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Chapter 3 : A Night Out
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Disclaimer: The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.
C H A P T E R . T H R E E
A Night Out
It was one o’clock in the morning and the entire house was completely silent. Only one person sat awake at the desk in his bedroom, impatiently tapping a pencil against the wooden surface as he eyed his watch. Sirius had fallen asleep on the sitting room couch before James ever even went to his room, but he wasn't sure if his parents were sleeping yet as well.
When he could wait no longer James heaved a sigh and crossed the room, opened his bedroom door slightly with a small creak and peered into the dark hallway. He often left the house at night - he was of age now, after all - but he certainly didn’t want his elderly parents to know. They were slightly old fashioned, and with the steadily declining state of the wizarding world, they were becoming increasingly paranoid and overprotective. He knew they would worry.
After making sure that all was dark and silent within the house, he slipped out of his room and stealthed down the hallway, taking care not to step on any of the creaky floorboards. Once he cautiously descended the stairs, he pulled his cloak and a broomstick from a closet in the foyer. He could see Sirius passed out on the couch in the sitting room from where he stood and eyed his friend, trying to make no noise at all as he pulled the cloak over his shoulders.
Nevertheless, Sirius startled awake as James softly shut the closet door. He sat up quickly; within a split second, he had his wand pointed towards the foyer where James stood.
“Who’s there,” he demanded forcefully in the dark. It was then that, for the first time, James realized that it wasn’t just his parents who were becoming increasingly paranoid.
James sighed in remorse at this thought as he flipped his collar and shrugged his shoulders a few times to get the cloak to fit comfortably.
“Shh... It’s just me,” he replied softly. “Just James.” He stepped into the doorway where Sirius could see him to prove it.
“Oh,” Sirius sighed, relief evident in his voice. He flopped backwards onto the couch again, rubbed his face tiredly, and peered at the grandfather clock; it took a second for the time to register. After a pause, in which he sat up again faster than lightning, “It’s arse o-clock in the morning!” he told James in dismay. “Just where do you think you’re running off to?”
“Shh,” replied James again, stepping into the room and peering over his shoulder. All he needed was to wake his parents; then the whole family would be interrogating him at this hour. “I’m going to see Lily. Just go back to sleep.”
For a moment, Sirius simply stared at him in the dark; it was stupid to sneak around outside alone, especially at this hour. While he was always one to appreciate the thrill of danger, even he had to give an involuntary shudder at the thought of Dementors and Death Eaters and darkness and being alone out there.
“You’re off your chump...” he finally muttered in annoyance, shifting onto his side. Brooding, he placed his wand on the tea table in front of the couch.
“I know,” James whispered soothingly, agreeing just to pacify his friend. “It’s okay, I’ll be fine. I do it every night. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Sirius heaved a sigh as he settled into the cushions again. He wasn’t happy about it; in fact, he would have kicked James’s arse days ago if he had been aware his friend snuck out at night. Yet, if it was already a habit for James, he knew James couldn’t be persuaded to stop. At least not on this night.
“Jus’ be careful, Prongs, you sodding idiot,” he growled unhappily. He added, his words slurring as sleep began to claim him once more, “Tell Lily hallo for me.”
(The remainder of the night would pester him with nightmares as he worried subconsciously, but he wasn’t aware of this as he drifted to sleep again.)
James regretfully nodded to himself, perhaps understanding and reluctantly accepting new realizations; he picked up his broomstick and turned to leave. Just be careful. He hated it that he couldn’t even sneak out of the house at night to see his girlfriend, to do normal teenage boy things, without endangering his life because of Voldemort. He hated it that Sirius woke at the smallest noise, prepared to be attacked at any second. That he had to hide his outings from his parents because they were too afraid to ever let him go out at night by himself for a simple date.
He took extra care to lock the house up again after he’d let himself outside. As he turned away from the front door and surveyed the dainty neighbourhood in Godric’s Hollow, he couldn’t help but give an involuntary shudder. The Darkness hadn't let up at all in the past week; a misty fog swirled around trees and in between houses. James shook his head slightly in disgust and gripped the broomstick tighter; he thought he heard a whisper over his shoulder, and something icy brushed against his ear, but when he turned there was nothing but darkness. His eyes lingered in the suffocating blackness to be sure; he was definitely glad to have his Apparition license, and with that last thought, he turned on the spot and disappeared with a crack.
When he appeared again, he wasn’t in Godric’s Hollow anymore. He was in the small town of Cradley Heath, in front of a quaint, quiet house. He gripped his broomstick tighter and glanced behind him to be sure no Muggles were around, although he knew somebody would have to be mad to be outside right then. Mad like him. He felt almost as if he were underwater; the darkness was so overwhelming and thick that it flooded the streets. James shook his head, ignored the chilly, haunting whispers, and slung his leg over the broom. He took a moment to scrub his hands through his hair before taking off for one of the second story windows.
Lily Evans rolled over in her bed and peered at the window as he pushed it open. She sat up all at once, an explosion of blankets and flying limbs and a flash of red hair.
“James!” she breathed, scooting neatly off the bed and hurrying to the window to help him step through. “You’re a good bit late tonight! I certainly was starting to worry!”
Once inside, James stood up straight, leaned the broomstick against her wall, and turned to close the window firmly.
“Yeah, I'm sorry,” he whispered when he was done. He turned and placed his hands on her hips, his lips brushing lightly across her forehead and leaving a pleasant trail that sent a shiver up her spine. “Sirius went home with me for dinner and ended up spending the night. Needless to say, everyone stayed up a little later than usual. I couldn’t get away...”
He trailed away as she suddenly, swiftly pressed her lips to his, almost unable to control herself. The temperature contrast between them was breathtaking - her lips were warm and inviting, and his were cool, having just come from outside. James closed his eyes and kissed her slowly, enjoying the moment, and then in a sudden, graceful movement he dragged her towards her bed where they collapsed on it in a heap.
Their lips smashed together again at the impact.
(It wasn't a surprise, considering how teasingly close their faces had been, anyway.)
The kiss didn't last long. Lily rolled off of James, trying hard not to laugh carelessly and wake her parents up in the next room. She allowed a rogue giggle to escape, and as James looked over in amusement at her face, a slow grin steadily stole across his own as he eyed her in wonder until he had to chuckle as well. This, of course, threw her into an uncontrollable fit of giggles.
“I don’t know what you’re laughing at,” he told her after a second, his grin growing wider the longer he watched her. She really was something else, or at least he thought so. He was lying on his back horizontally across her bed. She was curled up on her pillows, but at his teasing, sat up in a more serious position.
Lily cleared her throat and forced the smile from her face. She had to hug a pillow to her chest for something other than his silly expression to concentrate on.
“Okay, okay. I’m done, then,” she forced out in a wobbly voice, determinedly avoiding his gaze.
James, still grinning, lifted an eyebrow and continued to watch her, waiting. Her face was of such concentrated seriousness that he found it both adorable and completely hopeless at the same time - he knew she couldn't keep it up. Indeed, she dared to meet his gaze and the corners of her mouth immediately curled upwards.
“Stop, now you’re just trying to make me laugh,” she announced, slapping his shoulder playfully.
“You know you like it,” insisted James, but he wiped the silly grin off his face and rolled onto his side to face her, propping himself with his elbow. He opened his mouth to say more - he loved teasing her and driving her mad, after all - but she interrupted suddenly, and he had half a mind to think she only changed the subject to spare herself.
“Right. So how did your interview at the Ministry go? Did you pass the tests and everything?” Lily’s eyes shined proudly as she watched her boyfriend’s face; he was going after his dreams, and that was more important than anything else. He was going to be an Auror, and even though that scared her, she was positive he would be great.
The side of James’s mouth pulled upwards in a disappointed smirk. He picked at a fray in the blanket as he answered reluctantly, “Well, we passed the interview portion. The Head Auror was really impressed with our test scores and everything. He was thrilled to have us, really. Said they’d been having problems keeping people... Some left, I guess. Some have probably been killed...”
He trailed away and sighed, and the smile immediately slipped from Lily’s face. Her eyebrows lowered in concern and her green eyes studied him searchingly.
“But?” she prompted, worried.
“But... Just as he was sending us for the written exam, one of their Hit Wizards came into the room. Seems one of their employees used the Killing Curse on somebody. Somebody that was innocent.” James frowned and continued to pick at the blanket, absently twisting a small thread between his thumb and forefinger.
“Oh, James,” said Lily compassionately. She knew James hated the Dark Arts; it was the whole reason he wanted to be an Auror in the first place. She could still remember him telling her with pride in seventh year how he would fight in the war for the rights of Muggleborns like her. It would be a hard blow to learn his heroes used Dark magic themselves. She reached over and placed a comforting hand on the side of his face.
He sighed. “So I told them we weren’t interested in the positions anymore, and we left. And... that’s that, I suppose.” He vaguely waved his hand as if dismissing it all.
All his dreams, all his hard work, amounted to nothing. Despite this, he smiled as he remembered his best friend's words of consolation hours before: At least we won't have to flush ourselves down toilets, Prongs. They had decided not to tell James’s parents about what happened, at least not until they had a definite in with Dumbledore’s Order. James knew his parents would never allow him to join if they suspected he was trying to.
Lily was quiet for a few minutes, playing with a tuft of his hair, until she eventually broke the silence with, “What are you and Sirius going to do now?”
James shook his head, his eyebrows flying towards his hairline as he took a deep breath. “I was going to talk to Dumbledore,” he finally admitted, avoiding her searching look because he didn’t think she’d be fond of this idea once she knew what it was.
“You want to be a teacher!” Lily’s hand flew off his face and to her own mouth in astonishment.
James laughed and rolled onto his back again, stretching. The idea was ludicrous.
“No, no... No way,” he assured her, chuckling as he stared at the ceiling. “No... that’s- what you just said, Lily? That was horrible.”
She laughed, too, at that point.
“Actually, Dumbledore’s been fighting Voldemort. On his own, I mean... apart from the Ministry. It’s why he wasn’t at school as much the last couple years. He came over one night to talk to my dad about it. Some organization he created to attack Voldemort’s supporters with sudden assaults...” he quoted exact words that he could recall hearing during his eavesdropping, and trailed away, looking over for her reaction.
Lily, who wasn’t keen on hidden organizations, secret things, and breaking the law, made a face at this bit of information.
“You never mentioned it before,” she told him doubtfully, in the hopes that it was only a theory as to why Dumbledore was always absent at school.
James shrugged and gave her a sheepish smile.
“I wasn’t supposed to know about it,” he admitted, and he sat up suddenly as determination came over him. She had to understand this; he loved her, but he wouldn’t let her talk him out of it. “I’m going to fight this, Lily, and I’m not going to use the Unforgivables to do it, and I’m not going to support a Ministry that does, either. If it means working undercover with Dumbledore for no pay...” He shrugged again to indicate that money wasn’t a big deal to him.
When he glanced up for her reaction again, her expression was one of surprise. She looked stunned and at the same time worried; however, she kept her mouth shut. She was holding a hand to her chest as if aghast that he would speak to her so forcefully. She did at least seem to understand that this was something that he was passionate about; she forced a small smile when she caught him eyeing her.
“Right. Anyway,” he grunted, feeling suddenly guilty. He crawled to the head of the bed where she sat and flopped onto the pillows so that they were facing each other. He wrapped his arm around her and fingered her red hair behind her back. “What did you do today?”
Recovering quickly, Lily smiled at him again and settled onto the pillows facing him. “Well, we won’t have to do this anymore,” she stated happily, indicating the window and his broomstick.
James frowned at her in mock pain. “If you didn’t want to see me anymore, Lily, you should have just said something earlier,” he joked, and then he heaved a depressed sigh that was so convincing, Lily was almost saddened by it.
She smiled warmly at him until he couldn’t help but smile back. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said softly. “I got an owl from Lucy today. She’s found a flat in London that she can’t quite afford on her own. She wanted to know if I wanted to be her roommate.”
James narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously. “Oh? And just who is Lucy?” he demanded to know, overprotective nature kicking in.
“You remember Lucy, James... Honestly. Did you never pay attention? The Ravenclaw Prefect? She took our photograph, remember?” With that, Lily rolled over and pulled open the drawer on her night stand. She removed a small photo album and flipped through the pages. “Look,” she said, indicating a colourful photograph.
The five of them - his three Marauders, Lily, and himself - sat crowded around the Gryffindor table, all smiling widely. Except for Sirius, who looked as laid back as ever. James grinned fondly at the picture, remembering the warm, pleasant evening with his friends. He tried not to think about what happened after the photograph was taken.
“I remember. You were right that night, you know. We do look like barmcakes,” he said nostalgically. On second thought, “Well. Pads doesn't. He says hi, by the way.”
“Mmm,” said Lily, watching as James began to flip through the rest of the pictures.
Most of them made him smile. Lily would occasionally point to one and burst out ‘oooh, remember that?’ and then they’d share some story about it. There was one photo of Lily with the other Gryffindor girls (most of whom were in the year above her, as there was only one other female in her own year); she immediately began to explain the picture's fun circumstances but James quieted her, admitting that he’d been there, too, spying under his invisibility cloak. She blushed and so did he, and to change the subject, James smirked at her as he held up a photo of Severus Snape in disgust.
Lily blushed even deeper. “Come off it, James... I was friends with him for years. Far before I knew I was a witch.” She plucked the picture from his fingers and carefully returned it to its place in the book. Then she smiled wistfully. “Tuney hated him, too, you know.”
“Bloody hell, I feel absolutely faint at that bit of shocking news, Lily. Who'd have pegged Petunia for a wizard hater?” He shook his head in mock surprise. “And as for Snape, hell. I thought everyone loved him... Miserable bat...”
“Sod off, James, really.”
He sighed, rolled onto his back and placed his hands behind his head, staring up at her ceiling. She lovingly returned her photo album to its drawer and then rested her head on his chest. He glanced down at her now, while she was staring thoughtfully across the room; the moonlight streaming through the window illuminated her skin and she appeared to shine.
Sirius and Peter had never found Lily to be anything more than average looking, and though Remus would never be rude enough to say it, James knew he agreed. She's pretty enough, Prongs, Sirius used to say, shrugging carelessly in the common room. But nothing fascinating.
(He had then gone on to suggest a handful of other girls that he knew would have given anything to be with James.
James would allow him to carry on a bit, because he loved hearing how long that list really was.)
This was the one and only thing that he and Sirius disagreed on. He wasn't sure how his best friend could be so blind; he'd never laid eyes on a woman that was prettier than Lily Evans. He yearned to touch the soft, milky skin of her face now, but he was afraid to ruin the moment, afraid to frighten her. He settled instead for pulling an arm down to wrap protectively around her shoulders and draw her nearer to him. She sighed contentedly as he did this and, after a blissful moment, she spoke.
“Do you think it’s going to end anytime soon?” she asked him, her voice sounding far away. She felt safe here, in her childhood bedroom with James, at least; it was almost hard to believe in the horrors that were happening in Britain even as they lay.
He didn’t have to ask what she was talking about. Unfortunately, he felt the war was only getting started. Voldemort had really only stepped out in the last two years.
“Yes,” he said firmly, lying through his teeth and hoping she couldn't tell. He trailed his fingers softly, reassuringly, along her arm as he stared up at the ceiling. She smiled now, he could feel her cheek pressing against his chest as she did so.
Sometimes life's okay.
It didn’t take long for them to drift to sleep in each other’s arms, nestled beneath the innocent pink blankets of Lily’s childhood.
When James opened the door to the Potter home early in the morning, it was to find Sirius already up. His friend sat on a stool at the kitchen counter, pouring over The Daily Prophet, a glass of orange juice in his hand and a plate of toast on the side. Sirius spared James a glance, lifting his eyebrows inquiringly. Darkness streaked beneath his eyes and his face was gaunt; still, he grinned sarcastically at James’s appearance.
“Good night?” he pressed knowingly.
“The best,” James lied, helping himself to orange juice and sitting on the stool beside Sirius’s. It wasn’t a bad night, but the conversations he’d had with Lily weren’t exactly uplifting. He took a large swallow from his glass and nodded towards the paper in Sirius’s hand. “Any news?”
“‘course there’s news,” replied Sirius flatly. He folded the paper in annoyance, though his attitude wasn’t directed at James, and shoved it away. “There’s always news.” He hated reading the paper at all these days, but he had to know, had to check that it wasn’t somebody he cared about that had been found dead overnight. He concentrated on his toast, taking a vicious bite.
James studied Sirius’s profile for a moment and then nodded slowly, understanding Sirius's harsh tone of voice. “Anyone we know?”
Sirius shook his head and James breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m going to write to Moony and Wormtail,” he told Sirius.
Sirius looked up in surprise, momentarily forgetting to chew the piece of toast in his mouth. “About the Order? he asked, automatically knowing what his friend was getting at - he always knew, he and James always understood each other. “What makes you think they even want in?”
“Remus will,” insisted James firmly. “I don’t think he’s been able to find a decent job yet. Hell, maybe he can shack up with you, Padfoot, if it’s the lack of pay that bothers him.” James shrugged, and Sirius echoed with a jerk of his own shoulders.
“I know you don’t like staying in that flat by yourself,” pressed James. “You never had to move out, you know.”
Sirius scowled at him in response. “I know,” he said simply. He'd hated leaving - he loved James's family - but he'd craved freedom, and once Uncle Alphard left him all that gold, he didn't feel right about living off the Potters anymore. “And Wormtail?”
James shrugged. “I’m sure he’d do anything we do to be included.” Peter was the one person James wasn’t worried about trying to convince; he'd never pass up an opportunity to be involved, and James knew for a fact that Peter had been worried about staying in touch. “I want to fight this, Pads, and I want us to do it together. Keep your friends close...”
“And your enemies closer,” Sirius finished gravely.
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