Chapter 55 : Chapter Fifty Five
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“Lily,” he said in a way that sent shivers up my spine; I did not know if they were good or bad.
There was a pop! and Ray appeared next to me, sitting.
“Ray?” I questioned, perplexed. “You can Apparate?”
“I can now,” he said, kissing me full on the lips. He pushed me softly on the bed, his hand sliding underneath my shirt to rest on my belly.
I was being shaken; James had pulled Ray off of me and was now gripping my wrists tightly.
“Lily,” he said again. This time I felt panic as I recognized the stark betrayal in his eyes. I turned away, unable to face it.
“Lily,” he repeated, this time with desperation. And suddenly that was all I heard, my eyesight blinded along with all other senses except my enhanced perception of hearing.
Lily, Lily, Lily...
I jerked awake the next morning with Jinx pawing at my chest, doing that annoying thing cats always do when they’re trying to get comfortable to sleep on top of you. I opened my eyes and Jinx growled at me, which led to me pushing him off my bed with a strangled yell as he clawed at me. He hissed and stalked away, but I hardly noticed as I sat at the edge of my bed, wiping the sweat away from my forehead. My heart was thumping so loudly my pulse was drumming in my ears. I looked around; my room was sunlit and bright and after checking once, twice, three times, yes, I was definitely alone. Shaking myself, I then proceeded to the hallway and took advantage that Gaby and Grace were still sleeping to use the rarely vacant bathroom.
When I came out, showered, dressed and decent, Grace was found to be in the kitchen making coffee.
“’Morning,” I said, glad to have someone around to distract me. My friend looked up at me, her dark circles evident and prominent. “Or not,” I added carefully as I sat at one of the counter’s stools and observed my friend closely. “Bad night?”
“Understatement of the century,” she said with a furious flick of her wand, spilling hot coffee all over her nightgown and screeching.
“Here,” I said, handing her a towel which she took and patted onto her nightgown furiously. She handed me a cup of coffee just as Gaby came in, her grim expression identical to Grace’s.
“Hello,” she said dully, and plopped down on the stool next to me.
“What are you doing up? You do know it’s seven thirty?” I asked my friend who was well known for her sleeping in habits.
“Yes,” Gaby replied in an uncharacteristically harsh voice, “I do know. But it so happens that you two don’t have the slightest courtesy to keep your voices down—”
Grace gasped, outraged. “Oh, like you had the slightest bit of courtesy last night—”
“I did what was good for you and you’re just too stubborn to see it—”
Both of them huffed at each other, glaring. I sat uneasily between them, preoccupying myself with stirring some sugar into my coffee. “Did something happen last night?” I asked them calmly, the answer already evident from the expressions on their faces. When none of them said anything, I looked from one to the other, my eyebrows raised. “Didn’t you guys just go to the Leaky Cauldron?”
Gaby grimaced, glancing at Grace. “Yes. And we would have stayed.”
“It’s not my fault he was there!”
I cleared my throat uncomfortably. “Who?”
The two of them glared at one another, until finally Gaby turned to me, exasperated. “Remus.”
“Oh,” I said, nodding. “Oh. And Caroline?”
“Crazy Girl,” Grace corrected vehemently as she sipped her coffee, muttering to herself.
“Yes,” Gaby started, rolling her eyes, “and instead of acting like two responsible adults, one of who it is essential to act aloof and cool so that Remus doesn’t have anything to say about her, we leave the place, practically running, because Grace didn’t want to face him.”
“Not before you pulled me up to him and made us talk!”
“Oh, please,” Gaby scoffed, taking a hold of my cup of coffee and sipping on it, “like I can make you do anything.”
I privately agreed, but opted to listen to the rest of the story, which apparently was very intricate. “So?” I prodded, waiting for an elaboration.
“So?” Gaby repeated, her face incredulous. “So what happens is that Grace here gets us kicked out.”
At this point Grace’s head was down on the counter, avoiding our gazes. “I am so mortified,” she muttered, more to herself than to any of us.
“You got kicked out??” I repeated disbelievingly. “Like literally kicked out?”
“Tom practically shoved us out.”
“Why? Because Grace couldn’t try and act civilized!”
“How could I act civilized when she dabbed me with that handkerchief of hers?”
“You didn’t have to jinx her!”
“Wait, hold up. You jinxed her?”
Grace looked at me, a hint of a smile on her face. “Yes. She has tentacles all over her face.”
I laughed despite myself and Gaby rounded on me. “Don’t encourage her!” she reproached me, frowning. “Because of her we’re never going to be able to show our faces in Diagon Alley again. Oh, sure, that’s great for you guys, but I work there in case you haven’t noticed.” She huffed and took another sip of coffee. “And that’s not the worse of it. After our worst humiliation of the year, Grace decides that we haven’t embarrassed ourselves enough. So she forced me to go to another pub—”
Grace snorted. “Like I can make you do anything,” she mocked.
“—which was a muggle one, by the way—”
“A muggle pub?” I said, my eyebrows raised. “Really?”
“Really,” Grace repeated grouchily, groaning loudly. “And then there was tequila—”
“You’re Venezuelan! I thought you could handle it!” Grace argued defensively.
“How the hell could I handle six shots? I’ve never had that stuff in my life—and tequila is Mexican, not Venezuelan!” She groaned again, massaging her temples. Suddenly their mussed up appearances made sense.
Apparently Grace had nothing more to say, and Gaby certainly didn’t want to encourage her. I cleared my throat and sipped my coffee, my mind immediately dwelling on my dream again now that everyone was quiet.
“Would you like some more coffee?” Grace asked me coolly. When I did not look up, she said, “Lily? Hello? Lily?”
I winced at the sound of my name. Both of them watched me, their eyebrows raised. I felt the urge to tell them my nightmare but thought better of it. “Ray came by here yesterday,” I said abruptly, opting for a more normal conversation.
Instantly their voices returned.
“Had you invited him?” Gaby asked, her voice heavy with precedent disapproval.
“No,” I said, unable to keep the defensiveness out of my voice, “he was just waiting here outside our door.”
My two friends exchanged meaningful glances, already reconciled on account of my apparently disastrous love life. Grace turned to me. “So, what happened?”
The dream was still vivid in my mind, so I immediately jumped to the defensive. “I didn’t take him if that’s what you mean,” I said, a bit too vehemently.
Grace stared at me, shocked. For some reason she blushed a bit. “I didn’t say you did!”
“He liked the apartment,” I said, changing the subject to hide my mortification. “He was a bit…surprised on how improved it was.”
Gaby raised her eyebrows. “What did you say?”
“I said you two did it. Oh, and if he mentions something about an university, just tell him you go to any one of them around here and that you both are studying interior design.”
Grace frowned confusedly. “Why?”
“Because well…” I trailed off, then continued, “I sort of had to lie about you guys. About me too.” When they both gave me equally perplexed looks I added, “Well, I couldn’t say that I was a witch!”
“Which is why you don’t date muggles,” Grace said.
“I’m not dating anyone, muggle or not,” I huffed.
Gaby grinned mischievously. “This is actually really interesting. What did you tell him about Hogwarts?”
“I said we all went to boarding school.”
“Boarding school?” Grace repeated disdainfully.
“It was the closest I could come up with! I mean, it is technically.”
“But Hogwarts is such a big part of our lives,” Gaby started, “and so is magic. How can you expect us to keep that from Ray?”
“It’s not a big deal,” I said. “It’s not like we see him often.”
“That’s obviously going to change,” Grace pointed out. “I mean, he was waiting for you at our door.”
“We won’t talk to him unless it’s necessary,” I assured them. “Don’t worry, we won’t have to lie too much.”
“I hate lying,” Gaby sighed.
“Well then good thing we won’t be seeing him,” I replied just as the doorbell rang.
The two of looked at me exasperated. “Ray again?” Grace said in that way of hers that always led me to believe I was guilty of one thing or another.
Gaby sighed loudly, her palms up. “So the lying begins…”
The doorbell rang again. Both of them stood there, watching me. “Aren’t you going to get that?” Gaby prompted.
“I…have to go the Ministry, remember?”
“Oh no you don’t,” Grace reproached me. “Go there and tell him to leave. I’m not in the mood to talk about our fake university and fake life and fake interior design major.”
“Well, then I’m going to be late!” I blustered.
“So be it.”
I scowled as this time whoever was waiting outside knocked at the door three times, insistently. Finally, as I contemplated turning on my heel and Disapparating before any of them could do anything, we all heard Sirius’s muffled shouting, “It’s me! Open the bloody door or I’m Apparating in there and I don’t care if you’re all naked!”
“Sirius?” I said, baffled.
Gaby got to the door first, asking perplexedly, “Sirius, aren’t you supposed to be at the Ministry?”
Sirius stormed in, furious. Of course he looked directly at me. “Why the hell didn’t you answer?”
“She thought it was someone else,” Grace explained.
Sirius was now pacing around the room. I opened my mouth to say something but saw that Gaby was now approaching him, stilling him in his frenzied walking. “Sirius, what happened?” she asked in a soft voice that alarmed me. No one used that tone of voice unless they knew something was wrong. Suddenly I realized what Gaby had seen immediately; I caught a glimpse of Sirius’s face and saw his distress.
Alarmingly, he slammed his fist into the wall, making us all jump. He frowned so intensely that lines creased his face. It seemed that he was battling himself to make a decision.
I came to him, my heart thumping loudly, knowing already that something was wrong. “Tell me,” I said, and Sirius looked up at me, his eyes pained.
“It’s James’s parents,” he said, then handed me the newspaper.
Locked in my room, I could pretend it hadn’t happened.
But even with my eyes firmly shut, my skin hurting from my fierce, scrunching expression as I attempted to block the image out, I could still see the headline in bold letters fly across my eyelids: House Raided by Death Eaters: Potters Found Dead.
“Why?” had been my first absurd question. “Why would they—Death Eaters…why would they?”
“Because they’re scum,” Sirius had replied fiercely.
“Where’s James?” had been my second. Sirius then shook his head, his expression grim.
“He told me not to go with him. Said he wanted to do it alone, identify the bodies—” he trailed off, blinking rapidly at the floor. Gaby touched his arm and he put his hand over hers, squeezing it then turning to me. “He also told me not to tell you.”
My brain seemed to have frozen; I could not put a conclusion together by myself. “So why did you?” I asked, my hands still gripping the newspaper.
“You know why.”
I only vaguely processed this. The Potters were dead. It seemed absurd. Crazy even. I had known them forever. Even when I hadn’t liked James, I had always liked the Potters. I did what people often do when they receive such news—I tried to remember the last time I had talked to them.
It was at Jeremy Adams’ funeral. Mrs. Potter had opened her heart to me. We had just reconciled after her deliberately being against my engagement to her son. She had accepted me and hugged me as a mother would, and then called me “daughter-in-law.”
Daughter-in-law. The words pounded in my head. Panicked, I thought of what Mrs. Potter must’ve thought of me when she found out about our break-up. She must’ve died hating me. She must’ve died thinking I was a terrible person who broke her son’s heart. Her hatred was unbearable.
I had then looked up, my hands clammy and tongue dry at the thought of what Mrs. Potter must’ve thought of me. At the thought that I would never be able to explain to her, which was ridiculous really, because did even I know why I had broken our engagement off? Sirius stared back, his face drawn with lines I had never seen before.
“He needs you, Lily,” he then said, and that thought panicked me beyond else.
It was too much. He needs you, and then, Lily. My dream then came back to me, alarmingly vivid. Ignoring their shouts, I had gone into my bedroom, shaking.
“Lily, come out,” Grace was saying, while Gaby cursed after trying a spell to unlock the door again.
“Just forget it,” I heard Sirius say harshly. “I knew she would do this. I don’t know why I bothered coming.”
“She just needs some time,” Grace said. “This isn’t something you just digest in a few minutes.”
“Digest? Digest? This isn’t something you digest, Grace, these are the Potters we’re talking about, this is James we’re talking about, and you don’t just—you don’t—”
There was a strangled moan, something that couldn’t have come from Sirius but I knew that did. “Shh,” Gaby said, and I knew she was comforting him. “Let’s go for a walk, you need to cool your head—”
“He’s at his old house,” Sirius said through the door after pounding on it once. “It’s your decision.”
There were footsteps and then a door slamming and still Grace talked through the door.
“Lily,” she started, “Lily.”
I jerked, shaking my head and clutching at my ears. “Stop saying that!”
Grace was perplexed. “Stop saying what, Lily?”
There was a pause. “Lily?” she questioned.
Quietly, Grace tried the knob again to no avail. I heard her hand rest flat against the door. “Okay, I won’t.”
For a few moments all I heard was my harsh breathing and Grace muttering as she tried multiple spells to unlock my door. She wouldn’t be able to. The spell I had put on it was very complicated to undo. It was somewhat comforting that she was still at the door and wasn’t pounding on the door like Sirius had been doing. I suppose I could not expect any less from my calm, cool-headed friend. Perhaps that’s why I questioned softly, “Grace?”
She immediately answered. “Yes?”
“I have something to say.”
I could hear her tapping her wand against the door still as she tried another spell. “I’m listening.”
“I haven’t cried in a long time,” I said in a rush, before I could change my mind about sharing anything with her. “I mean, a really long time. I didn’t notice until that day at Jeremy’s funeral. Everyone—everyone was just so sad. They were all crying. I felt like something was wrong with me.”
Grace stopped tapping the door and I knew she was listening intently.
“I don’t want James to think I don’t care.”
“There’s no way he can think that. He knows you care,” Grace said at once. “And maybe it’s a good thing that you won’t cry. That will only make James feel worse, I think.”
“Do you cry?”
“Sometimes,” she said, and then paused for a long time. “Yes.”
I contemplated her answer for a moment, and wondered what it was that Grace could possibly cry about. If you looked solely at her exterior, no one would be able to guess that she even had the ability to cry. “Do you really think I can help him?”
“I don’t think anyone can help James right now,” Grace started hesitantly. Then, with more reassurance, she said, “But I know that he needs his friends with him anyway. Especially you.” Another curse as she tried again to unlock the door.
“James—he—he—” I stopped, unable to finish. I shook my head and faltered, not saying anything else.
It was then that there was a burst and the door slammed open. Grace stood at the entrance, panting and tucking her wand into her pocket. The door’s keyhole was burnt and probably would never be able to be used again. I did not take any notice of this however as Grace sat next to me, tucking my hair in a motherly gesture that broke my heart as it reminded me painfully of Mrs. Potter.
Suddenly I felt like I could continue. “I had this dream,” I started finally. “And James…Ray was there also.” I blushed as I remembered the dream’s content and hoped she wouldn’t notice. “But…anyway, James was there. And all he said, the entire dream, was ‘Lily.’ That’s all he said.” I breathed deeply, unable to look at my friend. “He—he keeps calling me. In my dreams, and when we’re actually together—he keeps saying ‘Lily,’ even though he doesn’t say it out loud…and I—”
“What?” Grace prompted quietly when I didn’t finish.
“I never answer,” I said softly. I sighed, closing my eyes as I felt my temples. “I never answer, Grace.”
I kept my eyes closed so I couldn’t see her expression. Perhaps she hadn’t understood me. Perhaps she was disgusted by me. Whatever it was, I felt like I didn’t want to know, so I kept my eyes closed and massaged my temples, breathing heavily.
Finally, I felt her hands. They were warm compared to mine, and when she held my own I felt comforted, despite everything. “You say he’s calling you, that he always calls you,” Grace started, her voice soft and soothing. “Well, he’s calling you now. He needs you right now.” She felt me jerk, but did not let go; she held onto my fingers tightly. “I know it’s scary to be needed, especially by someone you’re not sure that should need you,” she said with a tone full of sadness which reminded me of that fight between her and Remus long, long ago, one that I had accidentally heard. “But the truth of the matter is, he’s calling you, Lily.” At the sound of my name, I flinched again, but this time did not try to pry my fingers away from hers. “The question is…this time—will you answer?”
I took the subway, although I could’ve easily Apparated to my old neighborhood. Grace did not argue with me on this, I believe she understood that I needed some time to prepare myself.
My old neighborhood was two stops out of London, on the outskirts of it. After getting off at my stop, it wasn’t too far of a walk.
It was early afternoon by now, the sun high and bright, scalding my skin. Vaguely as I followed the sidewalk, I remembered a walk long ago where James and I had talked about various things. It was during Christmastime, and it was then that I began to like him.
James had been so insistent. And finally when I had decided that I wanted him, he had shown up at Hogwarts with another girl. I wondered if I was making the same mistake of showing up too late this time.
I could not help but glance at my old house for a moment and remember the last time I had been there, talking with my father. Trying to express my disappointment in him but not having the courage. Waiting for him to ask, no beg me to stay so that he could protect me from what had happened at Hogwarts. He had let me leave and we had not said goodbye. I wondered if he thought about me, ever.
I forced myself to face James’s house instead. This was not the time to think about my problems and worries.
Slowly, I walked across the street that was so familiar to me, stepped onto the pavement that led to James’s house. The lights were all off. If James was there, there was no indication. Nevertheless, I knocked on the door. No one answered.
It was more instinct than guessing that led me to go around the house and into the backyard. James was sitting down on his porch, drinking firewhiskey, empty bottles surrounding him. Although it was light outside his countenance was half in shadow, and it suited him considering the present situation.
I tried to approach cautiously, but ended up making some noise. James did not turn towards me, but continued draining the rest of the liquid inside his bottle solemnly. If one were to observe James with the naked eye, they would detect nothing to be the matter with him. However, I knew James was not all right when he refused to acknowledge me. When I reached him, I gathered all the empty bottles around him and set them aside, tidying the place up since I did not know what else to do.
“You don’t need to do that,” were his first words directed towards me.
I stopped in the midst of my organizing and looked up at him. “I know I don’t need to,” I said slowly, “but I want to.” I stared straight at his eyes and surely, so that he did not mistake my meaning.
James’s response to this was to drain the rest of his liquor and drop the empty bottle, which rolled to the end of the porch and dropped onto the grass. Inevitably, I stood up and picked it up, setting it aside with the rest in a neat file. James watched me with an expression I did not quite like; a mixture of disdain, perhaps, or disgust, which was even harder to bear.
He reached into the cooler beside him and unscrewed the top of another bottle, the release of rushing air making a sound in the silent summer day. “Sirius sent you,” he stated. He didn’t ask, for he knew his friend well. He tipped the bottle to his lips and drained nearly half of the liquor in one go. He wiped his mouth on his arm and shook his head. “I told him not to.”
“He thought I could help.”
James turned to me, his face expressionless. “Can you?”
“I lost my mother before,” I said carefully. “And sometimes I think I’ve lost my father too.”
Unexpectedly, James scoffed. “That is probably not what Sirius had in mind when he sent you here.” He then took a hold of his firewhiskey bottle again, ready to drain the rest. However, he was probably drunker than he thought, for he splashed the rest onto him, soaking his shirt through. “Shit,” he hissed, dabbing at his chest with his bare hands.
I was touching him before I knew it. James stopped in his fervent attempt of drying himself and looked at me as I laid my hand on his stomach and pulled out my wand. Slowly, I siphoned the liquid out of his shirt. As I readjusted my hand on his torso, James swore again, turning his head so that he was looking to the side instead.
“Just forget it,” James finally said, pushing my hand away. I stumbled on my knees and blinked at him as he sat up straighter and drew his shirt easily over his head, throwing it to the side. My eyes drew inevitably to his stomach, where its warmth still lingered on my hand. I folded my fingers as if to control the sudden urge to touch him again, and dragged my eyes to his face, where he looked furious. He had noticed me looking.
“You should leave,” he said harshly, turning to his cooler where he was taking out yet another bottle.
“No,” I said, approaching him. I put my hand on his and with the other snapped the cooler shut. The look James gave me was ominous and rather threatening, but I held my ground. “And you need to stop drinking.”
“I’ll do whatever the hell I want,” he said, shoving my hand aside and opening the cooler again. “And I don’t know why you’re still here.”
I frowned and snatched the bottle away from him, closing the cooler and pushing out of the way as I crouched in front of him, our eyes level. “James, I’m not leaving.”
“Damn it, Lily! You’re not helping.”
“I am. You might think I’m not at the moment, because you’re drunk, but I am.”
“Move out of my way.”
This apparently meant nothing, for in the next moment James suddenly grabbed me on both sides with ever intent of moving me out of the way himself. As he prepared himself to do this however, our eyes met and he paused, his grip loosening a bit and his anger faltering, despite himself.
The look he was giving me was one we had exchanged millions of times before. The familiarity of it ached in my chest and emotions that I had thought I had put away were suddenly returning vividly. I felt the need to say something, anything, to break the tension and make him look away before we both did something we would regret later.
“You need to stop.” I had meant to continue with drinking but somehow I found myself ending my statement in a way that he could not mistake the meaning for something else.
“I’m not doing anything,” he said, even as his eyes became hooded. His thumbs began to circle rhythmically against my bare skin, leaving a numbing feeling where he made contact.
“Yes,” I said breathlessly, “you are. You’re not thinking straight.”
James’s head tilted, leaning towards me. “I’m thinking perfectly straight,” he said in a low voice that sent electric shocks all over my skin. I could see his lips, my own were already parting—
There was a crash. James hardly seemed to notice but I was looking for any excuse to just back away, so I did. I looked around for my source of salvation and found it: my file of perfectly arranged empty bottles had fallen over in havoc. I turned my back to James as I assorted them again; I heard a popping sound and knew that he had resorted to opening another liquor bottle and attempting once more to send a little bit of his pain into oblivion.
He was sitting against the wall of his house, not looking at me. “James—”I started, although I did not know what exactly I was going to say. Apparently it did not matter. James did not let me finish.
“I want to help.”
James laughed. “You’re not helping me.” He stood up, seething over me. “In fact, your very presence is driving me to the brink. You’re not helping me, Lily. You’re torturing me. You’re torturing me, and you don’t even realize it with your manner—your…damn it, Lily, just leave it!” he yelled, for in his angry rant I had instinctively backed away, knocking over my recently rearranged row of bottles, which only led me to tidy it up again.
He was grabbing me by the wrist before I even blinked. “No! You will not clean this up,” he said fiercely, shaking me a bit. “You’re always cleaning up any mess you can, everything—but what actually matters.
“You can’t fix this,” he continued, gesturing around. His eyes turned to me, burning. “You can’t fix this. Say it. Say it, Lily.”
I was too stunned to say anything, however, and when I didn’t, he shook me again. “Damn it, Lily! Say it!”
I stared at him, unflinchingly. “I can’t, I know I can’t.”
His voice was agonized. “Then why did you come here?”
“I’m—I’m your friend, James.”
“You’re—not my friend, Lily,” James said, laughing again. “You’re—I have—” he faltered, struggling with himself until finally he burst out angrily, “Can’t you see that I’ll never move on? You think I will, Sirius told me. I know I won’t. But at least I can pretend for your sake that I have, when you’re not around. I can’t do that when you’re here, Lily.”
“You said we could be friends,” I said shakily. “You said you’d try.”
“Well, I’ve tried. And I can’t.”
I stared at him, and he at me. Finally, I approached him and sat next to him against the wall. Before he could do anything about it, I grabbed his hand and held on even as he flinched at our contact. I brought my other hand to his face and turned it towards me, gazing unblinkingly at him.
“I know you have a lot of things to say to me, and I know you’re angry. I’m glad you got it out. But the truth of the matter is this, James—” I paused, smiling sadly at him. “There’s a reason why you’re taking it out on me.”
A strangled note left James’s throat, and then he shoved me away so roughly that I stumbled and nearly fell over. He looked up at me with his eyes red and mouth harsh. “Leave,” he said. And when I didn’t, “LEAVE!”
He looked truly frightening in that moment. As he threw the bottle at me and missed me by many feet, I felt that maybe I should leave. But I didn’t. I sat at the edge of the porch, keeping my distance, but still watching him solemnly. James was panting, covering his face with shaking hands. He was trembling all over as if his body was rejecting the pain.
He would not cry in front of me, for he no longer trusted me. And I understood. For I, like him, trusted no one either to leave myself that vulnerable to.
It would take time for him to give in. And I would be there for him when he did.
A/N: Happy New Year everybody! May 2008 be better for all.
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