Chapter 8 : Independence
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image by EnyaL.
A big thank you to her for all the hard work she's put into the graphics!
It had been four days since the incident with the wolf. James had barely had any contact with Rachel since then. She’d been avoiding him better than he would have thought possible in such a tiny town. Sirius tried to be the voice of reason, saying that he had been ridiculous for changing in front of her, but, as that was normally Remus’s job, he failed horribly.
And James couldn’t ignore the nagging feeling in his heart- the feeling that was telling him that there was a reason that he was so upset that Rachel wouldn’t talk to him, a reason that didn’t involve her being a Muggle who’d seen him perform magic.
He loved her.
He loved this quirky, non-magical girl that he had known for only two weeks. This girl who had seen him humiliated and yet still chose to be in his presence. This girl who didn’t need for him to be cool, or popular, or even suave.
This girl who wasn’t Lily.
“I’ve got to talk to her before we leave,” he muttered from where he was lying on his bed.
“Good luck with that,” said Sirius, who was stuffing things into his suitcase. “You heard your mum and dad. We’re going first thing in the morning.” He made a face. “I’ll probably splinch myself from trying to Apparate so early in the effin’ morning.”
James didn’t say anything, and Sirius gave up with the jokes. “Look, mate,” he said somberly. “She obviously doesn’t want to see you. She’s probably trying to pretend that the whole thing was some sort of dream or something.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said James, getting up from his bed and heading to the door.
“Where’re you going now?”
As he headed down the staircases, James could hear Sirius muttering incoherently under his breath. It didn’t matter if his friend thought he was crazy. He needed to see her.
When he headed out the back door onto the beach, he immediately looked towards Lake Independence. It was beautiful in the evening light. It was not quite dusk since the sun was still in the sky, but the glimmer that it gave the water was breathtaking. He headed down to the shore and stood at the end of the sand, letting the water lap at his toes.
Finally, he looked up to see a lone figure sitting at the end of the dock. Her hair was blowing gently in the breeze, and she was sitting cross-legged, hugging her knees to her chest. She’s wearing my Wasps sweatshirt, he thought, with a small bit of hope.
Carefully, so as not to startle her, he made his way through the bush and onto the dock. The boards creaked under his feet ever-so-slightly as he made his way to the end. She gave no acknowledgment of his presence, but he knew she was aware of him.
He slowly sat down beside her, and she moved over just an inch so that he would not fall off. They sat together in silence, staring out over the lake. The only sound was the gentle breeze and the quiet noise of the current. He chanced a sideways glance at her, but she was staring determinedly out at the blue.
With a sigh, he redirected his gaze. He wasn’t good at being patient. He wasn’t good at any of this.
Thankfully, after a few more moments, she spoke. “What are you?”
Surprised by the forwardness of her question, he turned to her with his eyebrows raised. She was looking back at him now, the blue of her eyes almost as bright as the sky above them. “It’s going to sound stupid,” he said sheepishly.
“Whatever,” she said. “I need to know.”
“I’m a wizard.”
She nodded slowly, seeming fairly satisfied by this answer. “And Sirius and your mom and dad, too?”
“Yeah,” said James. “Well, technically, mum’s a witch since she’s a girl and all.”
A small smile tugged at the corners of Rachel’s lips, but her expression was still thoughtful. “And can they all do the animal thing?”
“No, that’s pretty uncommon,” said James, aware of the smugness that was creeping into his tone. “It takes years of studying and practice. Sirius can do it, too, though. He’s the big black dog.”
“Oh,” was all that Rachel had to say to that.
They fell into silence as she tried to absorb everything he had just told her. “Are you still freaking out?” he asked softly.
She turned back to him and shook her head. “It’s all a little crazy, I guess.” She let her legs drop so that her toes could dangle in the water. “You never really expect these kinds of things to really happen.”
“Muggles aren’t ever supposed to find out about it,” he said.
“What did you call me?” asked Rachel, looking offended.
“Muggle,” said James quickly. “Non-magic. It’s not an insult. It’s just a term.”
“I don’t like it,” she said, her brow furrowing. She shook her head again and looked at him right in the eyes. “I’m Rachel and you’re James.” She nudged him gently. “Forget the Muggle crap.”
“Fine by me,” chuckled James. “But listen, it’s my last night- our last night together. If you’re not still mad, will you meet me here tonight at midnight?”
“You’re not going to massively take advantage of me, are you?” asked Rachel, her eyes wide.
James laughed outright and started to stand up. “You wish.”
“Maybe,” said Rachel lightly.
James looked at her appraisingly, unsure of her tone of voice. “What?” she asked innocently. “I’ll meet you here tonight.”
“Where’re you off to?” grunted Sirius.
James continued on his way out the door. “I’ll be back soon, Padfoot,” he whispered. “If my mum wakes up, make an excuse.”
Sirius made a noise that was somewhere between a snore and an agreement, and James breathed easier. He was glad that he didn’t have to answer any questions about what he was taking outside with him. His parents hadn’t even known that he had packed it into his suitcase, and it was a good thing, too, otherwise they probably would’ve taken it away for the whole vacation.
He hurried across the dark beach to the edge of the dock, nearly bowling Rachel over when he got there. “Sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t even see you.”
“We’ll be alright once the clouds clear,” she replied. “It’s a full moon out tonight.”
Sure enough, when James glanced up at the sky, he saw the moon appearing from behind a cloud. He got a slight chill as he realized that his dear friend Remus was now undergoing a painful transformation. Rachel’s voice snapped him quickly out of his gloomy thoughts, “Is that a broomstick?”
“Er, yeah,” said James, sweeping back his hair with his free hand and trying to sound casual about it. “Remember on the boat when you said that you wished you could fly?”
When she didn’t respond right away, he lifted the broom slightly. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said, with more wonder than skepticism. “Magic broomsticks?” He grinned at her and nodded. “But I’m…not magic.”
“That doesn’t matter,” said James. “Well, I mean, it’ll suck worse if you fall.” He grinned, and she smacked him lightly in the chest. He caught her hand and held it there, pulling her closer to him. “I’m not going to let you fall.”
The sparks flew between them, and for a moment, James considered kissing her right there and then, but he knew they would never get on the broom if he did it now. Instead, he let go of her and held the broom out in front of him, straddling it. “Get on behind me,” he said, jerking his head towards the back of the broom.
“I don’t know about this,” said Rachel in a terrified whisper.
“You wanted to fly,” he said softly. “Don’t you trust me?”
She studied his face, desperately trying to come to a decision. “Yes,” she said finally, before clambering on the broom behind him.
She clasped her hands around his middle and tentatively hugged herself to him. “You ready?” he called over his shoulder.
She nodded into his back, and James kicked off from the ground. Rachel gave a small shriek that was muffled by his shirt as she felt herself leave the ground, and she yanked herself closer to him. He peered over his shoulder once they were high above the ground to see that her eyes were squeezed shut. “C’mon, Rach,” he said cheerily. “Open your eyes.”
Once she did, every trace of fear left her. “Oh, my God,” she gasped, her eyes twinkling bright in the moonlight. “Oh, my God, I’m flying.”
“Hold on!” said James, grinning as he shot forward towards the moon.
The pair soared through the sky for a good twenty minutes before they both began to feel a little too tired. The broomstick headed back to the ground and landed gently, both of them rolling onto the sand.
Lying on her back, Rachel let out a small giggle and pressed her hands to her face. “What’re you doing?” asked James, crawling over to her.
“I’m trying to press tonight into my memory forever,” said Rachel, smiling.
When she opened her eyes again, James was beside her, and she reached for his hand, squeezing it lightly. “Thank you.”
He felt her relax her hand to remove it from his, but he didn’t let go. He saw the confusion pass over her face, and he knew that it was now time. “Look, Rachel,” he said anxiously. “There’s a couple of things I have to talk to you about.”
He had no idea how to go about this. He wasn’t used to sharing his true feelings with girls. He wasn’t used to spending time with girls at all unless it was to end up in bed with them. So how was he supposed to make sure that this girl got the message?
“Sirius told me,” she said, starting the conversation for him. “About Lily.”
James started at the sound of her name and dropped his gaze. “Yeah,” he muttered. “Well, I do really love her.”
Rachel’s hand wriggled out of his grasp, and he looked up to see that she was smiling sadly. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. “It’s alright,” she said, but her voice betrayed her with its melancholy tone. “I’m so thankful that we had this time together, even if it was just as-“
“Can we try something again here?” interrupted James.
James broke off her question by kissing her full on the lips, sliding one hand underneath her neck and placing the other gently against her cheek. It took a moment for her to respond, but when she did, they both felt an overwhelming sense of joy and passion. They couldn’t seem to stop, not even to finish the conversation. Their time was limited, even in the darkness of the night, and they didn’t want to end the feeling of their lips joined together.
Finally, they broke apart, panting slightly. James looked down at Rachel, but her eyes were still closed. A smile was playing on her reddened lips, but there was a furrow in her brow. He reached for her hand, and when his enclosed hers, her eyes opened slowly. “I don’t understand,” she murmured, sitting up and turning to him.
“I don’t either,” said James, with a smile. “But I love you.”
Rachel smiled slightly and brushed back his messy hair. “It’ll never work.”
“I know,” said James, bringing her hand to his lips and kissing it gently. “And it’s not fair. You’ve given me so much, and all I can give you is a stupid broomride.”
“It was amazing,” she sighed. “What could I have possibly given you that could even compare to that?”
“How about my independence?” said James. “Yeah, I love Lily, too, but at least now I know that she’s not my last hope.” He smiled sheepishly. “I guess it’s stupid and unfair, but I know now that there are other people just as wonderful.” He grinned at her and winked. “And looking at you in the moonlight, I have to think that there might be some who are even more so.”
Rachel smiled and kissed him lightly before snuggling herself into his arms. “This is the end, isn’t it?” she said after a moment. “Right when it’s beginning?”
“I think so,” said James wistfully, kissing her hair.
She leaned her head against his shoulder and said, “Then I guess it’s safe to say- I love you, too.”
“Thank you,” he said, pulling her tighter to him.
And even when the sun began to rise, and they were bathed in its warm, pink glow, and even as they said goodbye, before James and Sirius and his family piled into the rental car, he knew that a part of him would always love Rachel. He had given some piece of his heart independence from Lily Evans and shared it with a soul who was as beautiful as the sun rising over the lake.
He watched her waving to him as they drove down the driveway- watched as tears began to trickle down her cheeks. Then, he watched as she took off down the dock, ran to the end, and jumped off into the shining waters below.
The lake slipped out of sight before she could resurface.
Goodbye, Rachel, he thought sadly. Goodbye, sweet summer.