Chapter 3 : Picture of You
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Work is tedious, as always. The morning before my lunch with Alice seems to be going extra slow. I could swear that I’d done at least half an hour’s work of fact checking before I look up and realise just five minutes have passed. My boss, Neil, has been uncharacteristically pleasant and gave us all the afternoon off as this month’s issue is pretty much done.
At twelve on the dot, I stop writing mid-sentence and pack away my things. It's a short walk to the café in Diagon Alley, but I need to stop off at Gringotts and collect some Galleons from my vault first. The queue is long, as it always is at lunchtime, and I shift from foot to foot willing it to move faster. The goblin at the front is taking his time. I see a familiar profile to my left apparently giving a tour—Tim Mullich, the guy that rejected yours truly for the curse breaker position. I feel my hand involuntarily clench around my wand.
I caught a snippet of his conversation. "...and these are the front desks, the goblins here process requests by the public—It sounds like he’s showing around a new employee. I crane my neck to see who they picked over me, who was “most qualified for the requirements of the opening", expecting to see some old warlock with years of banking experience. Instead, there was an attractive blonde woman. My stomach gave an almighty lurch. I knew her, I had seen her the night of the meeting hand in hand with him. This was unbearable. I had been beaten by some airhead blonde waif, who probably didn't know a curse from a banana.
Forgetting the Galleons, I left for the café I was meeting Alice at, feeling a knot in my stomach the entire walk through the busy high-street. I am surprised, shocked, annoyed to see Alice ensconced in a corner table with a most unwelcome lunch mate. After three years of nothing, why all at once? Sirius is leaning back in his seat, at ease, his long legs stretched under the table. He smiles when he sees me, but I can't say I reciprocate the gesture.
"What is he doing here?" I ask rather rudely as Alice turns her wide innocent eyes to mine.
"Why, having lunch with my two favourite ladies of course,” quips Sirius. Alice giggles. I roll my eyes upwards.
"It's been three years Sirius."
"Exactly, so why waste more time? Now sit down, Evans, before I make you". Normally, I would disobey an order like that on principle, but I am taken aback by his serious tone. I sit down but don’t look at him; instead I focus on Alice's wary expression as she gets up to leave, traitor. I twist a napkin subconsciously in my hands. He’s changed since I knew him. I’m surprised he’s making an effort with me after so many years. It’s touching. An uncomfortable silence falls. I pour us both tea.
"Since when do you call me Evans,” I ask suddenly, partly to break the tension, partly because it bothers me.
"Since when do you avoid me,” he answers with a question. Sirius is nothing if not quick.
I glance at him. "I'm sorry," I say, meaning it. He doesn't look angry, if anything his expression is... understanding.
"I don't blame you, I understand it's difficult, after everything that's happened..." He trails off as I look away sharply.
"Can we not talk about it?"
"If you prefer,” he concedes, although it looks as though he wants to discuss the past. This is something I am completely uninterested in.
"So what's new with you?" I ask curiously to change the subject.
"I have a new flat."
"Oh yeah?" I take a gulp of tea.
"I'd invite you over but it's a shithole," he deadpans. I have to laugh.
"You haven't seen mine though."
"Trust me, it can't be worse than mine."
"Oh, I think it can."
"Lily—my door handle is a coat hanger," he says as though it settles the argument.
Sirius looks uncomfortable, which is unusual for him, and it tells me the answer to my question is not one I want to hear.
"It's... well…James is living there," he answers eventually. His careful choice of words doesn't escape me. "But the house belongs to Isobel," he admits. So blondie has a name. He eyes me carefully as though I'm suddenly going to burst into tears. It's irritating.
"Oh," I say. I don't trust myself to say anything else, and Sirius is quiet.
"No, no." Sirius is quick to reassure me
"Does he...love her?"
Sirius' pained expression tells me everything I need to know.
I take a deep breath through my nose and smile. It feels unnatural on my face. As much as it hurts to admit, I always knew it was bound to happen eventually. I say as much to Sirius and he clasps my hand over the table.
"Lily..." He's at a loss for words, his expression sympathetic, and I've never felt more pathetic. I want to cry and break something. I want to be alone.
"I have to get back to work," I lie. I'm pleased to note my voice is steady and nonchalant, but Sirius knows me too well to buy my charade. I can see it on his expression.
I get up, pull on my coat and get out my purse, but Sirius doesn't let me pay despite my protests. Eventually I give up since he's always been so stubborn.
"See you later," I mutter, clasping his shoulder with a smile before leaving the shop. The moment I'm outside I apparate to my flat.
My flat is as small and shabby and depressing as ever.
I flump on my bed, still in my work clothes and stare at the ceiling. I spent a great deal of effort holding in my tears, telling myself to wait until I was in private, but now that I'm alone the tears don't seem to want to come. I feel empty. Spent. It's ridiculous that I should still care after so many years, but the idea of him with her, with anyone but me, is like a knife to the gut. If I were a bigger person I would be happy for him, happy that he had found someone. A small part of me is, the other part is devastated.
I had truly loved this man, adored him.
He had thrown it right back in my face.
What were his exact words again?
"Lily, I had a crush on you when I was fifteen. I'm sorry, but I just don't feel that way anymore."
Those words have been replaying in my head for the last three years. It took a while for the backhanded insult to register; he may as well have said, “I liked you from a distance, but now that I've gotten to know you, you're really nothing special”. The irony is that it was the opposite for me; I didn't particularly like him at first, but then I got to know him and fell, hard.
Our friendship had ended that day, I was too embarrassed to face him, and he was too uncomfortable to approach me.
His friends (and I'd like to think of them as my friends too), put the pieces together and cottoned on to what had happened. Of course, avoiding James unfortunately meant avoiding them too. This was a shame because I had gotten quite close to all of them by the end of seventh year. We did our NEWT's and went our separate ways.
Remus in particular, had tried to keep in touch, sending a letter almost every two weeks, but eventually, he too had given up. I had a lot of pride, and after the beating my ego had taken, it was too shameful to face anybody who knew about it.
BANG BANG BANG
I wake up later that day unable to remember ever falling asleep. I feel disorientated, the way I always do when I nap during the day—it throws my entire routine off balance. I wonder what had woken me up when I hear it again.
BANG BANG BANG BANG
Cursing, I stumble to the door and open it, promptly getting punched in the face. Ow.
"Oh shit! Are you okay?"
I want to snap, “Do I bloody well look okay?” but Alice looks so remorseful and horrified that I can't bring myself to say the words.
"S'okay, I'm alright," I say instead, massaging my nose.
I gesture for her to come in and she does so looking very wary, as though I might erupt into a dragon any second. Honestly, aren't Aurors supposed to have more grit? How does she know where I live anyway?
We stare at each other for a couple of seconds, me expectantly. I haven't forgotten about her little disappearing act at the café today either.
"Oh right! I'm here to tell you about an emergency meeting tonight."
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