Chapter Nineteen: Tomorrow
He thought he ought to feel something greater than the reality. A sense of betrayal, of treachery, but instead he just got a flurry of nerves, simple and uninspiring. His grandmother was doing it out of kindness. She was making the final stitch in the fixing of his very being and for that, he knew he ought to be grateful.
Lily’s voice was high, carrying above the muted conversation that the Potters brought with them. Molly placed a gentle hand on James’s arm before sweeping to welcome them in, reminding Al to take his shoes off and telling Harry he needed to fatten up. James glanced to the kitchen door. He had once perfected the art of hiding, of concealment but he had no desire to do so now; even if he did, burying himself behind the sofa was unlikely to fool one of the world’s leading Aurors.
He winced at the tone the voice in his head took. It was cruel, mocking; it was him, the him he’d buried deep inside, still biting, still snapping, still lurking, waiting for the right moment to unleash itself. He sipped at his tea. He wouldn’t let that be today.
“Oh.” Lily’s voice was of what appeared to be true surprise and James turned to face her. She stood strong, tall and lean, in front of him. “Look what the cat dragged in.”
He knew his sister well enough to see beyond the mask but it still stung. What had hurt her had hurt him ten times more in the long run. His brother and parents had come to a halt behind Lily and they stared as though they were seeing someone long dead, like their grandfather’s ghost had come back to haunt his kitchen.
“Come now,” Molly said, squeezing past Albus and sending mugs of tea towards the family with four flicks of her wand. They all hovered in mid-air until Ginny made the first hesitant move and took hers. James noticed her hands clenching so tightly around it that it was making the mug shake. The other three followed suit. “I think it’s high time we put this to bed.”
She gestured towards the living room and one by one, led by James, the Potters followed. Molly patted the armchair that had once belonged to her husband and he sat down softly, the honour of the place in the room sinking in. Albus sat at his parents’ feet, Lily squeezed between them. The only noise was the gentle sipping of the tea. Molly took a quick survey of the room and with a last smile to her grandson, left the room.
Before Lily could get in another poorly formed insult, James cleared his throat. Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny looked. “Why did you burn my stuff?”
“Don’t you think you deserve it?” Lily replied quickly but their mother hushed her with one scathing glare. The teenager crossed her arms across her chest and chewed on her lip.
“What do you mean?” Harry asked, sipping his tea softly but not taking his eyes off his son. James exhaled.
“I saw it, the burn mark, my trunk,” he said, the memories blurred by vodka shots and pints of unnamed ale. “You hate me that much?” He tried not to look to Lily but held his father’s gaze. Harry looked away first and whispered something that James didn’t hear but was addressed to Lily and Albus. His siblings stood up, neither making eye contact with anything else, and left.
“What makes you think that your things were in it?” James opened his mouth but the words that were on his tongue didn’t answer the question. He thought it over for a moment and then gave a small shrug. “The trunk wasn’t yours. We didn’t know where it was from and there was some strong magic on it. We thought it best to destroy it.”
“All your things,” his mother’s voice was tight and severe, but at least she was talking, “are in your room.”
James stared blankly at her before giving a small, “Oh,” of comprehension. He’d been so concerned about finding the case that he’d not thought that they might have expected him to return.
“Where’ve you been?”
He looked up and although her face was dry, there was something of a sob in his mother’s voice that made him want to be deafened so that he wouldn’t have to face it again. He hadn’t so much as tried to contact them. He’d tried what he thought was the easy way out with no thought to his parents’ love: that unconditional love that he had never really understood but that had made him come home, eventually.
“I was with Rose,” he said but now his words felt hollow. “She’s been helping me.” Their eyes still weren’t crossing paths but James found it easier to talk at the demonstration of some form of weakness by his mother. “I’ve changed, Mum. I’ve got my job back, a flat, a girl.”
Yes, he still drank and sometimes it was just for the sake of it. Yes, he still smoked but not quite so much as before. Yes, a good pair of legs would capture his attention but only for a second until he thought that what he had was Ella was much better than one night with Jade or Jo or Jess. His argument seemed weak, despite having given it a dozen times already, but this time there seemed to be less need for convincing.
“We never hated you,” Harry said, though all three knew that that was true already. “We were angry and hurt and embarrassed.” The third word stung. “When you came back, it was a shock and at the wedding, it was –” His father paused as he tried to find the right word, “painful to see you like that.”
“We went to the pub the next day,” Ginny continued, “but you weren’t there. We were going to call a search and then we got your letter saying you were going away again –” Rose; she’d saved him the trouble of facing them before he was ready to prove himself. He owed her more than he could recognise. He nodded as though it had been him all along, and his mother continued. “God, I was angry at you but never for one second –” she trailed off and James saw that now she’d given up pretending that she wasn’t going to cry, “never
did we stop loving you.”
He felt like a child, lost in an adult world that he didn’t understand yet, as he stood up and fell at his mother’s knees. He had stopped her from hugging him like that when he was fifteen. Their greetings had fallen to a simple kiss and a quick squeeze before the train pulled out of the station. One hand rubbed his back softly, the other held the back of his head, drifting through his hair. She was whispering at him but it seemed to be nothing but the strange comfort of nonsensicality.
When he drew back, he stood and let his father give him a quick but firmer hug. “I think I need to speak to them,” James said and both his parents nodded. With a smile and an awkward wave, he wandered into the kitchen. Lily was sat at the dining table, making two bananas waltz around the centre, her eyes focussed on her spell but her mind somewhere else.
“Hi,” he said softly, sitting down carefully in the seat next to her and watched the fruit fall with a resounding thud on the top. She looked away. “Were you listening?” She shook her head gently. “I’m sorry, okay? I needed quick money. I always meant to pay you back.”
“It’s not about the money,” she said and she turned slowly towards him, tucking her feet under her and wringing her hands together on her lap. “You just left. You didn’t even write.”
“I meant to.”
“You seem to have meant to do a lot,” she said dryly. He gave a small shrug of apology. “I just missed you, that’s all.” He seemed mildly taken aback before she continued. “Well, it started about the money. I was gutted, of course I was. I can’t even remember how long I’d been saving it.” He couldn’t either; it felt like forever. “But then Dad paid it back and I carried on working and it didn’t bother me. It’s just a good way to channel how angry I was about you abandoning us.”
He nodded slowly. He’d thought it was odd, the way she had reacted about something like money. She called it crude, once. It bought things; it bought the happiness that her beloved nature had once proudly shown off. He’d laughed. Money was how the world carried on turning. She’d hit him.
“I’m going to pay you back,” he said and even though she went to protest, he shook his head. “I am. I’ve got a Lily pile in my vault already. I’ll pay it back.” He paused. “Plus interest.”
It took a moment for it to sink in but then she recalled their last conversation and with a small chuckle, she shook her head. “Okay, whatever.” She pulled on one of her bracelets; simple strands of cotton woven together, a gift from one of her Muggleborn friends. “Are you going away again?”
“Me?” he asked and shook his head. “Not unless you count Manchester.” He looked at her hesitantly. “Did you get the invitation?”
“Mm,” she said, still yanking on her bracelet. “I couldn’t get up the courage to go.”
“But you wanted to?”
His voice perhaps sounded too hopeful because she looked at him a little sadly and shrugged. “You know me. Give me a shiny new flat and I’m there.” He smiled because it was true. He did know her and he shook his head despairingly.
“Lils?” he asked and she couldn’t even muster a scowl of annoyance to shoot at him because she’d launched herself forward and thrown her arms around her neck. He gave a short laugh and when she drew back, she pushed her glasses up and returned to fiddling with her jewellery. “I’ve missed you too.” He leant forward and yanked on her ponytail before standing up. She looked at him quizzically. “Three down, one to go.”
He didn’t need to ask where Albus was. He could see the back of his grandmother’s head on the patio and beyond that, down by the pond, he knew he’d find his brother. He passed Molly without a word and when he got to his brother’s side, flopped down next to him. He’d had another small growth spurt in James’s absence and now they were almost level in height, nothing but the flick of James’s hair in it.
They said nothing for a long time, Al yanking at the grass at their feet and James staring up at the slowly setting sun. There seemed to be no words this time. He had thought Albus would be the easiest to convince but now he wasn’t so sure.
“I’m sorry,” James said when the silence became too much to bear. He wanted to say more: ‘I shouldn’t have gone’ or ‘I should have come back sooner’ or ‘I shouldn’t have come back at all’ but all of them would have felt fake. Al didn’t look up for a long time and James wondered whether he ought to say anything to fill the gap.
“Me too,” the younger Potter said eventually and James looked across. “Six of one, half a dozen of the other, really, wasn’t it?”
“You were sticking up for her.”
“And you were at breaking point.”
James didn’t ask how his brother had known. He nodded slowly, taking in Al’s words and everything else that had passed in the last few weeks. It felt like the time had flown since he’d returned’ the two and a half months had brought so much with them. “We okay then?” James asked after the silence once again reached breaking point. Al looked up, squinting through his glasses and nodding.
They shared an identical Weasley smile, toothy and broad, and James gave his brother a hefty clap on the shoulder as he pulled himself to his feet. He didn’t excuse himself but made his way up to where his grandmother was pretending not to watch from the top of the garden. Only when he slid into the seat beside her did she look up and with a small smile, she patted his hand.
“I believe the term is mission accomplished,” she said and he nodded slowly. He owed her more than he knew he would ever thank her for. He leant over and gave her a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek. “You look after that Ella,” she said as he stood up and made to leave. “And make sure you come round for tea tomorrow. Bring her if you like.”
He nodded and with a last wave to Albus, who was starting to make his way back up the garden, James made his way out of the protective spells around the building and Disapparated.
He gave Ella’s flat door a quick knock when he stepped through the front door of the building but knew she’d be at work. Deadline day. Regardless, it wasn’t her he was there to see and he took the stairs up to Rose’s flat, letting himself in with the key he’d never given back. He called out but there was no answer and with a quick scour of the room, he sighed. The place was even more of a tip than usual and he couldn’t help but laugh as he passed the flashing pieces of parchment pinned to every surface reminding her about some meeting or report or important person’s address. Grabbing the pot of Floo powder, he threw some into the grate and as he stepped in, that was when he saw it.
On top of the mess on the coffee table was a box. He’d seen it before, lying on the floor by the dining table, but he’d not thought much of it. Curiosity swept through him and he stepped back out of the fireplace. He slid the lid off and stared inside at the shattered remains of something that looked like it was once beautiful. In the middle, a tag:
Dear Dom and Matt,
All the best for married life.
He groaned. Rose had at some point mentioned Louis’ endeavour to fix every present that he had smashed to smithereens and this was evidently one that had stumped him. It was familiar; James knew he’d seen it before. The glass was so fine that it could have been made of film. He remembered having it in his hand, weighing no more than a feather and feeling it drop to the ground with a shatter that had shook him more than the fall of his body against the table.
He knew what it was.
Pulling his wand out and hoping his Charm work was up to scratch, he concentrated everything on the splinters and closed his eyes. The spell he knew was simple enough when one knew what exactly it was that needed repairing. He opened his eyes.
A glass ball on a thicker glass plinth that fit just perfectly in the palm of his hand; inside, a single silver heart fluttered like a leaf in a breeze that was impossible in the vacuum of the globe. He had stared enraptured then and more so now.
“You fixed it.” Rose emerged from the bathroom, her dressing gown wrapped around her body, and he started. “I’ve been trying for weeks,” she said, bending down next to him and watching the heart with the same fascination he had. “It splits,” she said. “Every anniversary, the heart will split into another until it’s filled with them.”
“Here,” he said, handing it to her but she shook her head, pressing it towards him.
“I’ve already given them something else,” she said. “You fixed it, you give it to her.”
“I can’t,” he said but she shook her head. He felt another wave of nerves shudder through him. If there was anyone he was scared of facing now, it was Dominique.
“You can and you will,” Rose said, standing up. “Either way, you’ll get out of my flat.” He raised his eyebrows. “Some of us,” she said, pulling her hair out of its towel and starting to dry it off, “don’t need a cousin’s accompaniment on a first date.” He threw a screwed up ball of paper on the desk at her and stood up.
“Are you sure?” he asked, gesturing to the ball in his hand. She nodded. “Thank you.”
“I said, no problem.” He wrapped the ball back up in the paper and placed it in the box. Floo travel didn’t lend itself too well to things that were fragile. “It’s Aunt Fleur’s birthday. She’ll be at Shell Cottage.”
He thanked her with a small nod and grabbed the Floo powder. He stepped in and with a smile, felt himself spinning past fireplace after fireplace until he landed upright in the living room of his cousins’ childhood home. Shouts and screams came in from the garden and as he made his way through the kitchen, he spied Dominique racing Rémy to the end of the garden. Taking a deep breath and summoning every ounce of courage in him, he stepped outside.
The place didn’t fall silent. Teddy was talking with Bill and Fleur was cooing over the baby. Victoire and Dominique’s husband – James couldn’t quite recall his name – were talking and only Louis seemed to pay him any sort of attention. “What’s that?” he asked, nodding towards the package in his hand. The older man looked down at his hands and smiled. Louis was the only one of his cousins that he found hard to tolerate but he wasn’t going to let him dampen the day.
“Wedding present,” James said, opening the box and holding it up. “Picked by Rose, fixed by me.” He took the globe out and held it up and only then did everybody else turn. Dominique lifted Rémy into her arms and made her way slowly up the garden, eyeing James with what seemed to be a certain level of caution that he didn’t blame her for. “An apology.”
He held it out to his cousin. Words had never been much fun for Dominique and he wasn’t going to weigh this moment down with them now. She stared at it for a moment before putting Rémy down and taking the ball off him.
“For each year that you spend together, another heart will appear,” he said, feeling wiser than he probably deserved to. “I really am sorry.”
She shook her head, her eyes transfixed on the fluttering of the heart. She held it out and Louis took it from her so that she could tilt herself up on her toes and hug James tightly. “I know,” she said as she let him go. “Doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven you yet.”
“Didn’t expect you to,” he said in reply and she laughed in understanding. “I’ve got to go but have a good night.”
She nodded and with a quick happy birthday to his aunt, James ventured back inside the house. The soft swish of the ocean had always almost been a part of the very walls of the cottage and now, there was something calling out to him. Away from the hustle and bustle of his city life, the serenity that was the peaceful moan of the sea was refreshing and he found himself walking not to the living room of the tiny cottage but down towards the beach.
The air was crisp and the waves sighed onto the sand. He remembered running and running and running until the water wouldn’t let him run anymore when he was younger but now he was content to sit at the point where dry sand met wet and take it all in.
As a child, he’d never appreciated beauty. As a teenager, he had thought it only applied to women. Now, everything around him came to life in the same way his sister had always told him of. He could feel it. He could feel the sand moving through his hands, the wind on his cheeks, the whisper of a wave against the toe of his shoe.
“Knut for them?” He didn’t look around but moved an arm to slip around Ella as she sank onto the sand beside him, still in her work robes. “Rose said you’d be here.”
“Here?” he asked and out of the corner of his eye, he saw her waving a hand dismissively.
“Hereabouts,” she said. “I saw you from the front door.”
They lapsed into another silence. At that moment, he could see everything that had been and everything that was now. He could see mistakes fixing themselves, arguments resolving; it was like anything. There was no beauty in the foundations of a building, only in what it would become. He rested his head softly against Ella’s and watched the sky turning a silky red above them. The sun had long slipped beneath the cover of the horizon, leaving only the elegance of a dream in its wake.
He wondered if this was the way it was meant to go, the story of how the boy became a man. He supposed not but it didn’t matter because from here on in, the road was straight and narrow. He could see the rises and falls in the distance but for now, for now that was where they would have to stay.
At some point, Ella had fallen asleep against him but he resisted until the red became blue and the blue became black. His eyes fluttered shut before he could see the stars and the last thought before slumber’s cloak obscured everything was that the greatest prospect he wanted in his life was that of tomorrow.
A/N: So END. Oh my gosh, this has been a journey and a half. From writing the first five chapters amazingly quickly in March 2010 to losing all inspiration by August and blocking on chapter six for 6 months to this. As I write this, it’s Valentine’s Day, twenty-two days after I wrote chapter 7 – I hope my speed writing is up to standard. I literally just could not stop.
I would like to throw out some small shout-outs:
♥ To Zinny (Ilasia) because rereading her stunning review on chapter five gave me the boost I needed to start writing again.
♥ To Marina (marinahill) for listening to me bang on about this fic for twenty-two days and not killing me.
♥ To Molly (SnitchSnatcher) for being so encouraging about everything I write but especially this. She gave me the gorgeous title and has been my sounding board from the start. I love her immensely for that and just being one of the most amazing people on this site and in my life in general.
♥ To all the readers – if you’re not one of the above – because you’re still here and you’ve put up with my ridiculous writer’s block and my silly quickly resolved plot and characters who’ve transformed way too quickly. I hope you’re satisfied with the ending and the story as a whole. Thank you so much for reading and ♥♥♥