Chapter 10 : Awake.
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His arms were around her, dangerously tight.
“... please not yet, not yet, I’m not ready, not yet...” James pleaded with the dreamscape, his lips pressed firmly against Lily’s soft, fiery hair. She seemed relaxed in his arms, which made it all the more heartbreaking. He’d give anything to stay here, with her.
With eyes shut tight, James felt rather than saw the world crash around them and when he opened them again, it was to the deep, unsatisfying red of his bed curtains and not Lily’s hair.
It took him a few minutes to escape those first, hazy moments of waking, but when his memory cleared and realisation dawned, James’ lips visibly twitched. He wasn’t sure if he was devastated by again being dragged away from Lily, or thrilled by the sudden and unexpected change in the plot of his dreams. She had talked. James bit his upper lip, pulling his face into a deep, heavy frown. She had never talked before. Don’t get him wrong, it was not that he did not love her soft, musical voice; just that he had become accustomed to the familiar pattern of his dreams. She would be there and so would he and they would dance or hug or walk alongside each other; she would sit in his arms; or, if he was feeling bold enough, they might even kiss. Occasionally, they would do nothing more than be together and, if he was being honest, those were his favourite dreams of all. James sighed. So why now was she talking? Did it mean something? He had noticed that, as of late, the Lily of his dreams had been somewhat different; adventurous and somehow more alive, but it was so subtle that he had thought nothing of it. This, however – this he could not ignore.
She had been so real.
Merlin, this only made it worse. This dream Lily was too like real Lily – the attitude, the passion, that spark – it would be even more excruciating to wake. The thought of leaving her each and every morning made him feel physically sick and James sighed sadly.
“Back to reality,” he mumbled finally, pulling his fingers through his hair.
Triggered by his voice, the room sprang to life. All at once, James heard the rustling of linen, hurried footsteps and an excited “Oop, he’s awake” before the curtains of his four-poster bed were thrown aside and all three of his best friends were staring down at him eagerly. James blinked. “Morning?” he muttered, his expression half way between sleepy and sceptical.
“Morning” they returned in unison.
James took his time in replying. How long had they been waiting for him? For what could have been a good ten minutes, he watched their smiling faces in confusion, blinking only when necessary. He was very aware of the occasional nervous twitch of Sirius’ smile, as well as the way Peter was sweating and Remus shaking. It was subtle, of course – nobody else would have noticed, but these were James’ fellow Marauders and he could see the nerves. The longer he waited, the more outstanding it became until James finally took pity on them and asked simply, “What’s going on, guys?”
All three visibly straightened, but it was Sirius who spoke.
“It’s time to wake up.”
James frowned, “I am awake.”
“Not really,” Sirius said softly and James felt his face fall into that familiar nothing. He had been trying to live again, really, and even though it wasn’t quite working, he thought his facade had. Of course, just as James could see their nerves, they could see his pain.
“Okay,” he began slowly, looking away, “So... what?”
“So we’re going to help,” Remus said hopefully.
“How?” he scoffed. James had never heard so much venom in his own voice, and by the looks on his friends’ faces, neither had they. When had he become a pessimist? Hastily, he cleared his throat and amended, “Sorry, I... How? How are you going to help?”
Sirius hesitated and James choked on his guilt.
“Well,” Peter stepped in, “first things first – ”
“You stink,” Sirius finally said.
James propped himself up on his elbows, crinkling his brow.
“How long has it been since you’ve showered?” Remus asked and James frowned when he realised he actually had to think about it. After a long moment, he replied, “Uh, I don’t know, a few days maybe? I... What does that have to do with anything?”
“It’s been longer than a few days,” Peter told him.
“It – ” James went to protest but was cut off by a look from Sirius. He fell back onto his pillows with a sigh, “Yeah, okay, it’s been a while.”
“Why?” Remus asked seriously.
James looked away.
“Why?” Sirius repeated.
James ran a hand across his face but said nothing.
“Why?” Sirius persisted, louder.
James closed his eyes. “Look, just – ”
He opened his eyes suddenly and looked up into the stern expression of his best friend. Sirius’ voice had been almost aggressive and James didn’t think he had ever been on the receiving end of that Sirius. He swallowed, hard, and didn’t look away.
“Why?” Sirius said again.
James answered simply. “The shower is where I think.”
“And you don’t like thinking...” Remus finished for him after a pause.
“No,” his voice was a whisper, “Not anymore.”
For some time, they were quiet. The awkward silence weighed on James until he felt physically heavy and held against the bed. His face fell again into the nothing. Up until now, Sirius, Remus and Peter had placated him; put up with his sulking so as not to upset him further. Evidently, that method wasn’t working and so they seemed to have decided on a more hands-on approach in order to snap him out of the slump he was in. James sighed heavily. From this moment forwards, he would have no peace.
“Well!” Peter’s sudden, energetic voice was a welcome contrast to the awkward silence that had settled upon them, “Let’s change that, shall we?”
“How?” James asked seriously.
“Let’s start with the least of your problems,” Sirius began and suddenly they were upon him. Remus took him by his legs and Sirius by his shoulders and, without warning or permission, they were carrying him through the dormitory door. James’ shouts of protest were answered with obnoxious laughter and as he felt a chill, he was soon aware that he wore only cotton boxers. This, of course, only made his friends laugh louder. Eventually, cursing their iron grips, James gave in and let himself be transported.
When the ceiling became a blinding white, James blinked repeatedly. Tiny galaxies swam on the inside of his eyelids and he would have rubbed at them had he access to his extremities. Instead, he kept them closed; that is, until he heard the sudden rush of water. James opened his eyes suddenly, but before they had time to adjust to the light he felt glass, porcelain and a cold wave of water as he was thrown unceremoniously into the shower. James scrambled to his feet, blinking, shivering and, sight returning, he reached desperately for the hot tap and quickly adjusted the temperature. Once contented, he turned to glare at his smiling friends, warm water cascading down his wrinkled brow and spilling into his eyes.
“You could have just asked me to shower...” he said monotonously.
“We could have,” replied Sirius.
“But you didn’t...”
“But we didn’t.” Sirius’ smirk had reached his eyes.
“I hate you.”
“You love me.”
James frowned heavily, turning and slicking his hair back beneath the water. He closed his eyes a moment, and saw his parents.
As if sensing his sudden distress, Sirius, Remus and Peter made such a racket that it was impossible for him to think at all. The gentle smile of his mother and the kind eyes of his father were gone as quickly as they had arrived, and James let out the breath that had caught in his throat. He looked over his shoulder to his friends thankfully, and asked above the noise, “How long do you think you can keep that up?”
“As long as it takes,” Remus replied quickly.
“We’ve made a commitment,” Peter grinned.
“We’ll shower with you if need be,” Sirius added with a laugh.
All four of them blinked.
James turned away again, almost smiling. What would he do without the Marauders? Deciding to shower properly for the first time in weeks, he quickly pulled the curtain shut and tossed his boxers over the curtain rod. The following squelch and noise of distaste indicated that they had landed upon Peter and this was increasingly satisfying. With the lightest of smirks, James continued showering to the persistent banging, crashing and lalalaing of his friends. He couldn’t think and it was beautiful.
James spent some time in the shower, the thoughtless reverie calming him and the warm water massaging his aching soul. This could very well have been one of the longest showers he had ever had – and he needed it, too – but not for a moment did his friends cease their hubbub. After a while, James observed, they seemed to have worked out a system in which two at a time would create the uproar, before tagging in the third when one needed a rest or to catch their breath. Thinking about the mechanics of their distraction system only distracted James more, and not once did he think of his parents. Instead, he washed himself thoroughly (even his hair, which was an uncommon occurrence) and spent a good while afterwards simply standing beneath the water, revelling in the racket.
When his fingers had begun to prune, James finally reached for the taps, turning off the cold first so that the hot water might scald him for just a moment. He had always done so; James enjoyed the momentary sensation of that unbearable heat upon his back before it vanished. It was a rush and, to be cliché, reminded him that he was alive. Now more than ever, he needed that reminder. Moreover, the resultant burn kept him warm for long moments after he stepped from the shower and this was especially welcome as the days grew colder.
Hearing (somehow) the shower cease, one of his friends – assumedly Peter, judging by the forearm – handed him through a towel and James quickly dried his hair before wrapping it about his hips. He pulled aside the curtain and stepped from the shower with steam rising from his reddened skin. Only then, did the Marauders shut up.
“Much better,” Sirius grinned, “Now let’s get you dressed.”
Almost automatically, James went to respond with You’re not my mother but quickly caught himself and swallowed the words, along as the pain that accompanied them. He forced a quick smile in response and followed Peter, Remus and Sirius from the bathroom, successfully sneaking back to their dormitory without running into any other students. James went straight to his bedside table and found his glasses, quickly placing them upon his nose. He let out a breath as the world came finally into proper view and turned to face his friends, who were looking at him expectantly.
“Get dressed,” Sirius insisted.
“Something you can move in,” added Remus.
James raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“Just do it,” Peter sighed.
Genuinely concerned about what his friends had in store for him, James spent another moment looking at them with his face contorted into a confused frown. His forehead crinkled more and more with each second. When their expressions refused to falter and not a one of them spoke for a good while, James finally turned and began to rummage through his trunk. Occasionally, water would drip from his hair and onto his glasses, giving the impression of rain. He smiled sadly at the appropriateness of this – raining on the inside – and so did not wipe them away but continued searching through the metaphorical storm of his emotions. James quickly dressed in a pair of comfortable jeans and a plain white T-shirt, looking to his friends and holding out his arms for approval.
“Can you move?” Peter asked.
James frowned and kicked his legs about to prove that yes, he could. They soon nodded.
“What exactly are we doing?”
All three replied “waking you up” in unison and James wrinkled his brow suspiciously. Obviously they had spent some time concocting and discussing this plan of theirs. Their self-satisfied grins only deepened James’ frown.
“I don’t like this.”
“We don’t care,” Sirius answered immediately and, lowering his voice, added “we want you back.” James met his eyes for a moment and found heartbreak amongst that cloudy grey. The guilt washed over him; James had been so self-involved that he had hardly paused to consider the effect of his parents’ deaths – and his subsequent retreat into himself – on his best friends. His expression suggested he was sorry and James knew that Sirius understood.
Remus and Peter respectfully let their silent exchange play out, before Sirius finally cleared his throat and said slowly, “Just... stop avoiding life, okay? Let this happen.”
James nodded his head solemnly, but did not speak. How long has he wanted to say that? he thought, reminiscing on how stupid and selfish he had been. He wouldn’t be surprised if Sirius had often considered punching him, hard, to snap him out of it. He wouldn’t blame him, either. The realisation hurt and James was all at once aware of everything he had overlooked or intentionally disregarded over the past month to save his own feelings.
The clouds of his tragedy were slowly parting.
James pulled his fingers through damp hair. “Thank you,” he said in a small voice after an extended period of silence, “you know, for not giving up on me.”
“As if we ever would,” Remus replied just as softly and nothing more needed to be said.
With that, the four of them made their way from the dorm without a word. James’ recovery – and that of his friends in response – had taken a giant step forward in that moment. They all knew it, but none of them felt the need to express it; not because the subject was difficult or they wanted to move on, but because it was something felt unanimously between them and there was just no need. While the Marauders were more often than not on the same wavelength, every once in a while a moment passed between them in which you could only describe them as one, a singular unit, and not just four strangely in tune boys. This was one of those moments. James was thinking outside his heartbreak again, and finally talking of it – if only a little. If he had been looking, he would have seen his friends smiling. Finally.
His reflective reverie did not last long. Being a Sunday, the common room was full of Gryffindors who had returned after breakfast to relax, catch up on homework before tomorrow’s classes or even just wait for lunch, and the moment the Marauders stepped from the staircase and into this mess of students their moment was gone. Still, James felt lighter. Many of the younger students looked up at their entrance – the four of them together was still a famous sight – but thankfully their obsession with his tragedy was all but over. In the far corner, James thought he heard some whisperings of wizard foul play, but couldn’t be sure so made the decision to ignore it. It wouldn’t do him any good anyway.
Sirius gave a brief nod to Remus and Peter which quite clearly meant “stay put” before heading in the direction of the fireplace. James, though suspicious, remained also. He watched Sirius cross the common room and take a seat beside Emmeline Vance, a Gryffindor 6th year he’d always been somewhat enamoured with. James couldn’t blame him – she was beautiful – but he got the feeling Sirius’ interest had a lot more to do with Emmeline’s disinterest rather than Emmeline herself. It wasn’t that she had rejected Sirius, just that she had never pursued or even expressed interest in him which, admittedly, was rare. James tilted his head watchfully. Emmeline had long, light brown and remarkably healthy hair which usually fell about her shoulders in gentle waves but was today restrained in two immaculate braids. Her eyes were a deep sapphire; wide and welcoming. She looked to Sirius as he placed himself beside her, her light pink lips curving into a smile, and said something which James could not make out. He had never been much of a lip reader. Emmeline had a knee raised to her chest and a foot resting on the coffee table. She leant forward to lace up what looked to be a Quidditch boot – James assumed she was going flying – before swapping legs and lacing the other. Emmeline was pale, but flawlessly so, and was in every way delicate and dainty; except, that is, on the Quidditch pitch, where she excelled as a Beater. It made absolutely no sense but James thought it best not to question it, or her. To be honest, she unnerved him. There had to be something wrong with her, didn’t there? Everything was too perfect. She was beautiful, charismatic, an overachiever in every field she approached and was always, always happy. Nobody can be without flaws, right? James shook his head and decided not to think on it any longer.
Sirius and Emmeline exchanged a few more words, culminating in an energetic nod from Emmeline. At this, Sirius flashed his trademark smirk – careful to observe her reaction (of which there was none) – and returned to the group.
“All sorted?” Remus asked to which Sirius nodded.
James blinked. “Uh –”
“Don’t ask questions,” Peter cut him off.
James did as he was told. Realising the futility of fighting them, he decided to shut his mouth and, as Sirius said, “let this happen”. Resultantly, as the other three began towards the portrait hole, he followed them wordlessly. Let this happen. Sirius’ words played over and again in his mind, urging James to stop avoiding life, stop avoiding life, stop avoiding life.
So he did. He let it happen – whatever it was.
James followed his friends through the corridors at a leisurely pace, concentrating on the portraits so as not to think. It was quiet in the halls, but James managed to distract himself well. He had never payed this much attention to the paintings before so was only now aware of how much attention they payed him, or rather, them. Merlin, he thought, even Art has a thing for the Marauders. This thought, which now inspired curiosity, would have, but a few months ago, only furthered James’ already outstanding ego and he was suddenly taken by how things had changed – how he had changed. For the better, he admitted inwardly. James spent some time pondering what it was exactly that made his friends and him such a spectacle. Honestly, the most outstanding thing about the four of them was Remus’ furry little problem and their animagus forms which, of course, nobody even knew about. So what was it? They were Hogwarts royalty and James couldn’t fathom why.
By this time they had reached the first floor, Sirius, Remus and Peter looking over their shoulders at intervals as if to check up on him. I’m okay! James wanted to tell them, but he wasn’t – not yet, at least – and they wouldn’t believe him anyway. Instead, he acknowledged their concerns with a small nod each and every time, which seemed to content them.
James was busily observing the portrait of a middle aged, red-lipped woman who was busily observing him in return when a musical voice ripped through his reverie. Evidently, it had caught the attention of his friends also as they halted suddenly outside what James soon recognised as the Hospital Wing. He peered around Sirius a moment to be sure. Of course, he had recognised the voice in an instant. It needed no clarification.
“Please, can you just look again?” Lily asked. She sounded upset.
The four exchanged a glance and remained out of sight.
“Lily,” came the calculating voice of Madam Pomfrey, “It’s just a bruise...”
Madam Pomfrey was a plain woman in her late 20’s, stern but kind and clearly very passionate about her line of work. She took healing very seriously. Remus had formed an especial bond with her in his first year, being that she was the one to secret him to and from the Whomping Willow during the full moon, and it had remained so throughout his schooling. The Marauders liked to call her Poppy, just to be cheeky.
“I can give you a salve for the swelling if you’re really that worried, and it should help with the pain also. You’ll have to wait for the discolouration to go away on its own.” She paused a moment. “I’m sorry, but there’s not a lot that can be done for simple bruising. The only difference between us and muggle medicine in that department is that my salves are made from plants with magical qualities. Really, though, you shouldn’t be so worried...”
“It’s not the bruising I’m worried about. I’m okay with a little pain.” Lily seemed distressed.
“Then what is it, dear?”
“It’s how I got the bruise,” Lily continued, “I think...” She lowered her voice, “I really think something’s not right about it. That it’s something... magical.”
James wrinkled his brow. Again, the four exchanged a look.
“Lily, really,” Madam Pomfrey comforted, “I often find bruises and can’t recall how I got them; we don’t remember every little bump. It’s likely you ran into something and don’t quite remember it. Not everything in this place is magical.”
Lily sighed loudly. “I know, but –”
“Please, Lily,” Madam Pomfrey cut her off, “I really have to get back. A second year came in this morning having accidentally hexed himself. Don’t ask me how.” She sighed.
“Take this. Apply it to the area before bed and it should have improved significantly by morning.” James assumed that Madam Pomfrey handed Lily a salve at this point. “I ground it myself using plants from our own greenhouses, so it’s good, I assure you.”
James heard the distinct sound of the matron’s shoes tapping along the tile floor. They paused only once. “And Lily...”
“Stop taking everything so seriously.”
The tapping receded and was soon gone.
There was nothing but silence and stillness for quite a few moments. James was caught somewhere between curiosity and panic; he wanted to know what had happened to Lily but, at the same time, if she rounded that corner and found the four of them there, there would be hell to pay. His friends seemingly had the same realisation as all at once they looked to each other, stricken. Sirius went to make a run for it but, of course, at the most inopportune moment. Unfortunately, instead of dashing down the hallway, he took one step forward before colliding with a mess of red hair that had only just emerged from the infirmary. Being that he was a good foot taller and quite a bit heavier than Lily, Sirius remained perfectly upright while Lily flew backwards upon impact. She landed unceremoniously upon the floor, letting out a quick yelp of pain which she soon silenced.
Without much thought, James stepped around Sirius and offered his right hand to Lily.
“Are you okay?” he asked automatically.
Lily looked to him a moment and narrowed her eyes curiously. She blinked three times. Unsurprisingly, she ignored his outstretched hand and climbed to her feet, rubbing her tail bone. James slowly retracted his hand and pretended he wasn’t hurt.
“I’m fine,” she muttered, glaring at Sirius who gulped audibly. How could somebody so small be so frightening? “What are... Were you listening!?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Sirius, Remus and Peter had disappeared down the nearest corridor – they knew better than to remain. James looked back to Lily nervously.
“Well?” she persisted.
Only now did James notice how out of sorts Lily looked. Her hair was a mess, sticking out every which way and almost reminiscent of his own. She had very obviously dressed in a hurry and if he wasn’t mistaken, was wearing odd socks. To top it off, she had the distinct impression of her pillow still marking her cheek. Evidently, Lily had come straight from bed. She looked beautiful.
“Yes,” he admitted after some time. James had never been a very good liar; he preferred to tell it as it was. Besides, when he tried, his eyes always gave him away.
Lily frowned heavily, the colour rising in her face as it so often did. “It is rude to eavesdrop, Potter. Did your parents not teach you manners?”
His expression fell, again, into the nothing. They were there in his mind’s eye once more and, for a moment, James wanted to run away. His grief began to bubble in the pit of his stomach and threatened to rise, spilling over, but James would not have that. It had not happened so far and he would not let it happen in front of Lily. He looked into her eyes and they pulled him back. There was nothing else – not even his parents – when in those eyes.
“What happened?” James asked with some effort, trying his best to change the subject.
Lily was looking at him strangely and James inwardly hit himself for letting his almost breakdown show on the surface. He was stronger than that.
“What do you mean?” she asked suspiciously.
“It’s nothing.” Lily’s hand instinctively jumped to her ribs and she wrapped an arm around herself lightly. It made no sense, but James could have sworn she looked at him accusingly as she did so.
“It didn’t sound like nothing...” James insisted, genuinely concerned.
“Look, it’s really – ”
“Can I look?”
Lily stopped dead, overly shocked by the question. She watched him curiously for some time and James realised that she had been looking at him strangely as of late, though he had no idea why. She was suspicious, accusatory and James couldn’t imagine what he had done.
“N-no,” she eventually answered.
“Please?” James persisted, “Look, I’m not trying to be a creep – You just sounded worried.” When she did not reply, he continued with, “I’ve had a lot of bumps and bruises so I think I know a bit about them.”
Eyes narrowed, Lily observed him doubtfully for some time. She must have been thinking hard because her eyelids flittered continuously and, having seemingly come to a conclusion, she reached for the hem of her long-sleeved, green shirt. James had to try very, very hard to keep himself under control when she awkwardly lifted her top passed her waist, revealing a swollen and irritated bruising around her lower ribs. “Wow,” he said in a small breath, and hoped Lily thought he was referring to the bruise. He was not. Lily had a beautiful stomach – not that he was expecting any less – and he wanted desperately to wrap his arms around that delicate, slender waist. James leant down to observe the bruise closely, gently tracing it with his fingers. He (hopefully subtly) shivered as he came into contact with her soft, pale skin which, apart from the bruising, seemed almost untouched. When he pressed harder, she winced, and James’ eyes flitted up to meet hers apologetically before returning to the wound. He bit his lower lip in thought.
James stood straight again, almost sighing in regret as she lowered her shirt.
“Can I see that?” he asked after a moment, referring to the salve Lily held. She passed it to him quietly. James unscrewed the lid of the small container and smelt the lavender paste within, before returning it to Lily with a nod.
“That’s a nasty bruise,” he observed, very aware of how awkward the both of them now were. “Do you know how you got it?”
She hesitated and then shook her head. James wasn’t convinced, but made the decision not to pursue the subject further.
“Anyway, that should work.” He indicated the salve and Lily looked to it momentarily before back to him, still silent. “If it’s still swollen tomorrow, though, you could put some Comfrey on it – the leaves should be fine.” She cocked her head to the left and James added quickly, “Not that I’m trying to contradict Madam Pomfrey – she’s brilliant!”
Lily frowned lightly; a pretty frown. “How do you know that?”
“My, uh – ” he hesitated, swallowed, continued, “my Mum... That’s what she used to do when I fell off my broom. She uh, she had a thing for plants.” Lily nodded slowly and, thankfully, did not pursue the topic. “It’s not magical,” James added, “But it works.”
She nodded again, still watching him strangely. This was odd. James nervously tousled his hair and, for the first time ever, met her eyes hesitantly. Why wasn’t she yelling at him? Or insulting him? Or avoiding him in general? Merlin, she let him touch her! This was all wrong. James knew that he was acting differently, but why her? First dream Lily, now real Lily – what was happening?
His attention was caught suddenly by three comic heads popping out around the nearest corner. James’ eyes flitted to them momentarily before, almost sadly, returning to Lily’s. Time with her – in dreams or otherwise – never lasted anywhere near long enough.
“I should go,” he said slowly, “My friends have plans for me.”
“Plans?” she asked, eyebrows rising.
James shrugged, “Don’t ask me.”
“What kind of plans? What for?” Lily insisted.
James had always adored her inherent curiosity. Had she been a cat... he shook his head and replied with a small, “To wake me up” before looking back to the partly concealed, impatient expressions of Sirius, Remus and Peter. When he returned his attention to Lily, she was again watching him strangely. Forever suspicious, he could tell the questions were piling up in her mind yet, uncharacteristically and for a reason far beyond him, she did not ask them. More and more, James felt as though he had done something wrong by her. She had been acting oddly towards him since school had returned and it was increasingly unsettling. Was he forgetting something? James imagined she had heard over and again about his parents – how could she not have? – and thought that this was potentially responsible for the sudden change in her attitude towards him. Did she pity him? The thought disgusted James. It was more than likely that she felt sorry for him and so had decided to calm her outward dislike of him in order to spare his feelings. The questions, then, would of course be the usual (how, when and the expected are you okay?) but she was either too polite or too awkward to ask them. James sighed. He could not, however, account for the suspicion and accusation in her eyes. She couldn’t... She couldn’t possibly blame him, right?
James felt his stomach tighten.
It would seem that his despair read once again on his face because, in an instant, the Marauders were upon them, banging and crashing and lalalaing in all their glory. Lily almost jumped backwards in shock and her expression contorted into one of surprise, confusion and agitation. “What are you doing?” she almost screeched above the racket.
“Sorry Lily – ” Remus rushed in between his shouting. “ – we have to steal James now – ” Peter continued whilst stomping loudly and slapping the nearest wall so hard that his hand would surely turn red. Sirius rounded behind James and placed both hands firmly on his shoulder blades, shoving him up the hallway and drumming a distracting rhythm on his back. James had no choice but to consent. “Have fun with your bruise,” Sirius yelled over his shoulder amongst shouting that, by the sounds of it, seemed to be a list of constellations intermingled with some very convincing barking. James could not imagine what Lily was thinking as they left her in their wake; in fact, he could not imagine anything presently. Strangely, this racket put James at peace more than any silence. He closed his eyes and saw the back of his eyelids.
They were in the courtyard by the time James told them it was okay and that they could stop now. Surprisingly, they were almost hesitant and it took a good minute for Sirius to complete the drumbeat upon James’ back that he was seemingly quite invested in. When everything was again still and silent, James cocked an eyebrow.
“You’re enjoying this too much.”
“We finally have a good reason to make a nuisance of ourselves!” Peter replied energetically. James considered this, then nodded. “True,” he said after a moment.
“Besides,” Remus added, “It lets me review my Potions homework.”
The remaining three looked to him.
“What?” Sirius asked monotonously.
“You didn’t hear what I was shouting?” he blinked.
“Oh – well, the characteristics and properties of the Felix Felicis potion, first off. Then the ingredients, and I described the brewing process in steps. Of course, I didn’t get all the way through...” Remus looked to the other three expectantly. “I ran out of time,” he added after a moment.
Sirius looked as though he were about to hit Remus up the backside of the head so the latter took a smart step back and offered a wide, nervous grin.
“What’s wrong with you?” Sirius asked blankly.
“I wouldn’t say the desire to succeed is something necessarily wrong with me,” Remus pondered, “though it does have its limitations.”
Sirius only frowned.
“You’re scarily productive,” Peter said after a small moment and Remus, having taken this as a compliment, smiled that proud smile. James could only shake his head as Sirius’ eyes narrowed. “Good Godric,” he muttered, “If you don’t ace the N.E.W.Ts then there’s no hope for the rest of us.”
Remus shook his head and went to respond but before he could, James, his natural curiosity kicking in, intervened. “Guys,” he said pointedly, “Your plan?”
Sirius, Remus and Peter looked suddenly to the clock tower and, seeing that it was nearing midday, continued quickly and wordlessly onwards. James followed with a good natured sigh, effortlessly keeping the pace. Again, he payed increased attention to the world around him – even noticing things he had not in seven years of Hogwarts – in order to distract himself from the menacing thoughts lurking just beyond his consciousness. When his surroundings were suddenly green grass and beautiful blue skies, James looked up and realised they stood in the centre of the Quidditch pitch. His eyes slid questioningly to the Marauders who stood all in a row, smiling widely at him.
Before James had a chance to speak, Remus had raised his wand and, with a gentle flick, called “Accio Nimbus!” into the sky. James raised an eyebrow. He did not take his eyes from his grinning friends until the familiar rush of a broom sweeping through the air reached him. Despite Remus having cast the charm, James instinctively held out his hand at the sound and, in an instant, the smooth mahogany handle of his Nimbus 1001 rested there. It was a calming, familiar feeling.
“What now?” James asked after a moment.
“What else?” Remus replied.
“Fly,” said Sirius.
He knew what they were doing now. In the air, James was at home, at peace and endlessly content. It was a separate world – a home – and it was his for the taking.
James had not flown since it happened.
“Do you really think this is going to work?” he asked them seriously, massaging his thumb into the delicate handle of his Nimbus.
“Fly,” Sirius said again, an order this time.
James sighed apprehensively. He had never thought he would be nervous about stepping onto a broom, but here he was, awkwardly seating himself upon it. It was strange, and James momentarily worried that he had forgotten how to fly before, sure enough, he steadily took off into the air. His slow ascent was uncomfortable, filled with doubt and almost new.
When he was above the surrounding grandstands, he stopped, holding himself steady in the sky. He looked to his friends briefly and, even from this distance, could see the anticipation in their eyes. James let out a deep breath. Their faces were turned skywards and, after a moment, he hesitantly pulled his gaze away.
Of how long he hung still in the air, James could not tell you. For some time he sat, back straight, eyes tracing the distance and heart in his throat before letting his eyes close and darkness overcome him. He was afraid. It was not the height that frightened him, as that had never been an issue for James, nor was it the flying. Rather, James was afraid of what had always gone hand in hand with the skies for him – feeling. When he flew, James was overcome with emotion. The sanctity and freedom of the air made his blood pump about his body with unrivalled vigour, throwing his entire self into a state of ecstasy. His friends, of course, were counting on this.
The problem was, James didn’t want to feel. He was doing just fine not dealing with his emotions. Wasn’t he?
He sighed, louder this time, thankful for the solitude of the sky.
In that moment, eyes closed, a gentle breeze swept the hair from James’ forehead and the hairs on the back of his neck stood suddenly straight. His eyes snapped open, pupils dilated as the fresh scent of high reached his nostrils. Unthinkingly, his hands gripped the handle of his revolutionary Nimbus 1001and settled themselves comfortably into the grooves he had created from overuse. His skin prickled. It was happening.
Slowly at first, James urged his broom forwards, the cool wind parting for him. There were no words to describe this feeling; the rapture that washed over him; the consummate warmth that bathed him despite the crisp Autumn air. He was at home here, and while that thought would have triggered grief and guilt were his feet on the ground, the emotions did not even occur to him up here. James Potter had been taken by the skies once more.
James flew without care for some time, his initial awkwardness having left him. He was comfortable and at ease again and, gradually, his confidence improved and speed increased. Soon, James was flying as he always had; fast, reckless and with matchless skill. Had he taken the time to reflect on this transition, he would have realised how easily it had happened. There were, in fact, less than a few minutes between his uncomfortable ascent and present contentedness, demonstrating how naturally he fell back into flying.
When a number of students started to file onto the Quidditch pitch, James frowned and began a curious descent. He landed swiftly in front of his friends who seemed to be watching the newcomers with smiles rather than the confusion he wore and looked to them pointedly, messing his fingers through his hair. James felt his forehead wrinkle as their mischievous eyes slid to his. He should have known.
“What is this?” he asked simply, stepping off his broom.
“Tryouts,” Remus answered.
James blinked, eyes soon widening in realisation.
“But – ”
“Mate,” Sirius cut him off quickly, “first game of the season is in less than a week, and you’re three players short of a team.”
His frown deepened. Sirius was right; three of the Gryffindor players – two Chasers (one of whom has been team captain) and a Seeker – had graduated the previous school year and so James was left with a four man team. Having been named as successive before the holidays, he had spent much of the Summer daydreaming of and planning a rigorous training schedule for his 7th year; of course, that was before it happened. Thinking on that same schedule, he was well behind. James should have had his team locked in at least two weeks ago, and that team should already have spent many hours on the pitch. With everything that had happened, his captaincy had fallen to the wayside and he was not proud of that. Yet, even now, James did not like the idea of facing up to his fellow students in any sort of authoritative role.
Without his parents, he felt forever like a child.
“I – ” James tried to protest, but the words wouldn’t come. Since their return, and the constant whisperings, he had found himself uncharacteristically afraid of crowds.
“You’re team captain, Prongs,” Sirius began in a low, comforting voice, “Gryffindor is counting on you. Besides, you’ll do fine.” He placed a hand on James’ shoulder, “We saw you up there. It came back to you so easily, and so will this. I promise.”
James chewed on the inside of his cheek nervously, watching the gathering crowd.
“How...” he blinked, “How did you even organise this without me knowing?”
Sirius smirked and nodded towards the students. Following his line of sight, James’ gaze soon landed on a smiling Emmeline Vance at the edge of the gathering. He shook his head. So that’s what this morning was about, James inwardly sighed.
“She’s a sneaky one, that Emmeline” Sirius said after a moment, “We put it to her a few days ago and in only a couple of hours all of Gryffindor knew – except you, of course. She organised the whole thing, really... I think she’s desperate to get back on her broom.”
Of course, James felt a pang of guilt at this. He offered a small smile to Emmeline across the pitch and watched, from a distance, as she acknowledged this with one of her own. Not knowing what to do next, he looked about awkwardly at the masses.
“They’re waiting on you,” Remus prompted.
“I – Right...”
The confidence flying had restored to James seeped from his pores the moment he began to approach the crowd of Gryffindor hopefuls. You’re working yourself up over nothing, he told himself sternly but, unfortunately, didn’t quite believe it. James had never had a problem with crowds until the whispering started. Now, he found himself overly frightened of others just in case those hushed words reached him or he met a pair of pitying eyes.
James was so, so ashamed of this newfound vulnerability.
Masking his fears, he stood tall and wiped any emotion from his features, approaching the gathered students in a manner he hoped was confident and authoritative. They seemed to hush as he neared, and James took this as a good sign. When he was before them, his friends not far behind, he took a deep breath and hesitated only slightly before addressing them.
“Thank you all for coming.” Despite the fact that James had neither invited them nor knew about this happening until moments ago – and they all knew it – this seemed a better way to start than any. He cleared his throat, and continued, “So, you probably know that our first match of the season is against Ravenclaw next Saturday, and we’ll be needing to get off to a good start if we plan on winning the Cup this year. That being said, we’re three players short of a team.” With a small breath of relief, James noticed that, just as Sirius had said, this was coming to him quite naturally. “Today, you’ll be trying out for the positions of Chaser and Seeker – you can choose one or both to fly for. We have two Chaser positions and, obviously, just the one Seeker. You’ll each get the opportunity to showcase your talents individually, as part of the team, and in in-game scenarios.” He gave a small nod, realising with a hint of embarrassment that much of this speech had come from that he had planned – in the shower, at the breakfast table, in bed after dark – during the first half of the Summer. It must have embedded itself in the back of his mind and for that James was thankful.
“If I could have my team with me...” he continued, looking through the crowd for Gryffindor’s existing players. As they began to file forwards, James added, “The rest of you – if you’re spectating, can I have you in the stands or on the sidelines. If you’re trying out, let’s make a line of you just over here.”
James was silent as students began to disperse. He looked behind him and smiled lightly at the encouraging nods of the Marauders as they made their way to the sidelines, leaning against the supports of the grandstand and turning their eyes to the pitch eagerly. He scanned the hopefuls as they formed a straight line nearby, smiling lightly at their outward nerves before turning and conferring with his team mates. Lead by James, they devised a plan of attack and soon put Gryffindor’s budding players to the test.
It took a good three hours to fairly try each of the thirteen hopefuls, observing them both individually and in team situations. He had relied heavily on Gryffindor’s existing team members for this, often sending them up to challenge or aid the contenders in their pursuits and occasionally throwing them into small matches. James himself had flown alongside a few of the competitors, specifically those aiming for Chaser, trialling their basic broom skills, aversion techniques, passing and catching abilities, speed, stamina etc. Overall, it was a gruelling but rewarding three hours and James was more than happy with the team that now stood before him.
Having made his decision, he had guiltily and with an apologetic, sad smile dismissed the ten unlucky participants. The looks on their faces as they shuffled away had deflated him entirely yet, somehow, turning back to his eager and excitable team mates – new and old – had quickly stolen from him any negativity (James would have time to feel bad about that later). Six joyful and deserving Gryffindors stood before him, beaming widely, and James felt almost happy for the first time in a long time. He was proud, even, and, judging by the looks on the Marauders nearby faces, they were as well.
“Thank you for today,” he addressed his team, hoping he had done so loud enough for Sirius, Remus and Peter to hear. After all, it was directed at them also. “I’m feeling really good about this team.” And he was. James observed them briefly: Samuel Tate, a long-limbed fifth year, had been Keeper for two years now and improved with every season; Michael Tate, his older brother and sixth year, put his broad physique to good use as a solid Beater; and, of course, the surprisingly hard-hitting Emmeline Vance, who had been beating them to success since her second year. He moved on to the newcomers contentedly: Sophie Byrd, an eager fourth year, had proven herself quick, agile and remarkably skilled and so would be serving them well as a Chaser; Riley Wells, a nimble fifth year, had equally impressed and so, without question, filled the third Chaser position; and Olivia Beaumont, an adorable second year with tiny hands but a big smile, had outflown everyone on the field – including, admittedly, himself – to reach that Golden Snitch and so was aptly announced Seeker.
They were impeccable.
“If you’re all okay with it, I’d like to have our first practice tomorrow after classes...” he waited for a unanimous nod and continued, “We really need to get into it, so thank you.” James paused, ran his fingers through his hair, swallowed the lump in his throat and said, finally, what he needed to say, “I...I just wanted to say that – I’m sorry. I...This should have happened weeks ago. We’re behind, and that’s my fault.” Emmeline went to respond, but James wouldn’t allow it, “Really. I haven’t been a very good captain. I’ve been... dealing with some things...” James watched their expressions fall purposefully blank, “and I’ve let this fall to the wayside, but I won’t anymore – I promise. I... I’m going to be a good captain, okay? We’re going to take the Cup. I... Thank you.”
Nervously, as though afraid to upset him, the six Gryffindors before him slowly smiled. There were words of thanks and words of praise and, after some rough scheduling and mild conversation, they were gone. Feeling the solitude, James was glad as his friends sauntered happily to where he stood, clearly pleased with his progress (and their plan).
“How are you feeling?” Peter asked seriously.
James considered this for a few moments, looking about the pitch. “You know...” he said after a minute, “I’m feeling okay.”
Sirius, Remus and Peter almost cheered. He could see the joy building up inside of them and was, in that moment, suddenly aware of just how much they cared for him – and he for them in return. Nothing was said for some time; instead, the four of them revelled in James’ slow, yet steady, recovery. It was amazing the impact that “okay” could have. Similarly, it was amazing what “okay” could feel like.
His fingers tightening on the handle of his Nimbus, James looked suddenly to his friends. “If you’ll excuse me,” he started, the corners of his lips twitching, “I’ll be off.”
They barely had time to register their shock before he was mounted on his broom and off into the air. James could have laughed, had he remembered how. Today had been a good day; the first day since that he felt as if he had achieved something, as if he had lived. The cool Autumn wind rolled across his skin, sweeping the hair from his face and the worries from his mind. There was nothing more beautiful than the skies.
At that moment, James looked to the world below and realised how wrong he had been. Standing just outside the pitch, her ruby hair sharing itself with the wind, stood Lily Evans; infinitely more beautiful than the skies. He neither knew nor cared for the reason behind her presence – all James was aware of was that she was here and, lo and behold, looking at him. Even from way up here, he could see that curious stare in her eyes. She was almost as intent on him as he had been on her for the past four years. Of course, he admitted sadly, not for the same reason.
The breeze caught her scent and brought it to him, reminding James of how at home she seemed in nature; how she belonged. Instead of hitching a ride on the wind, her aroma seemed to infuse with and enhance what was already a beautiful, natural thing. She was not in the world, but of it. More than anything, James wanted her to be a part of him.
Momentarily, their eyes met, and for the fleeting few seconds before his world went suddenly black, James was awake.
Here we are - Chapter 9! What did you think? Please let me know. I absolutely adore your feedback - both good and bad - and would really love your opinions. I spent a little while considering whether or not I should cut this chapter in half but, because you've been so patient with my few and far between updates, I decided to leave you with this long one. And it is long! Did you enjoy the Lily/James interaction? What do you think happened to James at the end here? Any more theories on Lily's bruising? This story now has over 6000 reads and 100 reviews and it's actually blowing my mind - I expected maybe 3, haha. But really, thank you SO much. I am so, so happy you're enjoying it and I hope this chapter didn't let you down :)
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