Jinx, looking forlorn. “What is it?”
“What?” she said, looking up as she stroked Jinx on the head. “Oh…nothing. It’s just—I miss Hogwarts, that’s all.”
I suddenly knew what she meant. At Hogwarts, everything was familiar to her, and there we too were familiar to her. As she looked around my room, I knew that she was feeling left out of our friendship, even though we had tried our hardest not to exclude her.
“This is your home too,” I reassured her.
“No, it’s not,” she said, smiling sadly. “I wish it were, but…I guess I just have to accept that we live in different places now, that’s all.”
“Promise that you won’t keep me out?” she asked me, suddenly looking like a hopeless child being left out of a game.
“Of course,” I said, and she sighed with relief, as if she had expected me to say that it was impossible to tell her everything now that we didn’t see each other everyday—in other words, the truth. But at that moment, I too did not want to be honest with myself—not just about her but about James—so I merely smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it,” and we turned off the lights.
Henn slept immediately, and soon I heard Gaby and Grace cease to talk in the kitchen and head off to bed also. Inevitably, my thoughts went to James as silence fell over our flat. I wondered if he really was as miserable as Sirius depicted him to be. As soon as I thought this I mentally kicked myself—from the way Sirius was so indignant it was clear that he was not lying about his best friend’s state.
Sirius’s other words came to mind, you’re completely stupid if you think that he’s ever going to stop suffering. I hoped that he was wrong. Surely, James would find someone better than me?
Finally, at one point, I slept, but uneasily, for even then I knew but denied the lies that I was telling myself.
A/N: I enjoyed writing this chapter. I think most people will see that it was considerably lighter than the chapter before and undoubtedly will like it better, given the reviews most of you wrote.
I know that a lot of you do not like Lily at the moment, and I ask you to not grudge her too much because 1) at the moment she’s a bit unstable and simply does not know what’s good for her and 2) she’s only human and a lot of people react the way she does when in a break up and 3) we all know she gets back together with James anyway, so no worries. Just try to understand her a bit more.
But please don’t stop giving reviews, because honestly, I really like reading them. And even though some of you don’t like a certain thing about the story, your criticism is still constructive, and it really does help me improve my writing. Actually, I think I only received one bad review this whole time, and I’ve been writing this story for three years, mind you. Yes, I definitely do read all of your reviews, but most of the times I don’t have time to answer them. Actually, the first thing I do when I finish a chapter and submit it is check all the time to see the reviews all of you have left me, so obviously I enjoy them.
I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in like a day and simply loved it. I thought it was the best one out of all of them, although now I see how very un-canon my story is, so I hope none of you hold it against me. I liked the book so much though that I might write a canon story after I finish this one. Anyway, for those who have read it, I hope you liked it as much as I did, and for those who haven’t read it, you’ll probably love it too.